Wednesday, December 28, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 23, 2005

#101 - Iwannadoit, Daddy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oops! Sorry!

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

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

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

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

Whenever I wannadoit.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 19, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 17, 2005

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

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

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

Friday, December 16, 2005

#97 - Ruminations on a Christmas Carol

Hark how the bells, sweet silver bells,

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

all seem to say, throw cares away

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

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

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

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

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

"Woo, hoo! Day off!"

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

Christmas is here, bringing good cheer,

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

to young and old, meek and the bold,

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

Ding dong ding dong that is their song

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

with joyful ring all caroling

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

One seems to hear words of good cheer

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

from everywhere filling the air

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

Oh how they pound, raising the sound,

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

o'er hill and dale, telling their tale,

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

Gaily they ring while people sing

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

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

song of good cheer, Christmas is here,

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

Christmas is here! Be of good cheer!

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

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

On on they send, on without end,

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

their joyful tone to every home

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

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

And to all, a good night!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

#96 - Music and Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I suspect they still do.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

#95 - To Communicate... or Not

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

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

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

Mrs. Woody: "Well?"

Me: "Well, what?"

Mrs. Woody: "Who was it?"

Me: "Oh. That was Mom."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ward Public Affairs Specialist.

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

It's the only reasonable explanation.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

#94 - Ode Owed to a Rascal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I look forward to finding out.