Monday, November 30, 2009

A Blessed Shopping Trip

Christmas is a time of "miracles". There are innumerable accounts of amazing things happening at this time of the year. I'm not going to mock God by saying that he "turns up the power" during the holiday season. As the Bible says God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

The reason His blessings are noted more at Christmas is because people are paying more attention to Him. It's a more "spiritual" time of the year. People are more romantic at Christmas. That's when God and His blessings suddenly become visible and are romanticized for human purposes. Ironically the acknowledgement of God at this time of year is really sin of denial of his ultimate and constant power.

I want to relate to you the story of a small but genuine blessing God bestowed upon my sister, Shari, and my niece, Teejai, while shopping this holiday weekend. The details may not be completely accurate (I'm telling this second hand as it was told to me) but they are relative to the story's wonderful ending.

Teejai is 12 years old and a middle school student. This past weekend Shari took her shopping for a dress to wear to an upcoming school dance called "The Snow Ball."Anyone who has ever had a preteen or teenage daughter can probably identify with this situation. This expense is not one a parent normally anticipates at this time of the year.

Shari wanted the experience to be a pleasant one. But a limited budget and potential differing opinion's of the "right dress" threatened to make it otherwise. With only $30 to spend my sister feared the task would be a down right disaster. She cast her worries up to God in the form of a small prayer as they went into the first of ,potentially, many stores.

The mother-daughter team searched for a dress they both liked and found one rather quickly. It was $34. A little over budget but Shari had a 15% off coupon. That would make a difference.

However the style of the dress required an over-the-shoulder shrug. They found one for $12. If necessary, Shari could spend a little more than she initially wanted to. In addition to the dress, shoes were needed. A $19 pair was found on sale for $14.99. The ensemble needed an accent necklace which was $6. It was the perfect accessory.

As they headed to the checkout counter Shari did some calculations in her head. Their purchase would add up to more than double the original budget. Despite the hope of the 15% off coupon Shari would be spending more than she had anticipated. She didn't mind. She wanted Teejai look nice to go to the dance; but wasn't sure where the extra money to cover the cost was going to come from. We've all been there.

As the store clerk scanned their items, Shari again said a little prayer to The Lord as she gave the girl the coupon. The cashier spent, what seemed to be, an eternity looking over the coupon carefully. A fear of being told she couldn't use the coupon gripped Shari's mind. She just knew she was going to have to pay full price for everything; more than double her budget.

When the register total button was pushed the clerk announced that their total was $29 and some change. It was UNDER $30. How could that be? My sister questioned the total and the clerk told her that in addition to the 15% off with the coupon all items in the store were on sale; 40% off. That was an additional 40% off.

"Mom are you all right?" Teejai asked as she saw Shari's eyes well up with tears. Shari paid the bill realizing that God had given her her first blessing of the Christmas season. Worried about it from the start, for my sister, it turned out to be a shopping trip she will never forget.

I called my sister and asked her if I could post this shopping trip story and she told me "Yes". She said it was an awesome experience and "shows that God is involved every detail of our lives; even the small things.".

Jesus said in Matthew chapter 10 that God know the details of our lives down to the number of hairs on our heads. In Psalms 139:3 David directs his writings toward God: "You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways." God knows us and loves us so much that he pays attention to our every detail of our lives.

This shopping story is typical of the way God blesses His children in everyday life. As Romans 8:28 assures us: And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. That's a frequently quoted verse but its familiarity doesn't effect it's degree of truth.

The shopping trip may not have been a life changing event but it did reflect and help make God's love real in the lives of my sister and my niece.

I pray that you will begin to pay more attention to and give thanks with a grateful heart the everyday blessing God brings to your life no matter the size. My goal is to do this a lot more myself; not only during the Christmas season but every day of the up coming year.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Productive Friday

With today being "Black Friday" I was one of those who chose not to fight the crowds in search of a bargin. I didn't even get up early. For the first time since I can remember I slept past 7AM this morning.

At 11 o'clock I put on my sneakers and walked my dog, Angel, to her appointment at the vet's office. She wasn't sick just had to get a check up and get her nails cut.

It was the first time since I've been walking the dogs that it was just her and me. It was a fun time.

The main thing I wanted to find out at the vet was how much Angel weighs now. I got her to sit on the scale and was very happy with the results. She now weights 54 pounds. She's lost 3 pounds since her last visit in September. She's lost a total of 13 pounds since I started taking her to the vet here in town.

That means she's lost 19.4% of her body weight over the last 18 months. That's equal to me losing 45 pounds. Dr. Thomas told me that when he first came into the examination room he wasn't sure she was the same dog because she looked so different. He gave both Angel and me "a gold star" .
When got back home from the vet I saw my wife outside cleaning out the flowerbeds. She wants them to be clean and looking nice so we can put up our outside Christmas decorations and lights in a couple of days. She worked off and on from noon until about 4:30 when it got dark. She got most of the job done. She put in a great day's work filling almost half a dozen large trash bags with weeds, trimmings and leaves.

We then went out to our storage barn and got some of the outside Christmas decorations. Paula wants to put them up tomorrow while I'm at work. She's really in the decorating spirit.

I spent the rest of the afternoon working on my CD copying project (more about that in a future post), paying the last of the bills for November, and cleaning out and organizing the closet where I keep all my vent stuff.

We also rearranged our temporary television set up. We have our bedroom TV in the living room because the big screen Samsung needs repairs. A repairman isn't coming until next Thursday. We moved the temp TV from the back left corner of the living room so we can put up the Christmas tree. We also moved the bedroom DVD to the living room so we can begin the 2009 Ron Havens' Holiday Film Festival. I'll explain that in tomorrow's post. We spent the rest of the evening watching Christmas specials on DVD

Today was the last day of my end-of-the-year vacation from work. Over the last 9 days I've only had to work one. Tomorrow I start back to my regular schedule with Thursday & Fridays off. That won't too bad because of how the holidays fall.

I also have 5 more vacation days to take in the month of December. I have 2 of them approved and have requested the other 3. If I don't use them I'll lose them. That's not going to happen if I can help it.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Unique Thanks

Today is the day the United States celebrates a day of Thanksgiving. Most Americans celebrate by eating a tremendous amount of food and spending time with family. A lot watch football. At one point or another voluntarily, or under the "we're not going to eat until everyone says what they're thankful for" pressure at the dinner table, today a major portion of Americans will express that for which they give thanks.

There is the usual list of things most commonly mentioned such as: family, friends, living in a country where we have so much freedom, having a job, ect.

While all of these things are important and are not diminished at all by the fact that they are most commonly mentioned when giving thanks. This year is different for me. In addition to the "common" list, I'm thankful for a few things that most people wouldn't mention.

I'm thankful for God's conviction through His word. Over the past year, through reading scripture and listening to bible based expository preaching, God has worked in my life and my heart has been changed. I have grown to where I can see God's perspective. I have learned that, as His child, it is my responsibility to obey what God tells me to do. I have learned that changing from my ways to God's ways is both an evidence of true faith in Christ and a process at the same time. The process which at most times is not easy or comfortable. But that's okay. I've come to a place in my life where being uncomfortable isn't necessarily a synonymous with being discontent.

I understand that if I am in a place where I'm not content its because The Holy Spirit is trying to move me to a place where I need to be. He is working on me; moving away me from sin and closer to God and His Holiness. My response to the Spirit's work in my life usually requires work on my part as well as a focused effort to change. That's not a problem for me any more though. I don't mind being on the spiritual "hot seat." As a matter of fact it's the only place I want to be. It means God and I are working together on my life. That's the part about which I am really thankful.

I am thankful that Love isn't always easy or convenient. It's a matter of self denial for the sake of taking on the attributes of God. When people in our lives who are not very easy to love that's when you have to look at them through the eyes of Loving God.

1st Corinthians 14, the "Love Chapter" of the Bible states that Love never seeks its own way. That's God's kind of love. As a man with a natural sinful nature the kind of love I am capable of on my own is a selfish kind of love. When people in our lives require more than that convenient commitment is when we either reject them or start loving them the way God does.

Of course, there are times when it is difficult and inconvenient for people in my life to show me love as well. At those times they don't have to show me the kind of unconditional love that God shows me. But I am thankful when they do.

I'm thankful for work and discipline. I've come to realize that as evidenced in His Word, God has ordained work as a good thing. There are several places in the Bible where God chastises the lazy man or a "man of sloth". Doing something is so much better than nothing. That's just the opposite of the attitude in today's world.

I have recently gained the perspective that my life is about accomplishing the work God wants me to do. Life is not about striving to be able to sit around and watch TV or otherwise be entertained. It's about doing what's important according to God's will for your life. That's where the blessing and sense of accomplishment is. I'm not saying that leisure time is not allowed. Just that it shouldn't be a goal obtained at the expense of neglecting the responsibility of work that is given to everyone by God. This is especially true for a Christian.

It's very easy to lend yourself to an attitude of "I deserve to do nothing". To keep yourself aimed toward accomplishing the work God commands us to do takes discipline. The daily practice of doing what "should" be done verses what we want to do it a difficult one to establish in one's life. It takes a consistent mindset of seeing the "big picture"; knowing what is your life is about and pushing yourself to do it; especially when you'd rather do something else. Again it comes from being able to see God's perspective and not just yours.

I've learned to do that to a degree. I'm not perfectly disciplined in my life; not by a long shot. But I am thankful that God has given me His perspective in a lot of areas of my life. He has shown me that doing the "work" reaps the "harvest". That's a lesson that hasn't been easy to teach me. But I am thankful He has at least put me on the path to that realization.

So those are the things I am thankful to God for on this national day of Thanksgiving. My prayer is that you and your family have a wonderful and blessed holiday as you gather together today. I look forward to the next 4 weeks as I once again get the opportunity to celebrate the birth of my savior, Jesus Christ, and enjoy the most wonderful time of the year, Christmas.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Proud Of Paula

I'm writing this post as a standing ovation for my wife, Paula. She's reached her own personal weight loss milestone. She is now past the halfway point to her goal weight. It's been less than 6 months since her surgery and she's more than halfway.

What's more impressive is that she has gotten to this point at the time of the year when the demands of her job are at their peak. Her free time to take care of herself is very limited yet she still finds a way. She has worked hard to keep on the right path. Now her efforts have paid off with results. She's turned the corner and is heading home.

But not only does she deserve kudos for her effort to lose weight she's had a indescribable effect on mine as well. I couldn't even begin to start telling you how much she has helped me; especially right after my surgery and when I first began exercising. She's given me all the love, patience and help I've needed to succeed as much as I have. She's the "little" woman behind this "much smaller" man.

So once again a big "way to go" to my wonderful wife Paula. I look forward to reaching my halfway point shortly. Then it's the two of us heading to the finish line together. That's when the real celebration will start.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: Mystery Solved

This is Ron Havens in the RH Factors blog news room with a breaking story. The Samsung cell phone earphone adapter missing since last week has been found. Repeat the adapter has been found.

It has been confirmed that while leaving for church this morning I found the adapter in the flower bed just in front of my house where it has been hidden for these last few days.

In preliminary tests on the adapter using both the wireless FM transmitter and commercially purchased ear buds the adapter showed no lasting effects from its outdoor exposure and works perfectly.

This has been Breaking News from the RH Factors news room. I'm a very happy Ron Havens reporting. Comeback tomorrow for another regularly scheduled RH Factor blog post. For now, good night.

Class Ring Reunion

A couple of days ago I wrote about getting an Ernie puppet as a Christmas gift in 1970. Today I'm reminiscing again about another Christmas gift. This one I got for Christmas my sophomore year in high school. It's my Phillipsburg High School Class of 1978 school ring.

Until yesterday I hadn't seen it in about 10 years. Back in 1998 I was still living in Pennsylvania but I wanted to move to Kentucky. Situations and finances dictated that I stay in the Lehigh Valley. To show Paula that I wanted to be and would soon be closer to her I sent her my ring. She kept it on a chain draped over the side of her bedroom mirror until I moved to Kentucky in March of 1999. Our son James used to take it down and wear it all the time. The size 11 class ring was way too big for him but he wore it nonetheless.

Once I was in Kentucky and as other rings (engagement and wedding) became the emblems of our Love the class ring made it's way from the mirror to Paula's jewelry box for safe keeping.

As the years went by and my weight increased I discovered I couldn't wear my class ring any longer. Like the Grinch's heart it was 2 sizes too small.

Yesterday, my wife was doing some pre-holidays house cleaning and discovered my class ring in her jewelry box. She brought it to me and I tried it on. It fit again.

I was so proud that I've lost enough weight and my fingers were small enough to fit the ring that I kept it on. I plan on wearing it for at least a week or two. Wearing it is like looking back in time and toward the future at the same time.

Each year on Thanksgiving day Phillipsburg high school's football team plays it's rival, Easton Area high school, in a "Turkey Day" football game. I always miss being at that game every year. Looking down at my right ring finger and seeing the blue sapphire birthstone and the name of my high school will help me feel closer to home this year.

In addition, while the ring still fits it is just a little snug. That's a reminder to me that I still need to continue to work at losing enough weight so that one day the ring will actually be too big for me.

I'm very happy that I can once again wear my high school class ring. It may seem strange to start wearing it again at age 49 but it makes me smile.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Moving "The Big Weight"

I reached another weight loss milestone on the way to my goal. Today I got to "move the big weight." Let me explain what I mean.

When you go to the doctor or hospital most of the time you are asked to step on a scale. These days most scales are digital but some are still the old fashioned balance scales that's pictured here.
I'm sure you're all familiar with this type of scale.

On the scale there's a little weight at the top. It weights 0 -50 pounds. At the bottom is a bigger, heavier weight. It weighs in 50 pound increments going from 0-300. That's the big weight I'm referring to.

This morning when I stood on my talking digital scale (thankfully it only tells you what you weigh and doesn't comment saying things like "Ouch", "What have you been eating?" or "One at a time, please") and it told me that I weighed under 300 pounds.

For the first time in over 9 years I can say I weigh less than 300 pounds. This means several significant things to me. First, next time I get on a balance scale, probably the next time I go to the gym to swim, I'll be able to get on it and move "the big weight" down a notch.

Second, the weight I've lost after surgery is the most I've ever lost on any single diet.

The third, I'm now at a lower weight than I was at the peak of success of my last weight loss effort with LA Weight Loss. I fell just short of being able to "move the big weight" with that program but that's no longer a problem.

I'm humbled and blessed by the success I've had so far in losing weight. I have now lost a total of 105 pounds since March 20th of this year. That's a significant success but only to a certain degree.

My next milestone is going to be getting to the halfway point of my weight loss goal. I've got about 8 pounds to get there. I'd like to do that before I go back to my surgeon for my 5 month visit. That's on December 10th. If I don't make it then I pray that, with God's help, I'll make it by the Christmas or at the latest by the end of the year.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Marcel & Marcel Jr.

Here's my first video ever posted on this blog. It's a 1 minute short featuring a special present my wife gave me for my birthday this past September.

It has double significance to me. Not only was it a birthday present from the Love of My Life but she bought it at the gift shop while I was in the hospital having my gastric by pass surgery. She saved it for a couple of months then surprised me on September 9th.

I have named the frog, Marcel and his sock puppet, Marcel Jr. Together they are "The Marcels". Named after the group that originally put the song on the Top 40 charts back in 1961.

Hope you enjoy this video. Now that I've learned how to upload correctly there will be a lot more in the future.

The Mystery of the Disappearing Adapter

For the last 2 or 3 months I've been enjoying using my cell phone as an MP3 player. I use it most of the time to listen to sermons during my daily walks and on my drive to and from work.

On the walks I listen through a set of ear buds. In the car I plug my phone into a wireless FM transmitter allowing me to listen over my car stereo. Because my Samsung phone has a special kind of plug design that's exclusive to Samsung; in order to use my MP3 player I have to use a special adapter. It has the Samsung plug on one end and a standard audio plug on the other. That little adapter an essential part to my ability to use the transmitter.

This past Monday, as usual, I was listening to a sermon on my way home from work. When I got home I disconnected the adapter from the wireless transmitter and put it in the right hand pocket of my sweat pants. While still in my car I reached back into my right pocket to get out my house keys. After I got into the house I went to empty my pockets and there was no adapter. The ear buds I carry were there but no adapter.

I retraced my steps and searched the car several times but found no adapter. I called Samsung and tried to order another one but they are indefinitely out of stock. I do have a set of ear buds with the special Samsung plug on the end so I can still listen on my walks. But I can no longer listen over my car stereo. That really upsets me.

I know I'm probably whining a bit and it's really not a big deal. But I've come to really depend on listening to sermons on my commute for a lot of my Bible study time. That's very important to me.

The other thing that bothers me is just exactly where that adapter went. I don't have any idea and it really bugs me. I even did the typical thing most people do when they lose something. I started looking in places it couldn't possibly be. I looked all through my car, front to back, when I only had it in the front seat.

Where it went I don't know. I guess that means that eventually I will have to get an MP3 player that works with the standard ear buds and the plug on the wireless transmitter. But with the holidays coming up I have to watch my spending so I won't be doing that anytime soon.

Where did that adapter go? It's a mystery for which I may never find the solution.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ernie & Me

The year was 1970. My 5 year old sister loved to watch the still new but very popular children's TV show Sesame Street. As a 10 year old I watched with her because the Muppets were on it.

My favorite Sesame Street Muppet was Ernie. He was a real happy clown of a character and was always pulling a punchline or a "fast one" on his "ol' buddy Burt. I was a real Ernie fan.

One day late in the fall of that same year my cousin, Gary, and I went to a local department store where we saw a new toy on the shelf. It was an Ernie.His head and arms were pliable plastic and his arms were filled with columns of foam.

Both of us were awed by the possibility of owning our own Ernie puppet to bring to life. We loved to imitate his voice and his unique and infectious laugh. On the way home we talked about what it would be like to have one. We vowed to let our parents know as soon as possible that Ernie was at the top of our Christmas list that year.

During that same trip home Gary found a $5 bill near a sewer grate. Ironically that was the exact price of the Ernie puppet. He went back to the store and bought his own Ernie puppet. I was very jealous and had no hope of getting $5 of my own any time soon. I had to wait until Christmas which that day seemed like an eternity.

The story has a happy ending though. I did get my own Ernie puppet that Christmas. It was the first of many Sesame Street puppets I would own. I had about 2 dozen including finger puppets and small plastic marionettes. I had my own troupe of puppets, just like the Muppets. I called them "The Happy Entertainers" and kept them in a small suitcase for easy transport.

Gary and I put on shows in church using our Ernies and other puppets. We even won 2nd place in a summer church camp talent show that summer. I really grew to love puppetry. But as I got older like most things those childhood toys went away. They either wore out, otherwise got broken or I just gave them away. Eventually I let go of most of my puppets. I used the Ernie puppet so much that its mouth split open. I believe I even got a 2nd one as a Christmas present later on. But that one wore out as well.

Now that was 39 years ago. Since discovering Ebay over 9 years ago many times I have tried to win an auction for an Ernie puppet. The price has always gone too high for me. That is until 2 weeks ago. I finally won one at a reasonable price. He came in the mail today and he's pictured above.

For some reason he seems a lot smaller than I remember him. My hand doesn't actually fit inside his head anymore. But that doesn't matter. Just having Ernie back by my side as a reminder of the passion and joy for puppetry that accompanied our initial friendship during my childhood is good enough for me.

Recently I discovered that having the same fun I had with Ernie as a 10 year old is an important element in my ventriloquist performances today. Ernie, welcome back old friend. It is my prayer that I will always see you as a reminder that performing with a puppet is supposed to be fun. That's a vital part of what it takes to be an effective minister for The Lord when it comes to a puppet ministry.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Running Home

In an effort to get a fix of anything baseball during the first weeks of the off season I went to, major league baseball's official website. There I found 3 minutes of video highlighting the 2009 season. Of course the culmination of the season was the Yankees winning the World Series. YES!

The song that accompanied the video was titled "Running Home." Sung by Susan Sherman Propp. I had never heard the song before but I really liked it. The tune really conveys the emotional appeal of baseball.

The late comedian George Carlin in one of his classic comedy routines compared football to baseball. In football, he said, you hit "Pay Dirt." In baseball you try to "go home." While Carlin's tone implied that there was something weak about it to me as a Christian the idea of "going home" has an appeal. The goal of my life is to someday "go home" to be with God.

To me home has always meant a place of safety and security. Eternity with God is the ultimate security. that's a pending promise and the hope of all Christians.

King David in Psalms 23 writes of the hope to "dwell in the house of the Lord, forever." Jesus told his disciple in John chapter 14 that he was ascending to His Father's house. He promised to come back and take them there to be with Him forever. He even told the disciples not to worry about it they would be "going home." That promise and assurance is extended to all followers of Christ.

While "Running Home" is about the emotional appeal and comfort of the game of baseball the song has a double meaning for me. It helps me realize what's so appealing about the baseball while it inspires me to keep moving forward; getting closer to Christ and growing in my relationship with Him.

After hearing "Running Home" on I went to I-Tunes to see if I could download it on my computer. I found that it was part of an entire album of children's songs. Included were some old standards like 'I've Been Working on the Railroad"; A, You're Adorable" and; "My Grandfather's Clock." That last song was one my dad used to sing to my sister and me all the time when we were kids.

So not only do I have some new music added to my collection but I have found a new song about baseball that I like a lot. In addition it inspires me in my Christian walk as well. I am so thankful that God blesses me with "little gifts" when I least expect them.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lessons Part 2

This past Thursday, after a very disappointing performance at church the night before, I woke up rested and very optimistic about the show I was going to do at the local daycare at 10AM. My audience would be a bunch of preschool children; a relatively easy audience to please.

Because of having to learn the script for AWANA on Wednesday I didn't write an "official" script for the daycare. I just created a show in my mind decided to just relax and improvise using a basic plan. I was going to use 4 puppets: Kroaker, the frog; Cecil, the turtle; Sandy the sugar glider; and Ruben Nathaniel Young, my little boy vent figure. I also took along my automated singing ventriloquist frog with his sock puppet (named Marcel and Marcel Jr., respectively). It was a birthday present from my wife. I figured it would be a great ice breaker and the kids would love it.

The show included a birthday song for Kal, the birthday boy, a flying lesson for the sugar glider, Cecil thinking the alphabet was a 26 letter word, and Ruben singing a song about his messed up mop of hair.

As disappointing and upsetting as my church performance was that's how good the daycare center experience was. The pure excitement, genuine enthusiasm and laughter of the 2 dozen preschoolers and the adult workers was a great lift for me as a ventriloquist.

The improvisational aspect of the show felt so natural. I followed the basic plan for each characters segment but most of it was just the enjoyment of entertaining the children. That may be something I'll start using more and more in my future performances.

Also the show helped me to realize, once again, that performing is supposed to be fun. I can't get so caught up in worrying about the techniques and if the audience likes me or not that I don't have fun.

I'm very thankful that God chose to show me where I need to be in my ministry. His answer to my distress was quick and loving. There are a lot more lessons this 2-day even experience has taught me; especially when it comes to commitment and discipline in ventriloquism. Perhaps I will be writing more about that in the future.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Lessons Part 1

This post is about the 2 ventriloquist experiences I had this past week. The first one was Wednesday at church and the second was Thursday at a local day care. Both events were very different from each other.

The performance at church was for the music portion of the AWANA ministry. I was performing a song to the tune of "I Wanna Be Like You"; a song from Disney's The Jungle Book. The new words, about the importance of the Bible, were written by Paula and I over the course of the last year for use specifically with AWANA. The song is titled: :The Bible is For You".

I had been practicing the song for about a week but only practiced the dialogue that went with it over a couple of days.

I was very excited about the performance because I had put a lot of time and effort into writing the bit to fit within a Karaoke type musical accompaniment I had found on I-Tunes. I was well prepared for the performance; or so I thought.

Wednesday after leaving work while driving home I decided to rewrite the introduction. I also had to be at the church 1/2 an hour early to rehearse with my friend, Gary, who was going to run the soundboard.

Not leaving work until 4:20, I was pressed for time. When I got home about 5:00 I quickly rewrote the script and gathered everything I would need. I left for the church about 5:25. About 10 minutes later when I arrived at the church I discovered that I'd left the CD with the music back at home. I had to drive back and get it.

This return trip left me almost no time for rehearsal and very stressed. I wasn't able to focus on or follow the script very well at all. My performance was shaky at best. I was very distracted and didn't present the song very well at all.
I was very disappointed in myself.

As soon as I finished I began an inter dialogue of criticism for not performing up to my expectations. I also blamed myself for lack of preparation and rehearsal time. This is not a new problem for me. It seems to happen with every ventriloquist performance.

Despite my enthusiasm for my ventriloquism ministry I have a sever lack of discipline when it comes to practicing and preparation. There are reasons for this but they are better discussed in my personal journal not on this blog. Just let me state that the combination of the stress of being late, having to go back home, and the disappointment of my poor performance and being tired put me in a post performance depression. The object of that depression was my ventriloquism ministry.

That night when I got home had I gotten a good offer I would have sold all my puppets. I know that's extreme but that's how I frustrated I was. After a few minutes on the phone with my wife (who was out of town on business) to express my feelings and with God's help that extreme emotion subsided a bit. I was still not looking forward to my show at the local day care the next morning. I had come face to face once again with the fact that I still have a lot of learning to do in the areas practice and performance.

The next day's show was at the day care was scheduled for 10AM. It was a birthday show for the grandson of Janet, the children's librarian here in town. It was a 2nd chance to have a good show. The problem was I hadn't rehearsed for it much at all. I hadn't written a script but rather came up with a series of ideas to improvise. That didn't leave me feeling very confident given the extent of my rehearsal for the AWANA event and then the results.

Upon retiring on Wednesday night my mind and heart were still burdened with concerns about the next day's show and my practical commitment to my ventriloquism ministry. I prayed for God's help as I drifted off to sleep.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My Favorite "Street"

I just finished reading a book called "Street Gang." It wasn't about the rumbles between "The Bloods" and "The Cryps". It was about the genesis of the most successful children's program in the history of television: Sesame Street. The program is celebrating its 40th anniversary this November.

I read the book and am writing a post about the show because of the influence Sesame Street had on me when I was a kid. The show debuted in 1969 when I was 8 years old. Now at that age I wasn't part of its target audience but my sister, Shari, who was 4, was. I watched it after school with her. When the show started running at 6PM on our local PBS station the entire family watch together.

The big drawl to the show for both my dad and me was the Muppets. Dad had been fan of Jim Henson's puppet troupe since Rowlf the dog appeared on the Jimmy Dean show in the early 60's. Other than that program, occasional commercials, and appearances on the Ed Sullivan show before "Street" there was no place to see the Muppets on a regular basis. Later on The Muppet Show would solve that problem forever.

Of course Kermit the frog, Ernie and Burt were the first of Henson's characters to capture my admiration. Ernie and Burt were like Abbott and Costello for the juvenile sector of the population. I loved Ernie and started impersonating him almost as soon as I started watching him.

One of the most profound experiences of my childhood was the day my cousin Gary and I discovered an Ernie puppet on the shelves of the toy department at a local department store. The details of this story will be shared in a future post.

The Sesame Street Muppets lit a fire in my heart for puppets. At one time I owned hand puppets of Ernie, Burt, Grover, Cookie Monster and more.
There were other things about Sesame Street that I liked too. Their short animated films and songs about numbers and letters grabbed my attention and interest in such a way that to this day, 40 years later, I can sing some of them word for word. I recently discovered a lot of them on You Tube and have enjoyed watching them again. I have even shared them with my friend Brent and his children.

In 1970 my parents bought us the Sesame Street Original Cast Album. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that it got played until it wore out. My cousin Gary and I used to listen to it all the time. We memorized the words to all the songs and even made fun of the terrible way Will Lee, who played Mr. Hooper, tried to sing. Once again I could sing almost, if not, all the words to the songs on that album to this very day. I've tried several times to get a copy on Ebay but I have not been able to win an auction with a reasonable bid. Perhaps one day.

While it's been years since I've sat down and watched an episode of "Street"; mainly because of the liberal humanistic agenda is promotes these days. But there will always be a part of me that will remember the way the first few years of the program connected with the my creative spirit. It encouraged me to become an kid puppeteer. Again I'll write more about that in a future post.

Happy 40th Anniversary Sesame Street. When it comes to TV it will always be my favorite "Street"

Monday, November 9, 2009

Three Digit Loss

Today, 4 months and 3 days after my surgery I have reached the milestone of 100 pounds lost. This experience has been my most successful weight loss effort of my life. By this I mean in terms of longevity and total amount lost. While I'm not quite halfway to my goal (43% to be exact) I'll be more than halfway by Christmas or the end of the year at the latest.

While losing weight after surgery has been at an accelerated rate it hasn't been easy by any means. The same disciplines necessary for a successful diet without surgery apply afterwards as well. In addition to the restriction of the amount I can eat, due to the limited capacity of my "pouch". I have had to exercise, count calories and protein grams. I've had to take vitamins and supplements, watch my portion size, limit my intake of carbohydrates to under 15 a day and drink at least 64 oz of water daily as well.

I have not been perfect by any means. The ravenous appetite of the "food cravings monster" is still there and will never go away. I lust after pizza and still crave sweets from time to time. I don't have to fight physical hunger much anymore but the "mental hunger" will always be a part of me. I must work hard on keeping the monster in it's cage.

With God's help I can stay focused on my goals: reaching my goal weight, staying active, and living a healthier life style that enables me to be a better servant of Jesus Christ.

Reaching the 3 digit weight loss is just a sign post on the journey I've been on for nearly all my life. The next sign post up ahead is what I call "moving the big weight." I'll write more about that when it happens. It shouldn't be more than a couple of weeks.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Braver Than Stephen Speilberg

Today on my day off I went to the movies. I didn't plan on it at first but it turned out to be the "plan B" of my day.

I played a game I call "movie roulette". Without knowing the exact times of the features I got to the theater and choose one of the movies I want to see that started next. I don't play the game very often but today I did. The movie I chose was the box office sensation, Paranormal Activity.

I got to into the theater just as the previews were running on the screen. The theater was dark and my eyes didn't adjust to it very well. I couldn't see if anyone was sitting in the second bank of seats to my left so I sat in the last row of the front section to my right where I could see was unoccupied. I settled in to watch the rest of the previews with those who had just seen me come in and find my seat. At least I though they saw me.

This film has been this year's box office surprise. It's an independent film that only cost about $20,000 to make. It was made in the director's house in San Diego, California over a period of just 3 or 4 days. It's about a couple who buy an elaborate video camera set up to tape some of the unusual things that have been happening in their house at night. They have heard noises and seen things moving around. The camera is to document these events and help them deal with and rid their lives of this ghostly intruder. The movie's point of view is from the lens of the camera. Very similar to the style that the Blair Witch project was made.

The couple turn out to be very bad exorcists and only end up increasing the hauntings as the "visitor" feeds on their negative behavior caused mainly by fear, frustration, and sleep deprivation. I'm not going to give away the ending but it doesn't turn out well for them.

This movie is one of those "much ado about nothing" films I don't like. The tension built up in the plot is much grater than any action that takes place in any one scene. Not much happens in this movie at all. As Bugs Bunny used to say while he was waiting for phone with the lit stick of TNT in the ear piece to explode Elmer Fudd's face: "It's duh suspense dat gets ya."

In this day and age of reality television I can understand how this movie is a hit with teenagers and young adults. It left me a little disappointed. But there's one thing about going to see this movie that I will always remember.

As I wrote a couple of paragraphs back I wasn't able to see much of the theater's seating when I walked in. I assumed that although I was the only one in the front section of seats there were others patrons in the the back section. About halfway through the movie I realized that I hadn't heard any movement or voices or anything that indicated there were others in the theater. That's when I realized that I was watching this scary movie by myself.

My "fear" wasn't confirmed until the movie was over and the lights came on. When the usher came in to clean up I said to him, " I can't believe I watched that movie in a theater alone.". I also told him he didn't need to do any cleaning because I only had a bottled water and I threw the container away.

When I got home that afternoon I picked up the last week's copy of Entertainment Weekly I got in the mail. It had the stars of Paranormal Activity on the cover and an in-depth article about the making of the film and it's journey to the big screen.

In that article it said that before Paramount studios agreed to distributed the independent film someone gave Steven Speilberg a print of it. He liked it but thought it was so scary he couldn't watch it at night when it was dark; not even in his own home. What a coward! I watched it in public theater all by myself. I guess that makes me braver than Stephen Speilberg.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Morning People

There are strangers living in my house. People who are, as evidenced by their daily routine, strangers. They look very similar to my wife and I but they're different in what they do and when they do it. They could possibly be aliens, body snatchers.

Just about every morning at the sound of the alarm clock these strangers emerge from their temporpedic cocoon in their sleep chamber and stalk about doing things at previously unimaginable hours. We are victims of ....THE ATTACK OF THE MORNING PEOPLE!

Now the initial stages of this "invasion" began back in the middle of September when I started working day shift at ShopNBC. Both of us had to be up and out of the house before 7:30. I don't know why but the process of 2 people getting ready for work in the morning is a lot more complicated than just a single person. So we started changing. We set our alarms for 5:30AM. We also started going to bed earlier; between 10 and 11PM.As the days have gone by we have gotten more and more used to getting up early.

This is a big change for a couple who, back when I worked day shift at Perot Systems, used to stay up until midnight or longer on a regular basis; even later on weekends.

Now this may seem like much ado about nothing but our lifestyle and our household has always revolved around late night hours. As I said we used to stay up late and our sons would keep our house busy by staying up until all hours with their friends or just on their own.

Now back to those "Morning People". Because of the time change this past weekend, at least for a while, my only opportunity to walk my dogs in the cemetery, which can only be done during the daylight, will be in the morning. Eventually when as winter sets in it won't be light enough before I have to leave for work or after I get home. When that happens until early next year, about March, I'll have to walk them through town in the dark.

This past Monday morning, for the first time since we turned the clocks back, I was dressed and ready to take the dogs out for a walk. As I opened the door my lovely wife was sitting watching TV and surfing on her computer while drinking her 1st cup of coffee. I told her I'd be back soon and went to leave.

Before I walked out the door in my hooded sweatshirt and with the dogs anxiously pulling on the leashes held in my right hand my wife reluctantly asked me a question. " Do you realize we've become morning people?" It was the truth but not something we ever thought we would have to admit. We've changed. We ARE morning people. The invasion has been revealed.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hail To The Champs

I don't know how they did it but the New York Yankees won their 27th World Series Championship tonight. They did it with a 7-3 victory over the NL champion Phillies in game 6 of the 105th fall classic.

As I predicted, they won but they did it in only 6 games. I must admit I think they did it with magic or perhaps just professionalism. As a fan I wasn't crazy about this team. There wasn't that one guy that I really liked. But they got the job done. As a team their total is greater than the sum of their parts.

They put together an amazing 2nd half of the year and their entire season was highlighted by come-from-behind and walk off victories. They had the best record in baseball in the regular season and the best in the playoffs.

I guess if I had to choose a couple of my favorites on this team they would have to be Andy Pettite and Mark Teixeira. The Yankee first baseman didn't have a great playoff offensively but he contributed, defensively. What can you say about Pettite? He's got the most wins in playoff history and is the only starter to win the series clinching game in all 3 levels of a playoff round.

Of course I can't fail mention Derek Jeter, The Captian. He put in another consistent playoff season and had a 2009 regular season for the record books, literally. He enshrined himself sealed his membership in the realm of Yankees Legends by becoming the team's all time hits leader. Next is baseball immortality with his 3000th hit and then onto Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame.

Also Mariano Rivera really came through this post season. It's taken me a long time to "forgive" the Yankee closer for blowing the 7th game of 2003 but this championship (and some insight I got from reading Joe Torre's book this summer) had helped me to appreciate how great a pitcher he is. He's the best relief pitcher of all time. Talk about a sure thing for Cooperstown.

So once again, at least until this time next year, I can say that I'm a fan of the World Champion New York Yankees.

Today when I wrote on my Facebook page that I was praying the Yankees would win the game tonight. My cousin commented that it was too bad because God was rooting for the Phillies. After the game was over I wrote back to him. I told him "perhaps your god was rooting for the Phils but My God has blessed the World Champion New York Yankees." After all He is sovereign.

Thank God the Yankees have won the World Series. Hail to the Champs!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

So Long "Soup Man"

It probably won't mean much to any of you reading this if I told you that Milton Supman died in New York City on October 22nd. Supman was better known as Soupy Sales. That name may mean something so some of you. I know it means a lot to me.
Soupy Sales was a children's television icon for the later generations of baby boomers who grew up watching afternoon TV in the 1960's.

His noon time and afternoon kid's shows on WNEW, channel 5, out of New York City were some of the first on TV whose humor spanned the generation gap. Soupy was entertaining to both the kids and their parents.

His routines included The Words of Wisdom and reading of the daily newspaper including the want ads and the TV listings. Then there were visits from Soupy's pet: his dogs, White Fang and Black Tooth. Only their paws appeared on camera (a stage hand's arm covered in either white or black fur) and they grunted the syllables of their words which Soupy interpreted. Their appearances usually consisted of a long build up to a corny but funny punchline. Then there was Pooky, a lion puppet who used to sing and swap jokes with Sales.

Of course the most memorable routine of the show was when there would be a knock on the door. Soupy would open it and speak to an unseen visitor, who was supposedly off stage. The two of them would exchange a joke or two and Soupy usually ended up with a pie in his face. That was Soupy Sales legacy. He will always be remembered as the "Pie in the face" guy but his humor was much broader than that.

One time he answered the door, looked off stage and saw a woman wearing nothing but a smile. This was on live TV. Soupy was as cool as a guy could be given those circumstance.

There are several TV legends about Soupy Sales doing or saying things on his shows that were extremely in appropriate or improper. Most are not true. A coupe of them have some substance but have been exaggerated over the years.

Perhaps the most famous is when on a New Years Day program he told the children watching to go into their sleeping parent's wallets and purses and get out "pieces of paper with pictures of men with beards" and send them to him at the TV station. The station was flooded with calls from complaining parents. But according to Sales, "The kids were cool with it." He received thousands of dollars in play money but only 1 real dollar bill.

My dad was the one who was the real fan of Soupy on TV. I was a bit young to really "get him" at the time. Although I've come to appreciate the reruns of the show on video. I knew Soupy from his appearances on game shows in the 70's and 80's. Just this past week I saw him on reruns of the $100,000 Pyramid on GSN network.

I really discovered his comedy and became a fan in the mid 80's when Soupy revamped his career on radio station WNBC out of New York. The radio show had a music/comedy/game show format. It featured the same type of routines as the TV show but with a whole new cast of characters. Those characters were mostly voiced by Soupy's radio side kick, Ray D'ariano. My favorite was the in-house band leader named "Daryl B Mordacum (a play on the phrase "there'll be more to come").

That program kept me entertained and kept me laughing from 10-3 every day for 3 years while I was on the road delivering auto parts each day. Until 1987 when Soupy was fired from the station.

I also was able to come to appreciate Soupy's talents through a record album I bought called "Still Soupy After All of These Years". It's a mixture of some of the classic TV show routines and Soupy's night club act. I really like it. I only have it on tape now but I am going to convert it to CD soon. I also have a book of Sales' favorite jokes he published called "Did you hear the one about". I also have an autographed picture I bought on Ebay.

I didn't find out about Soupy Sales death until I read it in the Entertainment Weekly magazine last week. I was saddened by the news. I read his obituary online and found out he'd been in poor health for the last 5 years or so and finally lost his battle with cancer on October 22nd.

I am and always will be a fan of Soupy Sales. His style of entertaining both children and adults while not talking down or up to either of them will always be something I try to do with the comedy in my ventriloquist act.

Thanks for the laughs Mr. Soupy Sales. You will be missed.