Discover Prompt Day 6: Hands

I never dreamed there would be a time when playing the piano would no longer be a huge part of my life. The time is here. Essential tremors make it very difficult for me to play, especially when it involves people watching and listening.

Nervousness has always been a struggle, something to overcome every time I sat down to play. Essential tremors has nothing to do with nervousness, but any kind of adrenalin, as in playing for a crowd, makes the tremors much worse.

I sought treatment for many years, with little effect. Two neurologists prescribed medications that carry possible seizures as a side effect. Thankfully, I never suffered a seizure. The medication, however, did not bring lasting or significant results and I wasn’t willing to take more massive amounts. I decided, aided by consultation with my primary care physician, it was time to quit.

It has now been five years since I stopped taking medications. Although I can still type with no problem, I have great difficulty doing other simple things. Sometimes just putting a key in a lock is a real challenge. Model Railroading is my hobby and detail work is very important. I have had to find ways to accomplish tasks I want to complete on my railroad layout.

I flew radio-controlled model airplanes for several years and loved it. I can’t do it any longer because of inability to control my fingers on the radio posts. It’s so frustrating to have to give up flying! I’m not willing to risk destroying my planes with stubbornness.

It’s really kind of a crazy sensation. Sometimes my individual fingers shake, as in trying to fly a RC airplane. At other times it’s my entire hand shaking. Sometimes my arm.

I taught myself how to print with my right hand so I could continue to function. Although not as bad as my left, my right hand is trying to catch up.

I spent many years playing the piano, most of the time playing for others who were singing. It’s a real disappointment not being able to do it anymore. I took it for granted for so long, it’s painful not to have it.

I’ve read lots of information about various treatments for Essential Tremors. I went to a university hospital for a screening for deep-brain stimulation but was told I was not a candidate. There are other possibilities I have just begun to investigate. We’ll see.

For now, I’ll play my digital piano with my headphones on so no one can hear what’s actually happening. Sometimes it still sounds pretty good. With a little reverb it sounds like I’m playing in a huge auditorium again. Lots of great memories. I imagine the applause and it makes me feel good. I’m thankful for many good years sitting at the piano.

Discover Prompt Day 4: Our Street

We have actually moved to the small town where we live three separate times. No, I’m not joking. We purposely moved here three times. The picture on the left is beautiful. The old buildings in our little village don’t look anything like it. But it’s our town, and we love it.

One of the things we loved to do as our children were growing up was going “alley riding”. One of the communities we lived in had a pretty large business district for a rather small town, and there were lots of alleys. We rode our bikes down one alley after another. If we rode all of them, it took about an hour.

What I loved most about alley riding was ending up at the “big parking lot”, next to the railroad tracks. The parking lot wasn’t that big, but that’s what we called it. Our three boys loved riding in the open space. I loved watching trains roll by.

One day I decided to go alley riding from our little street where we live now. It took ten minutes. I wasn’t disappointed though, we love our street. We love our town. It’s a great feeling.

The first time we moved to our town was 1987. Our daughter was ten, our triplet sons were three. I taught in a private Christian school and was the youth director and assistant pastor at the school’s sponsoring church. We moved a year later. I was invited to return to town in 1996 to become the senior pastor of the same church. We lived here eight years. After thirty-one years in ministry, I retired in 2004. We moved again, to another small community thirty minutes away. My wife, who began teaching in our public middle school here in 1997, made the thirty-mile drive every day. After four years, we moved back again. This time, we bought a beautiful two-story bungalow that we loved for nine years.

In fact, we still love the house, even though we moved again, three years ago. My wife has always been wonderful at making our house, wherever it was, our home. The house had French doors between the dining and living rooms. We loved the long front porch and spent many hours rocking.

Now we live on our street. She is old and bent over, but she’s ours. She has a family name, well-known in town, also carried by the hardware store, a lumber yard everyone remembers, but no one sees because it was lost in a fire twenty years ago, and a museum. She is mostly pleasant but sometimes allows younger drivers to go too fast. Something frowned upon by people like us.

We actually have two lots, which is very nice because we only have a close neighbor on one side. The house on the other side, although occupied by lots of stuff (we’ve been informed) has no people. Our back yard looks like a park. We have bird feeders that squirrels enjoy. Deer have visited several times. There is a creek that flows across the back of our property, so there is just a hint of sound, if the water is high enough, of water trickling over rocks.

Streets get old. People do too. People on the street come and go, the street stays. Sometimes streets need repair, just like people. Streets do feel bad when people they have loved leave, but it’s part of life.

If we listen to our street, we learn a lot.

“I may look old and broken, but my foundation is still strong.”

“I need fixing sometimes, but my path is always the same.”

“There is a beginning, and an end. Both matter, but real living is somewhere in between.”

“Lots and lots of people helped me be what I am.”

“A street without people is just a connection. It’s the people that make being a street fun.”

“My name is just a tag so people can find me. Who I am is the people around me.”

We love our street, and our town.

The Fun of Writing a Middle Grade Novel

Coming up with the main character wasn’t difficult at all. Maybe I shouldn’t say that. Maybe I should say I spent sleepless nights, endless days in turmoil over the identity of my protagonist. But I didn’t. His name just came to me.

He’s a freckle-faced kid, twelve years old, in the seventh grade. He’s been in love with the same girl since first grade, she just doesn’t know it. In fact, he’s never spoken to her even though they were in the same class twice in elementary school, and now have two classes together. He’s been writing poems and love notes to her since he was six, and still has each one. They’re hidden in a tin box behind a trap door in his closet on the second floor of the old house.

There is another girl driving him crazy, but for different reasons. She’s perfectly perfect. Plays the piano, dresses like a beauty queen, thinks she’s the answer to every question, and likes him.

He and his best friend have been inseparable since second grade when they threw up on their desks at the same time. It seemed planned, but obviously wasn’t. His friend lives on a dairy farm and hates it. The two wish they could trade lives.

His family has owned the hardware store in town for several generations. His father dreams of him taking over the store one day, and he wants nothing to do with it.

Singing “Springtime in My Love’s Caress” in choir class is almost the worst part of his day. “…feeling such a warmth within my breast…” is too much. He can’t sing it.

I read excerpts of my MG novel to classes of middle grade students. I was pleased with their response. Especially when I sang “Softly, softly, sweeping through the meadow, feeling such a warmth within my breast…”. The boys turned red. Just what I was looking for. I told my seventh grade Psychology History class that when the book is published I will include all of their names in the acknowledgements.

Query letter, synopsis, word-count, outline, chapters, editing, thinking, re-thinking, thinking again. It was really sort of a let-down when I typed, “The End”. I missed the characters. Watching them develop and evolve was exciting. I wonder what they’re thinking now.

Bats in the Belfry

Nothing quite beats the experience of waking out of a deep slumber to the unmistakable sound of a winged creature flying around in your bedroom!

I heard about people who had bats in their home and could not imagine the horror. When we moved into a house that had a history of bats we were nervous, to put it mildly. The homeowners paid for an exterminator to come so we could be assured there were no bats in the belfry. We were so relieved!

After we settled into the house we were feeling more confident as the days passed. Certainly, the worst of the stories from years before were nothing but memories and we had nothing to worry about. My wife is terrified of birds and has been since she was five years old. The thought of a winged mouse flying around was more than she could stand.

Blood-curdling screams came from the basement!! Our daughter and her fiancé were playing pool but came pounding up the stairs with our three sons close behind. “There are bats flying all over the place!!” I wanted to throw something. The authorities told us the bats were gone!

I slowly crept down the stairs, expecting to be mercilessly attacked by the savage vampires. Nothing. I looked in all of the dark corners. Nothing. I peered in between, under, around, over. Nothing. If there had truly been bats, they were now gone.

I convinced my wife it was safe to stay in the house and not move out immediately. Since the house belonged to the church of which I was the new pastor, I was sure the perishioners wouldn’t understand if we disappeared within the first three months.

For the next few weeks we were not visited again. Then one afternoon I was home for lunch while everyone else was at school. I was sitting on the couch eating and was shocked to see a bat fly into the room. I slowly stood, picked up a pillow, and when he appeared again, I threw it and nailed him! He fell onto the couch and lay there, stunned I guess. I retrieved a BB gun and dispatched him quickly, quietly. Right there on the couch. I didn’t tell anyone.

Two of our sons had bedrooms in the basement. “Daaaaad! Daaaaaaaad! There’s a bat flying around in my bedroom!!” That’s an awful wake-up call!

Workers came and dismantled the basement, once again assuring us the problem was over. There would be no more bats. There were.

I always wondered if I would hear a bat flying through our bedroom in the middle of the night while I was sound asleep. I got my answer. I heard it loud and clear. “Honey, honey, wake up.” “Whaaat?” “There’s a bat flying in our bedroom.” “What?!!!” “Go into the bathroom and shut the door.” She was gone in a flash.

The bat headed for the living room. I started turning on lights and the bat finally made it to the den. I closed the door. The den was the exit to the back of the house, so I went around outside and came back in to confront the intruder. In a very small room, I could not find him!! Finally, I actually said, “Lord, you know where he is.” At that moment I looked up on the book shelves and realized there were spaces behind the books. Starting on the top shelf, I pounded the books into the wall. Finally, when I reached “Moby Dick”, I found the predator. The bat went the way of Captain Ahab.

After many long fights, we finally reached the level of bat-free living. When the house was built, the top of the basement wall, which was cement blocks, was not capped. Once the bats got in, many years before, they were in the catacombs of the basement walls, free to live, breed, eat, sleep, make babies, and reek havoc. The final remedy was foam insulation sprayed into and filling each of the openings at the top of the block walls.

Bats really are cute. From a distance. Having that horrible experience, which actually lasted several years, taught me how to get rid of the bats that had taken up residence in the house we bought to remodel. Lots, and lots of bats. And squirrels.

Whose idea was it to put wings on a mouse anyway?

Shopping Protocol

Don’t you love running into people you know at the grocery store?  Not.  If we go to one of the big box stores, I will purposely try to avoid running into someone I know.  I’m not completely antisocial, at least I don’t think I am.  There are just some good reasons not to come in contact with people you know when you’re shopping.

Here is the question that drives me nuts, and I’ve never come across a good answer. When you come face to face with someone you know in the store, and then you see them again in another aisle, do you have to say something to them again?  “Hey!  Didn’t I just see you in frozen food?”  Or, do you just ignore them and take the risk of them being upset with you because you didn’t acknowledge that you saw them again, when you know full well they walked within two feet of you?

And here’s the next thing.  Can you keep yourself from looking at what they have in their cart?  I don’t think so.  Do you want someone looking at the things you have in your cart?  Oh, sure it’s fine if you’re buying milk, eggs, and fabric softener.  What if you need suppositories?  What if you just picked up some KY and you don’t have a bag of rice to hide it under? And what if you do look down into their cart, and you see what you know they don’t want you to see, but you know they know you saw what they don’t want you to see.  Now what do you do?  “Oh, I didn’t see anything!  I didn’t look down! I didn’t see that?”

“What do you mean?  What didn’t you see?”

“Nothing!  I didn’t see anything!”

Don’t act like this hasn’t ever happened to you, unless you’re one of those people who order online and have everything delivered.  Which is fine, but now you’re not going to have the pleasure of running into people you know at the grocery store, and that part of your life is going to be robbed.

So, I’m going to propose some answers for the big retail companies to put in place immediately.

  • All shopping carts should be enclosed with tarps that prevent anyone from seeing inside.  Now you can buy all of those secrets to your heart’s content and no one will know.  On the front of the cart should be the words, “Don’t even think about it.”
  • Every store should have a huge shopping protocol banner on display so no one feels undue pressure to be social.  Here are some must-have rules:
    • In our store, no one knows anyone.  No one has to say “Hi.”
    • If you do choose to say “Hi,” only say it once.  If you see the person again, ignore them.
    • If you do choose to speak to someone a second time, the following are suggested comments you can use to avoid awkwardness.
      • “I hate shopping.”
      • “Have you seen my mother?  I’ve lost her somewhere.” (Doesn’t have to be true.)
      • “I can’t find wheat germ.  Do you know where it is?”
    • Aisle conversation limit – 30 seconds.

Shopping does not have to be traumatic.  It will be much less so if you are always shopping among complete strangers.  Acting like others are strangers makes them so. Problem solved!

But, what about the cashier?  They see your stuff.  And don’t you just hate it when they comment on what you’re buying?  “Oh, I love these!”  Makes you want to say, “Well, open the package and take one!”

The big item for next time:  If you see someone who has something in their nose, are you obligated to tell them?

Until our next post, happy shopping!

Where’s my coffee?!



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?

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


Coffee Makes It Better

Coffee makes everything better.  Not feeling well?  Coffee.  Worried?  Coffee.  Need to get to work?  Coffee.  Don’t have a job?  Coffee.  Hate your job?  Coffee. The only thing that really makes coffee better is whether it’s made or purchased. 

Coffee is like salads.  Have you ever wondered why salads taste so much better when someone else makes them?  You might have all of the same ingredients at home in the fridge, but no matter what you do, it just doesn’t taste as good as when that beautiful salad is placed before you at your favorite restaurant.

Coffee works the same way.  Sure, you can make a pot at home.  You might even have one of those fancy pod coffee makers.  Pop in the pod, close the lid, push a button, and slurp, drip, sputter, spit, you’ve got hot coffee.  Sorry, it’s just not as good as when you drive up to the window after reciting your order, “Grande, decaf, nonfat, mocha, extra shot of espresso, extra hot.”  Can you really make that at home?  I don’t think so. “Would you like something to eat with that?” “Sure, I’ll take a Danish, warmed up.”  Ahh, now you’re talking.

Writing cannot be done effectively unless coffee is involved.  Honestly, if you’re seeking an agent, editor, or publisher and haven’t had much success, I would take a serious, long look at what kind of coffee you’re drinking.  If you don’t drink coffee at all…I don’t know what to tell you.

Best of luck to all you writers.  (Writers really include anyone who is living and paying attention, and in some way making a note of it.)

Enjoy your coffee.

-Dale Parsons