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.

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 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.

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.

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!

Thirty-Day Blog Posting Challenge

I challenged myself to a thirty-day blogograma. This is day six. I tried this once before. Bust. This time, I am determined to follow through.

Why do this? Blogging is work. I’m talking about writing that means something. Okay, that’s judgmental and I apologize. All writing means something to someone, even if it’s only the person who put their fingers on the keys and actually pushed them down.

I haven’t done the research, so I don’t know where the term “blog” came from. I probably shouldn’t admit that, but there it is, out in the open. Maybe it’s an acronym, something like: Boisterous Longitudinal Ostentatious Gushings. No, it has to be better than that.

Begin Lasting Outreach Gatherings. Now that might be good for a church blog. Especially in relation to restarting face-to-face, or side-to-side, or mask-to-mask, or six-feet-to-six-feet-space-box gatherings.

How about Breaking Long Obvious Goofs. You know, writing about the kinds of things that have been around forever, but no one knows why and no one bothers to find out. However, if you do actually take a step to question something that has been around since there was dirt, you are attacked, despised, slandered, unfriended, blocked, unfollowed, and otherwise placed on the poop list, so you just know it would be better to leave it alone. It’s always been there, so stay away.

Maybe it’s Blending Life’s Occasional Grandeur. Good things do happen to everybody, at least a few times. A blog is a way to rake it all together and give it a title.

Blunders Long Overlooked Glowing. It could be a blog about the funny mistakes people have made that should be remembered. Oh, wait. We already have that! They’re called “Fails”! Millions and millions of fails.

Better Leave Our Group is a blog you send to someone by insinuation. You write an obscure message that seems to maybe be saying something, sort of, that a person just might take to mean their departure from a social group is desired. It contains plausible deniability because the message can’t be pinned on an individual.

Because Love Outlasts Grief. That could be a good one.

Where did I leave my coffee?

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.

Staying Sane in Isolation

Everyone likes a little alone-time, at least once in a while, but this is ridiculous. Even for those who are introverts, this command to stay home is a challenge.

If we’re going to stay sane while all this is happening to our country and the world, we have to find ways to break up the weeks, days, and hours. If we don’t, the minutes are going to drag by and misery will be a constant companion.

We may have projects we’ve been wanting to complete, but now that we have extra time, can’t find the motivation to actually do it. So, an answer might be to try something totally out of your normal experience. Are you a dancer? No? Then give it a try. Put some music on, (maybe start with something slow and soft so you don’t break anything, either furniture or bones), and let yourself go. You may create something totally new. If you feel inhibited, even better. Press on! Let your imagination be your partner. You might really surprise yourself.

Are you a builder? No? Then go out in the garage and find some scrap pieces of wood, and build something. Anything! Even if it’s just a frame with four pieces of wood nailed together so it’s square.

Are you a writer? No? Then get busy writing. “What should I write about?” you ask? Anything! Write about how your toothpaste tastes. Write about blades of grass and how you love seeing it beginning to grow in the spring but hate to mow it once it gets tall enough. Write about an ant named Bob. Bob is shorter than the other ants his age because he has a condition that hinders his growth. He also has hair on his head. No ants have hair.

Do you sew? No? Here’s a huge challenge. Find an old shirt or blouse that you’ll never wear again, and carefully cut it apart on the seams. Cut the sleeves off, the buttons, and the collar. Now, put it all back together. If you don’t have a sewing machine, all the better. Find a needle and thread and do it by hand.

Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

Do you draw? No? Get a piece of paper and a pencil and start drawing. The challenge is not to say, “That looks stupid.” Just do it. Keep your self-doubt voice quiet. You may discover you’re a natural.

Do you have boxes and boxes of photos? Sort them in some meaningful order. Put all vacation pictures together. Put family reunion pictures together. Or, put photos together by colors people are wearing.

Use your imagination. You can come up with something, a project, a plan, a design, a dream. You might come out of this isolation with a new way of thinking that could really change your life.