Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Let's Build Something Together

It's a standard TV sit-com plot. The wife, wanting to spend more time with her husband, decides to get involved in his favorite activity or hobby. She suggests  to strengthen their marriage they play or do it together. Although it's against his better judgement, the husband cannot say "no". 

Most of the time it's golf but there's also episodes that involve fishing, playing poker, and even watching football. Because they're part of a comedy most of these episode turn out with the wife totally embarrassing the husband or being better then he is at the activity.

The episode usually ends with the couple deciding that there are some things they should do as individuals. 

Well, in my house over the last couple of months Paula and I have been living out that old TV plot for real. 

Now my wife has indulged me by coming along for the ride with me in the past. Two trips to Walt Disney World are at the top of that testimonial list. 

But lately, we have been spending some time doing something that initially might seem like it would really test the metal of a marriage. We built a house together; in fact we've built a couple of them. 

No, we haven't started a family contracting business. Paula has adopted a "if you can't be 'em; join 'em" attitude when it comes to my enjoyment of Legos. 

Last month we assembled a kit from the Lego Architecture series. It's a model of the home of the President of the United States: The White House.

It took us about 2 hours over the course of 3 Saturday nights to finish it. The model is now proudly displayed on a shelf in our living room. 

Sitting beside the White House, at least on our shelf, is the second Lego project we put together. 

It's our A-Frame summer home.

Working with my wife on Legos at home is a lot different than doing it while I'm on the phone a work. But it's still a lot of fun. 

The A-Frame is just the first of 3 houses we can build with Lego Creator kit 5891. So come back for more pictures when we finish the next two. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Original Skyscraper

Last year I built my first Lego Architecture series model, the Willis Tower. I bought it during our trip to Chicago.This past week I put together my 2nd.

I received the Lego Empire State Building kit as a gift from my son, Michael, and daughter in law, Heather, on Father's day. 

Although it was rather easy to put together I think the real value of this model is in it's visual appeal. I really like it. 

I've got it on display on a shelf in my living room next to White House that Paula and I built a couple of months ago (more of that in my next post).

Now all I have to do is find a King Kong Lego mini-figure to do some climbing. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

My First Radio Studio Part 2

In this second of a 2-part post, I want to continue my story about one of my best Christmas gifts ever.

The record player with a microphone gave me so many hours of fun pretending to be a DJ on the radio. I spent hours and hours in my room honing my "talents"; especially talking through the intro of the best songs of 1975. 

Two of the hits I remember "talking up" the most were 45 RPM records that were also given to me as part of my Christmas presents.

One was the #8 song and the other the #38 on the top 100 hits of the year. But both made it to #1 on the weekly charts. 

Here are pictures of those 45s:

"Laughter In The Rain" by Neil Sedaka 


"Cat's In The Cradle" by Harry Chapin 

I could go on about the good times with my first radio studio but I believe I've done that quite well already. 

Now I want to move on to the journey that helped me find it again. Well not exactly "find it: but as close to it as I believe I'll ever come.

One of my favorite reality TV shows currently set to record on my DVR each week is "The Toy Hunter" on the TLC network. It's title star is Jordan Hembrough. He goes around the country "picking" the average Joe's toy collections in search of "vintage" toys to sell to his customers. 

On one episode, while searching through a yet another toy collection, he talked with his benefactor about searching through the Sears "Wishbook" catalog, as a kid, in search of toys for Christmas. 

Hearing that conversation sparked the same memories for me. Some of the things I remembering picking out over the years were: Official licensed NFL clothing (with the Washington Redskins name and logo on it), an electric football game, a ventriloquist puppet, and much more. 

It also came back to me that the Wishbook was where I found my treasured record player. At least there was a connection that seemed very familiar. 

I went back and searched Googel and Ebay with some different keywords with the same unsuccessful results. 

I came to the conclusion that in order to confirm my "where I saw it" theory I needed to see a 1975 Sears Christmas catalog. But where to find one?

Well, those catalogs were a significant part of the average American baby boomers year end holiday season for decades. There must be people into collecting them. That led me back to Google. 

I didn't find a listing of a group or club that specializes in collecting Sears catalogs. I found something better: a website that has digital copies of every page of 45 classic store catalogs (Sears, Montgomery Ward, and Spiegle from 1933 to 1988). Can you believe someone or someones took the time to convert all those catalogs. Well see for yourself.

Excited about just finding the website I anxiously scrolled through the catalog links in chronological order until I found it: Sears Wishbook 1975. Each page was a jpeg picture. After horizontally scrolling through 611 of 649 pages I found this. 

It's my first radio studio! Isn't the internet amazing? 

The digital picture was somewhat different than the one I have in my mind. But the reality was more of a rush than I had expected. 

I still can't find one of these record players for sale. I don't think I ever will. I may even give up on looking. What would I do with it anyway? 

But at least now whenever I want to I can bring up this picture and remember all the joy and happiness my parents gave me when they gave me the opportunity to have a "radio studio" in my very own bedroom. The ripple effects of that wonderful Christmas gift are still a part of my life 38 years later. Thanks Mom & Dad. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

My First Radio Studio Part 1

It's just a few days before the start of summer. But with the last half of the year about to begin that means Christmas will be here before you know it. 

Do you remember the thrill of watching commercials on Saturday morning cartoons, going to the local toy store or, paging through toy catalogs around Christmas time when you were a kid? Every child in America picked out hundreds of things he or she wanted Santa to bring them and made sure their parents knew about them in detail. 

Well, in 1975, the year I was a freshman in high school, I found something I wanted more than anything. 

At 15, the world of radio was my passion. My hopes and dreams were all invested in one day being a DJ, I want to make a career out of talking up records, reading news and commercials, as well as updating listeners on the latest weather forecast. I was going to be the next Casey Kasem. 

That holiday season I found the perfect way to "practice" my future vocation in privacy of my own room. 

Ever since I got my first cassette tape recorder, 4 years earlier (See my September 12, 2012 post for details) I had been taping my own "radio shows" but had to put the microphone up next to my record player's speakers and talk into it at the same time in order to mix my voice and the music. 

But the thing I wanted most that Christmas would change all of that. It was a combination turntable (the "official" radio term for a record player) and PA system that allowed anyone to play DJ at home. It mixed the sound of the microphone with the music and played them through the same set of speakers. 

There was also a set of head phones so you could listen to yourself as loudly as you wanted and not disturb your whole household. The technology is extremely ancient by today's standards but was cutting edge in the world of electronic toys at the time. 

What really made the toy seem like a real radio studio was the cardboard display you set up in the back of the record player. It had 4 sections.  

The right side of the board was the place you hung your headphones and mic when you weren't using them. The left side allowed you to use an erasable grease pencil (this was prior to dry erase boards) to write your own commercial copy and weather to announce to your "listeners". You could also write a list of records you wanted to play. 

After months of campaigning to my parents in a way that would have made "Ralphie" from "A Christmas Story" proud; I was lucky enough to discover my heart's desire under the tree that year. 

Opening that DJ studio on that Christmas morning in 1975 was one of the best memories I have from my childhood.  

As you might gather from my reminiscing nearly 38 years later I still hold the memory of that record player near and dear to my heart. I've often thought about trying to find one again for sentimental reasons. 

Although I could picture it in my mind I could not recall what brand name it was or even if it had one. I couldn't even remember what store or catalog it came from. With all the resources my mom used to buy our Christmas presents as we were growing up there were plenty of choices. I had no clue where to even begin looking. 

Ever since I've been able to get on the internet I've been doing random searches with some general generic words such as : disc jockey and turntable. But I hadn't even been able to find a picture of my first radio studio. 

But recently I've had a "breakthrough" in my recollections about that special gift. I'll share the memory that turned out to be a game changer in my quest and what happened as a result of my new search path in part 2 of "My First Radio Studio" next time. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

From Friday To Father's Day... Fantastic

Picture if you will the beginning of a movie or TV show that begins with the main character in a place or situation that seems very strange, unusual and possibly perilous. You are confused and not sure if you missed something.  How did he or she get there? What happened? 

All of a sudden the scene ends; fade out. A graphic comes up that reads:"3 days earlier". You then see what happens to create that initial scene. 

For me, as I sit here typing this on the night of Sunday, June 16 I want to stop and go back.  Return to "72 hours earlier" What a great 3 days it was. 

This past Friday morning was the last day of VBS at Oakland Baptist Church. I've already explained what that meant to me in the previous post. 

That afternoon I drove into Bowling Green, paid some bills and did some grocery shopping. But my biggest purchase was a new gas grill. More on that later. 

Of course, Friday night was the closing ceremonies for Oakland Baptist's VBS. The biggest part of my night was spent counting that evening's offering. It needed to be counted quickly to determine if the week's total added up to $3000 or more. Because it did our pastor, Tim, true to his promise got a Mohawk hair cut. 

On Saturday morning I went to our local Best Buy and had my new car radio installed. It's a JVC and a Father's Day present from my very generous wife. 

I now have the means of listening to my XM radio and my Ipod, through my car speakers, by plugging them directly into the radio. I can say "good-bye" to my FM transmitter and trying to find a frequency that doesn't have a local station or gets bleed over from one. You have no idea how happy this makes me. 

The real surprise of the morning made me even happier. I was invited to go to breakfast with James, Brandi and, the delight of my heart, Aria Nicole. 

We went to Waffle House along with Brandi's mom & sister. Aria had a bit of a tummy issue (I won't go into details) but otherwise was her usual delightful self. 

After breakfast, I did some more grocery shopping (Sam's Club & Kroger) before I went home. 

When I got home my beautiful granddaughter was there. Her "mommy" and "daddy" went on an afternoon movie date so "Nana" and "Papa" got to spend time with her. 

I shared a chocolate coated vanilla ice cream snack with her. At first it was a bit too big for her little mouth. She didn't like the feel of the cold on her cheeks. I broke off pieces of the coating and fed them to her. She liked the chocolate. Finally, she was able to enjoy it like any kid should; by licking it with her very own tongue. 

Sharing ice cream with my granddaughter for the first time is one of the best memories of the year so far.

Saturday night Paula and I watched the first 2 parts of a 7 part miniseries from Netflix: Top of The Lake. It originally aired on the BBC America and is very hard to describe. 
Oscar winner Holly Hunter plays a very strange character. 

Even after 2 one-hour episodes we're not sure if we like the show or not. But whether we consider it compelling or a"car wreck" we both agree, we want to see more before passing our "final judgement". 

Sunday was Father's Day and I got the chance to honor my own father by showing the kids of my church the display I had made earlier this year. I used it as an illustration during the Children's Sermon. 

The framed documents include:a picture of my dad at his drafting table; the bill sent to the American League office from when dad measured out the field in Yankee Stadium on April 7, 1968; a picture of the umpire he helped at the stadium; and a panoramic shot of Yankees Stadium circa 1968.  I'm very proud of that framed display and of my dad's "15 minutes of fame." 

I spent the afternoon one of the ways I love to spend a Sunday afternoons: with my family. 

Michael, Heather, James, Brandi and Aria came to spend Father's Day with me. I got a Lego Empire State Building kit (thank you Michael & Heather)  and yet another afternoon with my the light of my life, Aria (thank you James & Brandi) for Father's Day. 

Of course any get together with the kids always has to include food and this day was no different. I promised grilled hamburgers for dinner. 

These burgers would be special. They would be the last  cooked on our first family grill.  This last cookout ended in a very poetic way.

 After the burgers were cooking for about 20 minutes. I planned on keeping them going for another 5. But when I went to turn them for the last time I discovered that flames had gone out and the propane tank was empty.  

Perhaps I'm being a bit too sentimental but the demise of that grill has significance for me. It is has been part of many many good times here at our home. But it was 10 years old, rusty and  had shown signs of not being safe to use anymore. It was time to let it go. 

The grill I bought on Friday has a bigger cooking area and twice as many burners. It's going to make grilling my special stakes for the family a lot easier. 

I was worried that the burgers were a bit under cooked, but they were very good. The family devoured 10 of the 14 I grilled. 

After dinner we sat in the living room and talked. Michael and James watched a really weird movie, Silent Hill: Revelation, on Netflix and napped. The rest of us talked and played with Aria. 

By 7 o'clock the kids had left. Paula and I spent the rest of the night just watching TV and chillin . 

And that brings me back to where I started. Sitting on the couch writing this post. 

My recollections of the past 3 days may not seem very exciting to you but for me they were fantastic. I got to spend time with the people who make a difference in my life and doing the things that I love. I am truly blessed. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

VBS Week: No Vacation; But Still A Blessing

Over the past 5 days, for the 2nd year in a row, I participated as a volunteer worker in Vacation Bible School at Oakland Baptist Church. 

Last year I was a "jack of all trades". I went to the individual classrooms to perform ventriloquism, counted the offering, and anything else that needed to be done. 

In 2013 I had a more specific and bigger responsibility. I taught the children the words and choreography to the music written especially for the VBS program. 

Now I'm no music expert, to say the least. But I have had some experience. In 2010, I taught music during VBS to a handful of children at a church started by members of Oakland Baptist that same year. 

Last summer I taught music to the children in a small church in Moorehead, Kentucky as part of an OBC missionary trip. 

But this was different than those experiences. You see the highlight of the closing ceremonies of OBC's VBS each year is the musical performance by the children. 

I say "the highlight" because it's where all the parents get the chance to get out their devices (cameras, mobile phones, tablets, ect.) and make a video of their child singing on stage. 

So the "pressure" was on. This was an important part of an important event in my home church. 

Also different this year, was the fact that I had to be at church by 9AM, teach until 11:30, and then had to go my job and work from 1 to 10PM.

All the other years I've been involved with VBS, I've not had to work for one reason or another. This week wasn't easy but it was worth it. 

The VBS curriculum the church used this year was called "Colossal Coaster World". It used the fear of riding a roller coaster as a metaphor to teach the children about trusting God no matter how they feel or what happens in their life. 

The songs helped to reinforce the points of each day's lessons and were all very good.  

I decided to teach the children just two of the five songs. My helper for the week was a young man named "Eli". He did his homework and knew the songs much better than I did. 

Over the course of the week I had a total of just a little over 2 hours to teach 3 groups of children (4th, 5th & 6th graders; 2nd & 3rd graders; and 1st grade & kindergartners) the words and motions to a pair of 3 minute songs. 

I used the promise of a pair of passes to Beech Bend, the local amusement and water park to the most "fearless" participant as a way of keeping up their enthusiasm and encouraging their participation . 

The children's degree of interest in the music and the videos was in reverse proportion to their ages. The oldest kids were a bit "too cool" to be totally into it. But the youngest more than made up for it. 

The 5 &6 year olds were the last class of the day and they always left me feeling like I was being an effective teacher. I "thanked" them by letting their pal Cecil the turtle, my most popular ventriloquist puppet, visit them on Thursday.    

After one final day of rehearsal on Friday, I still wasn't convinced the kids were ready for their presentation to their parents that night. 

I guess I did an adequate job of teaching them because at the closing ceremonies the children gave a performance that made me proud. And, yes, there was a plenty of parents and grandparents pointing phones and "making memories."  

As I write this post I'm just starting to feel the effects of keeping such a busy schedule this week with less than adequate sleep. But I'll be okay in a few days. 

Another year of VBS is history. I guess I did a good enough job (even though I think I could have done better) being the OBC VBS music teacher. 

Being around the kids was the best thing about being involved.  I just hope I managed to give them even just a small degree of the joy they gave to me. 

I can't help but entertain the possibility that maybe one of them will one day share their memories of the Colossal Coaster World songs with their children. Realistically, most, after a few days, will not give the music another thought. 

For me, every time I listen to "Ride Of Your Life" or "Change My Heart" on my Ipod, I will remember what a blessing this week has been. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Bargain & A Surprise

Yesterday, Saturday, June 8, was a very productive day for me. I accomplished a lot. I purchased a component for my car that will make a difference in how I listen to music and podcasts while on the road. I'll be writing more on that later.

In the late afternoon, I went to Bowling Green that included: some grocery shopping, stocking up on our supply of vitamins and supplements, and buying a new home answering machine system. 

But the thing I will remember the most about yesterday has to do with Legos. I made two very unexpected additions to my collection. One was a bargain and the other a very pleasant surprise. I'm very excited about them both. 

First the bargain. Early Saturday morning I made my way through the yard sales that were set up in Smiths Grove. It was the annual community yard sale day. 

I'm always on the look out for an interesting toy, collectible, or vinyl record album cheap. But on this day I was coming up empty. That is until I got to the plethora of tables set up at the far end of town. 

Among a group of toys which at one time were organized but now mostly scattered on a blanket on the ground I found a plastic brick kit of a Transformer robot. I'm very familiar with these. 

The series of "Lego like" toys are made by Kre-o; a division of Hasbro. They're that company's answer to Legos. There are 5 robots in the Transformer series. I already have three. This kit of "Ratchet" would be my fourth. 

I checked out the brief case shaped box. It was no longer sealed and there were a couple of pieces of cardboard torn off. It had obviously been opened but a look inside made me smile. 

The nearly 200 pieces were all still sealed in 3 plastic bags and the instruction book was like new. I knew I had to have this toy. 

There was no price on the box so I approached the woman who was selling the stuff. I asked her how much she wanted for "this open box robot toy." I tried my best to sound as disinterested as I could hoping that might influence her response. That's when I heard her say "25 cents". 

I couldn't believe it. I had expected $5 or $10. I wanted to jump for joy but did my best to be "matter of fact." As quick as I could I got out my cash. Within a minute I had my new Transformer brick model robot in a plastic bag and was heading home.

Later in the day I drove into Bowling Green with a "to do" list to work on. My course I needed to take led right past the front door of one of my favorite places: Toys R Us. 

I was stopping just to look and see if there was anything new on their Lego shelves. But on my way down the aisle to that area of the store I saw something on an endcap that made the hearts of both the Lego and the Star Trek geek in me skip a beat. It was my 2nd Kre-o discovery of the day. Here's what I saw:

It was a plastic brick model of the original Starship Enterprise. Being a real "Trekkie" I was a bit weak in the knees as I picked up the box to get a closer look. Even in the midst of my elation the price (a bit over $50) required further investigation. I had to determine if spending that much money on a "toy" could be justified to my wife. 

I read the big and small print on the box. It was "motorized" and could be powered with just 3 AA batteries; the "cherry on the sundae". I just couldn't leave the store without this thing. 

I searched my mind for the logic that Paula would understand. I simply came up with the "I saw it and just lost my mind" approach. I would not be looking for acceptance I would be asking for forgiveness. Sometimes that's better and my wife is the best at granting that in our relationship. 

So I got in line at the checkout, put down the plastic, and left the store with my new plastic brick model. 

I will be assembling the Transformer first. I'll probably start working on it sometime this week. 

It will be a few weeks before I start working on The Enterprise. But when I finish it, I will post a picture either on this blog or on Facebook. I'm excited about going where my Lego building has never gone before.