April 20, 2014

Cozy Kansas, Core of the Country –Kansan, Joyce Ann Brown

“I’m from Kansas. It’s about as American as it gets.” Thus, in the movie Man of Steel, Superman tells an American military man to back off so he can save the day.  Clark Kent wears a University of Kansas sweatshirt in the film. Such distinction may appear hokey, but Kansas does have many Super features going for it.  

Throughout Kansas, acres of awe-inspiring wind turbines stand testament to the wisdom of the People of the South Wind, the Kansa Indians.  Even though these giant blades appear to rotate in slow motion, they in fact turn powerful turbines which create vast amounts of electricity and help reduce the dependence of Kansans and their neighbors on nonrenewable resources. 

Not only is Kansas squarely situated in the center of America’s wind tunnel (which stretches from the Dakotas to Texas), but also the center of the contiguous United States exists in Kansas—in the cozy small north central Kansas town of Lebanon.  

The culture and resources of the Kansa Indians made them natural resource preservers. They lived in settled villages of cozy round earth lodges, the original earth-sheltered homes, made from wooden frames covered with packed earth. Only for hunting trips to the grasslands did the people use buffalo-hide tipis as temporary shelters

To the unaware flyover crowd on the East and West Coasts, Kansas may appear to be a vast, flat prairie. In truth, the east side of the sate consists of forested rolling hills intersected by rivers and streams. The largest urban centers grew and remain here. 

The central Flint Hills support farmers, ranchers, and the towns which cater to them. The Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve (http://www.nps.gov/tapr/index.htm) provides visitors an awesome view of a piece of the natural grasslands and its flora and fauna, a natural habitat which once covered 170 million acres of North America. One can hike through waist high grass, visit historic houses and schools, eat gourmet food in Cottonwood Falls and Strong City, or attend the Symphony in the Flint Hills (http://www.symphonyintheflinthills.org/ ) in June when the Kansas City Symphony orchestra totes its concert shell way out onto ranch land in the middle of the Flint Hills and performs against a background of full sky and stark beauty.
Western Kansas gradually transforms to semi-arid plains, utilized by modern ranchers. The state’s cattle, corn, and wheat feed the nation and the world, and miles of hiking paths serve to let people realize what the pioneers saw and felt on the many wagon trails towards the West. Swales made by wagon wheels on the Oregon Trail, Santa Fe Trail, and Chisholm Trail, and others can still be seen in some preserved areas.

Kansas towns and their rough and ready old West residents have become the source of American legend, movie themes, and television shows—Wyatt Earp, "Wild Bill" Hickok, Annie Oakley, Bat Masterson, Carrie Nation, Dodge City and its Boot Hill, Fort Riley. Now, however, industry and culture have replaced the Gunsmoke aura. Urban centers such as Kansas City and its suburbs, Wichita, and Topeka enjoy “everything up to date.”

Education in Kansas is top notch. Museums and artistic endeavors abound. And although this state may appear on political maps as a bright red patch, progressive firsts are associated with Kansans. A few of them: The first woman mayor in the United States was Susan Madora Salter, elected to office in a Kansas town in 1887. The graham cracker was named after the Reverend Sylvester Graham (1794-1851) who strongly believed in eating whole wheat flour products. Amelia Earhart, from Atchison, was the first woman granted a pilot's license by the National Aeronautics Association and first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Kansas was admitted to the Union in 1861, just before the Civil War, as a strong free state. 

The world famous fast-food chain of Pizza Hut restaurants opened its first store in Wichita.

Joyce Ann Brown writes essays for local publications in the Kansas City area, and her about-to-be launched first novels, two books of a cozy mystery series, are set in Kansas City, Missouri and its Kansas suburbs. Her protagonist earns a living as a landlady of rental properties, and when special tenants become involved with murder and mayhem, Beth must react. The klutzy, reluctant sleuth pushes headlong into dangerous clue-seeking situations, because like Superman, she cares passionately about the people and places involved. Her unpredictable cat friend (appropriately nicknamed Psycho Cat) figures prominently in the alternately scary and amusing plots. 

Visit Joyce Ann’s Extremely Interesting Writing Blog: http://retirementchoicescozymystery.wordpress.com
(all photos provided by author)

April 13, 2014

Stephen Brayton and Iowa

No, not the potato state. Iowa.
You know-hogs, corn, beans, cattle. Iowa.

The state is roughly quartered by Interstates 35 and 80. Biggest town and the capital is Des Moines.

Hot in the summer, cold in the winter. It's one of those states that get hit hard in the winter but nobody in the media cares until the storm passes through and threatens the East coast. Then the storm will make national news and Iowans are saying, “Hello? It happened here first.”
Iowa has the oldest college west of the Mississippi River and it happens to be my alma mater – Iowa Wesleyan in Mt. Pleasant.

Famous people from Iowa include – Tom Arnold, Bix Beidebecke, Johnny Carson, George Reeves, Buffalo Bill Cody, Simon Estes, William Frawley, Asthon Kutcher, Cloris Leachman, Glenn Miller, Donna Reed, John Wayne, Andy Williams, Meredith Wilson, Kurt Warner, Shawn Johnson, Dan Gable.

If you're coming to Iowa don't miss:
The Iowa State Fair (a variety of food-on-a-stick).
West Bend's Grotto (the Eighth Wonder of the World...well, it's called that by some people).
Oskaloosa's Lighted Christmas Parade (freeze your butt off while watching floats)
The Villisca Ax Murder House (whodunit?)
Snake Alley in Burlington (supposedly the crookedest street in the world)
Riverside (no, not for the casino but to see where James T. Kirk will be born)
The world's largest Cheeto in Algona. (No munching!)
Exotic collection of dirt in Sheldon (Now, can you dig that?)

Since this post also should feature writers let's point out Iowa authors include:
Max Allan Collins, Sara Paretsky, Robert Waller, Donald Harstad, Mike Manno, Sparkle Abbey...
and me – Stephen L. Brayton, author of three novels.
Night Shadows: a supernatural thriller.
Beta: an action mystery featuring the taekwondo instructor/private investigator Mallory Petersen.
Alpha: Mallory's second mystery.

All three novels are set in the Des Moines area using actual locations so make sure you take time to visit the spots mentioned in the stories, especially the room housing the shadows. Yes, it's a real place.

As a special thank you for stopping by today, leave a comment about your favorite thing about Iowa and I'll pick a random winner for a free copy of either Beta or Night Shadows (both are eBooks and will arrive in pdf form.)

Thanks for visiting. Please take time to visit www.stephenbrayton.com
Go Hawkeyes! (Unless you’re a Cyclone fan, then Go 'Clones!)
(All information provided by author)

April 6, 2014

The Four Seasons of Indiana and Ruth J. Hartman

I’ve lived in Indiana my whole life. Different cities for different phases of my life, but always in the central to eastern area. Our little town is perched on the very edge of the state, teetering precariously, ready to topple into Ohio with a very strong wind.

I live out in the country surrounded by cornfields, deer and the wild cats I feed every day, who live in our shed. With an acre of land, we have a little bit of privacy, but neighbors are close enough if we feel the need to talk to someone besides each other.

When we’re out in the yard, we wave at passersby, most of whom are driving pick-up trucks, whether we know them or not. If my husband and I are taking a walk, our hands go up in greeting to any vehicle that drives by. We don’t even think about it. It’s a reflex, like Pavlov’s dog. That’s not a bad thing, though. I’m convinced the world will never see enough kindness, so we need to do our part.
If you love having all four seasons, then Indiana is for you. This winter, an especially tough one brought more snow and icy temperatures than Hoosiers had seen since the late 1970’s. Several feet of snow, frozen pipes and power outages became the norm.

Last summer was a scorcher with lots of sun and highs in the 90’s, which was great for our huge garden and fruit trees, but hard on those of us who wilt when the humidity reduces us to steamy puddles.

Give me fall, with leaves of red, orange and gold beneath a deep blue sky and cooler temperatures. Or spring, which will be especially treasured this year, as we look forward to a much-needed thaw.

Sure, everybody complained about this year’s winter, but how much sweeter will it be when spring finally does show up? I think we’ll appreciate the purple crocuses and yellow daffodils even more than most years. And even those are eclipsed by the birds. Lately I’ve noticed more robins and fat Carolina wrens hanging around. They always seem to sense spring before we do.

And when the goldfinches turn from brownish gold to bright yellow, we’ll know the birds were right. Spring is finally here.

Ruth J. Hartman lives with her husband of 31 years and their three spoiled indoor cats.  Her newest, The Unwanted Earl, releases this month. Visit her website, www.ruthjhartman.blogspot.com for news about her romance novels, memoir and children’s book.
(All pictures provided by author)