Catching up and some “Super Sunday” thoughts…

OK. It’s been way too long since I actually sat down with the sole purpose to write something to post on Down Many Roads—my long-standing blog about various topics of which I’m interested. And I’ve frittered away so many opportunities to do that very thing during the past several weeks and months. Reading, rather than writing, has still been my “go to” activity when I’m up before dawn most mornings, and I feel rather guilty about that—but not that guilty! Recently, I have enjoyed reading the following books: Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan; The Russia Hoax, by Greg Jarrett; The Saga of the Pony Express, by Joseph J. Di Certo;

Since I last posted regarding our wonderful adventure on the Oregon Trail with our grandsons, I have been busy with a few road trips to Ohio to see Mom and my older sister and husband. Mom turned 90 last month and is doing remarkably well. We had just returned from an 18-day Panama Canal cruise, and our intention was to make the six hour drive to northern Ohio to celebrate her birthday on the actual day—January 22. But a nagging viral infection entered the scene, as did the return of the Polar Vortex, preventing me from making the trip to the shores of Lake Erie.

About that same time, we had been inundated with continuous snowfalls, accumulations mounting daily. As such, I’m planning a trip out in a couple of weeks, hoping that this sudden thaw and this stretch of very pleasant weather will hold on for a while. Fingers crossed.

Our aforementioned cruise began on January 2, when we flew out of O’Hare to San Diego. From start to finish, the whole trip was wonderful, particularly the warm and comfortable weather all the way along, where we ended up in Fort Lauderdale and flew home from there. I will be writing about the highlights of this adventure in future posts.

Watching the Super Bowl yesterday left me in a total state of “the blahs.” Not only was the game a complete flop, the commercials—usually the highlight of Super Sunday—were non existent. There is definitely something going on in our world and society that has changed things that are supposed to be fun into anything but. Too much preachy content that caters to a generation I find difficult to comprehend much of the time. The outcome was not really surprising, and I’m not a Patriots football fan. However, I do admire their achievements and their adherence to off-the-field obligations. Enjoy your White House visit, Patriots!

Now, it’s time to focus on getting through February. Good to be back and writing! See you sooner than later…

Snow, cold, scuttled travel plans & hungry birds!

IMG_1969.jpg
Three “visitors” during the snow storm

Hello out there. It’s 8 a.m., and we’ve already reached our high for the day at 12°F. What a wonderful day to stay inside! The coffee is good, the music gentle in my ear buds, and the house is warm and comfortable.

And to think that it was but a mere short time ago when everyone was gushing about how pleasant the temperatures still were and how green the lawns remained.

After our recent weekend’s blast of snow, however, those lawns are blanketed with white, the trees are bare, and winter has firmly entrenched itself.

But…it should.

After all, this is mid-December in northern Illinois, and once the winds and cold of winter decide that it’s time for them to pop in and stay, everything turns quickly and decisively. The birds make quick work of emptying the two feeders out back.

I watch them now as I write this, and they’re so much like anxious shoppers, crowding one IMG_1966.jpganother on the ground below the feeders or vying for a spot on the edge of the feeders above.

I wonder if they are required to take a number to determine who’s “next” to be served! It’s clear that one of my jobs later today will be to trudge out through the snow, bucket of seed in hand, and re-fill the feeders.

And, of course, this weather plays havoc on making any sort of travel plans. Last weekend, for example, we’d planned to drive to Ohio to attend the 90th birthday gathering for an aunt and then on up to Lake Erie to visit my mom.

When the snow began in earnest Saturday afternoon, however, all plans went by the boards. The current plan is to try it again this coming weekend, but there is some inkling of more weather “issues” that could crop up once more. We shall see.

In the meantime, I’ll catch up with some long overdue writing and keep the bird feeders filled.

How’s the weather in your part of the world?

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)

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…

 

Thoughts on a near-perfect “writing day” …

Courtesy of MORGUEFILE
Courtesy of MORGUEFILE

The morning had dawned gray and cold, and—here and there—light traces of snow that had fallen in the night were visible. Far out to the east, across so many empty and barren fields, the sunrise had valiantly tried to make itself known, but the thick, dark cloud bank hanging so ominously low would have nothing of it.

A few snowflakes had blown about and had brushed lightly against my writing room window and then were gone. The backyard, that I had mowed for the final time last week, lay quiet and resigned to the fact that those wonderful warm days of summer and fall were but a memory now, and winter’s chill, with its snow blanket soon to arrive, was creeping in unopposed.

Alone in my house out in the country, I listen to the quiet all around…and the quiet is good.  From my computer, the relaxing and pleasant classical music station soothes the roughness of the world outside, transporting me into a good writing mood, and thoughts about the next chapter of Sandbar’s Secret begin to take shape. Periodically, the furnace “kicks in,” offering reassurance that our house is warm, and the newly arrived cold, a preamble to winter, can do nothing about it.

I finish writing the letters that have needed writing for many days, and they’re ready for a trip to the post office later. I send a couple of quick e-mails and clean out an overcrowded Inbox. I spend some time trying to figure out where I want to go with this week’s blog post—which “road” shall I travel today?—and settle on sharing my thoughts and impressions about this wonderfully inspiring day, glad that I don’t have to be outside other than to visit the post office, dump the recycling over at the Waste Management site, and maybe go to the store to see if the sale on Budweiser is still on!

It has been a busy week with appointments of one kind or another: Lab work for routine six-month doctor visit on Monday; a trip to the Apple Store on Tuesday morning for a battery replacement in the iPhone; pick up the grandsons from school on Wednesday and take them to basketball practice; finally, the trip in to the doctor’s office early this morning to go over the lab results and the routine check-up (which all turned out very well).

In short, I love this sort of day, especially when the past weeks have been endless strings of sun-drenched, blindingly bright days. On days such as this, the writing seems to be better, and the energy and drive to accomplish much is stronger than ever! And now that the rush of this week has subsided, I can stay inside now, on this cold and gray day, and focus on moving my writing along on this near-perfect “writing day.”….CortlandWriter

Courtesy of MORGUEFILE.
Courtesy of MORGUEFILE.

The Good Luck Highway

scrivener-basic-composition
scrivener-basic-composition (Photo credit: ChrisL_AK)

This past week, I’ve spent an inordinate number of hours at work on final revisions and edits of this next book of mine, The Good Luck Highway. And although it has been a productive week, I’ve reached the stage where I’m growing weary of my characters, storyline, and overall conflict! I don’t know if this is a good or bad sign (maybe a combination of both), but I’m hoping that this is a natural phenomena that happens to many writers after they have invested so much time, thought, and work into a book.

If I can avoid any more unexpected interruptions during the next two days, I will have the thing finished and ready to “put out there” and share with the world very soon.

US Highway 98 looking westward from the George...
US Highway 98 looking westward from the George NeSmith Bridge at Newport, Florida, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On another note, I am excited about the cover design and will be sharing that in an upcoming post very soon. I couldn’t be more pleased with the way it has turned out. And it will definitely be an important part of The Good Luck Highway. …CortlandWriter

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Charleston: Charm & power outages…

Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina (Photo credit: Dougtone)

It has often been said that “all good things must end,” and that’s exactly what happened with my brief foray into wearing shorts and short sleeves in brilliant 70-degree weather that one day in Savannah. Hoping for more of the same weather once we reached Charleston, our hopes were dashed upon the rocks (I love being melodramatic this morning!) when we awoke on Tuesday to be greeted by cold and drizzle. Dedicated and intrepid folks that we are, though, we made the twenty-minute drive from our hotel to the Visitor Center on Meeting Street in Charleston so we could chart our course for the next two days, crappy weather notwithstanding.

The kind lady at the information counter advised us that we should probably do whatever it was we wanted to do now because the forecast for tomorrow was calling for freezing rain. In short, today would be the lesser of the two evils. And so we purchased the combo tour, which included a harbor tour and visit to historic Fort Sumter, followed by a lengthy Gray Line bus tour around the beautiful city of Charleston.

Once both tours were concluded, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at Hyman’s Seafood Restaurant. The grouper medley special prepared three ways was outstanding, and there was definitely more than enough to fill us up!

From there, we hopped aboard the free public trolley and rode the mile-long route back to where we were parked at the Visitor Center. Before we realized it, we were back on westbound I-26 heading back to our hotel, wondering what kind of weather actually would be coming in. Sometime in the night, all of the bad stuff they’d been predicting finally arrived.

rainyday.summerville
Looking outside from our hotel room window at the freezing rain. The pines are heavily laden with ice in Summerville, SC.

Wednesday was  freezing rain, causing countless pine trees to snap under the weight, taking out power lines and bringing things in the entire surrounding area to a halt. For a while, before the power left us, I managed to get some editing and revising done on my book The Good Luck Highway. After that, we spent the better part of the day without power. 

When the power did come back on–after several false alarms—we decided to take a drive to see if there was any place to get some dinner. Of course, that was no easy task since all businesses in our area were still without power. Finally, driving back three exits toward Charleston, we managed to find a brightly lit Cracker Barrel, the most popular place in the world!

English: View of the house at Middleton Place,...
English: View of the house at Middleton Place, near Charleston, South Carolina. Now the plantation’s house museum, this structure was originally the south wing, but became the main residence after the original main house was destroyed. The low wall left of the house indicates where the original main house once stood. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thursday was better and the storms had moved on out, leaving behind much damage and many areas still struggling to get power back. A morning stroll through the City Market and a humbling visit to the old Slave Mart were the morning’s wanderings. From there, we drove out to Middleton Place, a true southern plantation, and walked the grounds and had a guided tour through the house. We both agreed that on a pleasant spring day, the time there would have been so much more enjoyable. As it was, it was still pretty impressive.

Dinner for our last night in Charleston was at the Shem Creek Bar and Grill, another place that had been recommended by friends and/or family. Located in nearby Mt. Pleasant, the large sprawling restaurant and bar served up all sorts of wonderful seafood dishes. I had the Shem Creek Sauté, a wonderful mix of mussels, clams, and scallops sautéed in olive oil, shallots, and spicy Cajun sausage, then tossed with linguine and topped with fried oysters. A couple of cold Budweisers to go along with it, and the meal was magnificent!

Our long, tiring, fun day over, we found our way back to the hotel, ready to hit the sack since the early morning would arrive all too soon.  After breakfast, we’d pack up, load the car, check out, and point our Malibu west on I-26 for the weekend in Waynesville, North Carolina. But I still missed being able to wear those shorts some more!….CortlandWriter

Official seal of Waynesville, North Carolina
Official seal of Waynesville, North Carolina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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Out of the snow and into the traffic!

A famous Scot wrote a long time ago that “the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry,” and how true–time after time–his words prove to be.

In my last post I wrote of our plans to set out on our February “get-away” to points south: Atlanta, Savannah, Charleston, and Waynesville, North Carolina. And we hoped to be on the road and out of the treacherous winter weather by late Tuesday evening and drive through to Stone Mountain and spend a couple of days in and around the Atlanta area.

driveway before leaving
A clear path from our garage to the snow-covered street so we can begin our February “get-away!”  (Image property of CortlandWriter ©2014)

However, as seems to be the case this winter, whenever any plans are made, some major winter storm will set in on said date when those plans are to begin! Thus, our leaving was postponed until late morning on Wednesday, after first having to fire up the snow thrower so we could get out of the driveway.

Though not completely cleared of snow and dangerous ice patches, the interstate highways in northern Illinois were not too bad, but the farther south we went, the worse they became. Very tense driving was the rule for most of the day and early evening, until we decided to stop in Paducah, Kentucky, and revel in the joy of having survived the long, icy, snow packed haul.

Although there was far less snow piled all about than what we’re used to at home, there was plenty of cold and ice on the side roads and the hotel parking lot. But things were beginning to look up as the forecast was for no snow and I-24 to Nashville and Chattanooga was going to be dry and bare in the morning. Yea! I could actually drive the speed limit unlike our first day’s adventure. And so we were up and out and on I-24 by 7:30 this morning and enjoyed the drive on a mostly cloudy day and arrived at Stone Mountain right before 3 p.m.

I’ve often wondered where all of the people driving in and around Atlanta come from as there always seems to be millions of them going here and there and very fast. I’m used to Chicago driving, but I’m familiar with the lay of the land so can pretty much deal with it. Being in uncharted and unfamiliar territory today, though, in the midst of motorists in a mad hurry, we found it just a bit over the top.

In spite of the traffic, we found our hotel and checked in without any problem and soon we paid a short visit to nearby Stone Mountain Park and viewed the famous Confederate Memorial Carving on the side of the mountain. Over the years I had heard mention of this but never had the opportunity to see it up close and personal, live and in color!

The famous carving on the side of Stone Mountain. Quite impressive!
The famous carving on the side of Stone Mountain. Quite impressive! (Image property of CortlandWriter ©2014)

The museum and Memorial Hall provided some interesting information and background. We enjoyed seeing a couple of well-produced movies about the carving and the Civil War in Georgia.

Of course, Carolyn managed to squeeze in a quick visit to a gift shop just as it was about to close, and managed to purchase a coffee mug, a couple of post cards, and a Stone Mountain Christmas ornament. Uncanny, that woman!

So it’s onto the Margaret Mitchell House in downtown Atlanta in the morning. I’m already steeling my nerves to deal with the morning hum and buzz of traffic and trying to navigate more uncharted waters. It’s not surprising that Mitchell, the author of Gone With the Wind, died by being hit by a speeding automobile on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta in 1949!

Assuming we survive the fun and games of Atlanta traffic, we’ll be on our way to the A.H. Stephens State Park in the afternoon, where we’ll spend two days browsing about and learning what there is to be learned.

My wife is very excited to gather as much information as she can on Alexander Stephens, a second-cousin twice removed and vice-president of the Confederacy. I, of course, plan to find some interesting tidbits to share in my next update. Since we’re staying in a cottage on the park grounds, it should be very unique and fun.

At this writing, I’m pretty confident that we won’t have to do any snow blowing or shoveling to maintain our planned itinerary. But then again, this winter really shouldn’t be underestimated and really shouldn’t be trusted!…CortlandWriter

Stone Mountain
Stone Mountain (Photo credit: ucumari)
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If it’s February, it must be time to travel…

January
January (Photo credit: Deadly Tedly)

The end is near…

…Yes, the end of January, that is, and this means that the wife and I are about to embark on our annual February vacation/road trip.

This year, the weather being what it has been, the two of us are most definitely in the mood to load the car and set out for points south.

That is exactly what we plan to do late next Tuesday evening, when we’ll leave our tiny hamlet here in northern Illinois and set sail for Stone Mountain, Georgia, our first stopping point on this year’s adventure. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the recent snow, icy roads, and howling winds will not rear their ugly heads again on the night we want to get out and on the road.

We’ll spend a couple of days in and around the Atlanta area, with plans to visit Margaret Mitchell’s home and The World of Coca-Cola before heading east to the A H. Stephens State Park, named after Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy.

Why this park, you ask? It seems as though Carolyn, my wife, recently discovered, in her many extensive and exhaustive ancestry/genealogical researches, that A.H. Stephens was a second-cousin, twice removed.

That being the case, it will be way more meaningful and fun when we tour the

English: I took this picture at Liberty Hall i...
Liberty Hall in Crawfordville, Georgia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Confederate museum and Liberty Hall, Stephens’s home. We also have reservations for a two-night’s stay in one of the cottages located in the park, and I’m very much looking forward to that.

Then it will be on to Savannah, Georgia, a place we stopped at briefly one time years ago on our way to our home at the time in Titusville, Florida. I recall it being a beautiful, historic spot, and I will enjoy the two days we plan to spend there learning more about the place. And if the weather is as typically moderate and pleasant as I’ve heard, that can’t be all bad, either.

On the road again to Charleston, South Carolina, for a few days and to find out, first-hand, what everyone has forever told us about Charleston being one of their very favorite places to visit and spend time. The historic stuff alone will be well worth the time and money we’re investing in this February’s trip. I’m eagerly awaiting that part of the journey.

And it can’t be a February get-away without spending some time in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina at Carolyn’s brother’s house in Waynesville. We’ll make the relatively short drive there when finished immersing ourselves in all things Charleston. Our weekend with her brother and his wife will be fun and relaxing before we make the drive from there back to northern Illinois.

At each of these wonderful places along the way, I plan to get plenty of writing done in the evenings: updating this blog, working on the current WIP, and sending e-mail. Last year’s February genealogy “field trip” to Athens County, Ohio, Coalwood, West Virginia, and Waynesville, coincided with the start of Gwen Hernandez’s online Scrivener for Mac class. During the course of that trip, I completed several of the first lessons that Gwen would post each day. I found it to be lots of fun working through the lessons in a different location each morning.

Now that February is creeping in (and not a moment too soon!), it’s time to dig the Eddie Bauer bag out of the closet, get the clothes laid out and packed, and begin to get serious about hitting the road. Leaving northern Illinois for a couple of weeks will be just what the two of us need–if the weather “gods” see fit to smile on us!

I’m looking forward to writing about all of this as the miles and days unfold beginning next week. Stay tuned…CortlandWriter

Cortland, IL
Cortland, IL (Photo credit: moominsean)
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My writer’s window…

My writer's window - winter out there!
My writer’s window – winter out there!

I read an interesting post yesterday by Scrivener expert and blogger, Gwen Hernandez, in which she wrote about her new office and comfortable surroundings. Included was a photo of her new writing office, and I can well imagine the enjoyment she’ll have working there.

Her post got me to thinking, again, about how important it is to have a regular place designated as my office, study, work room, workshop, etc. But whatever name I give it, though, the only thing that matters is that this is a place where I write…regularly!

And, like Gwen, I’m fortunate to have my own room. It is complete with three large floor-to-ceiling book cases, two cabinet/shelf units for storage and printer and stereo, and a perfect-sized writing desk.

I have a view of trees and the street through two windows, and a room all to myself.

And, just as Gwen writes about her new office’s view of trees and the street, I also have onemy writer’s window. The view it provides is very important. I believe that if I wasn’t able to look up from my writing every now and then, out onto the back yard and the farm fields beyond to the east, and our small town’s water tower standing sentinel out a few hundred yards away, the Union Pacific Railroad freight line tracks below, I wouldn’t be as productive.

There are so many stories out there through my writer’s window in every season of the year. Right now, at -2° and the wind chill -26°, Jack London seems to come to mind. Quite timely, I think, with the  special miniseries, Klondike, that I watched on Discovery Channel this week.

In spring I watch the planting of the fields, which at the moment are empty and waiting; summer is heat and watching the corn grow so tall much of the water tower is lost from sight; autumn is harvest time, amidst the golden tinges and a feeling of closing up for another year. And then, it’s winter all over again, and the search continues for new stories through my writer’s window….CortlandWriter

Looking westward from our garage across to our neighbors in this winter of 2014
Looking westward from our garage across to our neighbors in this winter of 2014
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