Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Gotcha Day

June 30, 2008 "Gotcha Day"

I am watching you sleep now - you are so very beautiful. Holding you close is like a slow dance at a prom. You belong in my arms. Today was more incredible than anything I could ever express.

Your day began with a long journey from Cangwu. Ours was more quiet. We had a nervous breakfast with the other soon-to-be-parents - all were nervous and doing their best to keep their minds busy - not thinking of what was soon to take place. The feelings in our stomachs were like that feeling you get just before a ride on a roller coaster - or before the free fall drops!

After breakfast, we filled our time with a trip to the People's Park here in Nanning. It was delightful. Music played everywhere as dancers danced and groups performed Tai Chi. Musicians gathered by the lake to play, while children young and old fed the huge numbers of fish along the shoreline. Picturesque bridges and pagodas had my parents snapping photos, as Zena and I held hands walking along. At one point, we were stopped. A group of elderly women wanted us to dance with them. We were given fans to dance with - and joined them along the lakeside.

We returned to the hotel, blissful and ready. We cleaned ourselves up to look nice, took baths... and waited. I watched a Jackie Chan movie and then "Spider-Man 3" while Zena calmly rested. We prayed before our time came, it was 3:00 and we were to go to the lobby where the bus would give us a ride to meet you. Our guide poked fun at us on the way there, taunting us by saying that he wasn't nervous at all. We laughed - and so did he. He told us stories to relax us, but soon we arrived at the building and got off the bus. We were quickly herded to an elevator, which took us to a room on the fourth floor. It was quickly filled up by all the waiting parents - the dads were armed and ready with cameras and video recorders. My parents were there to take photos, so we didn't have to.

Boy, talk about atmosphere. We saw babies go by the door to another room - whose were they? Nervous chatter filled the room as we waited for the babies to come in. And then they did, one by one. Emotions ran high and tears flowed already as the first few came in. The parents' names were called and the big moment began. Babies were crying and so were parents - I looked to the doorway and the Cangwu children were brought in.

I saw you the moment you came through the door - before anyone else, I spotted you and said, "That's her." They called your name and we stepped forward. Zena opened her arms to receive you - you were not too happy to leave your caregiver. Zena brought you close and you began to relax and calm down, still uncertain of all that was going on. Not wanting to upset you further (I figured male figures might be unfamiliar to you), I stood back some and approached carefully. How beautiful you are! Look at those eyes, the cute little nose and that wonderful hair. Zena couldn't see you - she just kept reassuring you that everything would be okay. And it will be. I wanted to take pictures of you immediately so I grabbed the camera after all and took many, many pictures of you. Then I took some of the others in the room - what an incredible moment!

We were soon called into the next room for group photos of the families. You were very still for the photo - not upset at all. My parents were so happy to be there with you - my mother cried happy tears. It was absolutely perfect, Madison. Of all the babies in that room, I would have chosen you - you are perfect. I told Zena as much and she agreed. She told me you resemble me in some ways, but really you resemble Zena more. You're both beautiful!

We went back to the bus as parents. There were forms to fill out later on but we just wanted to get you home - or back to the room - and be alone with you. It was here I held you for the first time, joy filling my heart and tears filling my eyes. What did I do to become so blessed? You clung tightly to me, not sure of your surroundings. You had such a long day.

My parents came in and gave you gifts. One was a stack of rings of different colors. You grabbed the green one - we had no idea you had a green one like that in the orphanage until we saw some photos later in the day.

We knew it was a long day for you, so Zena thought it was best to give you a bath to clean you up a bit after the long, hot ride. You didn't like the bath too much but you did feel better afterwards.

We got you in some new pjs and fed you a bottle of warm tasty formula - you fell right asleep after that. You are in your crib still, snoring and at peace. I had to go fill out forms galore though. Lots of paperwork to sign and put my thumbprint on. An elderly couple read the Chinese on my t-shirt. It said, "I'm the Daddy." They gave me a big thumbs up and smiled. I'm the Daddy!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dish Washer Gnome

Wish I had a picture to show you of this one. Madison didn't have her shirt on, but she did manage to find a Santa Claus hat from her costume chest. She put that on her head, and the thing stood up vertically to a point, just like a large elongated triangle pointing upward to a small white puff. Combined with her impish grin, it was the cutest scene she made in the kitchen as she saw Daddy unloading the dishwasher: Madison likes to help out, you see. She ran around with that hat on and no top, looking just like a beardless garden gnome, handing us plates and silverware to put away: she was our very own dish washer gnome!

Today's class was a lot of fun as well. Mommy and Madison went and had a wonderful time again - Madison really, really enjoys this class. There are so many games and things to learn, and yes: there's homework. Madison did some of that with Mommy today, as the two played with Madison's cat piano, bounding across the black keys. It is a quick hour, this class. But it is a lot of fun for her. And us!

Tomorrow, class continues, but Madison is also coming to church with Mommy and Daddy. There's still a lot to do for this upcoming series at church, and Mommy is helping out with that - and the illustrated sermon for the adults upstairs. Once again, it's Mommy to the rescue to dress up actors like soldiers on Iwo Jima. It should be a very thrilling weekend - and it looks to finally be a restful week next week. Finally, we can slow down a bit!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Music Camp

All week this week, we have Madison signed up for a music camp at the Funderful World of Music, a neat place we discovered right here in downtown Gainesville. The class is described as thus:

Four one-hour classes for child and adult caregiver. Mother Goose is on her way to an important appointment when her goose mysteriously disappears. She gets many friends to help her solve the mystery of his disappearance before it’s too late. As children interact with the story’s characters, they engage in singing, dancing, instrument play, rhythmic movement, piano skills, and fundamentals of music. High energy and loads of fun for child and parent.

Our host, Mrs. Pam, was incredibly good, and engaging with all the children. Madison was immediately responsive, learning percussion and rhythm, as well as low and high notes. Mommy, Daddy and Madison had a good time together today, along with several other families. We played fun games, used different musical instruments like bells, the piano and castanets, and just had a great time. Underneath it all, we as parents could see the underlying lessons being taught. Madison left with a balloon and a smile, and can't wait to go back tomorrow with Mommy.

After our class, together we went down to the Cracker Barrel to eat a big lunch. It was a nice occasion, and we even spent time shopping in their store afterwards. It was a little too hot to spend too much time outside on their rocking chairs, but we did rock for a tiny bit before moving on.

Today was partially a work day for Daddy, who had to proof things - and Mommy was very helpful in collecting costumes for the new series as we shopped at Goodwill again for new material. We got some great stuff for the church!

Anyway, we got home and did some homework for music camp, and then played a game of concentration (or memory) that Daddy made a few days ago. I cut out a bunch of "Alice in Wonderland" cards to see if Madison could turn them over and match up. The first round she played was stunning! You should have seen how she remembered exactly where each card was. Amazing!

Afterwards, we decided on popcorn and a movie because we were all sort of tired. We popped in "Muppets Wizard of Oz," which we thought might be cute. It wasn't. In fact, it was dreadful! We love the Muppets, so don't get me wrong. Movies like "Muppets in Space," "Muppets Christmas Carol" and "The Muppet Movie" are all really great movies. Mommy and Daddy have even watched seasons 1-3 of "The Muppet Show" on DVD before Madison came to stay with us. So we're big Muppet fans. But this movie we couldn't even finish, and once the popcorn was gone, Madison lost interest pretty quick!

The thunder is rolling in yet again, and the rain pouring down. It's a rainy night in Georgia, but Mommy and Daddy will get a good night's rest.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Gotcha Day Celebration!

Party time once again, as today we celebrated Gotcha Day a little early - and Madison's birthday again, a little later! Shortly after church, we all gathered at Ye-Ye's house, where everything was decorated with Chinese lanterns, Kai-Lan paper plates and cups, and cupcakes too. Madison is wearing her Kai-Lan button in this photo which tells everyone who is the birthday girl. It's her again! We had a huge lunch, with seven metric tons of Chinese food for everyone - followed by some of the best desserts Mom has ever made. She had a trifle dish and had a delicious strawberry dessert inside, but that's not all.
She also made these wonderful cupcakes last night! Each one has something Chinese on it - some have writing that mean different things. For example, Mommy wrote in Chinese on a few the word for beautiful, which was Madison's first name. Also written were words for happiness and double happiness. Just like on her birthday, we lit a candle on one of the cakes and sang Happy Birthday to Madison one more time. She blew it out with a big grin. How many different birthdays can one girl possibly have?

It got better for her in a moment though - because soon it was time to open the presents! She got this Kai-Lan Tag Junior booklet (which I'll have to load up on her pen tomorrow), and also several cartridges for her Click Start computer. She got Mr. Fluffy's bakery (he hangs out with Kai-Lan), and a very nice doll from her great grandmother. It was a special visit for everyone, and certainly a nice afternoon for Madison. She immediately wanted to play her Click-Start when she got home - the first game she plugged in was a "Toy Story" themed one, which she was really good at. Amazing how fast she picks things up!

It was good to see Great Grandma here - she came a long ways. Madison came up to her on a few occasions and gave her a big hug, without even being asked to. It was really sweet. But this moment below was the sweetest, when she climbed up into her lap to snuggle for a bit.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Kiddy Pool

It was another fairly busy work day for Daddy, but in the morning there was some time for her to jump in the pool again. Yesterday, we set up an inflatable kiddy pool in the front yard and filled it with water. As expected, the water was quite comfortable in temperature today, as the sun has been scorching hot as of late. Seriously, I wouldn't have been surprised to see it bubbling like a hot spring!

But it actually was quite refreshing for Madison, who gleefully jumped in and stomped about, splashing water everywhere. She had no problem with squirting Daddy with the little squirting animals Mommy had floating in the pool - and she had no problem with throwing the beach ball at Daddy either. She was having a good time by the pool. Who needs a big fancy one with water slides and such? A little inflatable one can be all the rage!

Later today, Madison and Daddy went for ice cream at Dairy Queen. This has been a thing with her: ice cream. She loves it. We wanted to give Mommy some quiet time, so we sat together slurping down ice cream, and then did some walking around at Wal-Mart.

The rain has been intense the last couple of days. Such heat has produced enormous summer storms, their billowing clouds reaching up into the highest levels of heaven. Beautiful to look at from a distance, or even approaching. Not quite as beautiful when directly below! It was a windy deluge dumping buckets of rain upon us this afternoon - and yesterday afternoon too. Thunder cracked and rumbled, and everyone retreated indoors. Forget any outdoor plans for a bit!

Daddy went back to work, trying to finish the messages for July's series. Outside, frogs croak and crickets chirp in the cooler night air. Tomorrow, we celebrate again - Mommy is making cupcakes once more as we prepare for a party that honors Madison's "Gotcha Day." June 30th is coming close, and everyone has agreed to meet tomorrow at Ye-Ye's house for a grand time. Rather than give away all the details now, I'll just let you read tomorrow. It should be a very nice occasion!

Friday, June 25, 2010


Today we sort of got caught up in the Forward Student Conference, helping with Pastor Franklin's illustrated message. Mommy and Daddy got together twelve apostles, plus Jesus - and put together their outfits. Then we got the Last Supper table all set up with fruit and bread and plate ware that Mommy painted with rock fleck paint. Also, a crown of thorns, a spear, a whip, and a few other items - it was a somewhat busy day for us getting things set. Madison helped by coming along with Mommy to the church, but poor Daddy didn't get to see much of her. It was just a busy day, and a late one too.

Daddy got to sit backstage and help move things and people about, and was surprised to see Jim Caviezel again! He was there to speak on stage with Pastor Franklin, and there was a huge reception. Mr. Caviezel is a very good speaker, quiet in nature but certainly effective. His words were challenging and moving - it's easy to think that everyone might feel that was the highlight of the conference.

It's interesting seeing celebrities and the backstage, where you sort of see how everything runs. Daddy has met a few people at the church, most humorously without having a clue who they were. I remember meeting up with Toby Mac one time and having a conversation with him about what there was to do in Gainesville, Georgia (not that much). The whole time, I had no idea who I was talking to until afterwards when someone pointed it out. That happened to me one other time in the church, when a famous reverend actually gave me this huge hug. Had no idea who the guy was or why he was hugging me. A friend and I were sitting there thinking, "Gee, he's friendly?" Later, of course, we figured out who he was and why he was followed around by these towering bodyguards.

The only other Hollywood celebrity I've met was Linda Hamilton, which was a complete surprise. It was the night before that I was telling a friend that I had never met a celebrity. We were walking along the beach one night when I said that, though I don't think I was really complaining. In any event, the next day, we were at the airport in Maryland and look who I happen to run into:

Of course, she didn't have her gun with her. And fortunately, there weren't any terminator robots chasing her around either. Anyway, she was a really nice and genuine person, and a real pleasure to talk with. We were waiting for a plane and just sort of started talking. It turns out she has a similar sense of humor to us, and if you don't believe that, take a look at this photo we snapped together:

I will treasure this photo always! While most people were content to take a picture with her simply smiling at the camera, I came up with the idea of "hey, let's point off behind the camera as if there's something terribly scary out there?" Which she went along with, as you can see above.

Well, speaking of "getting along," it's late and it's time for bed. Mommy and Daddy have just finished watching four more episodes of "The Nanny," which has been our latest addiction. Seriously, we're almost at the end of season two after only two weeks. At this rate, we'll have watched the entire series by August!

Tomorrow Daddy has a lot of catch-up work to do, so he won't be going back to Forward to see any other famous people backstage. Really, that's not Daddy's thing anyway. He's quite content to be at home with Mommy and Madison. In fact, that's where he really wanted to be all day.

But it was still an honor to get to go hear Jim Caviezel again...

"We weren't made to fit in. We were born to stand out." - Jim Caviezel

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Play Doh

Daddy wrote more today, but we set Madison up in the kitchen with something she always enjoys: Play Doh!

Later on, we all took a little break outside with the sprinkler and even a kiddy pool. It is an inflatable one that Daddy had to huff and puff on - but it was all worth it! Madison had a great time splish-splashing about, and soaking Ye-Ye and Daddy. Mommy sat nearby in the shade, as Madison and Daddy made whirlpools in the pool. It was a nice way to let off some energy outside on a pretty hot day.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Disney Group Shot

Here's a photo we just got in the mail, ordered from Disney's Photo Pass. I added the extra bits beyond the photo, and I think it turned out okay. This turns out to be the only photo of all three of us from our recent vacation - which is why I ordered it.

Madison came with Mommy to work to visit Daddy - of course it was to help out. Getting costumes organized, we got our twelve disciples picked and suited up for Friday night's illustrated sermon. Madison went to nursery tonight, and had fun with stickers and visiting with friends.

We're somewhat busy planning for lots of things, but next week should be a different, more fun kind of busy. Next week, Madison starts her music camp. Soon after that, we've got gymnastics classes beginning as well. We can't wait to expose Madison to these different types of activities. We know she'll love it!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Behind the Scenes

Madison visited the warehouse where some of the costuming for our upcoming Pridelands series is being constructed. I needed a photo for scale, so I plopped her in front of the elephant there to get an idea of how big this guy is going to be. Looks pretty sizeable - it'll take two people to operate, with both inside and one operating the trunk. That should be a fun character, actually!

Can you believe we do this sort of thing once a month? Change sets, themes, messages and all that? It's quite a lot to do, but it keeps things pretty fresh, obviously. Above is our new mascot and overall look, which I think will do just nicely. Madison has a nice new outfit for the series, and I think everyone is going to enjoy it. Already, today I've cast about four gazelles!

It's funny, because we're writing so much for the new series, but at the same time, we're still writing for "Hang 10," which is going along just wonderfully. I love this surfing series quite a bit - I just wish I could do a little surfing myself. I've never tried, so I don't want to give any illusions. I've just always wanted to give it a go. Maybe next time we're in Hawaii...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Solstice

It was the first day of summer, and it was basically just about as hot as any other day this month - which was basically too hot to really do much outside. For Summer Solstice, we heard a story about druids and other pagans assembling at Stonehenge in the UK, but seriously folks: what's up with that?

The real place to go is Carhenge. From there, you can tell the summer solstice just as well, and by gum, it's much, much cooler. Then again, I suppose the druids in Nebraska were at Carhenge this morning, doing their odd chants and such. Those Nebraska druids are something else!

Daddy's been to Carhenge once. It is actually something that I hope to take Madison to some day when she's older (some day when you're older, you'll understand...). Actually, I am so anxious to take her out west to see the country as I did when I was growing up. Grandpa would pile us in his camper and we'd travel across the country seeing the majestic - and the tacky too. It's such a wonderful combination. On one hand, you have the epic sweeping plains of Nebraska, and the nighttime sky filled with brilliant stars. And then there's Carhenge, which is the epitome of tackiness. And yet, it is so tacky that it somehow transcends the corniness, entering a lofty place in my memory alongside other locations like Yellowstone and Pikes Peak.

A recent internet story ran on some of the tackiest places in America, and I'm proud to say I've been to several of them, from the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota to the House on the Rock to Wall Drug to South of the Border. I love 'em all - and can't wait to take Madison there someday. Mommy too - I think she's been missing out on some of that Americana!


Anyway, it was pretty hot today. We did some chores, and Daddy finished his devotional. We did a bit of shopping at Wal-Mart for a big conference coming up Friday. Free Chapel is hosting - once again - the Forward Conference. Daddy just might be playing an apostle at the Last Supper again, this time in front of a huge sold-out audience at the Gwinnett Arena. Not that I'm unwilling, but hopefully I can get some other guys to do it! In the meantime, Mommy and Daddy were shopping for plate-ware for this Last Supper, which was somewhat amusing. We got some plastic cups and plates at Wal-Mart, along with some sandstone fleck stone spray paint. It should look realistic, but the apostles won't have to worry about breaking anything if it drops. We were tempted to put tupperware out on the table, but that might be in poor taste...

Anyway, tomorrow, Mommy will search for more costuming for the apostles - tonight she's been ironing a bunch of their robes. We'll have that table set up on stage, and I think Pastor Franklin will be going from apostle to apostle, speaking about the heroism and valor of each one. I usually have to play James the Lesser. Ever heard of James the Lesser? Me neither!

Seriously, I know who he is now. But they might just have well changed his name to "James the Obscure."


Tonight we played Candy Land again. Madison is getting much better with this game. She's getting better at a lot of things. In fact, she's also getting much better with potty training too. Mommy has decided to get serious about her training, and we've set a timer that basically announces when Madison is to head to the bathroom. We still reward with Tinkle Dots. Can't be without those, that's for sure. The end result is that Madison seems to be getting it, which is good news, of course.

It was a fun and productive day, anyway. Let the druids celebrate however they want. For this family, it's Wal-Mart, Candy Land and Tinkle Dots all the way!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Dark Lord of the Sprinkler

Look closely and you can see him: our Darth Vader sprinkler. He pivots back and forth, swinging his red lightsaber wildly as plumes of water launch out everywhere from the section of the Death Star he stands on. It was a gift given to me quite some time ago, but Madison has certainly benefited more from it after today. She looked at Darth Vader and told him "Naughty, naughty!" Yet, he ignored her and still sprayed everyone with water!

Today was Father's Day, so we went to Ye-Ye's house, where Madison gave him a nice card - and Daddy did too. For a while though, you can see everyone was having a lot of fun outside with squirt guns and lots of water. Daddy hooked up a few sprinklers on top of things, and the cousins all had a great time getting each other wet, and running around screaming.

Here's a shot of Madison attacking the Octo-Sprinkler, who has eight foam arms that flail about, spraying intruders with jets of water. Madison, as you can see above, is fearless! She had a sponge loaded with water that she launched out at the Octo-Sprinkler - leading everyone to victory!

I like this shot of Madison. She's contemplating her next move - will she make another run at the Octo-Sprinkler? She had a great time this afternoon with her cousins, but soon it was time to head inside for dinner. Ye-Ye had grilled some pork chops outside, and everyone dried off and got changed for dinner, which was delicious. Afterwards, it was "Toy Story" again. The cousins had seen "Toy Story 3" today, so everyone was in the mood to see the first one again.

It was a nice Father's Day. Today when Daddy got home from church, Madison and Mommy gave him some very nice gifts. Of course, I got a couple Father's Day cards as well: one from Madison with Cinderella on it which was very nice. Mommy gave Daddy a beautiful card too. Gifts: firstly, there was a Garrison Keillor book, "Daddy's Girl." It came with a CD which we listened to right off! Also, Daddy opened a few gifts from Mommy, such as a John Grisham book for kids: "Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer." Daddy likes the old John Grisham books, and this one looks like fun. I also got a CD collection, Disney at the 1964 World's Fair. Can't wait to listen to those!

Anyway, it was a wonderful Father's Day. I am the most blessed Daddy there is!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Beat of a Different Drum

Today was a work day - but a fun one because we got to head down to Discover Mills to shop for some clothing and props for our upcoming series, "Pridelands." We had this one African shop in mind, and visited there first - you can see here that Madison was enjoying it:

Madison made a new friend in the store - and the two hung out, playing the bongos and getting Daddy to pick them up so they could run their hands through the hanging beads above. Daddy led a great jam session right there in the store, with the three of us beating away on our drums with style! This shop was filled with masks, drums and some clothing as well. In fact, we found a really awesome African outfit for Madison that fits her perfectly. The problem was, we didn't find what we were looking for: outfits for our characters, and materials for the display case and props. It was somewhat of a shock, because we were expecting it and had driven quite a ways to find what we needed.

Still, we did have other plans as well at least. We made our way back to the Bass Pro Shop, which we knew had scheduled some activities for kids. Today's activity was the "Paint a Wiggle Fish" craft. Aunt Shain had told us about it some time ago, so we planned on meeting her and Hannah here today, which we did.

It was nice - and free, of course. They didn't want to use paint (I'm guessing that didn't work out last year), but instead used markers. Hannah made hers into a rainbow trout, which made a lot of sense. Madison's came out looking like a subway in the middle of some graffiti war. I think it was her intent to color the fish all one color (purple), but then Daddy confused her by offering other colors as well. The end result is a "delightful explosion of color streaking across the landscape in hues of brilliance evoking exquisite feelings of wonder and joy." Hey, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

After checking out the crafts, we checked out the large fresh water fish in their aquarium - and then made our way to the shooting gallery, which is something that Mommy and Daddy simply love to do. Don't ask me why, but shooting galleries are so much fun! What made this one even better is that in honor of the kids' day that was going on, they made the gallery free. Of course, Madison was a little too young for it, but that didn't stop Mommy and Daddy from firing away!

Here's the good part: Mommy remembered a few other shops in this mall, one of which is called Earthbound Trading Company. This is where our hermit crabs came from a few years ago. It's also usually a creepy place filled with masks, incense and pictures of Bob Marley. But this visit, it was a little nicer - and as a bonus, they had some really awesome African musical instruments! Jackpot!

THEN, we walked a little further down the mall and happened upon this other shop that was filled with African artifacts, and that is where we located our outfits, and at a good price too. It had suddenly become a successful day.

But it wasn't over yet. Not until we get to visit the Disney Store, anyway. Mommy got some new clothes for Madison with a gift card to "The Children's Place," and then met Daddy and Madison at the Disney Store, where we did a whole lot of really early Christmas shopping. Here it is, June 19th, and we're already doing Christmas shopping! Madison is going to have a good Christmas...

Anyway, soon we came home where Daddy could continue writing for a bit. I got to page twenty of twenty-eight, so things are looking pretty good. After reading to Madison before bed, she fell asleep rather quickly, quite content with her day. Mommy and Daddy watched four more episodes of "The Nanny," and now I'm thinking to myself: "what a full day!"

It ain't over yet. Got to do more work on the booklet. Deadlines loom!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Tag Junior

Before our trip down to Florida, Mommy and Daddy got Madison a Tag Junior learning system. Basically, this is device - when pressed down on a book - will read to Madison the words on the page. But that's not all: when pressed on different areas, it will play music or make sound effects related to the imagery. It's somewhat of an interactive book system, one that she enjoys very much. Right now she has four books, having just received another one for her birthday. She keeps them all in a carrying case that Mommy got her especially for that purpose. Right now, she has a copy of "Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What do You See?" and four other books she uses. It's a great reading helper, one we'll no doubt be collecting books for in the future.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pridelands Safari Handbook

Today Daddy began work on that next devotional for the upcoming July series that we're trying to develop. It's called "Pridelands," and it is based largely on the Tanzania area, where the animal reserves are and the safari expeditions wander. There's a lot to do in a shorter time, as I've got about a week to write a couple books and more - but this one should be fun to do. For one, we did a little "research" at the Animal Kingdom while we were there, riding on the Kilimanjaro Safaris experience, where Madison, Mommy and Daddy rode along in those open-car jeeps and saw all kinds of wildlife. Until later on this week, Daddy was somewhat stumped as to how to go about doing the devotional - but Mommy came up with a pretty good idea.
Basically, this photo here sums it up. I took this on the tour, and was laughing as I did. Madison is looking out at all the animals, but as you can see in this photo, she's also being very quick to look upward at the pictures and identities of all the animals. She's matching them up - in this photo, she sees the crocodiles out there, so she's looking up to find them on the guide they have printed along the top of the cars. It was funny how she got so attached to that reference guide. That's why Daddy is writing out a longer "reference guide" in the form of a 28-page devotional. It'll talk about animals, but also some of the other encounters along the way on a safari expedition. It should be fairly fun to write, actually. So far, I have entries on the rhino, the giraffe, the okapi and even the baobab tree.

Today, Daddy got eleven pages done, so you can imagine there wasn't as much time to spend with Madison. Still, he and Mommy were able to stop and do a few things together as a family. For one, we made a trip into town to get some new drawers for Madison's playroom. The toy population is growing, and Mommy was looking for a new way to keep things organized. Also, she needed some detergent!

When we got back, Daddy went off to Wal-Mart to drop off some images of Madison to print into photos. We're putting together Madison's Disney autograph book, where all the characters have been signing their names. Beside each autograph, we'll put a picture of that character, so she'll have a memento to always look back on. But the other purpose for the drop-off is to print some images to send off for a photo contest. We think Madison's a pretty cute girl, and maybe she's got a shot at one or two contests. We'll keep you updated, of course!

When Daddy returned, it was time for a game! Not just any game though:

Madison got this version of Candy Land for her birthday, so we all sat down at the kitchen table for a family game night. It was fun, even though Daddy lost big time. Mommy eeked out a victory in the final moments, and everyone had a good time. Candy Land is a fun game, but this version was pretty neat because it had some places and images that Madison recognized. In fact, she saw the teacups and started pointing at Daddy and herself and saying: "Dizzy!"

We read her a story or two or three before going to bed tonight. It was actually a fun day spent around the house. Daddy got some work done - and plans on getting some more done here in a moment. But it was a good day to spend together as a family. After Madison went to bed, Mommy and Daddy got in the tub and afterwards watched another few episodes of "The Nanny." That's been our latest thing. Last Friday we started with episode one, and I'm guessing we'll be going through that until November or so - we've got the whole entire series on DVD.

Mommy and Daddy tend to do that: last year, we watched four seasons of "Get Smart," and before that it was "Home Improvement." We scour these shows for jokes and one-liners, quick to write them down for future use in our skits on stage. "The Nanny," however, was one of those shows that Mommy and Daddy watched during some of Mommy's tough years, so it has a special place in our history. Added to that, the star of the show, Fran Drescher, also had issues with cancer - so there's somewhat of a bond to the show. Last year, Daddy got Mommy the entire series on DVD for Christmas. We're finally getting around to watching it, and it has a somewhat addictive quality to it. Maybe it's just a regional thing, but seriously, I think it's a funny show!

Fran: "Niles, do I sound like I'm coming down with a cold?"
Niles: "Constantly."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

After Birthday Playtime

When Daddy was growing up, the day after a big birthday seemed to be reserved for nothing but playtime. It was get-to-know-you time with all the awesome toys you opened on your birthday!

This dates me, but I remember being eleven-years-old and getting a Hoth Imperial Attack Base. It was November, and I was sitting there in my bedroom with snowtroopers and rebels battling it out. Birthdays were always wonderful, and I'm hoping that Madison's was as well!

I still have that toy - although I don't play with it as much as I used to! Anyway, the tradition continues with Madison. Not that she got an Imperial Attack Base for her birthday. No, all she got was a bunch of girly stuff - though Kelly Conard did make sure she at least got another lightsaber!

Seriously, today she had all sorts of toys scattered all over the house. She had her Kai-Lan blocks set up in the kitchen, and brought her Belle doll with her everywhere she went.

First thing in the morning, Daddy heard her get up on her own. With her new bed, she can do that now. So we were listening to her rise. She climbed out of bed and walked across her bedroom. There, she put on her new pull-ups on her own - Daddy heard her shut the cabinet door that had those inside.

Listening carefully, Mommy and Daddy had our ears to the door: what was she doing next? We heard a bit of emotion - she was struggling with something. What was it? Daddy opened the door and went to check on her: there she was, trying on her new outfit. Yesterday, she got a new pretty dress, and Madison had found it on her own and was trying to put it on for us. With Daddy's help, she got it on. Take a look at our little princess!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Madison's Fourth Birthday

Today was our daughter's birthday, and we so hoped it would be a wonderful day for her. Here it is, late at night, and as Daddy sits here typing... I think it was! Here is one picture that best describes Madison's fourth birthday, easily one of the most fun days of the year - and that includes the times were spending at Disney World! Just look at her face: you can see how much of a good time she was having on this day that was all about Madison.

It all began with excitement: she knew what today was, and woke up knowing. It helped that we kept on telling her last night, "Tomorrow is your birthday!"

She couldn't contain herself, especially when we showed her the birthday presents and the cupcakes we stayed up late last night making. Mommy and Daddy wrapped presents, made cupcakes and put together goodie bags for today's birthday party - all after Madison went to sleep last night. It was a little bit of work, but we didn't need to do much more than that, because the place we were taking Madison had everything she needed for a great birthday.

We left for Monkey Joe's at about 11:30, so that we could get there early and set up the birthday room they had set aside for us. Monkey Joe's is a place that has plenty of inflatables for everyone to bounce around on.

We set up things early, and Daddy even had time to go jump around with Madison in some of the inflatables. Adults can only "help" those in inflatables if they are four years old or younger, and that was Madison today. So we jumped in and had a great time!

Soon, the guests started to arrive. Madison's cousins David, Jonathan and Hannah arrived, as well as Abbie and Rachel. Also coming in were Jordan and Shaun Smith, plus Sammy Conard, followed by Alex, Danny and Samantha Pereira. Oh, and Smith and Dahlia Canada came too! There were a lot of folks there - and these were just the younger ones.

The pizza came later, so we all had time to jump around for a bit. Madison hung out with her friends, who all had a totally awesome time jumping from one massive slide to another obstacle course to another ginormous maze.

She screamed and shouted and climbed great heights, sliding all the way down with the biggest of smiles on her face. Some of these slides were really, really big! One in particular, Madison would always make sure someone else went down with her on. On many occasions, that person would be Daddy - which was nice. Daddy likes feeling needed! She would grab me by the hand and pull me into position, and then climb up on my lap and start the countdown: "One... two... three!" Then we'd slide down together to the bottom. On a few occasions, Hannah would be sliding right alongside us, so there were three of us plummeting downward. Madison loved it!

Soon it was announced over the intercom in the building that it was Madison's birthday party time! We all slide down slides one last time and ran to the birthday party room and got to our places at the long table. It was covered in blue table cloth, with Disney princess plates and cups at each spot. Colorful matching balloons lined the center of the table, and all the way at one end, there was a big, inflatable chair. What a great chair Madison had: it was inflatable and looked like a large, wooden throne. She sat at the head of the table like royalty, and wore proudly the birthday crown that Mommy bought for her yesterday. She was princess for a day!

For food, it was pizza all around, and this week the pizza wasn't so bad. This time it was birthday pizza, which is special pizza!

The kids talked and laughed and scarfed down slices of pizza - and soon it was time for Madison to blow out the candles.

We had a special guest for that task: it was Monkey Joe. Yes, Monkey Joe himself came into the room. Madison is so accustomed to costumed characters walking by now that she immediately ran up to him to greet him. Who cares if she's never seen him before? He's a big purple monkey like Magilla Gorilla, and Madison welcomed him to the room properly by giving him a big hug and a kiss. Monkey Joe picked her up for an even bigger hug and by that point Mommy had the candles lit on the cupcake tower.

Just last night, Mommy and Daddy were making these cupcakes - and don't they look delicious! They had pink and purple sprinkles, and little crowns around each one, as well as a castle on top. Madison's had five princess candles to blow out, but first we all had to sing happy birthday. It was wonderful. She sat there with such a large smile and listened to us serenade her with the birthday song, silently waiting to pounce on those candles and blow them out!

It took several tries, but she got them all blown out. Look at how happy she is on her birthday! This picture was taken just as we were finishing our Happy Birthday song, where Madison was really having a happy birthday. It wasn't like we were taking her to Disney World or anything, but one look at this photo and we realized that we did well with our birthday plans for Madison this year. Anyway, next it was time to eat the cupcakes! Everyone had a cupcake - they were really delicious!

Next, the presents. One by one, Madison was presented with gifts in bags and wrapping and opened each one with such intensity! She couldn't wait to see all the things people had given her. There were such thoughtful gifts, too. The Pereiras got her a beautiful dress, knowing that Madison likes to dress up. The Conards got her another Mickey lightsaber, plus many, many other gifts. The Hitchcocks got her Kai-Lan toys, and the Canadas got her a lot of things too, including a book for her new Leapfrog system.

Mommy and Daddy got her some special Disney dolls: Belle, Cinderella and Mulan. We also got her a Disney World version of Candyland that Daddy is anxious to try out!

After the gifts were given, Madison said thank you to everyone, and you could see how happy she was. It was her very special day! She ran around with all the other kids again - straight out and into more inflatables. A new one was just inflated, and everyone was climbing in to try it out.

The blessing of coming in on her birthday - a Tuesday - and in the early afternoon too, was this: there wasn't anyone else there. There were only a few others, so it was like we had the whole place to ourselves. That was important to Daddy, who didn't want anyone else bumping into Madison and hurting her. She's so tiny, and everyone was really careful bouncing about with her on all the inflatables. Her cousins David and Jonathan were especially kind, watching over her and escorting her to the tops of slides and such.

Here are some of Madison's personal bodyguards today. Nobody messes with these tough guys! We never needed them to watch out for Madison though - the place was uncrowded and everyone was having a great time. Soon, however, it was time to go home. Everyone parted ways, pretty happy with all the fun they'd had jumping and sliding. We packed up the car with all the loot - and the balloons too. Outside, it was 97 degrees, so we quickly slipped into our cars and rode home with smiles on our faces at the good time we had.

Madison couldn't wait to see her toys. In fact, Mommy set them up so we could take a picture. This is just some of the loot:

Lots of toys! Madison immediately put on the outfit that she got and did a twirl for us. It had a flower that you put in your hair, so she dressed herself up for the afternoon, and pulled out the Kai-Lan building blocks so that she could start making things in the kitchen.

Soon, though, we had another visitor! It was Nana! She had come with another birthday gift, which Madison was quite happy to receive. She opened it, and got another Kai-Lan building block playset - a different one! She wanted to play with this one immediately, and Daddy got the package open for her so she could build an even greater empire in the kitchen.

Soon afterwards, we were all quite exhausted. The three of us hopped into the big bed and took a little nap until about 5:30 or so. Before we could rest though - Nana and Ba-Ba called from Florida! Madison was excited to talk to them - and listen to them sing Happy Birthday. What a wonderful day it was!

We slept for a while, and heard the thunder rumble in the distance. Just in time, we raced over next door to Ye-Ye and Nana's house so that we could enjoy the last of the cupcakes. Madison wore her new dress so that she could show off how pretty she was - and we continued the birthday celebration over at their house, lighting the candles once more so that Madison could blow them out. Hail began to fall from the darkening skies: the storm outside grew fierce and the power went out a few times, but Madison felt quite safe with us, and quite happy too. She licked the icing off her cupcake, and sat down in the living room to watch "Mulan" with us. She was really focused on that movie again, and we became focused on it too: the whole family sat in the living room watching, and reflecting occasionally on what Madison's birthday was like just two short years ago in China.

Soon, it was time for sleep. Daddy carried her home and we gave her milk and tucked her in for a good night's rest. This was a great day for Madison, just about everything we'd hope it would be. Sometimes you think you need the elaborate plans and expensive alternative ideas or the creative masterpieces. But really, when we began to think what it is that Madison would want, it became something simple - and therefore more special. It was a really wonderful birthday!

Happy fourth birthday, Madison!

Monday, June 14, 2010

New Bed

Today we said goodbye to the crib, and goodbye to Daddy getting on all fours so that Madison could climb up on his back in order to jump in. Gone also are the mornings where Madison calls out, "Mommy! Daddy! Mommy! Daddy!" - just so she can get someone to come in and help her out of bed.

The crib is now more bed-like, and Madison - as you can see above - is quite happy with it. We got this crib years ago so it would work in this fashion. It was just after Christmas, and we had done a little shopping in a place down near Atlanta. We got all of her furniture long before going to China. I still remember borrowing a moving truck from the church and driving it down with Ye-Ye. We stopped at Starbucks to get hot chocolates because it was so cold.

Now it's so incredibly hot! Today, the heat index rose to 102 degrees. We stayed indoors most of the day and got a lot done, including the conversion of the crib. Mommy just decided it is time: She's a big girl now. In fact, tomorrow she'll be four years old. Wow! Does time move fast or what? It's still amazing to think that just two years ago she was celebrating her birthday on the other side of the world.

Today we had visitors: Madison's cousins. Each one was holding a kitten. Yep, that's three kittens they had rescued, and were showing Madison. She smiled a big smile as she saw them, and pet them too. That was a nice surprise!

This afternoon we visited Doc Williams again - and boy was that a hoot! She laughs and giggles all the way through her visits. Forget Disney World: we can just take her to the chiropractor and she's having a great time! She always makes everyone else there smile big, and the next time I go, I'll just have to bring a camera. She knows every routine, from covering Mommy with a blanket to handing her a tissue to measuring her feet to even giving us adjustments on our necks. She'll lead us from location to location and pretend she's the Doc. The nurses laugh and joke about how she should be on staff!

After that we went to Party City to prepare for the big day tomorrow. No doubt we'll be taking lots of pictures - in fact, tonight there is still lots to do. It's funny: we picked Monkey Joe's to host the party so that we wouldn't have to do as much. Yet, there's still gift bags to pack, presents to wrap - and Mommy is making the cupcakes as we speak. In fact, Daddy had better get out there and help right now....!

See you tomorrow! It's Madison's birthday!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Puzzling at the Table

We had a nice, relaxing Sunday - eventually. To begin with, there was a little stress at the service, but it all worked out rather nicely. Madison looked lovely in her new dress. She's been wearing new outfits lately and doing her little twirls when people comment on how she looks.
Of course, Tuesday is the big day: it's her birthday! She got another present today, which you can see above: a Disney Princess puzzle. This one is a little bigger and a little more complicated than the other puzzles. It has more pieces to it - but Madison and Mommy stuck with it and showed perseverance until the end when it was all complete. Together, they cheered in the kitchen. Job well done, Madison!

We drove around for a bit this afternoon, just to get out of the house for a bit. We went out to eat, and then did a little shopping for church-related items. We found some other stuff too, but soon we were back home to rest and relax.

Soon, "Toy Story 3" will be out in the theaters. It is our hope to take Madison to see it: her first time at the movies. To prepare for that, tonight we watched "Toy Story" and munched on popcorn in bed. It was a nice time to sit and rest - and when it was over, Madison went to bed without any problem: we're all still quite tired!

Of course, one can't talk about "Toy Story" here without remembering the very title of this blog actually came from that movie! When the scene with Mrs. Nesbitt came up in the movie, we all laughed. It's a great part of an incredible movie.

You know we'll be watching "Toy Story 2" some time later this week. To infinity and beyond!

"You see the hat? I am Mrs. Nesbitt!"
- Buzz Lightyear

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Day After

The birthday cards are coming in, and Madison is enjoying each one. Her Great-Aunt Wendy sent a nice one from Wales this week, and Nana sent one from Florida. Both included a little money that Mommy and Daddy intend to put towards gymnastics class: thanks everybody! Madison really likes gymnastics: the other day she was watching girls attempt gymnastics moves on television. It was a competition in Australia, and the US Girls' Team came in first place with scores that crushed the other teams.

Madison liked watching it. Soon again, she'll get to try out her moves on the balance beam and the trampoline. She's quite athletic, actually, with good, strong legs. At Hannah's birthday party, one of the instructors noted that as she watched Madison effortlessly climb out of a the foam pit. Of course, Madison practices climbing all the time - up Daddy!

Today she was climbing all over the Daddy's coworkers, as each spent a great deal of time running around and playing with her. It was a more relaxed day, and everyone was in a lighter mood, now that Summer Xtreme 2010 is over. Still, there was a lot to do for tomorrow's service, and everyone stayed focused to get things done so we could all get out of there.
What a week it was! Still quite tired...

Friday, June 11, 2010

Second Annual Front Yard Luau

Today was our final day of Summer Xtreme, and though Daddy was pretty wiped out and exhausted - there's always enough energy for a luau! Tonight, Ye-Ye and Nana had invited us over for the Second Annual Front Yard Luau, where there were all sorts of games and activities set up. The first of which was the limbo where we tried to answer the age old question, "How low can you go?" Madison, it turns out, can go pretty low. Daddy's back, however, cannot!

Inside, there was chicken teriyaki, corn on the cob, watermelon, and delicious pineapple upside cake! We enjoyed a wonderful meal together while listening to Hawaiian music - mostly from "Lilo & Stitch." Afterwards, it was time for more activities!

What luau would be complete without a potato sack race? Madison enjoyed this one because she likes wearing new outfits, and she simply looks stunning in her giant Hawaiian "Aloha" sack.

The racers were off, and this year Jonathan was across the finish line first. But the games were not over after that: Mommy won a tossing game that seemed so easy for her - and very hard for the rest of us.

One activity involved a water balloon toss that got everybody a little wet! This led to an all-out battle with water balloons, which Madison was gleefully involved with! She really liked the water balloon catching game, but simply throwing water balloons around at everyone was very much fun!

It was a great night that ended with watching "Lilo & Stitch," of course. Madison hit the bed early tonight, and come to think of it... Daddy needs to do that too!

June 10, 2010

A Perfect Day
Miss everybody at home. Daddy is working late one more night. That's right: in less than 24 hours, life will return - somewhat - to normal. Until then, Daddy is stuck here away from his family contemplating the phrase "absence makes the heart grow fonder."

Stuck at work, I looked back just two years in time. Through Google maps, I was able to locate the People's Park in Nanning, China - so I snapped this photo above. It was such an important place in my life.

There are some days that stand out more than others: those perfect days where everything sinks in and favor rests on shoulders held high, and a pleasant, restful smile reflects unforgettable moments in time. In some cases, these days aren't filled with anything hugely memorable on their own - for example, one day I can always look back to for peace was in the summer in Habersham County. The gentle rolling thunder echoed above as the light rain descended in the forest around me, the pitter-patter of raindrops gently hitting the leaves. A song by Enya played, and we were planning a short trip to Alabama to climb its highest peak, just for fun. It was raining there too, but it didn't matter. It was a perfect day.

Another perfect day I remember had us climbing Pikes Peak early at sunrise, up 14,110 feet and above the world. Coming down, we wandered through the Garden of Gods, looking at the snowcapped mountains beyond. Driving from there, we saw the ginormous fossilized tree stumps of Fluorescent National Monument and wound up in Cripple Creek, where we road an old steam train in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, finally spending the night on the second floor of an old saloon where cowboys slept a hundred years ago.

Yet another even better perfect day happened during the week Daddy met Mommy. We talked for hours and learned about each other, and Daddy finally met someone who he knew inside his heart he would want to spend the rest of his life with. It was Mommy's birthday, and for a surprise, I arranged for a rose to be sitting on the table when we got there - secretly, all Mommy wanted was a rose for her birthday. We were just getting to know each other at the time, and Daddy was only planning on taking her out for her birthday so that she would have a good time on that special day. But Daddy found himself having a special day as well, one that he would never forget.

The details fill my mind even now: in the parking lot after our date, she gave me a recent Newsboys CD: "Take Me to Your Leader." Ever since then we've collected their releases. In fact, one of their CDs played an interesting part of us eventually getting married: "Step Up to the Microphone."

Ye-Ye heard a song on that project that we all love, a song called "Entertaining Angels." He couldn't get it out of his mind, nor could he get out of his mind the phrase within the song: "24/7." While thinking about us getting married, he prayed a lot. And out of curiosity, he looked it up in the Bible: "Angels." The first reference he found to angels was right there in Genesis, 24:7.

"...he will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there." - Genesis 24:7 NIV

24-7. Angels. Ye-Ye was convinced from that moment on that we were to be married and live happily ever after.

Which leads us to another perfect day: the one at the People's Park in Nanning. I'll never forget Madison walking along with Mommy throughout the entire park that day. It was not crowded at all - the rains had just washed everyone away, and we had the whole place to ourselves. We didn't know if Madison could walk well, or walk much. But those early signs of her personality began to show: she wanted to explore! She held Mommy's hand tightly, and with tiny footsteps she marched forward and around the lake, over bridges and under trees. We saw the large fish in the lake, and we blew bubbles on the island. Daddy took many pictures that day, but we didn't need to. We'd always remember the imagery, and the feel of the air - cool after a good rain shower. We'll remember the sounds of the park, and the sounds of her tiny feet walking along. We'll remember it all: it was a perfect day.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

June 9, 2010

Summer Bash

The rain held out just long enough for everyone at church to enjoy the annual Summer Bash, which marks the halfway point of Summer Xtreme, and also means a very long day! But, there's only two to go.

It's sad leaving Madison and Mommy for so long. The sadness is amplified by the knowledge that it will be a while before we meet again - these are really long days. But, there's only two left...

It's been a great week filled with exciting activities and really fun services. Daddy's had a good time this week with the kids, and with the other workers too. There are some really late nights, but hopefully next year it won't be so bad. This week really has a lot of wear and tear on Daddy. By the weekend, I'm exhausted!

More importantly, Daddy misses his family quite a bit. We'll probably take a couple days off again next week to rest up a bit. Next week we'll have a great time together, especially on Tuesday - Madison's birthday!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Surprise Visit

It was Day Two of Summer Xtreme, which translated means that Daddy was busy from 7:30 am until about 1:00 am - again.

The bright moment in Daddy's day was when Mommy and Madison surprised Daddy at a local restaurant for dinner. Daddy had told Mommy he was going with some of his co-workers for a quick bite at a restaurant that evening, and surprise, surprise! Mommy and Madison met us there too!

It was a wonderfully bright moment on a day that was already going well. Madison was entertaining everyone there by playing with the umbrella at the little outdoor table. She was giggling and playing with all the other guys there - she knows how to have a great time!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Be a Man!

Want to know how to be a man? Simple: be as swift as a coursing river, have all the force of a great typhoon, have the strength of a raging fire - and as a bonus, be as mysterious as the dark side of the moon. Daddy can be all of those, and more: because Daddy has lived through Summer Xtreme!

This is a tough week - five days of Navy SEAL boot camp where Daddy averages about four hours of sleep per night, and spends the rest of the time working on services and all the other things to get done. And that's not the worst part.

Today was the first day of Summer Xtreme, and as was our custom, we didn't get much in the way of sleep the last few nights in preparation either. There are just so many production details to cover, but the good news is that things have gone remarkably well. Tomorrow should be a great day too. Everyone is heading over to the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center, home to lots of water slides and big pools.

Every day there is a service, and during every service there are lots of videos and performances and a message - and part of Daddy's job is to coordinate much of this. As it all has to be "xtreme," that means it is all something over the top. I think we've accomplished that this year.

Unfortunately, not much time with family yet. I'll do a little of that tonight. Can't wait to go home and play Mr. Potato Head with Madison, or snuggle and watch a movie. Someday, she'll be coming here for the whole week.

This week, she may make an appearance here or there for certain events. We'll see - there's a lot going on at home too: for example, Madison's fourth birthday is exactly one week from today!

Hang 10

Sunday, June 6, 2010

We started our series "Hang 10" today, which was lots of fun. We're combining surfing with the Ten Commandments for a really cool series that has a beach feel all the way. Daddy is sticking to the surfing idea very heavily, and learning a lot about surfers and of course watching lots of surfing movies as well. It's been a lot of fun "researching."

We'll have to watch "Lilo & Stitch" at least once, and maybe even see about getting a photo of Madison with one of our surfboards on the set. If not, we've got plans to go to the ultimate scenery for us: the Polynesian Resort in September.

We are so excited about visiting there - just counting the days! Until then, we're hanging 10 with our new series, following the lives of characters like Moondoggie and the Big Kahuna.