It’s such a good feeling…

I took this picture early one morning on my wa...
. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It never ceases to amaze me how true the old adage is that time flies when you’re having fun. July has come and gone in a flash, and perhaps it seems that way because this was possibly the best July—weatherwise—I can remember. I don’t know if that qualifies as fun, but we’ve certainly had our share of it because we’ve been allowed to.

With moderate temperatures allowing us to be outside without grousing and growling about the (dis)comfort level, those July days and nights rolled right on by and on into August. And since August showed up, the pleasant weather conditions have continued. Suddenly, it’s already the 3rd of the month! See what I mean about time flying?

Perhaps the law of averages has caught up and figured they owed us all a summer without heavy drought and heat and prolonged humidity. Anything would be better than what we faced last year, and this summer has been a wonderful surprise.

I love having this sweatshirt on as I type these profound and prodigious (courtesy of Homer Hickam) observations. I love looking out to the lake as the morning sun has burned through the shroud of fog and the water sparkles and the pontoon awaits and the day beckons.

It’s a good morning leading into a good day overall! It’s such a good feeling…(courtesy of Mr. Rogers). And may your day be one as well…CortlandWriter

A Michigan Summer “Masterpiece”

While out and about in the local countryside here in southwest Michigan last week, on one of those splendidly brilliant, sunshine-filled days, I had to stop the Ford Ranger in the middle of the narrow country road I travelled, and get out and take a picture of what appeared to be a magnificent painting by one of the Masters.

Of course, it wasn’t a painting; rather, it was the most beautiful combination of blue skies and lacy clouds set as a background to the deep green color of the cornfield fronting it. Seeing this, I realized that it had, indeed, been created by one of the Masters—The Master.

Without getting too deep into the theology here, just let it be known that something told me that this was a picture worth taking. Thus, I hoped that my iPhone was up for the challenge and would be able to capture the overall scene as closely as I was witnessing it with the naked eye.

When I returned to the cottage later that day, I checked out the two shots I’d taken of the Michigan sky hanging out there over Michigan cornfields and lakes, and I was pleased with how well they both turned out. I couldn’t help but think that one or the other could possibly be some kind of cover art or inspiration for a setting  for a book or short story. After all, for the past few days, I had been looking for ideas to spur my writing and work on my novel–The Bet. And literally out of a clear, blue sky, I seem to have been rejuvenated and eager to get back at it. Funny what something such as this can do!

All too often, I see something that would be a good idea for a story and fail to write it down, or pass up the opportunity to snap a photo. Not this time, however. Had I been in a congested area with heavy traffic, I might not have been so successful. But out on some narrow, dirt road between the corn and various orchards, all I had to do was stop, grab the iPhone, get out of the truck, aim at the clouds and azure blue sky, and take the picture.

There was something special about the scene as soon as I saw it, and I feel the same when I look at either one of the photos now. I think that experience might be one of those unplanned things that just happened—being in the right place at the right time! I can’t really remember the last time something as spontaneous as this occurred, but it’s a very good feeling all the same. It’s like finding the right words and actions to get my novel moving along once more, to bring it to some kind of acceptable conclusion, and to know that it’s something folks might enjoy reading.

Whatever, that photo will have a prominent spot in my collection and serve as a wonderful reminder that ideas and inspiration are out there if we take the time to see them. I happily share that photo for all to enjoy and, perhaps, be inspired….CortlandWriter

michigan sky
A Michigan Summer Masterpiece

Summer writing: My Right Place to Write…

English: Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary
English: Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, here I am, in an old cottage in a thick woods, along the shore of a beautiful lake, in southwest Michigan. And I can honestly say that being back is all good! Last weekend was a marathon of getting here, hauling stuff from two vehicles, opening the cottage up, and getting everything “under roof.”

The muscle aches and weariness that resulted after each day’s efforts were evidence of the work involved in making the place livable once again. But now that everything has been completed, those aches and pains were good ones. Of course, these first few days have been filled with plenty of wind and rain and cooler temperatures than preferred, and it seems as though it’s taking much longer for those aches and pains to go away. (It couldn’t be age-related, could it?)

Now the stage is set for my writing routine to help me accomplish goals I have set for the summer: 1.) finish The Bet, my current novel WIP which was my NaNoWriMo project; 2.) keep my blogs up to date; 3.) work on the various short stories that have been lurking about for quite some time; 4.) get my writing ready for publication by summer’s end. Whew! Have I set myself up for disappointment? Time will tell.

However, each of these goals seems very reachable as I open another summer at the lake. Anyone who writes seriously has his or her own writing routines, and I’m certainly no different, especially when I’m on the verge of getting some piece finished. Although it was a very eventful winter, I didn’t quite do the amount of writing I probably should have or would have liked to do. No excuses, other than several weeks were spent learning and applying the wonderful writing program called Scrivener. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s a terrific tool that has me becoming more and more organized, structured, and competent in achieving writing satisfaction as never before.

Now that the winter blues have taken flight, it’s time for some really good quality atmosphere in which to write and read. I am a lucky guy in that we move for the summer to southwest Michigan at the end of May, and there is no better setting during the week to work on my writing. To say the least, the surroundings are quaint—rustic?—and far from the hustle and bustle of city life and the roar or Interstates.

My perfect writing routine? It all begins with the coffee. I’m usually out of bed by 7 a.m. and have the coffee going soon thereafter. If it’s a nice morning (no howling winds, cold temperatures, or pouring rain), I’ll open all of the curtains and windows to let in the good, fresh Michigan air. The wife usually sleeps in until later in the morning in the upstairs bedroom, so there is no way I can disturb her slumber.

Next, I’ll go out onto the screened-in porch overlooking the lake, take in the morning that is coming to life, and get the MacBook fired up on the round table facing the lake and check any e-mail that may have arrived over night. After that, I’ll read over what I wrote during my previous writing session and use that as my starting point.

And, of course, at this point I enjoy that first wonderful sip of strong, hot coffee. It seems to be the fuel that gets me started, and nothing seems insurmountable when there’s good coffee to have along for the journey! If it’s a morning of rain or less-than-pleasant temperatures, I’ll simply set up my writing “workshop” inside on the old dining room table. I get lots of good writing done on mornings such as this, but I do prefer to be out in the air on the porch watching the lake go by while I write.

There are usually plenty of hummingbirds who come calling and pause for a sip at the feeders on the corner of the porch roof or over in the low dogwood tree next to the steps leading down to the landing by the lake. I have a terrific view of a large portion of this end of the lake, and there are usually fishermen or other early morning boaters out and about on summer mornings.

I don’t really set a time limit for my writing, other than I do much better early in the morning. I do set a word count of 2,000. This is very easy to keep track of in Scrivener. When finished, I read over what I have produced that morning and then  shut the writing down until the next writing day.

While writing, I enjoy the various genres of music available on iTunes radio. Some mornings, I’ll have easy listening music; other times it will be jazz, particularly Bossa Nova or smooth jazz. Or I’ll simply select some mood music from my own iTunes library. With the right music, I’m alone in my tiny niche in the world, creating my characters and places and plots and conflicts and the rest of what makes a story. It definitely enhances my wonderful setting and atmosphere in the cottage.

Although I tell myself that I’m going to write every day, reality gets in the way, and I more often than not end up writing only three weekdays out of five —very seldom on weekends. Since I usually have chores (weekly trip to laundromat in Dowagiac, grocery store, general maintenance of cottage, etc.), I’ll do them on those non-writing mornings. Since we usually have company on weekends, writing time is really not planned then. The days when I’m not writing, however, I’m finding time to read and think about the next writing session waiting for me.

On mornings such as today (June 1)—gray, windy, sweatshirt temperatures—I am definitely in the mood to get to work on my current writing project(s).  Of course, there are many mornings when it’s just too nice to pass up that early cruise around the lake on our intrepid pontoon! Times such as these, writing takes a backseat!

I find that writing atmosphere and setting is vital to being a productive writer. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bright, sunny day or a rainy, dreary day—lots can be accomplished if we feel motivated and free of distractions. My summer cottage is just this sort of place. Now, another cup of coffee, an hour of unplanned weekend writing, and I’ll be that much closer to being finished with my novel, The Bet. And the gray morning has suddenly become sunny and bright! All is well…CortlandWriter

Coffee in Yellow Mug
Coffee in Yellow Mug (Photo credit: Mr. T in DC)


A new “cottage season” and Oklahoma thoughts…

Map of Michigan highlighting Cass County.svg
Map of Michigan highlighting Cass County.svg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ever since last September, when we closed up the lake cottage and moved back to northern Illinois, this is the week we’ve been looking forward to and thinking about.

Yep, it’s time to do it all over again—open the cottage—and these past few days have been all about shopping lists and gathering up things and loading our front dining room and table with boxes and bags and various other items that will be packed in our Ford Ranger or Chevy Malibu to be hauled up to Michigan early Friday morning to begin another “cottage season.”

With all of this “getting ready” atmosphere firmly ensconced, it seems as though it’s been way too long since I’ve attempted any sort of writing—my blog posts or work on my second novel, The Bet, or the various short stories I have “in the works.”

Writing now, I realize even more so that these next two days are only going to get more crammed with things that need to get done, and so I’ll attempt to finish this and get along to tending to many of them.

Of course, the “best laid scheme” often goes awry, and, sure enough, my plan to arise early today and get the yard mowed has gone by the boards because it’s been raining since the wee hours! Somehow, though, before we pull out of here early Friday morning to head to Michigan, I will have to manage to get it cut. My window of opportunity is quite minuscule—and getting more so as the day rolls along—so I’ll have to see how the weather cooperates (or doesn’t!) later today.

And now, it’s time to get busy. My next post will be from southwest Michigan—if I manage to get things done on this end, that is! When I think about it, though, my complaining about such things seems just a bit selfish and insignificant in the face of what those people in Oklahoma have endured and will have to continue to endure. So scratch my whining from the record, in regards to my inability to mow the lawn, please! Instead, offer some good thoughts and a prayer for those who really have issues sitting in their paths. My lawn will eventually get mowed….CortlandWriter

Ford Ranger XLT
Ford Ranger XLT (Photo credit: Wikipedia)…


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

A time to “untangle”…

Hemingway's writing desk
Hemingway’s writing desk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, we’ve been back home for a week now following a terrific summer spent at the cottage on the lake in Michigan. Like most of the weeks this summer, the one just concluded seemed to rush by hell-bent for leather! A good portion of the week was given over to getting things unpacked, hung up, put in drawers, or stored on shelves. And usually this is the part I dread. For some reason, though, this time it wasn’t so bad.

Perhaps it’s because I knew the inevitability of the situation and that I’d be faced with doing the job sooner or later, so I opted for getting things done sooner rather than later. And, amazingly, the job wasn’t all that arduous or time-consuming. It’s quite a good feeling to put that last suitcase away and to look around my writing room and realize that I have the clutter cleared away and my bookcases are filled with old friends I’m glad to see once more.

My printer is loaded with fresh paper, awaiting some writing output by me. My writing desk is cleared of extraneous papers and folders so that I have a clear place to get some serious work done. There are, of course, the familiar photos of family and a vast array of pens and pencils at my beck and call. Living for most of three summer months in rather rustic conditions, I’m still trying to adjust once more to the wonderful comforts of home.

In the next few days I intend to begin “untangling” the mess in which the book I’m working on seems to find itself. After many starts and stops this summer, I seemed to hit dead-end after dead-end. The basic premise of the story is a good one, I think, but there are a few snarls (particularly some characters and their roles) that need to be re-thought and re-written. And now that I’m back home, unpacked and re-settled, I’ll begin in earnest to give the story another go.

On another note, yet quite similar in terms of establishing routines, the treadmill in the family room downstairs sits waiting for my return! I’ve already begun to set up a schedule for walking several days each week. Without a doubt, I actually can get more accomplished in the writing department after I’ve walked my twenty or thirty minutes in the morning. Thus, I’m looking forward to beginning again.

Perhaps, as I’m walking along, sweat dripping off my furrowed brow, I’ll figure out just how to get that story “untangled” and have it resume its flow swimmingly! Can’t wait to get going…CortlandWriter

Summer into autumn
Summer into autumn (Photo credit: blmiers2)

My “new and improved” laundry plan…

Laundromat in Toronto, Canada
Laundromat in Toronto, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been away, but I’m back now…

Seems as though I’ve been out of touch with my blog posting, but now I have returned to a more “normal” routine here in the closing days of cottage life here in Michigan. Home for a good portion of last week, and then the big Labor Day weekend “gathering” of kids and grandkids here, I was not able to post any cogent (or non-cogent) thoughts during that time.

It is, indeed, “crunch time” here at the cottage, with the closing date of September 16 rapidly approaching. My plan for the remainder of this week is to visit the laundromat, starting tomorrow morning, two or three times so as to get the numerous beach towels, bedding, and various other items laundered and ready for packing away in their respective Rubber Maid containers. In the past, I’ve always waited to do this tedious—but crucial—duty the last week of the season. Not this year! That’s why I’m starting later today to round-up all of the towels and load them into my Ford Ranger so we can get to the laundromat early tomorrow morning.

Once those two or three big, front-loading washers swallow my quarters and begin to do their thing, half the battle is won! Then the other half begins once I load the towels into the dryers and feed more quarters into the hungry devils. Then, it’s just a matter of waiting—and feeding the machines a few more times—before it’s time to fold and pack the clean towels back into the truck and head back to the cottage where another load of something or other awaits. But the good thing is, this is all happening two weeks before “closing day,” and it still feels like there’s a bit of time for fun stuff.

So now, it’s time to post and then go get busy with my new and improved end-of-season laundry plan. We’ll see how it works out…CortlandWriter

Is that “inner alarm” sounding already?


I began to realize this morning—another glorious one, by the way—that there remain only a few weeks of “cottage life” for this


Sunlight (Photo credit: Dave Stokes)


summer. Without any fanfare or heralding, those little “hints” have begun appearing all about, particularly the trees and bushes displaying slight tinges of rust and orange and yellow. Even the sunlight has begun to have different slants throughout the day, and the shadows seem to be deeper as the dark of night creeps in so much earlier.


Yesterday, as I cruised in the pontoon rather late in the afternoon, I thought it was more of a September day than a late summer August one. The vacationers have mostly wrapped things up and gone back to their routines of jobs and other family duties. Many kids have started school—or will very soon—and the tubes and jet skis and wave runners are few and far between now, a sure harbinger that the end of summer is edging closer.


When I pushed off from our pier, I seemed to be the only boat on the lake. Even the fishermen, who thrive on days such as this, when the lake is free of wild and crazy traffic, were not to be seen. I had the lake all to myself.


I loved chugging around at a very slow pace, studying the shore and the piers and the houses that I’ve studied hundreds of times before. While I noticed that nothing had been closed up or put away at these places, there seemed to be a sense of calm and quiet, with everything seemingly at rest in the late afternoon sunshine.


For whatever reason, there seems to be that intangible “thing”—feeling?—that seems to show its face around here this time each summer. Somehow, it triggers a kind of inner alarm clock that says: Enjoy it while you can…closing time ain’t that far away! And when “closing day” does arrive (September 16), I’m pretty much ready for it so that we, too, can get back to our fall and winter and spring routines. Curiously, though, it seems to get here much too soon. After all, wasn’t it just the 4th of July? Perhaps it only seems this way because I’m another year older, and what seemed to drag on forever when I was young and foolish now seems to go fleetingly that I’m old and foolisher! (Thank you, Mark Twain!)


I suppose I’ll have more thoughts along these lines in the days ahead as the summer winds down, and I had best take the advice of that inner alarm clock and enjoy it while I can. I’ll keep to my daily routines here in the weeks that remain. There will be morning coffee on the porch so I can watch the lake “go by.” There will be lots of quiet time to write my morning’s “stint” and update my blogs. There will be many hours to read the good books that sit on the shelf above the microwave awaiting my attention. There will be walks to take the trash to the dumpster. And, of course, there will be slow chugs around the lake, late afternoons, to once again see the little “hints” that closing time ain’t that far away!CortlandWriter


Lake routines: Not for the faint of heart…

Getting away from the normal routines is part of what summer vacation is all about. In my case, each year I leave the world of northern Illinois behind at the end of May and make my way into self-imposed exile in southwest Michigan, surrounded by nature at its best, a beautiful lake, and rustic cottages. But it isn’t all milk and honey, wine and roses, nor the life of Riley, as so many folks who know me think it is.

For instance, there is morning coffee that has to be made before the day can officially begin. Plus, there are windows and curtains that must be opened to let in the good morning air and  hummingbird feeders to be filled at least once a week. Finally, there is a certain amount of reading and writing that must be accomplished before the morning gets too close to noon. It’s rather clear, life at the lake is not without its pressing duties! Somehow, though, I have managed to persevere and make it through the days and weeks “up there” in our cottage by the lake without so much as a whimper.

Another regular part of my summer routine during week days, when I’m all alone, involves the running and piloting of our twenty-two foot pontoon boat every couple of days (sometimes daily if the weather is cooperative!) and to cover it and uncover it in the morning and at night. And let’s not forget, there’s that dreadful task of loading up a small cooler with a few favorite beverages, some tasty snacks of crackers and cheese, and then setting forth in the sturdy craft and plying the wonderful water of our lake. As they say: It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. And I guess it comes down to me being the one “stuck” in having to run the boat out and about for a few hours on those lovely sun-splashed days “up there” in Michigan.

Of course, when the weekend arrives, and company is scheduled to show up, my duties increase exponentially. A quick run of the vacuum cleaner around the place does wonders. And I’ve learned that mopping the bathroom floor, giving the toilet a once-over, and reloading the toilet paper “tube” are essentials that cannot be skipped. I attack these tasks with the same vigor as Grant did Vicksburg!

I could go on, but I think the picture is rather clear just how much work goes into my summer at the lake. I guess I’m just one of the lucky ones who enjoys tackling all of the necessary duties and jobs of keeping a summer cottage running in tip-top fashion. It’s not for the faint of heart…CortlandWriter

Putting in the pier and family fun

It’s in! The venerable wooden pier has assumed its rightful place in the shallow waters down below our cottage. And what a lovely sight it is once more! Thanks to the diligence of a fun and loving “crew,” on a splendidly picture-perfect day for doing such things, the putting-in was relatively quick and efficient.

Our intrepid group included our son and two grandsons, our daughter and son-in-law, a friend and his young daughter, and the good wife (her first venture into this annual tradition). Having done this for so many late-May weekends through the years, we all knew what needed to be done. And since the interlocking sections of the pier rest on saw horses and a few other types of supports, the process is quite easy. The hardest part, always, is trying to get the correct section in the proper sequence. I have numbered them several times but never quite good enough to withstand the weathering that occurs over the winter. But somehow it always manages to come together correctly.

Not only is it a necessary “chore” to accomplish the weekend prior to the start of summer lake season and the extrication of our pontoon from its winter hiatus, but it is also a fun few hours spent with those we care so very much about. We always “pay” the crew afterwards with a nice lunch at one of our favorite restaurants in the area. It’s definitely our treat, and a grateful one at that. Let the summer at our favorite little spot in Michigan begin!