It's Christmas note time again. Let the Muses in, they don't visit often enough, perhaps they don't feel as welcome as they once did in my life. The "Rat Race" has it's advantages, I got to spend a couple hours in a dueling piano bar called "Howl at the Moon" at Church Street Station in Orlando, Fla. last week (if you have to be away on business in December, Florida is a good choice); at first I wondered about the odd name but when the piano-men pause and let the patrons sing the chorus to old favorites like "American Pie" or "Jeremiah was a Bullfrog", the source of the name becomes quite apparent. It was simple fun and camaraderie, making me think "there must be less to life". Sometimes our life does have a cozy simplicity, like sitting with Madelyn in the corner of our "L- shaped" couch on a Saturday night, watching a video after the kids have been trucked off to bed.

I also had three trips West. One I got to spend a great night at my Uncle Clint and Aunt Carol's outside Phoenix before making a pleasant daylight drive across the Arizona desert to Yuma. On another I made a night time drive from El Paso, Texas to Alamogordo, New Mexico. Saw 3 shooting stars in the clear dry air and ate locally grown pistachio nuts; I also got to walk in the fine grains at the White Sands National Monument. The third trip was to San Antonio, Texas where I stayed in an opulent Hilton Hotel near the airport but had no time for anything but work.

Of course the best part of trips is coming home. My being away puts the burden of two kids and a small dog squarely on her. Sally (the dog) has been whipped into shape, mostly by Madelyn, both her behavior and through exercise. The vet said she was a little plump at 13 pounds, so we started jogging her. She can go up to 3 miles without stopping on her 8 inch legs. We seem to be a sight when the whole family is out bright and early on a weekend morning: Sally on her leash, Nathaniel on his bike, Caralyn in the new jogging stroller and Madelyn and I jogging along behind.

Speaking of good snack foods (see second paragraph back): Nathaniel was recently excited to receive his latest Jelly Belly (gourmet jelly beans) fan club newsletter with a sample of the rookie flavor "Honey Graham Cracker". When we first signed up with Jelly Belly (right after the Atlanta Olympics, I think, mid 1996) they asked for flavor suggestions and Nathaniel suggested Graham Cracker, which would enable the obvious combination of Graham Cracker, Toasted Marshmallow and Chocolate Pudding, yielding a S'more flavor or as the Jelly Belly recipe calls it: "Campfire Treat". I guess there was a ground swell in favor of the graham cracker flavor. I'm still waiting for news on my suggestion: Chinese Mustard. I was heartened, however, to see that my favorite current flavor, Buttered Popcorn, has replaced Very Cherry as the overall most popular flavor. Caralyn is also big on Jelly Belly's, she was stuck on "Yeyo" (yellow) ones for a while but now likes pretty much anything, other than my second favorite, cappuccino (or as she says "kappa- CHEEN-yo").

My "Weepy Girl", Caralyn, amazes me daily. She's very verbal, at 25 months and still only about 23 pounds, she almost always speaks in complete sentences and complete thoughts. Ask her if she wants some candy, the answer will probably be at least "Yes. Sure." and not just "yeah". And independent. One of her latest arguments if you try to do something for her, like hand her her juice glass is "That's my job." Or, for more emphasis she'll add your name, "That's my job, Dadda!" At dinner the other evening she got stuck on the phrase “What in the world are you doing?” and said it at every opportunity: 20, 30, 40 times. She's small and rough, a combination that has given her, on separate occasions, a fractured wrist (pink swimming cast for 6 weeks during the summer), 2 stitches in her chin and one (jumbo) egg shaped lump on her forehead. Nathaniel, at 9, has had neither a cast nor stitches (knock wood).

Nathaniel did get in one recent trip to the doctor; his foot was "only" sprained after one of his friends performed a "diamond cutter" pro wrestling move on him. We've discouraged further wrestling and backyard tackle football. He's doing well with school, in the top grade (K-4) so he's been on Safety Patrol a couple times, gave extra help to the gym teacher and such. He started taking piano lessons a few months ago (yes we have a full upright dominating our dining room now). He’s also currently in the middle of recording and watching a dozen James Bond movies off of TBS’ week long festival.

Madelyn is busy maintaining our house. One current project is re-wallpapering the kitchen. She just finished repairing lightning damage and re-sponge-painting Nathaniel's room. She's not Nurse- ing right now but took a continuing ed. class on Death and Dying. She thinks about taking some other kind of part-time job, mostly to get out more. She is enjoying a new exercise class, a combination of step-aerobics and boxing.

Speaking of coming home (it’s a ways back up the note, somewhere), we didn’t get home much to either Chautauqua County NY nor Staten Island. We did enjoy John (Madelyn’s “little” brother) and Dawn’s wedding. After midnight, at the reception, the date turned to mine and Madelyn’s anniversary (June 6). John and Dawn had them perform our wedding song and we ended up with she and I and the two children dancing together. It was nice, but too short a trip.

I coached Nathaniel's outdoor soccer team this fall -- we scored one goal all season but often were tied going into the last few minutes of a game. Indoor soccer started this past weekend. We won 8- 4. Work obviously is busy but in some turmoil. I had my Personal Best finish in this year's Alabama State Table Tennis Championships, I was runner-up to now 2 time champ Dr. Jungki Lee in open singles, he and I teamed up to take the state open doubles crown.

Hoping you all are having "Personal Bests" in what you love. Happy Holidays,

-- Chip (, Madelyn, Nathaniel and Caralyn (