Life in the Ozarks has a unique flavor, and the Southwest Missouri Farm Fest offers a plateful. One weekend every October, Hot Rod sets up a booth at the Empire Fair Grounds, right between the State Conservation Corps and a John Deere collectibles dealer. He always likes to have some attention-getting invention on display.

This year, Hot Rod unveiled a portable solar shower. Here’s the concept: A photovoltaic panel sends electricity to the circulator. A garden hose hookup provides the domestic water. A closed loop system delivers hot water from the thermal solar panel to the indirect tank. Open the shower valve, adjust the temperature and enjoy. The whole system fits neatly on a small trailer, and folds up for aerodynamic transportation.

Hot Rod knows how to make and distribute warm water using all kinds of fuel sources. I appreciate his creative approach. His work is his art. Since we moved here more than 10 years ago, Hot Rod has embraced his inner farmer. The farm folks around here are sensible, grounded people who like to get things done. Hot Rod fits right in. In this bucolic setting, his creativity has taken root and born fruit.

“I am the most curious of all to see what will be the next thing that I will do.” ~Jacques Lipchitz

My farm credentials are on par with Eva Gabor’s in “Green Acres.” I love living on the farm, as long as I am not expected to do any milking, cutting, fence mending or manure collecting. I enjoy helping out at the Farm Fest booth. Colorful Ozarkians stream past. Most of them are carrying something: A foot-long corn dog, “tornado” cut fried potatoes and, often, a cattle sorting stick. A cattle sorting stick is a long flexible rod about 1/2 inch in diameter. It’s got a grip on one end, and a colorful plastic tip on the other. Apparently, one uses this stick to prod cows to go in one direction or another. Every year, the cattle sorting stick is a standard, popular give-away.

Prior to this year, the only differentiating feature of the stick has been a company logo printed along the length of the stick. This year, however, there was a cosmic shift in the cattle sorting universe. Farm Festers were carrying a whole new breed of cow sorting sticks. This year’s model had a plastic paddle, about a hand wide, on one end of the stick. The paddle was filled with little beads.

I asked a farmer for a demonstration of the new fangled contraption. He proceeded to rattle the paddle inches from my nose and then poke me in the shoulder with it. I must admit that I moved in the direction he intended. He assured me cows generally respond the same way. Apparently, the new design is a winner. So, someone was thinking. Somebody put aside the perfectly good status quo and turned the cattle sorting stick inside out.

The Farm Fest offers an opportunity to notice these modest miracles of imagination. I’m moved by the solar shower and a rattling cattle sorter.

“When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty … but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” ~R. Buckminster Fuller

Is perfect functionality art? To me it is. Can art exist without functionality? No. The functionality of the most beautiful, useless thing is in its being beautiful. Beauty has an effect. So do expressions of passion, anger, love, sorrow, joy, hope and faith. So does color, line, depth, texture, sound, taste, temperature, movement and light. Therein lies the art, and the usefulness of its being.

Creative expression is as essential to living as air, water and shelter. The Farm Fest gets my creative juices flowing.

“Art teaches nothing, except the significance of life.” ~Henry Miller

So does the ISH North America show and a trip to Chicago.

Hot Rod and I attended this year’s show in the Windy City. I’ve met so many great people in this industry; going to ISH is like going to summer camp. The trade show is a brilliant array of artistic expression. From pumps to pipe to packaging, it is an exhibition of elegant efficiency and precision perfection. I was delighted to see the Green exhibits. There’s hope for the planet with beautifully simple and astonishingly technical earth-friendly approaches to warm water, clean air and safe shelter.

“If we build in the desert, let the house know the desert and the desert be proud of the house.” ~Frank Lloyd Wright

I left the show on Friday morning to do a little sightseeing. I visited Millennium Park in downtown Chicago. I’d never been to the park before, and had no expectations. I certainly didn’t expect Cloud Gate or my emotional reaction to it.

Cloud Gate is an elliptical sculpture. It looks like a chrome kidney bean, or a falling drop of mercury. As I stood beneath it, I could see the sky and buildings and clouds and people looking out from it. It was a surreal sensation. I was moved to tears, overwhelmed with joy.

I “Googled” it when I got home. I learned that Cloud Gate “is forged of a seamless series of highly polished stainless-steel plates.” It weighs 110 tons. On the Web sitewww.millenniumpark.orgI found this quote by its creator, artist Anish Kapoor:

“What I wanted to do in Millennium Park is make something that would engage the Chicago skyline … so that one will see the clouds kind of floating in, with those very tall buildings reflected in the work. And then, since it is in the form of a gate, the participant, the viewer, will be able to enter into this very deep chamber that does, in a way, the same thing to one’s reflection as the exterior of the piece is doing to the reflection of the city around.”

Yes. That.

“I never practice. I always play.” ~Wanda Landowska

As children, we revel in our imagination. As we grow up, we have the creativity beaten, bullied or criticized out of us. It’s still in there. Sometimes it comes out in our work. My intent in writing this column is to encourage you to let your creativity loose. In the movie “The Family Stone,” Sarah Jessica Parker plays an uptight lawyer. Luke Wilson plays her soon-to-be brother-in-law and lover. (There are a couple of plot twists.) Luke’s character is trying to get Sarah’s character to lighten up. He tells her, “You have a freak flag. You just don’t fly it.” Does that sound like you?

Julia Cameron is a screenwriter, a kooky Hollywood type. She helps writers get unblocked and painters put paint on canvas. Have you ever sat and stared at a boiler and not had a clue as to what was wrong with the darn thing? That’s got to feel a lot like staring at a blank Word document or stretched canvas.

Julia offers exercises for getting unstuck and tapping into your unique creativity. Check out her Web site, I warn you, you will encounter some fairly “groovy” advice. For instance, Julia maintains that, “Spending time in solitude with your artist child is essential to self-nurturing.” Hold your inner critic in check and try a few of her exercises.

“Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better.” ~Andre Gide

Here’s a good one: Julia suggests that you spend your very first waking moments every day writing “Morning Pages.” Morning pages are at least three pages of stream of consciousness writing. It can be total crap. That’s fine. Get the crap out of your head and on to the page so that you can be done with it for the day. You may surprise yourself by recalling a dream or discovering a solution to a problem. You may be unaware of the words you are writing until they appear on the page. It doesn’t matter. Just make yourself write - at least three pages every morning. Try it for a month and see what happens.

Developing your creative side will have a positive impact on your work and your relationships. Creative expression is a worthwhile adventure, an end in itself. Experiencing and appreciating art requires that you be fully present and sublimely alive. We are creative beings. Lay claim to your divinity. Let your freak flag fly.

Hot Rod paints with warm water. Julia with words. Kapoor with steel.

“I shut my eyes in order to see.” ~Paul Gauguin

I would be honored if you would share your art with me. We could inspirePMreaders with your creations. Reach me atwww.barebonesbiz.comand click on the Contact Us page. Or e-mail me Send pictures, words, whatever, and I will assemble aPMArt Show.

And, a shout to myPMmagazine pals! It was so nice to see you at ISH. Kelly, Katie … every month I give you a sow’s ear and you make a silk purse. To the terrific team at BNP Media, thanks for letting me play with you.