Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Best and Worst of 2005

It's New Years Eve. It is the time of the year where people, and the media, like to publish their best or worst of the year lists. Since this is my first year with a blog I figure I should have my Best and Worst of the year list also. Remember these are my opinions and will most likely conflict with your opinions.

Best Movie of the Year: Serenity. I loved this movie. There were a lot of other movies this year that I enjoyed almost as much - Sahara, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Batman Begins, Fantastic Four, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. If you are looking for some deep artsy-fartsy analysis of my movie picks you are reading the wrong blog. I picked Serenity because I enjoyed watching it the most.

Worst Movie of the Year: Since I don't just go see anything at the theaters. I tend to be picky. So I would have to say that none of the movies I saw either in the theater or on DVD this year would qualify as worst of the year. But if I need to pick a worst of the year movie it would have to be any movie that starred Johnny Depp or any other of his USA hating actor friends.

Best TV show of the year: NCIS. Why? Because the whole family likes it. Except some of the shows have been getting rather graphic and we have to send the 8 year olds out of the room. Which really irritates them.

Worst TV show of the year: Anything with the word "Reality" in the description or the title.

Best personal moment of the year: Approximately 2 PM on Oct. 15. I was coaching my 8th grade volleyball team while they were in the middle of serving run that ended with them upsetting the number two seed team in the first round of the championships. My assistant coach walked up behind me, tapped me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear that the only team my 7th grade volleyball team had lost to in the regular season were just upset in the semifinals and my girls would be playing in the finals against a team that they had easily beaten twice during the regular season, and that morning in the round robin.

Worst personal moment of the year: When my boss walked into my office and told me that the missile program that I had supported for 19 years was cutting back. I was told to stop work immediately and start looking for a different job.

Best blog of the year: Michael Yon : Online Magazine

Worst Blog of the Year:
Democratic Underground (This site is such a cesspool of lies and hatred that I refuse to link to it.)

Best E-mail I received: Tie: My neice Cassie e-mailed to tell us that her baby had been born and that Mommy and Baby were both healthy and well. We were anxiously awaiting word from our Louisiana Relatives after Katrina hit when we heard from cousin Bonnie that everyone was safe and well.

Worst E-mail I received: (excluding the spam) The message that one of my best friend's Mother had passed away. Vanora had been a second mother to me in high school and college. She fed us, scolded us, put us up for the night, talked to us when we needed talking to and listened when we needed to talk.

My Best Blog Post: Based on hit count - this one.

My Worst Blog Post: Probably the one you are reading right now.

Best DIY Project: The cradle I made for Cassie's baby.

Worst DIY Project: The Halloween decorative wrought iron fence I made. It was made of wood and pvc pipe. It turned out looking OK, but took three attempts and several redesigns.

Best Decision I made all year: I started this blog.

Worst Decision I made all year: I started this blog.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Grandpa Democrat

I have mentioned many times my Grandfather was a life long, die hard, party line Democrat. This afternoon while going through a box of photos I found proof.

Grandpa Dick on a Donkey

Monday, December 26, 2005

Greatest Gadgets

PC World has an "idiosyncratic" list of the 50 Greatest Gadgets of the Last 50 Years.

All but one of them were invented in my lifetime. I have owned 6 of them:

1. Sony Walkman TPS-L2 (1979)
7. Atari Video Computer System (1977)
23. Kodak Instamatic 100 (1963)
25. Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100 (1983)
32. Microsoft Intellimouse Explorer (1999)
36. Iomega Zip Drive (1995)

I haved owned second generation or other manufacturer's similar items of 25 other items on the list.

Can I trade in my baby boomer generation status and join the gadget generation?

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Day

Our Christmas Day always starts early. Too early. It doesn't seem to matter what time our children go to bed the night before, the get up early on Christmas Morning. Since no one is allowed into the family room where the Christmas Tree is set up, my dear wife and I usually awake to the sound of our children huddled in the hallway outside our room, hushing each other to be quiet so they don't wake us up.

Once their nefarious plan comes to fruition and we are awake they gather at the end of the hallway and anxious watch while I get our camera ready. The last few years we have followed the custom of the children anxiously watch me cross the family room to get the camera. Once I get the camera in hand I turn towards them, glance at the tree and then with a sigh of disappointment I tell them "we don't need the camera this morning. There is nothing under the tree." My children always respond with a resounding "Daddy!" Then they immediately start think of things their siblings may have done that cost them their Christmas presents.

Once I get the camera turned on I usually get time to take one quick blurry shot as the children rush into the room. Rounding the Christmas tree they quickly discover the gifts that Santa Claus has left. Santa is usually generous and leaves one large or expensive gift for each person. This year the twins each got new bicycles. My oldest daughter got a digital camera, my dear wife a new Palm TX PDA and I got a film scanner. Santa is a pretty smart guy. He always seems to know what we each want the most.

After exploring our new gifts for a while we all then rush into the living room to see if our stockings have coal in them or not.

So far no one has ever gotten coal in their stocking. Which is too bad, with the price of natural gas these days we could use a little coal. Our stocking usually contain a mixture of treats and essentials. We get things like toothbrushes, chapstick, shaving cream, etc. We also get candy, trinkets and chocolate.

After the morning discoveries we have breakfast. The last few years breakfast has been homemade carmel rolls. This tradition started several years ago at my sister's house when my nephew would make homemade carmel rolls every morning. We loved them. Since then we have homemade carmel rolls every Christmas morning. However, I do cheat a little. My nephew made his dough from scratch. I use frozen bread dough. But they are still good.

After breakfast our day depends on whether or not we are hosting Christmas Dinner at our house or going to someone else's house. If we are the dinner hosts we usually start dinner preparations. If we are going somewhere else our morning depends on what we are bringing to dinner. If we have preparations to make we do them. If not then we relax for a while and play with our new toys.

Christmas dinner has only a couple requirements. First off we must have family or friends there. We have never had a Christmas dinner with only the 5 of us. We hope we never do. The more family and friends around the better.

Our afternoons, preparing for Christmas dinner are a combination of dinner prep, family fellowship, and watching football on TV.

Christmas dinner fare has changed through the years and locations. As a child living in South Dakota Christmas dinner always included ham. It sometimes included goose, duck, or even pheasant, depending on how the hunting season went. Dessert was an assortment of pies - pumpkin, apple, blueberry, cherry, mincemeat and pecan. One year my great uncle Bud refused to make a choice. He just insisted that my Mother and Aunt surprise him. So they did, they gave him a slice of each covered with whipped cream.

Once we moved to Wyoming and bird hunting was as accessable the main Christmas dinner fare was ham and turkey. Our family Christmas dinner has a few essential elements. First as always - ham. We usually have turkey. If we are hosting dinner the turkey is fried, cajun style. I'm not cajun, but my dear wife's family is and she told me about fried turkey for years. I tried it for the first time about 5 years ago. We haven't gone back since. Fried is the only way to go.

Christmas dinner also includes my wife's dirty rice dressing. She always made pretty good rice dressing, but she always told me it was nothing like her cousin Frankie's. Then several years ago while at a family reunion in Louisiana I got to try her cousin Frankie's dressing. She wasn't kidding, it was great. Before we left she talked Frankie into telling her his secret. So now we get the really good dressing each year also.

The last regualar ingrediant for a proper Christmas dinner is my mother-in-law's Christmas salad. Her Christmas salad is a layered jellow salad that everyone loves. I don't know what all is in it. I don't care, I don't have to make it, I just help eat it.

After dinner, we sit around and let our dinner settle. We watch football if there is a game on. We play games with the kids. We talk, or we nap. Other than dinner preparations Christmas day is a day of family, relaxing, and just enjoying one another's company.

Our dinner menu has taken on a definate cajun flavor the last few years, it still contains the mainstay of Norwegian Christmas dinners - ham. Our Christmas Day also follows Norwegian traditions in that it is the frist day of our Christmas Holiday. We always take the week off work between Christmas and New Year. Starting with Christmas day is our holiday of relaxing, spending time together as a family, visiting with friends and mostly just having fun. We plan very little and pretty much just let each day happen.

More Family Holiday Traditions are written about here.

Merry Christmas!

My family and I wish for all of you a very Merry Christmas.

I would wish for all of you a time of peace, love and happiness.

To my Nephews and cousins who are seving in the Armed Forces of the United States, Thank you. We pray that you will be safe, be strong, and when your job is done that you return home to us again.

1And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

2(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

3And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

5To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

6And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

7And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

20And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

Mark 2:1-20 (KJV)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve in our home is a day of contrasts. We start the day slowly. Everyone sleeps in. Meals are very ad hoc. No one wants to spend the day in the kitchen cooking, so we don't.

We attempt to have all our shopping done before Christmas Eve. We try and spend the day relaxing. We may do a little last minute gift wrapping. But Christmas Eve is a day of puttering around finalizing the last few Christmas details, visiting with family and friends, watching football or napping. This is a tradition that my wife and I have worked very hard to maintain. Growing up Christmas Eve was always very hectic. My Mom ran around all day in a total tizzy trying to make everything perfect. What she usually accomplished was stressing out herself and everyone around her. So we try to make Christmas Eve, a quiet, laid back day. If it isn't done by now, it's not going to get done. Christmas will happen regardless of the little things that we may have not gotten done. So we try not to stress the details. That is what December 23rd is for.

Once the day has passed and we get into the evening, the excitment level does start picking up. We usually have a casual dinner. Again no one wants to cook all day, so we either dine on heavy hors d'ourves and snacks or we order out. Pizza on Christmas Eve is becoming a family favorite. The pizza delivery guys seem to like the idea also. My wife believes that anyone who has to work on Christmas Eve should be tipped well for their efforts. Other meal options include, meatballs, BBQed little smokies, cheeze logs, spinich dip, chips, salsa, cookies, candy, etc.

If you haven't figured out yet, the word diet is not allowed in our house during Christmas.

After dinner we gather in the living room and open presents. This is the exciting part of the day for the kids. They have been watching the pile of gifts under thre tree grow for several days now. We crack down pretty hard on snooping. So there is a lot of standing around the tree discussing the size and shapes of the different packages. There is also a lot of shaking and weighing, but that is all done under the guise of rearranging to make room for other gifts. If you ask the kids, they can probably tell you exactly how many presents for each person there is under the tree. We don't allow them to dig around in the presents but they always seem to know anyway. I guess it's just part of the miracle of Christmas.

After we open gifts there is usually a couple hours to play with the new goodies. But eventually we all climb out from under our piles of Christmas wrapping paper and we load into the car and head for church.

Every Lutheran Church I have attended through the years always has two different services early in the day. These are the normal Christmas Eve services and if you want a seat you usually have to get there at least a half hour early. We have only gone to one of these services in my adult life time. The second year we had three kids we went to the 6 PM service. It was overcrowded, and a total zoo. The kids slept in our arms through it all. So we decided that if the kids were going to sleep anyway we may as well go back to midnight services.

Midnight Service is a misnomer. It doesn't start at midnight. It ends at midnight. I have always enjoyed going to church at 11 PM at night and when you leave church it is usually just a couple minutes after midnight. There is something special about being out and about in the wee minutes of Christmas Day.

I have been going to midnight services my entire life. Most of my oldest, fondest christmas memories are of sitting in church at 11:50 PM the church lights are dimmed and everyone is holding a lit candle. Slowly the congregation starts singing Silent Night. It is the one single moment that seems to really make Christmas special to me.

This year is going to be different. Midnight services have been moved to 10 PM instead of 11 PM. I'm not sure what it's going to be like. Getting home from church while it is still Christmas Eve. Unless of course the start time has been moved because Pastor has a 90 minute Homily planned. I'll let you know....

Update: The 10 PM midnight church service was pretty much the same as it always is. Just one hour earlier. The service itself was the same. But somehow, leaving the church at 11:15 PM instead of 12:15 AM felt wrong. On the plus side, the kids stayed away for most of the service. We lost the twins for a few minutes during the sermon but that is becoming their Christmas tradition. So we wouldn't want to stop it now.

Once we get home we usually get everyone off to bed as quickly as possible. Which isn't hard. Everyone has had a fun filled evening and are usually very tired. So the kids set out a plate of cookies and milk for Santa, a couple carrots for the reindeer and then we all head for bed.

My family pretty much follows the same Christmas Eve traditions that we grew up with. As I grew older and started looking into our traditions I discovered that our Christmas Eve traditions grew directly from the old Norwegian Christmas Eve traditons. According to Nytt fra Norge and her writings on Norwegian Christmas Traditions our traditions of a relaxed day visiting with family and friends and opening gifts after dinner are old Norwegian traditions. They must also be cajun traditions because that is the way my dear wife was raised also.

Check back tomorrow for a run down on Christmas Day.

More Family Holiday Traditions are here.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Family Christmas Traditions

A few days ago I posted several comments about Christmas vs. Happy Holidays. In that post I put forth the theory that the ways that we celebrate Christmas depends on our family traditions. Traditions that are handed down through the generations or slowly built though the years with your current family.

Since I made such a big fuss about family Christmas traditions I figure that I should write some more about my family christmas traditions. Since we finally have all the gifts bought, wrapped and mailed, our cards written and mailed, parties thrown and attended, I hope to have enough time to write about all our family Christmas traditions.

I'll keep this post as a collection point for links to all the other Christmas tradition posts.

Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays
Santa's Art Shop
Ridgecrest Christmas Parade
Sagebrush Short Line Railroad
Knights of Columbus Christmas Party
Christmas Eve
Christmas Day

Monday, December 19, 2005

Just Cause? Just Because...

The Mudville Gazette has a letter from the father of a fallen American Hero.

Don't ask why, just read it. Read it all. Just because....

My response is that Mike didn't die for a "just cause", he died JUST BECAUSE - just because he loved his country enough to want to serve it since the time he was in middle school; just because he loved his family enough to want to protect them; just because he loved his friends enough that he would rather fight a war "there" than here; just because he believed in our order of government whereby the civilian government rules and the military obeys, and when the President, with lawful authority, calls upon soldiers to go and fight, he believed it was not only his duty, but his honor to go; just because he wouldn't let his fellow soldiers - his guys - go it alone; and just because he wanted to do for others - the Iraqi people - what he would do for his own country.

My families prayers go out to Robert Stokely. I can't even imagine the feeling of loss that he is experiencing. Thank you to both father and son, for their sacrifice for our freedom.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Knights of Columbus Christmas Party

Today was the Knights of Columbus Christmas Party. Every year a week or so before Christmas the Knights of Columbus have a Christmas Party for the children of their members. Being Lutheran I'm not a member of the Knights, but my father-in-law is. So every year he makes reservations for his grandchildren to attend the party.

The Knights Party is usually only two to three hours long. The kids do Christmas crafts, color pictures, decorate cookies. But mostly the kids wait for Santa Claus to show up.

This year Santa was running ahead of schedule. The party started at 1 PM and Santa showed up around 2. Usually he doesn't get there until around 2:30.

Once Santa arrives he takes his place at the special chair that is waiting for him. Then all the high school girls who have been recruited to help him start sorting out his gifts. Eventually all the kids get a chance to sit on Santa's lap and receive a gift.

We have been going to the Knights Christmas Party for 13 years now. It has become a family tradition. Unfortunately it may be a short lived tradition. Once a kid reaches 12 years old, Santa stops bringing them gifts at the party. So we only have 3 more years before the twins turn will be 12. There probably won't be much reason to go once the kids don't get to sit on Santa's lap any longer.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Sagebrush Short Line Railroad

This evening we took a ride on the local railroad.

Back in 1999 George Pruitt and several of his railroad friends started building their own little model railroad. This little model railroad of there is a 7.5 inch gage. Which is approximately 1/8 scale. They call this a large scale model train.

Well the same year they started building their railroad they opened up around Christmas to let their friends come ride on the trains. Over the last 6 years their little model train has grown into 4500 feet of track with 30 switches. They have decorated the yard with several home made Christmas decorations which include a full sized sleigh with 8 flying reindeer and a large castle guarded by several tin soldiers.

This year they hope to have trains from Whittier, Riverside, Apple Valley, Tehachapi and Weldon for their visitors to ride.

Each year my father-in-law gets the family an invitation to go ride the trains. We always have a blast. The yard is always decorated in lots of Christmas lights and displays. Santa Claus usually stops in and talks to the kids for awhile. The wait online is usually only about 15 minutes, often less. Each train pulls bench seat cars. You have to sit in a straight line one behind the other. Each ride usually lasts about 10 minutes.

This year it was rather chilly, and the lines were kind of long. So we only rode one train. We hadn’t had dinner yet and everyone was getting cold and hungry. So we didn’t stick around.

So we loaded back into the van and drove around checking out some of the Christmas lights in town. After a quick dinner at Carl’s Jr. we checked out a couple more lights and called it a night.

A ride on the Sagebrush Short Line Railroad is quickly becoming a Christmas tradition with us. It is one we hope to be able to keep doing for several more years.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

An Iraqi Message for America

The Political Teen has a video of Iraqi Citizen and voter Betty Dawisha. This 77 year old woman dips her finger into the ink, drops her ballot into the box and with one simple sentence, cuts through all the smoke, mirrors, hatred and politics that is cluttering up the news reporting out of Iraq these days.

“Anybody who doesn’t appreciate what America has done and President Bush, let them go to hell”

Thank you Betty Dawisha.

Download the video and spread it around. It'll make you smile.

Merry Christmas

California Unprepared for Tsunami

The Instapundit led me to this article: California is not prepared for a Tsunami.

Well, DUH!!!!!

Our coastal areas are filled with nanny state liberals who think the Government will jump in and immediately start taking care of them the moment anything bad happens.

Why should they prepare for a Tsunami? These are the same people who build thier houses on sandy hillsides, strip all the ground cover off the surrounding hill, then cry and scream when it rains and their house slides down the hill.

Every winter we get to watch the local Los Angeles News reporters interviewing some moron from Santa Monica whose house is being filled with mud that is washing down a nearby hillside. Eventually the poor victim chokes back enough tears to blurt out: "This has happened 6 times in the last 10 years and I want to know what they (city/county/state) are going to do about it."

I have a suggestion. Don't live in a house on the side of, or beneath a sandy hillside. If you absolutely must live there, build some drainage or flood control to direct the coming water and mud, away from your house. Because the water and mud is coming. It does every year.

The coastal area of California can't even properly prepare for minor natural disasters that occur almost every year, and people think they are going to prepare for a tsumani?

My family lives in California and we are ready for the Tsunami. We built our house 150 miles away from the coast, with a 4000 foot high mountain range between us and the big waves.


If you do live in the coastal areas of California and want to start preparing for a tsunami or other natural disaster here are a few tips:

1. Move!
2. For the first 3-14 days you should be ready to take care of yourself. That includes food, water, shelter, firstaid, and transportation.
3. Read the Survival Blog.
4. Make friends with Barbara Boxer or Diane Feinstein so you will have someone around who is armed and can help defend you. Us common folk aren't allowed to carry firearms in California.
5. The song is wrong, it does rain in Southern California. Get ready for it.
6. Even if you don't worry about a tsunami, there are still the annual floods, wildfires, earthquakes and civil unreast. You need to get ready!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Ridgecrest Christmas Parade

Yesterday was the Ridgecrest Christmas Parade.

The Parade started at 10 AM at the corner of Norma and Las Flores Streets. The city blocks off the entire half mile of Las Flores between Norma and Ridgecrest Blvds so the parade participants can set up.

We drove down to the area about 9:20 and parked in our chruch parking lot, which is right on the corner where the parade starts. Then while my dear wife and her parents walked a block down Norma to find a iece of sidewalk to set up on I walked the kids through the set up area to find where the Saint Ann School was supposed to set up.

parade truck

We found our spot and hung out until the rest of their classmates, teachers and parents showed up. We hung some wreaths on the 1933 Ford truck that the school secretary was driving. Once there were enough adults around, I headed back to Norma St. to find the rest of my family.

The parade started on time and lasted about 1 hour. It was a fun time. The parade always starts off with the Navy Color Guard carrying the American flag, followed closely by the Burroughs High School Marching Band. After them is a very eclectic assortment of floats, cars, trucks, horses, wagons, motercycles, and people walking.

parade banner

Almost every organization in town has some sort of involvement in the parade. All the private schools, charitable organizations, clubs, and many businesses will have some sort of display in the parade. The parade numbers around 65 different entries. Everything has a Christmas theme to it. The horses wear antlers and/or garland. The people and cars are all decorated in garland and lights.

This was the first year that Saint Ann School marched in the parade. I have been nagging for several years that we need to have a presence in the parade. This year several of the teachers and the secretary stepped up and organized a parade entry. They had a banner carried by several of the middle school students then the secretary's old truck with some decorations on it. Since the Diocese won't let our students ride on floats or open trucks we had just put a couple flags in the back of the truck. Following the truck were about 45 of our students who were all wearing red shirts and jeans. Some students were playing recorders and the rest were singing. It was a great first time parade entry.

kids in parade

At the end of the parade, my dear wife and in-laws all pack up the chairs and coffee and head back to the car while I head back down Las Flores to the end of the parade route to pick up the kids.

Once I find out kids we usually find a piece of curb and watch the end of the parade. This gives my dear wife and her mother time to wander into the fellowship hall at out church and check out the Crafts Festival that is going on there. This plan works out great for everyone except my father in law who sits inpatiently in the car and waits for everyone else to show up. We keep telling him to bring a book, but he never does.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays

There is an awful lot of rhetoric, hatred and anger flying around these days about the word Christmas. Every time I turn around someone is complaining about the use of the word Christmas. Christmas Trees are becoming Holiday Trees. Merry Christmas is being changed to Happy Holidays. Christmas itself seems to be changing into a Winter Festival. Some retail stores are telling employees not to wish people Merry Christmas because they might offend someone. Many people are taking offense when they are wished something other than Merry Christmas. Fundamentalist bible-thumping Christians are demanding that Christmas should be about the birth of Jesus and nothing else. Atheists are insisting that all religious connotations should be eliminated from their winter holiday. Then there are the rest of us, who are fed up with everyone else trying to tell us what to say, what to think, and how to celebrate Christmas.

So here's my soapbox speech about Christmas.


My family's Christmas traditions are not going to change not matter how much you yell, scream, protest, or legislate. Our Christmas traditions are just that - traditions. At the risk of sounding like Tevye the Milkman, Christmas is about traditions. Our traditions are a combination of the practices and beliefs that have been influenced by generations of parents trying to make Christmas special for their loved ones.

Our family Christmas starts on Thanksgiving night. After the food is eaten, the pie devoured, the guests departed and the dishes done then Thanksgiving is declared over and Christmas begins. Our Christmas traditions do not begin with a song, or a verse, or lights, or prayer. It begins when I haul all the Christmas decorations down out of the attic. Our Christmas holiday ends on Martin Luther King weekend, when all the decorations go back into the attic. For us, Christmas lasts around 8 weeks, give or take a day or so.

During Christmas we decorate our house, inside and out, with Nativity scenes, candles, Christmas trees, wreaths, holly, mistletoe, Santa Clauses, Father Christmases, St. Nicks, Angels, Wise men, babies, shepherds, bells, garland, snowmen and elves.

We decorate a pine tree to honor our German and Lutheran heritage. Legend has it that the Germans were the first ones to decorate pine trees for Christmas and Martin Luther was the first one to put lights (candles) on his tree. We also decorate a Christmas tree because that is what our parents and grandparents taught us to do. It is a tradition. We do not put a star on the top of our Christmas tree. We put an angel up there. Why? I have no idea, other than that is what my grandmother taught my mother to do.

I bake Krumkake and Rosettes to honor my Norwegian Heritage, and because we all like eating and sharing them. We also bake sugar cookies, ginger snaps and chocolate chip cookies. We make divinity, fudge, hard candy and lots of other treats because that is what our Cajun/Norwegian/Hillbilly/Irish/French/German grandparents and parents taught us to do.

We mail Christmas cards to dozens of people. Some of whom we haven't spoken to for years. It is our tradition. Exchanging cards with people who we haven't seen in years is our way of not losing touch with old friends and family who we just don't get to see as often as we would like to.

We open presents from family and friends on Christmas Eve because in old Norway gifts were exchanged on Christmas Eve. But mostly we do it because that is the way we learned to do it as children. It is our family tradition

We go to midnight church on Christmas Eve. It is a tradition. The most vivid memories I have of Christmas as a child are sitting in church at midnight on Christmas Eve, holding my candle and singing Silent Night. I want my children to have those same experiences, and I hope they leave such lasting memories.

On Christmas morning we get up to find that Santa Claus has visited our house during the night. The cookies and milk have been consumed, our stockings that were hung by the fireplace are filled with goodies and there is a gift from him for each of us under the Christmas tree. It has always happened this way, and as long as we are all good this year I'm confident it will keep happening.

We spend Christmas day with family and friends. It doesn't matter if they come to our house or we go to theirs. It is an Old Norwegian tradition to go visiting on Christmas Day. It is also a tradition in most cultures to feed those who come to your house to visit. So our friends and family come to our house for dinner or we go to theirs. The key is that we have Christmas dinner together, somewhere.

All too often our Christmas Holiday becomes a hectic, frantic time. We have so much we want to do, and often so little time to do it. We could simplify our lives by simplifying Christmas. But that wouldn't be keeping our Christmas traditions.

If we were to allow religion to be taken out of our Christmas then what would we have left? We would lose the entire holiday season. Even the word holiday is a derivation of the words “Holy Days”. Santa Claus got his start as Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra. Whether or not it is Christianity or a pagan winter solstice celebration, faith and religion have always been an important part of winter celebrations.

Almost as unthinkable to my family as removing religion from Christmas would be trying to eliminate the commercial parts of Christmas. Christmas without Santa Claus, reindeer, sweets, cookies, shopping, gifts and all the fun commercial stuff would be just one more church holiday with maybe a special sermon, a play by the children, some carols from the choir and a special dinner with your family. While that would be OK, it surely wouldn’t be as much fun.

I just don't understand the vocal minority who insist on trying to take Christ out of Christmas, or the fundamentalists who try to decommercialize Christmas. The Christmas Holiday has spent 1600 years blending both spiritual and commercial traditions to become the holiday we celebrate today. Yet each family celebrates in their own slightly different way. That is how it should be. We should all celebrate Christmas in our own way and not try to make everyone else conform to our own beliefs.

If you are one of those radical extremists from either side of the spectrum who hate what Christmas had grown into, I feel sorry for you. Your parents and grandparents obviously did a really lousy job of teaching you that whatever you are celebrating at this time of the year, it isn't about you. It's about your faith, your family, your friends and your traditions.

So don’t try and change my Christmas tree into a holiday tree. Don’t tell me I shouldn’t believe in Santa Claus. Don’t try and take away our heritage based Christmas traditions. My family has spent generations working the kinks out of these traditions. We make small changes each year, but for the most part, we like our Christmas holiday just the way it is. If you don’t like yours then change it. But don’t try and force the rest of us to change with you.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Santa's Art Shop

We had to get up early this morning. OK, not exactly early, but earlier than I like to on a Saturday. Santa's Art Shop opened at 9:00 AM this morning, and my dear wife insists that we are on line waiting to get in when they open the gates at 9:00.

Santa's Art Shop is a huge Christmas themed Arts and Crafts Show. I think this year is the 28th year for this mega crafts festival. It runs for two days, this year it is Dec 3rd and 4th. Admission is only a dollar for people over 12. Once inside the fairgrounds you will find three buidings full of arts and crafts vendors, plus the sidewalk area between the buildings. I have heard that they average over 200 exhibitors each year. Every year we find vendors who have come from as far away as Salt Lake City, Southern Oregon, or Nevada. Apparently we are one of the regular stops on the holiday craft tour that a lot of these vendors make every year.

I know that it takes us anywhere from 2 to 3 hours to wander through the place and that is if we don't stop and talk to anyone.

My dear wife's tradition is to dress the whole family up in Christmas sweatshirts or sweaters and Santa Claus hats. Well, the whole family except for me. I refuse to dress up. My standard outfit is blue jeans, a flannel shirt and my Christmas hat.

My Christmas hat is a baseball cap that is built like a santa claus hat, or is it a santa claus hat with a baseball cap brim on it? Either way, it's a pointed red hat with a white pompom and a green brim. Embroidered on the front, in gold, are the words "Bah Humbug."

I got this hat several years ago at an after Christmas sale at Kmart. In the 15 or so years that we have been going to Santa's Art Shop I could have sold that hat twenty or more times. Usually to some guy who is tagging along after his wife with his arms full of stuff, or to many of the vendors husbands. But I don't sell.

We had a pretty good day today. We didn't get more than four booths into the first building and my dear wife was already sending me out to the car with my arms full. She bought a really cute stuffed Father Christmas that was seated on a wooden chair.

My oldest daughter bought some Christmas presents for a few of her friends. I picked up a couple joke gift ideas for the next couple Christmases.

As a family we always look forward to Santa's Art Shop each year. We get good decorating ideas, some good gift ideas, and always find some new deoorations for the house.

Friday, December 02, 2005

We Have Discovered Oven

I dug, pounded, cut, sawed, chopped and trimmed eventually I found oven.

As I mentioned yesterday, my dear wife and I bought a new oven to replace our old crappy one. I was hoping that the retrofit of the cabinet for the new free standing range would be rather a simple process. It wasn't.

I widened the opening in the cabinet so that it was the standard 30 inches. The space between the cabinets was 30 inches. But there was so much mortar and grout squeezed into the open space that the opening was only about 29.7 inches. This is probably why we had some of the level troubles we had with the old stove. It was crammed into an opening that was too narrow for it. This caused some buckling and hense our inability to get the whole thing level.

After returning the opening to a full 30 inches we slid the oven into it. This is when we discovered that it stuck out 2 inches too far. Strangely enough the strip of tile along the back side of the oven opening was exactly 2 inches deep. So that strip of tile had to go. But if I removed it I would also have to replumb the gas lines, which stuck out of the wall by 2 inches.

So I cut the two tiles on either side of the strip that I had to remove. This was a little time consuming because the only tools I had to do this with were my dremel tool and a supply of cutoff discs. It took several discs, but I finally got through the tiles without cracking either one of them. Then I chiseled the tiles off the backerboard, then I chiseled out the backerboard that needed to be removed. Once I got all that stuff removed I was able to saw through the board and remove it.

Then I cut out the drywall around the gas line. Because of a stud that was in the way I couldn't simply route the line over to where I needed it. But I was able to install a box in the wall, shorten the gas line and get it stubbed out with a valve inside the box. This way everything is flush with the wall and there will be room for the stove to slide all the way in.

I finally got the gas lines all connected and checked for leaks. I got the stove initally leveled, and ready to go. Then I got it slide into place. A little final leveling, straightening and we were finally ready to go. I picked up my tools and then got out of the way while my dear wife cleaned up my mess. I was willing to do the cleanup, but she wanted to chip in and help, and I was tired enough to not argue with her.

So we now have a new oven in the kitchen. I have three new holes in my left thumb, a pretty nasty scratch and bruise on my right bicep and a new dent in my head (you gotta watch those vent hood corners). It wouldn't be a home improvement project without a couple bumps and scrapes now would it?

This project was more complicated than I hoped it would be. But not not as bad as I feared it could get. It would have been simpiler if we had replaced our oven with another slide-in. But we just couldn't find one we liked as well as this one.

So next up is new flooring for the kitchen and dining room then new countertops for the kitchen. I think I will definately hire out the new countertops. I like doing the home repair stuff myself, but that job may be more than I'm ready to take on. A 2 inch by 30 inch strip took me most of this morning. At that rate it would take me all week just to get rid of the old countertop and backsplash.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Free Range Blogging

OK, so this blog isn't exactly living free and wild. Actually nothing in our kitchen is, except for our new range. It is sitting right in the middle of the kitchen.

We have been upgrading our kitchen on the installment plan. We have done most of the appliances over the last couple years. This year it was the oven's turn.

We have been living with the old Magic Chef slide it oven since we moved into this house. The oven has had troubles for years. We have been unable to get it leveled so everything we bake is lopsided. The door has been leaking heat for a while now. If you run the oven for over an hour the knobs on the front get so hot you can't touch them. That is when they are not falling off, or slipping when you try to turn them.

We shopped aroung for a while and my dear wife feel in love with a Maytag free standing range. This range has a double gas oven, and a four burner stove top. It looks like a good oven. I pulled out the old slide-in this evening. I loosened the vinyl flooring from the kickboard and cut out the kick board. Unfortunately the gas line is coming out of the wall at a spot aove the height of the cut out in the back of the new oven. So we have to slide the oven into the gap in the counter and see how far it will slide in.

I suspect that I am going to have to reroute the gas connection tomorrow. But we are hoping not.

So tomorrow I have to clean up the grout around the oven opening so I don't scratch the sides of the new range sliding it into the gap our old oven came out of. Then we'll check the fit and find out if I need to do some gas line rework. If not I'll just need to connect up the gas and electric and then level the new range and then my dear wife can start baking Christmas Cookies.