Sunday, August 28, 2005

#70 - Hosanna!

The Newport Beach Temple - the one hundred twenty second operating temple in the world as of today - was dedicated in four sessions, presided over by President Gordon B. Hinckley. I got to stand no more than ten feet away from him.

Earlier this summer I received a letter from the Temple Committee stating that I had been selected to participate in one of the dedicatory choirs. It would have been a tremendous honor to participate in the dedication as an usher. To sing in one of the sessions was something I never in a million years expected to experience.

Because of the size of the temple (small) and the fact that the sessions are conducted in the Celestial Room (even smaller!), the choir also needed to be (small). There were, in fact, eighteen of us, plus two alternates who would be called upon to sing if one of us was unable for any reason. The conductor I know well. She conducts a local group called the Anaheim Mormon Chorale, one of relatively few standing LDS choirs in Southern California. We would be honored to perform for the fourth and final dedicatory session.

From the beginning of rehearsals, this was obviously a unique experience. It is never far from one's mind that temple dedications have been the scene of some of the most spiritual experiences one may have in this life. Indeed, angels were seen by many at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, and countless anecdotes of equal significance have accompanied every dedication since. And so, even with the friendly and cheerful banter that often accompanies these rehearsals, there was also the pall of tremendous responsibility that we felt from our first session together.

Musically, this performance was not overly taxing. The hardest part was, perhaps, having to memorize the pieces. Unless you count having to end the "Hosanna Anthem" on a note right on my break. Could have done without that.

Although I was thrilled to be able to perform in this dedication, it was even more important for me that I got to share the experience with my wonderful Mrs. Woody. We both were privileged to be in the temple, albeit in different rooms, for the service.

I wish I were somehow capable of describing the emotions I felt during the service. Although I was only in the presence of the prophet while we were singing (we sat in one of the sealing rooms in between), it was wonderful to feel his infectious testimony fill the meeting. Every speaker - brothers and sisters with fervent testimonies and dedication to the Lord - bore solemn witness to the blessing of having a temple in our midst. President Faust, who accompanied the prophet, bore his testimony of the atonement. He made particular emphasis of the idea that the atonement means we receive the blessings after all that we can do. (Emphasis, Pres. Faust)

President Hinckley is, of course, one of the greatest stump speakers I've ever heard. At one point he could not, for the life of him, remember what the name of the temple was. He finally had to turn and ask the Seventy. He then sheepishly reminded us that this is one of the signs of old age. He mentioned that Sis. Hinckley had something on their refrigerator once that said, "I'm the same age as President Reagan. I wonder if he ever goes into the Oval Office and forgets what he went there for?" He then proceeded to bear powerful testimony of the temple and its blessings. He made particular mention of the great work of family history and the opportunities we have to do that work for our ancestors.

Then came the great dedicatory prayer. It is said that the prophet takes special care to prepare the prayer in advance. It must convey not only the priesthood authority under which we dedicate this edifice, but also the hopes and desires of all who will enter the temple to perform this work. Immediately following the prayer is the Hosanna Shout which has been performed since ancient times. Then the choir sings the Hosanna Anthem, accompanied by the congregation singing "The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning." I can only say that after all the spirit felt immediately preceding the song, getting through it without losing control of my tear ducts was a real feat.

Mrs. Woody and I compared notes as we drove home. It was, for both of us, exactly what it needed to be; a chance to renew our commitment to the temple work, and an opportunity to share this experience together. Mrs. Woody could just as easily have attended the ceremony via the satellite broadcasts to our Stake Center, but she was allowed to come to the temple instead. With me. Another memory to seal in our hearts for eternity.

We will return. Often. And it will always be "our" temple.

#69 - Sleep? Who Needs It?

In the twenty five or so years it has taken me to become one, I've learned that the requirements for being a "responsible adult" appear to include some sort of sleep deprivation.

This is difficult for me because I have no small amount of laziness in my psyche. If, for example, you show me a lawn mower and a yard full of towering grass, weeds, and assorted flotsam and jetsam, then tell me to decide whether to do yard work or read a book, I have no compunction whatsoever in choosing to read a book. Or take a nap. Or read a book and simply look like I'm taking a nap. Meanwhile, the yard continues to grow, Blob-like, until it consumes Steve McQueen.

This laziness goes waaaaaay back to when I was a rather young Woody and gave my parents fits whenever they tried to get me out of bed. My brother took this to an artistic level reserved for Rembrandt, but the legacy is mine. I learned early on how to ignore alarm clocks. The reason for this, of course, was refusing to get to bed anytime before the sun came up in the morning. I just couldn't do it. Not without brute force, anyway. I don't believe my parents ever resorted to lashing me into my bed with ropes or chains, but I'll bet they considered it.

As a teenager it only got worse. My nighttime habits stayed just as slovenly as before, thanks in part to my addiction to late night movies. Or, rather, my Dad's addiction to those movies. He loved them. I wasn't all that impressed with them, but it became a sort of bonding thing with us. We never talked. In fact, NO ONE spoke when Dad was watching a movie. That was the Kiss of Death in our home. But we could enjoy companionable silence with Dad if we shut up and watched.

Somewhere around midnight, Dad would cock one eye in my direction and say, "You have seminary in the morning." For the uninitiated, "seminary" is an opportunity for young people in the LDS church to wake up before the crack of dawn, drive or be driven to the church building, and fall asleep in a class where we were supposed to be learning about the Gospel. At least, that's how I handled it. My wife actually stayed awake through those classes. Those wimps in Utah have it much easier. They get to go to "release-time" seminary, which makes it part of their school day.

Anyway, Dad never pressed the point. He knew that it wouldn't work. I would tough out the movie, then make great noise about going up to bed, then sit up and read for about another hour. When the alarm would begin going off at 5:30, I knew Dad wouldn't be far behind. "Getcher butt outta that bed!" he would snarl. "Mmnmnn," I would mumble in response, then hit the snooze button. The invention of the snooze button on alarm clocks is another reason why the United States lags behind the rest of the world in productivity.

Dad operated on a "three strikes" principle. We got two snarls' worth of time to get out of bed and ready for school. The implied third strike would have meant Dad coming physically in to our rooms, risking his life on our cluttered floors, and yanking us out of our beds. We were always intimidated enough by Dad not to risk the third strike. This did NOT mean we were going to take defeat graciously. You never saw a surlier bunch of teenagers who were not addicted to recreational pharmaceuticals. We'd glower, snarl, crank, and otherwise torment our parents for having the nerve to make us get up and face the world. Dad, who was born responsible (according to his mother) and had gotten cheerfully out of bed before the crack of dawn every day of his mortal existence, would merely smirk at us and threaten to tell us how easy we had it compared to his own youth. This generally shut us up. He never actually used the "walking uphill both ways in the snow" line on us, but we have vivid recollections of dirt roads being called "Idaho superhighways," and other such nonsense.

Learning how to drive did not improve my inherent laziness. Where seminary was concerned, it only made things worse. They could get my sorry fanny out of bed at 0-dark-hundred; they could even make me drive myself to seminary. But they could NOT make me actually attend seminary. I spent the entire last two years of seminary sleeping in my car. Come to think of it, I believe I spent my last two years of high school the same way. Not that I'm proud of this.

Things started to improve when I went on my mission. In the field, you're expected to get up early, do your studying and have your prayers, then hit the "pavement" as soon as local custom allowed. This was one of the keys of success. Ironically, "pavement" in my mission looked suspiciously like "Idaho superhighways" in my Dad's day.

I might very well have lapsed back into my pre-mission laziness forever when I returned, had it not been for money. I needed a job, and employers get into this snit about having their employees show up on time. My first post-mission job was working in the stock room of a local jewelry store chain. I was to be among the first there in the morning so I could vacuum the red carpet in front of the store before it officially opened. I worked in North Hollywood, which was about a 45 minute commute from Simi Valley, and required my getting up before 7:00 every morning. What a wrench! (You veteran commuters are snorting into your caffeinated beverages with bitterness. 7:00! What you wouldn't give to sleep in until 7:00! Just wait.)

My next job, working at a factory where they made metal office furniture, began at 7:00, effectively moving my wake-up call to 6:00. I had discovered personal hygiene by that time, but could still do the whole thing in 15 minutes, thus making it out the door by 6:15. However, because of my laziness genes I had also begun to realize that I needed at least a half hour of wake up time, which meant having the alarm begin to go off (remember the snooze button?) at 5:30. The fact that I was getting into bed around 1:00 AM didn't faze me. I was an adult, I was earning money, and I could do what I darn'd well pleased!

Then I got married.

Snooze buttons are no match for a crazed half-Mexican half-Italian wife who isn't getting enough sleep herself because her deadbeat husband refuses to hear the blankety-blank alarm in the morning. Our bed suddenly seemed to acquire an ejection button. Her foot would get planted in the small of my back and -- ZINGO! -- I would find myself catapulted out onto the cold floor, ready to begin my day.

I had, by this time, acquired a desire to get to bed at a more reasonable hour every night. I was finally beginning to feel the effects of the sleep deprivation that I had so carefully cultivated in my youth, and I actually began to see midnight as late, if you can imagine. Most unfortunately, my first wife, an inveterate talker, saw midnight as the perfect opportunity to discuss the pressing issues of our life together, and expected me to be awake for these sessions. (Note: this is NOT why my marriage to her dissolved. I'm not that shallow!) This wasn't too bad while we still lived less than an hour from my work. But when we moved to another town and I had to commute 70 miles one way every day, sleep began to take on a special significance. Now my alarm was going off at 4:00 in the morning, and my snooze buttons were decreasing. I was probably late far more often than would be strictly prudent, but that sense of "responsibility" was quickly overtaking me.

Jump ahead to a new life. New wife, new kids, old job. I'm back to commuting about 22 miles one way every day, and my alarm is back to 4:30. But my snoozes generally take me to about 5:00. I willingly choose to go into work early every day, because that allows me to come home that much earlier. My wife, bless her heart, has learned how to sleep through most of the snoozes. Because we have kids, we never get to go to bed when we want to, but we nearly always get to bed before midnight every night. I have at least that much going for me now.

These days I can rarely sleep beyond 7:00 in the morning on my off days. Either my bladder or my lower back just won't permit it. This morning I slept in until 9:00. Mom-in-law, who has been visiting with us this weekend, remarked that I slept longer than she was expecting. I replied that I was trying to make up for some of the sleep deprivation that I still have. Her comment back was, "I don't think you can ever make it up."

"I know that," I said. "I just don't think my body knows it."

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

#68 - Lost and Found. May I Help You?

"Hello? I'd like to report my summer missing."

"Ok, sir, just calm down. Let's start with your name..."




"Just Woody?"

"Um, yes. Just Woody."

"Ok, 'Woody,' what can we do for you?"

"Well, as I was explaining, my summer is missing."

"Your summer is missing."

"That's right! I know I started out with it, but after vacation was over I noticed that it was gone!"

"Ooooookay. Missing summer... I don't suppose you can describe it?"

"Oh. Well, I've never tried to describe it before... this may come out a little weird..."

"That's ok. Try me."

"Ok. Um, where to begin? Well, it looks nearly the same every year. Lots of sunshine and hot, hot days. Sweaty yardwork. Backaches and allergies, of course. Oh, and lots of visits to family! Can't forget those!"

"I see. And you say you last saw it during your vacation?"

"Yeah... the details are a little fuzzy. You know how it is... I'm certain I saw it right up through the July 4th celebrations. After that it must have slipped out and I haven't seen it since."

"So your vacation was during the 4th holiday?"

"Yeah. Right around it. We took a train up to Washington, stayed with some friends... you know, that sort of thing."

"And when you came home, your summer was missing?"


"Ah, Mr. Woody, please don't take this wrong, but... what have you been doing since your vacation? That was a good month and a half ago..."

"I see your point. Well, let me think... Ok, we got sick a lot. Mrs. Woody had pneumonia for a couple of weeks, then one of my Woodyettes..."

"'Woodyettes?' You have 'Woodyettes?'"

"Yes. My daughters. Anyway, one of them got the flu, then I ended up with it. Then there's the move..."

"You moved?"

"Well, we're moving. Furniture, I mean. Like, the entire house, y'know?"

"And there's a reason for this?"

"Well, sure. We need to give the girls separate rooms now, and we can't lose our school room, so I needed to move our scrapbook cupboard into our bedroom so we could move the TV cab..."

"Spare me the details, Mr. Woody. So, this is what you've been doing with your time?"

"Pretty much. Oh! And preparing for our Temple dedication! I get to sing in one of the choirs, so I've been rehearsing a bit..."

"Ok, ok. I get the picture. Look, I'm not sure I know quite how to break this to you, Mr. Woody..."

"Just give it to me straight, officer."

"Right. Well, Mr. Woody, what you have here is your classic runaway."


"Yes, sir. Here's what happens: Summers like to be the center of everything. They expect people to go to the beach, right? I mean, all that warm weather and all those beaches you got out here. It's just natural, you know? Then, of course, there's the barbeques..."


"Yeah! You know: firing up the ol' grill and charcoaling a few steaks or hot dogs. You done any of that this year?"

"Gee, no... I guess I haven't had time!"

"Well, there you go! And don't forget... summer can be pretty moody, too! Why, just last year, I forgot to waste one of my Saturdays at a golf tournament and actually did some yard work instead! Boy, summer didn't talk to me for nearly a week after that. You do play golf, don't you?"

"Um, no. Not really. No."

"Oh, dear. Well, look, Mr. Woody. I'll be blunt. If you don't pay attention to your summer, summer just isn't going to hang around. It's got enough to do without waiting for you to snap out of it and start paying attention. It simply went looking for someone else to play with."

"Man, that's brutal. I guess I didn't expect... Well, look, officer, I appreciate your time. I guess all I can do is try to salvage what summer I have left, huh?"

"That's right, Mr. Woody. Just try relaxing a bit and see if summer doesn't come sneaking back in. Heck, it's probably hiding right outside your front door right now. Hang up, go take a nice soothing shower, dress in some grubbies, and go have some fun. You'll feel much better."

"Yeah. Yeah, I can do that! Gosh, thanks, officer! You've been a big help!"

"No problem, sir. Always here to help. Thanks for calling."


"Hey, Jim?"


"I think it's time to retire the Lost and Found number. It's getting weird out there."


Sunday, August 21, 2005

#67 - The Hormigaville Posse

Down in Hormigaville, the townfolk were abuzz with excitement. The dreaded outlaw, Blackeye Woody, was in the area. A wanted poster said, "Dead, Alive, or Severely Bitten." Blackeye had killed, maimed, or otherwise wiped out entire populations, and the law needed help. A posse was requested, and thousands answered the call.

No ordinary six-legged posse this; these hombres were tough. Built for strength and able to heft fifty times their own weight, they had only one disadvantage: they were about six million times smaller than their prey.

Still, you can't ignore the pleas of fellow citizens, especially when there's a harvest to bring in, and work to do before winter. Also, the queen (Yep. A queen. A grumpy one, too.) was mighty insistent. "Take him out, or don't bother coming home tonight!" she signalled.

So it was that, antennae quivering, the Hormigaville Posse rode into immortality.

They followed the trail south to Dead Ant Pass. The pass was treacherous, but a trifling inconvenience compared to what awaited them on the other side. Some fell to their deaths or lost their way, but most of the twenty or so thousand that joined up managed to stay with the pack.

Once clear of the path, the trail grew stronger. Blackeye, slob that he was, always left a trail. Crumbs of food led the way. A strong scent of protein announced that he was close. And deadly.

It happened so suddenly that the vanguard never knew what hit them. A flood of water suddenly swept through the arroyo, cutting off the advance scouts from the main group, taking hundreds of their comrades with it. Momentarily confused, the troops tried to find a way around the flood. Finally they found the scouts, after going around the canyon that had already spelled doom for their friends.

The scouts, however, did not have happy news to report. The trail had gone cold, and the crumbs that had been so plentiful earlier had somehow mysteriously vanished. Also, there was an equally mysterious smell in the air. A storm was brewing. Perhaps shelter should be sought?

"No!" shouted the leaders. "We have our orders! Blackeye must be found!"

Then, suddenly, a chilling sound filled the air. A deep, evil chuckle. "He's right here, boys," said Blackeye Woody. "And he's got a piece." With an evil sneer, Blackeye raised his dreaded weapon.

The posse began to scurry. It was every ant for himself as they looked for a hiding place. There were so many of them that they couldn't get out of each other's ways. The sneering laughter of Blackeye Woody grew louder until, suddenly, the deathly scent of mint filled each ant's nostrils (assuming, for the moment, that ants have nostrils). One breath was all it took, and thousands of the Hormigaville Posse gasped their last within minutes.

Few survived. Those that did managed to find their way back to town. For weeks afterward the legend of the Hormigaville Posse grew. In fact the ants, notorious for their ability to forget every disaster that had ever befallen them, were soon eager to return to the hunt. Another poster appeared in the window of the Sheriff. The new Sheriff, one of the survivors of the original Posse, smiled as he saw the thousands of eager recruits that had been born since the disaster that had nearly done him in. He would soon send these brave souls off to meet their certain doom.

He, of course, would be behind them.

#66 - Clutch Testimony

The open house for the Newport Beach Temple is officially over. Yesterday was the last day. Until Friday night, I had quite forgotten that I was supposed to work the open house as a volunteer for a four hour shift yesterday. The Move from Hades® has pretty much driven most of normal life from my fevered brain these past several days, and I was actually a little disappointed that I couldn't keep up the momentum. Still, duty calls; a chance to work at a temple open house comes only once or so in a lifetime.

Since it was our stake's turn, each ward made its plans to meet and carpool down to the temple. Our ward always meets in the parking lot of our local Albertson's. Always. Every youth activity that requires carpooling (which most do) begins at Albertson's. Since this was a temple excursion, we were all dressed in Sunday best; women in pretty dresses, and men in white shirts and ties, a few of us with coats. Our bishop commented that he wondered what people think when they see a gathering like ours. I said they probably think what I would think if I saw the same thing: "Jay-Dubs will be knocking on doors again this morning."

Anyway, we formed our pools and reported at the temple site. The temple is built adjacent to the Newport Beach Stake Center, which had been transformed temporarily into a Visitors Center. That was my assigned post. I was a "counter," which meant counting each person that came in for the tour. This was a good thing because I needed to sit frequently and save my aching feet and back. Since we who worked the doors also served as crowd control ( we could only let in groups of 35 to 40 at a time) I also had a chance to visit with many people from different parts of the country who had come to visit the temple. Many, of course, were Latter-day Saint faithfuls who wanted their families to see the temple that Mommy and Daddy would be visiting (hopefully) regularly. Others were there out of curiosity. Some had LDS neighbors or friends and wanted to get a better idea of what the temple is all about. In the five or so minutes that she waited at the door, I had a wonderful conversation with one gracious lady who wanted to know more about who could go in the temple once it was "closed" to the public, and why I thought the Church was such a fast-growing church.

This was an interesting exercise for me. I make no secret of my membership in the Church, even at work. And while I do on occasion have conversations with co-workers about the gospel, this was the first time I could recall having to explain about the temple since I had served as a stake missionary many years ago. I was also unprepared to answer the question. I thought, anyway.

It is a wonderful thing that the Spirit can fill the gaps in our own thinking. The question about who was eligible to enter the temple was relatively easy. The question about the growth of the Church, however, is pretty open-ended. There must be as many reasons why people join the Church as there are converts. But I needed a concise answer, and I felt prompted to say that, from my experience, it's our emphasis on the eternal nature of the family that would be one of our biggest draws. I talked about how the Church leads us to center our families around the Savior, and how that helps protect us from the evils of life. That (very) brief testimony seemed to resonate with the lady, and she thanked me for spending the time with her. At that moment it was their turn to enter for the tour.

I may have no way of knowing how - or even if - that testimony will affect that lady's life. The temple tour itself should have helped drive home the very simple point I tried to make in my own feeble way, and I hope it did. Looking back on the experience, I hope I wasn't too preachy. I hope I said the right things. I hope she could feel the Spirit that inevitably radiates from such a holy place, even though it isn't yet dedicated.

My family missed the open house this year. Circumstances just didn't allow it, between our own health and other extended family issues that we've been dealing with. It's disappointing, but I had an idea that I shared with Mrs. Woody. The Sacramento Temple is under construction, and I'm guessing it will be open next year some time. It would be a neat family vacation to visit the state capitol and time it to coincide with that temple's open house. Since we homeschool, we can get away with that no matter what time of year that may be. We have some good friends in the area, and I know they'd put us up for a night or two. This bears some thought, but I'm already getting excited about the trip.

I really want the Woodyettes to appreciate the blessings that come from visiting one of the holiest places on the earth today.

Friday, August 19, 2005

#65 - "The Move from Hades©" - An Update

Forget Geocaching™. I've found the ultimate treasure hunting thrill right in my own home. No GPS transponder required. All you really need are a stiff back and extremely sore muscles.

Wednesday night found me rearranging the master bedroom. I hadn't intended to do it all at once. Really I hadn't. The night before I was looking through my collection of LPs. (For those of you born after 1980: LPs are to the recording industry what 8" floppy disks are the computer industry. They're like compact discs, but they're black, wobbly, and only hold about 45 minutes of music. We used to spend thousands of dollars on equipment to play them, and now I consider it a thrill to find a turntable in an electronics store. I think they call them "legacy audio equipment" now. People nowadays collect LPs for the cover art.)

My original intent was to search for any recordings I may have of Mozart's music as the girls will be studying major composers during this coming school year. We keep the LPs in a small credenza-like cabinet that has been serving as Mrs. Woody's nightstand since we moved into this house. They haven't been properly organized since the move, so I had to go through every one of them to find my classical recordings. Mrs. Woody saw me and helpfully suggested that, hey, since we're going to move that piece to another wall as part of "The Move from Hades©" anyway, I may was well move it while I had the entire collection out on the floor.

So I did.

You know how sharks begin circling whenever fish are in distress? This describes Mrs. Woody's behavior as soon as the nightstand was moved. "I'm excited to get the rest of the room done now!" she said. There was an odd sheen in her eyes as she said it. "This means it's really started, right?" she asked rhetorically.

Of course it's started. I knew only too well that once that first piece was moved, however insignificant, it would open the flood-gates and I would be committed. All the next day, when I should have had my mind on a team workshop that I was hosting, I was instead thinking, "So if I clear out all those bags of hand-me-downs for the girls and get the donatable stuff loaded in my car, I can move the armoire over to it's new place where the credenza used to be, and that would mean I could move the bookcases over..." And so it went.

No sooner did I get home than I began rearranging the bedroom. Once the armoire was moved, I figured I could just empty each bookcase (there are 5!) and move it into place, as soon as I got the bed out of the way. That meant tipping the bed up on its side so I could move all the other pieces before putting the bed back down. I first tipped the mattress, then the boxspring and - Lo! Could it be...? Maggie Raggie!

Several months ago, our Doodle Woodyette was bereft because we were certain that this particular doll had been lost forever. We assumed that on one of our frequent junkets to Ventura county, the doll had been dropped in either Grandma's house, or the cousins' house, either of which meant almost certain doom for a smallish rag doll. Searches of both houses had turned up nothing, and Doodle was nearly inconsolable for a few weeks after that. We even went on eBay a couple of months ago to find one because Doodle kept bringing up how much she missed her favorite doll. Nothing is ever as good as the original, however, and the new Maggie was smaller than the one Doodle used to have. It was okay, but it wasn't the really real Maggie.

The look on Doodle's face when she was presented with the real thing was priceless. She (Maggie) was a little the worse for dust, but otherwise in primo condition. She has not been long out of Doodle's sight since.

Anyway, happy reunions complete, I plowed ahead with the rest of the rearrangement. It took longer than I had originally estimated, but the result was a room that makes much more efficient use of space, and gives Mrs. Woody and me a sense of being in a whole new room. In fact, that first night sleeping in it reminded us both of sleeping in a hotel. Comfortable but unfamiliar.

Last night didn't feel quite as productive as I only moved one piece. It's a big piece, though, and it has a twin. Both pieces need to be in our bedroom, and represent the keystone of the remainder of "The Move from Hades©." Once those pieces are in place, we can begin moving the other rooms around, including giving the Woodyettes separate rooms for the first time. Also, it's not just a simple matter of moving a piece from point A to point B. Each piece has to be emptied first, dusted thoroughly, then moved, then items returned in an organized fashion. The carpet under each piece gets thoroughly vacuumed as well, as our furniture only gets moved once in a presidential administration. So the net move was one piece, but I'm still sore and stiff this morning.

Meet my new friend. I think he's a hip-hop star. Calls himself "Icy-Hot." I found him in the drug store under "Analgesics."

Saturday, August 13, 2005

#64 - The School Year Approacheth!

Well, a number of circumstances have conspired against us this summer, and I am nowhere near ready to give Mrs. Woody her schoolroom that we had hoped to have ready for this session. Ilnesses and family obligations have shnorked up all available time, so that we find ourselves facing yet another term gathered around the dining room table.

This is not a problem.

Headmistress and Teacher Mrs. Woody is deep into her preparations for the coming year. I have mentioned elsewhere that she has so much material available to her that our out-of-pocket expenses are once again minimal. A couple of new curriculum aids and a few more books. All set!

She has had the printer working overtime. In fact, we're becoming disgruntled with our generally reliable HP 960c (yeah, it's old, but it's been terrific!) because it isn't handling cardstock very well, and cardstock is one of Mrs. Woody's chief project materials. Also, our scanner has grown obsolete with an increase in school and family history scanning. So now we're eyeballing a new scanner and - if it doesn't repent soon - a new printer. I'd get one of those all-in-ones, but I really need high-speed scanning that also handles slides and transparencies. Suggestions welcomed.

Little Sis in Simi Valley is jazzed about the coming school year, but for different reasons. She knows my opinion of homeschooling, and who can or should homeschool. Little Sis is probably not one of them. Certainly not yet. She has three of the most energetic small boys I've ever witnessed, and I used to have three energetic small boys in my house in a past life. I had once upon a time harbored fantasies of teaching all three of them, but realistically I had no chance. The two smaller boys were both foster children, and the older of the two had severe behavioral problems. It required nearly all of my time and energy just keeping him from harming himself and the others.

In Little Sis's case, her three boys require so much attention that having just the oldest one begin Kindergarten this year is really something of a relief for her. Hence her exuberant "WHEEEEEE!" at the prospect. The one starting school this year is not the one requiring the most attention, by any means. That honor belongs to her middle child. He is a dear, sweet boy who also happens to be an explorer. His predominant thought must be, "What if...?" It's never malicious. It's just the result of a natural curiosity that needs to be harnessed and somehow turned over to the military for possible tactics against the enemy.

"Sir! We've found a terrorist cell in the next town! Intel says they've just whitewashed the entire town so it will blind us when we enter!"

"Hmm. Lieutenant! Send in the Joshinator!"

I believe I've said this just about everywhere but in one of my actual blogs. Certainly I've said this to both of my married sisters on one occasion or another. Homeschooling is not for everyone. Not everyone has the disposition to homeschool, or circumstances dictate another course. I do, however, feel strongly that whether a family homeschools or not, parents need to be actively involved in their kids' lives - school included. Neither of my sisters or their hubbies are the kind to simply abdicate their responsibilities to a school, no matter how good that school may be. I have no fear for their children's spiritual base, and that's really far more important than the actual quality of their education anyway.

(Note to my nieces and nephews: I am not absolving you from trying hard at school! Any attempt to construe my remarks that way will be met with swift and powerful vengeance! I will get a credential and become your teacher for the express purpose of embarrassing you for the rest of your school careers!)

We look forward to this school year. I hope you do, too.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

#63 - Fascinated by Ants

I am not fascinated by ants. Any interest in or sympathy with these tiny terrorists dissipated about eight months after we moved to Orange County and found that the Invasion is a regular summer occurrence. We catalog infestations the way Florida catalogs hurricanes. We're up to Infestation Quincy about now. It was a Category 5 infestation at first, but has since died down to a Tropical Depression. That is, I'm already depressed about having to deal with these pygmy pantry poachers.

It's my daughters who have become fascinated by the ants. It started with the Jelly Woodyette - the older one - noticing that she could easily move ants away from their chosen path by merely blowing on them. What power! Look how they scurry! This is, I have to remind myself, the same child that will refuse to eat at the table when those same ants are scouting for crumbs the girls have dropped. Of course there are crumbs. Of course there are ants looking for them. I tell Jelly these critters are the same ones she loves to torment in the kitchen, but she refuses to eat at the table.

The younger 'Ette has now picked up the script and also begun to poke around on the trail. I can tell the girls to leave the silly things alone until I'm blue, but they won't listen. Far more powerful than a father's exhortations is the scientific curiosity that has been awakened in them.

Meanwhile, the ants exhibit some pretty interesting behaviors themselves as a result of all this unwanted attention. I've studied them in spite of myself, and have made the following observations:

1. Ants aren't so very different from your average California commuter. The California vehicle code demands that motorists automatically slow to what we call the "Lookey-Loo" crawl the moment they see anything unusual on or immediately to the side of the road. One day (true story) I was driving a commuter van down the mountain from the high desert to "The Valley" at 5:30 in the morning. We came up on a very sudden, very slow patch of traffic in an unusual place. I suspected there must be an accident ahead, but of course I was wrong. What had every driver's attention on that freeway was a lone man walking well off the side of the road wearing a fishing hat.

Ants behave much the same way. When my daughters poke at an ant, or blow one out of line, a cluster of ants soon forms around the victim (or the spot where the victim used to be), acting exactly like California commuters who are wondering what exactly happened. Perhaps some of them have tiny cell phones out to call; not 9-1-1, but the local traffic reporter who will mistakenly announce that the incident occured in the southbound lanes instead of the northbound ones. After several minutes (equal to two or three hours in ant-time) the normal flow of traffic resumes.

2. Ants do not understand the implications of road kill. I have tried just about every means available to modern man to eradicate these pests. I have bait traps set all around the house, inside and out. I have tried numerous varieties of insecticides, having now settled on one that is supposed to be "food grade," but also makes your house smell like you've suddenly sprouted wild mint in your kitchen. I will, as a matter of course, mash ants on my sink while I'm doing dishes. Similar to the California commuter phenomenon, the ants will cluster around the dead ants as if they were ambulance chasers. "We can help!" they seem to say. "We can make sure your next of kin are well cared for with a hefty settlement against the 'deep pockets' humans!" Then they leave their little business cards and scurry away.

3. Ants are probably well versed in basic battle tactics. They know they have strength in numbers. They also have no compunction about sacrificing any number of troops in anticipation that the enemy will try something on one flank, and they can bring in reinforcements from another. Take my kitchen stove, for example. Heaven help me if I cook something with a high protein content, then leave the pan on the stove for an hour or two before cleaning up. Before I know it, some 20,000 of them suddenly appear and begin crawling all around the pan. In the meantime, someone wants me to warm up some hot dogs, and I put them in another pan to boil. The ants immediately surrounding the neighboring burner will simmer right along with the weiners, and leave hundreds of little empty ant-husks on the stove. Meanwhile, in the overhead vent, I swear I can hear thousands of tiny chuckles.

Anyway, Infestation Quincy has nearly burned itself out, but I'm already seeing scouts from Tropical Infestation Reina snooping around in the kids' bathroom. Time to make the bathroom smell minty fresh, I suppose.

Monday, August 08, 2005

#62 - Taking a Look at One's Self

Dads need hobbies. Mine are blogging, family history, trains, and the performing arts.

Among the piles of videos and DVDs in our family room are a few videos of yours truly performing in a variety of musical comedies dating back to about 1989. That is, by no means, when my acting "career" began, nor does it represent the earliest known video recording of my work. There is at least one missing video of a Broadway revue I did for Church in 1983 that I haven't seen in years. Also, back in high school I was taped as part of a school project while doing "The Mikado" in my senior year. This would have been done on 3/4" broadcast tape in the days before VHS or Beta ever existed. I harbor no expectations that the school ever kept that tape around. Certainly not for nearly 30 years after I graduated.

Every once in a great while I dust off the old videos and watch them, mostly out of morbid curiosity. I always wonder whether my performance on tape ever matches my recollection. In my memory, there are always bits and pieces that I felt at the time worked very well. Then I watch them on tape and realize that the audience needed to be speed-listeners because I was tossing the delivery off at a cool 100 words per minute. I still managed to get laughs (I am always a comic relief in these affairs) at the appropriate moments, so I must have been doing something right. Appearances to the contrary.

I guess it's true that we are always our own harshest critics. When I watch these performances of mine, I watch them with a very critical eye. I catch every single move and say to myself, "Find something else to do with those hands!" They seem to flail about as if demonically possessed. I don't ever remember telling my hands to do that, but there they are, on tape, doing precisely that. (You may wonder what "that" really is. It's nothing that isn't family safe, I assure you. Neither, however, can I really describe these movements in words. It's something you need to see to understand.)

My voice has always mystified me. From inside my own head, my voice isn't really that bad. On tape it sounds like a toned-down version of Gomer Pyle. Even my singing voice astonishes me, and not always in a good way. I did some solo work for a Messiah sing-along last winter, and on tape I have a timbre that sounds like, I don't know, like someone having gargled Clorox moments before the concert. (Kids: Don't try this at home!)

My wife always gets after me when I criticize myself this way. She'll probably do so when she reads this post. She always tells me how wonderful my voice really is, and I suppose it does work well for some things. I just have to realize that, as much as I enjoy singing, I really have to be careful what music I choose to perform. Technically, I'm a tenor. However, I am nowhere near as nimble in my upper register as I was 30 years ago. I am also not a baritone, however much I'd like to be one. I just don't have the kind of timbre to pull it off. I'm really a second tenor, and no one writes solo work for second tenors.


On the other hand, I have been richly blessed with these talents I possess. Really, so long as I don't watch too many tapes of myself, I'm not bad at what I do. Mrs. Woody always points out that, during curtain calls, I get the loudest applause. I always assume this is out of relief that they don't have to watch me anymore, but she feels differently. Also, there is no greater rush than playing a scene for a laugh, and getting it. Or having your director come up to you and say, "I'd suggest some blocking here, but I'd rather you just follow your comic instincts in this scene!" Huh? I have comic instincts? Who'da thunk?

Also, when I do sing solos in Church, everyone is very gracious in their compliments. I even had one man come up to me after one such solo and say, "No matter where you are when I die, I want you to come and sing that for my funeral."

(On a side note: Mom-in-law related the following story. One gracious lady had been told precisely that same thing about singing at someone's funeral when he died. However, by the time the fellow died no one remembered his ever having suggested it. So, on the day of the funeral, this gracious lady showed up, ready to sing in fulfillment of her presumed obligation. The Bishop felt awkward about it, but the family agreed to let her sing. Most unfortunately, the ensuing years had not been kind to the lady's voice, and her rendition was painfully embarrassing to those in attendance. I therefore will agree to sing for funerals only when the requestor is very recently acquainted with my vocal abilities. Just to be safe.)

Every once in a great while I get a hankering to do some stage work again. The problem is that I'm now in an area where no one has heard of me, theatrically, and it's hard to break into repertory companies without having contacts. Also, I have reached a level of physical conditioning that pretty much requires parts that require little or no movement on stage (which runs very contrary to my native style!) so I won't break into a sweat after every scene. I had precisely that problem during my last full production (Mozart's "The Magic Flute") nearly eight years ago. I have not improved much on my conditioning since that time.

Also, I'm incredibly busy most of the time. I'm a group lead at work, which often requires extra hours of work, often from home. I'm a Family History Consultant at Church, and that frequently requires time during the week. We're homeschooling the kids, so when I'm not at work I'm often taking the kids on field trips, or to the library for Story Time. So, something has to take a back seat, and acting is it. At least, for now.

Although, I gotta say, if Melchior from "Amahl and the Night Visitors" ever comes my way, I'm jumping on it. I just won't watch the tapes later.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

#61 - Art for the Sake of Education

The benefits of homeschooling have been well documented in numerous places, and I just can't think of a better way to prepare my children for the future. It's planning time for our Academy (yes, we have an Academy; at least the State of California thinks so!), and Mrs. Woody is deep into planning activities for the coming school year. Jelly enters the 3rd grade this year, and Doodle is now a 1st grader. So, their teacher is doing her plans, organizing her materials, and generally just going through her nearly 100 gigabytes of electronic references and mountains of paper and books that constitute the bulk of her life now.

I have little doubt that my Woodyettes are among the best-taught children in the world today (and I say that in a totally non-competitive way). And they're in for a neat treat this year; Mrs. Woody will be teaching them about art.

I freely admit it: I am an ignoramus del arte. It's true. For some reason, when I was in school, I never once attended a class where art was any more than an exercise in clay ash trays (even though my parents had both quit long before I ever made one) or construction paper chains. Probably the one year that they actually trotted out the complete history of art and the grand masters who created it was when I spent two lousy weeks at home with the measles. Otherwise, art was something that textbook editors inserted into history books to give me an idea what Queen Elizabeth I looked like (answer: Not someone I would want to meet in a dark alley).

This is not to say I don't appreciate art. Quite the contrary. My grandfather was a painter (among his many other talents) and I have several of his works here at home. Notice I do not say that I have his works hanging in my home. The Move From Hades precludes our having more than one or two paintings up on a given wall until the dust settles, which means sometime around the return of Halley's Comet. Still, Grandpa was a very talented artist, and his seascapes really resonate with me.

Also, I have deliberately visited art museums in various parts of the country. One memorable field trip as a boy took us to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. It was particularly memorable because at the time, they had a settee made of some funky material that would make glowing impressions of one's derierre for all to scoff and scorn. Boys, of course, thought this was the highlight of the entire trip. The girls were all off studying Renoir or Michaelangelo.

However broad my artistic taste, however, I still have to 'fess up that I know next to nothing about artistic styles, historical periods, or the artists themselves. I have a general idea, of course. If you show me a Botticelli, for example, I can readily identify it's period (Old) and it's style (Dark, Unless You Turn Up the Brightness Control on the Monitor). Picasso was the master of the Weird period and the Desperately in Need of Glasses style. Cubists were, I'm assuming, artists who escaped from Cuba just prior to the Bay of Pigs faux invasion.

Knowledgeable art lovers will, of course, see through my attempts at erudition. That's why I'm excited about this coming school year. Art will be one of their new topics, and Mrs. Woody has procured an Art Appreciation curriculum that has her fairly excited as well. I'm really looking forward to being able to discuss art intelligently (or, at least, less ignorantly) than I can today. Also, I do appreciate art in its various forms; the one exception being art paid for by taxpayers such as you and I. No matter where you go in this great country of ours, municipalities seem to be pathologically incapable of purchasing anything but ugly art. This is art that I wouldn't want to step on if I found it on my lawn. I would, in fact, get angry at the artist for not curbing him or herself and putting the art in little disposable baggies. That's the kind of art most cities seem to purchase for public display. Maybe this is so we'll appreciate the stuff we find in actual museums, and be willing to pay through the nose to see. Aha! A conspiracy!

Anyway, sometime during the year I'll update you an my newfound artistic knowledge. Try not to laugh at me. You might find some art on your lawn the next morning if you do.

Friday, August 05, 2005

#60 - A Trunkful of Memories

Mrs. Woody and I have begun the dreaded "move." You may recall that we're rearranging nearly the entire house so we can simultaneously give the girls separate rooms and still have an office/school room/scrapbook area. My feet and back will be in perpetual pain for at least the next three months. At least at the rate we're currently going.

Right now the target is our bedroom. This is the lynch pin of the entire reorg, because a rather significant piece of furniture from the living room needs to come in here before we can move anything else. Most unfortunately, our room has become the salvage yard of Hacienda Woody. If it has no home, it lives in our bedroom. I project this particular room will take at least a week to get through; more if we do the closet as well.

Last night, though, was fun. Mrs. Woody had a chance to go through her trunk. Like many girls, Mrs. Woody wanted a hope chest. Girls are always squirreling things away for the future, whether or not they ever get used, and the hope chest is their (oftentimes final) resting place. In Mrs. Woody's case, her hope chest is actually an old steamer trunk that sits at the end of our bed and acts as a valet for nearly everyone's clothes. I believe I can count the number of times I've actually seen the trunk on one hand. Anyway, I finally dug it out from under the piles last night and set it on the bed for Mrs. Woody to go through.

What a treasure trove! My fascination with all things historical means that a trunk like this really becomes a sort of time capsule -- a peek into the past with a chance to remember various parts of our youth. I say "our," because Mrs. Woody and I are the same age; we spent our high school years in the same ward in Church, although we attended different high schools. Thus, a lot of the memorabilia she has from her high school days looks awfully familiar to me. Things like American Bicentennial celebration trinkets, and toys that were vogue when we were young.

In another twist of destiny, we happened to serve at least parts of our missions in the same general geographical location. I served in Guatemala from 1978 to 1980, and she spent nine months in Honduras before medical issues forced a move to Houston. Most of the trinkets she bought in Honduras look eerily like some of the stuff I bought in Guate. Of course, she also bought stuff that I, as a male of the species, would never have dreamed of purchasing: things like Honduran baby clothes, or frilly stuff with which a female might cover an end table. You know... feminine stuff. She bought hand-carved wooden salad spoons and bowls. I bought a sling. Go figure.

Since one of Mrs. Woody's stated objectives was to eliminate stuff from the trunk so she could fit other stuff into it, the Woodyettes suddenly found themselves the benefactors of a windfall. Some items merely got tossed into a "donate" pile, but the kids were given such things as a Peanuts play set. They spent the rest of the night playing with Charlie Brown, Lucy and Linus, and discovering other interesting toys that Mommy used to play with. They also each have gotten something that they can put in their separate rooms, assuming Daddy lives long enough to finish this project.

Still, the Trunk Full of Memories (my name for it) was a fascinating activity. The "new" stuff that went into the trunk last night consisted of things that have become precious since Mrs. Woody and I first incorporated. Baby clothes that she intends to pass down to the Woodyettes, for example. I have written elsewhere about our clothing supply line between Mrs. Woody and her sister. These were items that Mrs. Woody just couldn't part with and pass back to her sis. It has always amazed husbands just how quickly as simple a thing as a knitted cap that one of the babies wore home from the hospital can make wives cry. I personally didn't start crying until I looked at the growing pile of "donate" items and realized that yours truly would have to bundle it all up, place it in the car, and carry it off to some charity or other.

Some day, perhaps, Mrs. Woody will have a "proper" hope chest. A nice cedar chest that won't look as if we're constantly in a condition to move, in case the Feds ever catch up with us. I don't think she minds, though. After all, it's not what the trunk looks like that matters; it's the memories.

Thank goodness for those!

Monday, August 01, 2005

#59 - Health Returns. Mostly.

Jelly Woodyette has returned to her natural, bouncy self. This is a good thing (I tell myself) because it means that Mrs. Woody no longer has to wake up at all hours to see if her fevers have spiked again, or to make sure she's still breathing okay.

She woke up (having slept the clock around!) a little past noon yesterday, and after a somewhat slow start was off like a rocket. Literally. I can show you scorch marks on the various walls off which she bounced throughout the remainder of the day.

Curiously, noise levels increased exponentially through the day yesterday. The Woodyettes, having been separated in play by Jelly's blasted virus, were making up for lost time. It was the sort of thing that made us both happy that Jelly is recovering nicely, but also made us a little wistful for the shapeless blob lying listlessly on the couch. But only a little.

This offset the fact that Daddy himself woke up not feeling terribly bright and fearing that it was his turn at the Misery Bar. Between that, a fortnight of illness and pestilence, and a house that looked like one of Florida's hurricanes had made a quick detour, I had had enough. I declared a down-day yesterday, and got to work.

[Before I get snarky comments from those who wish to point out that I was, technically, in violation of Sabbath Day observances, let me quickly state that I don't care. You invite the Spirit when your house looks like Jerusalem after the Babylonians got there.]

The presence of a nasty headache slowed me down somewhat, but I dived into the family room and began straightening. Mrs. Woody, who shares my attitude in the "we've had enough blech around here" department, got motivated herself and pitched in with laundry and the dining room. We had the girls help out here and there, and between us we got the house in much better shape by the end of the day. In between times, when Daddy really needed to sit for a few moments (or was looking for an excuse to do so, anyway), I began transferring videos of my past theatrical exploits onto DVD. The time has come for us to take advantage of the technology and get these tapes transferred onto a somewhat more stable medium. So, whilst raising the decibel level of the house to somewhere around "spinal decalcification," the Woodyettes would occasionally stop to watch the shows. "Daddy!" they said. "You're silly!"

Everyone's a critic.