Today was on and off stressful, as most days with our kids tend to be, but this picture represents one of the happy, little moments when everybody was in a good mood and looking in the same direction and everything!

I’m honestly not sure who gave him the stickers, or why they gave him so many, but I’ll have you know that he was definitely somehow wearing one curled up as a tail while this particular shot was taken… 😯

I don’t really like to sing in front of other people.

Call it anxiety, call it reality after my bizarre stint back in high school when for like a year and a half I was somehow the singer for the rock band I was in, but as much as I’ll sing along with the radio like anybody else in the car when I’m by myself, I normally just can’t do it with any sort of an audience – even if it’s just my wife.

Yet tonight I found myself singing Christmas carols in the car with Sara and Christopher, and it was both different and kind of nice.

Part of it was because we were desperately trying to distract David from whatever the heck he was crying about, and another part of it was sheer amusement/amazement each and every time that I looked over my shoulder to see Christopher smiling and singing along with us like he knew all of the words by heart!

Considering how much he really struggled with speech over the last couple of years, and even looking back to his end of the year program at school last year where the whole class sang a couple of songs and he just sort of stood there … it was really awesome to see my kid happily singing about Rudolf and Santa and Frosty like it was just another one of those things you do for fun at Christmastime.

…before life and anxieties convince your brain that you have no business emitting any tones other than your normal speaking voice, anyways!

It’s probably hard to tell much from the picture, but I still thought it was kind of neat to notice before going to bed for my unexpected second night in the hospital. It seems that the iconic, blue lights that run the edge of the building’s roofline actually change colors, and in fact are currently set to alternate red and green for the Christmas holiday!

Admittedly I think all of these medications and the general awesome care I’ve been getting are making me a real sap right now, but I thought that was kind of neat to see as I turned out all of my lights to go to bed tonight. 😉

Being a parent of toddlers, right now I’m more so just enjoying the kids experiencing the magic and excitement of Santa for the first time … even though Christopher is four now, I’m not sure in previous years he really understood the whole presents thing. But nonetheless, I haven’t really put much thought into the next next phase where they start to pick at the thread and ask questions like, “How does Santa Claus – who’s built like a dump truck – get down all of those skinny, little chimneys in one night???”

That said, I really liked this anecdote that Erik shared on social media the other day as an awesome way to transform the whimsical kids tale into an inspirational message for adults to lead their own lives by.

In my experience so far, a huge part of how we teach our kids to be the best people we can is through leading by example. It makes me very proud whenever someone remarks that Christopher is so polite, and a lot of that comes from him just being around me and mimicking whenever I tell someone please or thank you.

And if the idea of Santa Claus is a way to push forward those acts of kindness through the whole year by tying them to such a special, childhood favorite, well, talk about the gift that keeps on giving, indeed! 😉

TWO YEARS, I WAITED!!!

I stalked the Amazon, and Target, and Walmart websites.

I randomly showed up at stores when I heard that shipments were due in.

I even got the inside track from a stockman at Toys ‘R Us, who basically hinted that regular customers have no chance at getting coveted items when they show up six at a time and there are at least six employees who are even moderately interested in buying one.

Eventually I gave in like many others and built a RetroPie instead, and it still works great day!

And then I come across an entire stack of the things in the Nintendo aisle at Best Buy like they’re a part of some big holiday promotion or something!

So yeah, I bought one.

I don’t really need it because my RetroPie has all the games on it already, but I have the Super NES Classic and it’s a cute, little option for playing games in the bedroom late at night, so if nothing else I can set it up alongside that and recreate the nostalgic combo that got me through elementary and middle school!

Let’s be honest – I’d play The Legend of Zelda on a shiny rock if Nintendo released it; plus, all of the knock-offs … at least the ones that are bold enough to be sold at the freaking mall … kind of drive me nuts.

I still think it makes a cute way for my generation to relive the classics – especially if they’re not necessarily geeks and don’t want to jump through hoops and whatnot.

Swim lessons are expensive for three kids, but it’s nights like tonight when I’m beyond satisfied with the investment we’re making in these crazy, little swimmers.

The swim school that we’ve taken the boys to basically since Christopher was born does this program twice a year called Water Safety Week – during which instead of their usual lessons, every kid wears their normal clothes into the pool and gets taught at their level about the core basics of keeping themselves safe around around water. They spend some time in the pool so that they’re not foreign to the shock of being in the water with their clothes on, and then they all try on life jackets and float around the pool in the most adorable choo-choo train formation you’ve ever seen in your life!

They also take a few minutes to talk to us parents about the importance of using safety features with our pools at home and having designated watchdogs when attending or hosting a party where kids will be in or around the water. Some of the statistics shared are just terrifying – apparently in Florida alone, we’ve lost 86 kids to drowning this year … which is the equivalent of four preschool classes of drownings on average each year.

Fortunately, they say that swim lessons reduces the risk of a child drowning by 88%, so that’s something to help us sleep even just a little better at night.

Plus, the kids all just absolutely love their swim lessons, and it’s always fun to watch them trying out the new things that they’ve learned and being pushed towards new skills in an area that I myself very much struggled with growing up, and honestly still kind of do!

Plex has become a mainstay in our home over the last couple of years, expanding from only housing our movies and TV shows to also include educational programs and songs for the kids, series I’ve enjoyed and wanted to archive off of YouTube, and now … Christmas movies, too!

This is a little project that I’ve wanted to do for a while because previously all of our holiday shows were scattered throughout the regular movie and TV libraries, which are then separated by adult and kid content, whereas I always thought it would be nice around the holidays to have a dedicated library where you could look through only the Christmas stuff when you were sipping hot chocolate and looking to get all jolly and bright and whatnot.

There are a couple of different ways you can do it…

  • Create a separate folder and copy all of your holiday movies and shows into it, then add it to a new library dedicated to holiday shows … but this takes up twice as much space.
  • Create separate TV and movie folders for Christmas movies, then add them to both your existing libraries as well as your new holiday library.
  • (my choice) Create a new folder for Christmas shows and point your new library at it, then create symlinks to all of the media in their original locations.

This last option ended up working out well for me because it saved me from shuffling a bunch of files around, plus it gave me a fix for an unexpected problem that arose from certain Christmas specials that are normally organized under TV shows…

See, with the main Christmas library in Plex defined as a Movie library, it doesn’t find a metadata lookup for Garfield – S00E06 – A Garfield Christmas.mkv. The nice thing about symlinks, though, is that the linked name doesn’t need to equal the source name, and so I’m able to turn the TV-friendly filename into something that the IMDB can actually recognize like this – A Garfield Christmas Special (1987).mkv.

The command I used in Linux to create these links looks like this (executed in my new Christmas movies library folder):

ln -s "/path/to/TV Shows/Garfield & Friends/Specials/Garfield - S00E06 - A 
Garfield Christmas.mkv" "A Garfield Christmas Special (1987).mkv"

I’d say it took me maybe a couple of hours spread out over several sessions of searching through each library for the shows & movies I wanted, then copy & pasting the links into a Terminal window to create each symlink. The result is a nice, clean library with nothing but Christmas, and if I need to hide it away come January 1st until next season, that’s easy enough to do, too. 😉

Tonight we put up our Christmas tree, as people often do when the calendar slips over into December and the official countdown is finally upon us.

Also tonight, Christopher ended up going to bed underneath the Christmas tree, so here’s to hoping he doesn’t wake up in the morning wondering where all of his presents are!

I think this is going to be a really fun year for celebrating Christmas.

Money has been pretty tight this year, so we’re not exactly splurging like we tend to do around the holidays (or in general, really), but the spirit of the kids seems to hold a unique promise of joy all on its own. Earlier this week as we were leaving swim class, Christopher saw a bunch of lights across the street and exclaimed, “Deeda! Deeda! Look at the Christmas!”

And it was absolutely adorable. 😉

So tonight we started decorating the house and got the tree put up. The boys then proceeded to decorate the tree with their cars, after which we had a fake snowball fight and listened to Christmas music and they jumped around like crazy people until bed.

We’ve already started threatening that they need to be extra good if they want to get something under the tree from Santa … so we’ll see how that pans out!

And tomorrow, in theory, we’re putting lights up outside … because several of our other neighbors already have and I feel awful that we’ve got young kids and haven’t even put up our lights for them to gasp at every time they come home yet.

Hopefully I’ll be able to find it in me to blog all of the fun this year. I know that I’ve kind of slacked with my advent blogs in recent years, but I’d really like to get back into them, and besides, I’m soooo close to hitting 1,000,000 words on this blog that I figure if I can advent blog the entire month, I should just about hit it!

These kids aren’t going to be little, adorable toddlers forever – better blog these holidays while I can… 😉

In hindsight it’s something I wish we would’ve just done a year ago, but today we finally bit the bullet and opened Christopher’s college fund.

I think the delay was that the last time I researched all of this, I wanted to go with a plan from Vanguard but their 529 offering requires a $3,000 minimum deposit so we’ve been slowly saving towards that, however in reviewing some of my own retirement savings (through T. Rowe Price) I discovered that they don’t have a minimum at all and it only takes a $50/month recurring contribution to eliminate the nominal $10 annual fee, so I guess I finally just figured why not?!

It’s kind of scary to think of what college might cost 17 years from now when you consider that it’s literally gone up over 1,000% over the last 30 years … I’d like to hope that numerous things will happen between now and then to help get costs back under control, but in the meantime any little bit that we can offer our kid(s) is certainly going to help!

Truth be told, neither Sara nor I really got any financial help for our respective educations. I didn’t qualify for any grants, but I only did two years so was able to balance the costs between living at home and putting on credit cards what I couldn’t pay with my job at the time. Sara pretty much got student loans to cover both her bachelors degree as well as her nursing degree when she left teaching to go into nursing, and although the problems with student loans themselves are a rant that is entirely too un-jolly for an advent blog post, I will say that based on her current repayment schedule the last of them are set to be paid of in 2029.

In comparison, Christopher should be starting college himself ONLY FOUR YEARS LATER in 2033!

Regardless however, the numbers are still very much in favor of a college education being “valuable” in more ways than just the economic and as parents, we kind of look at it as our job to make options like that available to our kid when he has to make that all-too-important decision of whether to go off to college right away or to jump headfirst into a nightshift position driving a delivery truck that will slowly eat away at his soul until he finally decides to suck it up and give college a try anyways… 😛

So Merry Christmas, Christopher – very much belated since you were born 18 months ago, but we’ll do what we can to catch this puppy up in the years to come!

I’ve kind of been more into the older, more classic holiday tunes lately, as noted in this year’s 4th edition of my Christmas Mix Tapes – the other three of which can be found right here…

Not sure why I didn’t put one of these together last year, but it’s fun to look back and see which holiday songs I was rocking out to in the previous years and I’ve got a feeling as Christopher gets a bit older and can more eloquently vocalize his radio demands in the car, we’ll be seeing the list trend rather differently still! But until then…

  1. It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas (performed by Johnny Mathis)
  2. The Christmas Song (performed by Nat King Cole)
  3. Happy Holidays (performed by Andy Williams)
  4. Sleigh Ride (performed by John Williams & The Boston Pops)
  5. White Christmas (performed by Bing Crosby)
  6. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (performed by Frank Sinatra)
  7. Let It Snow! (performed by Dean Martin)
  8. It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (performed by Andy Williams)
  9. Walking in a Winter Wonderland (performed by Dean Martin)
  10. Christmas Time is Here (by Vince Guaraldi)

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