Discover Prompts Day 10: Orchestrate

I have loved directing choirs for many years. I was in college the first time I directed, and had no idea what I was doing. I sang in choirs for many years so I just did what I saw others do. It worked, and I was hooked.

In three cities where we lived, I orchestrated community choirs to perform benefit concerts to raise money for needy families during the holidays. It was great fun, and since our church was too small to have a choir, it gave me an opportunity to lead a large group of singers.

In the first town, I had no idea whether I could get enough people to join us. I bought an ad space in the local newspaper announcing the choir project and the response was terrific. We worked for a few months on a musical that was popular at the time, and gave two nights of performances. The community attended and the people were very generous. The next year we performed the same musical again, and the great response was repeated.

There is something wonderful about singing with a big group of people. To me, nothing else can match it. Directing a choir like that is an amazing experience.

The second town where we orchestrated a community choir was very small, but once again, the response was amazing. People from many backgrounds joined together, working hard each week to provide a great performance. The crowd was incredible, the singing was powerful. The results were touching, families were helped. The following year, people once again showed how much they cared about their neighbors in need. The third year, my wife and I had the privilege of performing a benefit concert during the holidays. The response from the community was overwhelming.

In the third town, the church where I was the pastor was much larger, so we had a bigger group to start with. Our invitation to the community was received enthusiastically and we built a large choir. This time, we performed a powerful musical of Southern Gospel orchestration, which is my favorite. What a great time we had! We used that same musical at camp meetings during the summer and the crowds loved it.

Perhaps the most challenging project, which brought amazing results, was coordinating a musical performance composed of people from thirty different churches. The most difficult part was that each group of people had to rehearse by themselves until the day of our performance. The musical we performed was “God With Us”, a powerful and moving orchestration by Don Moen. Everyone worked very hard. We had one rehearsal an hour before the performance. I wish I could adequately describe it. Overwhelming. Magical. Powerful. Incredible. It was one great night I will never forget.

Having the opportunity to direct many choirs over the years has been a tremendous gift. The only musical training I have is 9 1/2 years of piano lessons. So, the singers in the choirs I directed were very patient with me because I obviously didn’t know what I was doing. I just loved singing and getting other people to sing seemed easy.

Here is one secret I always shared with my choirs. If you get the beginning, the key changes, and the end right, the crowd will think you’re fantastic. If you make a mistake, as long as you don’t make a face, no one will ever know.

I was talking about music, but that secret seems like a great plan for living.

Magical Mackinac Island, Michigan

One of our absolute favorite destinations rests between the Lower and Upper Peninsulas of our Great State of Michigan. It is Mackinac Island.

Mackinac Island is a perfect combination of shopping, eating, walking, bike-riding, sight seeing, and history.

The beauty of the Island is hard to describe, but very difficult to match. Less than a thousand people live on the Island year round, but many hundreds of thousands visit each year. There are no motorized vehicles allowed, so bicycles, horse-drawn carriages, and your own legs are your choices.

There are many beautiful privately owned homes on the Island. Some are open as Bed & Breakfasts. Many amazing hotels are available, but booking far in advance is recommended.

We have enjoyed many trips to the Island and wish we could return more often. There is nothing quite like waking to the sound of horses clip-clopping along the street. You won’t really catch a sense of the ambience of the Island unless you spend at least one night. When the last tourist has taken a ferry to the mainland, the feeling on the Island changes. It is truly magical.

Grand Hotel is perhaps the best known destination on Mackinac Island.

We love riding bikes around the Island. The village is usually busy, but when we ride past Mission Point Resort the crowds disappear. The beauty of the lake is indescribable. It is an easy nine-mile ride to complete the trip around Mackinac Island.

When we stay on the Island, I love getting up early in the morning and riding my bike along the quiet streets. The workers are delivering items to stores and restaurants. The horses are moving along slowly, seemingly oblivious to the excitement that will be bursting in just a short time.

This is our favorite spot on Mackinac Island. J.L. Beanery Coffee House. They offer a fantastic menu of sandwiches and soups, and of course a wide variety of coffee drinks. It’ a wonderful place!

Our love of Mackinac Island began nearly fifty years ago when, just two months into our nearly life-long relationship, we spent the weekend with five hundred other teens in a church-sponsored junior-senior celebration. We’ve been going back ever since.

We found this 1968 Mackinac Island bicycle license in an antique store and had to have it. I painted the Round Island Lighthouse on a rock from the shore. These bring back memories of Mackinac Island.

Round Island Lighthouse may be the best known image of Mackinac, after Grand Hotel. Tourists are not allowed to visit the lighthouse, but cannot miss it as they approach Mackinac Island on the ferries.

Whether you visit Mackinac Island for a day, a week, or just a few hours, you will be hooked. Mackinac Island will capture your heart, as it did ours, and will become part of your family forever.

You Can Make Delicious Biscuits

There is a trick to making great biscuits. The care you give the dough makes all the difference in the world. Handle it roughly, you’ll be disappointed. Gentleness will be rewarded the flakiness and great taste.

The ingredients are few and simple:

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda (only if you use buttermilk)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons shortening
3/4 cup buttermilk (or plain milk, but leave out the baking soda)

Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Using a pastry fork or a regular fork, mix the shortening into the dry ingredients until crumbly.

Add the milk all at once. Mix together. Make sure all the dry ingredients are mixed into the dough. The dough will be sticky.

Put the dough on a floured surface. Sprinkle some extra flour over the top of the dough.

GENTLY kneed the dough, adding just a little extra flour. Fold the dough two or three times, and that’s all. (The more you handle it, the tougher the biscuits will be.)

You can either pat the dough out using your hands, or use a floured rolling pin. The dough should be about 1/2 inch thick.

Use a biscuit cutter, placing the biscuits on a non-greased cookie sheet. (If you don’t have a biscuit cutter, you can drop spoonfuls of dough on the pan, but do this before kneeding or adding extra flour).

Bake the biscuits in a 425 degree oven for 12-15 minutes.

The recipe can be doubled, tripled, whatever you need!

If you add some sugar, the biscuits are more like shortcake. Delicious!

Of course, biscuits are best with coffee!

Make Pancakes Like a Chef

Are your pancakes something to be avoided? Do you find them hidden around the house after your family is finished eating? Have you thought about using your pancakes for coasters? Can your pancakes stand on edge? Could they be used for shelf markers at the local library?

You too can make pancakes like a chef in a fancy restaurant.

Great pancakes are easy to make, but if you stumble into just a few common mistakes, your pancakes will be used for shoe leather. Promise.

I have been making pancakes since I was nine years old. That, uh, was a very long time ago. But it seems like yesterday.

There are a couple of secrets. I use the word “secrets” because there are many people who, evidently, have not discovered the simple secrets to making fantastic pancakes.

The first secret, oh, so important, is:

You must have a very HOT griddle!

I turn an electric griddle to 400, as high as it will go. I use the highest flame on our gas stove.

Ok, let’s start at the beginning, now that you know your griddle or pan has to be very, very hot.

1. The recipe is not the most important part! You can make fantastic pancakes using a mix. I use a buttermilk mix to which I only have to add water. Delicious!

2. Secret #2 – Test the griddle! The griddle or pan is not hot enough until drops of water dance on it! Wet your hand, flick the water at the pan. If the drops don’t dance on the griddle, it’s not hot.

3. Secret #3 – DO NOT add the water (or liquid ingredients if using a scratch recipe) to the mix until the griddle is ready!

4. Secret #4 – LUMPS ARE NOT YOUR ENEMY! Lumps are not to be sought out and destroyed! DO NOT beat the crap out of the batter! Using a fork for stirring, add the liquid ingredients, mix it over a few times, make sure there isn’t a bunch of dry mix on the bottom of the bowl. Then leave it alone! Don’t give in to the temptation to stir it again!

5. Secret #5 – After preparing the griddle with cooking spray or butter, use a small ladle or a 1/4 cup measure to pour batter on the HOT griddle. You will want to spray the griddle again after two batches.

6. SECRET #6 – ATTENTION PLEASE!! ATTENTION!! ONLY FLIP THE PANCAKES ONCE!!! ONCE!!! AND DON’T EVER, EVER, EVEN THINK ABOUT TOUCHING THE TOP OF THE PANCAKE WITH YOUR FLIPPER!! Don’t wait until the bubbles pop, or crust forms on the edge, or until a buzzer goes off. With a very hot griddle, you only have to wait a few minutes and side one is done. If they are not dark enough, DON’T FLIP THEM BACK OVER, EVER! Just wait a little longer for the next batch.

Put the finished cakes on a cookie in the oven (already prepared) at 175 degrees.

Put a stack on your plate, add butter, syrup, fruit, yogurt, whipped cream, or anything else you want, and enjoy! Your family is going to think a French chef has come to live with them. They’ll say, “What have you done?! Who made these?!” Of course, the temptation to slap them should be resisted.

That is how you make delicious, non-frisbee, non-shoe leather, non-hockey puck, non-coaster pancakes.

Make sure you have plenty of coffee ready, too.

Ah, yes. Breakfast, the best part of your day, no matter what time it is!

Discover Prompt Day 7: The Desert Below

When I was young, my parents had friends who owned a cottage on beautiful Sanford Lake in Mid-Michigan. The lake provided swimming, boating, sailing, and fishing opportunities for many people in Michigan.

We enjoyed going to the lake and spent many weekends there. I learned how to water-ski on Sanford Lake. I don’t remember exactly where the cottage was, but I remember it being on the east side of the lake, right on the water. The wooden dock stretched out into the water and I loved watching the fish swimming below.

This is how Sanford Lake looks today. A desert, marked by tree stumps of many sizes that were hidden below the surface. They are evidence of water having buried them years before when the lake was created.

On May 19, 2020, torrential rains over many hours caused the water levels to rise in Wixom Lake, several miles to the north, and in Sanford Lake. Wixom Lake was held in place by the Edenville Dam. As the rains continued, the dam failed. A wall of water rushed down the Tittabawassee River, taking trees, boats, docks, and homes with it toward Sanford Lake.

Sanford Lake was a favorite destination for summer and winter sports enthusiasts.

Families were quickly devastated as the water and debris raced toward Sanford Lake. Within hours, the Sanford Dam also failed, releasing the lake from its boundaries, sending it crashing toward the City of Midland.

Two beautiful Michigan lakes were destroyed.

Business and property owners on Wixom and Sanford Lakes and the Tittabawassee River, as well as the residents of Midland, have a very long task ahead of them. I can’t imagine the lakes ever being restored, but then again, the two dams were constructed creating the two lakes. The Edenville Dam was built in 1924. The Sanford Dam was built in 1925. (Wikipedia).

I drove to Sanford and Edenville today. I wanted to see what is left for myself. Memories.

I wish the desert below could have remained covered.

Open Spaces

The old train station above is near our home town. I have spent many hours sitting in the parking lot, watching trains go by. I always have a cup of coffee. Some days I see two or three trains, if I’m lucky. There have been plenty of times when I didn’t see any.

My wife and I actually took line-dancing lessons in the depot several years ago. I don’t know if I can remember enough to do the dances now, but it was sure fun then. The most fun was hearing the rumble of trains rushing past as we danced the hours away.

The old pictures at the top are fascinating. The top left photo shows two sets of track, perpendicular in the foreground. The tracks running left and right (north and south) are no longer there. The east-west track is still operational and trains run past the old station about fifteen times each day.

Why does a train station say “wide open spaces”? Because the track doesn’t end. The destination is the rider’s imagination. The explorer can ride as long as desire remains. There is nothing more wide open.

There is some restlessness in every individual. Some step into discovery, others hide from the unknown. Wide open spaces can build confidence and experience expands trust.

Joke

I’m very new to the WordPress Discover Prompt. In fact, I’m two months late! Day 1 for April 1st was Joke. We’re encouraged to share the most recent joke we heard.

The real joke was that my sister can’t remember jokes. She started in on one two days ago, and before she was three minutes into the story, she had to go back and start again. The story was told on YouTube by a leading actor as a lockdown entertainment.

“A frog went into a bank for a loan. The loan officer, Mr. Pattiwack, was not very helpful and continually refused to give the frog a loan. The frog took a small trinket from his pocket and handed it to Mr. Pattiwack. ‘What is this?’ he asked. ‘It’s collateral for the loan’ said the frog. The loan officer continued to refuse. ‘Mick Jager is my father,’ said the frog. ‘I don’t care who your father is,’ said Mr. Pattiwack. ‘I demand to see the bank manager!’ yelled the frog. The loan officer was exasperated and ushered the frog into the manager’s office.

‘This frog is demanding a loan. All he has to offer for collateral is this ceramic elephant,’ as he handed it to the bank manager. ‘He says his father is Mick Jager, but I told him we didn’t care’ said the loan officer.

The bank manager looked at the trinket, looked at the frog, and then said, “It’s a Knick-knack Pattiwack! Give the frog a loan! His old man’s a Rolling Stone!”

Many years ago I told my grandmother a joke she didn’t get. “What do you call a cow with no legs?” I asked. “I don’t know,” she replied. “Ground beef!” She laughed politely, but the laughter was missing something.

Over a year later, I asked my grandmother again, “What do you call a cow with no legs?” “Hamburger!” she said, and all of a sudden she burst out laughing hysterically. She cried she was laughing so hard. “I didn’t get it. Ground beef! Hamburger! Hahahaha!!!!” We still laugh about that. Grandma has been gone for twenty years.

Someone said laughter is good like medicine. I believe it.

How to Brew the Best Cup of Coffee

If you enjoy coffee as much as I do, then coffee is on your mind throughout the day. Finishing one cup just means the pleasure of looking forward to the next has begun.

Enjoying coffee to the fullest requires care in choosing the perfect mug. Don’t just grab something from the cupboard. Think. The handle, weight, lip, and appearance of the mug are all very important.

Are you most comfortable using the same mug every day, or do you prefer variety? I could live with two or three rather than a cupboard full.

The most important factor in choosing a mug is the thought and feeling it inspires. Do you prefer a message on your mug, or do you like blank space? Your mug should not contribute to the pressures of the day. It should comfort and calm. My first mug of choice is tall, with a pleasing weight and handle. The inscription is, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey.” My second choice is my tall mug that simply says, “Papa”.

However you choose to brew your coffee, it should provide you with a steaming, flavorful, cup that tastes great from the first sip to the last.

This antique Pyrex percolator works perfectly on our gas stove. The brewing coffee fills the kitchen with an incredible aroma.

For a six-cup pot, fill it to the line with fresh cold water. Add the stem and basket. Place a round paper filter in the bottom of the basket. Use three heaping teaspoons of ground coffee, maybe a little more, or less, depending on your choice of strength. Place the cover on the basket, and the top on the pot. You’re ready for heat. Put the pot on a medium flame, and wait for the magic to begin.

The beautiful thing about our Pyrex percolator is watching the coffee drip through the basket and slowly turning the clear water to brown. Once the perk is constant, the flame should be turned down to low, not simmer, because the perking will almost stop completely. The coffee should be allowed to perk for five minutes and then removed from the heat. Delicious!

A perfectly brewed, delicious pot of coffee.

Do you enjoy your coffee black, or do you use cream and sugar, or just cream, or just sugar? Do you really doctor it with flavored cream? If so, what is your favorite? We used cream and sugar for many years, but now prefer black.

Are you okay with coffee that isn’t hot? When my coffee begins to lose it’s edge, I nuke it. I know, I know. To some people, nuking coffee destroys it. I don’t believe so. I prefer sipping hot, hot coffee. Nothing tepid.

When I do have the pleasure of going to Starbucks, I usually order a Grande Mocha, Extra-hot. I used to request 190 degrees. One time the server said, “And here’s your insanely hot mocha.” What can I say? I like it hot.

The Keurig coffee maker is an easy and fast way to a good cup of coffee. It does provide aroma, but not as much as a percolator on the stove.

For coffee to be enjoyed fully, thought needs to be given to the brewing process. A clean coffee pot, or automatic coffee maker, is very important.

Coffee is a partner in life. If it is given time, is appreciated, and thoughtfully enjoyed, the pleasure returned will be amazing.

Oh wow, my cup is cold.

Ice Cream Research

We lived in Texas for several years. While there we were surprised to learn the term “Cokes” refers to any carbonated drink. At a restaurant, the server asked, “What kind of Cokes do you want?” We’ll have Sprite, or Dr. Pepper, or Root Beer. Sprite Cokes, Dr. Pepper Cokes, Root Beer Cokes. That was Texas.

There are two things you don’t mess with. One is coffee, the other is ice cream. I have had coffee all over the country, and a few other countries. The coffee in Louisiana is served “dark” or “light”. The dark is heavy enough you can almost stand a spoon up in it. Good stuff. In Australia we asked for coffee with cream. The waiter looked at us like we were crazy. She brought us coffee with a bowl of whipped cream. There, you ask for flat white, long black, short black. Not coffee with cream. Gracious.

Ice cream is a serious matter. So serious, that recently we began doing research. We investigated local Dairy Queen’s to discover whether they were creating a proper Mocha-Chip Blizzard. The first time we asked if they could make a Mocha Blizzard, since it wasn’t on the menu, they said, “Sure!”, like it was a stupid question. We were delighted. When we received the non-turned-upside-down blizzard, we were less-than thrilled. It was vanilla ice cream with little flecks of chocolate. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, we thought maybe the chocolate flecks were mocha flavored.

The unset of the research project required us to search out other Dairy Queen’s to discover whether the first Dairy Queen had made a mistake. When we visited another DQ, we asked the same question, and received the same response. We were thrilled to receive a golden-brown swirl of ice cream, standing tall in the cup, about a half-inch above the rim filled with the familiar chocolate flecks. It was delicious! A rich espresso flavor. We knew we were on the right track.

So, that meant we were required, of course, in the interest of proper scientific discovery, to revisit the original DQ, to inquire about their ingredients for what they called the Mocha Chip Blizzard. Obviously, to do a proper statistical investigation, to find whether the null hypothesis was true with regard to the number of chocolate flecks that were in each blizzard, we would have to completely melt the blizzard, count the chocolate flecks, then do the same with a Mocha Chip Blizzard from the first DQ. We decided our research would not reach to that depth. Taste preference would be enough.

At great risk, we took one of our grandsons with us, back to the original Dairy Queen, for the final test. We ordered two Mocha Chip Blizzards, and an Oreo Reeses-Pieces Blizzard for our grandson. When we arrived at the drive-thru window, I asked how their Mocha Chip Blizzard was made. The server said, “With Tiramasu Sauce and Chocolate Chips.”

Once again, we were disappointed. There was no noticeable espresso or tiramisu flavor. Only the familiar chocolate flecks.

At long-last, our ice cream research was complete. The second Dairy Queen served a proper Mocha Chip Blizzard, with a deep and wonderful coffee flavor, enhanced by the chocolate flecks. The original DQ needs to work on what they refer to as a Mocha Chip Blizzard. Like I said, don’t mess with ice cream.

Speaking of coffee, I need some.

How to Eat McDonald’s Pancakes in Your Car

There is a proper way to eat pancakes in your car. Get it wrong, and you’re going to have a mess, all over your lap. You’ll have to go home and change and be late for work.

Eating pancakes on your lap is not for the faint of heart. You have to be bold, willing to take a risk, unafraid, ready for action. You’ve come to the right place to learn the steps to successfully enjoying McDonald’s pancakes, in your car, regardless of weather, while listening to your favorite radio station, savoring each bite, and overcoming the sadness when it’s gone.

The photo is a little deceiving. McDonald’s pancakes only come in threes.

Step one: Find the right McDonald’s. You have to know where it is, how to get there, when it opens, and where to park. You don’t want any sense of anxiety before you even get your pancakes.

Step two: Your order – “I would like pancakes, without sausage (that’s important), EXTRA SYRUP, and a medium coffee with two creams.” It’s best to memorize the script before you order for the first time. If you stumble during the order, you might end up with donut.

Step three: Sitting up straight, remove the pancakes from the bag, and place the plastic tray on your lap. No need to put a napkin tablecloth on your lap. The container is tough enough to keep anything from seeping through onto your clothes.

This is vitally important! Do not open the flip-top on your coffee until you are ready to begin eating. The proper coffee temperature is necessary for the entire experience to be enjoyed fully. Preparation, ready, set, flip-top, eat. In that order.

Step four: (The remaining steps should be completed quickly, so it is important to have everything at hand before you begin.) Open your knife and fork. Unfold your napkin. Pull the tops back on your two packs of butter. Carefully open ONE syrup. Now, and only now, remove the top from your pancakes.

Step five: Place one dob of butter between the pancakes, place the remaining dob on top. Pour the entire syrup container over the pancakes.

Step six: Enjoy your delicious, mouthwatering, perfectly prepared pancakes. Only after a few bites, open the second syrup pack and pour it onto the area you have already cut. This will cause the syrup to seep into the pancakes.

Warning: I do NOT recommend using your knife. You will risk cutting through the plate without knowing it, and a small seepage of syrup will drip onto your clothes. You will not discover this until you are in your business meeting and doing your presentation before the board of directors. They won’t be listening to you. They’ll be staring at the syrup.

Step seven: When you are finished eating, you will obviously feel a sense of loss. This is to be expected. It is normal. However, what you do now will determine how the disappointment affects you long-term. Here is the key: As you sip your still-hot coffee, immediately begin thinking about the next time you will have pancakes in your car at McDonald’s. If it helps, write it down on a sticky-note and put it on your dash. Now you will begin to feel better as you look forward to your next trip.

The world would be a happier place if everyone took time for McDonald’s pancakes!

There you have it. You can now enjoy McDonald’s pancakes in your car, on your lap. Savor it!

You’ll have to excuse me now. I have to find a McDonald’s.