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.

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.

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.

Discover Prompt Day 16: Slow Down!

It’s really a struggle to stop and take a breather with all of the demands and screaming voices coming from every direction. Sometimes we have to slow down just to maintain sanity, or at least try.

I have always found the lakeshore to be very calming. With the rolling of the waves and constantly changing reach of water on the sand it’s easy to be taken in. It’s the same mesmerizing sense that takes over when I’m watching a campfire.

Music has always been a source of comfort. I have an Earl Klugh station on the music app I use that I love. Earl Klugh is an incredible jazz guitarist I have enjoyed for over forty years. Sometimes songs cycle through I don’t care for, but I have “liked” enough of Klugh’s songs that they frequently return. His fingers expertly dancing on nylon strings creates a magical sound with a calming effect much like the sound of waves rolling on the shore.

I like having my station playing when I’m working on my life-long hobby of model railroading. You would think a hobby like that would be relaxing, and it is, mostly, but sometimes its frustrating. Having music playing is helpful except when I stop what I’m working on and just listen. Sometimes the work is slow and tedious but the rewards are incredible. Listening to jazz guitar helps me maintain a slow pace and resist the urge to rush.

Another kind of music that helps us tremendously, especially when we need to slow down, is worship music. We love Elevation Worship and Hillsong United. (This is not a sales pitch! We have no connection to either one. We just enjoy their music). Amazing, encouraging, inspiring, calming, reassuring.

Our miniature golden-doodle, constantly at our side, is a great source of comfort. She can nap at any time, in any situation, no matter what is happening around us. We try to follow her example.

With every sunset I’m reminded that trouble won’t last forever. Hope is renewed with every sunrise. Time for more coffee.

Discover Prompts Day 15: The Scent of Lilacs

In my mind, there is nothing more rewarding, after a very long, cold, dreary, mind-numbing, blustery, bone-chilling, limb-freezing, lip-cracking, brainless, heartless, endless, blizzard-loving winter than the scent of lilacs. Lilacs are the gift of spring. Lilacs call to us with welcoming words, “I’ve been waiting for you! You’re finally here! This amazing fragrance is just for you!”

In our area, lilac buds begin to open around the third week of April. It’s a dangerous time for them because the night temperatures can easily dip below freezing and damage the young blossoms. I have tried placing plastic over the bushes to protect them but found the plastic did more damage than the cold. Now I just leave them and hope for the best.

We have four young lilac bushes in our yard. We have taken lilacs with us when we moved in the past, as long as the plants weren’t too big. We were successful with most of them. At our last house we had a beautiful lavender color bush that produced gorgeous blossoms every year. We had moved it from our previous house, but it became so large we had to leave it when we moved again.

When lilacs are young they have to be watered often. It’s important for the small roots to stretch out thoroughly. Soon the plant will thrive and be able to gather enough moisture without constant care. The leaves are beautiful, but nothing matches the beauty and scent of the flowers.

The sad part about the lilac blossom is that they do not last very long. Once the clusters are fully open, the flowers will last about a week, maybe a little longer. We carefully cut some to enjoy indoors.

Our favorite flower colors are white and lavender. There are several different varieties of lilacs, and I can’t name them. I just know the ones we like best, not by the name, but by the appearance of the blossom. There is a variety with a deep lavender and white blossom that does not have the strong fragrance of the lighter lavender and the white. Even the white does not have the rich fragrance of the lavender, but it is still amazing.

Lilac bushes love to spread, and depending on the variety can grow quite tall. If you do not want the bush to spread out, you will want to clip or move the young plants that begin to appear in the ground around the main bush. You can dig out the young shoots and replant them. With plenty of water and good soil, they will develop roots and grow.

Of course, nothing goes better with the incredible scent of lilacs than a delicious cup of coffee. Coffee is the gift of every day like lilacs are the gift of spring.

Discover Prompts Day 14: Book

“The Good, The Bad, and The Funny.” That was the name I gave to the first book I ever wrote. I’ve written four.

People have a great capacity to believe all kinds of things. Belief is a stretch into the unknown with a hope of something better. Sometimes the things people believe make no sense to anyone else. Hindsight perspective should be available beforehand. But, if it were available before, it wouldn’t be hindsight, would it? Others who have believed the same things but no longer do can warn or try to help those with present belief, but if the believing ones don’t hold fast, that may be seen as a lack of belief. Unfortunate. In some cases, tragic.

Sometimes belief becomes so strong all common sense is lost. Reason is tossed away like an old pair of shoes. Even in the face of undeniable evidence, which at some point becomes an enemy, nothing turns the believing one around. At that point, to some he is a hero. To others, he’s a lunatic.

The book was an exercise in self-therapy. I did try to get it published but was turned down many times. I received a letter from a secretary of a publishing house to whom I had submitted the manuscript. She said, “I’m not supposed to do this, but I wanted to tell you your manuscript really shook them up. You hit some nerves. I just thought you should know that.” The manuscript is still in my filing cabinet. Typewritten.

“One Plus One Equals Three” is the story of our life with four children. In 1984, we were blessed with triplet sons. Totally unexpected, we found out my wife was carrying three a week before they were born, ten weeks early.

The boys came home from the neonatal intensive care unit after 6, 8, and ten weeks of constant care. During that time we visited the hospital every single day, sometimes twice in the day. We didn’t find out until a month after our last son finally came home the doctors didn’t expect him to live through the first weekend. He did. They are thirty-six years old.

I have read more books in the last four years than I read in the past forty, which doesn’t speak well of my dedication to reading early on. Books can be a wealth of imagination and discovery.

“Camp’s Over, Now What?” I wrote this manuscript as a result of many years of youth work. Young people are incredibly emotional people. It’s a shame we tend to lose that enthusiasm and emotion as we get older. I wrote a column many years ago (I had a weekly column in a small-town newspaper for two years) about how we need to put our jammies on again. Life is wonderful, anything is possible, people can fly when they’re wearing their jammies.

The book is about young people being overcome with emotion, declaring they will change their school, their friends, and never be the same again. They soon discover the emotion doesn’t last, and they’re convinced nothing has changed at all. Someone should have told them, (us), the emotion wouldn’t last. However, decisions can last forever.

“Smivey Stepward” is my first middle grade novel, book one of my Smivey Stepward series. Smivey is a red haired, freckle faced, 7th grader, in love with Elizabeth since first grade, a girl he has never spoken to. Gretchen (Smivey calls her “Gretch”) drives him crazy.

Smivey lives in an old house that was a funeral home owned by his maternal great grandparents, Ira and Irvina Hipplemeyer. He thinks the house is haunted. His dad and mom are weird. His dad is co-owner of Stepward & Sons Hardware with his grandfather, Archie Stepward. His dad thinks only of the store and believes Smivey does too. He’s wrong.

Smivey’s best friend, Larry Murfin, is everything Smivey wants to be. He lives on a dairy farm, has a dog, a truck, and his mom can whistle really loud. Larry wishes he could change places with Smivey. The two boys have been inseparable since 2nd grade when they both threw up on their desks at the same time.

I’m working on finding a literary agent. She’s out there just waiting for this one.

I need coffee.

Discover Prompts, Day 13: Teach

When I think about my teachers, there are two who always come to mind. And, I suspect, they always will. Both were at the same school, Mackinaw Middle School in Saginaw, Michigan.

Both teachers came into my life when I was in the 5th grade. The impact of events during that school year have kept the memories new. Mrs. Vassold was my classroom teacher. Looking back now, she wasn’t old, but she seemed so then. Of course, to a ten-year-old, adults all seem old.

Mrs. Vassold was a caring, kind, and encouraging teacher. Everything seemed doable in her class. She had a real gift of instilling confidence in her students, something that I lacked. I didn’t realize until many years later how much Mrs. Vassold meant to me. As I think of her now, there is still a sense of calm connected to my memory of her.

Harry B. Wallerstein was our middle school band teacher. He was another educator with a gift of reaching into students’ hearts and planting seeds of confidence they might not otherwise ever experience. My chosen instrument was the cornet, which I played because my uncle had a horn I could use. It seemed like no time at all and our band was playing real songs. Mr. Wallerstein was my band teacher four years.

Mrs. Vassold and Mr. Wallerstein were on the same team. They may not have literally planned together, but the results of their teaching strategies and caring spirit changed lives forever.

Through many years of music experience, I am amazed at the music Mr. Wallerstein inspired us to play at such a young age. Those songs were tough! We played them beautifully. I’ll never forget Mr. Wallerstein playing a tape recording of a new song that had just burst on the airwaves. It was called, “Yesterday”, by Paul McCartney.

Mr. Wallerstein made learning music such fun. Every day he was on the lookout for students who were chewing gum, which was forbidden. Right in the middle of a song he would point at the offender and yell, “Ten cents!” He wrote their name on the board. There was always a long list. He collected all those dimes throughout the year. On the last day of school, he brought in a clawfoot tub, filled it with all kinds of pop and provided lots of potato chips. We were welcome to come in throughout the day, as many times as we wished.

I really didn’t realize how much I had learned from Mr. Wallerstein until I was asked to be a band director at a private school. The only training I had was what I had seen Mr. Wallerstein do. I did the same.

In 1997, I found Mr. Wallerstein’s address on the internet, he was living in Florida. I wrote him a letter, not knowing for sure if it was really Harry B. Wallerstein of Mackinaw Middle School fame. My letter began, “Dear Mr. Wallerstein, my name is Dale Parsons. From 1963 to 1967, I was in your band. I don’t know if you’ll remember me…” I was thrilled beyond words when I received a several page, hand-written letter. “Dear Dale, of course I remember you! When I read your name, I immediately saw your face…” I still have that letter and will always treasure it.

A few years ago, I looked up Mr. Wallerstein on the internet again. This time, I found a picture and a record of his obituary. I have looked for Mrs. Vassold over the years, but since I don’t know her first name, I have never been able to find any record of her.

Now, more than fifty-five years later, I can still see their faces. Mr. Wallerstein and Mrs. Vassold. I remain thankful for all my teachers, but these two have a high place in my memory.

That year is etched in my mind forever. I was in Mrs. Vassold’s class, during Social Studies, and the principal spoke on the PA. “Staff and students, I am sorry to inform you that President John F. Kennedy has been assassinated.”

Discover Prompts Day 12: Feeling Light

One of the suggestions for writing about this Discover Prompt is recalling a time of feeling completely carefree and light. I gave that quite a bit of thought and I really can’t remember the last time I felt completely carefree.

We’re talking about a feeling. Feelings come and go. Who knows how many different feelings we have throughout the day? Feelings are affected by all kinds of things like appetite, weather, people, relationships, finances, caffeine, medications, hammers hitting fingers, entertainment, music, movies, conversations, news, social media, clouds, bills, illness, impressions, perspective, thoughts, possessions, lack of possessions, social conditions, religion, non-religion, education, emotions, bad coffee, good coffee, alcohol, smells, traffic, mechanical problems, temperature, rain, no rain, allergies, colds, flu, disappointments, expectations, hopes, dreams, plans, accomplishments, endings, beginnings, new surroundings, old surroundings, new jobs, old jobs, days off, weekends, Monday mornings, Friday nights, alarm clocks, time clocks, chimes, children, no children, parents, missing parents, driving, walking, thinking, purchasing, losing, acquiring, choosing, clean houses, dirty houses, embarrassment, gloating, plants, blossoms, leaves falling, leaves appearing, snowflakes, rain, water, having a boat, not have a boat, snow storms, snow days, lightning, thunder, ice, stubbing toes, getting lost, lights on, lights off, darkness, fire flies, wasps, mosquitoes, fish, dogs, cats, guinea pigs, ants in the house, spiders, centipedes, chocolate, lack of chocolate, politics, oil changes, car washes, flat tires, motor homes, travel trailers, flying, landing, waiting on a tarmac, trips being canceled, getting fired, getting hired, layoffs, hirebacks, recalls, refunds, overcharges, cold food, cold coffee, cold tea, restaurants closed, pizza, bad pizza, Tweets, posts, stats, likes, dislikes, memes, non-memes, misunderstandings, understanding, Instagrams, Snap-Chats, comprehending, confusing, concealing, revealing, knowing, not knowing, finding, dogs barking, dogs licking, cat tongues, cats purring, water boiling, cold water, clean clothes, body odor, dirty fingernails, and living.

To be totally carefree, one would either have to be an infant, which is not really being carefree but to be unaware of cares, or not be living.

Feeling light, whatever that means, evidently is something different. Someone said that seeking happiness as a goal is a mistake. If feeling light is feeling happy, than great. But happiness comes and goes from one moment to the next, depending on what’s happening around you. Being generally satisfied could be equated with happiness, and if it is, you’ll probably say you are mostly happy, if you are satisfied.

If you are consumed with dissatisfaction, can’t get enough, no matter what you have it’s not enough, then you probably feel like happiness is always just beyond your reach. There is nothing wrong with reaching, striving, working, growing, improving, but not with the price of never feeling a sense of accomplishment where you are right now.

What I am striving for right now, is more coffee.