I am writing this note from a condo a few yards from the beach in Gulf Shores, AL. This particular area, a region that starts here and goes east into Florida--to Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach, Destin and then on to Panama City, is affectionately known at the Redneck Riviera. The beaches here are sparkling white, and outside I can see the waves crashing on the shore. The temperature right now is 65 and the skies are mostly clear with a few high clouds.

This is a huge tourist destination for people living in the Southeast. After Hurricane Ivan ripped through the area several years ago, hundreds of condos were torn down and rebuilt. Marlene and Nick and I arrived late yesterday. We left Tupelo around 2 PM, stopping for a few minutes at the Mennonite bakery on Highway 45, and arriving about 8 PM. Linda Hale and her mother Martha are here also. Alan should arrive in a few minutes. We'll celebrate Christmas here, which is different for us, but then life is very different for us, with Josh and Leah visiting her parents in Vermont and with Mark in China. A few other folks will arrive sometime next week. Josh and Leah will be coming next weekend. I guess you would say we're the advance guard for the Gulf Shores Christmas/New Year's celebration.

At the moment Marlene and Nick and Linda and Martha are out shopping at the huge outlet mall in Foley, just a few miles up the road. I'm perfectly happy because we have high speed Internet here, a luxury we don't have in the cabin. My plan is simple. Finish the blog. Do my email. Ride my bike. Do some Christmas shopping. Get a haircut.

When we packed yesterday, I threw enough stuff in my bag for a three-month vacation. I put a stack of books in a plastic garbage bag and tossed it in the trunk. I also put the power handle for the Sonic Care toothbrush in there for some reason. I guess I was in a hurry.

Meanwhile I ran across this quote from Erma Bombeck, which seems like good advice for those of us who like to eat during the holidays: Never order food in excess of your body weight.

Finally, I pass along this from Brian Bill who ran a Google search on the KBM website to see which words appear most often. After explaining how to do the search, he gives us the results:

If you want to know how many times Ray has used the word “Dudley,” I found 357 references. I don’t know what this means but “Marlene” only shows up 235 times (You better be getting her some nice presents, Ray). Here are some other interesting findings.

God – 1,130
Jesus – 853
Heaven – 642
Grace - 426
Hope – 486
China - 425
Forgiveness – 193
Cliff Raad - 29
Grits – 2
Parky’s – 2
Lalo’s – 0 (this is very disappointing)

Lalo's a Mexican restaurant in Oak Park that Brian and I used to visit together. Can't find anything like it in Tupelo. I'm surprised to find only two references to grits. As for the frequency of Marlene vs. Dudley, that's why I'm going Christmas shopping this afternoon.

You can reach the author at  ray@keepbelieving.com. Click here to sign up for the free weekly email sermon.