Steve Martaindale

Author of the JP Weiscarver Mystery Series

The day the music died

Surf Ballroom 4-25-14

Inside the Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake, Iowa. From the left, Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper.

“For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’”

Thus were the musings of John Greenleaf Whittier in his 1856 poem, “Maud Muller.”

They came to mind today as I read again the stories surrounding this date in 1959 and its sad events memorialized by another poet, Don McLean, in the song “American Pie” as “the day the music died.”

Approximately 1 a.m. on Feb. 3, 1959, a Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft crashed about five miles after leaving the municipal airport in Mason City, Iowa. Dying in the crash were the pilot and three rising stars of rock ’n’ roll – Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.

They are depicted above in a photo I took a couple of years ago at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, where they gave their last performance hours earlier. From the left are Valens, 17 years old; Holly, 22; and Richardson, 28. The pilot, Roger Peterson, was an experienced flyer but only 21.

“It might have been.” Need I say more?

Buddy Holly, even at such a young age, had considerable influence on music for decades. One can find references that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Elton John all claim to have been affected by his work. Undoubtedly, so did a hundred others.

Ritchie Valens had only been recording for eight months but already had a big hit with “La Bamba.” He’s considered a forefather of the Chicano rock movement,

The Big Bopper might have been the old man in the group, at 28, but he had just begun recording with his hit “Chantilly Lace” making its debut the previous summer. He started out as a disc jockey and eventually wrote songs, including “White Lightning” for George Jones and “Running Bear” for Johnny Preston.

And don’t forget the pilot. While the Civil Aeronautics Board determined the probable cause of the crash was an “unwise decision” based on deficiencies in his weather briefing, he left behind a widow and a promising air career. I cannot help but wonder if he took a chance he normally would not have because of who his passengers were.

The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu wrote, “The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.”

Those even brighter burn shorter still.

Vote for Bernie


Bernie Sanders

Why do I support Bernie Sanders for president?

On a broader scale, because it’s time we started doing the right thing. At a personal level, because I see in his positions the approaches I believe represent the foundation of my religion, Christianity.

Allow me to look at a few of my reasons for supporting Bernie Sanders. By the way, his Web site gives his positions on a large number of issues. Find them at


I’m lumping together several broad topics here. The problems vary tremendously, but they have one common tap root.

Not everyone in this country gets a fair shake.

Because they are born with darker skin, female or with a disability, because their religion is different from the majority, because their sexual orientation is in the minority … and often, for these reasons alone … they suffer second-class status.

They are more likely to be arrested for minor offenses and face crippling fees as a result. They are more likely to be killed by police or while in police custody. They are paid less to do the same work as others. Because the majority of the population doesn’t understand them, they are pushed to the back.

I have been fortunate enough to pursue a desire to travel more broadly than the average person – nowhere near the top, mind you, just more than average – and there is one thing I’ve seen around the country and around the world: People are people.

We all have dreams and desires, for ourselves and for our children. Most of us long for respect, love, friendship, an opportunity to be productive, a degree of comfort, food, good health and so on.

Contrary to what many people say, simply being willing to work isn’t always enough to get one out of poverty. There are too many deeply entrenched obstacles. Some make it, of course, but the odds are stacked against many and for reasons beyond their control.

Distribution of wealth

You’ve heard Bernie’s lines about this. A tiny fraction of the wealthiest individuals controls almost all of the wealth and it’s only gotten worse over the past few decades.

It’s a rigged system, he likes to say. I cannot claim to understand how they’ve managed it, but it’s clear those ultra-wealthy individuals cannot accumulate so much without some unfair advantage. And the most easily accomplished edge is by taking advantage of workers.

I watched such greed pretty much kill quality small daily newspapers as corporate ownership took over from individual publishers, slashed employees and held back wages … all to feed the upper management of the corporation.

I don’t know if Bernie Sanders’ $15 an hour minimum wage is the perfect answer, but it’s likely a good place to start working toward. Getting a little more money into the hands of people who need it and who will likely spend a good portion of it is a good thing.

But the biggie comes with raising taxes on those who make far more than everyone else.

It would pain me to say that someone who makes more than X amount of dollars should be forced to part with more of it than other people, but then I remind myself of two things. One, most of them took advantage of other people, the environment and/or tax loopholes in order to amass that wealth. Two, other human beings should not suffer just so the super wealthy can live comfortably atop their secured castles.

You see, a billionaire in a 52 percent tax bracket is still a very rich person, much richer than someone laboring for $15 or even $30 an hour. Again, we’re back with the Christian principles of helping other people.

Climate change

Knocking on wood, it almost seems like arguments have subsided that climate change is not real. I hope that’s true. Even if it is, there is still a dramatic push to continue mining and burning fossil fuels.

Why should we throw away our future in order to cling to practices that are killing us rather than funneling all available effort into clean and proven technologies? We’re not going to get off oil in a day, but we must start now.

I grew up in the middle of an oil field. It was what drove our economy. Our high school mascot was Roughnecks. I worked my first summer out of high school as a roustabout. Many of my high school friends worked there and a lot of them still do. One, in fact, is now a billionaire due to hard work, smart decisions and petroleum risks that went his way.

However, none of that means we should blithely continue digging and pumping carbon-based fuels from under the earth and then burning them to deposit residue in the atmosphere, not to mention further lining the pockets of the ultra-rich.

When populations were smaller, when life was simpler, we could see no damage to such actions, but now we know better. Plus, we have options and they are steadily improving. Finally, developing green energy creates jobs to replace those being lost in the oil field. It’s time we owned up to what mankind is doing to the planet God gave us to take care of.

War and peace

I have heard it insinuated by some that Sen. Sanders would be too weak to protect the country. I suppose such opinions are based on hearing him speak of pursuing peace before war. He talks about using our weight as the world’s strongest country to resolve problems without warfare, without sending our troops overseas.

However, he has voted to support action against terrorists and names that as one of his primary missions today. And I appreciate the fact he talks about them as either international terrorist networks or “lone wolf” extremists here at home. Both are threats.

While he talks about maintaining a ready military, he says we need to pull it from the past into the present and the future. How many times have you read about millions being spent on aircraft or ships that our military leaders don’t want but Congress places the orders anyway? It’s not because our senators and representatives know more about what the generals and admirals need … it’s because money talks.

So, yeah, I feel the teachings of Christ are that we should desire peace first.

Health care

One of Bernie’s most talked about ideas is health care for all.

My wife and I enjoyed a cruise last fall and for more than three weeks, we had dinner each night with three other couples. One pair were proud Canadians and he, more than once, had to say how difficult it was to believe Americans did not yet have universal health care. They love what they have now.

While I understand Sen. Sanders’ plan is paid for with higher taxes – principally on those who earn a quarter-million dollars a year or more – I cannot help but think about the savings, beginning with insurance policies and deductibles.

Think about what is saved because someone gets treatment before the problem blossoms into something worse. Consider the saved days of work. Better than that, think about the money that is saved due to checkups. It was just such a standard checkup four-plus years ago that led to discovering a tumor in my bladder. Since it was caught early, two surgeries saw that it was removed before it could spread and become unmanageable.

What about the huge savings in time and money just in handling insurance claims? Even more so, imagine the savings of headaches arguing with the insurance company about what is covered.

And then there is the cost of prescription drugs.

Tending to the weak and the ill is a cornerstone or my religion, so I’m behind social programs to help people lead healthy and productive lives.

And then …

To me, it comes down to doing the right thing. Treat others as we wish to be treated. Allow folks to worship as they desire. We don’t throw out people because of their religion. We do what we can to protect our heritage as an immigrant country with fair and humane treatment of those seeking a better life.

We need to decriminalize most drugs and concentrate instead on helping addicts. And it appears obvious that marijuana should be totally removed as a controlled substance. How many citizens have lost their freedom, their rights and the ability to support their families because of a substance that is less dangerous than tobacco or alcohol?

Free college is another plank of his platform that has received a lot of attention. Extending free education another four years would be great, but we at least need to get the cost under control. Young adults now graduate college buried in debt and that’s neither fair nor productive.

Our nation’s infrastructure is in dire need of attention and tending to it is a great source of jobs. Remember the Civilian Conservation Corps?

The other candidates

I’m not sure when was the last time I voted in a Democratic primary. More than 25 years ago, Texas was almost entirely Democrat at the local levels, but everything shifted.

In 1992, at a time I was not working in newspapers, I got somewhat involved with the Republican Party and was even selected an alternate delegate to the state convention. The party has changed, though, but I’ve probably changed more. Now, there is not a single Republican candidate for president I could support.


Because I cannot align myself with turning our backs on war refugees. I cannot see building a wall as if it would solve immigration issues. While I am a Christian, I feel it is imperative that our government not be tied to any religion, even mine.

I turned 18 as the Vietnam War wound down and was not drafted and did not volunteer for the service. However, from the safety of home, I have seen our country too easily drawn into wars and military actions that have cost too many lives – our personnel, enemy fighters and way too many civilians.

Lastly, the GOP has shown little care for the oppressed people in our country. Much of the time, they’re only looking out for themselves. I must interject, however, that there are many people blindly following the party who are themselves being injured by the Republican principles, but they trudge on even while their standard of living steadily declines.

Right now, however, we’re just kicking off the primaries, so what about Hillary Clinton?

On many issues, she sides with Bernie Sanders or appears to, but I have noticed she’s only gone over on some the past few months as his positions have gained popularity. And that’s part of my problem with her.

She is the consummate politician and not a leader like we need now. She lacks the conviction Bernie has.

Worse, I’m afraid a Clinton administration would be the same old thing. Big money will continue to shout down the voice of the people and the middle class will continue to meld into an expanding lower economic class as the wealthiest of the wealthy acquire greater power and, of course, money.

Granted, I look forward to electing a woman to the White House, but I think we can do better than Hillary Clinton and, most importantly, Bernie Sanders is a better choice right now. Plus, I think there’s a good chance we’ll see him with a female running mate.

So, yes, for the first time in my life, I’m actively supporting a candidate. I encourage you to vote for Bernie Sanders.

With age comes wisdom?

1-25-16 creek crossing

Leah crossing a creek on the Lake Georgetown trail.

Yes, I know there’s a question mark at the end of the title.

As previously announced, my wife and I are planning late this spring to hike the Erie Canalway Trail, some 360 miles from the Niagara River to the Hudson River in upstate New York.

We’ll be spending nights in motels and B&Bs along the way, so there will be some long days – topped off by a 24-mile day – and several only 5-8 miles. Our plan is to walk about 33 days, an average of some 11 miles a day, with two or three rest days built in.

Now, you’ll notice everything has been stated in a positive, we’re-going-to-do-this voice. Then, why the question mark?

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Just do good

I came across an amazing article this morning and want to share it with you.

It’s a take on philosopher Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative.

My headline is the ultimate summation of it, I believe, but the short piece by blogger Rob Myers is far more descriptive and entertaining.

Kant’s statement embodies my feelings on how we should treat each other. I try to remember to practice it, too, but that’s another story.

Please click this link to read the article.


Getting closer!

Marmot photo credit NPS

Marmot. (NPS photo)

I finished the first draft of “The Reporter and the Marmot” early this morning.


There’s still quite a bit to do, but I believe it will be worth the wait. Let’s just say something big is happening with JP Weiscarver, my main character.

You don’t have to wait until the book comes out to get a peek at what I’m talking about. There will be teasers in my first newsletter in a couple of weeks. Click here to sign up now.

Meanwhile, I’ll start making my way through numerous spots I flagged to work on. Plus, due to my aforementioned plans to submit this book for a promotional project (one where you can earn a free Kindle copy prior to publication), I still need to add length to meet the project’s minimums. I’m not a fan of adding words just for length, so the challenge will be to make them worthwhile.

To summarize:

(1) The story is completed, just needs to be fleshed out.

(2) There’s something big happening with my lead character.

(3) To get a peek at what it is, sign up for the newsletter here. (It will go out in a couple of weeks.)

(4) Tell your friends. (OK, that’s new, but it’s a good suggestion.)

Just make a wish

2012-11-24 15.15.56

Bright wishes are often difficult to reach.

Here’s an interesting twist to the old thought-provoking question about who in the world you would invite to dinner. Consider this:

“Remember those lovely genies who grant wishes? Well, you’re one and you’ve just been emancipated from your restrictive lamp. You can give your three wishes to whomever you want. Who do you give your three wishes to, and why?”

To be clear, this did not originate with me but was put out as a prompt for a blog idea. The more I think about it, the more difficult it gets.

You’ll notice right away that keeping a wish for yourself is not an option. Furthermore, you the genie would presumably have no input on how the wish was spent.

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‘NCIS’ without Tony

Is this a great country or what?

Aussie frt stand 3

A rural fruit stand in Australia was one of the highlights of our visit down under.

Do you live in a great country? The best? Is the rest of the world envious of you, desirous of your homeland?

I grew up thankful for being born in the United States, the best place in the world to live. Indeed, I sometimes felt guilty. More than 95 percent of the world’s population was denied the blessing I received.

That’s right, isn’t it?

I was 48 years old before I visited another country (excluding three short border crossings into Mexico and Canada) and it really opened my eyes.

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2016 … We’ve got this

Happy New YearWhat are your plans for 2016? Any goals, ambitions, dreams, maybe even resolutions?

Seriously, hit up the comments link at the top of this post and tell us what’s in store for you in the new year. Then give your hopes a bump; remember, we have 366 days this year.

As for me, I have a lot pinned on getting some serious promotion for my next book.

Kindle has a program searching for new or relatively unknown authors worthy of the company giving a leg up in publicizing a book. Gaining acceptance requires two things. One, of course, is a good book and I’m feeling great about “The Reporter and the Marmot.”

Two involves you.

The company wants writers who already have a following. So, when the time comes, I’ll be asking each of you to “nominate” my book. All you’ll have to do is click a button and give your e-mail address and it will help me.

But, wait, there’s something in it for you too.

If my book is selected for the program, everyone who nominated it gets a free copy of the e-book. It works, no catches; I’m currently reading a book that I nominated.

Trust me, I’ll let you know when it happens, asking you to act on it and to spread the word to your friends. Free e-books for all! Be patient. It will be at least another month or two.

OK, that’s more than I planned to say about that.

One more thing

But there’s one new thing starting today. You can sign up for my newsletter.

I plan to put out at least one a month. When something is happening, they will come more often but never too many. It is handled by MailChimp, a professional service that makes sure it’s all on the up-and-up, requiring double opt-in (so nobody enters your e-mail without you knowing) and offering an unsubscribe with each mailing.

Click this link and subscribe now and you can know what’s going on even if you don’t visit this blog regularly or if my social media sites fail to include you on every posting.

Meanwhile, keep me up-to-date with how your dreams for 2016 are working out.

Sail away with me

Entering the Amazon

Looking up the promenade as we sailed into the sunset our first full day on the Amazon River and before we visited shore.

People say, “I can’t wait to hear about your vacation” and “Take plenty of photos to share with us.” I really don’t know if they mean it, but here it is. By posting here, you can look if you want or just nod and go on. If you enjoy it, leave a comment. If you have a question, ask, but there’s a lot I don’t know about the places we visited.

The initial purpose of this trip was to visit my seventh continent. (Leah now has six, lacking only Antarctica.) As we searched for how to make it happen, Leah said she really wanted to visit the Amazon River. The result was a 25-day cruise, roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that visited several Caribbean islands and spent eight days venturing some 900 miles up the world’s largest river.

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Magical sparkly rock

Magical sparkly rockThis is an all-time favorite of mine. It wasn’t a full-blown column but served as a front page item for the newspaper in the latter half of the 1990s.

Magical sparkly rock

The doorbell was a bit of a surprise. After all, it was almost dark and, besides, people just don’t seem to arrive unexpected anymore.

A quick glance out the window en route to the door did not reveal a vehicle. At first, I still didn’t see anyone as I opened the door. Until I looked down. She was probably 5 years old and I didn’t know her, though it seemed I had seen her around the neighborhood.

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Dejunking the junk drawer

We’re continuing to dig out old newspaper columns while I’m traveling and with limited Internet connectivity.

This one was written in August 2004. Go to your junk drawer and tell us in the comments the strangest thing you find.

Dejunking the junk drawer

My assignment is to clean out the junk drawer, decide what we should keep and what we might throw out.

Every home has a junk drawer or its equivalent. Why it is we feel a need to have a special, designated, reserved location for junk is an issue for deeper study later.

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Christmas monster

Christmas 2007Not all elements of every Christmas are perfect. That’s a good thing. Where would Hallmark Christmas movies be if they were?

Following is a rerun of a newspaper column originally published in December 2009. Be honest; it makes you think of something in one of your Christmases. Please share your story.

Christmas monster

There’s a monster in our house … and we put it there.

What were we thinking?

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New life in a cemetery

early sunI have long enjoyed strolling through cemeteries, reading memorial markers and considering life.

Following is another old newspaper column of mine to fill the void while I’m out of the country and with limited Internet access. I do not have the exact date it was published, but it would have been toward the end of the 1990s. Enjoy.

New life in a cemetery

I plop down onto a park bench in the middle of a cemetery, taking a break halfway into my morning walk. Not so much a resting break as a thinking break.

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Note for today

Mount Rushmore memorialOne year ago, I posted on Twitter and Facebook the following, “Reason to celebrate Dec. 3: On this date in 1833, Oberlin College became first coed institution of higher learning in the U.S.”

I followed with another the next day and pretty soon settled on the lead, “Note for” the date – Twitter’s character limit forced me to find the briefest possible introduction. Yesterday was my 365th post citing some significant or at least interesting event on that date in history. (OK, I might have missed one or two in the early going.)

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The test

The paint can

The bottom of the paint can shows some of the colors it has worn through the years. The light blue was original.

As promised in yesterday’s post, here is the story of our paint can.

It is a newspaper column I wrote in 1998, give or take a year. I learned to never expect much feedback from columns, but this article received more than normal. It seemed people related to it.

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Just an old pan

IMG_0348What do you see in this photo?

The thing filled with popcorn. It’s a pan, right? Just an old, maybe even ugly, pan. But, of course, there’s more to it than that.

It has history, a background story.

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582 simple steps

2013-06-04 10.45.49

I ran across one of my old newspaper columns yesterday. It made me think of all the folks who will be tempted next month to make a deal with the devil in order to put together toys on Christmas Eve.

You know, those with the “simple” instructions, those in a box that proclaims, “Can be assembled in 5 minutes with household tools.”

That’s like being in the photo above and being told, “Simply reach down and dip a cup of water.”

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My name is Steve and I am a wanderer

Downtown Valencia, Spain

Downtown Valencia, Spain

I have a problem.

I suffer from wanderlust and it appears any treatment of the symptoms is rather short-lived. I am always looking for the next place to go, the next place to be.

Some years ago, Leah and I had been talking about a life change that would free us up to not only travel but to experience some of it more deeply.

About the same time, we found a tumor in my bladder. I was lucky to catch it early and it was successfully removed by a couple of surgeries, but it proved to be the tipping point. We decided, knowing tomorrow is never guaranteed, to move forward with our plan.

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New contest alert

question mark_250x250_scaled_croppI’m running a quick, name-the-characters contest on JP’s Facebook page. All I need are two nicknames, no character details.

Click here and enter now; I’ll pick a winner this weekend.

Rock the world

Are these eggs salted? With multi-colored salt, you could tell.

Are these eggs salted? With multi-colored salt, you could tell.

Few things affected the early settler days of the American West as rapidly and as broadly as did the implementation of barbed wire fencing.

On this date in 1873, an Illinois farmer named Joseph Glidden submitted an application to the U.S. Patent Office for two-stranded barbed wire. Suddenly, farmers had affordable and practical means to protect their crops from herds of free-ranging cattle and sheep.

I love it when small inventions change the course of history. As a young boy, I fancied myself a future inventor. When I was about 10, I drew a design for a monorail train. Looking back, I had probably seen a photo somewhere, but at the time I thought it was my idea.

But there is one incredibly practical idea of mine I’d like to see one of you pick up and run with: multi-colored salt.

Every time I shake white salt onto a food and cannot tell how much, if any, is coming out … and then I end up catching some in my free hand just to test it … I think, “Someone really should invent multi-colored salt so I can see how much is hitting my food.”

What would you like to see invented?

Where flowers bloom …

Deerfield Lake, near Hill City, SD

Deerfield Lake, near Hill City, SD

Fifty years ago today, we took a step in cleaning up America.

On Oct. 22, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Highway Beautification Act. While the most trumpeted element of the act was an attempt to limit billboards, it also included an effort to clean roadside messes and beautify natural spaces.

Let’s set the stage for those not old enough to remember. As our country became more mobile and developed a more throwaway style of consumerism, roadways became lined with trash and litter.

Sure, they are still trashy but nothing like they were back then. Decades earlier, the thought seemed to have been that nature could handle anything we threw onto the ground. As we’ve come to learn (and are still attempting to grasp … see global climate change), man’s ability to mess his nest is almost unfathomable.

In addition to the glass, paper and tin being tossed out of car windows – and the furniture and appliances dumped alongside country roads – the post-World War II era also brought a broad proliferation of plastic products.

In the mid-1950s, the Keep America Beautiful campaign began. Its initial primary focus was public awareness, attempting to reduce litter through public service advertising. It has had many successes, the most prominent of which was the 1971 campaign featuring Iron Eyes Cody, a popular Native impersonator actor, as the “crying Indian.”

So, yes, there was already a movement attempting to address America’s litter problem, but the effort that undoubtedly had the most influence on the president came from within the White House, Lady Bird Johnson.

The First Lady was integral in programs promoting natural beauty, most notably the planting of wildflowers along highways and in cities. She was such a driving force behind the Highway Beautification Act that it was known as “Lady Bird’s Bill.”

Fifty years ago, we took a “step” toward beautifying America, but the long journey continues.

Thousands of volunteers turn out every few months to pick up trash along highways. Contractors are often hired to do the same, along with regular public employees. People with minor legal problems are commonly assigned public service sentences that sometimes put them to work picking up garbage.

Why all of this? Because we’re still tossing trash to the curb. Leading the trash parade is tobacco products, doubly befuddling because of the accompanying risk of wildfires. Grocery store plastic bags are particularly obvious due to their tendency to take flight on a slight breeze and get stuck in tree limbs. Our society’s fixation on drinking water from disposable plastic bottles create a litter problem that will last forever.

However, while the quality of our trash might be worsening, there genuinely is less of it. There was a time that shoulders of a road were fairly well highlighted at night by a car’s headlights gleaming off cans and glass. It’s just not that bad now, in most places.

So, maybe there’s hope but not without continued vigilance. Don’t litter. Speak up to those who do. Reduce, reuse and recycle. Take an extra step and pick up someone else’s trash. Employ reusable grocery bags. Carry water in a washable, refillable bottle.

“Beauty belongs to all the people,” President Johnson said at the signing ceremony. “And so long as I am president, what has been divinely given to nature will not be taken recklessly away by man.”

Or, perhaps more eloquently by Lady Bird: “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.”

Soul searching

Gulf sunriseLast Sunday, sitting in our little church, some internal struggles were eating at me.

I can’t even state clearly what they were, but it had a lot to do with what little I’ve done with my winters. One hears of retirees going crazy if they don’t keep busy. Well, I’m sort of semi-retired, so maybe I’m only half-crazy.

Actually, I steer away from the “retired” label. We work full-time jobs in the summer and my winters are … supposedly … dedicated to writing, but I’ve not really thrown myself into it. I think these wasted opportunities are what bothered me.

Like I say, sitting in church, I was picking up on things that were being said and sung and something inside of me was clear, “I need to go to the beach.” OK, I’m not about to tell you God commanded me to visit the beach, but I knew I needed to be alone and think. Some of my best thinking has often occurred while walking the shores of the Gulf of Mexico.

Driving home, I mentioned this to Leah and she responded just like I knew she would: “Go.”

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My father’s final lesson

My father with a set of his great-grandchildren

My father with a set of his great-grandchildren

Reality and the ability to relate to it became more and more elusive for my dad in his final few weeks. Indeed, it had been a slippery slope for some months.

However, there was one last lesson he had for me, one that’s taken me more than two years to recognize and might take the rest of my life to understand.

“I don’t know.”

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The Reporter and the Marmot

View from Mount Rushmore

View from Mount Rushmore with the Badlands barely distinguishable in this early evening light as the most distant strip on the horizon. Photo by Steve Martaindale

Yes, I’ve chosen a title for the next book … subject to change, of course.

As promised yesterday, here is the lead section of “The Reporter and the Marmot”:

“Absolutely amazing. This is exactly what I hoped to see. The mountains go on forever.”

“Not hardly. The Black Hills take up a relatively small area. Look on the horizon there. See a narrow brown strip?”

“Yes. What is it?”

“That’s the Badlands we drove through this morning.”

“You’re kidding. Listen, I so appreciate you bringing me to this ridge while everyone else is eating lunch.”

“No problem. Move over here and look off to the right.”

The tourist followed directions and moved closer to the edge of the cliff. His momentum never came quite to a complete stop. Just as he was bending his left knee and leaning over it to maximize his view, he received a firm shove, one hand on his left shoulder and another above his right kidney.

There really wasn’t much of a scream; it was more of a gasp, followed by a slight cry when the victim first made contact with rocks below.

Now alone on the cliff, the other man quickly looked around, as he had done mere seconds earlier, reaffirming nobody was there to challenge his version of the terrible mishap that just occurred. He carefully moved to a safer spot and peered over the edge. There was no movement to the body. At least two limbs were at unnatural angles and there was blood around the head.

“Oh, my,” he said, his hands following nervous tracks to nowhere. “Help. Help me. There’s been a horrible accident.”

He continued yelling as he quickly worked his way down the path to the parking area and the rest of the tour group.

Socially acceptable

Circling buzzardsI made a decision yesterday to try being less of a bur under the saddles of many of my Facebook friends. I’m taking it to Twitter and, to a lesser degree, here.

(Note: I’m speaking here of my personal Facebook page – steve.martaindale – and not the page of my books’ lead character, JP Weiscarver, which is linked to in the right column. JP is much better at keeping out of things like politics and religion.)

Over recent years, I’ve become more and more convicted about the ways humans abuse and destroy other humans. To a far lesser degree than I’ve actually wanted, I have engaged in Facebook quarrels over a lot of topics, knowing fully well I would achieve little but hoping “a little” would make it worthwhile.

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Artistically speaking

steve caricatureIf you’ve been on here at all, you know I write a series of mysteries and I like to use realistic settings. That’s why my central character is a reporter on a small daily newspaper on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. That’s why one story is set in Antarctica and another involves a flower delivery scenario.

I know those things because I’ve lived them.

The book I’m (slowly) working on now is set partially in Mount Rushmore National Memorial and in Yellowstone National Park, places my wife and I worked the previous two summers. This year, we’ve been working at an amusement park in western New York.

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screenshotDoes your Internet browser anticipate what you want when you begin entering a url? I suppose it’s an option and maybe it’s the beginning of the Skynet computer network, but it saves me keystrokes.

Here’s a fun exercise. On a blank url field, type “A” and see what site your computer thinks you want to visit. I ran through the alphabet and here’s what I got. Leave a comment to give us your highlights and/or lowlights.

A: Because I’m a Texas Aggie, of course.

B: This one might be a little skewed because I recently researched there for a new computer.

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Keeping it straight

Notecards for hikersI’ve been asked how I keep information straight in my books.

Things like:

* Sunday services at JP’s church begin at 11 a.m.

* Palmetto Club members Selma Brewster and Essie Baldwin have been engaged in a long-running feud.

* JP’s landlords do not own a pickup truck.

* A city park frequented by JP is J.M. Qwilleran Park, known as Qwill for short.

* Lydia Murray calls her mother Mom.

* Jennifer O’Hanlon is almost 5 feet, 6 inches tall.

Those are six of hundreds of facts small and large that I’ve pieced together during the writing of the JP Weiscarver Mystery Series. They’re all together in one large file that grows with each story.

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Spelling and facts

question mark_250x250_scaled_croppThe question came up, “What’s the most important thing you learned in college?”

My lesson came from my first journalism professor at Texas A&M, Bill Harrison. He was a good mentor for the written word and one of his pet peeves was misspellings, which he punished heavily, something like dropping your score on an assignment by 10 points for each mistake.

But here’s the birthplace of my lesson.

He told us he never marked a word as misspelled without first looking it up to make sure he was correct.

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July … that’s hot

July is hot, historically, as proven by the past month’s glances at history. Follow them daily through @smartaindale on, link in the right column.

July 1: In 1979, Sony sparked a revolution in personal electronics with the introduction of the Walkman stereo cassette player.

July 2: In 1937, aviator Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared over the Pacific Ocean.

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Just sharing

Life Hack-PBandJ

Ministering on the Ice

Chapel of the Snows, McMurdo Station, Antarctica

Chapel of the Snows, McMurdo Station, Antarctica

I was saddened reading this story, “Catholic priests to leave Antarctica because of decline in church-going,” from The Press of Christchurch, New Zealand.

To be clear, the U.S. Antarctic Program will continue sending a Protestant chaplain (who is willing and able to minister to all faiths) during the summer months; it’s not abandoning the faithful on the Ice, just narrowing the program for reasons given in the article.

Why am I sad? For one, it’s simply because I have a deep appreciation for what the chaplains do there. (I wrote a story about them, “Chaplains unite to service Ice community,” which you’ll find on page 3 of the issue linked to here. Coincidentally, the Roman Catholic priest there at the time was the Rev. Dan Doyle, the same priest quoted in the above article.)

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A day for explorers

lunar footprintI’ve thoroughly enjoyed posting daily historical notes on my Twitter, Facebook and Tsu pages (check the right column to follow on Twitter).

Sometimes the entries are vivid memories, both good and bad, and often they are surprising tidbits or good old-fashioned “Hmm” notes. Today’s is particularly special to me and concealed behind it are two other little jewels. First, in its customary abbreviated form, here’s what you found on my social media pages:

“Note for July 20: In 1969, humans walked on the moon.”

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Public service announcement for cigarette smokers: Many of your number willfully create an incredibly negative image.

While I detest tobacco and its disastrous effects on society, I also possess considerable compassion for the restraints we’ve placed on smokers. Not that I want to return to the days when every cafe and office is filled with smoke, but I simply feel bad you have to stand out in freezing rain in order to get your fix.

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We warned you

In case you mdeer signissed it, we’re summering in western New York, where I’ve noticed they have incredibly disciplined wildlife, as illustrated by the warning sign pictured here. What does this mean? Watch for deer for the next half mile, but then abandon all caution?

deer everywhereThen, less than five miles away (both are in Genesee County) there’s this incredibly honest sign. Yeah, watch out for deer everywhere and don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Surprise photo

Aussie koala signThe challenge was to blindly pick out a photo in an album – real or virtual – and tell about it.

The photo that came up was basically nothing. I’m not sure why I took it and it didn’t show anything in particular, so I cheated and moved one photo to the left and found this one.

Leah snapped it in June 2008 during our serendipitous Australian vacation. By that, I mean we scheduled flights, hotel and rental car but otherwise had no specific plans. It was an amazing experience.

This photo isn’t dramatic, but I suspect you’ll instantly see why we took it. I mean, where else in the world does one see a koala crossing sign? Unfortunately, we saw no koalas, crossing or otherwise.

Dream big

A month ago, I posted a reference here about having high hopes attached to an application for a one-month writer’s residency in an exotic location I did not want to divulge at that time. Here’s the rest of the story.

The residency is sponsored by the relatively new National Parks Arts Foundation, which aims to help artists and maybe gain additional exposure for the country’s parks. So far, it has very few residencies, but the one that totally captured my fancy was in the Dry Tortugas National Park.

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June in our rearview mirror

Edward H. White II displays the U.S. flag on his space suit during his historic spacewalk, or EVA (NASA JSC Photograph S65-30431)

Edward H. White II displays the U.S. flag on his space suit during his historic spacewalk, or EVA (NASA JSC Photograph S65-30431)

While sitting on pins and needles waiting to get a highly anticipated phone call, let’s review June’s glances into history.

For several months now, I’ve been tweeting each day a quick note on something that happened on that date in the past. To keep up with them in real time, use the link in the right column to follow me, smartaindale, on Twitter.

June 1: In 1967, The Beatles released the album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

June 2: In 1935, Babe Ruth ended his Major League baseball playing career after 22 seasons, 10 World Series and 714 home runs.

June 3: In 1965, astronaut Edward H. White became the first American to “walk” in space during the flight of Gemini 4.

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Shawn mania

shawn mendesWorking in an amusement park this summer promised new experiences, but Saturday’s events were nowhere within my realm of expectation.

One, I looked into the eyes of a horde of screaming and crying teen and tween girls totally enraptured with a recording artist. Two, I feared being trampled by said horde.

Unless you’re close to a girl about that age, it’s likely you, like me, have never heard of Shawn Mendes. That’s understandable, considering the Canadian singer is only 16 years old. Here’s a great article in Sunday morning’s Buffalo News that probably tells you all you need to know for general purposes.

How did I get into such a precarious position? Ah, such is the life of a park sweep.

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