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. 

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