Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Office Christmas Tree

Above is Madison's Christmas first tree drawing - isn't it great? She did this all by herself this afternoon as she visited the office. Mommy and Madison came by for lunch, and Daddy wanted to get a picture of another tree: the office Christmas tree.

Some of the gals got together for a group shot, all the while we were hearing Christmas tunes like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and more. It's been quite a festive atmosphere around here, despite the fact that we're working really hard towards this weekend's new series. Still, it was a great break to have Madison drop by. She was drawing Christmas trees for everyone, and giving free hugs too. She's a natural when it comes to this time of year - she knows how to make spirits bright!

When at home, Mommy and she did something fun: they made links. The two made one red link, one green, one red, one green - and so on. They made a chain that was twenty-four links long, and numbered each one. THEN they attached the end of the links (that's link #1) to a star. Here's the explanation: like an advent calendar, each link represents a day in December. Each morning, Madison will take a link off the chain, and the number that remains tells us how many sleeps 'til Christmas. In case you don't recognize the phrase "sleeps 'til Christmas," it dates back a ways - but we know it best from the "Muppet Christmas Carol." There's a song in the movie with that phrase in it, and we've found that it is an easy way to measure time around here. Rather than say, it's "three weeks away," it's more fun to say, "Christmas is twenty-four sleeps away." Madison is learning a little math in all this too: she's pretty good at one through twelve, but past that, it becomes a little fuzzy math. What better way to learn to count higher than by measuring how many sleeps 'til Christmas? She looks at us and uses her hands to gesture ten, and then she does it again, and then she holds up a hand one more time with four fingers up. That's 10 + 10 + 4. Basic addition there: 10 + 10 + 4 = 24 days until Christmas.

Another way to measure the sleeps 'til Christmas: new this year is our advent gift idea. Last year, we did well with the advent calendar book. Like any other advent calendar, it has small doors to open for each day, and behind each door is a character or object from the Nativity story.

Nana actually got Madison an advent calendar too this year - behind each door is also a piece of candy!

But that's not all. Mommy has been quietly assembling an army of tiny gifts to open each day. These are small items, including quite a few that actually came from Disney World a few weeks ago. As each day goes by, we'll have a new gift magically under the tree!

Of course, all this leads up to the big day itself: Christmas. There'll be quite a bit under the tree this year, I suspect. Daddy and Mommy have been talking with Santa, because Madison has been very good this year.

Every day in December is going to be magical!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Prep and Landing

Tonight we continued our Christmas tradition of doing nothing but snuggling under a blanket, beside the Christmas tree, a warm blaze burning in the fireplace. We had some Christmas movies on the television, one of which was "Prep and Landing," which is a great short cartoon from a few years ago. It's finally on DVD, which Daddy picked up today. Madison turned to us afterwards and announced, "That was a good movie." Yep, it's a fun Christmas movie for just about anyone. We also see there will be a sequel this season, so we're excited about seeing that as well. The weather today was once again perfect for this sort of activity: it was cold today. It did in fact flurry a bit, but the weather was just warm enough that the snow was mixed with rain. A wintery mix is what it's called. Still, it's amazing how excited everyone gets from watching small white flakes descend from the heavens. Even though it was on the surface a pretty grey sort of day, we were still warm in our hearts because of the season.

Today we put up a tree at the office - a live tree! It's decorated and sits right next to my desk. It smells great! I miss the smell of pine most of all when it comes to a live tree, but we're pretty content with our artificial tree. It looks very real - we spent a LONG time looking for just the right tree: our thinking was if we'd have it for a while, we'd better make it a good one. I feel it is. First of all, it's tall. Much taller than any tree I've ever had before. Of course, in our new great room, it doesn't seem quite as tall - that's a huge ceiling in there in the new home. That was one of the things that drew us to the house to begin with.

Anyway, the biggest thing is the hassle. We save so much in time and effort by simply hauling our artificial tree upstairs when it is Christmas time. And taking it back down when the season is done. We used to go out and cut one down, place it in the stand balanced just right and not tilting, and then fill the bottom with water. And then clean up the needles. Putting it on the car was an ordeal too - I just remembered that. Anyway, we don't do that anymore. Ye-Ye and Nana, however, still do get a live tree. It's a nice tree that we get to see every Christmas morning. But we're okay with the artificial one, so long as it looks right - which it does. I'll post pictures here soon, I'm sure.

As for the pine smell I miss so much, I now get it right at the office, right at work. So all is well!

Madison had music and school today. In fact, with school, it was her return back after a two-week break! Time for all of us to get back into the swing of things - the routine is back. Madison enjoyed classes today, but was pretty worn out by day's end. She was ready for bed. Daddy read her another story, a Christmas story, before bed:


This is a sweet little book with some very interesting animation. Madison enjoys all of the Little Miss Spider books, but this one is obviously nice to pull out this time of year. For Christmas, Little Miss Spider wants a friend to play with outside - and she gets her wish. The story is told in rhyme, but the artwork is the thing that draws you into her world. It's all very colorful, and very cheerful - just the perfect kind of story to read before bedtime, and a great story to read before Christmas!

Dancer: How we going to make it through all this snow?
Dasher: Laughing all the way, my friend. Laughing all the way.

Monday, November 28, 2011


Drab. That's the word of the day - it describes the environment perfectly. I believe exhaustion finally caught up with everyone today as we spent much of the day in pajamas, indoors. We had so many aspirations to get things done, and yet fell miserably short. Yet we did accomplish one significant goal: rest.

Not to say we didn't get anything else done. For example, we packed our Thanksgiving stuff up, and had some more music practice with Madison. Daddy got a big step out of the way for the Christmas card production: we might see those start to get mailed out this week, actually. We also dealt with some other gifts too. Daddy proofed a devotional for children's church, and did some other work in that regard. And Mommy hit the laundry as usual.

I think the moment of the day came when it grew dark. We all climbed on the couch and got under the blankets, snuggling together beside our tree, all lit up so perfectly. We watched "The Polar Express" with Madison, and she loved every minute of it. It was fun watching her hide much of her face under the blankets during the parts that were a little scary, and then listening to her laugh out loud at others. She really enjoyed the movie! Afterwards, Mommy and Daddy watched another Christmas movie, "The Bishop's Wife," which we both really like a lot.

We were recently laughing about the annual "25 Days of Christmas" programming that ABC has at the end of each year. Looking over their schedule, we pretty much have every movie they plan on showing. We could just pop them in the same night, and avoid all the commercials! Actually, we have our own "25 Days of Christmas," but it starts a bit earlier in November. We've seen quite a few Christmas movies already so far, and it isn't even December yet! But tonight we were really into the Christmas spirit - maybe it was the chilly weather outside.

Tomorrow it is supposed to flurry outside, which would be our first flurries of the season. Of course, Madison would tell us differently: it snowed twice in Disney World!


Tonight before bed, we visited with Shaoey and Dot again in a special Christmas book from a few years ago. Shaoey, we learned from her earlier book, is adopted from China. Dot is her ladybug companion, also from China. The two made their way here Stateside, and have been living happily ever after with their new family. But on Christmas Eve, Shaoey is not feeling well - and there's so much to do in order to have the perfect Christmas. Dot tries to make Christmas perfect for Shaoey in this fun story, but along the way of course, we all learn the real meaning behind the most wonderful time of the year. Obviously, Madison relates to this story, but it's still an enjoyable book to her. Daddy and Madison enjoyed reading it together tonight!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Dark Side

"You are not a jedi yet," our Christmas tree tells us. It's all a talking Darth Vader ornament hanging on one of the lower boughs. He's plugged in with the lights - he talks when the tree lights first get turned on. Madison informs me each time: "He said I'm not a jedi yet."

She almost seems so let down!

One year, the Darth Vader was plugged in a strand of blinking lights. The end result is that you'd hear his breathing - and then it would turn off. Then you'd hear his breathing again as the strand of lights blinked on again. Over and over again this would happen - and our Christmas tree sounded like it was just sitting there in a corner, breathing. Most people would be creeped out by this, but we found it hysterical!

So we have our tree up, and Madison has also decorated her tree as well! Her small pink tree has been with us about three years now - click here to see her the first time she saw the tree in 2009. It's a cute little treasure that Madison enjoys having nearby at Christmas time. It's the new nightlight, but it also is the place where she may find some gifts Christmas morning.

One thing she's hung on her tree is her new Minnie Mouse Ballerina ornament. Also, her Disney Princess ornaments from last year. Another thing she's just hung on the tree are fruit ornaments. Okay, they aren't technically ornaments - they're different fruits on a key ring. All the kids got these at children's church today as we approach the end of our Fruit of the Spirit series. Madison has really enjoyed this series a lot, from skits to videos to the overall message about Galatians 5:22. Of course, she can't list them all. But it has served to instruct her about behavior - how to act and not act with others.

WHICH reminds me: "DON'T BITE YOUR FRIENDS." This may be common sense, but still the folks at "Yo Gabba Gabba" have come up with a catchy song to remind you of just that. For some reason, above all the others, this is the song that Madison wants to sing. "Don't... don't bite your friends!" And soon, the entire family is singing it as well, regrettably. As you can imagine, we've had great fun with this. But it does beg the question: Can you bite other people instead?

This show is so weird. I'm still talking about "Yo Gabba Gabba." It's like an 80's tribute, with quick segments and all sorts of unusual music and dancing. Mommy and Daddy stare at it, trying to figure it out. But Madison loves it right now over most of the other programming on. She's been watching a little "Handy Manny" lately, and of course some Christmas specials. But once the season is over, I fear that it'll be back to even more "Yo Gabba Gabba."

Speaking of not biting your friends, we're putting batteries in some pretty fun Christmas presents that we'll give to our friends at the office. Just testing things out, but it's pretty funny right now. Madison is helping out, and even tucking some of our presents into her nursery upstairs. I was going to write out exactly what it is I'm talking about - but maybe someone is reading this and I don't want to give it away!

Finally, in the news, Daddy is excited that the Gävle Goat was set up in Sweden today. This is a Christmas tradition that goes back quite a few years, but more unusual is the tradition of vandals to burn it down. It's been a back-and-forth sort of battle between those who erect the thing, and those who believe it absolutely must be burned down.

Each year the pro-Goat forces escalate their efforts to keep the Goat standing, by way of guards, webcams and even fire-proof substances. Still, the Goat has only a 45% chance statistically. As of 2011, it has been burned down 32 times, vandalized 7 times, run over once and stolen once. The highlight (or lowlight, depending on your perspective) might be six years ago, when a people dressed up as Santa and a Gingerbread Man shot a flaming arrow at the Goat, burning it down again. Two years ago, there was a burning incident - but last year, the Goat survived. This year, everyone's eyes are on the Gävle Goat once more as it bravely goes up. Here's the Gävle Goat in its own words, taken from its blog this year:

"I am totally exhausted after tonight's inauguration and the celebrations at Castle Square. Thanks to all artists who performed, it was both atmospheric and groovy! I found it hard to stand still at times because it was so groovy. And Rickard Olsson, the compere, did an outstanding job. But I got a bit worried when he said that I was "smoking hot", I'm not sure I liked that.

Thanks to everyone who came to the inauguration despite the weather. It has been pouring rain in Gävle tonight. Rain at the inauguration, that was long ago. The raining increased during the beautiful fireworks that ended the inauguration. As you know, I'm not a big fan of flames, fireworks, pyrotechnics and such, I am always a little ambivalent about the fireworks at the inauguration. But this year it was more beautiful than ever!

Now I'll just stand here tonight and feel happy. And I´ll be dreaming of a white Christmas
in Gävle!"

Anti-Goat forces are no doubt planning just the opposite for this poor goat. Even now, they are lurking in dark and shady places, plotting their next strategic attack. The dark side is strong with them!

"The Force is strong with you young Skywalker, but you are not a Jedi yet."
- Darth Vader

Saturday, November 26, 2011


We're gearing up for a big deal at KidPak - the return of Ebenezer Scrooge! We've got some good casting thus far, and the set people have been working tirelessly to get this complex stage design ready to go for us by next Sunday. The scripts have been written, but we've got a lot of costuming and furniture issues, not to mention a few videos as well. It's going to be a tremendous undertaking, but this is the year to "go for it," as we typically do a lot for the adult church service at Christmas time, and this year seems to be different: Christmas concerts are the thing at Free Chapel this December, as musical artists are visiting to put everyone in a festive mood one Sunday after another. Meanwhile, we don't have to practice or set up for anything monumental in the main sanctuary. At least not yet.

That gives us just enough space to do something semi-monumental with the kids! Enter Ebenezer. He'll have three visitors over three weeks, and we've got the messages all written up and ready to go. In fact, here's our first message here:

"A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!" cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge's nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.

"Bah!" said Scrooge, "Humbug!"

As the weather turns colder each Christmas, we see the man – Ebenezer Scrooge – and we see the meanness in his eyes, the coldness in his soul, and think upon his remarkable story. When an amazing visitor comes to show him the deeds of his past, Scrooge is understandably frightened. Even more so when the path they are taking goes right out the window on the second floor of his home!

"I am mortal," Scrooge remonstrated, "and liable to fall."

Aren’t we all? Everyone falls. Paul said it best in Romans 3:23: “Everyone has sinned.” Put another way, we have all been on God’s naughty list. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, each and every one of us has done things in our past that we’re not proud of. Like him, how would you yourself like to go back in time and watch a replay of yourself messing up over and over again? It wouldn’t be a pretty sight for any of us.

That’s why in all we do, we must remember that God is watching. Not just Christmastime, but all year long we should do our best to act not like Scrooge – but more like Jesus. You see, God’s making a list and checking it twice. God is watching, and wants to put everyone’s name in a special book, the Book of Life. Will your name be written inside?

If you’re not sure, it’s time to give God the best Christmas gift imaginable: your life to Him. Don’t worry about your past. God’s got it covered. Jesus paid the price so that we could be with him forever in heaven. Don’t squander that gift, and don’t hide it. Like the shepherds from long ago, tell others about the reason for the season!

Like old Ebenezer, our past may not be pretty. But that’s what Christmas is all about: we celebrate because God loved us so much that He sent His Son to take our place. In other words, God was saying, “Your past is past.”

This should be a great December. We've been doing our "Scrooge" research, of course. We own many renditions made available, even the ancient one from 1938. We've got a version with the Jetsons, the Flintstones, Mr. Magoo, the Muppets, the Ghostbusters, Black Adder, and of course Mickey Mouse. We've got the version with Jim Carrey, Patrick Stewart (Daddy's favorite), Albert Finney (Mommy's favorite), George C. Scott, Allastair Sim, and Reginald Owen too. There are plenty of other versions - we hope to add the Barbie version soon for Madison. It's a great story of redemption, and one we're looking forward to doing our own version of here rather soon!

"I'm light as a feather! Merry as a school boy!" - Ebenezer Scrooge

Friday, November 25, 2011

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Back to the Atlanta Center for Puppetry Arts, and this time back for an amazing performance of"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." I know it's "just a puppet show," but words do fail when I'm trying to describe how great this production was. First of all, the puppets were perfect. Beyond that, the voice work was very close to what the original television show sounded like, especially Yukon Cornelius. What really made this even more fantastic is the use of a scrim, where imagery projected onto it helped set up scenery, and also move things along at times. We can use words like "spectacular" and "wonderful" all the time, and this no doubt was all that. But I think this is one of those things I could never fully describe to you - it was just plain good and you've got to see it for yourself.

Madison, Daddy, Mommy - and Daddy's friend Josh - went down the center today to see the show, and start off the Christmas season with something a little different. This certainly qualified. We also got there early to see the Jim Henson exhibit again, and this time we toured the international puppet museum wing, which was something Madison hadn't seen yet. Here she is below, using a Snow White Puppet:

We took a lot of pictures, but can't post 'em all here - needless to say, Madison had a great time. Another thing we did together after the show was make our own shadow puppets. Part of the price of admission is the chance to go upstairs and make a puppet of our own. We did that a few months ago when we went to see "The Old Man and the Monkeys." Today, we made shadow puppets of reindeer, each one with moveable parts and some translucent material as well. We used a shadow puppet theater screen there, but it appears as if Josh and Madison think using the car outside in the parking lot works well too!

We spent a long time there, and loved it! Madison had a great time, which means we'll be back - maybe to see "Rudolph" again. It sold out, by the way. Tickets go on sale this March, a full nine months ahead of time.

After bidding Josh goodbye, we got home and did some cleaning up from Thanksgiving - but not much. Everyone was somewhat tired. Daddy and Madison used up her Mom Bucks from homework and piano practice by spending a few hours playing "Lego Indiana Jones 2," which we both had a great time with. After watching the Indiana Jones show at Disney Hollywood Studios, Daddy also decided to show Madison a few clips from an Indiana Jones movie. Don't worry - we watched some tame stuff. Remember the scene where they discover they're on a small airplane over the Himalayas, and there's no pilot? Then there's the mine car chase scene too. While Madison had her milk, Daddy played a few of these scenes - we had adventure on our minds that night. Perhaps that's why we had this epic Christmas tale to tell for a bedtime story:

It was late one night when Indiana Jones and his new wife Marion were on a mission by the some of our government's "top men." You see, it all started out with a visit by the agency to Marshall College. That's where Indiana Jones was a teacher. Dr. Jones was asked by these government people to follow these bad guys and see what they are up to. It all sounded rather sinister. That means it sounded bad.

Indiana Jones gave his first answer: "No."

But then they told him WHY these bad guys were here, and the bad things they were up to. Interested enough, Indiana Jones packed his things and took a little side trip. And when Marion heard the details, she decided to follow too. Why not? It sounded like a new adventure, actually.

And so here we are in the middle of the night, following some bad guys in his car. The bad guys drove a black car that appeared to be slowing down. Snow was falling all around, and it was actually getting tough to see.

"What are they doing?" Marion asked.

The bad guys stopped the car, and got out. As Indiana Jones stopped his car, he and Marion watched the bad guys as they trudged through the snow. They walked across the front yard of a small home - and started to climb some lattice work on the side until they made it to the rooftop.

"Are they going to break into that person's house?" Marion asked. She could barely see through the windshield, as snow was starting to come down heavier, large fluffy flakes descending all around.

Indiana Jones knew exactly what they were doing. He turned to Marion and asked, "Trust me?"

She smiled and nodded. And then the two snuck out of the car.

Suddenly, there was a sound! The two bad guys on the roof hid behind the large chimney, as Indiana and Marion scurried to hide behind some bushes.

"What is that?" Marion whispered.

"Jingle bells," Indiana replied.

And suddenly from the sky, he appeared: Santa Claus! Riding on a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer, the jolly man of Christmas descended from the night skies - and landed on that very roof. You see, it was Christmas Eve, and he had quite a bit of work to do this very night. But he does it all with a big grin on his face, his cheeks red and his demeanor quite merry. He hopped out of the sleigh for a moment, his back to the chimney. His purpose was to check on his friends.

"How is everyone?" he asked his reindeer. "We're about halfway through the night!"

But just then a terrible thing happened. The bad guys popped out from behind the chimney! They said not a word, but went straight to their work: to steal the sled! Quickly hopping in, one grabbed the reins and the other grabbed a whip - and CRACK! The reindeer didn't know what was going on, but when they felt the reins and heard the tremendous crack of the whip, they took off! The sleigh was moving, moving, moving - and leaving poor Santa there behind on the roof! As it took off, he sat there stunned at the night's events: what about the poor children tonight?

But just at that moment, he heard the crack of another whip! It was Indiana Jones! He had gotten up on the roof just in time, and snapped his whip towards the sleigh. Instantly, it latched on to the runners beneath.

"Hold on," he told Marion. And she did!

The sleigh was airborne, riding off into the night skies. Dangling below, and unobserved, were Indiana Jones and Marion - both hanging on for dear life.

But not for long. Because both began to climb up the whip and climb into the back of the sleigh! The bad guys would never know what hit them!

Marion and Indiana jumped into the back of the sleigh as quick as a flash, but oh no! The bad guys must have heard them coming. Both bad guys were facing our heroes, and both bad guys had in their hands some sort of weird laser guns.

"Don't move," one said. So they didn't. For a moment, all was silent as the four stood their in Santa's sleigh. It was flying very high in the sky at this point, above the snow clouds, the full moon and stars brilliant around them. The wind whirled by, a very cold chill in the air.

"Put down your whip," the other told Indiana Jones. Having no choice, he lowered his hand that held the whip, and gently dropped it in the seat beside him - next to Santa's bag.

"What kind of sick person steals Santa's sleigh?" Marion blurted.

One of the bad guys responded: "The kind who knows about Santa's bag. You see, Marion Ravenwood, one can reach into that bag and pull out anything at all. Silver, gold... plutonium..."

"I'm not sure if it's going to work for you fellas," Indiana smirked. "You're on the naughty list."

"It will work," was the response. "And if it doesn't, we will blow up the North Pole."

As the bad guy was monologuing, he failed to notice one crucial detail: Indiana Jones was easing towards Santa's bag, and easing his hand inside it.

"We will get whatever we want from Santa's bag, whenever we want it, Dr. Jones," the other bad guy said triumphantly.

"So you're going to ruin Christmas for everyone?" Marion shouted angrily. "You're just a bunch of cotton-headed ninnymuggins!"

"That will be enough of that," one of the bad guys said, and then turned to his naughty companion. "I think it's time that Dr. Jones and his lovely wife went for a Christmas flight."

"What are you talking about?" Indiana Jones asked.

"We're going to drop you off now," the bad guy sneered, pointing his laser gun over the side of the sleigh for only a moment. "Maybe you'll land under someone's Christmas tree!"

At this point, the sleigh was soaring very high in the sky. Falling out of it was not a good idea.

"Any last words?" one bad guy said.

"Yes," Indiana Jones replied. "Catch!"

His had was in Santa's bag, and had pulled out a boat oar - and swung it at both of the bad guys, knocking the laser guns out of their hands. One bad guy reached down for his dropped weapon, but Marion quickly kicked it over the side of the sleigh. The other bad guy launched himself at Indiana Jones, but was quickly knocked down by a large fruitcake! You see, Indiana Jones was now reaching into that bag and pulling whatever he could out of it to throw at the bad guys. Soon, Marion was joining him. They frantically threw beach balls, stuffed animals, wooden soldiers, toy train engines, giant lollipops, and more - we won't talk about the bowling ball much, except to say that one of the bad guys is going to have a very big sore spot on his head for a few weeks. He dropped, clutching his head, and seeing stars, candy canes and other childhood delights. As Marion continued throwing toys from Santa's bag at the other guy, Indiana Jones grabbed his whip one last time and lashed it out towards the villain. It coiled around his arms, and soon both bad guys were completely incapacitated. That means they couldn't move. To make doubly sure though, Marion tied both up with plenty of ribbon and gift wrapping supplies. She even put a bow on both of their heads.

"No one's going to steal Christmas on our watch," she beamed, and rested her head on Indiana Jones' shoulder. Grabbing the reins, he began to steer them back to go get Santa.

"On Dasher! On Dancer! On Prancer and Vixen! On Comet! On Cupid! On Donner and Blitzen!"

They descended through the clouds and raced through the snowy skies, back towards Santa. And while their landing on the roof was a little rough, you'll have to forgive them: it was their first time.

Santa was still there on the roof, so incredibly grateful. "You both have saved Christmas," he announced.

Indiana Jones tipped his head slightly, looked at Marion, then shook his head and smiled. "Just doing what we can, sir," was all he could say.

"Well here's something I can do for you," Santa responded. He reached into his bag and gave both Marion and Indiana Jones a Christmas present.

"It's a little early," Santa said. "But I think you'll like it nonetheless."

Marion opened her present and smiled: it was a beautiful new dress, white and just lovely. She new she'd wear this for New Year's Eve very soon. Indiana Jones opened his present, and smiled even bigger.

"It's a map," he said, glowing with joy. "This is a map to the the Viking Treasure of Vahala!" He looked at Santa. "Is this for real?"

Santa smiled and nodded. And Indiana Jones was filled with wonder: a new adventure!

"But what do we do about these guys?" Marion asked, pointing at the gift-wrapped villains.

"I think I know just the tree to put them under," Santa grinned. "But I've got to go! I'm a little behind, and we've got so many presents to put under trees tonight!"

"Merry Christmas, Santa," Indiana Jones said.

"Merry Christmas," Marion echoed.

"And Merry Christmas to you too," Santa laughed - and hopped aboard his sleigh once more. And turning towards his reindeer, he laughed with all his Christmas joy: "Ho, ho, ho!"

And he was off. Indiana Jones and Marion watched him fly off into the night sky, and heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight: "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

The government agency has a tiny tree in their building. It's an "office" tree that's easy to put up on a conference table just to keep the spirit of things. It's rather quaint, but on Christmas morning, the "top men," came into the office and discovered something quite amazing: Under their small tree were gift-wrapped two bad guys, along with a note explaining everything. The bad guys squirmed under the tree, but could not move. And signed at the bottom of the note was this name: Santa Claus.

"Indiana Jones has done it again," the good guys said to one another. And they laughed merrily.


"Well, it needs work. I have got to go." - Santa Claus

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

It's always such a big day, isn't it? Today was a huge day filled with fun and family, starting off - as always - pretty early. Why's that? Because Mommy has to get up in the wee hours of the morning to start things off with the cookin'!

Daddy and Madison were helping as best they could, and when the Thanksgiving Day Parade came on, it was time to watch the computer!

There's Mickey giving us a salute in his captain's hat. That's a little foreshadowing for you there... Anyway, this is the live feed from a website, which works find for us - we get to see the balloons, the floats and hear the bands too. Madison sat on Daddy's knee and watched the parade go by, occasionally getting up to set things up for the family to come over. Slowly, the smell of Thanksgiving was filling the entire house - what an aroma!

Here's Madison's creation: Google offered a turkey that you could dress up and change feather colors. She changed the shoes and the hat - and there you go: Madison's turkey.

But this one here looks a whole lot tastier, doesn't it?

Ye-Ye, Nana, and Great Grandma came by, and soon it was time for dinner! Okay, so we didn't eat that quickly... but it sure does look good, doesn't it? Mommy outdid herself once again with a spectacular feast. But before that, it was time for a piano recital!

Madison performed for everyone in the great room a few piano favorites, like "Sugar Cookies" and "Hide and Seek." She also handed out the instruments and made us all members of the orchestra, leading us in a stirring rendition of "Knickerbocker's Band." It was a marvelous!

It was time to eat afterwards, and socialize, and lounge about talking about different things - in other words, it was a perfect Thanksgiving. Mommy made it one not to forget!

There was a little bit of rest time after Ye-Ye and Nana left with Great Grandma, and then... it's time for the next Thanksgiving tradition: a night at the movies!

Off to the movies, all of us! It's time to play the music, it's time to light the lights.

"Maniacal laugh... maniacal laugh... maniacal laugh..."
-Tex Richman

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Almost Turkey Day

Happy Thanksgiving! It's been a remarkable year, and as we use this holiday season to look back on the things we are most thankful for, we know we've been so blessed to count you as our friends and family. To new acquaintances and old, our sincere hope and prayer for you is a wonderful, unforgettable Thanksgiving!

Above is a note we sent out to all of our friends and family, wishing them well for Thanksgiving. That's Madison's Halloween costume - but it works pretty well for Thanksgiving, doesn't it?

Anyway, we're almost ready for Thanksgiving - still plenty to do, but it's late tonight. The tree is about 97% done, and Mommy's been working in the kitchen for much of the day: a lot of preparation goes into Thanksgiving. Maybe next year we'll just take a trip some place, eh?


Here's another neat book we picked up a while back - but it's what we've been reading a few times this month, as it has everything to do with giving thanks. You could deduce that from the title though. Essentially, the book is a pretty big list of things to be thankful, illustrated one page at a time. It's a sweet book, and one that Madison enjoys hearing - along with the other Thanksgiving-related book that we have "Off to Plymouth Rock."

We'll have them out tomorrow for Nana and Ye-Ye to read to Madison. Everyone enjoys reading for Madison!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving at the Office

Today we had Thanksgiving at the office, which was simply a great idea! Everyone brought a different dish in, and we enjoyed each other's company, had all sorts of great food, and had a few special moments where we shared the things we were most thankful for.

One of the things that Daddy is most thankful for is clearly seen in the video above: Mommy and Madison. It was so nice to have them with us. Mommy made her world-famous, absolutely delicious butternut squash soup (also seen in the video), which you can never have too much of. Well, I suppose you can have too much of it: it's very filling. But tomorrow, I can have more. And on Thanksgiving, we'll have even more! I am not at all dreading this, because it is so incredibly tasty!

In any event, lunch was a wonderful occasion today - everyone had a great time. So much so, that we'll no doubt be doing it again next year!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Oh, Christmas Tree

Today was the "Get Ready for Thanksgiving" type of day, where we busied ourselves preparing for Turkey Day in numerous ways.

1. Mommy got the turkey. She couldn't do this last week in Disney, because:
a. Daddy didn't want to carry a turkey around with him throughout the parks.
b. There was no way to refrigerate it properly.
c. That would be silly.

Actually, Mommy got a lot more than turkey. She got much of the meal we'll be happily eating on Thursday. She was really proud of herself, saving $60 on groceries with her couponing. Yes, that's a verb: couponing. I don't care if you don't think it is. I say it's a verb, and now it is. She was couponing. Mommy is obsessed with coupons, and saves nearly that much each time she goes grocery shopping. Which works out, of course, if she's only spending ten dollars!

2. We decorated the tree. Well, almost. We got much of it decorated - the lights went on, which is a pretty big ordeal. Then came a lot of the ornaments. We finally found the Polynesian ornament from last year, although we haven't found the two ornaments we just bought last week yet! I have faith we will tomorrow when we finish decorating. Already, the tree is filled with items hanging from every bough. That just might be the first time I used that word in a sentence - outside of a singing it in Christmas carols.

3. We had a Christmas movie marathon. This was while we were putting the tree up. The movie "Merry Madagascar" is hilarious! And we watched the classic "Babes in Toyland" tonight, because of the march of the wooden soldiers that we saw in last week's parade. Madison was helping decorate initially, but got really into this movie when Ed Wynn showed up as the Toymaker. "Oh, that's thilly!"

4. This morning, Daddy mailed the stockings off to Metro Ministries. Okay, this didn't take me long. But still, I wanted to mention it because Mommy and Madison worked so hard on these. Mommy actually sewed the stockings together, and with Madison, they stuffed them with candy and toys for kids in New York who might not have much of a Christmas this year. It was really sweet, and something we try to do each year.

5. We did some online shopping. Madison is going to have a great Christmas, but so are Mommy and Daddy! Another thing we got online were tickets to "It's a Wonderful Life!" This is playing at the Cumming Playhouse, and will be the perfect Christmas date night for us. A few nights later, we're also heading back to the Living Christmas Tree at the 1st Baptist Church in town. I know this is an old question, but where's the 2nd Baptist Church?

6. We made plans to go to "Lights of Life," an alternate light show to Lake Lanier's expensive trip. "Lights of Life," which is at Life University in Marietta charges per car - are you ready for this? FIVE DOLLARS. For those of you who are math fans, that's ONE TWELFTH of the cost of Lake Lanier Islands. Still, Life University has two million lights, and they say that the $5 per car pays for expenses. Assuming that statement is true, you can cleverly deduce this: Lake Lanier Islands is a rip off.

We don't know what the "Lights of Life" display will be like, but we're still looking forward to it. No matter what, we certainly got our eyes filled with wonder when we saw "Osborne's Family Spectacle of Lights" at Hollywood Studios. And the lights at the Magic Kingdom too! So we've seen enough Christmas lights this season already - and it isn't even Thanksgiving yet. Which reminds me... on with the numbering thing...

7. We went to bed REALLY early. Can you believe we're still tired from vacation? Or something! I don't know what it is, but we were pretty zonked. The flip side of it is that we'll be waking up early in the morning again. VERY BUSY day for Daddy at work tomorrow writing about another famous Christmas character. I'll leave that as a teaser...

"Go to your room and invent something to destroy yourself!"
- The Toymaker

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving 11.c

Today we essentially had our third Thanksgiving meal of the month, and by our count number three of five total this November. No complaints here: that's the sort of food I can get used to! On the other hand, it does seem to be an awful lot of food.

Let me elaborate:

Thanksgiving 11.a - A church staff meal earlier on this month.
Thanksgiving 11.b - Our annual Wisdom Club meal a few Fridays ago.
Thanksgiving 11.c - That was today - over at Ye-Ye and Nana's house.
Thanksgiving 11.d - That's Tuesday at the KidPak office.
Thanksgiving 11.e - That's Thursday, and the real deal.

Each of these features lots of food: turkey, stuffing, potatoes, gravy, peas, cranberry sauce, and more. So it's like we're having a Thanksgiving meal over and over again!

But back to Thanksgiving 11.c, which was today: Nana called last night and invited us to a spontaneous Thanksgiving meal. It happens that Aunt Shain and her family are going to Florida this week, so the thought was that they would have a Thanksgiving meal at Ye-Ye and Nana's house. That's when Nana thought to call us up next and give us an invitation as well. How could we resist!? We went over and they had a wonderful meal set up - it was absolutely perfect. But beyond the food, it's always pleasant to go over and be with the family. We had a good time catching up on recent events, and even planning ahead for Christmas a bit too.

Earlier this morning, as we're still technically "on vacation," we did something unusual: we went to church. Sure, that's where we are all the time. But this time, we sat right in the middle of the audience in our main sanctuary and enjoyed a service without having to worry about any responsibility at all. The last time something like that happened, where both Mommy and Daddy could sit on a Sunday service was... beyond my memory, actually. It was more than six years ago, that's for sure. Anyway, it was nice to sit with Mommy in a service. The theme: Thanksgiving, of course!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Little Early

Today was largely a recovery day, that is to say it was a day where we didn't do much outside of unpack, and clean up the house a bit. Daddy did put the tree up in the great room, but we won't get lights on it until tomorrow. The goal is to have both of our trees decorated by Monday. It used to be that we didn't have trees up until after Thanksgiving, but the thinking here is why not? Why not have your tree up a little earlier? It takes all this effort to put it up and take it down, so why not have it up earlier?

This year there has been a small movement on social networks and elsewhere to make the Christmas season start after Thanksgiving - the claim being that Thanksgiving is sort of lost in all the Christmas season celebration. We myself used to be in that camp, but our conversion came when we realized just how much there is to do in celebrating Christmas, and how little time there is to do it. Add to that the fact that we work at a church, and our time is extremely limited. By starting our Christmas season earlier, we actually give ourselves more time to do things, and ultimately there is less stress on us.

Besides, how much can you do to celebrate Thanksgiving anyway? Are there turkey lights out there? Pilgrim music? How many Thanksgiving movies can you watch? The only one that springs to mind currently is "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving."

Don't get me wrong: Thanksgiving is a sacred holiday for us. We do enjoy it, and nearly as much as Christmas. There is so much to Thanksgiving, and we really look forward to it each year. Obviously, the food is good. The parade is great too. But the family coming over is wonderful as well. Each year, Thanksgiving is a treasure for us - in fact, take a look at last year.

Anyway, there's are justification for starting the Christmas season earlier. The crowds at Disney were less last week, and yet the decorations were up - in just a week, the crowds will be too much, and things will be a bit stressful. Why not simply pop in the Christmas music earlier and enjoy the parks and decorations more - just a bit earlier?

Speaking of earlier, we're still technically "on vacation," but we came back earlier. One reason was "The Gift." This is Christmas-themed performance involving ballet and dance, produced by a non-profit Christian dance studio - and we haven't missed it in years.

More than ever, Madison was really into this production. Still, we couldn't make it past the intermission - it was probably a little late, and she was still recovering from a rather tiresome week. The first part of "The Gift" is all about the Christmas story, which wraps up in a neat ending before intermission, so she did get to see enough to put a twinkle in her eye. She loves dancing, and loves to dance herself. She did a pirouette for a few cast members tonight at the show, which delighted everyone as always. During the production though, her eyes would not leave the stage. Angels, shepherds, and three kings danced around the Nativity Scene as Madison once again saw in dance the real story of Christmas. Mommy's favorite routine starts with the three kings, and Madison seemed to like all of it, especially the little sheep hopping about.

Truth be told, we were all a bit tired after intermission! We went home, and Madison fell asleep on the way there. Daddy was not far behind: once we got home, it was time to get tucked in for a long winter's nap.

Merry Christmas, Mickey

It was time for us to say goodbye to Disney World today, but just like with every trip, Daddy prolonged the inevitable by convincing everyone to go do a bit more exploring before going home. Besides, we still had leftover meals on our dining plan to do! That's why we decided to head back again to the Grand Floridian!

They finally got their tree up! You can see it in the background in the lobby - and in the foreground you can see nothing but gingerbread. That's right, it's a huge gingerbread house made with 1,050 pounds of honey, 140 pints of egg whites, 600 pounds of powdered sugar, 700 pounds of chocolate, 800 pounds of flour, 35 pounds of spices, tons of creativity, Disney magic and pixie dust! Don't tell Madison, but she's getting some familiar gingerbread shapes for Christmas...

We had our final meal at Disney here, at a place called "Gasparilla Grill and Games." Daddy got the macaroni and cheese with lobster, and Mommy and Madison got some sandwiches. We ate inside, as it was suddenly quite windy outdoors. Still, we had a nice view of the castle - and a nice meal too. Great food this week!

We rode the monorail back past the Magic Kingdom one last time, and then to the Contemporary, where we saw a large Christmas tree made of gingerbread. Walking the long dock off over Bay Lake, we finally caught a boat to the Wilderness Lodge.

But Daddy wasn't done yet! No, we still had some free games due us for the arcade. So we dropped by there really quickly for some air hockey, and then some bowling too!

It was getting late though, and we had a long way to go to get home. So one more time, we said goodbye to the large Christmas tree, and made our way to the car. Goodbye Disney World!

Merry Christmas!

Spectacle of Lights

Despite our best efforts to sleep in, I guess we were a little too excited about our plans for the day. So, wide awake we once again made our journey out the door and to Hollywood Studios.

First thing first: you have to get the fast pass for the Toy Story ride first thing in the morning. Already, it was telling us to come back at 2:30. Can you believe how popular this ride is? This would be the first time we'd ride it - but that's later.

The next thing on our list was a major disappointment: we were hoping Madison would get to be in the Jedi Training Academy. So we went to that location and waited first in line and everything - only to find out that we were supposed to go somewhere else and make reservations first. You'd think there'd be a sign there that told us to do that. But no. And to make matters worse, we went immediately over to make the reservations only to find out that they JUST FILLED UP. Translation: if we hadn't wasted all that time waiting there, we would have had a chance to get Madison fighting Darth Vader. Further translated, IF THERE WAS A SIGN THAT TOLD US WHAT WE WERE SUPPOSED TO DO, Madison would have had her lightsaber fight with Darth Vader. To say we were disappointed is an understatement: Daddy was waiting for this a very, very long time. And now we shall wait again...if only there was a sign or a helpful employee there. This would be one time that Disney dropped the ball. But it felt like a bowling ball dropped on Daddy's big toe.

We recovered by getting to ride on Star Tours, which was worth the hype in every way. Madison measured up and was indeed 40" tall, which was a big thrill for her: she's a big girl now! We boarded the starship and blasted off for space, visiting Hoth and Geonosis, Madison squealing all the way. It was a bumpy ride, but she loved it!

Next, we spent time with the Muppets. This time around, Madison was really into the 3D effects. She was laughing and pointing - and popping bubbles too. We don't have a favorite muppet yet, but this isn't the last time she'll be seeing them this season: we've got the movie coming up and of course the Muppets Christmas special.

Finally, it was time to eat:

Back to Hollywood and Dine we went, where Madison met June, Handy Manny, Jake the Pirate and Secret Agent Oso. Of course, she got their autographs too! The food here was very good, and all three of us filled up so much that we weren't really needing anything much to eat the rest of the day. It was a great, relaxing meal with good service and great company. Manny was Daddy's favorite - he spent a long time with Madison. The two had a great time together!

Things went by fast after that! We took Madison to the Indiana Jones Stunt Show next, where Madison told Daddy exactly what was going to happen before it happened. You see, everyone knows that when you go up there and grab the golden idol that a big ginormous ball is going to come rolling after you. And that's just what happened. Daddy was thrilled to watch Madison all the way through the show - her eyes were wide open, really focused on the action! Now we'll have to go home and play some more "Lego Indiana Jones 2!"

Afterwards, we made our way to the Disney Junior Show, which we made it right in for. That's been a great puppet show that Madison really enjoys. The new feature here was the addition of Jake and the Neverland Pirates, a segment that ended with golden "coins" falling from the ceiling down on all of us.

We left the show just in time to ease into the "Little Mermaid" show, which was a bit wetter than I remember it! Still, it was a great time. Madison enjoyed the show, particularly the "Under the Sea" routing, which featured lots of puppets and black light effects. The lasers are neat in this show too - it's such an old-school technology, and yet it's still fun. It works for what it is, and Madison had a great time here too.

So we got out of there in time to set up for the parade, which was huge. A Disney employee showed us a good place to sit in the shade, which turned out to be perfect for viewing the parade. It was called Pixar's Countdown to Fun Parade, which featured nothing but Pixar characters, including Boo!

That ought to be good enough for another 100,000 hits on this site! Anyway, the parade was fun. One highlight was Carl Fredrickson, the elderly hero from the movie "Up." He saw an older woman behind us and gestured for her to give him a call sometime! It was hilarious.

After the parade, we finally got to go on the Toy Story ride! It was actually pretty fun. Madison sat in Daddy's lap, and shot all the targets that popped up in front of us, while Mommy sat beside us doing the same thing. Mommy got the bigger score in the end, but we all had a good time.

Satisfied at our expertise, we next aimed for the Beauty and the Beast show. After the major misstep in the morning, we timed everything else so very well: we walked right in before the show, and caught Belle, Gaston and Beast in a great musical that Madison thoroughly enjoyed. It wasn't as over-the-top as the performance we saw earlier this year, but it was still very fun for everyone.

We still had some time to kill before dark, so we next decided to collect a few autographs. Back to Pixar Place! We stood in one of those long lines for autographs, a sort of rite of passage for parents: we got Madison to meet with Buzz and Woody! We snapped some pictures and got some autographs, and Madison talked with them both about some really deep stuff.

But it was getting dark. Which meant it was time to go see the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, which was one of the main reasons we came to this park this time. We found a spot along the curb, and each had a Mickey-shaped ice cream - and then we waited ...three ...two!

The lights came on and everyone there gasped! We're talking millions of lights. Here's the stats:

The Spectacle of Lights includes:
-- 5 million lights
-- 32 miles of extension cables
-- 66 snow machines
-- 100 gallons of snow fluid a night
-- 43 hidden Mickeys

It was simply amazing! All the lights are actually choreographed to Christmas music too! And again, there was snow: Madison danced around looking to catch snow as it fell down all around us. Here it is, November, and we've already seen two snow showers!

We walked around the light display, listened to the Christmas music, and even spent time by the Nativity set:

It was a glorious night! And really quite a spectacle. "Spectacle" is one of those words that tends to get overused, but this light show really was spectacular.

A perfect ending to a great day, we caught the bus home afterwards, and made our way back to the Wilderness Lodge. We trudged back into the room, but the neat thing was this: remember how I said we could see Cinderella's Castle from our room? Well, within twenty minutes of us getting back, the Wishes fireworks show began, over the castle.

We shut off the lights, opened the balcony door and stretched out on the bed. Just before going to sleep tonight, we sat there on the bed together watching yet another incredible fireworks display - without ever leaving the bed! Goodnight!

Back on the Trail

This morning we hit the trail again - with stick horses! Just downstairs is the Whispering Canyon Cafe, where the waiters and waitresses do anything but whisper. It's a loud, fun place with too much food - we couldn't finish it all, despite our best efforts!

At one point, Madison saddled up with all the other children and led a posse of kids around the restaurant. Fiddle music played loudly as the herd of horses galloped around the restaurant. Parents jockeyed for position to take photos as their children trotted about with big smiles on their faces.

Soon afterwards though, it was time for a real pony ride:

We boarded a boat and sailed across Bay Lake to Ft. Wilderness to the Tri-Circle D Ranch, where Madison got a chance to do some more riding. Mommy never had to tell her, "Smile for the camera," because Madison was smiling the entire ride. She loves to ride, and we've made a point of coming here a few times in the past just for this.

Today was a relaxed, "off" day for us, where we didn't go to any parks, but we sure did fill it up with fun. For example, as soon as we were done riding, we hopped on the bus to head to Downtown Disney for some more fun. Our first stop: the toy store. Mommy, Madison and Daddy made their way to the Mr. Potato Head station one more time - and Mommy went to work. The anointing fell, and Mommy got busy cramming Mr. Potato Head parts into a small box. The concept is simple: for a small fee, you get a box. Whatever you can put in the box - and still shut the lid - you can have. This is Mommy's gift. She can pack better than any human being alive on the planet. If we were in the Marvel Universe, we'd call this her "mutant ability." Sure enough, Mommy got more inside that box than is possible by the laws of physics. As usual, employees and other visitors marveled with awestruck eyes!

After all that work, it was time for a snack. And where else do we go?

Ghirardelli! This is a "must stop" for us, where Mommy gets a "Strike it Rich" sundae, and Madison gets any ice cream with sprinkles on it. Look at the size of that ice cream! Madison tried to eat it all, but not this time. Still, she got our cherries. She always gets the cherry. Some day she'll realize the tremendous sacrifice that this is!

Being a Christmas visit, we did stop at the Christmas shop - where we picked up some ornaments. Daddy got a neat one of the Pixar Lamp, and Madison got one of Minnie in a ballerina outfit. And soon, it was time for us to head back to the lodge.

We boarded a bus and went back to the Wilderness Lodge for one reason: the pool. Madison and Daddy went in for some fun, and Madison even bravely did the water slide. It was a lot of fun for her, but even more fun was playing in the pool with Daddy. We swam around and explored, even finding our way to the little stream that empties itself into the pool. But there was a call for Bingo, and that was a call we just had to answer!

The last few trips, Daddy has won a pool game and Mommy won at Bingo. We got a ride around on the lake, and an even a Play-Dough set. Would we win this time? Madison, Mommy and Daddy got the bingo cards ready and played for a while, but Mommy and Daddy did not win... but Madison did! That's right, her card was a winning one! She proudly marched forward and got to reach into a tub to claim her prize. What did she get? A princess mug that we could take home with us.

After the pool, it was time to head back to the room to get changed and go out once more. Our destination: The Polynesian Resort. We knew this was a great place to catch the fireworks, right there on the beach. So we brought along sand buckets and toys, and hopped on a boat and then a monorail - and visited the Polynesian. It was decorated very nicely with orange and green Christmas lights, and was bustling with activity. We returned to Captain Cook's for a small dinner, and afterwards walked out to the beach.

It was so nice and relaxing. So calm and peaceful there by the shore. Madison played in the sand, making castles. Occasionally, Daddy would help, and sometimes Daddy would simply sit there in a beach chair besides Mommy. We sat there watching "Gnomeo and Juliet" on a big screen (they were playing that movie on the beach), and waited for the fireworks. As mentioned before, they actually patch in the soundtrack to the "Wishes" fireworks show right there outside at the Polynesian, so we got to hear the soundtrack as we watched the tremendous fireworks show across the lake. It was great as always. Madison was quite obsessed with her sandcastle, although she occasionally looked up to see the brilliant display in the night sky.

When it was all said and done, we rested there on the beach for a bit. But soon it was time to get home. Daddy was initially wanting to wait to see something there - the Electric Water Pageant. But Mommy pointed out that Madison was tired, and indeed it was a good idea to head back. One big reason we didn't realize was that the monorail was closing soon. If we had stayed, we'd have had a long night trying to get back to the Wilderness Lodge. That was remarkable timing, and no coincidence. We had such favor on this trip!

To illustrate this favor, the very moment we got back to the Wilderness Lodge, guess what came by right there at the dock? That's right, the Electric Water Pageant. We got to see it anyway! It's somewhat of a tradition for us, one that we don't want to miss. And we didn't miss it this time either!

Despite the "rest" day where we were off from the parks, it was a pretty full one! Tired and ready for bed, we returned to our room and fell asleep quickly. What a day!

Cinderella's Royal Table

Today was the big day. A really big day. It was 180 days ago that we made reservations for this epic moment, and it had finally arrived. Let me go ahead and say it was worth the wait! We woke up this morning quite early - very early, in fact!

We woke up so early that we actually arrived at the gates of the Magic Kingdom before they opened, and waited right there for the park to open. Right at the top of the hour, they had a show - and all the characters appeared on a train which arrived at the station above us: welcome to the Magic Kingdom!

Immediately, we traveled over to Fantasyland to ride some of the more popular rides like Dumbo, Peter Pan and It's a Small World. But rather quickly, it was time for our appointment with the Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique!

Madison was so in the zone. So very happy! She was treated like the princess she is, as a staff put her hair up, gave her a crown, put nails on and also applied makeup. Here she is above, before turning around to see what she actually looks like. She was having the time of her life getting all of this pampering done - it was so much fun for her! But then it was time to turn the mirror around and see what she looked like:

She was so happy! She beamed radiantly as everyone took lots of pictures. She was so happy throughout this experience that every picture features a huge, natural smile! We went back to Fantasyland for a bit and caught Prince Charming's Regal Carrousel, Mickey's Philharmagic and even the Snow White ride - but then it was time for another appointment: lunch with Cinderella! THIS is what we waited 180 days for. Actually we waited a lot more than that, because each time we go to Disney we try to make reservations here - only to have all the slots be filled. Finally, we made reservations to eat at Cinderella's Royal Table.

Going up there, you can see why it fills up so quickly: there's not that much room. But it's an incredible experience. All the princesses wander from table to table to meet up with the little princesses. We had visits from Cinderella, Belle, Aurora, Ariel, and even Snow White:

Madison was a real princess today. She was so incredibly happy, and so were we. The meal was very good too, and as a bonus, they gave us an official portrait of Madison with Cinderella. It's been years since Daddy was up in the castle to eat - back then it was called King Stephen's Hall. Nowadays, it's the ultimate dining experience in all Walt Disney World. And we were very blessed to be there!

Afterwards, we did a few more things - we went to the Tiki Room, and were delighted to see it was restored back to the original format. Madison enjoyed seeing the birds and singing along too. Next, we visited Jack Sparrow on the "Pirates of the Caribbean," which Madison enjoyed so much she wanted to do it again! We rode the Magic Carpets of Aladdin together, and even did our parental obligation: wait in line for autographs. We waited for Jasmine and Aladdin, and got some great pictures of Madison with the two of them - and their autographs, of course.

But we had so much more in store for today. And that's why we had to head back to the lodge, in order to take a pretty good nap. We made it to Main Street and found a perfect opening though: we could see perfectly the Celebrate a Dream Come True Parade. Seriously! Usually you have to camp out way early for a spot to see the parade. But it just so happened that we got to see the parade without even going through any effort - we were even on our way out of the park. We had such favor on this trip.

Back to the narrative: it was time for a nap. Back to the lodge we went for a long nap!

Daddy went to our favorite little nook in the lobby to read a book, while Mommy and Madison slept well in the room. A few hours later, it was time to arise and shine - and go to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.

It was pretty crowded. Still we had fun riding rides again, and watching the decorations. Main Street was absolutely beautiful - and the snow was falling around us. Here's a photo of Madison catching snowflakes. Or at least trying to!

We rode many rides again, and even saw the Country Bears Jamboree - we heard pirate singers singing Christmas songs, and shared some hot cocoa and cookies. It was a festive time, although a little crowded. We made sure we found a spot for the main event, Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade. We camped out there early, but not so much so that we felt like we were missing out on anything. Daddy got Mommy and Madison some food while we waited, including a tub of popcorn. And then it was time to for the parade!

It was spectacular! There's Donald above, just one of many creative parts of the parade. Daddy's favorite would have to be the wooden soldiers, which were tremendous. There was so much atmosphere and Christmas music - Madison's face was smiling the whole time, calling out the different characters she spotted all the way through the end, when Santa himself came riding by, waving at everyone.

We rode a few rides after that, including the "Pirates of the Caribbean," but everyone was losing steam - and we thought it might be best to avoid the crowds and escape a little early. So, having a very full day, we strolled down Main Street once more beneath the lights, looking back at the castle draped in icicles. We said goodbye to the Magic Kingdom, and went down to the dock to catch our boat back to the Wilderness Lodge. It was quite a full - but magical - day!