December 15, 2004 (Greeting Card Photos by Michael Wetzel)

There's nothing quite like a good chip. And despite pockets of opinion to the contrary, I don't possess enough hubris to be talking about myself and those others who share my moniker. Instead I am referring to those ever crunchy, always salty, often a little greasy, snacks-in-a-bag (or rarely, -in-a-tube); particularly potato chips and corn chips, and in some cases, pretzels. It all starts with the crunch: that satisfying snap, crunch-crunch-scrunch-munch-munch sequence filled with salty flavor. Ah, the simple pleasure.... Of course there is also little that is worse for you to eat. So here.s my quandary: if they're fun, delicious and bad for you, how come they aren't the definitive food for any holiday? There are Christmas cookies, Christmas roasts and hams; Easter candies, eggs and Easter lambs; Thanksgiving pies, turkeys, and candied yams. Who do you suppose Frito-Lay should talk to about sponsoring New Years? This seems to be my biggest problem heading into this Holiday Season so it must have been another pretty good year for the C.R. Pattons Jr. Let's have a look.

After four years the warmth of the South was calling us again. Knowing we would miss the friends, the proximity to family, the culture, the weeping willow we planted, the space in our basement and much more of our home in Cranberry Township, PA we plotted a course back to Alabama.

I had heard that my old company, Intergraph, was prospering again, particularly in the Public Safety division and I knew since it had been less than 5 years since I left that I could get my longevity back. Since I'd been there 10 years before, that means 4 weeks vacation starting in 2005. Yippee! I returned to Ingr in April (that's what us long-timers call it, 'Ingr', it matches the stock symbol). That meant that I had to leave the family in PA to finish school and sell the house. Selling the house went about as smoothly as these things ever do; the transition was a bit harder for Nathaniel to swallow. There is no Academic Games in Madison (we planned to return to the same town, same school system), so he would miss that and his friends, teachers and plans. But at least he started at the beginning of the school year as a 10th grader in the 10-12 high school with all the other neophyte sophomores. He's doing well with the Computer Club and outside of school he has refereed a lot of soccer, befriended other refs, coaches and players.

Nathaniel can also use his bicycle to get around Madison some. Traffic is bad enough that we have him stay off the main roads, but he can get to school mostly on neighborhood streets and to the main park (Dublin) and some stores and such. He bikes to school except in bad weather. He also goes to ping pong club most weeks with me.

Caralyn rolled with the change pretty well, but I see I've gotten ahead of myself a little bit. How did those 2 or 3 months last Spring go when the family was living 700 miles apart? I missed my family but was busy with a new job, house hunting and playing table tennis. I avoided spending any real time in the corporate apartment Intergraph furnished me. Eat, sleep and get out, I would. Madelyn carried the burden of minding the children (since they didn't always mind her, she may as well mind them? Hmmm.) and selling the house. She accomplished both with aplomb but no au pair. (For more odd fruitiness see my slightly updated 'Whence Came Caralyn')

Caralyn missed her daddy. I think she did fine overall. I sent her (and Nathaniel) physical post cards every few days but after we met for a couple days around my birthday in Cincinnati (I flew, they drove), she didn't want to let go at the end. But it was only a couple more weeks after that, rather than the 6 it had been prior. In Cincinnati we swam in the indoor pool at the Holiday Inn, went to the food festival downtown and went on the Ice Cream Cruise aboard a riverboat. Too short.... Too fast.... I feel it Caralyn....

Madelyn also flew down to Huntsville once for house hunting. We ended up with a newly built house; nicer than we need. We had a good builder who didn't cut a lot of the corners that some do these days but of course it still has new house problems. The roof has leaked once, too few towel racks and half the light switches are wired backwards (not that they are on when the switch is up, but rather when a plate has two switches the near one should operate the nearer light, the farther one the farther light or the fan, right?)

Now maybe we can watch Caralyn roll through the transition. She won her third grade classroom Spelling Bee today. There are only 16 kids in her class; she's at one of the older, and therefore smaller, elementary schools in Madison. She seems to be doing well with it. She also did well with soccer again this Fall. I coached her team and all the girls were a joy to work with, bubbling and energetic and individual. Caralyn surely isn't biggest or strongest but she may be quickest, at least for her size.

Madelyn is orienting back to HealthSouth in Huntsville on a PRN or "as needed" basis; keeps her out of trouble part time. She's already painted several rooms in the new house and generally gotten things in order and is volunteering at church and school. And we are still running regularly and not so cold doing it this winter.

We had a couple other good trips this year, particularly to Corolla, NC; in the northern OBX with some of Madelyn's family. We stayed in a house called The Dreamcatcher and felt little need to go farther than the marketplace half a mile up the road. We did make it as far as the Currituck Lighthouse one day, but most days we ran in the morning, walked to the beach and back in the afternoon, and were content.

For Labor Day we spent a couple nights in the shadows of the king and queen chess piece office towers of Perimeter Park, Atlanta and all Saturday at Stone Mountain Park. We rode the cable car up and took the long walk down and more. Sunday we toured The World of Coca-Cola.

In October we went to the Mayfield Dairy in Tennessee and wore hairnets and ate ice cream on our way to another mountain walk in Gatlinburg. In November we met my kids. Grandma Patton at their Aunt Cathi's and spent Thanksgiving in the cool countryside of central Virginia. The cousins quickly got comfortable together again. Forrest only hid the first couple hours we were there. Hunter lived up to his name and shot a good-sized gobbler turkey Thursday morning. Brittany beams much like Caralyn in an easy going hippie style. Walking out of the cinema she caught up to me and said casually, "Hey, Dude, what time is it?" Hey, y'know; okay with me to be referred to in the dialog as "Dude", I reckon.

See? Life is good and we appreciate it everyday. We miss friends that are far away but are happy to again be among those in Alabama. For the more Internet-inclined I'm now blogging the updates to The Chipster Zone at or there's an XML button that will get you the RSS feed on You can use SharpReader or a similar RSS aggregator to subscribe to mine and lots of other interesting web logs. Ask me and I can recommend a few.

At a special Advent service for Youth on Sunday everyone drew a slip of paper from the offertory basket with the name of a character or fixture from the Nativity. Caralyn ended up with The Star. On Monday night Madelyn and I happened to catch a very bright and long-lived shooting star from this year's Geminid shower. It was startling and beautiful. We took it as a good sign. Whether your stars are fixed or shooting, from the Nativity either figuratively or literally, I hope they are startling and beautiful. Mine are.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,

-- Chip, Madelyn, Nathaniel and Caralyn