How I Became a Mystery Writer

The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew, #1)The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I discovered Nancy Drew in the school library when I was in 6th grade. Before the year was out I had read every book my library had in the series. It inspired me to want to be a mystery writer, which I accomplished after a career in journalism. Recently I decided I wanted to reread the stories that started it all. About the only thing I remembered about Nancy Drew was that she had neat little sports car and her father was an attorney. Turns out that information is revealed on the first page of the first book so it didn’t take long for the stories to grab me. Rereading after all these years I am struck by how kind and gracious people are. Looking for information about a missing will Nancy calls on a woman in her 80s. Turns out the lady is recovering from a fall down the stairs. Although Nancy has just met her she quickly pitches in to bandage her up and make a grocery run and fix her some lunch. I wasn’t surprised that a protagonist would behave so nicely but what surprised me is when she left she went next door and informed the neighbor, who was a stranger as well, and that neighbor drops everything to take care of her injured neighbor including doing her laundry. There is just an underlying assumption that people will take care of each other that I don’t think today’s characters have. So I am on to Book 2 next.

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Making Stolen Manuscripts Interesting

 

Camino Island (Camino Island #1)Camino Island by John Grisham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let’s be honest. The theft of original manuscripts, even those written by a famous author like F. Scott Fitzgerald, has the potential to be deadly dull. I mean the faded, barely legible handwritten pages are only of interest to academics and collectors; they are kept out of sight in a vault and if they burned up the world wouldn’t know or care that they were gone. But somehow Grisham manages to keep this tale interesting. Much of the credit goes to the setting, the titular island off the coast of Florida. It’s beautiful, with small town charm and lots of beautiful people leading exotic lives. Heading the pack is Bruce Cable, owner of the local bookstore, and his wife Noelle, who sells French antiques. They have an open marriage with lots of uncommitted “flings,” unlimited wealth of mysterious origin, and a beautiful Victorian mansion. Now throw in Mercer Mann who spent her childhood visiting her grandmother on the island and owns part interest in the deceased grandmother’s cottage there. Mercer is a promising author who can’t write the second book, supports herself teaching English and faces insurmountable student debt. She is recruited by an investigative team with all the gadgets of an international spy ring to return to the island and spy on Bruce, who the investigative team believes is in possession of 5 manuscripts which were stolen from Princeton a year earlier. It’s a convoluted tale but Grisham keeps it moving by stepping back outside the characters — omniscient voice they used to call it before that was banned — and simply summarizing the action. The book opens with the theft which has all the necessary detail but slam, bam it’s done and we are introduced to Bruce, given a quick summary of his life, how he ended up with the bookstore and his wife and the house. Then bam, we meet Mercer and the unbelievable investigative team and an island full of writers who know how to party. Oh yeah, the missing manuscripts get returned to Princeton in another slam bam just the details finale, but that is soooo not what the book is about.

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Happy New Year, I hope

     

 The first New Year’s Eve I remember I was 6 years old. I wondered what “New Year” meant and my mother explained as she put me to bed. “When you wake up,” she said, “it won’t be 1954 anymore.”

        There have been lots of memorable New Year’s celebrations from family parties where my father joined us on the floor playing “Twister” to a college party where someone went out to the porch and fired a shotgun as the ultimate noisemaker. Once I took my son skiing in Colorado for Christmas break. We were so tired we couldn’t stay up until midnight. I managed to see the ball drop in Times Square but with the difference in time zones it was only 10 p.m. in Colorado.
        Somewhere in my kitchen cabinets are a pair of champagne flutes with stems that spell out 2000. I bought them on a Christmas cruise, but I didn’t have time to use them to usher in the new millennium. There were so many fears that the new date would cause major computer glitches that the entire news staff was on duty that night just in case. It was probably the tamest New Year’s ever. 
         I have lots of New Year’s memories, but for some reason I can’t remember what I was doing two years ago on New Year’s Eve, a month or so before I heard the word Covid. And I don’t have many memories of last New Year’s Eve — days before “patriots” attacked the capitol of our own country. 
         I have given up on resolutions or New Year’s predictions. I have no concept of what tomorrow might bring. The only thing I know for sure, when I wake up it won’t be 1954 anymore.
        

Kitty Consent

       

    As a volunteer for Country Cat Lady, I’ve been sharing updates about my adventures socializing unfriendly cats. Earlier this summer, I told the tales of my first foster kitty, Laura, who has since been placed in a forever home where she is reportedly doing very well. My second kitty Moana has been with me six weeks. Progress is slow, but rewarding. 

         Having learned my lesson from Laura,  I blocked the hiding place behind the file cabinet. I thought if I could reach Moana we could become friends more easily.  But as soon as I would reach out a hand toward her,  Moana would run away so haphazardly that I feared for her safety as well as mine. I decided to stop trying to pet her. If I have a right to deny someone’s touch,  doesn’t Moana deserve the same right of consent?
          So even though we hadn’t made friends, I decided after three weeks to let Moana out of the office to roam our house. She hid under the bed a lot at first, then at night she would explore the house playing with yarn balls in the living room. Surprisingly, I never found her getting up on any furniture.  She would hide under the sofa and watch me watch TV but never get up on the sofa or my bed.
          After a while, Moana no longer seemed to feel the need to hide. She would spend her days on the bedroom floor in front of my sliding door and watch the birds on the deck. She would curl up on the carpet next to my abandoned shoes and play with the dangling laces.  But occasional attempts to touch her were still shunned. 
          She started following me to the bathroom first thing in the morning, but she would always stay out of reach. She was clearly trying to communicate with me. She would rub against the door frames and furniture but if I responded by reaching out, she would run. 
          The other morning we were chatting in the bathroom. She was just out of reach, rubbing against the wall, but she had a thoughtful look in her eyes. Slowly she stepped closer, rubbed against my leg cautiously, and then ran back to the wall. She repeated the move and I told her how nice it felt for her to rub my leg. The third time she rubbed my leg I responded by scratching her head and she seemed to accept my touch. She didn’t linger but she didn’t run either.   
          This is our dance of detent. Little moves on each side, closer and closer, until trust is built. 
          
           

A yarn about a cat

     

Yesterday Moana marked two weeks living in my office. She’s watched me clean out files and use the printer. She’s turned down every tasty bribe I’ve tried…chicken strips, crisp bacon,  flaked salmon from Lake Michigan. And she bounces around the room like a ping pong ball if I make a move to touch her. 

       I’ve managed a few pets, but strokes are usually met with hisses and growls. It’s the streaking away and bouncing off walls and furniture that’s really concerning. Usually I just talk to her.
      She will only eat plain dry cat food. She’s pretty clear on that. An automatic feeder in the corner and a giant water bowl take care of all her needs. What does she need me for?
      The first positive sign came a few days ago. When I came in for my morning visit I discovered a yarn  ball I left a week before had been politely unraveled, not wrapped around chair legs or strewn from chair to desk but just nicely unrolled in the middle of the room. Yet, this was proof positive. She can play. I rewrapped that one and added two more, which remained untouched on the floor for two days. 
       Since I can’t get her to beg for treats, I decided to go more basic. Yesterday I removed the automatic feeder and left the room without food for a few hours. Then before bed I brought in a small dish of dry food and a new small water dish. Maybe she will start to see me as the good guy.
       An hour or so later I heard sounds coming from the office. Maybe she was batting around a plastic cap. And a bit more noise. Maybe the office chair rolling around. 
        When I went in this morning her food dish was empty. The blue yarn ball was completely undone, wrapped around a chair leg,  through the legs of a stool and wandering under the desk. 
        I think she’s getting the idea.
       
       

Meet Moana

       

       If you are a Disney fan you may already know the animated Moana, a 2016 movie about a Polynesian lass who ventures beyond the reef surrounding her home island to meet legendary characters. This Moana — a shy cat with hair as black as any Polynesian — is also on an adventure beyond her “reef.”

       About a week ago I bid farewell to my first foster cat, Laura, as she moved into her forever home. A couple days later I picked up Moana to be my second foster friend. She and a box of six kittens were abandoned in Grand Rapids. They were taken in by Country Cat Lady, a shelter in Wayland. She is believed to be four or five years old and very afraid of humans. 
          She’s back in my home office where Laura started. I’ve blocked off the hidey hole behind the file cabinet so Moana has to hide in slightly more accessible spaces. But if she can’t hide, she runs. Anytime I get close she streaks across the room. I have managed to pet her head a few times but usually she responds with hisses. It’s only been three days. I’ll let you know how she’s doing in a week or so. 
          Wish me luck.

Lives of Laura (2): Lady of the Manor

    

     Cat people like to joke that “Dogs have owners; Cats have staffs.”

     Once Laura discovered my bedroom, it was all over. She abandoned her temporary domain in my office and moved her headquarters to my bed. I was allowed to visit her on the bed, sort of a more comfortable version of our sitting-on-the-floor sessions.  I would offer a hand to be sniffed and she would allow a few pets. 
     In these early days of our negotiations she often responded with feline friskiness, grabbing my hand with both paws and a playful nibble on a knuckle. I am willing to bow to Lady of the Manor, but I will not tolerate Laura the Impaler. From the first nibble, I responded with “No, no” as I yanked my hand away. For an alternative, I scratched Laura just under her chin and she loved it. Our friendship grew by leaps and bounds. Laura was soon joining me in the recliner to watch television in the evenings.
     Laura The Impaler sometimes sneaks back, trying to sharpen her weapons on my favorite living room chair, but I can chase the evil one away easily with  “No, no.” The more prudent Lady of the Manor takes over and Laura goes to the nearby cardboard cat scratching box to finish grooming her claws.
     I met Laura Tech-Diva when I went out of town overnight and monitored Laura with my Alexa Show. I used my phone to call the Alexa and repeat Laura’s name. Before long Laura came running. I could watch as she sniffed the screen on the floor and tilted her head at the sound of my voice. Tech-Diva also enjoys photo bombing when I am in the middle of a zoom meeting or Skyping with a friend. 

     

Laura Spiderwoman enjoys unraveling balls of yarn and weaving webs around chair legs. Wayne Grets-Kitty plays hockey down the hall with a red milk bottle cap as her puck. When she gets close to the goal (my bedroom), the game is more like football. She picks up the puck in her mouth and jumps up onto the bed. Touchdown! 

          I put a plate of freshly grilled burgers on the counter the other day as I went to eat my dinner in the other room. When I returned to put the extras in the fridge, there was one less than I remembered. I went in search of my little charge. I found her sitting innocently on a rug in my bedroom. 
         “Have you seen my hamburger?” I asked. 
         “Who me?” said Laura the Hamburgler as she looked up at me and licked her chops. Then she smugly got up and walked away, revealing a half-eaten burger where she had been sitting. 
 
         Needless to say I have loved the many Lives of Laura during the past three months. But the foster phase is about to end. A family has applied to adopt Laura. Soon she will move into her forever home and a new life will begin.
          If you’d like to share the fun by adopting or volunteering, check out Country Cat Lady.
       

Lives of Laura (1): Teen Mom

      Laura was homeless when the labor pains started one snowy night last January.
     She was less than a year old, barely more than a kitten herself. We like to believe that instinct taught her all she needed to know about motherhood but nature failed to fill her in on the facts of frostbite. Her little ears bear a permanent ragged edge. 

       The hungry mewing of her three little ones attracted the attention of a couple walking past the bushes outside their apartment building in Coldwater. They hurriedly tucked the cats inside their coats and offered temporary shelter in their home. In March they took the family to Country Cat Lady, a no-kill cat shelter specializing in rescuing mother cats and their litters. Since the non-profit organization opened in 2018, Country Cat Lady has rescued 162 cats and placed 118 in adoptive homes. 
      In one short year, Laura had already lived many lives: homeless, teen mom, rescue It was time for her to embark on her next life — foster cat.  That’s where I come into the story. I volunteered to foster Laura for a few months and try to help her get used to interacting with people.
      
    

She hid behind a file cabinet in my home office for almost a month, refusing to even nibble her food if I was in the room. After about three weeks she decided to venture out to her food dish even when I lingered in the corner. When I held my hand out she gave it a sniff. Then she allowed a pet or two. And eventually I heard a purr. 

       I started leaving the door to the office open during the day, but Laura was too shy to venture out into the area where I was bustling about. Finally I left the door open at night and Laura went exploring. I awakened when I felt her walking on my bed but as soon as I stirred she disappeared. The next morning she was meowing in the bedroom doorway asking to be fed. It was the first time she had ever initiated communication. It was the beginning of her next life…Lady of the Manor. 
        Check back tomorrow for more Lives of Laura. I think this cat may have more than nine.

 

Faith over fear

 Open letter to Alexis Kuijken, Sioux Falls, S.D.

Dear Mrs. Kuijken, 

Sioux Falls lifted its a mask mandate recently, after you and your daughter complained at a council meeting that you were being harassed for not following the city’s mission to enforce CDC guidelines. Like many who refuse to wear masks you said the mandate is based on fear and you believe in faith over fear. You said going without a mask was not tempting fate like standing in the middle of a busy highway because Covid has a 99 percent survival rate (your figure).

We’ve all heard these arguments before but somehow you are missing the point. Let’s start with the busy highway. It’s a good analogy. But we are not standing on the highway watching cars buzz by. We are the cars, zooming along, rushing about our business in a miraculously orderly fashion. Most of the cars follow the rules. They observe the speed limit, stay in their lane, use safety precautions. Now you may say the rules of the road are too stringent because the survival rate on the highway is much better than the 99 percent you cite for Covid. But it is exactly because most people follow the rules that all those cars can go so fast without running into each other. We can zip across the country, merging and exiting, pausing only rarely to eat, sleep and refuel. As long as everyone follows the rules we all get to our destinations safely. 

But every highway has to have a few who ignore the rules. They think the speed limit is too slow. They think they are better drivers than the rest of us.Their time is more valuable. They weave in and out of lanes, ignoring a safe distance between cars.  Sometimes they get by just fine, impairing the smooth order only a little. But eventually the rule breakers will cause a collision. Just like those who refuse to wear masks  spread the disease that has killed more than half a million Americans this past year. 

It’s true some of the cars follow the rules of the road out of fear–the drivers are afraid they will get a ticket if they go too fast. But mostly people follow the rules of the road out of faith–.they have faith in the rules and faith in their fellow drivers. They know if everyone follows good, safe-driving mandates, everyone benefits. 

So you are right; it is about faith. I have faith in you, Mrs. Kuijken. I know you would not intentionally put others’ lives at risk. I know you wouldn’t want to be responsible for even one death per 100 because you failed to put on a simple mask.

Bragging rights

 Remember back in college when we used to brag about “doing shots?”

You know. A shot of tequila with a lick of salt and a squeeze of lime. Or if you were a real drinker you might have a boilermaker (shot in a beer) while the tamer crowd would try sweet and colorful “jello” shots.

It’s been many years since I’ve had much more than a glass of wine with dinner. But now us senior citizens are once again doing shots, even if our choice of poison has changed. 

 Covid shots are all the rage among the over-65 set. We call our friends to report “got my shot today,” or post it on Facebook. Not to be outdone, friends respond that they’ve already had their “second shot.” 

 We share every detail of the scheduling ordeal, all the computer crashes and then that miracle moment when we finally got through or received a surprise phone call. An appointment. A line. Everything in order. Maybe a slight prick. 

Instead of a hangover from too much whiskey, the effects of Covid shots are more likely a little swelling or soreness. Maybe a headache or if you hit the jackpot a day or two of illness. 

We brag about the adventure, just like we survived a boilermaker. We call friends we haven’t talked to in years to recommend they join the parade. We’re so excited to be doing shots because we can see this year-long nightmare is starting to wind down. It’s not over yet, but we are on the road home.

 At last.