"This is the King that we are looking at"

For weeks, my first grader shut herself inside her room at various times, working feverishly on a "project." Very secretive. Very serious. I knew she had big plans when she asked for some wrapping paper, tape, and scissors. And a stapler, too.

She proudly placed her creation under the tree a week ago, with a "to mom and dad" sticker slapped on it in a prominent position. She really wrestled with the "do not open until Christmas" principle. It seemed like ages until we would be able to open it, but she understood it would be better if we all waited.

This morning, she brought it to us to open. And even though I got some nice gifts under the tree, her gift was my favorite. It was a "book" that she had written, stapled together on the side.

The Jesus Story

One day an anjl came to Mary and said go to bethlham you will have a baby. He will be the king. So Mary went to Bethlham with Joshf. She was on a donky. She folowd the star.

They got to Bethlham. They asked a man to have selter. I am all filld up. You can stay in my stabl. So they did. Then Mary had Jesus.

There were seprds in the fild. An anjl came. But the anjl said do not be afrad. You need to go Bethlham to see the new King. So they did. Folow that star said the anjl.

This is are king they said. Sent to erth. They wishupt Jesus. They were so happy they had a new king.

The wise men saw the star. they said it will leed us to a new king. So they rod on camls. They travld for meny days.

The wise men got there jesus was a kid. The wise men gave him prests. They wishupt him. This is the king that we are looking at.

That is the story of Jesus.


How to Break the Conventional Rules of Blogging

There are a lot of blogs out there about how to blog successfully. The more I read them, the more I see that I am doing a stupendous job of breaking all the rules. I am also certain that the phrase "blogging successfully" is relative. I'm like James Dean on his motorcycle. A renegade. A rebel without a cause. Make that...a blogger without a niche. Here are the top ten ways you can join me out here on the fringe.

1) Don't post every day. Or even every 2-3 days. Posting constantly is the number one cardinal rule, according to the experts. You owe it to your readers, they say. But instead, just get something up there once a week or so. Maybe. I promise that no one will cry themselves to sleep if you don't.

2) Don't worry about a facebook page for your blog. Why does my blog need its own facebook page? I have a facebook page because I have a face. I post links to my blog there. If my blog had a facebook page too, that would be like wearing pantyhose with sandals. Facebook pages for blogs are very much en vogue, so many of you are now vehemently disagreeing. But I'm sure that only about 3 of my facebook friends would "like" my facebooked blog, and that would be emotionally crippling for me. So let's move on.

3) Make sure to neglect the rest of the blogging community. Conventional wisdom dictates that as a blogger, you should be reading about 87,362 blogs and commenting on all of them to increase traffic to your own blog. Who has time to do that? Read some when you can, but by all means, do not drown in a sea of endless blogs. Your family will thank you.

4) Use a standard blogger template, even while beautiful and slick-looking designs abound all around you. Blogger is kind of like the family sedan that gets you from point A to point B. It's not fancy, but it does the job. Having design envy accomplishes nothing. Just use what you've got and make the best of it.

5) Don't have your own domain name. Because "dot blogspot dot com" is fun to say.

6) Always write posts that are too long. This one is my personal favorite. I do it all the time. If you stick with me when I go over 250 words, I love you.

7) Don't appeal to a specific demographic. Just be all over the map. Commercial sponsors really like that. No target at all. Old people, young people, male, female, whatever. Pitch it like this: "Hey, you could reach the ENTIRE world by advertising on my blog! Forget about that one segment that you are hung up on!"

8) Make sure that your readers have no idea what to expect by visiting your blog. The whole "your readers have to trust you" line is a little touchy-feely. So make your blog be like a box of chocolates, as Forrest would say. You never know what you're gonna get. Something crunchy? Chewy? Spiritual? Funny? Yuck? A mouse-click is a roll of the dice.

9) If you had to choose between one reader and 50 "followers" who come once and never come back, always pick the one reader. They are a lot more real than the numbers are.

10) Above all, just write. Write whatever you want, whatever you're thinking about, whether somebody is reading or not. If they are, fine. If they're not, too bad. Write because it's fun. Because you have something to say. Because it might make a difference for someone out there.

That's how to be a blogging renegade. And this is the perfect moment for me to jump on my motorcycle, rev the engine, and ride into the sunset.

Until next time,


Dirty Santa Play-by-Play: A Tale of Woe and Undoing

There's always one person in a Dirty Santa game who gets dumped on. Someone inevitably hits the jackpot and then watches helplessly as it all unravels. This year, at our annual family get-together, it was my husband.

Maybe he brought woe upon himself when he stole the animal-shapes waffle maker from my cousin's super-sweet wife. (To his credit, he was only dutifully carrying out my wishes that had been whispered in his ear). Or maybe I brought woe upon us both when I talked trash to my cousin before the game started and told him he was "goin' down!" An analysis of the pivotal moments of the game reveals that the waffle-maker steal was a definite turning point. It all went downhill from there.

As a coach shows slow-motion video footage to his players after the big game, so we shall now re-visit yesterday's Dirty Santa dirtiness.

Once my husband grabs that waffle maker, I know that it's only a matter of time before someone else steals it from him, rendering it "dead," unable to be stolen again. If only I can swipe it from my own husband (a lateral steal), I can ensure that the waffle maker goes home with us. But alas, Aunt Joyce gets to him first. So it goes.

Gift #1...lost. Which means our kids will continue to eat Eggo waffles.

Husband has to dig under the tree again for a replacement gift. He opens a phonebook-sized reproduction of the Sears Roebuck Catalog from the 1800's, with lots of strange, old-fashioned items in it. As he flips through it, it is obvious that he is not quite sure what to make of it, and neither am I. My mom, who happens to like strange, old-fashioned pictures, is next up in line. She also feels sorry for him, like a good mother-in-law, and I am almost certain she takes it from him so that he can choose something else (a sympathy steal).

Gift #2...lost. Thankfully.

Husband, left giftless once again, contemplates swiping someone's gift (a rebound steal). But he is told that he must return to the tree, since rebound steals are forbidden (although they are known to happen occasionally, under the radar). So then he opens a manly-looking hat with a light attached to the front of it, which even has a manly knife of some sort included in the mix. But in our family of manly men, the man-hat lasts all of 25 seconds in my husband's hands.

Gift #3...lost. "Nooooo!" he pleads. It falls on deaf ears. The man-hat is no more.

Husband then concedes to open the gift that our daughter has enthusiastically selected from under the tree and plunked into his lap. Body creme and a $20 gift card to McDonald's (yessss!) In the hierarchy of Dirty Santa gifts, gift cards are usually pretty sweet, even if they're from McDonald's. Visions of free happy meals for my children are dancing in my head until my cousin's wife...the first waffle-maker casualty, as you recall...sees her opportunity. She swoops in and claims MickeyD's as her own (a payback steal). Bam. It's the equivalent to a quarterback sack, as the coach reviewing the plays would explain.

Gift #4...lost. Tragically.

Husband faces the barren tree, with one gift left underneath it. It's like throwing a hail mary pass. He reaches for it, opening the paper slowly, hoping desperately for redemption as bittersweet memories of the treasures that slipped through his fingers cloud his thoughts. And he pulls out --

A guitar-playing turkey that sings Feliz Navidad when you punch the PRESS ME! button on his foot, as his neck wiggles side to side, forward and back. A far cry from the waffle maker.

But our kids love it. I mean, they REALLY love it.

Please, someone. Save me from Jose Feliciano, whose song now plays in our home and in my head over...and over...and over...

I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas! From the bottom of my hearrrrt!

Until next time,


The Greatest Christmas Song Ever Written

The genre of Christmas music is vast. In fact, I am pretty certain that the number of holiday songs ever written would stretch all the way to infinity, if you lined them up next to each other. And within that genre are other vast genres. When you type in "Christmas music" on Pandora radio, it will ask you what kind. R&B/Pop Holiday? Classical Christmas? Peaceful holiday? Christmas blues? Country Christmas? Folk holidays? Jazz holidays? Rockin' holidays? Or Swingin' Christmas? (Umm...I really had to wrestle with that selection.)

Musicians have been creating Christmas music for, I guess, 2,010 years. Contemporary musicians, if they are more than one-hit wonders, are expected to release a Christmas album at some point. It's just what you do. No other musical genre exists that is only to be consumed for one month out of the year. We have to cram every bit of our Christmas listening into December (or the end of November, for those who just cannot wait.)

So this Christmas, I have contemplated which Christmas song, out of all the ones ever written, is the best. Above all others. It's a tough challenge, especially for someone like me who hates to be asked to pick a favorite movie, favorite song, favorite singer, favorite food of all time. When confronted with those questions every now and then, I usually just wring my hands and think, oh that's a good one...but what about?....how can I pick that one over that one?...I can only pick one? Really?...I know there's one I'm forgetting... And I end up having to list several.

Not so, for this Christmas challenge to myself. One song. And only one. And not only the title, I also must explain why I selected that song as the winner, put it out here on this blog, and be prepared to face my peanut gallery.

Maybe I should do this like the competitive singing shows we love.

And now...the ones who have NOT been chosen to go on to the next round: Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer...I'm sorry, but you have not made the cut! Jingle Bell Rock...you've worn out your welcome! Sit down! I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas...nope, it's definitely not you! Thanks for playing! O Holy Night, you were almost it. I stand up and give you the slow, deliberate Randy Jackson clap. Your drama and beauty have my utmost respect. Sometimes second place is good...even fourth or fifth. Just ask Chris Daughtry.

But ladies and gentlemen, in all seriousness, the best Christmas song of all time is...wait for it...

Silent Night.

*boom! confetti falls* The crowd sits there in shock because that was all somehow anticlimactic. Silent Night? Are you sure that's the winner? But...but...it's slow! The melody is too...simple! It's not glittery enough. Not big enough. Not showy enough!

Neither was the stable.

The judges stand by their decision. Silent Night is the greatest Christmas song ever written. No other song captures the essence of Christmas like it does. It seems like an ancient classic, written in 1818. But that is still 1,818 years after the night Christ was born. Back then, Joseph Mohr, an assistant pastor in Austria, asked his friend Franz Gruber to set to music the words to a poem he had written for Christmas Eve midnight mass. They sang it as a duet, accompanied by a choir and a guitar. The idea that people all over the world would still be singing it hundreds of years later would have been laughable to them.

This is a boys' choir singing it as it was written, "Stille Nacht." Have a listen, please.

The music those two men created in 1818 is a soundtrack for the scene that night in Bethlehem. The mother and the child. The shepherds quaking at the sight of the angels. Heavenly hosts singing Alleluia. Jesus, Lord at thy birth. The melody - tender and mild, gentle, humble. Lyrics that evoke reverence, stillness, and wonder. When I sing it, holding a candle on Christmas Eve, then I am able to be there, too, at the manger, witnessing the greatest moment in history...when a baby was born into the most humble of circumstances, a baby who would one day save the world.

It is the lullaby that allows one to enter in, alongside the shepherds and the animals, welcoming the Lord. Peace has quietly come to the earth on a silent night. Heavenly peace between God and mankind. Winter Wonderland and Silver Bells are happy and fun, but truly, there is no better piece of Christmas music than this one. There is no more beautiful a song to sing than one that speaks of the peace that all of mankind longs for...and finds unexpectedly, illogically even, in a baby.

Shhhhhh. Christ the Savior is born.


Elf on a Shelf

Santa has spies.

Stunning, I know. I was in the dark until last year, when a family member enlightened me about the Elf on a Shelf, which has been on the market for a long time and has made a resurgence in recent years. It's a plastic elf that comes with an elaborate, ready-made story about how he sits in your house and watches you. He reports back to Santa, on a regular basis, on whether your behavior has been naughty or nice. Don't touch him, or his magic will wear off. Every morning, you'll find him in a different spot. He might be getting into the Christmas candy or committing some other act of mischief. But from what my friends all say, it's a sure-fire way to make your kid behave, that is, if you want to go one step farther than the old "Santa's always watching" bit, which comes with its own set of doubts and questions as children get older…

"Can Santa read our minds?" my first-grader asked today. She's starting to understand that the whole omniscient-Santa thing does not make a lot of sense.

The Shelf Elf (given a special name by the child who awakens him from hibernation in his box) seems to satisfactorily bridge that gap for some kids...except for my daughter, who saw her cousin's shelf elf and, to my surprise, reported back to me that he was fake. At least Santa is, ostensibly, a real person. You can talk to him at the mall. Talking to an inanimate object is a stretch, even for a first-grader. Still, I could see in her eyes that she was not a hundred percent sure about her position on the matter.

Little bitty tikes, on the other hand, are completely snowed. They suspiciously eye that stuffed elf, perched atop the mantle, or wherever he lands after flying around the house at night, and they wonder if he's really going to tattle on them to the big man himself. Creepy, right? No more creepy, I suppose, than a fat man in a red suit who breaks into your house one night a year.

Some of my dear friends reading this right now love their elves. They get attached to them, and talk to them, and above all, are quite pleased with the changes in their children's behavior patterns upon the annual arrival of Mr. Foofoo (or whoever). And I sincerely wish them all the best in their secret-agent elfin adventures.

So there is a part of me would like to get on the shelf elf train. Really, I would. It's a fun idea. But I know my kids. I know they would be absolutely destroyed if they thought that Mr. Foofoo was going to jeopardize all their hopes for Christmas morning. I think they would resent him. I know I would, if I were in their shoes. And even as an adult, I can't associate a doll that comes to life at night with anything other than Chucky. So in that sense, I would be suspicious of Mr. Foofoo, too. I would have to sleep with one eye open and a baseball bat by the bed. And inevitably, one of my kids would touch it, and the other would despair that all the magic had disappeared. (I know exactly which child would do what in that particular situation, and so do you, if you know my kids.)

So all things considered, no sneaky-spy elves will be flying around my house this Christmas season. If I see one, I will take him out with the bat and wish him a Merry Christmas before he can tattle on me.



Where's the Line to See Jesus?

When you check your e-mail inbox, if you're like me, the first messages you read are the ones that do not have a "FW:" preceding their subject headings. It's like checking your real mailbox and opening the letters with handwritten addresses first, before you open the junk mail. Everyone likes that connection with other human beings, whether through real mail or e-mail, and we seek that out before we do anything else.

So after you read your personal e-mails, then you work through the ones that are left...the forwards. Some are good. Some, not so good. They've probably been a part of the internet since its inception. You get a nice little sentimental poem in your inbox, and it's way too easy to send it to everyone you know. Surely they will like it as much as you do, right? The addendum at the bottom of the e-mail about how only the good people in the world will forward it, and the bad people won't, has sort of lost its oomph after being attached to every internet poem in the history of the world. It's a good thing that the e-mail-forward guilt trip has no teeth anymore. Generally, if someone sends it along, there are other reasons why.

So I do try to read them. And occasionally, I will send them to a few (a few) select family and friends if they meet certain qualifications, specifically, a high level of hilarity and/or inspiration.

I got one yesterday that was good. It's not just forward-able. It's bloggable. A meditation for this Christmas season.

It's the true story of a grandfather who was inspired to write a song about a single question asked by his grandson last Christmas. (If you just rolled your eyes at the words "true story," the website about the song should put your doubts to rest.) The four-year-old boy, waiting in line to see Santa at the mall, tugged at his mother's sweater, looked up, and asked her, "Where's the line to see Jesus? If Christmas is his birthday, why don't we see him more?"

The boy's grandfather, Steve Haupt, wrote out song lyrics in a matter of minutes. He made a demo video with his daughter, Becky Kelley, which has gotten over a million hits on youtube over the course of the past year. It's a wonderful example of the power of the internet, which made it possible for a "do-it-yourself" song to reach thousands, when, years ago, it would probably have had a much smaller impact.

An innocent, honest question from the mouth of a little child who really wanted to know...where is the line to Jesus? It's his birthday, after all. It makes sense that a little child would ask such a logical question. Of course he would want to go straight to the Man himself, not just Santa Claus (who's a great guy and everything, but in the end he's still just a nice guy that brings presents.) It's the same question that the children were asking when the disciples told them Jesus was too busy for them...to which Jesus responded, "Let the little children come unto me." Those kids way back then wanted to get in the right line, just like the line the little boy at the mall was seeking. The line that would take them to the One who would give His life for them. And...as the song says...the line that will one day stretch from His throne.

Take a minute to listen to this sweet, inspired song. And then, if you're a good person, you should forward it to everyone you know. Just kidding. But I bet the next time you see a Santa line weaving through the mall, you will think of the little boy who asked this question:

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