August 23, 2014

September 28, 2013

wAlkward

This weekend at the ALS walk, the DJ was warming up the crowd when a special performer was introduced--a gospel singer and her guitarist. The crowd gave them an ok welcome, but it didn't last long.

Most of us there would not usually have a problem with Christian music, but a when she sang about Jesus healing the sick and bringing the dead back to life, you could hear a pin drop. You just don't come to a fundraiser for an incurable terminal disease, where everyone there has either list a lived one to ALS or is inevitably going to in a terribly short time, and remind us about those promises. After a few years of shouting at God, most if us can reconcile our faith and this disease, but dammit, you just don't go singing those particular praises at a gathering of souls who have learned to go without hope.

The singer left the stage after one more song. Most of the crowd couldn't even offer polite applause, and were visibly shaken, myself among them.  Good thing we decided to keep Melissa home this year. 

August 22, 2013

Matthew, and the Bomb, Dropped

Last night, I met up with Todd, a friend of mine since High School.  As we parted, he gave me a box of old comic books that he was getting rid of, suggesting that Matthew (son, 11) might like them.  It was a bunch of old-school Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (wherein they were actually bad-ass, not the all goofy like the cartoons), X-Men, Ghost Rider and other miscellany. I had given Matthew some Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men books, but he hadn’t asked for any more once he was done reading them. I chalked that up to “too many distractions”.

But as we drove home, and I was telling him about Todd’s gift box of classics, I could see something unsettling in his face. 

“Daddy, I have to tell you something,” he began.  I pulled the car over. He rarely spoke frankly. After a heavy sigh, he continued.

“I lied to you before.  I didn’t read those comics you bought me. I only pretended to read them.”
“Ok, why would you pretend to read them?” 

His lip twisted in thought. “I… just don’t LIKE Marvel.” 

I had mentally prepared myself for something else entirely. And my face must have betrayed some of my surprise, because he quickly added, “I know that YOU like Marvel, X-Men and all that, but *I* just don’t like reading them.”

Deep breath. “Ok. That’s fine, kiddo. What kind of stuff do you like?”

He shrugged. “Simpsons comics, Calvin and Hobbes, stuff like that.”

“So, you like the funny comic books, but not the superhero stuff. Is that it?”

He nodded, sensing the disappointment in my voice. 

I put a reassuring hand on his shoulder, “Look, kiddo, different people like different things. We had this discussion before, remember?”  He nodded again, solemnly.  “Some people like Chocolate ice cream… some people prefer vanilla. Others, like… both swirled together...
… and sprinkles are okay too...
...waffle cones or in a dish…”
I could feel the analogy quickly slipping away from me. “The point is, that’s perfectly FINE. All of them are good choices. Whatever makes you happy, your mother and I fully support your decision.“

Another thought struck me. “And maybe it’s not a conscious DECISION per se, some people are just born that way, that’s just how they are, and that’s OK. You can have Oatmeal Raisin Cookies and Chocolate Chip Cookies in a cookie jar… they’re made differently, but they’re all COOKIES, you know?”

Matthew squinted and shook his head. “ I don’t like Oatmeal cookies.”

“Snicker-doodles then. Doesn’t matter. Just… Cookies are cookies. People are people… “

Silence fell over the car, and given a few more moments to gather my thoughts, I added  “And don’t let kids make fun of you for being different!  So WHAT? It’s THEIR problem if they can’t be open minded enough to accept that. “

Until this conversation, I didn’t realize the kind of pressure I was placing on him. All the assumptions I unconsciously made, just because statistically you could count on  your boy liking superhero comics. I just expected a standard future for him, where we would go out together to comic book movies every summer like “Iron Man” or “Thor”.  I just wasn’t aware that I was perpetuating a stereotype.  Of COURSE he was free to love what he wanted, comics were just what I knew, so it was all I thought to pass on to him.  

I glanced over at him in the passenger seat, waving his hand outside the window on the breeze.
“You looking so much like I did at your age. Thankfully, minus the my bowl cut and buck teeth. Be thankful for that!” (slight smile) 

“Maybe that had something to do with why I unconsciously expected you to like all the same things I did, and I’m sorry for that. You are an individual, no doubt about it, and your mother and I love that about you. There is no shortage of unique things that set you apart from everyone else, and this is just one of the many. It’s just one of the qualities about you that we will treasure.”

At this. his face mirrored the relieved smile that I felt.  It was a rare moment, and I breathed it deep to cement its memory.

“Now look in the back of that box of comics. I believe that there’s a stack of ‘Groo the Wanderer’ comics that might be just what you are looking for…”

October 27, 2012

Who's Scruffy Looking?

So I shaved the goatee this week, in order to look more employable. Research has shown that employers find men with beards somewhat less trustworthy for some reason, but who am I to judge why? As not to waste the experience, I decided to document the various beard styles that I passed through, for posterity:






Fingers crossed on the job search...

August 01, 2012

Chucks for Fiver!

Ok, after a great response to my off-the-cuff request for custom Chuck Taylors for Mel, I have decided to make this my main avenue for gathering items for the ALS Charity Auction at DragonCon this year! 

Chucks for Fiver 

Here's the deal - You find an artist that's willing to decorate some Converse Sneakers for charity, and I will provide the shoes. The finished products will be up for sale at the DragonCon Charity Auction on Sunday, September 2nd. All proceeds will go to the ALS Association of Georgia, Melissa's charity.
If you've ever met Melissa, she was probably wearing her Converse: Xmas Ornament-Mel's Shoes ALS Walk 2010 - Fiver's Flamingos Choir Christmas Party Fivers Team 2009 Bad Boy Harry & Fiver Mel and Gabby Mel's POV - Bok Tower Rocky Cast & Friends CabinCon 2009 - Deb and Mel T-Rex Halloween Costumes 2008 Super Smash Bros. Brawl Group Indy Pics sjapan409

(You get the point. It's pretty much all she wears.)

Just to be clear: The shoes are for the Charity Auction, not for Mel herself. She has about 15 pairs already. But if you want to make a 2nd pair to give to Melissa, that's up to you. The main push of this is to raise money for the ALS Association. I told her that one of the only advantages of her having ALS is because she doesn't actually WALK on them in the wheelchair, her shoes will never wear out!

Details: If you can provide the shoes, great, but if not, let me know what color you need and I'll send them to you. Art guidelines: Subject matter is fairly open, but cartoons are probably easiest. Some of Melissa's favorite things are : Lord of the Rings, Disney Movies, Studio Ghibli movies (Totoro, Castle in the Sky, Porco Rosso, etc.), Firefly, Star Wars, Sandman Comics, Calvin + Hobbes, Anime Characters (Emma, Deathnote, Fruits Basket, Robotech, Kyo Kara Maoh), the Minions from "Despicable Me" and Toothless from "How to Train Your Dragon".

**UPDATE** : Instructables has a great tutorial on how to paint on Converse-type shoes.
Be sure to sign your work, and put "For Fiver" on the back stripe (or anywhere else)

You can contact me at ProjectFiver@gmail.com with any questions, or to request some "Canvas" on which to make your art! Even if you don't think you can help, I would appreciate a share on your wall and perhaps someone else will be able to help. Did I mention all donations are tax deductible? Thanks so much guys.

Send the finished Chucks to: 
Dragon*Con Charity Events 
445 Atlanta South Pkwy #105 
Atlanta, GA 30349 

Please include your contact information (name and mailing address or email) for donation tracking purposes. We will be using a new computer system this year that allows us to track all donations and after the completion of the convention we will be sending out receipts to everyone that made a donation. 

 If you'd rather bring the item to us at the convention, we have a Charity Events Booth open all day Friday and Saturday at the convention, in the Marriot Hotel, 1 floor below the hotel registration desk.All Donations must be received by August 31st.

Be sure to stop by the DragonCon Charity Auction on Sunday, September 2nd and see all the finished products!

All right, all you artists and knowers-of-artists! Go to it and let's awesome up some Chucks!

"For Fiver!"

-Chris

June 09, 2012

Difficult Explanations

Melissa made a change to our usually light-hearted family Movie Nights and suggested that we watch "Anne Frank: The Whole Story" with Matthew.  The boy is always asking questions during movies ("What's going to happen now?" "Who's that guy?" "What did he mean by that?"), but usually I can quickly answer and get back to watching.  But not this time.

I essentially had to explain the whole of World War II to him over the course of two nights as we watched:
Why the family had to wear a star on their clothing
What a Nazi was.
Who Hitler was.
Why Ann's family had to hide in the attic.
What happened on D-Day and why the family was so happy to hear about it.
Why it took so long for allied troops to reach Amsterdam.
Why the mean people reported the family to the Gestapo.
What a Concentration Camp was.
The difference between that and a Work Camp and a Death Camp.
What a Gas Chamber was.
What the black smoke coming out of the stacks was.
Why the Nazis were killing all these people.
Why they cut all the women's hair.
Why other prisoners stole a dead woman's socks.
Why it took the Allies so long to find the camps Anna's family were in.
What happened to Anna and the rest of her family.

But things changed at the end. As the final images of the film stayed on the screen, with the captions telling of the millions of others who died in the holocaust, and the aftermath of the war, Matthew just looked at me after reading each one, silently begging me to tell him that it wasn't true. I just looked sadly back at him and nodded each time.

I only gave the cliff notes version of WWII, but I think he understood the basic parts of it.  And I was more upset at his silence at the end of the film than I ever was when he was asking silly questions during one of these movie nights. 

Some piece of his childhood died tonight. I can't imagine anything being harder than shattering your child's illusions of the world and telling him what a crappy place it can be.  Finding out that some group killed millions of people in such horrible ways just because they didn't like their religion, scared him more than any imaginary monster in the closet. He had to sleep with three night-lights on tonight. 

June 03, 2012

Epic Sleep-over






  Last weekend, Melissa was finally feeling up to going out, and so the Kerns went to see THE AVENGERS!   It was a mad-dash to get to the theater on time, but just before we left, Melissa suggested that we also invite Matthew's friend Seth from down the street.  I agreed and the guys were happy to be going to the movies.

  My 2nd time seeing the film, and it was still as funny and exciting as the Midnight Premiere. On the way to drop off Seth, Matthew started hinting that he wanted to do a sleep-over.  Seth is often gone during the summer, so I said it was fine, they just had to ask Seth's mom.  The two of them excitedly ran into Seth's house to seek her out, and she came to talk to us.

"Sure, Matthew can stay the night here, that would be just fine."
"Oh. I thought Matthew wanted Seth over at OUR house, but this is fine too.  We'll do that next time," I said.

  "Now they'll be sleeping out on the sun porch," she cautioned.
  No problem, it was carpeted and furnished. And that's where the kids' TV and video games were. JUST a coincidence, I am certain...

  "They'll probably stay up 'till midnight..." she continued.
  I grinned and gave a shrug. "It's bound to happen."
  "And we are going to the pool tomorrow after lunch, if that's all right with you," she added.
  That was wonderful. Matthew loves playing in the pool, but ironically, not swimming itself. We packed his bag with his meds, a swimsuit and towel, all the usual stuff, and I walked him down the street to see him off. He was vibrating with excitement, and I was all grins. He has his problems, but he is a good kid, and he deserves a day as awesome as this one.
 
Matthew probably thinks he got one over on me, but that will just make this a happier memory for him.

May 08, 2012

Shedding its Skin

I was a bit worried about our king snake, Crispin.  He had been refusing to eat for almost a month, and he's been sitting in his pipe and not coming out very much for three weeks.  Their metabolism slows in winter, but this is the first time he's gone so long in spring.  Most likely, he is about to shed his skin.

(This is just a reference pic, NOT my actual snake.  Black Mambas aren't the best housepets, I'd imagine...)

Snakes shed their skin a few times a year in one long piece, unlike humans who just flake little bits off constantly.  So to loosen up the skin, they usually fast for a few weeks in order to reduce their body size underneath the old skin, and make it easier to wiggle out of it. They even shed a covering over their eyes.

After the shed, they emerge with shiny, tight new skin and eyes bright, full of energy and hungry to make up for lost time.

...

Never thought I'd be jealous of a reptile, but I have my 20th High School Reunion next month. I was 6'2" and 150 lbs soaking wet, fresh from a growth spurt when I graduated.  Looking at myself now...

Is Fen-Phen still illegal?  Dammit.

April 29, 2012

Late Night Thoughts

I know it's been said millions of different ways, and I'm not some sage or wise man. But sometimes things just CLICK and you gain a real understanding of what something means.

What we do when we fail is what makes us who we are. The actions we take when life does NOT go our way is what defines us.  Failure makes us more determined. Rejection makes us try harder. Disappointment tells us what we want bad enough to DO something about it. Obstacles in our path just make us find another way to go. It is the things that life keeps from us that shows us what is really important. 

What kind of pampered brats would we be if we never knew failure or rejection or loss? If there were no bad consequences for our actions? Would we ever know the incredible depth of love connection that we can have in our adult lives, if we had not given our hearts and had them broken dozens of times before?

As difficult as the life is for me now, I really can't imagine what it would be like if things had continued on normally and Melissa had never had ALS. I hate the situation, don't get me wrong, but I like the person that this hardship has brought out in me. It has shown me that I can rise to the challenge and be a better man.

Accidental Insomnia

We didn't mean to stay up so late tonight, but the battery went out on our desktop clock. I THOUGHT it felt a lot later than 10 PM, and sure enough, it was nearly midnight! Weird thing: Melissa has had this alarm clock for 23 years. She has changed the battery in it... TWICE. I took out the C-Size battery that finally gave up the ghost tonight, it has an EXPIRATION DATE of 2002... So it's been in there, working for more than an decade! How the heck?

April 18, 2012

Here's Looking at You...


Melissa and I have to do some major renovation to our NetFlix queue.  We've run out of stuff that we actively wanted to see, and now it's just movies we forgot why we put in there. There's a load of classics that I put in there from the AFI Top 100 Movies list, some lesser-known movies with Lord of the Rings actors, The first season of Star Blazers, and assorted others that we can't even remember. 

Yesterday we received "Key Largo" with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, (Yes, just like that cheesy song from the 80's about it...) along with "Ocean's 13". I was asking Melissa which one she wanted to watch and she suddenly got upset, so I started spelling it out for her.

"I... Have... A Confession." she telegraphed to me. My heart sank.
What's wrong? I asked her.
"I... really... hate... him."
Pause. Eyes wider. "Him meaning... Humphrey Bogart?"
She nodded apologetically.
I took a cleansing breath and tenderly touched her cheek with the back of my fingers.
"Melissa, I love you," I whispered. then my eyes narrowed.
"But I don't think this is going to work out." 
I drew back my hand.
"I'm afraid we have to break up," I choked out. "Irreconcilable differences."
Melissa's patented eye-roll.

Yes, CASABLANCA is one of my top 5 movies, but I think I can deal with this.

April 01, 2012

New Artist Crush

Don't you just LOVE discovering new things you like? I was randomly making my way through some Hand-Made site like Etsy and I just saw something really unique and cute.


Rabbits on Marshmallow Tree[6"x8] Acrylic on wood

I couldn't help but click on it. This was so cute and simple, and Melissa would just LOVE it with these bunnies on it. The artist's name is Kristiana Parn, and I found the artist's website and saw some more great art :
12. Rendezvous
I can't explain why, but these paintings just make me happy. I just love the colors and the cute simplistic animals. I bought her a mounted print of this one for her birthday: 6.  A Story About Little Rabbits
It's called "A Story about Little Rabbits" and it reminded me of WATERSHIP DOWN, and I knew it would remind Melissa of it too. She loved it! And now she's making a list of other prints from this artist that she wants. If you have a couple of minutes, go to Kristiana Parn's Etsy store and view the lot of them. There's some really great stuff in there.

March 04, 2012

The Black Rabbit of Death

It was Movie Night in the Kern/Petrey household, so Mel's parents brought home some frozen pizzas and we tries to pick out a good movie for Mel, Matthew and I to watch. We have hundreds of movies on Netflix to stream, hundreds on DVD, but very few in that magical middle section of the Venn Diagram of movies that all of us would like to watch.

Then Matthew picked up "Watership Down" and my eyes went wide. "NO." was my instant reaction. While the nice-looking cartoon rabbits on the cover and the pastoral setting may look innocent enough, we all know this is NOT a movie for kids. There's death, blood, subtle socio-political commentary and the uncomfortable explanation why an all-male rabbit warren would be unsustainable in the long term. Some scenes were very upsetting to me, even in college. Melissa, however, insisted. She loves this movie (thus her moniker "Fiver" and email address), and I finally gave in.

Oddly enough, the blood didn't bother Matthew as much as it did me. I had to explain a few things, like what a wire snare was, and why pulling against it was making one rabbit bleed, but he took it all in stride. Then, five minutes to the end of the film, he gets seriously wigged out by "The Black Rabbit of Death"-- essentially the Grim Reaper for rabbits. But it isn't shown in some grisly, scary scene, it's in a pastoral setting, when a character is old and tired, and this shadow of a rabbit asks him to come with him (SPOILER WARNING):

first, Hazel doesn't recognize him, so he shows himself as a sort of "Tribal Art" depiction that Hazel would know from folklore. And at THAT Matthew flips out and asks why he is turning evil. This... took some explaining:

"He isn't evil. He is just... death. Death isn't evil in itself, that's just what he DOES. He is a guide that takes people's souls to heaven. Sure, no one wants to MEET death when they aren't ready. But after Hazel has had a long life, when his body is failing him, he's tired, and so when death appears to him as this shadow rabbit, he goes with him willingly, to free his spirit from his body and continue on to the next stage of life."

Matthew still had more questions, and insisted that he would still have nightmares of the two seconds of black-faced bunny (instead of the bloody fights and death scenes), and as you can imagine, Melissa wants him to get the right meaning from this film.

We didn't anticipate this movie night being the time that brought up this line of religious/metaphysical discussion, but it just may have helped Matthew understand some truths we have been trying to figure out how to explain, about his mother and what will eventually happen.

I still can't think too far down that line without getting angry and sad and choked up, but I know it is coming. Not anytime soon, mind you, she's fairly healthy still, but it is something that we will have to deal with in the next few years. Even after so long of knowing, I still don't know how I'll ever be ready to lose Melissa. How could I ever?

February 28, 2012

Sugar Glider and the Falcon

Melissa had a pretty good day yesterday. I surprised her by arranging a visit from "Toothless" the Sugar Glider. Mel LOVES LOVES LOVES these guys, but we really can't have one. (Three cats, one Chihuahua and a snake in the house already, and the SG's are pretty demanding.) So my friend Claire brought over her friend and Toothless:



Melissa might look apprehensive, but that's just her trying to turn her head properly and look at it. She was so happy to see it. It was climbing all over everyone until we put it back in it's bag: Mel and Toothless

Yeah, Good day for Mel. She was squeeing on the inside.

Also: The Lego Millennium Falcon (Or as I call it, "The MILF" for short)

the MILF - External the MILF - Cockpit the MILF - Chewie the MILF - Rear vthe MILF - Open Top the MILF - Rec Room the MILF - Sleeping Quarters the MILF - Lightsaber Training

This was a fun project to do with Matthew!

February 24, 2012

"Three Dwellings" piece

While caring for Melissa and Matthew takes up a good deal of my time, I do get out of the house for Choir practice and to sing in the Sunday service at our church.  I challenged myself to write some short pieces of music to accompany the bible readings a few times a year. This was my second piece, which I wrote for last year's "Transfiguration Sunday" service. I really can't play the piano very well, but some good music notation software called Finale makes things a great deal easier for people like me with limited abilities, and our Choir Director, Carla, has been very helpful.  I've been singing for years, but my Music Theory is very limited, so "Caveat Auditor" ("let the listener beware!")

I was able to get a recording of us singing it this past Sunday, and I made it into a video so I could share with people. Sorry if the on-screen lyrics are cheesy looking, but the recording was sort of muddy.



I hope you like it, and wish me luck--I'm working on my third composition for Easter season this year.

December 29, 2011

Christmas with the Kerns -2011

Here's the tales of the Kerns' Adventures in December :

Earlier in the month, Melissa wanted to go to Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge Tennessee. It was a couple of chintzy towns full of restaurants, hotels, go-kart tracks and T-Shirt shops along a single road in the middle of the Smoky Mountains, but it has a great charm to it when it's decked out for Christmas. Loads of lights along the strip, and some snow on the beautiful 30 mile mountain pass to get there.

Blue Ridge Mountain Pass 01 Snow on Blue Ridge
Pigeon Forge Patriot Park Christmas LightsPigeon Forge Patriot Park Christmas Lights2

We took Matthew to the Ripley' Aquarium there, which he loves, and for the first time, we visited DollyWood - Dolly Parton's Country theme park. (I have to admit, when I think of Dolly Parton and Mountains, my first thoughts aren't of a family-friendly park, but it was very nice.) Christmas at Dollywood

It was seriously cold that day, and after Matthew and I rode our first Coaster (the incredible Wooden Twister "THUNDERHEAD"), we (and most of the other guests) made a Bee-line to the entryway gift shop to pick up hats and gloves for everybody.
Dollywood_Hats

Christmas Week, we had a bit of a scare. Crispin the Kingsnake got out of his cage again.

WALL-E and the King Snake
He stops eating in winter sometimes, and there's nothing quite like the smell of a dead mouse that's been left, uneaten, under a basking lamp all day, so I assume that in my haste to dispose of the mouse, I probably didn't double-latch the cage top. We searched in vain all afternoon, but not a trace of him. We knew he'd have to come out soon for some water at least, so we just let him be.

Two days later, Matthew spotted him coming out of the linen closet and slinking down the stairs. Before I could grab him, he slithered back INTO the linen closet, where I thought I had him. But apparently he can climb up that 3 feet to the first shelf. I saw that all the shelves in the closet were wire, so he could get as high in it as he liked. So started a very amusing 7-MINUTE CHASE, with him slinking over every towel, sheet and pillow, me furiously taking out all the linens I could, and him wiggling free to the next shelf just as I get back. Eventually, the closet was emptied and he had nowhere to run, so I had him back in the cage, and locked the lid tight this time. So we had THAT as an early Christmas gift: No longer fearing putting our hand under the tree or sitting on the couch.

Christmas Eve, we were preparing to go to our church service, where I'd be singing in the choir. Unfortunately, Melissa was having some digestive issues and we reluctantly admitted that she would have to stay behind. This was the first Midnight Mass that she has missed since she was about 12, so it was quite a sad moment. (She even went to it when she was on strict bed-rest while pregnant with Matthew.) Since she was staying, and I had to go, her parents stayed behind to take care of her, and I went with our friend Shawn. It was a very nice service, and our singing was great, but I missed having her out in the congregation. I hated the fact that she was missing out.

By the time I got home it was past midnight, and I got her ready for bed. But before I said goodnight to her, I picked up "Flamingo's First Christmas" and read it to her. She gave me that eye-roll and incredulous grin that she still hasn't lost, as I read each page and showed her the pictures.

Christmas Day, Melissa and I woke around 10:30, apparently the folks had satiated Matthew by giving him their gift-a Lego "Alien Defense Command Center". That kept him occupied enough to let us be for a little while. Around 11am, we all moseyed into the (now Snake-Free) Den and opened gifts.
Kern Tree 2011 Xmas Ornament- CrackerBarrel Xmas Ornament-F&F

Mel's friend Dawn got her this TOTALLY MELISSA ornament! Xmas Ornament-Mel's Shoes

Matthew got loads of Lego Sets, a remote control helicopter that shoots pictures, and a Nintendo 3DS. Mel's parents got him a telescope, since he often goes out at night with binoculars to look at the stars. (Now all he needs is a leg-cast and a murder across the street...) Matthew'sGifts Telescope Cats love Helicopters

Melissa got me some shirts (I never shop for clothes myself) and a nice gift card for Fry's Electronics. I got Mel tickets to see Jeff Dunham, and a little project I've been working on. She watches movies on Netflix or DVDs from our collection most of the day. We have a HUGE number of DVDs, and I usually have to pick an arm-full of them and bring them into her room for approval. So I had the idea of digitizing our entire collection, to make it easier for her.

Christmas Server
I put a Network Attached Storage (NAS) server on my Amazon Wishlist, mostly for a reminder for myself, but my parents actually bought it, and it arrived two weeks before Christmas. I saw this coming together, so I put some DVD-Ripping software on the list, which was quickly bought for us by my aunt and uncle in Florida just a few days later. So for 2 weeks, I've had our old computer dedicated to ripping our DVD collection to the new network server. It takes roughly the same amount of time to rip as it does to watch them, so I get a short stack of them done each day. By Christmas, I had over 100 movies, ready for her to just click and watch, straight from her PC! It made her smile, so that made it all worth it.
Our DVD Collection

I'm back at work, having no vacation days left (FMLA will do that to you), but I think all the work this holiday was worth it. I did the bulk of our shopping by Amazon (Free 2-day shipping is SO worth the annual price of Amazon Prime!), and I got a lot of packages out this year, so I am pretty impressed.

Hope everyone had a great year-end!