Friday, December 30, 2011

Recollections of 2011 Part 1: The Places I've Been

As the flame that is 2011 which burns on the candle of life waxes and wains and slowly disappears as it is carried by Father Time down the corridor of of eternity (nice metaphor huh?) it is time for me to look back at the special memories of the year that was. This will be a 3 part series.

Part 1 will be a review all the road trips, vacations and other outings from throughout the year. I will review them in a "Top10" format counting them down as they stand out in my memory. Some of them required driving several hours to get to but others happened right here in our local area. 

Before I begin the actual list let me start with some "honorable mentions" that didn't make the list.

Take Me Out To The Ball Game: I'm not sure exactly how many times I went Bowling Green ballpark to watch the Hot Rods (the Class "A" affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays) this past summer but I know it was at least 10. It's a great place to sit, relax and enjoy a nice night out with family and or friends.  The Hot Rods  had a great season too. They made the playoffs for the first time in their history. Thanks for the season ticket package, Paula. 

At The Movies: As has been the habit since I moved here in 1999 Paula and I went to the movies a lot this year. Some of our favorites included: "Super 8", "The Help", "Rise of the Planet of the Apes.". We also liked "The Lincoln Lawyer" a movie we only went to see after we went to the wrong theater.  I liked two out of the three Disney features we saw  this year. "Winnie The Pooh: and "The Muppets"(which I saw twice) were very enjoyable. I was disappointed with "Cars 2". 

Other films that get our "thumbs down" are: Contagion, Green Lantern, and Paranormal Activity 3." This by no means is all the movies we saw; but it does summarize our 2011 film experience. Perhaps if I find the time I'll make a list of all movies I saw this year. 

So much for the "honorable mentions." Now it's time to countdown the 10 favorite places I went in 2011. 

10. CATS: On Friday March 19 Paula and I had the worst theater experience we have ever had. The show was at the Lexington Opera House. It was Paula's 2nd time there and my 3rd (more on that later). While we didn't know a lot about the actual show we decided to go see "Cats" because it was an award winning musical and several people told us it was good. We hated it. 

There were several factors which contributed to this rejection. First of all it was all singing. There was almost no dialogue at all. To make things worse, you had to really pay attention to what the characters were singing to understand them. Part of the problem was that the music was a lot louder than the singers so you couldn't really hear them. 

Although we were tempted to leave at intermission but decided to stay. The 2nd act was a little more tolerable and at times even enjoyable. The two best know songs ("Memory" and "Mr. Mistoffelees") were sung after intermission. Nevertheless, overall it was a bad experience. 

9. WKU Football Game: After more than a decade of intending to do so;  I finally made it to the Western Kentucky University football stadium to see a game. We went with our friends Mark and Patty Quigley. The game was as exciting as a football game can get. The Hilltoppers kicker put a 32 yard kick through the uprights with no time left on the clock for a 10-9 WKU win. It was the most exciting game of their entire season. 

8. Meeting Alistair Begg: One of the preachers God has used to help me in my spiritual growth these past few years is, Alistair Begg; featured speaker on the "Truth For Life" podcast.. On June 9 I drove to a church in South Nashville near the Cool Springs Galleria where Pastor Begg was making a guest speaking appearance.

Getting to meet him after all he's helped me learn was an honor. I even got to ask him a couple of questions after the service was over.  

But the most memorable thing about that night happened before the event even began. Having arrived a bit early I found myself sitting in the church hallway waiting for the sanctuary doors to open. As I sat there I noticed an older couple who had come early and were volunteering to hand  out programs. As I looked at them I couldn't deny the fact that they looked familiar. 

As I watched them I soon realized that this couple were Frank and Carol Jarboe. They used to be part of the "Down Home Friends" puppet ministry in Bowling Green, In 2008 They sold me my first Axtell puppet, who is now Cecil the Turtle. 

I hadn't seen them since. I'd always wanted to tell them what a blessing their little puppet has been to me for these last 3 years but could never contact them. That night I had my chance. It was a "two for one" memorable road trip for me. 

7. Dory's Days Out : This past spring my dog Dory and I went on a couple of special outings. On Saturday April 16 we participated in and completed the Bowling Green Humane Society's 5K walk. It had been 5 years since I'd gone to the fund raising event. Back then I wasn't healthy enough to finish the entire walk. This time we both made it with energy to spare. 

About 3 weeks later we went to the "Bark In The Park" at the Bowling Green ballpark. Dory wasn't much interested in the game but she did like drinking from the big water bowls and resting on the cool concrete in the shade. We also got out picture taken with Roscoe the team's mascot.  

It was a couple of days that were a lot of fun and Dory really liked being out and about. I plan on going to both again next year. 

6. Orchestra Of Kentucky Concerts: The first outing of 2011 was also one of the most enjoyable, at least for me. On January 11 Paula and I went to Van Meter hall on the WKU campus to hear the Orchestra of Kentucky's concert featuring the music of LeRoy Anderson. Mr. Anderson wrote and arranged quite a few songs that remind me of going to the movies when I was a kid. If you're interested in the details go back and read my January 12 post. 

A little over 2 months later near the end of March we went to another Orchestra of Kentucky concert featuring Disney music. Of course we enjoyed this concert as well. But I will always remember it as the concert that helped me get over that previously mentioned  awful theater experience. The Disney concert was the day after we went to see "Cats."

Although I was a little disappointed that "When You Wish Upon A Star" wasn't played at the concert I really enjoyed hearing the classic Disney songs played live. There was also an very interesting post script to my concert experience. For more details check out my March 23rd and March 28th posts. 

5. Monty Python and The Circus: Nothing has thrilled me more this year than the opportunities I had to spend time with my sons and their wives. There were quite a few times all of us were together as a family. But my favorites were the times we went in specific groups. Here's what I mean. 

For Christmas 2010 Michael, James and I each got a ticket to see the musical play "Spamalot" at the Lexington Opera House. The show is based on the popular movie "Monty Python and The Holy Grail." 

On Sunday January 16 the 3 of us drove to the Opera House in Lexington (Yes, the same venue where Paula and I would see "Cats" 2 months later) to see the show. It as a lot of fun and a great "father and sons" outing. 

After that day my daughters in law began telling me that because I took the boys to Lexington I "owed" them a daughter's night out. I decided that I would appease them with a trip to the circus when it came to a local venue.  

On Friday March 25 the 4 of us (of course I had to include Paula in this outing) went to see the 2011 version of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus at Diddle Area on the WKU campus. You can read the details in my March 31 post. 

Let me just mention that to this day if the 4 of us who went talked about that night  the one thing all of us would still remember would be a lion who was sitting in a cage on the area floor during intermission. He was really angry about something on the right side of the arena. All throughout the mid show break he roared for all his might at whatever he perceived as a threat. It was kind of scary and very memorable. 

4. My Solo Trip To Holiday World: I've gone to the movies, professional baseball games, a ventriloquist convention, and quite a few other places by myself over the years,  but until Monday July 23, 2011,  I had never gone to an amusement park alone. 

That was the day that I went solo to Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana. Ever since I went to Dorney Park for the first time in more than 20 years back in June of 2010 I've become an amusement park fanatic. 

Holiday World and it's water park, Splashin' Safari, is the most popular amusement park in our area. It has 3 of the top rated wooden roller coasters in the country as well as the Wildebeast, a highly acclaimed water coaster. 

These rides were the main reason I wanted to go to Holiday World. As it turns out other than the water coaster I really didn't like any of them. But there were other things about this holiday themed park that I really enjoyed. I posted the details of my day in Santa Claus in my August 2 post. I had a great time. 

At the time I took the trip I thought I was doing a test run for a 2012 solo trip to Walt Disney World. Those plans have since changed but for me this trip is the 4th most memorable outing of 2011.

3. The PA Family Comes To KY: At the end of July my two sisters, my brothers in law and my niece and nephew came to visit us in Kentucky once again. We had a wonderful visit with one exception. 

The Sunday they arrived my brother in law Gene tripped and fell while walking from the hotel to our house. He hit his face on the ground and really skinned up his nose. At first we thought it was broken but it wasn't. 

The visit included taking the guys to Bowling Green ballpark to see the Hot Rods play. They treated us  to an exciting walk off win by scoring 3 runs in the bottom of the 9th inning. The ladies paid a visit to The Paintin' Place in Bowling Green where they made their own ceramic craft to take home with them. Some of us spent one afternoon at Beech Bend park and Splash Lagoon water park. 

But my favorite part of the trip was the couple of times we went swimming in the Bryce Hotel's pool. What made those times memorable was a game we played. As part of my savings effort for our next Disney vacation I had collected about $50 worth of $1 coins. I took those bright shinny gold coins with me to the pool. Peggy, Shari, Teejai and I used 7 of them to play game. Then one night when more of the family were in the pool we played a "free for all" game. I threw all 50 of the coins into the pool and we all went after them. It was great fun. 

Their visit ended with our now traditional breakfast at the Cave City Cracker Barrel restaurant. The group pictures we took that morning are some of my favorites of the year. 

2. Our Chattanooga Vacation: The week before the Memorial Day Paula and I took a 5 day vacation to Chattanooga, Tennessee. It's only a 3 hour drive from our house. My trip report is covered in the four RH Factors posts from June 2 through June 19. 

We had a good time in Chattanooga but other than a few of them, the level of entertainment  venues, attractions, and restaurants are not on the level of other tourist areas. 

Some of my favorite things in Chattanooga were: Rock City and the Lover's Leap area; Ruby Falls,not the overall experience but the waterfall itself, the model railroad at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, The "River" portion of the aquarium, and the pedestrian bridge. 
I also surprised Paula with an afternoon at the spa treatment at the Chattanoogan hotel. 

Our most memorable dining experience was at the restaurant called "Cheeburger, Cheeburger." 

We had a good time but we probably won't ever go back. There's just not really anything we'd be interested in doing again. Still spending the 5 days together and  being able to do things that 2 years ago we wouldn't have physically been able to do makes our Chattanooga vacation my second favorite outing of the year. 

1. Smokey Mountains Weekend: While it was the shortest trip of the year, in terms of length of time, our trip to Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area in Tennessee is my favorite excursion of 2011. 

This trip started out different from any other we'd ever taken just by the fact that we used to book our hotel room. We did a lot of things in a couple of days. We left about 4 o'clock on a Saturday evening in October and returned home that Monday evening. 

We did a lot of shopping, visited a haunted house, watched a 3D movie while it was "snowing" in the theater, and taste tested our choice of hundreds of types of flavored popcorn. We were "trapped" by a dead pharaoh inside a pyramid as part of an interactive attraction called "The Tomb", at at a "Five Guys" fast food restaurant, and revisited one of the most famous oceanic disasters in nautical history. 

We had breakfast at the Old Mill restaurant in Pigeon Forge on Sunday and spent the morning browsing through the surrounding specialty shops. 

My 2 favorite parts of the trip was the visit to Ober Gatlinburg and (the marquee reason for our trip) the Titanic Museum.

To get to Ober Gatlinburg we had to drive almost 3 miles up the side of a mountain. It was very close to the cabin area where we stayed during our first trip to the Smokies back in 2001. 

Ober Gatlingburg is a tourist area with specialty shops, restaurants, an ice skating rink, a carousel, a small zoo, an alpine slide, a water slide and more. 

The zoo, while not really all that great as far as zoos are concerned, provided the best otter encounter we've ever had. We spent a long time watching them and the 3 black bears. 

My favorite part of Ober Gatlinburg I did by myself. It was a ski lift ride to the top of Mount Harrison. The reason I went alone is because Paula doesn't like riding on those types of things.  The ride to the top took a bit longer than it was supposed to take. There was a lot of starting and stopping to let people off at the bottom of the ride. I videoed the entire trip with my camcorder. A lot of those videos are a bit embarrassing but I was a bit bored and just trying to improvise the documentation of my trip up the hillside. 

When I finally got to the top I rewarded with the most awesome view of the Smokie Mountains I've ever seen. I took pictures and shot video but it doesn't really convey the beauty of what I saw in the twilight of that autumn evening. 

On the second day we went to the Titanic museum in Pigeon Forge. This was the highlight of our trip. Housed in a building that's partially a replica of the infamous ocean liner the self guided tour takes you on a journey through the history of the RMS Titanic. It starts with the concept,  design, engineering, and building of the ship and ends with a memorial to those who lost their lives that fateful night in April 1912. 

This museum is a quality experience and could very well hold its own with "big city" museums. The recreation of the grand staircase based on the architect's original plans is amazing. The designers of this museum saved the best for last. The replica of the ship's bridge area really brings you into the Titanic experience as much as you can be. There is a recreation of the deck area where the air temperature at 32 degrees and a trough of water is chilled to the same temperature as the ocean was that fateful night. There's also an actual iceberg that visitors are encouraged to touch. 

We planned on spending only an hour and a half there but the exhibits and artifacts were so compelling  that we spent more than 2 1/2. 

After a final buffet lunch we headed home. It was exhausting but a very fun couple of days. 

So there you have my top 10 adventures of 2011. Half of them were  road trips and the other half happened right here near my home. Nevertheless they were all trips to places I wanted to go. Whether it was a trip to the ballpark, spending time with my sisters in my own house or a ride on a ski lift in the Smokie Mountains they were all great experiences. Years from now when I look back on 2011 these will be the trips what comes to mind.

Come back for Part 2 of my Recollections of 2011. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Star Trek: The Next Generation Christmas Special

BLOGGERS' SPOILER ALERT: If you have children who are anxiously awaiting for Santa Claus to come visit them tonight the following may contain some real "spoilers". Please do not let them read this post.

On this Christmas eve I want to share an idea I have for what I think would be one of the coolest Christmas editions of a SiFi episodic TV series ever.

Ever since TV shows began there have been special Christmas episodes. It seems that no matter who the star is or what the premise of the show there is always an acceptable reason for having a Christmas show. Everybody celebrates Christmas on TV; even Jewish people. 

Well, I have an idea for a Christmas episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Even though the series hasn't been on the air in 17 years I think this would make a great episode. 

With the amazing, magical and seemingly impossible mission that Santa Claus accomplishes each Christmas season one can only assume that the means by which he does it is something beyond anything we as "ordinary" human beings are aware of.

This is where the connection between Santa and the crew of The Federation's flagship, The Starship Enterprise D, intersect. The technology in the world of Star Trek does not exist in our world today. However if someone had access to all the Enterprise's technology and hardware they could easily mirror what Santa does every Christmas Eve.

My idea for a TNG Christmas Special is not perfect. It's only a bare bones synopsis. The details would have to be worked out. I'm afraid I'm not enough of a Star Trek geek to do it effectively. Anyway, here's my idea for a Star Trek: TNG Christmas story. 

The episode is centered around Data. The android is on his way back from a conference by himself in a shuttle craft. He experiences warp engine trouble and has to land on the closest planet. 

Unable to contact the Enterprise, Data is forced to hike from the mountains (where he conveniently crashed seemingly undetected by the planet's inhabitants) to the nearest populated area. He quickly discovers that he's stranded on a planet with a society that mirrors the same culture as earth in the 1950's. 

From the weather and the decorations that adorn the town's shopping district after accessing his memory banks he can only conclude that the people were celebrating the Christmas season. As he searches in a local hardware store for what he needs to repair his shuttle craft he is befriended by a little girl, named Virginia. 

In the course of their encounter Virginia discloses that she is a "doubting Thomas" when it comes to Santa. She doesn't believe that he is real. Having familiarized himself with the traditions and customs of Santa and the importance of a child believing for as long as possible Data decides to take some action. 

He wants to show Virginia that there is a Santa Claus by doing exactly what Santa does on Christmas eve.  He returns to his shuttle and comes up with a plan. Using the transporter, a portable replicator (this may not actually exist in the TNG world but they could have been added for the sake of this episode) and other Federation technology he makes a way to play Santa to the entire town where Virginia lives. 

He limits himself to just the town because that's all it would take to convince the little girl to believe in the symbolic representation of the Christmas spirit of giving. 

Of course there would have to be some kind of antagonist in the episode. Perhaps a scientist who discovers the abandoned shuttle and tries to prove that the new stranger in town, Data, is the alien that it belongs to.

Of course there would have to be the obligatory moralistic ending typical of every episodic series' Christmas show. But there would also some kind of action that would result in a thrilling conclusion. 

But the main part of the story would be the relationship between Data and Virginia. The main story arc would be the clever way he uses Federation technology to be kind to his new young friend. 

So there you have my Star Trek: the Next Generation Christmas episode idea. As I mentioned earlier the idea isn't complete and may not seem like much to the extent that I've expounded on it. It may seem like a strange suggestion but if you check around you'll find some very unusual people have hosted or played characters in Christmas specials. 

You may not think it's such a good idea or maybe you're not even a Star Trek fan and don't really care. If either of those are true I'm sorry. I've had this idea for a while and just had to get it out there. This year's Christmas eve post seemed like a good time to do it.

I want to take these last paragraphs to thank you for taking the time to read this blog throughout the year. I'm on the verge of a very significant milestone in regard to the number of posts. There will be more on that in a few days. 

I want to wish you and your family & friends a very Merry Christmas. Even though I've been posting consistently over this holiday season I'll be taking a couple of days off to do some other things. I'll let you know when I'm back. Once Again...

Merry Christmas 
God Bless Us, Every One

A "Major Award" For A Poem

On the day before the start of the annual "A Christmas Story" movie marathon on cable TV where Darrin McGavin's character gushes over his leg lamp; I wanted to display my very own "major award."

While to the average reader the picture above might simply look like a typical electric blanket it's actually a very special one. It was presented to me yesterday by the managers of the call center where I work. 

The reason I was honored with this gift was because of the Christmas poem I'd written. Shortly after Thanksgiving I emailed to our entire call center a revised edition of the poem I had written last year. 

Just two days ago I received an email from a supervisor in our other call center in Minnesota. She said she had come across my poem and really liked it. She wanted my permission to share it with all who work, not only at the call center but, our corporate headquarters as well. I told her I'd be honored if she wanted to share because I could use the publicity. 

Soon I began to get emails from other company employees in Minnesota telling me how much they liked the poem. I was really flattered. Once again I the satisfaction that something humorous I created was getting accolades and recognition. 

At 2:45 I went on my afternoon break. When I came back one of the call center supervisors presented me with my "major award". 

He told me that my poem had come to the attention of some of the "higher ups" at the corporate headquarters. They liked it and appreciated my effort to promote a positive attitude in the call center. 

So there you have the story of my new electric blanket. With the start of winter this past week it probably wont' be long before Paula and I have the need to try using it. 

I'm also proud that something humorous I wrote has gotten a small degree of recognition. It's almost as rewarding as making children laugh with my ventriloquist friends. 

Now here for you to, hopefully, enjoy is the poem that has allowed me to share, along with Ralphie's Dad, the joy of knowing what it's like to use "mind power" to win a "major award." 

Merry Christmas To All. 

A Call From St. Nick-2011
By Ron Havens

T’was a week before Christmas and in the call center
Customers were calling with orders to enter
Supervisors were so busy
With the things they must do
CSRs helping callers
Who were backed up in queue.

“One Call Resolution” that was my style
While at the same time giving “Service With A Smile”
Then came a call that was special, I could tell
Instead of a “beep” I heard a jingle bell.

On my screen was a number
And I said “bless my soul!”
I could tell from the address
It was from the North Pole.

I tried not to be nervous
And took a brief pause
His first name was “Nick”
And his last name was “Claus”

He told me he was anxiously 
working on his holiday list
So I asked him politely, 
“How may I assist?”

He answered, “This time of year
 I try not to get manic.”
But production’s behind 
and I’m starting to panic.”

“It’s a situation I didn’t know how to handle.
But then I discovered your great shopping channel.”

My throat went dry and I gulped down some water
And I told the “big guy”, “I can help place your order.”

He bought Invictas, Ed Hardys, then Croton watches
Pam McCoy fur coats with black Beaver splotches
From rugs for the porch to prints for the wall
He ordered it, ordered it, ordered it all.

He ordered some Sensa. “I hear that works great”.
“Cookies with milk really puts on the weight.”
In a season where people believe reindeer can fly
This call was amazing. Two hours flew by.

He finally finished and said “this work exhausts me.”
He was quiet for a moment then asked “What will this cost me?”

I scrolled through the order just briefly glancing
Then I asked if wanted the “special financing.”
I gave him the total. What it was I forget.
But the number would rival the national debt.

He asked, “How soon an arrival date
 can you give me?”
I said, “It will all be on time for your special delivery.”

It was a great call and it felt like a dream.
I got to be part of the Santa Claus team.

I asked “Is there anything else I can do?’
He said, “Thank for the help, son. 
I’m glad I got you.”

I replied, “Well you’ve been kind to me 
for a long time, you know.”
He said, “It’s been my pleasure” 
with a big “Ho Ho Ho.”

Before he hung up he chuckled to me.
“It’s gonna be a Merry Christmas, thanks to your company.”

So this holiday season when you take lots of calls
And the customers are driving you 
straight up the walls.

Remember my encounter with the “Jolly Old Elf.”
‘Cause you just might get the chance 
to help Santa, yourself.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

There's No Hippo Here....WHAAAAT!

Here is my favorite picture of the holiday season so far. It was taken by my friend, Jason Hale. On December 8th, I was the opening act for “North Pole’s #1 citizen” at our church’s annual “Dinner with Santa” event.

The shot was taken in the middle of the 2nd segment of my show. Sally Ann Maher, the blond little girl puppet in the Christmas dress, had just finished lip syncing to the song “I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas.” It was her way of telling everyone what she wanted Santa to bring her.

I was in the middle of explaining that the chances of seeing a hippo in Kentucky, outside of the Louisville zoo, were pretty remote. It was just then that the children watching began to loudly and insistently tell me that they had just seen a hippopotamus peek out from behind my open suitcase. I told them they were wrong when the moment captured in the picture. 

I was face to face with Peter Potamus; a hippo puppet who was sent by Santa as an early Christmas present for Sally Ann. While she doesn’t look very surprised I managed to come up with a convincing expression.
While the moment was whisked away into obscurity by the arrival of the guest of honor, Santa Claus, thanks to Jason I have it to add to my ventriloquist portfolio. It’s definitely one of my favorite pictures, not just this Christmas season, but of all those taken during 2011.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Paula In Candyland

One of the annual events of the Christmas season for my lovely wife, Paula, is the making of homemade candy. She makes two flavors of fudge, bon bons, rum balls, and chocolate covered cream de mint candies. We give the candies to family, friends, and fellow church members as Christmas gifts.

Last Friday night, for the first time I helped her make the confections. It was a fun experience and a great “team building” exercise.
In addition to the sweets I’ve already mentioned Paula ventured into new confectionary territory. 

She made peanut brittle especially for our daughter in law, Brandi. It was from an old family recipe. It’s made with Spanish peanuts, corn syrup, and baking soda. Like all her candy it turned out to be very good.

Making candy is the most recent in a series of culinary successes Paula has had in our kitchen this year. My last post was all about creativity and how it seeks its own level and wont’ be denied.

All though it always has, especially this year, Paula’s creativity had found its sweet spot in our kitchen. She has excelled in her cooking in 2011. Choosing my favorite of all the dishes she’s made this year is a very tough choice. But if I had to choose I would pick her slow cooked meatballs as my favorite meal and her low carb/low sugar pineapple upside down cake for my dessert.

Yes, I am a lucky man.  

Here are some pictures of the “Paula” who’s the cook in my kitchen from last Friday during her adventures in Candyland,

Preparing ingredients with her new food processor

Hand dipping Bon Bons one at a time

Giving the Cream De Mint candies their special shape

Putting the finished products into a storage container

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Flow Of Creativity

With less than two weeks left in 2011 I’m starting to review and sort the events of this calendar year and putting them away into one convenient mental time capsule.  

A lot of its content will be mostly memories of events, lists of experiences and relationships with people. But one significant thing I’m taking with me from 2011 is an educational experience. I’m not talking about a formal class taken at a learning institution. I’m refering to a life lesson I’ve been privileged to learn by the grace of God.

The course could be titled “Creativity 101.” The text book used in this lesson is called “Brain Storm: Unleashing Your Creative Self.  It’s written by Don Hahn, producer of such classic Disney films as “Beauty and The Beast” and “The Lion King.”

In the book, Hahn explores the emotions and mindsets connected with the creative process. He also shares ways of tapping into your own creative abilities. Then he explains how to set yourself up to live a life that fosters creativity.

He argues the fact that since man is made in God’s image, creativity is in our DNA. Just look around everything you see and even things you can’t are creations of the almighty. As the Son of God the gospel of John chapter 1 verse 4 speaks of Jesus’ creativity in this way: All things were made through Him and without Him was not anything made that has been made.” So being creative is an act of stewardship; using the talents that God has given you reflects His nature in you. I think that’s a lesson right there.

Another thing that Hahn writes about is something that I’ve discovered for myself in my life. Creativity is a flowing force. Just like river it takes the path of least resistance, branches out in many directions, and will not be denied. That’s the part I’ve discovered for myself.

While I had never realized it before it was brought to my attention in “Brain Storm” creativity is almost never exclusive to one part of a person’s life. If someone is creative they are creative in many ways. It’s like a well spring from inside the soul. Don’t mean to be over dramatic. I just think that’s the best way to explain it.

My personal “river” of creativity has many tributaries. I can think of at least ½ dozen ways my creativity branched out this year alone. And that’s just speaking in general. I could easily list how each of those areas branched out to other areas as well.

Last October I learned the 2nd part of my life lesson. It had to do with limiting your creativity by worrying about the results.

After listening to the audio book version of Jeff Dunham’s biography at the end of the summer, I was both motivated and intimidated at the same time. I won’t take the time to go into the details about how that book affected me but let me just say that I really put on the pressure to get my ventriloquism career going again.  I put all my creative efforts into coming up with new sketches for my more popular puppets. The problem was I psyched myself out.

My creative process had become like getting ketchup out of a bottle. It took an unusual amount of effort to get even just a little result.  This may sound strange but that’s what I was going through.

Although part of me wanted to work on other things my ego kept me chained to the idea that I needed to make ventriloquism my only focus.  I experienced what could be categorized as a type of “writer’s block”.” Then in the middle of October several things happened that changed my focus.

First of all, Paula and I took a weekend vacation to the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. We were only there for about a day and a half but we did a lot in that little time. When we came back I felt compelled to write a trip report. It took me about 2 weeks to finish it. The writing exercise took away my writer’s block. The dam I had built holding back my creativity was washed away. A flood of ideas and new projects got the “river” flowing again.   

About the time I finished my Smokey Mountains trip report I found out about the What Not Muppets available at Toys R Us (see my November 8 post). I began my 3rd blog, “Getting To My Goal”, and started writing my 7th Rewind Christmas program. In November I posted on this blog just as much as I did in September and October combined.

The lesson I learned is that, at least for me, creativity is very eclectic. I need to stay open to my inspirations and not hesitate to “go with the flow” when I come up with a good idea no matter what area of interest in might be in.

Creativity feeds on itself. If you are being creative in one area you may come up with an inspiration for another where you’ve been having some difficulty. To me that’s a life changing lesson.

Although I’ve learned a lot this year I’m not too sure I’ve graduated from the “Creativity 101” course that God is allowing to be part of my life. Now that I know there is a lot to more to the creative process than I ever thought there’s one thing about which I’m pretty certain. The river must be replenished at its source, the creative spirit is continually given to all of us by our Creator, and we must follow its course otherwise it will just become a dry bed of wasted ideas.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Dad's Picture In My Picture

As a follow up to yesterday I want to tell you the story of how I came to find the picture that was the inspiration for the post.

While looking through my collection of snapshots in search of a couple of pictures taken at Dorney Park back in the 70’s (the subject of a future post) I came across a shot of some things that belonged to my dad.

I had taken the picture back 2004 just after I brought things such as Dad’s coin holder, one of his old Bibles, a copy of a hand written invitation to my parent’s wedding, a Royal Rangers’ patch, and more that belonged to him back to Kentucky with me.

In May of that year I had flown north to help my family empty my mom’s house so it could be sold. Although he hadn’t lived in the house since 1999 my mom had kept a lot of my father’s things. This gave all of us a chance to pick and choose which of those things we wanted to preserve my dad’s memory.

I chose about 2 dozen things. In addition to those I’ve already mentioned was a one of his watches, a pair of glasses, and a personally autographed cartoon caricature of Ron Barry, a local radio personality from the 1970s.

But back to the story behind the rediscovery of the picture from yesterday’s post. Again I found the picture of the group of memorabilia in a box of snapshots. In that composite shot was the picture of Teressa and me on Christmas day 1991.

When I decided to write yesterday’s post, instead of looking for it in the box where I store all my pictures I looked in the container that holds the plastic bag full of my dad’s stuff.

That means it was part of my dad’s most prized possessions. The picture was special to him. It showed how much he missed Teressa, that he treasured spending Christmas with his family and that Christmas 1991 was especially memorable for him. The reason I mention this is that today would have been my father’s 75th birthday.

The fact that a picture that was special to him inspired me to write one of the most emotional blog posts of the year helps me to feel a bit closer to him on what would have been a milestone occasion for him.

I still love and miss both my parents and my niece very much. I can’t wait until the day when God’s trumpet sounds and we are all together again as we “dwell in the house of The Lord forever”.  What a family reunion that will be

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Memorable Christmas Moment

For many of us of all the memories we have of our family Christmas memories are the usually the most vivid. The ghosts of our personal Christmas past return to us in various ways: joyous songs, special ornaments, a fully lit Christmas tree, TV specials and movies, holiday specific aromas, specialty foods, decorations and more. There are dozens of holiday trappings that bring back the memories of Christmas with family.

This year, for me, the most emotional memory was sparked by this picture of my niece, Teressa, and me in a clown mask. Other than the gift wrapping covering the bookcase behind us you really can't tell that this picture was taken on Christmas but it was; December 25, 1991 to be exact.

Seeing it again, this week, brought to mind the realization that this year will be the 20th anniversary of one of the most memorable Christmas days in our family's history. At the time we didn't know it but Christmas 1991 would be the last one we would be blessed enough to have Teressa with us. For those of you who don't know my niece's story let me share it with you. 

Teressa was my sister Peggy, and brother-in-law, Gene's youngest daughter. They became foster parents to Teressa when she was just an infant. Eventually they adopted her. 

Teressa's birth mother was an IV drug user and was HIV positive. Teressa was born with HIV. The virus was in her blood from the day she drew her first breath. This was back in the mid 80's when the terrible HIV epidemic was spreading rapidly. Very little was known about HIV and little, if any treatment was available. 

My sister and brother-in-law knew Teressa's eventual fate from the beginning. They knew there would more than likely be a time when the virus would become active and take my young niece's life. But because of the love they had for this child they chose to make her part of our family. They wanted to make sure "That There Baby" (a nickname Gene gave her when she was a toddler) would have the best life they could give her. I can assure you that they did just that. 

Here are the specific circumstances that surround this memorable picture. As you may be able to see from her position in the chair Teressa was a sick little girl that Christmas day. 

Three weeks earlier on Thanksgiving night she was spending the night at my sister Shari's house. She was going to help her decorate the Christmas tree the next day. That night Shari noticed that Teressa's had developed a twitch in her body. I don't remember specifically where it was but it was a matter of concern. 

Peggy and Gene took "T" to the hospital the next day. She was hospitalized in Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in Rahway, New Jersey about 90 minutes from where they lived. To my recollection she stayed there until the week before Christmas. Peggy stayed with her and Gene was there when he wasn't working.   

Now because it's been such a long time I don't remember exactly how it was decided but Teressa got to come home for Christmas so she could be with her family. 

As always Christmas Day was spent at my mom & dad's house. The whole family was there. Teressa couldn't walk so she had to be carried in from the car and set into the living room chair.                               

I wanted to make sure she fun that day so I tried to make her laugh as much as I could. Nothing was working very well. While walking past the upstairs room that used to be my bedroom when I lived with my parents, I spotted the clown mask I'm wearing in the picture. I had worn it as part of a Halloween costume a few years earlier.

I saw it and thought wearing it would give me chance to be silly and make Teressa smile. Luckily it worked. I don't remember exactly what I did but I do remember that it made her laugh. 

As I said that was a special Christmas day because less than a month later Teressa went to be with Jesus. To say that the loss of Teressa was devastating to every members of my family is a gross understatement. 

That special Christmas was 20 years ago this December. It's hard to believe that it's been that long.  And although a lot of the details of that day are lost to me now when I see this picture I do remember how much I loved my niece. I still miss her this time of the each year and so does everyone in my family.