Sunday, December 28, 2008

Harry Potter Prediction comes true...

Twelve years ago J.K. Rowling wrote a book that has since made her the wealthiest woman in the world and the wealthiest author in the history of the world. In that book she wrote fiction, but like much of the science fiction of Star Trek that later came to fruition (think of their communication devices and compare them to modern day cell phones), Rowlings words have also proved prophetic.

This year my mother got me a gift of a digital photo frame. You can take your digital pictures and/or videos on an SD card and insert the card into the picture frame. It then rotates through the pictures or videos at intervals you determine.

So now I have a picture frame on my wall that has a movie of my daughter dancing. Compare this to Rowling's description of pictures in the wizard world from her very first Harry Potter book.

Science is Magic.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Snow in Houston Again!

For the past three days I've had Geoff Akins, the Bubble Juggler down here from Chicago doing Texas School Assembly Programs for our company. He does an amazing show with soap bubbles. The message is one of hope, belief, persistance, and of course a good deal of science.

But the irony is that he left Chicago, in part to enjoy some of our mild weather and tonight it is warmer up north in New York City than it is here in Houston. The ground is covered in snow.

It snowed here in 2004, too. I remember because it snowed on Christmas day, which has never happened in the history of recorded weather in Houston. I also remember because that was the year I introduced my show "The Arctic Express", a school assembly program about winter festivals celebrated by various cultures around the world.

The theme of the show is about making magic snow, and then, it actually snowed in Texas the year I did that program. Now it's snowing again.

It's just coincidence, but you got to respect that it's a pretty cool coincidence!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Do People Even Think?

I was in the gym this morning and I saw a woman walk past the stairs to the elevator and ride it up to the second floor. This always catches my eye because I have tried to program my brain to always take the stairs if it is two flights or less. It is usually faster to take stairs than to wait for an elevator and the time saved makes me feel like I'm increasing productivity.

Anyway, I saw this lady get off the elevator up stairs and go to the...(you guessed it) STAIRMASTER!!

Do these people even THINK about what they are doing or are they just wandering around in a zombie-like daze?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I also talk to adults...

As a full-time elementary school assembly presenter, I am freqently asked if I also perform for adults. The answer is almost always "no". I used to, and I loved doing it, but these days my time is so full writing and developing and performing educationally significant assembly programs that I would rather keep focused on my primary purpose (FYI: My goal is to inspire children to read).

However, a few times each year I am asked to speak to groups of performing artists about how I do what I do. We go over not just the basics of creating a great assembly program for elementary age kids, but also about the marketing and management of the business side of things.

I just recently returned from such a speaking engagement in Philadelphia, PA and it was a blast. I got to meet a lot of really dedicated performers from all over the U.S. and Canada.

As I sat relaxing with the family this Thanksgiving it reminded me that I have my own gathering of the minds coming up right after new years. I have people coming from 3 different continents, 5 different countries, and 17 of the United States. They'll be here to learn exactly how to develop, present, and market a show that makes a difference in the lives of their audiences.

Of course, most of them already present great shows. But these are the cream of the crop so to speak. The people at the top in any industry stay there not by luck, but by hard work and constantly seeking improvement.

I'm looking forward to our week together in January. But I've got to get busy getting ready!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

My Work Uniform

I just got back from my daughter's open house. It was kind of fun because I got to dress up a little bit. Okay, I'll admit, my idea of dressing up is probably not the same as most people. I wore my nice jeans, dress shoes, and a button up shirt. That's pretty nice for me.

Of course, as a professional magician I own the obligatory tuxedo, but because two years ago I vowed I would only perform magic for children, I haven't worn it since then. When I perform I wear a costume, and because I plan my costumes well, they are things that, with just a little bit of modification allow me to be seen in public without drawing too much attention.

For example, yesterday I was in Lufkin, Texas doing a school assembly program called "Sport of Champions", which is an educational school assembly show about reading and math and about how learning is exercise for our brain, like physical exercise is for our body. Anyway, my "uniform" for that show consists of a pair of basketball shorts, a very comfortable soccer shirt, a pair of running shoes, a baseball cap, and a stop watch around my neck.

The person who hired me even commented "It must be nice when those are your work clothes!".

Yeah, it is.

Tomorrow I'm doing "Set Sail" a show about the writing process where I wear shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, and sandals along with a crazy straw hat to give it an island feel. Hands down, this is my best costume. In fact, it is SO relaxed that I feel obligated to wear closed-toe shoes to the gig and then change into sandals after I get set up.

But I get so used to relaxed outfits that it is nice to dress up. As a former school teacher I respect what happens within the walls of a school and I want to honor the teachers who work each day with my daughter. So the least I could do was wear my NICE jeans, right?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Creativity at Sea

I just returned from a week long conference on creativity. The conference was held of a cruise ship out of Galveston that sailed to Cozumel and then to Progresso. This was the second year I've attended this conference and this year I brought my family along with me. It was not only very rewarding from a professional stand point, but I enjoyed having a "vacation" with the family and getting to write off my portion of the trip!

On the boat, Madeleine lost the second of her two front upper teeth. If you've been following my blog for any time you might remember when she lost her first two teeth (the lower front two). We had a little incident where she...well, you can read about here.

But the weird thing is that now she has decided that having a tooth fairy is much more fun than not, so she spent the trip speculating on whether or not the tooth fairy would be able to find her while she was away at sea, if she would know which cabin was ours, how she would get in, and whether or not she would leave US, or Mexican currency.

Ultimately she decided to wait until the trip was over to put her tooth under the pillow.

The cruise was lots of fun as there were several big name children's performers on the boat including Bev Bergeron (the original clown from "The Magic Land of Alikazam" that ran in the 1960s), Tim Sonefelt, Barry Mitchell, Glenn Strange, and my long time friend who performed on the ship for the talent show: Geoff Akins.

Geoff will be here in Texas doing his Bubble Show for schools and libraries during December and again in February. It has been a very popular assembly program that has almost completely sold out with out a single mailing: just word of mouth that he's coming back down.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Power is back on...

The power is back on after five days and so we are almost back to normal. Just a little bit of clean up left to do.

We feel very fortunate that our house was not significantly damaged and that no one was injured. We have plenty of camping gear and after living on a sailboat for almost 3 years our family is quite used to preparing coffee in a French press, living without television, and cooking on a camp stove and barbecue grill.

You become a victim when your circumstances are bigger than you are. This week was bad for many people, but we are fortunately not among the victims of this storm. And unfortunately there are many legitimate victims of Hurricane Ike. Our hearts go out to them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ike's Aftermath

I rode my bicycle through the neighborhoods nearby yesterday and it is quite amazing the amount of damage done. You wouldn't think that wind could be powerful enough to peel bricks from a building, but in fact, that happened to many buildings and homes.

Of course, tall, heavy trees cause significant damage when they fall on structures as well, and we have plenty of fallen timber around.

It's pretty amazing that our house really suffered no significant damage and it's good to see power in the area being restored bit by bit. We still don't have any, but aren't really missing it too much. Normally the heat would be unbearable without A/C, but because of the cold front it actually hovers in the very plesent mid 70s and we even needed blankets last night as it dropped into the low 60s.

We've eaten the food in the fridge, then went to the freezer, and today we have polished off the deep freeze. Tomorrow we start on the pantry.

There are restaurants open and they are doing a very brisk business. Some grocery stores are open and they are also doing well, but the rumor is that there the perishables go quickly and ice is almost impossible to get. I don't know as we have enough food in the house to last us several weeks (those who know me well know how true this is!).

The water is on and works fine. The gas is on so we even have hot showers and yesterday Madeleine did a load of laundry "pioneer style" complete with clothes line. She loved it. I figure the passion for hand washing clothes will vanish by the second or third load.

Our phone lines are working as is my cell phone. We have hand powered flashlights, lanterns, cell phone chargers, and radios, so we can hear all the news reports, but remember that they sell "sensational" and so they always make it sound worse than it is.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hurricane Ike

In the aftermath of the hurricane, I just wanted to post a note to let you know that we are doing okay. There was no damage to the house, the family is doing fine, and except for the inconvenience of the loss of our electricity, we have enjoyed a quiet weekend at home. We are eating very well, as we have grilled everything that has thawed since Saturday morning (thank goodness for gas grills!). I don't think we have eaten this many "meaty" meals in a long time, but it has been interesting to see what we had in the freezer.

My daughter was very excited about the lack of power on the first day since she would be able to use her flashlight, but the novelty is beginning to wear off, and, like her parents, she is ready for normal again.

Our phone lines still work, and we have one old fashioned phone that doesn't require electricity, so we are still running the business as much as we can. With no electricty, we have no access to the internet, so we are unable to receive or send e-mails, but be assured we will get to them as soon as the power comes back on. Feel free to call us. We've got nothing else to do!

You may remember that I have written before about how much I use the computer but that we still have to have paper in the office. This week we are glad to be old fashioned! And those guys and gals who live and die by the electronic calendar, well - I'm going to miss them.

Monday, August 25, 2008

I Wish I was Cool

I have friends who are cool.

I've often wondered about exactly what constitutes "cool" and I've discussed it both with my cool friends and my un-cool friends. We all agree that the qualities that combine to make cool are difficult, even impossible to identify, but we all agree that we know it when we see it.

We also all agree unanimously that when we look at me, we do NOT see cool. While we can't identify all the elements of cool we did make a list a few of the things that keep me from it.
  • I don't have a cool cell phone, just one of the kinds that is used to make and receive phone calls.
  • It's not that I don't know how to text, IM, or tweet, I just choose not to...a sure sign of absence of cool.
  • Not only are my sunglasses not cool, they are so cheap that they've broken several times to the point that I've spent more money on glue to repair them than they originally cost at the gas station where I bought them. Cool people would never wear sunglasses with big globs of JB Weld on the arms and SuperGlue around the lenses.
  • I don't carry a wallet, instead holding all my ID, credit cards and cash in a bundle wrapped with a rubber band.
  • In that bundle I carry more library cards than credit cards.
  • I have the same hair style as my grandpa: bald. Gee, thanks, gramps. I used to have lots of thick, long hair, but I wasn't cool back then either. Come to think of it, there are lots of really cool bald guys. Okay, we can let the hair thing slide either way.
  • We don't have cable and I don't watch television so I'm so out of the loop when it comes to any of the hot new TV shows. It's hard to be cool if you don't know what's going on in the land of make-believe.
  • My truck is banged up because it is so old and has so many miles on it (almost 250,000 now) that when it gets dented or scratched no one will repair it because the repair costs more than the value of the truck. My friends drive way cooler cars.
  • This is how bad my car situation is. When I want to take the "nice" car, I'm talking about my wife's mini-van. You know you can pretty much sign off on ever being cool when you refer to the family mini-van as the "nice" car.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Professional Development

There are so many amazing advances in medicine now that things we once thought were incurable are now dealt with as outpatient surgery. Everything from new vaccines to laser technology to new discoveries in medicine.

For this reason doctors are required to spend a certain amount of time each year in continuing education and professional development.

So are real estate agents, school teachers, and a host of other respected professions.

But as a school show presenter there are no laws or requirements for me. Instead it is my duty to seek out my own professional development. The good news is that because I do, it gives me a bit of a competitive advantage over other performers who do not.

I just returned from one of my favorite conferences called KIDabra. It is an international organization with people attending from the UK, Australia, Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Croatia, Canada, and all over the United States.

Every time I return from this annual event my head swims with ideas, inspiration, and renewed energy.

I spent a great deal of time with a core group of friends and we are in the process of developing something that I think will be incredibly fun to create and has already proven to be extremely marketable. Keep your eyes open for it to appear on my web site before the spring semester!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Marketing Your SRC

As a performer in 100+ SRC programs each summer I feel responsible for ensuring good turn out at my performances. Part of my commitment to the success of the clients who hire me is that I create full-color, full-sized posters for each show and give them to the libraries that hire me. This is a pretty good tool if it is used.

But in addition to hanging posters, publishing a schedule, and reminding visitors each week about next week's program, there are a few other ideas I've come across that can help ensure packed meeting rooms each week.

One I'd like to share today is really quite novel. I was at a library that tracked "minutes read" on their reading logs. Some go by pages, some by titles, some by time. Each method has its pros and cons. But one of the good things about using minutes is that you can allow the patrons to count attendance at events toward their reading log.

In other words, if a patron came to watch a 45 minute puppet show, they would get 45 minutes of credit on their reading log.

I find this to be quite equitable. We know the library is about more than just books. We have videos, computer access, learning and training opportunities, meeting rooms for community groups, magazines, research tools, and a host of other functions to serve the community.

This method of giving credit for attending the SRC programs should not only increase attendance and reward those loyal patrons who show up every week, but it is a reminder that while the library was and is founded on books, there is a LOT more that goes on behind these walls!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

First Show of the Summer

Yesterday I did my first Summer Reading Club show of 2008. It is always so much fun when the summer starts.

I love performing in schools and our company presents almost 1,000 assembly programs in elementary schools each year, about half of which are done by me. I LOVE performing in schools. It is such a rewarding opportunity. But after ten months of school show presenting, I always welcome the change that comes with summer.

I drive a lot more during the summer, but my days start later (most days begin at 10 am rather than 8 am) so that's a more relaxed start. Plus the audience is different with way more adults (usually) than in a school setting. Schools have teachers, but the ratio is 20:1 where as at the public library during the summer most children are with at least one parent so the ratio is closer to 2:1.

I like that because there is a lot of humor in our programs geared just for the adults.

I also like SRC because I truly believe in the work. Study after study has shown how important reading is in the emotional and mental development of children and I think the Summer Reading Club is probably the BEST way to encourage that to happen on a consistent basis.

Well, it's 7:05 am and I have to get on the road in a little bit. I have two more libraries to do today (Hempstead and Eagle Lake). If you're in the area, check out my schedule and come visit me between shows!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Boosting a Child's Brain Development

We live in an amazing world!

A recent study conducted by professor Barry Zuckerman discovered a system whereby parents can easily boost their child's development in language, memory, motor skills and a host of other cognative developmental markers.

Zuckerman, a long time advocate for impoving the lives of children, charges NOTHING for the use of the system. He insists that the system has been around in some circles for generations and he merely conducted the research that proves the effectiveness of the system.

Proper use of the system takes just a few minutes of time (usually less than 10 mintues, often as little as 5 or less). Furthermore, if done at bed time, use of the system will actually help children fall asleep without fuss.

You will need some equipment, but if you cannot afford the modest price of the tools, most communities make them available to borrow at no charge.

"You can imagine if someone technologically came up with a widget that would stimulate all aspects of a 2-year-old's development, everyone would want to buy it," says Zukerman in the London Guardian.

But that "widget" happens to be a book, and the "system" involves reading to your children.

Zuckerman's study shows that the earlier children begin reading books with their family, the higher their test scores on ALL tests as they grow up.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

There is still hope for Dreams

We just got back from Disney World. On the first night there Madeleine dressed up in her Snow White costume and we went to the park for a half-day to catch the parade that night.

Madeleine is young enough to think nothing of dressing in a costume at Disney World, but once we left the hotel and got on the bus she noticed that no one else was in costume. She’s getting just old enough to start being a little bit self-conscious.

Youth slips away too quickly.

Once at the park she was reassured as she saw other children in costume as well.

The real highlight was during the parade when Disney’s Snow White came by and saw Madeleine in costume. Snow White actually saw my daughter in the crowd dressed like her. When she did, Snow White raised her gloved hand to her mouth is surprise and waved frantically at my daughter as if they were long lost sisters. This totally made my daughter’s day.

In fact, from then on she let me know that when she grew up she was going to be a Snow White at Disney World.

So, she’s been around enough performers to know that these are all actors. She recognizes that is is a real job done by regular people. She’s okay with that. It still really stoked her to have “Snow White” wave to her.

But the REAL kicker was two days later when we saw “Snow White” signing autographs next to Belle (from Beauty and the Beast). Madeleine approached and told her “I’m the one who was dressed like you were in the parade the other day”.

Snow White (almost ASSUREDLY NOT the one who was in the parade) said “Oh! I thought you looked familiar!” and my daughter’s chest swelled and her eyes grew and her smiled curled up. But before she could even bask in the glory Belle looked at Snow White and asked, “Is this the little girl you’ve been telling me about?” and Snow White nodded her head up and down.

My daughter could have died at that moment and been complete.

Actors or not; believing in Fairies or not; When Belle asked if this was the girl that Snow White had been talking about there was absolute belief that it was true. I don’t think my daughter has doubted for a minute that Snow White saw her in the parade and has spent the last few days talking to all the other princesses at Disney about this little girl she saw.

Thank you Disney. You have created three new very loyal fans and one very dedicated future employee.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

My Daughter Outs the Tooth Fairy

My daughter is going to turn six in a few days. She came to us at bed time about two weeks ago and said “Daddy, I know that fairies are not real. And I know that the fairies that are real can’t fly. I know that there’s no way anyone can get into our house because it is locked up and we have an alarm.”

Dramatic pause.

“So, I think that the only one who can get my teeth from under the pillow is either you or mom”.

My wife glared at me as this is our only child and Annie wants to have fun playing these roles for a while. Madeleine has only lost two teeth so far. But I just have a hard time directly lying to my child. So I try another route.

“Don’t you think it’s way more fun to pretend like fairies come and get the teeth?”

“No. I like the truth the best. Is it you and mom?”

“Yeah, it is. But you can’t tell anyone at your school.”

“Okay. Good-night” And it was just that easy.

Once she left my wife and I began discussing our ambivalence. On the one hand, we’re proud that she’s so smart and so logical, but on the other hand we really wanted her to enjoy some of the fun things of childhood.

“Mommy!” Madeleine yelped after sneaking back into the den.

“What is it?”

With a grin as big as a samurai sword my daughter announced “And I know who the Easter Bunny is, too!” then giggled as she ran back to her room.

No comments yet about “you-know-who” in red and white, but we’ll see what happens this coming December.