Thanksgiving thoughts…

Thanksgiving 2020…

Despite what must be considered a dismal year, I still  have much of which to be thankful: Family and friends, doctors and nurses, a new home and location, food and clothing, and the good fortune to live in the greatest nation in the world!

I know that all of the ills cannot be remedied at once, but I do believe that the road ahead is going to be healthier and we will eventually be able to go about our lives maskless and unafraid! Whenver that may be, I look forward to it joyfully!

Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you may be!

TV sports, quiet T’giving, and Challenger memories…

Thanksgiving came…and went.

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Photo: rcwilley.com

Not the kind we’ve been used to for all those years, but we made it anyway and had a nice day with friends who were nice enough to include us in their day.

The weekend that followed was pleasant and quiet and perfect for getting the outdoor “stuff” done before the cold and snows of winter arrive. Best of all, there was plenty of time to enjoy college and pro football and some Blackhawks hockey. Without a doubt, I managed to take it all in!

By Sunday evening, though, having had enough TV football and hockey for one long weekend, I happened upon a documentary from CNN titled The 80s-The Tech Boom. And though I don’t usually watch CNN, I realized that this program was made up of actual archival news footage and would be presented in an unaltered and honest fashion. So I watched and enjoyed the hour-long show.

It was fun to see again the “cutting edge” gadgets that would become staples in our lives right on up to today. Particularly interesting to me was the section on the birth of the personal computer and the cell phone. It’s hard to imagine that what was “state of the art” not all that long ago, is so cumbersome and awkward looking by today’s standards.

Seeing young and fresh out-of-the-box geniuses such as the two Steves–Wozniak and Jobs–and a seemingly still-wet-behind-the-ears Bill Gates and Paul Allen was quite amazing. Watching all of this from a 2016 perspective adds an extra-special realization as to how far things have advanced in such a short period of time.

Near the end of the documentary, the focus shifted to the technology involved with NASA’s Shuttle Program, where things were full speed ahead for so many years, until the January 1986 launch of the Challenger, another one of those memorable moments in time for my family.

On that frigid morning, I was teaching a high school English class at Astronaut High School in Titusville, Florida. (It’s not named Astronaut by chance, since the Space Center and Cape Canaveral are located nearby.)

Following our dream to live in Florida, the previous summer I accepted a job in Titusville, and Carolyn and I and our two young kids moved there in time to start the new school year.

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Photo: ABC News

January 28, 1986,  began as usual, in a pretty normal manner for everyone in those parts. It seems as though most folks had become used to the regularity of the launches and had seemed complacent (?) in a way about the space program, although so many were employees of one of the many companies who worked for NASA in some capacity.

I suppose it’s human nature to take things for granted and not think too much about what could go wrong after such an outstanding long string of successful launches and missions. It’s not that folks didn’t care, it’s just that everyone thought that something terrible would never happen.

But on that cold Tuesday morning in Florida, terrible things certainly did happen!

I was first made aware of the explosion when one of my seniors, Danny, returned from one of his many trips to the restroom (to avoid class time, I’m sure!) with a serious expression and a tone that  instantly told me that he wasn’t joking around.

When he said, “The shuttle blew up,” I really hoped that he was, indeed, pulling everyone’s leg as he tended to do frequently. But he was dead serious, and I could now hear commotion in the hallways, as two girls nearly sprinted past the door in tears and panic in their efforts to get to where they were going.

It was one of those moments when everyone seems completely mired in the muck of trying to figure out exactly what has happened and how we should handle things. Soon, a school-wide announcement informed everyone that there had been an accident with the launch and any further information would be relayed at the appropriate time.

As so many others were doing, I hurried down the hall to the east side of the building where large windows provided  an open view out towards the Space Center and the Atlantic beyond. And it was then that I saw the brilliant blue sky filled with the snow-like contrails from the Challenger’s explosion, scattered and splattered in all sorts of directions. Anyone who has seen the famous photographs of this knows exactly what I mean.images.jpeg

I don’t really remember much else of the rest of the day other than getting home that afternoon and learning that our 3rd grader, Josh, and the rest of his classmates had witnessed the whole thing on the playground, as had Carolyn, daughter Laura, and my mom, who was visiting from Ohio. They had a pretty “up close and personal” vantage point along the river. It was my mom’s first time to view a launch.

That day certainly played a major role and turning point in our lives, one that would bring our time as residents of Florida to an end. But that’s another story for another time. Suffice it to say for now, though, that the reason I’m writing this from northern Illinois is all because of that terrible day in January 1986.

Now that Thanksgiving has faded and the Christmas and New Years holidays lurk, I know that another anniversary of the sad event on January 28, 1986, won’t be far behind. And I’ll remember…
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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.

A Thanksgiving Come & Gone…

Sketch of Thanksgiving in camp (of General Lou...
Sketch of Thanksgiving in camp (of General Louis Blenker) during the US Civil War on Thursday November 28th 1861. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, now…Thanksgiving weekend has come and gone, and family I see once or twice a year have returned to their homes in Ohio, Nebraska, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois. Our little spot here in northern Illinois was virtually bursting with life—young, old, and in between—beginning Wednesday afternoon.

All of the preparations and planning seem to have whisked right on by at light speed, with excellent results. The two twenty-pound turkeys and dressing I cooked on Wednesday and Thursday turned out perfect, along with the all of the other culinary delights that Carolyn put together for our traditional Thursday meal.

As we all were gathered together, each of us sharing wonderful conversation, many laughs and smiles, and thoughts of what all was going on in our lives, I realized just how much I have to be thankful for. And I have made it a goal to write more often about those many things and no longer take them for granted.

Carolyn and I have been hosting this “gathering” every year for longer than we can recall (at least 25 years, at last guess), and we look forward to it every year. And every year, family from near and far makes the trip to our humble abode, resulting in a few days of silliness, snacks, cold drinks, delicious meals, conversation, and college football and Blackhawks hockey on TV.

Today—Sunday—like all Sundays at the end of Thanksgiving weekend, seems empty and much too quiet. The leftovers populate the fridge, and the washer seems to be in overdrive, catching up on bath and dish towels, almost as soon as the last traveler is packed up and headed out of our driveway for their return journey to home.

Just the two of us, alone in our quiet house once more, we go about the tasks of getting things put back together. I spend a good amount of the morning getting all the card table chairs, tables, and plastic cups and plates back in the Thanksgiving box to haul to the shelf in the basement, where it will rest until next year at the same time. Then I help my son, who has come up from his home, load up his truck with the remaining things we had borrowed from him. He and my two grandsons eat some leftover pizza from last night but can’t stay long as there are things that they need to get done down at their house.

Through it all, there’s a sense of relief that the weekend was a success and that everything “worked” as we’d planned. Yet, at the same time, there is a feeling of melancholy that it’s over much too soon. Watching the Bears’ game doesn’t make it any better, either, as they squander opportunities to win, eventually losing late in overtime.

Carolyn has busied herself with handling the wash and bringing me the clean things to help fold. We even get all of the autumn decorations—outside and inside—taken down and stored away, making room for the Christmas things very soon. Eventually, Carolyn and I take some time away from our cleaning up duties and heat up what remains of the leftovers and watch Criminal Minds, which was DVR’d from last Wednesday.

Late in the afternoon, I finally come into my office, which for the past several days has been where my daughter and her husband have had their Aero bed, suitcases, and their kid’s suitcases. I hurriedly look back over things on my desk from when I was last seated in front of my MacBook and realize that I’m a bit behind in my blog posts. But I did manage to reach my goal of over 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo these past weeks, and I’m thankful for pushing hard during the first weeks of the month to get that word count up and climbing every day. This makes me smile and kind of brightens the day once again.

Now with the busy-ness of November behind me, I can get squared away for the month of December and get back to some sense of a daily writing routine. And there is still much to write. But for now, I’m simply focusing on those many things of which I’m thankful. I hope everyone else has plenty to be thankful for, as well….CortlandWriter

Never the Easy Way!

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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

Thanksgiving Week…my favorite!

Weber on fire
Weber on fire (Photo credit: brendonjford)

Well, we’ve reached my favorite holiday of the year, and not just the day (Thanksgiving), but the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday leading up to it and the Friday and weekend that follows it. Over the years it has become a special time here at our home, first for many, many years in Naperville and now out here in the countryside of northern Illinois.

I can’t remember the last time I spent Thanksgiving at some other relative’s house. It has always been here at ours, mainly because we love doing it every year and our location puts us between the folks who live in Ohio and Nebraska.

As the years have wound and twisted along, we’ve watched the kids (ours and my sisters’) grow from little ones into “married-with-their-own-kids” people! The fun and tradition–usually full of laughter and all sorts of nonsense–has been a staple here year after year.

Some years have been fully attended; others have been minus some. Now that the younger kids have grown, married, and moved to their various places on the map, it isn’t as easy getting everyone back the way it was when we were all younger. But time marches on, and our Thanksgiving Week is getting into full swing tomorrow (Wednesday).

The turkeys have been thawing in the fridge and the first one, a twenty-two pounder, will get going on the Weber charcoal kettle early tomorrow. I’ll get up and do a smaller (fifteen pounds) on Thursday morning. There will be, it goes without saying, plenty of wonderful turkey for the dinner and those tasty sandwiches later on! There will be lots of cold beer to enjoy in the garage–our sanctum–and many a tale and yarn will be spun with those around us.

Meanwhile, I have accumulated over 30,000 words on my novel for the NaNoWriMo project. Shooting for a completed 50,000 word novel by the 30th of this month. I’m feeling good about it, even though I’m fighting for every piece of “writing time” between now and then. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the days ahead and savor the turkey and the goodness of family and friends who will begin gathering tomorrow.

Metra train No. 1292 arrives at Naperville sta...
Metra train No. 1292 arrives at Naperville station (a bit late) on this late Tuesday afternoon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Happy Thanksgiving to you, readers!…CortlandWriter

Novel Writing Progress and Update #2

Microsoft Word's "Word Count Toolbar"
Microsoft Word’s “Word Count Toolbar” (Photo credit: Travelin’ Librarian)

I feel like a stranger to my very own blog, not having been here in recent days! But I’m glad to report that I’m nearly half way finished with my novel for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), just completing my 24,000 word count this morning. What’s even more positive about the whole thing–besides simply piling up a ton of words–is that the story is actually moving along and a lot of fun to write!

The working title is The BetIt is obviously fiction, but I’m able to draw upon some real-life experiences from my younger and “foolisher” days, and that certainly makes it all that much more solid and organized. It’s a story I’ve been meaning to write for so many years, and this NaNoWriMo has been the perfect avenue for me to actually get it done. I’m pretty much right on schedule to have the 50,000 words completed by the end of the month. As I mentioned in my last update, though, time is going to get a bit tight with my pheasant hunting weekend ahead and Thanksgiving next week. So, in the meantime, I’m trying to exceed a daily output of 2,000 words.

nanowrimo, day 16 goal
nanowrimo, day 16 goal (Photo credit: paloetic)

 

Stay tuned for the next progress report on The Bet….CortlandWriter

Checking in from NaNoWriMo…

National Novel Writing Month
National Novel Writing Month (Photo credit: Steve Rhodes)

I feel as though I’ve been away from this familiar place of my daily “wanderings,” and time really seems to be flying right on by now that I’m totally immersed in National Novel Writing Month for the first time. It’s Day 8, and I’ve written nearly 15,000 words but still a long ways to the 50,000 goal/deadline on or before the last day of the month. It’s going to get a bit tougher to write in long stretches daily since much is on my calendar in the next couple of weeks.

I will be in Springfield, Illinois, all day tomorrow and busy with household duties most of the day Saturday. Saturday night we’re attending a Civil War Generals presentation, and Sunday is non-stop starting with church, then an anniversary party, next a farewell party to attend, and, of course the Chicago Bears game in the evening!

I will be away all next weekend for our annual pheasant hunt in southern Illinois, and then our annual Thanksgiving family “gathering” gets going on Wednesday of that week. I’m going to find it necessary to squeeze in some writing to produce those words in the very wee hours or long into the nights during the next few weeks.

It shall be interesting, and I’m finding the program fun and a very good motivator. The fact that we don’t have to worry about editing makes it move right along. What we’re producing will be the first “rough” draft of the novel.

I’m actually quite pleased with the direction the novel is taking. Right now, the working title is The Bet. I will share more about the characters, plot, theme, etc., in the days ahead. Now, though, I need to bring this post to a close and get back to pounding out all those words. Time is tight, and it’s getting tighter!…CortlandWriter

Thanksgiving at the Trolls
Thanksgiving at the Trolls (Photo credit: martha_chapa95)

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
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

 

 

The Road Leads to Our “Gathering” & Other Turkey Tales…

It’s Getting Closer…

I write this on a gray and misty November morning, two days before Thanksgiving. It’s quiet here in our little place, in our little corner of northern Illinois, and I know that during the next 48 hours, there will be laughter and chatter and all kinds of sounds that seem only to happen during our annual Thanksgiving “gatherings.” During the next two days, there will be tables to set up out in the garage–our “headquarters” for the occasion–and coolers to be readied for leftovers, and oh, so many other tasks to finish. But, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I have already begun many of these “preparatory” tasks, such as beginning to thaw the two large turkeys that will be my charge beginning mid-morning on Wednesday when bird number one will take its rightful place upon the Weber kettle! Bird number two meets the same fate very early Thanksgiving morning. The distinct aroma of charcoal will waft about, signaling that the Thanksgiving “gathering” has officially begun.

Why two turkeys, cooked on two separate days? The first will be for those wonderful sandwiches throughout the holiday. The second will be the one served at dinner on Thursday. Sounds as though we’re “working backwards,” but it’s just another one of those traditions around here that always seems to work well. I always cook the turkeys on the Weber charcoal grill, thus freeing up room in the kitchen. Plus, it allows me more time outside in the garage–“headquarters”–where there’s cold draft beer to enjoy and football on TV. Sometimes, it seems, the preparations–the “getting ready”–are better than the outcome of it all. Half the fun is getting there, or something to that effect!

By 9:00 a.m. Wednesday, turkey number one will be ready to hit the grill and begin its journey to deliciousness. Every forty-five minutes or so, I’ll add a few coals to maintain a steady, even temperature. My twenty-pound bird will take about six hours to cook, and since both birds will be stuffed with my famous dressing, there is a definite need to make sure things get cooked all the way through. We’ve all read and heard the warnings about not stuffing a turkey when using the charcoal grill. And though there might be something to this, I have never shied away from loading it up every Thanksgiving holiday. (Knock on wood here!)

Once the turkey has been placed in the Weber charcoal kettle, it’s time to relax and chat with whomever might have arrived already. The weather forecast this year indicates that it’s supposed to be rather pleasant and comfortable–and dry–so that only adds to the flavor of the occasion and the fun involved in getting the turkeys cooked for one and all. I’ll get up early on Thanksgiving morning and get right to work on bird number two. I’ll follow the same steps, except the cooking will begin much earlier to allow for a dinner start of 2:00. Each year the birds seem to taste better and better: moist and tender and flavorful!  

It’s work, but it’s fun. I would not stop doing it for anything.There have been many fine memories grown around the charcoaling of our Thanksgiving turkeys. Those “garage tales” are such an important part of what has become our annual “gathering.” I think back many, many  Thanksgivings and smile when I recall those who have been with us and shared in our “gathering” and feast. Some still make it each November; others have, for one reason or another, had to miss from time to time. We welcome relatives and friends, and friends of friends, and anyone else who might have no other place to go. There are nephews and nieces and cousins and in-laws and outlaws. There are grandmas and grandpas, great-grandma, too. There are sons and daughters and grandsons and kitties and doggies! There are young and old and somewhere in-between. There are those from Ohio and Michigan and Nebraska, happy to meet right here in the middle–northern Illinois!

The Thanksgiving road winds and meanders to our house, and we’re very much looking forward to the arrival–safe and sound–of the pilgrims who will travel her. How I love this time of year and Thanksgiving! Safe and happy Thanksgiving, all…MLA