Out of “exile”–for the moment…

jollyYetI know I’ve said that I’m taking the summer months “off” from tending to my blog, but over the course of the past several weeks I have had a few “life moments” that I simply feel inclined to write about.

At the top of that list is I “officially” was inducted into the Medicare Club one week ago on my birthday, and as I write this from my self-imposed “exile” up here at our summer cottage in Michigan, I’m happy to report that they haven’t come to haul me out to the funny farm due to elderly ramblings or other strange carryings-on. (They could have done that so many times previously!) Instead, all of the company that was here over the weekend for our annual NASCAR Race Weekend had to leave and return to their own lives and niches in the world.

And though I enjoy spending time alone, where I can read and write unfettered by interruptions and other such distractions, I must admit that right now I’m feeling rather lonely and wish I had some of the folks who were here this past weekend to prop me up and make me feel as though it’s OK to be this age. Turning 65 sort of does that I’m finding out.

After all, my birthdays used to be spent playing baseball for most of the day, running and chasing fly balls and batting and running the bases and all that was good about being a young kid who had a birthday in June. I could no more run like that again, even in my dreams, and so I just smile at the memories of all those summers past when the future was out there waiting for me to figure out how to get there.

And, even though I can no longer race around the bases on sweaty, sun-drenched afternoons of pickup games on homemade fields in Indiana, or run down that long drive off the bat of a power hitter, I’d like to believe that I’m still the same person I was way back then.

And now that I’m a year older (and wiser?), I’m beginning to give some thought to that thing called mortality. How many years do I have left has never been a question I100_6021 dwelled too much upon, because it always seemed so “out there” and something I’d never have to deal with for a long, long time—until now!

It’s the little things that really come into play, too. Walking the garbage down to the dumpster each day becomes an excursion of appreciation of all the beauty surrounding my life up here. Filling the bird feeder and watching the various avian species swoop and dive in for their feedings and then take off for places unknown is a daily delight. Chatting with the hummingbirds as they hum and buzz around the feeders I religiously keep cleaned and filled is another ritual of cottage life that I’ve truly grown to appreciate.

Perhaps I’m not quite ready for the pipe and slippers realm just yet, but I’m finding myself becoming more and more tuned in to those things I’d never paid attention to in the past. I suppose none of this is a bad thing. At least, I’d like to think not. Whatever, life in the Medicare Club can’t be all bad!

Well, for now, I’d best go check out those hummingbirds and make sure the lake’s still out there

Purple-throated Carib hummingbird (Eulampis ju...
Purple-throated Carib hummingbird (Eulampis jugularis) perched and feeding from a bird feeder. Batalie Beach, Dominica. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

behaving as it should…

My summer exile…

100_5993As we begin to edge our way into late May, that means that things have cycled back around to another cottage “lake season” up in Michigan. Thus, I have spent the past two weeks completely ignoring any regular writing, blogging, or commenting on Facebook, instead, rounding up “stuff” to be hauled up to the cottage on Friday, May 22. (As I write this, that is just two days from now!)

Our intrepid crew put our pier in last Sunday, and the old structure looks as though it will make it through another summer. Our pontoon will be delivered on Saturday, and I can’t wait to get it moored in its spot alongside the pier and then take it out for its out-of-hibernation cruise around the lake. The weather is supposed to be “iffy” (which is usually par for the course) so we shall keep our fingers crossed for some decent “move-in” temperatures without any rain.

I have my folders and my writing box of notes, rough drafts, and other miscellaneous notes to take along for the summer, and the MacBook Pro will be packed up Thursday night.

Which brings me to my main point of this post. I have given much thought to what I hope to accomplish this summer in terms of a regular writing routine, and I have come to the conclusion that the only way I’m going to accomplish that is to step away from social media and my blogs, Down Many Roads and All Things White Sox.

I have become stale and less-than-enthusiastic on most days when trying to come up with blog topics and to write how I feel about things in general. Quite frankly, I really have nothing much to say these days—at least what anyone out there really is interested in reading.

As a result of this epiphany, I am going on a self-imposed hiatus, an exile of sorts, from my blog posting. I know that when I do resume sometime down the road, I will be refreshed, re-charged, and re-invigorated to write some things that are fun and interesting. When that might be, I have no idea. All that I know right now is that my focus will be on knocking the cobwebs from my long-overdue novel-in-progress and re-awakening my friend Scrivener in doing so!

Now, as the daunting task of packing everything for another lake season opening in just two days from now beckons me to get back to work, I leave you kind readers with these words: Blessed are they, who have nothing to say, and can’t be persuaded to say it!jollyYet

Have a wonderful summer…

May 4 and the things I could have written…

May 4…Missed it once more!

And this was going to be the year that I would write about my life experiences at Kent State University forty-five years ago in May of 1970, when I was a sophomore wandering about in pursuit of a degree of some sort. But it’s May 5, and that anniversary day has come and gone.

Yep, every year seems to come and go like that, without me having written about what I felt about that time period—not just that day when the students were shot—but the whole chunk of days and weeks—before and after—the infamous event there on a beautiful, sunshine-filled weekend. And the older I get, and the farther removed I am from it all, the harder it is to reconcile all that transpired during that period of my young life.

However, had I been so inclined to do as so many others did yesterday, I could have written about my anger at things that were happening on campus and in the community of Kent during that spring. For instance, the unfamiliar long-hairs, with their hardened, bitter faces and disheveled dress, who made it difficult for those such as me, not in “the movement,” to go about the business of playing student.

Even for a campus the size of Kent’s, it was fairly easy to recognize other students as we came and went during the course of a school year. Suddenly, though, in the spring of 1970, there was a whole host of new “students” on the scene, seemingly serious and intent on making their radical points known. They were part of a group—Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)—that was more interested in upheaval and anarchy than being “students” is how I thought of them. (Still do, for that matter!)

I could have written about the Friday night, May 1, when downtown Kent was trashed by rioters and agitators, all in the name of peace! This was an ugly, ugly scene, and I’m glad that I chose to stay at the fraternity house. At that point, the city was out of control.

may4197005
Burned ROTC Building Photo: ohio.com

I could have written about Saturday night, May 2, when the ROTC building was burned, and those responsible cutting the fire hoses and preventing the firemen from doing their jobs.

I could have written about the bomb threat that cancelled the final exam I was scheduled to take that Monday, May 4. At the time, I wasn’t all that upset, figuring it would give me some much-needed extra time to better prepare for the thing. After all, I was very much in need of getting some better grades this time around to help raise me from the abyss of Probation.

I could have written about riding the bus back to my apartment a few blocks from campus and then, shortly after plopping down on the old saggy couch to study, taking advantage of the bomb scare reprieve, hearing a string of sirens racing past on the street outside, back toward the university. Although I wasn’t aware of what actually had happened, I had a feeling that things had finally come to a head, after a weekend of building tension and violence.

Curious, and no longer compelled to study, I walked the few blocks over to our fraternity house. On the way, I was confronted by two national guardsmen in a jeep (martial law, you know!) and was told that I needed to get off the streets. I indicated that I would be doing so very soon and continued on to the house.

I could have written about the confusion and complete shock that was surrounding everything and everyone at our fraternity. Many of the brothers had been on the scene, up near Taylor Hall, where the tragic event had taken place, and were fighting back tears now. As best as I could, I picked up bits and pieces of what exactly happened, but, like everything else about the event, no set of details seemed to match up. Someone would say one thing, someone else another. The only thing that was certain was at least four students had been killed and many others injured.

I could have written about what happened next: the university closing down, as though someone had thrown a big master switch, and we all had to get out! NOW!

Imagine, if you can, trying to make phone calls to family, in a time long before social media, smart phones, and text messaging. Fortunately, I was able to get to my apartment and packed what I could to take home to LaGrange, Illinois. What was to become of student life at KSU as we had known it, no one had any idea!

I could have written about how that summer unwound and how we all were able to complete our coursework from home. I could have written about my feeling cheated because of the actions of those who had a totally different agenda than I.

I could have written about how life goes on—and it did…and does—and things sometimes turn out for the better. If nothing else, I could have written that all actions have consequences, and that sad weekend at Kent State, forty-five years ago, didn’t have to turn out the way it did.

Perspective_of_Ohio_National_Guard_at_Kent_State
(Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)

But…I missed May 4…

Elkins, WV & pizza in the Canaan Valley…

(This is the second part of my posting about our recent ten-day trip to North Carolina, West Virginia, and Ohio. The previous post stopped with our arrival at our hotel in Beckley, WV.)

 

400px-Tamarack_West_Virginia
Tamarack, West Virginia (Wikipedia)

Waking to a dismal dark morning of rain, we checked out of our hotel in Beckley and made our way the short distance to Tamarack, located in a service area of the West Virginia Turnpike, so Carolyn could browse all of the arts and crafts shops in the uniquely circular building with a colorful red peaked roof. Everything on display and/or for sale inside is West Virginia made: Wood carvings, glass, pottery, metal work, jewelry, books, and other specialty items.

After a while, our Tamarack tour completed, we scurried out into a downpour and set off once again and were headed up US-19 toward Elkins, about two-and-a-half hours away. We were fortunate as we clicked off the miles that the rain abated frequently, allowing us to take in the rolling scenery passing by.

By mid-afternoon we entered Elkins and called my cousin Roger, who was to meet us and lead ELKINS SEAL-rgbus back to his home. By this time, the rain had stopped completely, and we enjoyed the clear view of the surrounding mountains and life alongside the Tygart Valley River.

From Roger, recently retired from the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, we would learn a massive amount about the land and beauty of the entire area. For example, considered the gateway to the Monongahela National Forest, Elkins has long been a destination for sightseers and outdoor adventure enthusiasts alike, and we encountered many such folks the two days we spent in the area. It was also very easy to understand why Roger loved spending thirty-six years working here, being one of those outdoor enthusiasts himself! He has never known a river he wouldn’t love to fish, or a hill or woods he wouldn’t enjoy hunting for grouse!

We spent the remainder of the first day there with Roger and Jeannie getting caught up with family news and pleasant chit-chat about this, that, or the other thing, happily off the road.

The Blackwater River in its upper course in Ca...
The Blackwater River in its upper course in Canaan Valley Resort State Park (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wednesday found us loading into Roger’s SUV for a drive up to Canaan Valley and Blackwater Falls State Park.

We quickly learned that the correct pronunciation is Canain rather than the familiar Biblical pronunciation. At any rate, the area is like a bowl, tucked into the mountains, and it is a popular tourist attraction, especially for hikers and bikers.

Roger pointed out all of the wetlands that are a great part of the area, and the start of the Blackwater River that runs through the valley and gushes noisily over the Blackwater Falls nearby.

Siren's Cafe-Wonderful pizza!
Sirianni’s Cafe…Davis, WV–Wonderful pizza!

After a nice tour of the falls and valley area, it was time for lunch, and we weren’t disappointed in Sirianni’s, located in the tiny burg of Davis. Famous for its pizza and various pasta dishes, the place had atmosphere—as well as delicious pizza!

Being from the Chicago area, we are familiar with quality pizza, but this was definitely worth writing about. The thin crust, which I prefer, was crisp and tasty, and the sausage, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, and tomato sauce were delicious. In short, it didn’t take the four of us very long to devour the large pie before we headed back to the car and back to Elkins.

As it turned out, that day was the perfect one for our excursion up to Canaan Valley as the rain stayed away. It returned through the night, however, and we had it along with us on our two-and-a-half hour drive to Athens, Ohio, the next morning once we bid farewell to Roger and Jeannie.

We both look back on our little trip, away from home for ten days, with good feelings about each place we stopped and visited and explored the countryside. Thanks to all who shared their homes and surroundings with us. It was a fantastic journey!

English: Monongahela National Forest entrance ...
English: Monongahela National Forest entrance gate along Old US 33 east of Elkins, West Virginia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Spring travels and microfilm searches…

AldenI write this, nestled in the microfilm section for local newspapers, in the lower level of the Alden Library here on the beautiful campus of Ohio University. I’m all alone, except for my wife, who is somewhere on the other side of the room, reeling rolls of microfilm of issues from the late 1900s, searching for obituaries of long-dead relatives.

I have been busily trying to get a decent connection for Internet access, but being an outsider without the proper OU ID card, I’ve not been able to do so, although I have connected to the GUEST WI-FI, but that still isn’t allowing me to “get out” and access anything on the Internet. That’s OK, but what scared me was the error message I kept getting regarding my Scrivener license. After several attempts to “fix” the issue, I had to force quit the program and figured I would take care of things once I returned to our hotel room later today, where normal access wouldn’t be a problem.

And then I had a brain storm! I wondered what would happen if I quit the access I had to the WI-FI (which was doing me no good anyway) and then tried to launch my Scrivener files: Blog posts and novel WIP (Birchwood’s Secret). Once I quit WI-Fi and then launched my Scrivener blog project, everything worked normally. And so I’m able to write this now, while Carolyn digs into the past and spins microfilm merrily along, in the comfortable surroundings. It’s quiet and very conducive for getting this put together.

Now, why are we in the lower-level of the Alden Library at Ohio University? A couple of years ago, we visited this very area to do research and locate old cemeteries where my wife’s grandfather’s brothers and various cousins and aunts and uncles were laid to rest long ago. And  though that first visit proved rewarding, it still left my wife missing many pieces of genealogical information for that part of her family history. There were a few old, out-of-the-way cemeteries we’d not been able to locate on our first visit to Athens County. Thus, we decided we’d need to return in the future to see if she could close all of the loose ends and gaps of missing ancestral data.

And that’s why I write this from Ohio University. She searches; I write. I look back over our trip thus far and realize that it’s been a good one so far. We left our home in northern Illinois just about this time one week ago, getting a later start in the morning because we both were battling colds and flu-like symptoms.

Our first port of call was her brother’s in Waynesville, North Carolina, where we planned to spend the weekend before heading on east to meet one of my “genealogical” cousins Carolyn had “found” in her Ancestry.com efforts.

Official seal of Waynesville, North Carolina
Official seal of Waynesville, North Carolina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Spring had just arrived in that part of the mountains, and the next day was full of beautiful colors of the dogwoods, flowering crab trees, and a whole cavalcade of others. The warmth of the sun made for a pleasant day spent out on their large wrap-around deck. It was a great day to recover from our long journey the day before, after arriving right around midnight. Sunday was more of the same, with plenty of reading outside and sneaking a peek at the Masters golf tournament in late afternoon.

Monday found us on the road through the rain, up and down over steep mountains, on I-40, en route to Statesville. After communicating with Carolyn, my cousin had found a nice restaurant in a town that would be a half-way point for us to rendezvous, have lunch, and get to know one another. Statesville was the perfect place, and the four of us had a delightful time chatting, eating, and carrying on as though we’d known each other for a long time.

By and by, we bid them farewell and soon were headed north on I-77 with Beckley, West Virginia, as our destination for the remainder of the day. And I was looking forward to getting back there and staying in the same hotel where I had a couple of Octobers previously for the Rocket Boys’ Festival.

The beautiful countryside was made even more so as we’d managed to leave the rain behind and now had the afternoon sun to make all things bright and colorful. Our plan now was to have a restful evening before continuing on into a part of West Virginia neither of us had ever been before: Elkins–A town where my first cousin, Roger and his wife Jeannie, live.  We planned to visit some very beautiful spots in the area, including Blackwater Falls State Park. But now, it was time to call it a day, get some sleep, and get up early and on the road for the next part of our adventure the next day.images-1

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)