Winter storms & hibernation…

christmas card
christmas card (Photo credit: Stephen Rees)

It’s a dark, rainy, dreary morning here in northern Illinois, and a winter storm warning hangs over us for later today and all through the coming night. This driving rain is supposed to change to snow later on, and perhaps we’ll have our first measurable bit of snow since last March. Unbelievable as that may be to fathom, it’s a fact. Normally, we northern Illinoisans have had to deal with snow and ice in November. The past couple of years, something has been out of kilter in regards to the norm. Global warming? I don’t really care to go there, but I do have my thoughts and opinions about that topic. Perhaps another time, another post.

Quite frankly, I am ready for a blast of winter, although the wife will be traveling home from work this evening during the period of time that things are supposed to get really treacherous. Before she left a short time ago, she had the keen foresight to pack an overnight bag, just in case she’s forced to stay with friends who live close to her work. As I understand it, the weather is supposed to be much worse out here than where she works, some fifty miles away.

As the rain pelts against my window, nearly obscuring my normal vista out over the large barren fields to the east, and the water tower standing sentinel alongside the railroad tracks a few hundred yards from where I write this, I feel good to be inside and with no place I have to go today, other than a quick trip to the post office to mail a couple of letters.

Tomorrow is a different story, but today is one for hibernating here and getting some much-needed writing accomplished. It’s time, I think, to pull the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo last month out of its “holding tank” and get busy revising, editing, smoothing out, polishing, and all things necessary for the next stage toward publication.

I’m in the right frame of mind to do just that. The place is decorated, the annual family Christmas letter has been mailed, and  the shopping is complete. Now, a coffee refill is in order, and then I shall open that “holding tank” and let the manuscript breathe and take on some kind of life. It’s all good…CortlandWriter

Winter Storm Warning (74)
Winter Storm Warning (74) (Photo credit: tommaync)

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)

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

“Up there”… At last!

Writing this morning from “up there” in Michigan on the wonderful cottage screened-in front porch overlooking a most beautiful lake! Moored calmly and serenely this morning, next to the wooden pier at the foot of our slope, is the Tahoe pontoon. Happy to say that it made it through another winter’s storage and is clean and trim and runs very well. She’s been out twice already, now that the Memorial Day revelers and “warriors” have departed, and she’s ready for another summer on the water.

Glad to report that our “move-in” went very well and the place is now in full operation. As usual, the toughest part of the ordeal was the unloading and hauling of the various items in from the truck and the car. But somehow it always gets done, and this last weekend was certainly no exception.

What now? My plans for my time up here include mornings writing here on the porch, sipping good coffee, making the short run into the little coffee shop where there’s Wi-Fi access, and pontoon “cruises” in the afternoons. Add to all that more daily exercise, cottage “housekeeping,” and catching up on reading all the books I brought along. It’s obvious that I will not be without something to be doing at all times.

Current projects? The Collected Stories project is at the top of my list for completion in the near future. I have one or two more short stories to complete. I’m hoping to have six or seven stories included in the book that I’ll have ready for publication this summer or early fall. After those are finished, I am anxious to get back into writing the sequel to Black Wolf Lodge.

I have had so many folks ask when my next book is coming out, and my standard reply is  “I’m working on it and will give it the big “push” this summer.” Well, now that I’m in summer “mode” here in Michigan once more, I suppose it’s time to get to gettin’ without further ado! The book, tentatively titled Sandbar’s Secret, once again features Rick and Karen Brenson, that charming couple who found themselves in a bizarre mystery in Black Wolf Lodge. This time, I hope to develop more of their personalities as they work through another adventure. It will be fun, once more, to be involved in the lives of Rick and Karen and the various other unique cast of characters that come and go throughout the story.

This first week back at the cottage, away from the daily routines of the rest of the year, is always special. There really are no alarm clocks, schedules, or curfews to adhere to. Only mornings of coffee on the porch, enjoying the nature that is all around, and the freedom to decide what to do—or not do. Cool, sunshine-filled mornings such as today’s are truly what flow through our thoughts in the drear of winter. It’s all good…CortlandWriter 

Hardy Boys, Chip Hilton, and Quality Teachers

A bookshelf full of dreams and all sorts of magic!

Hardy Boys on a bookshelf

Ever since junior high school, I’ve had a dream of being a writer and writing the kinds of books I loved to read. I so enjoyed my reading classes then, being introduced to authors I’d continue to enjoy for the rest of my life: Twain, Poe, O. Henry, Arthur Conan Doyle, and many, many others. Of course, my love of reading was enhanced all the more when I discovered the Hardy Boys, Chip Hilton, and even Nancy Drew back in the 6th grade! I would eagerly await the next book in the series and lose myself gloriously in each one. Often was the time I’d feign illness to stay home from school for the sole purpose of keeping up with the exploits of the Hardys, Chip Hilton and friends, or Holmes and Watson out and about in the fog shrouded streets of London.

And I had some wonderful, encouraging reading teachers during these early years who showed me it was cool to read and talk about characters in stories and look at how the stories were put together, what made them work, and what the writer had in mind in writing in the first place. Very early on, these guiding lessons helped me look at most stories and books with an eager and hungry eye. At the same time, I was developing my own interests in writing stories of my own.

Off and on for many years, I would always say that someday I’d write my own book. One year, back in the 80s, I completed a course through the Institute of Children’s Literature, which I found to be very rewarding and worthwhile. It was the first time I’d ever had professional folks read and critique my fiction. (I still have those stories, by the way.) Real-life responsibilities and time constraints always seemed to be in the way of my realizing my dream of being a writer. My retirement in 2007 from 35 years of teaching language arts and reading to junior high kids, finally provided me with the perfect opportunity to do that which I’d long ago desired: Write that book!

During the summer of 2000, I began what would be my odyssey, culminating in the publication of my first book ten years later. I started the novel during lulls in the summer school classes I was teaching and continued writing at various times at our cottage up in Michigan. The process was nothing but starts and stops time and time again. For a period of time, I even forgot about the whole thing completely.

A chance comment by my daughter a few summers ago led me to the completion of the great, unfinished manuscript. She simply asked me what ever happened to that story I’d started and had shared with her once. She told me I should finish it because she’d enjoyed what she’d read of it the one time I’d showed it to her in its incomplete state. Her words were all the motivation I needed. Thus, I was able to finish the book, which I named Black Wolf Lodge, and published it in late 2010. Fittingly, the book is dedicated to my wonderful daughter Laura.

I am now at work on my next book, as well as keeping two blogs going and simply loving it! Life’s definitely good, and somewhere, back there in the early 60s, are those great reading and English teachers who sparked me to read and write and appreciate the good written word. Thanks to them…

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2011-A Look Back, and Ahead…

Out with the old…

Well,  it looks as though it’s time to replace my official Office Max desk calendar (upon which my trusty MacBook rests) and replace it with the new pristine one for 2012. I’ve had it for a few months now, tucked in between a couple of cabinets, waiting for the road we’re on to lead us to the end of another year. And now that we’re pretty near the end, it’s time to do so. 

Black Wolf Lodge -My first novel

For the most part, 2011 has been pretty good for us here in beautiful northern Illinois, with little to complain about. My big news and excitement was the publication of my novel, Black Wolf Lodge. It had been a long journey to get the story completed after beginning the thing in the summer of 2000! Working off and on during that time didn’t make for much progress. A friend at church last November told me about a publish on demand company that would be a good place to do my first book. And so it was that Lulu publishing made getting my finished manuscript into book form and marketed out and listed on Later, the e-Book format became available at Barnes & Noble and the Apple iStore. I would love to have more folks read the book, so give it a try…please! [GO TO LULU.COM]

Snow, Snow Beautiful Snow…

Of course, everyone seemed to be moaning and groaning last January and February when the skies seemed to offer us nothing but constant snow. Our blizzard really was something to behold, and I actually was beginning to worry about wearing out our little John Deere snow thrower. At times, it was much too small of a machine to handle the amount of white stuff that accumulated–and remained–for quite a spell! Anyway, not one to complain

 about winter weather and snow and “bad stuff,” I managed to keep a path open and the driveway pretty clear for our comings and goings. After all, I didn’t want my wife to miss out on getting to work on her scheduled days! (Just kidding…)

Artist in Residence

We did take advantage of being somewhat “marooned” inside during the month of February. At long last, we finally made the decision to paint the kitchen, living room, and hallway. Since moving in in December of ’07, we hadn’t added any paint to the walls. They still had the contractor’s white, and were good enough for the first few years. Now, however, we wanted–needed–some color! Over a short period during the great blizzard, my wife did her best Michelangelo and climbed the 9-foot ladder, stretched, rolled, trimmed, brushed, etc., etc., and accomplished a not-so-easy feat. We have very high vaulted ceilings in the living room and kitchen, and way too many nooks and crannies to make life easy for one so foolish as to try painting. Thank you, Carolyn, for your talents and patience and skill at all things painting! My contribution? I lugged the ladders in from the garage, placed them for her, and anchored them while she was “way up there” in the heavens, stretching and making strange grunting sounds, trying to reach this nook or that cranny. I was exhausted at day’s end…Long story short, the paint job turned out perfectly, and the colors we chose were better than we’d expected. It’s nice when things work out for the good.

Here’s to the crabgrass…

When the winter of 2011 finally bid us farewell, sometime in late March I believe, we could seriously think about the upcoming spring months and all that lay ahead. Getting the mower tuned up, cleaned up, and fired up was one of the important duties that needed done. As we’ve learned in the four years we’ve lived out here on the great prairie of northern Illinois, grass (and weeds) grow quite rapidly in the new warmth and moisture of spring! Thus, the lawn spreader was hauled out of dry dock, dusted off, and put into immediate service, spreading the crabgrass preventer, weed-n-feed, and the year’s first application of fertilizer. Now, it was time to sit back and watch nature do its thing! Of course, in a blink, it was time to mow and trim and edge everything once again. 

So long, Casey: A True Beauty

Early in April, we had to have our wonderful little dog, Casey, put down as the years and some serious health issues were simply too much for her. I miss her greatly, and our daily walks and romps are wonderful memories I hold close–and always will. 

Opening Weekend & Another Season Begins!

Late spring found us getting serious about another upcoming season at the cottage in Michigan. As organized as we always think we are, with everything stored away in its proper place, there’s always some “glitch” that occurs when it’s time to begin rounding things up and packing for “Opening Weekend” over Memorial Day. For whatever reason, this past year’s efforts came off without an issue. From the “pier-putting-in” the weekend before Memorial Day to the move-in itself, all went smoothly. There were no threats of divorce, gunshots, or physical harm of any kind! The cottage was opened, decorated, and organized in very calm fashion. Suffice it to say, the move-in went extremely well!

The season at the lake was wonderful, with many visits from friends and family. The grandsons came and went and came again! Pontoon cruises and late nights on the screened porch were givens. Warm summer days under the tall trees made for comfortable living. I read lots and wrote very little (for which I’m feeling quite guilty!) and the days and weeks up in Michigan rolled right along. All was good…

The Time of the Season…

As the old saying goes: “All good things must end someday…” And such was the summer of 2011 at the cottage in Michigan. June, July, and August seemed to fly right on by, and “Closing Weekend,” in our case Labor Day Weekend, arrived like a thief in the night–quickly, without great fanfare, and with intent to rob us of our summer tranquility and love of our little spot in Michigan. Though we knew we’d probably be invited back the next year, it still seemed a bittersweet weekend just the same. The pier “crew” consisting of our son, son-in-law, grandsons (who were good watchers and helpers with the small stuff), and anyone else who happened to wander by at the wrong time, had the thing disassembled, stacked on the shore, and all other “loose ends” tied up in a very short time. Same with the cottage itself.  As was the  Opening Weekend, the Closing Weekend was just as smooth. When Carolyn and I pulled away on the Tuesday after Labor Day, we were glad to be going home to Illinois and considered the summer just past a huge success. We’re already beginning to get that “feeling” about the next summer spent “up there” at the cottage by a wonderful lake in Michigan!

Harvest Time & Writing Time

Things were pretty calm and relaxed during the fall months here in northern Illinois. The farmers enjoyed a record harvest and the weather was most cooperative, unlike a year ago when harvesters were still in the fields during the Christmas season! Carolyn and I enjoyed a week’s trip to Omaha to stay with relatives. I began my next writing project (finally!), a collection of short stories and other “musings” I’ve put together over the years. It’s coming along now, and I am planning to have it ready for the folks at Lulu by early spring. I’m enjoying this project right now and writing new things as well as re-working many of the older ones I cranked out long ago. Stay tuned for updates and progress reports regarding this project.

Thoughts, Hopes…

It’s a very rainy, foggy, and dreary Friday afternoon, the next-to-last-day of 2011, as I write these words, hoping to capture some of the key moments and events in my life this past year. I am grateful for the family that I’m surrounded with, and they mean so very much to me. Our daughter will turn another year older tomorrow–New Year’s Eve–and I simply cannot fathom that she should be that age, married and contributing to the world. Wasn’t she just that little smiling elf who liked to climb and go where she really wasn’t supposed to? My son, father of my two grandsons, is clicking right along as well, and will celebrate a birthday of his own in March. Again, where have the years flown to? I guess it’s everyone’s question as the years suddenly pile up and, without any warning, have zipped past in fast-forward mode. 


My wish for the new year would be to somehow slow down this crazy warp speed and let us enjoy one another and find lots of smiles and laughter every day. I wish for good health for my whole family and friends, and I hope I’m healthy and still somewhat sane a year from now so I can write all about the wonderful year that 2012 was. Stay tuned and keep traveling along with me down the road…MLA