The greatest place, but where are we headed?

Another beautiful fall day here in northern Illinois, and I love being surrounded by the splendid colors and the fields that have gone from lush green to various shades of brown and gold as they await harvest. And as I do on a daily basis, I remind myself just what a wonderful land I live in, and I ask myself: How can this not be the greatest place on earth?

And yet I hear on the news almost daily that young people from various parts of the United States are intent on joining the evil world that is Isis, Isil, or whatever else the group goes by, to fight against the United States and its allies.

It’s almost as though these young folks think that it’s just another one of the games in their world of games, and nothing to really be taken seriously. Perhaps they feel that when they grow bored with things, they’ll quit and scurry back home to wherever home is here in the U.S., and all will be cool again. For their sakes, before it’s too late, I hope that they realize the inherent danger into which they’re immersing themselves. If nothing else is obvious, it’s pretty certain that this enemy is evil incarnate and the terror is anything but a game.

How has it come to this? I ask myself this question over and over. I think back to my years of teaching and picture the faces of students who were usually curious and eager to grow and do their best. Many were kids from different parts of the world whose parents had come to America and become citizens who proudly basked in the glow of being part of this country.

Our school stressed teaching the principles of democracy, and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were vital parts of the social studies curriculum. And fortunately for our students and the rest of us teachers, our school had a terrific teacher who brought all of that to life and did a remarkable job year after year. Thus, students left 8th grade with a respect and understanding of America’s founding  and an appreciation of its framework and heritage.

Sadly, when she retired, all of that changed. Not only did the focus shift away from that key concept of American history, but an emphasis on multi-cultural education began to appear across the curriculum. Newer and younger teachers who replaced her were more comfortable in this new curriculum shift, and at the same time, the state’s educational goals changed, and traditional education as we had known it was forever changed. No longer would there be a strict requirement to teach the Constitution!

It was a shame that students now would move along to high school without the strong background of knowing about our nation’s founding fathers and the precious documents on which our country has stood since the beginning.

One of the joys of my teaching career was accompanying our 8th graders on the three-day trip to Washington, D.C., each February. It was a terrific opportunity to spend time with kids and to point out the landmarks of our nation’s history and culture. To say the least, it was a wonderful “classroom”—those buildings that comprise the Smithsonian and the memorials and precious monuments on which so much American history is etched.

I often wonder what happened to those students I had the chance opportunity to teach and know for but a brief time. And years removed from them and their ups and downs, their joys and sorrow, I wonder if being so distraught or lost in some way, they ever entertained thoughts of joining up with our enemy, as so many of today’s young people are doing. I’d like to think that there still burns in each of them a sense of pride and patriotism that we taught and stressed in our lessons long ago. We can only hope…CortlandWriter

Busy times, a new computer, and “unhibernating” the novel…

countryroad1It hasn’t taken very long for my life to get extremely busy once again! Not complaining, mind you, just mentioning that everything seems to begin to happen all at the same time, and it’s not always easy to get going again, to get “back in the flow.”

Not so long ago, I was writing about how things had slowed down to a crawl, especially with my regular writing routine. But these past couple of days, that aspect of my life has gotten a good jump-start, for a couple of reasons: First, I went computer shopping at the Apple Store in Naperville yesterday and bought a 15-inch MacBook Pro with an AirPort Time Capsule (which I’m anxious to figure out). I was going to go with the 13-inch screen, but the kind wife that I have insisted that I should have the larger screen (old eyes, you know!) and that the money would be there for it. Hard to argue with that line of thinking!

Second, Gwen Hernandez’s Scrivener for Mac-Intermediate class began this morning, and I’m mentally “back” into all things Scrivener after completing lesson 1. I can tell just from the first lesson, that it’s going to be another worthwhile and valuable class for the next few weeks.

But there were a few obstacles I had to work around in order to be ready for the onset of this morning’s first lesson. The major concern was my being without my ancient MacBook (late 2007), having left it at the Apple Store yesterday to have all of the data, Apps, programs, files, etc., transferred to my new MacBook Pro. This presented a problem at first, since I would be without my laptop at least until Thursday and would put me behind in Gwen’s

Deutsch: Apple MacBook Pro 15"-Modell mit...
Deutsch: Apple MacBook Pro 15″ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Then it hit me! I could use my wife’s MacBook to access the class forum site and be able to download the lessons without missing anything. Of course, my wife doesn’t have or use Scrivener at the moment, so that was another concern. But one of the beauties of Literature and Latte’s Scrivener is that they offer a 30-day free trial.

With that in mind, I downloaded it to the wife’s computer and am able to move ahead with Gwen’s class and resume work on my novel–waking it from hibernation–without missing any time. And as it will probably turn out when things are back to “normal” around here and I’m back on my own laptop with my own registered Scrivener, the trial version will expire. But the wife just might be interested in using it for her genealogy and ancestry stuff and will probably purchase it as well.

And so my week has begun with a flurry of activity in things computer and Scrivener related. Then there was the “gathering” on Sunday we had to prepare for last week. As it turned out, we had a wonderful dinner party here on Sunday with nearly thirty folks from the wife’s place of business in attendance. It was a wonderful time, great food, and many laughs and bits of conversation, but there’s that thing called “clean up” and getting chairs, tables, coolers, dishes, etc., back in their proper places. Though we’ve made a pretty good dent in getting that all taken care of, there’s still more awaiting–as soon as I can find the “spirit” to pull away from my writing!

Now, I am eager to hear from the good folks at the Apple Store that my new computer is all set up and ready for me to pick it up on Thursday morning when I’m taking one of their One-to-One “lessons” to go over the new operating system and other things on how the MacBook Pro works. In the meantime, I’d best see what I can do to move my novel along, further out of hibernation!…CortlandWriterinthe country1

A spur-of-the-moment adventure up the Mother Road…

Some of the best things I’ve done have been on the spur of the moment. Of course, there are also many other things I’ve done in that way that haven’t turned out quite so well and aren’t worth writing about. But sometimes doing something “on the fly” seems to turn out much better than expected.

Point in case was yesterday while I was on my way home from a weekend at my longtime friend and former teaching colleague’s place in Sparta, Illinois, way down in southern Illinois. Much of the trip is on Interstate-55, the road that replaced the Mother Road, Route 66. I have been traveling I-55 for years and even a good portion of Route 66 in the early 70s before the interstate was totally finished. But I never really examined it very closely as I’ve always been in a hurry to get to where I’m going.

Cover of "Route 66: The Mother Road"
Cover of Route 66: The Mother Road

Even so, I have had a persistent interest in all things related to Route 66, especially since reading Michael Wallis’s book Route 66 the Mother Road (St. Martin’s Press, 1990) several years ago. And I still have the desire to drive the entire length of the famous road, from its start in Chicago to its end in San Bernardino, California.

So yesterday’s return trip from a fun and relaxing weekend with my old friend turned into one of those impulsive decisions that I’m glad I made. Because I needed a “pit stop” for breakfast and restroom facilities, I pulled off I-55 and into a McDonald’s in Litchfield, Illinois.

Leaving the parking lot a short time later, hot coffee in hand, I noticed the sign that pointed the way to the Route 66 Historic route. Since I was in no real hurry to get back home at any certain time, and since I was traveling alone on a gorgeous October morning, I swung my car in that direction and followed the sign that pointed the way north on that section of the old road.

For a good part of the way, the old road (basically a Frontage Road) paralleled the busy interstate. Yet, even though the cars and trucks were cruising along a mere one hundred feet from me, I felt as though I was back in time and motoring the road that millions before me had.

Driving along, I thought of all of the dreams and heart breaks that the highway must have produced through the years, of people setting out to head west or pointing their vehicles northeast to Chicago. Whatever their destinations must have been, they had many miles to think and plan and dream about their lives and what lay ahead of them.

The little towns of the old road are still there, for better or worse, as are the ancient gas stations, restaurants, roadhouses, and motels that provided snug havens and safe harbor to those Route 66 pilgrims of long ago. Though most have been long out of business, there still simmers a spirit that any true lover of the old road can surely feel while passing by.

English: Historic Route 66 in Joliet & Route 5...
English: Historic Route 66 in Joliet & Route 53 IL south of Theodore Street on April 23, 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My little spur-of-the-moment adventure caused me to arrive back home a few hours later than normal, but it was worth every minute of it. An otherwise boring drive up the interstate was transformed into one of fun and discovery as I followed the Historic Route along, imagining another time and all it had to offer.

In so doing, I told myself that I would take some time in the future and complete the rest of the Illinois portion of Route 66 and, eventually, keep heading west on the entire Mother Road!…CortlandWriter

Photographs & Memories–a trip to Mom’s…

Ah, October! Seems as though I was just writing about an early autumn not so long ago, but it’s no longer early, and it’s officially autumn now—my favorite time of the year.

I had the pleasure of seeing autumn’s beauty on Sunday as I drove from our home in northern Illinois to Port Clinton, Ohio, to spend a couple of days with my 85-year-old mother.

Traveling along the Indiana and Ohio Turnpikes that were lined with the magnificent colors of the leaves of the oaks, maples, sumac, ash, and sycamores, I once again came to realize the true miracle that is nature in all of the faces of its changing seasons. Fall is really a spectacular face!

Downtown of Port Clinton, a port city and the ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I try to make the six-hour drive out to see my mom at least once every couple of months, as she lives alone and does very well for herself. But there are always little “jobs” she needs tended to, such as getting the storage containers of many of her fall and winter clothes down from her closet shelf. And I’ve become quite adept at hanging her bedroom curtain rod with freshly washed curtains! Helping her clean out and rearrange her outside storage closet, getting it ready for the chill of fall and the onslaught of winter, is a pretty regular duty as well.

This time, however, there was another task that we had talked about and avoided jumping into for a couple of years. In a recent phone conversation, Mom dropped not-so-subtle hints that she would actually enjoy having the long and awkward plastic container—stashed away under her bed—emptied and something done with its contents. Inside that container were picture frames of all shapes and sizes, with photos still inside each.

The container was cumbersome and impossible for Mom to lift, but I slid and prodded and nudged it out from under the bed, and we spent a good hour removing the photos from the frames and then placing the empty frames in a box that we’d take to the second-hand store the next day. That was merely the first step in dealing with the sorting and placing of her vast collection of family photos into large manila envelopes.

I suppose most families can boast of having photos that go way back to when we were kids—younger and skinnier—and even those of grandparents and great-grandparents that have somehow been passed down from generation to generation. Well, Mom’s collection, which has been stored in old envelopes and small containers forever, is no exception. It was my goal to get the collection organized and into those clearly labeled envelopes.

After a quick trip to the second-hand store on Monday morning where Mom’s box of frames was welcomed with smiles and open arms, we set about playing the sorting game. I would grab one of the full envelopes and spread the contents out on the little coffee table where Mom would identify the “main” person or family in each photo, and I would place each photo inside the new envelope with the updated label.

Of course, this procedure was time consuming, and I had to return home the next morning, but we did manage to work through several of the random envelopes, leaving the rest for her to work on during the weeks ahead. The empty container that had previously housed those annoying frames was now the perfect place for her new and improved photo envelopes! She could easily get to them when the spirit moved her, and they were no longer lying about willy-nilly. With the weather promising rain and cold down the road, it will be a good activity for her to work on at her leisure.

I kiddingly told her that I expect them to be all placed into the appropriate envelopes when I next return in mid-November. She assured me that they would be. I’m not so certain of that, but at least we’ve made that first step, and those old picture frames are no longer bugging her!

English: Road and Autumn Trees
English: Road and Autumn Trees (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I drove back home, surrounded by fall’s beauty once more, I felt pretty good about the way our little project had gone ….CortlandWriter


Nothing to say…

“Blessed are they, who have nothing to say, and who cannot be persuaded to say it!” (James Russell Lowell)

English: Elmwood, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Ho...
English: Elmwood, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Home of poet James Russell Lowell etc. Photograph taken by me, September 2005. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

American poet James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) penned these words a long time ago, and they still ring true today. As I was scrambling for a blog topic the past couple of days, his words kept popping back into my head, and I began to realize that perhaps I really have nothing to say. And until I actually do have something to say, maybe I should stop trying to force the issue.

Yet, I could write about the mess that the world finds itself in, particularly the evil that is ISIS and how our government is attempting to deal with it. But even though I have very strong concerns about this latest threat to our precious way of life here, I don’t want to come off as just another reactionary, spouting that “we should have done this…we should have done that!” As always, I leave it to those folks—our leaders—to make sense of it all and stow the politics long enough to protect our country and  all of us in it!

Of course, I could devote hundreds of words to the current sordid state of affairs in the NFL, with its rampant, out-of-control domestic/child abuse, but what really more can anyone say to make much sense of a league gone mad, featuring massive humans—wealthy beyond reason—operating in a world that places them way up on pedestals and adorns them with crowns for being so good at what they do—on the field of play, that is.

I could throw out several paragraphs detailing my continued struggles to get much writing done on my next novel, the one in which I’ve been becalmed and landlocked for such a long time. However, I really don’t like to whine and complain, beating a dead horse over and over again. I’m sure readers don’t deserve having to read any more about it, either.

Jack.ninth b'day
Jack poses next to the sign at the local gas station to check out the special birthday message!

Amidst all of the sadness, sickness, and horror that swirls about in this world of ours, I’ll keep it to a couple of pleasant and good things. Yesterday, my one grandson, Jack, turned nine. We celebrated with one of his favorite dishes—Grandma’s lasagna, salad, and cake and ice cream. Before we ate, he and his younger brother spent an hour or so out in our back yard having a terrific time playing whiffle ball and laughing and running and sweating.

They knew nothing about the tragedies that surround them or the growing evil over in Syria and its neighboring countries. They couldn’t care less about professional football players who don’t know how to behave in a civilized manner. And they most certainly couldn’t give a rat’s patooty about Grandpa’s writing issues!

In their own beautiful world, life is still very good. They have a mom and dad who care and provide for them. They have warm beds to sleep in—safely—each night and a good school to get to every morning to learn and grow and try to be good citizens of the world.

As we all sat down to dinner and enjoyed the delicious offerings from my wife, I couldn’t help but feel a real sense of pride in my son sitting across from me and my two grandsons, one on each side of me—my legacy!

I do hope the world will turn out OK for them in the years ahead.

So I guess I really didn’t have anything to say after all!

Early Autumn?

“When an early autumn walks the land and chills the breezefall magician lake
And touches with her hand the summer trees,
Perhaps you’ll understand what memories I own.” (Johnny Mercer, Ralph Burns, and Woody Herman)

These opening lyrics from a very beautiful and romantic song with a haunting melody, “Early Autumn” by Johnny Mercer, Ralph Burns, and Woody Herman, come to mind this morning as there is a definite chill in the air, even though there is an all-illuminating sunrise kissing the day awake.

And although autumn doesn’t “officially” begin until next Monday, September 22, it seems to have jumped the gun a bit these past few weeks. It’s been sweatshirt weather for the most part, and all of the signs that summer has flown the coop are hanging out there for all to see.

There is a slight tint beginning to appear on the trees all around, the initial stages of their lovely fall colors that will be in full force when October arrives.

The tall corn out in this neck of northern Illinois, still green and vibrant, is gearing itself up for the harvest season that will be here in the weeks ahead. It’s way too early yet for any of that, but there’s just a feel in the air that autumn is creeping around out there!

This is my favorite time of the year, even though there’s much to be said for all of the other seasons of the year. But autumn! The splendid weather and a sense that the summer fun is put away and the comfort of home is good. The sting of winter is still a ways off—but really not that far!

Football is in full swing now. The baseball season is winding down, the playoffs and World Series on the horizon. My White Sox will be nowhere close to either this year, but that’s what spring is for months away—new dreams and false hopes!

Rural orchards offer delicious apples and cider. Bright orange pumpkins will soon dot the landscape, and festivals will pop up here and there in hamlets and towns far from the hustle and bustle of cities and other places that are still moving way too fast to notice.

English: Apple. Polski: Jabłko.
English: Apple. Polski: Jabłko. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And so, whether or not it really is an early autumn, the feeling and goodness of life all around us is here. Here’s to a wonderful autumn, everyone!

“A winding country lane all russet brown,
A frosty window pane shows me a town grown lonely.”

The end of the season, battery recharged!

jollyYetIt’s over!

That sounds kind of like an old Roy Orbison song from long ago, but our summer at Gregory Beach on beautiful Magician Lake “up there” in Michigan has come to an end. Funny how time just keeps moving right along—and much faster the older we get, it seems.

And though I was very busy this past week attending to all of the tasks that go into the “closing” procedure of this old place, I’ve had a lot of time to think and reflect on just what a wonderful summer it has been, a summer basically “away” from lots of writing. For a long time this summer, I’ve questioned my lack of desire to write (my current WIP or my blog posts), and I’ve finally come to terms with that as a time needed to “recharge” the attitude.

So if nothing else came out of this summer besides many wonderful hours spent in the sunshine, on the water, on the porch, or reading peacefully in the wonderful summer breeze, I have gained a fresh perspective on what kind of writer I want to be and, perhaps, not be so hard on myself when things aren’t turning out the way I hope they would.

At any rate, I’m rejuvenated and looking forward to jumping back into the writing fray now that I’m Time to Write!home and in the wonderful environs of my writing room. My spacious writing desk, not yet cluttered with notes, folders, scraps of doodles, and other pieces of mind droppings, sits in front of the two large windows, my “windows to the world” of bean fields and the water tower out there alongside the Union Pacific tracks.

Being home is certainly good. I’ll miss those summer months at the lake, but it’s time to turn the corner and get things back in order around here. Today will involve finishing unloading the cars and getting all the things inside and unpacked and put away. And through my two large windows I can see—in dawn’s early light—that the grass needs attention once again, so I’m mentally putting that on the calendar for tomorrow morning. Ah, routine once more!

Up early this morning, the coffee going, the house opened up, and the MacBook at the ready, I have that “writerly” feeling once again. Yes, there are stories to write and blog posts to create and to share with anyone interested enough to drop by for a few minutes each week. Here’s to a good week for everyone….CortlandWriter