Thursday, December 31, 2015

What are you doing...

...New Year's Eve?

Here we are on the last day of the year once again, and things are already looking brighter.  Literally, the sun is out, and the rain has finally stopped.  The cold weather is coming in, and it will actually start to feel like January just in time!

This morning, Madison was talking to her grandparents about crafts she did this past year, and we remembered this summer's art camp.  That's when Madison brought up the "Godzillas" she made.  This prompted all sorts of curious looks, and a bit of back-and-forth in regards to figuring out just what it was she was talking about.  It turns out what she really meant was "god's eyes," as in those stick-and-yarn creations she did a few months ago.  We have a few on the tree that Mommy made some time ago, and now Madison has a few more in her room.  Seated, she immediately did a face plant into her arms when she realized her mistake - it was a really funny moment for her.  And us too!

We started work on our Disney/Thomas Kinkade puzzle, a picture of Peter Pan's flight over London.  The three of us began this 500-piece puzzle today, and might finish by tomorrow.  That's how long we were working on it, but in all fairness, it is one of the tougher puzzles we've had up until now.

Today Daddy had Christmas pudding for the first time.  We got some the other day at that import shop, and together with the family we finally got to sample some.  Nana, being from near London, of course had Christmas pudding before.  She and Daddy were thrilled with it, especially that sweet, creamy sauce that goes with it.  We didn't have it on fire like you see in certain versions of "A Christmas Carol," so perhaps we'll have that more formal version next time around.  But for this time, all was perfect.

So what did we do tonight?  First off, Madison was determined to see midnight, so we decided the best approach was to have a bit of a movie marathon.  First up, "The Princess Bride."  This was the first time that she's seen this movie, and the squillionth time Daddy and Mommy have seen it.  She loved that one, although I suspect Mommy and Daddy were enjoying it more, quoting things left and right.  Next up, we finished the Star Wars classic trilogy with "Return of the Jedi."

Madison was even dressed up as Princess Leia, really getting into things!  We posted this picture to wish everyone a happy new year as the final hour approached.  And then it was time to plug in "Rudolph's Shiny New Year," while also watching on a handheld device a new app that let's you watch the ball drop in New York City.  Why do we do this every year, watching a ball drop in New York City?  It's what we did when we were young, although both Mommy and Daddy back then lived a lot closer to New York City and it sort of meant more then.  Now, we still do it to carry on the tradition, although it doesn't seem exactly the same for some reason.  For one, Dick Clark has passed away, and that sort of connected all of our generations a bit.  They sing "Imagine" just before the ball falls, and that doesn't quite match the spirit and celebration of "Auld Lang Syne."  In fact, it's nowhere even close.  Here's something to imagine:  the distance between our planet and the galaxy MACS0647-JD, some 13.3 billion light years away.  That's how far behind the song "Imagine" is, how less awesome it is.  Seriously, you might as well play Barney's "I Love You, You Love Me," and it would be better.

So anyway, next year, Daddy is wondering about other options for watching something drop on New Year's Eve.  Fortunately, there is one already:  Gainesville's "Chuck the Chicken."  We have no idea where it goes, how high up it goes, or even what it looks like.  Supposedly, there's this event each year where they do a "chicken drop," and ironically, that benefits the Humane Society.  We might tune in for that - it would probably be more entertaining than watching thousands of people scream in 2017 hats and glasses, while random singers we've never heard of promote their music.  In fact, it might be a great new tradition for us here every year!  So long as they don't sing "Imagine"...

Anyway, the big moment came, and everyone was wide awake.  We watched the handheld device together, counting down with millions of others on the east coast and in Times Square.  It just so happened that Rudolph's Shiny New Year was ending, with that same exact ball dropping on the television.  It all timed out perfectly, and the three of us counted down the seconds 5... 4... 3... 2... 1!

Kisses were given all around, and shouts of "Happy New Year!"  We made it!  And now... it's time for bed!

Hungry Hungry Hippo

As we continue to read "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" each night, there are things we notice:  first of all, Tim Burton's version seems to catch more of the book than the previous movie.  Secondly, how amazingly accurate the character of Mike Teavee is.  We were doing research this week just to find something for our "Anger" message upcoming, and so we thought it might be fun to show a little kid with a bit of video game rage.  The end result was depressing:  we watched video after video with such language and unbridled fury - and all from kids Madison's age.  We're not showing any of these, as it isn't going to be amusing at all.  In fact, it is pretty sad.  Which brings us to Mike Teavee, and how the movie sort of nailed this character down in a way that pretty much sums a few things up.  Of course, he's a stereotype, a short look into a window of a child raised playing POV shooting games.  But then there are all these other short windows that we're seeing on social media, glimpses of kids who have learned to say and do things at a certain age that is just staggering.

Our best tip:  take a break from the television, and play some Hungry Hungry Hippo.  Oh, sure, things get heated when those marbles start breaking loose.  But the only sounds I've ever heard playing this game were sounds of laughter.  Madison got this game for Christmas, and today we got a chance to do some four-player hippo action!  Nana won the first round, and Daddy won the next - and finally Madison won in an intense frenzy of marble-chomping.

Oh, speaking of "Hungry Hungry Hippo," here's the devotional I wrote about it a few months ago for our board game series, "Game On."

"Jesus answered, "It is written, ‘Man must not live only on bread. He must also live on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” Matthew 4:4 NIrV

     Homer Hippo, Henry Hippo, Harry Hippo and Lizzie Hippo have one thing in common:  they're all pretty hungry!  What do you get when you cross four hungry hippos with a small area covered in delicious white marbles?  Complete craziness!  That's what "Hungry Hungry Hippos" is all about, a game where four players battle it out, trying to eat all the marbles in the game.  This is not a slow game!  There's a countdown, and everyone gets ready.  On your mark, get set, go!  And suddenly everyone is chomping down as fast as possible until all the marbles are gone.  And whoever has the most at the end is the winner!
     These are some really hungry hippos - they've been munching on marbles since a toy inventor came up with the game back in 1967!  There must be something extra tasty about all those little white marbles. 
     Here's a question:  have you ever been that hungry for any kind of food before?  Possibly.  But here's another question:  Have you ever been hungry for God's word?  Now before you start thinking we've lost all our marbles, consider these words from Jesus:  "It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
     What he is trying to say is simply this:  we need to be hungry for God's word as well.  The truth is, we need God more than we even need food.  And you can hear a fresh word from Him at church, or while praying - but the easiest and quickest way is to crack open that Bible, and start digging in.  Open up, and there it goes!  Are you ready?  On your mark, get set, go!


"It's a race, it's a chase, hurry up and feed their face!Who will win? No one knows! Feed the hungry hip-ip-pos!Hungry hungry hippos! (open up and there it goes!)"

It's a vacation week at home - a 'staycation' as some call it - and so our productivity level is somewhat down.  Although we did do a bit of shopping for costumes again, looking around at various thrift stores for additional costuming ideas.  We've got a new series this weekend, so there's a lot to build up for.  We're doing it all, a little bit each day.  Saturday will be the big work day.

Today, however, is a day to farm.  Yes, we're doing Disney Infinity 3.0 again, and the game has a wide variety of options, including a farming game.  These are traditionally more addictive than any pharmaceutical substance known to man.  Daddy remembers Harvest Moon 64, and how it was somewhat like a high fever that lasted for days, and you just rode it out.  Late at night, you're checking on virtual crops.  Fortunately, that game has an end, when your Uncle comes, and is never really all that pleased with what you did with your land.  It doesn't matter, because you are.  It's a great game.  So with hesitation, we started our crops today, and the good news is that it isn't terribly addictive at this point.  Or, at least that's perhaps the way they set it up, slowly lulling you into a false sense of security.  Regardless, Madison and Daddy plunged headlong into the world of video game farming, with Princess Leia and Chewbacca raising crops of corn, tomatoes, sunflowers, and cotton candy.  Eventually, Drax the Destroyer will have his own farm as well, and maybe start his own Earth Channel program, "Basic Farming Fun with Drax the Destroyer."

Ooh, we did do this one thing today.  In a few months, we're going to see Disney on Ice.  We missed the "Frozen" show they did a year and a half ago, mainly because it was really overpriced (compared to other Disney on Ice shows), and it was in Atlanta.  This one is in Duluth, which is such a wonderful place when you compare it to driving to Atlanta, paying for parking in Atlanta, and anything to do with Atlanta.  It's not that I'm against Atlanta, mind you.  It's just that I tend to avoid going there!

So anyway, that's coming up in a bit.  But today was quiet.  And rainy, although you could have guessed that based on recent posts.  Lake Lanier is seriously higher than we have ever seen it, ever.  And that's saying a lot.  It's not scary high, but it is somewhat disconcerting to see some of the banks covered over with water.  Fortunately, a dry spell is on the way.  Ten years ago, the levels were so down that we were walking to the islands on these bridges of sand.  That is the way of things.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Here's a sneak peek at our new set, just a portion where the emotions sit at the control desk on stage.  It's going to start this weekend, our new series, and we spent a bit of time today doing the standard set up and preparations, like shooting videos and creating printed materials.  We start with the emotion Anger, and we were delighted to find a few Anger shorts on the Blu-Ray, which we later found on the internet elsewhere to borrow for service.  These will help illustrate the overall concept of controlling your anger a bit, especially when coupled with the trailer clips we're using from the movie, "Angry Birds."

Here was another bit of our "research:"

We were playing "Inside Out" with Disney Infinity 3.0, and having a good time with this version.  Sadness is a lot of fun to play, sort of flumping about.  I just made that word, because that's what she does to attack other people.  She just sort of flumps, that is to say, she falls forward on them, hitting the ground with a face plant.

Which, by the way, is something Madison is embracing again.  The official face plant on the couch is a favorite maneuver of hers, one she loves to demonstrate for us frequently - for no reason whatsoever.  She's very good at it.

Meanwhile, there was a trip to Goodwill for costuming.  We went there in search of various items for some of our characters this Sunday, and had a little bit of success there.  We also had a little bit of success finding a few other odds and ends too, of course.  That is the way of these thrift stores, going in for one item, and coming out with others as well.

Tonight's feature:  "The Empire Strikes Back."  Just how incredible is this movie!  How many times have we seen it?  Madison just adored it, laughing out loud at parts, and completely sucked in to the story and the adventure.  Seriously, this is a great movie.  With all the "Star Wars" stuff in the air, it's fun to go back and see the original trilogy, and watch Madison enjoy it so much that it's like Christmas morning!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas 2.0

We had Christmas again this morning, as you can see in the picture above.  This time, Nana and Ba-Ba were along for the festivities, just two days after the actual Christmas day of course.  We saved some of the gifts from Mommy and Daddy - and Nana and Ba-Ba - and had them under the tree before Madison even woke up.

It was fun to do it all over again, this time with our own wrapping paper and presents we've accumulated throughout the year.  The Easy Bake Oven is something that we'll be trying soon enough, as our New Year's Resolution is to learn to cook and help Mommy out in the kitchen more.  Of course, with the upcoming fast, that might be more limited.  But we'll be learning throughout the year, and by the end of 2016, by gum we'll all be culinary masters!

Yes, it's warm outside.  Warm for us, anyway.  Still, we started a fire in the fireplace, as our Floridian guests were a bit chilly, and it added to the atmosphere just enough.

Oh, and then there were the gifts for Nana.  We went to "Taste of Britian" earlier, as we said, and assembled this massive basket of candies and goodies for her that brought about this wonderful smile.  One by one, she went through the items, and the memories happily flooded back.  And yes, the best part of all was sampling some of it!

Madison had a great morning, of course.  She got her Elsa hair styling doll, this head that you get to try braids on and so forth.  She got a few movies, and some crafts that we'll be trying very soon no doubt.

But this was the first time Madison's other grandparents were here with us for the big week, and that is what made it special for them.

The rest of the day was a bit of work towards our new KidPak series, and a really nice roast beef dinner with gluten-free gravy.  Somewhere in there, we all had a game of Minions LIFE, a board game that Madison got for Christmas.  And in honor of the book we've been reading lately, everyone watched the Tim Burton "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" together to close things out.  We're nearly done with that book, but as of this moment - thanks to Christmas 2.0 - we have plenty more books to read after this one.  In fact, by my estimate, we'll be meeting young Jack Sparrow again on January 1st.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Last KidPak of the Year

It was our last service of "A Very Merry Tribes Christmas," and although Christmas has come and gone, we still have the lingering celebration, those final days of the month that sort of give you an opportunity to continue the Christmas vibe, and also keep the Christmas decorations up just a little longer.  Yes, we're doing that as always.  They take a week just about to get up to their various locations, and by gum, we'll take our sweet time taking them all down!

January is coming soon though, so we'll get the Chinese decorations going.  Daddy found an old Chinese dragon puppet we purchased one Chinese New Year, and can't wait to show that to Madison once more.  You'll see it here, along with some other decorations and gifts we've been saving up along the way.  This time of year, we all start suddenly craving more Chinese food - although the annual church fast will be coming along firstly.

So anyway, it was a good service this morning.  We actually showed the Summer Xtreme Tribes cartoon in its entirety, as well as a message about the value of time that compared how much time boys played video games in a year to girls, or how much time we all spent at school or eating or sleeping.  Then, of course, the point is how much time do we spend in a year praying, or reading the Bible?

It was a good day, and of course everyone was pretty anxious afterwards to get back home with family.  In our case, that would be Ba-Ba and Nana, who made the long journey up from Florida.  Unfortunately, they didn't arrive until later in the evening, as there was a great deal of traffic along the way.  There's no place like home for the holidays, and that's what everyone else was thinking.  Unfortunately, it could not be said:  "Gee, the traffic is terrific!"

But it was great to see the grandparents again, and rather than get rest early tonight, we all stayed up talking about all sorts of different things, catching up somewhat.  Madison put on her usual fashion show, trying on her new costumes from Christmas and parading them out in front of the grandparents as we talked.  They're doing well, and actually coming from a pretty warm climate.  Of course, its' really warm everywhere this year.  The expectation was to play a little bit of tennis, but the rain just keeps coming, so we're not so sure about that this week.  No worries though - we have a few plans for tomorrow, and of course Tuesday is Senior Citizen Discount day at Goodwill.  And Taco Tuesday.  Can't forget that.  Ever.

We continued our post-Christmas cleaning up a bit today, also preparing some gifts for the grandparents.  Tomorrow will be like Christmas morning in a way, though Madison doesn't know it yet.  We kept back a few gifts that will appear under the tree, and it will be nice to have Christmas with the grandparents here, and it will be nice to give them their gifts as well.  Madison made a nice painting for both sets of grandparents, part of her bird painting series.  It really is a nice painting, and should be nice to see when we visit their houses next time.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Never Tell Me the Odds

The day after Christmas is the day to play with all our new toys, and we made good with that aspect of things!  We spent a lot of time playing Disney Infinity 3.0 today, checking out the new characters and new playsets, and already the feeling is that we like it more than Disney Infinity 2.0.  The deciding factor may have been the Toy Box Speedway, which has a fun Sugar Rush racetrack that Madison likes a lot.  Although her favorite track might be on Tatooine.  Seeing Chewbacca race around in a teacup or Groot in a car from Disneyland - it's a neat little addition to the game.

We did a lot of cleaning up today as well, in preparation for our visitors tomorrow, which involved quite a bit of work actually, as Christmas makes quite a mess!

Madison likes her Princess Pets and the new Monster High stuff she got yesterday, these being her mascots that follow her around into the living room, the kitchen, or wherever she goes.  And she is usually wearing a different costume, sometimes catering to whatever it is she's doing, and other times not.  For example, while watching "Star Wars," she was dressed up like Anna from "Frozen."

Daddy had a t-shirt with Han Solo saying, "Never tell me the odds," and it's been a thing she's been saying a lot.  In fact, she's said it so much that she wanted to see the original trilogy again.  So that's another thing we did today.  And this time, it was even greater - we watched "A New Hope," and were surprised at how much Madison didn't remember from her last viewing.  She was laughing a lot and asking questions again, and just really focused on the movie all the way through.  Han never said, "Never tell me the odds," in this movie though - so we'll continue the trilogy soon.  But the excitement of a Star Wars movie - especially on a nice television set like ours - never gets old.  She was very much into it, as were all of us.

We ended the day this way, also with a reading from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," and soon were off to bed.  Tomorrow we're back at KidPak, and tomorrow we have our special visitors once more.  It'll be another full day for sure!

Friday, December 25, 2015

"More Than I Expected!"

Christmas is here again, and to quote Madison, "It was more than I expected!"  Indeed it was, as she woke up early to go downstairs and discover a whole lot of presents beneath our tree from Santa.  Madison patiently waits for Mommy and Daddy to come downstairs, the three of us in our pajamas, setting up Christmas music and watching Madison open her gifts one at a time.  It's such a magical time each year as Santa somehow always overdoes it, blessing us with so much, and so much more than just gifts.

Here's Madison with one of her favorite gifts, a Mal costume that she's been hoping for.  She asked for this from Santa some time ago with her letter, and despite being pretty tough to come by in October, evidently it was no problem for the man with the bag.

This is the face of Christmas morning, but it was one we all had to be honest.  It was such a wonderful morning, and it was made better when we Skyped Nana and Ba-Ba from Florida, and shared with them the play-by-play of the morning, broadcasting the presents as they were opened, and making spirits bright.

Afterwards, of course we went over to Nana and Ye-Ye later on in the afternoon.  It was some time later though, as there was some difficulty with Uncle Dave, who had to go to the hospital this morning. Unfortunately, his Christmas was a bit more bleak, as was Aunt Shain's family, of course.

All were able to come together later though, despite the absence of Dave.  Thanks to the generosity of the radio station, we had a big Honey Baked Ham dinner, and thanks to the generosity of Daddy's friends, Aunt Shain came away with another hefty contribution to help out with her needs.  But the gift exchanges were nice as well, as everyone was blessed with lots of thoughtful gifts.

One favorite part of the Christmas festivities is always the white elephant gift exchange, which was hysterical as always.  There's this ugly clown doll that keeps getting passed around from year to year.  But other highlights included a ninja gnome and a leg lamp ice cube maker.  It's funny the things that get everyone excited.

We had desserts, including our birthday cake for Jesus - we sang "Happy Birthday" as well, and watched "A Christmas Story" for the billionth time, as it plays all day long on one of the television stations is famous for playing it all day long each Christmas.

We got home a little later tonight, playing with some of our new toys and winding down somewhat for the evening.  Mommy and Daddy exchanged gifts, opened stockings, and enjoyed the waning hours of the day.  It was a Wet Christmas today - pouring rain all day.  Quite a bit different from a few years ago, when all was white.  But the weather outside doesn't spoil Christmas.  As they say, "the weather outside is frightful, but inside it's sure delightful."  And that's what it was for us all day today.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Candlelight Service

Tonight's Candlelight Service was a full one - look at all the people that were here!  Those were the ones that got here 45 minutes early, because everyone else wound up in overflow.  It was packed!  But it was nice nonetheless, with plenty of Christmas carols, a good message, and of course the candles all over the sanctuary.

This morning we woke up to the sound of thunder.  A lot of thunder.  Strong storms have been crossing the southeast, as the Heat Miser has evidently decided to establish his dominance over this area.  The rain has been constant, and the temperatures have been record breaking.  It is said that El Nino is to blame.  Whatever it is, it's sure warm here in Georgia.

Daddy took Madison on a shopping trip this afternoon, one to the dollar store, one where Madison had about $20 to spend on all the family members - and gift bags too!  She picked up all kinds of presents there, putting lots of thought into each one.

Meanwhile, Mommy was making a birthday cake for someone who has a big birthday tomorrow!

This is a great Christmas tradition, and such a lovely one.  Mommy always does such a good job with this.  Daddy and Madison came home and thought it looked really good.

Speaking of looking good, that goat in Gavle survived!  That makes two years in a row.  We've been periodically checking on it, and yay!  It made it to the end of the Christmas season!

Another tradition for Christmas Eve:  checking in with NORAD.  They've been tracking Santa for quite a few years, so we were able to check on his progress this afternoon and yikes... he was in Syria of all places.  Hope he flies safely there...

It rained all day today, a theme of the last few months.  It's been overcast for so long here, so different from the weather patterns we're used to.  Despite the rain, we all made it fine to Nana and Ye-Ye's house tonight for the beginning of the family Christmas.

Everyone was there, including Uncle Dave, who was pretty bad off to be honest.  The cancer has taken a toll, and the very man who was carrying out all the presents to the car last Christmas was unable to walk by himself this year.

But at least he could make it.  And as always, Ye-Ye and Nana had a great feast of food prepared.  All kinds of shrimp, meatballs, sliced meats - and then there were the cookies and cakes and the egg nog... it was all wonderful.  We had some Christmas movies playing as we all spent time together talking, laughing, and sharing.  We saved the gift opening for the next day, but still had a great time together as a family.

We got home, and of course there was the reading of "The Night Before Christmas."  We read from other Christmas books too, but soon enough we will all be asleep, visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads.  It's raining tonight, and Rudolph will surely be needed to help out through the evening.  NORAD is tracking him, and he's getting close.  So off to sleep we go, excited about another Christmas morning tomorrow, a day full of wonder.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas Eve Eve

Jingle Bell left us a goodbye note this morning, which is always a bittersweet sort of moment.  The bitter is the goodbye, but the sweet is that he's going back to the North Pole because Christmas is coming soon!

We've been pretty busy lately, as things gear up for the big day.  We watched all kinds Christmas movies today as we wrapped - and made an awesome gingerbread house.

We were decorating cookies, gingerbread houses, and watching all kinds of Christmas movies, like "Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas," "Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas," "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," and ... "Swiss Family Robinson?"  Yes, it has a Christmas scene in it.  We were determined to make up for the reading of the book recently, and wanted to sit and watch the movie, which is so much better.  And it turns out there's a Christmas scene in there, with the family celebrating Christmas and the return of the exploring older sons.  And yes, Madison enjoyed it so much more, as did Mommy and Daddy, who were also stopping for a moment to rest on the couch.

It's Christmas Eve Eve, which means wrapping and sending final cards and phone calls and so on.  It's an exciting time!  Just two more days until Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


Jingle Bell wants to be in a snow globe, apparently.  Madison wakes up early each morning, tromps down the stairs to find Jingle Bell each day in December - and then looks under the tree, where a little gift awaits her.  It's usually something small like a coloring book or a tiny book of origami.  But it's always a fun surprise, something leading up to the big day.

This morning was funny - we were singing "The Twelve Pirate Days of Christmas," and pretty much making it up on the spot.  "Five golden cities, four cannon balls, three Aztec coins, two Holy Grail cups and a treasure chest in a pair tree."  We had fun with that one!

We were off an running a little early today, together taking a trip to a place in Norcross called "A Taste of Britain."  We were getting presents for Nana, and a few for Mommy too.  We spent a great deal of time there with Mommy and Madison, looking around at all the imports from Great Britain.  It's all about the candy this time of year - can't miss out on Crunchie bars!

Daddy got an allergy shot a little later, although the nurse was an hour late.  He's been reading "A Christmas Story" lately, so that helped pass the time.

Getting home, it was time to select another Christmas-themed movie.  Madison wanted to see "The Nativity Story," which thrilled us of course.  She lined up her Nativity Set pieces up along the floor to watch the television set and see their own story.  Seriously, it was great to see her choose this movie over all the other ones.  Although the other ones are lots of fun, this is a great movie that tells the story of Jesus' birth.  And don't bother to correct us about the timing of the appearance of the Wise Men.  The point is, they showed up.

And a bonus to the movie:  the actor who plays Joseph is none other than Poe Dameron from "The Force Awakens"!  Yeah, that was a surprise...

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Force Awakens

Jingle Bell made breakfast for us! He's trying to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup!
Today we took our last trip to the chiropractor, a visit for the entire family.  Madison always hides, and always jumps out and says, "Boo!"  She hides under tables, under chairs, behind potted plants, and today, under a pile of jackets that we rested on an adjustment table.  Of course, it's fairly obvious where she is hiding.  So Doc Williams plays along, this time stacking other items on top of the pile, as if she were not there at all.  When lo!  She once again jumps out and says, "Boo!"

After the chiropractor, we all had a bite to eat at Cracker Barrel, which was just perfect.  Though the temperature outside is warmer, the fireplace was still up and going.  And the food was good again.  Madison is getting the hang of the pin game beforehand, as Daddy is showing her the pattern to victory.  She's almost got it, actually.

And so what next to do?  Oh yeah - that little Star Wars movie that just came out!  Yes, we finally saw it today, taking our usual seats in the back row a little earlier, simply because the crowds are so huge for this one movie.  Three auditoriums in this one theater were dedicated to this movie, three showings going on at the same time, with different start times.  And all three had lines of people waiting to see the movie - although we timed our showing just right.  This will be the biggest money making movie of all time, in a very short time.  We delayed out viewing because we knew there's be so many people crowding theaters to see it.  Still, the crowds were big.

As for the movie itself, it was fun.  I'd rank it either #4 or #5, for one reason that won't be spoiled here.  The movie was really great until one pivotal moment that sort of blasted everything down significantly.  Sort of hard to get over.  It's the sort of moment that when waking up at 2:00 am, you're still thinking about, and that's all we'll say here.

The rest of the day was pleasant, spent at home preparing for Christmas.  We did some wrapping, of course, and enjoyed the atmosphere of our decorated house.  The outside is just lovely, with lighted garland around the doorway, wreathes on every window, and garland even on the mailbox.  The windows are open in front of the one lighted tree, and the upstairs tree is nice as well, seen from the outside.  We've had the Pandora channel with Christmas music playing the last few weeks, changing from time to time for variety - although we still listen to that radio station that blessed Aunt Shain's family so much.

Tonight, we watched "A Mom for Christmas," an old Christmas movie with Olivia Newton John.  Madison enjoyed it very much, and was quite concerned about the ending, hoping for the best.  Of course, there's a happy ending to it.  It was quite enjoyable.

And so our reading has been.  We're reading "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," and it's just been lots of fun.  The Tim Burton movie seems to be more accurate to the book at this point, something we'll no doubt be seeing after Christmas.  Until that time, it's fun reading the book and doing all the voices for the characters.  It really is a fun book!

So to all a good night - we're getting closer to the big day!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Mixed Nuts

Mr. Peanut was in town yesterday, but here's Jingle Bell still going nuts over the guy.  We had a final day of "Tribes Christmas" this morning, and a great closing to the cartoon series as well.  Madison donated her toys, and you would not believe all the presents that were delivered this month at KidPak.  All the children (and parents) filled these two enormous train boxes with toys, and it was such a wondrous sight to see!

This afternoon, we completed the exterior decorations, just in the nick of time.  We had the front of the house painted a bit where it needed touching up - we've been calling the HOA here for weeks, but they simply do not return phone calls.  They have literally never returned a phone call.  Ever.  This is amazing, because they're pretty quick to communicate with you when they think it's important.  Anyway, that said, we finally got our Christmas decorations up, and Mommy is at peace with the world.  The wreathes are hanging in front of the windows, and there's lighted garland along the door frame.  Garland drapes the front porch, and a Christmas garden flag hangs out by the front door.  Even our lighted reindeer stand on the porch, to add a little more glow.  The Star Wars tree and the front room tree can be seen from the windows - it looks just great.  Can't wait to share a picture of that for the holidays.

Inside, we hung the stockings - including Madison's new Elsa stocking from last year.  It took some time to do all this decorating, and as a reward for ourselves, we all sat down and put a fire in the fireplace while watching "Jingle All the Way."  It was Madison's first experience with Turbo Man and his faithful sidekick Booster, and she had a great time watching tonight.

We finished the chore of reading "Swiss Family Robinson" tonight, and Mommy and Daddy were a little anxious to actually show her the movie, which was so much better.  Yes, that's right, a movie better than the book.  Still, we can say we read it together, right?  Next, Mommy found a copy of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," so we'll have a little fun with that one.

Tonight, we said our prayers again, this time for Uncle David a little more fervently.  He's gaunt and having some bad side effects to the drugs he has to take for chemotherapy and beyond.  These are the same drug that Daddy was taking when he had pancreatitis.  This was the drug that caused hallucinations, and it appears as if Uncle Dave is experiencing some weird side effects as well.  Not a big fan.  Stick with the morphine.

Related to Uncle Dave, we were on the radio today.  The FISH radio station here, 104.7, has been playing the surprise conference call to my sister on the air.  This is the one where a sponsor blessed their family with mortgage payments and more.  Fun to hear that!

So it was a great day, and there are only a few more like this until Christmas.  Can you believe it is THIS week?  It all happens so fast, you just have to hold on tight and make every moment count.  And largely, we've been doing just that!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Alice in a Winter Wonderland

Alice is back, this time in a Winter Wonderland, or at least it finally is starting to feel that way outside.  The temperature plunged to the point that we had icicles outside, something we haven't seen since last winter.  The fire is in the fireplace, and tonight, we were sitting watching another Christmas movie together as we snuggled in front of the fire.  Tonight's flick:  "A Christmas Story."  Madison's sort of seeing all these classic bits for the first time, from the frozen flagpole to the leg lamp to the menacing Santa Claus.  It was fun to watch her react to them, giggling at certain bits like we always do each year.

Daddy has been reading the writings of Jean Shepherd, who wrote all of the different segments that make up "A Christmas Story."  It's a great collection of writings, and a wonderful glimpse into the past.    It's also interesting to see the original stories that the movie is based on, learning a few things along the way.  For example, why a leg lamp?

Madison was an artist today, painting her birds once again on different canvases.  Each one of these will be a gift for the grandparents - and honestly, I really do like these pictures she's painting.  The style is unique and colorful, something I think we could make into a Christmas card maybe next year!

Today, Daddy went to see his old friends up in White County, where we caught up with each other.  These are the friends that go back to high school, which was of course only a few years ago... anyway, they each handed over a lot of money to pass along to Aunt Shain and her family, to help her along this season.  That was nice.

Meanwhile, Mommy and Madison were painting and baking.  In regards to the painting, we had some painters visit today, and now the front of the house has been touched-up a bit.  It looks nice!  These same painters will be back when the weather is warmer, to take care of the rest of the house.  Until then, it looks nice - and will look really nice tomorrow when we hang up the wreathes and Christmas lights.

The nicest moment of the day happened early on though.  Madison earned some gift cards to Target, having had her sermon booklet for KidPak stamped each weekend the last two months.  This morning, she did something generous with her gift cards:  she spent them on somebody else.  She bought a few toys, and donated them to the toy drive that we have going on at KidPak.  It was really sweet watching her walk up and down the aisles, thinking very hard about what she could get, and trying to get the best gift she could.  She decided upon a Monster High doll, and we have no problem with that.  She'll drop it in for a donation in the morning, and we're happy to see her heart in the right place.  She's a good girl, and no doubt will be seeing proof of that in less than a week when Santa comes...!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Tauntaun Sleigh

Good morning from Hoth!  Or, at least that's the way Jingle Bell would like it.  In honor of the release day of "The Force Awakens," Jingle Bell has a sleigh here pulled along by tauntauns.  Oh, and yes, that's a Yoda ornament in the sleigh, which will of course go on Star Wars themed tree soon enough.

We had a Christmas party tonight at the Hunter house - the whole children's ministry staff showed up to  the party tonight, and Madison had the greatest time.  She was playing LIFE and other games, and apparently eating a lot of sugar, because she talked the entire time on our drive home, and during those moments where things started to get quiet, she'd begin singing Christmas carols!

Mommy and Madison got together today for some fun - they made Christmas cookies!  These were gluten free, and surprisingly good.  Of course, most any cookie is good with sprinkles on it.  But anyway, there were the star-shapes, the Christmas tree shapes*, and the regular circles as well.  And they were all quite tasty too!

We've been listening to the radio station non-stop, waiting to hear ourselves on the air in a pre-recorded conversation that took place two days ago.  They're supposed to be editing it to make it smoother and more radio-friendly, so who knows when they'll add that one to the mix.  In the meantime, we've had our fill of Christmas music on the air, listening in the car, at home, at work, all the time.  We've got their playlist pretty much much memorized, which is good and bad, right?

We got back late, and pretty much went straight to bed.  Meanwhile, the rest of the world has already seen "The Force Awakens."  We're pretty excited to see it, but at the same time were fairly busy so far. We'll see it very soon, and probably multiple times.  But we missed out on that opening night chaos, which is good and bad.  I guess the big thing is keeping Madison safe and healthy, otherwise we'd have shown up, and maybe in costumes too.  We will watch it, but will have to stay away from those who have seen it - definitely need to find a spoiler-free zone to live in the next few days...!

*Yes, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, they're actually called Christmas trees.  Just putting the noun "tree" on your candy bar looks so incredibly dumb that we're not buying it.  Literally and figuratively.  

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Elfish Impersonators

Here they are:  Elfish impersonators.  Yes, that was a bad pun.

Madison had speech therapy today, all decorated nicely - and with happy counselors.  Miss Courtney was delighted to see Madison again, and quite complimentary of the improvement she sees.  Madison impressed her further by saying the word entrepreneurship.  While she was speaking in her room, Mommy and Daddy play Scrabble, and Daddy's been reading "A Christmas Story," or at least the stories that inspired the movie.  It's a funny book!

We found ourselves getting out at 4:30 in Alpharetta with one simple thought:  travel the distance that Google told us - 13 miles - to go from there to Norcross, and get there before 6:00 pm.  We didn't make it.

Traffic was such that nobody was going anywhere far.  Again, how can anyone voluntarily live in such a place?  There wasn't an accident or any reason for the traffic, other than Christmas traffic, perhaps.  Whatever it was, it made for the most miserable three hours experienced since that hospital visit.  Yes, we were in Norcross around 6:00, and then we faced the bitter drive in rush hour home.  We stopped to eat at a McDonald's, and went home as carefully as we could, anxious to get home and simply go to bed and stop the day from getting any more irritating.  There's an anger message we wrote for the upcoming series, and I suppose this would be the best place to put it, as Daddy nearly lost his sanity on yet another drive through Atlanta.  This would be a good time for all of us to take a deep breath, and talk about anger management!

     Anger is there, ready to boil over, complain, yell, scream, and in some cases, even worse.  We all feel it - it's that red-hot emotion that wants to take control every time someone does something to aggravate us.  It may seem like a fiery eruption, but it's an emotion that everyone has had.
     Did you know that the Bible tells us even Jesus felt anger from time to time?  He was very upset with the Pharisees when they didn't think it was right to heal someone on the Sabbath day.  How ridiculous is that?  They were so stubborn, and not willing to do what was right.  Jesus was also angry at the greedy salespeople he saw in God's Temple.  He actually turned over their tables, and drove them out of the place!  And get this:  Jesus was even angry at his own apostles from time to time!  There was this one occasion where they were trying to keep little children from coming to him for prayers.  He put a stop to that nonsense right away.
     The point is that anger is a natural reaction to something that upsets you, and it is something everyone has felt - even Jesus.  So when you start to feel anger, don't think it's just you.
     The important thing is this:  Don't let Anger take control.  James 1:20 tells us, "Human anger doesn’t produce the holy life God wants."  In other words, the best decisions are made when you are not angry.  Anger may feel it's the right thing, but we have to be very careful what we do in anger.  It could cause lasting harm to others, and even ourselves.
     We must control it.  Anger comes in like a fiery explosion, and sometimes it wants to take over - even a few hours or days later!  But the Bible is clear:  we cannot let Anger rule our lives.  We must let go of offenses, forgive those who hurt us, and move on with our lives.  Scriptures tell us to forgive, and they give us some really good advice:  each night before going to sleep, look back on those things that happened during the day.  If there's anything that still causes you anger, ask God to help you forgive, and forget it.  Don't let the sun go down on Anger.
     The thing to remember is this:  Anger happens to all of us, even Jesus.  But the best of us are those who - like Jesus - can keep it under control.

     Another time Jesus went into the synagogue. A man with a weak and twisted hand was there. Some Pharisees were trying to find fault with Jesus. They watched him closely. They wanted to see if he would heal the man on the Sabbath day.  Jesus spoke to the man with the weak and twisted hand. “Stand up in front of everyone,” he said.
     Then Jesus asked them, “What does the Law say we should do on the Sabbath day? Should we do good? Or should we do evil? Should we save life? Or should we kill?” But no one answered.
     Jesus looked around at them in anger. He was very upset because their hearts were stubborn. Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand had become as good as new.

Mark 3:1-5 NIrV

People were bringing little children to Jesus. They wanted him to place his hands on them to bless them. But the disciples told them to stop. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was angry. He said to his disciples, “Let the little children come to me. Don’t keep them away. God’s kingdom belongs to people like them.  What I’m about to tell you is true. Anyone who will not receive God’s kingdom like a little child will never enter it.”  Then he took the children in his arms. He placed his hands on them to bless them.

Mark 10:13-16 NIrV

"My dear brothers and sisters, pay attention to what I say. Everyone should be quick to listen. But they should be slow to speak. They should be slow to get angry.  Human anger doesn’t produce the holy life God wants." James 1:19-20 NIrV

"It is better to control your temper than to take a city." Proverbs 16:32 NIrV

1.  We all feel Anger.  The Bible tells us even Jesus felt anger from time to time in the Bible.  He was upset that the Pharisees were so stubborn, and not willing to do what was right.  He was angry at the greedy salespeople he saw in God's Temple.  He was even angry at his own apostles one time when they were trying to keep children from coming to him.  The point is that anger is a natural reaction to something that upsets you, and it is something everyone has felt - even Jesus.
"Jesus looked around at them in anger. He was very upset because their hearts were stubborn." Mark 3:5 NIrV

2.  Don't let Anger take control.  The best decisions are made when you are not angry.  Anger may feel it's the right thing, but we have to be careful what we do in anger.  It could cause lasting harm to others, and even yourself.
"My dear brothers and sisters, pay attention to what I say. Everyone should be quick to listen. But they should be slow to speak. They should be slow to get angry.  Human anger doesn’t produce the holy life God wants." James 1:19-20 NIrV

3.  Don't let the sun go down on Anger.  Anger wants to take over more often, but we cannot let Anger rule our lives.  We must let go of offenses, forgive those who hurt us, and move on with our lives.  The Bible tells us to forgive, and gives us some good advice:  each night before going to sleep, look back on those things that happened during the day.  If there's anything that still causes you anger, ask God to help you forgive, and forget it.
"Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry." Ephesians 4:26 NIrV

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


This morning started out with some Pez, and if you've got that, you can't go wrong, right?  Right!  Jingle Bell wanted to make himself a Pez, and when you think about it, it's only a matter of time before there's an Elf on the Shelf Pez dispenser out there.  Until then, we've got a perfectly decent one apparently, as Jingle took it upon himself to make a new Pez for Madison, while surrounding himself with some of those classic Christmas Pez dispensers out there.

Today was a work day for Daddy, and a recovery day for Madison, who has been coughing quite a bit lately.  We took the day off for ballet, because she's been exerting herself quite a bit, and when she does that, it is easy to become winded and coughing excessively.  That said, she'll be fine if she rests tonight.

The biggest news of the day is here:

We nominated Aunt Shain and her family for the 104.7 the Fish's Christmas Wish program, hoping some sponsor would call and help her with the tremendous hole they've been in lately.  Basically, Uncle Dave lost his job due to the cancer treatments, and the mortgage has been in trouble, as has Christmas.  And with just one phone call, help came big time.  Walton Gas, a corporation in Monroe, took it upon themselves to sponsor the Berry Family and catch them up on the mortgage, and bless the kids with gift cards, and a $500 gift card to Publix, as well as a Honey Baked Ham.  It was a wonderful moment, one we're all so grateful for.   Words can't really describe how wonderfully surreal this has all been.  As we wrap up for the day, Daddy wrote a letter of thanks to Walton Gas for their astounding generosity:

To everyone involved at Walton Gas,

     Last month I nominated my sister Shain for the "FISH Christmas Wish Program," something Walton Gas has chosen to help with.  But the word "help" doesn't seem to describe what Walton Gas has chosen to do for our family.  It is simply overwhelming, and honestly pretty difficult to understand how someone we don't even know could be so astonishingly generous to complete strangers!

     Very early this year, my sister's husband began to notice the difficulties with his health.  Like many under similar circumstances, he had no idea he was already dealing with cancer.  In less than a few months, his condition deteriorated rapidly, and my sister had to step up to do what she could to handle the situation.  They have three children, with all the traveling to and fro, and now hospital visits for chemotherapy and radiation.  He lost his job, and therefore the family's ability to take care of the mortgage took a serious hit.  She started working more, balancing all the transportation issues the best she could.  Unfortunately, the hospital visits have gotten more extensive lately, due to blood clots and fainting spells due to his inability to keep food down.  The only thing we can do for him is pray, which of course we have been doing extensively.

     Yet Walton Gas has done something beyond anything we could have ever hoped.  She's been so busy lately, my sister hasn't been answering other phone calls as much, so we told her she HAD to answer this one phone call from you a few days ago.  But she had no idea what it was going to be!  She was simply stunned - in a good way!  And she has been that way for the last few days.  Furthermore, our parents were sharing tears of joy with her when they heard the news.  This has been one of the darkest seasons, but suddenly Walton Gas stepped in with light, with hope, and with love.  

     It is impossible to articulate how grateful we are.  But here I am trying anyway, because I just have to tell you how thankful we are for your most wonderful gift.  It has truly saved Christmas, and it has saved a family.

Merry Christmas!

Stan and Ollie

Here's our new Nutcracker this year - or wait?  No, that's actually Jingle Bell!  He's clearly nuts.

Anyway, today was Tuesday, which means one thing:  Taco Tuesday.  And although that's important to Madison - really important - the actual thing I meant to say here was that Tuesday is the day for piano class.  It was the last one of the year, and one where Mrs. Pam handed out Christmas songs and bags with flavored popcorn and balloons.  It was a nice class, one where everyone was a little wound up because of the impending holidays.

Tonight, Madison met Stan and Ollie for the first time, both stars of the movie "March of the Wooden Soldiers."  We haven't watched this one in a while, and in fact Madison never has.  But she really liked it, talking about certain parts afterwards.  We watched the colorized version, because why not?

Daddy remembers seeing this one all the time at Christmas.  And he remembers seeing Laurel and Hardy movies a lot growing up.  One particular instance, it was a movie that was shown in a campground somewhere in Colorado.  Sometime soon, Daddy will be picking up some of these on DVD for Madison to check out.  From a historical perspective, they're pretty neat.  But they're also genuinely funny too.  Finally, they're local:  a few hours from here is where Oliver Hardy was born, and each year there's an Oliver Hardy Festival in Harlem, Georgia.  This next year, it'll be on October 1st.  Maybe that's something we can head to!

Today was the staff party for the church, which Daddy actually mainly worked, with trivia questions and a photo booth as well, complete with all kinds of props.  It was nice to see everyone together, once again for another Christmas gathering.

We've been reading "Swiss Family Robinson" this week, and to our great surprise, it isn't that interesting.  The movie is something much different, the biggest difference being that things actually happen in the movie.  Still, we're laboring through it and Daddy is doing his best with voices to make it more interesting.  Basically, through 75% of the book so far, the family is stranded on an island.  They make a few places to live.  They capture some animals to keep, and shoot others.  That's pretty much it. Like I said, we'll have to check out the movie next, as it adds an element that always brings a little bit more to the table:  pirates.  Although we haven't finished with this book yet, so there very well could be pirates in the mix.  But thus far, things have been kind of quiet.  And weird too, come to think of it.  This is an island with flamingoes, bears, a 30-foot anaconda, buffalo, penguins and more.  It's a bit strange for sure.

Speaking of which, we'll have to peek in on our elf, Jingle Bell, now.  I'm sure he's up to something strange himself!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Creeper Claus

Straight from the world of Minecraft, it's Creeper Claus!  Madison really plays this game a lot, and with that in mind, apparently Jingle Bell set off to create a Minecraft world, turning himself into one of the bad characters in the game.  Creeper is an appropriate name for these guys - they give me the creeps!

This is a game that all the kids are into right now.  It's interesting because there is no clear objective to the game, except in one mode, simple survival I guess.  Madison avoids that part of the game, and spends her time building houses or things like that.  She loves the themed worlds, including a Halloween one or a Christmas themed one.

We had ballet today, and the campus there at Brenau is really quiet with all the students off for winter break.  Mommy and Daddy were doing a bit of shopping while Madison was dancing, but we kept talking about this one thing that happened:  we got a call from a radio station.  That's a teaser for something that's going to happen hopefully later on this week...!

Today being Monday, we did a tremendous amount of wrapping, and I can say we're really close to being finished with the wrapping this year.  It was a metric ton of wrapping paper we went through this morning/afternoon, and it was quite a task.  But we stuck to it, watching Christmas movies along the way like 'Miracle on 34th Street" and "The Bells of St. Mary's."  We listened to the radio some, especially the stations that play Christmas music.

Madison has no homework this week, and after tomorrow, not much in the way of piano homework either.  It's going to be an easy week for her in that respect.  She has a persistent cough at the moment though, one that means we have Vix on her feet and chest, and one of those humidifiers on next to her bedside.

At least she's coughing now, and not later on as we get closer to Christmas.  Hopefully this will pass soon... because Christmas is creeping up on us!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Festive Sort of Day

Rapunz-elf!  Rapunz-elf!  Let down your hair!  Jingle Bell was having a little fun with the tower from "Tangled," with a pretty long bit of braided hair involved as well!

This week, we were enormously blessed with a pretty remarkable donation of stuff to Madison - and a little bit to Daddy too, actually.  It was a bunch of Disney Store stuff, and it was all in great condition too.  One thing was this tower, which has action figures and note pads inside.  There's more on the way, including an amazing Snow White dress that we know she will just adore.  That's not from Santa - that's from us.  Well, it's from God really, along with a bunch of other unexpected blessings.  Our family and another one was highly blessed with enough toys to make any kid happy.  Madison is going to have an incredible Christmas!

We had KidPak this morning, but Mommy and Daddy were able to slip away to join the grown-ups in 'big people church' for the second service.  It was a really nice service with a Christmas theme, and a message about Simeon waiting for the baby Jesus.  But the other part of the service was great too - we got to see Mac Powell do a few of the Christmas songs and more.

He's been here about six times at the church, but we're usually at KidPak.  He usually poses for pictures with folks after service, and we may do that next year.  But this year, we were on a bit of a mission:  food, and then a show.

First the food.  We left church, and did a bit of shopping, getting a few items for the nephews and Hannah - and then we went to Texas Roadhouse for a fantastic lunch.  They have a new wing to the restaurant open there, and the place is always full of people.  It's a great steak they serve there, and the atmosphere is fun too.  Madison loves eating there, and Mommy does too.

Afterwards, we met up with the director of the 1st Baptist Church Christmas program this year, and he gave us some tickets to their Living Christmas Tree program at 4:30.  This is their fifteenth year of doing this production.

It was really good to see again, a choir of 101 people singing some obscure Christmas songs along with classic ones we all know and love.  There was an orchestra playing along with the choir, complete with a harpist, a marimba and even a couple steel drums.  The whole thing ends with the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah, with everyone standing up, and that's always a great thing to hear in person.  It's one of those things that sort of gets overplayed as a joke piece whenever good news happens (or whenever you use a hand grenade in a "Worms" game).  But this piece of music is really amazing, and wonderful to listen to.

We all enjoyed it tremendously, as we do each year.  And as we do each year, we drove a little slowly down Green Street to see all the houses in downtown Gainesville all decorated and brightly lit with hundreds of christmas lights, house after house, decorated in such stately fashions.

Mommy had one more surprise up her sleeve - a coupon for a free Blizzard at Dairy Queen.  The flavor of the month, appropriately enough, involves candy canes.  So we got one with just candy canes, and one with candy canes and Oreo bits.  Both were yummy!

We got home, and it was pretty much time for bed.  We wanted to get to sleep earlier, as it has been a big weekend.  Daddy started a new book, "Swiss Family Robinson," which might not be as exciting as the movie was.  So far, it just involves surviving the shipwreck, and building a home in a tree, and that sort of thing.  We'll read through this one next though, and just keep on reading as the weeks go by.  It's a great bedtime tradition!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Christmas in Georgia

Today was a whopper of a day!  We crammed in quite a bit - and look how it started out, with Jingle Bell getting a major award!  It says where it is from on the side:  Fra-gee-lay!  This was one of those things that Madison didn't quite get, having not seen the movie yet.  She knows that ornament is on the tree - it's a new one from last year.  She thinks Jingle wants to pack it up or something.  And maybe he does?

Anyway, first thing this morning, Madison and Daddy were on a quest:  

That's right:  Santa Cow was back.  This is our third consecutive year of seeing Santa Cow, and we're laughing about the photos that they make for us.  We have all these photos of Madison and Santa in our living room, but there are two of Madison with Santa Cow from last year, right up there with the others.  Soon, there'll be three (when we go to pick up the photo on Tuesday).  Anyway, it was a nice little trip to Chick-Fil-A to grab breakfast, and a few other treats on top of that.  It's just a nice morning thing to do.

And we thought for the afternoon, the thing to do was finally go to see Sone Mountain Christmas!  Of course, any trip to Atlanta is going to cost you blood.  That said, it took us a REALLY long time to get there due to accidents, blocked off roads, and I'm not making this up:  a marathon we saw, where people were dressed up as Santa in fat suits, running through the streets of Atlanta.

It was a hot day for such a thing, but I'm sure they enjoyed it.  Anyway, eventually we got to Stone Mountain.  One thing we have to admit:  the lights in the village area were pretty awesome!

The rest of our day consisted of walking through amazingly large groups of people to make it - or in two cases not make it - to various Christmas-themed shows.  The first one happened to be Madison's favorite:  it was a version of "A Christmas Carol," all done rapid-fire with four comic hosts.  There were quite a few lines delivered straight from the classic, but plenty of modern references to get some laughs.  Madison loved that one character told another she looked like Chewbacca.

We also saw "The Littlest Christmas Tree," which again was something Madison liked - although not as much as "A Christmas Carol."  It was a cute show with a skunk, a squirrel, a Christmas tree, I think a rabbit, and a whole bunch of puppets.  One thing we liked about this park was that it didn't hold back on using the word "CHRISTMAS."  It didn't hold back on playing songs that used controversial phrases like "Joy to the world, the Lord is come."  

One thing we didn't like about the park was that the map they gave you was not in any way useful whatsoever.  It was a map of the entire Stone Mountain area, and we just wanted to know where the different venues were for various shows.  Signs exist, but they aren't lit up at night.  End result:  we missed a show or two, and wasted our time trying to catch said shows.  Strike one.

But we did get to see enough to justify our time.  Like the Christmas parade, for example.  Here's one of the characters who came by and had a brief back-and-forth with Madison:

And also there was the Snow Queen.  Or Ice Queen.  Or something like that.  She's got a nice ride down the street - no marching for her!

One of the requirements for the park is riding around on the train.  It's a sing-a-long train that travels around Stone Mountain, which takes about a half-hour or so.  They were supposed to do a presentation called "The Gift" on the other side of the mountain, one that told the Christmas story from the Bible.  But maybe there were too many people or something, and they decided not to do that for us.  Strike two.  Still, the ride was relaxing, as are most train rides.  Seriously, there's just something about a train.  There were Christmas lights along the way, and Madison spotted three deer that were in the woods between us and the mountain.  She has some eagle eyes to see them in those woods.

We got back, and it was getting later, and of course we had just missed another show.  There were approximately 5.6 squillion people there in the park, which translates to 2.3 people per square inch.  Still we were hungry, and opted to go in to grab some overpriced food.  And, as we feared, there was absolutely no options whatsoever for a person with gluten allergies.  Get this:  their french fries have wheat in them.  Their potatoes on a stick had gluten.  The only thing that did not have gluten was a bag of Lay's potato chips.  And some hummus.  But you couldn't use the crackers to dip into the humus, as it had gluten in it.  So anyway, Mommy had nothing to eat, really.  Is that a strike three? 

A nice boy gave Mommy a bag of potato chips, and Madison scarfed a chicken and fries meal, all under the beautiful lights all around us.  Here's a photo of Madison at the table now:

She had a great time.  She was still talking about that Christmas Carol show, in fact.  We left a little early tonight, and got out with no problem.  Until we got to 400, where there was yet another accident that made us spend an extra half-hour on the road.  Why anyone voluntarily lives in that city is beyond me.  You cannot just drive anywhere at all.  You have to sit in traffic all the time.

But we did get home, and it was late.  But we had a great day, filled with Christmas fun.  Seriously, it wasn't that bad.  It wasn't great, but we were wanting to do this for a while and see what it was like.  The lights were the highlight.  The shows were nice, but perhaps the best time to go would be in November when the entire population of Georgia isn't there.

Still, it was a good, Christmas-filled day, from Santa Cow to Stone Mountain.  Christmas in Georgia all the way!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Hot Chocolate and Pajamas

Jingle Bell was hitting the links this morning.  This is hole 18.  We don't know where the others are - they must be the missing links!

Guess what?  Madison got to do her presentation today, and she did great!  Daddy and Mommy are so amazingly proud of her right now - her teacher gave her great grades, and Madison was showing them off when she got home.  She was showing off a few other assignments as well, all with good grades.  We've been so pleased with her work this year, and today was just another highlight.  

Madison got to do some shopping at school today too!  She went to the Penguin Shop, or whatever it's called, and with the money she got from Mommy, she bought a few presents for Mommy and Daddy.  They are currently under the tree, and Madison was really clear about the instructions to us:  do not open until Christmas.  Yes, mam!

Tonight at KidPak, we had a Christmas movie Bash.  Madison was looking forward to coming to this, but then again, so was Daddy.  He spent the day prepping for it - and the weekend - so when it came time to join the party, he was ready!

Oh, did we mention it was a pajama party?

Not only were there pajamas, there was also hot chocolate!

The movie we showed was "The Polar Express," which of course has hot chocolate and pajamas, and it was amazing to see the kids so focused on a movie like this.  Even though they've all seen it before, and maybe even have it memorized, this magical movie sort of grabs their attention and we're all whisked along for a ride on the tracks to the North Pole.  It was just a wonderful night, really.  Lots of kids, and kids-at-heart, all watching a favorite Christmas movie.

Oh yes, Daddy wore his Ralphie pajamas too.  And there were stuffed animals galore - Madison brought here friend, a little bear.  By night's end, all the children would get jingle bells.  Madison's bell is currently inside the bear's hat, so you can jingle his head a bit.  We all went home, and it wasn't long before we all were asleep, dreaming of trains and Christmas.

And speaking of which, tomorrow we'll be seeing a little more of both...

Thursday, December 10, 2015

TP Snowman

Here it is, the TP snowman.  Madison found Jingle Bell in the bathroom this morning, a nice little display - and an audience - for those visiting the bathroom!

Madison didn't do her report today, so that means it'll be tomorrow.  Other than that, her day was quite ordinary, although she did have to write a paragraph about her favorite holiday.  Of course, right now it is Christmas.  But it's not her favorite because of the gifts and snowmen and things to do.  It's her favorite, she wrote, because it is the birthday of Jesus.  I swear we didn't coach her on that one.  We were so happy to hear her write that out.  She's such a great girl!

Her story for this morning was a funny one.  This was her make-up story we do on the way to school.  This morning, we were talking about Pirates of the Caribbean, so she wanted to hear a story with the pirates.  So Daddy told her the story of how Christmas Island got it's name.  It involves Jack Sparrow, Elizabeth Swann and Captain Barbossa, rescuing Santa from natives on the island.  Jack Sparrow just sauntered through the middle of the village, singing "Jingle Bells," and then promptly ran off while every single villager gave chase.  Meanwhile, Barbossa and Swann snuck into one of the huts, bonked a few guards on the head with coconuts, and rescued a tied-up Santa.  They all hopped aboard Santa's sleigh, and flew through the air over the beach, where Jack was running for his life, chased by an entire village of angry natives.  They all had to duck as Santa swooped down low, eight reindeer not so tiny, swimming the waves - Elizabeth called out to Jack to hop on board, and once he stopped screaming, he did just that.  And soon they were off, and into the air, spears and coconuts uselessly flying towards them.  It turns out that Santa was wanting to deliver something to this island, and he was captured.  But now that it was Christmas morning, he was able to continue with his mission:  he left a Bible for each villager, and one written in a language they could understand.  Right there in each Bible was a bookmark, where each could open the small books and read Luke, chapter two.

The pirates each got something special for Christmas themselves, as they celebrated on board the Black Pearl.  That morning, Barbossa was so pleased with the successful mission, he decided to name the island Christmas Island.  And it has been called that ever since.

We had some hot weather today, nearly record temperatures.  We were out for a bit, shopping for Christmas and getting a little bit of favor too.  Twice, we bought gift cards for $25, without realizing that if we did that, we'd get an extra bonus $5.00 gift card from that place.  So a few family members are getting $30 gift cards now, so that'll be nice!

Tonight, we watched "The Shirley Temple Show's" episode with the theme of "Babes in Toyland," which is somewhat of a theme lately.  It's a great episode with Jonathan Winters and Jerry Colonna.  Lots of fun!

Let's see, other things today:  we had the house pressure-washed, and the idea is to get it painted soon.  Also, Daddy got another allergy shot.  And we dropped off our library books, of course.  We were out over at Goodwill looking for costuming material for the "Hooked on a Feeling" series at KidPak too.  We had success there, getting some costuming for the character of Sadness.  

It was a pretty full day, obviously, with lots done, and a bit of fun in there too.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A New Minion

Wednesday is here, and apparently we have a new Minion named Jingle Bell.  Or, at least he wants to be a minion.  He's got the outfit, custom-made with the "Gru" logo on the front even.  The new movie just came out yesterday, so this timely gift was pretty well-received by Madison.  It's a collector's edition version, pictured to the right there.  And the peeps are nice too, although Mommy will probably be eating all of those!

It was a good day today, ending with a night at Lake Lanier Islands for Daddy, at least.  The church had a concert with Christmas music and a small message tonight, and this year, the weather was remarkably different:  it was unseasonably warm outside.  The lights were very nice at the entrance, as always, including the carousel and other things.  But that's as far as Daddy saw this year.  We've seen two light shows already, so we're content when it comes to going out and seeing light displays.  Not to say we won't see more.  But with the amazingly high cost of going in and seeing the same exact lights at Lake Lanier again and again, we thought we'd pass this time around.

Madison still hasn't done per presentation yet at school, although it is spread out throughout the entire week.  She'll be fine when she does do her report - she's going to be great.

Tonight was ballet for Madison, and things are a little quiet at the Brenau campus, with all the students off for winter break.  It's always a quiet, nearly depressing atmosphere when all the students are off and back home - the deserted campus seems like such a desolate place.

Daddy got back in time to read some more from Huckleberry Finn, believe it or not - Madison was in bed, but not quite asleep yet.  She's really into this story, so much that it is all but guaranteed we'll be going to Tom Sawyer Island when returning to the Magic Kingdom.

Afterwards, Mommy and Daddy got straight to work with all our usual December evening festivities.  Lots to do each night, and we're rather tired in fact.  You almost look forward to December 26th in that respect.  But it is a lot of fun, really.  Each morning, she trudges down the hall and the magic is there with squeals and unwrapping and all sorts of joy.  This morning's present under the tree was a Minion, of course.  It was a mystery package, a minion she would only discover upon opening it up.  It was all good - the routine each morning is really fun for her.  Two advent calendars, chocolate, a chain of candy canes 25 pieces long at the beginning of December, and then of course finding what Jingle Bell is up to.  Unwrapping a present, and then finally all the other bits that go into getting ready for the morning.  Fun, fun, fun!