Saturday, December 31, 2016

16 Things To Remember about 2016

Okay, so the last post was not the final one for 2016. This one is. I'm going to take the time to review 16 things I will always remember about 2016. 

Now I know that this past year was unlike any we've seen in a long time. From the deaths of so many significant public figures and celebrities to the unprecedented political campaign; it's events will have long lasting effects on our society.

But these 16 items are all personal. A few I have written about during the year; some recently. Others I am mentioning in this post for the first time. Either way they are included because they made a difference in my life; good or bad. Here in no particular order is my list of 16. 

Two Surgeries: The month of May saw both Paula and me have major operations. Her's was scheduled; mine was not. On the 10th my wife had rotator cuff surgery.  On Memorial Day weekend, I had surgery to remove my gall bladder. 

It took us both a couple of months to recover and effecting our lives and our bank account.  

March Trip To Walt Disney World: The 

picture below is the quintessential reason 

Paula and I decided to go to Florida with

James, Brandi, and Aria with about 3 weeks 

notice. Look at the smile on my granddaughter's face. 

This was a physically exhausting and emotionally sentimental trip for me but I wouldn't have missed it for the world. 

Essentially, this was the first vacation we went on with both our grandchildren. 

In this group pic with Mickey, we are all there but my grandson cannot be seen. Still his heart was beating and he was already part of our family. 
I wrote an extended 13 post series detailing our vacation in Walt Disney World on my Goofy Guy 909 Blog . To read them just click on the link. 
I'll have more about our time in Florida with Aria later in this post. 

The Quigley's Move Away: 
In April of this year, our best friends, Patty & Mark Quigley, moved from about 10 miles from us all the way to Saint Louis, Mo. 

While we are happy that they followed God's leading in their lives and are now living very close to their 3 grandchildren. But they are now 5 hours away from us. 

One of the best ways to describe our friendship with the Quigleys comes from the Old Testament book of Proverbs, chapter 27, verse 17. "As iron sharpens iron so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend."

Although we will continue to keep in touch with them and have even visited them in their new home already, since April our lives have been a little "dull" without Mark & Patty around.   

A VERY unwelcome "visitor": In the middle of June the advantage of living in the country became a temporary curse.

On the evening of June 10, we had a very unwelcome visitor, a skunk, at our house. It effected our house, our dog, and our lives for almost 6 weeks. I wrote about it my June 18 post. Here's a link to My Skunk Story .

Visits From The Pearsons: I wrote about my sister's family visiting me in August in my "10 Things From 4 months" series a couple of weeks ago. 

The 2nd weekend of December they came back again.  The main focus of their visit was to meet my new grandson and spend some time with Aria. But it also gave my Kentucky family and part of my Pennsylvania family, for the first time ever, the chance to share a little bit of Christmas together. 

I count it a personal blessing that my sister and her family made the choice to come see us this December. I’m so happy they got to enjoy being with my grandchildren and the rest of the Kentucky branch of my family. I can never thank them enough for helping to make my 2016 Christmas season extra special. 

Becoming "TCB" Guy: You can cue the Bachman Turner Overdrive music for this one. At the start of 2016 I had become very unhappy at my job as a driver for Ron & Brenda's Transportation. Paula was finally rewarded at her job with a promotion she well deserved. 

These circumstances combined to allow me to do something we had talked about for a while. I was able to leave my job and start taking care of business at home. I will elaborate on just what that "business" was in just a few paragraphs. 

It was a big step and maybe only a temporary one but the arrangement has helped us at least begin to get our home the way we want it to be. 

Downsizing and Organizing: One of the things I will remember doing at the house in 2016 is beginning the process of downsizing and organizing the rooms. Our storage room at the far end of the house had become packed full of stuff some of which we really didn't need. 

I went through a lot of it and we decided what we wanted to keep and I made plenty of trips to the Goodwill store to make donations. 

I finally "thinned my herd" of t-shirts, personal memorabilia, Legos, and other things. 

There's a lot more to do in this aspect in the coming year but when we are finally much more organized and have more space I will look back at 2016 as the starting point.   

The Year Without A Ventriloquist: I will remember 2016 as the year I went without performing ventriloquism in public. I didn't avoid it on purpose, just didn't pursue any opportunities.  

I made an unconscious decision to step back and think whether or not I wanted to keep doing "vent". 

I sold some of my vent stuff, such as a learning course and some "how to" videos. I also sold my vent figure, Ruben. 

I liked him but I just never found a way to make him likable to an audience. At one point the potential for a "geeky nerd" type character was there but I didn't pursue it. So I let him go to someone who just might be able work with him. I will miss him; but I know some of my family members who won't. (Right Heather?)

So now that I've reduced the number of puppets I have I can focus on getting back into being a Vent and concentrate working with a small troupe of well defined characters and not a menagerie of shallow ones. 

Home Repairs and Improvements: One of the reasons I began staying home was so that we could get some of our home repairs completed. 

The skunk episode in June led to the outside vents to the crawlspace under the house being repaired and resealed. We replaced a section of the floor and the toilet in our half bath.  
We had a new pull down attic door installed. 

Improvements and repairs to our main bathroom included: putting up a magazine holder; reorganizing the stuff in the closet and on it's shelves and James and my brother-in-law Bob installing a vent fan. 

For our Christmas present our family got us a new dishwasher and James put in a new faucet in our kitchen sink. 

 I'm sure there are other things that were repaired or improved that I am forgetting. Point is we made progress and had the means to do what we needed/wanted to do this year. There's more to be done but at least it's a start. 

Paula's New Office & Wardrobe: The biggest home improvement of the year was converting what used to be Michael's bedroom into Paula's office/den. 

We started in the spring by having a painter come in and make the walls gold. 

 Then we added a rug...
... A desk, a computer, and a treadmill (her idea).
And finally curtains, and some furniture. 

Throughout the summer we worked on her closet; a major project that included purchasing and assembling  and modular storage units and a clothes rack. Then we placed them in the closet for maximum storage potential.  

Paula was the heart and soul behind the entire makeover. Everything that her new room is reflects her creativity and imagination. A job well done. I hope as the years go by it's a place she enjoys. 

Also in the summer, my wife was introduced by a co-worker, to a clothing line called "LuLaRoe." It immediately became her passion. 

This line features styles and designs very different from what my wife had usually worn up until then. Soon dresses, leggings, blouses, ect. were arriving in the mail several times a week over the next few months. 

At the end of the year, she has a more than fully restocked closet with clothes that are comfortable, stylish, and make my wife feel as comfortable with her wardrobe as I've seen her in a while.

Those are just two of the hundreds of things I could mention about my wife in 2016. But they will be among our top recollections when we talk about 2016 in the years to come.   

These next few things are all mentioned in detail in recent blog posts so I won't go into them. You can go back and read about them for yourself. Just wanted to include them because they made my memory list for the year. They are: 

  • Angel's Surgery In October
  • Long time Friends, Gene & Larry visiting me in September
  • My Birthday solo trip to Walt Disney World
  • Our Anniversary Getaway to the Smokey Mountains
Next is something that seems like its just technology but there's a lot more to it. 

Streaming TV Shows And Movies: 
While this may seem rather frivolous compared to the other things on this list and things that are supposed to be important in life but there's more to it than what you may think. 

First I need to say that, for Paula and me, the ability to watch entertainment when we have the time is an important element of spending time together.  

Whether we're accessing cable "On Demand", NetFlix, or Hulu Plus, our weekends at home were when we binged on episodes of: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Stranger Things, bloodline, Dare Devil, Luke Cage and Chance. We also caught up on network series like: Scorpion, NCIS, This is Us and Designated Survivor.  

Occasionally we also rented movies that we missed in the theater on pay-per-view. 

Yes, we've watched more streaming TV together this year than we had any year before. Time spent together and experiences shared that only serve to bring us closer together.  
Aria's Year: Parks, Play Doh, & Ponies: How do you summarize a year in the life of a 4 year old? The growth,the changes, the learning, the experiences. I could never do the task justice on this blog much less this post.    

So allow me to share with you Aria's year in regard to time she spent with her Nana & Papa. 

The most important thing was spending time at our house where it was just the 3 of us. There she was treated like a princess. 

She really looked forward to playing with Legos with me. In fact, the very first picture I have of her from this year is one where we are showing off our first Lego models we ever built together. 
Her favorite things to do was play with her Nana and Play Doh. She also loved to just chill on the couch with Nana and watch her favorite shows on her Nana's I-Pad. 

Of course when she occasionally spent the night during the year, she would get to sleep with Nana, while Papa bunked on the couch. 

During the warmer weather, playing outside with Nana in the front stone filled flower bed or drawing with sidewalk chalk was the playtime choice. 

And the newest playground for Aria and her Nana was Paula's new office. They spent lots of time back there playing with the Disney Princess paper dolls Nana had gotten for her. 

Of course the most memorable experience of the year with our granddaughter was our week visiting Walt Disney World. 

Precious memories with Nana were abundant in the Disney Parks. Here are my two gals hanging out together...

 ...with the Woody topiary at Epcot's World Showcase. 

But without a doubt their best moment came when Aria took her Nana by the hand to show Minnie Mouse, Nana's painted finger nails. 
Although, I did have fun with her, there were not many pictures of just Aria and her Papa in Walt Disney World. Here's the only one and we're not alone and not exactly together. 
But here is a pic of one of our special times together in the Windsor Hills Resort pool. We had a lot of fun. 
Over the course of the year Aria's choice for what she wanted to watch while at your house went from Disney's The Aristocats to Pocohontas (she pronounced it "Cocohontas") and finally settled into an obsession with "My Little Pony". 

Her obsession with the cartoon show was not just at our house she was "My Little Pony" almost all the time. 

One thing additional thing I must mention about Aria and me this year. It was in 2016 that our little game of tickling knees really became a thing for us. Its the only game that I remember my grandfather ever playing with me. So I had to pass it on to her.

While rubbing on her knee I say "Tickle, Tickle on the knee. If you laugh you don't love me." Depending on her mood she would either hold back or laugh for all she's worth. It's a game that makes me smile every time. 

Just to show how much she has grown over 2016 here's one of the last pictures of my granddaughter from this year. It was taken during their family's Christmas picture session. 

My she's grown so much. I will never forget this year with her. My hope is that she remembers it too. 

Gabriel Alexander Is Born: Of course, even if everything else about 2016 is forgotten, it will forever be remembered in our family as the year our grandson, Gabriel Alexander was born.  
That October day was one I will always remember especially holding him for the first time. 

It's hard to believe that he's now 2 1/2 months old. Here's a picture of him from just a couple of days ago. 
Such a cutie. He's growin like a weed and eating every chance he gets. I look forward to seeing him turn into a toddler in the coming year.

So there you have the 16 things I'll always remember about 2016. What's on your list? Was it a good year for you? I hope so. Try and make your memories of 2016 as positive as possible. You can't go back and change it now. So just look back for a bit and keep moving forward. God Bless y'all and Happy New Year. See you in 2017. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Anniversary In The Smokies-Part 3

Monday December 12 was our 14th wedding anniversary and our last full day of our time in the Smokies. 

Unfortunately, on the last day of our getaway, both of us were still feeling a bit under the weather with symptoms of a cold. Paula felt pretty bad and needed to rest. I was still fighting off the effects of feeling poorly the entire time there. So we spent a little longer at the condo than we had planned that morning. But we eventually felt good enough to go enjoy our special day.  

It started with a late breakfast at the Applewood restaurant in Sevierville, one of our favorite places to eat. 
 Although I didn't take the shot below it's the exact view we had of the dinning area. We sat at the table in the bottom right of the picture. 

We try to eat here every time we are in the area. The muffins and fruit spread you get to start off your breakfast is worth the trip all by themselves. But everything else is always good too. 

We did a little bit of shopping while in the area. The weather was a bit rainy and damp but was supposed to clear up later in the afternoon. So we went back to the condo to rest a bit more.

As the sun began to go down we headed back to the parkway to do some Christmas shopping for our grandchildren at a Carter's outlet. 

Along the way Paula took some nice pictures of the light displays outside some of the attractions and hotels. 

Our next stop was the Christmas Village. It's the largest Christmas shopping outlet in the South. This place was incredible. The outside was fully decorated. 

Inside the many many shops was over 60 decorated trees and every type and style of Christmas ornament and decoration you could imagine. 

Most of it was, what I call "serious" decore; not my style. (Anyone who has seen my home during the holidays knows I tend to go for the more whimsical.) It was also a bit on the high end price wise. But just about every where I turned I saw something I wouldn't mind having at our house.You could spend a mint in this place. 

There was even a small toy store, a place to get hot chocolate, and Santa was there to meet the kids.

In the middle of our trek through this amazing village I found a bench to sit and rest. Paula sat with me. As we sat there a nice older lady came up to us and offered to take our picture. I hadn't even realized we were in the midst of a unique photo opp but she did. 
About halfway through the Christmas Village we realized that we weren't going to get through all of it so we decided that it was time for dinner.

Our anniversary meal was going to be one one that involved giving an area restaurant a second chance.

For the 2nd day in a row we went to The Island. We decided to give Paula Deen's restaurant another try. 

Back in May 2015, we had a very negative experience during our initial visit. The food was good but we were seated in an area of the dinning room where the sun hit us directly through the glass windows. We felt like ants under a magnifying glass. It was so uncomfortable, Paula almost got sick from the heat.   

Because the food was so good we decided to go and try it again but, this time, after the sun went down. 

The building that houses the restaurant is 2 stories. The dinning room is on the 2nd floor. The 1st floor is a retail store filled with Paula Deen merchandise and other products she endorses. 

There's a check-in desk to the right just inside the door. It's where you get your name on the waiting list. It happened to be a slow night so we were told to take the elevator up to be seated right away. 

This time our table was on the main level of the split level dinning room. Here's a couple of pics that shows our view of the area outside from our table.

We ordered Chicken & Dumplings, Cheesy Meatloaf and Roast Beef for our entrees. Creamed Corn, Candied Yams, Mac & Cheese, and Green Beans were our sides. 

The food is served family style but its "all you can eat". Unfortunately we can't eat all that much these days. But what we did was very good. 

With only 3 desserts to choose from we got the banana pudding. It was not made the way we like it. For what it was; it was not bad. 

Overall, our second time to Paula Deen's at The Island was a very nice experience. We'd go back again but most likely, only with another couple or group of people. 

After dinner we walked around the area again. This time we did a little more serious shopping; looking for a something to take home to our grandchildren. 

As I do every time I visit The Island, I took some pics of The Wheel. This time it was in Christmas lights mode. 
Even though it was chilly outside, the water fountains continued to present a show every half hour; this time to Christmas music. Here's a video of their dance to "Winter Wonderland". 
I also videoed the fountain during another song; Tennessee Christmas by Amy Grant. Here's the link to it on my You Tube channel. 
Dancing Fountains @ The Island Christmas Edition

The final thing we decided to do on our anniversary turned out to be one of the coolest Christmas things we've done in a while. 

On a very densely foggy night we drove 9 miles out to the baseball stadium that's the home of the local minor league team, The Smokies, during the summer. In the parking lot is an amazing Christmas lights display called "Shadrack's A Christmas Wonderland."

It's a drive-thru display that has two parts. Initially there's a series of fixed displays some of which are animated. 
Here are some still shots of what we saw.  

Here's a short video of the animation. 

The 2nd and most impressive half of the display is a field of trees, lights, and decorations that are coordinated to Christmas songs you listen to on your car radio. Here's what I mean. 

I was so excited about this experience that I went on Facebook live and shared it with my FB friends. 

I also took some video of the lights moving to one of my favorite Christmas songs by a group called "Go Fish". 

Here's a link to that video on my You Tube channel. 

We stayed at the lights display for about 45 minutes until it closed. 

We then drove back to our condo in the fog. After some initial packing in preparation for leaving in the morning, we called it a night. Our 14th wedding anniversary was over but it was a good one. 

I hope you enjoyed the pictures and recollections I've shared with you in this series of posts. 

As I wrote at the beginning of the first post, The Smoky Mountains resort area is where we choose most often to spend our vacation time. If you have any comments or questions about this series or the Smokies just send me a message on FB Click Here or email me, I'll be happy to hear from you. 

Also if you know someone who would enjoy this series of posts share it with them on all your social media. I would greatly appreciate it. 

More than likely this is going to be the last blog post for 2016. So I'd like to wish you and all of yours a Happy and safe New Year's celebration and a great and blessed 2017. See you next year.  



Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Anniversary In The Smokies-Part 2

Hello again. I hope that you had a blessed and memorable Christmas holiday. I know it was a special one with my family at our house. 

In this, one of the last posts for 2016, I want to share with you some more of our anniversary getaway from earlier in December. 

On Sunday, we returned to Dollywood with the goal of enjoying the park and all the special Christmas entertainment it had to offer. 

The weather was still chilly but quite a bit warmer than it had been the night before. 

First thing we did was head to Rivertown Junction to enjoy a Philly cheese steak from the Market Square Big Skillet counter service restaurant. We found a table in the sunshine to enjoy our "brunch". 

Next, we headed back to the area where we stood to watch the parade the night before. This time we went inside the Pines Theater to hear the Kingdom Heirs gospel quartet celebrate the season. 

While they didn't sing a lot of the traditional Christmas songs, they did sing some very good southern gospel and a cute one about Christmas Cookies. 

Next, it was back to Show street near the park entrance to the Celebrity Theater. There we saw the show I'd been anxious to see. It was a stage version of the movie "It's A Wonderful Life." 

The show was about 45 minutes long and was a very interesting adaptation. It was a musical and used songs from some well known Broadway shows. Songs like: "Money Makes The World Go Round", "I Wish You Love" and most interesting of all, "Always Look On The Bright Side of Life", from my all time favorite show Spamalot. 

After a quick trip through the nearby candy store, we headed to the Back Porch theater, a covered outdoor venue, to see the show entitled "Appalachian Christmas". 

I took a picture of the empty stage as we waited for the show to start to post on Facebook but then didn't take any during the show. I guess I was too busy being entertained. 

The featured entertainment was the Smoky Mountain String band. The four person group included a base fiddle player, a lead guitarist, a mandolin player and a very funny and talented banjo picker. 

They performed cover versions of "Jingle Bell Rock", "Santa Claus Is Watching You", "Mary Did You Know", and a song I was hearing for the first time called "Mary's Christmas". 

These guys were very entertaining and talented. You could tell they were having a good time and so did their audience. 

Blogger's Note: The group had their 2016 Christmas CD for sale after the show but I didn't buy one. After we got back home I wished I had. I did some research, contacted Dollywood's merchandise department and asked how I could get one sent to me. 
The next day, the lead guitarist of the band, Jerry Butler, called me. I was totally surprised and had a very nice conversation with him about the band. We also completed a transaction that got me the CD I wanted. Just a little interesting side story about our trip after the fact. 

After that show ended we walked up the hill towards the village area to get in line to see the "Christmas In The Smokies" show. When we got to the theater there was a long line and the show didn't start for about 30 minutes. We decided not to wait. 

By this time of the day it was getting cooler and we were a bit tired. We walked up through the Village and browsed through a shop or two. Of course the dominate attraction of that area (and to some extent the entire park) is the locomotive.  

There was a giant wreath set up near the train station giving guests a great photo opp. We decided to take advantage of it. But the park employee I asked to take the pic for us didn't do a very good job. Here's our disappointing souvenir. 
 We decided that we wanted to go see one more show and then head on out of the park. 

We went to the Valley area of the park to the open air theater next to Granny Ogle's restaurant. 

We found a seat on a bench in front of an electric heater hanging down from the roof. With it getting colder, this was a welcome luxury. We 

There were just a few people in the theater because the next show didn't start for about 20 minutes. 

With a few minutes until the show started, Paula decided to go looking for a hot cup of coffee. Instead, she came back with a couple of cups of hot chocolate and a some warm cinnamon bread. I can't tell you how decadently delicious that stuff was. 

She bought them at the Grist Mill that was across from the theater. Next time we go back to the park it will be on our "Must Have" list of snacks. 

The show we saw at the Valley theater was called "O Holy Night". There were two stages and two concurring story lines. One about a father and daughter decorating their tree and the other about the very first Christmas night. It was all brought together with Christmas carols and songs performed by very good guitar playing singer. 

It was a very good show that we both enjoyed. Even though it was in the middle of a theme park the production had a small country church feel to it.

We walked around the valley shops for a few minutes finding a picture frame with our new grandson's name on it in one of the woodcraft stores. That was a pleasant surprise. 

At this point we both decided that it was time to end our day at the park. We were both tired and hungry. We wanted to go have dinner at "The Island" our favorite area in Pigeon Forge. 

We made our way to the front of the park taking a gingerbread snack from the Spotlight Bakery on Show Street. 

We drove to parking lot off of Teaser Road and took the trolley shuttle to the drop off at The Island. We wanted to try a new place to eat so we decided on the Timberwood Grill. 

We split an entree that included an absolutely delicious beef brisket. There was so much food that we had enough leftovers to enjoy it again for lunch the next day. 

Of course, we couldn't spend time at the Island without going into Arcade City and play our favorite game, Harpoon Lagoon. 

The Island was all decked out for Christmas and there were a lot more shops open than the last time we were there. 

With plans to come back the next day, we only looked around a bit before calling it a night. 

The next day was our last full day of our getaway and we had some really fun things planned. I will share what we did on that very special day in part 3 of this series.