Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, the Book

This week, I’ve enjoyed reading the junior novelization version of “The Empire Strikes Back” because I get to try to do all of the different voices of the characters I grew up with, like Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Darth Vader. They’re not perfect, and I’m not even sure if Elijah can tell that I’m trying to emulate the voices. For me, it’s like I’m hearing the audio from the movie playback in my memory, and I’m pulling voices from specific scenes.

The one strange thing about this book is that the author is paying way more attention to wardrobe changes than I would have expected. In the movie, Han Solo will sometimes appear in a winter coat in one scene, and then in his more traditional costume in the next, but it’s natural to assume that he changed off camera.

I’m not sure if this is just how the movie was always adapted into a novel, or if this is some kind of second edition written in a different style. I just don’t recall the novelizations of the Star Wars movie paying so much attention to the clothes, other than when it was relevant to the plot. Usually, authors of movie adaptations will expand upon the movie by sharing what a character is thinking during a particular scene.

Puppet Meister

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Lately, I’ve been thinking about using an Amazon gift card I got for Father’s Day to buy a full body, professional styled puppet. This idea came to me last week at the Zoo while we were looking through the gift shops. How did I go from zebras and giraffes to puppets, you might ask? Well, it’s pretty simple.

The zoo gift shop had a stuffed eagle which caught my eye, but was far too much money. I’m not sure why, but it seems like an eagle stuffie would be cool. Then, I was thinking about an eagle puppet which I’ve owned for the longest time. I started to wonder where that’s gone to, and question whether it was “disappeared” a little like my monkey puppet had been. Yes, I had a monkey puppet, up until my wife gave it to our niece and later it was sold at a garage sale. It was a cute puppet.

So, yes, I’ve been fascinated by puppets for almost my entire life, most likely because as a child I watched a hundred hours of Sesame Street, the Muppet Show, and Fraggle Rock. It’s just really cool how some people are able to turn a sock puppet into a true character through voice and movement.

I think that it would be fair to say that I’ve always been interested in storytelling. I gravitated towards writing, because that came more easily to me, but I have also harbored interest in other aspects, such as photography and videography. And, when you want to make a movie but don’t have anybody to help you, you can use puppets.

Many, many years ago, back when Kayla was a baby, she used to watch Little Einstein videos on VHS. We would play them, like, everyday. They’re basically just footage of adults playing with a toy, for example a Jack-in-the-box, set to classical music.

I said to myself that I could do something like this, so one night while Theresa and Kayla were visiting my in-laws’ house I decided that I would take on this project. I turned a futon into the backdrop for the stage by turning it on its side, and got out every one of Kayla’s baby toys which flashed or made noise. I also knew that I wanted to make use of a couple of “Chicken Run” stuffed animals. What was great about these is that their faces would move if you squeezed a trigger on their backs. Basically, they were a little like puppets. Fun fact: the trigger broke on the rooster, so I actually rushed down to Toys ‘R’ Us and bought a new one, so we have two roosters now.

Slowly, the music-video-for-babies ideas turned into more of a story as I added more elements, and before I knew it I was recording a miniature movie which was basically “Chickens in Space.” The U.S.S. Voyager stood in as the exterior of the ship, and every stuffed animal made an appearance, even the eagle puppet. Since the original idea was to have music, the story stopped twice so I could haphazardly sing to two Weird Al songs.

Needless to say, a quick video that was supposed to replicate a Baby Einstein video and take only a couple of hours to finish probably took closer to four hours. I feel like it was close to midnight when I finally finished it. Because, the other thing was that these weren’t scenes I was filming and then editing together later, all of the editing was done with the camera.

The Rooster puppet on a bridge made from a futon and parts from Kayla’s baby mat.

We didn’t have YouTube back then, but I’m not sure that I would have even posted it online if I had the option. I was proud of the fact that I had created it for my daughter, and there were certain things which worked well, but I wouldn’t claim that it was very good. But, I do remember enjoying the challenge of putting this together, a lot of which harkened back to my fascination with how they film the Muppets. I knew that sets had to be built, and how to frame the shots.

I think that Kayla liked the video, because she watched it a number of times. And, that’s really the point, to entertain your audience. I just made it easy, and focussed on one infant girl.

Now, Kayla is an adult, and Elijah is nine, and I’ve sometimes regretted that I didn’t try harder to make more projects with my kids, like I always dreamed that I would someday do. We did make a couple of videos that are on YouTube, such as where Kayla is wishing her mom a Happy Birthday, and Josh battles Superman. The three of us made a kind of Star Wars video in a playground where Josh and I fought with lightsabers, while Kayla recorded. My favorite might be the video I made from footage I shot inside the Henry Ford Museum.

A few weeks ago, Elijah and I made a video with his Among Us characters. They are stuffed, so not puppets with moving mouths. I feel like we had fun making the video, and I think we could do more, but I was thinking that maybe it was the right time to really go all-in on the puppet idea. I’m not trying to be the next Jim Henson, I just think it would be a new way to express myself or tell a story.

I asked Elijah what he thought about puppets, and he didn’t sound like he was for it. But, then, maybe he’ll think it’s cool once he sees one up front.

So, there you have it. I might buy a puppet. I feel like I could get some use out of it, but only if I make some time for it. It would be a good hobby to take on with Elijah, if he warms up to the idea. There are risks.

In the week since I started thinking about buying a puppet, I’ve learned a lot about the whole world of puppetry. There is an entire subculture out there. I’ve been watching videos about how to build your own puppet, podcasts featuring interviews with professional puppeteers, and researching the prices and types of puppets that are available.

As I was looking for puppetry YouTube videos on Reddit, I came across a post that a well known youtuber, recently announced that he has brain cancer. So, I watch his announcement, and this brought back memories because he is going through a lot of what Josh went through when he was first diagnosed.

Originally, I was going to get a “dad” puppet, but then decided that I wanted one that looked more like a generic guy. That way, I can decide later what his personality should be.

So, what do you think? Should I take the plunge into the world of puppetry by buying one of my own? I look forward to seeing everybody’s feedback.

Father’s Day

Thinking of my dad, on Father’s Day. I still carry with me all of the helpful nuggets of wisdom he shared with me throughout my life, such as always bring a jacket (I keep at least three in my car), and that we make decisions, not mistakes. He would take my sister and I fishing, helped us build a fort back in the woods, taught us how to mow the lawn, and tried to share his interest in gardening.

If he was still alive, I would have lots of questions for him the last few weeks as we planted this year’s garden. Maybe the biggest lesson learned from the loss of a parent is that we never had as much time as we thought to ask all of our questions. Something that was most apparent last Summer when my sister, brother-in-law, and I worked together to get my dad’s tractor started. Years ago, he would have hopped right on top and easily gotten it started.

Perhaps a misconception I had as a kid and as a younger adult was that my dad wanted me to be just like him. But, that would have been a daunting task. As a father myself, the most important thing that I want for my kids is that they find health, happiness, and success in what they do throughout their life. They don’t need to follow the same path that I’ve been on in life, but there are times when I feel that I have advice I can share based on my own experiences.

I feel as though my dad wanted the same thing. This was apparent a couple of years ago, when he would ask about how my son, Josh, was doing. I could tell that despite all of his health issues, he was still worried about Josh’s fight with cancer, and my job search. Through thick or thin, he was first and foremost my dad. And, I’ll always be grateful for the support he offered me along the way.

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One Year Later

In March 2019 when the original tumor was removed from Josh’s brain, I naively thought that he would be healthy again after a few weeks of recovery and some physical therapy. I thought that the brain tumor was just a bump on the road, and that we would continue on with life once it was gone. What I didn’t understand at the time, but would soon realize, is that we were on an entirely different path filled with tough choices, hardships, and sorrow. Or, that Josh would carry the heaviest weight as he was faced with several hard truths and asked to make unimaginable choices.

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Although we were grateful for the successful removal of the entire tumor, this was still only the beginning of Josh’s road to recovery. When he was transferred to Mary Free Bed, he had paralysis on the right side, and couldn’t speak. Simple things that we take for granted, like being able to spit, were challenges for him.

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At the same time, Josh was about to do something incredible. He was once a teen who needed to be reminded to take out the garbage, or woken up for school in the morning, but once he started rehabilitation, he gave everything he had as he worked hard to gain back the abilities he had lost. He persevered during the remaining three years with kindness and a sense of humor.

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There was a point during his rehabilitation where he was undergoing physical therapy, radiation treatments, and chemotherapy at the same time. There were some rough days, but he was able to do it all.

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Josh had improved so much by the fall of 2021, that I was beginning to feel like we were finally coming “out of the woods” and that he was about to have a long future. He would ask questions about what would happen after graduation, and I would explain that he would continue his classes, but I wasn’t sure what that would look like. We helped him purchase a one-handed keyboard as a part of his Make A Wish request, and I thought this would be something he might use later in life as a part of a job.

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I’m grateful for the privilege to be Josh’s father, and to stand beside him as he courageously regained his ability to walk and talk during his fight with cancer. He was a wonderful young man, kind hearted, a strong big brother to Elijah, and a good little brother to Kayla.

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I’ve missed him every day since he passed away. There are a lot of things that I would have wanted to share with him.

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Most recently, Elijah and I played a joke on my wife for April Fools Day. The day before, I bought four packages of googly eyes, and hid them around the house. This was in homage to a trick Josh played on his Grandma Morgan a few years ago after he found a package of googly eyes that she had at her house. He hid them so well that it took several weeks for my mom to find them all. She still complains about it.

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This was the kind of thing that Josh would have appreciated helping me with, both because it would be funny and because it would have been an opportunity to show off his height. But, he would have initially groaned and rolled his eyes before going along with the idea.

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Maybe the best thing we can do in Josh’s absence is to live life the way that he would have if he had been given more time. Appreciate every day, show kindness to others, persevere through tough challenges, and take every opportunity to laugh. Especially if it involves googly eyes.

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Strange Dreams

I have been having strange, recurring dreams in which I’ve moved into a large Victorian style house. In past dreams, I would venture into different rooms of the house, but there are certain areas that I don’t enter because I somehow know that they are haunted. I think that I had a dream about living in the same house last night, but in it I was mourning Josh’s death as I was going through some of his things that were stored in his room. But, I knew that I wasn’t in our current house, because his room was different, as if it was in an upstairs attic. There was an older analog TV on a stand there. Elijah was there, and I told him that we could replace it with a newer TV. But, we were also in a hurry because Theresa was waiting for us to come downstairs so we could go out to eat.

The room we were in reminded me of the upstairs of my Grandpa Cornell’s house, which was a little like an attic space which had been converted into a bedroom.

Sometimes, Josh is still alive in my dreams, and other times I am aware that I am dreaming of the present day. When he appears in my dreams, I accept that he is still alive, but later when I wake up I will cling to those images.

I have had dreams about moments which turned out to be true. For example, when I was younger I dreamed about sitting down in front of a computer terminal I had never seen, in a room I had never been to. I recognized that room and that type of computer when I used the CM Life computer lab during my first year as a student at CMU. I know that I’ve dreamt about a specific place or moment when I suddenly get a feeling of deja vu, and realize that its happen to me in a dream before. But, it’s too late when I make the connection, because the moment has already passed.

“Deep House” has a strong premise, but little payoff

I recently watched “Deep House,” and for the most part found the movie to be legitimately creepy. It follows two characters who are urban explorers who dream of making it big on YouTube. They travel to their next challenge, which is to explore a house which is completely submerged underwater. A big part of the movie centers around their exploration of the house. Tension increases as they remind each other, as well as the audience, that they have to return to the surface before their oxygen runs out. But, of course, they run into trouble as they unlock the secrets of the house while encountering the supernatural forces which dwell there.

I was intrigued by the movie because it reminded me of a book I read a couple of years ago called “A House at the Bottom of the Lake.” In it, two teens discover a house which is miraculously preserved. It seems almost unfair to compare the two since they are two different medias, but in my opinion the book told a far more compelling story. There was just something mesmerizing and almost dream-like about how the entire story was constructed.

Three things that would have helped “Deep House” was deeper character development, sharper dialogue, and maybe a little more back story for the house. The movie does reveal more information at the end, but the way that it does it feels somewhat jarring and heavy-handed. As much of a cliche’ for haunted house movies as it might seem, this film would have benefitted from a few scenes where the characters return to the surface and then conducted their own research of the house. It could have been an exploration of knowledge as well as the house itself. But, the main thrust of the story was the underwater environment of the sunken house, and the movie certainly delivered on that.

The movie is worth the watch, although it mostly inspired me to read “A House at the Bottom of the Lake” again, because in the end I discovered that I craved a story that went a little deeper.

“You Get Me” was a Movie I wish I had Skipped

Last night, I took my chances with a dumb-sounding movie called “You Get Me” on Netflix. Based on the title and the description, it definitely had some stalking vibes, like “Fatal Attraction.” Unfortunately, it turned out to be a ninety minutes that I’ll never get back.

In the movie, the lead character, Tyler, has a one-night stand with Holly fifteen minutes after his girl friend, Allison, dumps him for acting like a jerk at a party. He ends up going to a night club with Holly, and then they hook up. The guy has second thoughts in the morning, and eventually makes up with Allison, so they get back together. But, unfortunately Holly has enrolled at his high school, and slowly begins to make his life a living hell.

The only redeeming thing about the movie was possibly the scenery, and the suspense that was created as Holly slowly became crazier and crazier. The biggest takeaway for me was that I’m grateful that I’m done with high school and dating

The Great Office Experiment

A few weeks ago, I moved my computer equipment to the vacant bedroom upstairs. I did this for many reasons. First, I felt like it would free up space in the master bedroom, allowing me to organize things a little and make it more of a living space. Second, I had worked inside the upstairs bedroom before, and remember it being very quiet. It’s also generally a lot warmer upstairs than downstairs, a definite advantage in the winter.

I also felt like it would please my wife to free up space in the bedroom, because she often complains about how messy it had gotten. I concluded that a workspace where I worked on computer-related projects didn’t blend well with a space intended for other activities, like sleeping or just hanging out. I guess that, ultimately, the separation of these two sides was like an experiment to see what would happen if my bedroom was turned into just a bedroom.

The results were that my bedroom did feel a lot more open and comfortable. There just was a lot more empty floor space.

Why did I move my workstation back downstairs? Our daughter is visiting this weekend, so it seemed better to restore her bedroom to the way she left it. Also, not everybody agreed with my “occupation” of the upstairs bedroom. But, there are also advantages to containing all of my stuff in one room, namely that it becomes a lot easier to keep track of. I think that Elijah benefited from my presence upstairs, especially when I’d be working in the evening and he was tucked in for the night.

How I became a fan of Chadtronic

A few years ago, probably around 2016 or 2017, we were hanging around at home when I told Josh he needed to see a funny video I had found on the Internet. I cast it onto the TV, and we both shared a good laugh. Then, he asked me if I had ever heard of Chadtronic.

Chadtronic? No, I hadn’t seen any of his videos, although I was getting the impression that Josh very much had. He found an episode on YouTube where Chadtronic reacted to an old video from the 1990’s which helped show people how to get connected to the Internet. I was drawn in by both the nostalgia of the video and Chadtronic’s sense of humor, and from that point forward we always tried to catch every one of the videos that he posted. When one of us saw a notification that a new video had gone live, we’d share the news and then gather around the TV so we could watch it together. It just wasn’t the same watching them for the first time without Josh in the room.

When Elijah was old enough, we introduced him to Chadtronic, although he brought his own perspective.

I suppose that I might have eventually stumbled across Chadtronic on YouTube. What I treasure the most is the time that I spent with Josh watching his videos, sharing a few good laughs, and discovering new memes together..

Recognizing my Sons on National Son Day

As sons go, Josh and Elijah are the best companions that a dad could ask for. Elijah still has a fresh view of the world that helps to keep me feeling young. Josh kept me on my toes. I appreciate all of the time that we were able to spend together. I’m excited to see what the future holds for Elijah.

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