Thursday, October 30, 2014

Saddest Day Of The Year

Tomorrow is Halloween. A day that has become the 2nd most celebrated "holiday" in this country. 

Kids everywhere are anticipating the thrill of wearing their costumes to school and later in the day to "trick or treat." 

Parents and adults are hosting parties or have decorated their homes so as to welcome the little monsters and ghouls looking for goodies to their front door. There is a spark of excitement in the air.

But for me today the saddest day of the year. It marks the beginning of the MLB off-season. The San Francisco Giants beat the Kansas City Royals 3-2 in the 7th game of the World Series last night. Thanks to a "super hero" like playoff performance by pitcher Madison Bumgarner. 

While the season had already ended for the players of all but those teams prior to game 7; when Pablo Sanoval squeezed a foul pop for the last out, the season ended for the baseball fans. That includes me. 

I now have to take my MLB t-shirts from my closet and put them in storage for the next 6 months so they don't just sit there taking up space. Come April I will get them back. 

Of course I do have the "hot stove" action to keep an eye on over the cold, lonely, off season. Free agent signings, trades, GM's winter meetings, are all things I have to look to get me through the off season. But there's nothing to watch and enjoy on a daily basis. 

By default I will watch and enjoy the rest of the NFL season. But I'm no where as interested in football as I am baseball. After the Superbowl in early 2015 I will then have to go through my personal sports "dead period" when there's nothing I'm interested in to watch until late March when Spring Training games start again. 

As a means of helping me keep baseball around all year long, my cousin has suggested I download start playing a baseball video. 

I must admit those games are very detailed and really capture the essences of both MLB's on and off field activities. But unfortunately, I just can't see myself enjoying the game. 

I feel about it the way I do fantasy baseball. The amount of time and attention  I have to put into the game to be have success is not worth the reward. But I am grateful to my cousin for his suggestion. Perhaps one day I'll take try and get into the game. 

But don't feel sorry for me as far as my lamenting the end of the 2014 baseball season goes. As a baseball fan, I have dealt with this sad event each year for more than 40 years. 

After a day or two of properly grieving the fact that there is no baseball until next year I will also find hope in that fact. There will be a "next year" and I will once again be able to get totally involved in yet another season and the hope that my beloved Yankees will once again come out on top. 

Just like the song "Heart" from the play Damn Yankees says. "You've got to have hope. Mustn't sit around and mope. Nothin's half as bad as it may appear. Wait til next year and hope."

That's advice I'm going to take to heart myself. I'll be back to my cheery old self in no time. Besides tomorrow is Halloween. 

 It is one of my favorite days of the year here in Smiths Grove. I'm going to"celebrate" with a very special group of people. More on that after tomorrow. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

My Seventies Sit-Com Studies Part 1

With so many outlets from which to get entertainment these days, watching TV isn't what it used to be. 

The major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS & NBC) have cable networks (USA, SiFi, FX, ect.), superstations (TNT,TBS & WGN), and subscription channels (Showtime, HBO, ect.) with which to compete. Not to mention all the specialty cable channels some of which are represented below. 

As you can see just from this small sample, TV viewing choices these days number in the hundreds. 

Netflix, Hulu, DVRs, "On Demand" and complete series on DVD allows a person the option to "customize" their viewing and optimize their free time. They can watch a single episode program or "binge watch" their favorite shows when they have the time. Not to mention the privilege of mobility that technology has given them. 

But back in the 1970s, when I was a teenager and probably up until 1997 when "Seinfeld" ended, the major broadcast networks focused on strategically grouping programs, placed the the correct time slots, on the appropriate night of the week to attract viewers. 

Believe it or not at one time there was only the "big 3" TV networks. 

Executives that ran those major TV outlets were consistently searching for that elusive 3 hour block of prime time programming that would persuade Mr. & Mrs. America to park themselves in front of their one and only TV set. It was even better if the entire family sat down to watch together.  

At one time the typical family had just one TV in their home; usually the centerpiece of the living room or main family gathering place in the house. They used to be called "sets" because the components needed to bring all the network stars into the home basically consisted of tubes and transistors mounted in a chassis, a picture tube, and a rather large speaker. These components took up quite a bit of room so they were mounted and housed in a rather large cabinet.  

Manufacturers of TVs in the 50's thru the 80's made TVs intended to be part of a home's decor; a piece of furniture if you will. Here's an example of what they looked like circa 1970:
Now let's get back to my main subject.

By the time the 1960's came around 90% of US homes had a TV set. 

The networks' goal was to get the viewers to sit down after dinner, turn on their early evening newscast and,remain fully entertained, not touching the dial (aka changing the channel) until they got up and turned it off after watching the late night local news and heading to bed. In the days before remote control you had to actually get up and change the channel by turning a dial on the front of the set.

In TV's early days the 50's and early 60's, Saturday, and Sunday nights were the main focus for effective programming blocks.

By the time the late 70s, 80s & 90s came along, when the baby boomers really came into their own, the placing of blocks of popular programs shifted to weeknights. 

Reason being that on weekends the coveted demographic of 18-35 year old viewers were usually either on dates, out visiting friends, or otherwise occupied with family activities. 

The early hours of Sunday night usually had family friendly programming because that's when parents were home getting their kids ready to go back to school the next morning. 

Later Sunday night programming was filled with shows that "mom & dad" might enjoy during their brief time alone before the start of another work week. 

Near the end of the 1960s and into the early 70s, network programmers faced a new challenge, especially when it came to TV comedies. 

Throughout the decade, TV sit-coms had transitioned from the "screwball" and "slapstick" comedies of the 50s, led by the pioneering "I Love Lucy", to the family and or community oriented based shows of the early 60s, such as "Dick Van Dyke Show" and Danny Thomas' "Make Room For Daddy".

But by the mid 60s, the electronic portal that brought these lighthearted and very popular programs into the home was soon invaded by things out of it's control. 

The nightly network news broadcasts began bringing the reality of the Vietnam War, it's political and social repercussions (peace rallies, protests and "sit-ins"), the conflicts of the civil rights movement (inter city riots) directly into American living rooms.   

It was a stark and sobering contrast between reports of the latest bombing campaign in southeast Asia, or film of the use of water cannons by police to control protesters on the news followed by shows that portrayed the idyllic peaceful world of the TV sit-com families.  Shows such as "Leave it to Beaver", "Father Knows Best", "The Donna Reed Show" and "The Andy Griffith Show" quickly became reflection of an America that "was". 

Viewers had initially identified with these shows. They could see themselves or people they knew in the characters. But by the late 60s those same shows were more fiction than fact when it came to cultural commonness with TV watchers. 

Add into the equation the sexual revolution and its political partner, the woman's rights movement, (both fueled by the introduction of "the pill") and you'll see how a very wide culture gap had developed between TV sit-coms and the reality experienced by the public that was supposed to be their audience. 

The creative arm of the industry was not ignorant of the need for TV sit-coms to change. They knew that a show's audience needed a frame of reference; something about a character or situation that related to their own lives. After all, comedy has to contain an element of reality for it to be funny. 

With their 68 and 69 fall TV seasons network programmers began scheduled a shows that would help them keep pace with political and cultural changes in the world.  

NBC's Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In set the standard for cutting edge comedy...

...while ABC's Room 222 was an issue driven mixture of comedy and drama. 

I have to pause here and mention that the show's theme song is in the top 10 of my list of all time favorite theme songs. The 90 second opening billboard is probably the longest ever in TV history.Here's a link to a You Tube video of that opening minute and a half:
Room 222 Opening Theme & Billboard 

But in the 1970s the TV sit-com would go through not one but two evolutionary changes. The first one at the start of the decade was so on-target and resonated with viewers with so loudly that it ran it's course rather quickly. The pendulum of viewer's tastes swung the other way in the latter half of the 1970s. 

So why have I given this lengthy history lesson about TV programming? It's to set the groundwork for me to lead into writing about, what I consider to be, the single best Saturday night TV network lineup in television history. 

Not only have I been enjoying reruns of this group of classic 1970s sitcoms since they went off the air, but over the last couple of years I have been learning about them, their individual histories, mostly through biographies about.the people who a part of them.   

The process has become a detailed study of the most popular sit-coms of the 1970s. Over next few posts I will be writing about those shows, their place in my personal history and the resources I've used to discover what I know. Come back later for the 2nd part of my "seventies sit-com studies" series.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Weekend Activities

This past weekend was rather eventful for me and I'd like to share some of it with you. 

First, I must mention that Paula was at her office for most of both days because of her company's annual physical inventory. That left me on my own most of the time. 

Let's start with something new for me. A married couple who go to my church needed someone to care for their dogs while they made a quick trip to see family in St. Louis. I volunteered to do it. 

For a decade I have had to find someone to take care of our dogs while we were on vacation. Friends and family members have been kind enough to help out. But it wasn't until recently that I've been on the other side of the situation. 

I've taken care our friends, Mark and Patty's pups a couple of times while they were away. But I know those dogs very well. I only met the dogs, I was caring for this time once, a couple of days before hand. But they were good dogs and no trouble at all. 

On Friday afternoon and Saturday morning I went to their apartment and fed and walked them. Here's their pictures. Maggie, a boxer, and Joe Joe, a mixed breed, respectively. 

They are both very sweet and very affectionate animals. I enjoyed spending time with them. 

Over the course of the two days I finished putting together a Lego Technics telehandler. It's the first of two models from Kit 42004. 

In addition I used the time while home alone to put together some of the other Lego kits I told you about in my last Lego post. Since they are all models that are themed to the upcoming holidays I won't show them to you until later. 

On Sunday mornings during the month of October I've been teaching the 4,5, and 6 year old kids during Children's Church hour at Oakland Baptist Church. 

With the month long theme of "God made me to be me" I taught the children about their individuality, creativity, God given talents and how they can use them.  

As an object lesson I used a battery operated bubble maker to create bubbles. As they watched the bubbles fly in the air I explained to the children that each bubble follows it's own path. Just the way we as Christians has given us our own path while serving Him.  

The bubble machine is terrific. This first was the first time I used it. I've posted a short video on my You Tube channel demonstrating how well it works. Here's the link: Bubble Machine Video

The weekend concluded with a special evening back at my church. The "Hallelujah Hoedown" is an annual event to celebrate the blessings of the fall season. 

It is held outside in the church parking lot. It's a pot luck dinner with grilled hot dogs and several versions of chili made by and brought by church members. 

There was also a hayride for the kids. A moonlit trip on a tractor pulled wagon of straw through the cornfields just in back of the church.  

Adjacent to the parking lot is a small area of grass where the church trustees built a large bonfire. They circle it with hay bales for everyone to sit and enjoy the ambiance of the flames. Here's a link to a short video showing what sitting around watching the fire was like: Hallelujah Hoedown Bonfire 

This year I used the bonfire as the setting to fulfill one of the things on my bucket list.

As I mentioned in my last post I really enjoy being around a campfire. One of the scenarios I've always wanted to be a part was to sit around an outdoor fire and be the guy who plays the guitar and leads everyone in a sing along. 

Well, I don't know how to play the guitar. But I do play a stringed instrument.  Ever since I started learning how to play the ukulele late last year, I have planned on taking it to the "hoedown" and fulfilling my dream. 

As you may have noticed from the back ground audio on the video the event is pretty much a fellowship event where everyone is free to enjoy the hoedown the way they want to. 

The atmosphere was not exactly the perfect setting for me to get out my ukulele and start playing the way I imagined it. But nevertheless I had my uke with me and I was going to play even if I was the only one who paid attention. I didn't want to waste the opportunity. 

I sat down on a hay bale, took out my ukulele out of it's case, tuned it, then opened my songbook and started playing.

Almost no one paid any attention to me or at least that's how it seemed to me. I almost felt invisible. But there was one person who joined in. A fellow church member named Linda, sat by my side and sang along with me. She even held my flash light so I could see my chord charts. 

We sang "He's Got The Whole World In His Hands", "Kumbya" and "Happy Trails" together. I am very grateful to Linda for being my singing partner. Her participation validated the whole activity. 

There were a lot of people sitting around but much to my dismay I don't think any of them seemed to be interested in joining in with us. So after a few songs, I decided that no matter what I sang it wasn't going to be the spontaneous fun occasion I had wanted it to be. 

I thanked Linda for her participation and then put my uke back in it's case and left the hoedown.

I will continue to look for an occasion to live out my fireside sing-along experience the way I've always imagined it. Still, when all is said and done, I can now say that "I did it" and cross it off my bucket list.   

So there are a few things that were factors this past weekend for me. Hope you enjoyed reading about it. 

One last thing I'd like to mention is that also this weekend I finished listening to yet another audio book. It is the second I've finished over the last couple of months about one of my favorite subjects: Television history. But I'll be writing more about that in a blog series in the near future. 

Thanks for reading the RHFactors blog without you I'd just be writing things I already know. See you next time. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Comedy, Fire And A New Direction

Haven't really had anything new to write about lately. But a blog's life blood is content. So it's time for another entry. Here are some of the "factors" that have been part of life for me over the last 10 days.

Last Thursday I made my 2nd trip to Nashville in the month of October. I made the trip worth it by taking care of several things while I was there. 

I went to the Guitar Center music store and Performance Studios costume store. Both are in south Nashville only 3 miles away from the venue that was the reason I had gone to Music City; Zanies Comedy Club. 

I went there to see the Thursday night early show because Jeff Allen was the headliner. 

Jeff has been one of my favorite "clean" comics for a few years now. This year I became even more of a fan after I started listening to his "An Examined Life" podcast. 

That's his internet program that he talks about his life as a Christian, a comic and his 27 years of sobriety. I encourage you to give it a listen on I-Tunes. 

I sat at a table at the very edge of the stage. Here's a shot of my POV for the show. 

In addition to the price of the ticket Zanies has a requires a "two item minimum" per customer. My two items were a diet coke and a chicken fingers and mozzarella sticks combo platter. It was good but not great. 

Now I was there was to see Jeff for the first time in 3 years but I also got another pleasant surprise. The guy who opened for him is also one of my favorite clean comics, Paul Aldrich. 

Paul does musical comedy while playing the guitar. He's very funny and an amazing, I mean AMAZING guitar player. Because the focus is on his comedy I don't think he gets enough credit for his talent on the guitar. But I appreciate it. 

I saw Paul the last time I was at Zanies a couple of years ago. He was very funny then but I can easily say he's moved his comedy to the next level. He is a better comic now than he ever was. 

Jeff came on stage and did about an hour. He did a combination of some of my favorite bits and new stuff. He was very funny. Because I've been listening to his podcast I felt a little more connected with him. It was kind of like watching a friend perform. 

After the show Jeff was out in the club greeting guests. I got to shake his hand and tell him that I enjoyed his show and listen to his podcast. "Oh you're the one" was his response. 

Here's a picture of the two of them. Jeff is on the left and Paul (who looks to me like he could be Steve Martin's brother) is on the right.

Both of these guys live in the Nashville area. I would love to have the opportunity to meet and interview either or both of them someday. 

If you want to find out more about these two talented Christian comedians click on these links to their websites: Jeff Allen Or Paul Aldrich

Last Saturday night Paula and I got to do one of my favorite things that happen each year around this time. Every fall Paula's brother, Woodie, and his wife, Gayle, host a get together at their house in Rockfield a small town about 20 minutes west of Bowling Green. 

The centerpiece of this event is a good old fashioned campfire. In their spacious backyard our hosts set bales of hay in a circle around the fire and all the guest sit and enjoy the warmth and do their best to avoid the smoke. We could roast hot dogs and marshmellows or just enjoy a lot of great company. 

It sounds pretty simple but its something I really like. I just love sitting around watching the fire burn. The extra "kick" the flames get when you throw in a pine cone is fun to watch. It's just so fascinating for me. 

We are invited to this event each fall but hadn't been able to go in a couple of years. This year Paula and I took Aria with us while James & Brandi went to see a movie.

This made our evening a bit different than in the past. You can't exactly get a 2 year old to sit and just enjoy a fire. Other than the few minutes she spend sitting on the ground eating a hot dog; Aria spent the evening exploring Gayle & Woodie's yard. Paula and I took turns being her "guide" but it was mostly Paula. 

After the movie, James and Brandi came out to the house to get Aria and visit for a while. It was a very enjoyable evening. 

Although I've become rather discouraged in regard to finding a job I still have to keep trying. Last week I filled out 3 more applications for jobs I'm sure I am more than qualified for. I didn't even get called for an interview. 

Although I did have a part time job with the Community Ed After School program for 3 months at the start of this year, I have for all intents and purposes been unemployed for close to a year. 

I really can't tell you how frustrating it is that no one will hire me. I've never been without a full time job for this long since I graduated from high school. 

Perhaps I need to reevaluate where I am in regard to employment. It may be time to start looking at my vocational future through a different lens. It might be time to change directions. If no one will give me a job perhaps I need to create my own. 

It's something that has happened a countless number of times over the history of this nation. America is the land of opportunity. A parade of examples to prove that fact comes through my very living room each week on one of my favorite TV shows, Shark Tank. 

Now I'm not talking about inventing the next million dollar idea. I'm just talking about taking what I know I can do and make it something other people want so I can acquire some income.  

I could go on but what I've got to write about the possibilities and my options warrants a post of it's own. Look for that one in the near future. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

My Latest TV Guilty Pleasure

This is going to be a very short post. I figured it was time for one. 

Other than the DVR my favorite aspect of our cable box is the "On Demand" feature. With one "click" of a button I can gain access to movies and my favorite TV shows that I missed. It also has a lot of shows I couldn't care less about. 

Recently while Paula and I were searching the "On Demand" menu I saw the name of a program that caught my attention: 

With my current interest in the Smokies, I was intrigued as to what the series was about. The 3 shows that were available to watch gave all had a synopsis that mentioned "ginseng"

I watched the first episode and discovered that this group of residents from the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina are divided up into 4 teams for the show. 
They travel the peaks and valleys of the Smokies in search of the wild ginseng plant. 
But it's not the plant that's their prize; it's the root; 
which can be sold to a broker for as much as $1000 a pound.

They do their hunting on the ridge tops and in the "hollars"   in places that are outside the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If they dug up stuff and took it out of the GSM National Park they could be arrested for poaching. 

But that doesn't mean that it's a hunting free for all. Ginseng is a federally protected endangered species so even the legal hunting is strictly regulated. They have to follow a lot of rules and have permits allowing them to be on the land on which they are hunting.

Of course because it's a reality there is drama, conflict and "stressful tension." 

Because it is a reality show, the producers have cut the episodes in a way that it makes it more dramatic than is actually is. 

With that said, in the first episode I watched, which was the 2nd of it's premiere season, I saw a two member team get shot at for being too close to a hidden illegal moonshine still, and a guy almost fall off a cliff after walking across a waterfall in pursuit of the elusive root. 

The "Sengers" have a healthy respect for the wilderness and mountains that they wander. The Smokies can be very dangerous and even life threatening. The natural conditions, lay of the land or unwise or accidental move could end in grave results. The mountains can swallow someone up in a heartbeat. The wildlife and human inhabitants can also be a threat to the anyone on the trails. 

In addition to what I've already mentioned, in the 3 episodes I've watched an entire team get lost for 2 days, a woman fall and gets a concussion, a man get swept away by a stream's swift current, and there have been encounters with rattlesnakes and wild boars.   

The Gensing hunting business is in no way a walk in the park. The pressure to "make hay while the sunshines" is immense. The ginseng hunting season lasts for just six weeks in September each year. It is highly competitive, takes both physical and mental skill, and can be volatile at times. 

Because I currently have a fascination with the Smoky Mountains I have enjoyed watching these mountain folk doing what their families have been doing for generations. I like seeing people hike the Smokies in a way I cannot imagine doing or would even attempt. 

I don't usually enjoy watching reality shows as a rule. I was totally caught off guard by this one.It is my newest TV guilty pleasure. I have to admit I am hooked. So make this my public confession. 

First run episodes of "Smoky Mountain Money" can be seen Wednesdays at 10PM EST on the National Geographic channel. If anything I've written intrigues you I recommend you tune in or catch it On Demand. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Latest In Lego 5

Got a lot of Lego stuff to show you this time. Over the last two weeks there's been a new set of mini-figures released, I made a pair of visits to the Lego store in Nashville, and started stocking up on even more Lego Christmas displays. 

The first thing is something I mentioned in my last Lego post. I actually did donate that bin full of Lego bricks and pieces to Curbside Ministries. I received a "thank you" message from the ministry's director, Terry, on Facebook as well as a "Thank you" card in the mail. I know it was a gift out of my excess but it still helped fulfill a need in a very worthwhile ministry. 

I have built the final model from Creator kit 31014. It's a dump truck. 
And I've also finished building the small cottage from Creator kit 31009. It's pretty nice. I really like building models that open up to see inside. 

The first model I chose to build out of Creator 31017 Sunset Speeder kit is the truck cab. 

This is one of the smaller models but was still fun to build. I'm always fascinated at how even with a few pieces Lego can capture some pretty good details. 

On the afternoon of Wednesday October 1, I left my house as a man on a mission. That day was the release date for the latest Lego mini-figure series. 

I've been waiting for this new series to become available for a little over a month. To collect this series I plan on following the same method I did with the Simpson series. I'm going to buy them in bulk, take them home and take my time to identify them. 

It means having to return most of them back to the store but it is a lot more efficient and enjoyable. 

In the most convenient and economically efficient way to get some blind bags to open I went to the Toys R Us store in Bowling Green. 

Much to my disappointment the new yellow blind bags are nowhere to be found. But there was a "silver lining" to this trip. 

A little over a year ago I had the biggest "fail" in my Lego building career. But it wasn't with a Lego product. The Kre-o model of the Starship Enterprise warped while it was stored in my car during the heat of the summer. Thus it would not go together correctly, even with modeling glue. I ended up throwing most of the pieces away. 

Ever since then I've regretted not having an Enterprise model. Over the last 6 months I've had my eye on another Kre-o kit with a smaller version of the Enterprise. But the price has been a lot higher than I wanted to pay. On October 1, I saw the kit on clearance at 50% off the original price. I now have another Enterprise model to build. 

After coming up empty for mini-figures at Toys R Us I had only one alternative to find them on their release day. I drove onto I-65 south and headed to Nashville. I was going to the Lego store. 

I found a whole bin full of the bright yellow packages. The store put a limit of 32 blind bags per person so that's what I bought. I also got a couple of sets that will add to my Christmas display this year. 

The amount of my purchase also qualified me for Lego's October free gift with purchase. It's also something that will be part of my Christmas decorations this year. 

 I took the blind bags home and that night my wife and I went through them. We spent a couple of hours using our sense of touch to detect which mini-figure was in each bag. Our goal was to open and collect a full set. 

We found 12 out of the 16 while only opening the 3 doubles. Not a bad ratio and we had a lot of fun doing it. I like it when my wife enjoys one of my hobbies with me. 

On the following Saturday, as part of our trip to Nashville to see Disney On Ice, stopped by the Opry Mills Mall to I return the unopened blind bags to the Lego store.

While there James and Brandi allowed me to pick out a belated birthday present. I got these two models. 

The turkey model will sit on top of my Lego calendar in November. The reindeer will be a part of what is going to be a rather large expansion of the presence of Lego in our holiday decorations this year. 

Speaking of my Lego calendar, I've built a couple of models that I'm using as part of my October calendar. 

The first one is the pumpkin that I showed you in the video in my September Lego report. The other is an original creation based on a model I saw on the Lego October store event calendar. I really like this guy. 

Frankie was a lot of fun to create and is my 2nd favorite original creation I've made this year. Here he is as part of my October calender. 

Okay, I kinda left you hanging in regard to my effort to collect my 3rd set of mini-figures this year. 

A few days after my first try, I returned to Toys R Us and found the blind bags I was looking for. I took them home and found 3 of the 4 characters I needed. Not having any place else near me to get blind bags I decided that it would be best to order the last figure I needed from Amazon. So last Saturday I received "Genie Girl" in the mail.

Now I have all 16 characters in Series 14 (technically it's the 12th series of original Lego mini-figures. There were two series this year based on licensed characters, The Lego Movie and The Simpsons) and am ready to put them on display. 

I only had to open 21 blind packs to complete this set. It was the most efficient effort for mini-figures.

My top 3 favorites in this set are: Piggy Guy, the Jester, and goth girl. 

So there you have the Latest In Lego for me. I told you there was a lot of stuff to cover. Hope you have enjoyed reading about it. See you next time with LIL6. Until then be creative and build something. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Display To Remember Dad

Up until recently they'd been in a closet wrapped up in newspaper; pages of the Express Times. They've been stowed away there since spring of 2004; that's when I brought them back from New Jersey. 

Now, ten years later, thanks to the skills of a very talented friend of mine, they are ready to one day be displayed on the wall of my den. I say "one day" because that room is not yet set up the way I want it to be. But I digress. 

The things I'm anticipating hanging on my wall are representative of my father's favorite hobby. I mentioned them in my January 25, 2014 post, "The Railroad Across The Street."

Back on June 10 of this year I wrote a post about my dad's tastes and enjoyment of music that's part of his legacy to me. That is evident in my collecting music, singing in church, writing parodies, and playing 3 instruments. 

But the hobby that I'm writing about today was something that my dad pursued alone, at least in our house.

When I say "in our house" I mean that literally. Model trains and the hobby of building layouts on which to run them were his thing in our house. No one else in his family was the least bit interested. I only paid attention to model trains because it helped create a bond with my dad. 

Before I picked up a book with pictures of Dick and Jane throwing a ball so they could "See Spot run" I sat on the couch next to my dad as he paged through Model Railroader magazine. He would point out some of the interesting things in the pictures of the layouts featured in each issue.  

Unlike those issues pictured above Dad's MR collection was kept in boxes with each issue in it's own protective plastic jacket. Filed in chronological order. (see I get it honestly). 

Because he was a fan of trains in general and always wanted to make sure that his models emulated the real thing, my dad used to go wherever he could find a railroad or a railroad yard. He was drawn to them.  

Some of my first memories of spending time with my dad was walking along railroad tracks behind our house in the Heckman Terrace Annex housing project in my hometown of Phillipsburg.  

As I grew up we'd go on many railroad sightseeing trips together. The most memorable one being a day trip to see the section of track known as, Horseshoe Curve just outside of Altoona, PA. It's a very unusual track design that fascinated my dad. Here's an aerial view of it. 

In 1977 when we moved to into a house that was less than a football field away from a set of railroad tracks, my dad was in his element. I wish I had a dollar for every time he hurried to the door to watch a train going by our house. 

Dad also gave me an appreciation and enjoyment of model railroad layouts. We went to see them quite often. The excursions ranged from the short trip to downtown Easton to visit the displays of the Black Diamond Society to driving an hour to visit Roadside America in Sharletsville, PA. (pictured below) 

Going to see model railroad displays was the "father and son" thing my dad and I did all the time. 

Now I know that it's not unusual for a young child to be fascinated with trains (Aria loves her Chuggington train set we got her for Christmas last year) but Dad loved model railroading so me he took the time to give me "behind the scenes" education on just how much planning and work goes into creating a working model railroad exhibit. He taught me that a model railroad is not only a conglomeration of electric, wood, plaster and plastic; it also has to tell a story. 

With that knowledge, every time we went to see a display I would try and discover it's story. That's something that's stuck with me even to this day. Only now the main place I look for stories is in the attractions at Walt Disney World.   

Watching my dad's pursuit and effort to make his own working model railroad over the years helped me understand the passion and dedication that goes into any that I see. That's why to this day I'm still drawn to them.  

But when it came to being interested in model railroading as a "sit down and work on it" hobby I just couldn't do it. I was always interested in what my dad was doing because he was so devoted to it. 

So now you know the connection model trains created between my father and me. Hopefully I have conveyed the sentimental value represented by my new display. 

Now let me put into context the items that are in the shadow box you'll see later in the post. 

My dad's dream of creating and running his own model railroad took a long time to become reality. As I said he was into the hobby for as long as I could remember. 

He would get ideas and inspiration from the Model Railroader magazine and the layouts we'd visit, draw up blue prints, make electric schematics, and assemble cars from Athern kits. He would paint those cars and the engines he purchased with his own chosen color scheme and decals.  

He did all this either while sitting in our living room, at the kitchen table. But unfortunately, because of where we lived over the years he had no where to set up his platform on which he could build his railroad. 

When we moved on to 67 Brainard Street, next to the train tracks, Dad had a basement to use for his hobby. I remember the first few years we lived there he was down there working on it anytime he had free time. But for some reason, which I cannot remember or never knew, after those initial years he stopped working on it. 

It wasn't until the mid 1990's, several years after my parents had become "empty nesters" that my dad found himself with a little extra free time. So he moved up his efforts to build his long time dream project. The 2nd floor bedroom at the front of the house, next to the bathroom became his hobby hangout. 

At one point he had wired enough track to actually run an engine and tender car around a small oval. He was very proud. He continued working on his railroad right up until the time he got sick in 1998. But once he started his battle with cancer the railroad room was all but forgotten. 

Now fast forward to 2004. I've lived in South Central Kentucky for 5 years and been married to Paula for almost a year and a half. It's only been seven months since my mother suddenly passed away but its time to clean out my parents' house to get it ready to be sold. 

Of course, I traveled back to my home town to help with the clean up. For me coming back to my parents' house was kind of like stepping into a time capsule. Although a lot about the house had changed since I lived there, the shadows and memories of the past remained.

I found my father's pride and joy, his train room, a bit dusty but otherwise, just the way he left it. 

Of all the places in the house this was where I felt the spirit of my dad the most. The room was a direct reflection of his life long love for model trains. But unfortunately the entire platform had to be disassembled and the trains packed away. 
If I had had my way the entire platform would have come back to Kentucky with me. But of course, that was not possible. Ten years later it's still in storage in the basement of my sister, Shari's house. 

All I could take with me was a couple of cars and an engine. They are the items that I was referring to as having been sitting in my closet for 10 years. Now they are in this display. 

Now that you know what having these cars in this display means to me, let me tell you about how they got there. 

That talented friend I mentioned is the cousin of Brandi, my daughter-in-law. Her name is "Jackie" and she has more creativity, skill, and talent than I can ever hope to have. 

I supplied the shadow box, the model trains, the HO track and Jackie put them together. She did an excellent job; but then again she always does.

You may remember the last thing she made for me; my giant Lego brick storage box. 

She is as good with a sewing machine as she is with a jigsaw; maybe better. 

If you want to see more of what she does and offers for purchase check out her Facebook page. 
"Jack Of All Trades" On Facebook

There you have the story behind the meaning and appreciation of my newest wall display for my den. I will hang it next to the other special display that honors my father. 

Although I've had this other display for a couple of years. I am surprised that I haven't written a blog post about it or even mentioned it until now. 

You can find out the story behind it's contents in my September 22, 2008-Another Last Game At Baseball's Cathedral.

The story behind this display starts with the billing statement at it's upper right corner. But enough about that I'll let you read for yourself about it in the 2008 post. 

I've saved a lot of personal memorabilia over the years. Most of it is stored away in plastic bins because I don't have room to put it all on display. But let me assure you, each has it's own story. 

And as I've explained, I have strong emotional ties to the items I've most recently gotten out of storage and placed in a shadow box display. More than just about anything I own they remind me of my dad. Now you know why. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The First Weekend In October

This past Sunday morning, Warren County, Kentucky residents woke up to temperatures in the 30s and frost on the ground for the first time this autumn. Needless to say this weekend was cool. At times it was even "Frozen." Let me explain. 

On Friday James & Brandi celebrated their 5 year wedding anniversary. It's hard to believe it's been that long since this picture was taken in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. 

But then again so much has happened since then it's hard to believe it's only been 5 years. I mean that in a good way.

Saturday the 4th was centerpiece of the "cool" weekend. James, Brandi, Aria, Paula, and me all drove to Nashville for what would prove to be one of the most memorable family outings of the year. The five of us drove to the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville to see "Disney On Ice."

As I posted in my September 23 post, which was all about my granddaughter, Aria is fascinated by anything and everything that has to do with Frozen. 

When it was brought to my attention that the Disney On Ice version of the story was coming to Nashville the first weekend of October, I knew that Aria would really enjoy seeing it. As an early Christmas present Paula and I decided that we would take her and her "momma" & "daddy" to see the show. 

So around noon this past Saturday we headed down I-65 south toward Nashville.  Paula and Aria enjoyed the ride playing on the IPad. 

Before the show, "Nana" decided to get our granddaughter a few souvenirs. Although there was a lot to choose from Aria pointed out exactly what she wanted. 

 Our seats were in section 115 Row LL. I thought they may be a bit too close to the backstage area and that all we'd see is the back of the skaters and performers. But one look around after we were seated and all I could say was "Hakuna Matada". This was our view. 

As we waited for the show to start Aria sat on Brandi's lap playing with the Anna & Elsa dolls that her Nana got her. I took the opportunity to snap this group photo. 

The show started at 2:30. With a snow cone in a special Frozen cup and an Olaf spoon, Aria was ready. 

The lights went down and a couple of skaters came out to (pardon the pun) warm up the crowd. They led everyone in, what they called, the snowman dance. Once they were through the first exciting moment of the afternoon happened. 

The appearance of Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck, and, Aria's favorite, Minnie Mouse. 

The four of them told the audience they were about to see a great love story. They brought out some other Disney characters from their many animated classics, who represented the many different types of love.

After a song and dance number they all said "goodbye" and "Frozen" began. 

Here are a couple of links to You Tube videos featuring the show. One of them has the highlights and the other is a POV video obviously shot by an amateur. But it has almost the entire show including a good bit of the preshow.

 Disney On Ice: Frozen Highlights Video

Disney On Ice: Frozen POV video

The show was pretty much a retelling of the story of Frozen. However there was no mention of the king and queen or their demise. 

The skaters were all wonderful and the choreography and moves were very entertaining. Overall the staging was very well done. The snow machines which were on for a lot of the show. The snow was my favorite effect. 

My least favorite was the snow monster known as "Marshmellow". He was nothing more than an over sized inflatable. Watching him slowly "come to life" reminded me of flipping the switch on one of those self-inflating decorations you put on your front lawn at Christmas time. 

I expected more. All I can think of is perhaps anything more elaborate might have been too expensive or been difficult to transport and maintain. But judging from the reaction of the crowd the effect did it's job. 

I was also a bit underwhelmed by the conservative production of the marquee ballad "Let It Go." Given all that goes on with the animation during the song in the movie, I expected something more extravagant; especially because it was the number that ended the first half of the show. 

But I must add that the song is so popular that Elsa could have just stood in the middle of the ice and performed the song under a single spotlight and it would still have been a hit. 

It was the only song in the show that you could actually hear all the little girls singing along. It was very cute to hear all those young voices in unison. 

The second act featured the appearance of Olaf and the previously discussed Marshmellow. 

I liked the production number that the trolls do called "He's A Fixer Upper." 

Of course all's well that ends well and the show ends with the return of the entire Frozen cast as well as Mickey and all his friends to say "good-bye". 

Aria had a great time. Every time I glanced over at her she was looking around with wonder, amazement, or just smiling. At times she even pointed at the rink saying "Elsa". 

Before I end this section about our Disney On Ice experience, I have to express one more observation about this event. 

As anyone who hasn't been living under a rock for the last year knows Disney has taken full advantage of the manic popularity of Frozen. They have saturated the market with merchandise, introduced it into their theme parks and added it to their hit TV network program. "Disney On Ice" is part of the mania as well. 

Field Entertainment is the company that developed and produces the touring ice version of Frozen. I don't know how they split the profits with Disney but I do know that there's a lot to divide. The Disney On Ice Frozen tour is a cash cow. Let me do a totally hypothetical illustration to give you an idea of just how much "milk" is flowing in. 

From what I've learned there was at least 18,000 other people who attended the show with us on Saturday afternoon. For this example let's say they were all in families of 5, like us. Based on our experience they probably spent $300 on tickets to get in the door and a total of $200 souvenirs, food, snacks while at the arena. That means that the total amount of money spent by 3600 families at that event was approximately $1.8 million. 

Bridgstone Arena hosted 3 shows on that Saturday so the total amount spent on "Disney On Ice" that day was $5.4 million. If the profit margin (you can thank the TV show "Shark Tank" for teaching me that term) is 50% that's  $2.7 million in the coffers for just one day of the tour. There's your cash cow. To me that's absolutely amazing. 

Now back to the events of the day. 

After the show we headed to the Opry Mills mall for a trip to the Lego store. I had something to return. While we were there, James and Brandi let me pick out something as belated birthday gift. I'll share with you what I chose later in another post. 

We went to TGIFriday's in the food court for dinner and then came home. It was a long, eventful but very fun day. It will forever be frozen in my memory.  

The next day, Sunday, was James' 26th birthday. To celebrate He and Brandi went back down to Nashville to the football game at LG Stadium. The Titans were playing the Cleveland Browns. It turned out to be a memorable game. But unfortunately because the Titans lost after they blew the biggest lead in the team's history. 

We had the privilege of having Aria at our house for the day. Spending time at Nana and Papa's house really makes her smile. 

We have a bunch of toys for her and a small table and chairs set that we put up on our living room. 

Throughout the day our granddaughter played with: a dry erase board and markers, her Barrel Of Monkeys set, her Mickey Mouse and Frozen Memory card games, Lego Duplo and Mega blocks, the coins from her Minnie bank, Silly Putty and her pink toy ukulele. 

She also took full advantage of the electronics at our house as well. She played games with her Nana on the IPad, watched cartoons thru Netflix on our TV. 

While watching a Disney Sing-A-Long DVD in our bedroom with Nana she played a little game of "Where did Aria go?" with me. 

My favorite part of the day was when my little sweetheart and I took a short trip to the Crossroads IGA to pick up groceries and some other things I needed. Of course she came back with a little treat of her own. Here she is eating her M&Ms on our couch. 

 At 2 1/2 years old she's always on the go. She just kept going from one thing to another all day long. Spending the day with her was a bit challenging but I loved it. Paula and I took turns playing with her. 

I know she had a good time with us but this visit was the longest she's ever spent at our house. So at 7 o'clock when her parents came in the door she was more than ready to go home. 

Once they were gone and we cleaned up the toys, the end of our cool first weekend of October came to an end. Well, at least as far as being with James, Brandi and Aria was concerned. 

Paula had the next two days off on vacation. So for us the weekend would continue. We ended up doing something on Monday that we hadn't done in a while. I'll write more about that later on this blog.