Thursday, July 28, 2005

#58 - Doodle Blogging

Her most commonly used nickname is "Doodle." This is my youngest child, the last I will have sired in this life, and pound for pound has every bit as much personality as any of her predecessors.

The Woody Household is still on the Disabled List. Mrs. Woody continues to battle the remnants of her pneumonia. Today would have been a banner day - only one breathing treatment all day! - but she started the day with a nasty migraine. Jelly, still battling a feverish flu, has rallied to the point of not needing excessive naps to maintain her running dialogs. In fact, from the time she woke up - relatively bright eyed and bushy tailed at 6:00 in the morning - she has maintained her usual stream-of-semi-consciousness banter pretty much all day. She's still miserable, but she's more alert and I feel confident that this weekend will be better for both my females.

Then, undoubtedly, it'll be my turn.


Anyway, back to Doodle. The Doodle Woodyette is my "Iwannadoit" girl. "Daddy," she will announce, "I wanna open the car door!" This means not just being able (barely) to pull up on the door handle and pull it open. No, this means taking Daddy's key, inserting in the lock and turning it, then opening the door. Whereas my Jelly Woodyette is generally satisfied when she can open most doors without assistance, Doodle wants to understand how they open, and how they work, and why.

Daddy will be doing the evening dishes. "Daddy," comes the inevitable pronouncement, "I wanna help with the dishes." This does not mean putting one or two dishes in the dishwasher. This means getting a chair, pulling it up to the sink, helping Daddy to rinse the dishes, then helping Daddy to put them in the dishwasher, then (if she's still hovering around later) helping Daddy take the clean dishes out and put them away.

Laundry is another Doodle Hot-button. She knows there isn't enough room in our tiny laundry area for her to drag a chair in and help load the washing machine. But she sure can help push the clothes into the dryer and almost always volunteers to help Daddy do just that.

This also, of course, adds a few extra hours to Daddy's flow time, but it will prove invaluable a few years from now when these become her chores to perform.

Of course, my girls aren't without their weaknesses. Cleaning up after themselves is still a major hangup. Doodle also likes to use her "baby of the family" status to weasel out of chores she finds inconvenient. Like cleaning her room, for instance. She will start those crocodile tears flowing and begin a well-rehearsed meltdown that has exasperated fathers from the days of Adam ("I don't wanna be my brother's keeper! Daaaaaad! It's not faaaaaair!"). It doesn't stop until after Daddy has given explicit instructions on every step of the process through to completion. "See that blue Duplo? Put that in the Duplo bag! See those doll clothes? No, not those; those are dress-up clothes. We'll get to those later. There! Those doll clothes! Put those in the doll-clothes case! If you'd stop weeping, you could see what I'm talking about!"

This isn't to say that Jelly can't do (or hasn't done) the "Iwannadoit" routine, but Jelly moves in a different plane from her sister. At those points where their planes intersect, they are an awesome team. Even when their planes only move in tandem, they still complement each other nicely. Each has their own distinct and unique gifts and talents, but both are naturally loving and helpful. Jelly loves to share with everyone. Doodle loves to be the gofer. On the other hand, Doodle has already mastered at least the mechanics of brushing her own teeth, while Jelly still regards the toothbrush with the same enthusiasm one would demonstrate upon finding a dirty bomb in their sock drawer.

Today was Doodle's last day of swimming lessons for the current session. Next week she'll move up to Jelly's level for another two week course. But today was Certificate Day. Doodle now has a nice document stating that she can do a fairly sizeable litany of swimming skills, and it truly has been wonderful to watch her confidence grow. She can't wait for Daddy to take her to our park's pool so she can swim - without floaties! - and have Daddy help her practice her bobbing and kicking and "big arms." This will undoubtedly prompt Jelly to show how well she can swim. Daddy will just float in the water like an oversized dumpling while his two daughters swim circles around him.

"Hey!" I'll say. "I wanna swim like that!"

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

#57 - Down and Out at Hacienda Woody

Here at the Woody Center for Disease Suffering (motto: "Note the complete lack of the word 'control' anywhere in our name!") we pride ourselves on being able to spot a sick child the second they snuggle with us and raise the ambient temperature in the room by twenty degrees. Such was our keen diagnosis as soon as the Jelly Woodyette walked into our room at 3:19 this morning and announced that she was still having tummy trouble. Mrs. Woody took one feel of her forehead and immediately called for marshmallows and a stick.

[rim shot]

She could have actually called for just about anything, because at 3:19 in the morning I'm inclined to give her anything she wants so I can go back to sleep. She could have said, "Honey, I'd really like to buy that Pamela Anderson Edition Bengal Tiger Stole we saw in our new GreenSierraPeaceClub Mileage Program Catalog!" and I'd hand her my credit card.

Fortunately, what Mrs. Woody called for, instead, was the Children's Formula Bubble-Gum Medicine for Fevers and Other Assorted Maladies. Unfortunately this calls for my glasses. I have roughly the same visual acuity as a mole with cataracts, and any activity that requires my being able to recognize anything smaller than a tour bus means putting on my glasses. This means fumbling around near my bed for them, because I rarely put them in the same place from night to night. Thus, having fumbled for my specs and staggered through the bedroom to our kitchen, I proceeded to pour the recommended dose of medicine for our daughter.

I then promptly spilled a portion of it when I nearly broke two toes on the frame of a painting that we haven't yet hung in our living room and that my muscle memory hasn't yet accounted for. The sacrifices we make for a sick child!

The initial diagnosis is, of course, flu. For the uninitiated Dads out there: Coughs mean colds, fevers mean flu. At least, I think so. And please don't get me started on whether you feed a fever or starve a fever because, as far as I'm concerned, the fever can jolly well go out and get a job if it's that hungry. Especially at 3:19 in the morning.

A sick child (read: miserable and sick) also means Daddy gets to find new quarters for the rest of the night. Since I ostensibly only had one hour of unalarmed sleep remaining (tomorrow: How to Ignore Your Alarm and Keep Your Job), I opted for our living room couch. This couch is reasonably comfortable, and with our recent heat wave does not generally require a blanket. Still, it took a few minutes before I was able to go back to sleep. I took a loooooong shower this morning while trying to wake up. May have had something to do with the stack of recent library books I slept on that I hadn't seen and couldn't be bothered to put away.

Anyway, Jelly is sick. When Jelly complains of tummy trouble, the only real excitement comes during the Porcelain Olympics. There are two main events for these Olympics: the 20 Yard Dash, and the Hurl, Flush and Wash. As of this writing she has declined to participate, which is good news for Mrs. Woody. The HF&W, for instance, is generally accompanied by much comforting of a weeping daughter, which means Mrs. Woody is not resting so as to get rid of what's left of her own pneumonia.

Yet here I languish at work. Woe is me!

Soon, however, work will be over and I will once again return to the House of Pestilence. I will kiss Mrs. Woody and the Doodle Woodyette, then snuggle the Jelly Woodyette for a while. Then - you know how it is - I'll probably have to call in sick tomorrow with my own tummy trouble.

The Circle of Life continues.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

#56 - Ma Is Hitched

Today was Mom's wedding. It was, altogether, a very nice ceremony, and the reception afterwards was nice and chummy. We have suddenly added three new step-siblings to our nuclear family, which means three new sets of spouses and/or children's names to learn (AAAAIIIIIIYEEEEEEEE!). Learning names is not my long suit, and the first time I meet one of them after today, I'm going to look like a somewhat less than intelligent person. Mom will be living in Texas now, and I'm sure a tin-horn like me is going to make a HUGE impression on those Tejanos the first time we go out there for a visit.

Among the more significant events today (for us, anyway) was the Jelly Woodyette's first real experience with heartbreak. She suddenly realized - although we'd mentioned it several times before - that Grandma was not going to be living in her big old house anymore. When you think about it, it's Daddy and Daddy's brother and sisters who should really have mixed feelings about that house. Two of us lived in it from day one back in '63. The other three were born into it. It's like an institution; we sort of feel like maybe it should become a historical landmark. Or, truthfully, maybe it would be kinder to simply condemn it. Poor thing has survived five kids and numerous grandkids and great-grandkids, after all.

Still, this was Jelly's first major heart-rending event. She cried pretty much all the way home (90 miles, I-5, LA to OC traffic - whee). It wasn't until Mama was able to sit and snuggle with her for awhile that she finally came to grips with things, and is now


making Texas jokes.

Yes. After all that boo-hooing, Jelly has decided it would be pretty funny if Grandma Woody - born in Wisconsin, raised in Iowa, and living in Southern Cal for her entire adult life - were to suddenly sound like she was from Texas, complete with steer-roping drawl. In fact, she also wonders if Grandma will ever refer to having a "Bob-eque" (Bob being the man she just married). Woody is in biiiiiiig trouble.

But, as I say, the wedding was lovely, and we couldn't be more thrilled that Mom is so happy. She deserves happiness, after raising the five of us. Maybe now she'll rescind the curse. You know...

...the one that begins "I hope you have kids JUST like you...!"

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

#54 - Harry Potter and the Blood Shot Eyes

Well, we've been largely comatose here at La Casa Woody for the past three days. It's taken us this long to read "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" aloud as our family activity since it arrived on Saturday. This particular activity involves Daddy sitting in a comfortable chair, with two Woodyettes draped over him like mink stoles (albeit heavy minks!), while Mrs. Woody lounges in her favorite easy chair gasping for breath. She's been fighting for a decent breath for nearly a month now, but today it finally got to the point where we had to interrupt our reading and take her to the doctor.

We don't take our HP Read-a-thons lightly in this house.

No spoilers here, by the way. Well, I guess I will note that Harry and his friends have finally become the raging hormone storms that most kids really become around age 12 nowadays. One could argue that Harry's hormones finally kicked in at age 15 in "Order of the Phoenix," but now he seems to have remarkable control of the ol' testosterone until relatively late in the book this time.

Anyway, the Woodyettes have taken a much more active interest in this book. For one thing, they've both been studying via Hogwarts extension courses this past school year. They each have their own Hogwarts robe and hat, a wand, a cauldron (NOT for use on a real fire!), and even share a house elf, whose name is Canby. They've never seen Canby, but I have. I can tell you that he looks remarkably like a grumpy old man with a salt-and-pepper goatee and a perpetually exasperated look on his face, but the kids think he (she?) must be cute. For that matter, so is their owl. The owl is stuffed and residing on our mantle shelf by day, but by night transmogrifies into (surprise!) a grumpy, exasperated, salt-and-pepper-bearded old man.

So, in accordance with the Freedom of Imagination Act under which this house operates, every time Daddy sits down and begins his dramatic readings of any HP book, Jelly immediately dons her Hogwarts attire, grabs her wand, and begins acting out whatever she hears during those moments when she's actually able to force herself to sit still long enough to hear a word or two of the story. Whatever she hears triggers some new playacting, or, alternatively, Q&A time.

Indeed, this particular story brought what I considered to be incredibly insightful questions from my elder 'Ette. The questions she hit me with gave me to understand that she really has been paying careful attention to her own reading, the movies she's seen, and even Mom and Dad's discussions of various plot devices and scenarios.

For her part, the Doodle Woodyette, having mastered the art of reading this past school year, has insisted on either following along with her own copy of the book (Yes. We have two. Deal with it.), or having Daddy track the words with his finger, even though she is perfectly capable of following along without my doing that.

They also love having Daddy do character voices. One of their favorites is Snape, because Daddy really goes out of his way to give him that oily sound that seems to be called for by the character. Alan Rickman is canola oil to my Crisco heavy lard on the ol' oiliness scale. I've been playing weasels since high school. Rickman wasted his time on Shakespeare, I'd like to bet. My Dumbledore is, I confess, mostly patterned after Richard Harris's muffled wheeze. Dumbledore and Hagrid are the toughest on my throat, and unfortunately, Dumbledore figures heavily in this latest installment. My throat currently feels something like sandpaper on glass.

Finally, and fortunately, we have finished the story. I say "fortunately" because the house has been largely neglected during our recreational reading. In fact (and don't I love this during the summer in Orange County!), several swarms of ants have invaded and now have control of critical sectors of my kitchen, including strategic transportation targets consisting of the kitchen floor. Tomorrow I will likely go through my entire can of "Victor's Ant Spray" so our house can have that pleasant minty odor permeate everything from our spice rack to our frozen split pea soup that will take, probably, 15 months to thaw given how cold our freezer is at the moment. Then I get to wash down and scrub every exposed surface of the kitchen so as to convince all 27 million ants that all those pheromones they laid down really are gone, and that there is nothing interesting left in this kitchen; especially that big, beautiful pork roast that we are definitely NOT cooking in our crock pot anytime soon. So there.

In other words, back to business as usual at La Casa Woody.

#53 - Emasculated Curmudgeonry

"Get a haircut, kid."

His head was recently shaved.

"Get a job, kid."

He starts Wednesday at a place called "CD Warehouse."

For all his incomprehensible lifestyle, he speaks to me in terms that are at once clear and well-structured. I can actually understand him.

I asked him about his girlfriend. He said he no longer had one, and what with trying to find a full-time job, get his driver's license, and just generally live, he really has no time at the moment for the ladies.

[scratches head]

Now what'll I have to complain about?

Or, maybe I don't really wanna know...

Friday, July 15, 2005

#52 - Wedding Bells Are Ringing

Little Sis recently stated that news of "The Wedding" was conspicuous by its absence in our family blogs. Guilty as charged, but with an explanation. I've had a dickens of time deciding how best to write about this. In the end, my need to blog has overcome my fear of waxing schmaltzy about the whole thing, so here goes:

"The Wedding" refers to that of our dear, sainted Mom. Mom will be a blushing bride a week from tomorrow in the backyard of her best friend. Then she'll move to Texas.

Hm. Must think of appropriate Texas joke later.

To be serious, we, her offspring, think this is a tremendous blessing for Mom. When Dad died suddenly five years ago, we kids worried (a lot!) about Mom. We became "Mom's Army," and formed ranks around her to get her through the most strenuous times immediately following Dad's passing. In the space of not very many years, Mom has lost husband and both parents. She also has found a new soul-mate with whom she feels she can spend the rest of her days. His name is Bob. We'd accuse her of being giddy lately, but that's not altogether true; she's only giddy when he's around.

It's funny to think about now. I mean the idea that I now know what my own parents went through when I announced I was getting married more than twenty years ago. There was apprehension on several fronts: my first wife was a very different personality type from what the family was accustomed, and I myself was still a tad immature to be considered truly "ready" for marriage. Not that anyone is ever truly ready, but some are more ready than others by the time they reach the altar.

Mom is ready.

I once teased her about needing a chaperone when Bob is visiting. She assured me that while both of their "engines are running," as they put it, he has continually been every inch the gentleman with her. Good thing, too, or we'd have to sic Deputy Bro-In-Law on him to give him a gun-cleaning demonstration while interrogating him about his intentions.

Aw, who'm I kidding? We all know Bob (although my own memories of him are iffy, he's had a wonderful reputation in our Stake for decades!), and there's no chance that his intentions are anything but honorable.

More than anything, this represents a chance for us to see Mom finally live the kind of life Dad had always envisioned for her. She will be with a man who loves the Gospel and will take her to the temple frequently. He loves listening to good music just as much as Mom enjoys creating it. He will care for her and be her helpmeet in all things. What more could we, her children, ask?

Well, we could ask for Southern California instead of Texas, but let's not start things off with sour grapes. Besides, we've been looking for new vacation destinations. Texas just might fit the bill.

Ah, young love!

On a related note: I just today received an email from a former Sunday School student of mine. This young man is quite a story. I was teaching 16-18 year olds at the time, and this one sort of stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb. He came to the ward at precisely the time when his young testimony was suffering its own growing pains, and some kids in the ward weren't terribly helpful. I stuck with him, though, because I saw a lot of me in him when I was his age. As his home teacher I helped counsel him through some turbulence prior to his going on a mission, and he credited me with helping him become a successful missionary.

One day in Sunday School I had made the statement that as a teacher, the best measure of success I could ask for would be to receive temple marriage announcements from them. Today I received an email from this young man's mother stating that they needed our address so he could send us one.

It's the sort of blessing we sometimes think will have to wait until the next life before we hear about it. I'm so glad I don't have to wait that long!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

#51 - As All Vacations Must...

...this one has come to an end.

It's always paradoxical that the end of a vacation is seen as something of a relief. Not that I'm eager to return to work; on the contrary, I know exactly what awaits me, and the thought is daunting. No, it's the idea that we are safe and sound at home (which is also safe and sound) where we will be sleeping in our own beds and grazi... er, eating our own food, and sitting in our own fit-to-form furniture. Aaaaaah.

I'm still glad we took the train. The Woodyettes have now had their experience with a train ride up and down the western coast of the country. They slept in coach going up, and first class coming back down. Jelly got to ride in a bunk bed with seat belts, for crying out loud. How cool is that?? We, of course, learned quite a lot about traveling by train. We don't sleep so well on those "mattresses" that were hand-woven by crazed monks who had been sampling too much of their own cooking. Plus, when they're being used as seats during the day, they're not all that comfortable, either. We found ourselves being a little envious of the folks ahead of us in the car that had those two-seater sleepers. Those reclined during the day.

[scribbles in a notebook entitled "Future Woody Family Train Trips"]

Also, the words "pack light" will be lasered on our foreheads for future reference. We had - as carry-ons, mind you - packed roughly the equivalent of twelve cruise trunks full of stuff in only four backpacks and one heavily bungee'd stack of stuff without which we could not live on this trip. The Doodle Woodyette literally had to lean well over forty-five degrees into the wind in order to carry her backpack. Fortunately, she only had to do this to get on and off the train. Daddy carried it the rest of the time.

Of course, the train was never on time. Amtrak has a hard-earned reputation for being anywhere from 1 to 17 hours late on the Coast Starlight, and those days when it happens to arrive somewhere on time are counted as accounting errors. Going up we were three hours late. Coming home it was five-plus. This became a huge deal when that lateness put us in Oxnard (NOT a fun town to be out in public after midnight!) at around 1:00 in the morning. This meant getting family out of bed (or, probably more accurately, keeping them up) to come pick us up. We didn't dare leave our car there. It's no darn'd fun driving a car home that no longer technically exists except for a thank-you note from the gangsters that stole it.

No, we're glad to be home. I'm even (contrary to what I said earlier) looking forward to going back to work tomorrow. Yes, I know that gloom and doom will assail me the minute I step in the office. Still, if past history counts for anything, I'll have roughly six hundred emails to wade through before I can even get to my phone messages. They won't see me for at least another three days, if I work this properly.

I already can't wait for our next vacation. I hear the Sunset Limited is always on time, except for hurricane season...

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

#50 - Dad Blogs

Blogging Dads are not a new phenomenon by any means. I daresay that Dads who blog are plentiful, even numerous. The trick is to find those who hold Dadhood as their primary topic of interest. Most of them tend to be socio-political bloggers who also happen to be Dads. I think of myself more as a Dad who happens to blog.

To that end, I have re-thunk my "Dad Blogs" category on the blog roll, and created the "Dad-o-sphere" instead. How clever of me.

On the face of it, this isn't terribly exciting news. Still, I feel a need to network the creative power of Dads who think of Dadhood as their primary life-motivation. In light of current societal pressures to further weaken and even destroy the traditional family in this country, I think this "network" has the potential to do great good for the world at large.

I did a little trolling today, and found two bloggers who seem to epitomize this view. "Dad Talk" and "Modern Day Dad" both focus on issues related to Dads, and even parenthood in general. Both have babies in the house (or toddlers, at any rate), so their perspective kicks in a bit sooner than my own post-Kindergartener writings. But I find them both to have constructive things to say, and I happily link to them.

Please give them a visit if you're a Dad looking for a network. Don't thank me. I'm just looking for cash.

#49 - Vancouver Ablaze

Here in the city of Vancouver, Washington, they still celebrate the 4th of July the old-fashioned way: They blow things up.

As I mentioned before, this is one of the big draws for us at this time of year. Mrs. Woody and I love sitting in our friends' cul-de-sac to witness a marvelous collection of shells, fountains, sparklers, and other assorted incendiaries light up the night sky. Had comet Tempel 1 flown immediately over the house, there would have been no possible chance of a sighting for all the fireworks going off in the immediate neighborhood. In my mind, the municipal display must have been somewhat redundant to the displays taking place 360 degrees around us.

The Woodyettes loved it all - at least, they loved the parts they didn't sleep through. Doodle fell asleep for good at least an hour before the show was over. Jelly, being now 8 years old, only dozed for a few minutes toward the end, but bounced back in time to witness the grand finale. Early on, though, the girls both did their sparklers (large and small), and helped Daddy light off a roman candle or two. Even Mrs. Woody lit off a roman candle this year; her first ever.

Sitting there, watching the star-spangled displays all around us, it was fun to try to imagine how America must have celebrated our independence more than 200 years ago. According to some histories, the first annual celebration took place in Philadelphia, one year after the Declaration was adopted by the Second Continental Congress. With the war still raging and its outcome still far from certain, early Americans were really sending a clear message to the world that we were taking our independence from the crown seriously. It was not only a celebration, but tonic for a young nation in search of its own identity.

Skip ahead two hundred years (two hundred and twenty eight from that first celebration, actually), and one wonders just how many revelers remember what, exactly, we're celebrating. It was altogether too easy to become cynical and believe that more than a few of these people were merely setting off the fireworks for sake of watching something explode. There is, after all, quite a rush associated with the experience.

Finally, however, I decided that any reason for celebrating, no matter how seemingly shallow, or far-removed from the true holiday meaning, had to be a good one. Celebration can be a personal tonic as well. Folks who work hard nearly every day, along with kids who have just finished their studies for the year need a chance to let loose and enjoy the balmy summer ahead.

For many folks today it's back to business as usual. Hopefully the memory of their celebrations will sustain them for this somewhat shortened work week. I would also hope that those memories serve to remind them that our liberty, having been secured, is far from guaranteed. There is still much work to do.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

#48 - Always Awe-Inspiring

Yesterday we travelled a short way up the Columbia River Gorge to take a ride on a stern-wheeler. The boat, appropriately named "Columbia Gorge," is an authentic recreation of the river boats that once chugged up and down the mighty Columbia, and the two-hour ride offers some impressive scenery.

Amusingly, I tend to be just as entertained by the mechanical workings of a boat as I am by the truly beautiful surroundings along the river banks. Grandpa had a boat while I was growing up, and I spent many a day on the Seagull III. Grandpa had a fly bridge, which we were not allowed to call it. He preferred to pilot from the bridge rather than the main deck because it afforded him such a wonderful perspective. For my part, I was just as happy on either deck, so long as I could watch Grandpa at work. By far the most intriguing aspect of the boat, though, was the engine. I loved the fact that he actually had to lift floor panels in order to service it, and I never tired of the spectacle.

Thus, I can be just as happy watching a paddle wheel do its thing as I would be admiring the tall cliffs and lush forest surrounding the Columbia River. Equally fascinating to me are the dam and power plant close by the landing, and the old locks that once serviced the river but are now obsolete.

Another favorite activity of mine is sailing underneath a bridge. The Gorge has several, of course, at various points along the river. But the tour only sails underneath one, and it's very evocative of a bridge Grandpa used to sail under at San Pedro Harbor. The bridge is constructed of trussed steel, and the road is meshed, so that you can see the undersides of vehicles as they pass overhead. As we passed beneath this bridge on the tour, I was instantly transported back to my childhood and the Seagull III. For a moment, I could see Grandpa, tall and dapper beneath his captain's hat, piloting carefully beneath a similar bridge, and expounding harbor etiquette to a very riveted nine year old boy.

This, to me, is one of the essential purposes of a good vacation. Yes, we must rest and relax as far as that may be possible. Certainly it's good to cast off the stresses of job and daily living. But to be able to relive, with only a single sight or smell, the joys of childhood is a real treat.

It makes me hope that I can give the girls equally stimulating childhood experiences so that they, too, can recall them at special times.

Unlike the experience I just had of sending Jelly to the corner for deliberately poking her sister. Again. That, I'm hoping, she'll forget.