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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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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Senior Year of College already

It’s hard to believe it, but today my daughter, Kayla, started her senior year at CMU. Even harder to believe is the fact that in a couple of semesters, she will be getting her college diploma and stepping out into the wide open world of life, profession, relationships, and everything else that comes included when you become an adult. I knew that this day was coming, but back when it was three or four years away it seemed so far off.

Kayla has done amazingly with her classes, and already has a lot to be proud of. She was also a trooper, balancing her college classes with everything that was going on with her brother, Josh, helping us by watching her little brother Elijah, and adjusting to a new way of doing things as we all dealt with COVID19, lockdowns, and virtual classes.

Good luck with this new year, Kayla.

The New Mutants

Just finished watching “The New Mutants” with Kayla Morgan. Overall, the movie was better than I expected, but as my daughter put it “nothing seemed to really happen.” Perhaps it is strongest as a character study. It felt kind of like the Bottle Show episode of a really expensive TV series. It’s still worth checking out (especially for free at the library).

I think it was on Josh’s radar for a little bit as a movie he might have wanted to see. It was out in the theaters early on during COVID-19. I’m not sure if he would have liked it or not. Kayla seemed to get into the movie, despite its flaws. I’m glad she was able to watch it with me, because it would have felt wrong to see this particular one alone.

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First week in the Third Grade

It has been hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that our youngest son, Elijah, started the Third Grade this year. I’m not sure why, but that feels like a much bigger deal than the first or second grade. It’s as if he has crossed some kind of threshold that marked him as a “big kid” as opposed to a “little.” Or, if he is not the oldest grade, then he is somewhere in the middle, which puts him only a year away.

Each time my kids have graduated to a new grade in school, I’ve found myself thinking back to my own experiences. My third grade year was spent in a classroom which was split between second and third graders. Sharing a classroom with second graders felt somewhat special, kind of like being in a one-room schoolhouse as portrayed in “Little House on the Prairie.” But, I also remember that my mom wasn’t very happy. I also remember that our third grade teacher was fresh hire in the school, and I think that the idea of creating the classroom with split grades might have been an eleventh hour solution.

Maybe Elijah’s entry into the third grade affects me only because when I look back my experiences in the third, fourth, and fifth grades all sort of blend together. I do remember being in the classroom, and Movie Days, but the rest is a bit of a blur. I made a friend in the third grade who also rode the bus with me, and in a year or two turned into more of a bully.

But, what do I actually remember about the fourth and fifth grade? Only the smallest bits and pieces. Enough to understand why I want Elijah’s time in elementary school to be both educational and pleasant.