Election Day, Town history, and the Lions…

Voting Booths

This past Tuesday I had the opportunity to serve as a county election judge here in our tiny town out near DeKalb, Illinois. Beginning at 5:15 a.m., when we have to set up the voting booths and prepare the precinct tables and stations prior to poll opening at 6:00 a.m., it’s the start of an extremely long day, with plenty of “lulls in the action,” and it can wear one down as time seems to crawl at a snail’s pace all day, until the polls close at 7 p.m.

Our little burg is divided into three different precincts, which means that there are four election judges for each, so I did get to meet eleven other folks I’d not known before. Being relatively new to this particular area, having moved out here following my retirement in 2007, I’m still getting to know people and places and the history of the region. And because there is ample time for conversation and chit-chat through the long day, I found out a lot of answers to questions I’ve been mulling over for quite some time. For example, the trains that run through town (the tracks being a couple hundred yards from where I’m writing this) are not permitted to sound their horns, and I’ve wondered why and never really received a solid answer.

Not until the other day, that is, when one of the other elections judges, a native and longtime resident here, explained that it had to do with the town’s school being constantly interrupted by the blaring of train engine horns. The town and the Union Pacific had quite a battle before coming to an agreement that the horns would not be sounded if proper safety lane guards on the roads approaching the crossings were installed, preventing vehicles from skirting the gates in their down positions. It works, although there are occasions when some engineer forgets the ordinance and blows the engine’s horn!

Lions Clubs International
Lions Clubs International (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our voting location was in the town’s community center, home of the local Lions Club. I was somewhat taken aback when I overheard a few of the other election judges querying what exactly the Lions Club is. After they joked back and forth for a time that it was probably just another social club for the purpose of drinking, I cut in and explained to them that the Lions Club is one of a community’s greatest allies. To back up what I said, I pulled out my trusty iPhone and went to the Lions Club’s Web page and read the following to them:

“Our 46,000 clubs and 1.35 million members make us the world’s largest service club organization. We’re also one of the most effective. Our members do whatever is needed to help their local communities. Everywhere we work, we make friends. With children who need eyeglasses, with seniors who don’t have enough to eat and with people we may never meet.”

I didn’t really have to say more, and I rather enjoyed correcting their misconceptions about a wonderful and vital organization. I am not a member, but I know several people who are, and I appreciate all that they do. Thank you, Lions!

April in the wings, an elusive ending, and Deep Down Dark…

IMG_0817Roused from my work on my novel, I just realized that the blustery month of March is just about finished, which means that the annual guessing game as to what kind of weather we’ll be having around these parts is soon to begin. Will we be able to have morning coffee on the deck before much longer? This is critical, you know!

Yep, the calendar says that it’s officially spring, but we in northern Illinois know better than to put much stock in April’s arrival ushering in warm days full of blooming flowers and trees and lawns magically greening up. Instead, we can be sure that heavy jackets and hats will be necessary at times, which makes it rather difficult to become inspired to get out there and spread the first treatment of weed-n-feed or tend to the cluttered garage. But I’m steeling myself to get my spring tasks completed despite what Mother Nature will throw at us.

But, hark! April is waiting in the wings to give us at least an illusion that we’re through with the brunt of winter’s wrath and that those shorts-and-tee shirt-days are on the way. How soon, though, is the real question. The common saying around here is that the one thing that is predictable about spring weather is that it is quite unpredictable!

Now, I’ve done enough harping about the weather, so I’ll let it go and get back to work on that elusive conclusion to Birchwood’s Secret (originally titled Sandbar’s Secret). I’m resigned to the fact that a massive rewrite is in order for the conclusion to develop. And so it goes…

* * *

Unknown-1My writing struggles aside, I’ve also been reading a very stirring non-fiction book about the thirty-three Chilean miners who were trapped in a copper mine over 2,000 feet below ground in 2010. Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October 2014) is one of those books that is good—yet challenging—for a claustrophobic such as I to read. Knowing that the outcome is a good one makes it a bit easier, yet author Héctor Tobar has created a good deal of nerve-racking tension throughout as he brings to light the stories of these unfortunate brave Chilean miners and their families. I recommend that one not read this book prior to going to bed, although it’s hard to put down.

How about you? Is there a book you’ve read that you’ve enjoyed, but yet made you squirm a bit?

We’ve turned the corner…

Hello, all. Time for only a quick post to wish everyone a “happy spring.” I’m happy to report that there is no more snow around here, and we have truly worked ourselves out of the throes of winter’s relentless grip. The robins have been bouncing and flitting about for the past week, and they are a wonderful sight, indeed! images-1

I will be off for a “Mom visit” to Ohio tomorrow through Tuesday, and it should be pleasant driving. I always look forward to the drive out of Illinois, across the top of Indiana, and on to the northern coast of Ohio. This time of year, things are just beginning to spring to life once more after being buried under winter’s heavy blanket these past months. images-2

And speaking of travel, our next little sojourn is going to be in a couple of weeks when we’ll head down to the mountains of Waynesville, North Carolina, for a few days, then up to Elkins, West Virginia, to see a cousin, and then back to Athens County, Ohio, for a return genealogy “exploration” where we spent a few days snooping about a couple of years ago.

Lots of miles, but fun miles!

Now, without further delay, I’m off now to pack and to get the car washed and gassed up for tomorrow’s trek to Port Clinton, Ohio. Enjoy your weekend wherever you are! :-)

A snowy homeward adventure…

English: A view of Panama City Beach, Florida ...
English: A view of Panama City Beach, Florida from St. Andrews State Recreation Area (in the United States). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my last post, I wrote about our trip to Florida and what a good time we had with two good friends, despite the non-Florida-like weather.

We had planned to head over to New Orleans for a few days, after dropping Bill and Barb off at the Panama City Beach airport, but the weather forecast sort of took our enthusiasm out of the equation, and we decided, instead, to get on the road and drive straight home to northern Illinois.

Our driving conditions were ideal all the way up through Alabama, Tennessee, and most of southern Kentucky. However, as soon as we got back into our dear home state of Illinois about 7 p.m., the heavy snow had begun, and, of course, we were several hours from home. We kept thinking that the farther north we drove, the less the storm would be—based on the weather maps and radar we were intent on watching!

I was forced to creep along behind semis at a top speed of 19 mph, and the storm continued to intensify. Many vehicles had spun out and into the median, stuck for a long night, and others had exited into the deep ditches and woods on the other side of the highway. What state trucks were out plowing or salting, were finding it difficult to keep up with the heavy snow, and it was pretty obvious that we needed to get off the highway!

salem_ilThe long stretch of interstate between Carbondale and Effingham, Illinois, is dark and sparsely populated. What towns there are, north of Mount Vernon, are small and offer few options for accommodations. We exited at Salem, Illinois, a town of about 7,500 people. We filled up with gas, and the woman working at the station was very helpful and called a couple of the motels there.

The first had no vacancies, but we lucked out on the second one. The Guest House International was only a block away, and we slowly slogged our way there, where we found several others waiting there with the same idea as us.

But, as promised, the woman clerk had held one of the few remaining rooms and we were thankful. It was good—and safe—to be off the road and out of the storm for the night!

We were up and out by 8:00 the next morning and found the interstate to be passable but not really ideal for travel. But at least it was daylight and it wasn’t snowing as it had been the night before. I took it easy, and we worked our way up north where the weather had been much better and very little in the way of snow. By the time we made it home in the late afternoon, we were both tired and glad to be off the road.

Last week the frigid temperatures broke and the past several days have been very pleasant, and new life seems to be rapping at our door. People are out and about and enjoying the 40s and 50s that are gracing us with their presence this week. Little by little, all of the accumulated snow is disappearing and larger patches of grass in our yards are unmasking with every passing hour.

Our snow time ordeal seems like a long way off at this point. Now, it’s time to think about first applications of spring fertilizer, a new lawnmower, and sitting out on the deck for morning coffee! Have we truly worked ourselves out of the throes of winter’s relentless grip? I certainly hope so….

Panama City Beach, Florida.
Panama City Beach, Florida. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another February Adventure…

For the last two years, we’ve taken February vacations to places neither of us has been before. Last February, we journeyed to Stone Mountain, Atlanta, and A.H. Stephens State Park in Georgia. We then visited Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina. We had a wonderful time in each place, despite the unusually cold and stormy weather.

Now, writing this from my home office following this year’s sojourn, I’m giving serious thought to re-thinking our future trips at this time of the year. We are once again back home in white, bright, and cold northern Illinois after a week in Panama City Beach, Florida. We have seen more sun here at home within the past twenty-four hours than we did for most of our time in Florida’s Panhandle location! The wife and I have had some serious discussions regarding maybe taking our little February trips a bit later in the month—or even into March. We shall see.

English: This is a clear west facing view of P...
English: This is a clear west facing view of Panama City Beach in the state of Florida, USA. It was taken from the viewpoint of St. Andrews pier. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Regardless, we enjoyed our week down there after driving through some seriously nasty weather south of Nashville.

Our friends, Bill and Barb, belong to a Time Share organization, and they were able to secure a week’s stay for the four of us at Marriott’s Legends Edge. They flew, we drove, and we timed our arrival there so that we could pick them up at the airport.

Arriving by mid-afternoon on Saturday, Carolyn and I located the place, checked in, and had time for a nice lunch of fish tacos at the golf club restaurant before heading to the airport. Our friends’ flight was right on time so we were off for them to check in and then explore the various parts of Panama City Beach.

Although it was cool and overcast, I still persisted in wearing shorts. Such a rebel am I! Monday was perhaps the most “Florida-like” of the week, with sun darting in and out of a gray cloud cover. The temperature was good enough for us to spend several hours poolside, soaking some sunshine into our winterized bodies.

Unfortunately, that was the only day we were able to feel good about any kind of poolside lounging. Of course, there were a couple of days of downright cold temperatures, where the long pants were in order, so I stowed my rebellious ways for the sake of being warm and comfortable.

And my grandiose plans to work on my writing fell by the wayside, as I booted up my MacBook Pro only once during the week. Neither was I in the proper frame of mind to write fiction, nor was there a good place to get away and write in peace and solitude as I prefer. So I made lots of mental notes and reminders of what I had to get going on as soon as I got back home.

On the other hand, I managed to get lots of reading done—The Billionaire’s Vinegar—a story about the world’s most expensive bottle of wine and the mystery surrounding it. Not much of a wine fanatic or devotee, I wasn’t all that enthralled with the book. But it’s for a book club discussion in the near future, so I plodded through it and finished it during those cold days in Florida.

Dinner at Harpoon Harry's-Surf and white sands in the background!
Dinner at Harpoon Harry’s

Whatever else we weren’t able to do during the week, we made up for with our nightly dinners. Seafood was the order of our stay there, and we had some delicious grouper, seafood platters, and scallops, to name a few of our favorites.

In Panama City Beach, there are numerous fine places to get good seafood: Dirty Dicks, Sharkey’s, Harpoon Harry’s, The Front Porch, and The Whale’s Tail over on the beach in Destin. Nothing goes together like a cold bottle of Bud and a blackened grouper sandwich!

Our last night there, we had a wonderful dinner at Captain Anderson’s, a Panama City Beach tradition since 1967. It is one of those classic old-time restaurants, with lots of room and plenty of tables (all filled!) to accommodate hundreds. Our meals were well worth the cost, and it was a wonderful way to wrap up a fun—though chilly—week with friends.

The next morning, we packed up, checked out, and dropped Bill and Barb off at the airport and continued up the road for home, where we hoped to arrive right around midnight. But that is a story for my next post.

A taxing Monday and other mischievous stuff…

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http://www.thelibertybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/income_tax_image.jpg

It’s one of those very cold and very bright winter days, and Carolyn and I have managed to spend most of it in the car, taking care of necessary business. Up and out by 8:45 this morning, she and I drove the hour to the man who does our taxes. All went well, and the hour we spent there was well worth it, and we’re happy to be done with all of that for another year.

While listening to the radio on the drive in, I heard some words and their usage that immediately caused me to make mental notes to include them in my next blog post (this one!)

I have shared my feelings regarding words and phrases and how they are used (or overused) a few times previously. And today is another one of those occasions that I simply cannot refrain from reiterating what I think about how our language is abused and mangled by those who don’t know any better, don’t care, or simply aren’t all that bright.

First, can we please give the expression teaching moment a rest? I was in the classroom for 34 years, and my days were full of teaching moments. We all know what it means, but everything that happens isn’t some crucial, timely learning opportunity. Sometimes, it might just be human nature doing what it’s supposed to do and someone learning from his mistake.

Soon after, I heard a newsreader say, “It was very mischievious behavior.” (Putting the extra vowel sound in “mischievous”) This misspelling causes the non-standard pronunciation, and it’s annoying, especially when coming from the mouth of a professional announcer. Of course, over the years, I heard this misuse uttered and written many times by fellow teachers who should know better! The same can be said of should of and would of instead of the correct should have and would have.

If these instances of language abuse weren’t enough, one more popped up to brighten my long drive to the tax man: Asterick instead of asterisk. (The word comes from the Greek asteriskos-“small star”) As with every word or phrase, each deserves to be spelled and pronounced the right way. I am aware that the more words are used—correctly or incorrectly—the greater the chances of acceptance for both ways of spelling and pronunciation. Alas!

If nothing else, this cavalcade of language butchery made the drive to the tax man pass quickly and it was good for my Monday morning brain, kick-starting it and getting me to thinking about other words and phrases that seem “problematic” much of the time: Ice tea rather than iced tea; corn beef for corned beef; snuck instead of sneaked, to name but a few.

It doesn’t take very much for a word or phrase to convey a completely different meaning. For example, I will never forget a brochure announcing the cost of attending a summer camp. One section titled Room and Broad drew a mental picture I still laugh about! I often wondered what sort of “broad” would come with the room. :-)

And then there is the story of a newspaper reporter who was sued because a space inadvertently had been inserted in a word in his news article. The sentence should have read: “John Doe, therapist, will speak at the convention.” Instead, it was printed as “John Doe, the rapist, will speak at the convention.” Oops! Perhaps this could have been a “teachable moment,” one that stresses the need to be careful with all aspects of language.

Our language is certainly a wonderful thing, especially when people take time to use it correctly.

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That unexpected happening…

IMG_0140Something unexpected happened yesterday, and I’m kind of hoping that the same thing will do so again today. Of course, then it wouldn’t be unexpected. But enough of splitting hairs.

I have been struggling—for longer than I care to even think about—with the novel, Birchwood’s Secret, which I began years ago. It is to be my third book published, and a continuation of the lives of the two main characters, Rick and Karen Brenson, who performed so bravely in Black Wolf Lodge. That one came out in 2010, after many starts and stops along the way.

This current adventure in which Rick and Karen find themselves involved was actually begun long before Black Wolf Lodge. For whatever reasons, I simply wasn’t enthused about working on Birchwood’s Secret and pretty much abandoned it altogether. The rough outlines and ideas remained tucked away in the depths of a manilla folder, in the depths of purgatory in my writing file box. It was then that I plunged into writing Black Wolf, a couple of short stories, “Hobo Willie” and “Pinewood Farm,” and a very fun book titled The Good Luck Highway.

What was I going to work on next? About that time, November rolled around and NaNoWriMo reared its beckoning head and drew me in. And then it hit me that I had a wonderful opportunity to finally do something with all of the notes, scribblings, outlines, etc., still serving out their sentence in the confines of that manilla folder. Thus, the beginnings of my current work in progress began to come together.

At the end of the month, I had accumulated well over the 50,000 word target, but the work itself was scattered, unorganized, and full of problems too numerous to even mention here. Suffice it to say, I was once again ready to re-commit this whole thing to the darkness of the writing file box and some out-of-the-way abyss in a Scrivener Projects folder on my Mac.

But that didn’t happen. I actually went back to the beginning of the novel and began to rework it and attempt to develop it toward some kind of logical and satisfying conclusion. As before, though, that process didn’t go as I’d liked, and the frustration and inability to write much of anything grew and grew.

From the very beginning, I’ve always known what the main premise of the story is all about and who the main characters and the roles they’ll play are. It took me a very long time, however, to know how the thing would end. And that’s when yesterday’s “unexpected happening” happened!

Yesterday, as I try to do on most mornings, I sat down at my Mac and opened my Birchwood’s Secret Scrivener project and re-read what I’d written just a few days before. And for whatever reason, I suddenly knew that a couple of characters needed changed as to their roles in the story, and that another major character (main villain) would have to be worked in.

English: A stereotypical caricature of a villa...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Realizing this, it became clear in my mind how I could finally build things to the conclusion and outcome that has been eluding me for a long, long time. And I was able to crank out well over two-and-a-half hours worth of writing, the words seeming to flow as they hadn’t in such an extended stretch of time. And, to be honest, it was a wonderful feeling!

Now, as I wrap up this post, I will pour another cup of hot coffee, jump back to dear, old Birchwood’s Secret, and hope that yesterday’s magic shows itself once more.

A Super Week?

English: American football with clock to repre...
English: American football with clock to represent a “current sports or American football event” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s Super Bowl Week, and everyone is supposed to be charged up and rarin’ to go for the “big game” next Sunday! Yep, it’s all come down to this for NFL fans and anyone else who wants to hop aboard the bandwagon and become immersed in the hoopla and craziness that is conveyed through every media source on God’s green earth.

The entire Super Bowl thing is even larger and more important to two contingents: 1.) Those fans who have a rooting interest in either team (I don’t!); 2.) Those who have a wagering interest in anything related to the event (I don’t!). So as a casual observer, I can enjoy the game without any pressure and concentrate on whatever it is I’m going to be grilling on the Weber charcoal grill (I haven’t decided on that yet—BBQ chicken, perhaps?).

Yesterday, Super Bowl Week really kicked into high gear with something called Media Day. You know, the event where the players from both teams are up on platforms and expected to answer all sorts of hard-hitting questions from fawning and gushing reporters and analysts. Of course, I’m rather jaded when it comes to professional athlete interviews as none of the players seems to have anything really important to say—about anything!

Point in case: A certain player for the Seattle Seahawks “agreed” to sit for a ten-minute session and entertain all kinds of questions. His stock answer for each was, “I’m only here so I don’t get fined by the NFL.” Now, isn’t that special! Of course, the wide-eyed, gawking media folks fell all over themselves trying to get this paragon of intellect to say something other than his standard response. Now that’s a true, heartwarming American sports story, friends, and I’m awfully glad my 10-o’clock news devoted so many minutes to it last night.

As for the big game itself (which doesn’t start until very late in the afternoon), I will come home from church, change into my comfy “uniform of the day”—sweats, hoodie, and sweat socks—and prepare the charcoal for my pre-game cooking of the aforementioned chicken. Of course, I will have already had the breasts, thighs, and legs cleaned and marinading overnight, so they will be ready whenever the Weber is up to temperature.

And, out here in northern Illinois, there’s always the weather to factor in to my plans. As of right now, it’s supposed to be cloudy and windy (oh, how it gets windy here!) with snow. The highs are supposed to be in the mid 20s and the low somewhere around 6°. But as I’ve proven in the past, this will not deter me! I am well equipped with heavy Carhartt jackets and coveralls as well as nice warm boots.

Once the charcoal is going and the chicken is ready to be put on the grate, I can warm myself in the closed garage with all of the pre-game programming on my TV. There will be plenty of cold, golden Budweiser at hand, and the day will be merry, and as game time gets closer, I’ll continue to monitor the progress of the chicken and then move on inside.

Regardless of the weather, the grilling will go on!
Regardless of the weather, the grilling will go on!

I will watch the teams as they come out for the coin flip, followed by the kickoff. I will watch the game as it gets fully under way and marvel at the talents of those massive players who do incredible things on the field on this day—America’s Super Bowl!

During the course of the broadcast, there will be brand new and unique commercials that will entertain and hit us one way or another. These usually turn out to be better than the game, particularly to those of us who have no rooting or betting interest for either team. Until the chicken is done, I’ll go back out to check on it, add coals as needed, and count my blessings that I don’t have to hear any players attempt to answer the media’s questions—especially the guy from Seattle!

My son and grandson, helping me with some winter grilling a few seasons ago!
My son and grandson, helping me with some winter grilling a few seasons ago!

Happy Super Bowl Week, everyone!

A mild mid-January & glorious sunrises…

Sunrise over Maple Park
Sunrise from our back deck…out across the cold fields.

Without much fanfare, mid-January has crept into the picture. And here in northern Illinois, one might get the impression that it’s late February or early March with this weekend’s milder temperatures ranging into the low 40s. A good deal of our snow from a week ago has dwindled, and ever-widening patches of grass out back are appearing by the hour!

And although this is nothing to get too wound up about, we all seem to be comparing and contrasting this year’s winter with that of last year’s polar vortex experience and agree that it’s a much more agreeable sort of winter! Having dry and bare pavement and sidewalks makes things much easier to navigate. In short, we’ll enjoy it for as long as we can.

The last several days have begun with beautiful sunrises, and they are fun to watch as they fully climb up above the horizon way out to the east from where I write. And though I prefer those dreary rainy days to really motivate me and get me into the proper writing frame of mind, it’s hard to beat one of these glorious sunrises.

Here’s to a good week ahead as we move into the next part of winter…