Monday, December 30, 2013

I've Got a Fang

Here's a photo of Madison eating just one of her Christmas candies - it's a lollipop with some plastic fangs on the other side.  It gives you the appearance of having fangs, as you're eating your sweets.  As for "sweets," they're nearly all gone.  There's a "Community Chest" from Christmas over on the counter, and we've been "borrowing" from it all week since the holiday.  In fact, Daddy just had to go and munch on a chocolate Santa now.

We got out of the house today to do a few chores.  We actually got about thirteen rolls of wrapping paper at Target for 70% off, all good stuff.  We also got bows and tags at that discount, so we're pretty much ready for the next few years, to be honest.  The last time we bought wrapping paper, it lasted us a few years.  We got all this at a pretty cheap price, so we still got to have a bit of that post-Christmas sale thrill.  We tried Wal-Mart first, but it looked like they've been victims of an air raid bombing run.

There were other chores we did on the road, but it was mostly just to get out of the house a bit.  It's clear and cold out there - not quite chilly enough for snow, but that hope is in the air for next month.  We're all sort of banking on it, actually.

Mommy went ahead and put up the new calendar today.  Daddy got her a calendar frame a few years ago, and the clever folks who make that calendar made it a specific size.  SO, only the calendars from this company will fit in it.  Fortunately, there are a few choices to choose from, and Mommy likes a lot of them.  Daddy usually picks the calendar for her at Christmas.  It looks good up on the wall, hanging beside all the Welsh spoons.

The company is called Lang.  And we always have this folk art up, with somewhat of a vintage look.  You could call this an old Lang sign.

As for the Welsh spoons, I don't think we've made reference to them here.  Mommy's mother is Welsh, and her family is all from Wales.  Therefore we have spoons.  These are wooden spoons, sometimes called "lovespoons."  Currently, we have about seven, six of them hanging up beside the wall calendar.  Each one represents a faith, luck, and of course love.  When Mommy and Daddy got married a few years ago, we received a spoon from Wales, but it was a comical one:  it was a standard wooden spoon with our anniversary date wood burned into it.

So what has Madison been doing all this time this week?  It's vacation, so give her that.  Daddy's power disc reward system is in effect though, and Daddy did promise her if she got all her piano homework done, she'd get a disc.  Mrs. Pam gave us all a coloring sheet with a Christmas tree on it.  Each ornament represented a task to be completed, and once that was done, you could color it in.  Today, she colored the last one, having done all her piano homework.  This was pretty challenging when you consider the onslaught of Christmas toys, movies and games to play with.  But Daddy's reward system has a lot of power:  you don't know which disc you're going to get, and just can't wait to get it to find out.  Plus, there's that completionist syndrome we all tend to have when you have a big book with empty slots to fill.  She wants to get them all.  So therefore, she'll probably have a great year with piano!

Other toys she's been playing a lot with this year are her dolls.  She has a few Barbie dolls, and a few other similar-sized ones such as Cinderella, Mulan, and Princess Amidala.  For Christmas, she got a lot of new costumes for these dolls, so there's been a lot of fun with the new wardrobe.  In fact, she's just recently put on a fashion show for Mommy and Daddy, lining them up on the couch.

Some are obviously not wearing their proper gear, but that's okay!

Sunday, December 29, 2013


Daddy got up pretty early today, but that's because of the glorious waste that was yesterday - he had to go in and do some last minute preparations.  But the morning went off well, our last service of 2013.  One of Daddy's favorites was a video we did parodying "The Lord of the Rings," but the winner was something on a more epic scale, our "Tribes" series animations.  These was a spectacular animated series with the different characters that Madison got to see throughout Summer Xtreme.  Back then, she was a Viking, so she was with that tribe.  But a lot of people loved the luchador, which was a last minute addition that we all came up with.  That was a really fun series back in the summer, nice and relaxed - and pretty fun too!

Yeah, so now we've already been talking about Summer Xtreme 2014, and what to do.  It takes a lot of planning to make it all work, and the clock is ticking.

Speaking of which, we're winding down on the year, aren't we?  Not much time left to do all those things we wanted to do in 2013.  Which, looking back, we really can't complain about.  We were blessed and highly favored.  The greatest event for us would be the discovery of Mommy's reaction to gluten.  While it is not a good thing, it is the reason why she's been suffering for so long.  Just a tiny bit of cross contamination, and she's toast.  So to speak.  Her night will be ruined, cramps galore and a lot of time spent in the bathroom.

Six years ago, after the successful removal of all cancer, she started having these awful symptoms.  For years, doctors attributed this to the "healing process," which of course was taking place:  radiation and chemotherapy had done a number on her intestinal system.  Yet for some reason, simultaneously, she developed a terrible reaction to all food with gluten in it.  That's "wheat," as Madison likes to say.  "Mommy can't have that because it has wheat in it."

Call it the inspiration of God, but Mommy started looking into this gluten thing this year, and started cutting it out of her diet.  And we started to see results pretty quickly.  What has been amazing is how gluten finds it's way into just about everything.  Example:  we went to a hibachi steak house this summer.  All grilled vegetables and meat were on the table, being cooked.  But that sneaky gluten was in the SAUCE.  It's actually in soy sauce.  It's in Nyquil of all things!  So here you are with a cold, and you want to get better and a good night's sleep, so you take a bit of Nyquil.  And your night is suddenly a whole lot worse.

But these are all steps along the way in a learning process.  The bottom line is that Mommy now knows what the real culprit is, and as a result has her life back.  That's not an exaggeration.  She's been captive for six or seven years now, and suddenly in 2013, she's free again.  Year of the Snake indeed!

We are so thankful to God for this recovery, and at the same time we know that new doors may be opening soon for us.  It's all very exciting, and for us, this is the big story of 2013.  We're still learning, but we're learning in a forward direction, rather than being lost with a forecast of hopelessness.

Okay, newsflash:  Madison knows how to snap now.  She's very proud of this.  The moment you learn to whistle or snap is a big moment in your life, so I wanted to record that right now.  Just in time for the new year, I can say Madison learned to snap in 2013.  She's snapping left and right, although kind of quiet at first.  Daddy will mentor her, and guide her to become the best snapper.

"Look at them snappers, Ralph!"
Okay, so that was a random moment from 1984.  The guy's name was Ira, and he was a villain in a movie, "Romancing the Stone."  He kept marveling at these alligators, saying, "Would ya' just look at them snappers!"  During the golden age of VHS, we probably watched that movie a squillion times.  Of course, if I go back and watch it now, I'll be shocked at the language (and more) that kids were exposed to in a PG movie.  Things are certainly different today.  PG seems to be safer than it used to be, for some odd reason.  And PG-13 seems to be a little rougher than it used to be.  The ratings system has certainly changed a bit - "Frozen" was rated PG, right?  It's a animated Disney picture with pretty much nothing in it, but peril and musical sequences.  "Beauty and the Beast" is rated G, and is probably more worthy of that other rating.

Anyway, the point is, things have changed.  And they'll continue to change.  We've had a monumental year for that, as media outlets have been at war with the traditional America.  But we continue to be nicely sheltered here in our home, away from cable, satellite and even iPhones, for the time being.  We're not quite Amish, obviously.  But we were trying to save money for a time, and wound up simply not missing television that much.

Well, except for "Agents of Shield."  For that, Mommy and Daddy have an antenna and can watch everything just fine on Tuesday nights.  We got the antenna for two parades, really:  the Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Tournament of Roses Parade.  But, without going into too much detail - and related to the paragraph above - we're skipping the Rose Bowl Parade this year.

After church, we did a bit of eating of course.  We'll be fasting soon, but Mommy is tinkering with some soup recipes that are out of this world.  We had this potato soup with corn in it - delicious.  It was all made from scratch.  She has to do that more often now, because most of Campbell's soup products contain... you guessed it:  gluten.

Ah, the cruise. Remember the Disney Cruise?  How incredible they were to keep gluten out of the menu.  Mommy had no stress the entire trip, and for once enjoyed 100% of her vacation, without a stay in the bathroom while we ran off to play.

Tonight we watched "Despicable Me 2," one of Madison's Christmas gifts.  Or, it might have been Daddy's.  No matter - it was fun to watch together.  The three of us love this movie, as does most of America.  Those minions are - to quote Silas Ramsbottom - "hilarious."

I do love the minions, but Silas Ramsbottom is not only a funny name:  he's a great character. I just love the way he's animated.  I know:  completely random moment there.

Anyway, after popcorn and a movie, it was an early night for us all.  In a couple nights, we'll be staying up until midnight, but right after that we'll have to start acclimating to our school schedule again.  That means getting up at 6 am!  Yikes!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Raid on Fear Tech!

It was all about Monsters University today.  Mommy was a tiny bit under the weather, and the weather was pretty cold and wet outside - so we went for a trip to MU.  And a trip to Fear Tech as well:

Madison has grown attached to Archie the Scare Pig.  Okay, so we literally played video games all day today.  This may be one of those things listed on "Bad Parenting," but Madison and Daddy were having such a good time with Disney Infinity that we just didn't know when to stop!  Yes, we TPed Fear Tech's campus and hung up "Monsters U Rules" posters on their buildings.  But the thing Madison enjoyed the most - and I'm talking really enjoyed - was setting traps.

One minute you're walking up to a kiosk with bulletin boards and papers hung up on it advertising for college events.  The next, a ginormous joke hand comes out and slaps you forty feet down the sidewalk!  This in itself was hilarious, setting traps for each other, but then other random monsters would fall into the trap as well, each one getting launched skyward with lots of noise and fanfare.  But that's only the beginning.  Soon, we discovered that you could set a trap exactly where your hapless victim landed from the previous hit.  Meaning, you can chain two traps together.  And then yes, we discovered you can chain even more.  I think our most was about nine traps - there were monsters flying everywhere.  Each one on one side of Fear Tech's campus, when suddenly... WHAM!  They get hit, and fly forty feet.  And then they get hit again!  And fly further.  And again, and again and again.  Just a casual stroll across their campus, and you'd see airborne monsters left and right, soaring across their beautiful (and toilet-paper covered) campus.

THIS is the thing that Madison loved the most.  She was laughing so incredibly hard at this, and it was hard to stop.  She was having such a great time!

SO... regretfully, we didn't do much else today.  At the same time, I think days like this are a little fun every so often.  We did just get the game for Christmas, after all!

As for Mommy, she got better quickly, so that's good.  Tomorrow we're planning our last service of KidPak for the year, and our "Second Annual Golden Cat Awards."  It'll be a look back on the best videos we've done over the past year - we do a few per service, so that's a lot to look through.  But we're nearly done with that, and I think the day is going to be fun, and casual.  Almost casual - we'll be all dressed up like for an Academy Awards Ceremony.  I've specifically instructed one of our girls on stage to not wear a swan dress.

Although on second thought, that might be a little fun, wouldn't it?

Friday, December 27, 2013

Life Center

Daddy had to do a bit of work (somebody's got to set things up for Sunday), but we did start out late today, after a bit of intensive Disney Infinity game time with Madison.  The weather is still cold, but at least the sun is out.  It's really a standard winter day, minus the clouds and rain.  Those come tomorrow, unfortunately.  The forecast for the weekend is once again rain.  This is okay, as we'll probably spend the lot of it indoors, with - you guessed it - more Disney Infinity.  It is a little overboard, but it is time to play with our Christmas toys!

While Daddy was at work, Madison was busy coloring, reading or using her Leapster Explorer, for which she got a great new cooking game.  This game teaches math, as you have to have proper measurements for everything - and of course it teaches cooking tips as well.  Madison randomly quotes math figures to us - this morning, she announced that four hundred plus two hundred is six hundred.  And there was thunderous applause.

Tonight, we went to Life Center.  This is a church in Dunwoody that has services on Friday nights.  This has been something missing from the equation as of late - those who do ministering need to have ministry as well, right?  We brought Madison along, as well as an additional friend.  It's about a thirty-three mile drive, so it wasn't so bad - just a straight shot down 400.  It was good to be in service with the family.  It felt a little strange, like this was our first service together or something.  In fact, it may have been the first service together since that Christmas Eve service in 2008.  This would be the first time the three of us sat together for service, and Madison did just fine.

There was a second portion of the service that ran a little later, but we'll have to moderate that for the future.  But this may be a regular destination for us on Friday nights.  It feels a little like cheating, going to another church - but it's kind of fun to slip into the back and become one of the congregation again, rather than the one responsible for this, that or the other.  The blessings of being anonymous!

Again, Madison did well too.  It'll be great to expose her to the family doing the regular church thing, rather than the PK routine each week.  Not that she's spoiled in any way at church - so far, she's been humble, shy and not at all demanding of anyone.  She's got a Daddy that works there, but doesn't act like that!

So tonight may be the start of something bigger.  Someone spoke something over Madison tonight, a message over the three of us - we'll probably share that later for posterity.  It was good to be at church tonight.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Play Date

Today is one of the funnest days of the year - it's when we get to play with all our Christmas toys!  Madison got up early for just such a reason, and Daddy did too.  The reason:  Disney Infinity.  Presently, we have every figure released in America - next year, we'll have access to Mickey, Phineas and Ferb.  But right now, we've got about 27 little figurines all lined up in the living room, on the "bench" just waiting for their chance to jump in the game.  We pretty much played them all today, from Davy Jones to Madison's favorite character so far, Elsa.  Madison has quickly caught on to the idea of making her own world, and creating something fun to play around with.  But she also loves the fighting in the game too - this afternoon, we visited her cousins David Austen and Jonathan online, in their world, and got busy throwing snowballs and ice bombs.  She was having a blast!

We visited the world of the Lone Ranger first, and then got to the Caribbean with the rest of the pirates - soon after, we were at the campus of Monsters University.  We enjoyed this one so much that we watched the movie together tonight.  Mommy, Daddy and Madison sat on the couch, while figurines of Mike, Sully and Randall looked on.

There was more than just video games, of course.  Daddy read some books to Madison, and we all took a little nap halfway through the day.

We didn't go anywhere though.  In fact, we all stayed in our pajamas for most of the day - the exception being Madison, who wanted to wear her new sparkly Rapunzel dress.  More sparkles scattered throughout the floor of the entire house.  Our home is now glitteriffic!

Madison got two entire albums for Disney Infinity - these will hold all the power discs for series one and two.  We have all of these discs somewhere in the house.  We even have several for series three already (ones Daddy patiently tracked down at Toys R Us weekend after weekend).  But we decided with some of the figures and discs that the best thing to do - and the funnest thing to do - would be to give them to Madison throughout the year for good behavior, or for holidays.  If she does her piano practice one week, she'll get a Disney Infinity disc.  If she does well in school, then why not give her another disc, or even a new figure for those special days.  For holidays, we'll give some out too - like on Valentine's Day, we'll probably give her Rapunzel, and the three power discs (so far) associated with her movie, "Tangled."  For Chinese New Year, we'll give her Kahn, Mulan's horse.  This will be a fun little motivational tool throughout the year, rewarding her for good behavior.  Of course, Daddy can't wait to try them all out, particularly Francesco the race car.  But keep in mind this game has been around since August, and Daddy has resisted temptation to play it since then - the reward at the end will be greater!

The smoke alarm went off tonight.  But it only did so to remind us that it is low on batteries.  It generally waits until 2:00 am to do this sort of thing, but Mommy and Daddy were the only ones awakened by it, fortunately.  We were able to replace it with the one 9 volt battery we had left in the house, and the night was saved, for the time being.  Better get some more batteries tomorrow, and check those other smoke alarms.

The weather outside has been frightful.  Okay, not exactly frightful with blizzard conditions, but it has been pretty cold out there.  It's the kind of weather that drives you indoors the moment you set foot outside.  Only those who are confident and determined make it out the door on days like this, and unfortunately, we were neither.  We stayed indoors, except for that one expedition to the curb to get the trash can, and check the mail for straggling Christmas cards (we got three more).

Christmas Cards:  it's a dying art, isn't it?  We sent out about fifty, and got a fifty percent return on our investment.  No, it's not about getting things in return, but over the last five years, the art of sending a Christmas card has been fading, like Blockbuster videos and newspapers.  The thing is, it costs more and more money to actually send a card.  This can be replaced for free with an email, text, or a message on your nearest social network.  We're old fashioned:  we like the idea of getting something in your mailbox.  So every Christmas, we stubbornly stick to our routine of sending out a deluge of cards.  It's the thought that counts!

This year, we had sent out a picture of Madison with Santa, and of course our usual letter - you know the kind, right?  It sort of updates everyone on your year.  We didn't write a grocery list or anything, but the truth is, we did have a really special year.  And in fact every year we've had Madison has been simply wonderful.  And the word on the street for 2014 is this:  next year is going to be even better!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas, 2013

Here comes the bride, our beautiful princess.  Daddy can wait a long time on this one for real, but we're okay so long as it is pretend for quite some time.  Madison feels the same way.  Doesn't she look wonderful in her new dress though?  This was a costume that Santa brought us, one we'll have to thank him for later - there is glitter all over the house right now.  The floors in the kitchen and great room shimmer in the light, as if you're entering some sort of heavenly place!

Christmas morning started later again - if you can believe that.  Mommy and Daddy were up before Madison was.  Part of this may have to do with the late night we had at Nana and Ye-Ye's house.  Madison slept in until about 8:00, and that's when she woke up with a start.  Running into the hallway, she looked down and sure enough:  there were presents under the tree.  Lots of presents!

This package looks suspiciously about as big as the one that a Disney Infinity comes in.  And there was one of the less-than-subtle themes of the day:  Disney Infinity.  Madison got all sorts of characters and discs and play sets for the game, which we of course started playing Christmas night.  But there were plenty of other presents too, including this one from Daddy:

All that wrapping paper below her is from the present that she's still trying to open up.  It was thirty individual layers, each one of a different sort of wrapping paper.  Madison was still trying to figure it all out:  why would anyone do such a thing?  But you can see she thought it was funny too - each time she thought it would be the last layer:  no, there was still another.  It started out reasonably larger, and ended up the size of a Disney Infinity power disc.  Finally!

Daddy took a lot of pictures this morning, and a lot of them looked just like this one:

Madison's face all morning long just makes it all worth it.  She was so giddy!  She paced herself too, not ripping one open after another.  She sort of wanted to make it last - which it did.  Mommy and Daddy opened their presents too, and had a wonderful Christmas morning together.  Outside, it was in the twenties, temperature-wise.  Daddy had a fire in the fireplace, and several Christmas CDs playing as we spent time together under the tree.

Madison turned to us at one point, and announced simply, "I am spoiled!"  Yes, she is.  We try to not spoil her, but on Christmas morning, that's a little tough.

Around noon, we got ready to go over to Nana and Ye-Ye's house.  We had their presents packed up from before, but brought along some cake too.  When we arrived, there was G-Gma (our slang for Great Grandmother), and the rest of the family - and everyone was ready to open presents again!

Cousins David Austen and Jonathan serve as honorary Santas, delivering the presents in piles to each recipient, and soon the carnage was taking place.  Wrapping paper flying everywhere as all the kids gasped and giggled at their newfound gifts.  Madison got a few games for her Leapster Explorer, and some more Barbie movies.  We all got some nice things to enjoy over the holidays, in fact.  Lots of movies and games and music.

We had dinner after that, and then dessert as well.  Both were fantastic, with ham and roast pork and all kinds of incredible desserts and candies.  We sang "Happy Birthday" to Jesus once again, as Hannah and Nana blew out the candle in the cake.

There was another activity we did, a new tradition of exchanging gag gifts.  This year, we had a few funny gifts to put out there - the game was fun as always.  Everyone was "stealing" this or that, one of the highlights being a Duck Dynasty garden gnome that Mommy and Daddy spotted several months ago.  It was July or August that we saw it on clearance, and thought to ourselves how perfect it would be for this gag gift exchange.  And it turned out right:  this was one fought after gift!  As for the other gift we brought, it was actually just as revolting as last year... everyone forgot about this little gem, and it was quite a shock to see him return.  Moo-ah-ah-ah!  He went home with the Berry family this year, so this disturbing little clown has been taking a tour over the past few years.  I'm sure we'll all see it again!

After a time, we were all ready to go.  Christmas had come and gone once more, shockingly quick this year.  Some say it was because of the reduced time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, some six days shorter - almost a full week less.  And yet we still start in this house a lot earlier, just about the first of November.  We need to, or else we feel things might get a little rushed.  No, the reason is just simply time slipping away from us all.

We went home, the three of us, and finally played Disney Infinity.  For too long, I must admit.  Madison and Daddy were having a lot of fun tonight, so much that Mommy actually went to bed before the two of us.  But we did get to sleep around ten or so, pretty much exhausted from the full day.  It was a cold Christmas (no snow though), but it was a warm one inside the home.  We still remain blessed and highly favored.  Merry Christmas!

Here's our last entry in the "25 Days of Christmas Movies" devotional series.  In honor of Annette:

DECEMBER 25 - "Babes in Toyland"

In “Babes in Toyland,” Mary Contrary has a problem. It doesn’t have to do with her garden, but it does have to do with Little Bo Peep’s sheep. As you might have guessed, they’re lost. But this time, they’ve somehow wound up in the Forest of No Return!

Without the sheep, she’ll have no money – and without any money, she’ll have to marry old Silas Barnaby. He’s such a wicked man that a group of children set out to find those sheep, no matter the risk. They’ll do whatever it takes to find them, and save Mary!

Some time ago, Jesus himself told a parable about looking for a lost sheep. He spoke of a shepherd’s love, and how that shepherd would leave a large group of ninety-nine sheep just to go out and find that lost one.

He was speaking about Himself. He was also speaking about you. We once were lost, but now are found – all because of His birth in Bethlehem. You see, without Him, we’d be worse off than being stuck in a Forest of No Return. Yet He saw our predicament, and came to our rescue. The Good Shepherd is calling out to His sheep. He’s given you the greatest gift of all at Christmas: all you have to do is accept it, and find your way.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Visions of Sugar Plums

Here's our little girl, at the peak of the magic.  What better night in your life than being seven years old on Christmas Eve?  No doubt she's dreaming of sugar plums and a whole slew of other childhood delights!

NORAD is tracking Santa in this area currently, so we'd all better get to bed quickly - so before we go, here's the scoop on today's fun and adventure:

We woke up early - too early for Daddy, actually.  But Madison was up, and so be it.  I think it was the excitement that today was Christmas Eve.  We let Mommy sleep in a bit as the two of us went downstairs for our "quiet" ritual, which is playing Lego Marvel with the volume down.  When Mommy comes up, it's back to full scale war on the screen, this time with all the X-Men doing Lego battle.

Madison will be in the kitchen area and call out to us to come.  We do, and then she says, "Come closer."  Which we do - and then it's an ambush!  She's hiding near where the mistletoe is hanging, and gives us a sudden kiss on the cheek.  It's a great way to get ambushed!

Mommy did a bit of shopping today, as did Madison and Daddy. We also got wood for the fireplace and did a few other cleaning up chores.  After all, we want the house to look nice for Santa when he gets here.

This is kind of funny:  in Daddy's entire life, he's never won a drawing before.  You know those random contests where someone is chosen to win a prize?  Yes, those.  Never.  Countless assemblies and small groups and online contests and well, anything that requires luck.  To quote that pirate in "Pirates of the Caribbean," the one in the jail cell:  "You have no manner of luck about you whatsoever."  The highlight of this may have been a recent school drawing.  There were five of us and three prizes.  You'd think I'd have a pretty good chance there to win a prize, even if it were something small and pathetic.  But no.  I have never won a drawing before.

That is, until today.  Recently Madison and I were creating our own model versions of the different characters represented in the song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas."  Each year, PNC Bank puts out an estimation as to how much each of the items is worth on the list in the song, and totals up the amount the giver is actually spending on his true love.  Well, this year, we got to make those creations, and enter a contest where we could win a plastic and colorful version of our creation.  Daddy actually won a French Hen.  Yes, it arrived in the mail today, and Daddy gathered the family around much like the dad did in "A Christmas Story."  It's a major award!  The thing was carefully packed in this curled straw inside a cylindrical box.  The family gathered around to see this majestic thing, this major award that Daddy won.  And that's when he pulled out a small colorful plastic french hen, made from these parts:

I'll show a picture later, because I'm just so proud of this award.  It's wearing the striped shirt, and has a red head with a beret.  Currently, he sits proudly on the mantle, his new home each year.  It's the only thing I've ever won in my entire life.  And I'm going to treasure it forever.  Yes, these are tears of happiness rolling down my cheeks - it's a beautiful little chicken, isn't it?  The neighbors will all be so jealous when they see my major award!

Ahem.  Anyway, as is our tradition on Christmas Eve, we went over to Ye-Ye and Nana's house, where we ate and ate and ate.  And then we ate some more.  And then ate again after that.  Followed by more eating.  Shrimp, sandwiches, cheeses and crackers - and all sorts of chocolate.  Ugh, I've got too much in my tummy right now.  Not sure what my dreams will be like!

We exchanged a few gifts tonight - just one per person the night before Christmas.  We all got socks, which was pretty funny.  Daddy actually got Luchador socks, while Madison got Princess Merida socks.  Despite the fact that they were, well, socks, everyone was happy with the gifts.  Seriously, I want to wear mine tomorrow!

We also played a few games, such as "Christmas movie charades," which was rather fun.  We had to guess the titles of Christmas movies, and also Christmas songs.

It was great to go over to their house again for Christmas Eve.  But tomorrow is the "big show."  We're all so excited about tomorrow that we can't wait.  Just one more sleep 'til Christmas!

The cookies, carrots and milk are on a small table by the fireplace, and tonight before bed, Madison and Daddy sprinkled reindeer food all over the front lawn.  The stockings are hung by the chimney with care - and we're all dreaming of yet another wonderful Christmas.

Before we go, here's the second-to-last entry for the Christmas devotional series, based on the movie we saw last night:

DECEMBER 24 - "Ernest Saves Christmas"

Joe Carruthers has been doing the right thing for years. He doesn’t make much money, but he loves his work on a small children’s television show called “Uncle Joey’s Treehouse.”

Imagine his surprise when none other than Santa Claus shows up to his place, wanting Joe to take over as Father Christmas. It was a long list of names at first, Santa says, but in the end, Joe was the perfect fit. He was faithful with small things, and Santa just knew he would be faithful with this next big thing.

Of course, with Ernest P. Worrell in the picture, there’s bound to be a certain amount of craziness. The movie “Ernest Saves Christmas” is a story about making the right choices, despite peer pressure. Ernest always tries to do the right thing, although sometimes he makes a huge mess in the process. And despite a very different kind of pressure, Joe refuses to do the things the world expects of him. He knows better, just like we all do. But he also does better, standing up for what’s right, even while others are mocking him for it.

It’s a simple test: If you are faithful with a little, God can trust you with more. Each time you’re tempted to back down on what you believe, remember this: God is watching, and wanting to see you faithful. He wants to see if you can handle the greater blessing that’s just around the corner.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Ernest Saves Christmas

Great moments in parenting:  yes, it was today that Madison saw her first "Ernest" movie.  Ah, the finer things in life!  We could no longer hold back this rich cultural experience that has been so long denied her.   Know-what-I-mean-Vern?

I never understood Ernest P Worrell until his passing.  It may have been working at Blockbuster, and watching the weird enthusiasm people had for renting Ernest movies.  So, just a few years ago, Mommy got this movie to watch.  This was actually the first Ernest movie I saw, and I was ready to roll my eyes.  And it isn't that bad, actually.  Other Ernest movies vary, and of course they're all that level of humor that sophisticated uppity sorts would snort at.  I'd like to think I'm a sophisticated uppity sort, but that all gets shot down the moment I get to pop in an Ernest DVD to sit and watch with my daughter.

For the record, she liked it too.  Daddy figured the slapstick would suck her in, not to mention the flying reindeer and screaming elves.  And by no means am I saying this is a must-see classic of the caliber of "It's a Wonderful Life" or "Miracle on 34th Street."  It's corny fun, and if you're too uppity to enjoy it, then so be it.  But we had a good time laughing tonight!

Today Daddy actually did a bit of Christmas shopping for Mommy.  Daddy likes to get out there into the mess sometimes, and boy it was a mess.  Lines of cars and traffic everywhere, and yet Daddy had a bit of favor with close parking spots and finding the right items, with just a few left.  It was a decent day, although he didn't find everything he was looking for.  That's okay:  the leftover ideas are still good for Valentine's Day, right?

The other thing Daddy did was trade some of these Disney Infinity power discs.  As of this moment, we've got them all, including the rares and store exclusives for the upcoming series three.  We traded these with Madison's dance instructor for last year - she popped on a social network here and was asking if anyone had Disney Infinity, and if anyone would like to trade discs.  What a funny concept, meeting someone in a parking lot to trade Disney discs.

We did some Lego Marvel this morning, of course.  That's been our habit lately.  But Daddy had to go shortly after that, and while away, Madison filled the stocking for Jesus.  This is touching:  she wrote down three things that Jesus would want for his birthday.  One was caring, one was sharing and the last was giving.  She wrote these down on a slip of paper, and put them into the stocking labeled for Jesus.  Those are her gifts, she said:  she wants to care more, share more, and give more this year.

You'll notice something missing from this daily entry, by the way.  It's the elf off the shelf.  He's left for the North Pole today, but he left a letter for Madison.  It told her how good she's been, and gave her wishes for a Merry Christmas.  Finally, Jingle wrote that he'd be back soon.  The elf on the shelf is a big deal now - in just a few short years, this new thing has swept across the country.  While shopping today, Daddy heard radio personalities talking about their elves, and wondering where they'll show up next.  This year, Jingle was quite busy at our house, always a surprise!

Well, one thing that has not left yet is our daily devotional.  Only two to go, I think.  It's the "Twenty-five Days of Christmas" devotional, so here's our next entry:

DECEMBER 23 - "Rise of the Guardians"

Jack Frost has always been somewhat of a loner. He’s had his fun, adding a bit of chill, frost and fun to the world each winter. But he’s never felt a part of a team.

That is, until the events of “Rise of the Guardians.” In this movie, a very scary threat comes to the children of the world. Legendary figures like Santa Claus, Sandman, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny usually handle such things, but this time they need help. This time they need Jack Frost on the team.

It’s sad that it took them so long to reach out to Jack Frost. Only when there was trouble did they want to include him on the team. The truth is, he belonged on the team the whole time.

That’s just the way it is with us. We’re all supposed to work together – that’s the way God designed us. We should reach out to others, and let them feel as if they were a part of the body of Christ. And if you’re the one that’s feeling out and in the cold, it’s not supposed to be that way. Keep a positive attitude, and pray for God to help you find your place in this world.

He wants you to save the day, and in order to do that, you’ve got to join the team. Be one of the Guardians, working together to do what’s right. As Jack Frost might say, it’s a cool job!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Rubber Duck Dynasty

This morning our elf grew long facial hair and decided to go rubber duck hunting.  He's a part of the Rubber Duck Dynasty.  Jingle Bell has been busy this month with some epic surprises in the morning - each time eliciting a gasp or giggle from Madison first thing in the morning.

Today was a REALLY rainy day.  This was the sort of rain that pounds on you from above.  We had church this morning, so Daddy dropped Mommy and Madison off at the door, and walked quite a ways with his umbrella protecting him from the elements.  We had a LOT of presents to give out to our friends today, and quite a few to receive too.  It was a wonderful Christmas Eve morning service for all of us, especially the kids.  Madison was so moved in her service that we heard she was crying, and praying for others.  They were happy tears, this was the best she could do to describe it.  Daddy told her how happy he himself was to hear this.  As for the older kids, that service looked nice as well:

There is such warmth in stopping our regular sort of service, and simply singing worshipful Christmas songs together as a family.  Mommy joined Daddy in the auditorium, and we stood with the other staff members for our "candlelight service."  They weren't candles so much as glow sticks, but the point was there about being a light for all to see.  It was a really nice service.

After church, Madison spent some time with Nana and Hannah and Aunt Shain, as Mommy, Ye-Ye, Jonathan and David Austen went with Daddy to see "Saving Mr. Banks."  This was a great movie.  Of course, we're Disney fans here and Daddy is a huge fan of that era.  But the emotions in this movie are strong - there is a story of healing within that will leave you never looking at Mr. Banks the same way again.  In fact, we're anxious to see "Mary Poppins" as soon as possible now!

It was a longer movie - either that, or it was because there were a billion previews in front of it.  Whichever the case may be, it was dark when we left the theater.  All five of us really enjoyed the movie.  And yes, it was still pouring outside.  And now foggy as well.  Ugh!

We did get home, and rather quickly it was time for certainly little ones in the house to get some sleep.  Only three more sleeps 'til Christmas!

Before turning in for the night, here's another entry in our Christmas devotional series:

DECEMBER 22 - "The Bells of St. Mary's"

Sister Benedict’s prayers have been answered! In “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” it is apparent that the school she runs is in need of some serious help. They need a new building as soon as possible, but have had no money whatsoever.

The miracle that follows fills everyone’s hearts with Christmas joy – a businessman actually gives them his building to use! But the celebration is bittersweet for Sister Benedict: she cannot stay to run the place. Despite all her prayers and enthusiasm and love for St. Mary’s, she is reassigned to a place far, far away.

Why do bad things happen to such good people? There are some answers that we may never know, but the point of this movie is to trust God throughout all seasons, even those where things aren’t going your way.

At the very end of the movie, she rejoices when she discovers the truth: she did not know this, but her health was failing. She was reassigned, not because of politics or any personal grudge. She was reassigned to another climate so that she could recover, and eventually return. There was a reason she had to go, and it was for her own good.

Bad news may come to all of us at one point or another. And somewhere down the road there’ll be answers to the questions. But until that moment, we simply have to trust in Him, and know that everything works out for the good of those that love and serve God.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Attack of the Ninja Bread Men!

As you can see above, Jingle Bell had some difficulty fighting off some of the ninja bread men we made.  They had this awesome kit at Aldi's, and Mommy and Daddy had fun together making these ninja bread men.  By the way, they are absolutely delicious!  We also have a christmas sweater cookie kit, one we might be trying out before too long.

Today was Saturday, the last one before Christmas.  It was raining for much of the day, which pretty much was the theme of our December.  We've got lots of rain here lately - there's even a flood watch in effect for tomorrow.

Today was the first day of winter, although the temperatures weren't exactly wintery.  It's also "Humbug Day," so in that spirit we watched "Mickey's Christmas Carol" once again.  It's a short animated feature, but a great one.  As for the winter thing, we don't see much of the white snow right now, but I'm thinking we'll see some in January.

We went out together today, despite the rain, and did a few chores in preparation for the big day next week.  We also went to eat at Texas Roadhouse, where Daddy had one of the greatest steaks ever prepared.  This one goes on my second all-time-best steak ever list - it was that good.  First place goes to a chateaubriand we had on Valentine's Day at the Sundial Restaurant in 1999.  Four years before that, Daddy had a steak at Outback Steakhouse in Athens, the previous best steak record holder.  Steaks come and go, but there are some that are simply supernatural, and stick with a man's memory as long as that first kiss, or the day you get your driver's license.  To qualify, every bite of that steak has to be perfect.  I don't go into a steakhouse expecting this, of course.  But I've been to many places that serve steak, from Golden Corral to Fogo de Chao.  And every so often, like a rare comet or eclipse, the universe is in perfect harmony as the server puts down the perfect steak.  To attempt to describe the experience is futile.  And yet steak lovers know it so well - it's that ultimate moment that reminds us of how much of a loving God we have.

Enough about steak.  What did we do the rest of today?  Not much.  It was an official day off for Daddy, so we played some Marvel Lego (of course), and watched some Christmas movies.  We went to the bank, and did a bit of Christmas shopping too.

But we returned early to the house, as it was just plain yucky weather outside.  Sorry, I know rain is good, but we were deluged with it today!

Before bedtime, we read stories and did our advent calendars.  We're almost done with these, aren't we?  We're almost ready to say goodbye to Jingle Bell the elf too.  He's got to return to the North Pole, of course.

Here's another thing we're almost done with:  our devotional entries for Daddy's very own "25 Days of Christmas."

Take a look-see!

DECEMBER 21 - "The Santa Clause"

Scott Calvin wasn’t the greatest role model for a father, let alone Father Christmas. That is, until one fateful Christmas Eve when he put on the Santa suit – and over the course of a year, found himself becoming none other than Santa Claus.

The movie “The Santa Clause” shows a pretty dramatic change for our hero. In just a year’s time, he transforms into something entirely different. One December, he’s thin, self-centered and too busy for anyone. The next December… he’s Santa Claus!

When we become Christians, a similar transformation takes place. No, we don’t get a round little belly that shakes when we laugh like a bowl full of jelly. But we do begin to take on the likeness of Jesus in all of the things that we do. That’s why we take on His name: CHRISTians.

In fact, you’ll find the word CHRIST in Christmas too. This season – and beyond – be sure to act in a way that honors His name. Remember His love and power, be transformed into something wonderful, and have a Merry Christmas!

Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

     Do you want to build a snowman?  Apparently Jingle Bell does!  This "Frozen" theme was really working, despite the warmer weather outside.  Today was a day off for Madison, and work day for Daddy - although he did get to go to the annual Christmas luncheon for our church staff.  It was a nice occasion that everyone enjoyed over at the country club.  

We're so blessed to be a part of this church - this is coming up on ten years that Daddy has been employed here.  This past year has been exciting, but we've got some great new ideas for the next that will hopefully be more engaging for the children and volunteers.

Daddy worked on a message for Sunday today, but got home just in time for us to make a trip.  Tonight, we wanted to take advantage of the limited time offer the weather was providing, and make a return trip to Life University's Nights of Lights.

This picture was taken by somebody else.  I have no idea who.  Daddy forgot his camera tonight, but that was okay - sometimes it is a pain to keep up with!  We had some great family time this evening, and the weather was perfect.  Madison rode on a pony, all by herself, I might add.  Daddy is usually right beside her, walking alongside for the journey.  But not this time!  Madison wanted to go solo on this trip, so Mommy and Daddy sat along the side and watched her ride with a big grin on her face.  She really enjoyed the journey, even though it was around in circles for three minutes!

Afterwards, Mommy and Madison hopped aboard the train.  No, it isn't a real train.  It's a small train that rides around the campus a short distance, all covered in lights.  Daddy waved goodbye, and Madison herself never stopped waving at everyone else as the train rode by.  That's what you're supposed to do on a train:  wave at everybody.

We roasted marshmallows, trying not to burn them.  Daddy failed in this respect, but his marshmallow was still good.  They all were, though I suspect they were loaded with much more sugar than the average marshmallow:  Madison was literally running everywhere tonight.  If she wasn't running, she was skipping.  Or cantering, at least.

We walked through the lights, and then afterwards rode through the lights again.  It's an impressive display of lights, all in one small area.  Madison was trying to estimate, but I don't think any of us could count that high, even if we were given a month or more.  It's a wonderful display, and we were glad to make the journey over to Marietta, even if the traffic was a little heavy on the way down.

We got home safely, and read a short Christmas book in bed, but all three of us were ready for sleep pretty quickly.  It's been a full day!

Time for the devotional once more before going off to bed.  Have a great night!

DECEMBER 20 - "The Nutcracker"

Uncle Drosselmeyer is a generous man at Christmas time. Every single year for over two hundred years, you can see him handing out gifts to children on stage in “The Nutcracker.” That's where Clara gets her nutcracker from - the one that starts this whole story.  In the movie adaptations, he is pretty much the same: a mysterious and yet kind man dressed in black, with an eye patch over one eye. The children aren’t looking at his face though – they’re wanting to see what is in his bag of toys this year!

Being generous can make you the most popular person at the party. But it makes you a hero in God’s eyes too, so long as you’re giving for the right reasons. Each year, we’ll all see plenty of opportunities to give at church, or give to someone directly in need.

You can give money, but you can give other things, like your time. Just don’t give so that everyone will think you are super awesome. The point of giving is about blessing others, and not yourself. Because when you bless others, you’re blessing God Himself. This year at Christmas time, find someone to bless with a gift. You could even do it without them knowing who the giver is! Whatever you give, do it with a thankful heart, remembering the point of Christmas is that we’ve all been given the greatest gift of all.

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Six more days!  The elf is right:  time is growing short until the big day.  We've been hustling a bit around here, just getting things all prepared and ready to go.  Today was the last day of school for Madison this year.  Tomorrow starts her vacation time, I think seventeen or so days long.  That's a long time when you start to add it up.

What to do with seventeen or so days?  How about you try out the new mistletoe?

Yes, this is that special mistletoe from Oregon, from another young girl named Madison.  We have it hung over the entrance to the kitchen (from the garage).  Madison sort of lurks there and whispers for people to come closer.  Closer.  Closer!  Smooch!

Guess what we did tonight?  Yes, that's right, we made our annual gingerbread house.  Madison was really looking forward to this one - Mommy suggested we create a thatch roof with frosted mini-wheats, and Madison came up with the rest of the decorations.  She's especially proud of the heart-shape over the door.

We get to sleep in tomorrow!  It's funny the things that get you excited, but there it is.  Of course, the other thing to get excited about is all this sugar.  We kept munching and munching and snacking on bits and pieces of this house.  It is a tasty house!

Before closing out (and going to bed), here's our devotional entry for today.  Amazingly, I've been able to keep this going all month.  Yay, me!

DECEMBER 19 - "Prep and Landing"

Wayne and Lanny have job to do, one that's totally tinsel! Their task: preparing the way for Santa. They're elves, and they go to each house, setting things up for the big guy to deliver Christmas magic!

But Wayne has been getting a bit tired lately. He's bored, even. He's been so focused on a promotion and doing something new, that he forgets about the most important thing: the children he's blessing each Christmas. He wants to be recognized, and given some credit for all he's done so far – and that isn't happening. It takes a near disaster to wake him up, and change his focus. But in the end, Wayne gets it: Christmas is about delivering to others.

Some time ago, there was another who prepared the way. His name was John the Baptist, and his calling in life was to let everyone know that Jesus was coming. Unlike Wayne, he kept his focus where it should be: helping others. And he wasn't looking for a big promotion either: when Jesus showed up, John felt unworthy. But Jesus saw John the Baptist, and told others this remarkable thing: "Among those born of women, there is none greater than John."

Like Wayne, John the Baptist prepared the way. Unlike Wayne, John never lost his focus on what's most important: giving of himself to others. This Christmas, what are you yourself doing to welcome Jesus into this world? Prepare the way, and keep your focus right: this Christmas can be totally tinsel!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Elf in Space

Here's what Madison found this morning - her first comment was:  "He went downstairs and got Barbie's space suit!"

Currently, they are having to deal with some issues on the International Space Station.  Our prayers and thoughts have been with them up there, although it hasn't been reported to be as serious as an "Apollo 13" sort of situation.  But any situation up there that is unexpected is always one to take serious, and we're hoping it all works out up there.

Today was a big work day for Daddy, as are all Wednesdays.  Although he did come home to see everyone.  Mommy always prepares a nice dinner and makes the house so welcoming for the quick visit.  It's nice to see everyone, and then it's time to get back to the church.

Speaking of which, our tree is up in our office.  The trees on stage look nice too - have you seen them yet?

The Christmas lights help a lot.  This is the backdrop of our series, one where we've been talking about all sorts of different Christmas movies.  Tonight, however, was a night for Christmas carols.  We sang all sorts of Christmas songs tonight in service, calling it a "Night of Worship," which it was.  The kids enjoyed it, as did the adults - a breath of fresh air, and something different.  But also something with a lot of Christmas in it, and with that you can't really go too wrong.

Along those lines, here's our latest devotional entry:

DECEMBER 18 - "The Nativity Story"

Of all the Christmas movies made, the most important would be the one where it all started. There are movies with wintery scenes and pretty music, Ebenezer Scrooge changing his life, happy elves singing as they build toys, and Santa saving Christmas time and again.

But the story behind Christmas involves none of this. In "The Nativity Story," we don't even see any snow. Instead, we see desert sand, and lots of it. Joseph and Mary had to travel far to Bethlehem, and under serious pressure. Herod was looking for the future King of kings – not to worship, as he told the Wise Men. No, instead he wanted to kill Jesus. And as they left Nazareth on an unexpected journey, both Joseph and Mary faced cold stares from former friends: Mary found herself expecting a child before she was even married.

But despite all the stress and danger, this is a story of redemption for Mary and Joseph – and for all mankind. We see shepherds as they come to worship, having heard about the newborn king in a dream. We also see the Wise Men as they worship, and present their lavish gifts at the feet of Jesus.

Each one was summoned from far away, told of the wonderful thing that happened: For unto us, a child is born. A Son is given, and the government shall be on his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tinsel Town in 3D

We're in Tinsel Town now!  Jingle Bell and a few friends were lounging on the couch this morning, checking out a Christmas movie on the big screen.  It appears as if they were a little messy too!

It was Tuesday, and the last piano class of the year.  Madison got candy canes and other gifts, like chocolate "reindeer noses," and gave a gift to Mrs. Pam as well.  Yesterday, we found a musical note ornament at Hobby Lobby.  That store was very packed yesterday, which was good to see.

We got a gift for Madison's school teacher as well, one she'll be bringing to school tomorrow.  It's a "Wizard of Oz" book with animated pictures in it.  That seemed to be the theme for her this year, so we thought it may be a good book to have around, or even in the classroom.  We got it in Dahlonega what seems like a long, long time ago.  That was just last month when we were at the Riders in the Sky Christmas concert.  Here we are about a week to go until Christmas, and it seems our extended Christmas season strategy is working:  we can pace ourselves, instead of trying to cram every Christmas activity possible into a few short weeks.

We still have some movies to watch, and other things to do.  For example, we haven't done a gingerbread house yet.  Nor have we made gingerbread cookies.  That's a surprise for Madison coming up soon:  today Mommy found at the grocery store some molds for "Ninja Bread Cookies!"  Also, she found a mold for gingerbread cookies that are in the shape of "Ugly Christmas Sweaters."  Yep, that just happened.  There are a few places we'd still like to go as well, but we'll see how the weather works out.  Madison's last day of school is Thursday, and then there is the winter break, and all sorts of time off.

Daddy had a dream about Madison last night that was kind of funny:  he was stunned/scared when he heard her start the car in the driveway!  Even more unnerving:  she put it in reverse.  And yet when she reached the end of the driveway, she put it into drive, lining the car up perfectly on the street - and waiting for Daddy to get in the car.  When a shocked Daddy came up to the car, she looked at him, and said in a patronizing tone, "Daddy, don't worry.  I learned how to drive already."

Madison is a smart cookie.  She's above average on her spelling at this point, above the level required on the second grade spelling list, and already working on subtraction - and getting all of the answers right there.  I think her weakness is doing things in a hurry sometimes, which is a universal weakness, isn't it?  But her graded classwork was impressive, and Daddy and Mommy are really, really proud of her.  We're so happy with that progress.  As for her speech, that's improving as well.  It isn't improving as fast as Daddy would like it, but there are some areas that she's gotten much better.  Considering where we were two years ago, it's much, much better.

Time to go, but speaking of "years ago," here's our latest devotional entry for Tinsel Town, based on a Christmas classic:

DECEMBER 17 - "Miracle on 34th Street"

Doris Walker has been let down, big time. Her faith in people is gone – in fact, there’s really nothing she has faith in anymore. This is the world her daughter Susan sees, one where she’s taught to reject anything that you have to believe in.

Enter Kris Kringle, a man who believes himself to be Santa Claus. Things are about to get interesting at Macy’s Department Store! Is the Santa that works there really Father Christmas? In the amazing movie, “Miracle on 34th Street,” that question is put to the test.

It’s a Christmas classic that actually puts Kris Kringle on trial, and asks the question, “Is there a Santa Claus?” It will really take a miracle to save Christmas!

Of course, there’s just got to be a happy ending. For Doris, she discovers the rewards of faith. But for a time, she is like so many people today: we all tend to put our faith in people a lot, only to be let down. That’s the problem with us: we’re all human.

There is One, though, who you can count on. His name is Jesus, and he is the reason for the season. He’s promised to never leave you or forsake you. Though things may seem hopeless at times, keep this in mind: your troubles are just a small part of the big picture, and just like the movie, you’re heading for a happy ending!

Jesus cares where you are, and sees when you’ve been hurt. If you think you’ve been let down, imagine being in his shoes: he’s been through it all, and more. You can put your faith in him. He didn’t have to, but love came down at Christmas – and that’s the greatest miracle of all.

Elf Bowling

Welcome to Candy Cane Lanes, where Jingle Bell has been doing a bit of bowling.  Our floor really lends itself to bowling, something we'll all have to pick up again soon when the schedule isn't so busy with Christmas fun.

Today was back-to-school for Madison, and a rest day for Mommy, who needs just one more day before venturing out too much.  We stayed home and - believe it or not - were still wrapping presents.  We were also dealing with other more financial issues that we've been dealing with for the past month (more on that in a bit).

After school, we left with Madison to go visit Doc Williams one more time this year.  She loves visiting - he's got such a great sense of humor.  He has a snowman in the bathroom that is motion activated:  he'll announce when you walk in, "Do I feel flush?"

We did some shopping for books for Madison's Christmas party tomorrow.  It's not the official party, but one where everyone exchanges books.  We bought a few and wrapped them tonight - yes, more wrapping.  I'm not making this up:  I've wrapped about fifty things so far this season.  SO FAR.

We went and got our free chicken strips at Chick-Fil-A afterwards, the last part of our calendar cards (where we get a free item each month), and then we went to Parson's to show Madison the Christmas villages they have set up.  It's a small empire of Victorian houses, New England houses, Mickey Mouse houses, and even Harley Davidson houses - complete with festive villagers, snow, ice skating and a Santa flying overhead.  It's almost the equivalent of those old Christmas window fronts that you see in the movies, where kids press against the glass to see the moving things:  ice skaters, moving cars and flying reindeer.

But it was late, and it was time for bed, really.  We finished our piano practice completely (nailed it!) and got to work doing some more wrapping afterwards, getting Madison's books covered for the morning - while wondering what that elf Jingle Bell will be up to tomorrow...

DECEMBER 16 - "Olive the Other Reindeer"

Olive is a dog. Not a reindeer. But all that changes pretty quickly. On the radio, Santa sounds desperate for help from “all of the other reindeer.” But what was heard is this: Santa needs help from “Olive the Other Reindeer.”

We know what you’re thinking: he certainly did not say “Olive the Other Reindeer.” Still, Santa needs help. That’s why Olive decides to make a brave journey north, despite many obstacles. And every time she tells someone why she’s going, they think she’s absolutely crazy. After, she’s just a dog – not a reindeer.

And yet it is Olive that saves Christmas. It’s true! Her enthusiasm gets the other reindeer trying their best, and her nose leads everyone back home to the North Pole.

What we learn in the end is that it doesn’t matter what people call you. What matters is what God calls you, and what you were made to do. In Olive’s case, she was designed to go up and save Christmas. She knew this was her mission in life, no matter what everyone else thought or said. And while everyone else sat around depressed because there was no Christmas, it was Olive who stood up and decided to do something about it.

Never let others call you something that you are not. God put you on this planet for a purpose. It may not be to save Christmas, but it probably is to help save others. Rise up, and stay on course to do your thing. You never know: you could go down in history!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

It's the Grinch!

This morning, Jingle Bell apparently wanted to join the Big Top!  He's been a creative elf this season, even though he works for peanuts.  

Later this morning at church, we had a special visitor, one that three words best describe (and I quote):  "Stink!  Stank! Stunk!"

He's the Grinch, and it was a central theme of our morning.  We love in this story how Cindy Lou shows relentless love to the unlovable, eventually winning everyone over to the idea that we are supposed to share God's love with everyone, no matter if they are green and possibly hairy.

Madison met up with the Grinch between services, who was busy posing with kids all morning for various photo ops.

After Christmas, we headed home for a bit, eating and preparing for an event of a different kind:  the Living Christmas Tree at Gainesville's First Baptist Church.

This was the first presentation that Madison had seen, and she enjoyed the whole thing.  She sat still for the hour or so it lasted, listening intently to the music and watching the new lighting that wandered all over the tree.  It was a good performance as always, strong with the Christmas message, complete with actors representing those at the Nativity - Madison was surprised when the three Wise Men came in from behind us.  The lighting was amazing as always, and the facility beautiful.  At the very end, as always, they performed the "Hallelujah Chorus, where everyone stands at the closing.

There are different stories as to why we stand - I've heard about three different versions of why we all stand at this song.  But stand we did, and stand Madison did for her first time hearing the chorus in person.  It's always such an impressive thing to hear in person, certainly with a live orchestra performing as well.  You know the pressure has to be on that one trumpeter for that one little part towards the end - all ears are listening to see if he can pull it off.

We left, and made another drive down Green Street to see the lights, so festive.  And we went home.  It was late enough, and there was piano practice to consider.  Madison did enough to satisfy everyone, properly motivated by the thought of Lego Marvel as a reward.  Yes, Daddy got that for Christmas this year.  SO, away we go with another Lego game, which Madison loves.  Something tells me that this one will be a part of our schedule for some time to come.

It was a nice day together, and we're blessed that Mommy is now doing much better.  The three of us are officially "on the mend," which is wonderful.

We just have to stay away from those frozen flag poles.  You know how those can get:

DECEMBER 15 - "A Christmas Story"

There are dares, and then there are serious dares. For example, if we dare you to do something, it’s just a casual challenge. If we double dare you to do something, we’re being a bit more insistent – and a triple dare is quite a dare in itself. But if we triple dog dare you, that’s another matter entirely. It’s almost as if you have no choice, but to do whatever you’re told to do!

In “A Christmas Story,” we see the results of a triple dog dare. Schwartz triple dog dares poor Flick into putting his tongue on a freezing cold flag pole. Everyone knows what will happen – his tongue will get stuck! And Flick doesn’t really want to do it, but everyone is looking. So sure enough, he sticks his tongue to that frozen flag pole.

It’s painful and embarrassing, and twenty minutes later, it takes the fire department and police department to get him unstuck. But perhaps Flick learned a big lesson that day.

It’s one we can learn as well. Peer pressure can be an ugly thing. Inside, you know what you should do, and what you shouldn’t do. As a Christian, you know that doing certain things aren’t bright, and have the potential to leave you stuck in a painful or embarrassing situation.

But the world wants you to do those things. The world is ready to laugh at you! In fact, the world is sitting there, skipping etiquette and going for the throat with a sinister triple dog dare!

They left him out there all alone, stuck somewhere he didn’t want to be. The next time you’re tempted to do anything you know you shouldn’t, remember Schwartz!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Santa Cow

Yes, Jingle the Elf had to go there.  He met the fox in the kitchen, and just had to ask that question.  This is one of those very popular internet things this year, so popular that even Madison understands it. Daddy asks her what the fox says, and she replies, "Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringe-ding!"

Today was a rainy day.  Surprise, surprise, surprise!  Daddy had plans with hid buddies from high school, but before we did any of that, we had BIG plans in the morning.  Oh yes we did.

This is Santa Cow.  This is big stuff.  Two years ago, we missed an opportunity to see Santa Cow, and then the same thing happened again last year.  So this year, by gum, we weren't going to miss it.  Suddenly, this became one of those events that held the same weight as going to Stone Mountain or something.  They actually took the picture above for us, and then printed it and gave us a framed copy before we left.  Madison directed us to sit at the table right next to Santa Cow, so we had breakfast together with the Santa Cow.  She also got a small stuffed cow and a candy cane, which she of course devoured once we got into the car.  But several times - before we left, she'd periodically get up from the table and give Santa Cow a hug, which was cute.

Here's something else we did:

We went to Lowe's to build a train.  But it isn't just a normal train - it's a Candy Train, one covered with scratch and sniff stickers.  Madison and Daddy used a hammer and nails to put together the train itself, adding wheels and a cowcatcher, and then came the add-on candy canes and other childhood delights.  This was a full session, so we were glad we made the reservations a few weeks ago.  As an added bonus, Madison got her next patch to attach to her apron.  I believe she has about six patches now, meaning she has created about six of these wooden vehicles.  She's gotten really good at it, and is improving each time with the hammer.  In fact, she drove in several of the nails completely by herself this time.  The end result was a train that could roll across the floor at Lowe's, no problem!

We scurried out of Lowe's, and it was pouring rain.  Pouring.  Everything was so cold and wet.  You can just hear that guy from "Christmas with the Kranks" calling out:  "You could really use an umbrella!"

Of course, we had umbrellas.  Madison had her tiny pink one, and Daddy had his monster golf one.  Still, this sort of weather is no fun really.

We got home, and that's where Daddy had to say goodbye for a time:  he was off to Cleveland to see his old friends, while Mommy and Madison spent the day inside together.  Madison drew today - her gift this morning was a book that showed how to draw dolphins.  She also played games and used the Kindle.  And ate.

Tomorrow we'll be spending some more time together - we've got interesting plans.  Tonight, it's time for bed.  Before going off to night-night land, here's another entry in our ongoing Christmas movie series:

"All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names." Sometimes that happens, especially when you've got a nose that glows bright red. Others talk, or maybe do worse.

But as Christians, that can happen to us as well, can't it? We're supposed to be the light of the world, shining bright. Like Rudolph, we can be tempted to cover it up and blend in, trying to look like everyone else.

But God needs us to be the light of the world, especially when others are in the fog. Trouble comes in all shapes and sizes, and without God, it's easy to get lost. When you're lost, you're in a fog unlike anything else: you can bump into trouble, go way off course, and it goes without saying you'll have no vision.

It's time to uncover that light, and see the Way. In Matthew 5:14, Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world. And just like Rudolph, that light can lead the way to safety, and save the day. It's the reason we celebrate Christmas: that light has saved misfits like you and me.

This Christmas, no matter what, shine His light like never before. That light has brought joy to the world!