Discover Prompts Day 29: Lists

I believe that age is in direct correlation to the length of your lists. If you are young, your list, if you have one at all, is very small. If you are middle-age, if you use lists, you don’t tell anyone. If you’re our age, your lists are long and detailed. In fact, you have lists to tell you what lists you have. Your lists have categories so you can quickly find your list.

The detail on your list is also quite telling. Almost everyone writes a list when it’s time to go to the store. When you start writing lists to remind yourself of what to do during the day, that can be very helpful and is a descriptor of a person who is well organized. If your lists are telling you how to do things you have been doing for years, that is something different all together.

Writing a list of all the things to remember when you are getting ready to travel is a good idea. Travel is stressful. The older you are the more stressful it is. At some point, it becomes much easier to stay home. At home you know exactly where everything is and no lists are necessary. When it’s time to pack a suitcase, you have to make a list of everything in the suitcase so you don’t have to unpack it before you leave because you can’t remember what you put in it. It is also important to make a list of your suitcases and they should be numbered as well.

There may also be a time when you stop trusting that you really did what you checked off. Did I really do that? I don’t remember closing the garage door, but I checked it off the list. What if I checked it off thinking I would close the door next, but forgot. Now you are doubting your list. That’s a real problem.

Here are some simple things to help you with your lists.

1. Color-code your lists. Red – very important. Yellow – important but not critical. Green – it’s on the list but it won’t matter if you forget it.

2. Use sticky notes. Sticky notes are God’s gift to the elderly. Sticky notes are another direct correlation to age. If your kitchen looks like you are trying to wallpaper it with sticky notes, you are definitely in your middle 70s. If your bathroom is completely papered with sticky notes, you are at least 84.

3. Put shopping lists in your refrigerator. You don’t go a single day without opening your fridge, so if your food related lists are in the fridge, you will be sure to buy the food you actually need.

4. Do not, under any circumstances, put sticky notes on the windshield of your car. You will be reading them or trying to write on them as you’re driving and that’s never a good idea.

5. Your underwear drawer is another great place to keep lists, for obvious reasons.

6. Placing sticky notes on the toilet paper holder is not advisable. That prickly feeling might be a sticky note.

7. Be kind to your lists and they will be kind to you. If you forget something, it is not the list’s fault. You are the one who forgot to check it.

So many unanticipated things can happen if you do not use lists. Everyone knows you should not go grocery shopping when you’re hungry. You should also not go anywhere without a list.

Maps are to travel as lists are to living. Lists provide considerable protection from making unwise choices. For example, you go to the store without a list, intending to buy a cantaloupe, some strawberries, and a gallon of milk. Instead you come home with a new circular saw because you started thinking about a project on the way to the store and completely forgot you were going for groceries and ended up at Home Depot. Not a good idea.

If digestion is becoming a problem, you will want to make a list of the items you shouldn’t eat. Depending on the effects of eating the things you shouldn’t, you might want to allow your spouse access to your list as well. For example, if baloney affects you badly, put it on the list. If cheese becomes an effective means of stopping all forward progress, put it on the list.

There are many reasons lists are important for happy living. As your years begin to accumulate, you realize lists exist for very good reasons. One thing I don’t think I’ll ever have to put on any list is, “drink coffee.”

Dale Parsons

Discovery Prompts Day 28: Focus

Today while I was trying to gather some thoughts about the discovery prompt, I learned the Latin root of the word focus is hearth. We hear all kinds of things about the need for focus and how difficult it is with the current craziness. Everything has been turned upside down.

Before the days of central heat and air when homes were heated by a fireplace, the hearth was the center of activity. The family gathered at the hearth not just to keep warm, but for cooking, conversation, telling stories, singing, and reading. The hearth was the focus of the family.

I remember a scene in “Scrooge,” starring George C. Scott, when Bob Cratchet arrives at home after the family has lost Tiny Tim. When her husband walks through the front door, Mrs. Cratchet says, “Come and sit by the fire and have a warm ‘the Lord bless you.’” The entire family was gathered at the hearth as they comforted each other in their time of loss.

In my lifetime I don’t remember a time when society has been more splintered than now. Trust is fractured. Many do not know who or what to believe, and social media has taken the supreme role in the notion “if it’s on the internet, it must be true.” There has never been a time when the hearth has been needed more.

The root of hearth is heart. The heart represents the center, the source of life, the safe place where confidence, strength, and trust can be restored. We need to find the family hearth again.

It’s difficult to turn away from the constant noise around us, but we must if we are to find a way through the chaos. We may not have a literal hearth in our home, but every person, every family has a heart. The hearth, the focus, the heart of the family, the heart of every individual is where hope can be renewed.

The hearth draws us back to the foundational things that cannot be shaken. It’s the familiar, the memorable, the reminder of those who have always been with us.

The hearth calls us from the busy-ness of life to sit for a while. Stop long enough to breath deeply and slowly. Make yourself rest so your mind can catch up with your heart that is way ahead of the racket around you.

If you want to learn how to focus in a terribly noisy world, listen to your hearth. It’s a place of warmth and comfort always ready and waiting.

Join the Team! Discovery Prompts Day 27.

My earliest introduction to team sports was Little League Baseball in fourth grade. I didn’t own a baseball glove until our next door neighbor gave me one. He was a lefty, too.

He was a fantastic baseball player. He had seven no-hitters in high school, won championships in college, and went on to play professional baseball in the Milwaukee Brewers system. He hurt his arm and had to quit playing. He has a very successful coaching career and was elected to the Michigan High School Coaches Hall of Fame. I’m very proud to have played street baseball with him, but hitting a tennis ball in the street was the limit of my ability.

I really loved the game, that wasn’t the problem at all. I just couldn’t play it. I really liked the uniform, wearing cleats, and being on the team. I didn’t like batting, didn’t want to try bunting, and was not good at catching the ball. The coach discovered my talents early and put me in right field where no one ever hit the ball.

I knew nothing about strategies, where to throw the ball if it actually did come my way, or when to run. I knew what a walk was, and that became my goal in every game. Don’t get hit by the ball, and wait until the umpire says, “Take your base.” Most of the time he said, “You’re out.”

I was happy when my first season of Little League was over. I didn’t play the next year.

In the off season I told my dad I wanted to be a pitcher. He borrowed a catcher’s mit and a plywood home plate from the neighbor. Soon I was winding up, throwing as hard as I could, and actually hitting the mit. Sometimes. I improved with a lot of practice and I was sure I could pitch like our next door neighbor.

When baseball season arrived after sixth grade, I went to the tryouts. I told the coaches I was a pitcher and I was soon showing them what I could do. A boy trying out as a catcher said, “Hey! Don’t throw so hard! This is just a tryout!” I threw harder.

I pitched my first game on my birthday. We won 6-0. I actually hit the ball that day but the second baseman caught it. Out, as usual. I was so proud of my pitching performance I hung around at the baseball fields all day. When I went back to the concession stand later in the day the lady said, “Are you still here?”

My second venture into team sports was in eighth grade. I was tall, so obviously I was a basketball player. I wasn’t concerned about understanding the game, which I didn’t, I just knew I had to throw the ball through the hoop. Which never happened.

I was part of the 30 second squad. The coach put me in the game the last thirty seconds as long as we were ahead by forty points. It was a great season. I still have my 8th grade basketball photo.

Another foray into team sports was football in 9th grade. This story is not as long as my baseball adventures. I discovered the crab crawl, and got hit by a giant when I stood straight up with the ball and I knew I had made a terrible mistake. I was a two-day football star.

After 10th grade I decided to try baseball again. I didn’t understand the game any better than I did years before, even though I had played church-league softball for a few years. I was really no better in softball, and that should have been a sign.

I hit some of my best foul balls that summer. I never saw where they went but I knew by the reaction of the crowd I had hit them a long way. If I had been able to actually stay in the batter’s box until the ball came, I might have been able to get a hit.

I remember people yelling, “Watch the ball hit the bat!” I watched but the ball never hit the bat. I couldn’t understand it. I heard the other day that kids now have their own bats that cost two or three hundred dollars. Two or three hundred!! A bat that costs that much should come with hits attached! The only bats I ever saw came with the coach in a big green canvass bag. Some were long, some were short. None of them got hits for me.

The sports gene missed me completely. I wish someone would have taken me aside and said, “Listen. You really stink at this, so maybe you should try something else.”

Oh well, it didn’t hurt me. In fact, when I think about all the time I haven’t wasted going to pitching tryouts, I really have saved a great amount of time and grief. I still love watching baseball. I watch the pitchers carefully, and somewhere, way down inside, I still hear this voice that says, “I could do that.”

One thing I do really well is drink coffee.

Overcoming My Dam Fear

When I was very young I scooted as far forward in the bathtub as I could then quickly pushed back. All the water rushed to the other end of the tub and got really deep. It scared me.

This is Discover Prompts Day 26. The key term is hidden. I have kept my secret hidden all these years. It is going to be a freeing experience to finally release my dam fear and let it all out.

I don’t know how many experiences I have missed because of my dam fear. I vividly recall a fishing trip with a friend and my dam fear just kept coming up. Even now as I think about it I’m beginning to feel shaky. The memory is clear.

I don’t know why I’ve kept my dam fear hidden for so long. I guess I was afraid if I let anyone know about my dam fear they would laugh at me. I had terrible anxiety about being laughed at because of my dam fear.

I’m old enough to understand experience makes a person stronger and wiser. How long have I known that, and still my dam fear stands in the way. Well, today is the day. No more dam fear.

I picture the source of my dam fear in my mind, looming large like a giant, hungry, roaring, snarling lion. It’s staring at me, but I’m staring right back. I’m the one who’s roaring now. “No more dam fear!!”

I’m going to test myself and see if my dam fear is really gone. Here it is. Wait for it. Don’t close your eyes. Go ahead and look. You can do it!

Yes!! Yes!! I did it! I’m free! I can stare at this photo and I don’t feel any dam fear! Oh, that’s so great! I don’t know what took me so long! I just had to face my dam fear and tell it to be gone. Wow! I wish I had told my dam fear to get lost a long time ago!

Well, I guess I should let that be a lesson to me. My dam fear wasn’t as bad as I thought. I just had to face it, take control, and decide to be free from my hidden dam fear.

In case you’re wondering, dams really do scare me. But don’t tell anyone. It’s a hidden secret.

I need coffee.

One Magic Weekend on Mackinac Island

When I think about the word magic, there is only one person, and one place that comes to mind. The place is Mackinac Island. The person is the girl I have been walking beside nearly fifty years.

On our third date, I asked a beautiful girl to go with me to Mackinac Island for a church-sponsored conference attended by hundreds of youth from across Michigan. We were already together for three months before the special time arrived. The magic of that Memorial Weekend in 1971 changed the course of our lives forever.

We spent the day enjoying the sights of the Island, visiting shops, eating fudge, and riding bikes. The weather was heaven-sent with a perfect temperature, clear blue sky, and bright sunshine.

We decided to carve our initials in a tree to attach our hearts to each other and to Mackinac Island forever. We went into one of the shops and bought this souvenir knife. We rode a short distance out of town, climbed some steps, and carved our initials in a tree. As I was cutting, the blade closed on the tip of my finger cutting it. The scar remains to this day. We were surprised to discover we both had scars on our index finger in the same spot.

That evening we enjoyed a formal banquet at The Grand Hotel. During dinner we stared at each other as if in a trance. I know how corny that sounds, but it’s true. The magic is real. One of my friends said, “Would you guys stop that?!”

Late into the night under a beautiful starry sky, we stood in the garden of The Grand, wanting the moment to last forever. We have never forgotten those magic days on Mackinac Island. The imprint of the Island on our hearts is indelible.

The weekend was over much too soon. As always, Mackinac Island was difficult to leave.

I told this lovely girl I was going to ask her to marry me before we had been dating for a month. She changed my life forever.

We have returned to Mackinac Island more times than I can count. I tried to find the tree that held our initials, but couldn’t. I’m sure our initials were high above what I could see.

The magic of Mackinac Island is real. It’s no wonder so many couples begin their engagement on Mackinac and return for their wedding celebration. Those same couples will return again and again, and eventually bring their children and grandchildren to experience the magic of Mackinac Island. Just like we do.

Cody the Wonder Dog Goes to Houghton Lake

In over forty-five years, we have owned several wonderful golden retrievers. I don’t know how a golden could be anything but wonderful. Copper was our first.

Lady, the princess, was our second golden. We raised her from a pup, she helped us raise our triplet sons, had a litter of twelve puppies, and left us all too soon.

Cody was a wonder dog. He was already a year old when he joined our family. We purchased him from a couple who raised retrievers and he was the last of their most recent litter. He was terribly shy and wasn’t sure he wanted to go with us.

When we arrived at home, I let him in the house and he immediately ran into the living room and went behind the big console TV in the corner. All we could see was his head and his big eyes watching our every move. Our daughter came down the stairs, saw him and said, “Is that real?!”

I was the pastor of a small church at the time and we were preparing to build a new facility. Since we sold our old building, my office was in our kitchen. I had a very thick file on a shelf with all of the contracts, invoices, and everything else. We blocked Cody in the kitchen overnight and when I opened the door in the morning, the floor was covered with small shreds of paper. Cody mangled my construction file. I laughed and kept the secret between me and Cody.

Cody was absolutely wonderful. He wanted only to be a companion. He was gentle, quiet, big, squishy, lovable and kind. Everyone was a friend.

I think Cody might have had weak eyes because he was afraid of anything new, like a paper plate lying on the floor. He backed away from it like it was threat.

Cody loved riding in the car and he loved going on vacation. One of our favorite places to spend a week was Houghton Lake, Michigan. The resort we returned to every year was a perfect match of relaxation, swimming, fishing, and boating. There were six small cabins. In the years we vacationed there, we used all but two of them.

There was an old wooden dock with enough rowboats for each of the guests to use. Cody loved swimming, but he especially loved chasing the ducks that were always nearby. He chased them and the ducks let him get just close enough so he didn’t lose interest. They flew back behind Cody and he turned around and started the chase all over again. He played with the ducks until he was too tired.

Cody loved riding in the boat. He didn’t hesitate to jump in and the sound of the motor didn’t bother him at all. He was the perfect fishing dog. Each year we rented a pontoon boat for a day so the whole family could be out on the water together. Cody loved it.

Cody loved our little Shih Tzu, Heidi. The two dogs were pals for life. Heidi was tiny compared to Cody and he was very careful with her.

Cody was showing his age with white hair around his eyes and face. We began to see indications of something that wasn’t quite right. Cody was slowing down and we saw him stumble a few times. As the days passed, Cody’s condition grew worse. The doctor diagnosed him with diabetes and he did our best to treat him.

Cody started having severe seizures and we knew we were nearing the end of this gentle wonder-dog’s life.

I held Cody in my arms and tears streamed down our cheeks as he slipped away from us. Always gentle, always kind, loving until his last breath.

Cody is forever a part of our family. We still laugh about him, and we have an hour-long home movie called, “Cody Goes to Houghton Lake.”

Our love of golden retrievers has carried over to our kids. This is Lucy, our granddog. She’s a big, strong, lovable, happy retriever with a huge voice. Now she has a two-year-old girl and a six-month-old boy to help raise. She’s doing a good job.

Whenever I see Lucy, I think of Cody the wonder dog.

Discover Prompts Day 24: Elixir, the Magic Potion

It really is a wonder we survived our childhood. There were all kinds of home remedies we were subjected to. From “Lucy’s Juice” to sweet nitre, I don’t know how we made it.

When we were kids, there was a bottle of “Sweet Nitre” in the back of the fridge. It was always there, like a skeleton in the closet or a ghost in the attic. If we ever said we were ill, or if anyone had a fever, it was time to take sweet nitre. My dad was the one who came up with it, I am certain he was forced to drink it when he was a kid. Why else would he make us drink it?

Sweet nitre was not sweet. It tasted like a mixture of cow urine and cat poop. I’ve never tasted either one, but I’m convinced both were in the bottle of sweet nitre. It was never my mom who served it to us. Always my dad. It was the magic vomit potion. Moments after drinking it we were in the bathroom (if we made it) throwing up everything we ate since the week before. I am certain the reason we were vomiting was that the potion was toxic. Even our little bodies knew better than to keep it inside. I looked up sweet nitre several years ago, and it had a warning in big letters saying it should never be taken internally as it was POISON. How are we still here?

Another great thing we did was eat Vicks VapoRub. Yes. I said eat Vicks VapoRub. If we had a sore throat, my dad, yes, him again, put a big gob of Vicks on his finger and made us eat it. “Just hold it in your mouth and let it go down your throat slowly” he said. Ughhhh!!

My dad’s mother was the queen of all remedies. Her term for anything medicinal (whether it was homemade or not) was “lickdob.” “Put some lickdob on it” she said. Whatever it was. Sliver? Lickdob. Flu? Lickdob. Hungry? Lickdob. Tired? Lickdob. We had to be careful because some of her lickdob was nasty.

While I was in college I worked with a professor building houses during a summer. I fell and cut my leg and it became infected. I spent a few days in the hospital with blood poisoning. When I spoke to my grandmother she told me I should have put a beet poultice on it. I thought, “You can eat the beet poultice. If this happens again I’m going back to the hospital!” No, I didn’t say it out loud.

One time when our triplet sons were sick, my aunt and grandma were going to apply some “Lucy’s Juice.” Lucy was my grandmother’s sister. She made an elixir with turpentine, kerosine, Vicks, and couple other things I can’t remember. Luckily, we found out about it and said, “No way!!”

I know home remedies have been around for generations. Elixirs of all kinds people swear by. I just swear at them instead of by them. No thanks.

The lake is a wonderful elixir that doesn’t require me to swallow anything. Listening to the water lap the shore on a calm day is magical.

A favorite of ours is finding sea glass, or beach glass. We have found some amazing treasures. Some pieces have clearly been in the water for decades. My wife recently found an intact pop bottle from 1963.

Coffee is my go-to elixir every day of every week. All day. Coffee smells wonderful, tastes amazing, and brightens my mood, without fail. A mocha, on the other hand is like heaven with a cherry on top. Love it!

The best, surest, always available, never ending elixir is family.

Family with coffee? Oh, man. Now it’s getting dangerous.

7 Tips For Cozy Landscaping

I know, you don’t often think of your outdoor space as being “cozy,” but if being cozy means it makes you feel good, that’s exactly what your landscaping should create. A cozy space.

Here is Tip #1. Don’t try to do too much too fast. Think of your landscaping as an ongoing, long-term, evolving project.

If you’re anything like me, you like to get things done. Start it, do it, finish it. Wrap it up in a tidy box and leave it. Landscaping isn’t like that at all. Since you are most likely going to be using live plants (hopefully), and since they do not grow overnight, get used to the idea of growing your landscaping as your plants grow.

Tip #2. Do it right the first time. There is nothing more aggravating, and expensive, than having to do a project twice because you didn’t take the time to plan. If drawing works for you, make a sketch of your landscaping project. Draw circles where your plants or shrubs are going to be and label them. Now you have something you can easily change before you start digging.

Tip #3. Don’t be afraid to tackle BIG projects. If you can dream it, you can do it. The beautiful rock garden in this photo took the place of an ugly, weed-covered, nasty-looking area under two big pine trees. The only thing we paid for was the weed block fabric, paving stones, and the plants. Most of the rocks came from a friend’s cottage. They were originally picked from the Lake Huron.

Tip #4. Simple things you already have can help make your space beautiful and cozy. The swing has been repainted several times. It originally hung from the wooden frame in the distance which is now a bird and squirrel feeder.

Tip #5. A simple coat of paint can be a tremendous improvement. Our deck was a dark red-brown color. We were thinking of replacing it with composite which is expensive. We decided to paint it instead. It’s beautiful! Our miniature golden-doodle, Maggie, loves it! Every morning she insists we drink our coffee on the deck. It’s a lovely, cozy space.

Tip #6. Simple groupings draw attention and help create that cozy feeling. Pick some favorite items that add a sense of calm and comfort to the space.

Tip #7. The space is yours. Make it pleasing to you. Try not to compare your space to anything else you’ve seen. Everything in your outdoor space should bring pleasure and comfort to you. Love it.

Oh, and one more thing. Make sure you have lots of help. Maggie watches carefully and she approves.

We are very happy with our cozy outdoor space. It constantly reminds us to slow down, sit, rest, breathe, and enjoy.

It also tells me I need more coffee.

Discover Prompts Day 23: Notes

Obviously, that’s not me. When I’m sleeping I look rather hideous, so I chose to use this guy. He didn’t care. The prompt for today is Notes. I’m supposed to start a diary, which I’ve started many times and have never kept for more than two or three days.

Something else I’ve never done is keep a note about dreams. Usually, I can’t remember anything but bits and pieces, but last night I had a vivid dream and I remember it.

My wife and I were going to catch a flight to Amsterdam. I was driving us through the terminal on a green golf cart. At the gate area she got off the cart and went with a ticket agent to get a boarding pass. In the mean time, I was following instructions and driving the cart up a short ramp to the jetway. I went down into a musty dark basement to get my boarding pass. My wife wasn’t there. I went back up to the gate area and the plane was gone. I assumed I missed the flight and my wife didn’t. I found some other Amsterdam passengers and discovered I was looking at the wrong plane. I was still looking for my wife when I woke up.

I imagine some important reason we were going to Amsterdam. I was going to speak at a major conference on model railroading. Crowds of people were waiting to hear me share my notes about building benchwork strong enough to sit on. Sitting on the benchwork makes it possible to do detail work on the other side of the layout when you discover the bench is too wide to just reach across.

Another possibility for the trip is that I was going to demonstrate the fine radio controlled airplane skills I have gained in seven years of flying. No concerns about the fact I can’t fly anymore because of essential tremors. I can’t control the radio sticks well enough to keep the plane from crashing. That probably wasn’t it.

Maybe I was invited to come to Amsterdam to talk about the fine art of blogging. People want to know how to build a huge number of followers. Someone said, “You’re not a leader if you turn around and no one is following.” I wouldn’t think it would be necessary to fly to Amsterdam to talk about the vast number of followers when, at this moment, I have around one hundred. (I’m really thankful for each reader and follower. This really is a lot of fun.)

I have lots and lots of notes about all kinds of things. Now, since I can’t write with a pen or pencil anymore, I do all my writing on a tablet or laptop. So, taking notes about something and then printing it is a pain. So usually, my notes are only two or three words. More like thought prompts to remind myself of something. For example, “Dr 10:00”.

I had no idea how much I have taken hand-writing for granted. It was always there, hiding in the shadows, ready to use at any moment. For thirty years, all my sermon notes were written by hand. I knew all my scratches, arrows, underlining, explosion marks, exclamations, question marks, and doodles. They all meant something important. Not any more. When I retired I threw files and files of my notes away. When I was a pastor I never used sermon notes more than once. Certainly the same topics, but not the same notes.

Notes are important. If we keep notes we might be able to keep ourselves out of trouble. If we look back over our notes when trouble comes, we can read about what we did last time and not make the same mistakes again. Someone said, “If we don’t learn from history we’re doomed to repeat it.” That is not just true for a country, it’s true for individuals.

Ah, here’s a note I wrote to myself earlier today. “Drink another cup of coffee.” Good idea. I think I will.

Discovery Prompts Day 22: Tempo

Nothing is more important to music than tempo. But life has a tempo that we either control ourselves or it will be controlled for us, and we will roll along with it.

One of the hardest things to do is just stop. I’m retired now, but sometimes I feel more time-hassled than I did when I was working. There is this sense of “hurry up and get something done” that is really hard to shut off.

We have had lots of opportunities to enjoy the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the beauty is incredible. I have attempted body-surfing but usually end up being tossed around like a piece of driftwood. That’s what life feels like right now. Instead of a ride, it’s a crash in process. Like a train wreck. It’s really tough to slow the tempo and breathe normally.

Slow down! Turn the news off for a while. Look around and purposely notice some things you haven’t really seen in a while. When was the last time you watched a cloud? When did you last go outside in the middle of the night and look at the stars? Spend an hour and see how many satellites you can count. It’s amazing!

Make tempo work for you instead of against you. Rather than feeling rushed and unnerved, choose slow, steady, in control, confident. It’s your choice. The tempo of your life is set by you. You can constantly feel out of breath, or you can breathe and move as you choose.

Choose a tempo that supports you.