Wednesday, December 28, 2005

#102 - Woody... Kids... Difference?

There are two formulas (formulae?) that I have learned as a result of my adult experiences. I developed one which I call Woody's Postulate. Woody's Postulate states that, in any traditional family, the Mom shall have votes equal to every male in the house, plus one. This postulate is sometimes subtitled the "Men are Always Outnumbered" formula. It has proven true throughout my adult life, but I must confess in all fairness that my votes have been much more even with Mrs. Woody than at other times.

The second formula is not my own. It's just one of those pieces of conventional wisdom that everyone seems to know instinctively. In any given family, the Mom will always have the number of legal minors plus one to raise as "kids." This is always interpreted to mean that Dad is just another kid, and most moms I know happily carp about this fact to their friends, loved ones, and complete strangers. "I swear it's like having another kid in the house!" they will say, which generally leads to another round of "Anything Your Man Does, Mine Can Do Worse." (Note: I must, of course, exclude Mrs. Woody from this truism. She knows she has another big kid to raise, and it generally doesn't bother her, for reasons that will become clear later.)

A few years ago I mentioned to Mrs. Woody that I still enjoy playing with toys. I said this partly tongue-in-cheek. A wise man once told me that it was time to set aside childish things, and I've tried. Really I have. Comic books - gone. Model trains - shelved. Theatrical productions - minimized. However, in their place you now find a fascination with all things computerized, long-standing addictions to electronic games, and (gasp!) blogging. My conversation with Mrs. Woody was the old "what do you get someone who seems to have everything he/she needs?" that married people have from time to time. I mentioned at that time that I occasionally find myself envying kids who get neat toys for Christmas, and reminisced fondly about playing with Erector sets and electronics kits when I was a kid. She already knew that I have a fond hope of resurrecting my model railroad when the kids are older and we have a place to set it up, but the conversation planted a seed in her mind that has since grown into a nearly unmanageable shrub.

Three or four Christmases ago, sometime after the first Harry Potter movie came out, Mrs. Woody wanted to give me a special surprise. She had managed to go to the store with just herself and the Woodyettes, and found what she felt would be the perfect Christmas present for her child-like hubby: The Hogwarts Express set of Legos®, based on the movie.

Legos! I couldn't believe it! I was instantly enraptured because 1) I had never had a Legos set when I was a kid, and 2) it was the Hogwarts Express! She had heard me rhapsodize about the train when we went to see the movie, and it is still my feeling that the Express is one of the coolest parts of the HP movie series. But... Legos! Wow.

There was no way I could wait to put it together. So, one evening shortly after Christmas, we did. ("We," he says.) I actually enlisted Mrs. Woody's assistance on occasion, and the Woodyettes loved playing with the figures of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. But Mrs. Woody thoroughly enjoyed watching her eldest kid play with his toys, and that's when the inspiration struck: Legos are a family experience, she reasoned. The whole family gets to play. Why not encourage this particular behavior and get the whole Harry Potter series of Lego kits?

So we did. There were ten or eleven kits based on the first movie, and another dozen or more based on the second movie. We bought 'em all. Not all at once, mind you... Legos are expensive and even the smaller kits cost quite a bit more than they might seem to warrant. However, we were hooked. As each kit was produced, we placed them on the dining room table and set them up en tableau to document our progress. When the kits based on the third movie came out, we snatched them up before ever having seen the actual movie. But, oh, the fun we've been having as a family! As the Woodyettes get older they get to help do more actual building. In fact, they both have received Lego kits of their own (there are VERY FEW girl-themed Legos out there!), and each of them has at least two buckets of assorted bricks with which to build whatever they can dream up. Mrs. Woody also enjoys building, and we now have a process. We each build alternating steps of the kit, which doubles the fun.

When Mrs. Woody and I went to watch "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" at the theater the other day (the Woodyettes will not be watching this one any time soon!), we went with the knowledge that we already had obtained the GoF Lego sets (only four of them this time!) for Christmas. We anticipate the Legos nearly as much as we do the books and the movies, which is saying something.

So, yes, I freely admit that Woody is just a big kid. And, after all, these aren't toys; these are collectibles. There's a difference. The primary one being that, while most philatelists won't take their collections out to play with them, I will. Frequently. And Mrs. Woody will both aid and abet.

I think it's one of the reasons she loves me.

Friday, December 23, 2005

#101 - Iwannadoit, Daddy!

It's interesting to see how each of my kids implements "iwannadoit" in their lives. My two older children are both on their own now, having entered the "ihaftadoit" phase of life. You want the money? You hafta go to work. Want your little girl to do well in school? You hafta get involved. The Woodyettes, on the other hand, are still in the early stages. "Daddy... I wanna wrap the present all by myself!"

They never speak this below a mild shout. With kids everything is important and everything is accentuated with exclamation points. "I wanna help you load the dishwasher!" "I wanna read a book!" "I hafta go potty!" "No one will play with me!"

It really is the only way they know how to communicate.

Yesterday, when Mrs. Woody was out of the house for a few hours and I had my golden chance to do my Christmas wrapping, Doodle Woodyette instantly appeared at my feet asking to assist. "I wanna help you wrap, Daddy!"

Oooookay. I'm under the weather this week, and the idea of teaching a small child how to wrap (differently, no doubt, from the way Mommy taught her just the other night) is not my idea of fun. The art of allowing a child to do complex tasks all by themselves is a tricky one. They're not quite old enough yet for Daddy to simply hand over paper, tape, and scissors and expect them to do even a passable job on a relatively simple box present. No, they need "guidance." And when "guidance" becomes "hovering," the kids will let you know.

"Daddy! I wanna do that by. my. self!"

Oops! Sorry!

So Daddy treads through the murky waters of helping them understand just how much paper is really required for the job, knowing exactly where to cut, dealing with the tape dispenser (this is a huge deal for six year old fingers), and, most importantly, how to fold the ends of the package into tight, neat corners. Daddy spends much of his time surreptitiously folding creases in strategic places while Doodle tries to get her fingers to follow her uncertain commands. Eventually we get there. It's a Christmas present! I wrapped it all by myself! Mommy will have no idea that I wrapped it! (Unless, of course, Mommy actually looks at it. We don't mention this to the Woodyettes.)

Jelly Woodyette wants to wrap, too, but she isn't as emotionally invested in it as the Doodle is. She's a couple of years older now, and while she still likes hands-on work, her highly active imagination requires that she spend as little time as possible on any given task. So she helps, too, but as soon as her package is under the tree she flits off to her next adventure. Doodle, on the other hand, wishes to continue. "Can I help with the next one, Daddy? Pleeeeeeze??"

Thus it is that, this year, Daddy's wrapping jobs will look suspiciously like Doodle's work, and that will be at least half-true. Then, finally, Daddy hits the "secret" stuff. Sorry, Doodle, you can't witness this part. The blow to her "iwannadoit" was devastating. Tears welled up instantly in her little eyes and for a split second Daddy felt like a heel. I almost reneged, until I remembered that to reveal why these small packages were labelled "From: SomeoneWhoIsNotDaddy" (if you get my drift) would require revealing other secrets that they're not quite ready for. Not yet.

I must tell you that Doodle recovered quickly. She got involved in Jelly's imaginary adventures. Then, as it turned out, Mrs. Woody called from the Humongo-Mart parking lot with a dead alternator. So we all had an adventure getting the car to the shop and Mrs. Woody and her top-secret purchases home. The girls even went camping last night. All stories for another day.

Whenever I wannadoit.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

#100 - There's Talent... and Then There's Talent

Baby Sis over at Burrhouse gives us the benefit of her epiphanies from her recent tour of her old alma mater (such as it was). She touches on a few points that I find both significant and profound, and I think the theme bears some enlargement.

We come from a talented family. Those talents manifest themselves in many ways, of course. But the predominant theme that runs through our gene pool appears to be music. Mom and Dad are, of course, tremendous musicians. Dad, when he was alive, was very gifted both as a horn player and as a composer/arranger. The fact that I never could get into much of the stuff he composed merely means that his stuff will be famous thirty years from now. I'm certain he was just ahead of his time, as all great composers ultimately are. He did, however, compose marches for bands, and I always enjoyed his marches. Think "Sousa: Next Generation" stuff. Mom, on the other hand, has more-or-less tiptoed into the composing game, and is now a published composer of works for flute choirs. An acclaimed composer, thank you very much, who has actually done work on commission now.

(Note to Baby Sis: You are correct that Dad was the only one to seriously pursue college. I am on the rolls at University of Phoenix, but it will be a few years more before I complete my studies. Deb has studied at so many schools now that her alumni requests for donations will keep her in the poorhouse for decades. The paradox, of course, was that Dad never actually got a degree. He had been offered teaching positions in both phys ed and music, but ultimately decided on aerospace as a better means for raising a family. I think he, like myself, opted out before completing either degree and went to work. The rest being, at a minimum, family history.)

Mom also enjoys singing, and has gone from gifted soprano to gifted alto over the years. Dad also enjoyed singing, but recognized certain limitations to his ability. That didn't stop him from leading every church choir I sang in until I was old enough to conduct them myself. Mom continues to both sing and conduct, and her presence as a choir director for the church in Simi Valley is keenly missed. Baby Sis did an admirable job of filling in, but now she, too, has moved on.

Anyway, Mom and Dad were quite generous with their genes, and we kids all have musical abilities of varying degrees. I started out with violin and piano lessons, but neither took hold. I became a vocalist instead, and have some small reputation as a choir director myself. It is something that I enjoy doing, but I, like my sister, realize that I have probably reached my personal pinnacle of ability and am content with what I've acheived. Baby Sis still has a ways to go, but even she recognizes where her limitations are and is accepting of them. Likewise our brother, he of "Way Off Bass" fame, started with horn (baritone, specifically), taught himself to play string bass, and somewhere along the line acquired a rich baritone voice. He, too, has pretty much reached the edge of his personal ambition (or so it seems, thus far - one can never tell with Il Basso), and seems content with what he's accomplished musically. Another sister plays piano very well, while the other one sings every chance she gets.

None of us deludes ourselves that we are anything approaching God's Gift to Music, by any means. On the other hand, we all appreciate our talents as God's gift to us. We are all gifted and knowledgeable enough to do what the Lord asks of us, and we serve willingly. Usually. For me, that is. Oh, I may get a little surly about it on occasion, as when I've been asked to serve as Choir Director for the umpteenth time in a given ward when I'd really like to get back into a classroom and teach for a change, but generally we serve because we know the Lord wants us to.

The interesting thing is that we all have other talents as well. I consider writing to be a talent of mine (whether you agree or not is not germaine to this discussion), and I believe I got that from Mom. Or, more to the point, Mom's side of the family. Mom writes and both of her parents were wonderful writers, but it is Grandpa to whom I believe I owe most of this ability. I also have a ham-bone the size of a small third world country. I have absolutely no idea where this one came from. I guess it's just an extreme manifestation of the sense of humor we all possess, which would place the blame squarely on Dad's shoulders. However, Dad never once hit the boards, as his personal modesty would never have permitted it. Mom has, but didn't have that inclination until well into adulthood. So I have to assume that this is one of those talents that stayed just under the surface with Mom and Dad, but erupted in me when I turned eleven. (Ironic Family History Note: At one point it was rumored that we were somehow related to John Wilkes Booth, who was both an actor and a notorious assassin. I am happy to report that research bears out that we are far enough removed from that particular Booth line as to make our relationship non-existent. None of us has any assassination genes in our makeup. That we know of.)

All of our musical (and other) experiences have, and will continue to enrich our lives. We love these talents we've been given. We may occasionally feel conflicted because of them (word, Bro!), but by and large our lives have been deeply blessed.

One unfortunate side effect to report: We sometimes tend to be, um, somewhat less than complimentary of those who feel themselves to be extremely talented and whom we feel have yet to show evidence of same. We keep it to ourselves, though, and try to be gracious with all pretenders. Those discussions we save for the kitchen at family get-togethers.

Talent may be talent, but we are only human after all.

Monday, December 19, 2005

#99 - O Christmas Tree; O Christma... Hey! Watch Out for the Train!

Don't ask why, but we finally got the tree decorated last night. Yes, I know... most folks - even the ones who buy real trees every year - have had theirs up and decorated since shortly after Thanksgiving. We've actually had ours up for a solid couple of weeks, but we just haven't been able to scrape together enough time (plus health, plus energy) to finish decorating. So, last night I got out the boxes. This ended both our dearth of festive adornments, and my limited stores of energy.

The girls, on the other hand, were transported into that enviable mixture of fantasy and imagination that seems to carry with it an independent energy source. This is the type of energy that has goaded inventors throughout the centuries to attempt to create that pinnacle of crypto-engineering: the Perpetual Motion Machine. This is also the type of energy that exhausts parents who are forced to try to keep up for fear that something will get knocked over and they (the parents) will have to clean it all up.

All this by way of telling you that the girls were wired last night. But we also reached a fun little milestone last night; one that I wasn't expecting to reach, really, for another couple of years or so. The girls decorated the tree all by themselves.

It was by no means intended that way. We had two aims last night: decorate the tree, and decorate (at a minimum) the family room and the dining room. To do both of these things properly, Daddy has to haul out every one of our storage boxes full of decorations, even if we only plan to use half of them. So, while I was busy digging out such things as our stockings, stocking hangers, and assorted mantle-shelf paraphenalia, Mrs. Woody was busy digging out the decorations we wanted placed on the tree. Rather than make Daddy wait to finish the rooms until the tree was done, she simply handed things to the Woodyettes and had them decorate the tree. It was the most natural thing in the world, and the girls did a terrific job.

Well, mostly, anyway. Once Daddy got a good look at their work, he noticed a few bald spots (Daddy knows all about bald spots) and some extreme clumping of decorations in strategic places. So there may be a small amount of "adjustment" when I get home tonight. But the point is, the girls did it, and they had a wonderful time. For Daddy it meant saving my finite lower-back energy reserves for the heavier lifting duties, most of which involved a step-ladder. Also, I only had to worry a couple of times about such things as crushing our Christmas Choo-Choo that runs around the tree, and which the girls never seem to notice as they run up to the tree to place the 27th ornament on exactly the same branch. Except for those close calls, the night was amazingly stress free.

It's really not much of an exaggeration to state that within minutes after the decorating party ended, the girls were so completely deflated that I was quite sure they would soak their sleep-shirts for all the whining that we heard before finally tucking them into bed. Mommy and Daddy were pretty exhausted, too. Mommy had been sitting in a position that put extra strain on her legs and knees. Daddy had to return all the storage boxes to the shed and put the shed back in order. Considering I didn't drag the boxes out until after 9:00 last night, finishing and getting everyone in bed by midnight was really quite remarkable.

So a new tradition arises for the Woodys. Next year (and for many years to come) the Woodyettes will decorate the tree. They may occasionally allow Mommy and Daddy to assist, but the job is now theirs. They'll get better at it as each year passes, and Mommy will have fun helping them to do themed decorations as they get older. We already have enough train or snowflake ornaments to do an entire theme of either type on our tree. Other traditions will, of course, be created as time passes beneath us. We will enjoy them all.

Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day,
To save us all from Satan's pow'r when we were gone astray.
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

#98 - How to Tell When Your Kids Think You're Slowing Down...

...when your kids begin s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g out their c-o-n-v-e-r-s-a-t-i-o-n-s in front of M-o-m and D-a-d.

Mommy says it's just they way they learn. Daddy figures it's more sinister than that. That could be because they were spelling words I couldn't understand. Sure sounded like code to me...

Friday, December 16, 2005

#97 - Ruminations on a Christmas Carol

Hark how the bells, sweet silver bells,

I'm not generally a huge fan of bells as a form of music. I can only handle just so much ringing and tinkling before my ears begin to search for an escape. Yet, for some reason, Christmas always heightens my tolerance of all things bell-related, and I actually enjoy listening to them. Even sappy songs like "Silver Bells" can't make me stick my finger down my throat. Must be magic.

all seem to say, throw cares away

We're getting closer to The Big Day. I can tell because my wife has The List out. Mrs. Woody is a tremendous believer in Lists. Vacations are prime targets for Mrs. Woody's listing talent. Christmas is another.
"Here, Bud. It's The List."

I heft it tentatively. "What's this... about five trees' worth?"

"Har, har. Notice how many items have your name attached?"

"Of course I noticed. Looks like my performance review from work. I don't suppose there's any chance of a raise for doing this stuff?"

"No. But I'll let you relax on, say, the 27th if you're a good boy."

"Woo, hoo! Day off!"

Ok, perhaps not quite that bad. But The List keeps us plenty busy up to and including Christmas day.

Christmas is here, bringing good cheer,

The List notwithstanding, it's just so easy to have a wonderful attitude about this season. Really. Mrs. Woody sent me out shopping last night after dinner, and even though the stores were noisy and crowded I had a marvelous time. Not just because I was marking items off The List, but also because I was doing some sneak shopping for Mrs. Woody. I don't get as many opportunities as you might imagine.

to young and old, meek and the bold,

One thing I'm grateful for is that we don't have video gaming consoles at Hacienda Woody. I'm grateful primarily because if I ever wanted to try one out, or even check out the latest hot game before buying one, I'd never get within 50 yards of the demo kiosks in the stores. I base this on my last several visits to Target, Best Buy, Costco, and Wal-Mart. Young juvenile males were clustered around the kiosks about 27 deep. Even getting past them to other parts of the stores was a challenge by itself. Good thing I have sweet little girls. They don't need gaming consoles so long as they have DSL and the American Girl web site bookmarked. Not so far, anyway.

Ding dong ding dong that is their song

Went shopping at Wal-Mart the other night. I think their tag line should be "Where America lets their kids run wild." In this one trip I found kids playing some sort of elaborate game of "Tag" that included running through the store and making sure they grabbed one item from every aisle regardless of whether they intended to buy it or not. Probably not, would be my guess. Then there were the small kids who had managed to ditch their parents two aisles over and were singing "DING, DONG! DING, DONG! DING, DONG!! HEY! WHY AREN'T YOU SINGING DING, DONG??" Why can't kids like that get laryngitis this time of year?

with joyful ring all caroling

I miss carolers. I occasionally go out caroling myself, but we haven't had carolers to the house in several years. I guess folks just get so busy anymore that we miss those simple celebrations that help bring joy to our hearts. Of course, kids don't grasp the significance of such things if they don't include incredible CGI animation. There's only so much you can do with "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

One seems to hear words of good cheer

The ability to believe the best of others is integral to the seasonal spirit. I seem to have a harder time getting worked up over what the ACLU's latest dirty trick might be, or which politician is headed for yet another grand jury investigation. At work I find it easier to tolerate certain customers, the ones who for the rest of the year are classified in the "sub-human life form" category. Users, in other words. Magically I find myself able to handle even their most petty complaints. I can do this because there's no way in heck I'm going to achieve all my performance goals for the rest of the year anyway, and there's a certain freedom to knowing you're doomed. Then, out of nowhere, your boss calls you in for your performance review and tells you - missed goals and all - that he's glad he's got you on his team, because as tough as this year was, next year can only get tougher. He needs you, and hopes you can continue to take pride in your work. That, ladies and gentlemen, is pretty good cheer when budgets are down.

from everywhere filling the air

Interestingly, I find it easy to believe that Christmas is "in the air." We don't, of course, get snow down here in Anaheim. (Well, Disneyland has snow, sort of, but it's not the same thing!) Yet, every season of the year can be felt, literally, in the air around us. In November we get the colder version of the Santa Ana winds, and with them come the negative ions that I've heard about. I believe in those ions, and have seen ample evidence that they negatively influence people all around me. Perhaps I, too, am influenced in that way, and am less pleasant to be around when they occur. But Christmas has an entirely different feel to it. It's not tangible enough to touch, perhaps, but it's tangible enough to fill my heart with anticipation. What else can I say? It's "in the air."

Oh how they pound, raising the sound,

Talk about your pounding, driving headaches. Literally. Driving through a parking lot at a mall or shopping center can be a real adventure by itself. Particularly at this time of year. I could swear that some of the folks with whom I am competing for the last available parking spot have been circling this aisle since two Christmases ago. They have those sunken eyes and drawn, pallid skin that remind me of Dickensian undertakers. Inevitably, the vehicle I'm behind in this parade of lost holiday shoppers is the small, low-to-the-ground pickup truck with tinted windows and a stereo that belongs at Madison Square Garden for all the volume it's putting out. These are the young males who believe the only real form of entertainment worth listening to is one that both damages your hearing and causes your spine to curl into a permanent slouch. Oh, yes, they do pound. So does my head.

o'er hill and dale, telling their tale,

Standing in line, waiting to pay for my hastily selected gifts, it's fascinating to listen to other shoppers who are standing in line all around me. These are veteran shoppers. These are the folks who did not brave the day-after-Thanksgiving sales. They lived for them. They couldn't wait to hit those sales and will regale their listeners with their stories of waking at 3:30 in the morning so they could be in line at 4:30 for a store that was opening at 5:30 for a sale that would only last three hours. Then they will tell you - in the same tone of voice you might expect of a war correspondent - how nasty the crowds were and how they had to practically tackle some little old lady who was clearly going to grab the last remaining blouse on the bargain rack before they could. They will tell you how terrible the selections were, and how they may never shop again. You just know they can't really wait until next Thanksgiving so they can do it all over again.

Gaily they ring while people sing

Time was when you could visit a local store to do a bit of Christmas shopping and know that you would find someone in a dime-store Santa suit, or even just a Santa hat, standing outside ringing their bell and asking one and all to have a bit of Christian charity for their fellow beings. Sometimes you would try to avoid them, but every once in awhile you would reach into your pocket, extract a dollar bill or two, and drop them in. The smile and "God bless you!" you received would somehow put a song in your heart, even if you hadn't been able to find that one gift for that special someone in your life. Suddenly it's not so bad, and you can even think of something that might work just as well. You might have to visit another bell-ringer's store to do it, but even that won't be so bad.

I miss those bell-ringers. Shame on the stores who won't let them remind me of my youth anymore.

song of good cheer, Christmas is here,

Christmas concerts abound! Thank goodness there are still those choirs who don't mind being associated with a blatantly Christian celebration and are even willing to sing about it. And charge money to have others come and listen. And sing wonderful songs about Christ, and Mary and Joseph, and angels and wise men, and shepherds and their flocks, and good Christian cheer, and humble stables, and stars in the heavens, and caroling, and wassailing.

Christmas is here! Be of good cheer!

Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas,
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas,

When Christmas ceases to be merry, when we allow the troubles and cynics of the world to silence our celebrations, then we have failed indeed as a civilization. When, on the other hand, we can celebrate in the face of trials and dangers, and when we can love our fellow men even when we disagree with them, then has the spirit of Christmas triumphed, and we can still look forward to peace on earth. Even good will toward men. All men. Everywhere. Then we become like Christ himself, and can even love our enemies. We still deplore what they do, and we can never accept what they teach. But we can love them just the same. And, as Christ himself has done, we can weep for them.

On on they send, on without end,

Today I, like millions of others around the country and around the world, will be standing in line at a post office. I will be sending packages to those with whom I will not be able to visit this Christmas. My daughter and her family. Our friends up north. A nephew who now lives in Texas. The post office is on tactical alert for the next few weeks, attempting to handle an estimated 300% increase in package traffic and a high influx of Christmas cards and letters. I will be guilty on both counts. I am grateful to the post office for providing this service. Just as my loved ones will be when they receive them.

their joyful tone to every home

'Tis the season for Christmas/holiday movies and specials on TV! Thousands of them! Many of them made with an estimated budget of $27.34! The actors, I assume, worked for free! There are, of course, no original stories anymore. Once you've done your spin on Dickens' "Christmas Carol," or O. Henry's "Gift of the Magi," you've pretty much covered your territory. Still, we get addicted to Christmas movies and specials. Charlie Brown! Wonderful Life! White Christmas! Scrooge! You name it, we watch it. The girls get bored with it all pretty quickly, but Mom and Dad still love it. We'll record some of the better ones, and hope others come out on DVD sometime soon. Know what I haven't seen in years? "Amahl and the Night Visitors." Wish they'd get over their politicalcorrectivitis and play it.

Ding dong ding... dong! Bm(m)!

And to all, a good night!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

#96 - Music and Christmas

All my life I have lived for this season of the year. Everything about it fills me with the same feelings of anticipation that I harbored as a kid, even if my actual expectations and perspectives have changed as an adult. For instance, I no longer wonder about which toys I'll be receiving this year. I already know. That's the beauty of being the Dad... Momma can only do so much to hide things from me. Not that she won't try.

It is, however, the music of this season that has always (and will always) give me my greatest sense of holiday spirit and cheer. Arguably there is no more sublime music composed than that which celebrates the birth and life of the Savior. I say this in the face of some nearly overpowering music written about his death - say, Brahms' "German Requiem" for example - but none of which fills me with anywhere near the same feelings of "can't wait for that time of year" like Christmas does.

Finding the right "mix" of Christmas music can be a real trick anymore. Bear in mind that I am not such a complete devotee of the classical repertoire that I can't enjoy a recording of Bing Crosby belting out a special Christmas show on the radio many years ago. I also enjoy recordings by such diverse artists as Take 6, Mannheim Steamroller, and even the Chipmunks (*gasp!*). One of the recordings I must listen to every Christmas is the now-classic recording of Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians doing their equally classic "Twas the Night Before Christmas." Rollicking good fun, that.

Still, whenever I visit local stores and markets I find myself glancing at their bargain racks of Christmas music by every imaginable (and even unimaginable) artist. Most of these are the moral equivalent of Slim Whitman belting out his "greatest hits" which tended to really be just covers of Slim belting out everyone else's greatest hits. As I sigh in disgust at this musical over-commercialization, I occasionally find a golden nugget.

Around twenty years ago I was visiting Gemco. You'd have to be older than you'd care to admit to remember Gemco. They were Target before Target was even born. They disappeared shortly after Target began its national expansion. (Side note: Perhaps I should have taken it as an omen that the store where I bought my ex-wife's engagement ring went belly up shortly thereafter. Just a thought.) At the front of the store they always had bargain racks of stuff depending on what season it was. This particular Christmas I discovered two albums of Christmas music recorded by the Dale Warland Singers. I've been a fan ever since. They turn out to be one of the best choirs in the country in these post-Robert Shaw days. Still, one just doesn't find nuggets like that anymore.

Since there are different moods to Christmas, I now have a wonderful collection to match just about any of them. I've mentioned the fun stuff. I have, of course, a recording of "The Messiah" to keep me scripturally honest. I also have terrific recordings of Britten's "Ceremony of Carols" with which I became acquainted in high school. Resphiggi's "Laud to the Nativity" is a must every year. As is Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker." In fact, I'm rather hoping that Mrs. Woody and I can take the girls to see this live for the first time at one of several local productions.

Friend David B. over at The Whole Note has two posts regarding some of my favorite music. He talks about his own experiences with "The Messiah," as well as another piece that has meant much to me over the years: "Baby, What You Goin' to Be."

"Baby" has been family favorite since it was first published several decades ago. If memory serves, Mother Woody may have picked it up at a publisher's workshop where they hand out packets of music and have everyone sing through them to hear how they sound. Mom brought this one home, and our family's been singing it ever since. In fact, we sang it as a family for Baby Sister's Stake Christmas Concert last weekend for the first time in years. A neat experience.

Similar to David's experience, I found "Baby" to strike an important spiritual chord in me at a time when my own faith wavered a bit. It helped me to overcome a rising cynicism about the gospel in general during a time of the year when people feel constantly bombarded by holiday cheer. Then to sing that song (see David's post for the beautiful lyrics) and feel the power of that message simply cut through me like a hot knife through butter.

I'm all for Rudolph and Santa, and I certainly don't mind hearing about chestnuts and open fires, no matter who sings about them. But don't short-change your own Christmas experiences by ignoring the works of those who have lived and died over the past several hundreds of years. They, too, knew how to celebrate Christmas.

I suspect they still do.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

#95 - To Communicate... or Not

To my extended family I am known affectionately as "the Great Communicator." You may safely take this to mean that communication - of the type generally craved by the female of the species - is not my long suit. This is not to say that I am, by nature, a taciturn individual. On the contrary; I can blab up a storm with the best of them. But to convey meaningful information requires certain genes which are, sadly, lacking in my chemical makeup. True to the Dave Barry mold of guys and interpersonal communications, the following scene is not uncommon in my home:
[Phone rings. I answer because Mrs. Woody tossed the phone to me shortly after I plopped my fanny down in the Sensory Saturation Seat to watch some TV.]

"Hello? Yes? Oh, hi. Mm, hm. Yeah. Yeah. Sounds good. Ok, talk to you later."

[Hang up. Resume watching TV. After about three minutes, Mrs. Woody can no longer take the suspense.]

Mrs. Woody: "Well?"

Me: "Well, what?"

Mrs. Woody: "Who was it?"

Me: "Oh. That was Mom."

Mrs. Woody: "And what did she want?"

[At this point I'm in the middle of a critical part of CSI wherein Grissom discovers that certain species of fly only bite their victims in the groin, thus allowing him to solve the case. It's a minute or two before I answer.]

Me (finally remembering the question): "Oh. She's getting married. Wanted to know if we'd like to come to the wedding."

Mrs. Woody (after a brief, stunned silence): "And when, exactly, is the wedding?"

Me (after searching feverishly for the proper response): "Um... this Saturday."

Ok, so maybe I'm not quite that bad, although my ex-wife might choose to disagree.

I blame Dad. Dad was probably the greatest non-verbal communicator I've ever known. He could communicate more with a glance than most politicians do in their entire careers (not that this is necessarily a challenge). Most of his glances were not hard to decipher. I've mentioned previously the mischievous eye twinkle that portended a blistering sarcasm. There was also the look that said, "If public execution were still legal, you'd already be dead." I got that one a lot when I was a teenager. Probably deserved it. That one also appeared whenever the TV Guide went missing. Or, there was the glance that said, "Getcher fanny up those stairs and tell your sister to TURN DOWN THAT STEREO!" I used to misread that one as looking to heaven for some kind of divine assistance. Then I finally figured out that it was really a glare directed at the location of my sister's room. Dad could be more verbal at work, but for them he tended to reserve his - shall we say - saltier language. Aerospace can do that to a man.

The good news is that the non-verbal gene recedes generationally. I'm a better verbal communicator than Dad ever was, but I still possess a high degree of reticence to share personal data. Mrs. Woody loves me dearly, but there have been times she could have (lovingly) throttled me. She gets a lot of, "Oh, yeah! Meant to tell you that..."

The irony of it all is that, when I choose to communicate, I'm darned good at it. I love to teach, for example. My favorite callings at Church have all been teaching jobs; especially youth, or Gospel Essentials. I obviously enjoy writing, although I am the world's lousiest correspondent. (Email? Who has time? I've gotta get this posted on my blog...!)

I also love acting. Getting up on a stage and making an absolute idiot of myself is my way of relaxing. I enjoy connecting with an audience (hence my love of teaching, I suppose), and when I can make them laugh - on purpose! - I know I've done my job. I can even lecture my kids when the need arises, as it frequently does when kids are being kids.

So you will understand the humor of the situation when Bishop called and asked to stop by the house last night. We were released as Family History Consultants (a calling I have thoroughly enjoyed). He then asked if I would be willing to serve as a...

Ward Public Affairs Specialist.

Yes. Woody, the Great Communicator, has been asked to serve as one of the primary communicators for our ward. (Just don't tell anyone.) The Lord, apparently, has finally run out of things he wants the ward to know.

It's the only reasonable explanation.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

#94 - Ode Owed to a Rascal

This child was born a mere thirty months behind her sister. We had, up to that moment, assumed that we were prepared for another child. Turns out "preparation" is a skittish term.

How does one adequately prepare for a tornado? It forms, touches down, sweeps along its random path, then instantly vanishes. Here one moment; gone the next. Only the path of destruction it leaves behind marks its presence.

Our youngest child is much like that tornado. She comes and goes quickly. Ample evidence of her whirlwind adventure remains, however. Not long ago, for instance, a pile of tiny scraps of paper would easily have pointed out where she had been moments before. Tiny paper dolls would be strewn across the school table, and her scissors would be curled up in a corner, whimpering softly.

As tornadoes go, of course, she is friendlier than most. She has never forced anyone to flee from their home, that we're aware of. She has a quick smile for everyone except strangers. Her favorite contact sport is tickling Daddy. She can still fall asleep listening to Mommy croon her nightly lullabyes. She still loves to pinch Mommy's upper arm when she snuggles - a remnant behavior left over from infancy.

She is no baby now. She has long since outgrown all vestiges of babyhood, excepting that tiniest of slurred R's that sound so endearing. She's growing fast, as is her hair. It falls all the way down her back when its wet, but springs back up an inch or two when it dries into its natural curl. She is Daddy's "iwannadoitcanihelp?" girl. She helps Daddy load the dishwasher, transfer the laundry, and take out the trash. No, she's not a baby anymore. But she will always be our baby.

We call her "the Rascal," among other things. She has, thanks to her gene pool, inherited a certain gleam in her eye that I have only seen in three other people. It is most pronounced in my brother, the rapier wit of the family. It is visible in my own baby sister, who now has three boys of her own. This is payback. We just haven't yet figured out for what. Finally, it reminds me of my own Dad. When that gleam appeared in Dad's eyes, the battle of dry wit was about to be engaged. Many's the time I blundered into Dad's path without noticing the gleam, only to find myself nursing a cracked rib from laughing so hard at something he'd just said. Dad was the original Rascal. My younger daughter is well into her padowan training at the Academy.

She turns six this fine Friday. Somewhere around 6:30 in the evening, while we dine with a certain mutated rodent at his abode, I will find myself remembering pacing outside the surgery, waiting to find out just what, exactly, the Lord would bless us with.

To one degree or another, I will probably continue wondering well into my declining years. It's a girl, yes. But what haven't we discovered about her yet?

I look forward to finding out.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

#93 - Vote for Me!

UPDATE: Heh. I really need to do a better job of reading the fine print. I missed the deadline for nominations, so I'm out of the running. (Was never really in the running, truthfully.) Maybe next year. In the meantime, I'm still planning to vote. I'll browse through the finalists when they're announced and let you know whom I'm supporting.

Thought I'd try something different this year. Wizbang is hosting their third Weblog Awards, and the polling begins (hopefully!) this Thursday, December 1. They've created a few new categories this year, and one of them happens to be "Best Parenting Blog." I considered going for the humor category, but that's a pretty thick field, and some deeply talented (and probably deeply disturbed) folks are already nominated. Besides, The Inner Dad is all about being a Dad and enjoying the family experience. If I don't fit in this category, I don't fit.

I'm leaving the Woundup out of the running for the same reason I didn't try for the humor category. It is ostensibly a conservative blog, but I don't dedicate it enough to the political scene to be much of a candidate. There again, it's a deep field. Folks much smarter than I am are nominated and sure to capture the award.

I must say, though, that this is not about trying to win an actual award. That sort of thing is for the linkage sycophants who live or die by their ratings in the Ecosystem. (TTLB is updating their programming again, and you never heard such whining!) That's not what Inner Dad (or even the Woundup) is all about. I just feel there's a real niche for family-friendly blogs that has yet to be fully exploited, and I'd like Inner Dad to be there when it is. To put it another way: if you want to find a good conservative blog, you would have little trouble finding one. If you want to find a blog showing the humorous (yet family-friendly!) side of parenting, it gets a bit tougher. We need a bigger voice.

So, visit the polls when they open, and put in a good word for The Inner Dad. I know I can count on at least three or four votes out there! As soon as the polls are active, I'll change the image above to link directly to them.


Monday, November 28, 2005

#92 - If I've Been a Little Distracted Lately...

"So, how was the Sing-Along?" you ask. Here's the official word:

Heh. (Registration may be required)

Actually, despite what the OC Register's crack reporter says, there was actual music involved. We did have an actual chamber orchestra playing along, and an actual chorus belting out the actual selected choruses, and an actual audience (600 by the numbers) plugging along with us. I'm always a little nervous about being the lead-off soloist, but my nerves (and my gag reflex) behaved themselves and I was able to do a passable job. My wife and mother - who are, of course, decidedly unbiased - both tell me I did a terrific job. This also the Register fails to mention. (That I did a terrific job, not that my wife and mother are unbiased. Really not their job to report that. Some things are safely assumed.)

What the Register truly did not capture, though, was the scope of community response. A little history would be advisable here. Last year, for the inaugural Sing-Along, we had originally been scheduled to perform in the small theater at the Nixon Library. The Alliance had planned accordingly, and purposely went with a small chamber orchestra and smallish chorus for the performance. Through a scheduling glitch, however, we were moved at the last minute from the theater to the library's East Room, a re-creation of the White House East Room where many receptions and galas are held. We started with roughly the same seating that the theater would have accomodated, but ended up adding several rows of chairs before the performance due to community response. It was very heartening to think that so many of the community would be that interested in a Messiah Sing-Along, especially for a first-time event.

So, this year, the organizers planned a little larger. Added a few to the orchestra and chorus, and planned for more seating. The Nixon Library was more than happy to offer the East Room again, and we felt confident of having at least as many as showed up last year.

We were wrong.

About a half hour before the performance, we found ourselves being ousted from the anteroom that we had used as a warm-up room. They had already been snatching our extra chairs for the overflow, and finally had to open the divider to expand the room's capacity by a couple hundred more. So that 600 figure quoted by the paper really represents about a 33% increase in attendance from the previous year. If the trend continues next year, I have no idea where they'll put us. Can't really do a sing-along in the parking lot!

Whatever the history of "The Messiah" itself may be, as a work of music it's something that has always resonated with me. I can still remember Dad putting together a performance for church one year when I was a small lad. Mom was one of the soloists. I would sit in on some of the rehearsals where I was encouraged to sing along with the sopranos. Made me feel all grown up, that did. The piece has been a favorite of mine ever since. I still have Dad's (and Mom's) notes in the margins and throughout the score, and they are priceless to me as family history. Mom mentioned that it was heartening to see the old family score in use yesterday. Hopefully we'll be able to pass it along to future generations of Woodys (or Woodyettes) and keep the old book in play. Perhaps those kids will appreciate my notes in the margins.

No matter how many times I've sung it, or even rehearsed it, performing it always confirms my impressions that Handel was truly inspired while composing it. Yes, he borrowed heavily from some of his other works, but the effect of the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Taken together, and especially as a whole, it is a powerful representation of sacred prophecies. It has taught countless generations of believers about the birth and life of Christ in ways no mere pageant ever could. It has probably converted more than its share of seekers of truth along the way. The Spirit speaks through this work.

Assuming I'm asked back next year, I hope to see you there. Mrs. Woody and I will probably attend even if I'm not performing, because it's a good opportunity to expose our Woodyettes to something that is truly culturally significant. As they get older, I hope their still-developing tastes will continue to appreciate the beauties of the classical repertoire.

It can only help.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

#91 - Autumn in California

It's autumn here in the Golden State (so called) and my air conditioner is on the fritz. During the hottest part of August, the thing just sort of went belly up, and we had called out the friendly repair guy. Repair guys are always friendly when they know that you're so addicted to their product that you'll do anything, even listen to their not-too-subtle sales pitches, to make your unit functional again. Ours was no exception.

"Well, you know, this unit is a little on the old side, and it's really not big enough to handle your square footage. Now, really, you should probably replace this one with a more efficient unit. A little pricey, I'll admit, but then you should be trouble free for quite a few years. On the other hand, if money is tight (this said after seeing the look on my face) I can replace your puny condenser with this dual condenser."

My standard response to sales pitches is, "We'll have to wait and see how we do with taxes next year." This statement is always at least half true. Most major purchases generally require waiting to see whether we get money back from Uncle Sam. Uncle Arnold sometimes give us money back, too, but not as much as the Feds. In this case, it may well be a cold day in hellAnaheim before we buy another A/C unit. "We'll go with the condenser," I said.

Bottom line: it was still expensive. But, especially in August, it was worth it.

The problem with living in Southern California is that summer takes so long to go away. September never really cools down. Then we get that so-called "Indian summer" phenomenon that occurs in October and keeps the weather mildly warm for a week or two. No one calls it that, anymore. Too unPC, I guess. Anyway, it usually chills down on Halloween night so that we all freeze when we go trick-or-treating. Finally, in November, come the Santa Ana winds. These winds blow down from the northeast, and they are warm. So, ambient temps here for the last several days have been in the 80s. This means, of course, that my nifty new dual condenser in the air conditioner has likely exploded, or caused key moving parts to go on strike because they see themselves losing job security. Whatever the reason, my air conditioner is not working, and we are feeling it.

I'd like to call my friendly repair guy and have him come out and fix this thing. Allegedly it's still under warranty (assuming it's the condenser that's quit) and it shouldn't cost me an arm and better part of a leg to get it fixed. Unfortunately, this means digging through the various strata of paperwork in our soon-to-be-former office. Fans of the Move From Hades® will understand why this could be a problem. I may have to hire a professional spelunker to dive in there and locate the papers for me.

So, here we sit, one week away from Thanksgiving, sitting in front of our only fan like parched travellers in the Sahara. All appearances to the contrary, however, I'm really not complaining. For one thing, the extended warm weather is one of the charms of living in the Southland. I've spent limited amounts of time in areas where they have winter. I am not a cold-weather person. Cool, definitely. I can handle cool. Drop me down to around 50 degrees and I'm happy as a clam. Anything lower than that and I start to feel it. Especially now that I have mildly arthritic knees that act as a personal barometer. Also, people who live in wintery climes tend to brag about it in a manner reminiscent of the kid in the schoolyard who had bragging rights because he had a cast on his arm. I personally feel that these people get everything they deserve. Me? I still have happy memories of riding my bike in a mild rain on Christmas day when I was a kid, and being disappointed that Mom made me wear a windbreaker.

That's winter.

Friday, November 11, 2005

#90 - Happy (And I Mean That) Veterans Day!

Dad was a veteran.

Dad served in two branches of the service. He joined the Army as soon as he was barely legal, but WWII was already winding down. When the Korea "conflict" appeared, Dad re-enlisted, this time in the Air Force. He was a horn player, which meant serving in the band. He ended his tour of duty as a Tech Sgt. with commendations.

Dad never talked much about his experiences in the service. Perhaps his never having seen action somehow, in his mind, diminished the importance of his having served at all. Let's face it, military horn players don't see action unless they're stationed on an aircraft carrier. Wing-wipers don't serve on carriers.

Truth be told, however, I suspect the real reasons for Dad's reticence lie with the fact that, in his heart of hearts, Dad was a pacifist.

Now, you'd never have known that if you ever worked with him professionally. I used to think the stories he told us around the dinner table when I was young were just a load of hooey. The Old Man wants us to believe that he has his bosses so cowed that they pretty much let him get away with anything. Then I went to work there and had opportunity to chat with some of the subjects of Dad's stories. They were true. In fact, his nickname at work was "Mean Deane." He was in Contract Compliance for a goodly portion of his career. You didn't place significant purchase orders without going through him first. I joked with a few folks that Dad had two trash cans in his office. One labelled "Buyer Case Files," the other labelled "Buyers." Not many buyers laughed at that one.

I sat in more than one meeting where Dad lambasted senior managers with more clout and seniority than he had. Dad could easily have coined the term "stuck on stupid" with certain executives that, in Dad's opinion, should have crawled back into the mud whence they sprang. He had no patience with or tolerance for stupidity. He was death to anyone found guilty of trying - even inadvertently - to defraud our customers.

Nor would you have seen Dad's pacifism if you saw him with cats. Dad was always a dog man himself, and cats were merely dog food. Worse than that, they were evil little pooping machines that saw Dad's lawn as their own personal litter box. Or were overly interested in the birds we kept in a poorly designed aviary in the backyard. That's when Dad got the air pistol. I'm not sure how many times he actually used it, since Dad was the world's greatest armchair everyman. Still, there were a few shell-shocked felines around the neighborhood before that pistol got retired.

Because Dad was such a gruff character, we kids also would have found the idea of his latent pacifism to be a colossal joke. Many's the time I muttered under my breath that I would never - EVER - become the kind of Dad I had. You already know the punch line of that joke.

It wasn't until Dad talked about gun control one day that I began to understand this side of him. I believe it was during the debates for the Brady bill that the subject arose. I was, by that time, a married adult beginning to build my own family. I was pretty firmly on the side of the Second Amendment, and was watching a snippet of a news item on the TV with Dad. I remember snorting a little and saying something about leaving the NRA alone, for Pete's sake. Dad cocked an eyebrow in my direction (this was his favorite method of communicating with us) and, without taking his eyes off the television, said, "Oh, I don't know. I'm about ready to believe that they need to get rid of the handguns."

That one statement caught me by surprise and caused me to reflect seriously on this man I thought I knew. I thought back through my childhood and found memory after memory where Dad chose to pacify rather than bully. These memories were out of place with my concept of Dad and everything I thought he represented. There was, for instance, the time that he and I were breaking in new hiking boots. We were planning to take a hike in the Sespe Creek area north of our home, and we decided to hike along old Los Angeles Avenue leading out toward Moorpark, years before Easy Street took over most of that real estate. It was definitely a rural area, and we lived right on the edge of it. As we hiked along the road, a bedraggled cat appeared out of nowhere, caterwauling at the top of its lungs, and moving in our direction. I wondered how Dad might react. He had a worried look on his face. This didn't square with my previous experiences at all; I fully expected Dad to find a big stick and turn the cat into Coyote Chow. Instead, he waited until the cat was close enough, got the toe of his boot under its belly and sent it sprawling back across the street into the brush. He knew what I was thinking, and explained to me that he was worried that the cat might be rabid. This was his way of making sure the cat was no immediate threat to us, and we continued our hike unmolested.

I also remembered a horn student of Dad's. This young man did not, unfortunately, have a lot of talent. Dad worked with him pretty faithfully for a number of months, but the progress he was expecting just wasn't there. This young man was in high school. As a senior, he had registered for the draft. He knew he would be drafted as the Vietnam War was still in full swing then. His plan was to apply for one of the bands so he wouldn't see action. Dad tried to help him understand that he would need much greater skills as a musician to be successful, and that failure to make it in the band would mean being sent wherever the military deemed necessary. Of course, the young man didn't make it. He was sent into combat and, if memory serves, died some months later. Dad was devastated. I'd never seen this side of Dad before, and, as I say, didn't square with how I perceived him.

As an adult looking back, and seeing Dad in that light, I began to realize that Dad really didn't want to hurt anyone. If he was crotchety with his kids or his associates, well, that was just his personality. After Dad died, his bishop told Mom that Dad was probably already auditing St. Peter's books. He had been serving as an auditor for the Stake when he passed away. There are reasons for his curmudgeonry, but they're not for this essay.

Dad helped me understand that some things are worth fighting for, and others can be accepted as a fact of life, even when we don't agree with them. He was a veteran of more conflicts than I ever hope to see in my life. Not necessarily the conflicts of war and terror, but the everyday conflicts that shape who we are and what we achieve. Dad's greatest achievement, then, was his own personal integrity. I can only hope that I find the means and inner strength to measure up to that. Someday.

Happy Veterans Day, Dad. We love you.

P.S. And a Happy Veterans Day to my son-in-law, who serves in the Air Force and provides a good living for my daughter and granddaughter. We love you, too!

#89 - Can't See Texas for the Woodys

Pursuant to this story over at the Woundup, I need to explain at a personal level just why California's current economy stinks.

California, of course, is one of those states that continually makes money hand over fist. No matter how hard we try to create deficit budgets (or, more accurately, no budgets) every year, the state continues to rake in the tax revenues. Most of that, of course, comes from the obscenely high taxes most businesses have to pay in this state in order to do business.

It's the classic domino effect: higher costs of business drive local prices up, which means that more and more people have to work in order to maintain the state's revenue projections, and housing costs keep going through the roof, which means that your average household requires two (or more!) incomes just to break even, assuming you want to live in a house that has indoor plumbing. Welcome to California. No bankruptcies allowed.

California politicians tend not to get this because - try to keep up here - most of them tend to be rich. It's really through no fault of their own, mind you, because if we assume that our elected officials manage their own finances the way they manage state money, they'd all be first in line to file for bankruptcy even if you could file for bankruptcy, which you can't. Not you, anyway. Businesses can file all they want.

So. How does this affect me? Well, my family has lived in Southern California for decades. We're talking about two and a half generations, minimum, of Woodys living here in the Southland. Both of my parents came to California as youngsters. We Woody kids were all born and raised here, and those of us who have married have brought our children into the world within shouting distance of the old homestead.

But in the past several years, change has altered the geographical makeup of the family. My grown daughter now lives in Maryland. No real surprise, since her Air Force hubby works in Washington, D.C. They're already dreaming of coming back to California. My son lives in Minnesota, but that's mostly because his Mom remarried and her hubby comes from that neck of the woods.

Then Mom got married. She met a very nice man named Bob. (Men in stories are always named Bob. Not sure why that is, but I think it's Bill Cosby's fault.) Bob had retired, which in his case means no longer making money doing what he loves best, which is photography. Bob is one of those who would find a way to be the photographer at his own funeral. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

Anyway, Mom married him. In so doing, she also married into Texas, which is where Bob bought his retirement home. It's a little on the snug side, but he was able to pay for it with what he cleared on the sale of his California home. Apparently housing is quite reasonable in Texas. Which I believe also accounts for the imminent treason of my baby sister. They've been living for a while now in a nice house in California, a house they can no longer really afford to live in. They've bought a home in Texas just recently. A home quite close to Mom. And Bob. And all the friends that used to live in California close to Mom and Bob who now live close together in Texas. Not that there's anything wrong with that, either.

Me? I'm pretty much glued to California and my 21 year pension. It'll be a lot closer to 35 years by the time I can retire safely (meaning the kids are grown to the point of self-sufficiency). Plus, we both still have family in the area. I still have a few siblings left, and Mrs. Woody has a sister and her Mom here. So don't look for Woody to be renting a moving van anytime soon.

Maybe I can sell some stocks to buy train tickets out to Texas. If I don't go bankrupt first, that is.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

#88 - Daddy Does a Field Trip

Yesterday was an interesting day for the ol' Woodster. I got to spend a couple of hours briefing my Big Boss (the one a level up from my direct boss) during our monthly Team Review, and learned (the hard way) the meaning of the phrase "manage your customers." Then I attempted to prevent one of my coders from permanently damaging our security protocols on our production server.

Then I got to take the Woodyettes on a field trip.

We went to Rancho Los Alamitos in Long Beach so the kids in our homeschool group (and, apparently, several other invited families) could tour a historical rancho that was one of the primary landmarks in this part of the basin well over a hundred years ago. It was a fascinating snapshot in history, and parts of the rancho are still functioning, if mostly for show.

The girls even dressed for the part. They both based their costume on Josefina, one of the American Girls characters, who might have lived on a rancho very much like this one. Of course, one of my youngsters is very blonde, but she put her hair in a Josefina-like pony tail. So if you squinted, you might overlook her Swedish heritage.

The layout and background history of the rancho were fascinating enough to hold Daddy's interest, while there were enough animals kept in the barns and stables to hold the girls' attention. Our tour guide was highly knowledgeable and provided me with some background on native tribal distribution in this area that I did not know before.

My Jelly Woodyette has a wonderful ability to instantly transport herself to any time and place as if she herself were a character in a book of her own writing. In this case, she immediately identified herself with one of the daughters who lived on the rancho a hundred years ago and was able to pretend that the house and its grounds were hers. The younger one might have joined in, but she took a tumble on some asphalt (of somewhat more recent design) and skinned her little knee. So Daddy couldn't take photos for at least a portion of the tour. Had my hands (and arms) full.

Still, the girls had a wonderful time overall. Entirely on their own, they chose to write or illustrate a report on their experiences. Doodle asked me to post hers on her blog which I have done here. School work, it seems, is easy if you don't realize it's work. Maybe I can use that to psyche myself out at work next week.

Or maybe not.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

#87 - All Hallow's Scrooge

Woody needs to make a confession here: I'm not a big Halloween fan. As holidays go, it's always seemed more of a trumped up excuse to saturate kids' blood with sugar than anything else. Oh, sure, the kids look cute 'n' all in their costumes, but here's a hint to you parents out there: the kids stop looking cute in costume after a certain age. In fact, teenagers in costume just look like teenagers in costume. These days there's very little distinction between what teenagers choose to wear on Halloween and what they choose to wear at school, except perhaps the presence of a bit more blood on Halloween. Also, there's just something pathetic about kids who are old enough to shave running up to doors and looking askance at the pitiful offering you drop in their oversized pillowcases.

Now, admittedly, Woody's kids are still young enough to be in the "cute" category. We'll be having "Trunk or Treat" at the church tonight, and they will be dressed up as a colonial girl and an indian princess. Cute. No; very cute. Right off the Cuteness Scale, truth be told. Daddy will walk them around the parking lot after the ward dinner and games, and remind them to say "thank you" after they get their treats, and then look forward to putting his feet up on the recliner afterward and nursing his sore back. That's Halloween.

In fact, as a teenager myself, I was more interested in passing out candy at the door than I was in dressing up and escorting younger siblings around the block. Not that I was shy about sharing in the bounty, you understand. Even at 47 I'm able to consume up to my weight in sugar in a single night, although at this age I'm also more likely to pay certain, um, consequences later on. Probably while I'm trying to sleep later that night, for instance.

Woody's philosophy on costumes is that, after about age 10, costumes are for stage. It always amazes me when people try to dress up for Halloween at the office. Mostly they just embarrass themselves, as when one gent tried to dress up as a sumo wrestler last year. Had a hard time negotiating through cubicleville with his inflatable body suit. Or a former boss of mine who used to dye his beard brown and dress up like a hippy. He was just dating himself more than anything else.

I grew out of the "scary" phase of Halloween years ago. Time was when I could go trick-or-treating in our neighborhood and visit the house where they always turned their garage into a haunted house. They always grossed me out when I stuck my hand into the bowl of pork and beans that was supposed to represent someone's innards. And, of course, these days Halloween is really just an excuse for networks to trot out their entire collections of every horror film ever made and make sure we get to see previews during commercial breaks for the entire month of October. Thanks, guys.

In the meantime, I have had no desire in the last couple of decades to visit anything like the haunted fun-house type venues that spring up during this time of year. Knott's Berry Farm does one that's supposed to get scarier every year. Why? Seems people like to be scared. I'm not one of them.

I guess I just have a low threshold for Halloween. I'm not really sure why, but I'm always glad when it's over. Then I can get on with anticipating all the turkey goodness of Thanksgiving, and the sights and sounds that represent Christmas beyond that.

On the other hand, Halloween has given me one thing to look forward to every year: Dinner-In-a-Pumpkin. That's become a tradition in the Woody household since the Woodyettes were tiny. Maybe I'll post the recipe here later.

After I recover from tonight.

Bah. Humbug.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

#86 - Sing Along Plug

Last month I wrote a piece on how the telephone can raise your blood pressure with very little effort. I made passing mention of the fact that I've been asked to participate in the Yorba Linda Arts Alliance's second annual Messiah Sing Along, and really didn't think much more about it after I posted it.

Well, apparently someone has been doing WebCrawler searches for the Sing Along, and has surfed to this page looking for it. They wouldn't find it unless they searched through my archived posts, so I've added a link for the Sing Along to my blog roll on the right.

I hadn't realized it before, but there's a photo on the YLAA site that shows yours truly staring intently at his music while performing the tenor solo last year. Can't see my face too well, but the a-frame on which it sits hasn't changed since the concert. Just juxtapose my smirking mug from my profile onto the performance photo, and you get the general idea. Woody at his finest.

If you're in the area on the Sunday following Thanksgiving, feel free to drop by the Nixon Library at 2:00 and listen to (or, better yet, participate in) the Messiah. It's a great way to kick off the holiday.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

#85 - Of Sports and Stuff

Note: This is my annual birthday essay. It's a couple of days late, but better late than never. I've done this -- largely for myself -- every year since early adulthood. I can't help myself. It's a little like Congress. Every two years they feel a compulsion to run for office, believing they've done something constructive during their last term. Likewise I like to feel that I've done something of note during the year since my last birthday. Since that's not the case, I get to ruminate on just about any topic I choose. Why I chose this particular one, heaven only knows.

I'm not certain if it was the migraine with which I awoke this morning, or the effects of a hot shower on a fevered brain, but I got to thinking about hockey. Specifically professional hockey. You know: the sport we did without for an entire year. You don't remember that? That's funny... neither does anyone else I know.

Anyway, I never got hockey. Being a lifelong southern Cal boy, I've never really gotten any winter sport. What's the point? Here in the desert (hint to those wishing they lived in California: anywhere south of, say, Sacramento is desert. Just thought you should know) we have to artifically freeze everything, including our snow. Really. Our local mountains don't get real snow until about February, which means that if they want any business during ski season, they need to make their own. With hockey (and, by extension, ice skating related sports) we have to freeze entire swimming pools' worth of water, then run over it with something that sounds like Italian food run amok, then play a sport that only Canada could have dreamt up. It was either the Canucks, or one of our perpetually brain-frozen states like Minnesota or Michigan.

In fact, hockey was probably invented when some Canadians (or Minnesotans, or Michiganians) got wasted in a saloon and decided to have a bar fight outside on the frozen parking lot. Parking lots up there stay frozen pretty much from September through about July, so it's not like they can play baseball or anything. I mean, look at the Twins, for Pete's sake. Anyway, I imagine they were having a grand old time until the saloon's owner got mad and threw one of his overcooked hamburger patties at one of the brawlers, who managed a wonderful slap shot with a pool cue and knocked the burger cleanly into the net of some guy who was ice fishing in a ditch next to the parking lot. The brawling crowd stopped long enough to congratulate the shooter by knocking a few teeth out of his head, then resumed their fight. I believe that pretty much encapsulates the entire sport.

People in the northern climes can enjoy these winter sports by virtue of the fact that they never get sick during the winter. They don't pass winter colds around because every time they sneeze the germs simply freeze in mid-air and fall to the ground. There they (the germs) (also, at times, the people) lie dormant until the first spring thaw in late June. "Do not travel to Minnesota in late June" should be stamped on every tourist brochure. Every cold germ in the state suddenly springs to life and resumes travelling to its destination, which is precisely where you will be standing at that moment; overwhelmed by an attack of every cold germ generated during the previous winter. That's why their ball teams never win games during the summer months. The players are too busy fighting off everyone's winter colds. This also explains Garrison Keillor.

So I'm no fan of hockey. Then again, I'm not a fan of any professional organized sport these days. For one thing, none of these sports really resembles the ones with which I grew up during the 60's and 70's. As a kid, I remember being a die-hard, dedicated fan of the Dodgers. The Angels (then called the "California" Angels) were pretty much a non-entity and, besides, the Dodgers had Vin Scully. In those days a kid could join a team's fan club, send in a dollar or two, and get a packet of neat (cheap, but neat) stuff like a team photo, tacky felt team pennant, and a copy of the team's schedule for that year. You could go to a game with your Dad for a very reasonable price, listen to your Dad swear at all the drivers in the parking lot, and get some cheesy souvenir at the game that you could take home and brag to your friends about for the next six months. I did that exactly once as a boy. I've never forgotten it. I also played a fair amount of sandlot ball in those days, and I got pretty good. I could pitch fairly accurately, although I didn't exactly strike fear into batters' hearts. I was small and wiry, and had pretty good bursts of speed, so I was a better than average base runner. I also made sure to play with guys that a were a year or two younger than myself so I would look better by comparison. Hey, I was no fool.

Of course, in those days professional athletes weren't known by their contract terms. Players tended to be more dedicated to their teams than they were to their vanity clauses, and it was easier to root for the home team and memorize their roster. These days the game is more about salary caps and corporate profit than it is about the game itself. Sportsmanship always takes a back seat to annual salary negotiations, and endorsements are far more important than team loyalty. Also, it was much easier to turn an athlete into a "role model" when you had no clue that he was so tanked up on steroids that his autopsy would reveal gigantic muscles and very little brain.

Maybe this just reflects my age. At 47, I've come to realize that my own accomplishments in this life will never make front page news. This is fine, since I have no desire to be featured in a "Programmer Arrest of the Day" story on the local news anytime soon. Truthfully, at my age I'm glad to be as healthy as I am. I still have at least as many teeth in my head as I have fingers on my hands, and my eyes are still functional even if I do need "progressive" lenses now. Of course, this also means that I spend copious amounts of time trying to get my head into just the right position so I can still read things like this essay without getting major cricks in my neck. My knees are starting to get into that "personal barometer" phase of life where I can tell a storm is coming without ever looking at weather reports on the internet. Athletic achievement for me is climbing the six flights of stairs to my office in the morning (I'm good for one climb every two or three days) instead of taking the elevator. On those rare occasions where I actually have to run (or even trot) for short distances, I now require a full three days to recover, assuming I haven't torn any minor ligaments. A good workout for me involves climbing a stepstool to find out if my wireless gateway is still working properly.

Pathetic? Perhaps. But here's what I can also do: I can, with very little effort, comfort my daughter when she tells me that she saw a scary light in her dark bedroom. I can magically make snacks appear when the kids are dying of hunger, precisely at the moment I was about to tell them to brush their teeth for the night. I can push a vacuum cleaner around with the best of them, and prepare three-course meals in a single skillet for dinner. (My meatloaf's to die for.) I can take a customer's vague and nebulous requirements and produce a web-based tool that wasn't probably what they were expecting but works better than they hoped for. I can help someone find information about an ancestor that they never knew before and help them connect with their past a little better. I know exactly when to say just the right thing to help my wife know that she is the single most important person in my life now and in the eternities to come.

I'd like to see your average steroid-enhanced-egomaniacal-multi-millionaire-whining athlete do that.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

#84 - Getting Ants-y

Ok, I get it now. I didn't before, because this seems to be something of a regional problem down here in Orange County, but I finally understand the ant problem.

Regular readers (all three of you!) will remember my long-running feud with these tiny black marauders. I have worn out so many cans of so-called "poison free" ant spray this summer that our local stores no longer carry them. I've been reduced to begging to find enough mint-essenced bug killer to wipe these things out, and still they keep coming. It appeared that my cooking was simply too good to ignore, and the critters had hung "Chez Woody" signs at strategic entrances to our house.

But now I get it.

Ants are related to salmon. Really. There can be no other viable explanation.

I've visited the locks on the Columbia river a few times over the years, and been on the tours. I've seen the salmon ladders that allow these retentive fish to return to their breeding waters in order to reproduce and die (if they don't get eaten by bears, caught in trawler nets, or fished by native Americans along the way first). I know these things because I've seen just about every National Geographic special, Disney True Life Adventure, and Bill Nye the Science Guy episode ever written on this topic. These fish are a programmer's dream: No matter what anomalies you throw at them, they keep doing what they're programmed to do over and over and over again. Without debugging! Even if, as humans have been wont to do whenever we crowd wildlife out of their natural element, their spawning grounds disappear, the fish will keep trying to get back to them to do what Nature programmed them to do.

So it is with the ants. Now, I'll grant you there are a few differences. Ants have way more legs than your average salmon, and even a salmon fingerling could probably devour an entire colony of ants in a single meal, if the ants would cooperate and drive themselves into the river, thus saving me the trouble of having to eradicate a new generation roughly every two days or so. (Sorry... I seem to be somewhat single-minded about this!) Also, the fact that fish live in the water, while ants live in my kitchen is one more difference that some snooty scientists might label "significant."

But having observed salmon in their natural habitat (my television), I can now state with authority that ants are related to salmon. And the blame for my infestations rests squarely on the shoulders of Orange County's first Spanish settlers.

I really can't blame the native Americans for this problem. For one thing, I can't afford the legal fees. But, truthfully, they at least had the sense to pack up their homes and move them to another location if the ant problem got too bad. The Spaniards, on the other hand, tended to be permanent. They built serviceable homes out of adobe and built ranchos on which they raised cattle and cheap tequila. What they didn't realize was, they were building their adobe dwellings directly on top of the world's largest ant spawning grounds. Had they been truthful, "Santa Ana" would have been named "Hormigaville," and property values would have remained in the basement until the Mafia figured out how to turn every ant hill into a gambling venture.

Once I made this connection, other fascinating aspects of early California culture became more easily explained. The colorful folk dances of the Spanish settlers, for instance. Sissy anthropologists will tell you that the dances have their roots in ancient tribal rituals. This is only partly true. They leave out the part that those rituals involved the stamping out of ants that had once again invaded la cocina, and some clown who was six sheets to the wind on cheap tequila decided to put it to music. He had to be drunk because he invented marimbas to accompany it. It explains everything.

So, year after year, the ant colonies return to their pre-programmed spawning grounds to breed several new generations of ants, and my kitchen floor happens to rest on top of one such ground.

So now I understand my ant problem. This is why they will likely never be completely eradicated while we live here. My best bet is to make some sort of peace offering to them. Perhaps keep a piece of rancid meat in my garbage can outside so they'll have something to eat and maybe skip my pantry.

In the meantime, I need to go have a conversation with Mrs. Woody about why she refuses to let me teach science and history to the Woodyettes.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

#83 - Look Ma! I'm a Demographic!

For several years now I have taken some comfort in the knowledge that, stodgy though I be, I still qualify for inclusion in one of the "key demographics" that television marketers use to sell their advertising. They always seem to quote the "all important adults aged 18 to 49 bracket" when they show to what lengths advertisers will go in order to sell their products. The fact that my warranty is only a couple of years shy of expiration hasn't really bothered me.

It's the bracket that bothers me. See, when I was a younger man - closer to the 18 end of the scale - I generally bought into the images portrayed in that advertising. I had the boundless energy of youth and figured I would go forever. Like the Energizer Bunny™ but with shorter ears. In fact, the older I get the more I relate to my old solar-powered calculator. I can still do the math, but I'm getting slower. It could be worse, of course. In a couple of years I'll be in the next bracket ("Geezers") and will be targeted by advertising for hemorrhoid creams and overpriced funeral insurance.

With age comes a unique perspective. There was a day when the presence of a beautiful woman in a commercial would gain my instant attention. Some commercials over the years caused whiplash of the eyeballs as I tried to ogle the talent without alerting anyone else who may have been in the room with me. The truth is, I haven't really been part of that demographic for over a decade now. Actually, if you were to try to define my demographics, they would look something like this:

18-24 - Free and easy
25-36 - Married but still immature
37-now - Remarried and happy

It's that last demographic that advertisers have trouble with. Happy older males are bad for marketers. If we're happy, we're not spending money. Think about it: all the consumer goods targeted to "my" age bracket are designed for people "on the go." SUVs are targeted (irrespective of where they actually end up) for active people who will ultimately use them for climbing all over mountainous terrain to have outdoorsy adventures involving trees and bears. Whereas I would buy an SUV only for self-defense. The closest it would get to a mountain would involve an interstate.

Beer commercials are another example. I don't drink beer. In fact, I once received an invitation to join the Beer Drinkers of America and turned them down with a letter that would probably surface if I ever ran for public office and would show my extreme prejudices, so don't look for me to run for City Council any time soon. That said, beer commercials are obviously meant to show that only young people drink beer. This is because if they ever showed what people actually look like after three or four decades of drinking the stuff, beer manufacturers would never sponsor another sporting event. Ever. I don't belong to a demographic that thinks beer drinkers are studly men. I belong to a demographic that believes beer drinkers are perpetually one can short of a six-pack.

Shaving commercials always crack me up. It doesn't matter what I smear my face with, or how many blades are in my razor. If a woman ever stroked my face like that today, she'd better have tremendous medical insurance, because my sweet wife would likely send her to the nearest emergency room. (Actually, my sweet wife is exactly that: sweet. The worst she would ever do is use her patented Death Ray Stare™ which would shrivel the woman's hand and cause her to hide from public view for the rest of her life. Thought I'd better correct that perception right away.) Besides, I no longer care what other women think of me. I have this luxury now because I am already married to the only woman whose attention I crave, and she happens to enjoy my current mix of LectricShave and Norelco shaver. Take that, Madison Avenue!

No, I'm afraid the marketers have no idea how to handle my bracket. Truth be told, I like it that way. When Mrs. Woody and I watch TV nowadays, we simply mute the commercials until the show resumes. This means I see a lot of beer commercials, but I have no idea what they're singing anymore. Used to be bullfrogs or some such nonsense. Could be opera now, for all I care.

If I'm ever interested enough, I'll just ask someone in the next lower bracket. You know... a kid.

Friday, October 07, 2005

#82 - Color Me Two-Toned

It's finally time for me to come out of whatever closet holds such things and admit that I am a vehicular schizophrenic. I say this with all due respect and apologies to those who have to deal with the real thing. I would submit, however, that most of us are "closet" schizos in one respect or another, and my dual personality just happens to manifest itself in the car.

Those of you old enough to remember actually sitting as a family on Sunday evenings to watch "Wonderful World of Disney" will remember that terrific cartoon (“Motor Mania” – 1950) of Goofy who transforms from a mild-mannered CPA (Mr. Walker) into the Road Demon from Heck (Mr. Wheeler) the moment he gets behind the wheel. Even in the sixties this disease was known to medical science. And since no sitting president has ever taken on this issue, I feel it my duty to at least go public with it and try to increase social awareness of this insidious malady.

For the most part, I consider myself to be a fairly even-headed individual. I am both a fiscal and social conservative, which means that I try to practice moderation in most aspects of my life. There are exceptions, of course. I am a sometime actor which indicates an ability to enjoy making a complete fool of myself every once in awhile. I only do this every few years or so, and this last stretch has actually lasted about five years now. Also, I don't mind singing in front of an audience. At least, I don't mind it if I've been asked well in advance, and there's a piano (with pianist!) handy.

But other than those quirks, I feel fairly conservative in my habits. I'm a teetotaler, I've never inhaled anything more dangerous than local Los Angeles air, and I've never met a needle that wasn't attached at the other end to a medical personnel.

I am also, however, an Orange County driver. [Begin theme from "Jaws."]

I can't be the only commuter in the country who goes through this same routine every day. Every morning I get in my car and silently swear to myself that I will not be in any kind of hurry to get to work. Gone for me are the days when I had to beat the timeclock or incur the wrath of my supervisor. These days I can stroll in pretty much whenever I get there, because my boss (who is on a telecon at home and hasn't yet shown up himself) knows that he will likely see me log on later that evening to work on whatever I didn't complete that day. Instant Messaging is both a blessing and a curse. My point is that I have no need to hurry in to work. I can take my time.

Mentally I know that I traverse parts of three freeways to get to work. If I manage to leave the house before 6:00 in the morning, my commute will almost always be relatively smooth. I can hit all three freeways with only minimal slowing at junctions, and arrive at the office less than half an hour after leaving my driveway. This includes the 22 Freeway which is currently undergoing widening that will probably not be completed before I retire in another 20 years or so. During construction, officials have lowered the speed limit to 55. Veteran drivers know that this is what Dave Barry used to call the "national pretend speed limit." This is precisely how all but three Orange County commuters choose to handle this speed limit. Oh, we tried. We really did. It took a full two months before most commuters even noticed that they had lowered the speed limit. Then for, oh, about three weeks everyone slowed down to about 67 out of deference to the construction crews. Then - you know how it is with these guys - some dude in a jacked-up pickup that sits taller than a pilot in a 747 decided he'd had enough of this mamby-pamby 67 miles per hour and whizzed by everyone on the left shoulder doing a solid 85. It's been business as usual ever since.

I have mentioned before that I drive two of the most gutless vehicles ever created. The Honda was not created gutless. But after more than 200,000 miles, I'd wanna go a little slower, too. The Saturn, on the other hand, was not built for Gran Prix racing. It was built to give beginning roller skaters a run for their money. I suffer mightily in this car because it doesn't understand my disease. (You thought I'd forgotten about my disease, didn't you?)

If I happen to leave after 6:00 in the morning, which happens frequently, my thought processes go something like this:

Hm. 91 looks chokey this morning. Better take the canyon and get on the 55 that way. Hey! Not fair! That was my idea! Go back to the rodeo, you stinkin' pickup, and go ride a bull! Oh, sure... get in front of me and hit the brakes. That's nice. And why don't you hang up that cell phone while you're at it?

[At this point, the disease has fully manifested itself, and I will devote the entire rest of my time on the canyon road jockeying for position with this turnip-brained redneck.]

Finally. The 55. Looks about normal. Nice transition from the on-ramp. Seems to be moving along fairly... Hey! Where'd that garbage hauler come from?? Doggone it, I can't get around. No one will open up and let me into the next lane!

[By this time I am in a funk that will not lift until the Second Coming.]

Okay, 22 is moving along at a crisp 70+. I’ll just keep it at 70.

[Here I am making at least an attempt to fight the disease. I will fail miserably.]

Hey! Why do you idiots think you can just jump in front of me and drive like little old ladies from Pasadena? Now you force me to show you how disgusted I am!

[Jump into the next lane and kick out of overdrive so I can “blaze” past, which almost immediately traps me behind some landscaper whose truck has not gone faster than 45 since it was manufactured in Yugoslavia.]

By the time I get to work, I am once again full of virtuous thoughts. Those crazy OC drivers need to calm down. They really do.

Monday, October 03, 2005

#81 - General Conference

We have satellite at Hacienda Woody, which means we can pull down BYU-TV. And that means we get to watch General Conference in our living room, except for the Priesthood session. This ability is a real boon for anyone with children who just aren't ready for sitting through 8 hours of religious instruction over the course of two days at a local church building. (Note: Woodyettes don't attend Priesthood sessions, so I have an advantage over dads with sons in that respect.)

It was a wonderful conference in my opinion, made better by the fact that our newly baptized Woodyette actually sat through at least one hour each day. Contiguously, I might add. Then, of course, her fanny springs couldn't take it anymore, and she resumed bouncing all over the house. Once the kids have been unleashed, all we can do is try to contain them down at the other end of the house so Mommy and Daddy at least can listen to the speakers.

One highlight for the girls was when the Tab Choir ended one session with "I Believe in Christ." "I know that one!" they chorused. Indeed, they've been singing that hymn every morning as part of their school devotional (if only the first verse) and they were thrilled to pieces to hear it on TV. Also, even though the younger Woodyette didn't sit through anywhere near an hour (combined!) of Conference, she still managed to pick up on scripture stories that were quoted by several speakers. Both girls have that wonderful capacity for hearing things that we (The Parents) are absolutely certain they weren't listening to. They'll sit with that glazed expression of one who can't believe how long this talk is lasting, only to spring to life and say, "The Liahona was the compass that Nephi used, huh, Daddy?" Aha. They do listen.

Speaking of music for the Conference, one highlight for me was the new arrangement of "The Iron Rod." I didn't see who the arranger was, but it wouldn't surprise me at all to see Mack Wilberg's name attached to it. What I enjoyed about it, however, is that it was based on a melody that I have loved for years and always wished someone would do something choral with: a passage from Holst's "The Planets," found during the movement entitled "Jupiter." I hear this will be performed again during the bicentennial celebration of Joseph Smith's birth. I must have a recording of it.

As Conferences go, this one was, for me, more comforting than previous ones. It's not that the other Conferences didn't contain words of comfort, especially from Pres. Hinckley. This one just seemed to have more talks in it that seemed to be directed at me and my family, and nearly every one of them contained a message of hope, love, or comfort. I was, for example, particularly affected by Pres. Faust's address in the first session. It was, I remarked to Mrs. Woody, the most animated I believe I've ever seen Pres. Faust in all his years as a General Authority. He exuded the warmth and kindliness of a grandfather addressing his family over the dinner table. His talk about having the light of the Spirit in our eyes was very inspirational to me.

Pres. Hinckley's story of the woman who not only forgave but helped the young teenager who put her through multiple surgeries because of a careless act during the commission of a crime; this is the stuff of true Latter-day Saints. These are the examples that we not only need, but should crave in our lives.

Many stories and testimonies were, of course, borne in support of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr. I found my own testimony being strengthened as I understood exactly how and why the Lord chooses the humble through which to build his Kingdom on earth. I needed these talks as well.

In fact, I heard nothing in this Conference that caused me any distress. On the contrary, all of the talks reminded me that even though I am imperfect, yet I have the opportunity to improve myself on a daily basis. I need to give more heed to the counsel of the Brethren. I need to be more supportive of my wife and family. (Mrs. Woody may argue that one with me, but I think I always have room for improvement!) I need to be more dilligent in my family history responsibilities. I need to do more to prepare myself and my family for coming calamities.

Most of all, I need to be on my knees more.

P.S. Yeah, I know several cable outlets offer BYU-TV now. But our local cable company, the one we are forced to use if we want cable, the one that has a hard time keeping its executives out of jail, does not. So I got satellite because it does. Neener, neener.