Oil change, morning TV, and late-October musings…

cropped-countryroad1.jpgLate October—very late! Halloween rolling in tomorrow. Weather changing. Patio and deck furniture hauled to the garage. Solar lights pulled from their places of importance around the yard and brought in for cleaning, battery removal, and storage.

One of the last mowings, trimming, and edging for the year before mower gets traded for snow thrower that’s been hiding out in son’s shed down the road a ways.

Car in for oil change this morning. Large TV blaring in waiting room in Service area. Screaming fans in the street and gushing hosts and hostesses on program annoying and headache inducing! I hate TV in the morning, especially GMA, but I can’t very well get up and turn it off. It’s not mine, after all! So I sit and wait. Try to read my Jeff Shaara book about the siege of Vicksburg, but Taylor Swift is rattling my concentration with her birdlike warbling.

Commercial break. Two to three minutes of political spots that paint opponents as the most evil and vile persons walking this planet! These do nothing but add to my distaste for having the damned TV turned on in the first place!

A lady beside me is bending the ear of an older gentleman two seats away—something about the tree that fell next to her house and the giant sinkhole that scared the bejabbers out of her neighborhood. He shakes his head as if to say that he is spellbound at all that she is telling him.

Some employee from the front comes in, apparently on some mission of importance, and re-stocks the styrofoam cups for the coffee machine, that is now woefully near empty!

Fortunately, oil change and tire rotation is done within forty-five minutes, so I’m free to escape and regain my equilibrium in the peace and quiet of my Equinox. Best part: maintenance service still under warranty and no charge, and everything checks out A-OK. Still like new!

On the way home, I pass many farms and fields. Harvest in full swing, and farmers working hard to beat the impending rain and big weather change that’s heading our way here in northern Illinois by tomorrow.

Nearby orchards and farm stands have closed for the season. Out of apples, pumpkins, and other autumn delights. Signs proclaim that another season has come and gone and “Thanks for your patronage…see you next spring!” Owners preparing to head south for the winter, I would think. Basking in the sun while we’ll be basking in the driving snow as it flies at us from our snow throwers on a regular basis.

The busy “writing season” is creeping in now. Important to take care of outside chores so when the frigid winds howl and the snow begins to fly and the furnace reports for duty once more, work on next novel and short stories can move along without so many interruptions. No NaNoWriMo for me this November. Have enough work to do on current WIPs. Maybe again next year.

Now, time to move along to next items on “To Do” list. Happy late-October, all…CortlandWriter 🙂No Sun Up in the Sky...

Coalwood, WV…A Wonderful Visit!

My Notebook for Weekend of Rocket Boys’ Festival-(Part IV)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Our morning off to a flying start, having met O’Dell and Roy Lee by chance, at breakfast, we were all set to get on the motor coach for an excursion to Coalwood, the town where the magic of the Rocket Boys took place and the setting for Homer Hickam’s classic, Rocket Boys.

100_5397As I wrote about earlier, Carolyn and I had driven to Coalwood last winter when we were en route to her brother’s in North Carolina. The experience of dealing with the steep and very winding roads was something I still think about. And because Coalwood is basically a place where you “can’t get to from here,” it’s a long ways away from anywhere (paraphrasing Roy Lee and O’Dell) and doesn’t show up on many maps or atlases. Just the same, it’s a neat place once you finally get there just over two hours from Beckley. That was why I was so very much looking forward to making the trip this time via a comfortable tour bus, with a tour guide of sorts, explaining the lay of the land and other points of interest. The old slogan about “take the bus and leave the driving to us” was totally in play here!

By the time we pulled away from Tamarack, it was 9:15 a.m. on a beautiful Sunday morning, and our intrepid guide and director was none other than Scott (the guy in the Red Sox ball cap), and he filled us in on the plan for the trip. He took the occasion to ask us our feelings and opinions about the Festival and the surrounding events. We also introduced ourselves and spoke about why we were there. I found this part of the bus ride interesting, and it was good to meet—if only briefly—most of the other twelve or so people who were along for the trip.

But there was also plenty of quiet time to ride along and admire the rolling landscape and all of the various species of trees and plant life adorning the land. There always seemed to be a creek or a river running right alongside our serpentine road as we twisted and turned, up and over, the many mountains leading on to Coalwood. Our little entourage was expected at the Coalwood Community United Methodist Church around 12:00 as the good folks there were planning to serve all of us hungry travelers lunch.

Arriving in Coalwood about a half-hour early, we were joined by a long-time resident and church member, Virginia Phillips, who served as our tour guide through Coalwood. It was good having her aboard as she pointed out the various places—now abandoned and basically gone to ruin—that functioned as the vital parts of the town of which Homer wrote. Her pleasant demeanor and great sense of humor provided each of us a wonderful time learning about—up close and personal—Coalwood and its background. And, we soon learned, she is the daughter of William “Bill” Bolt, who was the machinist who helped the Rocket Boys with their rockets. Further, the church was helping him celebrate his 90th birthday, so we would all be a part of this celebration during our lunch.

The Coalwood Community United Methodist Church

We returned to the pretty white church and went down to the basement for a lunch of chili, cornbread, slaw, and delicious homemade desserts. It was quite pleasant chatting with the church members and residents of Coalwood. Their friendliness and hospitality was outstanding! Though a small congregation, there appeared to be an overall feeling of goodness and spirit. Shortly after our arrival, we were joined by unexpected guests, Homer and Linda. On their way back to their home in Huntsville, Alabama, they wanted to stop and wish Mr. Bolt a happy birthday at the church.

After lunch, and before we boarded for the return trip to Beckley, our little tour group had our picture taken with Homer on the front church steps, after which he spoke to us for ten minutes or so, pointing out various aspects of the buildings, streets, and locations that were such a prominent part of his story. It was good to be on the actual site, with the actual main character/author speaking directly to us.

Then it was time to bid farewell to Homer and Linda and all of the wonderful folks of Coalwood and hop on the bus to get back to Beckley. Nick and I would be up very early—4:00 a.m.—Monday morning for our long drive back to Illinois, so we were anxious to get back to the hotel to pack and get some sleep that night. The return bus trip was one of reflection on not only the day’s journey to Coalwood, but also of the entire weekend. Thanks to all who made it such a good experience, and if all goes well, I’m planning to do it all again the first weekend of October in 2014. See you there…CortlandWriter

Nick explains to Homer the significance of Mount Gay Rum (See The Keeper's Son)
Nick explains to Homer the significance of Mount Gay Rum (See The Keeper’s Son)

Football weekend, beautiful weather, and off to see the Rocket Boys…

Another beautiful weekend has come and gone, and a good portion of it was spent doing what I enjoy doing during this glorious time of the year: watching football. From the grandsons’ flag football game Saturday morning, followed by games featuring Illinois, Northern Illinois, Ohio Sate, Alabama, and Sunday’s NFL offering of the Bears against the Lions, I pretty much got my fill of the sport. Of course, the crystal clear weather of which we’ve been blessed certainly provided a wonderful backdrop for it all. The little bit of rain we received Saturday night was perfect, too, as our yard and bushes are starting to complain that they’re getting awfully thirsty!

Now, Sunday night, I’ve mustered up enough ambition to open up the MacBook and get caught up on some writing and editing. I really need to get a lot finished this evening as tomorrow I will begin to get ready for an upcoming trip at the end of the week to beautiful Wild & Wonderful West Virginia. A friend and I are leaving very early Thursday morning and driving to Beckley, West Virginia, to attend the annual Rocket Boys’ Festival.

Homer H. Hickam: Rocket Boys
Homer H. Hickam: Rocket Boys (Photo credit: Wolf Gang)

For anyone unfamiliar with Rocket Boys (1998), it’s the book by Homer Hickam, Jr., and was later made into a popular movie, October Sky. The story surrounds Homer and his buddies growing up in the coal mining town of Coalwood, West Virginia. Homer’s interest and love of rocketry leads to many memorable exploits of which he writes and brings to life in his award-winning book. And for nearly fifteen years, there has been a Rocket Boys’ Festival, most years in Coalwood but moved to Beckley in 2012.


Last February, when my wife and I were on one of her ancestry “field trips,” we found our way to Beckley and then over the rolling roads through hollers and over mountains to Coalwood. What we found there were the remains of the old mining town that Homer “Sonny” Hickam so vividly brought to life in his poignant book and the other two in his “Coalwood” series, The Coalwood Way (2000) and Sky of Stone (2002). It was during that brief passing-through visit that I decided I wanted to come back in October and attend the weekend festival, especially since Homer and three other Rocket Boys would be there. I have reserved tickets for the hour-long Writers’ Workshop on Friday evening, and I’m looking forward to hearing Homer speak, answer questions, and possibly even get to introduce myself to him. We have conversed many times via mail and Facebook, but there’s nothing like an in-person, face-to-face meeting.

Cover of "The Coalwood Way (The Coalwood ...

Thus, I have a suitcase to pack, as well as my laptop and items needed for writing “moments,” and a rental car to pick up Wednesday evening. We managed a pretty good deal on the car for a week, so we can save our own vehicles the wear-and-tear and keep the many miles off them. Because it will be an early wake up Thursday morning in order for me to meet my friend at 5 a.m., since he lives about an hour east of here, I suppose I should get some sleep these next few nights! That said, I will close this for now and spend an hour editing my novel-in-progress. I’m looking forward to posting from my hotel room in Beckley next weekend. I look forward to the experience….CortlandWriter

Cover of "Sky of Stone: A Memoir"

Changing Seasons: Autumn Favorites…

The seasons are changing – do you look forward to this time of year? What’s your favorite season?


It seems as though I’m asked this question a lot (about four times a year), and I tend to shape my answer with plaudits toward the season that is about to make the scene at that time. Right now, it’s autumn, and I really wouldn’t have a problem rating this time of year as my very favorite. There are several reasons:


Autumn (Photo credit: blmiers2)


First, the comfortable temperatures help put a lot of distance between now and the scorching heat of July and most of August. Now, there’s nothing like putting a sweatshirt on, even though the weather is still pleasant enough to keep the shorts in style. Not quite ready for a regular routine of jeans until the snow flies, but sweatpants on a cold and rainy day (such as today) are always good!


Second, there is that feeling of things winding down for the year, following a summer full of fun and energy. Like the harvest, things are being taken down, one part at a time, and carefully “put away” for another year: The lake cottage is closed up; the pontoon boat is winterized and resting at the marina; our new landscaping is complete and taking advantage of the last few weeks of a temperate climate; the annual pheasant hunting weekend my son and I enjoy with a very good friend in southern Illinois is on the not-too-distant horizon; and there is the realization that Thanksgiving and our annual “gathering” here is not too far off.


English: Autumn is one of the four temperate s...
English: Autumn is one of the four temperate seasons (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Third, I could go on and on about the Technicolor that is a wonderful part of the daily pageant of life here in northern Illinois. Alas, the brilliance of the colors that are splashed about, when the sun is shining its autumn gold and the shadows are just so, will not last very long. They’re only here but for a brief time, and I now tend to make every effort during these October weeks to appreciate all of the awesome beauty of it all. 

Perhaps it’s due to my being older and wiser (?) knowing that we’re not going to be here forever—a thought that seemed most ridiculous for such a long time.


I’ve learned that reality is a strong awakening to our own mortality. And we can let it bother us—even scare us—but there’s comfort in autumn’s beauty all around, and I’ll take it all in for as long as I can. Yes, autumn is truly a time for settling in, winding down, and appreciating the beauty that abounds….CortlandWriter



Harvest time & October tales…

Cover of "Harvest Home"
Cover of Harvest Home


This morning, while reading through a few of the blogs I follow, I read a very enjoyable post from the blog Eagle-Eye Editor. (http://eagleeyededitor.wordpress.com) The writer asks the readers if we believe in ghosts and then proceeds to write about a strange experience that could be something of a ghost tale, or at least something hard to explain. After that, she mentions her enjoyment of the spooky stories of L.B. Taylor, Jr. Since I had not heard of this author previously, my curiosity has been aroused, and I will check his work out. And there is no better month than October to get the spooky stories of ghosts and all-things-weird up and about!

This also led to another thought this morning as I was enjoying my pancakes (with Michigan blueberries!) and coffee. I thought about why I love October so much, and part of the answer was right outside our sliding door. No more than 100 feet out is a golden cornfield, standing patiently, waiting to be harvested. Much farther out, all trees are colored rust, or yellow, or deep gold. Until now, they were rather plain and unobtrusive. Even the slant of the sun has realigned itself throughout the days, and the shadows of late afternoon seem different. The air is clear and good, summer’s heat and humidity gone.

The word harvest seemed to trigger something about October and the tales that are so good during the month. Perhaps one of the spookiest stories I read years ago was Harvest Home by Tom Tryon. Written in 1973, the book is certainly not new. A TV movie followed and was quite good, mainly because it is a good story and the cast was excellent. Bette Davis portrayed the strange Widow Fortune. It’s a creepy tale of a family from New York who chuck that lifestyle for a quaint and bucolic New England small town. What they discover, as the tale unwinds, is that things aren’t what they seem. I would recommend a visit to your library to locate this book. A search at Barnes & Noble or Amazon might yield results as well. Either way, Harvest Home is an excellent October read—before all of the Halloween and other standard fare is offered up later on.

I’ve always loved stories such as this one, and I believe that there is no better month than October—harvest time—to enjoy some all over again. I just pulled my old copy of Harvest Home from its spot on the bookshelf and shall be re-reading soon. And, thanks to Eagle-Eye Editor, I’ll begin my search for L.B. Taylor, Jr., and add him to my October reading pile.

It’s a great month to read those cool tales that keep us looking over our shoulders and wondering what that movement in the shadows was….CortlandWriter

Enter October…busy times!

October has arrived, which means it’s time to get back to the old “routines” of life after the summer cottage/lake season. Although we’ve had a couple of weeks to unpack, re-settle, “untangle,” and re-adjust, there’s the realization that our busy lives are “kicking in” once again.

Saturday (Photo credit: Brother O’Mara)

Whether it’s picking the grandsons up from school, staying with them until Mom and Dad get home, or the various errands and other tasks that take up time hither and yon, the calendar is rapidly filling up. Plus, there are the grandson’s flag football games to attend two times a week for the next few weeks, and the little side trips to Nebraska and Michigan to see family the next few weekends. And though I’ve vowed to get back to work on my writing, I’ve not done a very good job in fulfilling that vow—so far. Need to work on this!

And then there are the two book clubs I’m in, meaning I’m juggling the various books to have them read and digested (somewhat) by the next meeting date. The books we’ve read and discussed in the Saturday morning men’s group have been, for the most part, enjoyable, with a couple of exceptions. But as the good wife points out, I’m reading books I wouldn’t otherwise consider, let alone purchase. Regardless, it’s fun getting together for an hour or so, drinking coffee and eating doughnuts, and having some intelligent conversations. In this group, we’re currently reading The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science. I’m three-fourths of the way through it, and I’m finding it pretty enjoyable, despite some sections that tread way too esoteric and sciency for me! But as I said, the coffee and doughnuts are very tasty on those early Saturday mornings.

Cover of "The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of ...
Cover via Amazon

The other book group is made up of long-time friends from our previous town. We gather every couple of months in one of the member’s homes, have a meal and dessert, and chat and offer our opinions of the book we’ve just read. Some books have included The Lost Symbol, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, The Help among others. Just this past summer, we attempted to plough through Moby Dick. It was an exercise not unlike slogging through a swampy marsh! In spite of our sometimes “slogging,” it’s always fun getting together with the group.

What it comes right down to is  there never seems to be enough time (“to do the things we want to do…” Jim Croce) for really accomplishing everything we look forward to doing. Being retired, I’m not really under any pressing time constraints or deadlines, but it has been difficult for a few years in making the adjustment. At any rate, I keep trying. On this wonderful sunny October morning, with a nice chill in the air, I understand that it’s finally time to re-adjust my priorities and efforts so there’s time for all that is important. Now, to do something about that writing routine…CortlandWriter

October Shadows…

October Night Stillness

The day grows late and the darkness begins to creep in. Most of the fields have been harvested and lights begin to come on in farmhouses and barns across the now-cleaned fields. A kind of quiet peacefulness now rests over the land and only the sounds from the nearby Interstate break the silence of the twilight. Far off to the east, the water tower stands sentinel, its hulking shape overlooking the freshly-cut fields. Another day has come and gone, and quiet envelops the small town.

A month or so ago, the sun would still be setting, kids would be playing and shouting at one another in back yards, and couples would be enjoying an early-evening stroll around the streets of the quiet town. Now, the sun has long since vanished, the kids are having their bedtime baths, and the avenues and byways are empty–devoid of any walkers. The late-October skies are clouded and ominous. Sometime overnight there may be rain storms. The Shadows of the night grow darker–and spookier!

There has always been something I’ve enjoyed about this particular time of the year. Perhaps it’s the realization that summer has truly said farewell for awhile. Perhaps it’s the sun-filled mornings that so quickly give themselves up to sudden shifts to cloudy skies, strong winds, and chilling rains seemingly out of nowhere. And perhaps it’s simply the many changes that repeatedly go on all around us–especially out here in farmland–that we fail to notice completely or to which we pay very little attention.

Inside, it’s warm and safe and comfortable, perhaps a nice fire going in the fireplace; perhaps an annual viewing of Halloween for the millionth time! All around are strange sounds and little quirks of the night. The shadows of October are in full force, doing what they do so well. As always, the feeling that things “out there” are different now are ever with us. Before bed, we make sure that all doors  and windows are securely locked, and one final glance to check out the mysterious shadows of the October night is in order. It’s a strange and wonderful time…MLA

No Sun Up in the Sky…

The Morning Gray

A Crystal clear October day "up there" in Michigan

For some reason, I was up way too early this morning–before 6:00–and saw that it had been raining through the night and into the “wee” hours. And as I got the coffee going, I had a feeling of relief, as strange as it may seem, that we weren’t going to be faced with another one of those sunshine-filled mornings where it’s almost too bright to open up the blinds on our sliding doors facing east! I know, I’ve been expounding upon the string of glorious October days we’ve been blessed with, but there comes a time, I think, when a nice gray, rainy day is called for. Consider me a weird one for thinking this, but I do love a rainy day every now and then. 

An Inside Job

And as I write this, the sky is very much devoid of that wonderful azure blue of recent days; instead, a light gray without a hint of sun hangs overhead. Much like the snowstorms that are right around the corner, there always is a clearing once the storm has passed, beginning another cycle of sunshine and clear skies as far as the eye can see. Even if today eventually gives way to more sunshine and blue skies, it is a good one for accomplishing many things–INSIDE–and, perhaps, some much-overdue and neglected writing. The mundane duties of running to the bank, the store, Sam’s Club, and the gas station will not deter my efforts in getting the “Inside” stuff taken care of today! 

Tramp on, fellow travelers, down the road to somewhere…MLA

Gorgeous Days & New Look Blog

Just time for a quick post tonight as the hour is late and sleep is needed. It was another beautiful day around here today, and I enjoyed a nice walk earlier. Tonight I’ve managed to get some reading done, some e-mails read and replied to, and have had some fun playing around (experimenting) with various themes and color schemes for this blog. I kind of like the color combinations here–very appropriate for this time of year, I think. At any rate, it’s good to try different things and learn as I go. Someone my age, it takes a bit longer to get the hang of just how all of this works. Will close now and crawl off to bed. Will get back to writing and regular posting starting tomorrow.

What am I currently reading?  The Affair by Lee Child. It’s the latest Jack Reacher adventure, and it’s very good so far. I’m also getting into a non-fiction work titled Hitler in the Crosshairs by John Woodbridge. I’ll write about these two in the days ahead as well as my current state of writing. All for tonight…

A Saturday in October…

Hello, October!

A gorgeous, sun splashed, Saturday–October 1–and just the kind of day made for college football, a walk in the country, or just about anything else one sees fit to “get out there to!” The strong winds that howled around here for the past couple of days have blown themselves out, leaving the picture-perfect landscape painting of gold, mustard, green, rust, and blue and white of the sky overhead. 

Coffee, Muffins & Cleopatra 

Discussed an interesting book this morning with several men from the book club: Cleopatra: A Life. Since I only had the book a short time, I wasn’t able to complete the whole thing, but the little I did complete proved interesting and quite thought provoking. It is obvious that the author, Stacy Schiff, emphasizes Cleopatra’s contributions to history and legendary status as a female, capable of accomplishing so many things, something not often brought forth in the “male dominated” history of the world! And though the book was a bit sluggish at times, it still was full of little kernels and tasty bits of trivia and other lesser-known pieces of information. I found these things very worthwhile.

Our next discussion in November will be what sounds like a captivating read: Hitler in the Crosshairs by Woodbridge & Possley. One of our group presented a nice background for the book, and we’re all excited about getting going on this one. In fact, I’ve just completed my ordering the book from good, old Barnes & Noble. (Love the membership for the free shipping and other discounts!)


Next up for this terrific Saturday will be watching the Fighting Illini open their Big 10 season on the gridiron against those pesky, purple foes, Northwestern. Should be a good game, and my one regret is that I’m here and not down there in Champaign to take it all in. But such is life these days. 

Nothing can spoil this one, fellow travelers. Down the sunny road we tramp on this first day of October–a beautiful month…MLA