Thursday, June 30, 2005

#47 - Great. Another Survey

I'm no fan of surveys, typically. At work, for instance, we seem to be inundated with surveys. Everyone thinks of surveys as the "only way" to measure how well they're doing. The unfortunate part is, no matter how well one expresses one's opinion on a survey, statistically speaking your issues are unlikely to be the ones on which management chooses to focus.

Occasionally, however, I come across a survey that I feel has merit. This one, for instance:

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

MIT is doing one of those demographic surveys to get a feel for how blogs are utilized and why. I'm all for it. If you're a blogger, make yerself known.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

#46 - Trainologue

I wonder if Amtrak ridership is up this year. I base this thought on our own experiences with the train coming up here to Vancouver, Washington this summer. We actually left from Oxnard, as it was the nearest station to family where they had luggage service. The train was already a half hour late just getting to Oxnard, and they were already full. This caused us no small consternation since this was the Woodyettes' first real (non-excursion) train experience, and we wanted it to be special. No sooner were we aboard than the attendants were herding us up to the Observation Car while they tried to find us four seats together. It took them until Santa Barbara to find us some seats, but they messed up and found only three, and they weren't really together. We expressed our displeasure with this arrangement, and they promised to fix it. They finally did once we reached San Luis Obispo. The rest of our ride north was as smooth as could be expected in coach class.

One side note here, and maybe I read too much into what I saw. As I was sitting in the Observation Car with the girls, I noticed one empty seat a couple of seats away. An older woman was just about to take that seat, when a younger man jumped in front of her and said something like, "I'm sorry, I was sitting there." He had left no marker that I could see, and the seat certainly looked empty, but it was "his" all the same. The lady gave a startled "Oh, I'm sorry!" and quickly darted away.

That episode left a bad taste in my mouth. I had one weepy girl on my own lap or I would have stood right up and offered the seat to her myself. But it was the man who really bothered me. I could make some stereotypical comment about his liberal demeanor; he had the pierced ear, permed hair, and self-absorbed look that I often associate with young college liberals in Orange County. But what bothered me most was his complete lack of concern about the lady he had just brushed away. She was old enough to have been his mother. Even at a tender age, I knew that ladies were always to be offered every consideration, even in a day when some of them resent the offer. Still he sat there with a self-satisfied look on his face as if capturing that seat was a fete accompli. There was no hint that he had just inconvenienced another soul, especially a lady worthy of every respect. Just the vapid, vacant expression characteristic of someone who cares only of himself and no one else. Complete freedom from social responsibility. A sad statement indeed.

To return to the travelogue: The Woodyettes were, as expected, enthralled with the idea of the train. The younger one was fussy when we weren't able to sit with Mommy, but soon settled in once our seats were together. Mrs. Woody was well prepared for this trip: She had wrapped several surprises for the girls to open at strategic moments to help keep them from getting bored. They also followed Daddy to various points of interest on the train, although these points were primarily the toilets, the snack bar, and the kiddy room. We received at least one compliment from one older passenger who said the girls were wonderful travelers, with which we heartily agreed. They really were champs, and the only difficulty we had was when we decided to let the girls sit together on one side of the aisle, while Mrs. Woody and I shared a snuggle. This lasted for all of two hours. Having one girl sit with either parent, and having them switch parents every so often was really the best way to go.

Coach class means, of course, that you sleep in your seat. While train seats are far roomier and more comfortable than airliner seats, sleeping is still no small feat. For one thing, people are constantly moving up and down the aisles, running to and from the snack bar. For another, at every stop, the train de-trains and boards passengers, and the commotion kept Mrs. Woody awake at every stop. I was able to snooze, if fitfully, but "sleep" is not what I would call it. The Woodyettes did just fine, thank you very much.

The only other dark spot of the trip, aside from our trying to get seats together, was on the very last leg of the trip. At Portland we picked up a new crew, including one conductor who had absolutely no people skills whatsoever. As soon as we left Portland for Vancouver (a half hour ride), he made no bones about getting the Vancouver people down to the doors so we didn't "hold them up in Vancouver." As if the train itself hadn't delayed us for over three hours by that time. I'm sorry, but by that time a few more minutes' wait one way or another wasn't going to make an appreciable difference. I never caught the gentleman's name, but even the other attendants understood our frustration. Their own profuse apologies on his behalf helped mollify us, and I'm still looking forward to our return trip.

We get a sleeper on the way back.

Aaaaaaaah.

#45 - On the (Rail) Road Again!

Vacation time for the Woodys (Woodies??). It happens to coincide with my first Blogiversary (June 27th!), so I have been doing this for one whole year. On the Woundup, that is. The Inner Dad won't turn one year until next January.

I'm in the Pacific Northwest right now, at the home of some friends of ours in Vancouver, Washington. It's cloudy (what else?) here, and was drizzly for a couple of days after we arrived. Elsewhere, I mentioned that we decided to train our way here this year, and I'm convinced it was the right move. We took the storied Coast Starlight in a sort-of repeat of our honeymoon trip nine years ago. The difference is, we took coach on the way up, and will take a sleeper on the way back. We want Dad niiiiiice and relaxed when he returns to the grind.

The Starlight is one of those trains that Amtrak resurrected after the major railroads lost all of their passenger traffic. It's main route runs from Los Angeles to Seattle, although it services a few points north as a sort of afterthought. You can also take buses to points not directly connected to the line. On our honeymoon, for example, we took a bus from Salinas to Monterey, California, to see Cannery Row and the Aquarium. Well worth the side trip, that was.

Anyway, no such side trips for us this year. No real budget for it, for one thing. For another, the logistics of herding our Woodyettes on and off buses and dealing with luggage (LOTS of luggage) in the interim just made them (the sidetrips) impractical. The Woodyettes are not impractical. Not generally.

Our friends have been most gracious in putting us up for the couple of weeks we plan to be here. There are three primary draws for our family. First, Mrs. Woody and her friend have been friends since high school. They went to college together for awhile and both ended up becoming teachers professionally. They've shared some pretty significant life events together, and their friendship runs deep. Her hubby and I have become good friends since we married the girls, so it's a comfortable relationship.

Draw number two is our daughters. They have one daughter who was born exactly one year ahead of our Jelly Woodyette. All three girls get along famously, and love playing together.

Draw number three is Independence Day. They can still celebrate July 4 the old fashioned way up here in Vancouver, as evidenced by the fireworks sales tents that are as numerous as Christmas tree lots in the winter. We've done this for several years now, and it's one of the reasons we time our visits this way. It's an absolute hoot to see the youngsters with their sparklers, while the adults try to look non-chalant whilst scurrying the heck away from the huge bomb they've just lit. Every year I get braver and do the same "look casual" dance with bigger and bigger crackers. Roman candles. You name it.

Our friends have a pretty sizeable family up here in the area, and we all congregate on our friends' cul-de-sac with the neighbors to put on a pretty terrific show. The females, who feel no compulsion to perform the dance with the males, sit in chairs on the sidewalk and driveways and watch the lights. Mrs. Woody's friend blasts patriotic music from her stereo for all to hear.

Of course, the odds favor rain of some sort on the 4th this year, but we won't care. So long as it's just a few sprinkles, the show will go on. Patriotism (and the need to blow things up) knows no weather.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

#44 - Happy B-Days for the Woodyette!

I really must observe the traditions and celebration of Fathers Day today. This blog, after all, is dedicated to Dads everywhere, and it only makes sense. There's plenty to report, certainly. June is one of those extremely busy months for the Woody Clan, and this weekend has been no exception.

We actually start with Flag Day in this household. I'm not sure very many families even know we have a Flag Day every year, based on the number of actual flags I (don't) see flying. That may just be because Flag Day doesn't trigger a halt to federal workers and their hangers-on everywhere. Especially when it's in the middle of the week. I know I didn't get to hang our flag that day because it was still 0-dark-hundred in the morning when I went to work. Nevertheless, Flag Day is significant to this family because it also happens to be Jelly Woodyette's birthday.

Three days later is my son's birthday. This is fortunate for him because any longer than three days and I would be certain to forget. He long ago passed that stage where we could send thoughtful gifts to wherever-the-heck he's living now (Brainfreeze, Minnesota, last I heard), so for the last several years we've just sent money. This year he turned 18. 18 is a milestone year for a young person. This is not so much because he or she has reached that legal status of "adult," as it is that he or she was actually allowed to reach 18 before Mom and Dad had him or her committed to military school/boarding school. Take your pick. So my son survived all of my muttered threats and is now legally capable of voting. Heaven help us in 2008.

In my note to my son I informed him that this latest cash contribution to his whims and fancies won't be anywhere near that significant in years to come. Next year I'll send him a tie. I seem to remember my post-18 birthdays being that way, but that may be a false memory. Certainly my 20th and 21st birthdays were marked with larger infusions of cash, but that's mostly because I was a starving missionary in a third world country and Mom and Dad felt kind of sorry for me. That, and I'd bounced checks in that third world country and they wanted to make sure I didn't end up in a third world prison. So my son gets ties beginning with his 19th birthday. It'll be good training for that corporate job I'm sure he's looking for.

The very next day was a special day for the Woody family. Our Jelly Woodyette was baptized, with family and friends in attendance. It was a wonderful day, and Jelly worked hard to overcome her natural stage fright. On one level, it was a day of conquering fears for her. It started with the filling of the font. The water was "loud," in her words, and that scared her just a bit. So getting her in the water nearly required Daddy coming up out of the font to run her down. She only faltered a bit, though, and finally waded in. I think the water was a bit cooler than she was hoping for, but she went down like a champ and only had to go under once.

It always amazes me (even though it shouldn't) that I can pre-think a blessing I'm about to give all I want. But the minute I lay hands on that individual, I a) have no idea what just came out of my mouth, but b) I'm absolutely certain that it wasn't what I'd planned to say. Yesterday was no different. I have long been impressed that this little girl has a huge mission ahead of her. I was impressed with that the day I gave her a name and blessing, and it was repeated to me yesterday. I believe I made mention of that in her blessing. The blessing itself was relatively short for me. I'm generally a lot more long-winded than that, but there simply was no need to elaborate further. It's wonderful how that works.

So this week has been busy for the family. Now we get to prepare for vacation. We badly need this vacation. It's been a long year. We're short-handed at work, so I've been putting in tons of extra hours at work. Mrs. Woody has had to bear the brunt of keeping the Woodyettes occupied and excited. We're ready for this one. Mentally, that is. Physically we still have about a month's worth of preparation that needs to be accomplished in a week. So what else is new?

Maybe I'll blog a little on vacation, or perhaps I'll just allow myself to lapse into what Dave Barry calls "the Lethargy Zone."

So this is a good Father's Day. I have wonderful kids and the best wife. And no, I'm not interested in debating that point.

And, for the record, I did not get a tie. Thank goodness.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

#43 - The Ugliest Car in the World?

The Honda is Mrs. Woody's car, technically speaking. She was its first owner. She bought it nearly twenty two years ago as a young teacher in Utah. It sweltered with her in the blazing Arizona sun for several years, and it was the car in which we did most of our courting.

When I tell people what to look for when I'm planning to drive somewhere, I tell them to watch for the ugliest car they've ever seen. Really. And it's not as bad now as it was just a few short years ago. When we needed to move to Orange County from Ventura County, we decided to get the poor thing a face lift by way of a paint job. Before the paint, the car was badly faded on the roof and had the usual scratches and dings associated with old age. After the paint job, it was less faded and instead merely looked old.

I love this car.

This is Old Reliable. This is the "go to" car when our newer, sleeker, wimpier Saturn needs to visit the doctor. When the Honda needs to visit the doctor it starts growling at me as if to say, "Don't call the doctor! It's just a sprain, darnit!" When the Saturn needs to go, it begins crying for Mommy. The Saturn takes wimpy ol' 87 octane go-juice with umbrellas in the pump. The Honda scarfs down 89-proof stuff and starts hitting on the cute PT Cruiser at the next pump. Also, the Honda is not above a little vehicular flatulation from time to time, which it blames on elephants under the manifold. "Pull my hazard lights," is something the Honda would say.

As it aged, its interior began to acquire a certain atmosphere. Here I'm thinking of the atmosphere you might find on Venus. As the car baked in blazing sun (or, alternately, froze in Utah winters), the upholstery made the car look like a poster child for Intensive Care lotion ads. The cabin liner (that would be the "ceiling" for you who need a frame of reference) hangs in cracked ribbons that occasionally flake off in a breeze. The Honda gets plenty of breeze in warmer months (meaning about 9 months out of 12 here in California) because its air conditioner was once upon a time subjected to Manny, Mo and Jack, and has not functioned properly since. Its own war injury. This is ok, because it gives me bragging rights. "See that driver's tan? Try getting that on your silly beach!" I'll be able to drive my daughters crazy with it in a few years. "Hey, back in the day I used to have to drive all the way to Huntington Beach and back without air conditioning, kid. Suck it up!"

We bought the Saturn about two weeks after we found out we (well, she, really) were pregnant. We needed a four-door to accomodate our anticipated brood, and I had heard good things about Saturns. We investigated, found one in Mrs. Woody's color, and drove it home. Mrs. Woody has since that time driven the Honda only under duress. Don't get me wrong; that was the plan all along. Mrs. Woody would drive the Saturn on the assumption that she would be the one to ferry the kidlings around. Woody, meanwhile, would drive the Honda into the ground so we wouldn't have more than one car payment at a time to deal with. It's worked so far: the Saturn was paid off a few years ago, and the Honda is at 211K and counting.

Our five-year plan currently calls for the Honda to die a slow, horrible death, then be replaced by a sleek, relatively new minivan. The problem with five-year plans, of course, is that the participants rarely cooperate and die when called upon to do so. The Honda may very well last another 100K miles, which by my calculations means that we could be bequeathing this car to one of the Woodyettes. This may be a terrific bargaining chip in a few years. "I'd better see some better grades, Honey, or you get... the Honda." "Nooooo! Not the Honda! I'll study day and night! I'll buy more candles for my desk! Anything!"

More than anything, the car has personality. It has a radio that occasionally will only work when it rains. I'm not kidding. Right now it's in "work all the time" mode. But the next time I change out the battery, or have the battery disconnected for any reason, the radio will become moody and will only work when it rains. I have no idea why, but that's the way it is. If it rains long enough, like it did this past winter, the radio stays on once it drys out.

Also - you know how it is with older cars - it has a tendency to go wherever the heck it darn well pleases. On those rare occasions I drive it to the church, for example, it tries to take me to work. I can try to convince it that it's Sunday and all, but it doesn't care. What can I say? It enjoys getting sand in its carbeurator.

As for maintenance, well, I don't even bother getting the red service indicators reset anymore. What's the use? I figure anytime I can get it in to the garage, they'll find something that needs fixing or replacing. Brakes. Tranny. Engine. Little things like that.

I guess, in many ways, the Honda is just like me. Old. Crotchety. Conservative.

I like that in a car.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

#42 - Pleasant Surprises

Always nice to find one is blogrolled on someone else's blog. A big THANK YOU to MOTHEROF8. I'm nothing if not reciprocal. Consider the favor returned!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

#41 - Eight? HOW?!

Every once in awhile I look at my children and notice that they've suddenly sprung up another inch or two. I'm certain this is an overnight thing. My seven year old is turning eight in another week, and I swear that she has grown something like a foot and a half since last month. One night I was able to carry her to bed, and the next morning she nearly broke my back when I helped her down from a step-stool.

Mrs. Woody and I both remarked how grown up she looks lately. The younger Woodyette can still get away with being our little girl in every sense of the word. She reads like a champion, but when she reads aloud she still has that little girl voice that is so adorable and allows her to get away with nearly everything she attempts. The fact that she reads with more inflection in her voice than most young actresses these days gives Daddy silly ideas about getting her an agent, until reality selects a large enough two-by-four and reminds me that her current level of shyness precludes any overt public display of talent. But Woodyette the Elder...

This is the baby that Mommy saw in a dream so many years ago. This is the little girl that Daddy accused of talking to the ceiling until her baby sister showed up. This is the child that Daddy recognized to have a far quicker mind than Daddy does. She somehow seems to stay one step (or more) ahead of Daddy, but never gets too far ahead of Mommy. She still creates entire universes in play faster than I would have the ability to write down. I literally can't keep track of her characterizations most days.

This child is turning eight.

In a young Mormon life, eight is a significant milestone. At eight years of age, Daddy gets to baptize this wonder-child. Then he gets to watch her grow into a young lady, then a woman, then a Mommy in her own right. And it will all happen so darn'd quickly.

Mrs. Woody and I are getting understandably emotional these days. There is much for which to prepare, and each preparation carries with it punctuation in the form of very large exclamation points. Eight! Already! Baptized! Boys! (Down, Dad... put the gun away!) Ok, boys are still a few years away, but she can already tell a cute one when she sees him. Nuts! Panic! Stop with the exclamations, already!

The changes from little girl to older girl are theoretically subtle. To Mom and Dad, however, they hit like an earthquake. We become visibly shaken and shoot each other a glance that says, "When did she learn to do that?" She carries herself with a confidence (even while being so painfully shy) that we often hoped would manifest itself by now. Her logic is growing by leaps and bounds. She can logic her way through complex spiritual issues, and understands that God, while not visible, is real.

She can pout faster than anyone I've ever seen if she's not getting her way, but she is so consistent in sharing things lovingly with everyone in the family. This includes her little sister who is, alternately, her biggest annoyance and her dearest friend. This is as it should be.

Daddy must now give more substantive answers to her questions. I can't get away with "that's just the way it is" anymore. Now I have to explain why it is that way. Daddy needs to catch up on his homework, because those questions will come up more and more frequently.

Once she is baptized, Mommy and Daddy will have to remind her to repent on occasion. We will have to help her understand that baptism brings with it tremendous responsibility to live a Christ-like life. We will have to prepare her for entering the Temple and finding a worthy young man to take her there someday. She has a mission to fulfill. We're not sure if that means a full time mission, or some objective for which she was set apart, but she was told in her Blessing that she has one. Her sister does, too, and it seems likely they will work in tandem. Those were my impressions, anyway.

I may be a curmudgeon wannabe, but my daughters will always have the ability to melt Daddy's heart. God bless them for that.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

#40 - Family Hysteria, er, History

Friend Peggy Cahill at Speak Up for Truth blogs about Family History. Peggy's motivations are similar to mine, including mention in my Patriarchal Blessing about the work to be done. Peggy's been at it longer, going back to the day when Ancestry.com was little more than a bulletin-board service available on 300 baud acoustic couplers and staffed entirely by the only two computer science majors at BYU. They thought they were perpetuating a terrific hoax - like Compuserve or commercial-free cable TV. Who knew?

Anyway, go read her post. While I don't have any family dirt I'd rather not dig up (we long ago disproved any link between our family and John Wilkes Booth. Really.), I did have a Dad who was more tight-lipped about his past than Woodward and Bernstein used to be about Deep Throat. It was as though describing his childhood would somehow degrade the aura of demi-Dad he used to carry. About all I knew of Dad's childhood was that his dad was a dentist in Idaho Falls who drank too much of his own anesthetic, that they raised foxes for fur, and that his mom was a crack shot with a .22 rifle. More than that was hard to get out of Dad. Dad was not the kind of man you sat down with and said, "Tell me about your childhood, Dad." That kind of question would bring on the dreaded Stare of Doom. The Stare of Doom was never directed at you, personally. It was always directed at the TV, because you were daring to interrupt whatever he was watching in order to ask such an incredibly offensive question in the first place. Then, after making the TV quake in it's electronic booties for several minutes, he might answer, "It was tough." End of conversation. That would have been a tad close for Dad's comfort.

Eventually, we discovered that it wasn't so much that his life was all that bad; Dad really didn't know how to describe it in terms we could identify with. Life in a relatively small frontier town with an alcoholic father could not have been a picnic. When his mom moved him out to Los Angeles in the mid-30's, the culture shock must have been huge. Thus, to accomplish what Dad accomplished is nothing short of miraculous, and his legacy has been taken up now by a group of very interesting offspring.

My vision of Dad in heaven nowadays consists mostly of Dad tapping old dead ancestors on the shoulder and saying, "Go talk to my son. He needs something to do."

Gee, thanks, Dad. Now make 'em stop. They're starting to affect my sleep.

UPDATE: Is it just my over-wrought imagination, or is Peggy writing with a North Carolinian accent? Just askin'...