Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Memories . . .

I've blogged in the past about how powerful memories are. That point is driven home regularly during the Advent and Christmas seasons. (soapbox warning . . . I refuse to call it the "Holiday" season here. I'll be PC at work, but this is my blog, dadgummit, and I'll call it what I want!!!!).

Ahem, where was I?

This time of year is filled with triggers that bring back vivid memories from Christmas' past. Stringing lights on the tree; singing those great Christmas carols; hanging stockings with care; etc etc. Many of my memories are musical in nature. One was triggered last night.

Blockus and I were up late wrapping Christmas presents. Did you see what I just wrote?!? On December 17th, we were WRAPPING PRESENTS!!!!! This did NOT evoke a vivid memory as we have never wrapped anything this early. I'm so proud. (it was either that or clean the house and that clearly wasn't going to happen). Anywhere, we were still going strong at 11:00 when A Christmas Carol ended on TNT. As I was reaching for the remote, I saw the promo for what was on next - Christmas in Washington. Now, the annual spectacle that I remember was just that - a spectacle. President and Mrs. Reagan sitting on the front row listening to a mix of singing stars broadcast during prime time on one of the big three networks. Over the past few years I've caught glimpses of the show on a seemingly random array of networks (CMT, Lifetime, the Food Network maybe?). And the "talent" seemed to have fallen off a bit. Lot's of pop; not much culture. Maybe I'm just getting old(er).

Last night didn't start off much better. I don't know who the first singer was (bless her heart), but we promptly hit "mute" while she gyrated around the stage in a gold lame mini-dress. "Merry Christmas!" I was going to give them one more song; if things didn't improve we were moving on.

Good news! Next up - Kristin Chenowith. Loved her in West Wing; can sing along to most of the soundtrack from the original "Wicked". (yes, I love Broadway; you gonna make something of it?).

Well, it wasn't her best performance, but it was enough to keep us watching. Next Darius Rucker (ne "Hootie") singing an absolutely lovely song that neither of us had ever heard before. I was starting to really enjoy myself! And I suddenly realized that, despite everything, I was still watching Christmas in Washington. Not "Holiday" in Washington or "Winter Solstice" in Washington. These people were right up there on stage singing about the Baby Jesus and everything! Out loud! On TV! Well I'll be!

The next act (that I remember, at least; remember that by now it's 11:30 and we're wrapped out) sealed the deal. I remember Blockus calling me to the kitchen to see some acapella group on YouTube singing the Twelve Days of Christmas. Just some guys from Indiana University singing at their annual Christmas / Holiday concert. They were amazing! Talented, funny and yes, talented. Well, that video went viral and now they are living the dream of every college-age music group. Major contract with a major recording label; performing on national TV (albeit TNT) in front of the First Lady. (FYI, this was recorded while the President was dodging shoes in Iraq earlier in the week). "Straight No Chaser" is the name of the group and they are darned talented. Enjoy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Fe11OlMiz8

Anyway, the whole show ended on a high note. Lot's of beautiful carols sung beautifully; unashamed celebration of the birth of the Christ Child. It was an awful lot like the olden days.

Merry Christmas,
Chris

Saturday, December 13, 2008

On Being Celebrated . . .

This past week marked my final week of travel for the year. Yippeeeeee!!! As previously noted, I journeyed to Seattle and Sacramento. Amazingly enough, I found Seattle to be gray, cloudy, rainy, and cold. Imagine that!

Sacramento, however was enjoying a nice warm-up after a frosty beginning to the week and it was wonderfully sunny. My raincoat stayed in the hotel the whole time.

The best part of Sacramento, though, was dinner on Thursday night. I was priviledged to be invited to dinner at the home of my western doppelganger. How cool is that!?! I've never actually met any of my blogger buddies yet.

(Humorous aside - - - one of my colleagues asked me if I wanted to have dinner with him that same evening. I had to figure out how to decline without making it sound wierd. "No thanks, I'm meeting some guy I met on the internet." Hmm, no that won't do. "No can do, some total stranger who either has a lovely family much like mine OR a raging imagination is picking me up and driving me off into the darkness." Nope, that won't work either. "Sorry, I'm having dinner with some friends." That worked!)

Anywhich, Tim picked me up at my hotel (no short haul from either his office or home) and took me home to meet Tonya, PFF, AJ, and Happy Boy. We had a great time getting to know one another, eating some amazing homemade soup and cornbread, listening to Tim play "Moonlight Sonata" on the piano, reading books to the kids while cozied up on the sofa, and in general laughing and enjoying one anothers company. (at least, I was; hopefully they were too).

So, many thanks to Tim and Tonya for opening their home to a cyber-friend but otherwise total stranger. It was a priviledge to be welcomed by your family. Besides (inside joke), after umpty-leven weeks of travel, I was REALLY tired of hotel and restaurant food!!!

(Oh, and Tim really does have a lovely family much like mine, and he did return me safely to my hotel. No worries at all!)

Happy weekend,
Chris

Friday, December 5, 2008

Observations on San Juan . . .

Encouraged by Tim's comment from my last post, I'll provide a few observations based on my trip to San Juan. (Thanks, Tim!)

  1. The people of San Juan are a wonderful, kind, loving people. Everyone there went way out of their way to make me feel welcome. I once heard a leader I greatly respect state "go where you're celebrated, not where you're tolerated." I was definitely "celebrated" in San Juan and as a result I will go out of my way to go back and support our team there.
  2. Example 1: our General Manager arranged for a private tour of the Capital Building in Old San Juan. It is one of three state capitals in the country that is made of marble. Not only that, but all of the exterior marble came from the great state of Georgia (my own county, in fact!). I learned a lot about the history of Puerto Rico that I was woefully ignorant of prior to this trip.
  3. Example 2: I also got to tour El Morro, the larger of the two fortresses guarding Old San Juan. Started in the mid-1500's by the Spanish, it protected the city through the Spanish-American War when, in 1898, the American Navy defeated the Spanish and took possession of the island. It reminded me of the fort in St. Augustine, but is much larger.
  4. There is great food to be had in San Juan. However, don't confuse "Puerto Rican" food with "Mexican" food. First, they bear no resemblance to one another, and second, you'll really make the Puerto Ricans mad! PR food is more like Spanish food; lot's of pork and beef; spicy rice; etc. We had lunch one day at Reice's, an upscale "traditional Puerto Rican" restaurant where I had Mofongo. Take a plantain, mash it and mix with spices, and press the mixture around the sides of a tall wooden bowl. Fill the interior with churasco (skirt steak). Yum! (side note: anything you can do with a potato, you can do with a plantain)
  5. Even though PR is a part of the USA, it really was like being in a foreign country. I speak no Spanish, so I was at the mercy of everyone else being willing to accomodate me and my language. Everyone was very gracious (see #1 above), but usually the conversations bounced between the two languages.
  6. The last evening I was there I walked out along the beachfront walk of my hotel. It was December 3rd, and I was lying in a beach lounge chair, watching the stars, listening to the waves break against the rocks about 30 feet away. It's days like that that remind me how much I love my job!!! Hopefully a return trip in February will include Blockus as a travel-mate. She loves PR and definitely deserves a break!

Today I'm back home in the cold but beautiful mountains. Monday, I leave for Seattle and Sacramento. (Hey Tim, did you catch that?!? I'll be there Wed evening thru Friday morning). Then, it's home sweet home for the rest of the year. (I think).

Have a great weekend.

Chris

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Good Heavens! ! !

Have I really not posted anything for 5 weeks?!? Never mind "NaBloPoMo", how about "NoPoAtAllInNoMo".

Here's a quick summary of what we've missed.
1) Belle had a birthday (she's 9 now, and really turning into quite the young lady). I heard the party was nice, but I wasn't invited because I'm a boy. You see, she had a fancy tea party, and only girls go to fancy tea parties. So, The Boy and I stayed home and watched football on TV with my Dad.

2) One of my good friends lost his job. I know he's not the only one in the country in that boat, but that's hitting pretty close to home! Prayers for him and his wife are desired and appreciated.

3) I found out that my small team of people is "going away" in 2009. (see item #2 and start to panic). Oh, I found out about this the day before Thanksgiving ; what a way to set the mood!

4) Turns out item #3 is going to turn out all right. I talked to a VP today who really wants me on his new team that he's building from scratch. Turns out that my "old team going away" is really more of a "old team moving to a new home with a new boss" more than anything. Nothing is final yet, including the all important comp plan, but I'm feeling MUCH better.

5) Despite #3 above, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving. After spending Thursday with Blockus' family, we headed to my folks (about an hour away) Friday morning to celebrate with my family. Two parents, three brothers, three sisters-in-law (don't you hate it when people say "sister-in-laws"? I know I do), nine nieces and nephews, an aunt and an uncle, and a partridge in a pear tree. It was great fun. We had a professional photographer friend come do a family portrait of the whole clan.

6) One of my nephews got engaged the weekend before Thanksgiving. He's the first of that next generation to do so; all of my nieces were thrilled that someone else was taking the plunge first.

7) And, after a week at home with no business travel, I'm back on the road again. I know you'll feel sorry for me when I disclose my current location . . . San Juan PR. When I left home yesterday morning it was 33 degrees and snowy; it's in the 70's here. Sweet!!! I have to admit, though, I really do feel like I'm in a foreign country. Everyone here in the office is trying to remember that I'm here and thus have all conversations in English. But when they get excited about something (um, that happens a lot here) they lapse back into Spanish and I just smile and nod as I listen. My GM here keeps trying to translate for me by whispering in my ear, but it's exhausting trying to keep up. Oh, cool aside . . . I was the "featured guest speaker" at a training session held over lunch at our office here today. Before I was introduced the local manager kicked off the meeting (in Spanish). I was messing with my laptop while he spoke, but suddenly I realized that his tone of voice had changed and everyone had gotten very still. I looked up and realized that he was praying! And it wasn't just a "Lord bless this food" prayer, it was a long one that appeared to cover a lot of ground. How cool is that? Clearly, this is a close-knit team whose members have been here for an average of 7 years. In ten years with this company, that was a first for me. Just thought I'd share.

How's that for a "stream of conciousness" post? I'll try to come back again before 2009.

Chris

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Still missing in action . . .

Well, here I am again. "Here" would be in a hotel room, right where you'd expect me to be.

Once upon a time (not so long ago), when I described my work and travel schedule to people, I would say something along the lines of "I usually travel 2 or 3 days a week, 3 weeks a month. Not too much; just enough to be interesting." Lately, it's been more like "4 or 5 days a week, every week of the flippin month for months and months on end". At what point does "not normal" become "the new normal"?

Fortunately, this really has been a season of unusual travel activity. It will continue to some degree through Thanksgiving, then abate through December. We'll see how "normal" defines itself in the new year.

In the meantime, I finally took some time tonight (while the World Series is on in the background) to catch up one the comings and goings of some of my favorite bloggers. Good heavens! People are getting pregnant, giving birth, moving, taking trips, getting their mailboxes knocked down, mail-ordering worms, celebrating birthdays, and generally getting on with their lives. Oh, and apparently there is an election going on and an economic meltdown going on out there. The election I know about; one thing about lots of travel is that you get to watch LOTS of campaign advertisements on TV. Joy.

That's it for now, my internetish friends. Hopefully I'll get back to more regular blogging soon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Die Hard (the original!) . . .

So, I'm traveling (again). What with the jet lag and all, I'm up late (by eastern time zone standards) watching TV. Tonight, on TBS, they're showing the orignal "Die Hard". Wow, does Bruce Willis look young. No, really young. If I've aged as much since this movie premiered as he has, I must look REALLLLLLLLY OLD. It didn't seem quite that bad last time I glanced in the mirror, but maybe I'm just not admitting reality. Or paying attention. Or maybe my eyes aged even faster.

Surely that isn't the case!

Here's to Hollywood stars who age faster than we do (despite makeup, stylists, and airbrushing). And, I'm a GUY! Rumor has it, it's even worse for the females amongst us.

C

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I'm still here . . .

Greetings, all! Lest you were wondering (as Tim was), I did get home safely from the LAX Crown Room lo those many weeks ago. However, that was just the beginning of a whirlwind round of trips. The next week I went to Chicago and Dallas. Last week, I went to LA (again), New York City, and Chicago (again). In that order. Starting in Atlanta. I'm still tired. Thus, I'm not totally ecstatic about my trip to Phoenix starting tomorrow. At least I'm only going to one city this week! On the upside, the Delta SkyMiles balance is looking impressive.

I didn't mean for this to turn into a travel blog. But, since I haven't even mentioned homeschooling in months (yes, we still do and yes, we still love it), why not. Maybe "A Mountain Homeschool Takes Flight" or some such.

Here's your travel tip for the day. If your trip to NYC means flying into JFK Airport, skip the taxi and call a car service. I did a little test this week - car service from airport to downtown; taxi from downtown to airport. The car service was CHEAPER. OK, not by much, but trust me when I tell you that the back seat of a Lincoln Town Car is far more pleasant than the back seat of a New York taxi.

Not only have I not had time to blog myself for weeks, I've barely been able to keep up with my favorite blogs to read. Oh, I've checked in on The Corner (usually from my blackberry), but that's about it.

I'll try to do better at both these next few weeks. After all, I've missed you guys!!!

G'night,
Chris

Friday, September 26, 2008

Gee, Ma, I wanta go . . .

but they won't let me go . . . home.

So it's Friday afternoon, and I'm sitting in the Crown Room at LAX. That would be in Los Angeles (if you haven't been memorizing your airport nicknames). You'll remember that I live in Georgia. This is a sad thing.

This is the end of week two of a four-week string of UGLY travel.
  • last week, Chicago, Philly and Rochester
  • this week, Indianapolis, Sacramento and LA
  • next week, Chicago and Dallas
  • the following week: LA, New York City, and Chicago

That may sound cool and glamorous to those of you who rarely leave the city limits, but trust me when I tell you that it gets old really fast. The good news is that I'm racking up the frequent flier miles and free hotel nights. Blockus is REALLY ready for a family trip.

I just want to go home. And stay there for a while.

note to Tim: I didn't have time to try to get together while I was in Sacramento this week. I was only there for an afternoon and was with my boss most of that time. Hopefully I can get back soon and finally meet you!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Back to normal. . .

Many of you may have had a lot on your minds lately. Hurricane damage; failing banks and insurance conglomorates; a big Presidential election looming.
Fear not. All is well. It must be. This morning, the Today Show was able to dedicate mucho valuable air-time to an "exclusive" interview with Britney Spears' mom.

It's good to know that we're getting back to the important stuff.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Feeling gassy?

No, not that kind! I mean gas as in fuel for your auto.

If you live around here, I hope not. Blockus just called to let me know that the two gas stations closest to us are completely out of gas, and that stations in the nearest town are charging $4.50+ per gallon if they have gas at all.

Yikes!

(boy, I'm glad we filled up on our way home last night for the bargain price of $2.49 per gallon!!)

Hurricane Ike is making himself known even before he makes landfall.

To all of you Texas gulf-coasters out there, be safe. Our prayers are with you. And re-open those refineries as soon as you can!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I promise it's not my fault . . .

but the limericks just keep coming.

We all know that I'm totally in the tank for Sarah Palin. If only the guys on MSNBC would admit that they're just as deep in it for Obama. Oh, that's right, they got "reassigned". Never mind.

Anyway, here is your daily limerick. (don't expect me to keep this up) hat tip to Rich Lowry at The Corner.

There once was a gal from Wasilla
Who knew how to spice plain vanilla
With her pearls and her pumps
She laid down some bumps
Thus turning a 'cakewalk' into a Thrilla.

This has been your "daily" limerick. Don't let anyone fool you into believing that this isn't a cultured blog. Susan Wise Bauer would be so proud!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Your daily limerick . . .

There once was a poet named Todd
Whose meter was seriously flawed.
His limericks would tend
To come to an end
Suddenly.

This has been your daily limerick.
Hee hee.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A brief cultural moment . . .

You know those times when you pull into the driveway but have to wait in the car for a particular song to end? (OK, sometimes it's because you're waiting for the end of "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" on PBS or the end of Rush's opening-hour monologue). Anyway, we had one of those moments tonight.

You just can't turn off the car in the middle of Archibald Asparagus singing "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General".

Try it.

I double-dog dare you.

Can't be done.

Veggie Tales does Gilbert and Sullivan. Now THAT'S entertainment!

By the way, Tim, I thought of you!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Art of the Campaign Speech . . .

Backstory: I was a Political Science major in college. ("why try, go poli-sci!"). I chose that major simply because I had always loved politics. I have a vivid memory of coming from school in 1976 (3rd grade, maybe?) to ask my Dad if President Ford had been re-elected. Fast forward to the summer before my senior year in high school (the 1984 election). I was a student in the "Governor's Honors Program" here in Georgia, a 6-week residential program for "gifted" students held every summer. While I was there as a music major, my love for politics had not abated. It had only been supplemented by an additional appreciation for the skill of public speaking and communication. For two of those six weeks, I remember huddling around the TV in the dorm common-room watching the political conventions. Remember, this was back in the days of only the three major networks (and an infant CNN). And, it was the days when the networks actually SHOWED the whole convention on TV, not just the last two speeches of the night (but don't get me started on that!).

I still remember Jesse Jackson's speech at the DNC that summer. He spoke eloquently about the various groups that made up the voting block of the Democratic Party at that time, likening them to the patches of a quilt sewn by his grandmother. He described how, standing alone, those individual groups were powerless to accomplish anything great; in fact, "their patch was too small". But, he went on, sewn together, those patches could create a quilt of great beauty, value and function. What powerful imagery. (Now that I think about it, the Democratic Party has been striving for party unity for quite a while now, hasn't it?). That same year Mario Cuomo made his debut on the national stage. I remember looking at a buddy and saying "that man can speak! I don't agree with anything he's saying, but boy he sure says it well". (or something like that; give me a break, it was 24 years ago!).

Of course, a few weeks later we were cheering on the Republicans as they prepared to return President Reagan for four more years. I remember Mrs. Reagan standing on stage after her speech, turning to look at the huge screen behind her to see a smiling President Reagan waving to her from his hotel suite.

I wander down this path to make a few points ("then make them, why don't you?").
  1. A great speech is more than the sum of it's parts. It isn't just a nice organization of verbs, nouns and adjectives; most well-crafted speeches are poorly delivered and thus have a pretty short shelf-life. Similarly, a mundane, trite speech composed largely of sound-bites and cliche's, regardless of how eloquently it is delivered, remains a mundane, trite speech. But, when those two moons align, greatness can occur. More on that later.
  2. Imagery is important. Whether in a political speech, a sermon, or a pep-talk to your shareholders, a great text well-delivered only gets you part of the way. The setting, the images, the context all can have a multiplying effect. For every one speech I remember, there are probably hundreds of vivid mental images and memories that I have where I don't remember a single word.
All of this, of course, is written in the context of last night's speech by Governor Palin. Only time will truly tell, but I would hazard a guess that this speech will be one that will be remembered for a very, very long time.

It was well written, with wit, grace, and strength. There were too many quotable lines to include them all here, but here are a few of my favorites:

"Since some of our opponents seem to look down on that [mayoral]
experience, let me explain to them what the job involves. I guess a small-town
mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual
responsibilities."

"To seek the presidency is not to be a journey of personal
discovery."

"Some use change to promote their careers, while others use their careers
to promote change."


It was masterfully delivered. For someone who has never spoken in such a forum, and who has likely not used a teleprompter more than a hand-full of times, she looked comfortable, in command, and powerful. In fact, she looked like she was having fun!

The images were powerful. While these were not in her control, the scenes we saw on the TV screen during the speech provided powerful mental hooks upon which to hang her speech in our minds. Her soldier son, preparing to go to war. Her oldest daughter, being welcomed and cheered by a loving crowd for a few extra seconds longer, as if to say "we know what you've been through this week; we love you". Her youngest daughter, licking her palm to smooth Trig's hair down. Her husband, still "her guy", smiling proudly at his wife as she stood before the entire country. Those images will remain seered in our collective conscience for a very long time.

Last night was the whole package. I hope you were there to experience it. If not, go find a copy somewhere on the web and watch it now. I may watch it again anyway, just for fun.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Hockey Mom's and Pit Bull's . . .

From Mark Hemingway over at the Corner.

McCain aides whose judgment I trust are impressed by Sarah Palin. One was
particularly amused by this exchange: A nervous young McCain staffer took it
upon himself to explain to Palin the facts of life in a national campaign, the
intense scrutiny she'd be under from the media, the viciousness of the assault
that she'd be facing, etc.:

Palin: "Thanks for the warning. By the way, do you know what they say the
difference is between a hockey mom and a Pit Bull?"

McCain aide: "No, Governor."

Palin: "A hockey mom wears lipstick."

I'm working on a post about McCain's VP selection (hint, LOVE IT); will try to get it posted before the convention is over.

Friday, August 29, 2008

While we're waiting . . .

to see who McCain's pick is, here is a little fun something for you to enjoy. From David Brooks, via Yuval Levin over in The Corner . If you were to write a generic Democratic convention speech, what would it contain?

We stand at a crossroads at a pivot point, near a fork in the
road on the edge of a precipice in the midst of the most consequential election
since last year’s “American Idol.”
One path before us leads to the past, and
the extinction of the human race. The other path leads to the future, when we
will all be dead. We must choose wisely.
We must close the book on the
bleeding wounds of the old politics of division and sail our ship up a mountain
of hope and plant our flag on the sunrise of a thousand tomorrows with an
American promise that will never die! For this election isn’t about the past or
the present, or even the pluperfect conditional. It’s about the future, and
Barack Obama loves the future because that’s where all his accomplishments
are.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Happy Birthday to The Boy . . .

Time to update the "about us" column. The Boy is now officially five. One whole hand. In 5K. No more "Mothers Morning Out" for him; it's all homeschool now.

Due to the fact that he WAS in MMO for two years (since we moved here) and thus has lots of school friends, The Boy has lots buddies to invite to a party. That, plus the fact that we always invite our homeschool friends (regardless of age) to our parties, plus the fact that the party was at the community Swim Club and included parents and random sibling (would you want the responsibility for 10-15 5-year olds at a pool and lake for yourself? No thank you!!!), meant that we ended up with about 50 people in attendance.

FIFTY PEOPLE!!! I've seen smaller weddings. But really, it was a blast.

The Theme: A Pirate Party (arrrrrrgh!)
The Food: Hot dogs and brats (that's "brahhhhts" as in "bratworsts", not "braaats", as in poorly-behaved invitees to the party) on the grill, carrots, sliced cucumbers, black olives, fresh watermelon, and a salad (for the grown-ups). Homemade chocolate birthday cake (in the shape of a pirate ship bombed by cannon-balls) and ice-cream pops.
The Entertainment: 1) digging on the beach for pirate treasure based on a long-lost, recently discovered Pirates Treasure Map; 2) swimming; 3) eating; 4) running and screaming and terrorizing the innocent other swim club members (oops; that wasn't supposed to be on the agenda and was swiftly ended, to be replaced with . . .) 5) walking the plank.

It was awesome. The kids had fun. The parents had fun. The Boy had fun. I just hope I get to lead the treasure hunt again next year. Although, I think I'm going to pick a smaller treasure chest; this one was a pain in the toochus to bury.

Pictures to follow . . .

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Naming conventions . . .

From the very inception of this blog, I've had relevant and appropriate blognames for my kids. After 18 months or so, they're still basically accurate. However, I've never been able to find the right nickname for my wife. Thus, I've somewhat awkwardly referred to her as "my wife", "my beloved wife", "dw", etc. but none of those really resonated. Note: I've specifically and intentionally avoided referring to her as "the wife" as she HATES that and I really don't find it productive to intentionally hack her off. I do that well enough unintentionally.

Good news, good news, good news!!

I've finally found the perfect name.

Backstory: Our family loves games. Card games, board games, you name it. My wife has a particular love for games of skill (not so much for games of chance). In the past year, we've found a new game that she absolutely loves (and kills at, by the way). For the uninitiated, Blockus is (www.blockus.com) is a board game played by up to four people placing variously shaped blocks on a board. You can only place pieces on the board that touch your own color piece at the corner; no side-to-side touching with your own color. Priority 1: get rid of all of your tiles before anyone else does; Priority 2: accomplish priority 1 by blocking your competitors into a small a space as possible on the board. Everyone gets the same number of tiles and the same shapes. Thus, there is no chance at all; only skill.

Thus, introducing the new name for my lovely and talented wife . . . . Blockus.

FYI, not only is this a board game, it can also be played online at the site noted above. Register and play for free. It's awesome. Just be careful; Blockus is out there, and she's ready to take you down.

With her new bloggy-name in mind, I'm tempted to rename the kiddo's as well in a similar vein. Belle could easily become "Rummicube" (she totally rocks at this game). Tink loves a variety of games, but would most likely become "Connect Four". The Boy is the hands down favorite to become "Uno". Nothing makes 8-year old Belle madder faster than playing Uno with her 4-year old brother. Let me know your thoughts. Is it inappropriate to rename your children online?

(Oh, for those of you who are wondering, I have no idea what my "game name" would be. Maybe "Boggle", but I lose that to Blockus as often as I win. I'll keep thinking about that. Maybe "Brickbreaker".)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"Project Bookshelf" now complete . . .


My apologies to my multitude of readers (ahem, Arby and, uh, well, nevermind) who have been clamoring for photo's of my latest handiwork. Wait no more, dear readers!

You'll remember from this post that I volunteered to build a new bookshelf for the school room. Nothing too fancy; just something that the kids can use to store their school binders, workbooks and pencil boxes. Plus some display space on top for odds and ends like globes and CD players.


I have to admit I'm extremely pleased with the finished product.

Given the fact that I did the whole thing with no workbench and only a Skillsaw and cordless drill, I'm pleased. My wife was extremely pleased with the finished product, which makes it even better.

I doubt it will remain as neat as it is now, but it's nice to see. The chairs you can see on the right face the school table. No pictures of that right now as it is not suitable for public viewing. However, here's a shot of the reading area at the other end of the room. As you look at the photo above of the bookshelf and windows, the sofa is behind you.



Time to snuggle up and read some books!




Monday, August 11, 2008

In which Belle throws me under the bus . . .

Those of you who buy organic peanut butter ("choosy fathers choose organic") know that it has this nasty habit of separating in the jar. Solids sink to the bottom; oils rise to the top. Refridgeration helps prevent this, but first you have to get it mixed back together when you first open it after purchase.

Today for lunch, I made my specialty (peanut butter and honey sandwiches with a side of carrots and sliced cucumbers). I chose this because that's what we had in the fridge. I'm creative like that.

Anywhere, I had to open a new jar of peanut butter before I started. Trying to mix separated contents together with only 1/8th of an inch of space below the top of the jar is messy at best. In a burst of brilliance, I decided to dump the entire contents into a larger bowl, mix it up thoroughly, and then carefully pour it back into the original jar.

So at dinner tonight, my lovely wife innocently asked "what's up with the gross peanut-buttery bowl sitting in the sink?" (oops) I explained my brilliant process to her with some small amount of success. She still looked a little dubious.

From across the table, Belle piped up "the kids didn't have anything to do with that idea, Mom".

Thanks, kiddo.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Developing . . .

Here at the Mountainside Homeschool Academy, our 2008-2009 academic year starts this coming Monday. The kids are excited (The Boy demanded preliminary coursework on Thursday to get a jump on the competition). The teacher is, well, not quite ready for summer to be over. The assistant principal in charge of discipline is honoring this significant event by leaving town on Wednesday, starting three weeks of ugly travel to Austin, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Chicago. Hopefully my blogging will be more regular from the road than it has been while I've been home the last 3 weeks.



Anywhich, last Thursday my beloved wife and I were surveying the school-room. In a former life it was a screened porch, converted to a sunroom by some former resident. It's a wonderful room with fabulous views through it's many windows. Unfortunately, those many windows leave few walls for things like bookshelves. We were able to squeeze one 30" wide bookcase in just next to the door, but it's completely overwhelmed by text books / math manipulatives / binders / pencil boxes / cups of coins / etc /etc / etc. The teacher can't find a dang-blamed thing.



So, back to Thursday when we were surveying (etc / etc). I suddenly realized that, with the school table turned 90 degrees, there was a vast space (65" wide by 24" high by 12" deep) now available under the one window that doesn't go all the way to the floor that could be filled with a BOOKSHELF!!!!!



(Note: this space has always been there, but with the table in it's original position there was no space for a shelf in that space. Why we didn't turn the table earlier is a mystery, but let's not dwell on the negative, shall we?)



So I innocently mused aloud "that would be a great place for a bookshelf, wouldn't it?" To which my beloved replied back "yes, I've been looking for something that would fit there but haven't found just the right thing." Apparently having left my right-thinking mind elsewhere in the house, I blurted out "I could build one". In fact, I went on to sketch out a design that was EXACTLY what she wanted.



As you can imagine, Friday evening I sallied forth to the nations favorite hardware and lumber (and paint, lighting fixture, carpet, tile, hardwood, faucet, tool, bottled water, plant, seed, pine-straw, and random garden accoutrement emporium), Home Depot to procure all required supplies to build said bookshelf. Afterall, school starts this Monday.



I'm pleased to announce that immense progress was made today (with the significant help of The Boy). While not yet photo-worthy, a bookshelf that is currently identifieable as such by even a novice, is sitting in the garage. It needs to be sanded and painted, and it's missing it's top (due to an unfortunate "measure once right after dinner and cut immediately in the wrong place" incident that is all my fault. However, a quick (1 hour) trip to the HD tomorrow and all will be right with the world.



In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll note that beloved wife (whom I've finally found a blog-name for and will introduce accordingly soon) pledged to paint the thing if I build it. She has in fact already primed the boards before I made the first cut. This is indeed a joint effort.



With any luck at all, I'll be able to post a photo of the finished product, in place, by Monday evening.



With any luck.



In the meantime, the initial sketch is posted above. Let's see how close I got. The middle shelf is actually portrayed much lower than intended. The final product will have three cubbies (for three kids), each with a lower shelf to hold all classwork binders and a short upper shelf to hold pencil boxes. The very top of the bookcase will run just below the window trim and will hold odd-sized items like a skeleton, a scale for balancing weights, and other random items.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Look at that follow-through . . .


Belle finished her third week of golf camp today. She has absolutely loved playing so much this summer. The camp ends with a 9-hole parent/kid tournament. Since I played with her for the first two tournaments earlier in the summer, she asked if we could get someone else to play with her. She was actually wanting someone better to play with in hopes of winning a trophy, but she is too sweet to actually come out and say that. One of my brothers came up and played with her and, though they didn't win, place or show, they had a blast. I remember how much I liked spending time with my aunts and uncles when I was young; hopefully today will be a long-term memory for her too.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Straying once again into the political realm . . .

For those of you who enjoyed McCain's "Celebrity" ad, and for those of you who didn't, here is Ms. Hilton's response. No, really. And the amazing thing is that's it's really clever and very well done. If we could get a real candidate to support her energy policy, we'd have something. No, really!!

Oh, mild language warning. It is Paris Hilton afterall.

Do you think this might disqualify me from ever being on the Homeschool Carnival again?

Paris Hilton for President

A Quote from W. C. Fields

"Reminds me of my safari in Africa. Somebody forgot the corkscrew and for several days we had to live on nothing but food and water."

hat tip to Kathy at http://barefootmeandering.com/blog/. Check her out; she's a trip.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Ode to Beaker . . .

When one is a tall, skinny red-headed teenager (one sister-in-law once suggested that my "gawky" stage lasted roughly from pre-teen until just before I got married), one's friends might unkindly decide that "Beaker" is a good nick-name. Purely a hypothetical scenario, I assure you. Anywhoo, I saw this on a blog linked from Tim's and laughed out loud. I wish The Muppet Show was still on TV; now that was good, quality family entertainment!




Friday, August 1, 2008

New entries in the blog roll . . .

Please draw your attention to the bloggy recommendations in the right-hand column and note the new additions.

Under "general reading", you'll find:
  • Dirty Harrys Place : a great blog /site dedicated to film-making and the movie business. It has nothing to do with my career or life (other than I like to watch movies), but "Harry" always has something interesting to say and is one of the few movie reviewers with whom I tend to agree. Oh, the fact that he is an out-of-the-closet conservative in Hollywood (I think that makes 5 now) makes him that much more interesting. Note: some of you may know Harry's work from when he blogged at Libertas ; he's set up his own shop now.
  • Metrodad : I learned about Metrodad from Ann Glamore over in My Tiny Kingdom. I love his subtitle - "poppycock from a cocky pop". We have nothing in common other than we're both fathers. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and daughter, works in the fashion industry, and is an extremely funny guy. Oh, he does relish his skills in making sailors blush (language alert), so consider yourself warned.

In the "Homeschool Division", you'll find:

  • June Cleaver after a Six-Pack : How can you not read something with a title like that!? I learned about June from MetroDad, who I got to from the Tiny Kingdom, who I started reading because of Tim. June (aka Cris) is an Irish-Catholic homeschooling mom whose husband is in the Air Force.

You'll note a common theme here - they're all laugh-out-loud funny. Have you noticed that there are a tremendous number of talented writers out there in blogland? What a loss it would be if these folks didn't have an outlet like this. Have fun!

Just doing my part . . .


Some of you may have heard that, according to the Senator from Illinois, all we need to do to solve the fuel crisis in this country is to make sure our tires are fully inflated. Well, I took my car in yesterday and, among other things, had the tires rotated, balanced and had the air-pressure checked. Darned if they weren't low. If you see gas prices dropping in your neighborhood, you can just thank me.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Picture of the day


(warning: I need to go around the block to get next door on this one, so don't get lost) (if you don't understand that last parenthetic statement, you're clearly not from the south and have no southerners in your heritage).


One of my favorite free-ware finds is Google Desktop. For all of my frustrations with Google, they do make a good product. "Desktop" is basically a search engine for everything on your computer (including your emails, files, folders, pictures, whatnot, and etcetera). It also comes with several optional widgits (I think that's the right word), including a little displays a random slide show of photo's from your "my pictures" file on the right side of your monitor. (yes, I'm sure you can drag it elsewhere; don't bog me down with silly questions like that!).


Today, while slaving away at my laptop (not to mention occasionally playing free-cell during a conference call), I saw a picture of Tink pop up that I hadn't seen in a while. I provide it above for your viewing pleasure. I've entitled it "The Soccer Player and the Bag'o'snacks".


Enjoy

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Golfish types of things. . .

1) Belle just started her second week (this summer) of golf camp. She loves it. I don't know if its the friends she makes, the cool purple golf bag, or the thrill of a great drive, but she loves it. (That's probably the correct order, by the way).


Anyhoo, she's having fun and I'm thrilled. Rumor has it that there are gobs of women's golf scholarships that go unclaimed every year. Not being ones to let anything go to waste, we're doing our part to fix that problem. Starting in 3rd grade.

2) This weekend, my family gathers here to celebrate my father and his 80th birthday. As noted previously, the actual birthday was in June. Give us a break; we must have all been born late because we sure have been ever since. A key part of the celebration will be held in 18 segments, enjoying God's creation as we were meant to (hitting tiny white sphere's into the woods while pretending to aim for a grassy flat spot faaaaaar off in the distance). I'm one of four sons. Of the four, two are tragically good at golf (way to much time on their hands, apparently); I pretend to know what I'm doing (and am amazingly enough hosting the event at "my" club); the fourth is reveling in the fact that his "new" clubs aren't the ones he bought at a garage sale 10 years ago for $12. I'll keep you posted on the results, including the number of clubs that end up in the lake.

3) While celebrating my wife's aunts birthday this weekend, I saw this sign on their game-room wall. No added commentary necessary. 'Nuff said. Enjoy.

Coffee + motherboard = not good . . .

We had a little issue here yesterday morning. My wife (whom I love and cherish) moved her laptop to the sewing room for to move some monograming files to her mack-daddy computerized sewing - embroidery - latte brewing machine. Realizing the risk of taking her morning coffee with her, she had the foresite to put said coffee in a travel coffee mug.

Said mug has a tiny little hole that lets tiny little amounts of coffee out if tipped over.

Helpful hint: it only takes a tiny amount of coffee to fry a motherboard and transform a previously useful IBM laptop into a less-useful IBM doorstop.

Let me pause to acknowledge that my wife has willingly and cheerfully accepted my work computer hand-me-downs ever since she left the paid workforce 9 years ago. When my employers (may they ever be blessed!) deem it appropriate to upgrade my 2.5 to 3 year old laptop, she gets the rode-hard, put-up-wet cast-off. Hey, free (or practically free) is always nice. I thank her for never complaining.

Unfortunately, I'm not due for an upgrade for at least 6 months; maybe a year. Trust me when I tell you that she won't last that long.

If anyone knows of some great PC deals out there, beloved internets, please let me know. I'm now in the market.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Time for some campaignin' . . .

Now that's just darned funny.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Just like any other family, right? . . .

So this afternoon, I came up to find Belle and Tink playing "Mummy Hunt" with their Egyptian archeological dig set. A bit later, Tink was found behind the sofa working on her Math Wrap-Ups ("plus 3's", I believe). While we prepared dinner, all three kids retired to the school room to practice drawing butterflies based on instruction from our "How to Draw" book.

This is how most kids spend their summer vacation, right?



UPDATE: here is Belle's butterfly (on a flower) as drawn on the white board in the school room. She was the teacher; Tink and The Boy were the students.


Hey, let's go to the beach! . . .

I had a meeting in Savannah last Friday. Hmmmm. Savannah; near the beach; on a Friday afternoon. Perhaps one might want to take one's family on one's business trip and take advantage of the beach-ish proximity to have some fun.

Hence, we up and headed out on Thursday for a last minute beach trip. Two night in Savannah; one night on Hilton Head Island. Sweet!

Highlights included:
  • wife and kids playing on Tybee Island, learning about coastal animals and such

  • a tasty dinner on River Street

  • a Dolphin Cruise Saturday morning where we actually saw real, live dolphins cavorting in the ocean (how cool were they?!)

  • a beachfront hotel on Hilton Head for one night

  • lot's of sandy oceany fun for all

Lowlights included:

  • the tiniest "suite" ever invented that barely fit 3, much less 5, in Savannah

  • ten million people at the beach and pool in Hilton Head (it's summer; who knew so many people wanted to go to the beach!)

  • we forgot the camera, so the only pictures we got were from my Blackberry (quality TBD)

All in all, the highs definitely outweighed the lows.

UPDATE:

Hey, these blackberry pics aren't too bad!



The Three Amigos scoping out dolphins




Actual dolphins swimming in actual ocean water near our actual boat!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Words fail me . . .

Down here in Georgia, the words "cultural event" can sometimes take on a very new meaning.

Oh, and our wedding traditions can vary a bit, too.

Monday, July 7, 2008

That was my 100th post!!! . . .

Compared to my compatriot and doppelganger out west, I'm a slacker at this whole blog thing. I must confess, I haven't met too many people as verbose (or moreso, even) as myself. But still, the century mark is worth noting.

Chris

What a GREAT weekend . . .

The July 4th / Independence Day holiday is one of our favorites. Traditions since moving to the mountains include:


  1. staying home (no travel allowed);

  2. going to the Bicycle Parade to watch the kids ride in circles on their bunting-covered bikes and then get a medal;

  3. going to the soccer field to play games, watch the kids bounce on the bouncy inflatable castle thingies, and agree with the other parents that they really should have one of those set aside for the grown-ups. Along with an ambulance;

  4. have a picnic dinner at the playfield with lots of friends and let the kids run and play until it gets dark, and then . . .

  5. watch fireworks surrounded by friends and family.

This year, we invited some of our oldest friends to spend the weekend. (BTW, it's the friendship that's old, not the friends) We met while we were DINKs (double income, no kids) working in Atlanta and ended up working together in Birmingham where all of our respective chilluns were born and we became SINMs (single income, no money). They also have three kids (2 girls, then a boy, the copycats!) that are close in age to our three. They have visited us before, but this was their first July 4th trip. We're hoping to make it an annual event.


New additions to the list of traditions based on this past weekend include:



  1. not playing golf (WAAAAAY to crowded on a holiday weekend);

  2. not going to the pool (ditto);

  3. eating chocolate cake until it oozes out your pores;

  4. turning July 5th into an 18-hour board-game-apalooza;

  5. letting the kids play to their hearts content and entertain themselves (ie: making them leave the grown-ups alone!)

Item #4 was particularly awesome. Blockus, Rummicube, lots of card games, Boggle. We played them all, then we played them again. We didn't move one car from the driveway all day long. We cancelled evening plans in order to keep playing games. Fueled by #3 (a ginormous chocolate cake), we were game-playing machines.


When was the last time that any of us did that?!


Looking forward to next year!


Chris

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Update and Additional info . . .

Re the wife's wrist: all is well! Apparently she has some type of cyst that can get aggravated when traumatized (such as banging one's hand against the lid of a cooler). "Take some Aleve and it should be fine". Yeah!!!!!

I omitted one critical event from the weeks chronology in that last post. Monday was my Dad's 80th birthday. Happy Birthday, Dad! The big celebration will come in late July when most of the family will come to town for a weekend of fun. (note: when you're dealing with 4 sons, 4 daughters-in-law and 12 grandchildren, it's hard to get everyone in one place at the same time). Some of that celebration will be held on the golf course here in the mountains; fun and hi-jinks are sure to ensue. I'll report accordingly.

It's a busy week, but . . .

I will at least give an update on what's been happening here at the Mountain Homeschool.

1) Fitting 5 days of work into 3 days (tomorrow is an "official" holiday for us!) is painful, especially when last week was basically a write-off due to the funeral and summer camp for the girls.
2) Summer camp for the girls: 3 days and 2 nights at Girl Scout Camp; a GREAT time was had by all. Next week they both want to go for a whole week. Yikes! More on that later.
3) Last Friday we stopped at Costco en route to pick up the girls from camp. While trying to get the top close tightly on the cooler, my wife banged down on it with her left hand. "Snap!" We're still waiting for the results of the X-ray; hopefully her wrist isn't broken but it sure feels like it. Like we have time for that! Please pray for a quick recovery and lot's of patience.
4) To keep from getting bored, we got two new kittens on Sunday afternoon. MUCH more on that later, but boy are they cute!
5) Close friends from Birmingham are coming for the holiday weekend. The house is still a wreck. Plus, see numbers 3 and 4 above. Yikes!
6) As a result, you can just strike the "school" part from the title for this week and just call us "The Mountain Home", 'cause there sure isn't any schooling going on right now!

Anyway, lot's to do. Have a great 4th of July!

Oh, one more really important thing. One of my regularly-checked bloggers is another home-school Dad. Fletch, over at themangotimes.com. He and his wife have eight (double-yikes!) kids, the youngest of whom is less than two weeks old and is in the hospital with some wierd random virus. Check Fletch's or Kendra's blog for info on Mighty Joe and please remember him, Fletch and Kendra, and the rest of the family in your prayers!

OK, I really need to get back to work.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Rest in Peace, Aunt Ebbie . . .

Aunt Ebbie and Tinkerbelle

I never knew either of my grandmothers. My Dad's mom died when he was only 7; my Mom's mom died when I was less than 3. That gap, however, was filled by my Dad's two sisters. Aunt Elva and Aunt Ebbie, older than my Dad and his younger brother, were busy helping to raise their two young brothers when they should have "been courting". As a result, neither ever married. They lived together their entire lives except for 2 or 3 years when Elva lived in California while pursuing her PhD in Psychology. (Aside: she dropped out of the program shortly before completion when she realized that everything she was learning was "a bunch of hooey". She's been equally perceptive ever since).


When I was little, I would spend several weeks with my aunts back at the old family home in Southern Illinois. I have a stockpile of fond memories of those summers - bicycling all over town; eating b-b-que from "Bills"; fresh chicken salad from Mittendorf's grocery; trips out into the countryside to see the old family church where my grandparents and countless other relatives are buried.


We ventured there again this week not to visit, but to say good-bye to Aunt Ebbie. After a long illness, she passed away last Sunday at the age of 84. She is survived by one sister, three brothers, a multitude of loving nieces and nephews and great-nieces and great-nephews, and a community full of people whose lives she touched for the better.


Her funeral, while clearly a time of mourning and sadness, was truly also a celebration of her life. Despite the short notice (the funeral was on Tuesday morning after she died on Sunday afternoon), family journed to her hometown from Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Central Illinois. My parents were thrilled that all four of their sons and all four daughters-in-law were present.


Events like this cause a wide-ranging flow of emotions and thoughts. First I was filled with remembrances of Ebbie; random odd memories like the really cool Barracuda she drove when I was about 7 or 8, or the many times I visited her at the bank where she worked as a teller for 38 years. During the service, I was seated so that I could see all of the remaining members of that generation sitting in the front row. Aunt Elva (age 86), Uncle Omer (age 89), Dad (turning 80 tomorrow) and Uncle "Fred" (age 78). Clearly my family is blessed with a genetic predisposition toward old age! But you can't sit in that place with those people in view and not realize that this is the first funeral of many more to come. I hated having that feeling, but it is true. Rather than mourning that fact, however, we choose to take advantage of the time we have left. One of the reasons we moved back to Georgia is so that our kids will have as much time as possible to spend with their grandparents. Not just big events (a wedding, an anniversary, a funeral), but random weekday afternoons just sitting on the sofa reading together. Just before Christmas we dropped in at my parents house to visit. My mom had been going through her "hope chest" that day looking for something. Since we were there, she took the opportunity to pull out her wedding gown (58 years old) to show to Belle and Tink. The fact that I have never seen that gown out of it's protective bag suggest how significant that act was. Those are the moments and the memories that I crave for my children and for myself and my wife. (Aside #2: my wife and my parents have one of the closest "in-law" relationships I've ever seen and I am SO greatful for that).


As this event crept closer, all of us were concerned for Aunt Elva. As they've grown older she had grown ever more dependant on Ebbie - how would she fare after Ebbie's death?


In his grace (as always), God had thought of that. During her long illness, Ebbie moved back and forth between the hospital and a residential rehab facility. During the first 2 or 3 months, my parents practically moved to Illinois, partially to keep an eye on Ebbie but equally to help take care of Elva. However, over the last months Elva became increasingly independant. That long illness served to help Elva prove to herself that "she can do this" alone.


For each of you, my hope is that you all have an "Aunt Ebbie" in your life. Maybe your grandmother, maybe your aunt, maybe someone at your church or down the street. Regardless, love her and appreciate her. I know that I'm blessed to still have her sister, and I know I'll do both of those things for as long as I have the priviledge to do so.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes (yet) again . . .

How often do we attempt to do something "good" and end up with a result that is not? The result often ends up backfiring on the intended recipient of the goodness or it backfires on the do-gooder. Why do you think the age-old saying "no good deed goes unpunished" even exists?

Does that suggest that we should give up? I hope not. However, it is always smart to go in with our eyes wide open and ideally with some good data backing up our presumption that this good thing is in fact a good idea.

Take that desire to "do good" and apply it to a governmental agency and the opportunity for unintended consequences magnifies exponentially.

Example: banning drilling for oil in many domestic sources is good (we assume) for the environment. And yet, how many ways will $4.19 per gallon gas and $140 per barrel oil impact our national economy, our trade deficit, our personal budgets, our ability to donate money to charities or save for the future, and yes, ultimately, even our ability to invest in environmental initiatives?

Today I saw an article (hat tip to Byron York at The Corner) that exposes yet another example of governmental policies and initiatives whose results are diametrically oposed to the original intent. The article, in TheAtlantic.com, is extraordinarily well researched and well written. I won't try to synopsize it here except to quote these two paragraphs. Read the entire article for yourself and then comment away.

Falling crime rates have been one of the great American success stories of the past 15 years. New York and Los Angeles, once the twin capitals of violent crime, have calmed down significantly, as have most other big cities. Criminologists still debate why: the crack war petered out, new policing tactics worked, the economy improved for a long spell. Whatever the alchemy, crime in New York, for instance, is now so low that local prison guards are worried about unemployment.
Lately, though, a new and unexpected pattern has emerged, taking criminologists by surprise. While crime rates in large cities stayed flat, homicide rates in many midsize cities (with populations of between 500,000 and 1 million) began increasing, sometimes by as much as 20percent a year. In 2006, the Police Executive Research Forum, a national police group surveying cities from coast to coast, concluded in a report called “A Gathering Storm” that this might represent “the front end … of an epidemic of violence not seen for years.” The leaders of the group, which is made up of police chiefs and sheriffs, theorized about what might be spurring the latest crime wave: the spread of gangs, the masses of offenders coming out of prison, methamphetamines. But mostly they puzzled over the bleak new landscape. According to FBI data, America’s most dangerous spots are now places where Martin Scorsese would never think of staging a shoot-out—Florence, South Carolina; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina; Kansas City, Missouri; Reading, Pennsylvania; Orlando, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Things I've learned while in Tucson . . .


1) It really does get hot out here in June. That's the thermometer in my rental car from yesterday.
2) When it's 108 degrees (no, really), don't wear a french-blue dress shirt. Oops.

3) That whole "but it's a dry heat" argument only works up to about 105 degrees. Above that and it's just darned hot.

4) That whole "it's a dry heat" thing DOES have an impact on your skin. I feel like I'm dehydrated all the time. Neutrogena moisturizer (from my hotel room last night) really helps.

If you find yourself in Tucson anytime soon and find yourself with a 2 hour gap between appointments, find the nearest Paradise Bakery and Cafe. Order a "Paradise Cookie Frappe". (caution - in the spectrum of liquid calories, this drink falls just north of a Venti Starbucks White Chocolate Mocha). Pop open the laptop and take advantage of the free wi-fi to check email and get directions to tonights hotel. Blog. Order lunch.

More later. I've got to go order that lunch.

Chris

Monday, June 16, 2008

Out of the (blog) office notice. . .

I'm off tomorrow morning at 0-dark: 30 for another trip to Phoenix. My guess is that, since it's the middle of June, it's going to be hot at blue blazes there. Why do I go to Minneapolis in February and Phoenix in June? Oh well, at least it's a "dry heat".

Yes, the internet has made it to Phoenix, so no, there is no excuse for a dearth of blogging this week. After-all, what else is there to do in the evenings from one's hotel room, especially now that "American Idol" is over and "24" won't be on until next January? I'll try to chime in, but I make no promises.

Live from North Georgia, where the weather is beautiful and the children are brilliant and well-behaved.

Chris

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Oops, I forgot to blog this week . . .

And some people (you know who you are) are getting testy!

First and foremost, Happy Father's Day to all of you Dad's out there (and hopefully you know who you are, too). I hope you were well and truly feted and celebrated, and walked forth on pathways strewn with fragrant rose petals all day. I know I certainly did.

Um, OK, maybe not exactly all of that. Actually I did have a nice day, but it was a bit more hectic than either I or my wife would have picked. But, we didn't get a vote.

It started out nice. She brought me coffee in bed and left me in peace while I watched Fox News Sunday and Meet the Press (rest in peace, Tim Russert, you are already missed). I haven't done that in years!

Shortly after that, a parade of children (are all of these mine?) streamed into the bedroom singing "Happy Father's Day to you. . . ." bearing gifts of swim trunks and "stay-cool" golf shirts. Sweet!

It was pretty much downhill from there. At that point, we had exactly one hour for everyone to bathe, dress, get hair brushed, and into the car to head to my parents for lunch. We left late and had to stop en route to buy some last minute supplies for Vacation Bible School (starting tomorrow). We got to the parental units for a mid-afternoon lunch, but then had to dash the hour back home so that my wife could go help set up for VBS. I helped schlep various and sundry items down to the Chapel and then schlepped the kids back home. Then I got to (as in "was priviledged enough to") vacuum before my in-laws came over for dinner. Oh good, let's eat again!

Dinner was spectacular (fresh salmon, tomato & mozzarella salad, etc). Then we left for a quick ride on the in-laws pontoon boat. It was a beautiful evening for a boat-ride, but almost ended up as a train-wreck (pardon me while I mix metaphors with abandon) at the dock as said in-laws really don't work well together when it comes to docking boats.

As a result of all that, it was 9:30 before the kids got to bed (did I mention they have to be at VBS tomorrow morning at 8:30?). The kitchen is still a disaster, and we're all exhausted.

But all of that aside, it was still a great day. I have a wife who loves me even when I manage to be pretty unlovable. I have three AMAZING kids who are a joy to be around and so much darned fun too! We live in a spectacular place in the greatest country on earth and are loved by a God whose grace knows no bounds.

Yep, life really is great. So, Happy Father's Day to Tim, Arby, Big Doofus, and all you other Dads out there. I think you all know exactly how blessed you are.

Chris

Oh, by the way, Belle went to golf camp last week. Make sure I tell you about the two of us playing in the "end of camp" tournament Friday morning. It was awesome!

Monday, June 9, 2008

It's 5:59. . .

So here I sit, reclined on the chaise lounge on the deck- watching storm clouds roll overhead, listening to the church bell in the valley toll 6:00 o'clock. The grill is heating, but the beer is cold. The kids are playing nicely.

And to think, I could be sitting in rush-hour traffic.

Life is good. No, life is awesome!

Chris

Bloggy things. . .

A few notes on updates to the blog layout and content:

1) see the new "Who's Here from Where" section in the right column. I've seen this on other blogs and thought it was cool. It's always interesting to see where readers are from.

2) I realized that one of my regularly checked blogs was not listed in the "Blogs Worth Reading" section, so I've justed added it. Toast Floats is always a great read. The author, Karen, and her husband Dr. C are boat-schooling their three girls while they sail the Pacific coast for the next year or so on their Catamaran. How cool is that!? You can go back and read some of their history as they prepared for this epic event; you'll start to figure out that Karen et al are pretty cool too.

Back to work!

Chris

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Blasting past 2,000 . . .

Back on March 8th, I noted the upcoming significant milestone of having 1,000 hits on my blog. I just checked today and realized that, in the three months since, I've already passed 2,100 hits. Can you feel the excitement? The acceleration? It's clearly a juggernaut!!!

That's it. Not other news. Well, that's not true, but I'm tired and not going to talk about it right now. Come back maybe tomorrow and see if I've gotten around to it. (gotta keep 'em wanting more, right?).

Chris

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Random entries from the road. . .

So I'm traveling in Arizona this week. Arrived Monday and spent the night in Phoenix - drove to Tucson on Tues - back to Phoenix today - home tomorrow. Eating really crappy food on Monday en route resulted in two full days of an "upset tummy" (yes, we have young children!) and no sleep. Said tummy is feeling much better this evening, so I'm hoping that a good nights rest is soon to follow.

In the meantime, a potpourri of thoughts and catching up.

1) many thanks to Tim and Arby for not only great comments to my "open question" post, but for linking to it on their blogs and driving their multitude of faithful readers to my humble site. Perhaps they'll return. Tim and Arby both said awfully nice things about me in their posts, provoking an immense "aw shucks" from me. Really, I'm truly touched.

2) said posts, and large amounts of "lying awake in the middle of the night" have generated thoughts about this whole concept of building "virtual friendships". I've never met Tim, but through our respective posts we've figured out we have a frightening amount in common, to the point that we refer to each other as our "doppelganger". Likewise with Arby, whom I have a tremendous amount of respect for as he is a stay-at-home dad and homeschooler while his wife is preparing to deploy to Iraq as a civilian contractor. Anyway, this whole concept of building friendships with people you've never may (and likely never will, in person) is really odd. What does it say about our society that I know more about a guy in the central valley of California whom I've never met than some of the dads on my son's soccer team?

3) on a much lighter note, the new appliances arrive tomorrow. I'll be sure to post pictures of the finished result. I know you're waiting anxiously.

Good night!
Chris

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

testing. . .

So it's 2:00 in the morning (eastern) and I can't sleep. I'm actually in Phoenix tonight (on pacific time) so it isn't as bad as it sounds. But still, I'd rather be sleeping.

What should I do? I know! I'll see if I can post to my blog from my blackberry.

It will be interesting to see how this looks (if it exists) tomorrow.

Good night.
Chris

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Warning: a Political Entry. . .

Today, the Democratic National Committee announced that delegates from Florida and Michigan will be given 1/2 of a vote on the floor of the convention. (forgive me if I didn't phrase that exactly correctly; but it's roughly right!).

Let me just assert for the record that this will do nothing but make everyone involved mad.

Florida and Michigan Democrats are now officially (as far as their party goes) 5/10ths of a person.

Hillary supporters are angry that their supporters are considered "less than equal" than voters in Rhode Island or South Dakota.

Obama supporters are angry (I'm having trouble finding a polite way of spelling "p*ss@d" without obscuring the real intent of the word) that states that were originally found "afoul of Democrat Party rules" are now given any legitimacy at all.

No one wins. Everyone loses. (except possibly McCain)

I regret to admit that only the Republican Party leadership could have messed up an internal situation like this any worse.

Can't we just send everyone in DC home for good and start from scratch? Maybe elevate a few city council representatives, maybe a state senator or two, and lots (LOTS) of people who have never held elective office?

A breath of fresh air, no?

Friday, May 30, 2008

An open question. . .

My "about me" section provides some insight into our family, but let me dig a little deeper into our family dynamics - then I have a question. We are homeschoolers with three children, ages 8, 6 and 4. Excluding a few months of "dry run" with Belle at the end of her 5K year (we moved in March and started with her then) we really started two years ago when Belle was in first grade and Tink was in 5k. (they are 20 months apart in age but only one school year apart). The Boy has been enrolled in our church's Mothers Morning Out program for the past two years, giving my wife a chance to start with two before adding the third. This, in my humble opinion, was brilliant thinking on her part. However, his MMO program only met Tues - Thurs, so he was often in and around during school-time on other days and during "summer session".

Fast forward to today. We are starting to notice a trend, and I'm wondering if this is found among other homeschool families, particularly those with children close in age.

Example 1: What took Belle a full twelve months to learn last year (particularly math) has taken Tink about nine months. Why?
Example 2: Tink has struggled a bit with reading this year. She's getting it, but it's a lot of work for her. The Boy, on the otherhand, just caught up to her in the Phonics book we're using. And, he's showing a real talent for math as well; we're pretty sure we can knock out 5k math by the end of summer / mid fall, and then he'll be off into 1st grade level.

Thoughts?

One hypothesis, particularly in Tink's math example, is that it's because she was sitting right there listening all of last year while Belle did her lessons. There had to be some osmosis going on, because she's "clicking" a whole lot faster.

However, that doesn't necessarily apply to The Boy, as he is only around for classes two days a week (and often spends that time playing with blocks, not sitting at the table in the school room).

What various factors might be at play? I don't know all of them, but my guess is that homeschool families, where children of different ages and skills learn together (at least a lot of the time) see younger children gain some skills faster than the trail-blazing older kids.

(author's note: this is not at all pleasing to Belle. "It's not fair!", she complains, that Tink gets to move so quickly!! And, yes, lectures on "life's not fair" followed immediately.)

Thoughts from the blogosphere?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Isn't it interesting. . .

that Google can manage to have a special graphic celebrating the "anniversary of the first ascent of Mount Everest", but they couldn't manage to do a graphic honoring the military on Memorial Day? In comparison, yahoo.com, ask.com, and dogpile.com all had Memorial Day graphics but no "Mt Everest Day" graphics.

I have absolutely nothing against commemorating Sir Edmund Hilary and Tensing Norgay's great feat. In fact, I love it when Google mixes it up with a special design on the home page. I just wonder why they tend to skip certain holidays.

Hmmmmm. . .

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Kitchen

My favorite room in the house. The source of all goodness. The center of the home. Mom, hotdogs and apple pie. Only baseball and Chevrolets are rarely to be found in this room of rooms; this holy of holies. As mentioned previously, it is also the locale of the greatest concentration of expensive devices in the house (with the exception of the garage, which we had to totally outfit last year, alas).

A recap. The fridge and the range jointly decided that their time had come. After 20-plus years, they were tired. Not to mention the fact that, for the first 18-plus years, they were used exclusively by retired couples who only spent 4-5 months per year in this house; preferring to spend the balance of the year in their Florida homes. Needless to say, said appliances, along with the rest of the house, were startled when a family of five moved in full time and expected diligent and reliable cooking, cooling and freezing services. "Enough!" they said. "We quit."

And quit they did. Thus, we found ourselves seeking replacements.

Good news abounds! In addition to remembering our fallen soldiers who made our everyday lives possible, Memorial Day (formerly "Decoration Day"; google it if you must) is also well known for great sales. I'd feel more guilty about this if Christmas and Easter weren't thrown in the same boat. At least we recognize the original intent of each holiday before we go shopping!

Wecome to the "Home Depot Memorial Day Appliance Sale and Extravaganza (Internet version)". We started shopping early last week when the fridge started freezing the carrots and the freezer refused to do same. However, we got word (through the wily HD staff themselves) that great sales were approaching. Take heed. Be patient. Bide your time.

Surely enough, in-store sales started the Thursday before the actual holiday weekend. Given the due diligence performed by yours truly and his wife, we knew roughly what we wanted. A final run through the HD website uncovered additional "internet only" discounts. AHA!!! Remembering my mothers motto of "it's not how much it cost, it's how much I saved!", we sallied forth.

However, new options required additional visits to an actual store. Regardless of how pretty the pictures are online, it's always best to actually touch / feel / open / close / and yank on all potential purchases before buying. Last night this involved my wife and Belle. All that did was expose new options. Thus tonight, everyone ventured onward to "the other Home Depot" close to us (with a larger selection to view) for further assessment.

As a result, we have ordered (online, once we got home) two stunning additions to the family. Let's give it up for the fridge:


She's the lovely and talented LG 25.0 cubic feet French Door Stainless Steel etc etc fridge. Note the absence of an in-door ice/water dispenser. Given that our family rarely uses ice in drinks and prefers tap-temperature water, we forewent the additional cost for that feature that we would NEVER use. Dave Ramsey would (might, maybe?) be so proud.


Second, let's hear it for the range:

This would be the equally lovely and talented Jenn-Aire 30 inch slide-in range with down-draft exhaust and smooth-glass ceramic cook surface.

We wouldn't typically lean toward this high-end of a product except that the original (dying) range was a Jenn-Aire with said down-draft exhaust. To replace it with a traditional free-standing range would have 1) meant major surgery on the countertop; and 2) installing some type of "above the range" exhaust system. Number one wasn't too scary given that we hate our countertops anyway and the result would be invisible behind the range. Number two was of greater impact. That, plus the fact that we really wanted a range with the controls on the front of the device, not posted above the stove elements at the rear. When you have youngish children in the house, conventional wisdom might suggest "keep the dials as far away as possible!!!" However, our younsters love to help in the kitchen. With a hopeful eye to a future filled with meals prepared by someone besides the two of us, my wife and I cultivate and encourage that love. However, the last thing we want them doing is dangling over an already hot element to "turn the boiling sauce down to a simmer. . .". Thus, we sprung for the best option that met our (admittedly unique) needs. It helped that it was one of the aforementioned "internet specials" with additional rebates etc that brought it within striking distance of the other options.

So, now we're excitedly waiting for our new appliances to arrive. Which, upon installation, will make our crummy countertops and backsplash look absolutely horrible.

To be continued (in some possible combination of granite, corian, stainless steel, or "other"). And, therefore, more dollars will also follow.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

So, when was the last time I posted. . .

anything of substance? Not sure. Some might argue "since you started blogging, genius".

So, rather than change my ways with this post, I'll simply tease you with three subjects to be blogged about by weeks end. There. That's my commitment. Three entries by Sunday night.

Potential entries may include (but are not limited to):
  • status of the kitchen woes ("it all started with a knob", as my wife puts it)
  • starting the big "fish pond / front walk" project (this should give me fodder for months of entries keeping you tediously updated with every shovel-ful of dirt moved!)
  • thoughts on "year end kid events" that we've been living through for the past few weeks (pro's, con's, up's, down's)

Oh, aren't you titillated now!? (I had a college professor who LOVED that word).

Who knows, entry one may even come later tonight. In the meantime, you're all free to wait with bated breath. (and don't get me started on all of the people who spell that "baited breath". I'm a stickler that way!)

Chris

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

In re: American Idol

YESSSS!!!



That's all I have to say about that. (tonight, at least).

Regards,
Chris

Sunday, May 18, 2008

How do they know. . .

"They" being expensive kitchen appliances. How did the refridgerator find out that there was a slight (unusual) surplus in the checking account this month? Did it hear us talking last month about the floor sample fridge we saw at Home Depot (french door top fridge with a bottom drawer freezer in stainless steel) that was on clearance? Did it not hear the end of that conversation when we decided "no, our fridge works just fine - there are other ways to spend our money"? Was it so offended that we even considered a replacement that it decided to take extreme measures all on it's own?

Whatever the cause or source, our faithful side-by-side refridgerator / freezer (original equipment when the house was built in the early 80's) has decided to mix it up a bit. Let's freeze the fresh veggies in the crisper drawer, yet thaw the salmon steaks and Ego's that are in the freezer.

Simultaneously, our range (of identical vintage) is suggesting a similar tactic. A few months ago, it refused to completely roast a pork tenderloin. "Just. Can't. Get. That. Hot!" Ever since, it's been just fine. Before we left on vacation, one of the eye's on the stove decided to give up the ghost. Now we're down the three (and only one "big" one!). Worse yet, this is a really fancy (for it's day) Jenn-Aire range with the down-draft vent that, if we choose to replace it with a like brand, will cost a fortune and will NEVER be on clearance at Home Depot. It is not in a critical state yet, but holding one's breath everytime one starts to cook a meal ("will it work?") is no way to keep the blood pressure down.

So, this week, in addition to the spring Children's Chorale Concert (Belle), dress rehearsals for the spring dance recital (all three), and The Boy's last three day's of 4K at our church, we get to go shopping for at least one, maybe two, major appliances.

How do they know?

The good news items hidden in here are 1) we actually do have some surplus to work with, so we don't have to automatically go (further) into debt; and 2) I'm not traveling this week.

Did they know that too?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Would that there were more like these. . .



Profundity at a comedy club! We're certainly not hearing it in Congress or precious elsewhere in the public square, so why not!?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A moment of silliness. . .

This post has nothing to do with homeschooling.

Nor with working from home.

Nor parenting.

Nor any of the other weighty subjects you've come to expect from other bloggers whom I love to cite and quote (but rarely from me in original form - I admit it!!!).

Instead, this is all about that all-important, all-consuming subject clogging the thought-processes of intelligent, well-meaning adults all across the fruited plain who have many other things they should be focusing on but aren't.

This post is, indeed, about American Idol.

(feel free to move on to another site / blog / etc if you have no desire to waste time on this subject. I'll wait while you move on)

OK, now that the boring people are gone, an admission. Typically, my wife and I are "end of the season" AI viewers. Don't bore us with the 12, the 8, or even the final 6. Get it down to the final 4 or so and we're suddenly interested. (We have a similar approach to professional baseball, the Braves, and play-off season / the World Series, but let's not turn this into a psychological analysis, shall we (not)?).

Our interest in American Idol really started when we lived in Birmingham AL which, for several years, had a statistically inprobable likelyhood of having a resident in the final 4. Rueben, Bo, etc. Who couldn't love Rueben? We were minding our own business shopping at Rich's (now - alas - Macy's) when he walked by with some of his posse. We were thrilled. Our interest in Idol was cemented.

We also claim any links to anyone else from the Atlanta area (our hometown) and, in general, the South. But, we don't have the time or patience to sit through all of the drama of the first 8 weeks. We know someone we can love will end up in the final group. If not, there's always next year. (refer back to my reference to major-league baseball).

This year, it's all David Cook. Due to travel, I've had more opportunities to check in on Idol over the past 4 weeks or so. From the moment Michael the Australian guy was knocked off, I've known it had to be David C. OK, so he's from Missouri. Technically, that's the "south". More importantly, he's all that and a bag of chips. David A is cute and all, but let's send him to Orlando (Disney) to marinate for a decade or so, then he can burst on the scene when he's an adult. In the meantime, in the "Battle of the David's", it's all about Cook. There is no alternative.

Nuf said.

Watch next week.

Vote for DC.

(We now return to our original programming.)

Friday, May 9, 2008

One thing really quick

I recently found an editorial cartoonist that I really enjoy. Michael Ramirez of Investor's Business Daily has a terrific wit and timely message every time.



For all of you homeschoolers out there, today's is particularly significant.




Regards,

Chris

We're back!!

At long last, we have returned from vacation. OK, actually we got back Tuesday night, but this is the first chance I've had to actually post. A few housekeeping items:



1) Timothy, thanks so much for your suggestions for the trip a few months back. I'll file a more comprehensive description of where we went and what we did later. Suffice it to say that we had a great time. Sorry we didn't get to the Sacramento area, but I'll look you up next time I'm there on business.



2) Arby, ditto for you on my next trip to Kansas City.



I'll leave you with this quick shot of The Boy posing for his mom after finishing lunch in Sequoia National Forest. Yest, that's snow in the background.





Chris

Friday, April 25, 2008

Please forgive me. . .

I hope that this doesn't offend my numerous dear readers from Oklahoma or nearby states (possibly both of you!?), but it was just TOOOO funny not to link to.

With a hat tip to Libertas, here is a glimpse at what celebrities might look like if they moved to The Sooner State.

This has been your pop-culture update.

Live from the Crown Room at DFW (and desperately hoping that my plane shows up sometime soon!)

Chris

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

This weeks CoH is up. . .

over at the NerdFamily's place. My ruminations on birthday gifting are included.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

It may be quiet around here. . .

Not that I've been setting world records for blogging lately, but I wanted my regulars (both of you) to know that I'll be on the road pretty constantly for the next three + weeks.

This week I'm off to Boston. The schedule isn't too rigorous, so I should be able to get in a post or two.

Next week, I'm off to New Orleans (where I'm speaking at a conference), then Dallas (internal meetings that will go dawn to dusk and beyond).

After that, the whole family is off on vacation to California!!! Hopefully I will be able to post updates of that trip along the way. After all, it's not every day that a family of five flies west (hoorah for frequent flier miles!) to spend "spring break" checking out Sequoia National Forest AND the Sonoma Valley wineries. Plus take in a family wedding (the real reason for the whole trip). There should be several good posts to be had in that mix!

Regardless, I'll be checking in on YOUR blogs from hotels and airports along the way, so keep that good news coming.

Live, from the road. . .

C

Birthday Parties (and that whole "gift" thing)

So, as you've noticed, we have three kids. Kids have birthdays. Kids with birthdays have parties.

Similarly, kids have friends. With birthdays. And parties.

This is where the breakdown occurs.

The law of exponential multiplication (or whatever it's called; give me a break - I was a Political Science major!) suggests that one family with three children will attend somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,234.5 birthday parties per year. This can be challenging to the ole budget, can it not?

It's bad enough to be the monthly / weekly giver of gifts. What with gas prices these days, a $15 gift now costs $26.47 plus the value of your time ("priceless", to quote Mastercard).

But woe-betide the parents who actually gave birth to the celebrant. Bouncy Castles, visiting clowns, fire trucks, fly-overs by the Blue Angels?! Is there no limit to the imaginations (and therefore expectations) given to planning a childs birthday party these days?

Before we moved to the North Georgia Mountains two years ago, we lived in a very "desirable" suburb of Birmingham AL. (and to all of my readers outside of Alabama, no, that is NOT an oxymoron!) It was your typical affluent close-in suburban neighborhood filled with wonderful boutiques, lots of restaurants, great churches and fertile couples. Close to downtown; tree-lined streets; small post-WWII bungalows (regularly being torn down and replaced by "Arts & Crafts" style mansions) (yes, that should be an oxymoron). Kids were everywhere. It was everything we ever wanted in a place to live. We spent 10 months in hell renovating and adding on to our "bungalow". We were going to live there forever.

Until we decided to move. But that's a post for another day.

AAAAANYWAY, one of the downsides of living there was the increasingly high expectations of the Pre-K and Elementary age social scene. A few crepe-paper streamers and a birthday cake did NOT a birthday party make. Did Cinderella come visit and sing for the birthday girl? Was the entire local "bounce house" not rented out to entertain 14 five-year-olds? Forget the pony ride. Where is the llama and the camel? Every year, it got worse. Before long, 10th birthdays were going to be celebrated with cruises on the Queen Mary.

That is one of the many reasons we love our new home. Aside from the mountain views and general sense of being "away from it all", we are fortunate to be part of a fairly tightly-knit group of young families. This may be more a result of desperation than anything else, since there aren't that many "young families" that live in this neck of the woods. We'd love more; please call if you're interested in moving. This tight group includes a larger-than-normal percentage of homeschoolers (probably 15-20% of the total school-age population), plus a broad mix of public- and private-schoolers. And we all get along very nicely on most days!

One of the cool "trends" of late involves birthday presents. ("Thank goodness", you scream inwardly, "he finally gets back to his original subject!!!"). While not 100%, a common clause on many birthday invitations of late includes a statement similar to this:


Ella Grace is thrilled that you're going to be coming
to her party. Since she has already been blessed with
so many toys, Ella Grace would just love it if you would
bring a donation of XXX instead for us to take
to the local XXX.
OK, the phrasing isn't usually that colloquial, but the premise stands. Kids around here, instead of getting more toys, games, and (forgive me for coming right out and saying it) junk for themselves, are getting toys (for Toys for Tots), canned goods (for the local food pantry), or cases of paper towels and toilet paper (for the Ronald McDonald House). It's awesome. You don't have to try to figure out what Ella Grace would just LOOOOOVE to have. You don't have to sacrifice your friendship with Tripp's parents (Josiah Edward Smythe-Jones III) because you bought a gift that makes LOUD music at the slightest touch and has no on/off switch. And, best of all, you don't end up with a house full of "STUFF" after your own kids party.
  • Codicil #1: parents and grandparents are exempt from the gift-giving rule. The kid still gets fun stuff for their birthday. (do you think I'm really going to tell my MIL she can't give Belle / Tink / The Boy presents?)
  • Codicil2: this rule isn't typically kicking in until about age 5 or 6. Older if you're the eldest child; younger if you're 2nd or 3rd (or good heavens 4th or 5th), since you've already seen this graciousness modeled by your esteemed elder sibling.
Belle did this for her 7th birthday. We have some wonderful pictures of her delivering a huge bucket full of canned goods to the local food pantry just before Thanksgiving. Not only did she learn the joy of giving, she also learned the whole concept that there are children in this world who are less fortunate than she. That's a deep lesson for a 7-year old, but much more easily learned when the lesson is concrete, not abstract. Oh, and she never even noticed the influx (or lack thereof) of new toys after the event was over.
If this sparks a new idea for your family, please leave a comment and let me know.
If your family is already doing this (or something even cooler), ditto.
I open the floor for discussion. . .