I know what you’re thinking.  It’s February!  True, but there were too many exciting things happening through the end of January to write about them earlier.  If you want to be great at something, you must spend a lifetime learning, so education is how I began the year.  Last month I visited three different balloon conferences:  The Florida Super Jam, Float, and Twist & Shout.  These are events people travel from around the world to attend.   I never know exactly which class or skill is going to stick with me, but I am constantly looking for the next design, skill, or presentation technique that can make Inflatable Stories even a little more effective. 

Florida Super Jam in Orlando is an intimate conference with a little over 100 people in attendance.  The scheduled is packed from morning until night with classes and events.  None of the classes overlap each other, so you can attend every single class at FSJ.  If you aren’t interested in one class, that’s okay because there is an open “jam room” to hang out and practice whatever you want, using a ridiculous selection of free balloons from the top brands.  There are also a few large builds happening.  The most exciting things I learned at FSJ this year involved facial “distortion”.  I learned a fascinating technique to put inset eyes on a doll-style face, and another technique to put bone structure inside a more human face.  Both blew me away and I’m looking forward to practicing.

Float is a balloon décor conference that took place in St. Louis this year.  This is the type of event where I learn how to build the fantastic walls, arches, costumes, and other exciting addons I can bring to your event to help unify everything.  Spoiler Alert:  It was cold in St. Louis last week, dropping into negative temperatures.  For a GA boy like me, that was painful.  I had planned to stay in the RV, but God blessed me with a roommate and I moved into the hotel, which I think was wise.  At float I learned a few column techniques that should be helpful down the road.  Have you noticed most columns and arches have four or five colors in a spiral?  I can effectively do 6 or more now. 

Finally, Twist and Shout is legendary among balloon twisters.  It’s essentially a continuation of T-Jam, the first balloon conference I attended when I was in college.  There are jam rooms, classes, competitions, and some of the top balloon twisters in the world.  To get to Twist & Shout in time for the first full-day, I had to leave Float a bit early last Wednesday, which you may recall is the day the Polar Vortex made its wrath fully known.  I had the pleasure(?) of driving from a nice, balmy, zero-degree St. Louis to Lombard, IL (basically Chicago), and I watched the temperature drop steadily along the way.  When I arrived at the hotel it was -16 degrees, officially the coldest place I have ever been.  Then it dropped even more that night! 

Can you spot the balloon? You can find the answers on the Inflatable Stories Facebook page.

God provided me with safe travel, and the week was a blessing with several incredible highlights.  Arriving Wednesday night was important to me because I wanted to be part of setting the climb inside world record on Thursday morning.  Fifty of us climbed into 50 balloons to break the previous record.  We will be filing it with the Guinness Book of world records and hopefully it will be official with them soon.  That was just the beginning of the week.  Even though I slowly lost my voice from constantly running the heaters and talking, I was blessed to interview with “The Balloon Artists Podcast”, a tool that was personally significant to me in getting up to speed in the balloon industry when God turned my hobby into a profession.  Plus, I learned a mysterious and well-protected twist called the “Lima Twist” that I’ve been curious to learn for ages. 

This is the Lima Twist. Can you guess how it’s done?

I couldn’t possibly tell you all the stories of the past month, but I am struck by the most valuable part of these trips.  For all the skills I learned, nothing can top the relationships within the balloon industry I have been able to forge.  Now we can call on each other for advice, support, and occasional help with jobs.  This reminds me how important relationships are to our faith.  Asked the greatest command, Jesus points us toward our relationship with God and our relationships with other people.  If relationships with other people are important in a professional life, how much more essential are they in our spiritual life?  What impact can we have on this world if we encounter every person we meet as a precious creation who is loved by God? 

Learning is fun, but I am more excited to get back to a full schedule of bookings in February.  The next few months are already packed with amazing opportunities, and I am looking forward to seeing God fill in the gaps in my summer and fall schedule.