Friday, December 15, 2006

#157 - What It's All About

It's been a busy season. I'm singing with a group again, which means having concerts to deal with during a very busy time of the year. It would be reasonable to assume that I am quite insane, but I can't help myself. Gotta sing.

In fact, I've been in one concert or another every weekend since mid-November, and I am tired. The group I sing with is a busy one: they do gigs all around Orange County. Generally for Church events of one type or another, but with a fair smattering of community gigs as well. For instance, we kicked off November with an interfaith concert as one of about a dozen church choirs that all performed separately and then together for a couple of big production numbers. Think in terms of a gospel-choir version of "We Are the World" and you'll get the right mental image.

Every year I do our community "Messiah Sing-Along" at the Nixon Library. They've been gracious enough to keep inviting me back as the tenor soloist, and who am I to argue with their obviously good taste?

But tonight was wonderful. Tonight we took about half of our regulars and did a full concert at the Canyon Hills Club Assisted Living Center. Evidently this group has been visiting this center every year for the last sixteen or seventeen Christmases, and it's one of the highlights of their holiday entertainment. We do this for free, inasmuch as we most definitely qualify as a "not for profit" organization, but the activity director tonight slipped our director a "little something" as a donation. They always appreciate having us come and perform for them.

I can see why. It's not that we are necessarily the best collection of voices around. We are all volunteer singists, and we certainly have our rough spots. What we have, though, is a sincere appreciation for the music that we're performing at any given moment. We all of us have testimonies of the importance of uplifting music in our Father's kingdom, and I'd like to think that we invite the Spirit to help deliver that message to our audiences.

Tonight was a little different, though. This was an appreciative audience, but so are many of our audiences. The difference here, I think, is what this music means to folks who live in these centers as they near the end of their mortal journeys. As I often do during a concert (probably somewhat more than would be considered "professional" at any rate) I did some people-watching in between numbers or whenever someone was doing a solo. All of these wonderful grandparents, parents, and loved ones sat in rapt attention and practically cheered after every number. I could easily imagine these same reactions from my own departed grandparents, and that image gave me warm feelings throughout the set.

We were only there for an hour tonight, but afterward we had a chance to mingle with the residents. ("It means so much to them," our director had said.) So I mingled. I didn't get very far. "Oh, that was wonderful!" one bright-faced grandma gushed. "I love to listen to you folks every year." "I loved your song, young man," chimed another. (I'd performed "What Child is This" as a solo this evening.) "I've always loved that song, and you did it beautifully!" Might've turned my head a bit if not for the fact that they were really commenting on the concert as a whole. "Young man," she called me. Heh.

I had a chance to chat briefly with one gal who'd been sitting in the back with her husband. She'd had the sweetest smile on her face throughout the entire concert, and I accused her of just that. The smile broadened as she replied, "I couldn't help it. You people always make me smile!" Another regular customer.

Of course, it's easy to fall into the trap of pitying folks who live in these facilities. You wonder if all of them receive regular visitors. You wonder how many aren't here tonight who've been here in past years. There was momentary panic at the front desk when one resident hadn't shown up for the concert who had strongly indicated that she'd be there. I never did find out if everything was okay, but I know I'll worry about her.

But looking at their shining faces tonight, I couldn't help but feel good about the event. These folks have lived good lives, by the looks of them. I saw the deep wrinkles of long experience, and the cares of all parents who love their children and worry about them. I watched those wrinkles disappear as they closed their eyes and listened to "Silent Night." I saw aches and discomfort give way to wistful memories of Christmas Past as we sang melodies they've known their entire lives, and the wonderment of hearing something perhaps they've never heard before.

Above all, it was the excitement I felt in that hall tonight that really got to me. This was the same excitement I've seen in my children as the Big Day approaches and they just can't wait to see what presents they've gotten. This was the same excitement my daughters showed when we finished decorating the tree and all they wanted to do was lay underneath it and look up at the bright lights and beautiful ornaments. That's the excitement I saw in the care-worn faces of these wonderful people tonight.

God bless them for making my own Christmas that much sweeter.

Friday, November 24, 2006

#156 - Tag Team Thanksgiving

The kitchen at Hacienda Woody is a nice-sized kitchen. Its primary charm is that it is nearly twice as large as was our kitchen in our old townhouse, which really isn't saying much. The townhouse kitchen was about the size of a large bathroom which meant if you turned around quickly you were likely to bump into something, like the fridge. So relatively speaking, our current kitchen is actually quite roomy.

I spend a lot of time in this kitchen. Since I have two young daughters who have entered that "I wanna help" stage of life, I frequently find myself sharing kitchen space with them. This can be both good and not quite so good. It's good from the perspective of having two little helpers in the kitchen. It can be not quite so good when they both wanna help, and they're dealing with poor ol' Dad who is, let's face it, NOT a multi-tasker of the higher order. My idea of multi-tasking is having TWO (count 'em: 2) things cooking simultaneously. When you add two Woodyettes both asking if they can do something, my hard-wired simplex brain explodes into bits of gray goo that probably wind up in the chowder. Yum.

Oddly enough, Thanksgiving was the exception this year. I believe this is because a) they were too excited about the Feast to be worrying Dad with constant requests to assist, and b) Mrs. Woody was sharing the kitchen with Daddy. When Mrs. Woody is on staff at La Cocina Woody, Woodyettes are given every chance they want to help. Mrs. Woody, that is. On stressful days like Thanksgiving where Woody was watching over THREE (Aaaargh! 3!) courses, the Woodyettes seemed to instinctively know that Daddy was best left to his own cooking stations.

Mrs. Woody and I cook together all the time. The truth is that we complement each other as chefs. It's not even really a matter of one being a sous (or, if Woody is sufficiently stressed, soused) chef to the other. It's more a matter of each being a specialist. Mrs. Woody, for example, is our menu planner and food preparer. That is, she decides what we'll be eating at any given meal, then helps by peeling, dicing, slicing, and is only available through this TV offer from RONCO! (Sorry. Got carried away.) In other words, she does the things Woody dislikes doing so that Woody is free to play with fire.

(Note: Isn't this the way it is in life? Women do all the work so men can play. Sometimes it's good to be me.)

For a huge feast like Thanksgiving, however, both of us must spend time in the kitchen if we desire to eat before National Shopping Day commences. This is where we discover that our kitchen is not quite as large as we'd really like. We have a stove/oven combination that sits uncomfortably close to a narrow corridor leading into the service porch. Unfortunately, we have key cooking paraphernalia stored in that corridor so that if one of us is manning the stove, that person needs to move any time the other one needs something like salt or vinegar or any kind of pan.

However, Mrs. Woody and I have developed a nearly instinctive ability to anticipate each other's needs, so it's never quite the logistical nightmare that one might envision.

Our feast yesterday was basic. Daddy was responsible for the turkey. Daddy - a devout Christian - bows to the demi-god of American male cuisine and uses Alton Brown's approach to roast turkey, except for the brining. Brining is waaay more work than Woody is willing to put into any bird as incredibly dull-witted as the turkey. Woody dealt with turkeys in Guatemala, and Woody is impressed with the idea that any creature can be this brainless and still walk on only two legs. So brining is out. Woody has, however, become a HUGE fan of aromatics rather than stuffing when cooking the bird. We love Alton's apple-cinnamon blend. It gives the bird a very nice flavor all the way through its tenth and eleventh lives as leftovers.

Daddy also did the candied yams and the mashed potatoes. Daddy always does the mashed potatoes. It's a kind of compulsion that Daddy has. This is probably because Grandpa always did the mashed potatoes, and Woody always wanted to do everything Grandpa did (including wearing glasses!). So I've become a pretty decent potato masher.

Mrs. Woody concentrated on the pumpkin pies, the cranberry sauce, the rolls, the gravy, and the stuffing. For the stuffing, Mrs. Woody bowed to the Rachael Ray Franchise, Inc.™© and did her "Stuffin' Muffins" recipe. We both thought this was extremely clever when we saw it on her "Thankgiving Dinner in 60 Minutes" show the other day, and Mrs. Woody pulled it off beautifully. They came out with just the right amount of crunchiness to please Mrs. Woody and yet were soft enough in the middle to satisfy Woody's traditionalist heart. The pumpkin pies were scrumptious, and the sauce (Woody let it overcook a bit on his watch. Woody is extremly penitent about it) had just the right amount of tartness and sweetness.

Mrs. Woody does the gravy because Woody still doesn't trust himself to do a decent roux. This is at least partly because Woody still cracks up every time he hears the word "roux," and envisions stirring small stuffed kangaroos into the gravy. ("Help me, Christopher Robin!")

The pies and stuffing were of course assisted by the Woodyettes. Or, probably more accurately, the Doodle Woodyette. Time has proven that when a Significantly Exciting Event is nigh, Jelly just can't seem to settle down to any one task. She has to bounce. She no longer uses a huge rubber ball to do her bouncing, either. She just bounces, generally on the balls of her feet, all over the house. So we can't really rely on Jelly for any real help in the kitchen. This is probably a good thing, given our kitchen's relative size.

All in all, we had a marvelous feast yesterday. There are, by my conservative reckoning, enough leftovers to feed two or three developing nations for at least a week, but which Woody will probably consume in two or three work lunches. Plus all the soups, stews, and kebobs that Mrs. Woody is planning for the rest of this week. Did I mention a vat or two of Turkey Noodle soup? Gotta have that.

So the Woody household was very well-fed yesterday, and therefore also extremely grateful. We had Mrs. Woody's mom visiting with us, which by itself is a mini-miracle. We really did spend time to enumerate many things for which our family can be thankful this year, none the least of which is the very real possibility that we have at least one ancestor that was present at that very first thanksgiving feast so many years ago.

I'll bet he would have loved our kitchen.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

#155 - Miraculous Woodyettes

The Woodyettes both achieved milestones this past Sunday. It was the day of our annual Primary Sacrament program. As I have documented before, these programs have become edge-of-the-seat tension builders for me and the Missus over the past few years. This is because our lovely daughters are both painfully shy. It's not their fault; both Woody's and Mrs. Woody's family lineages are replete with bashful genes. How those genes managed to reproduce is subject to some conjecture.

Anyway, the fact remains that for each of the past several programs the Woodyettes have passed through varying stages of petrification in the presence of any crowd greater than three. This is particularly ironic given the fact that their old man has been a long-time actor and singer (the order is unclear even now) for whom a good crowd holds no terror. Not even costuming that one might consider minimalist could deter me from a performance.

Imagine, then, Woody's joy and pride as he watched both Woodyettes march right up to the microphone and speak their parts. Jelly fumbled hers just a bit at the end, but she substituted words that made sense to the theme, thus demonstrating her excellent stage recovery technique. Doodle just belted away in that still-little-girl voice of hers, but spoke clearly enough that just about everyone in the congregation who knows her was duly impressed.

Just as impressive was witnessing both girls singing all of the songs this year. In the past, Doodle would attempt at least some of the songs, while Jelly would stand there looking grim and entirely uncomfortable. Well, this year Jelly still looked uncomfortable, but she was singing - even when her class was by itself. Doodle just stood and sang. It was wonderful to watch.

This is similar to our Photos With Santa. Every year you can track the girls' levels of relative terror at having to sit on the Big Guy's lap and pretend to be thrilled. Doodle in particular is a wonderful study. She goes from near-complete ignorance of the entire process (at 12 months old) to near-complete apoplexia a couple of years ago. Last year she actually smiled. Another milestone!

The point is that our Woodyettes seem to be turning those corners where they no longer need to remain safe and snug in their protective shells. In nearly all social situations they show themselves to be growing into poised, graceful young ladies.

Then they come home and bounce off the walls.

One miracle at a time, I guess.

Monday, November 13, 2006

#154 - Woody's Music Wish List

So I'm in the market for a few recordings. I either need to replace some old recordings that have gotten banged up over the years, or find some that I've never had and always wanted.

This morning I drove to work listening to an old cassette of Borodin's "Polovtsian Dances." I think it's an old Naxos recording of, I don't know, probably the Azerbaijan National Symphony or some such entity. The problem is that the conductor, believing he only had about 15 minutes of tape per side, set a hellatious tempo that either the chorus or the orchestra (or sometimes both, I'd bet) had a difficult time following. In any case, they spend most of their time being barely synchronized. Also, this particular conductor tends to have two dynamics: very soft or HIDEOUSLY LOUD. It's funniest when he tries to get the chorus to match the orchestra during the HIDEOUSLY LOUD sections, because they're already spritzing Chloraseptic by the gallon by this time.

Anyway, I'd love someone to recommend to me a well-crafted recording of this piece in the original Russian. That's the way I sang it several years ago, and I just love the way the language rolls off the tongue. I'm not sure what language this bunch are singing, but it ain't Russian.

Next: I need a good recording of Vaughan-Williams' "Five Mystical Songs." The recording I have (and still love) is an old vinyl of the King's College Choir at Cambridge from the 70's featuring David Willcocks conducting and baritone John Shirley-Quirk. Side A of this platter is V-W's "Mass in G minor." This was the first classical recording my parents ever gave me, and it cemented my love of Vaughn-William's inimitable style. I am dying to perform the "Mystical Songs," but I need a venue. *sigh*

I bought a CD from Amazon a few years ago that featured some chancel choir in St. Louis, I think. It was a sincere recording, but the baritone's tremolo was turned all the way up, and it was difficult to hear what key he was singing in. Sometimes it matched the orchestra, other times it seemed to miss. For sheer entertainment value, this CD is nearly on par with Mrs. Miller.

Anyway, (back to my point) the old vinyl has long since gotten scratched nearly to the point of destruction and I'd love to replace it. I've burned it to a CD for now, but cheap noise reduction algorithms are no substitute for the real deal. So far, the John Shirley-Quirk version is still the best I've ever heard. I wouldn't mind being proved wrong.

Finally: ccwbass reminded me that - lo, many years ago - I had a platter of the 1954 NBC telecast of "Amahl and the Night Visitors." It was an RCA recording, as I recall, and I played that thing over and over and over as I prepared to play Amahl when I was twelve years old. This is where we learned that Woody has fabulous tonal retention. We performed this with the local high school and Mom was our orchestra. We performed it for the local elementary schools one morning as a special assembly, and the performance went off largely without a hitch. Until, that is, the fire alarm went off in the middle of one of my recits. (This was the early 70's, and it was still considered a dangerous prank to pull the fire alarm, causing evacuations and response from the local firefighters. Kids thought this was hilarious and administrators were constantly embarrassed at having to cancel the fire station's response. Nowadays if the worst thing to happen on your campus is a pulled fire alarm, you're having a terrific day.)

We all froze on stage while our director came up and explained to the kids that this was, in fact, good theatre technique. What it really was, in truth, was a bunch of kids who had no idea what to do until the alarm was turned off and the "all clear" was given. But since I had been in the middle of a recit when we stopped, everyone wondered how to get back into the performance. Fortunately Mom began playing right where we'd left off, and this puny boy soprano managed to start right in on pitch. I can be useful that way.

So there's my current short-list. Borodin, Vaughan-Williams, and Menotti.

At some point I'll need to find a good recording of Resphigi's "Laud to the Nativity." I have a recording made by the Cambridge Singers of Pasadena some years ago (I believe that was just before my time with the group), and it's a comfortable recording. Except, unfortunately, for the middle chant portion where the men manage to drop a full half-step about three measures into the a cappella. Otherwise, I've already been playing this one for about two weeks now. I'm in no hurry to replace it. Not yet, anyway.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

#153 - Magic Story - First in a Series

(Author's Note: Magic Stories had their beginning in the Woody household when Jelly was a toddler. Daddy would tuck her into bed and offer to tell her a "magic story." Magic Stories were stories that seemingly appeared out of thin air. Of course, when Jelly was a toddler, Daddy could whip out any old story at the drop of a hat and have it be the first time she'd ever heard it. Later she would begin requesting her favorite ones. "Daddy, tell me the one about the princess in the woods!" When Doodle came along, the tradition continued.

Occasionally Daddy makes up a story that impresses even Daddy. Daddy made up one such story just the other night at Grandma's house. I'd like to commit some of these to paper (so to speak) so I can remind myself to do something with them. Hopefully soon I'll recreate the Magic Story called "The Messiest Room in the World." Jelly loves that story.

The Elephant and the Spider

In a faraway jungle lived a very grand elephant. At least, that's what the elephant thought of himself. It was true that, as a younger bull in the herd, he was a grand animal indeed. He also, as a younger bull, had much still to learn about the world around him.

One thing the young elephant could not stand was spiders. He thought of them as disgusting, even dangerous creatures. "One bite," he had once been told, "could make you very, very sick." He thus spent tremendous amounts of energy avoiding them. It rather surprised him that the other elephants in his herd seemed so tolerant. They completely ignored the fact that several spiders seemed to gather near the elephants' sleeping places. He shuddered to think that they allowed the spiders to get so close!

Not this elephant, he thought to himself. He studiously swept the trees near his sleeping place every day with fronds that fell from the trees nearby. He prided himself on being not only a grand elephant, but a tidy one, too.

So imagine his dismay to discover one morning that a spider had taken up residence in one of his trees. She had spun her web just high enough to escape his gaze, and now sat just out of reach of his tree frond broom. The thought of this spider tormented the young bull for several days, and he began to lose sleep. Finally he could stand it no longer, and decided to confront his problem head on.

"Excuse me, Lady Spider," said the elephant, for even with enemies the elephants are exceedingly polite. "I don't wish to appear rude, but I find your living in my tree to be intolerable."

"But why is that, Friend Elephant?" asked the spider, who was herself quite polite.

"You know what they say," began the elephant delicately. "One bite could make you very, very sick."

"Indeed I could," responded the amused spider. "However, I have never so much as hinted that I would be interested in biting such a large animal as yourself. Do you really think I lie in wait for you?"

"Perhaps not," admitted the young bull. "At the same time, I feel it only prudent to ask you to remove yourself from my sleeping area. Why not join the spiders over by the other elephants? There seem to be plenty of them."

"Too true, there are," rejoined the spider. "Can you not see that this is why I chose this spot? It is wonderfully uncrowded."

The elephant was not to be deterred. "My dear lady," he began. "I really must insist. I must ask you to vacate my tree at once!"

The spider smiled widely, although she was too small for the elephant to see clearly. "I will leave, my large friend, but you will soon regret this decision."

True to her word, by the following morning the spider had vanished.

The elephant was tremendously happy because of his good fortune, and he began to brag about it to the other, older elephants in the herd. He couldn't understand why they seemed not to share his joy in having banished his feared enemy from his home.

The very next day, the elephant began to be bothered. It is very true that very small things can bother very large animals, and elephants are no exception. Late in the morning, when the sun began to move high in the sky, a buzzing noise reached the young elephant's ears. Before he could quite register the source of the noise, he felt a sharp stinging sensation high on his back. "Ouch!" he said to no one in particular. "That hurt!" This was followed shortly by another, and yet another sting on his back.

The young elephant swished his mighty trunk over his back to make this new problem go away. He had no time for courtesies; he had a problem, and that problem needed to be addressed right now!

He soon decided that the source of both the stings on his back and the buzzing noise in his ears must be the obnoxious black flies that his mother had spoken of when he was a baby. Her remedy at the time had been to have him roll in the mud. This he did, and the flies did not bother him for a time. But he also noticed that once the mud dried and began to flake off, the flies returned. He also noticed that none of the other elephants in his herd seemed to be having much trouble with them.

On the second day of his trial by flies, an older elephant of the herd trundled over to watch him. With an amused expression, he glanced about the young elephant's sleeping place. "Hmmm," he said almost to himself, "nice, clean place you have here."

"Unh! Thanks, old-timer... ouch! I can't seem to... ooch! get rid of these silly flies!" the younger elephant said in an exasperated tone.

The older elephant merely chuckled and indicated his own sleeping place. "Look over there, young bull, and tell me what you see."

The young elephant squinted through watery eyes and said, "Ugh. Spiders. You seem to have several. Can't you get rid of them?"

The older elephant was smiling broadly now. "Why on earth would I want to?" he asked. "Can you see what's caught in their webs from here?"

In spite of his troubles, the young elephant squinted harder at the older elephant's sleeping place. Yes, there did seem to be something in those webs, but... "I see many small black specks, it seems. What are they?"

"Those, my young spiderless friend, are flies. The same flies that would love to chew on my back are the spiders' favorite meals. Rather than feast on me, the spiders feast instead on the flies, and I only have to flick away the occasional fly who hasn't yet been caught. Indeed, the more spiders one has in his sleeping place, the fewer flies one has to endure." And with that, the old bull lumbered off back to his sleeping place, free from small black flying pests.

The younger elephant thought hard about what the old elephant had said. Fearing he might be too late, he wondered how on earth he could find the spider he had driven away, and apologize to her.

However, the very next day the young elephant was awakened by a familiar sounding voice. "So, Friend Elephant," said the voice. "Am I still unwelcome in your home?"

"Oh, no, Friend Spider!" cried the young bull. "I am so glad you have returned. Would you be so kind as to make your home here? Would you make it, perhaps, even larger than the web you had before?"

The spider only smiled and began to spin. She built a beautiful web in a very short time, so that by afternoon she was already catching nice, fat flies to eat for her supper. The elephant immediately began to notice that there were fewer stings on his back. By the next morning, the flies had all but disappeared from his sleeping place. When he looked up into the tree, the young elephant was overjoyed to see many dark specks on the spider's web, and a very content looking spider sitting in the middle.

"I am so sorry that I misjudged you, Dear Spider," said the elephant that afternoon. "Can you ever forgive me for being so foolish?"

"Of course I forgive you!" she declared.

The spider and the elephant were fast friends thereafter. In the next season when the spider had babies, several of them took up residence in the young elephant's trees nearby. For the rest of that year until the monsoons came, the young elephant's sleeping place was the envy of the herd. No one begrudged him his good fortune, however. They all knew how hard the young bull had worked to learn his lesson. And the young elephant never again spoke ill of spiders. Not even the ones that bite.

#152 - Woody Apparently Butchers German

Most of our family lives in Ventura County. Ventura County sits on the opposite side of Los Angeles County from us and, depending on traffic, may take anywhere from a little over an hour to nearly two and a half hours' drive time. Most of the time we average about an hour and a half.

We made this trip this weekend so we could make sure that the Woodyettes' sick grandmother was home resting comfortably and able to take care of herself without too much assistance.

Generally speaking, the Woodyettes handle this commute fairly well. They are both seasoned travellers. They just recently completed a 3,000 mile circuit of the western United States, plus a trip back to Utah for a family wedding.

Mrs. Woody sensed a bit of restlessness on this particular trip north. To avoid meltdowns in the backseat, she began a game of "Name That Tune." She began by humming the first few notes of some favorite lullabies or Primary songs. Within a few minutes the Woodyettes had jumped in with gusto. Pretty soon, they were humming their own tunes and having Mommy and Daddy do the guessing. (Daddy would like it noted, for the record, that he guessed Jelly's attempts fairly accurately. Daddy hears some of these songs a lot.)

Jelly Woodyette has a LeapPad® learning system. One of her favorite modules is one that teaches some basic music appreciation. It has a snippet of Mozart's well-known "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik," and Jelly has been known to hum that famous opening to herself around the house. She tried it on us in the car. Daddy, of course, recognized it right away. "I know that one! That was 'Eine Kleine Nachtmusik!'"

I was expecting one of Jelly's patented groans, coupled with "Aaawwww! Daddy guessed!" and a slightly pouty lip. What I got instead was a puzzled silence from the backseat.

Then with stunned incredulity in her voice, "Daddy? Did you just say 'I Decline A Nut Music?'"

I haven't laughed that hard in a long while.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

#151 - Birthday Gifts

Another birthday has come and (just yesterday) gone. This is not one of those birthdays that one would consider a milestone, and I don't. 48 is just 48. It's middle age. It's not one year before 50. And I'm not one of those who gets morbid about my personal aging. Why worry? The fact that I'm developing many of the same creaks and groans that my parents have or had just confirms that I am indeed their son.

Howsoever be it, I'm now one day overdue for my annual birthday essay. Here it is:

Perspective is everything. It defines our realities and forms our opinions. It drives our belief systems and establishes how we understand the world around us. Watching how my perspective has changed over the years has been a fascinating journey of discovery.

I loved birthdays as a kid. What kid doesn't? It's a chance to indulge - and be indulged - in a little unadulterated personal greed. What gifties am I going to receive this year? Am I going to get that latest toy that's being mercilessly pounded into my psyche during my cartoon shows every day? Or will it be (horrors!) underwear?

As the big day approached, the sense of anticipation was very nearly overwhelming. I'd get so excited that sleep - always a challenge for me as a youngster - was just about impossible. Plus, my days were filled with pestering Mom for clues as to what I was getting. Actually, "pestering" might be putting it mildly. "Parental abuse" might be more appropo in today's litigious society.

One year (this is a true story) I just couldn't wait. I knew that Mom's favorite hiding place for presents was the closet in her bedroom. This was generally safe because we only entered that room on pain of death. Not from Mom, of course... Dad valued his privacy, and we only entered the master bedroom with fear and trepidation. However, need to know what (or IF) I was getting overrode my usual caution that year. While Mom was out shopping one afternoon, I took advantage and slipped into her room. Up on a shelf I found what must be my pending gift: a brand-new cassette tape recorder. (Toldja I was getting old. This passed for "high tech" in 1970.)

I was of course thrilled. I loved tape recorders, and often "borrowed" Mom's old Craig reel-to-reel that she transcribed patriarchal blessings from to record my own versions of radio programs or comedy records that I listened to from time to time. (If anyone out there found a strange reference to something out of Cosby's "Noah" routine in their blessing, I sincerely apologize. I'm fairly certain the Spirit wouldn't be quoting Cosby in a patriarchal blessing.) I couldn't help myself. I had to take it out of the box and examine it. When I was done, I placed everything carefully back in the box (including the bubble wrap), resealed it, and placed it back on the shelf. Mission accomplished!

On the day of my birthday, I acted appropriately surprised to see this wonderful machine as it was presented to me. How wonderful, I exclaimed! A tape recorder! Can't wait! To demonstrate my mastery of new technologies, I got everything out of the box, put in the batteries and turned it on. Imagine my dismay to have everyone hear, in my reedy soprano voice, "Happy birthday to me... Happy birthday to me...!"

Oops. Appropriate surprise was instantly replaced with appropriate contrition.

One birthday tradition began as a child that has stayed with me ever since: I rarely ever have birthday cakes, and never from my family. No, this is October, and October means pumpkin pies. For the sake of my mother, I will refrain from repeating our legendary pumpkin pie story in this essay. However, no birthday celebration - however informal - is official until I have consumed at least one full pumpkin pie. Or the equivalent thereof, by weight.

As a teenager the nature of birthdays changed. For one thing, I never knew what to ask for as a teenager. I was (theoretically) too old for toys, and things like books or music were always hit or miss with me. Mom finally had to throw up her hands and admit that even she didn't know what I'd like, and I believe that's about when I started getting money instead of wrapped presents.

As an adult, I found my tastes for birthdays changing again. I no longer anticipated them with any real fondness. I was another year older, but not, it seemed, any more mature. I began to long for acceptance as an authority figure similar to Dad. Dad was the go-to guy for hard-to-solve adult situations. What, exactly is a mortgage? Is $350 a month too much for an apartment? People went to authorities like Dad for those questions, myself included. People didn't come to me with those questions.

(People still don't. People apparently know better.)

By that time, birthdays were best spent quietly with family, enjoying the more clever cards that came my way. This is where we discovered that Mom actually has a pretty wicked sense of humor underneath that saintly exterior. Mom's cards frequently had me rolling on the floor.

Only one birthday between 21 and 35 stands out in memory. My 30th. For this birthday, my then-wife and the kids conspired to give me a full black-arm-band affair, complete with black balloons and black crepe. They invited some of our friends over for a surprise party. The fact that the screen door fell off its hinges when I walked in should have tipped me off. My daughter, bless her black little heart, gave her aged and decrepit father a tube of Poli-fix creme and a can of Turtle Wax (for my forehead). I remember certainly feeling older that night.

I have since divorced, remarried, and have two younger kids now; the older ones having grown up and moved away. Far away. Probably as far as they could arrange and not leave the country legally. (I tease; my kids love me, although I was shocked - shocked - to get a happy birthday call yesterday from my son. I was pretty sure he'd learned his phone habits from his Dad, which means actively ignoring the instrument unless a limb is coming off your body. Still, we had a nice chat, and my daughter phoned in her best wishes as well.)

With younger kids, my birthdays are once again filled with wonder and surprise. For instance, I wonder what the kids will do to for me this year? Oh, look! (Surprise!) A handmade birthday card! Fortunately, their writing skills have increased exponentially the last couple of years, and I can actually understand the cards without having to interpret sanskrit. This saves Daddy having to hem and haw and guess what the card actually represents. The girls label everything now, and this helps their communication-challenged father tremendously.

This year Daddy also got a gift, and one that Daddy will likely enjoy tremendously. I got a copy of Railroad Simulator® that will probably make Mrs. Woody a computer widow once again. At least for a few weeks.

But the fun part is, that's all I really want for my birthday. Whatever my family gives me, even if it's just hugs and kisses, is what I want for my birthday. The fact that they want to make a big deal out of it is all the big deal I need for my birthday. What, you may ask, did I do for my birthday last night? I bought KFC for dinner (like I'm going to cook on my birthday!), then took my family with me to rehearsal last night. They just wanted to be with Daddy.

Birthdays like that I will take year after year after year.

Pass the pie.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

#150 - Library as a Barometer

Tonight was Library Night for Wonderwood Academy. We do this for a couple of reasons. It's a service that we utilize heavily as homeschoolers. It's an invaluable resource when you have limited budget for materials. Tonight, for instance, I found a couple of videos that support Mrs. Woody's current lesson plan. One dollar for the DVD, and the tapes were free. Can't beat that.

The other reason we love the library is that it gives us a quick barometer of how the girls are growing. They have their homeschool group that they see roughly once a week, and of course they have church. Social situations are not a problem - they have many in the course of life. But the girls are both painfully shy. This, unfortunately, they have inherited from both parents. You've read my posts in the past about such things as getting them to participate in their annual Primary Program at church (painful), or even getting them to read a scripture in Primary (inaudible).

But things have changed this year. Both girls, while still shy, have grown more confident in public situations. Doodle, our baby, still doesn't like the idea of doing anything in front of people, but she's likelier to at least try it. Jelly, on the other hand, simply feels so self-conscious in front of people that she'll freeze up, even though she agrees to try. However, a few weeks ago Daddy was asked to help the dads in the ward sing with their young women-aged daughters in Sacrament meeting for a special number. (These brethren really needed Daddy's help!) The lady who put it together mentioned that Jelly could sing with us if she wanted; a proposal I was nearly certain would be met with instant rejection by said Jelly. To my surprise she not only agreed, but stood with the young women (not with Daddy) and sang her part. A monumental thing for our little family, and one we made a huge fuss over later.

This year the girls both have speaking parts in the Primary Program, and Mrs. Woody has been having them recite them every morning as part of their school opening exercises. Doodle at first was fairly insistent that she wanted nothing to do with this nonsense, but has since relented and is now agreeing to at least give it a try. Jelly seems to be gaining more confidence with every project she undertakes, and I'm hopeful that she'll enjoy this.

So where does the library fit in all of this? Simply that the girls both enjoy the Family Storytime that they have there every Tuesday night.

We started this tradition not long after we moved here. The girls at first were even too shy sometimes to sit on their little square of rug and listen to one of the librarians tell stories and sing songs. Everything is participative, of course, and while the other kids were jumping up and down and doing all the hand motions, my two girls would sit there, hoping desperately not to be noticed.

Over time this, too, has changed. Both girls are much more actively involved in the stories, although Jelly still doesn't do the hand motions; I think these are probably beneath her nine-year old dignity now. But Doodle dutifully does the motions, and both girls will sit right up front, even in a crowd.

So the barometer is rising for both girls. Given their natal ham-bones, I have little doubt that either or both of them could very well wind up on stage like their amateur actor Dad. They certainly keep us in stitches here at home. In fact, many's the time I wish I could close a curtain on some of their wilder performances, just so we could get a little peace and quiet.

I wouldn't change a thing, though. On one of Jelly's very first visits to her pediatrician as a baby, the doctor told (first-time) Mommy that her brand new baby girl was "thriving." Mommy cherished that word perhaps more than any other the doctor could have used. He could have said that the baby was "well," or "happy," or "doing fine." Instead, he used the word "thriving," and Mrs. Woody has forever wanted that to be the best descriptor of how her girls are doing.

They are thriving. Under Mrs. Woody's constant care and tutelage, the girls have become miniature copies of their Mommy. They're both bright, loving, happy little girls who undoubtedly surpass their parents' collective intelligence even as they struggle to learn everything their educator Mommy is teaching them. "Thriving" is really the only word that fits these girls.

So as I watched them tonight, and helped them find good books to hold their active imaginations over the next few weeks, I realized that the library is a good bellwether for our little family. As long as the library is something to be enjoyed, the girls will continue to grow.

Daddy thinks it's a pretty good litmus test.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

#149 - Homework Is as Homework Does

My girls are living proof of how homeschooling can work. For instance, we went on a field trip this last Wednesday to the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana. It happens to be the only active Egyptian exhibit with mummies in the greater Los Angeles area right now, and we really wanted the girls to see it. So, Mrs. Woody organized the field trip on behalf of our homeschool group (this gives us a pretty decent price break), and we went along with about four or five other families.

Mommy had already started studying Egypt with the girls a week or two before, and had even used the teacher's guide published online by the museum. Thus, the Woodyettes were primed for Egyptology, and showed their knowledge on several occasions when the docent would ask questions about certain artifacts. "Mommy! Just like in the story!" The docent was clearly impressed, because it wasn't just the Woodyettes that were answering the questions.

Later, in the gift shop (of course there was a gift shop; in fact, there were two: the regular one, and a special one located adjacent to the Egyptian exhibit) the cashier asked the girls if this was a day off or if they were homeschooled. "We're homeschooled," piped up the Jelly Woodyette. "We go to Wonderwood Academy!"

That same Jelly Woodyette just came up with yet another reason why - for us, anyway - homeschool is the way to go.

The girls attend "Hogwarts Home Study" as part of their school activities. This is their third year, and they just got their acceptance letters via owl post today. Included in the letter was an order form for various materials that they are required to have for their classes this year. Jelly had just finished filling hers out and put it in her owl post tube, awaiting Hedwig to deliver it tonight.

"Mommy," she said. "I think filling out that form was like homework."

"Why is that?" Mommy asked.

"Because homework helps us learn!" she answered.

I caught that statement and recognized its significance. When I was that age, homework was already a form of captivity and torture similar to the Spanish Inquisition, only more painful. I despised homework because it seriously cramped my style. I needed every single non-school waking moment to capitalize on my play time with my friends, and homework really got in the way of my laziness. Homework was the greatest single factor in my pursuit of perfecting the art of procrastination than any other facet of my life.

Yet here is my nine year old daughter, sagely advising her teacher/mother that homework helps us learn. It is not, apparently, the torturous device that her Daddy always thought it was. Even as she said it, she was bouncing on the balls of her feet as she always does whenever she's engaged in some ultra-fun activity.

This same child, I must tell you, would likely be diagnosed by some zealous school counselor as ADD in a public school setting. She simply cannot sit still long enough for conventional teachers to be able to cope. Yet it is only her extremely vivid imagination that creates this impression, and has nothing to do with her ability to learn. Once Mommy gets her focus, the child is sharp as a tack.

And she loves to learn.

Life is good.

(Yeah, I know I promised a travelogue... so sue me. This just happened and Mrs. Woody looked at me and said, quote, "You need to blog this, Bud." So I did. Travelogue still to come.)

#148 - Woody's Guide to Vegetarianism

(HINT: Chicken is not meat!)

A few months ago, I wrote a piece describing my new religion. I mentioned that, as a result of my recent heart, um, irregularities, I had probably become a vegetarian whether I wanted to or not. But the truth of the matter is that while I have been eating a lot more rabbit food in the weeks since my test results were discussed, I have hardly become the rabid sort of near-Vegan that I feared at the time.

So, how does Woody define "vegetarianism?"

Salad intake is definitely increasing. However, making sure I have enough protein in the diet becomes a problem. Yes, I know that it's possible to put together "complete proteins" by using legumes of various types, coupled with other things. This is fine as far as it goes, but I've been a life-long carnivore, and beans aren't one of the foods ancient hunters sharpened their spears to pursue and kill.

"Honey, I'm going out to hunt beans. If I don't make it, make sure you marry a vegetarian."

No, I grew up at a table where any meal that didn't include, at a minimum, hamburger and potatoes was sneered at by the head of the household. And the meat had to be well done. Anything but charcoal was met with, "Willie! (This was my Dad's favorite nickname for Mom) This cow is still mooing!"

So I ate a lot of beef in my day. Hamburger. Pot roast. Barbecued beef. Chili con mucho carne. You name it. From my perspective, it's really quite unfair that beef (or "red meat") is so rich in cholesterol, because that appears to be my particular downfall.

Not that I can blame red meat alone for my current condition. Oh, no. I have a long-standing addiction to caffeinated sodas and prefabricated snack foods that have all left their cholesterol droppings in my system since I was a teenager. Some habits, as you well know, are harder to break than others.

I have made a few heroic adjustments over the years, particularly since I married Mrs. Woody. (I might note, for the record, that if I currently possess a 135 IQ, 35 of those points were acquired merely by marrying Mrs. Woody.) For one thing, I really don't eat much red meat anymore. Mrs. Woody and I discovered the joys of ground turkey as a hamburger substitute several years ago, and we use it instead of ground beef in our cooking. As a meat it is much more lean than hamburger, and I have developed a spicing combination with onion power, salt, and garlic powder that pretty well flavors it to taste more like traditional hamburger.

Also, as I mentioned, I'm eating lots more rabbit food these days. I've been enjoying different salads for many years now, and when Daddy decides he really doesn't want to cook on a particular evening, we'll go to Jack in the Box and get one of their Asian Chicken salads (our current favorite). We buy romaine hearts, which keep nearly forever, and Mrs. Woody makes very yummy salads with that.

Poultry in general and fish make up most of my non-legume proteins nowadays. I can eat the white meats, but I really don't even eat that much pork. In cooler weather, my soup intake increases to roughly the capacity of your average septic tank. Mrs. Woody is forever finding new and creative soup recipes that we can do in our crock pot, and they are nearly always delicious. We frequently say, "Ooh. We need to add that one to our list of favorites!" Our list has grown to about 30 now, by my reckoning. The caffeine is history. I've been a very good boy on that score.

So we're eating healthier. One very important benefit to this healthier diet is that our girls have been eating fairly healthy since they were babies. We've never encouraged the junk food mentality with them, and Wonderwood Academy has a zero-junk-food tolerance policy. No vending machines at this campus, I can tell you! As a result, the Woodyettes will both (hopefully!) grow up with healthy eating habits firmly in place, and won't have to deal with the same difficulties Mommy and Daddy have had to struggle with for the past several years.

The good news is, Mommy and Daddy are both losing weight. We're motivated now, especially in light of my recent heart troubles. We both have goals that we'd like to reach by the time we turn 50. If we do, we'll both be much healthier than we are today.

Actually, today is not a terrific starting point. Today we both have head colds - a direct result of allergies coupled with not enough sleep. Last night was my first concert in an honest-to-goodness choir in many years, and I'm sure my stress levels tanked out afterwards. Always happens to me. In general terms, however, aside from the colds we're in better shape health-wise than we've been in several years. And it can only get better from here.

In the meantime, I need to go clean my rifle. Got me some beans to rustle up.

Next up: What I Did Over the Summer (with Photos!) - Part One

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

#146 - Why We Need Las Vegas

We've been in Utah the past several days. Mrs. Woody's brother married his long-time girlfriend up near Sundance, and the whole family gathered for the event. Even though I'm up to my neck in corporate alligators at work, I decided to take two days on the return trip so I won't be such a zombie when I finally (if virtually) show up at work tomorrow.

We always use St. George at the southwest corner of the state for our halfway point on such trips. I like St. George, if only as a place to visit. It's just too darn'd hot for my personal taste, so even when considering places for retirement (plan now!) I don't think St. George would make the cut. But it has that overcrowded small town flavor for which Utah is so famous, and I love the temple there.

The hard part is making the trip from Dixie to Reality via Outer Darkness.

St. George, being in the extreme south of Utah, has long been called Utah's Dixie, and even has a college by that name. Reality is, of course, Orange County where we Woodys currently reside. "Outer Darkness?" Need you ask?

Black holes, by definition, are so dense that they literally suck all light into their tight gravitational fields (or so I'm told). Little escapes their prison walls. Likewise, there are places on earth today that tend to suck all the light out of men's souls, and one such place happens to be Las Vegas. Or, at least, that portion of Las Vegas that immediately surrounds Interstate 15, including the world-famous "Strip."

We hit Vegas just about lunch time today. At first we thought that we might just sail through by cleverly planning our trip for a non-weekend day. Most unfortunately, there was a nasty accident at about the midpoint alongside the Strip which backed traffic up for at least 45 minutes. While crawling along, I had plenty of time to reflect on just why I despise the town so much.

I must caveat first by stating that Las Vegas - minus the Strip and all related gambling and adult businesses - has much to recommend it. Or, at least, it has the Las Vegas Temple, which will be the only thing that prevents Las Vegas from ending up as a gigantic sink hole on the map at the Second Coming. Pretty much the rest of the town is subservient to the great spiritual black hole that Vegas has come to represent.

The predominant thought that ran through my mind while crawling along the always-under-construction I-15 was that Vegas is spiritually void. Everywhere I looked I saw monuments to man's greed and avarice. The Temple is not (so far as I've ever been able to see) visible from the freeway. Therefore the mind must dwell on the glitz and flash that Vegas' many gambling establishments use to entice weak-minded fools to part with their supposedly hard-earned money. This is Vegas' only "contribution" to society, as seen from the freeway.

That may be unfair, but it brings to mind a story that Mom used to tell me. Many years ago, Dad took her to one of the local horse tracks to watch a race or two. Horse racing is, after all, still considered to be the "gentleman's sport," and Dad thought Mom would enjoy watching the thoroughbreds go through their paces. However, as soon as Mom entered the betting area, she was overcome with a feeling that a spirit other than one from God dominated that arena. It was, as she described it, nearly palpable and she has never set foot near a track ever since.

Likewise, I have had similar experiences with gambling establishments. In my so-called "starter marriage," my ex-wife wanted to visit a casino. We chose "Whiskey Pete's" at the state line, primarily to take advantage of one of those extremely cheap prime rib dinners they always advertised. She thought it might be fun to waste a few nickels on a slot machine, and I was curious to see a casino, so I agreed.

Turned out you have to walk through the casino to get to the dining area. Then you get to sit with an unobstructed view of people gambling and allegedly having the time of their lives while you eat. We played our nickels and, so far as I was concerned, satisfied the curiousity.

A few years later we had to lay over in Vegas due to some car trouble. We holed up in one hotel (no idea which... I think I've sublimated the experience), and took the kids to Excelsior to see some of the more "kid friendly" entertainment there. Once again we had to walk through casinos to get to anything interesting, but this time I was struck with just how uncomfortable I felt there. Perhaps it was because I had my kids with me, and I was feeling protective of them. In any case, my fascination with Vegas had clearly worn off.

Nowadays, Nevada is a state to be driven through whenever possible. I try hard not to stop along the way, unless we're visiting some place of historic significance, such as Virginia City. Today, however, we had to stop in Moapa for a pit stop for the Woodyettes. Moapa is a reservation for the Moapa Indians, and they have a casino/fireworks shop/eatery kind of truck stop right off the highway. I deliberately drove around to the eatery, reasoning that there would be restrooms there and we might avoid the casino. Unfortunately, those restrooms were closed for "cleaning" (as if such a thing could happen at a truck stop) and we were forced to use the restrooms in the casino. To get to the restrooms we had only to skirt around a corner of the casino - just a few paces, really - and we were home free.

But we weren't, truth be told. As I stood in the hallway waiting for my daughters, I happened to watch one gentleman work one of the video slots. I'm guessing he had a card, because I never saw him use any actual coins. He just kept pushing his buttons. Time after time he pressed the buttons and watched the screen as it rolled the symbols around and around. The whole time I watched they never did line up in his favor so far as I could tell. He stopped only to take an occasional swig from his beer, then resumed his near-religious devotion to the slot. As I watched I couldn't help but notice how spiritually empty that man seemed to be. This was, admittedly, a judgmental observation. I knew nothing personally about the man. But the old adage of avoiding even the appearance of evil certainly seemed to apply here, because this man looked like one who had nothing for which to fight. No burning cause that would drive him to greater aspiration. No concern for anything but his own personal economy. No family that he would choose to protect over his own dreams of an easy windfall. He appeared to be living the worst of man's lies to himself: Lady Luck can make you rich beyond your wildest dreams overnight. We choose to overlook the possibility that Lady Luck is really just Satan in drag, waiting to pull you down to the depths of your own personal hell.

Then we drove through Vegas. The mother of all selfishness.

Still, all was not darkness and grim foreboding. Mrs. Woody had, just that morning, purchased a book of stories related to our temples and the experiences that bear testimony of the work performed therein. Faith-promoting stories of the highest caliber. The kinds of stories that remind us that miracles really do happen in these modern hedonistic times. No sooner would I feel my spirits ebb because of the darkness around me, than Mrs. Woody would decide to read another story aloud to us. Instantly my spirits would soar above the filth and emptiness that surrounded us, and before I knew it we were nearly home.

Our home - cluttered and unkempt as it may be these hectic days - is still a refuge from the world around us. I returned home today to find the news blogs abuzz with the scandals and idiocy of the day: another congressman caught in a sexual scandal; North Korea ready to test a nuclear device; political campaigns that appear to be striving for a degree of mud-slinging and intelligence-insulting as yet unattained in modern times.

No, I need Las Vegas to remind me that, no matter how bad things get around me, I can heal from these assaults when I surround myself with light. And I don't mean the neon variety.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

#145 - Vacation Blogging

The Woody household has become Woody - The Road Trip.

We are on day three of our vacation, and loving every minute of it. Well, except for those aches and pains that more and more seem to accompany such trips. Truth is, we haven't had a driving vacation in nearly a couple of years now. We've taken the train a couple of times, and quite frankly we are spoiled. At least Daddy is. The closer I get to 50 (TWO YEARS, BUT I'M NOT TELLING!) I notice that my back, in particular, doesn't appreciate all the relaxation of driving for 500 or more miles a day.

But we are having fun. Really.

Yesterday was the Big Family Reunion that we've been anticipating for several months now. It was a chance to get to know a family we didn't even know existed a few short years ago. Dad never knew while he was alive. This would have been Dad's birth family, and, unlike Dad, they've been wondering about him for many, many years. The frightened 16 year old girl that gave him up at the hospital nearly 79 years ago wondered about her baby boy nearly every day for the rest of her life.

The happy news is, I'm sure they've had a loving reunion many times over in the hereafter.

In the meantime, we have the happy chore of discovering this new family and getting acquainted with the three remaining half-siblings that Dad knew nothing about. We represented Dad at a reunion of the direct descendents of this once-frightened girl, who nonetheless managed to build up a warm, loving, comfortable family. We were instantly and completely welcomed, and I'm sure long-lasting friendships were forged yesterday. We were especially pleased to present each half-Aunt or Uncle a DVD with a "heritage scrapbook" (a Mrs. Woody creation!) on it depicting Dad's life and those of his kids. We were able to narrate for them and describe - as best we could - Dad's life, passions, and personality. There were, they noted immediately, many striking similarities between Dad and one of their late brothers.

As I say, we had fun.

Today we drive. We don't usually like doing that on the Sabbath, but we're on our way to Zion Corporate Headquarters (Salt Lake!) to visit family. So we will spend the day appreciating creation (as much as one can appreciate the Bonneville Salt Flats, anyway) and should hit town late this afternoon or early evening.

SPECIAL NOTE TO FRIEND BARBARA: We visited your temple on Friday. We didn't have a chance to do the open house for our own Newport Beach Temple, and I had promised Mrs. Woody and the Woodyettes that we would visit Sacramento during Open House if at all possible. It became possible, and we loved it. You have a beautiful House. Took a picture of the girls standing in front of the fountain. Very sweet.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

#144 - Incredibly Cool Family History Moment

This will make more sense if a) you happen to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and b) you're familiar with the series of books titled "The Work and the Glory" by Gerald N. Lund.

I've just started re-reading the books. There are 9 volumes altogether, and I'm sure it's going to take me awhile, particularly because I now have this Family History Syndrome that has afflicted me since just a few months after Dad passed away. FHS compels the sufferer to look at history with a new perspective, because chances are we are looking for someone who lived at some historical moment in time, and we find ourselves wondering what it must have been like to be that person.

I'm nearing the end of volume 2 of the series. This volume tells of the beginning of the Church migrations west, beginning with Ohio, and then into Missouri. It also, of course, tells of the depravities through which the Saints in Missouri (and Ohio, for that matter) suffered on account of their beliefs.

As I read one story, however, something jumped out at me. It was the story of a girl named Mary Elizabeth Rollins. Mary and her sister Caroline were famous for their bravery in saving a copy of the Book of Commandments as the press in Independence was being destroyed by crazed mobsters early in the Church's persecutions in that area. This story is mentioned from time to time in our studies of Church history in Sunday School and Seminary, among others. Less well known (at least to me) is a story that takes place some time later, as the Saints are being driven from Jackson county by the mobs late in 1833. In the book, Bro. Lund uses one of his fictional characters, Jessica Roundy Steed, as a device to introduce the story, but the story itself comes from Mary Rollins' own autobiography.

In the story, three families are stranded on the wrong side of the Big Blue river. The ferryman has flatly refused to take anyone across who doesn't have the 50 cent fee, and these families are destitute. That evening, Jessica steps outside in the rain for a moment's reflection, when she sees Mary Rollins taking a stick to the river, obviously intending to go fishing. Jessica makes a small joke about fishing, but Mary solemnly declares that Bro. Higbee had suggested that if they caught some catfish, the ferryman might accept that as payment.

The next morning, Mary races over to Jessica and begs her to follow. Jessica thinks it a miracle that they have caught a nice, large catfish with which to ply the ferryman. Mary, however, declares that catching the fish wasn't the miracle. Finding three shiny 50 cent pieces in the belly of the fish, which Bro. Higbee was cleaning at that moment, was the real miracle. Thus the three families were able to cross the river and avoid the wrath of the Jackson county mobocrats.

As I read the account this time, the name Higbee triggered something in my brain.

Turns out that my Dad's birth family are descended from a daughter (or perhaps niece) of the Higbee mentioned in this tale. Isaac and Elias Higbee were brothers who, along with their parents, had joined the Church in Ohio in 1832. Isaac was ordained an elder fairly quickly, and was privileged to ordain his brother. Isaac and Elias were both known to live in the area where this story occurs at this precise time. In fact, both evacuated with the Saints following the Big Blue battle. Isaac specifically mentions in his own autobiography (found in the LDS Biographical Encyclopedia) that the night of their evacuation was rainy, as depicted in Bro. Lund's story. Either Isaac or Elias could have been the "Bro. Higbee" mentioned in this tale, and that makes the incident all the more significant to me.

The Higbees eventually end up in Nauvoo. A younger brother, John, is ordained bishop of the Nauvoo First Ward, and Isaac becomes bishop of the Second Ward. Elias becomes Church Recorder in 1838 along with John Corrill, and serves until his untimely death in 1843 while helping to build the temple. At some point, Elias and John Taylor are appointed by Joseph Smith to go to Washington D.C. and petition Congress for a redress of the wrongs the Saints had suffered.

Isaac survived to make the trek west, but not before taking out his endowment in the Nauvoo Temple in December of 1845, being sealed vicariously to his first wife in January of 1846, and being sealed to his second wife, Charlotte Woods that same day. It is through Isaac and Charlotte that Dad's birth family descend.

Isaac remained a firm and valiant member of the Church after the exodus. He became Utah Valley's (now Provo) first Stake President, and (someone believes, anyway) also it's third. He probably enjoyed the company of many of the early apostles and prophets of the Church, and appears to have been a good leader for the Saints.

Stories like this, of course, only serve to remind me what a wimp I can often be. Spiritually I know that everything the Church teaches is true. I have no questions or doubts of any kind. But knowing something to be true, and actively following counsel are two different things. I can often be spiritually lazy, and I am absolutely certain that this displeases the Lord. Admittedly, I often go along without ever thinking in those terms. But since Dad's death, my attitudes have changed ever so slightly. Now, along with wondering how the Lord views my activity, I wonder how good men like my Dad, or even Isaac Higbee would look upon his great-great-grandson.

I'd probably have gotten quite a few talkings-to along the way. If I'm smart, I'll do everything I can so I won't have to get them in the Hereafter.

[Note to those who happen to be my mother: I haven't given up on William Howe. I have redoubled my efforts as I know I have more notes on previous research than I can find right now. Census records are pretty clear going backwards from 1880 to 1850, but that connection with New York is still elusive. More as I find my old notes.]

Thursday, July 20, 2006

#143 - Heart Attacked (Sort of)

If you've ever read Dave Barry, you're probably familiar with the story he told (as published in his "Greatest Hits" collection) about undergoing a thallium stress test. I've laughed every time I read it, except for once. That one time was about two weeks before I was supposed to take my own stress test, and having read Dave's account I was understandably nervous. Not so much about getting radiation pumped into my body... that would have been nothing. Heck, I work in aerospace in buildings with mutant three-headed cockroaches that we probably created, so I'm not unfamiliar with hazardous materials. Also, since my mission to Guatemala, I no longer fear needles quite as badly as I used to.

No, my fear was the treadmill itself. Turns out that my stress test did not involve thallium. It involved an ultrasound, with loads of that goop I used to watch them smear all over Mrs. Woody's belly every time we visited the OB-GYN during her pregnancies. The fact that the nice ultrasound lady very nearly broke three or four ribs just made me appreciate what Mrs. Woody was willing to go through - twice - so we could have the benefit of refereeing our two Woodyettes for the rest of our natural lives.

The treadmill portion of the test was my real dread. As I have gotten older, my physique has taken on roughly the proportions of your average potato, but not as robust. I discovered this nearly nine years ago when starring in "The Magic Flute," Mozart's opus, and finding myself out of breath after every scene on stage. This was not good for a then nearly-40 guy, and things have not improved with time. These days I can be pretty seriously out of breath just climbing the four flights of stairs to my office in the morning. (Yes, Honey, I took the stairs this morning!) And since I knew that the whole purpose of getting on the treadmill was to elevate my heart rate, I was pretty sure this was going to more than four flights' worth of stair climbing.

Sure enough, after getting some preliminary baseline images with the ultrasound, I was instructed to climb onto the treadmill. The cardiologist came in to observe and probably laugh at me behind my back (he didn't dare show his face). Another fellow, likely an intern, came in to actually operate the treadmill and monitor my vitals. ("He's still breathing, doctor." "Okay, crank her up another twenty miles an hour.")

The treadmill goes in three speeds. "Brisk walk," "canter," and "run for your life." You get to spend three minutes at each speed. Since I was facing the monitor, I got to watch my heart rate as I ran through each level. At "run for your life" I was hitting about 185, as I recall. Apparently the doctor felt that I had lost enough oxygen, though, because I was ordered to immediately lie down on the table so the nice ultrasound lady could smear me with more goo and tell me to breathe out and hold it.

Beg pardon? Did you say hold it? Is this some sort of sophomoric prank designed to make me look like a dweeb? My body is ordering me, on pain of death, to get some oxygen going, and you're telling me NOT to?? Who am I supposed to listen to? You, or the circuits that actually run this haywire body of mine??

Silly question. I don't pay my nervous system. I pay co-payments to the medical center. So I attempted to obey the ultrasound tech, but I'm pretty sure I was failing miserably. I don't think I would have been any more successful if she had actually offered me $10,000 to breathe out and hold it. My willingness to obey was simply diametrically opposed to my body's ability to comply.

Fortunately, that torture was short-lived, and soon I was on my way into work, with legs feeling like jelly and a body smeared with the stuff.

The good news is, the test found nothing. Really. No abnormalities detected, according to my follow-up with the same coward who wouldn't show his face during the test. Ditto the Holter monitor that I'd had to wear several weeks ago. In fact, the only problem we've detected so far is my elevated cholesterol counts. These were high enough to earn me a lecture from the good doctor on my eating habits. I need a "lifestyle" change, according to the doctor, which probably means that I've just become a vegetarian whether I want to or not. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. I enjoy most vegetables, except for beets. Beets are not true vegetables, anyway. Beets were obviously classified as "weeds" when Adam was kicked out of Eden, but one of his kids - Cain, I'll bet - ate one and now we're stuck with them. But I'll never knowingly eat one if I can help it.

The doctor also said he saw "no reason not to engage in regular exercise." Great. Thanks, Doc. I'll jump right on that. First, though, I need to sit down. Legs are feeling a bit shaky at the moment. Kinda short of breath, too. Maybe I'll just take a little nap...

Or maybe I'll just wait until after work.

Friday, July 14, 2006

#142 - Being a Dad Means...

...never knowing quite where you are at any given moment.

Example: I just went in for a late shower and to get dressed. (I'm working "virtual office" today, so I can get away with slovenly attire up to a point.) Now, I did take a leisurely shower. No doubt about it. But when I finally got dressed and exited my room, I stepped directly onto the set of a puppet show in progress.

Seriously. There was an improvised stage, and one Woodyette (the Doodle variety) was kneeling behind it holding up various dolls that were obviously meant to be puppets in a gripping drama. Jelly was sitting on Mommy's ottoman playing the part of the rapt audience. I cast a despairing glance (the same one my father perfected when I was a kid) at my wife who said, calmly, "This is a compromise. I like it."

I understood her meaning immediately. The girls had been at each other's throats moments before, and finally settled on a puppet show rather than Knockdown Monday Night at World Wrestling. So Mommy was understandably pleased. And the puppet theater disappeared scant minutes later. Some few dolls remain, but I'm confident that they, too, will soon become invisible, either because they get physically moved to one or more Woodyettes' rooms, or because I simply stop noticing them.

That, too, can happen when I'm working virtually. (Or is it, "virtually working?" This gets pretty confusing.) Mrs. Woody, for instance, will suddenly, out of nowhere, say, "Honey? Did you hear me?" As if she'd actually said anything and was rather unreasonably requiring some level of response from me. My brain says, "There was no question. She raving." But more than ten years of wedded bliss have instructed me to say instead, "Sorry, Honey! I must have missed it! What did you say?" Which of course calls her bluff and forces her to invent a question so that I have something to answer. In reality, I think she's just toying with me. She knows that I, like all husbands, have a guilty conscience, so I'll admit that I didn't hear her question rather than accuse her point blank of playing a prank on me. It's just safer.

The kids also take advantage of Daddy's concentration when I'm working. "Daaaaaaaddy," they intone. "Mommy said you'd get us something to driiiiiiink." She did, did she? So I get up and get them something to drink, only to hear Mommy say, "No, Honey. I told them that you'd get them something the next time you got up." Curses! Gamed again!

So what with the house reconfiguring itself every few minutes, and people taking advantage of my fierce concentration, I'm not sure this telecommuting is all it's cracked up to be. Except that I love the commute.

And the company I keep.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

#141 - Special Family History Note

"Bilious Fever:
When a continual, remitting, or intermitting fever is accompanied with a frequent or copious evacuation of bile, either by vomit or stool, the fever is denominated bilious. [Buchan1785].

The common remittent fever of summer and autumn; generally supposed to be owing to, or connected with, derangement of the biliary system. [Dunglison1855]

Typhoid fever, Remittent fever or simple gastritis. [Appleton1904]

A term loosely applied to certain intestinal and malarial fevers. See typhus. [Thomas1907]."

Sounds like your average Spring Break phenomenon these days. That a respectable ancestor of ours actually died from it in 1860 just goes to show how pickled kids have gotten in the last 150 years.

Monday, July 10, 2006

#140 - Typical Sabbath

Since yesterday was the 2nd Sunday, Mrs. Woody (or, actually, Sister Woody) taught the Relief Society lesson. Since this is a Relief Society lesson, you can imagine that quite a lot of thought and preparation went into it for a few weeks before the actual event. In fact, if you were to break Mrs. Woody's lesson preparations down to a chronology, it would look something like this:
3 weeks before lesson: Read lesson every morning upon rising. Prayerfully consider how best to present material.

2 weeks before lesson: Continue reading lesson daily. Begin calling friends and relatives to have them relate personal stories regarding topic.

1 week before lession: Realize you haven't read lesson for three solid days now. Read it again with a slight panicked feeling. Begin wondering if you're ignoring the Spirit.

5 days before lesson: Begin compiling twelve hours' worth of material which needs to be compressed down to 35 minutes of actual lesson time.

4 days before lesson: Feel guilty because you're not doing everything the lesson says we should be doing. Hubby assures you that you've had ample reason to get distracted. Best friend tells you to use the reality of your situation in your lesson. Makes it more human.

3 days before lesson: Give it a rest for a day. Can't focus. Too much going on right now.

2 days before lesson: Finish compiling twenty (not twelve!) hours' worth of material. Begin the work of abridgement.

1 day before lesson: Crunch time. Many prayers today for strength and inspiration. Decide to record children reading cute poem to use as lesson opener. Hope Hubby can increase volume because, contrary to experience, daughters suddenly embrace silence when presented with microphone. Cheer when Hubby comes through with copy that will rival teenage male vehicle stereo systems. Continue abridgement. Format lesson outline. Print out copies of lesson and several backup items to use if called for.

Day of lesson: Secretly enjoy ribbing Hubby is receiving for helping you place your displays on the table. Chuckle softly when Hubby vociferously claims to be "doily challenged." Lose 7 minutes because of announcement regarding new building clean-up rules. (Gotta tell the Relief Society because the Priesthood will never remember.) Give lesson. Enjoy accolades of sisters who just know you were talking directly to them. Have longish conversation with sister who only recently started coming back to church about how this is helping her testimony.

This, of course, differs greatly from the Priesthood method for lesson preparation:
3 weeks before lesson: Remember that lesson falls on day that you were supposed to be out of town. Forget to tell Presidency.

2 weeks before lesson: Remember that you need to tell Presidency. Forget to actually tell them.

1 week before lesson: Finally mention planned absence to Presidency, who promptly forgets.

Day of lesson: Quorum Secretary finds Bro. So-and-So and asks him to give the lesson. In two hours. Forget which lesson, could you look it up? Bro. So-and-So gives it a quick glance, decides which paragraphs to read aloud during the lesson, and how to incorporate the "Suggestions for Study and Teaching" questions. Figures Spirit will pick up the slack. Will use chalkboard if there's a need to impress someone. Shake hands with three or four brethren afterward who all mumble "goo'lesson" on their way to pick up kids from Primary.

Of course the Stripling Warriors learned from their mothers. Their Dads were probably asleep during Priesthood meeting.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

#139 - A Woodyette Fourth

I don't think they even appreciated why they should be excited. I just know that they were.

The Fourth of July has come and gone here at Hacienda Woody, and the Woodyettes gave the celebration their best effort. Daddy, unfortunately, was required to work for a goodly portion of the day in order to meet looming deadlines, but that didn't dampen the spirit of the occasion at all.

First, we rolled out our new flag. Our old one was looking noticeably worn and spotted when I put her up on Flag Day (which also happens to be Jelly's birthday... she's the only one who gets a flag flown in honor of her special day!), so I decided to buy another one on Monday. We posted our colors and stood back to admire the crisp red, white and blue as it waved in an honest-to-goodness breeze. Hot as it was, we were getting an on-shore flow from the beach areas and the flags in the neighborhood spent the day getting wrapped around their various poles. The sight of Old Glory attached to several homes in the immediate area is stirring enough, but to see it unfurled in a breeze is magnificent.

The girls made signs wishing everyone a Happy 4th, and we spent the better part of the day either relaxing or (in my case) computing. When I finally shut my laptop down at 7:00, though, the real celebrations began.

We started with your basic American picnic for dinner: hot dogs and corn on the cob. We watched the "Capitol 4th" celebration on PBS until it was time for our local fireworks to kick off. At that point I escorted the girls to our front porch where, if they perched on the railing, they could see the higher displays through the trees in our neighborhood.

We had worried that perhaps the girls would be unimpressed if they weren't able to go see the fireworks in person at the park where they were held. I needn't have been concerned.

Actual transcript of Woodyettes after the show:

Jelly [dancing on the balls of her feet and gesticulating wildly]: Momma! We saw millions of fireworks!

Doodle [not to be outdone]: We saw billions of fireworks!

Jelly: We saw bazillions!

Doodle: Germillions!

Jelly: Sicillians! (Or maybe she said, "sazillions." I thought "sicillians" was cuter.)

So the Fourth was a big hit with my kidlings.

Less impressive, on the other hand, were the televised celebrations. The Capitol 4th program was fine, as far as it went. I can handle Elmo in settings like this because I'm all for pandering to the kids, and also because Elmo represents what I consider to be the purer Muppet art. He can actually project personality and fun in his performance, even if his voice is enough to make me physically ill for a week. Stevie Wonder was in fine form, although he is beginning to show his age. Even his voice is not what it used to be.

We tried the Macy's celebration, but tuned it out until the actual fireworks began. Then it wasn't so bad.

Three observations on the Boston Pops celebration:

1. Keith Lockhart still looks (and acts) like a petulant infant.

2. Steve Tyler and Joe Perry? Aerosmith?? Are the Pops that desperate for market share? At least Tyler was coherent enough to wish everyone a Happy 4th at the end of the program. Perry just stood there waiting for the meth to wear off. Note to self: Tyler is a runt. Just sayin'.

3. Dr. Phil and his wife are many things. They are not emcees.

Bad television notwithstanding, we had a good 4th. For us it begins with our annual viewing of "1776!" which we watched on Saturday. I actually forgot that I'd meant to add "National Treasure" to the tradition, so perhaps I'll make up for that tonight.

As soon as I'm finished processing our traditional meal from last night, I'll finally admit that the holiday is over.

Independence, indeed.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

#138 - When Sorting Laundry is Actually Fun

One rarely gets to see his family get this excited about laundry. Come to think of it, one rarely gets to feel this excited about laundry.

I blame our dryer.

The appliance repair guy visited our house again today. I must state, for the record, that this is not the same twit who darkened our laundry room two weeks ago. No, that turkey came, diagnosed a faulty door switch, said it would take about a week to order, then promptly went his way and completely failed to mention anything about our needing a new door switch to anyone who could do something about it. He was about as efficient an airhead as I ever hope to meet.

Mrs. Woody, after seeing me vent my spleen about park managers who failed for the umpteenth consecutive weekend to open the laundry room so I could feed their stinkin' dryer its steady diet of quarters in return for, oh, about 1/3 the load our dryer normally handles, decided (Mrs. Woody, that is, in case you've forgotten) to call Maytag and find out where, oh, where our missing repair person had gone.

That's when she found out that, according to that repair person, our dryer was perfectly fine. Only it really wasn't, Mrs. Woody pointed out. She'd just sent her husband back to the Dryer From the Vending Machine Inferno because he'd just confirmed that our dryer really was still dead.

Fortunately, the Maytag lady who handled the call was very gracious. She admitted that it was entirely the repair person's fault that we were still without a functioning dryer and promised to reprocess our order. No guarantees about timing, of course, which meant waiting yet another week, but we were, by now, quite desperate. Mrs. Woody also insisted, it goes without saying, that a different repair person make the visit. To this, also, the Maytag Lady assented.

So, today, right on schedule (although this, of itself, isn't special -- the twit was also right on time) our different repair person appeared. 15 minutes later we had a functioning dryer. We also found out (I would have written this into a script for any given sit-com) that it was, according to the repair person, the easiest part on the dryer to replace. "Open the door, two screws, and you've got it," he said. Of course. Silly me. At least it was covered by our extended warranty.

You may imagine that both the washer and our newly revitalized dryer have been pressed into indentured servitude since about 5 minutes after the repair person left the house. We're on load number 4 in the dryer, and number 5 is churning in the washer. We have probably another 2 to go before we're caught up. I have already folded more laundry today than I have in nearly a year.

Mrs. Woody, for her part, normally does the folding, but she's hip-deep in plans for our daughter's 9th Birthday Celebration, which involves a Harry Potter-Themed Sleepover for Five Little Girls. She's taking this extremely well, which probably means I'd better go check my Xanax prescription and see if it's lighter than I remember it from the other day. Of course, since I get to "assist" with decorating, herding, shopping, and doing voice-over work for the Sorting Hat, maybe I should hit the bottle instead.

Aw, who'm I kidding? Your daughter doesn't turn 9 every day, and she's having the time of her young life. I'll probably enjoy every minute of it, so long as my back holds out.

In the meantime, gotta run. Got laundry to fold, transfer, and wash. Gotta put more card stock in the printer. Busy, busy, busy.

Enjoying the "simple pleasures," as Mrs. Woody put it.

Monday, June 12, 2006

#137 - Our Private Louvre

A yacht under sail cuts across the open ocean. The seas are a bit choppy, but she slices through each swell like a hot knife through butter. The skies are cloudy, meaning a good breeze to keep the sails full. The sleek hull bobs lightly up and down, yet remains pointed in a direction pre-determined by a wizened skipper.

To the north, the skies are darker. In fact, a squall is brewing, sending waves crashing against jagged rocks near the shore. This is not a welcoming beach with warm, gray sand. This is a coast accustomed to the sharp edges of volcanic rock that was tossed - almost casually - by a distant volcano now many centuries dormant. Instantly cooled and hardened by a cold, forbidding sea, the rocks serve as a reminder that a following sea is no guarantee of safe arrival. The waves here are respected by those who know them, and they carefully navigate around them.

Across a natural harbor, surrounded by these rough-hewn sentries, stands a beacon. A lighthouse erected nearly two centuries ago to guide those who must brave these waters in the name of trade and commerce. In stormy skies its bright lamp shines its warning to captains of these vessels: Keep your distance; these rocks have claimed more than their fair share of boats! Some were built stronger and sturdier even than yours, but in the end they were no match for the stone devils.

To the south, a safe harbor waits. Here a familiar shape makes its approach to its home slip. A "pleasure craft," they call it, complete with a fly deck (although its skipper cringes at the term - to him it was always the "bridge") and a trusty first mate. This first mate also happens to be the skipper's loving wife and companion of over forty years, and you never see one without the other. They both love the sea, although she loves it more because her husband is himself enamored of it. She simply wants to be where he is. It's a formula that has worked for literally decades together.

Four paintings hang on our walls in our little home. They are four friends of mine. I have grown up with them, and I knew the painter intimately. He was my grandfather, and my boyhood hero. He was, by trade, a calculating engineer. A master designer who was well-respected in his industry. An inventor, even, who helped a company design and build a small gas-powered engine that became the ancestor of all modern chain saws. But he was not typical of the stereotype that has become the modern engineer. He was a man of tremendous creative energy and quiet passion. His creative side manifested itself in two primary ways; he was both a musician and a gifted artist.

As a musician we were treated to jigs and reels at family gatherings. Mom would sit at the piano and Grandpa would tune up the fiddle. The family would gather in whatever room housed the piano and enjoy a concert we'd all pay good money to hear today. The repertoire could be altered to match the season: jigs and reels at Thanksgiving, and carols at Christmas time.

But it was the ocean where we spent my most memorable times with Grandma and Grandpa. We would take it in turns to sit on the fly de... excuse me, the bridge, and when it got too crowded we would retreat to the smallish cabin where Grandma reigned as the supreme Tour Guide. She would hold her young crew's interest with tales of the sea, the local harbors, the sight of the Queen Mary as it was prepared for its eventual use as a floating museum, and round after round of "My Dog Has Fleas" on the ukelele she always kept on board.

Grandma and Grandpa spent considerable time travelling when their children had grown and left them with an empty nest. The family had moved several times between the midwest and California, where they eventually settled for good. In their travels, Grandpa had stored up a vast bank of imagery that he decided to commit to canvas, most of it dealing with the ocean. There are a few desert scenes, to be sure. One ancient and lonely adobe hut stands out in memory amongst a desolation of saguaro cactus and yucca. But his seascapes captivated me from the time I was old enough to remember visits to Grandpa's boat.

Tall, three-masted schooners. Stormy seas. Crashing waves. All of them creating a kinship I have always felt with the sea; a kinship now shared with my own adoring and loving companion. Our living room is a shrine of sorts to the majesty of the ocean, and the wonderful memories of our childhoods. The paintings are one of my remedies for stress; if I can study them and enjoy the strokes of a master, and the hues of green and blue that evoke those tender memories, I can become a happier man.

I only once actually watched Grandpa paint. He didn't usually like to do that when family were visiting, wanting to be sociable instead. Also, I think painting was a private experience for him. A chance to create visual memories that held his imagination captive and whisked him away to one of those tall-masted boats.

Memories that I now hold vicariously.

Thank you, Grandpa. And God bless you.

Friday, June 09, 2006

#136 - One of the Mysteries of the Gospel

Ever wondered what, exactly, a Stake Sunday School presidency does?

Me, too.

Back in the day, Dad was the Stake Sunday School president. This was in the days before the 3 hour bloc, and Stake Conferences generally had a Sunday School session to keep the kids busy while the parents sat and listened to about 25 gazillion speakers. We all had our favorite speakers, by the way. "Oh, good. Bro. So-and-so from the High Council. Hand me that pillow, wouldja?"

But I digress.

We all figured that the Spirit must have had some sort of speech defect when he whispered Dad's name in the Stake President's ear. Well, maybe Mom didn't. But we kids sure did. "Dad? Our Dad? The Glowering Inferno? That Dad?"

But it turned out that Dad was one of the best S.S. Prezes ever. For one thing, Dad was a natural administrator. He was an aerospace professional and consummate businessman. He knew all about how to run an efficient organization, and the Sunday School is typically one of the loosest organizations on earth today. It was a challenge tailor-made to Dad's particular talents.

It also transpired that Stake Conferences were one of his favorite events when he served in that calling. Dad was never much for sitting in a two-hour long session of talk after talk. Plus, he had a real soft spot for kids. It actually amused him (more, I must say, than he ever let on at home) to watch these pint-sized people interact with life. So while many people tried to commiserate with Dad about having to deal with the little banshees, Dad would just smirk and secretly look forward to the show.

Even then, I never really knew what it was that a Stake Sunday School presidency did. Which is why you will not be surprised to learn that I have just been called as 2nd Counselor in the Stake Sunday School.

I believe I accepted at least partly out of sheer curiosity. The mystery surrounding Stake Sunday School is nearly impenetrable these days, especially since the 3 hour bloc program was instituted. I do know that we sustain them in Stake Conference during the sustaining of Church officers. About 3 seconds after we do, I have completely forgotten their names. Now, in my case it may well be that as my name is called in wards around the Stake, a few people will think, "Oh, that's that fellow that sang in our ward a couple years ago." But then they, too, will forget my name. I think they must specifically state this in your setting apart blessing. "We bless you that you will become safely anonymous in the Stake, and this cloak of invisibility will last until you are safely released." I actually could live with that.

Of course, at some level I believe this will be a fun calling. Teaching is my celestial calling. Music may be my eternal calling (once a Church musician, always a Church musician!), but it's teaching that I truly enjoy. The counselor in the Stake Presidency that extended the calling - who also happens to be a member of our ward - even paid me a very nice compliment: He told me that, in discussing my name with the Bishop (turns out I need to be released from my dysfunctional Public Affairs calling. Drat.) that they both agreed that I have a natural gift for teaching. He said that I have a way of bringing out the simplicities of the principles that I teach. Since I've only taught about three classes in the entire time I've been in this Stake, I'm glad he saw that.

So, for whatever reason, the Lord wants me in the Sunday School. The handbook, I must say, is sketchy at best about the calling. We "serve as a resource to ward Sunday School presidencies." We "instruct and advise individual presidencies as requested by the ward or directed by the stake presidency." In other words, we get to annoy ward Sunday Schools by announcing that we're coming for a little visit so we can disrupt their otherwise quiet Sundays.


Oh, there's the inevitable meetings, of course. Presidency meetings, meetings with the Stake leadership, auxilliary training meetings, and so on. We also no longer have separate Sunday School sessions of Stake Conference. Not for a few decades now. But as long as I get to teach on occasion, so what?

I'll be in heaven.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

#135 - Mommy Solomon

One joyful aspect of the Move From Hades© is the fact that toys will now be divided equally between the girls, and stored in their individual rooms. (You may believe that Mommy and Daddy take especial pleasure in the idea of individual rooms. You would be correct.)

One not-nearly-so-joyful aspect of the MFH™ is the equal dividing of toys.

Turns out that this is a pretty big emotional/political (these words are synonymous, no?) deal. The Woodyettes are torn between two extreme emotions. On the one hand, this business of splitting up the toys is hard work. There's the bother of having to take time out of their busy schedules to sit down with Mommy and indicate whether or not they approve of the proposed divisi. Which leads to the other extreme emotion, which is being absolutely dead-set against their sister having any advantage, toy-wise, which leads to frequent episodes of Peyton Place a la Woodyettes.

"But, Mooooooommy, I've had that dolly since I was a little girl! You can't give that one to her! [Lower lip begins quivering here.] I'll never be happy again!"

We hear this word "never" quite a lot in this house. To my knowledge, none of her more dire predictions have ever held water.

Mommy intervenes. "Bring me all of your dolls that are this same size." This is a chore in and of itself, inasmuch as the Woodyettes -- particularly the Doodle -- have been accumulating dolls for decades. In fact, several of their dolls were collected for them several years before they were even conceived. Still, the dolls are produced. Turns out there are three.

Now Mommy must put on her Solomon Crown and decide who gets which dolls, and whether to split one in half. ("Bring me my sword!") On second thought, threatening to split a doll in half does little but send both girls into tizzies because they both believe, passionately, that the doll is theirs. So, Mommy decides to give two to Doodle, who happens to be the more ardent collector of baby dolls right now, and the disputed doll goes to Jelly. Five minutes later, both girls have forgotten there even was a conflict. Mommy Solomon triumphs once again!

There's also the problem that both girls have become dedicated pack rats. This is not good. We live in a storage-challenged home, and there just isn't room to keep collecting every darn'd thing that crosses our paths. One of the things that led to the Move From Hades® in the first place was the fact that their shared room had just become far too cluttered with stuff. Between the beds, the furniture, and the toys, there was literally no room to spare. No play room on the floor. No place to keep their special things. So, a key activity before we ever split them up was decluttering their existing room. We were ruthless. We were downright cruel. We were merciless. We did this whenever the girls left the house for any reason, such as birthday parties.

It goes without saying that whenever you weed your toybox, a certain amount of reprogramming is required. "But, honey, don't you remember? We donated those toys to little girls who need them so much more than you do!" After hearing this several times they begin to parrot it back. Mommy and Daddy might find themselves looking for a particular toy months later, absolutely certain that it must still be in the house. "Don't you remember, Daddy? We donated that toy to a little girl who needs it so much more than we do!" Oh, yeah. I'd forgotten.

Anyway, the culling continues. The Woodyettes are actually, as of this moment, taking things quite well. Mommy has been able to establish provenance in most cases, and the only conflict so far has been the baby doll episode. So Mommy Solomon continues to reign supreme in the Woody household.

As if there were ever any doubt.