Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goodbye, 2011

The last day of the year ended in a whimper, and not quite the bang and clatter seen typical on New Year's Eve. On precisely midnight this year, Madison was tucked in bed, snoozing - and Mommy was on the phone with Daddy, who was at the office still hammering away at details for tomorrow's opening of the new series. A few of the guys were there with Daddy, all of us counting down with Mommy over the phone - and there it was: the beginning of 2012. Much has been made of this year, and here's hoping we'll be looking back upon it some day, tongue firmly in cheek about Mayans and so forth.

It wasn't all work today. There was a glimmer of fun in the evening when we headed over to our friends, the Hitchcocks. Here's our now annual photo of Madison with her friends Abbie and Rachel, having fun at a New Year's Eve party.

They have a new house now, a work-in-progress with some amazing and unique features inside. It's a most unusual house: quite creative, actually. It was nice to head over to their place to spend a few hours. We exchanged gifts, talked, and ate a bit. All the while, Madison was playing to the extreme with her friends. You could hear her laughing, screaming, giggling and stomping around upstairs with the others - they were ending the year with style!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Tree Skirt

The tree is finally down, although much earlier than usual this year. We've still got some other decorations to pack up for another year, including this nice tree skirt that Madison is proudly displaying for us. She first wore it as you see, calling herself an angel - and then she had it on as a literal skirt. This could be the start of the next big Christmas trend: literal tree skirts. Maybe for that little extra something, we could put little bits of pine needles on them, or have presents glued to the sides. Or, we could make them into tree ponchos, as Madison is showing off here in this photo. It was kind of chilly today, so this actually looks somewhat cozy!

Today we went to work for a considerable time, setting things up for Wonderland. That, of course, is a repeat series that we did in February of 2010. The "research" phase of that one is pretty much over with - so we've actually been focusing on February, a series based on Sherlock Holmes. It'll be called "Get a Clue," which is a reference to an incredible game Daddy used to play a few years ago at Georgia Tech. I was blessed enough to be invited to be a part of it - but you'll hear about that later. This paragraph is more about the "research" aspect. We were watching a behind-the-scenes feature on "Kung Fu Panda 2," and saw the staff going to China to study pandas for inspiration. That's what we do as well: we go get inspired by the subject matter. With Sherlock, we've been reading his books (Daddy just finished his third one), and watching movies. Last night with Madison, we watched "The Great Mouse Detective" again - she was enthralled! She couldn't take her eyes off it, when the plot was moving along. Another flick we saw after Madison was in bed was "Shanghai Knights," which was funny, and had some neat ideas to it as well. Tonight we didn't have much time: we spent a long time at work.

But soon we'll be going to the theater to watch the sequel to "Sherlock Holmes,"called "A Game of Shadows." Research is pretty fun! Maybe we can go stay at the old Grosvenor Hotel!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Sparkling Angel

As you can see above, we were having fun with the Kinect again today. Madison posed for a picture, and we used this feature called "Sparkler," which allows you to trace lines as if you used a sparkler and left the shutter open on a lens. Here's a photo of Madison last May with the real thing. With this program, you take a picture and then trace lines using your hands and fingers. Pretty amazing, actually. Look how the halo goes around her head - it's using 3D space to make the lines.

We did do a little work today, but not too much. Mommy wasn't feeling well, so we stayed at home largely. Madison has been taking care of her babies this week, quite extensively. She has Mickey and Minnie, and then Baby Madison, and then Alice, and then a few others. She puts them to bed each night before she goes to sleep - we have some nursery beds we got as a gift from the Pottery Barn. It looks like a nursery in her room, all these beds lined up with occupants getting ready for a long winter's nap. In the mornings, she wakes them all up and takes them downstairs with her. She has a stroller that some can fit in, and beyond that the others go a plastic shopping cart.

The word "shopping cart" just reminded me that we heard the K-Mart in Buford is going to close now. That's pretty much the last one in our area, which is a real shame. We grew up with K-Mart, and it seems that Wal-Mart won that battle. Madison will grow up not knowing what a "blue light special" is or anything like that. It's probably what our parents were thinking about certain stores we missed out on. This economy is tough, and now that January is upon us again, it will be hard for many businesses that didn't get enough of a boost from Christmas. Sadly, K-Mart is on that list. We ourselves haven't been in ages, but in our defense, it is a longer drive to Buford. Yet we'll probably be making that trip soon now, if only to have Madison pose for a picture in front of a piece of Americana, a piece of history soon to be made history.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Fun and Games

Madison and Daddy have been having an awesome time together with this new game, "Disney Universe." It reminds you of the Lego games a bit, and a tiny bit of "Kingdom Hearts," but for younger types like myself. It's nearly perfect for kids Madison's age, and even better when you get to have fun together with your Daddy. These characters are playing this game that goes through several different worlds - tonight we were in Wonderland. The end of our efforts got us a new costume: Alice. Madison has been laughing very hard at this game, and loves playing it with Daddy. Or anyone else, really. When it comes time to choose a game to play this week, the choice has been difficult for her. Do we go with the Kinect or with Disney Universe? Tonight, it was Disney Universe, and we had a blast with it. There are many, many costumes - some are very big and popular, like Jack Sparrow. Others seem a little bit more obscure, like a costume for Absalom (the caterpillar from "Alice in Wonderland"). More costumes are available for purchase online, and it has been said that they'll be hearing from the general public if anyone wants to suggest a costume for the game. That said, here are Madison and Daddy's choices for future costumes:

1. Herbie the Love Bug
2. Clarabelle Cow
3. Pete
4. Maximilian (from "The Black Hole")
5. Davy Jones
6. Rowlf the Dog
7. Perry the Platypus
8. Mulan
9. George Sanderson
10. Basil of Baker Street

Today was a day of minor accomplishments: trips to the bank, a visit to the church, and the start of the Desantafication Process. That in itself takes quite sometime, and is generally depressing. But games and toys are still cheering us up, as is our look towards the new year. January 23rd is Chinese New Year, and beyond that there is Groundhog Day and Valentine's Day. We were just looking at circus tickets for Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey, and on top of that the new Cirque show "Totem" is going to be here this year. Daddy's a little disappointed in the whole evolutionary theme - I mean, really? But still, the overall performance should be outstanding as always. Hopefully we won't get any scientific lectures based on folks' opinions made up before collecting data.

Never theorize before you have data. Invariably, you end up twisting facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” - Sherlock Holmes

What a world we live in. Just today we were talking about how different it is from when we grew up - and that wasn't so long ago. All we can do is continue to pray, and teach our daughter all she can, hoping that she has a firm foundation set up at an early age.

Speaking of which, Madison did more than just games today. Although, I have no problem with "just games" this week. It's a winter break, and as such, we're all supposed to be mentally "on vacation." However, her Leapster Explorer had her full attention in the car: math problems with the Penguins from Madagascar. I was so proud of Madison: she was solving the problems before the narrator could even finish saying the problem. Higher numbers are still challenging, and require a little help from Mommy or Daddy. But still, the Explorer is a great tool for helping kids learn. It combines fun with learning, and you can't go wrong there.

Another learning tool is the Tag system, which uses a "pen" that when pointed at pictures or words, will actually speak to you. It says, "Hey, put me down!"

Just kidding. This one will read you stories, or tell you interesting facts about animals. It all depends on what you're pointing the pen at. Even Daddy learned a few things from the animal flash card set we were playing with this afternoon. But next it was time to read "Cinderella," so Madison began turning the pages, and running her pen over the story, one word after another. We've come a long way since the small records that would play stories and tell you to turn the page at the sound of the chime!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Passport Photo

Here's Madison's passport photo, taken today at Sears. This year, Madison is going to be increasing her "countries visited" count by one more, as we hop on a Disney cruise ship, and visit the Bahamas. So, that's three countries down: China, United States and Bahamas. At this rate, she'll have visited all the countries of the world in ... 193 years. We haven't gone through the passport process, but we should be doing that later on this week. Daddy wanted to get that out of the way because it takes a little time to go through all that, as those familiar with the process are well aware.

Today was another day to chill. But probably a little more literally than we anticipated. You wanted cold weather? Here it comes! It wasn't freezing cold outside, but the wind made it feel so. This was the kind of wind you could officially term as an "Arctic Blast." The manger was a goner - it was the first to get blown over. it survived the whole season, but now it's time to put the characters away. For the time being, they're resting comfortably on the porch, out of the rain and sort of looking out over the front lawn.

We did a lot of playing around today, and even got some other things done too: we went to Home Depot and got some more insulation for the house - there's a definite chill in our master bathroom, and we think we've got what we need now to take care of that. After our trip to Home Depot, we used one of our Christmas gifts: a gift card to Cracker Barrel. This is perfect weather for Cracker Barrel, isn't it? Mom got the roast beef and Daddy got the meat loaf. Madison got grilled cheese and french fries, which don't exactly go with our whole sentiment, but she ate 'em, and that's just fine with us. We were all eating that warm "comfort food" tonight, and even did a little shopping afterwards in their store. It's such a nice place to wander around. EVERY SINGLE TIME we go to ANY Cracker Barrel, Madison knows where to go: the toy section. She inevitably starts pulling out the smaller toys to play with, and eventually gets Daddy to play a game of checkers with her. Daddy can't resist that, of course. She's getting better with the rules of checkers - maybe this time next year she'll be a real pro!

We got some gifts for NEXT Christmas, and got a new calendar as well - lots on sale there. Also, Daddy got some neat old cowboy music too. We did a bit more shopping than we usually do there, but we had a gift card, so that helped out.

When we got home, it was time for bed pretty quick. At least for Madison. Mommy and Daddy stayed up and watched a movie in bed: "Sherlock Holmes." It was research for later - we'll have more on that in just a few weeks...

Monday, December 26, 2011

Play Day

Today was "Play Day." The one big thing that helps combat the depression that inevitably sets in after Christmas is this: toys! December 26th should not be "Boxing Day," but rather "Play Day," a day set aside to play with all the toys you got on Christmas. We can watch movies, play video games and play with all those toys we got the day before.

Here's Daddy and Madison playing with one of the toys we got yesterday:

It's a Kinect, a game system that has no controller. Or, to be more precise, we are the controllers. One completely fun feature is that the game takes photos of you as you play, and you can retrieve them later on from their website if you like. Most of the time, the photos are pretty funny. What you're seeing above: Madison and Daddy had arms flailing about as we flew through Neverland. We also were battling pirates, using cricket bats to knock back explosives that were hurled at us by pirates. We had an incredible time! Madison was in hysterics, laughing so hard as we flew over London. Inevitably, we'd bump into chimneys or towers, and that just made things even funnier. But what a wonderful moment. Seriously, this is the sort of moment you imagine as a kid - what if you could fly over London like Peter Pan, just like in the ride at Disney World? Right now, you fly about on a guided, pre-determined path - but imagine the future: where you can explore and fly wherever you want. Essentially, this game does have a lot of that, but not in London or Neverland. It has it at Disneyland. That's the name of the game, by the way: Disneyland. It's a perfect name, because that's what the game is. You're at Disneyland in California, and you're walking around the parks and meeting characters and getting autographs, and taking pictures, and looking for hidden Mickeys, and going on side quests, and enjoying the rides, and visiting fantastic places like Neverland, or Wonderland, or any of the other magical destinations.

Madison is getting the hang of it quickly. At first, using your hands for a controller is a novel idea, but she's got it figured out fairly quickly. In no time, she was walking down Main Street and snapping photos left and right. What an amazing technology!

Today's list of activities was small: play games. We did stop to eat occasionally. And Daddy changed a lightbulb. Mommy worked on genealogy on the computer a bit - that's been her latest hobby. But we went nowhere. But others did come to see us.

It was fun when Ye-Ye, Nana, Aunt Shain and the rest of the family came over. Immediately, we had them in Disneyland - and they were loving it. All of them were flying over Neverland or London and having such a good time that I think everyone will be coming over here for New Year's Day this Sunday!

What a fun day with Madison. We giggled, laughed and played together all day. She's our best friend, and we had a great day together: a Play Day.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Wonderful Christmastime

Merry Christmas! It's been a long season leading up to this one big moment, and for Madison, it was magical. Once again, we had to wake her up - last night was such a late night, following a long day. But when the realization hit her exactly what day today was, she was rip-roarin' and ready to go! She marched out of her bedroom and immediately met Indiana Jones - not the real one, of course. But there was a large 2D cutout, life-sized, and he was wearing a Santa hat and was holding a present. Other presents were under her pink tree, right there next to her bedroom. This was just the warm-up, because right downstairs was a big pile of presents just waiting for Madison to open!

We had time to open all of our presents at the house this morning - before returning to Nana and Ye-Ye's house. Above you can see Mommy and Madison wearing some gifts from Daddy: a few of those animal hats that seem so fashionable the last year or so. Madison has a panda, of course. And Mommy's hat was picked by both Madison and Daddy - it'll be fun to see them wear this on a cold wintery day.

We could go on and on about what was opened - the highlight is the Kinect, which we'll be playing tomorrow. Madison got a game "Disneyland" for the Kinect, which was, as she put it, "Just what I wanted!" Several occasions, she'd open a gift and exclaim, "Oh my!"

But soon it was time to head over to Nana and Ye-Ye's house! It's tradition to have Christmas morning there together as a family, so we put on our new Christmas socks and drove over to find the family waiting there, ready to hand out presents - and in some cases, more ready to actually open them. Here's a photo of the cousins, just before the madness of unwrapping. David and Hannah played "Santa's elves" this year, distributing the presents to everyone, making small piles of gift boxes for each family member to unwrap. All we were waiting for was the word "Go!"

Of course, Madison couldn't sit by idly. She had to help out too, running gifts to everyone. Despite everyone's promise to "cut back a bit," as usual we had a lot of things under the tree, especially for the kids. One by one they all were opened up. Daddy got several things he wanted, as did Mommy and everyone else. And soon, and the gifts were opened. Except one!

What is it? Madison was peeking at this huge, covered item in the kitchen. What could it possibly be? It says it is from Santa, and the thing is positively big. Madison wanders around the back of it to see what it could be, and that's when it dawns on her:

It's a puppet theater! For the last few weeks, Ye-Ye has been working very hard on creating a puppet theater for Madison, and this thing is simply a masterpiece. Here's an image of Madison already playing with it, using some of the puppets she got earlier in the morning:

Ye-Ye made this from scratch. He bought the wood and the moulding, and bought the paint. And following some instructions online, he put this together himself. It looks fantastic! Madison enjoyed this for quite some time in the morning, and will be enjoying this for many years to come. So will the rest of us too! Already, she was putting on some puppet shows for us, reenacting the story of Christmas, using sock puppets for angels.

Great Grandma - or "G-Gma" joined us for Christmas - Aunt Shain and Nana went to get her from White County, while the rest of us stayed at the house to prepare dinner, play with our toys, and watch Disney's Christmas Parade. It was a neat parade - it looks like it is a combination of everything we've ever seen there: bits of the Animal Kingdom parade, the Hollywood Studios parade, the Boo-to-You Parade and of course the Merry Christmas Party parade. It looked pretty epic. And... it looked pretty crowded. Much better watching it on television! But somewhere on there was a commercial for their cruise line, and that got us excited about 2012. Seems like not long ago we were watching the new cruise ship get christened, and this year hopefully we'll be on it!

Dinner was absolutely delicious. David and Jonathan were helping to cook, so there was this fun, frantic atmosphere in the kitchen. But it all pulled together, and we all stood around in a circle like the Who's in Whoville, holding hands - and Ye-Ye led us in a prayer as always, reminding us what Christmas is all about. Madison doesn't need much in that direction: when you ask her what today is, she'll always respond, "It's Baby Jesus' Birthday!"

We stayed over at the house until around 6 pm, at which point all the grown-ups were pretty much wiped out! We said our goodbyes, and promised to see each other again soon. Which is probably tomorrow, as Ye-Ye is going to deliver the puppet theater over here. Maybe we'll go see some lights again too, but that all depends on our energy levels.

Mommy and Daddy still had presents to exchange tonight, so we went back to the great room by the tree, and opened even more gifts for each other - and Daddy and Madison popped in one of her Christmas presents: "Disney Universe." It's a new video game that Daddy likes too, of course. We played that until much later than we probably should have - but it's okay. Tomorrow we can all sleep in. It was a very full day, filled with love and joy. Tonight, we will all sleep in heavenly peace.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

One More Sleep 'Til Christmas

Well, here we finally are - on Christmas Eve. On one hand, it seems like forever ago that we first started plugging in Christmas music and going to see the Pink Pig. On the other hand, it seems like time has flown by. Speaking of flying, guess who's in town?

You'd better not pout, you'd better not cry! Madison did nothing of this sort today, staying on the "nice" list all day long. But it was hard to keep her contained: she was so excited! Today we had two Christmas Eve services at the church, where the kids did their annual Nativity story, and every single one was bouncing-off-the-walls excited, including Madison. Here's a photo of a few of the kids, and Madison too - along with the director:

Hopefully we'll post pictures soon enough of the entire stable. Daddy was backstage for the most part, and Mommy was making sure costumes were ready to go for the entire cast. Madison went out with the other livestock and did very well, just like always. She's pretty used to this now, isn't she? I believe this is her third time as an animal in the Nativity Scene. Someday, she'll get promoted to shepherd or even further down the line: Mary. That's the goal for all the girls, of course. You stick with it and someday you can be Mary, kid!

After services, we went to Nana and Ye-Ye's house for the annual Christmas Eve get together. It was great as always. They have all this food there, and we even open one present a piece. It was fixed tonight: everyone got a pair of socks! But these were special socks - they were Christmas socks, so it's all right. We'll each be sure to wear our Christmas socks tomorrow morning. We sat and talked, and watched television, and ate, and frankly got a little sleepy. In fact, we all turned in a little early: tomorrow is a big day!

We got home and Madison made sure we left cookies out for Santa, and plenty of carrots for the reindeer. Seriously, she put out two carrots per reindeer. She was quite insistent about this: for those of you like me a little slow on math, that's 18 baby carrots on this plate (for eight standard reindeer and one with a glowing nose). Daddy forgot to put milk out, but Madison was pretty quick to remind me. Another new element to Christmas Eve is going out in the front yard and spreading some reindeer trail mix. She made this at school and has been keeping it in her plastic bag for just such an occasion! The other thing she made: the plate that we put the cookies and carrots on. Here it is below, before we put the buffet on top of it:

The chain has only one link on it: one sleep until Christmas. The advent calendar has only one more day to go. We're finally here at Christmas. Everyone is tucked in bed, with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. I've got my nightcap on - in fact, I think I hear sleigh bells now. I'd better sneak upstairs! We'll wake up tomorrow and see what's under the tree!

Christmas Eve Eve

Lots of wrapping today, and continued shopping. Daddy and Mommy were a bit worn out when all is said and done, with still plenty left to do tomorrow. Amazing how much we all do for Christmas - it makes you sometimes envy the Kranks in "Christmas with the Kranks." Of course, we probably would never skip Christmas. So much of it seems to be mandatory for us each year!

Today we had a church-wide office party, a nice occasion for all of us to get together for. Madison and Mommy came, and for a few hours this afternoon, everyone got together and enjoyed each other's company. Mommy made this splendid dessert, which after votes were cast, actually won a prize - a gift card to a local restaurant. We'll probably be using that some time this week, actually!

Daddy left work a little early to compete with the other shoppers, and there were quite a few of them out there. It is really crazy out there, but that's a good thing for the economy at least. Daddy did not get everything he set out to get, so it looks like once again I'll be a last-minute Christmas Eve shopper!

Tonight we played some games and watched "Emmett Otter's Jug Band Christmas." Also on the schedule: drawing pictures! Madison has been quite prolific with her marker set - she got one under the tree yesterday, and has been making all kinds of illustrations ever since. We shared the angel yesterday, and today there was a fun picture of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Also: a snowglobe. Madison likes those. We'll have to share some day about Mommy's snowglobe collection - she has quite a few, collected from different places all over.

Tonight we wrapped. And wrapped. And wrapped. We were wrapping presents for just about everyone we could, and nearly got them all done. Daddy still has to wrap Mommy's presents, so I guess that'll be tomorrow.

It's a pretty late night as it is - currently it is after midnight, and we're both pretty exhausted. Next week, Christmas will be over with, and everyone will go into one collective coma. All will be calm, and all will be bright. Love the holiday season, but it's almost like you need a vacation afterwards! In fact, there is a vacation for us next week from work. Daddy has the whole week off, along with all the other employees. It'll be a great chance to shut down for a bit and get some rest. But first, let's get through tomorrow and dash away, dash away, dash away all...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Do not be afraid!"

Madison made this drawing today, and at a first glance - like most children's drawings - you don't have much to go on as to what it is. Fortunately, Madison explained it to us.

"Do not be afraid," she said. "The shepherds were afraid, and the angel told them not to be afraid. A baby is born!"

I'm paraphrasing here, obviously. Madison went on to tell us the rest of the story, about the angel telling the shepherds about a baby born in a manger. Needless to say, Mommy and Daddy were thrilled and touched at hearing this, and listening to Madison tell us part of the most important story ever told.

But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy. It is for all the people."
-Luke 2:10 NIrV

Tonight, Madison went to Christmas play practice, graduating from sheep to the role of cow. As this is a deeply spiritual story, feel free to call her a holy cow. Practice was rather simple, but it is always so wonderful to see kids dressed up and telling the Nativity story. Madison was so incredibly cute, the shortest one out there, dressed in a costume Mommy put together - and doing her part: "Moooo!"

Earlier today, Madison went with Daddy to do some last minute Christmas shopping. We hit Kohl's and the Mall of Georgia, which - to quote Charlton Heston from "The Planet of the Apes," was "A madhouse! A madhouse!" There were billions of people there - but we found parking favor. If we were Catholic, we'd be thanking the patron saint of empty parking spots for the remarkable place we found so close to the mall entrance. Daddy and Madison did a lot of walking and shopping, but didn't buy too much this time around. Daddy is trying to demonstrate that fruit of the spirit known as "self-control!" Still, we got some neat stuff. We're not done shopping yet though - we've got a few more days to go. The chain links on the wall tell us we've got three more sleeps 'til Christmas, so we're down to the wire!

This morning, we were filling out paperwork and doing last-minute wrapping (more of that tomorrow), and watching "The Santa Clause 3" with Madison. She seemed to like it, but hadn't actually seen the first two, so I'm sure there was some moments of confusion at the end.

Finally, we have to talk about the weather today. I know I mention that here or there in this blog, but Thomas Jefferson wrote about the weather every single day with his journal, so by gum, I've got a patriotic right to do it now and then here. Anyway, today was the first day of winter, according to the calendar. Yet, I'm driving home after dark and the temperature is sixty-six degrees outside! It is too freakish to call "unseasonably warm," and just plain weird, to be honest. On one hand, you want to say how awesome the weather is outside and how great it feels. But at the same time, it is so not like December or Christmas, that you sort of want to complain. Hopefully, we'll see a drop in temperatures - Madison wants to build another snowman this year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Serenely Beaming

Madison is holding some new ornaments for our tree - ornaments sent by a very special friend! These came from Leah Mei, a friend of Madison's from a long time ago. Also adopted from China at the same time, Leah has some great parents who live a bit more south of here (we'll actually be seeing them in just a few months, actually). This year, Leah's parents thought it would be a neat idea to do an ornament exchange for Christmas. We thought so too! We got our ornaments recently, and as you can see, Madison likes them very much. She has the Christmas tree ornament hung low, but the other one - a beautiful ornament of a Chinese girl - is a little more out of reach, on the "highest bough."

Today we had another little office party for Christmas - this one held a surprise for all our co-workers. Talk about random: Mommy, Madison and Daddy gave everyone a Furby! 'Tis better to give than receive! The whole office was talking, and it wasn't the workers there - it was those furbies! These things don't shut up. It was a pretty funny idea - we've been collecting all these furbies over the years for just such a time as this! Merry Christmas, gang!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Five Golden Rings!

Merry Christmas! Here's a photo of our house during the holidays, this top one at night time, and the one below during the day.

There's actually one more wreath hanging over to the right, above the garage - Mommy hung all of these up, and did a great job. They look festive, don't they? Every year, we put out the Nativity set in the front yard. The pieces belonged to Mommy, who painted each one over again. Ye-Ye actually made the stable for us, using parts of a pallet. Add a little hay to the mix, and the whole thing looks quite cozy. This year, we got a new flood light to illuminate the scene, so it makes our yard fit in with the rest of the neighbors. We've got so many decorated houses in our neighborhood, it's almost like we should charge people to drive through! It's nothing like the Osborne Spectacle of Lights or anything, but it really is quite nice. Our side of the community especially is well lit, and all quite tasteful with white lights, reindeer and and an occasional Nativity scene. Nothing like the "Christmas Vacation" movie in our neighborhood yet, but there are a few houses that appear to be on the verge of taking that plunge!

Madison has expanded her Christmas carol repertoire this year somewhat. We've documented "Frosty the Snowman," and "Jingle Bells" - her favorite part of that song is the "HEY!" One new song that excites Madison this year is "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Her favorite part of that song has become "five golden rings," because she just loves singing that really loud!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hang a Shining Star

Here's a photo of Ye-Ye and Madison decorating their tree. This is Ye-Ye and Nana's tree, fresh and waiting for ornaments to go up on. Tonight we visited with them for a short while - Madison helped decorate the Christmas tree, hanging up quite a few ornaments where she could. You could see some of it was quite a stretch. The rest of the night she spent watching a Christmas movie, eating snacks and playing dolls with Nana. It was a nice night together - just think: Madison will be looking under this tree for presents in just a few short days! The chain on the wall says six more days. Just six more sleeps 'til Christmas!

Earlier in the day, Mommy once again set us up for some fun: Christmas cookies! Mommy rolled out and cut up plenty of shapes, as you can see from the photo. Those aren't the only shapes we did - Mommy had other trays set up with even more cookies, and even more different shapes! Mommy has a thing for cookie cutters: She has plenty of different shapes for different holidays. Daddy and Madison have a thing for cookies: we like to decorate and eat them! In our defense, we only ate one this time around. We spent most of the time decorating each shape with different color sprinkles. Madison is getting much better at the concept of using an appropriate amount of sprinkles on cookies. Gone are the days of dumping the entire bottle on a cookie shape! Although, from this picture here, you wouldn't think that. One of my favorite shapes on the tray there is a camel, by the way. You see the camel? That's a Christmas shape: it's from the Nativity. We can make Nativity cookies here if we wanted too. We found, however, that star shapes and Christmas trees were easier to decorate. Plus, they seem to say "Christmas" a whole lot more than a camel.

We had Christmas music playing all day, and had time to plug in "White Christmas" while we were doing a bit of decorations. Madison actually watched a bit of that with interest - she likes the dancing and singing routines. We do too.

After cookies, it was time to do a little Christmas shopping. There's always one item that is "out," and this year we've found it again. It's the perfect white elephant gift, and by gum, Daddy is now determined to find it. We saw it for sale somewhere - I'll let you know what it is in a couple days, just in case any readers are going to be present for the gift exchange. You see, on Christmas, we'll be each bringing in essentially a gag gift, and we'll all do that exchanging game where everyone steals each other's gifts. If I can find this one we were looking for tonight, I guarantee everyone will be wanting to steal it. I myself will want to steal it, in fact!

We did find other things while shopping, so there was some mixed results. Still, with only six days left, we're feeling a little bit of the pinch to find what we need as soon as possible. We'll be okay, no matter what. It was great to get out of that hectic atmosphere of shopping tonight, and head over to Nana and Ye-Ye's house. It's a great place to just relax and chill out. And, decorate a tree too!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Return of the Sugar Plum Fairies

Tonight was a special night, as we once again returned to see "The Nutcracker," this time a different performance by a local ballet school in Forsyth County. This was a very, very good performance, with talented dancers and great choreography. As you can see, the mice and toy soldiers were neat costumes, but so were the other dancers too - in fact, there were a lot of dancers and a lot of different costumes. The young lady we came to see tonight in the show actually had two separate parts - a mouse and a golden angel.

They did a great job with the different ethnic dances, especially the Chinese one. They actually extended that one, with a dragon dance and lots of twirling flags - to the delight of Madison. She enjoyed the whole thing from start to finish, and every so often we'd look over at her and see her imitating some of the moves she was watching on the stage.

Here she is posing in front of a Nutcracker out in the lobby at the intermission. Every year, Clara has this dream, and every year it's a neat thing to see: we've seen about four or five different versions here from different schools and organizations, and are becoming experts on Tchaikovsky. The music gets stuck in your head pretty easily, which is neat to hear from Madison, of course.

Tonight at bedtime, we had a fun moment: Madison wanted to tell Daddy a bedtime story. SO, she started it off. There were ten characters in it, ranging from Belle to Indiana Jones. All were ice skating, and all were falling on the ice a lot. This got a lot of giggles from Madison, who had her imagination going into overdrive telling Daddy this expansive story of snow and Christmas and characters having fun. When finished, she turned to Daddy and proudly announced, "THE END." Daddy applauded - it was actually pretty good!

Finally, today we wrapped up our series "Humbug!" It was a very special three weeks, where we told Ebenezer Scrooge's story in quite a unique way. All the actors did a fantastic job, and the audience was really into it. Mommy did a nice job with everyone's costumes, as you can see above. These sorts of series Daddy really gets into, as far as writing goes. Everything from messages to skits, all of it has a cultural and education value, all on top of the spiritual value. The teacher inside is filled with glee at seeing the kids so into an ongoing story like this. Next month, we return to Wonderland, and many of our cast members are returning for that. It should be very, very good.

Tomorrow should be a much calmer sort of day. It should be. But it might not be! We've got some catching up to do on presents, shopping, wrapping and movie watching. Hopefully we'll get some headway there. No matter what, our vow is to enjoy it, and enjoy these last few weeks of the season.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Attention Christmas Choppers!

Above is a Veggie Tales Nativity set, along with our advent calendar book and Madison's chocolate surprise advent calendar, one that has a bit of free chocolate in it each day. It's a daily routine for us each morning, as Madison learns a bit about the Nativity story, and then gets a piece of chocolate too. But also there is a small gift each morning: she finds something small hidden beneath the tree each morning, wrapped up and waiting for her as it gets one day closer to Christmas. How many days do we have left? According to the chain on the wall we've made, we have eight more sleeps. Madison keeps pulling off links from the "Advent Chain," each day telling us how many days are left. Not long to go!

Madison and Mommy were at the office today, helping prepare for the big finale of our series, "Humbug!" As a general promotion of the series (and our children's ministry in general), we had everyone wearing their official t-shirts. Here you can see Mommy and Madison proudly wearing theirs - my two girls look really good! We did a lot of work today, but were able to get out early - at least by 6:00 pm. That meant we could do some stories and watch some more Christmas specials. We've been watching something Christmassy every single night just about, and still have so many other movies leftover! Tonight we finally saw the new "Prep and Landing" special, and then watched a few more specials on top of that.

Our neighborhood is so great: we've had Christmas carolers the last few nights, singing songs and spreading good cheer. Some were giving away candy canes, which Madison and Mommy gobbled up immediately. Just last night in fact, we had Biker Santa riding through the community, spreading cheer on his Christmas Chopper:

He was putting the hammer down, just rippin' it up to bring a little Christmas cheer to the boys and girls around the neighborhood. As you can see above, Santa was sparking the pavement with his sled, getting everyone revved up for the Holidays!

Friday, December 16, 2011

School Christmas Party

Today was Madison's last day of school this year. Of course, there are only two weeks left to go, but still, that was occasion enough to have a Christmas party! Mommy came and visited, and all the kids took turns making Christmas crafts: ornaments and even some reindeer food for the Santa's team. It was very nice! As you can see here, Santa came to the school as well: this photo above was actually posted on the school's site, so we grabbed it!

Here's a photo of Madison with one of her friends - as you can see, everyone dressed up for the occasion, with reindeer antlers on their heads, santa hats, and elf suits too. It was a nice way to close out the year - Mommy stayed with Madison for the rest of the day, even when it was time to go out to the playground. There, Madison found another one of her friends from another class. She called out her name and ran to her - and the two embraced. Then it was time for fun: the two enjoyed each other's company outside on the see-saw, and of course the slide:

Soon afterwards they came to visit Daddy at work. It was such a nice day that we decided to go get a bite to eat at the Olive Garden here. Madison and Daddy played dots for the first time - you know the game where the object is to make squares in a field of dots? Yeah, that game. Anyway, we had a nice big meal, but then Daddy had to get back to work.

Tonight we read stories and watched more Christmas movies, and then hit the sack a little early. Not much time to go until Christmas - tomorrow will be lots of work catching up with the finale of our "Humbug!" series, but after that, it's the homestretch on finding Christmas presents, wrapping, and making sure everyone gets a card. Lots to do, plus we've got a few events still to see. Christmastime is upon us! Here's a scan of one of Madison's ornaments from today, sort of a Santa mug shot on a snowflake!

Ho, ho, yo!

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Today was yet another marvelous day on the calendar. Firstly, let's talk about the weather the last few days: it's almost been like spring! It's been sunny and mild outside, the kind of weather you don't really expect until late March or early April. One year ago this day, we were already seeing ice on the roads.

Madison had a bittersweet ballet practice today - it was not only the last one of the year, but it was also the last one with her teacher, Miss Jenny. Madison has enjoyed this ballet class so much this year, and a very big reason for this would be her teacher. Classes are smooth and filled with creative activities, and Madison has such a good time. We'll have a new teacher soon - in January - but it will be hard to top Miss Jenny. Madison got some parting gifts, and a sweet card. But she also gave a card and present (a ballerina ornament) to her teacher. What was a Christmas gift became also a going away gift, which made it even sweeter.

Speaking of sweeter, when we got home, Madison and Daddy had quite a surprise!

Mommy had rolled out gingerbread and cut out the shapes of gingerbread men! Madison, Mommy and Daddy had a great time decorating the G-Men - you can see above some of our creations. Once again, it was easy to get carried away with the icing, but we were having such a good time.

Here's Mommy and Madison at the assembly, creating our own army of gingerbread men. Note the chocolate chips on Madison's - she's decided to make this one super sweet. We'll pack these up and give a lot of these away at upcoming Christmas parties. Speaking of which, there's a school party tomorrow morning. That's why it was early to bed again for Madison, and for Daddy and Mommy too!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Nativity Jr

Madison was out of school today - she was running a slight fever and we thought it best that she stay at home and get some rest. In honor of the season, and because we hadn't remembered to bring it out until today, we dug out the Fisher Price Nativity set that we've had packed away.

Madison spent a very large part of the morning playing with her Nativity set. This is obviously thrilling to us as parents, because of the educational value - and also it kept her pretty occupied. She loves playing with the Mary doll, having her ride the donkey to the stable, where baby Jesus is. The Angel swoops in and gives messages to Joseph, the Wise Men, and various shepherds. You can see below, there's a large landscape to play round with too.

Of course, there are a lot of adventures that Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus have that aren't exactly in the Bible.

For example, here you can see Madison has changed the story somewhat so that the family did find room in the inn, although it was up on the roof. That's okay though, as each one seems to be quite content with a view of the starry skies above. This was Madison's day, pretty much: playing with this Nativity set. Yes, there were breaks, and crafts and piano practice. But she kept coming back to the Christmas story. Which, of course, is something that brings a big smile to Mommy and Daddy - almost as big a smile as you see on these Fisher Price characters!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Frosty the Snowman

So rides to and from anywhere have gotten a lot of fun in December. Madison and Daddy listen to a Disney Christmas music CD on the way to school, but when not listening to that, we do our own Christmas Carols. For some reason, "Frosty the Snowman" has captivated her this year. She's watched that special quite a few times this season - she can't wait to make another snowman. Hopefully that chance will come soon, although the temperatures have been warmer as of late. Back to "Frosty:" we were singing that song on the way to school, but Daddy didn't remember the words exactly. Which led to this new verse:

Frosty the Snowman
was a big guy made of snow,
with a battle axe,
and a tenor sax:
You should hear that Frosty blow!

As you could imagine, this led to at least seventeen new additional verses that we sort of made up as we went along.

Frosty the Snowman
was a pirate, yessiree!
He would sail real far
as he yelled out "arrr!"
and he sailed out on the sea.

On and on it went. Madison would shout out "NO! That's not right!" But Daddy continued trying to get the words right.

Frosty the Snowman
had a big pet dinosaur.
If he said, "Oh please
can I have some cheese?"
Frosty always got him more!

Yes, I'm sure there are lyricists wanting to contact us right now about this.

In astronomy news, scientists were astounded to discover, after making a very close examination of the planet Mars, that there is actually the appearance of Madison's face! That's right, the shadows created by sunlight cast over mountains and crevices on the surface work together to create a face, as seen to your left here. For those of you familiar with the "other Mars face," this is no doubt exciting news, as now there are in fact two faces that can be seen on the planet's landscape. Is this proof of life on Mars, either existing now, or perhaps some ancient civilization? We may never know, of course. The very topic is most intriguing!

Okay, so it isn't a planet's surface in this picture. Madison put her face up against a screen and pressed up against it, so Daddy snapped a photo. I thought it was funny at first, and then I thought, "Hey, that looks sort of like that 'face on Mars' bit!" So then I added a few craters and made it look grainier. It was sort of a fun visit for Madison and Mommy at work today. It wasn't as fun as say, a trip to Mars. But it was still a great day overall. In fact, it makes me want to sing a little song:

Frosty the Snowman
surfed some gnarly waves, my friend!
He'd zoom all about
and sometimes wipe out.
But he'd shred, and yell, "Hang 10!"

Monday, December 12, 2011

Lakeshore Mall

Daddy had a doctor's visit right smack dab in the middle of the day, but when he got back, we decided it was high time to go visit Santa. Where does Santa hang out, you ask? At Lakeshore Mall, of course. Why there? I don't really know. I think it is a huge secret, otherwise a billion people would be in Hall County waiting on line. As it is, today we were able to march right up to him without worrying about elf security or trampling reindeer. We did, however, have to contend with dinner break: Santa wasn't there when we arrived. Apparently, he was off eating cookies and drinking milk. Not sure exactly what else Santa eats. I seriously hope it isn't venison.

ANYWAY, what to do while waiting for Santa...

Mommy and Madison rode the carousel while we were there - this is still the best value in town. Can you believe you can get a lengthy ride on this thing for a dollar? That's a dollar for both Madison and Mommy. As you can see, Madison is all dressed up for Santa - she wants to make a good impression! She had a little help from Mommy, who dressed her up so beautifully that we had many compliments throughout the evening.

We actually did a little shopping at the mall - but soon it was time for our visit with the big man!

There she is, all decked out with a very nice Santa. I regret not being able to get photos of them when they first met this time around: Madison jumped right up there and was giggling and hugging him. It was very sweet! When it came time for the official portraits, she sort of poses with a pleasant smile, but it's hard to match the energy and enthusiasm when they first meet. Still, I snapped this one with my camera that I brought along. The "official" portrait came out great too - we've already got it framed and put up on the wall!

Anyway, Madison was quite thrilled with the visit, and let Santa know a few of the things she wanted for Christmas. She's been a good girl this year: I think she's in for a wonderful Christmas!

Now, as mentioned earlier, Mommy went shopping a bit at the mall. Daddy had his camera along because of the Santa pictures, so while Mommy was checking out some new sweaters, we had fun with this spot inside a store that had two large mirrors at 90 degree angles from each other. The end result was that you could see three reflections of yourself. Madison instantly made three friends!

It was a funny moment, and made for some neat pictures. Here I was in a clothing store, snapping about twenty photos of Madison fooling around with the mirrors. But I couldn't resist: she was having such a good time, and the photos came out pretty cool!

We later went shopping elsewhere in other stores, but soon retreated home: tomorrow is a school day and we all have to get up rather early. Still, Mommy and Daddy will pop in another Christmas movie tonight before it's all said and done. This morning, we were filling out a bunch of Christmas cards. I'm waiting to post those pictures until after pretty much everyone has received them in the mail - don't want to give it away yet.

Incidentally, Daddy is doing fine. He and Madison have had some congestion that we're trying to get cleared out once and for all. It hasn't been enough to take either of us down completely for a day, but that sort of thing is somewhat annoying. Yet, it's just one of those things you expect this time of year. Still, we're grateful that it isn't taking place on a holiday or vacation. There's always something to be grateful for!

Speaking of which, here's one big thing Mommy and Daddy are thankful for:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pajama Party

Here's Madison's Christmas tree at night - surrounded by her seasonal stuffed animals. I like the Bubba Gump Shrimp with a Santa hat on. He's by the chief elf. But Stitch is there too, next to the Abominable Snowman and Jack Skellington. It's a full cast of characters beneath the tree - and just a few weeks to go until Christmas.

Today Scrooge had a visit from Christmas present, which went remarkably well in both of our services. Everyone enjoyed the day, the halfway point of Ebenezer's redemption story.

Getting home, it was time for a pajama party. Basically, we were in our pajamas the rest of the day. We did a bit of piano practice, and a tiny bit of housework - but most of the day was spent resting. We watched Christmas movies, and Madison and Daddy played some more "Indiana Jones 2."

After church, it was a pretty relaxing day...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Ghost of Christmas Present

Here she is the Ghost of Christmas Present - come in, and know her better, man! Mommy wrapped up a big box tonight and made this costume for our "Christmas Present." Hopefully, I don't have to explain the joke to you. Mommy thought it up about three weeks ago, although shortly after that we saw the Jetson's Christmas Carol and were laughing because their Ghost of Christmas Present was also literally a present. Yes, that's an obscure version. Initially, we were going to go with the whole look of Father Christmas, but this large gift-wrapped box is much more amusing.

We've kept our pace filling out Christmas cards, marking the time by doing our advent calendar and the Christmas chain: the big day is drawing closer and closer! A highlight of our day has been our evenings together by the tree, watching some Christmas movie.

Today when Daddy got home, he was shown a whole bunch of illustrations that Madison did. She took a lot of post-it notes and drew a story on them - her first illustrated novel, I suppose. The stars of this book? Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood, of course. What's funny is that there are a couple post-its that illustrate both of these characters running for their lives, chased by a giant ball. Madison explained all of this in great detail when Daddy got home.