November chills, cemetery duties & gas station discomfort…

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

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

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

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

November and the finish line ahead…

Ah, there you are…

Like an old friend showing up after a long absence, you have arrived, bringing with you, as September and October started before you, so many glorious changes. As only you can do, you prepare us for grumpy, old winter ahead. 

Where we live here in northern Illinois, most of the leaves have either fallen, or those “reluctant” ones are on the brink of doing so. It has been a time of raking and rounding up those evasive brown and golden leaves that have detached themselves from the branches overhead, leaving the sugar maple in our front yard naked and alone, ready for the winter ravages that cannot be that far away. img_6672-1

Even though our temperatures have been consistently in the 60s and 70s for an extended unseasonable stretch recently, we know very well that it will not last for very much longer. Those of us who wear shorts whenever possible are aware that it will be “jeans and sweatshirt” weather sooner than we think, so we enjoy this while we can. Those mornings that feel more like a Florida- “Spring Break”-kind, instead of the Midwest model, will be fond and distant memories before we realize it.

Regardless, as nice as it has been—being spoiled with not having to wear too many clothes and keeping the furnace off this time of the year—late autumn has always been my favorite part of the year. Among other things, I love the transformation of nature from September and October before “handing things off” to November, who, like the “anchor leg” runner in a relay, gets us to–and past–the finish line and the inevitable winter ahead.

I could go on, but I’ll close with these thoughts: I kind of like winter, too! And spring and summer.Thank heavens we have the changing seasons. Now, we should all take a breath and realize that it’s a beautiful world around us. We need to pause and appreciate it whenever and however we can. I’m thinking that Thanksgiving can’t come soon enough in a few weeks. I will write about that–my favorite holiday–very soon.

Until next time, enjoy November as it carries us to the finish line ahead!

Catching up: Busy days and friendship through the years….

 

It’s been a few weeks—nearly a month—since my last post, and I must confess that I really have no good reason to have avoided writing something in that span of time. Suffice it to say, however, that it has been a busy month with appointments, grandsons’ basketball games, getting the Thanksgiving together and the Christmas lights up and working. (Still can’t figure out those light timers!)

A splendid sunrise over the first snowstorm in late November
A splendid sunrise over the first snowstorm in late November

On top of that, we’ve had weather to contend with. About a week ago, we were hit by one of those early snowfalls that dumped nearly a half a foot of snow in most of northern Illinois.

Of course it would come in at the exact moment that my son and I were setting out for a five-hour drive to southern Illinois for our annual pheasant hunt with my good friend and his son.

Driving was slow-going for the first few hours, but the farther south we got, the snow dwindled, replaced by rain. By the time we got to my friend’s house, it was just cold, damp, and clear of any snow. We had a great couple of days there (we always do!) and the return trip home wasn’t bad at all.

About that friend…

Steve and I became long-lasting friends a long time ago, in late-summer 1973, when we both happened to be walking in the door of a small, rural school in south central Illinois at the same time, to begin our first days of teaching careers. Although we had never met before, there seemed to be a sort of instant bonding, since we were both in the same boat and were strangers in new and unfamiliar territory.

Steve was from way down in southern Illinois, a product of Southern Illinois University; I was from the western suburbs of Chicago and a recent graduate of Kent State out in Ohio. To say that it was good to meet someone in the same situation as I right off the bat, would be an understatement. And from that first “walking-in-the-door” meet up, we both tended to do things together, as we wound our way through those first hours, days, weeks, and months as teachers and coaches.

I soon discovered that Steve was an avid hunter and fisherman, two things I had never really done much of, other than a few forays out into the woods with my dad when I was too young to tote a gun. But I was soon invited to join Steve and a few other teachers for opening day of dove season.

That experience is one of those that gets etched in one’s memory! The recently harvested corn fields were drenched in golden sunshine, and the friendly chat among our little group did something that erased all the doubt I’d had about taking a job so far from familiar things. Perhaps for the first time, I really felt included (although I wasn’t a very good shot!), and the day turned out to be much, much more than killing birds. To this day, I cherish that late-afternoon we tramped through those shorn fields, waiting for the doves to come in, getting to know those other guys, and sharing things about my life with them.

My friend Steve
My friend Steve

Being single, Steve and I were pretty free to march to our own drummers. He and I would hunt and fish many times in the years that followed, and summers would find us playing fast pitch softball for a country tavern out in the boonies.

When I finally got married a couple of years later, things obviously changed–except for the friendship! That has remained. When an opportunity to move north came about a couple of years after I married, Carolyn and I took a chance on it, especially since she was from there. Although I spent most of my career there as a result, I really never forgot my beginnings down there in the small town or that very first dove hunt.

Since then, every November’s been a regular routine to travel on down for a day of pheasant hunting with my good friend Steve. We sometimes kid each other about what would have happened had we not been nervously walking into the school, at the same time, all those years ago. I suppose it was just one of those timely strokes of good fortune that we did.

Never the Easy Way!

october colors
October’s splendid colors on display at the cottage “up there” in Michigan…Helping to inspire the creative juices for NaNoWriMo in November

I never like to do things the easy way, it seems. My second “go” at NaNoWriMo is set to begin in less than two days, and I have managed to clutter my life with all sorts of things that need tending to—very soon!

Of course, I’m speaking about attempting to finish the revision of last year’s NaNoWriMo effort, The Bet, so that I won’t have that hanging over my head—forever on my mind—as the daily writing effort gears up all through a month that couldn’t be any worse for attempting such a challenge.

After all, I have had several months to be farther ahead with the revision/editing stuff, and having the thing ready to send off to Amazon for all of my eager readers to pounce upon and gobble up ravenously! Well…

Nevertheless, I’m close to having it to that stage and can putter and tinker and polish it some more at odd moments between now and the end of November, thus freeing my mind to focus on getting the next one going and developed through a month crammed with an annual weekend hunting trip to southern Illinois, our annual Thanksgiving family gathering here the week after, a dentist appointment, two book clubs and dinner, picking up the grandsons from school three days a week,  the older grandson’s basketball games every Saturday during the month, and the wife’s medical “procedure.”

Somewhere amidst all of these November items—plus the normal daily/weekly chores I tend to around here—I might be able to find time to crank out the minimum 50,000 words called for! Writing this now, I’m foreseeing many a late-night/early morning routine for the thirty days of November. Normally, I do my regular writing between 7 and 9 a.m. I have a feeling, though, that I’m in for many two-a-days in the month ahead.

Scrivener
The look of Scrivener–doing double duty in the month ahead!

I know that last year was equally as hectic and scheduled right to the brim, yet it didn’t seem so daunting. And then again, I wasn’t trying to finish a novel right up until the start of the new one. I guess I will get things worked out as things get going, and I hit my daily word count targets, but thinking about it all now seems a bit concerning.

But perhaps I will work best under cramped conditions and a calendar that is bursting at the seams. Yes, the more I think about it, the more I believe that it’s the perfect scenario for me to accomplish everything and succeed in this year’s NaNoWriMo. After all, I never do things the easy way…CortlandWriter

Hey, December!

writing desk with medieval documents
writing desk with medieval documents (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All right, November proved to be a month with nearly too much to handle, but I have survived!

Jumping into the interesting and challenging program called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), where the challenge is to write a draft of a novel that has a minimum of 50,000 words by November 30, was just one of the items which kept me moving during the month. It required many long stretches of pounding out words at my desk here–words that needed to work for a story and not simply random stream of consciousness–and many chunks of minutes with which to hit that completed 50,000 word mark.

I’m happy to report that I exceeded 50,000 a bit and verified the word count with the NaNoWriMo folks on Thursday morning (one day early) and now have a pretty good first draft to work with–revising, re-writing, editing, proofing–during the next couple of months. I’m planning to make this my next published book. Stay tuned for further developments!

Had a weekend pheasant hunt not come into play in the middle of November, or a five-day Thanksgiving annual family event here in northern Illinois, or a three-day trip to Detroit for a football championship game and visit to daughter Laura’s, I probably wouldn’t have had to write over three thousand words at a stretch. But I’m beginning to believe that I still function best when that deadline is looming ever closer–much the way I operated through my 35-year teaching career. I don’t really recommend “seat-of-the-pants” functioning, but sometimes its the best–and only–way to get things done.

Now, I’m glad December is here and the novel challenge is complete and I was a winner. I have something on which to build a good book (I hope!) and can also now realize that the wife’s birthday is next week and I haven’t done one lick of shopping…not to mention that thing called Christmas hanging just a short hop away! Well, it seems as though I’m about to jump right back into things with time tight and a deadline staring me in the face. It never ends…CortlandWriter