The Texas O-Folk snuck out of the cabin at about three o’clock this morning, or at least that was their plan. I didn’t glance at the clock when I heard them tiptoe out and climb into their car to start the long journey home. It was still very dark. And still very hot. I kicked off all the covers, rolled over and tried to go back to sleep.

They did everything they could to be quiet as mice but I woke up anyway as they were carrying all their stuff out the door to their car. My Darling B says I sleep through a lot of the strange rustlings that visit the house at night, but if someone’s creeping around in the dark I wake up and all my radar comes on. After that I dozed until round about five when I finally got up to make a pot of coffee, sit in the front room of the cabin and write this drivel. And now I’m going to sit on the front porch and watch daylight slowly break over the lake.

Although the week at the cabin was as leisurely and relaxing as we hoped it would be, it’s gone by at an amazing clip. Can’t believe it’s over already.


I woke up with a need for pancakes yesterday morning. A need, as in, I had to have pancakes as much as I needed to breathe in and out. Has that ever happened to you? I don’t get that feeling often, but when it hits me I put on some pants, grab the car keys and head for the door. Like a robot homing in on a signal from its maker, I don’t have the power to resist the call.

I mentioned my desire to My Darling B, who suggested we go into Waupaca to eat a late breakfast at Cronie’s Cafe, our favorite place in town to grab a bite. It’s a small place, wedged in between Simpson’s and the Rosa Theater – only a counter, maybe a half-dozen booths along the walls and four or five tables in the front window, very cozy. If there’s a better place in town to linger over a cup of coffee, I can’t think of it. That they serve up a dandy plate of pancakes is a bonus.

It was still early enough in the morning that the rest of the crew hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, so I passed the word around and soon enough we were all climbing into our respective cars to start the drive into town. We met Mom there shortly after we arrived, managed to talk the staff into butting two tables together so we wouldn’t have to split up into two booths, ordered our pancakes, sat back with our coffee and waited for the goodies to arrive.

I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before I suggested that the whole crew head into cozy little Cronie’s for breakfast, but it’s a fact they’re not IHOP. A very happy fact, but a hard fact nonetheless. Other than that they serve breakfast, the only way you would compare the two would be to say that Cronie’s is the furthest thing from a fast-food breakfast chain with a kitchen that can turn out eleventy-million pancakes a day. Cronie’s is the anti-IHOP. So it took them a little while to crank out pancakes for eight people, but they did it like champs.

I ordered just two pancakes in spite of my burning need, because I knew the master of the kitchen poured pancakes bigger than my head. To get us our food as soon as possible they brought me and everyone else who ordered pancakes just one cake as a first course. I was finishing up mine when they brought me the second course, and I was starting to feel as though maybe my eyes were bigger than my stomach by then but I tucked into it anyway and finished every bite. Just one person at our table dared to order a stack of three pancakes. He buzzed through the first one like a pack of ravenous wolves and attacked the second and third with conviction, but in the end he was forces to leave the last few bites on his plate. All our sufficiencies were well and truly serensified by the time we got up from the table to return to the cabin.


We were sitting on the front porch of the cabin where a lake breeze was keeping us cool when we caught the sound of airplane engines buzzing overhead, big engines, and lots of them. I stepped down off the porch to see if I could spot them through the breaks in the trees but they were moving too quickly and I couldn’t quite fix the direction they were coming from, so I headed down to the shoreline where I could get out from under the trees by walking out onto the dock. Jack-Jack followed not far behind.

I spotted them as I was walking out to the end of the dock, a flight of four planes in a tight Missing Man formation, passing low over the trees to the east, moving very fast. Jack caught up with me just before they dipped beneath the trees, and I helped him spot them as they popped back into view headed north. They were breaking out of formation one by one and appeared to be turning to head south, so I took a chance and told Jack, “Watch the trees right there,” and pointed at the north end of the lake. “They’re going to come right for us.”

And damned if they didn’t, all four of them, passing low over the lake, P-51 Mustangs, two with bright red tails and a third with a banana-yellow tail. All of them but the leader wore black and white D-Day invasion stripes across the wings and up their sides. They turned again and made one more pass over the lake, obviously showing off for somebody, before heading south again, probably to return to Oshkosh where the EAA is holding their annual fly-in.

Not our usual morning on the lake.


My Darling B and I went out first thing in the morning in the canoe to paddle around the quiet lakes where no motorboats can go, and we didn’t even have to get out of the canoe at Beasley Creek to do it, so my guess that the water must be several inches higher this year must be right. Two of us in a canoe should have grounded almost right away, but we paddled right on through. It took us about an hour to make the circuit from our cabin on Columbia Lake across Long Lake, up Beasley Creek to Orlando and Knight Lakes, through the channel to Manomin and Pope Lakes to Marl Lake, and then circle around and come back.

After we tied up to the dock at about eight o’clock and rubbed the ache out of our poor tired butts, the next thing we noticed was that the peace and quiet was pierced by a shrill, steady beep coming from somewhere down the shore line. It was the kind of noise a smoke alarm makes, so I assumed it was coming from one of the cabins and would be shut off shortly by the very annoyed dweller of the cabin. I went inside and made a pot of coffee without thinking any more about it.

Until I went back outside fifteen minutes later and it was still beeping, whatever it was. I took a short walk down to the end of the path that runs along the shoreline past the cabins and noticed that it wasn’t coming from the directions of the cabins at all. It sounded as if it was coming from one of the boats tied up along the dock. I walked back until I thought the noise was loudest, then tried to zero in on the particular boat. The most likely candidate seemed to be a big speedboat tricked out with all kinds of fishing gear, but not knowing the etiquette of private docks and not wanting to be caught poking around in a very expensive boat loaded with very expensive equipment, I didn’t walk out to take a closer look.

Back at the cabin the rest of the O-folk were sitting on the porch, sipping morning coffee and talking about the same thing: the beeping noise. When I told them it seemed to be coming from a boat tied up at the dock, My Darling B’s first thought was, “Can we do anything about it? Like sink it?” I mentioned that the boat looked very expensive but that didn’t seem to spark the same hesitation in the others that it had in me. Everybody had a suggestion for how to stop the beeping, and a lot of the suggestions involved action that would be sudden, swift, final, and in a few cases explosive and/or conflagratory. That’s how irritating the sound of this alarm was.

My brother and I hoofed on down to the dock to maybe peek into the boat and see if there wasn’t something really obvious we could spot, like a big orange switch over a red flashing light labeled “Annoying Alarm,” but no luck there. We did notice, though, that it wasn’t coming from the big speed boat I thought it was coming from. Instead, it was coming from a small, weatherbeaten passenger boat tied up to the next dock over. Peet-O-Reeno found the battery compartment and tried to undo the wing nut that connected one of the power cables to a terminal but it was dogged down too tight. While he was doing that, though, he gave the battery a jiggle that shut down the alarm. When it started up again he gave it another, more enthusiastic jog, and it stopped for good. We were welcomed back at the cabin as victorious conquerors.

Our victory was short-lived. The alarm probably had a loose connection that was tightened up a bit when he joggled the battery and loosened up again as the boat rocked in the waves, because it eventually started beeping again. I gave the battery a couple good shakes to shut it up, but the fix was once again only temporary. We would have to try to figure out a more permanent fix.

My Darling B tried calling the owner of our cabin, but in the end what took care of it was another fellah just trying to enjoy the peace and quiet of the afternoon on his pontoon boat. He was tied up at a dock just a couple dozen yards further down the shore and, when he’d finally had enough, he came up with a pliers, climbed down into the boat, and undid the battery cable. The alarm fell silent and the peace of the afternoon was restored for everyone in the camp. I passed the laurel wreath of victory to him as he came back from the dock, pliers in hand, and thanked him for all of us.


I paddled all the way up Beasley Creek without getting out of the kayak this morning. Just lazy, I guess.

That’s the first time I’ve been able to do that. Either the water’s a little higher this year, or I’ve lost weight. I’ve never been able to paddle any further than about a hundred feet past the mouth of the creek, and then I had to tow the kayak almost all the way to the other end.

That doesn’t stop me from trying to get as far as I can each time, though, and this time around I was surprised when I could keep paddling past the mouth, past the fallen tree, past the bridge and right on up the creek. I thought I was going to ground in the shoal waters just before the Brandt cottage but I even managed to scrape over that and into the deep water at the other end of the creek, just before Orlando Lake.

In fact, I didn’t ground anywhere but right smack in the middle of Knight Lake. That was a little embarrassing. The heron I was watching near the shore distracted me and next thing I knew I was scraping bottom. Luckily, I was able to backpaddle off the rocks and go around.

I didn’t see a soul all the way to Marl Lake, and got nearly all the way back to Knight Lake before I passed a kayaker going the other way. Kayakers are normally friendly people who will wave and say hi as they go by. This guy seemed to be in too much of a hurry to do anything but paddle furiously, leaving me bobbing in his wake.

By the time I got back to Long Lake the coves along the shore were peppered with fishermen casting into the weeds, hunting for the big one. I tried to keep quiet and cross the middle of the lake instead of hugging the shore, but that didn’t play well in the home stretch where some dork was racing around in circles as fast as he could on his jet ski. That has to be the most obnoxious use of an internal combustion engine ever devised by anyone anywhere. Think I’m wrong? Try to paddle a kayak across a lake where anyone’s riding on one.


Is there any better dinner food for a Saturday afternoon in summer than bratwurst prepared Wisconsin-style (boiled in a pot of beer with a sliced onion and a few tabs of butter)? The correct answer is no, there isn’t. It’s simply the yummiest food you can eat any time between May and September, but particularly in July and especially when our family has gathered on the Chain O’ Lakes for our semi-official annual reunion.

Mom prepared the brats on the stove top, simmering them in the pot until they had reached the peak of beer-soaked perfection, then handed them off to me to take to the grill where I turned them until they were evenly, delightfully browned. We ate them with potato salad and baked beans on the side. Bliss!

nice shorts

I was sitting on the back porch of a cabin on the Chain O’ Lakes with My Darling B on Saturday afternoon, taking in the sunshine and enjoying the good company, when six or seven people came trooping past on their way to the boat dock. The last guy in the line, wearing the most beautiful Hawaiian-print swimming shorts either one of us had seen in a long time, was carrying one of those wooden whistles that goes whooo-whooo like a steam train. When he saw us, he raised it to his mouth and blew a couple quick blasts, but instead of “All Aboard!” he said something like, “Everyone in the water!” The lake was full of boats all afternoon and hundreds of people were taking advantage of the gorgeous weather to go swimming.

“Maybe a little later,” I hedged.

“Those are great swim trunks!” B added.

He chuckled at B and turned around to show off his shorts. “Got ’em at a thrift store,” he told us. “They’re kind of big, but, well, you gotta economize now that we got Obama. There’s seven hundred thousand people on the mall today protesting, even though the lamestream liberal media says it’s only ten thousand or so, and that they’re all racists. But I know who to believe!” Then he tooted on his horn again before continuing on his way, laughing as if he’d just delivered the best punchline ever.

After he was gone I turned to B, whose mouth hung open, still amazed. “Where did that come from?” she begged me to tell her.

“Can’t say, ‘Hey, nice shorts!’ to passing strangers any more, I guess.”