Tuesday, January 24, 2006

#110 - The Trauma and the Ecstasy

Triumph Over the Tooth

Doodle is the baby of the family. She turned six before Christmas last year, and has stubbornly held on to her baby teeth until just this month.

Of course it was a big deal when older sister Jelly went through it. That first loose tooth is a major milestone. It signals the end of an infancy. (Yeah, yeah... I know. I've read the "experts." Trust me... this is where baby is no longer a baby.) Learning how to crawl; taking that first step; the wagering over what baby's first word would be ("Hah! I toldja she'd say 'Da' first! Pay up!" "But Sweetie, she always says that when she's filling her pants."); all of these are important, but nothing says "big girl" (or boy) like having their baby teeth fall out.

When it happens to the baby of the family it takes on an even greater significance. The baby is the one Mom and Dad keep an eye on for several reasons. Firstly, Mom gets wistful because there are no more little ones coming. Thus, every milestone achieved is another one we won't be going through personally. If we want to watch kids' teeth falling out after this, we have to wait until our girls have kids of their own. Not that we're in any kind of hurry. In a very real sense, the empty nest syndrome begins the moment baby is born. Assuming, of course, you happen to know this baby will be your last one. And we do.

Dad, of course, watches the baby for slightly different reasons. Baby's timeline is Daddy's retirement timeline. Can't really retire until baby has either left the house or (worst case) finished college. Then the fun begins!

With that for background, you will understand that last night was interesting to watch. Doodle has been fighting allergies the past few days, and she's one who loves to milk things for effect. No idea where she got that, but it must be Mrs. Woody's fault. Anyway, her tooth had finally gotten to the point where it was literally hanging upside down, attached by a few microns of gum tissue.

She was miserable.

We had a snack after Family Home Evening and she only wanted to drink the milk. Her gum was sore enough that she was terrified of doing anything that might cause more pain, and in her mind having that tooth pulled away would qualify as "Torquemada." Tooth brushing was an ordeal and Mommy had to carefully navigate around the flopping tooth so Doodle wouldn't flinch. By the time she got to bed, Doodle was one hurtin' cowpoke. She slept like a brick.

My alarm goes off at about 5:30 most mornings. I managed to actually be up and around by 5:45 this morning, and was in the girls' bathroom (story for another day) when I heard the girls' door open. There's only one creature that ever wanders the house at that hour besides Daddy, so when I saw Doodle snuggled in bed with Mommy I was not surprised. When I got there she had just noticed that her tooth was missing and was terrified that the Tooth Fairy hadn't left her any money because the tooth wasn't under her pillow. So, Daddy had to go on full alert and do a search-and-rescue for the missing tooth. Fortunately the flashlight illuminated the tooth where it had, appropriately enough, fallen underneath her pillow.

I recognize this will be bittersweet for Mommy. Her baby really is growing up now, and from here it will be a whirl of events from baptism to graduation to wedding. Doodle, on the other hand, is back to having the time of her life. I won't swear to it, but I suspect she hasn't stopped smiling since I left the house.

It's the cutest gap I've ever seen.

Monday, January 23, 2006

#109 - Why Baroque is Baroquen

David B. over at The Whole Note admirably discusses the virtues of Baroque music and some of the key composers (or, if you will, decomposers) of that period.

I have only one problem with most music of the Baroque: It was impossible for Baroque composers to write anything (and I mean anything) without creating some sort of melismatic nightmare for tenors ultimately resulting in the tenors suffering nosebleeds due to extreme heights. Seems tenors in those days were almost universally surgically altered, and I refuse to go that way.

I once performed for a director I shall refer to only as "He Who Must Not Be Named, But With Whom My Family Is All Too Well Acquainted" (HWMNBNBWWMFIATWA, for short). This was in the day when I was relatively fresh out of high school and still had chops capable of stratospheric notes (tenoric stratosphere = anything higher than a G) without passing out. Most unfortunately, this conductor had chosen to perform the Schutz "Magnificat" which requires, of all things, a counter-tenor. He apparently felt I was the next best thing. So we performed this masterpiece - twice - with me screeching along in falsetto and taking hits from an oxygen tank in between arias. I spent the next two months trying to coax my voice out of hiding. It had taken refuge in some cave or other, and refused point-blank to come out.

I have never forgiven the man.

That aside, I will concede to David's interpretation of the magic of the Baroque repertoire. To a point. And that point, for me, would be the Romantic period.

It may be a function of age, but I have found in the last decade or so that I identify much more readily with the Romantic composers than I do the Baroque variety. Perhaps it's because, at my age and relative physique, I'm readier to enjoy having my emotions handed to me musically, rather than being forced to run an obstacle course to find them.

Granted, this comes from one who enjoys singing "The Messiah" every Christmas and still gets a thrill listening to Bach's "Christ Lag in Todesbanden" as often as occasion permits. But once I found that I had a voice capable of interpreting a Schubert art song without offending too many sensibilities, I never looked back. I am a convert, and delighted to be such.

When I consider the several masterworks that I have been privileged to perform over the years, few have touched me as deeply as, say, the "German Requiem" by Brahms. Such music is still musically challenging, and much of it can certainly be just as athletic as its Baroque antecedents (can you say "Polovtsian Dances?"), but I find the Romantic style to be a comfortable fit for me. Very much like a favorite pair of shoes, or a well-worn easy chair. It just fits.

Here, too, the nationality of the composer only enhances the experience. For example, except for certain stylistic differences, there's very little that sets music by Vivaldi apart from music by Handel or Bach. In fact, take the masters out of the mix, and I quite frankly can't tell them apart. The Romantics, on the other hand, wrote music that defined not only their moods but their native lands as well. Russian Romantics are easily distinguished from the Germans and the Italians. The French (such as they were) are also easily identified. But each style has its own pull on my subconscious and draws me into its story.

My current watch list includes Peer Gynt. I'm looking for a definitive recording that I can get my hands on. Grieg's music was the stuff that first got me interested in conducting way back when Dad got me a "Music Minus One" recording. It even came with a baton, which I worked into oblivion every chance I got. Heady stuff for a fifteen-year old.

Just random thoughts for a Monday morning, but it's David's fault. Blame him.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

#108 - Who Was That Other Man?

I don't remember exactly when it started, but I have always been fascinated with heredity. As a youngster, of course, there are always the inevitable comparisons with relatives. In my particular case, there were questions as to how two black-haired individuals could have produced a strawberry-blonde kid... no one could quite figure out where that particular gene came from. Or perhaps we blamed it on my paternal grandmother. But then we had a hard time trying to figure out how Dad came by his black hair. Either way, heredity in my family has been both fascinating and mysterious.

I particularly wondered who it was that I most resembled among my extended family. I spent long hours over the years looking at my own reflection in the mirror. I just couldn't find the obvious connections with any living member of the family and, for a little while anyway, found myself wondering whether I had been adopted. Mom assured me, however, that she felt every single contraction and was reasonably secure in the knowledge that the hospital had not given her the wrong child.

Thus it was with no small pleasure on my part to discover, after all these years, that among all my relatives I do happen to bear a striking resemblance to my grandfather. At least as seen by a camera lens over this past holiday.

I have mentioned before that my maternal grandfather was one of my boyhood heroes. Looking back it was probably quite amusing to see just how hard I tried to mimic his mannerisms. If Grandpa did it, it must be cool. No fifth grade kid was ever happier to need glasses because I could then have that in common with him. I even studied violin (a doomed proposition from the start) because Grandpa played the instrument.

So the photo - a typically spontaneous shot taken by my sister, presumably for purposes of future extortions - shows me and other siblings watching a profoundly insipid Barbie® video that my daughter had received for Christmas. I look like a cross between my grandfather and one of my uncles. And I wasn't the only one to notice. "Hey," one sibling said, "is it me, or does Woody look like Grandpa?"

So my ties to my mother's side of the family seem to be at least visually confirmed. On Dad's side, there's little doubt as to who my father really was. Dad is guilty on all counts. I look more like Dad today than I ever really wanted to, down to the "horizontal tie" configuration. (My brother knows whereof I speak. He's a member of the same club.) The rub here is, we have no idea who Dad resembled.

Dad was adopted. We kinda, sorta knew this several years before Dad died, but it wasn't confirmed until a few years after he passed away. By that time, all of the principals were either dead or unreachable. I did have contact with his birth relatives for a short time, but that has since fizzled and we're back to wondering just who Dad looked like. We may never know whether the man his birth mother eventually married was in fact his birth father. The only photos we've seen were of his birth mother's side of the family. There are some similarities, but nothing that jumps right out and indicates that this was Dad's family.

I will probably always be a little sorry for that. As a family historian, I love the links that bind us to our ancestors. It makes the game of wondering where our personalities come from that much more fun. Has music always been a part of both sides of our family, or was Dad the first on his side? Whence cometh my own over-developed ham bone? Is Dad's resemblance to his birth father as strong as my resemblance to Dad? And who, for heaven's sake, was that other man?

There's a connection that is now missing, and something that may never be explained in this life. I will always love and appreciate the family whose name I now bear, and that heritage will continue in one form or another for generations to come. I am also comfortable with knowing that all of my questions will be answered when I catch up with Dad on the other side. In the meantime...

...I hate waiting.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

#107 - Pleas for Help

Being people of faith we tend to spend a lot of time chatting with Heavenly Father on behalf of our children. I'd say we spend that time on our knees, but Mrs. Woody and I both have difficulty doing that, so we assume the attitude if not the actual position.

I have children from my previous marriage. They both have (and have had) challenges in their lives, and they meet them in unique ways. My son recently went through one of those life lessons that give parents grey(er) hair, and we're still waiting to see if he actually learned that lesson this time. Time will tell. He's just recently turned 18 and is eager the give the world the ol' Adolescent What-For. I wish him better luck than I had at that age.

My daughter, on the other hand, tends to meet her challenges head-on. She tries - instinctively - to stay on top of her game. She and her hubby have done a tremendous job raising their little girl (yes, Woody is a Grandpa... proud of it, too!), and generally trying to maintain their collective sanity in Maryland. Her hubby is career Air Force, and they're just riding out their posting until they can muster out (if need be) and return to California. They really want to come back. We'd love to have them back.

You might think, based on my generally glowing descriptions, that the Woodyettes don't cause us much air-time with heaven. Far from it. We homeschool these sharp-as-a-tack youngsters, and the need for guidance to be effective both as teachers and as parents is keenly felt. I'm sure that Mrs. Woody pleads on their behalf more than I do, but we both recognize just how important it is that these young ladies get the right start in life.

As parents we continually face all the usual challenges of training young minds to recognize the differences between right and wrong, and to understand the need for accepting responsibility for what we do. It's a huge job, and based on all four of my children I can report that I have had varying degrees of success thus far. I would classify my eldest daughter as a definite success. My son has hit that magical age where the world owes him, so I'm holding my breath for the time being. He's a good kid, but he's 18. 'Nuff said.

The Woodyettes are, obviously, works in progress. At 8 and 6 they still have lots to learn, and this issue of personal accountability is one of the trickiest. They may be adorable in nearly every way, but Daddy can't afford to get distracted. Mrs. Woody is better at it than I am, but even she can occasionally overlook certain transgressions that probably should have been addressed as soon as they were discovered.

Even with all the challenges, the payoffs can be huge. Every success - small or large - is cause for celebration. Some celebrations can be as large as was the success. Others are quiet; an opportunity for a hug and a snuggle, and Daddy saying, "I sure am proud of you!" Then enjoy the smile on that little face.

Then remember to thank Heavenly Father for my kids, before moving on to the next request for help.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

#106 - As the Century Turns

A phrase I no longer hear is "turn of the century," as in, "My grandpa was born just after the turn of the century." It's a phrase that always (to me, anyway) meant that we were discussing something that was really, really old. Older than my parents, for crying out loud. Older than dirt.

Since anything that happened before I was born was considered archaic (by me, anyway), my parents and grandparents were living anachronisms. Many of the advances in technology that they experienced left me scratching my head. I remember one grandmother showing me an old reel-to-reel tape recorder that dated back to the 40's. (Note: I would kill to have this machine in my possession today!) I remember thinking how ancient that thing looked, and was frankly amazed that it ever was able to record anything. It even had a microphone of the type that talk show hosts think are so stylish today. You know... the ones that look like braunschweigers made of chrome with holes drilled all over. I was fascinated by it. For a long time I had a hard time remembering that this machine was something from "my" century. I would have sworn that it hailed from the days of Abraham Lincoln. That's what a lack of historical perspective will do for you. In my mind, everything that happened before 1958 was all lumped together in one historical mush.

Mom was never one to dwell on the past, but Dad loved playing the "when I was your age" card. It is, perhaps, paradoxical that Dad never really revealed a heck of a lot about his childhood, but he loved to throw out little snippets here and there, as if being a child of the Depression earned him the right to point out that we pampered papooses had no idea what suffering was all about. He was probably right.

We'd be driving along a dirt road on one of our always underappreciated vacations through some forsaken piece of California history, and Dad would say things like, "You think this is bad? This was a superhighway in Idaho when I was your age!" Yeah, yeah... save it for your memoirs, Dad. (This, unfortunately, never happened. The closest thing Dad ever wrote to a memoir was making editorial comments in a history that his mother had written. Ah, well... we take what we can get.)

Now, as a parent, I'm pretty sure I'll be just as bad about "when I was your age" with my own children. The difference being that I'm pretty sure my kids will learn more about my life than they ever care to. I just talk too much, really, and I happen to be my favorite subject. (This may be, by the way, my only fault, but only if I don't ask Mrs. Woody about it.) And the funny thing is, my children will be able to identify with their own "turn of the century" in a way that we never could. We were born in the middle of a century, and the turn of a new century is merely that - another step in the ol' chronometer of life.

The Woodyettes, on the other hand, will be able to look back on their times of birth and have a nice, round figure from which to base their experiences. One was born in '97, the other right at the end of '99, and for both of them their personal memories will begin sometime immediately following the beginning of both a new century and a new millenium.

I find myself wondering what marvels these girls of mine will witness over the next few decades. Certainly there are promises in the air: New cures for debilitating illnesses; advances in technology; the potential advent of extra-solar travel; deeper understandings of the intricacies of life. And all the while, Mom and Dad will become more and more anachronistic, just as my parents did when I was a kid. How could these old fossils be hip enough to understand all these wonderful things we have today? Didn't Daddy used to listen to wax recordings on a Victrola? Wasn't Mommy born before they discovered electricity? Were flutes even around when Grandma was a little girl? (No, Grandma had to carve hers out of bamboo. I don't think flutes were invented until I was about 5 or 6. At least, that's the way I remember it.)

Thus it is that Woody's job will be to take the "when I was your age" experiences and meld them with the Woodyettes' "turn of the century" mentality to create the proper historical perspective for them. They'll probably laugh at me a lot, but in the end they'll have a wealth of experience that they will then be able to pass on to their own children.

They'll thank me for it later.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

#105 - The Torture of Christmas

I have found what appears to be a common thread among parents who just suffered through this past Christmas. I realize that "suffered" may be a somewhat strong term, but in one sense I was right there suffering along with them.

The statement I've seen (and which, by the way, I was channeling in my own conversations with Mrs. Woody) is, "there must be a special place in <insert netherworld of choice> for whatever idiot invented the current methods of securing toys in their packaging." The scenario is always the same. Mom and/or Dad wrap the gifts while still in their original packaging for the simple reason that they're easier to wrap that way. Then on Christmas day the kids are in that "iwannaplaywithitNOW" mode, and Mom and/or Dad find themselves trying to defeat about a thousand twistie ties, elastics, tape, and other obstacles, all the while attempting to not break the toy before Junior does.

Ostensibly these contraptions were invented as a direct response to thievery. Those of us who grew up with the phrase, "Attention, K-Mart Shoppers...!" will have vivid memories of perusing the toy aisles and noting just how many toys had been rifled. Kids (and even parents) who discovered missing items or had managed to break something right out of the box figured it was a cheap way to keep their play set intact. It actually got to the point that, come Christmas shopping season, you congratulated yourself for finding anything actually intact before you bought it. Since then, we find dolls held down by more twist ties than you would find in a box of 100 garbage bags, while the accessories are encased in lethal plastic for your convenience.

I believe we're actually looking at something that has practical application for national defense. Just think what might happen if AK-47s were shipped in the same molded plastic packaging that your kid's Barbie comes in. The Jihadists would probably reach Paradise a bit quicker than usual after shredding themselves on the sharp plastic edges. By the time they detach the gun from 92 twistie ties that were conveniently glued to the cardboard, and get through the assembly instructions helpfully translated into English by Japanese exchange students ("Please to attaching the assembling trigger to the lower side of a barrel as shows in the figure 8 of a next page."), the poor kid would have expired from loss of blood.

In fairness I must admit that I only had two toys this year that caused that much grief. Santa had given the Woodyettes exactly what they'd requested. One wanted the latest in interactive dolls, while the other requested a trainable puppy (this would have to be a toy!), each requiring more batteries than your average nuclear submarine. Each one was encased in a box surrounded by more security than Ft. Knox. My wounds have healed now, and the Woodyettes have had hours of fun arguing over whose turn it is to play with the doll. The puppy was essentially a non-entity until Daddy replaced the wimpy Energizer® batteries with good ol' Duracells® last night.

Since convincing Homeland Security to use this technology seems unlikely, I guess I have to come up with a more creative approach. My current plan involves having the inventors of toy packaging being forced to endure the same savant traffic planners who time our traffic lights here in Orange County. If the packagers wish to file a complaint, they can submit their whines using a special form provided for that purpose. I'll even provide the pen. Of course, they'll have to break it out of its plastic package...

Sunday, January 01, 2006

#104 - Book of the Lamentations of Woody

Book 7
Chapter 4

1 And the children of Woody, who did dine on much sweetness on New Year's Eve, did awaken on New Year's Day feeling not quite their old selves.
2 Yea, they did bring forth much, um, nose stuff and much, um, other ejecta;
3 Which did convince Woody unto declaring a Down Day in the house of Woody.
4 That the house of Woody might again rise in its strength;
5 In time to watch the Rose Parade on Monday.
6 Amen.

#103 - Book of the Lamentations of Woody

Book 7
Chapter 3

1 And the Woodyettes did gripe and complain against Woody in the wilderness saying, Verily thou dost starve us because of the hardness of thy heart;
2 And thou has led us into the wilderness to die, and dost not offer unto us our cookies, for truly do our tummies grumble for much want of nourishment.
3 And Woody verily did respond to his daughters in a loud voice saying, Thus it ever shall be for those who do not finish their grilled ciabatta, turkey and provolone sandwiches.
4 But the Woodyettes did raise their voices higher saying, But the hardness of the bread is beyond our ability to chew, and the crustiness thereof is the crustiness of thy soul, wherefore we perish.
5 But Woody did harden his heart against his daughters, and did not yield unto them their cookies, for they verily had not yet eaten their grilled turkey, provolone and ciabatta sandwiches, and the hour was yet late.
6 And they did weary him much with their pleadings for cookies, and when Woody did reveal the bowl of candies from the eastern lands of Nestle and Hershey, they did weary him more.
7 Then did Woody say unto his daughters, Yea, thou has wearied me with thy many pleadings. Yet hast thou not done that which I required of thee at the outset, and hast ignored the succulent slices of turkey and provolone cheese, grilled upon ciabatta rolls which did set Woody back a pretty penny, yea, even at Costco did they cost more than would be seemly given the current market.
8 Wherefore I did say unto thee that all thou needest do is eat of the grilled ciabatta sandwiches which I, Woody, had prepared for thy lunch, and thou shalt have thy cookies and candies from exotic eastern lands. Yea, it shall be unto thee as thy dinner, and thou mayest partake of thy desserts, if only thou shalt eat thy, well, thou knowest.
9 But the Woodyettes, because of the easiness of the way, did not partake of the sandwiches. And Woody, who is, after all, human, did cave in and offer unto the Woodyettes sandwiches of peanut butter and either honey or strawberry jam, depending on their peculiarities, and they did partake and rejoice.
10 Thus did the Woodyettes obtain their cookies.
11 And Woody did obtain his peace.

Happy New Year!