Monday, December 28, 2015

The Creative Life: Sparking Ideas for the New Year

As the new year rolls in, people reflect on goals. I'm always thinking about goals, although I hesitate to call them "New Year's resolutions." A resolution, to me, seems like something that can be broken. I never consider a goal to be broken, in those terms. A project can be shifted to the back burner. You can get off course with a particular goal, but you can always get back on it again, particularly a long-term goal that does not have an absolute deadline.

I am on vacation from my job for this week leading up to New Year's Day. During this "staycation" time, I plan to work towards several goals. Already, there seems to be too many projects for me to give equal attention. I guess you could say I have my fingers in many pies ...

Or a lot of irons in the fire ...

Or a lot of balls in the air.

I think you get the idea by now. :)

My birthday is quickly approaching, January 9th. For the past few years, I have planned a mystery dinner party for friends to celebrate my birthday.

The photo below is from my mystery party in 2013, a body outline my father made on the balcony. I had several members of my family involved in different ways.

Yes, you can buy mystery dinner party kits. I have considered this option in the past.

Here's a site that seems to be a good source for these, although I went a different route.

Perhaps, because I'm a bit creatively insane, I thought it would be fun to create my own version of the game. I believe mine works differently than most you would buy. The usual pattern seems to be that the guests act in the role of different suspects. In my game, the guests are all detectives, and I enlisted members of my family to be the suspects. I modeled mine on the English manor mystery. My brother Tim acted as the butler. My sister-in-law Melody acted as a maid one year and an opera singer, a guest at the manor, another year. My father played a professor, a manor guest, at one of these dinners. I even had my oldest nephew, Bill, involved one year.

I admit that my family are extremely good sports. Not only did my mother and Melody help me serve a multi-course meal Downton Abbey style, they also ate in the servants' quarters, aka the next room, instead of with the aristocracy and their detective guests.

This is a pre-dinner photo from 2013.

I'll give you the basic idea. I put my friends on teams of detectives. The first year, friends were assigned to teams according to famous mystery writers and given fictional detective identities and name tags. For instance, the Agatha Christie Team had an Hercule Poirot, a Miss Marple and a Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. The next year, I did something similar with detective TV shows and fictional TV detectives.

Teams were supplied with evidence folders. When the game started, teams drew cards which I had typed up ahead of time. The cards would either instruct them to go into a certain room of the house in search of a clue or into a certain room of the house to interrogate a particular suspect. Clues were labeled by number in the different rooms, objects with cards offering an explanation of the clue as to what evidence was found connected to this object. There was a card left for each team at that location which they could collect into their evidence folder. The interrogation of suspects was all scripted, both the questions that detectives could ask of a certain suspect and the suspect's answer to the question. These answers were also on cards that detective teams could collect into their evidence folders. Other bonus cards gave options like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Of course, I had to throw in some red herrings.

As I type this, I wonder if I could make a little joke with some more literal red herrings, some Swedish fish candies. I'm not really sure where this idea is going yet, if it is a workable idea or just a bit of goofiness.

Does this sound complicated? It was quite complicated to create but also very rewarding, as my guests had a blast. The game concept did not have to recreated, but each year, a different mystery was created. It's also a bit tricky that my birthday follows so closely after Christmas. I should be glad I have this week off to make progress in my planning.

While looking at a photo of my guests at the table from a previous year's party, I noticed a candy jar in the center of the table. For some inexplicable reason, this triggered a thought of fortune cookies and the idea of a clue tucked inside of a fortune cookie. I really don't know how the candy jar got my mind working along that track. I remembered there are ways to order custom fortune cookies with your own messages inside.

Then, my brain started thinking, "And aren't there such things as Chinese puzzle boxes?" An Internet search did not turn up Chinese puzzle boxes, but it did turn up Japanese puzzle boxes.

So now, my brain is dreaming up something along this line, and, of course, with this sort of theme, a Chinese meal. I will update you on my progress.

In church life, I am known as "the puppet lady." I lead a puppet ministry team and write my own material. We have performed for various functions in the church to provide an uplifting Bible message in a fun and, often, funny way. I have been working on a script on a "fruit of the spirit" theme from Galatians 5:22-23. The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.

My puppet presentation, which, at this point, is just a concept and a partial script, is inspired by old variety shows. Some of the confused puppet characters want to demonstrate literal fruits and pop in with little bits of various fruit referencing well-known songs: "The Lime in the Coconut", "I Heard It Through the Grape Vine", "The Banana Boat Song", etc.  I thought it would be fun to have a puppet dressed as Carmen Miranda.

Aside from some association with this lady and some crazy fruity turban, I did not know much about her until I began to look up old movie clips on Youtube.  What an interesting, colorful vision, a kind of entertainment that is now passe.

I mention this loony idea to my creative partner, Betty, my interim pastor's wife. I suppose she is as loony as I am, because some days later, she sends me the photo below. I have sometimes called Betty the Edith Head of Puppetry.

In addition to these ideas, I still want to work on the next "Action Men" novel and also do some other less fun but necessary tasks.

I once read a description of my personality type, INFP in the Myers Brigg system, that says my type tends to take on too much but somehow gets it done. This seems to be fairly accurate.

So, these are some of the things I intend to make progress on this week. I once worked in a child care program the director described as "loosely structured." I suppose that could also describe my organization style. I am making plans but flexible plans.

Creative types, do you find yourself juggling several projects at once?


  1. Wow those were some really great ideas! I love the idea of a murder mystery party! I have always wanted to go to one! I hope you have a great holiday and happy birthday as well! :)

    1. Thank you, Ryan. I hope to do an update post on this, and, some how-to tips, and maybe, if I can figure out how to do it, make my game cards available as a download.

    2. Hi, Susan. What a fun, creative person you are. Congrats on your success!

  2. You really have thought this idea out! I have never been to a mystery dinner myself or done anything of the sort, so I am so impressed with your creativity to make your own. I love the idea of fortune cookies having clues as well.

    1. Thank you, Olivia. :) Each year, I wonder if I'm going to pull it off, but my friends have really enjoyed these dinners.

  3. Ooh, wish I could attend one of your parties. That sounds like fun! I attended one of those once, but the host didn't do nearly as good a job as you do!

    1. Thank you so much, Stephanie. I'll have to post an update and maybe some readers can use these ideas themselves.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. For some reason, I posted the same reply twice.