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December 31st, 2008.   Before we hit the bad part of this week, we had a wonderful holiday weekend.  We spent Christmas day at my parent's house.  Everyone had lots of fun getting rides on our nephew Caleb's new go kart.  We threw football, watched Deana's wonderful year-end DVD and exchanged presents.  On Friday we drove to Colonial Heights and spent the weekend with Amy's brother and his family.  We played lots of Wii Fit, Wii bowling and Wii tennis.  Today's photo is a photo of all the cousins on Amy's side of the family, taken this weekend, and a photo of them eight years ago, minus Ben.  On Sunday, before we left town, everyone took advantage of the amazing 75 degree weather by going outside to throw football and shoot basketball. 
I asked the boys what their favorite presents were this year .  Ben's favorite was the comic books Amy and I gave him.  Jackson said that his favorite was getting to go see his cousins.  Then the Tony Romo jersey Santa gave him.
The biggest event of the weekend though was the birth of our friends Christie and Will's baby girl Ann Rachel.  We made a quick detour in Winston-Salem on our way home so that Amy could meet her. 
The kids had a good day today, staying home in their PJs playing games.  Our friend Sharon visited this evening, bringing them balloons.  They both wanted to stay up till midnight, but Jackson and I are the only ones left

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008.  I wish that I was posting about all the wonderful, amazing things that happened over the holidays and the weekend.  I will soon.  But today I am updating on the sad events beginning with our return home Sunday night.  Before everyone had made it from the van to the house, Amy noticed that our fifteen year old cat, Frankie, had a bad problem with her front leg.  We initially thought that it was broken, but have since learned that she may have had a stroke.  Amy took Frankie to the veterinarian's office this morning while our friend Timmesa watched the boys.  We will more than likely learn tomorrow what her diagnosis and options are.  While the children were crying Sunday night from their sadness over seeing Frankie in such a bad state, I went into the backyard to check on our pups, Emma, Cassie and Zorro.  When Cassie didn't run to greet me with the others, I knew that something was wrong.  I got a flashlight and began searching the yard for her.  I tragically discovered that she had died, at the age of ten, of what appears to have been natural causes.  In what seemed to be an impossible sequence of events, I had to go inside and tell Jackson, who was already crying, that Cassie, whom we still considered the baby of our pets, had died.   Both boys took the news very hard.  Jackson cried quietly and painfully, Ben cried loudly, lamenting over how his fear of dogs kept him from being closer to Cassie.  Cassie-britches, as we called her, was a part of their lives since birth. 

Then, to top our night off, I immediately had to go into work to deal with a crisis and have worked, at this point, for 27 of the last 32 hours.  So while I was at the office, Amy and the boys were home, alone and in a funk.  Papa was an incredible help today by taking Cassie to our cabin, which was the spot we had decided would be the best for her "special spot."  Our family has been blessed to have not lost a pet before.  We knew that we were entering a period where their collective ages made loosing one a distinct possibility, but it just seems unfathomable to loose two so quickly.           

Update:  We visited Frankie today to say goodbye.  In two days, we lost two of our four pets.  Everyone is very sad about Frankie and will miss her very much.

Thursday, December 25th, 2008.  Jackson had trouble getting to sleep last night.  He was so stressed out about it that he ended up laying in bed crying, worried that if he couldn't go to sleep that Santa wouldn't stop.  He finally went to sleep upstairs in our bed around 1AM.  Ben jumped into our bed this morning at five, shaking with excitement, because he had found the trail of candy canes that Santa left.  We all rushed down stairs and opened presents for hours.  It was a wonderful morning.  We've played and played and are now getting ready to go to my parents house.  Ben is sitting on the floor eating his giant candy cane and Jackson is outside playing with the new basketball he got last night

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008.    Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night


Sunday, December 21st, 2008.  On Wednesday, Ben saw Santa, sat on his lap and gave him his wish list.  He now wonders why Mrs. Claus married Santa.  Amy told him that Santa seems like a pretty nice guy to her.  But Ben said "What about all that hair on his face?  How could she kiss him?"  Ben later developed the theory that Santa didn't have the beard back when they started dating.

We made a quick trip to Radford this afternoon to visit our friend Hilary and her kids, Virginia and Walter Scott, who were visiting family.   Yesterday Jackson played in his second basketball game of the year.  It was another close game with the lead going back and forth, only this time, the game ended with us down three points.  It was a good game and I thought the boys played really well.  Jackson took the loss hard and needed a few hours to come to terms with it.  Amy didn't get to see the game because Ben just can't stand sit through them.  They may try to make to every other one.  Papa, Melanie, Eric, Caleb and Seth made it to the game and were rooting for him from the stands. 

Amy and I both went to Ben's school Christmas party on Friday and I went to Jackson's party on Thursday.  They are definitely looking forward to two full weeks without school.  It is amazing that Christmas is just a few days away.  One of the best Christmas gifts so far is an ornament with a recording of Baby Brett, the baby Amy watches three days a week.  Ben plays the recording all the time.  I've spotted him sitting alone by the tree, smiling while listening to Brett's cooing and laughter.  Both boys truly do adore that baby.  His mom said that it's okay to post photos, so I included a couple today of Jackson and Ben giving him his Christmas present from the two of them.

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008. Click here to see Jackson in his school's Spelling Bee for 3rd, 4th and 5th graders.  The event was comprised of the top two students from spelling bees held in each individual classroom.  The audience was made up of the student body, family and friends.  Jackson had Amy and I, plus our friend Timmesa, rooting for him.  His 2nd grade teacher from last year, who can take at least some of the credit for how well he currently spells, was also on hand.  He did great and didn't appear to be nervous at all.  The video is worth watching, just for the definition of his final word, massage.  Remember as you listen to the definition that he is eight.  Notice how he scratches his head as if to say "Seriously?  You do know that the kid in front of me just spelled sugar, don't you?"  He was happy that he made it as far as he did and had a pretty good attitude about the whole thing.  Tonight at the dinner table during our bad part/good part, he said, with a laugh, that his bad part was "masausage", which turned into our joke of the night.  He is a talented little speller and definitely gets that ability from his mother, who is a tenacious speller herself.  As far as I know, Jackson hasn't missed a single spelling word all year on his weekly spelling tests.  Personally, I'm exactly the guy they had in mind when they invented spell-check software.

Another video that you might want to check out is from our canoe trip on the Smith River during September.  A paddling friend shot the video and I edited it.  We are the first canoe in the video.

Monday, December 15th, 2008.  We got a lot accomplished over the weekend and are getting much closer to being ready for Christmas.  On Sunday, on our way to my grandmother's house, we made a side trip to collect some mistletoe for the house.  This was the fourth year of getting our mistletoe from the same oak along a dirt road in Claudville.  Click here for our Mistletoe gallery.  After lunch,  we completed a few tasks to help Hama with her holiday preparations, including hanging bows and addressing Christmas card envelopes, then headed back to town where we joined the Eads at their house for a wonderful fondue dinner and dessert.  The only bump in the weekend was finding out that Ben misbehaved badly while he was with his Aunt Deana and his cousins.  Really badly from what we hear. 
Congratulations to our high school football team who capped their undefeated season by winning the North Carolina State 1A Championship in Raleigh on Saturday.  It's very exciting for the local team to be state champs.  Their season provided a steady stream of positive news in the local papers, which was a nice contrast to the stream of negative economic news. 
Congratulations also go out to our niece Nicole who took first place in her very first gymnastics competition last weekend and to our nephew Caleb who won his basketball game on Saturday.

Saturday, December 13th, 2008.  No awfiritis or stummy aches to use as an excuse this week.  Ben's been a handful all on his own.  You would think this would be the one month out of the year when the kid would be afraid of misbehaving.  The threat of making the naughty list doesn't intimidate him one bit.  He did write Santa a letter on his own though, apologizing "for all the bad things he's done."   And we had a lot of fun Christmas shopping together today.  Ben told me, "It's a good thing you've got your wing man with you."  It was a pleasant day with clear blue skies, complete with horse drawn carriages and musicians playing Christmas carols on Main Street.  Yesterday morning, after joining Jackson at his school to help work on a Gingerbread House project, Amy ran errands around town that included holiday shopping on Main Street.  When she stopped by a favorite store, Amy learned that she was quoted for an ad placed in Skirt Magazine.  The quote, from a previous visit, was "Shopping in Scarlet Begonias is like walking through my favorite catalog!"    
The boys' Wish Lists are complete and will be handed to Santa on Wednesday, along with Ben's letter, when Ben goes to Winston-Salem for an appointment with his pediatric dentist.  This afternoon they are at the movie theater watching Bolt with their aunts, Deana and Melanie, and their cousins.  They will spend the evening at my parent's house, while Amy and I enjoy a holiday dinner with my paddling club in Martinsville, Virginia

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008.  That's our little shug bug.  Ben stayed home and played games with Amy while Jackson and I went to basketball practice.  It was a really fun practice.  With this weekend's game cancelled, I was able to focus on some of their favorite drills.  One of Jackson's teammates rode home with him from school, then rode to practice with us.  They finished their homework, played football in the yard and played a lot inside.  One of their teammates hadn't spoken a word before tonight, until I stumbled on a drill that he just loved.  Following that, he was both smiling and talking.  That was pretty cool.

Monday, December 8th, 2008. On Sunday, after helping Mo pick out her tree, we went to my grandmother's house for lunch and to follow our yearly tradition of helping decorate her Christmas tree.   Ben went on and on about how great of a cook Hama is.  They really enjoy spending time at her house.  From there we went by Mo's to help set her tree up and to put the lights on it.  It was then back to the house, just in time to watch my Steelers beat the Cowboys.  Pittsburgh's last minute victory was especially sweet this year since Jackson decided to jump ship and join his Mother's side of the family in in pulling for Dallas.  Sorry guys, maybe next time.

Sunday, December 7th, 2008. What a great weekend.  Jackson's first basketball game of the season was on Saturday.  After the first quarter, the score was tied.  It was at that point that I was able to relax and start enjoying the game.  The fact that, win or loose, they were going to be competitive relieved a lot of stress.  The whole team played so well.  Jackson surprised me with his speed coming down the court.  He had multiple drives to the basket, often changing direction to go across court and to the basket.  He scored early, which again relieved some of my stress.  The entire team rebounded, shot and played defense better than I could have hoped for.   Four of the seven boys scored, which was super, and they all got their hands on the ball at least once.  At the end of the second quarter the score was still tied.  Both teams were playing great ball and it wasn't until the last minute that Jackson and his team pulled ahead, eventually winning by five.   It was a lot more fun than I thought it would be and I know Jackson had a good time.  He went to b*d tonight wearing his jersey.  The team they play next Saturday won by almost fifty points in the game before ours this weekend, so I think we'll have our hands full for game two.  But we've at least got one win under our belts, which was my only goal for the year as far as wins and losses go.  Beyond that, I'm just hoping for more fun like we've had so far.

Saturday afternoon we again celebrated a victory as our Hokies won the ACC Championship game for the second year in a row.  Mo came to the house that afternoon to spend the night with the boys.  They had a lot of fun watching a string of movies, while Amy and I spent our evening out at a couples baby shower thrown for our friends Will and Christie.  It was a very nice evening and it was fun having Mo at the house this morning.  Hopefully she and the boys will make it a regular thing.

Oh yeah, everyone that suspected that Ben was getting sick last Thursday, you were right.  He slept from 4:30 in the afternoon straight through to morning.  When he woke on Friday he said his stomach was telling him he was throw up sick.  And he was, only briefly though.  By lunch he said that he wasn't sick anymore, he only had a "stummy ache."  By that evening he felt great and Amy was able to spend her evening, as she had hoped, at the toy drive her Junior Women's club organized.

Thursday, December 4th, 2008.  On Sunday afternoon, we joined my family for a wonderful lunch prepared by my mother.  This afternoon Ben came to Amy crying.  He told her that he stubbed his finger playing football with Jackson and that he now has awfritis like Deana said Mo had one time.  Later in the day he got mad at the computer because he said it was too slow.  While still mad, he fell asleep on a beanbag in his bedroom.  After I got home from work, Amy moved him into his b*d.  He woke up once tonight to go to the b*throom, then fell back asleep in a recliner in the living room.  As of now, the little guy has been out for over four hours.

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008.   On Saturday afternoon, after Amy's brother and his family left for their trip back home, we checked the weather forecast for Hillsville.  It was rainy and cold, but the extended forecast showed more of the same, so we decided to go ahead and pick out our tree, leaving us Sunday morning and Sunday evening to decorate it.  We sprinted up the mountain, picking out a tree just before dark and just before Slaughter's Tree Farm closed for the day.  We think we picked out a perfect tree this year, which as usual means that it is just slightly too big for our house.  The angel's head is once again bumping against the ceiling.  Photos from past trips to the tree farm can be found here.

We carried the tree into the house and strung the lights Sunday morning, then hung the decorations that evening.  We had the tree straight and in place way faster than normal, but as usual, half the lights didn't work and had to be replaced with new ones, which meant a quick trip out to the store.  Ben was as active a participant as Jackson this year and was especially helpful when it came to climbing behind the tree to hang ornaments in the back corner, which is now as full as the front thanks to our growing collection of ornaments.  As is our tradition, the boys each got to pick out a new ornament this year.  Ben was more excited about picking out the ornament than the tree, so on our way home from the farm, we stopped at Hallmark.  Ben selected a Kung Fu Panda ornament, while Jackson went with the ESPN Sportscenter Elves.  Photos from past Christmas trees can be found here.


Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008.  Over the weekend, Alan, Charla, Jimmy and Nicole visited, which meant more front yard football, which Jackson loved.  There was also a little shopping and a trip to the movies to see High School Musical 3.  It was a very nice visit and we look forward to seeing them again in a few weeks at Christmas.

Jackson had his third basketball practice of the season tonight and has his first game this Saturday.  For the first time I'm coaching him, so we'll see how that goes.  We've got a great group of boys and I just hope that they all have fun.