Visiting Red Cloud 2.0

Two weeks ago at this time I was taking in my first experience of the annual Willa Cather Spring Conference. For months my excitement grew for the event, which included a 700-mile solo road trip each way.

I gave my presentation over her novel My Antonia the first day of the conference, and for the rest of the conference, I listened to other presentations on Willa Cather and on this great novel. I visited the various shops in Red Cloud, and wandered excessively in the gift shop and exhibits in the Willa Cather Foundation building.

I took a walk on the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie. The morning was sunny, breezy, and everything I expected for a journey across the open landscape.

On the Saturday of the conference, along with many other attendees, I visited Grace Episcopal Church for a worship service, a church in which Willa Cather had been a member. It was a cool morning inside the small church whose wooden pews creaked and whose lovely stained-glass windows glowed in the sunshine. It was wonderful to sing hymns along with pump organ, to hear so many voices packed into the church, to take communion.

The three days left me excited for future iterations of the conference, and you can be confident that I’ll share more picture from my future visits.

(If you want to see pictures from my first visit to Red Cloud, you can check out this post.)

Plainswriter outside the home of Willa Cather

outside Willa Cather’s childhood home

Living room of Willa Cather childhood home

living room

Upstairs of Willa Cather childhood home


1892 Calendar from office of Charles Cather (Willa's father)

1892 office calendar from Charles Cather’s insurance office

Willa Cather Memorial Prairie sign

Willa Cather Memorial Prairie #1

Willa Cather Memorial Prairie #2

Willa Cather Memorial Prairie #3

Sign for Grace Episcopal Church

Inside Grace Episcopal Church

way early for the worship service at Grace Episcopal

From exhibit in the Willa Cather Center: Red Cloud, NE

#truth from an exhibit in the Willa Cather Foundation


A few weeks ago during my daily scroll through Twitter, I stumbled upon an idea that writer Jami Attenberg proposed: write 1,000 words each day from June 15-29.

Writing challenges intrigue me, and I’ve twice “completed” first drafts of novels during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). For those unfamiliar with what happens each November, writers around the world attempt to finish a draft in thirty days, with a minimum required word count of 50,000.

For me, both of those NaNoWriMo experiences were wonderful, if not hectic. A clear finish line, and if you do the math, a reachable daily word count minimum: 1,666.66667. 1,000 is more doable for me, especially in the summer when I’m off from teaching.

The only catch this time? After Day 6 of #1000wordsofsummer, I’ll be on vacation for the duration of the writing challenge. Traveling. Visiting family and friends.

There is another catch, too. I’m not certain while I’ll write. This lack of knowing isn’t cause for panic. Yet. I’ve been writing long enough to trust the process, to know that if I start writing, words will happen, and I’ll fill that daily word count. And just as with my NaNoWriMo adventures, no one else needs (or is allowed) to see the draft(s) from my adventure with #1000wordsofsummer.

Maybe I’ll restart my last NaNoWriMo novel that’s been waiting for a second draft since 2011. Maybe I’ll revise the first draft of my book-length memoir from last summer. Maybe I’ll write a couple new short stories and/or essays. Whatever I decide to work on though, I’ll plan above all to enjoy the adventure, the fun pressure, of an intensive period of writing.

Board Games with My Boy

When I was an elementary-aged boy in small-town Minnesota, I spent my summers playing baseball at the diamond a block from my house. I swam in the municipal pool three blocks from my house. I played with Legos, read lots of books, hung out with friends, and hung out with my dad.

Until I was about twelve, my dad didn’t work in the summers (having the summer off because he was a sixth-grade teacher). One of our many activites was playing board games, many of which he brought home from his classroom.

All Star Baseball–one of my favorites, complete with the paper discs and metal spinner. Monopoly. Chess. This basketball game with levers and a ping-pong ball. A Civil War game called Battle Cry. A GI Joe game.

As a dad myself, I share those game experiences with my son now, who is eight. (Being a college professor, I have much more free time in the summer.) While we manage to take advantage of Christmas break and Spring break, there’s something about the span of summer. One of the first “grown-up” games I taught him was Ticket to Ride. He was quick to catch on, and what a thrill to be able to play with him a game that my wife and I enjoy.

Unlike my house growing up, we have a closet in our house dedicated solely to board games, several shelves worth. Of course we have our favorites: Dominion, a deck-building game; Commands & Colors, a table-top war game based upon on the Punic Wars; Lewis & Clark, a game where players race to the Oregon coast. And then there are the “cooperative” games: everyone wins or everyone loses.

There are many others that I could name, but playing board games with him is more than about the game–it’s about doing something together. Being present with one another. It’s about conversation. It’s a way to be free from distractions. It’s a counter to a fixation on my phone.

It’s funny to be living an era of board-game “renewal.” Fifteen years ago when my wife and I were newlywoods, we enjoyed board games, but there weren’t easily accessible games beyond those made by the big toy companies. But now, these “niche” games are more common–just look at Target.

Even as I am on a study-abroad trip in Lithuania, checking out different coffee shops, working on various writing projects, touring the city, eating wonderful food, I’m thinking ahead to my return. My son has already said that we are going to be playing a lot of board games this summer. I can’t wait.