Tuesday, January 31, 2012

2012's Opening Acts

The first two live entertainment events of the year 2012 were both repeat experiences for me. But they happened in places Paula and I were visiting for the first time.

This past Thursday on a chilly mid-winter night amid a downpour of rain we drove to South Warren High School. Neither of us had been in the new school. It was only built just 2 years ago.

But we weren’t there for the basketball game taking place in the school’s gym. The school auditorium was our destination for what promised to be an evening of laughter and entertainment.

Christian Family Radio, our local contemporary Christian music station, was sponsoring a performance by one of my favorite Christian comedians, Jeff Allen.

I had seen Allen in person once before. A few years ago my friends, Brent, Fred, and I went to Zanies comedy club in Nashville. Jeff Allen was part of the night of “clean” comedy along with Ken Davis and Brad Stein.

The performance was billed as a stop on Allen’s “I Can Laugh About It Now” tour.  He did a lot of material I’d heard before but it was still funny. He also did some new stuff. Jeff doesn’t tell joke with traditional punch lines.  He's a story teller. His view on life is hilarious. The best line of the night was one about running out of brownies.

But this night was more than just a comedy performance. Jeff shared his personal testimony telling how he came to believe in God and accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior.
Battles with alcoholism and drug addiction, a failing marriage and atheism were all part of his conversion story. It was an amazing and compelling  testimony to say the least.

Two nights later, on Saturday night, Paula and I went to the Andrew Jackson Theater, part of the Tennessee Performing Arts center, in Nashville to see the Broadway musical: Spamalot.

It was just over a year ago that I took Michael and James to the Lexington Opera House to see the same show. Afterward Paula told me she would have liked to have gone. I promised her if the show ever came around again I’d take her. When I saw a commercial advertising the show I was excited that I had a second chance to take her. I immediately bought tickets.

We had never been to TPAC and initially we weren’t sure where it was. A quick search of Google Maps revealed that it was in the same area of downtown as the Bridgestone Arena and the Ryman Auditorium.

Our seats were in left side lodge section of the theater. We were pretty high. At first I was a bit disappointed. Our seats were literally above the clouds. Of course, the clouds were scenery placed at the top of the stage; but we were above them nonetheless. The view did allow us to see everything that happened on stage and a bit of what happened in the wings off to stage right. 
After getting oriented I decided the seats were not that bad.

Paula really enjoyed Spamalot. She especially liked an adlibbed line by one of the characters (one of the knights who say “Ni”) commenting on the absurdity of the “Twilight” movies.

I found the show twice as funny as I did the first time. The reason for this is that I was more familiar with the soundtrack and the plot. In Lexington I was a bit confused because the play didn't follow the movie exactly. This time I knew what to expect and was very entertained. One of my favorite parts was the production number about the knights returning to Camelot. This picture shows the cast at the end of that song.

So even though I’d seen both of them before Jeff Allen and “Spamalot” have gotten the entertainment portion of 2012 off to a great start for me. I can also now add Warren South High School and the Tennessee Performing Arts Center to my list of patronized venues.

Before I conclude this post I’d like to go back to the evening with Jeff Allen for one final thought.
I have to mention the show’s opening act. The performer was a young boy who told jokes dressed in drag playing a sassy old woman character. He was the winner of the 2011 Capitol Arts Theater’s “Funniest Kid Around” competition.  I’d seen him before on TV just after he’d won the competition last year. I appreciate how difficult it was for a kid his age to do what he does. 

Just getting up in front of a crowd is half the battle. He has a lot of potential. In his opening remarks the spokesman for the organization co-sponsoring the event stated that the event would be held again next year.

Of course the first thought that came to mind for me was how great it would be if next year I could be the opening act. It’s not out of the realm of possibility. I would have to do a lot of work and perform a lot of places between now and then but I could do it. So I guess I’ve just challenged myself. Let’s see if I’m up to it.  

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Marvelous Toy

Less than a month ago I was blessed with a plethora of Christmas gifts. Among them were: a DJ sound mixer, a new ventriloquist gadget and my new favorite toy, a miniature RC helicopter.

Recently on her blog my daughter in law wrote that the notebook computer we gave her for Christmas has changed her life. Well, the small radio controlled helicopter that she gave me has changed my “play time”.

I have always been fascinated by helicopters. I’ve always secretly wanted to be a chopper pilot. As of this post I haven’t even flown in a helicopter but it’s on my “bucket list.”
The important role choppers played over the 11 seasons of M*A*S*H is one of the reasons it’s my all-time favorite TV show.

The toy copter is a Venom Micro-V-pro is yellow and black. Its 6 inches long 1 ½ inches wide and 3 ½ inches high. It weighs about 1 ounce. It’s got red and green LED lights and a double set of counter-rotating blades. It’s a very cool little helicopter. The windshield is dark black plastic.

I’ve tried to fly it outside a couple of times but because of it being so light weight even the slightest breeze makes controlled flight very difficult. The last time I flew the copter in my back yard the wind carried it up on the roof where it crashed. I had to get the ladder out of the barn to climb up and get it down. After that experience I decided that such a small light aircraft needs to be flown indoors.

Two or three times a day I charge up the chopper’s battery and fly it around my living room for about 5-10 minutes. The flight time depends on how much it stays in the air or crashes to the ground. 

I don’t exactly have complete control of the flying toy. A lot of time it hurls through the air like an out of control mosquito. Both my wife takes cover and my cat flees the room when they feel the breeze that signifies the bug like whirly bird is getting too close. But when I do fly it right it is so cool. Here's a shot of one of my flights.

So while I am very grateful for all my Christmas presents I really like playing with my Venom RC helicopter. Thanks again Michael and Heather. I’ll be posting stories about and pictures of other Christmas presents later on.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Fast Food Restaurant Makeover

The first of the three construction projects going on in my little town has been completed. The McDonald's, where Michael worked when he was in high school, held it’s “Grand Reopening” complete with a visit from the corporate Icon, Ronald McDonald, was this past Saturday.

The fast food restaurant just off the interstate highway now has a bigger lobby with more booths, a raised counter with stools reminiscent of the old lunch counters at the old 5 and 10 cents stores. At a couple of the booths there are touch computer screens with video games for kids to play while they wait for mom and dad to order their food.

Here are the “before” and “after” pictures of the improvement project.

Finally even though I didn't post any pictures of the way it used to look I had to show you the double drive through lanes that are now open. 

I wonder if it’s going to make the lines shorter in the morning?  Only time will tell. 

The other two projects are making progress and will be finished in the next couple of months. I'll post and updates when they are finished as well. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

2011: The Year In Ventriloquism

After completing the 3rd part of my year in review post series I realized there are still some things about 2011 I want to remember before putting it on the shelf of history.

In this post I’ll be reviewing what happened in the first year of the second decade of the 21st century for me as a ventriloquist. I made strides and experienced growth in the areas of performance, puppets, and equipment.

Last year, the major addition to the equipment I use in my act was a small portable voice amplifier. This is something that is beneficial for walk-around ventriloquism or in a small venue where a standard PA system is too much.

The best point of reference I can give for these types of PA systems in action is that they are used by those who work in the game booths at carnivals and fairs. Here’s a picture of the system I got for my birthday present.

The quality of the sound this unit produces is not the best but it’s effective. I used it a couple of times over the last quarter of the year. But I didn’t really utilized this system as part of my last performance of the year.

Although I’ve had it for several years, one of the pieces of equipment that I have not used effectively is my Axtell Magic Drawing Board. My lack of artistic ability has been a key in my apprehension for using it for my performances.

So I got on “You Tube” and found some ideas and characters I could develop. The one I like the best is one that resembles Arnold Schwartzenegger as he looked when he played "The Terminator". I can do a recognizable impersonation of him so he’ll work in my act.

I practiced drawing him and several other caricatures with the intention of making the drawing board an important part of my show. Unfortunately during the year I never found the right venue to use it. In 2012 I will make it a point to practice and perform at least 1 of my new Magic Drawing Board characters.

I added 6 new puppets to my ensemble in 2011. I can’t believe I bought that many but I did. My favorite among them are the two “What Not” puppets from Toys R Us and the lion puppet from Axtell Expressions.

This is the Lion puppet

While it took me a few months to me to decide on a name and personality for him, Leopold the lion was a big part of my most significant performance of the year.

He is by far the most popular puppet I’ve had since Cecil the turtle. From the first time I used him to perform music at the AWANA program and then on Sunday morning as part of teaching the children at my church; the kids at my church were drawn to him. They want to get up close to him and even tried to touch him. He holds great promise for becoming one of my popular most characters.

Finding the “What Nots” reignited the fire in my creative soul for not just ventriloquism but puppetry in general. You can read the details of how that happened in my November 8, 2011 post. Here's a picture I didn't include in that post.

Although he wasn’t new to the troupe, in 2012 I used my basketball player puppet for what I consider my best children’s sermons of the year. His character was that of an egotistical basketball star named “Awesome Archibald Jones.”

In a conversation about his outstanding performance in his team’s latest game Archie was very proud of how “Awesome” he was.

In an unusual move I took the puppet off my hand and let it lay “lifeless” to prove a point, I told the children that if it wasn’t for my hand guiding him Archie wouldn’t even be able to move. I used that as an analogy for how God gives all life and guides us in our lives. I felt it was a very good spiritual message.

Although I didn’t have a lot of performances throughout the year I did expand my spectrum of venues. When my days off changed in the middle of the year I was inspired to go and do some volunteer performances at a few local nursing homes.

The Christian Health Center; Greenwood Nursing and Rehab Center (both in Bowling Green), and ACare Nursing Home in Brownsville were the 3 places that graciously allowed me to come in and entertain their residence. Between the 3 of them I made ½ dozen appearances. I made just one appearance at a daycare center, Kids University in Bowling Green. I have to thank Leslie, a fellow church member, for helping me get my foot in the door at a couple of those places.

As it always has been my church is the place where I performed the most in 2011. For the 2nd year in a row I gave short performances for VBS at The Community Church At Cedar Springs in Edmonson County.

At Oakland Baptist I used puppets when I taught the Wednesday night children’s ministry program. In June, the puppet, I named CC, because he looks like cotton candy made his debut on a Wednesday night. I bought from a friend who owns one of the antique shops in Smiths Grove for about $5. Thanks Tom.

Also my lion puppet, while his personality was still in the development stage, made a couple appearances at Awana and Wednesday night Children’s ministry.

In children’s church I used Cecil the turtle, Lanoline the lamb, Leopold the Lion, as well as Amby and Dexter. Those last two are sock puppets made by my son, Michael, for a high school assignment and enhanced by me. I use them to help the children choose right from wrong when answering the questions I asked as part of my lesson review. Amby was usually right and Dexter was usually wrong.

I had a lot of fun on Halloween this year. As a means of getting some interaction with the public (aka potential leads for vent engagements) I dressed in the pirate costume that I put together for a themed birthday party in August 2010.

To supplement the pirate costume I added some other items. Like a bandanna with fake hair and a “beard” made by rubbing burnt cork ash on my face. A Halloween trick I learned from my mom when she used to dress us for Halloween when I was a kid.

With Salty the parrot puppet on my arm and a canvas bag of candy (the “fun size” version of several popular brand names) I headed toward the Smiths Grove Baptist Church just 3 blocks away from my house. Here's how we looked.

The church was having a “trunk or treat” event in their back parking lot; a safe alternative for their church families. Although I had not asked permission I had decided to join in the festivities.

I found a spot near the entrance of the church lot and began giving out my candy while Salty wished all the kids “Happy Halloween”. I tried to interact with as many kids and parents as I could.

After about an hour my candy was gone and the number of trick or treaters coming around slowed down. I decided to take my act on the road. I walked up and down Main Street for about 5 or 6 blocks. Along the way I made sure that Salty continued to wish all those we saw a “Happy Halloween”. I did get a few chances to have some very brief conversations with some youngsters about their costumes and their accumulation of candy. The encounters lasted no more than 10 or 15 seconds but all the kids smiled and laughed at Salty.

I had such a great time walking through my little town on Halloween. Throughout the year, the occasions that bring out the people of Smiths Grove always serve to remind me why I really like living here. I was sure that my encounters with all the people would make me at least a little better known in the future.

But without a doubt my best vent performances of the year came in December. They both took place at Christmas themed events.

On Thursday December 8, I was the opening act for the big guy from the North Pole at our church’s annual “Dinner with Santa” event.

My act was about 10-15 minutes long and was in 3 segments. In the first part I used Sandy the sugar glider puppet posing as Santa’s helper to the rabbits, chipmunks and squirrels. I used one of my bits that always gets laughs. I had the puppet “fly around”, land on the top of my head and then slowly crawl down over my face. The kids loved it.

The middle segment had one of my “what not” puppets dressed up as a young girl character, Sally Ann Maher. The puppet lip-synced the song “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” After the song, while trying to tell Sally Ann that it was highly unlikely that she would get her wish, I had a hippo puppet come out from behind my suitcase lid. He appeared using what I call the “Peak A Boo” technique.

As I talked to Sally Ann, the hippo peaked out at the crowd. I was looking away so I didn’t “see” him. The hippo did this two more times. Each time I was looking away. The kids did their best to tell me that the hippo was there. I acted like I thought they were playing a joke on me. Then I turned and came face to face with the Hippo. Here’s the picture that my friend, Jason Hale, took at my moment of surprise.

On the 2nd of December I had my vent performance of the year. I participated in the Smiths Grove Christmas Parade.

The reaction I got from walking around during trick or treat on Halloween night helped to convince me that participating in the number one Smiths Grove public event of the year, the town Christmas Parade, would be an amazing experience.

When I first came up with the idea of being in the parade the only trek I thought I’d be making was along the 1 mile parade route. As it turned out I went on a creative journey that taught me that I could turn a simple idea into a unique stage for me as a ventriloquist. Here's how I looked that night.

You can read about my creative journey and Christmas parade experience in two posts: “Creating A Christmas Cart” published December 4, 2011 and “Small Town Christmas Parade Part 2” published December 12, 2011.

In my previous "year in review" post, I mentioned the book “Brain Storm” and how it affected my entire life. This includes ventriloquism. But there were also a couple of other books specifically about ventriloquism that I learned from in 2011.

The first was the audio book of Jeff Duham’s biography, “All By Myselves: Walter, Peanut, Achmed, and Me“. The book was an amazing story of the most popular ventriloquist of the last 5 years, if not all time.

I found Dunham’s talent, determination, and ability to accomplish his goals are amazing. His story is so sensational it’s almost “Forrest Gump” like; but it’s true.

To be honest, while it was inspiring, the book also had a paralyzing effect on me. Jeff has worked so hard for so long and has been so successful it’s not unreasonable for someone like me to feel I don't even belong in the same ventriloquist universe as Dunham.

But after a period of frustration from irrational comparison of my “career” to his, Jeff Dunham’s book was an inspiration to me. His love for his art, focus, determination in his career and his successes and failures in creativity are inspirational examples to follow.

The other ventriloquist book is one I actually read: The Idiot’s Guide To Ventriloquism” by Taylor Mason. He’s one of my personal favorite ventriloquists. I have seen him in person at least times.

Mason’s book teaches all aspects of ventriloquism from the ground up. He starts off with the techniques and “tricks” of speaking without moving your lips. He then moves on to choosing the figure that’s right for you which is followed by an extensive joke and routine writing course.

Although I’ve also read a lot of the “how to” material in other books, so far (as of this post I’ve only finished 2/3 of the book) I’ve found the joke writing lessons and exercises something I’m going to be using and referring to toe a long time. I have adopted Mason’s recommendations for creating a promotional package as one of my personal goals for 2012.

In preparation for writing this post I took an inventory of the amount of progress and growth I experienced in my ventriloquism in 2011. I was pleasantly surprised. As far as I’m concerned I came nowhere close to being as committed, proactive and focused as I should have been.

I don’t see myself as anywhere close to where I should be on the “ amateur to professional” scale of ventriloquism after 5 years. Yet in spite of my short comings and self-invoked perception of underachievement, God already has and continues to bless my ministry and “career”.

I have not come close to making the money I thought I’d be making by now. But I have become someone the children of my church expectantly to look to for a fun way to learn about the Bible, living life as a child of God and a believer of Jesus Christ. That’s something money can’t buy.

As 2012 begins I have a goal to advance even further in ventriloquism. Now that I’ve realized just how much favor God has shown me in just one year; I have faith that I will happen. I can’t wait. Bring it on.

Monday, January 9, 2012

My 500th Post: 2012 and Goals To Go

Three years, eight months, three weeks and 4 days after the “First Factor” I am up to post #500. After a vote on Facebook it’s time to write about one of my goals for 2012. There’s only one problem. I haven’t set any goals for 2012.

So I guess that’s what this 500th post is going to be…a list of my 2012 goals. Hey! Here’s a cool idea. How about I make it a list of 12 goals? Pretty clever huh? OK not so much. But here it goes anyway. I’m going to try and be specific. At the end of the year I will evaluate my success. I don’t think I’ll accomplish them all but I’m going to do my best. I’m starting off with a very common one.

1. Get to My Goal Weight: I’m going to do my best to lose enough by my birthday in September to change the first number on the scale to a “1”. Of course, the ultimate is to be at my goal by the end of the year. To do this I have to start being a weight loss surgery patient again. The discussion of just what that means will be my first post of 2012 on my “Getting To My Goal” blog.

2. Run A 5K: In 2011 I met my goal of walking a 5K. I did it with my dog Dory by my side. This year I’d like to try running that same distance. I’ve never been a fan of “just running.” But I have come to understand the challenge of distance running.  When it comes to running along uneven terrain or pavement, the limited movement of my left foot is of a bit concern. But there are people who have overcome greater physical limitations than mine and they run marathons. If they can do it so can I.

3. Transform A Room: Ever since our sons moved out Paula and I have wanted to make one of the rooms, that were the boys’ bedrooms, “Paula’s room”. This means emptying all the stuff that’s currently stored in the room, redecorating it (new paint, curtains, pictures on the wall ect.), and putting Paula’s stuff in it.

I also want to turn the room at the other end of the house where the desktop computer is into “Ron’s room”. This means it will be a combination, office, computer room, recording studio, and Disney memorabilia display area. I’d call it my “man cave” but it won’t be that “macho” and there won’t be a television.  

Note: I only wrote that last sentence so I could use the word “man cave” one last time. I don’t plan on ever using it again because was it was on the list of “banished words” published by a Michigan university at the end of 2011.

4. Celebrate A Decade of Marriage: At the end of the year, on 12/12/12, Paula and I will be married for 10 years. So for the 3rd year in a row we are observing a milestone event in our lives. I will probably do my best to make 2012 a year for growth and strengthening of the relationship with the Love Of My Life. But I want this goal to be more specific.

I want to plan an extra special 10th Anniversary getaway sometime this year.  I’m not sure exactly where we would go. Destinations on Paula’s list include: Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon. I don’t think she would be opposed to a return visit to Washington DC in the fall either. Of course there’s always the beach vacation she said she wanted last year.

5. MLB / Amusement Park Trip: After a year of not attending a major league baseball game it is my goal to see at least one this season. Going to Wrigley Field in Chicago, Bush Stadium in St. Louis, or Progressive Stadium in Cleveland are tops on my list of choices. No matter where I go I would like to make the trip double header with a 2nd day spent at an amusement park. Ultimately the park of my choice would be Cedar Point in Sandusky Ohio, an hour away from Cleveland. The default option for this goal is going to a Cincinnati Reds game and then a return to Kings Island park.

6. Ventriloquist Promotion Packet: This is the first in a set of goals that will result in growth in my “vent” career: What it includes is the composition of a ventriloquist based resume, a short biography, a publicity 8X10 of me and my vent friends, and a performance video DVD .

The most difficult of these components will be the video. I will have to work hard at getting the right routine, venue and audience that will make a good video. Ventriloquist Taylor Mason gives some good advice on making a promotion video in his “Ventriloquism For Dummies” book. I will use that advice to make my promotional DVD.

This packet will help me make contacts to perform at churches, organizations and club functions, and birthday parties. Other goals such as: more consistent practicing, writing material, and character development are also part of this goal.

7. Care For My Granddaughter: As mentioned in a previous post I will become a grandfather for the first time this coming April. So sometime between May and December I want a day taking care of Aria by myself. I know this may seem like a strange goal for a man who is 50+ but I want to have a bonding day with my little peanut. I think it’s important and it will be a joy I have never known before.

Now this goal may cause a bit of concern to some but it’s not like I haven’t taken care of an infant before. True it’s been a while but as part of my preparation for accomplishing this goal I am going to try and take a grand parenting class before Aria is born. I can’t wait to have a “grand daddy” day with my first grandchild.  

8. Bible Reading Plan: At the start of this year I’m going back to a scripture reading plan that I started last January but didn’t stay with. As recommended by my favorite preacher, John MacArthur, I am going to start a new way of reading the New Testament. This involves reading a portion the same New Testament book (about 4-6 chapters) every day for two weeks. This repetition will help me become familiar with the scripture allowing me to recall it in the future.  By the end of the year I’d like to be through the gospels and Acts.

9. Write Christmas Play: During this past holiday season after attending the annual children’s program at my church I was inspired to write my own Christmas play. I wouldn’t be able to write my own music so I’d use some of the classic pop songs and carols. I’ve come up with a premise and it’s something I know. It will also allow me to use my ventriloquist skills as well.

10. A Book A Month: For Christmas 2010 I received a Kindle e-reader. Early in the year I read the latest “Kingdom Keepers” book and in August I finished “Brain Storm. But  in the last quarter of 2011 my rate of reading slowed considerably.  Although I was reading 2 or 3 books simultaneously, I didn’t finish a single one.

In addition to the Bible reading program I have already listed my reading goal for 2012 is to finish read at the average rate of one book a month. Making a total of at least 12 books for the year.. I am in the middle of reading 3 already. I will aim to all finish them by the end of March. I have a couple of others already on my Kindle. I will finish them before buying the others on my “want to read” list. So the material is there; I just have to put my mind to finishing one a month in 2012.

11.  A New Ministry: Okay my current ministries at my church are the children’s sermons, helping to teach children’s church and leading music for AWANA.

I’m not sure what it’s going to be but this year I want to become involved in a new ministry at my church or within the Christian community in my area. I have already accepted the position of being a substitute offering counter. But I really don’t consider this a ministry just something I have decided to help with because my wife is now our church treasurer. 

At the start of the year several possible opportunities are already on the horizon. The new Family Life Center at our church will open in a couple of months. This will present the chance to volunteer in ways I don’t even know about yet. I have no doubt that I will complete this goal.

12. Buy A Ping Pong Table & Build An Offering Scale- I love the game of table tennis. I haven’t had a lot of chances to play in the long time. If I had the room to use and store it I would get one for my house in a heartbeat. It has been a goal of mine for several years to buy one and donate it to my church. Once again the problem has been that the church really doesn’t have  a place to store it.

The new gym at our church will have plenty of room for a table. So there is no doubt that I will be buying a Ping Pong table and donating it in 2012. What makes this even better is that I have recently overheard a couple of guys from the church talking about starting monthly Ping Pong tournaments. That will be a dream come true for me.

Now I know almost with certainty that the first part of this goal will be achieved so as a challenge I have added the second portion to this goal.

Every year during Vacation Bible School the boys and girls are asked to bring in an offering to help a designated cause (usually a special missions project or something like that). There is a “contest” to see which group, boys or girls, brings in the most offering.

To help make the moment when the results are revealed a bit more memorable I want to build a giant scale to weigh the results. It would actually be a prop that could be manipulated for “dramatic” purposes.

Since I admittedly have the vision but not the skills required to make this project a reality I am going to essentially become a project leader. I’m going to have to recruit a carpenter, painter, and someone with engineering and practical design abilities. This should be the real challenging part of this goal.

I’ve had this idea for a couple of years now but have never followed through on it. 2012 is the year I’m going to “make it so.”
So there you have my 500th RH Factors blog post; the list of my top 12 goals for 2012. I have more goals but these are the top 12 that I wish to share with my readers.

I’ll do my best to keep you updated when I complete a goal throughout the year. At the end of 2012 I will review this post and let you know what I have and have not accomplished.

What are your goals for 2012? Email them to me or send me a message on Facebook.

Before I finish this milestone post I want to once again thank you for reading my blog. Sometimes it’s difficult to keep in mind that I’m not just sitting in my living room typing  random thoughts, a story or my opinions on a keyboard. I am communicating through a form of media that has the potential to reach more people than I’ve ever met in my life.

As I’ve experienced in the past some of those people can be very cruel in their comments. Thank you for your kind words and support. They are an encouragement as with the next post I take the first step to my next milestone:  My 1000th post. To borrow a phrase from the new Star Tours ride in Walt Disney World… The Adventures Continue.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Reflections of 2011 Part 2 Section B

Let’s get back to the countdown of the things I consider the “Top 5” life changing in 2011 with ”Part 2 Section B.”

5. Buying A Bike: Ever since I had my weight loss surgery I dreamed of the day when I could once again ride a bicycle. I decided that this was the year I was going to get one. For nearly 3 months I went from store to store looking as the different models and prices. I went Wal-Mart, Target, Nat’s and Howard’s Bike shop.

The bikes at Nat’s were very high end. The 10 speeds started at $600 and went up from there. Those at Wal-Mart and Target were very in expensive but were not made for long term use. I didn’t want to buy and expensive model but I needed one that would last.

After a lot of research both in the store and online, I ordered my Schwinn Select Series World 21 fourteen speed bike from Howard’s Bike Shop near the end of March. By the 2nd week of April I was riding it around my neighborhood.

Not only did riding my bike benefit me physically it helped relieve stress as well. I took every opportunity I could to ride around Smiths Grove and beyond. I saw parts of small town and surrounding area that I don’t think I’ve seen in a long time; if ever.

I made quick trips to the local grocery store several times over the summer to pick up things we needed at the time. I rode to the Bryce Inn where my family was staying when they were here in July.

The cycling excursions that gave me the greatest sense of accomplishment are those which started out on Little Knob road. The road runs south off of Route 101 just across from the back entrance of the cemetery at the end of my street. It heads in the direction of Oakland, where I go to church.

A round trip from one end of Little Knob to the other and back is 2 miles. There are a couple of inclines that were extremely difficult to conquer at first and remained challenging even after I got used to negotiating them.

There are a few bike trips I’m especially proud of making. Two of them are my round trips to my church in Oakland and back. One was a morning ride to and from the Sunday morning worship service. The other was on a Monday when I had the day off.

It was during one of the hottest days of the year in August. I loaded my bike in the back of my Vue and drove to the church. I got on the bike and rode to about a half a mile to Oakland-Flatrock road and past a local soft drink distributor’s warehouse. My intent was to go as far as the house of a fellow church member about 2 or 3 miles away on Polkville road. But instead of turning right onto Polkville, went left staying on Oakland-Flatrock. I guess even on a bike I can get lost. When I stopped to rest I realized my mistake, turned around, and headed back the way I came. By the time I arrived at the church again I had covered between 6 and 8 miles. It was extremely hot but a lot of fun.

The third long bike trip (long for me that is) started out at my sister in law’s house on Covington Street near Kariakis Park on Cemetery Road in Bowling Green. I went down Cemetery Road turned right and rode the entire length of Lover’s Lane to one of the main intersections of the Bowling Green area, Scottsville Road and Campbell Lane. It was a 16 mile round trip and took me about an hour. Once again it was a very hot day so I stopped a couple of times to get something to drink.

Lover’s Lane is the main road between Interstate 65 and the main shopping area of Bowling Green. It’s also the most direct way to get to Fruit of The Loom where Paula works. I had wanted to ride my bike down this main thoroughfare on a bike for a long time. I finally did it and I was proud of the accomplishment.   

Over the summer I added some accessories to my bike including a rear view mirror and an speedometer/odometer. This coming year I want to get a rack that will allow me to easily load and unload the bike onto the back of my Vue and take it anywhere I want to go.

I really can’t effectively express in words just how much I have enjoyed riding my new bike this year. It is extremely relaxing and fun. First and foremost when I am peddling down a street or a road I am emotionally transported back to when I was 9 or 10 years old.

I mean that special age when a young boy experiences his first taste of independence because of the ability to ride nearly any place he and his friends want to go on their bikes. Every time I ride out of my driveway and down my street that feeling comes back.

My new bike really had an effect on my life this past year but in 2012 it promises to make even more of an impact. I plan on riding more often and taking longer trips. It would be even better if I could find a friend or two to ride along with me. My goal is at least once complete a trip that’s at least 20 miles or more.

My Schwinn Select Series World 21

4. Brain Storm: Unleashing Your Creative Self: This is the topic that I’ve already posted about on this blog but it really needs to be mentioned again. “Brain Storm” is a book written by Don Hahn, producer of classic Disney films as “Beauty and The Beast” and “The Lion King.”

I bought a copy of it for my Kindle at the end of June. It took me about 2 months to finish. But this composition was the guidebook for my discovery tour through the land of creativity during the last half of 2011. You can read my December 20, 2010 post to understand some details of that journey.

Being a Disney fan I cannot help but refer to any kind of “tour” through any kind of “land” without completing the metaphor by including the “gift shop”. And the souvenir I am taking from the land of creativity gift shop is a recognition and appreciation of creativity anywhere I find it in life.  

In addition “Brain Storm” has taught me to accept the fact that any means of expressing creativity a worthy of the effort. Of course that’s not an absolute but its true 99% of the time. Anything done with a creative spirit is either a “success”, a learning experience or a means of exercising one’s creative “muscles.”

Going forward into 2012 I am now in a different world when it comes to creativity. Don Hahn’s “Brain Storm” was the key that opened the door to that world.  

3. “Eric and Vinnie” Sketches: Let’s continue with the “creative” theme. There’s a common guideline when it comes to any aspect of creative writing that says “write what you know.” I put that rule into practice 4 times when writing a series of sketches in 2011.  Here are the details:

I was just about to leave church on a Wednesday night in the first week of June. Before I left I decided to take one last look in the sanctuary and see who was still around. The college age kids from the church were using props to transform the sanctuary platform area to look represent New York City in preparation for Vacation Bible School the next week. The theme of VBS was “A Big Apple Adventure.” 

Our associate pastor, Mark, who is originally from upper New York State, was “aggravating” the college kids by talking slang with a New York City accent. Being familiar with what he was doing I joined in with him. Pretty soon we were just going back and forth talking like “New Yawkers” It was a lot of fun but after a few minutes I left.

The next day Pastor Mark called me and asked if I’d be interested in writing and performing in a short sketch that Sunday to promote the start of VBS the next day. He said we could use characters with the same dialect we were joking around with the previous night. Realizing how “naturally spontaneous” our interaction had happened I thought there might just be something there to expound on. I agreed to put something together. 

Almost from the moment I ended the phone conversation with Pastor Mark my mind began working on the sketch. Very quickly I had nearly a dozen of ideas for jokes about the Big Apple’s landmarks, people and unique culture. I created the characters Vinnie Gandalfo and Eric O’Leary. I was Eric and Pastor Mark was Vinny.  

The challenging part was coming up with a premise that logically would allow characters talk about VBS. I created a pair of old high school buddies who bump into each other in Central Park for the first time since graduation day.

Eric is now a born again Christian and is about to host the kids from Oakland Baptist Church in New York City for “The Big Apple Adventure.”   In the middle of the sketch, thanks to an unintended technical glitch I got the biggest ad lib laugh I’ve ever gotten in public. Ask me about it some time. I’ll give you the details.

The finale of the sketch had the two New Yorkers trying to convince all kids to come to VBS, “Broadway Style”. We sang and danced to Frank Sinatra’s hit “New York New York”. That part of the sketch was Pastor Mark’s idea. It was the perfect way to end the sketch.

It was a big hit. In fact it was so popular we were asked to do 2nd sketch for the VBS closing ceremonies the following Sunday night.

Central Park was once again the scene for the two friends to meet. They talked about how they had spent the week with the kids from Oakland Baptist. Vinnie also expressed some interest in getting to know more about Jesus. The pair breaks out into the Sinatra song when Eric declares “one more time.”

Vinnie And Eric with their "New York, New York" Finale
 Because Pastor Mark was going to be out of town the night of the VBS closing we had to video tape the sketch the Wednesday night before. It only took us 10 takes to get it right.

Three months later Pastor Mark came to me again asking if I’d like to write a sketch promoting our church’s annual “Beast Feast” with him doing his impersonation of Mick “Crocodile” Dundee.

The “Beast Feast” is a gathering of the men of the church on the night before out annual church picnic. Traditionally the men bring any type of wild game or fish to be grilled by Ronald Madison our unofficial church grill master.

The sketch I wrote involved Mark as Mick and me reprising the role of Eric O’Leary. Dundee wanders into Central Park, just outside the zoo, after losing his way to Oakland for the Beast Feast. A couple of jokes are exchanged and the pair decides to head off for Oakland, Kentucky together.

Vinnie and Eric made one last appearance in 2011 in an audio sketch I wrote for the start of my 7th Rewind Christmas show in December. Pastor Mark was gracious enough to help me tell the story of the two New York buddies going shopping on my behalf at FAO Schwartz in Manhattan.

I know that was a long explanation but I needed to share the details in order to explain how writing and performing these sketches was double blessing for me.

I enjoy getting laughs from the jokes tell the jokes I’ve written. In the 5 years I’ve been performing as a ventriloquist I’ve gotten a few. But even before tell them on stage I am rewarded because I have the satisfaction of having written something funny.  I’m proud of that. However there’s an extra special “rush” when jokes you’ve written, are delivered by others and they get laughs. Until the “Eric and Vinnie” sketches that hadn’t happened to me in a while.

With the exception of one unique situation in the “Beast Feast” in all the sketches that “other person” was Pastor Mark. I appreciate all his performances and thank him for his work and talent.  

In addition I was reminded from Pastor Mark’s performances that acting is basically a combination of reacting and exaggeration. Thanks again for the acting lessons, Mark.

The positive reaction to all the jokes in all the sketches gave me an assurance of the fact that I can still write funny material. I believe that’s what fueled my initiative to go into several area nursing homes to perform shows over the last half of 2011.

I also believe I’ve been given a new confidence in that I know how to establish and develop characters and write an entertaining story arc.

So hearing people laugh at jokes I’ve written and the confidence and encouragement to keep writing for the future are the blessings I’ve received from the “Vinnie and Eric” sketches. They had a very positive life changing effect on my life in 2011.

2. Aria’s Ultrasound:  It was the most exciting news of 2011. On August 20, my son, James and his wife told us that we were going to be grandparents. Although it it hadn’t been medical confirmed, they were certain that Brandi was at least 6 weeks pregnant. .

On Wednesday, September 7, two days before my 51st birthday, an ultrasound confirmed it we had a grandchild on the way. We received a copy of the pictures. While it’s always been difficult for me to decipher those images Paula pointed the tiny little baby out to me. She described her as “a little peanut.” At that moment a nickname was born. We started referring to the baby as “peanut”.

Excited about the promised blessed event, I fully embraced calling our first grand baby by her new pet name. I downloaded the songs “Found A Peanut” and the Four Seasons song, “Peanuts”  and started imagining singing them to my grandchild in the near future.

Brandi had a few difficult months carrying the baby. Her morning sickness lasted all day. She couldn’t keep anything down because she was so nauseous. She also had to deal with dehydration throughout that time as well.

I’m proud to say that the marinated steaks I made on the grill for my birthday dinner was one of the few things she could enjoy and keep down. I made them again for James birthday dinner in October. Once again Brandi ate’em up.

On November 2nd we officially found out that the baby is going to be a girl.  Brandi and James have chosen the name “Aria Nicole”. This time we saw our baby girl again but in a 3D Ultrasound. I was going to post that 3D picture but it didn't really translate well to this format.

The arrival of Aria Nicole Conner into this world is still a few months away. Brandi’s “due date” is April 20. But the hope of having our family be blessed with a new innocent life thrills me more than anything that’s happened in my life in a long time. It changes my perspective. Makes me realize that I need to take care of myself and improve my health so that I can be around to see our little peanut grow up. At the very least I have to take her to Walt Disney World.

1. Change of Schedule: I’ve gone through 9 things that I think changed my life in 2011. But perhaps the most important change this past year was the change of my schedule at my job.

The last major change in my schedule was over 2 years ago in September 2009 when I went from a 3:30PM to Midnight shift to an 8AM start time. At that time I was supposed to have a rotating schedule with 1 weekend off every month. I don’t remember that ever happening but if it did it was only for a brief time. For as long as I can remember from the time I started working the day shift I’ve had 2 weekdays off. For the first half of 2011, my days off were Thursday and Friday.

I had been asking the call center management about getting Sundays off since the beginning of the year. I was really tired of not having any weekend days off. I told my supervisor, the HR manager and anyone else in call center management who would listen that I wanted at least one weekend day off. I’d prefer Sundays.

With my church being my main outlet for both social and ministry opportunities;   being absent from Sunday morning activities for as long I had been was becoming rather frustrating to me. I told my supervisor many times that my reason for wanting to be off on Sunday was to get involved in my church activities once again.

In addition, other than vacations or holidays, spending mainly just evenings with Paula for over a year had gotten very old. We needed to start spending days off together once again.

Finally, after months of my requests being put off by the company’s work force management team in our corporate headquarters in Minnesota,  at the end of May, I received an e-mail telling me that starting the first week of June my weekly schedule would be Tuesday through Saturday with Sunday and Monday off . I was overjoyed to say the least.

What a difference the new schedule made in my life. With Sundays off I could I go to church in the morning and participate in the service. I had the opportunity to write and perform in the “Eric and Vinnie” sketches and several children’s sermons. I also had the opportunity to read the scripture during the morning service in October.

I also returned to teaching Children’s Church once again. It was mostly as a ventriloquist or a helper. In November I did actually teach the entire session myself.

It was only because I had Sundays off that I was able to give Paula her surprise party and or spend several Sunday afternoons with my family at our house. We also went out to eat in Bowling Green and in Nashville. I also went to Nashville on a Sunday so Paula and I could participate in the “Walk For Obesity” fund raiser.
I took advantage of having Mondays off as well. Most of the time I used the day off to run errands in Bowling Green and get things done around the house. As I’ve already mentioned I went on bike rides and took my sister in law to see her doctor in Nashville.

I also used Mondays to reach out and start performing ventriloquism in a few local nursing homes.. My day at Holiday World was on a Monday as well.

That’s just a very brief list of what a difference having Sunday and Monday off over the last half of the year made in my life. That’s why I have ranked it as the number one life changing event of 2011.

There you have the two lists and the three posts of my 2011 “Year In Review” series. I’ve covered a lot of things in those lists but I still have a few more things about 2011 I’d like to write about simply because I want them to be noted.  I’ll publish another post or two about 2011 soon.

Be sure and check back for my next post. It is a milestone occasion for this blog. You see this post is my 499th since starting this blog. I plan on making my 500th post something special. I’ve given you, my loyal blog readers, an opportunity to choose what the subject of post 500 will be. Check out my Facebook page for a wall post that gives you a choice to add your voice to the decision process about the subject of my 500th post. Cast your vote and then come back and read what you voted for. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Recollections of 2011 Part 2 Section A

Happy 2012, everyone. I hope you enjoyed my first post reviewing my travels in 2011. This post is “Part 2, section A” of my “Year In Review” portion of will look back at the people, places, and things that changed my life over the course of this year. Once again, this will be done as a “Top 10” countdown. Section “A” will include the first 5. But first a couple of “honorable mentions”

Lawn Tractor Troubles:  For the most part I have tried to be positive in my review points but this first honorable mention had a negative effect on me this summer.

My Troublesome Ridning Mower
Last March, at the start of the 7 month mowing season, I bought a Craftsman LT200 riding mower to make yard work a little less time consuming and easier to do in the heat of summer. I bought it on sale at Sears with the opportunity to pay for it over the course of a year with no interest. This is a good idea right?

Well it turned out a series of events ended up making me wonder if I had made a mistake. These included: a bent pulley, broken belt, and bent blade after mowing over a hedge stump; the mower not starting for no apparent reason, running down the battery trying to get it going again; taking 3 months to find someone with a flat trailer to take the mower to Sears; finding out the warranty repair man comes to your home but only has appointments on Wednesdays (Monday is my day off); not being able to get the mower back to the house for two weeks.

Combine that with the fact that those problems served to strongly reinforce the perception that I’m mechanically incompetent and you’ll get a very frustrating first summer with my riding mower. It definitely changed my life but not in a good way. 

A Growing Friendship: In 2011 Paula and I had the privilege of building a stronger friendship with Mark and Patty Quigley. Mark is the associate pastor of our church and Patty teaches special Bible study courses for the women of the church.

We spent time at each other’s homes playing board games. We went to the movies and, as I’ve already mentioned in, went to a WKU football game together. Patty even had Thanksgiving dinner with us when Mark was away visiting his daughter in Tennessee over the four-day weekend. (Patty couldn’t go because she had to work the Friday after the holiday)

The growth of the friendship with the Quigley’s this year has been life changing because since we’ve been married Paula and I have never really had another married couple that we could hang out with and go on “date nights” together.  We are proud to call the Quigley’s our friends. They are a real blessing.  

Patty & Mark Quigley with Paula
 @WKU Football Game 11/5/11

Those are this list’s honorable mentions. Now, let’s move on to the Top 10 countdown.

10. Two New Blogs And A Laptop: Back in January 2011, for me, working or playing on the computer meant hibernating in the back room of our house. This took me away from my wife who was in our living room with her laptop watching TV.

Although this is the way it’s been since Paula got her laptop for Christmas in 2009, I decided that it was time for a change. In February with the blessing of my wife, I bought myself a new HP laptop computer.  

Now when it comes to computer time we are both in the same room together. That may not seem like much of a difference but it has changed the dynamics of our household and our marriage and I mean for the better.

My new laptop also gave me easy access to a computer. I didn’t have to choose between being with my wife sitting in front of a monitor while on the internet.  Now I can do both and I often do. To be honest, it’s unusual for me to be sitting in my recliner in the living room without my laptop in front of me.

The same month I bought my laptop I started my 2nd blog. The reason I did this was because as a Disney World fanatic and Walt Disney Company shareholder (I own one share. It gets me a small dividend check and a copy of the company’s annual report every year) I found myself constantly forming opinions about anything and everything that went on in Disney’s World. Sending emails to and leaving voice mail for the hosts of my favorite Disney podcasts just wasn’t enough. I needed my own outlet to express my views and experiences that involved Disney. So at the end of February I created The “Goofy Guy’s Off World Disney Blog.”

Not only did the Goofy Guy blog give me a forum to write about all things Disney without boring the readers of this blog; it helped me cope with the frustration of having to wait a few years before my next trip back to “The World”.

In honor of the “March Madness” I held my own Disney music tournament. I picked 64 classic Disney songs, paired them up and chose my favorites until there was only one.  Not surprisingly the winner was “When You Wish Upon A Star.”

Then in late November after a frustrating year of trying to get back on track with my weight loss effort I realized that I needed help. I decided that help needed to come to me in the form of accountability. I was inspired by BTV, an online weight loss surgery webcast, to start yet another blog.

On November 8, I started the “Getting To My Goal” blog. From the beginning I intended this blog to be the vehicle that gives me access to my own personal support group. I asked the hosts of the BTV webcast to mention my new blog so I could get as many readers /supporters as possible.

For 3 weeks in November I wrote 16 posts taking responsibility for my bad eating habits and a resolving to get back to the type of behavior that helped me lose the 180 pounds I lost after weight loss surgery. The “goal” I am working toward is getting down to 175 pounds.

I received lots of support and even made a special connection with a family member. I’ve taken a break from that blog over the month of December. But I’ll be getting back to it in 2012.

Between my blogs and Facebook 2011 was a year I used social media in a very positive way. They helped me keep in touch with friends and family and helped me share my life with those whom I might not have been able to otherwise. That’s a life changing thing.

Here are the links to the two new blog I started in 2011:

9. My New “Supplement”: If this entry seems a bit cryptic it’s because it’s intentionally vague. There is a reason for this. Much to some of my reader’s surprise there are some personal things I choose not to share completely on any of my blogs. But I know what I’m writing about and how it has changed my life. If you really want to know the specifics, ask me the next time you see me. I may give you a few more details.

Because of my limited nutritional intake after weight loss surgery to stay healthy I take a regimen of vitamin and mineral supplements every day. I won’t list them here but there are about 8 of them. I swallow or chew a combination of 14 pills each day.

This past February under the guidance of my doctor I added another “supplement” to help me improve my health and help to keep me focused throughout the day. Now twice a day I take this supplement and it’s really changed my life.

8. Theresa Breaks Her Ankle: On Thursday August 9 my sister-in-law, Theresa, broke her left ankle as the result of a “freak accident” while visiting a friend in Nashville. I won’t go into the details of the trauma. I’ll just say it happened when a wooden deck outside a friend’s trailer collapsed and Theresa was thrown to the ground; landing partially under the trailer. She was taken by ambulance to Skyline Hospital where we went to be with her. It was one of those surreal events where I found myself in a place near the end of the day that I had no idea I’d be that morning. This was 1000 times more applicable to my sister in law. The next day she had surgery and a metal plate and several screws were needed to fix the 3 fractures.

Of course Paula and I did what we could to help Theresa. Paula did most of the work in those early days of her recovery.

I couldn’t even begin to explain the dramatic effect this event had on Theresa’s life. I won’t even attempt to. That’s her story and much longer than could ever be covered in a blog post.

So why am I making this part of the 10 things that changed my life in 2011? Well, when it came time for Theresa to go back to her surgeon, Dr. Dyer, in Nashville for checkups her appointments had to be on a weekday. By that time I had Mondays off (more on that in the later) so I volunteered to take her.

From September through December, once a month we went to offices of Tennessee Orthopedic Associates. This not only changed the way I spent one of my days off each month; I also got to know my sister in law better.  

Ironically, at the end of 2010, in my final minutes of the Rewind Christmas program I recorded that December, I spoke about wanting to have the spirit of a servant in the coming year. Over the last 4 months of 2011 God gave me the opportunity to work toward that goal. Although I wasn’t perfect at it and had to learn a lot along the way I did my best to help my sister in law with anything she needed. It was a venue for personal growth that only God could have sent my way. I am grateful for the spiritual education.

At the end of the year Theresa is still dealing with the healing of her ankle but she’s come a long way. She is ambulatory and independent again. Our days of riding to see the surgeon are just about over (only about 1 or 2 visits early in 2012 will be necessary before she is “officially” released by Dr. Dyer) but I will always consider the time we spent together in 2011 the silver lining to her “broken ankle” cloud.

7. Rewind Shows: Although I made my way back to my Rewind programs last year with the recording of a baseball show. I started production of my first Christmas show in 12 years in December 2010 but it wasn’t until the first week of January 2011 that I finished it. In the spring of 2011 I produced an autobiographical based Rewind show. The “2010 Soundtrack” program; preserves the music and memories of very special 50th birthday year.

Then in December, just a couple of weeks ago, I finished the 7th Rewind Christmas show. I send my family and friends copies of both of my new Rewind Christmas shows.

Currently the production of “Rewind” is an “old school” process. It involves music and vocal recordings being mixed through a soundboard, recorded onto a CD. The good takes are then taken from the CD and imported into My I-Tunes library and combined to create the Rewind program.

The recording portion of this process is done in the sound booth of my church. This means finding time to go to the church and record. In 2011 I decided that it was time to start taking the steps to bring the Rewind production process home. .

I’m going to start recording directly to a computer digital recording program, eliminating the need for CDs. I’ll also set up a sound mixing board for the input of a microphone and music from my I-pods. This means I can record anytime I want to, day or night, without having to go to the church. This will make it easier to record more Rewind shows over the course of a year.

While the Rewind show productions may not seem like nothing more than a self-indulgent hobby at best. They have a positive effect on my life. First of all they help me keep my “creative pencil” sharp (more on that later) and moves me toward today’s digital recording technology.  The entire production process also gives me ideas I just might use in other creative areas.

Finally, sending copies of my Rewind Christmas shows to people I would like to be with during the holidays allows me to a bit closer to them over Christmas time. That makes me feel a lot better every December.

6. Planning Paula’s Surprise Party: Because my wife gave me the ultimate gift of a trip to Walt Disney World for my 50th birthday I knew that in 2011 I’d have to make the celebration of her 50th something special.

Although I referred to them as “vacations” in my first 2011review post; the trips to Chattanooga and Gatlinburg were partially Paula’s birthday trips. After we got back from Chattanooga, my wife mentioned that she’d like our next vacation to be somewhere that has a beach. Her dream vacation is to just sit and relax on the sand with nothing to do but watch the ocean. She then suggested that perhaps next May when her brother and his family go to the beach in Florida on vacation, she’d to go with them.

At the beginning of June I came up with the idea of throwing Paula a surprise party. I had just the right theme. It would be a “beach party.”

I knew to keep this a secret I‘d share information to a limited number of people on a “need to know” basis. I would only ask for help if I really needed it because I wanted to do this myself. I wanted to give Paula a gift that was only from me; just like she did with my Walt Disney World trip. I managed to do most of the planning and design.

I did everything from send out the invitations to the catering. However, I needed a little help with the guest list. For that I consulted my sister in law and one of Paula’s longtime friends and coworker, Jenny.

Theresa, James, Brandi, Michael, and Heather helped decorate the church fellowship hall the day of the party. But perhaps the most important helper was our friend from church, Gail. She persuaded Paula go to the church with her so she could be surprised.

Because I never ever planned a themed birthday party before I tried to recall all I’d ever seen, heard, or read about party planning. Finally all those segments of “Good Morning America”, Live with Regis and Kelly, and HGTV party planning shows would pay off.

While walking through several 99 cent stores, a party supply store, and Wal-Mart I came up with designs for the head table, Paula’s exclusive miniature island, complete with beach chair and center pieces for each table.

Limited as they were I used all my “artistic skills” to create the center pieces and Paula’s “island.” The party went off without a hitch. Paula was really surprised. I took plenty of pictures. Here are some of them. Actually there's a lot of them; but I'm proud of the way the whole thing turned out.

A Table Center Piece

Another Table Center Piece

The Head Table Center Piece & Cake

Overview of the Hall Fully Decorated

Paula and Her "Island"

The Cake With 50 Candles

So there you have 5 of the 10 of the topics that changed my life in 2011. Come back next time for Part 2 Section B for the “Top 5” including what I consider the most life changing element of the year.