Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Our 2014 Christmas Season Part 3

After not getting to bed until 2 AM Christmas morning I was looking forward to sleeping a little later than usual. That didn't happen as I found myself wide awake at 7:45. I let my wife sleep a little longer. 

Since we are "empty nesters" Christmas morning around our house is extremely quiet. There is no anxious child or young adult waking up excited to get their presents. There is no gifts exchanged until the kids and Theresa get there later in the day. 

Paula and I do exchange gifts but we wait until the family arrives to open them with the rest of our presents. 

Theresa arrived about 10:30. She brought most of the food for our Christmas buffet. Paula fixed some Queso dip and baked a applewood bacon coated pork tenderloin. 

In addition to ham and cheese for sandwiches there was plenty of cookies, candy and other assorted holiday treats. 

I had to retreat to our bedroom behind closed doors to wrap Paula's presents. I did manage to get some that would surprise her; but hadn't wrapped them yet. 

While I was doing that Paula & Theresa put their heads together to assemble and put stickers on Aria's "big present." It turned out to be an arduous task that took about an hour and a half to complete. You'll see why when I show you a few pictures and videos of the gift. 

Michael & Heather arrived at the house shortly after noon. Our friends, Mark & Patty, and their daughter, Amy, stopped by for a visit as well. 

We spent time together talking and enjoying the food and snacks set out on our table.

Soon, Mark & Patty said their "good-byes" and went back home to get ready for a visit from their family members on their way from St. Louis. We began to get anxious for James, Brandi, and Aria to arrive. As soon as they did the gift opening frenzy would begin.

Now I had been looking forward to taking a lot of pictures with my 40 mega pixel camera on my smart phone this year. Only problem is, I got so caught up in watching my family open their presents that I didn't take many pictures. But I will share those I did. 

By necessity, the first gift to be opened this year had to be Aria's "big gift". It was taking up a considerable amount of space in the living room. Here's a link to my You Tube video of my granddaughter discovering what her Nana, Papa, & Aunt T gave her. 

Please take notice that anything on this car that's not pink is a sticker that had to be put on by hand by my wife and sister-in-law. Aria Gets Her Minnie Car For Christmas 2014

I managed to get a nice shot of her initial moments with her Minnie car. 

With Aria's help I passed out the rest of the gifts. They were piled up in front of or the person they addressed to. 

Among the gifts some of my family members exchanged were: a plethora of gift cards, movie tickets, a variety of blu-ray movies, an electrician's multimeter for James (here he is opening it)...

...a model of "The Alien" from the SiFi movies made from small random pieces of hardware, for Michael (pic found onlilne)...

...A "To Do List" mug for me. 

....and way too much more to be mentioned here. 

The most unique gift of the day (in my opinion) didn't turn out to have the impact I wanted it to but it was still appreciated. 

Aria had a lot of fun opening her gifts. She let everyone help her open them. 

As a way of keeping her interested in rather lengthy opening process, we let her open one of her gifts right after one of the adults opened one of theirs. 

This worked until about 3/4 of the way through our unwrap-ping Aria was through opening her gifts. 

All of the rest of us still had a few things to unwrap but our little girl was disinterested and soon she was out in our kitchen sitting in her new pink car. 

We all decided to "unwrap at will" so we could finish and then take Aria out to the driveway to try out her new motorized toy. 

There was a couple of minutes of "frenzied opening" and then we all headed out to the driveway. 

There were several issues that made my granddaughter's  first adventure in her new car rather brief. 
 It was rather cold and the wind was very chilly. She liked the car but we soon realized that it would take some time for her to learn how to drive it.  

Here's a link to a video of some of her first experience. 
Aria Tries To Drive

We came back into the house and relaxed in the gift opening aftermath. Some of us enjoyed more food and desserts while others just chilled in the living room. 

After missing out on it last year I was intent on making sure I got a family Christmas picture this year. 

We all stood in front of the tree and I set up my Nokia phone to take the shot. It turned out to be a nice picture. The only problem is that we blocked out the tree. 

You can only see a portion of the star. It's just above Michael's head. To me it looks like he's wearing a tilted crown. "All Hail King Michael, The Awesome."

I also got a nice shot of James, Brandi and Aria in front of the tree and you can actually see the entire tree. 

Brandi and James still had to head to Brandi's dad's house to visit so a little before 5 they packed up and left. Theresa and Michael & Heather left soon after that. 

So just a few minutes before 6 o'clock on Christmas Day, the inevitable calm after the storm that happens every year, set in for us. 

That may seem rather early but with the combination of the intensity of our gift exchange and the little amount of rest that we got the night before we were okay with the timing of every one's departure. 

We spent the rest of the evening relaxing and watching the Disney Parks Christmas Day parade (renamed: Disney Parks Frozen Celebration this year. surprise, surprise) which we DVRed earlier in the day. 

Soon it came time for me to go to bed because I had to go to work in the morning. I fell asleep thinking about and appreciating the blessing of having celebrated yet another Christmas with the ones I love. I hope you did the same...but with your family, of course.  

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Our 2014 Christmas Season Part 2

This part of my series about Christmas 2014 may be a bit late since it's after the 25th. But since we keep our tree and decorations up until well into the new year I think they are still relevant. It's my pleasure to share them with you. As has become the "norm" for me, this post is rather lengthy. I hope you enjoy reading about my Christmas decorations. 

When I was growing up my parent's house was always fully decorated for the holidays.

During my last years of high school and well into my late 30s helping Mom & Dad put up the decorations at their Brainard Street house was a family event. 

Boxes & boxes of decorations were brought down from the attic. The "Merry Christmas" Santa Claus garland was tacked up over the archway between the living and dinning rooms. The Twinkle Tree was put on top of the TV and lights and electric candles were put in the windows. And that's just a fraction of what we put up. 

I am lucky enough to have a couple of items that were once part of my mom's holiday decor. One of them used to hang over a door frame in my parent's house. Now it's hanging over one in mine. 

Memories of those special December nights with my parents, sisters, and their families come flashing back every year when I hang this plastic candy garland between my living room and kitchen. It's one of the more special decorations in our living room for Christmas. 

Of course. our tree is the centerpiece of our holiday decorations. It's 6ft tall and over the last few years has become a bit too small for our collection of ornaments. 

Paula is the "tree person" in our house. I just don't have the patience to put it together. However, I do take my turn in hanging several ornaments that are special to me. Here's the 2014 edition of our Christmas tree. 

I know there are a lot of Christmas trees around during the holidays but the one that sits in our living room is always my favorite. 

We moved a small book shelf into the room to display all our "push button" decorations. These are some of Aria's favorites. 
On top of it are a plush Mickey & Minnie Mouse my sister-in-law, Theresa, gave us just this year. In the middle of them is "Marty Moose" a lighted ceramic figure that once sat in my parent's house. 

On the left side of the bottom shelf is a plush bear that "reads" the story of the first Christmas aloud. Paula found it, just this year, on sale at Hobby Lobby while Christmas shopping. 

On the right side is a plush Goofy that talks and laughs when you press a button on his middle. 

But the main "attraction" on this display is Our Disney character Christmas house band. Here's what they sound like. 

The large bookshelf in the corner to the right of our TV is where my Lego Christmas display is set up. This year I've expanded my holiday collection to fill up 2 shelves. 

The display consists of 6 "official" Lego models or kits, and six mini-figures. The red & green block letters are my own creation. 

Sometime in the next week I will go into further details about this display in a special holiday edition of "Latest In Lego" post. 

I'm really proud of the additions I've made to my Lego Christmas display. I've got a few ideas as to how I'm going to improve it for next year too. 

 For the first time in a while my Christmas decorating went beyond the living room. The top of my new roll- top desk provided the perfect place to set up the decorations displaced by the new items we added in the living room this year. 

Here is what I've put out on my desktop. 
On the far left is a wooden elf figure just like one my mom used to display on a wall shelf in our house. 

The Charlie Brown display to it's right is something I've had for about 10 years. The plush Frosty The Snow Man and Professor Hinkel have also been around a while and are reminders of my mom (the animated TV special was her favorite). 

But the most memorable part of this display is on the right side. 

The plastic molded collection of characters from the "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" special have been part of my Christmas display for more than a decade. But it was this Christmas when life imitated art that they became a special memory. 

I've always considered these figures just a decorative display. When my granddaughter came to visit a couple of days before Christmas I showed her the Rudolph gang. I didn't know that the Rudolph animated special is one she and her mommy like to watch together at home. 

When she saw Rudolph and all his friends from the North Pole she immediately wanted to touch them. I stood her up on the desk and let her pick out which ones she wanted to take into the living room to play with. She chose them all except for the "monster" (aka Abominable Snowman). She was so happy to have them to play with. Between the Tuesday before and the Friday after Christmas she would get to play with them 3 times.

I found it ironic that here were figures of the characters from the island of Misfit Toys that after 10 years of just sitting out on display during Christmas were now being played with by a child. As I said, life imitating art.

Finally, I have to head back to our living room and tell you about my proudest addition to our Christmas display this year. It's a picture frame filled showing snapshots of our family Christmas past. 
Hung on the wall just to the left inside our front door this frame has a select collection of captured moments from our last 10 family Christmas celebrations. 

I've had this frame sitting in my room for a couple of years. This year I figured it was time to put it to use to celebrate our family history during the holidays. 

I got the pictures printed and one night during the week before Christmas, Paula and I put our creative minds to work and put the photo essay together. I even managed to write the year each picture was taken somewhere on it. 

I'm proud of this display because it shows despite the many changes in each of our lives, during each Christmas we always manage to be together as a family.  

So there you have a brief tour of the decorations that adorn our household this year; those that are new and those that are part of our tradition & history.

I enjoy seeing them all out again this year and how they create a special atmosphere over the last weeks of December and early January. But ironically my favorite thing to do is just turn out all the lights and watch TV by the light of Christmas Tree while being next to my sweetie.

In part 3 of this series I'll share with you what Christmas Day 2014 was like for our family at our house. See you then.  

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Our 2014 Christmas Season Part 1

In the final month of a year where I pledged to post every day I regret the fact that this is just my 5th entry for December. I will try to do better in the coming year. 

It's been a memorable Christmas season filled with continuing traditions and new memories. 

I've already shared some of the "productions" that got our Christmas season started at the beginning of December. 

Unofficially, Paula and I began our "final stretch" of holiday preparation when we went to Nashville on the 13th to celebrate our wedding anniversary. 

Our shopping itinerary included stops at the Guitar Center store, Green Hills Mall and the Nashville International Airport (details about that coming up later in this series of posts).  

A spontaneous stop at Trader Joe's resulted in another couple of gifts in "Santa's bag" as well. 

Although we had a fun day together our biggest mistake was trying to go to the Opry Mills/Music Valley Drive area. We spent about 3 hours, if not more, in traffic. 

The backup started on Briley Parkway about two miles from the Music Valley Drive exit. We literally inched our way toward the exit for more than 2 hours. 

We managed to get to Johnny A's restaurant on Music Valley Drive for an anniversary dinner that included very good food and some live music. 

The country cover band was not bad but the highlight of the entertainment was a memorable rendition of "Jingle Bells." It was "performed" by a blonde lady singer whose voice was a clear indication that her best days as a vocalist were behind her. It didn't help that she was drunk off her butt. 

After dinner we got back into traffic heading back toward the campgrounds on Pennington Bend. We wanted to see the special lights display. 

After a little more than hour in the line and moving less than a mile we decided to abandon our effort and try to head home. 

I took advantage of a break in the line of traffic behind us and made some "evasive maneuvers" to get turned around and get back on Briley to make our way back to Smiths Grove.  

As it turned out the only light display we saw was this shot of the Opryland Hotel from our car window while on the exit ramp. 

Over the next week we put up our Christmas tree. Actually Paula put it up I only added a few of my favorite ornaments.
You'll see what our tree looks like when I focus on our decorations in part 2 of this series. 

Our other major shopping trip of this season was on Christmas Eve day. In a day filled with a chilly wind and a cold slow steady rain we headed into Bowling Green to get some last minute gifts and food for our Christmas dinner. 

Stops at K-Mart and Sams Club were first. A nice lunch at the Olive Garden helped us regroup before stops at Toys R US, CVS, and Meijer. 

Once we got home it was time for the sprint to the Christmas preparation finish line. We had nearly all our gifts to wrap. 

With this being the last night before Christmas the wrapping challenge provided the perfect opportunity for me to catch up on some of the Christmas movies and episodes I hadn't watched yet.

But my collection included a lot more movies than there was time to see. I had to pick and choose wisely. I decided on The Honeymooners Christmas episode; the classic "It's a Wonderful Life"; and a modern favorite of mine, The Holiday. 

By the time all the gifts were wrapped and under the tree it was about 2 AM on Christmas morning. 

We were exhausted but we were ready. In the morning we would do some food preparation but we had time. Our family wouldn't be arriving until after 10 in the morning. 

A recap of how we celebrated together will be included in part 3 of this series. Come back tomorrow for, as promised, a post about this year's Christmas decorations.  

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas Productions

The return of the Christmas season means the return of one of the most productive times of the year for me. 

Paula and I organize and execute the Christmas shopping for the family. I make up the spread sheet, keeping track of the gift inventory (who we have gotten what, the things we still need and the total amount spent). Although we do a lot of our shopping separately, we make sure we do at least one "finish up" gift buying excursion together. That usually happens between our wedding anniversary (December 12) and the last weekend before Christmas. 

We will spend this weekend decorating the living room and putting up the tree. About a week before the "big day" we will binge wrap all the gifts in a single night and put them on display beneath the tree.

On a personal level I have also been productive in a couple of other ways. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, once again this year I was the director of our Children's Christmas play at church. Our performance was this past Sunday night at Oakland Baptist Church. 

"The Christmas Cross" was a great effort by a group of a dozen precious and inspiring kids. I don't usually post pictures of children without their parent's permission but since this was a public performance showing you these shots is within my blog picture policy. 

I have to admit that I wasn't as enthusiastic about directing this time as I was last year. I think the absence of the creative energy needed to write an original play may have been the missing element. 

However, seeing how involved and excited the kids were about the program made all it took to get the performance on stage was worth it. 

The other recent avenue of productivity for me has been in my home studio. 

I am still working on recording "Ron Havens' Rewind Christmas #9" for 2014. Although the script has already been written and the playlist selected I continue to change the script and tighten the audio as I record it. 

In addition I am already making a list of songs and subjects I want to include in next year's edition, my 10th program. 

This includes shopping the I-Tunes store for newly released, or different versions of, Christmas music. So far I have found songs by Earth, Wind & Fire, Seth MacFarlane, and Vanessa Williams to be used in future Christmas shows. 

Here's my "office" for all that's involved in my Christmas music project. 

It's not the most organized or aesthetic looking set up but it gets the job done. It also enables me to record my Rewind programs any time I want.  

It will also allow me to dip my toes into the waters of podcasting in the up coming year. 

As far as this year's Rewind Christmas program is concerned; I should have it finished by the start of next week. If you are interested in having a copy of it let me know. Because it's all digital, I believe I can find a way to email it to you. 

Of course there are a few other "productive' things that we'll be doing for the holidays. Paula is planning on making at least some of her special Christmas candy. 

She already has done come creative baking. Last weekend she made some special treats for the cookie party after the play Sunday night. She made these Oreos baked inside a chocolate chip cookie. They were rich and delicious.  

Another productive activity on my list is assembling and displaying all my new Lego Christmas sets. 

Every year there are a lot of things that have to be done to prepare for Christmas. I call it "Holiday Housekeeping."

Of course the pay off for all of it is the wonderful memories of spending time with family & friends. 

But along the way there are things that you get to do that you really enjoy. The things that make the Christmas season special each year. They are different for each person. I just told you about a couple of mine. What are yours?



Sunday, December 7, 2014

Meeting Musical Comedy "Royalty"

Today, I publish my 800th blog post. And for once I have something to write about that is worthy of such a significant milestone. Hope you enjoy my story. It's about one of the best things that's happened to me in a while. 

One of the things I love about life is that there are times that at the end of the day you have done something or been somewhere you never ever imagined when your feet hit the floor that morning. This past Friday was one of those days. 

Up until about 2 in the afternoon it was an ordinary day. I was driving around Bowling Green for my job. That's when I turned on the radio and heard someone on a local station interviewing one of my all time favorite comedians and singers, Ray Stevens.

I have been listening and enjoying Ray Stevens' music all my life. Many of his comedy novelty songs are among my all time favorites.  When I was a kid lip-synced to two of his songs for a pair of talent shows. 

While listening I discovered two things that would change my day. Mr. Stevens mentioned his newly released book about "Music City USA" called "Ray Stevens' Nashville". He also announced that he was going to be doing a book signing at the local Barnes & Noble at 6PM that night. 

A spark of excitement swept through me from my head to my toes. Out of the blue I had an opportunity to go and meet one of my musical idols. I wasn't going to miss it.   

After work I drove directly to the bookstore, made my way through the rain and got inside. There at the front of the store, just to the right was Ray Stevens. He was sitting at a card table signing books for the people already in line.

I went to the back of the line of about a dozen and a half of people who were waiting to get their books autographed. 

As I waited, I was blessed with yet another unexpected unique experience. 

Standing just in front of me was a young lady holding a fiddle. It was a typical looking instrument with one exception, it was covered in names signed in black marker. 

Curiosity got the best of me. I just had to find out about the stringed conversation piece. 

Although we weren't formally introduced, I subsequently discovered that this young lady is named, Mary Rachel Nalley, a local and very talented bluegrass fiddle player. 

I started out by trying to tell her an old joke about the difference between a violin and a fiddle. She responded by with a "if I had a nickle for every time I've been asked told that" kind of answer. 

Well, that was a challenge to me. I'm not a "hack" conversationalist. I believe, I'm pretty good at asking interesting original questions. So I started to "interview" her about the decorated fiddle. 

She showed me the signatures of Bill Anderson, Bobby Bare, Jack Greene and, the one she was most proud of, Merle Haggard. 

We talked about others she would like to have sign it. She mentioned bluegrass artist, Ralph Stanley, Dolly Parton, and a couple others. 

We also discussed her personal history as a musician. She is quite accomplished. She talked about having played on stage with the group "Riders In The Sky" when they were in town last year. She has also played on stage at the Grand Ole Opry with Mike Snyder. 

Our conversation was very interesting and made the time waiting in line go a lot faster. It was a pleasure meeting her. 

As I got closer to the front of the line I got to a place where I could see Ray Stevens up close. 

Finally, after about 20 minutes of waiting I got my few seconds with the comedy/country music legend. 

With my cell phone in video mode, I did my best to get as much out of what was a relative brief encounter. Here's a link to my You Tube video showing what I decided to do. It turned out to be pretty good.  Ray Stevens Interview

Although he seemed rather surprised by my question and didn't give me an exact answer to my question I was pleased that he was friendly. I really am happy that with his last comment you can see that classic Ray Stevens comedic side glance and facial expression. That made my day. 

After I stopped the video I told him that I have always considered him a Clown Prince of Musical Comedy. He smiled and said "Well, I appreciate it." Next came the visual documentation with a picture. 

After the flash, I shook his hand and walked away. That was the end of a very special encounter. 

I left the store with my autograph and a bunch of great memories. 

I was in a great mood the rest of the night. It was just amazing how everything fell into place for this to happen. 

When I left home that morning I had already planned on going into Bowling Green after work so stopping at the book store was not a change of plans. 

I was supposed to drive my daughters-in-law to a Brantley Gilbert concert (he's a country singer) in Nashville on Friday but decided not to go. I was also fortunate enough to have turned the radio on at the right time to hear the Ray Stevens interview. 

I must admit I have a tendency to be a "glass half empty" kind of guy. But what keeps me going is with each day comes the potential that God is going give you a blessing that you never expected. 

That's what happened on December 5, 2014; the day I met Ray Stevens. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Welcome To December

Since my last post, this year's calendar has been reduced to a single page. 2014 is almost over. It's been a good year with a lot of fun times; but there is a lot of memories yet to be made. 

I don't have to tell you that the past two weeks have been busy. It's that time of the year. The Christmas season is in high gear.  Although I'm already into a daily routine, I'm still kind of adjusting to being back to work full time. 

The most important thing to happen over the last couple of weeks was Thanksgiving. It was a day of food, and family. 

My granddaughter came to our house and put on the dress that Paula bought her for this special occasion. It made her look even more adorable than she already is. 

For the first time this year our Thanksgiving meal was a collaborative effort. It made the day a lot easier on Paula, who has been rather sick over the last month or so. Everyone made and brought their own contribution to our dinner table. 

Paula and I provided the turkey, which my son, James, carved like a pro, after watching a "how to" video on You Tube. 

Michael & Heather brought mac & cheese (a staple at almost any dinner we have at our house, not just Thanksgiving) and sweet potato casserole.  

Theresa brought green beans, corn and dinner rolls. Brandi provided a homemade pecan pie for dessert.  

On the day before Thanksgiving I made and sent a special video to my sister, Shari, on her birthday. I posted it on my You Tube channel. A Birthday Song For Shari 

Perhaps the most significant accomplishment of this week, for me personally, has been the dawn of a new era for my "Rewind" recordings. 

Finally, after nearly a year of planning and intent (see my January 19, 2014 post, "Rewind Backlog"), I have my home recording "studio" set up and I'm using it. 

I've started recording my 2014 Rewind Christmas show this week.  It's the first program that will be recorded in a digital MP3 format from the beginning. Recording on CDs is no longer part of the process. I'll be posting some pictures of my set up either on Facebook, You Tube or here in a future post.   
We've begun rearranging the living room so we can set up the Christmas tree and put up the decorations. 

I will be adding a lot more Lego to my Christmas display this year. When we finally get it all up and ready I'll post some pictures. 

Perhaps the most exciting thing happening this weekend is the final rehearsal and performance of "The Christmas Cross" children's play at church. I am the director again this year. The kids have been practicing hard ever since the middle of October. 

Today, they will be at the final practice for 3 1/2 hours. We will get all the lines, and staging down as best as we can. If the kids enthusiasm and excitement counts for anything, the performance tomorrow night at 6PM will be a memorable one. You are all invited. Would love to see you. 

So as Christmas gets closer the anticipation builds, its the time for starting and continuing traditions. Being the sentimental, romantic kind of guy I am, I really enjoy December. I agree with Andy Williams: It's the most wonderful time of the year.

My next post is yet another blog milestone. I promise it will be one that shares the story of something I never even imagined would happen; but it did.