First snow and hope…

Happy New Year!

There is finally snow on the ground here in Aurora, Illinois. It finally arrived on New Year’s afternoon and evening. Though there’s not as much as there might have been (per the intrepid weather forecasters!), there’s certainly more than we’ve had previously this winter. 

There are those who immediately groan at the thought of snow and cold and true winter weather, especially in light of the unusual, unseasonable mild weather that hung around right up until the end of the year.

Although I really liked that pleasant run of weather, I’m not at all depressed with the whiteness and cold that’s outside my window now as I write. And the fact that I don’t have to go out there and clear the driveway or the sidewalk, because the service our Home Owners’ Association provides, handles all of that magnificently, makes it all the more palatable. In short, the monthly assessment we pay for the snow removal in winter and lawn care in summer is well worth every dollar!

The timing of this current winter snow and colder temperatures seems to be a fitting end to 2021 and a kind beginning to 2022, as though some silent, unseen force is saying: “Turn the page, move along with a clean and fresh start, and put the ugliness of last year behind us.”

I truly doubt if a snow storm and it’s remnants can solve the Covid situation, but I do like to think that there is significance in new beginnings and fresh starts. 

What a wonderful thing it would be for all of the political hatred amongst us, and the petty sniping over everything else, to be relegated to 2021 and buried deep, never to rear its ugly head again!

On this second day of a new year, I sincerely believe that maybe the year ahead can have many happier turns and results than 2021. 

I have absolutely not one iota of evidence on which to base this feeling, other than my own determination to stay more positive toward the day-to-day flow of issues, events, and the feelings of others.

Perhaps, this new snow—blanketing the outdoors—is a symbolic cleansing of what has come before and giving us a chance to breathe again and have some hope.

Until next time…

Thoughts for a Wednesday afternoon…

What to write? 

That seems to be the ongoing question that rolls through my cluttered mind each time I sit down to—write! Of course, I should probably sort all of that “mind clutter” into some kind of coherency, and then I might actually feel as though I’ve accomplished something.

For instance, all of my opinions regarding the newsworthy items in our world right now—whether they’re reported on or not—would fill a whole lot of blog posts for the next several weeks! But, as always, I try to avoid spouting off about politics and the injustices and hypocrisies that seem to be the order of the day—everyday—and try to find some other topic  with which to feel comfortable.

I have been tempted to offer my thoughts on how friendships and families have been torn up by all of the pandemic /vaccination debate. For the past two years now, for so many people, what once were joyful family gatherings full of love and smiles and togetherness, have become cold and sterile occasions. Whatever caused this madness needs to be whisked completely out of existence, because a malignant wedge has been driven between friends and families. The saddest thing, however, is that it has changed lives forever—for the worst—and nothing will ever be the same again.

I have no answers for any of this, other than I can only do my best to live my life as best I can and to respect and get along with others—even if I disagree with their beliefs and attitudes. That’s easy enough. However, I’m not so sure I can ever do the same for the media. 

Having sat down for the last several minutes, I have managed to find something (for better or worse) with which to write for this post. Now, it’s time to move on and look forward to the rest of the day in this wonderful world!

Until next time…

November chills, cemetery duties & gas station discomfort…

The chill of a late-November day came calling today, catching us somewhat off guard as we set about doing a task that required us to be outside in an old—very old—cemetery where most of my wife’s mother’s relatives are buried, and that’s when we experienced the not-so-gentle touch of the cold blast carried our way on a pretty strong wind. Of course, I was without gloves and a heavier jacket, but I did have the foresight to bring my stocking cap along. And my good wife had even offered to drive her car so I could sit back, relax, and enjoy the panorama of whatever we passed by. 

 To say that it felt very good to return to the warmth of the car after completing our mission, would be a gross understatement. Even the abundance of sunshine for most of the morning and afternoon didn’t seem to do much for our comfort level. And the fact that we were in the midst of a rather spooky cemetery, didn’t warm us much either. After we were finished in the graveyard, we worked our way back toward home, about a forty-five minute drive.

On the way, the wife needed to stop for gas, and I was “requested” to do the honors of getting out, standing in the cold and gusty winds, and filling her tank! And since the tank was nearly empty, it wouldn’t be a quick fill, either, especially since it seemed to take an exorbitant amount of time due to the slowness of the gas pump. To say the least, it was an uncomfortable chore, and made even worse by the fact that, because of my extra cup of coffee earlier and the fury of the frigid wind, I very much needed to get to a restroom! After what seemed to be an endless stretch of agony, I managed to finally get the car filled up, and then scurried inside to where the station’s men’s room waited.

After that, it was a more comfortable and pleasant ride home where, of all things, I remembered that I, too, needed to take my own car to a nearby gas station to repeat the fill-up duty all over again–this time, though, without holding my breath and dancing about and begging and pleading with the gas pump to hurry up and get it over with! 

Route 66 Association of Illinois…jumping right in!

I had a wonderful time this past Sunday attending the fall meeting of the Route 66 Association of Illinois down in Pontiac. It was a perfect, sunny, autumn morning to set out for the hour-and-a-half drive through the country.

I’ve been a member for at least five years, but this was just the second meeting I’d attended. Anyone reading several of my past posts should recognize my serious interest in The Mother Road. 

When we drove the entire route—Chicago to Santa Monica—in September of 2017, I wasn’t completely sure where any of this would lead. What I’ve discovered is that it only whetted my appetite for all things Route 66! And living here in Illinois, where so many miles of the historic route thread their way south and west, what better reason could there be than to join the Association?

Since I’ve all but sworn off spending my valuable time perched in front a TV screen to watch the NFL, I had not one bit of hesitancy in dedicating my Sunday to all things Route 66. When I attended the fall meeting two years ago—before all of the Covid insanity—I had not met any other members, in person, so I was eager to do so at the meeting. As it turned out, that meeting went well, and I did meet the officers and a few of the other board members. 

Yet, I went away feeling as though I was still really not involved. Of course, I realize that was my shortcoming—failing to make my availability known to all. Instead, at meeting’s end, I headed to the parking lot and my car for the drive back home. I could—and should have—kicked myself for not being more assertive and volunteer to get involved in some aspect of the Association. That’s something with which I’ve always been way too lax.

This time around, however, I told myself on the drive down to the meeting that I was determined to come away with being involved in some way in this wonderful group of people. I didn’t necessarily desire a board or officer position, but there’s always a need to fill out committees. And, as it happened, I gladly accepted the offer to serve on the Museum Committee, although I’m not altogether clear on just what I’ll be doing. Even so, I’ll be happy to help out in the fantastic Route 66 Association Hall of Fame Museum in Pontiac, Illinois.

After the meeting, my drive home that afternoon was much more enjoyable than the previous experience. Having spoken with and gotten to know most of the members who were in attendance, I came away with a feeling of being included and counted on now to be a contributing member.

Sometimes one has to just get past those worries and hesitancies and speak up and jump right in! There’s so many wonderful miles ahead here with the Route 66 Association of Illinois, and I’m recharged and eager to enjoy it all! Anyone with a smidgen of interest in being a member themselves, should visit www.il66assoc.org

“Illinois — Where the Road Began.”

Writing those characters to the finish line…

Hello out there! Here’s hoping that all is well wherever you may be on this October autumn morn that feels more like an early summer one. But it’s a good one all the same. Some rain the past few days and overnight have given the plants, grasses, and trees a good drink. There is a kind of sparkle on the street and the walks and driveways from it all as the world comes alive once more. The yards have a spring-like green again, as though a long, hot dry spell never set in a few short weeks ago. It’s refreshing, to say the least.

For my personal update…I’m actually writing again, although it has been a struggle to find the enthusiasm and motivation to sit myself down at my little desk here and regularly get the Scrivener opened and get the dust blown off that neglected (not forgotten!) story I’ve promised to get back to sometime. If for no other reason than I really want to be done, once and for all, with the thing, I’m finding that to be motivation enough. However, I’m still eager to learn where my characters will take the story to its end and how they do so in a good and interesting way.

I’m back, it seems, in the early mornings when I don’t have my Jump Start Your Heart exercise class, having a cup of coffee here at the desk, Beautiful Instrumentals tuned in on Internet Radio, and my Scrivener program opened up, and all of the characters waiting for me to take them somewhere—anywhere. Just get them moving!

I must admit, it does feel good to have finally re-discovered some purpose once more—for better or worse—and to be spending the time here in my library/office/writing room and actually attempting to get those stalled characters to where they need to be. As the old tortoise learned, slow and steady wins the race. This “old tortoise,” however, has been way too slow and steady. Without a doubt, I’m long overdue to assist those people in my story, so I’ll quit this now and go see what I can do to get them to that finish line.

Until next time…

Kicking off the dust and beginning again…

Hello again, everyone! I plead guilty in all respects for having not posted anything since April. There’s absolutely no excuses, either. I’ve simply battled so many months of being uninspired to have the desire or the patience to sit at my desk and be serious once more with my writing. 

That being said, I’ve hadIMG_7448 a pretty good year so far. My health has improved greatly, although there are days when I think I’m going in the wrong direction, a leftover from the open-heart aortic heart valve replacement surgery one year ago today.

I am a devoted member of the Jump Start Your Heart exercise program at the Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital Health and Wellness Center,  where I had the surgery. I’m feeling good during the workouts and afterwards, and my overall wellness is so much improved. 

Now, I’m not certain that my health ordeal the past year is the total reason I’ve been too lax in being that writer I’ve longed to be for so long, but I believe that the whole situation changed a lot of things in my way of seeing my life.

As always, I’ve found it way, too convenient to pick up the current book I’m reading and settle in, losing myself in the story, instead of creating my own tales!

And I could sit here right now and announce that I’m going to once again dedicate myself to a disciplined course each day and finish that novel, which sits mouldering away. But I won’t, as I’ve let myself down in that regard so many times before.

We just returned from a 3,000-mile-plus drive down and back to Florida. It was a short trip for all those miles, but there’s always been something refreshing and stimulating to “hit the road” and break the same old routine of life at home.

On the way home, we spent four days in the Smoky Mountains in Western Carolina. Just the difference in the terrain and topography was a delight, yet when it was time to head back home to Illinois, I was eager. 

Now, it’s mid-August and life here once again is tied to routines and “what’s on the calendar.” The grandsons’ football games will begin in a week, and we’ll be into autumn sooner than later.

Have my feelings about writing changed? The fact that I’m actually sitting here typing this seems to be a first step back to believing that I have something relevant to offer in posting. I hope so. As the expression goes: “The ball is in my court!”

My goal today: I’ll try not to wait several months between posts!

Yes, indeed, I’m walkin’. . .

Well, last week it finally rolled around. Yep, for the first time in a long, long time, I set out on the open road and drove east to see my 92-year-old mom in Ohio, on the shores of Lake Erie. My last journey to see her was March of 2020, just as the craziness of the COVID mess was getting into gear. And so much in my life happened during that period of time.

To begin, the night after Easter of 2020, I was admitted to the hospital with what I discovered was A-Fib (irregular heartbeat) and knew that I was treading awfully closer to the inevitable aortic heart valve replacement I’d known was in my future. But I really didn’t think that “future” was so close!

Although I was better following a two-day stay in the hospital, I still was not as I should be. My ankles still were swollen and my heart was still in an irregular pattern and always seemed to be working in overdrive, something that is very disconcerting and uncomfortable. Any form of physical exertion sent me into fears that I was going to drop dead, right then and there!

Thus, I tried to avoid walking any sort of distance, which made attending the grandsons’ baseball games a near impossibility most of the time. I returned to the hospital in May for a scheduled cardioversion procedure that was designed to shock my heart back into normal sinus rhythm. For whatever reason, that didn’t seem to hold, in fact, I knew as soon as I tried to sleep back home that night that I was still in A-fib. Talk about being worried and depressed! But I rode things out as best as I could. . .hoping things would miraculously improve without any further attention.

My birthday came and went in June, and I was treated to one of those “drive-by” celebrations as I sat in our driveway. I appreciated everyone’s efforts in making it happen, but I would have loved to have felt better and relish turning 70 the “old fashioned” way. But restrictions, fears, and health issues wouldn’t allow for that.

As the summer rolled along, we managed to get to most of those baseball games, even though I struggled to walk more than fifty yards without feeling on the verge of collapse. I recall one early-June game where I could barely walk the very short distance from the parking lot to the field. 

I suppose that since we couldn’t travel or do much of anything else, other than to stay home through those summer months, what came about in August seemed to fit into the grand scheme of things. Leading up to that time in 2020, I had visited my cardiologist to see exactly what my heart status was and to try and figure out what I needed to get done ASAP.

I underwent an angiogram shortly afterwards. In mid-July, most of one morning and afternoon was spent at the Heart Valve Clinic at the hospital where I was treated to an echocardiogram, EKG, CT scan, carotid artery test, X-Ray, etc. 

At this point, it was pretty clear that valve replacement had become necessary, so these tests were to determine which type I would undergo: TAVR (Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement) or SAVR (Surgical Aortic Valve Replacement). Of course, I was hoping for the less-invasive TAVR. But that was not to be, mainly because of a discrepancy in valve size that would not work for me. As such, I had to go the open-heart replacement route (SAVR).

And that’s what came about on Monday, August 17, 2020. Fortunately, I had no need of bypass surgery or stents or anything else other than a new valve needed! But I wasn’t looking forward at all to being opened up and put on a heart machine!

After I was prepped and wheeled into the operating room, I don’t remember anything until coming out of anesthesia sometime later that evening and having the greatest thirst I ever recall! I recognized my wife first and then slowly came out of my fog with tubes and wires coming from so many place on my body. I was to experience the best care one could ever hope for, and those nurses will be forever in my debt!

As I soon learned, the open-heart surgery had gone well, but I would need a pacemaker implanted soon, as my heart rate became dangerously low over the next couple of days in the critical care ward. That took place on Thursday, August 20.

I was able to go home on August 23 to begin my recovery. And though everything was strange and uncomfortable for a long time, I had a good “nurse,” my wife, who supported me and encouraged me all the way. I really couldn’t have bounced back so quickly without her help.

On September 21, I began cardiac rehab three mornings a week back at the hospital, and that helped me begin to really turn things around in my life. I wore a heart monitor for each session, but I had slipped back into A-fib and had another cardioversion scheduled for October, this time with the electrophysiologist who had implanted my pacemaker. Unlike the first one, this procedure worked, and with a change in some medications, it has made all the difference in remaining in a regular rhythm.

After I “graduated’ from cardiac rehab, I was ready for the next phase, which was a program called Jump Start Your Heart right there at the hospital’s Health & Wellness Center. Of course, I could go anywhere else that I wanted to, as I had completed everything at the hospital, but after the free three-session tryout there, I was hooked and promptly joined with a discounted membership.

We live about a half-hour’s drive to the Health & Wellness, yet I look forward to Monday, Wednesday, and Friday each week as I get out of bed at 6 a.m. and leave the house at 7 and make the drive there for my 8:00 exercise class. It’s a program that has made all the difference, and I do, indeed, get out walkin’! I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Until next time…

The road home & on to many memories…

Writing my recent posts was fun going back to that summer of ’73 and recollecting just how scary and rewarding the events turned out to be in my “mad scramble” to land a teaching job. After all, I’d spent five years at Kent State preparing for it, and I’d thought I had one already in the bag after I graduated in June. But that wasn’t to be, and in hindsight now, forty-eight years later, I still am amazed at how everything worked out.

As it all turned out, it was worth it! That long day spent with my dad clicking off so many miles between Western Springs, Illinois, and Munster, Indiana, and south to parts unknown in Mulberry Grove, Illinois, and back home through a dark and stormy night, will forever be etched in my vault of memories.

A few days after I was back home, I was offered—and I accepted—a position as junior high English teacher and coach at Mulberry Grove Community Unit Number One. And so my thirty-five year career was about to begin. Eventually, in posts down the road, I will share various items of the people and places that were a vital part of my years in the teaching world that began in tiny Mulberry Grove and about the many old and historic roads I travelled.

Until next time…

A ride through the rain, a beer at The Night Owl, & a start…

Through the dark and the rain, we started our trip north at the intersection of I-70 and US Highway 51. Again, I’d never had any occasion to have ever been on any portion of this road, so I had no concept of its significance at that time. Suffice it to say, it’s another long and historic route between Louisiana and the far reaches of Ironwood, Michigan. It basically cuts right up through the middle of Illinois, with several well-known—and many not-so-well-known—towns along the way: Carbondale, Centralia, Patoka, Vandalia, Ramsey, Oconee, Pana, Macon, Decatur, Bloomington-Normal…OK, you get the idea.

But as we traveled through the rainstorm, over unfamiliar highway, Dad and I had some pretty good conversation. All these years later, I can’t really remember much of what we said, but I have very good feelings of that trip that was just Dad and me! I may have forgotten a lot of what we talked about as we worked our way northward on US-51 through the stormy night, but I haven’t forgotten Dad saying that it was time for a beer and a burger when we approached the Night Owl Tavern on the outskirts of Macon an hour or so into our trip.

The warm and welcoming roadhouse had stood there on the bend on US-51 for many, many years, and this would be my first of many stops whenever I would travel home from southern Illinois. That first time, however, was just Dad and me. It was so good to relax and savor the greasy burger and fries and the icy long neck beer—I think it was a Schlitz—and begin to believe that everything would work out for my fledgling career. With so many miles yet to travel, regrettably, we couldn’t stay there too long, and we paid our bill and got back on the highway for home. Regardless of the quick stop at the Night Owl in Macon, Illinois, it will forever be a reminder of a special time shared between my dad and me—no one else!

The remainder of our drive took us on up to Bloomington-Normal, where we joined up with Route 66 on which we’d travel for many miles, paralleling the under-construction Interstate 55. I honestly don’t remember much of any of this portion of the return trip home as I’d finally given into the world of sleep. After all, it had been a long day, and even more than the physical state of tiredness, I was mentally drained.

When Dad gently shook me awake in our driveway at some ungodly hour, I woke up and thanked him for driving all that way and getting us home through the dark and stormy night. I will always hold his love and special care in my heart for that exceedingly long day traveling with me. Plus, he had to go to work at the usual early hour in just a short time. My love for my dad will never be diminished, and that event in my life was a prime reason.

As things in life tend to occur, this day turned out to be well worth all of the hours and miles that my dad and I spent driving to “get me that first teaching job.” A few days after arriving back home, and caught up with my sleep, I received a call from the Mulberry Grove principal who said that the Board of Education and Superintendent had been impressed with me and what I would bring to their school and offered me a job. At that very moment, I knew that everything was good and that I couldn’t wait to share the exciting news with my dad when he got home from his job. 

There was so much ahead of me now, but I’d at least gotten my foot in the door. My teaching career had some direction toward the starting line now, having travelled those famous highways.

Moment of truth: The interview…

And so it began!

The one-story school building had that “summer-cleaned-ready-to-start” look and smell, which I quickly picked up on the moment I scurried inside out of the downpour.

It was nighttime now, and the interior of the place was dark, with the exception of the small office directly ahead of me, and the library a couple of doors down. It wasn’t hard to figure out that this would be where the board meeting would be held, and the sound of voices from there confirmed this for me.

I didn’t have time to stand around and assess the situation, as a short, slightly balding man approached me from the school office. He smiled and introduced himself and said that he was glad I’d made it all the way from “up North.” He told me to make myself comfortable in his office until they were ready for me, and he’d come get me when they were.

Like waiting in a doctor’s office, a million thoughts coursed through my mind as the minutes seemed to plod on like molasses. Finally, the principal came and got me, and we headed the short distance to the library where the superintendent and the entire board of education were seated around a couple of long tables in the center of the room. In front of them was a single chair, no doubt for me to sit in and perform to the best of my ability, if I wanted to secure a teaching position—my first—in their school. And as I managed to put on a “happy” face and look relaxed (I was anything but), I eased myself into the chair and took a couple of deep breaths, all the while noticing that each member seemed to be studying me very closely. A few friendly nods of heads were extended my way, but most were stoic, serious demeanors.

I don’t recall after all these years exactly how long the interview lasted, but it seemed as though it was much longer than it really was. Throughout the whole ordeal, I could hear the rain pounding unmercifully on the roof, which made hearing difficult. When the interview had come to a close, and I was still a functioning human, I had a pretty positive feeling about it all. I seemed to have handled all of their questions–unexpected ones as well as the “usual” type. If nothing else, I had gained a valuable bit of experience in the interviewing process—and with the whole school board, superintendent, and principal, to boot! 

Afterwards, the principal told me that he thought I’d done well and that the board seemed to be impressed. Of course there were other candidates to interview in the days ahead, but I could expect to hear from him—one way or another—by the first of the next week. He wished me luck and reminded me to travel back home safely that night. 

And so, I returned to the car where dad was waiting, and the rain had eased up a bit. I gave a quick rundown of all that had taken place and how I felt about things. I knew I’d spend many miles on the ride ahead, rolling things over in my mind of how I could have done better, and I was awfully glad that my dad was with me on that dark and stormy night.

But now, we needed to get ourselves northbound, as it would be very late when we got home to Western Springs. Without further delay, we pulled out of the school parking lot and turned back to the interstate to head a short distance eastward to Vandalia where we’d connect with another old and famous highway to begin our travel north.

Until next time…