Phantom Haunted Village opens Friday

By J.B. Blocker
There was a huge turnout for the Phantom’s Haunt actors call at the Ghost Town at Storybook Ranch in McKinney. Eventually, 85 stayed for the full tour and a chance to be a part of a Halloween production that will run every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at dusk for the month of October. The haunted tours start Friday and will journey through a wooded, county road into a world of lights, sounds, and surprises.
The Phantom, James Dunn, and Wayne Kirk of River Ranch Educational Charities at Storybook Ranch set down the law and kept the largely teenaged bat boys and tour ghouls captivated and motivated to find their place in the Halloween adventure.
One attending parent was Mark P. Yablon. His oldest daughter, Natalie, was chosen to be a narrator after she made up an impromtu ghost story to land the opportunity. “I was totally impressed and very surprised at the way that many behaved so attentively for so long,” Yablon said.
The Phantom and his men herded the excited want to actors around the back 10 acres of the Storybook Ranch at Custer and Stonebridge.
Expect the experience to get better with every performance as each member of the team gains in experience with the heavily wooded areas,the two haunted houses, a memorable walk through the cemetery, and Dry Bones western village.

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A Storybook wedding for the Deputy Chief

By J.B. Blocker

The first wedding since the reopening of Dry Gulch western village in the back 10 acres of Storybook Ranch in McKinney came together like magic.
Mark down Thursday, September 23rd, 2010 was a historic night for many reasons. The last time the Sun, Earth, Moon, and Jupiter were in opposition (on a vertical plane) was in 1951. The next closest sighting will be in 2022.
On Thursday evening, the first newlyweds from the Storybook reopening were able to view this rarity knowing that all their stars were aligned.
For McKinney’s Deputy Chief of Police Kim Lee and her new husband Sean Malolepszy, the 23rd has become life changing. Both of their birthdays are on the 23rd and now they are Mr. and Mrs. Malolepszy.
The Chief will take on her new last name. It will be much harder for people to say or spell.
The wedding included Sean’s children Chynna and Maddie, and Kim’s children Kenzie and Jason along with a close collection of family and friends.

Coincidence?

When Justice of the Peace Paul Raleeh arrived, he shared his long relationship with Storybook.
“I used to work events here 20 years ago as an officer on security detail. I remember working with this good looking blonde. We even baked cookies together for an event. I married her!”
On Thursday, he officiated as Sean and the Chief were married, too!
In a quaint, personal, and sometimes humorous ceremony the I-Do’s were recorded by McKinney photographer Juan Carlos Cortez and can be viewed on-line at entertainmentphotos.net.
The whole affair was made possible by a series of coincidences.
The day after the couple decided that Sept. 23rd was the perfect date, Chief Lee visited Storybook Ranch for the first time to help Directors Wayne Kirk and Vanessa Fry coordinate security for upcoming events.
When Kim saw the little white chapel with 100 year old stained glass from the original Adophus that had been moved in years ago from Clarksville, Texas, she mentioned her intentions to marry in a private ceremony at the courthouse.
Wayne would have none of that!
He insisted on using the chapel. The Chief was concerned about the details on such short notice, especially since judges are readily available at the court house but not so much outside on short notice.
I happened to have JP Paul Raleeh on my speed dial, and he always responds to me so I took a shot and explained the situation. As you read above, the Justice of the Peace had his own personal reasons for offering his services.
Next, Wayne volunteered me to take the wedding photos. Now I have hundreds of photos published in the locals each year, but they are of the impromptu event category. This was the wedding for the Deputy Chief of Police in my hometown!
So, I called my friend Juan Carlos to take the photos and volunteered my guitar and a wedding song for my part.
I told Kim, I don’t do “Here Comes the Bride,” but I would be honored to play a song of my own for their First Dance.

Stunning!

You know that Go Daddy commercial with Danica Patrick getting pulled over by a woman officer who pulls off her sunglasses, let’s her long luxurious hair down, and then reveals her Go Daddy shirt? No one really believes that the women in all the cop TV series are really that hot in real life.
I’ve known Kim for about two years. I’ve only seen her with her hair pulled back tight, her shades on, and a bullet proof vest under full police uniform.
Who knew? Look at their wedding photos at entertainmentphotos.net and you’ll see what I mean.
Sean knew!
Congratulations to the new couple, and best wishes.

J.B. Blocker is a media consultant with Impress Me Media based in Historic Downtown McKinney, Texas.

Rep. Ralph Hall supports GOP Pledge to America

Congressman Ralph Hall (R-TX/4) joined House Republicans this week in support of their “Pledge to America,” a governing agenda reflecting the top concerns and priorities of the American people. The agenda is based on hundreds of listening sessions that Republicans held in their respective districts throughout the year.

“A majority of citizens in my district and a majority of Americans believe that our country is going in the wrong direction,” Hall said. “They are frustrated with a Congress that continues to borrow, tax, and spend rather than work to reduce record-high unemployment, a growing federal debt, out-of-control spending and expansion of government.”

“Our agenda seeks solutions to Americans’ top concerns: creating jobs, cutting spending, and reforming how Congress conducts the nation’s business,” Hall noted. “This agenda not only reflects the priorities of American citizens but also the principles and values upon which America was founded. It offers concrete solutions that can be implemented immediately.”

“We need to put America back on course for fiscal responsibility by working to balance the budget, cut government spending, and create jobs, and I will continue to work with my colleagues to achieve these goals,” Hall pledged.

Highlights of “A Pledge to America” are as follows:

*Roll back government spending to 2008 pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, with exceptions for seniors, veterans and troops;

*Freeze tax rates for two years;

*End the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP);

*Repeal and replace the costly government takeover of health care and put in place reforms such as allowing the purchase of health insurance across State lines, expansion of Health Savings Accounts, ensured access for patients with pre-existing conditions, and a permanent prohibition on taxpayer funding of abortion.

*Keep our nation secure at home and abroad by providing for a strong defense, fully funding missile defense, establishing operational control of the border and enforcing current immigration laws;

*Publish bills three days in advance to allow time for Members of Congress and the public to understand the legislation;

*Make it easier to offer amendments to reduce spending and hold weekly votes on spending cuts.

Thursday Night is Poker Night in McKinney

By J.B. Blocker, Viewpoint

Are you looking for something fun and inexpensive to do? Look no further!
The World Poker Tour Amateur Poker League (WPTAPL) is coming to McKinney, starting at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 9 at The Tokyo House.
This “Free” amateur poker league plays weekly in bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and other establishments throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the U.S.A. and beyond.
Sitting at a Hold’em table is a great environment for meeting near perfect strangers, making new friends, and having fun while competing for the over $250,000 in cash and prizes given away annually by the WPTAPL.
It could be your chance to become the next poker-made millionaire!
In addition to the WPTAPL’s multitude of prizes awarded throughout the year, the venue(s) hosting WPTAPL tournaments typically provide either a cash prize or gift certificates to the nightly winners.
All participants compete for and accumulate points based on their finishing order (top 16 each session earn points) in an effort to advance through the league structure to the WPT Amateur Championship in Las Vegas.
There, one lucky (or very good) member is crowned the WPT Amateur Championship of the World.
Have no fear, it’s all completely legal poker because as a participant you pay nothing to become a member and nothing to play nightly.
Best of all, its for everybody. Even those who have never played Texas Hold’em can play! The nightly tournament director provides lessons every poker night 30 minutes before the start of that night’s tournament. Anyone can learn and play.
Here’s a look at some of the great things you can win while having fun, hanging out with old friends and meeting new ones:
1. Win cash and/or other prizes awarded nightly by the host venue
2. Qualify nightly for WPTAPL’s weekly $500 Online tournaments
3. $10,000 Buy-in seats at official WPT Main events
4. $25,000 Buy-in seats at WPT Celebrity Invitational events while also competing for the chance to become the World Poker Tour Amateur Champion of the world
5. And the chance to become the next poker-made millionaire
Feel free to contact the league’s director in this area David Adamson for more details (214-914-0873) or go to http://www.wptapl.com for additional information about the league.
Last, but not least, make sure to check out the first tournament hosting WPTAPL in the McKinney area this week and next:
Where: The Tokyo House on Eldorado and Medical Center just east of U.S. 75/Central Expressway every Thursday at 7 p.m. beginning Thursday, Sept. 9.

Guitar players now have a sanctuary in McKinney

Guitar players now have a sanctuary
By J.B. Blocker, Viewpoint
You don’t have to die to go to Guitar Heaven!
In the heart of Collin County lies Adriatica, a 45-acre Mediterranean village reproduction. Go to West Virginia and Stonebridge on the west side of McKinney.

Music from above

If you happen to be strolling around the stonework streets of Adriatica, while you are admiring the architecture and landscape of the inner urban community, you might hear the sounds of a guitar coming from the bell tower. That would be George Fuller the builder/contractor up there trying out some of his newest guitar discoveries.

When he is not building or participating in community development, George answers to a higher power. He plays lead guitar for a band named for his wife, the Maylee Thomas Band. The higher power is a devotion to God, Family, and Guitars.

GuitArch Angels

There are guitar prodigies all over the world. There might be one under your roof. I’ve known people who can pick up just about any musical instrument and instantly make a connection. Don’t be surprised if it’s your son or daughter who is just waiting for the opportunity and inspiration to become the next Taylor Swift or even John Lennon.

But it takes more than talent to make it as a musician. The difference in instruments can change everything! The way it fits your body, your hands, and your personality all come together when you sit down with the right guitar. Knowing equipment and accessories is a must, and associating with better musicians is the catalyst to improving your art.

The first time I visited the Guitar Sanctuary, I was greeted by an old acquaintance Quinten Hope. He’s the kind of guitar player that makes my fingers ache. If you are a guitar player, and you watch somebody really good, you automatically try to air guitar along. When their talent is out of your league, your fingers get tangled in knots trying to copy the riffs and make the transitions.

Guys like Quinten, George and a host of other local guitar talent work, hang around, and teach at the Sanctuary. They can show you how to play that chord that has the 5 spots arranged in some ridiculous pattern on the guitar tablature.

The tablature is music copy with those little boxes with black spots that appear above the lines of sheet music and show chord transitions and how to make that chord. The problem for beginners is figuring out how you make five fingers move around the neck and cover those black spots. And if you don’t have the tablature for the music, how do you transition from a Bb7 to an Eb7sus. How do you even make an Eb7sus?

The really talented and seasoned pros had someone to teach them the tricks along the way. For the lucky beginners who have access to the pros, the learning curve changes dramatically.

Kiss the Girls

Two things have to happen to turn the tide for a budding guitarist.

First of all, finding the instrument that fits you is like finding a lover. To find that connection, you really need to play the field. You know, kiss a lot of girls! It will be worth it.

When you find that guitar and take her home with you, you will fall asleep with her in your lap. You will have her strategically resting within arms length of your favorite chair. You will talk to her with your fingers, and she will magically talk back with sounds that started somewhere between your head and your heart. Those sounds are finally spoken from the hollow depths of wood and electronics.

Expert dating advise

I walked in to the Guitar Sanctuary and behold! Beautiful variations of a woman’s form in a full range of colors and embellishments cover the walls. I am looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars hanging on Georges custom made racks like wall flowers at a debutants ball.

I greet Quinten who is the store manager, and I instantly know I have a new guitar resource always at the ready. He can’t run, he can’t hide, he works there!

I haven’t had a real Guitar haven since the days of Earl Swinford’s studio/guitar shop in Lubbock, Texas.

It was a place where the elite of Lubbock’s guitar world hung out. It was my entry into the world of 6 strings. Oh, I was already playing little steak house gigs for tuition, but I didn’t have much range past Neil Diamond, Gordon Lightfoot, and others noted for easy 3 chord progressions. I couldn’t transpose and I stumbled mightily with the chord complexities of many of the Beatles, John Denver, and the Eagles songs that were in my vocal wheel house.

I can thank a dozen or more players who showed me the way while I was discovering new guitar models and new electronic gizmos.

I can’t abide the big super music stores. Piano players are selling flutes and guitars they have never played. The chance of someone knowing how to use different effects boxes is slim and bad information is as rampant as lack of knowledge. They sell Wal-mart versions and knock off accessories because sales are more important than customer satisfaction.

If you were to find a competent sales associate, they probably wouldn’t still be working there the next time you stop by. I quit stopping by those big boxes years ago.

As George Fuller promises, “Everything in here is here for a reason, and we know the reasons. Every new guitar and effect gets played with because we can’t help it! It is our own candy store.”

Guitarist like Quinten and George love to share their knowledge and will happily strap you in and turn you on to the world of guitars and effects.

Just Flirting

I spied a Martin acoustic and strapped in. Behind me, a Takamini much like my own kept staring at me until I had to change partners. Next to the Takamini was a Collins special edition flirting with me. I am so fickle!

But while I’m playing the Collins, two ladies kept winking at me from across the room. They were Paul Reed Smith custom acoustics. Beautiful works of art with details of fine rare woods, intricate inlays, and custom hardware. I shyly put away the Collins with her clean clear tones, and I tentatively reached for one of the PRSmith girls.

Once she was safely in my embrace, she began to talk back to me! With tones that were astonishingly deep and rich! She sang a new song. One that I had heard in my head but it was music that had gotten lost in the translation through my own guitar.

Uh oh! My love for my Takamini just changed. I instantly realize that I might have been dating the wrong girl. No wonder my music seemed flat and lifeless.

I looked up at Quinten and his always sheepish grin. I held the PR Smith sister away from me and said to Quinten, “I’m not sure I’m worthy!” He looked back and knowingly responded, “I know what you mean!”

This is Guitar Heaven!

There is a lot more to this story but I said there were 2 things a guitar player needs. First, you need a guitar that you can dance with like a seasoned partner, and secondly, you need continuous knowledge and inspiration like flowers need rain! Knowledge is inspirational!

Get Some! at a sanctuary for the guitarist at heart. Bring your prodigy and meet some of Collin Counties Guit Arch Angels.

You might even get some autographs when you are there! You never know who might be there. You might be seeing them on the big stages.

They had better not be dancing with my girl! I’m saving for the engagement ring that is engraved JB loves PR Smith!

J.B. Blocker is a media consultant based in Historic Downtown McKinney.

Words with Friends rising in McKinney, on iTunes

By Danny Gallagher
Reprinted with permission of the McKinney Courier-Gazette
dgallagher@acnpapers.com

David and Paul Bettner sit at a corner table of a downtown coffee shop on W. Louisiana Street, engrossed in their laptops like so many coffee house regulars.

They type furiously across lines of unrecognizable gibberish that only a true tech-head could decipher, pausing to test out a word game on the screen or their iPhones.

From a distance, they look like any member of Generation-X, mooching off of a cafŽ’s wireless Internet connection so they can write a blog post or check up on their fantasy football team. However, this seemingly familiar scene was taken back in May of 2009 and the Bettner brothers are developing a game that will become one of the most successful iPhone apps and downloaded games of all time.

“If we were ever going to have a chance to start our own game company,” David said in 2009, “this is our chance to take it.”

They not only built their game company. They built it into an unmitigated gaming powerhouse that created “Words with Friends,” one of the highest rated and most downloaded apps on the Apple iTunes store.

“We always had high hopes for Words With Friends,” Paul said by email, “but only in our wildest dreams did we think it would become as successful as it has.”

The brothers first worked for Ensemble Studios in Dallas, a game development company brought by Microsoft in 2004 that developed popular titles such as “Halo Wars” and “Age of Empires.” They developed Newtoy just before the studio closed and laid off its staff of 200-plus people. They decided the time was right to work on games for the newly released Apple iPhone and iPod Touch, starting with a turn based multiplayer chess game called “Chess with Friends.”

The success of their first app enabled them to hire a few more people for their small-staffed studio. They still toured the downtown coffee bars and restaurants and even the public library to use their public Wi-Fi connections, they started work on “Words with Friends,” a “Scrabble” inspired word game that pits iPhone users against each other.

The response made it an essential download for iPhone users from all walks of life. It not only received critical acclaim from industry experts and magazines such as “Wired” and blogs such as “TechCrunch” but has also been downloaded by millions of iPhone users. It remains one of the top 25 highest grossing apps in Apple’s iTunes store after more than a year on the market.

Naturally, the game has a huge fan base from unofficial online communities that hold regular tournaments to celebrity status players such as musician John Mayer and practically every player in the Texas Rangers’ and Dallas Stars’ clubhouses.

“It seems like hardly a week goes by without seeing a reference to ‘Words With Friends’ somewhere in pop culture,” Paul said. “Just this week, Jason Bateman raved about us on the Jimmy Fallon show.”

This spreading, non-lethal computer virus isn’t immune from McKinney’s legion of drive-by gamers either. Joseph Martin, a mechanical engineer from Raytheon who lives in McKinney, picked up both “Chess” and “Words” for his iPad six months ago. He has six games going at once and not a day goes by that he doesn’t make his move. He only plays on the iPad because if he had an iPhone, “I wouldn’t get any work done.”

“I’m, in my never to be humble opinion, very good at ‘Words with Friends,'” Martin said. “I play fairly competitively as far as the people I play against. I work very hard to win.”

McKinney District 4 Councilman Ray Ricchi admits to being a fan of the Bettner brothers’ creation. He said he plays with his family and friends throughout the day at the office and in-between meetings, but never, of course, during city council sessions.

“It’s a great way to play games with your children,” Ricchi said who more than a few games going with his 12 and 17-year-old boys. “Back when I was growing up, my grandparents and me would sit around and play board games at night but with all the activities that the kids are involved in and everything I’m involved in, this is a great way to keep in contact and be with your kids another way.”

Martin said “Words with Friends” offers word game aficionados a more interactive and streamlined game for more than half the price of the officially licensed “Scrabble” app.

“You can take your time,” he said. “When I’m playing ‘Scrabble’ against my wife, I take a long time to make a play, a really good play, and it drives her up the wall…With ‘Words with Friends,’ I can be off doing something else or take two days to make a good play.”

Paul said this combination of interactivity and pacing has made it such a huge success.

“At its core, it’s about language, something that unites us all,” Paul said. “There is something compelling about the way the game combines skill and luck on the basic human level of communication. Anyone can pick it up and instantly get it.

“Finally, it’s about connecting with friends, family and acquaintances,” he added. “It is ‘Words With Friends,’ after all.”

Of course, with great success comes great responsibility. Paul said maintaining the game’s high quality can be difficult.

“A good example is the server farm that hosts ‘Chess’ and ‘Words with Friends’ games,” Paul said. “At first, everything ran smoothly but as the games grew in popularity, all kinds (of) things started going awry. In the early days, that meant one of us had to frequently stay up all hours of the night working with the servers. Now, we’ve outsourced the entire process.”

Fortunately, they have more than a coffee house Wi-Fi connection and their wits to keep up with the inevitable bugs and updates. Newtoy has a staff of 17 full time engineers, artists and designers, housed in 5,000 square feet of office space at The Cotton Mill on Elm Street that is being expanded as they staff grows. They have also released a new kingdom strategy game called “We Rule” for the iPhone and iPad and have some other projects in the works, but Paul can’t spill the details on them just yet.

Ricchi said he hopes the Bettners’ business becomes the first of many clients in McKinney’s commerce model.

“That type of company, the intellectual property types of companies, are recession tolerant,” Ricchi said. “That’s exactly what we need in the city of McKinney. Silicon Valley didn’t start up overnight. Someone had to put that flag in the ground first.”

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