A pause in the action…

100_1844.jpgThe pier putting-in of which I wrote about in my last post went very well, even though we soon discovered one of the support pieces had been broken–somehow–during the off season.

Good fortune, though, as I have had an extra one stored under the cottage for the past few years, and with some adjusting and finagling, we made it an almost perfect fit–even better than–the one that had broken.

The weather was ideal, thank you, and we completed the job in just a little under two hours, even with the slight hitch in the process.

Now, I’m busier than ever getting all things ready for the early morning drive back up there this Friday with two loaded cars to “officially” open the cottage. As such, my blogging time and keeping up with my good friends out there is pretty much shot for the next several days.

Once opened and settled in up there by early next week (Memorial Day), I’ll jump back in here and resume my regular posting. And that goes for my weekend feature of One Good Thing as well. Stick with me, folks, I’ll be back.

In the meantime, I wish everyone well during my little respite and look forward to getting this all going again with much to tell you from our little cottage by the lake. Smiles… 🙂

Ready to hit the water for another summer.



Air Conditioning, Back-to-School Time & Other Random Thoughts…

The Simple Joys of Air Conditioning…

I was back home in Illinois for the better part of this past week, and the air conditioning nearly spoiled

A Fedders air conditioning unit.
A Fedders air conditioning unit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

me. Our air conditioning here at the ancient cottages consists of open windows, window fans, and the breezes that mercifully waft our way most days. So, not having been home for several weeks this summer, I was overjoyed to have the house always in a constant state of comfort for the hot and humid conditions lurking outside.

Now, back at the lake in Michigan,I’m writing once again from the cottage porch this morning, and the forecast is calling for warm and humid conditions for the next several days, and I have the cottage “air conditioning” turned up full right now. The windows fans are whirring right along, and I must say, it’s rather pleasant at the moment, and a pontoon cruise and immersion in the lake will hit the spot a bit later this afternoon. Ah, summer!

That time of year…

Driving back home the other day, I passed many schools whose signs welcomed everyone back for a new school year and that Open House or Curriculum Night was scheduled for the very near future. Oh, boy!

Retiring from my teaching career in 2007, I immediately told everyone who cared to listen (or not!) that I would certainly not miss those Open Houses or Curriculum Nights or whatever glowing name they have been given. Early on, they were exciting and fun and positive, but as the years wore on and attitudes shifted in so many ways, those special evenings became tedious and more negative than positive. And the fact that teachers had little say as to how these evenings should be run—dictated to what should be covered, etc.—drove my lack of enthusiasm for such events.

So whenever I pass by a school in these first weeks of a new school year and read that Open House and/or Curriculum Night is fast approaching, I wonder if the teachers inside that building are experiencing feelings of dread or worse: helplessness. Of course, I’m speaking only from my point of view, as I know many teachers whose favorite part of the year were those special nights. For what it’s worth, it’s all necessary, and we teachers always found a way to get through it, for better or worse.

The Writing Life…

It seems as though I’ve done more reading than writing this summer, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Of course, I’d love nothing better than to have finished my current draft of my WIP (Sandbar’s Secret), but for one reason or another I have been quite unmotivated and/or uninspired to get myself in front of my MacBook and work on the story. I know it’s there, but I just have come up short when it’s time to get going and pull the laptop out of its case and do it.

So to rationalize my lack of output, I’m using the excuse that I have important books to read for a couple of book clubs I’m in, and I’ll be closing out the cottage and lake season in a matter of weeks, so once I’m back in my home environment, and have my computer always out and atop my desk in my writing room, Sandbar’s Secret will get finished!

There, I’ve said it! Now, whether or not it makes any realistic sense I’m not sure. Everyone experiences that period when words don’t come or the story doesn’t go the way we want it or we lose faith in what it is we’re writing. Yes, I am eager to finish the story, but it just doesn’t seem right to attack it now. Am I lazy or just too into the peace and quiet of life here at the lake? Suggestions, anyone?

Cover of "The Warmth of Other Suns: The E...
Cover via Amazon

All that said, it’s time to give it some more thought and close out this post. Besides, I have to get back to reading a terrific book about the Great Migration in America titled The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. It’s a huge book, but an enjoyable and easy read.

Have a wonderful week ahead, all…CortlandWriter

“Brutus” Comes Calling…

A week or so ago, we were sitting on the front porch watching the traffic out on the lake, when a fellow “beacher” from down the way came by, rather excited, with his small terrier on its leash. He told us that a very large snapping turtle was lying in the middle of the lane in back of the cottages, apparently having crawled from the green, slimy swamp on the other side of the lane.

Brutus the first time!

Sure enough, as we went around to the back, the big turtle, covered with lime green swamp slime, was sprawled right in the center of the dirt lane, causing my wife to go get a long-handled rake from the storeroom to move the prehistoric critter back off the lane and into the weeds in front of the swamp to prevent it from being hit by a car or truck.

With a good amount of prodding and nudging with the handle of the rake, Carolyn was able to turn the snapper (it wasn’t very happy about all this attention!) and it slowly plodded into the weeds, disappearing from our sight.

This turtle “journey” seems to be a once-a-summer occurrence as  turtles of various sizes make their appearance right about this time, and are either making their way from the lake to the swamp, or from the swamp to the lake.

Obviously, this old relic, whom our neighbor dubbed “Brutus,” had its destination set for the lake, a good fifty yards from where he’d been resting in the middle of the lane. Although its quest to make it to the open waters of the lake had been thwarted by my wife’s dextrous rake handling skills, at least the turtle was safe and back in familiar environs.

Our good humanitarian deed complete, we went back about the business of chatting on the porch and figured that was the last of our cumbersome friend from the swamp.

Fast forward a week or so and imagine the feeling of déjà vu that hit me front and center when I happened to glance out onto the dirt lane late one afternoon and see our determined, algae-covered snapping turtle once more at rest, obviously intent on finishing what it wasn’t allowed to do the first time.

And thinking the same thoughts about assisting it out of harm’s way with our trusty rake once again, I got up to do just that. I don’t know if turtles can read minds, but at this precise moment, it raised up on large, stocky legs and actually lumbered onto the grass and traveled a good distance—at a pretty good clip—to where I watched from the screened porch of the cottage, near the edge of the slope that leads down to the lake.

After a while, the old turtle stopped and lowered itself once more, probably to rest and check its GPS for the best route to pursue to the water ahead. I went on about my important business of reading and thinking about the need to get my writing routine jump-started once again, and every now and then would look out the side screen to check on my intrepid, plodding friend.

I could see that it was nearly halfway up the grassy yard between the cottages, and about this time it rose again and moved along some more, nearly reaching my Weber grill and plastic lawn chairs a short distance from the edge of the slope. Tired out, it dropped down again and lay there for nearly an hour.

It’s amazing how certain events trigger thoughts of all kinds. It was just me this time, the wife having returned to our home in Illinois, and next-door cottage neighbor, John, was out on an afternoon pontoon run, so there was no one immediately to share any thoughts with. Just me!

What came to mind was a short story my 8th grade literature students read years ago about a grandfather and two young grandsons, who are driving along, and come upon a turtle in the center of the highway. Though I can’t recall all of the details very well, I do remember that the boys, in all of their youthful exuberance, want to kill the turtle and eagerly look for sticks or rocks to carry out that deed. But it’s Grandpa’s wisdom that prevents any of that from happening.

He tells them something to the effect that it would be easy to defeat the large, helpless creature, lying there out of its natural environment, but they should consider turning things around and realize what it would be like if they were in the water—the turtle’s domain—and see who would have the advantage then.

I think the boys learned a wonderful life lesson, and they actually helped the turtle from the highway and gained a greater appreciation for life and all of God’s creatures—great and small—that populate the world we pass through. I wish I could remember the author of the story, or even the title. I tend to think it was titled “The Turtle,” but that was a long time ago. But it was obviously a very good short story.

As late-afternoon became dusky twilight, and I was in the midst of eating my leftover meatloaf on the porch, the ancient turtle decided it was time to move on and leave Weber grills and plastic lawn chairs  and curious humans behind. And so, with a concerted effort and a few more creaky exertions, “Brutus” made it over the slope and into the thick brush and down to the water’s edge in a relatively short time.

Nearing the edge of the slope, Brutus knows the open water is near!

Soon, there was a splash, and I hurried out to see the determined turtle easily and smoothly swimming out alongside our pier and then under the deck fifty feet from shore, disappearing
into the safety of its own world.

Best wishes out there, Brutus! ….CortlandWriter


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

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)


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!