Posted in Children, Christmas, Coffee, Model Trains

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Just to make sure I don’t get nailed for copyright infringement, this is obviously a photo of the “Muppets Christmas Carol” when Marley and Marley come to heckle Scrooge. I love the part in the movie when Scrooge is apprenticed at Fozziwig and Mom’s Rubber Chicken Factory, and Fozziwig was going to make a speech. The two old hecklers in the balcony hollered, “It’s time for us to take a nap!” Fozziwig’s speech was something like, “Merry Christmas to everyone!” The Marleys said, “That was dumb! It was short! We loved it!!”

You often hear about the Christmas season being one of the most depression-causing times of the year. There are statistically more heart attacks on Christmas Eve than any other day of the year. What the heck?! It’s probably easy to figure out why.

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time, maybe unconsciously, trying to recreate all of the cherished feelings of Christmases past. I think I’m not alone. It becomes exhausting, trying to make everything just perfect, like our memories faithfully recall, so that we can relive all of the best moments once again. The problem is it’s impossible. The past can’t be brought back, recreated, or experienced again. Every moment and experience is brand new, nothing is exactly the way it used to be. That’s not negativity or sarcasm, it’s the truth. And the longer we spend and the energy we waste trying to do something that can’t be done, the more likely it is the actual result will be depression and maybe worse.

Enough therapy, it’s time to remember some fun things.

Most boys at some time want a BB gun, and I was no different. Our dad was an avid hunter, so I naturally wanted to follow. I think I was ten when my wish came true. On Christmas morning I first opened a heavy box that was filled with little packs of BBs that looked like shotgun shells. That was the neatest thing ever. The BB gun I received made an annoying “pinnnggg” sound that was supposed to be like a ricochet. It wasn’t. But it was a BB gun, and I loved it. We spent Christmas Day in the basement shooting at plastic army men with the backdrop of a big box with a quilt folded up inside to catch the BBs.

Another great gift my brother got was a slot-car race track. With super-realistic video games that put you in the driver’s seat of a race car, it’s hard to imagine kids today being interested in slot-car racing, but back then it was the best! We had that track for many years and wore it out.

A gift my sister and I still laugh about was her EasyBake Oven. How I loved it! Yes, I meant to say “I”. My young sister, obviously, had to be shown how to do everything, so I did it for her. We made all of the goodies that first Christmas Day and just about made ourselves sick eating all of the little pies and cakes. (I just thought of something. That EasyBake Oven is probably why I love baking so much and now have people hollering “enough already!!” because all the sweets I made will probably last til April).

Reading back over the paragraph about the BB gun reminded me of the year, I think I was seven, that I received two six-shooters in a holster, designed after the old TV show, “Have Gun Will Travel”. Oh my gosh!! The basement was blue with smoke from the rolls of caps we shot at each other all afternoon! I’m amused how often I see six-shooters like that in antique stores. Until I finally got a BB gun, I took my holster and six-guns on hunting trips with our dad.

One last favorite. When I was fifteen I received my first HO scale train set. For the unaware, HO actually means “half-O”. O scale is the size of Lionel trains. I prefer HO, because, to me and many others, it’s more realistic, and doesn’t take up as much space. That Christmas was fifty years ago, but I still love HO trains, and am getting ready to build another big layout in the basement of our new home. And, by the way, we model railroaders do not “play trains” and we don’t care how fast they go, so don’t ask! They are not train sets, they are layouts. Now that we’ve settled that, I’ll move on.

Merry Christmas.

I think it’s time for coffee.

Posted in Christmas

Holiday Fun

Christmas is so much fun! I have always loved it, and have wonderful memories of growing up, looking forward and counting the days to Christmas. I can remember not being able to sleep the night before, and we were never disappointed on Christmas morning.

My mother was an incredible cook and the house always smelled amazing as she prepared the feast. In the early days she baked the turkey all night, so in the morning the aroma coming from the oven just made everything better. I always made sure Christmas music was playing very early in the season. I remember listening to the Firestone Christmas albums while decorating the house for Halloween.

We carried the traditions of Christmas into our own family and it’s fun to see our children doing the same with theirs. We are now experiencing “sharing” our children’s families with the in-laws, so we get them every other Christmas. This year happens to be our turn, so we are excitedly anticipating the arrival of all of the kids and grandkids.

One of the earliest Christmases I remember, my older brother received an American Flyer train set. The train was rolling around the track when we ran into the living room on Christmas morning. My favorite toy that year was an operating miniature washing machine. I loved it! There were even little boxes of Tide and Oxydol! My mom cut little pieces of fabric I could wash.

Another Christmas that stands out was several years later. I campaigned for a new toy called a Vacu-Form. It was a contraption that softened small sheets of plastic with heat, then as the plastic was pulled over a mold, a handle was pushed several times creating a suction pulling the soft plastic down over the mold. What a blast I had with that! (I saw one in an antique store a few months ago!). The only hiccup that year was that I sent a letter to my grandmother’s sister and asked for the Vacu-Form. Of course my mother found out. “You don’t write to Aunt Maxye and ask for Christmas presents!” I didn’t know that, and it worked.

When our kids were young, on Christmas Eve I used to video-tape them while they were sleeping. As they grew older, knowing that I would be taping them became a challenge. One of our boys set a trap for me that sprung when I opened his bedroom door. Now those tapes are in a box, waiting for someone to have the motivation to transfer them to digital media. Probably won’t happen.

It’s funny how the menu has stayed pretty much the same through all these years. We still have the cranberry jello, with crushed pineapple and walnuts, that very few people eat. I sometimes make the cranberry relish my mom used to make, I’m the only one who eats it. I still make Aunt Maxye’s coffee cake. Yes, the same Aunt Maxye who bought me the Vacu-Form. The real stuffing crammed into the turkey’s bottom has been replaced with Stove-Top. The turkey is most often replaced with pork loin (delicious!) We always make chocolate and lemon-meringue pies, not everyone eats those.

This year, my theme is, “I plan to make everyone sugar miserable!” As you can see in the photos, I have made white chocolate covered Oreos, no-bake cookies, homemade cinnamon rolls, sugar cookies for decorating, and I’m not done yet. There will be seven-layer bars, coffee cake, and lots of other goodies.

I hope you have a very Merry Christmas, and enjoy a Happy New Year!

Where’s the coffee?

Posted in Coffee

Ruled by Coffee

So what is this obsession with coffee?  It’s actually my dear wife’s fault.  We started dating on March 5, 1971.  We’ve been together ever since.  It was Mary who helped me see the light, and gently led me to a life of coffee.

I actually had my first cup when I was five.  My mother was an obsessive coffee drinker, and she let me have a little antique cup filled mostly with milk, and a little coffee and sugar.  I was hooked, but it wasn’t until all of those years later that coffee finally took a permanent hold.  As school years progressed, I would come home and find the cups of cold coffee mom left all over the house, and I drank them, dust particles and all.

When Mary and I began dating, coffee became part of our companionship.  Everything went better with coffee.  Oh, I obviously liked it before, but having this new beautiful girl in my life just made coffee taste that much better.  It was just so special having a hot cup, with cream and sugar, with her.  No matter where we’ve been, coffee was part of the journey.

Now, so many years later, coffee is still a part of our home, and always will be.  Coffee answers so many important questions, it’s a wonder why there are actually people who not only don’t drink it, but can’t even stand the smell of it.  What questions?  Easy.  What should I do when I feel depressed?  Drink coffee.  When I’m happy?  Drink coffee.  When I’m bored?  Drink coffee.  When I’m confused?  Drink coffee.  Excited?  Coffee.  Broke? Coffee.  Sick?  Coffee.  Procrastinating? (Pay close attention here, this is a real important one.)  Yes.  Coffee.  Procrastinators, especially, understand the life-giving, redeeming, rescuing, obsolving qualities of coffee.

If you don’t believe me, just take a quick look at the multi-billion dollar coffee industry, just in the U.S. alone!  What are they selling?  It’s not just a drink, it is the coffee experience that no other beverage can provide.  Water sure doesn’t do it, soda can’t, fruit juices, nope, booze doesn’t even come close.  Coffee.  The coffee hounds realized that coffee mesmerizes, hypnotizes, solves, mends, heals, sedates, and fixes.

During the holiday season, it is coffee that makes the twinkling lights brighter, Christmas trees smell fresher, gift buying and present wrapping (ugh) fun!  Christmas would not be Christmas without coffee.  Forget the egg nog and champagne.  Forget the cases of soda.  Just go crank up the percolator, drip, press, osmosis, instant (what??!  No, never instant!) coffee.  Sit back, let the aroma lift you to new heights of joy.  Afterwards, there is only one thing left to say.

Can I have another cup?

 

Posted in Children, Counseling, Family

Tell Your Children!

Someone said grandchildren are God’s gift for not killing your children.   We did our best with our children, and in spite of our efforts, they still turned out wonderfully.  We are so proud of all of them!  And now, with six grandchildren, the oldest, fifteen, the youngest, under a year, we are enjoying the amazing experience of watching our own children raise children.

This morning we saw an interview with Michelle Obama on one of the morning shows.  Something she said really hit me.  She said she grew up with constant encouragement and was influenced to believe she could become anything she chose.  Reinforcement was constant.  While I know very little about Mrs. Obama apart from being the former First Lady, anyone paying attention can tell the message she received when she was young had a tremendously positive impact on her life.

My own experience was much different.  I did not grow up with that kind of encouragement, or anything close to it.  What I learned was fear and insecurity, which led to a constant sense of anxiety that has lasted throughout my life, to this day.

What I endured back then would be called abuse today.  Psychological, emotional, and physical abuse.  Giving my father the benefit of any doubt, his purpose was to demand obedience.  What he actually did was protect himself from ever being shamed or embarrassed by his children’s behavior.  Never hearing “you can do this,” or, “you can be anything you want to be,” or,  “believe in yourself like I believe in you,” brought crippling results.  Instead of learning what was possible for us, we learned what would happen to us.

My dad lost his own father when he was a young teenager, just when he needed him most.  His father left home and never returned.  As a result, my father became skillful at keeping others from hurting him, especially those in his own family.

One of my earliest memories of my dad was being afraid to stay with him when my mother was leaving the house.  Years later in the 7th grade, I delayed giving my father a report card because I was afraid he would be angry.  When I finally brought it home he laughed and teased as he looked over the report.  I said, “I got this a month ago.  I didn’t bring it home because I was afraid you would be mad.”  He exploded in rage. Removing his belt he screamed, “If you didn’t have a reason to be afraid before, you sure do now!”  He began hitting me with his belt and kicked me in the shin with his “wing-tip” shoe, leaving a big knot on my shin.  “You’ve got a lot of confidence in your dad, don’t you!” he yelled.  I didn’t understand then, and I’m not sure I do now.

In December of 1989, my father died from cancer at age 62.  I never had the privilege of an honest, strong, confident, reciprocal relationship with him.  Were we loved?  Yes.  Did he provide for his family?  Yes.  None of that overcame the fear that reigned in our home.

Now, with adult children and grandchildren of our own, our kids will laugh about the look on my face and the things I said when it was time for discipline.  I love it.  It’s funny and embarrassing to hear them mimick the way I was as they were growing up.

Once when I was going to be away,  I had a serious conversation with my three boys.  I said, “Hey, guys, I want to ask you a question, and I want you to be completely honest.  I won’t be angry no matter what you say.”  Then I asked them, “Are you happy when I’m not here?”  I explained that I was excited when my dad was gone.  The pressure was lifted, it was vacation time while he was gone.  I wanted to know if my boys felt the same way.  I was relieved to hear them say, “No!  We don’t like it when you’re gone.  We miss you, it’s more fun when you’re home.”  I tried not to instill the same fear and doubt I had, in my own children.

Why have I shared all of this?  If you have children, please, please, encourage them!  Praise them!  Tell them they can do anything and become anything they want to be, even if there’s not a chance in the world they can actually do what they’re dreaming.  Who knows?  Can you see the future?

Kids will be kids.  They’re going to upset you, they’re going to make mistakes, maybe big ones.  But don’t ever lose sight of them being YOUR children.  You are shaping them, and they will shape others who will shape others.  That is a huge responsibility!  Speak affirming, not shaming words to them.  Don’t say, “You know what you should have done?”  Tell them they did a great job.  Tell them you believe in them.  Tell them they can, whatever it is.  Say continually, “I am so proud of you!”

The effect of you, their parent, whether you are a single parent, step-parent,  guardian, aunt, uncle, or grandparent, believing in them will last a lifetime!

Posted in Outdoors

Country Fun

We love spending time outdoors, especially when we’re with family.  One of my favorite things to photograph is pathways.  There is just something about a path that is inviting.  All kinds of captions could be added at the bottom…the path and the destination are yours…where will your path lead you?  All kinds of things.

Michigan colors are unbeatable, in my opinion.  I know there are many beautiful places across the country, but we grew up in the great state of Michigan, and we’re thankful to still be here after all these years.  We have lived in other states, but always felt the pull back to Michigan.

Recently, we were with family in Tennessee and had the opportunity to visit the Gentry Farm.  What a beautiful day it was!  Lots of people enjoyed going to the farm to see the animals and end the visit by picking out a terrific pumpkin.  There are several old trucks that bring back lots of memories.

Tennessee is also a beautiful state, and we sometimes dreamed of retiring there.  Well, we’re already retired, and living happily in Michigan.  Tennessee is not too far away to visit, so we go whenever we can.  It helps that we have two sons and their families living there.

As long as coffee is involved, I’m up for going anywhere.  The trip is always made better with a mocha latte, extra hot, extra shot of espresso.

Speaking of coffee, I need more.

– Dale Parsons

 

Posted in Model Trains

Building An HO Scale Layout

These are some track-level photos of my most recent HO scale train layout.  It was a “shelf-style” layout, which simply means the room I was using was too small to have a free standing layout supported by its own benchwork legs.  I used a model railroading magazine specifically for benchwork and just followed sketches to build the shelf supports along the wall.

My first obstacle was trying to figure out how much room I had for the loops on each end of the layout.  I didn’t want to build a “down and back” type of track plan.  I wanted to allow the trains to run continually, and wanted to be able to run two trains at the same time.  So, I ended up with a detailed two-line track plan with several sidings and a couple freight yards to choose from.  What I ended up with was a 22 inch outer line radius, and an 18 inch radius on the inner curve.  One mistake I made was not allowing enough room through the entire curve for two trains to run side-by-side.  I had to make sure the two trains did not run through the curves together.  I won’t make that mistake again.

I don’t run passenger trains, so the entire layout was built for freight operation.  Most of my buildings are manufacturing style, as a few can be seen in the photos.  Although I enjoy operating the trains, my main focus is scenery.  As you can see in the photos, the layout was not finished, as there were plenty of bare spots where there were neither roads, grass, or weeds.  But, that’s just part of the hobby.  The work is never finished.

I used “flex-track” which comes in 3′ sections.  I used code 100 rail, which has to do with the fine detail of the rails.  For my use, this code works great and it is less expensive.  I only use nickle-silver track as it does not corrode as quickly as brass.  I don’t know of anyone who uses brass track for serious layout construction.  The flex-track works great for my layouts.  I have never tried scratch-building track, either with a tie-strip and rails, or by hand laying ties.  It’s too much work.

Model railroading is a great hobby.  There is just something about trains that have captured my attention my entire life.  I take every chance I can get to watch trains. Unfortunately, I don’t live close enough to any operational lines to allow me to watch every day.  I am really looking forward to starting my next layout.

Working on trains always makes me think of coffee.  Speaking of which, it’s time for more.  Coffee, that is.

– Dale Parsons

 

Posted in Model Trains

Model Railroading

 

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Model railroading has been my main hobby since I was fifteen.  My brother and I had O scale trains when we were younger but as I got older my interests changed to HO.  HO actually stands for “Half-O”, so HO gauge is half the size of O gauge.  Lionel trains are the main brand for those who have “train sets.”  In my opinion, for those who are more serious about really doing something with the hobby, HO is the preferred scale.

The photo above is a layout I had until we moved last year.  And, by the way, those who are serious model railroaders don’t have train sets, they have layouts.  A serious layout is crafted from the bench work, which is the wooden frame that is the basis for all the railroading action, all the way up to the track work, the rolling stock, and the scenery.

For me, the railroad operation is not the most interesting part.  The scenery is definitely the most fun.  And scenery is not just trees or grass.  The scenery includes buildings, mountains, grass, weeds, junk, people, everything that is not the track and trains themselves.  The scenery work is never finished.  There is always something more to add, some new little detail, which might be as small as adding small bits of model scrap to a junkyard.

One of the most fun things to do is putting lights in the buildings.  It’s fascinating to get down on track level and watch the trains move among buildings that are casting rays of light through their tiny windows.

My uncle, who is now in his eighties, is the one really responsible for getting me into HO model trains.  In 1970, I spent spring break with him and his family.  We spent the entire week working on trains and going to hobby shops.  In the back corner of layout pictured above, there is a small cottage that we built from scratch that week.  It is a treasure of mine.

Model railroading is a terrific way to relax and forget about life for a while.  Scratch-building items for the layout, including operating signal lights (that’s for another blog session) and other little things is the best.  There is nothing like the sound of the wheels clicking over the rails.

Something that makes it even better is a cup of coffee sitting close by.

– Dale Parsons