Driving down an uncrowded Interstate alone at 70 miles an hour has a certain serenity. Or it used to. The weekend before Thanksgiving as I drove to Birmingham (~90 miles) to check for some Christmas gifts in the ZanyBrainy store there, that isolation was shattered by a shrill ringing. Seems for some of us who are well out from our college days that the first time a cell phone rings for us in the car that we can be quite startled. It was Madelyn, she was at home checking availability of some items over the Internet. When she had some news she called me at our new cell phone to coordinate, and I got back to her later with what they didn't have in the "real" store. It's a holly-jolly-high-tech Christmas!

Now it's Sunday. After Thanksgiving. December promises to be here and gone quickly, but we managed to pause for these few days of November holiday and give thanks. It's been another good year, plenty of health and togetherness and a fair amount of prosperity to be thankful for in the Patton (Jr.) household. Madelyn cooked a great meal Thursday; Friday I was up early and at the Super Wal-Mart by ten after 6 AM -- the hundred dollar 19 inch color TVs were almost all already stuffed into shopping carts, some folks managed to pile two onto their "wagon" (as Madelyn calls shopping carts; Caralyn gives me a quizzical look when I cascade this into calling the wagon a "Conestoga", but more from my Weepy girl later.) Fortunately, I wasn't after idiot boxes. I got what I wanted and hit 4 more stores by 10:00 AM. Thankful to be done with that. By noon Saturday we were thankful that we have so much more than the cretins who broke a window out of our Explorer overnight as it sat on our driveway. They snatched Madelyn's pocketbook but found nothing else of value. No cash in the purse, just some credit cards, quickly canceled and a 4 year old Eddie Bauer genuine leather purse that was worth $150 new -- that'll be harder to replace than anything else. The thieves left behind a nice silver metal flashlight that the policeman took away with him, fingerprints and all. Oh, they did get a prepaid photocopying card with about $10 left on it at the local university and several prepaid Kroger video rental coupons. Maybe those will compensate for the loss of a nice flashlight. If the burglars aren't thankful for what they grabbed they can certainly be thankful that Madelyn didn't catch them, she was prepared to try out a few of her kickboxing moves on their head by Saturday afternoon.

Work (still with Intergraph, through thick and thin, mostly thin this year for the company as a whole) continues to consume the bulk of my time, but I probably worked fewer hours this year than in any of the past 10. I had a short business trip to Boston, where I paid a week's worth of cash for a one-night stay at a Marriott Residence Inn. Apparently zoning laws make it very difficult to build new hotels in that area and the current owners of temporary lodging establishments are enjoying the status quo quite thoroughly. I got to spend a week in Northern California on business also, which was pleasant enough -- had lunch at the vineyards and such. As a family we had a great trip to Disney World at the end of May. Caralyn was a bit overwhelmed; Nathaniel seemed to enjoy about everything, maybe a little too much. He was run down about the 4th day but a good bout of relaxing in the room seemed to perk him back up for the final day. Madelyn and Caralyn had a touch of flu when we got there but pushed through it. We stayed at the Coronado, near Animal Kingdom. When I hit the lottery I'm going to buy a time-share condo on Disney property, I swear I am. We still have to go out of state to buy tickets, Alabama voted down a lottery that would've benefited education in the state. The conservative churches really turned out the vote - I think they did themselves a disservice, they could have railed against the lottery for decades (hmmm, but maybe it's the education of the masses that some of the far right church fathers were really fighting - when everyone is out to get you, being paranoid is just good sense).

We spent the weekend after Labor Day in Fort Walton Beach. Caralyn says, "Next week we go Fort-Walton-Beach again?", (meaning next year), as if all beaches have the full name. We also had a good but short trip home to my parents' in Chautauqua County in the summer, and we'll get to visit Madelyn's dad, some family and friends around New York City right after Christmas. But the trip I'm looking forward to most right now is visiting Las Vegas with Madelyn. My parents will be coming down to spend some time with Nathaniel and Caralyn in mid-December. We haven't had a trip alone in 10 (almost 11) years. Madelyn and I will be using free tickets from Delta (Frequent Flyer and compensation for a messed up business trip to Orlando) and spending 2 fabulous nights in the Stratosphere Hotel! Madelyn is reluctant to leave the kids but I hope she manages to enjoy our time alone in Sin City.

Speaking of kids... Our first born, Nathaniel, continues (hey, if you can't be pretentious in a Christmas Note, just where can you be these days?) to be bright and happy. He played soccer again this fall, on a more successful team (I wasn't coaching). Right now he's working on a team of Gifted and Talented 4th and 5th grade students preparing for a Lego robotics competition (FIRST) to be held at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center here in Huntsville next Saturday (12/4). I hear CNN may be covering it. The team is suffering from a lack of an experienced coach, but they seem to be enjoying it anyway. What else about Nathaniel? He eats well, plays cribbage in addition to Nintendo 64, asked for his own phone to be in his room for Christmas (Madelyn says it ain't happening.) and has not been bitten by the Pokeman bug.

Weepy, that's Caralyn, continues to blossom. She's an individual. Somewhat scared of the dark, but fearless in the face of some real dangers ("Is this high, Daddy?" from 8 feet up on top of the jungle gym.) She turned 3 on her Halloween-Birthday, a special holiday invented for herself. She'll gladly give you the last blue Flintstones vitamin but if she doesn't want to go to the grocer's with you she uses a word she apparently made up on her own: "I amn't going, I amn't !" For emphasis she may cross her arms and add something she borrowed from Nathaniel, perfecting it as her own: "Huhn! Huhn, huhn, huhn!" It sounds very final.

Caralyn hasn't started any regular activities outside the house, but Madelyn takes her to story time at the library and she spends some time at Nathaniel's school when Mad volunteers for special events there. We cherish the moments. I attended the service held after the passing of a 9 year old girl I didn't know. She had obviously lived a full life in the face of an uncertain future. It touched me and I'm adjusting my life to try to do the same, thankful for the chance.

To borrow from Alanis Morrisette: Thank you Katelyn, thank you Christmas; thank you Humanity, thank you Millennium, thank you, thank you, thank you Humility, thank you Sports Night, thank you Madelyn, thank you Everyone, thank you West Wing, thank you, thank you....

Happy holidays to all,

Chip, Madelyn, Nathaniel and Caralyn