Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sing Christmas!

As a choir boy, I have performed Christmas concerts in all but a handful of years since I hit junior high school. I mean I could probably count the number of years in which I've not performed an actual Christmas concert of some kind (not counting ward choirs) on one hand and have fingers left over. That's a lot of Christmas music performed over the course of, what, thirty-five years, give or take.

I'm listening at the moment to the broadcast of the St. Olaf's Christmas celebration on PBS. As they always do, the choirs severally and individually are performing beautiful (and unabashedly) Christmas music. Some of it is very familiar to me, some is not. Because it's St. Olaf's, the performance is interspersed with scriptural readings and lessons.

[Side note of no particular significance except to me: With the near universal adoption of the American Standard and other contemporary transcriptions of the Bible, I find these readings have far less impact when not using the poetic language of the King James version. One could argue that's just the Mormon in me, and that's okay. I still really, really miss hearing it in these concerts. When they read the Christmas story from the American Standard version, it sounds more like a reading out of the Federal Register than holy scripture.]

With the busy schedule of our own Anaheim Mormon Chorale this season, I found myself grousing privately that I wished I could just for Pete's sake sit and listen rather than have to get dressed in my monkey suit and sweat myself through one more concert. Yet here I sit listening to these young choirs wishing I could be up there with them, singing my heart out in awe of the Gift of Christmas who would redeem us all.

The Chorale is pretty much done for the season. We have one more engagement to carol at a local assisted-living center on Christmas Eve (which I hope to make if we're in town that afternoon), but our own Christmas concerts are done until next year. No more "Carol of the Bells," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," or Messiah Sing-Alongs in 2007. That thought leaves me just a tad melancholy.

So now I have my chance to sit and listen. Granted, I'm at home, sitting at my computer, listening to a broadcast on TV, but I'm listening. And secretly wishing I were there, watching the conductor for my cues, and hoping I'm not over-singing. It's a wonderful way to feel the Christmas spirit.

Merry Christmas, and may your New Year be blessed with opportunities to learn and grow.

God bless you.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Visiting Ancient Greece with an Ancient Geek

I have joked for years — since I returned from my mission, really — about being an ancient Mayan ruin. I came home from Guatemala with dysentery and appear to have been crumbling structurally ever since. Moderately, to be sure, but I have more creaks and groans in my bones than you might find in the Haunted Mansion®.

I say this because yesterday was a big Field Trip Day for Wonderwood Academy, home of the World Famous Woodyettes™. They've been studying ancient Greece for the past few months, and yesterday was meant to be the culmination of that unit. Mrs. Woody has details of the field trip over at her blog. She organized the trip on behalf of our local homeschool group and those who braved yesterday's weather enjoyed quite a treat.

But we start with the weather. The song says that it never rains in Southern California. This is a lie. Of course it rains in Southern California. Specifically, it rains on those days when we have arranged our schedules so that we can do special things with the girls. Yesterday was the first real rain we've had here pretty much all year. This was a pacific storm that blew in and dumped well over an inch in many parts of the area. Most of it seemed to fall on the freeways I was feverishly attempting to navigate. My hands were clenched tight on the steering wheel and I got cramps in my foot. The cramps were the result of trying hard not to exceed about 50 miles per hour, at which point hydroplaning became a problem.

I will say this, however. Once we got to the museum, the weather seemed to decide we were serious about having this field trip and began backing off. By the time we did the final garden tour, it had abated. In fact, it probably helped us by weeding out the less-than-dedicated museum goers so that the museum was wonderfully uncrowded while we were there. (Just to remind me who was boss, it returned and nagged us all the way home. Reminds me of some sopranos I've known.)

The museum, though, was tremendous. J. Paul Getty amassed a tremendous collection of art over the years, but his greatest collection (and deepest passion, apparently) was antiquities. In 1997, the foundation that runs the museum decided that the antiquities needed to be showcased in their own setting in surroundings that reflect the villas of Pompeii or Herculaneum prior to Vesuvius blowing her top. The resulting renovation now resembles a villa believed to have belonged to Julius Caesar's father-in-law and is called the "Villa dei Papirii."

Since this was our first time to the museum, we took two of the tours available. There was an overview that gives visitors an introduction to several of the significant collections and exhibits. It took us through four or five of the galleries and introduced us to chunks of wall from Pompeii, grecian pottery and wine cups, and statuary. The girls impressed our guide by demonstrating their newly acquired knowledge of Greek mythological characters.

The second tour was called the garden tour, but it was really an explanation of life in an ancient Roman villa. The caste systems of that time were explained to us, and we were shown how different parts of the villa would be used to both segregate and impress visitors to it. We saw which garden only family intimates might be able to visit, and which parts of the villa were meant to alternately impress or intimidate business contacts. They also have a full "kitchen garden" full of herbs and fruit trees that were germaine to the ancients' lifestyles.

I appreciate museums and historical exhibitions that have the ability to transport me to another culture and time. Perhaps this is one reason why, all joking aside, I enjoyed my particular mission. Guatemala is thought by many church scholars to be an area replete with Book of Mormon history. Indeed, the temples and other dwellings that have been discovered over the years are indicative of cities that may have been among those that were destroyed when the Savior visited the area following his crucifixion. It was easy for me to believe that I was living in Book of Mormon country. The people lived their simple existences fairly well cut-off from modern civilization, and adhered to many of the traditions of their ancestors. One felt a bit like Ammon and the sons of Mosiah while hiking around in the mountains where "roads" were few and far between.

To see physical evidences of ancient times has always fascinated me. Many of the pieces in Getty's collection pre-date the Savior Himself. They show stories that I learned in high school, and that the girls have just learned in homeschool. They were thrilled to see a gallery dedicated to Dionysos, for example, and enjoyed identifying drawings representing Hera, Aphrodite, and Paris. They saw statues of Orpheus and the Sirens. I had never seen a representation of a Siren. I'm pretty sure I would have been drinking some pretty strong wine before I would see beautiful women with what appeared to be stork legs.

By the end of our visit I was exhausted. I don't quite have the stamina that I used to, and chasing a bunch of kids around a museum can get me tuckered out pretty quickly. It was the sort of day that made me look forward to my nice, comfortable bed later on. Tired, yes; fairly stiff and sore, certainly. But a trip well worth the physical discomforts.

Bottom line: the Getty Villa is a great way to introduce your kids to ancient civilizations. Of all the questions these kids asked, though, this one reminded me why one must be careful when studying ancient Greece:

"Is everyone always naked in these pictures?"

Oops. Time for another lesson...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Of Holiday Traditions

Every family has their holiday traditions. Heck, even atheists have a tradition of alternately ignoring Christmas, or berating it. But it's still a tradition. In La Casa de Woody, however, we have rich family traditions. Some date back to when Woody and Mrs. Woody were young whippersnappers themselves and enjoying our own families' traditions. Others have evolved since Mrs. Woody and I got married, and a few more have begun since the Woodyettes made their appearances.

One thing that has remained a constant for us all along is music. Both of us grew up listening to sounds of the season, and both of us sang in various Christmas concerts (back when they were still called "Christmas" concerts!) throughout high school. Of all the sights, sounds, and aromas of the holiday season, nothing evokes the Christmas mood for me faster or better than its music.

(Caveat: Woody does not include every variety of Christmas music available in the world today in this statement. Woody is all too aware that some forms of "Christmas" music are, in fact, covered under the Patriot Act and should be immediately locked away in a vault in Gitmo. This includes virtually all forms of music used — abused, really — by every TV commercial known to modern man; with, as Mrs. Woody points out, the possible exception of the Hershey Kisses™ "Ringing Bells" commercial. Thank you.)

Mrs. Woody has already blogged about our community's annual "Messiah Sing-Along." Click on over if you'd like to see a photo of the family. (The good looking ones are the ladies.) This is a relatively recent tradition for our family. Daddy was asked to do the tenor solo in the first Sing-Along, and they keep asking me back. This year was a bit different in that we did two concerts to accommodate the growing crowds we've had in each successive year. With the additional concert, our director decided to have the male soloists do a different solo in each performance. In each case, however, the tenor leads off immediately following the overture. This is probably a good thing, because by the time we howl our way through the "Hallelujah" chorus, my voice is pretty much like a breakfast sausage. Rough and over-cooked. Thank goodness we had an hour plus between performances.

The whole experience, however, truly ushers in our holiday observances as a family. Even more than Thanksgiving, or Daddy's contribution to Tylenol's stock price after putting up the Christmas lights the day after, these Sing-Alongs begin our celebrations by participating in some of the most sublime of all Christmas music. Performed, as Mrs. Woody points out, in the very elegant East Room of the Nixon Library, the whole day just feels like Christmas. It's a wonderful way to get into the spirit of it all.

In some ways, our Christmas will be different this year. This is, sadly, our first Christmas without RoboMom. We miss her tremendously, and we likely will for years to come. In some ways, though, her passing allows us to try something we've talked about for a couple of years now. In our entire twelve year history together, we have never celebrated Christmas alone in our own home. We've always travelled to Mrs. Woody's sister's home (or had them come to our home... once), but we've never been able to wake up on Christmas morning with just our sweet daughters to have a family Christmas celebration. We might not have this year, except that the Woodyettes (the older one, particularly) have begun to ask about that. They have heard, I think, some of their church friends talk about having Christmas at home and are wondering what that would be like. So this is the year. We are focusing all our efforts on making our home a fun winter wonderland, replete with Mrs. Woody-led activities that will help the girls enjoy that spirit of anticipation leading up to the day. We will, of course, find time to visit family close to the holiday and have our "big" family Christmas, but each family is making plans to find their own special way of celebrating on the day itself.

Who knows what new traditions we may form this year? I know I'll enjoy finding that out!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving at Hacienda Woody

Expressing thanks at this time of year can be a dual-edged sword. It's nearly impossible to enumerate every single blessing for which we should be grateful. Many of our blessings are, sadly, overlooked — taken for granted, even. We quickly forget, for example, just how blessed we are to have a brand-spankin' new bed to sleep on. I do, anyway. It's just so nice to lay down at night and not fear the impending Attack of the Way-Past-Retirement Bedsprings. I bought this bed when it became clear that any further injuries to Mrs. Woody's abdominal region could be potentially fatal. When one shifted a bit in the old bed, one advertised the fact through a cacaphonous squeaking symphony that could be heard by dogs as far away as Temecula. The old bed had to go, and good riddance.

I also have quickly fallen into the minivan habit. I'd say I can't remember not having a minivan, but that wouldn't be strictly true. Every time I drive the old Saturn to work, I remember very clearly not having a minivan. The Saturn has been with us since before the first Woodyette joined the family. It's still a pretty car on the outside. Sleek, forest green color, no major scratches or marks. The only outward sign of age and abuse is the snake-like crack in our windshield that it received from following a hopper-truck too closely on the freeway one morning. On the inside, though, the Saturn looks more like its 23-year old distant cousin, our old Honda Accord. The roof lining is starting to hang down in tatters from too much time sitting in burning-hot parking lots. The upholstery looks like it's been subjected to, oh, we don't know, a couple of rambunctious kids or something. Also, since Mrs. Woody never rides in the Saturn anymore, it has become a bachelor-mobile. Occasionally I pause at dumpsters to open the door and shake out the detritus.

Woody occasionally takes it for granted that his kids are sweethearts. At 10 and painfully-close-to 8, the Woodyettes are incredibly well-behaved. Particularly when compared with other kids of our acquaintance. Our girls do not talk back to their parents, generally speaking. They may get frustrated once in awhile, as when Mommy insists that they empty the dishwasher before playing with their dolls, but this is part of the growing up experience. Whenever we take the girls out in public (contrary to the views of the unenlightened, homeschoolers do take their kids out in public!) we receive many comments to the effect that our girls are not only pretty, but patient. This is particularly significant when you consider that this is often said in conjunction with one of Daddy's concerts. Not only do the girls have to sit through the concert, but they generally have to go early with Daddy to sit through our pre-concert warmups as well. This frequently means sitting for roughly 3 hours for a 1-1/2 hour concert. They practice this every Sunday because Daddy is in the ward choir, which means getting to church an hour before everyone else, then doing the entire 3 hour bloc of meetings. Our kids are troopers.

I really, really want to say that I never take Mrs. Woody for granted. Certainly she is my very best friend, and we both acknowledge frequently the blessing that is our marriage. Since Mrs. Woody's return to health, though, she has been spending much more time in the kitchen. It's been wonderful. With her arthritis it's been difficult for her to get around. Awhile back we bought a small office chair for the kitchen that allows Mrs. Woody to scoot around and do what needs to be done. For this entire past summer, though, Woody did all the cooking. I'm not a bad cook, I must say. I can follow a recipe pretty well, and Mrs. Woody coaches me through the stuff I'm not familiar with. But it's sure been nice of late to have Mrs. Woody-cooked meals again. We follow the same recipes, but they just taste better when she cooks 'em. Could be a mental thing, but I don't care. I love Mrs. Woody's cooking. Yesterday we once again shared the responsibility for the Feast. Since it takes one to know one, I get to cook the turkey (thank you, Alton Brown!). Mrs. Woody did, literally, everything else. We had that poor oven working overtime all day long, and we were both sore at the end of the day. But the results were worth it. And she didn't run over my toes even once.

I suppose it happens to all of us that we sometimes take our testimonies for granted. Or maybe it's just me. I remember lessons from days past that taught me the order of things: One must love the Savior above all else, or one can never fully love and appreciate anyone else, spouse included. At the time I heard that, I remember wondering how on earth that could be possible. (Woody was much younger then.) Now, however, with Mrs. Woody at my side, I begin to understand how this works. Mrs. Woody and I both love the Savior and His gospel. It is, in fact, that common testimony that helped bring us together and begin to share our other interests and goals. The harder we work on our testimonies, the stronger our relationship becomes. This is an eternal truth, and we love it. Of course, it also happens that we get busy living in the physical world. Mrs. Woody has the schooling of her precious girls, for example, to occupy her time. Woody has work, the Chorale, and more work to keep him busy. We have kids that require attention. We have other family that also need our time. Sometimes we get so busy that our testimonies just sort of chug along on automatic. Then we prepare our lessons for Relief Society and Priesthood (we teach in the same week), and remind ourselves how precious our testimonies are. We have a little one to baptize in a month or two. We have a daughter reaching toward Young Woman-hood. We can't really afford to take our eyes off the ball.

So yesterday was a time for Woody to enumerate not only the things for which I am grateful, but to remember those things that I occasionally overlook. I'm grateful, of course, that our forefathers came to this land to seek religious freedom. Ancestors of mine may have been among those who made the conditions leading to the Restoration possible. Other ancestors who came to this land seeking freedom and opportunities of all kinds gave me the tools with which I work today. I'm thankful for a Constitution that reminds us to respect the rights — and beliefs — of others. I'm grateful for those who fight today to preserve and protect those rights.

And I'm grateful to those of you who read these words, and occasionally impart some of your own to me. Your thoughts and very existence are deeply appreciated. Happy Thanksgiving!

(As I wrote that final paragraph, Doodle came out of her room, said a sleepy "Good morning, Daddy!" and gave me a big smooch on the cheek. What'd I tell ya?)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Woodyettes and Expectations

When your parents are good at something, it probably tends to put unfair pressure on you as their offspring to live up to their potential. This was certainly the case when I was growing up and lived under the same roof as two of the most musically inclined members of the church in Simi Valley. Mom and Dad were at the center of pretty much everything music-related in the church in those days. It naturally followed that their kids would follow suit.

Some of us did better than others. One sister, for instance, took up violin and is an outstanding musician. My brother learned horn (specifically baritone) in high school, then later taught himself to play bass. He also has a terrific bass/baritone voice. My own musical accomplishments are more a study in what happens to lazy kids who refuse to practice. I have a pleasant voice, but my true strengths are on stage. I never really have lived up to Mom and Dad's musical abilities, but then, neither have I really tried.

Still, there was that perception "out there" that since Woody came from such a musical heritage, Woody should be just as useful as a musical resource when the need arises. I'm not sure how many folks I've disappointed along the way, but they all still talk to me so I guess all is forgiven.

I tell this story because I have incredibly shy daughters. They intensely dislike standing up in front of an audience of any kind for any reason. This includes audiences made up exclusively of family who have known and loved them since they were little more than ultra-sound images.

Ever since Jelly was old enough to participate, we, like all parents in the Church, have looked forward to the Primary Program. This is an annual event for young LDS children that borders on institutionalized terrorism both for the kids and the Primary leaders who must cajole them into doing their parts or singing their songs. It's wonderful stuff. [See Mrs. Woody's description of the program for a more balanced report!]

Kids, of course, have varying degrees of enthusiasm for performing in front of other people. This ranges from the 11 year old boys who want desperately to look "cool," to the tiny ones who can barely be seen above the wall of the pulpit but who will wave cheerfully at their parents anyway. The loudest kids almost always tend to be atonal. They are not monotones, because even monotones will get at least one note right every once in awhile. These kids will hit any note other than what the rest of the kids are singing, and their voices always have that edge to them that allows them to carry all the way back to the rear of the Cultural Hall.

Then there are kids like mine. In the beginning, Jelly would stand (if, indeed, we could even get her to go up there) looking for all the world like a hostage. With a toothache. She would stand nervously until the song was over, then rocket down off that stand as fast as her little legs (and prevailing tides) would carry her. This puzzled several members of the ward because I had, by that time, done a solo or two in Church and had been recently called as the Ward Choir Director. Mommy also has a reputation of having a wonderful alto voice. So the idea that these mini-Woodys would be so painfully shy about performing didn't square with their expectations.

Nor was this behavior limited to those times when Primary kids sang in church. Even in the classroom, my timid daughters would barely register on any but the most sensitive seismic equipment. It drove Mommy and Daddy crazy that folks at church never got to see the real Woodyettes. You know, the ones who prance around the house talking and singing at the tops of their lungs, and appear to be in performance mode 24x7.

Over the ensuing years, Mrs. Woody and I have undertaken a sort of surgical training regimen to prepare the girls for these events. We start by jumping the poor soul who serves as Primary Chorister on the first weekend in January and beg for a CD of the music that the girls will be singing in this year's program. (These gals have gotten smarter: now they give us the CD before we have a chance to ask!) We listen to these CD's over and over throughout the year. We even let the girls fall asleep listening to them at night. As soon as their lines are handed out (both of the girls recited scriptures this year) Mrs. Woody begins drilling them as part of their morning devotional before school.

The results have paid off, if a bit slowly for our tastes. Jelly's toothache grimace has gradually been replaced with a sort of bemused "here we go again" expression. Doodle tends to be much more enthusiastic during the singing, but still cringes at the thought of reciting lines.

Until this year, that is.

Every Primary Program has seen Mrs. Woody and yours truly sitting on tenterhooks to see if a) the girls will actually sing the songs, and b) be able to get through their lines. This year I am thrilled to report that not only did they sing, but they were able to recite their lines even if they had trouble getting the microphone in just the right place so we could actually hear them. If Mrs. Woody and I weren't so darned dignified, we might have jumped up out of our seats and given each other High Fives in excitement this year. As it was, we both had ear-to-ear grins on our faces and gave the Woodyettes very surreptitious Thumbs Up instead.

In an unprecedented move, the girls even sang in a small group of senior Primary girls for one number. Clustered around the pulpit. I nearly swooned.

None of this, really, can be credited to Daddy, except by way of general support. Mrs. Woody works with these sweet girls every single day, trying to get them to overcome their native shyness; a product, Mrs. Woody freely admits, of her side of the gene pool. We were even a little concerned the day the girls brought home their speaking assignments. Doodle was already in melt-down mode about having to stand up in front of people and speak her line all by her little lonesome self. In the midst of the quivering lower lip, Mommy gently snuggled her and told her just how hard they were going to work to make sure Doodle could deliver her line and be confident. It worked. She walked right up to the microphone, tried her level best to adjust it to her height, then plowed ahead with her scripture.

Jelly was another story. A couple of weeks ago, one of the leaders asked whether she would be willing to do an extra line or two. This would not have been Jelly's first inclination, putting such assignments on her list somewhere below "cleaning her room," or "having a root canal." But after Mommy talked with her a bit, she allowed as how she might be willing to do it. Fortunately, they had already made other arrangements, but Mommy and Daddy were proud that she would have if necessary. Then, even as the Primary Program drew nigh, Jelly received an assignment to do the scripture in opening exercises later that day. Which she accepted with a resigned sort of expression on her face. But she did it. Two performances in the same day. What a trooper!

The point is that I believe my girls have finally arrived. They have finally gotten to the point where they can perform in a public venue with little trauma to their delicate psyches. This means many things to their stage-veteran father. It means they will have more self-confidence as they approach their teenage years. It means they will be more willing to participate in programs like this.

It means they may finally stop rolling their eyes whenever Daddy acts like a nut at home.

Or not.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Interfaith Council Choir Festival

Mrs. Woody made mention a couple of days ago of the "Interfaith Council Choral Festival" that was held here in Orange County last Sunday. It's time I added my observations to hers.

This is something that they've been doing for about four years that I know of. Since I joined the Anaheim Mormon Chorale a year ago, this was my second Interfaith concert. I must say that it's an intriguing blend of philosophies that are represented at these events. I like to think that I've studied a bit about many different religions, but some of the faiths who participate here I've frankly never heard of before. Zoroastrians, for example. New to me! Likewise the Jains. Jain is an ancient religion having its roots in India from about the 6th century, BC. Zoroastrianism is likewise based in India and parts of Iran. Their prophet Zoroaster is said to have proclaimed something called "Mazdaism" (study of rotary engines?) which proclaims the divinity of Ahura Mazda, creator of the universe.

These fascinating facts aside, there's a lot to be said regarding the faith of these many different religions and their adherents. One comment in particular tickled me (and the rest of the audience as well): The Muslim representative stood up immediately following the choir representing a local Jewish synagogue. He made the singularly appropriate comment that he was "a Muslim that just followed a Jewish choir in the house of the Mormons. Thank goodness for the Mormons!" Contrary to current type and hype, this man had nothing remotely inflammatory to say about any other religion. The theme of the event reflected a need to find happiness through faith, and every speaker used their unique points of view to proclaim that message throughout the evening.

One other speaker got a good chuckle out of the audience. One of the Hindi speakers had apparently not made it, and a pastor of, I think, the First Christian church took his place at the podium. He began by stating that he wasn't at all sure he could do any better than the gentleman he was replacing on the program. He spoke well for about 5 minutes or so, at which point the microphone went out. After a few attempts at restoring power to the mic, he finally chuckled, threw up his hands, stated, "See? There IS a god!" and took his seat to much laughter.

But, oh, the music. Understand something: most churches have nothing but volunteer choirs. Often their staff are also volunteers, particularly in our church. Thus you find a wide variance of talent and ability among the many choirs. Such was the case last Sunday. Oddly enough, however, even though our voices were disparate and our styles just as different, there was a sweetness in the music presented by every single choir. A local AME church sent their soulful gospel singers along and raised the decibel level by several notches. A Chinese choir sang one of the sweetest lullabies I'd ever heard. We took our turn as perhaps the best trained group of the bunch, but our music was by no means any more or less significant than that presented by any other choir that night.

The climax of the evening, of course, was the grand finale. Bro. Craig Jessop, conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, conducted all of the singers from every choir (except, for some reason, the AME choir who left early) in a Mack Wilberg arrangement of "Praise to the Lord!" Joining us for this number were members of the Brass section from Chapman University. It was a stirring rendition. We were apparently so strong as a group, that we knocked the power out toward the end of the piece so that the organ cut out completely during one interlude passage. It was back in time for the final chorus, though, and the audience was suitably impressed with the entire evening.

For me it was a chance to hear some wonderful musical traditions from other churches in the area. I can only hope that they appreciated our own offering as a choir representing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I'm sure the Spirit was there throughout the night, assisting not only our choir, but every other choir and speaker that came to demonstrate their faith in God, however they may understand Him.

Can't wait for next year!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Woodyettes and Fashion

The Woodyettes, although the name is vaguely redolent of a 50's pop group, have never so much as seen a fashion show. Trend-wise, in fact, the Woodyettes are probably styling mostly 90's era clothing at the moment because of the hand-me-down network to which we currently belong. This won't last forever, due primarily to the fact that the other major player in this network has a teenage daughter who for awhile styled, oh, modesty challenged clothes. She's a sweet girl, and that phase has passed, but we prefer that our daughters keep more of their mid-sections covered up. It's a lifestyle thing.

Anyway, we have other contributors to this network. A couple of families in our ward also like to drop clothes on our doorstep, probably as a way of thinning their closets without having to drive all the way to the Goodwill or Deseret Industries bins. These clothes are probably only a couple of years old, so that the Woodyettes have a style that is mostly current with just a hint of retro. At 10 and just about 8, though, they're still young enough to wear pretty much anything and still be cute as can be.

[Note: Woody is not bad-mouthing the hand-me-down network. Woody has saved a small fortune on clothing over the years. Woody's only complaint is that we need a smallish warehouse to store all of this wonderful clothing, which warehouse currently resides in our bedroom. We are not a storage-intensive facility. I occasionally have to shift large bags of clothing around in order to give Mrs. Woody a goodnight kiss.]

Because the girls are still fairly young, they are heavy into "dress up." I never really grew up with the "dress up" mentality. As a kid, Woody was lucky to find the same pair of pants two days in a row. Woody's bedroom was used as a training facility by agents of the County Health Board, to the eternal chargin of Woody's long-suffering and thrice-sainted mother. "Dressing up" as a kid meant tying a towel around my neck if I wanted to be Superman. No, the "dress up" thing comes from Mrs. Woody's side of the family. Mrs. Woody's sister has always had boxes full of "dress up" clothes for her kids. They are encouraged to dress up as any character they like, with the usually hilarious result that one of her sons might parade around the house in anything from a super hero costume to a wedding dress. As her oldest son has reached teenage-hood, Woody begins to miss this particular wardrobe compared to what he wears today. But then, Woody himself has pretty much always dressed like a member of the Junior Republicans Club anyway. When he could find his pants, that is.

All this by way of saying that Mrs. Woody has always encouraged the dress up thing. We have a box in one girl's room designated as the "dress up box." It sits in the closet and holds miscellaneous bits of costume and odd clothing that we would never let the girls wear in public, but which they love to wear as they pretend to be pioneer girls, or Madeleine, or (heaven help me!) Eloise. When they were smaller the list included such luminaries as Maggie (of Ferocious Beast fame), or any of the Disney princesses.

Last night, Doodle announced that she was planning to tie ribbons around her socks like garters. Even for Woody, this one came as a surprise. "You're not supposed to even know what that word is," was my initial response. However, it turns out that pilgrim women used garters to keep their stockings up, and the girls had learned about this practice in (surprise!) homeschool. Since this is Thanksgiving season, she's getting into the mood through her dress-up box. Thus, bits of her pioneer costume from last year are now serving as a pilgrim outfit this year. The problem, of course, is that Doodle doesn't have any old linen stockings that are any taller than her ankles. So today she's been pulling her standard socks up as high on her leg as they'll go (which is about three inches above the ankle) for maximum effect. No sign of ribbons yet, except for a couple that mysteriously have appeared on the couch as if lying in wait. These are hair ribbons, which are some of the girls' favorite accessories in DressUpLand. They get used not only in hair, but serve as belts, restraining devices, and so on.

The funny part is that both girls are pretty enough that they can make almost any outfit look terrific. Only occasionally do they try to put together a real outfit (i.e., not a dress-up outfit) that makes Mrs. Woody cringe. Mrs. Woody has to do the cringing because Woody is clueless on the fashion front. If the girls want to wear a blue top and green pants, hey, Woody is all for it. So Mrs. Woody doesn't really trust Daddy to advise the girls on fashion. This is probably a good thing because one of Woody's goals is to get the girls grown up and married. Fashion helps that process along as Woody understands things. Mrs. Woody will be their fashion advisor for the foreseeable future.

Speaking of dress-up, ol' Woody had better get himself dressed. It's my Friday off today, and I'm pretty sure Mrs. Woody doesn't want me to wear these sweat pants while we're running errands today. They sure are comfortable, though.

Mrs. Woody - Again!

Mrs. Woody has really been trying to keep up with her blog this year. There's been so much that's happened in her life since last holiday season. We spent most of that holiday with her Mom, watching her steady decline from cancer until her (very) untimely death on New Year's Eve. Then there was her own brush with illness that put her in the hospital for the better part of two weeks this summer. So when I say "this year," understand that I'm referring to our school year.

Mrs. Woody is incredible. She holds both a Bachelor's and a Master's degree in education. She has an intelligence that holds its own among some of the finest minds I know. Yet she chooses to use her talents and experience to raise her beautiful daughters and (by extension) her husband. She teaches me as much she teaches the girls; she just isn't using the same curriculum on me. [insert huge smiley face here]

Check out her latest musings, including our experience last weekend with the local Interfaith Council Choir Festival. I'll have more to say on that experience myself. Apparently more was going on than I fully realized.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

We're Off to See "The Wiz"

Last night we took the Woodyettes to see a local PTA production of "The Wiz." Like "Annie" last year, it was a chance for the Woodyettes to see a couple of their friends from church perform in a theatrical production, and they enjoyed it. So did I, but probably for different reasons.

"The Wiz" was created as a Broadway musical during the middle of the 70's and the "blaxploitation" craze of that period. It featured an all-black cast, hipper music, and plenty of jive. It was considered "ground-breaking" I suspect for those reasons. Three years later, Motown Productions bought the film rights, and Diana Ross muscled her way into the role of Dorothy (a huge stretch). As a musical on Broadway it enjoyed moderate success, running for four years. As a film it flopped pretty badly. Michael Jackson had a good turn as the Scarecrow, and Nipsey Russell was pretty funny as the Cowardly Lion. Diana Ross just never did anything for me as Dorothy. 'Course, I've never been a huge Diana Ross fan in general.

The real problem is that both the musical and the film were extremely topical. The heavily jive-oriented dialogue and ultra-hip settings probably made the show more of a curiousity than a "must see." The film relied on a fantasized version of New York's Harlem for its setting of Oz, and just never worked for me. The music is utterly forgettable, except for the thematic thread "Ease on Down the Road."

Fast-forward about thirty years and the show has taken on a new life. It's cute — quaint, even — to talk jive now. To hear a bunch of kids (of varying colors) spouting this dialogue, complete with all the attitude and ebonic-related head and arm movements, is pretty darned funny. The show is therefore enjoying a second life as a kind of window into the history of black America, with multi-cultural casts doing just as well with the material as the original casts did on Broadway (and, arguably, better than the film cast).

The PTA that sponsored this event covers at least a couple of schools, including a middle school, and the cast reflected that mix. The principles tended to be sixth or seventh grade kids, and the chorus made liberal use of every kid from kindergarten on. Woody was a Munchkin in the other musical version waaay back, and Woody still has a soft spot in his heart for Munchkins even if they wear funky clothes and talk funny.

The Woodyettes found their friends during the chorus appearances (Munchkins and Poppies. Oy.), but immersed themselves in the story right away. They both got a kick out of the Wicked Witch of the West, who is really a caricature in this story and much more funny than scary. Jelly had fun watching the Scarecrow. Doodle was more interested in having spotted her friend in the chorus, but watched the show intently nonetheless. Generally perched on my knee for visibility. (No stadium seating in a smallish community forum, y'know.) Mrs. Woody has that wonderful feminine ability to enjoy the show not so much on its merits, but on the earnest efforts of the kids involved.

Woody has a different problem. Having been an actor in community theater for (nearly) forty years now, I can't just sit back and immerse myself in a story. I watch the actors. Even among kids I'm looking for the stand-outs, probably because I was considered one myself. I spotted a few "keep yer eyes on this one" kids in this show that really seem to have a flair for stage work. I hope they pursue it. Chief among them was one thirteenish girl who appeared as one of the "Yellow Brick Road" dancers. These were six girls of varying age who had better-than-average dance skills. This particular girl, though, was not only a good dancer, but had her stage game on. She kept a dazzling smile on her face, and her moves were designed to project the intent of the choreography. Mrs. Woody spotted her as well, and we both agreed that this kid could go far.

Another firecracker was a smallish boy — second or third grade, perhaps — who was cast as the Funky Monkey. This kid came out with some hip-hop moves that were downright impressive, and he was clearly an audience favorite. Being so young his delivery of lines was nowhere near as impressive as his moves, but, hey, the kid is only maybe six or seven years old. Give him time. He has stage presence.

Woody also sympathizes with community productions because there are always things that don't work well. The sets were solid in this show, and the colors reflected the still-psychodelic look of the 70's pretty well. There were, unfortunately, miking problems, particularly for the Tin Man. The Lion had some wardrobe problems, and spent most of the show trying to keep his mane tucked up under his chin so no one would see his neck.

Still, it's fun to watch a bunch of small kids shuffle onto the stage, go through a few simple steps, and wave surreptitiously at Mom and Dad in the audience. It reminds Woody that all the world is, indeed, a stage. If we are merely players, may we all have as much fun as these kids did last night.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The. Best. Kids. Christmas. Recording. Ever.

I have expounded the virtues of the "Veggie Tales®" animated shows before. In the mold of Davey and Goliath (now there's a blast from my past!) they teach good fundamental Christian principles and stories. But there the similarities end. "Veggie Tales" are smartly written, artistically rendered, and consistently funny. Their creators have always admitted that they write with a healthy (if one can use that adjective in this context) dose of Monty Python influences, albeit with much cleaner language and context. The result is something that plays equally well with kids and their parents. I can always get some serious chuckles from the "Silly Song" segment, and we have several of their soundtrack recordings, which I monopolize.

A few years ago, we came across a recording called "A Very Veggie Christmas." I love this recording. I just found it in my car this morning when leaving for work, and I chuckled all the way there.

Without giving away too much, you would need to listen to a version of "Feliz Navidad" that includes both a tuba solo and a chicken dance. There's also the "8 Polish Foods of Christmas" that always makes me laugh. In between (and even during) songs there's plenty of authentic Veggie Tales banter and shenanigans. In fact, if you don't listen to the background dialogue, you're in danger of missing some pretty funny stuff. It helps, of course, if you have some familiarity with the animated shows and know the characters. But I don't think it's an absolute requirement.

I used to think it a pity that they never animated this particular album. However, after numerous listenings, I have, like Mitt Romney, been converted to the purer truth. This needs to be seen in the mind's eye. It's a little like listening to old radio broadcasts of Jack Benny. You know that they're just standing in front of studio microphones, but you can see the entire scene and appreciate every bit of it. When Veggie Tales did their first network Christmas special a few years back, they included a few of these songs in the show, but not in the context of the party around which the recording was written. The special was fun, but this recording is funny.

Don't take my word for it. Find it and buy it. Listen to it with your kids this season. You'll both appreciate it, if for somewhat different reasons.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Family Bloggers

The women in my life have started blogging again after extended absences. We had quite a weekend together, being our first since Mrs. Woody took so ill over the summer. Now that she's healed, we can start doing our longish weekends up to visit family every so often.

Mrs. Woody blogs at Mrs. Woody's Wonders
Jelly blogs at Jelly Woodyette
Doodle blogs at Doodle Woodyette

It's a wonderful object lesson in perspective. The girls, being young, fully appreciated our "vacation" last weekend. They got to do Disneyland, they had sleepovers with their cousins. Vacation all the way. For Mommy, it was the first true family adventure since our "real" vacation in July. For a woman who'd spent 12 days in the hospital and the better part of three months recovering, it was nothing short of a glimpse of paradise.

I love my ladies. Go see why.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

I Really Need a Blackberry™

Here's my problem: We're on a long weekend visit with family in another county. During this visit, the Woodyettes, being consumate performers, do something cute and/or precocious, and Woody says to himself, "I gotta blog that." Then I remember that we're visiting a beach. There is no wireless hotspot at the beach, and even if there were, Woody left the doggoned computer back in the hotel room.

I have a corporate leash cell phone, of course, but I refuse to get into texting with it. For one thing, my thumbs are starting to get that little sharp-arthritic-jabbing-pain thing going every once in awhile, and I can only imagine that getting worse if I resort to texting. So anything that requires me to try and translate my hard-wired QWERTYized brain into a phone keypad is out of the question. I have texted my wife a grand total of, what, ten times or so. She despises texting even more than I do and has responded a grand total of, I think, six times. In three years. We are textually pathetic.

(Note to companies who have automated phone-based information systems: they stink. If you want numbers, I can keypad numbers as fast as anyone. You want alpha characters? Build a web site. Thank you.)

So I need a Blackberry. Blackberrys have somewhat more traditional keyboards on them. I see Blackberry-generated email all the time lately. I built an app at work that management uses for "succession planning." I'm not really certain what "succession planning" is, except that it sounds like something King Arthur used Excalibur to accomplish. ("I'm sorry, Sir Pellinore, thou shalt not succeed me once I extract this Sword from out thy heart." "I understand, my Liege.") So suddenly I'm getting tons of email from managers and executives that say "Generated from my Blackberry." Managers and executives — in my experience, anyway — tend to be 12:00 Flashers for the most part (look it up), so when I see that many of them using a relatively advanced technology to do their email, I realize that I have to have one.

Just think: I could see the Woodyettes do something cute and/or precocious, whip out my Blackberry, and curse loudly because there's no clear signal at the beach. But this is a minor inconvenience. We'll just stop going to the beach. Or — here's forward thinking for you — I could type it anyway, save it, wait until I get a clear signal, then find it (assuming I named it something logical like "Woodyettes Did Something Cute and/or Precocious") and email it to my blog, all in the same amount of time it takes my Dell Core™2 Duo laptop to boot up, find a wireless hotspot, type the entire blog post, and post it. What a savings in labor!

There is a problem, though. Even with a better keyboard, Blackberry keyboards are still about the size of a postage stamp. Okay, maybe a postage stamp from Mozambique that takes up half of the envelope, but still tiny compared to my standard-sized keyboard that barely fits in those laughably small moving boxes they give us at work when it's time to drive the herd to another pasture. So it's likely that I would want to carry a portable keyboard around with me for just such a scenario.

How would this work?

The Woodyettes would do something cute and/or precocious. Woody whips out his Blackberry and begins rummaging around in Mrs. Woody's notorious Black Bag for the portable keyboard. The Black Bag is a canvas bag that we began using instead of a purse as soon as the Woodyettes had gotten to the point of needing no more than one diaper on any given trip. Thus we combined the concepts of diaper bag and purse into a single entity known as The Black Bag®. Anyway, since even a foldable PDA-type keyboard would never fit in Woody's pockets, it has to go in The Black Bag. Unfortunately, so does everything else that we need on this trip. I have, and this is true, been unable to find entire magazines in that bag on occasion. As soon as we get home and Mrs. Woody dumps the contents of The Black Bag onto a table, sure enough, there's the magazine! Amazing! In the meantime, Woody has to root around in TBB for several minutes, searching for the keyboard. Aha! There it is! Then Woody discovers to his chagrin that the foldable keyboard requires a cable of a type not seen since Visor folded and became Palm One™. Woody gets so frustrated about the whole thing that he completely forgets what it was that the Woodyettes had done that was so cute and/or precocious, and the Blackberry hangs limply at Woody's side, looking for all the world like a smallish heart monitor.

Which is, after all, the point of this entire post. The Woodyettes really did do something cute and/or precocious this weekend, and Woody can't for the life of him remember what it was.

I really need a Blackberry™.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

From the Heart of a Ten Year Old

This morning's breakfast prayer began:

"Dear Heavenly Father, Happy Halloween!"

I'll bet He wins every costume competition.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Bridesmaid and the Matron of Honor

Woody's Annual Birthday Essay

I turn 49 this year. Seems improbable, given my generally youthful demeanor (translation: I refuse to grow up!), but it's true, nonetheless. I'm definitely in my "middle age." I am actually quite comfortable with this thought; I have realized for years now that I'm not getting any younger. Various body parts, like Congress, have either taken up complaining as an art form, or, like Ted Kennedy, quit working altogether.

I have dentures older than my two younger children. I have a grandbaby, for corn's sake, that's just about taller than Grandpa by now. (She's only about a year older than our Jelly Woodyette, but she has tall parents.) I now look a lot like my Dad when he was this age, although I have arguably more hair left than he did. I have joints that have become rather accurate barometers. "Knees is creakin', Deah. Must be a nor'eastah!" I'd sit in the rocking chair, but it doesn't fit in our living room. Can't put it on the porch; the ants would have a fire sale.

49 and 50 are interesting years. 49 is the bridesmaid; that last breath of innocence before succumbing to the world of the adults. 49 is the last blush before "The Big Five-Oh."

49 gives me a whole year to become "Fit by Fifty." This is my personal health goal. By the age of fifty I would like — if not the desire, at least the ability — to run a mile without requiring a respirator. Ten years ago I did a turn on stage as Papageno in "The Magic Flute." I did not appreciate the fact that I was panting for breath inbetween scenes. Ten years on it can only have gotten worse. Even my voice is getting tired. My faithful, trusty, stick-with-me-through-good-times-and-bad voice is starting to remind me that nothing lasts forever in the physical world.

If 49 is the bridesmaid, then 50 is the matron of honor. Many years ago, 50 used to be celebrated as the "Jubilee Year" by those whose life expectancies hovered somewhere around 62. Fortunately there is longevity in my family tree, and I have little fear of not making it to my own retirement party (65!).

50 becomes a badge of accomplishment. I have lived for half a century! I have seen things come (and go!) that my kids take completely for granted now. My kids, for example, have never experienced the technological wonder that is the 8-track tape. I cannot tell you how many times I tried as a kid to figure out how in heaven's name they kept that tape going around and around without ever needing rewinding. The fact that you might experience a sudden "click" and a momentary interruption in whatever song you were listening to was immaterial. I wanted to know how they did it! I never did, of course. Dad owned all the 8-track tapes and it would have meant instant death had I dissected one (see my note about making it to my own retirement party above).

My kids also did not get to experience the Space Race. I was born right near the beginning of it. Dad worked for the guys who were building the machines that carried our guys into space. He would occasionally bring home the PR photos and materials that they would hand out at work, and they were the original eye candy. I used to take the National Geographic issue depicting John Glenn's orbital flight and recreate it in my backyard, using an overturned lounge chair for my capsule. I never made it for the entire 5 hours plus of Glenn's flight, but I always made a heroic and triumphal re-entry into the concrete, er, water. I also remember listening with bated breath to the announcers who pointed out that Apollo 11 was racing to the moon, and that the Russian Zond might be right behind them. It wasn't, of course, but I remember how important it was that we beat the Russians to the moon.

50 also means that AARP will begin to intensify their campaign to remind me what a fogey I've become. This, unfortunately, is nothing new. They've been recruiting me since I was about 26. Maybe they figured that marriage was aging me quickly, but I get their invitations about once every three or four years. I may never join (my grandmother was a charter member, and she used to pepper us with clippings about health and insurance and minor government conspiracies that used to drive us crazy), but it's another indication that I have arrived. The Big Five-Oh.

Of course, this does not qualify me for senior discounts. Oh, no. Gotta wait until 55 at a minimum to be counted as a senior.

From an aging perspective, though, all of this is largely irrelevant. I'm not one who typically "feels" his age. Creaky joints and bad teeth aside, my life continues along pretty much the same paths it always has. I revel in my family. It's fun being a Daddy to four bright kids, and hubby to my best friend. I enjoy my spiritual adventures. When I watch our 97 year old prophet exhibit a sense of humor, I realize that life can be fun at any stage. I am addicted to fun. I have numerous interests that should keep my life from getting stale, even when I finally retire.

But, most of all, I'm glad I'm turning 49 this year and not 50, because it means I won't have to put up with black crepe decorations and black arm-bands on my birthday. Not that my sweet wife would ever contemplate such a thing, but they're known to do that here in my office.

Like I need to be reminded how old I am...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Voice

The Voice is not happy tonight.

The Voice has been with me for many, many years now. It has been my companion through every stage of life — the good, the bad, and the severely depressing — and we have survived. The Voice has been shaped and molded over several decades. It is nowhere near as elastic as it used to be; but then, neither am I.

The Voice even survived puberty with me. In fact, in many ways The Voice made that transition in far better shape than I did. Over the ensuing years I have done my best to master The Voice. At this stage of life I can only say that, far from mastering it, The Voice and I have reached a mutually beneficial agreement. We are comfortable with each other now. It does its level best not to make a complete fool out of me (difficult, given the roles I've pursued on stage in the past), and I try not to take The Voice too far outside its comfort zone.

The last time I did that was a near disaster. The Voice was fresh out of high school and singing for the local J. C. The choir director had it in his head that The Voice must be capable of stretching into the realm of the counter tenor. Dangerous ground for one so inexperienced and — at the time — relatively intractable. The Voice was asked to perform the treble solo work in Schütz's "Magnificat." Heinrich Schütz liked his tenors, ah, surgically altered, and I probably had no business trying to emulate one at such a tender age. The Voice survived, but that director and I have parted company, never to work together again.

When The Voice started speaking to me again, I vowed not to rough him up so much in future gigs. I stuck to stage work where I could use my Character Voice. The Character Voice shares facilities with The Voice, but doesn't wear them out quite so much. Different still is The Speaking Voice, which at one time was compared with — this is true — a rusty hinge on helium. On stage, one can project to his heart's content, safe in the knowledge that The Character Voice is making few demands on The Voice.

(Note: Once upon a time it was referred to as The Singing Voice, but The Voice is a pretentious snob and prefers the more mysterious cognomen.)

About fifteen years ago I hit my vocal prime. The Voice had somehow matured to a point where it was fairly easy to put up with. It had also gone through what I can only define as a secondary puberty. The Voice insisted it was a 2nd Tenor, and I was more than willing to go along with it.

On second thought, I lie. What I really wanted was for The Voice to drop into baritone range. Baritones are 2nd tenors with attitude problems. But they get meatier roles.

Musically it's been a wonderful time. I have performed for some truly wonderful conductors over the years, and have been invited to solo far more than when I was a scrawny 1st Tenor. I have a recurring gig (until they get tired of me) doing the tenor solo for our annual Messiah Sing-Along here in Yorba Linda. The Anaheim Mormon Chorale has kept me happily busy doing an occasional solo, including some Gilbert & Sullivan.


We had our first rehearsal of the season a week ago. Our director, JoLane Jolley, is a wonderful musician. Educator, adjudicator, having worked herself with some of the finest conductors in the business. She also knows what she wants to hear, and right now what she wants is more oomph in her 1st Tenors. "Woody," she asked, "would you be willing to do 1st Tenor in falsetto?"

Since this question put Woody immediately in mind of a certain brush with counter-tenorhood, Woody was not pleased. Willing, of course, but not pleased. Woody is extremely comfortable as a 2nd.

The Voice is furious.

The Voice hasn't been stretched like this since I was 18. The Voice is starting to mutter under its breath. I'm hearing words like "mutiny," "retirement," and "Harry Belafonte." (Woody is not implying for a minute that The Voice would deliberately go around singing "Daaaaay-o!" until it went so hoarse that Woody could only speak in croaks, but I'm certain The Voice wants Woody to know that it's capable of doing just that.)

Tonight, after another two-hour workout in this truly unnatural range, The Voice came very close to not speaking to me again. I tried to soothe it by reminding it that I stayed in head voice for as long as possible. I only resorted to falsetto on a few occasions, and only for short bursts! The Character Voice has been chuckling to itself all night long. The Voice, meanwhile, is huffing around the house demanding its own dressing room. With chilled sparkling water.

No, The Voice is not easily appeased. Woody has been sort of croaking since returning home tonight. I'm hoping that The Voice feels much better after a good night's sleep.

"Daylight come, an' I wan' go home."

Monday, September 17, 2007

Daddy Is From Mars

Of course I love my girls. They've had me wrapped around their dainty fingers from the time they were grainy images on an ultrasound monitor. But you have to understand that, love them though I do, I'm still in a part of life where I can honestly say I've never had to deal with certain things before.

This is my second (or "new") life. I was married previously, and that union gave me two children. My son was an open adoption, and we brought him home from the hospital. My daughter was a foster-care placement (age 13!) whom we adopted as an adult because the Great and Terrible State of California doesn't believe that teenagers need parents, just emancipation. Later we took on two additional boys as foster kids, thus giving me three rambunctious young males in the house at one time. Coming home from work became an exercise in pain management.

"Daddy's home!"



[Sound of Woody's back being used as a trampoline]

"Dear? Where's the Tylenol®?"

But I knew how to deal with boys. With boys, you buy lots of things that can be swung, hit, kicked, beaten, and thrown. You take them out in the backyard, let them do precisely that, and let them run themselves into the ground so they can burn off the pound and a half of sugar they've consumed when Mommy's back was turned. Then you put them to bed, wait five minutes, put them back in bed, wait another ten minutes, put them back in bed again, and cross your fingers. Then you go to bed and wake up three hours later to begin your hellatious commute "down below." At least that's how I handled it. Your actual mileage may vary.

Unfortunately, my eldest daughter gave me absolutely no warning as to what to expect with girls under the age of 13. By the time she came to live with us, she was already in junior high school. Preparing for puberty was not the issue. Dealing with a post-pubescent adolescent was suddenly de rigeur. I found myself asking my brother-in-law, the deputy sheriff, for tips on how to keep boys at bay. Cleaning the shotgun on the front porch when they came to call was his considered response. (I note, for the record, that to my knowledge, Deputy Dan has never once cleaned his shotgun on his porch when boys call at his house.) (I'm not actually certain whether he even has a shotgun.)

(I certainly don't.)

Anyway, girls between the ages of zero and thirteen remain a mystery to Woody. You might think, now that my girls are 10 and nearly 8, that I have at least 10 years' worth of experiences from which to draw. You would be wrong.

What follows is a nowhere-near exhaustive list of things that still surprise me about girls, from a parental perspective:

1. The nesting instinct. Boys are pack-rats. Girls are nesters. Boys keep their junk until someone — Mom, generally — forces them to throw it away. Girls line their bedrooms with knick-knacks of all shapes and sizes as if they were children that need constant nurturing and care. Daddy tends to ignore this phenomenon right up until he cracks his toe on some doll with a cast iron skeleton that is always placed strategically next to the door when Daddy checks on them in the middle of the night.

2. American Girls®. Daddies don't get American Girls®. So, okay, I understand the part about telling each girl's life story from the perspective of their time in history. But what they are, primarily, is a merchandising coup. "You want HOW MUCH for that doll?? I guess I can always refinance if she needs clothes, too!" (Warning to Dads: two girls in your home means two SETS of American Girl® products. Do the math.)

3. The marriage thing. Both of my sub-teen daughters are married now. When this happened I can't exactly say, but they both have husbands, neither of whom I've ever actually seen. This is probably good. The bad part is that Daddy is expected to remember who these virtual husbands are whenever their names are mentioned. These names always fail to trigger anything in Daddy's admittedly selective memory, and Daddy is constantly being censured by his increasingly exasperated daughters. So I try to at least acknowledge that their hubbys exist, but I refuse to send them Christmas cards.

4. Inate ability to confound Daddy's logical arguments. When Daddy grew up and became a programmer [insert geek joke here], he quickly came across something called a "circular reference." This generally means you're trying to point to some calculation that is itself dependent upon your subroutine and you get the whole program locked up as a result. When dealing with daughters, this is the point where Daddy must admit that he has met and been subdued by a superior intellect. Whatever passes for seven-year old logic will always (repeat: always) overcome any argument that Daddy might use to refute their statements. This is how we end up buying American Girl® merchandise (see no. 1 above).

5. Reducing Daddy to putty. My teenage daughter was never able to pull this off. In fact, from the moment she first tried to wear her hair in a more "adult" fashion, or go to a dance wearing a skirt that was a bit too short, Daddy was on to her. Thanks to hormones, teenage girls seem to forget about their feminine wiles for a few years and attempt to take the direct route to infuriating their parents. My under-eleven girls are still in the "feminine wiles" stage. If they want Daddy to bend to their will, all they have to do is smile at him. Or cry. Or just pout. Daddy will invariably give them whatever it was that they wanted, usually with interest. Mommy can get this effect, too, because she got past the hormone-driven lack of subtlety many years ago and has returned to her feminine wiles.


As I say, this was hardly an exhaustive list. My elder Woodyette, still only ten years old, has three more years before I'll find myself back on somewhat familiar ground. I say "somewhat" because, addlepated male though I may be, I'm not so dim as to forget that no two teenagers are ever alike, even in the same family. And since my Woodyettes came long after my eldest daughter had grown up and begun her own family, we're actually in the enviable position of being able to compare notes. My granddaughter is about a year older than my ten-year old, and their experiences are pretty similar.

In the meantime, I can soak up the reputation my girls have acquired of being polite, thoughtful little people. We were told this just this evening when their Primary president came to the house as one of our volunteer nurses for Mrs. Woody. "They're always offering to help," she said. "They take their plates to the sink without being asked. I wish my kids would do that!"

Lady, I'm just hoping they'll keep doing that once those hormones kick in. But I guess this is what prayer is for, right?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I Don't Do Windows®, Either

I'm just certain I've mentioned before that, while I do have a modicum of musical talent, I have never undertaken any real formal musical education in my life.


Oh, yeah, okay, I did take a couple of semesters' worth of theory and such on the off chance that I might parlay that into a career as a music teacher. It only took a few months, however, to realize that I could never get serious about such a career for one reason, and one reason alone: I don't play the piano.

Music majors are expected to be able to hammer out their "compositions" in theory class, for example, and my piano skills were (and still are) non-existent. A few years (okay, many years) later I tried one last time to get serious about studying music, despite my fear of learning to play piano. I applied (and was even accepted!) for the musical pedagogy course at Southern Utah. I auditioned for a man who told me that his own reputation as a pianist was to be nicknamed "The Claw" by his professors in college. I suspected that I would never rise to that level, even, and soon dropped out without ever having set foot on campus as a new student.

I find it thus ironic that I have been asked to teach men at church how to sing.

Our Stake is sponsoring a music workshop this coming weekend that is designed to help folks get more comfortable with certain basic musical functions. Things like learning how to conduct hymns, for example, or beginning organ skills. When I saw that there would be classes in learning how to sing different parts, one for women and one for men, I wondered what poor sucker they'd nail to try to teach a bunch of recalcitrant men to follow a tenor or bass line in a hymn book. What loser would even attempt to teach men who have never sung anything but melody by rote for the last 50 years to sing a tenor line?

"Hey, Brother Woody, I've been meaning to ask you something!"

That this person is our Stake Music Chairman fills me with a sudden dread.

"Oh, yes?"

What ensues is begging at its most refined. She was so desperate to find someone to take that workshop that she even contemplated asking her husband to do it. I know her husband, and he is a terrific guy, but music is not his strong suit. I think he plays some piano, but in the six years we've been in the ward, I've never once heard the man sing. She had wanted to ask me sooner, but knowing of Mrs. Woody's convalescence had been hesitant to ask at all.

"Will there be a pianist?" My last possible out. I don't do piano.

"I'll make sure you have one!"

I really can't turn the lady down. She was my first choir accompanist when I got the calling in our second year here, and I'm sure I owe her far more than this measly workshop will ever repay.

"Sure. I'll just make sure it won't conflict with anything we've been planning at home." (It doesn't.)

So now I'm on the hook to teach old dogs extremely new tricks. For some of them, at least. My current plan consists of dividing them up by voice, hammering out their parts on a hymn or two, and telling them what a wonderful job they're doing.

I plan to wear ear plugs and smile a lot.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Who Are You, and What Have You Done with My Children?

A new schoolyear grips the Woody household. Mrs. Woody is still convalescing, but she's been determined to not have the kids miss any more school than they already have. (Our school is not exactly year-round, but we usually only take a month off during the summer. This year they got two, and it shows.)

There is, of course, the need to get the Woodyettes' minds back into the swing of school things. They haven't had to really worry about math or history while we've been so distracted with getting Mommy healed. They haven't had to read aloud or practice Spanish. In short, they're out of practice.

The school days will get progressively longer as Mrs. Woody's endurance increases. Already we can see the Woodyettes getting back into their school habits. This can be both good and bad; some habits consist of whining about whichever subject is not their particular favorite. (Side story: our Bishop was at the house early this morning with a crew of young men in need of service hours. They came to put a primer coat on a wheelchair ramp that was built for us a few weeks ago. Doodle decided she wanted to go out and help them paint. Mrs. Woody caught a snippet of conversation Doodle was having with the Bishop: "Did you start school yet?" "Yep." "How's it going?" "Okay, but I don't really like math." "You know, that wasn't my favorite subject, either!")

On the second day of school, the Inner Dad was hammering away at one of his innumerable programming projects while Mrs. Woody took the kids through their paces. After the morning devotional, story time, and some Greek fables (world history stuff... they're into the Greek civilization now), Mrs. Woody declared recess until after lunch. Recess, as it is for so many other kids, is one of their favorite subjects. The Doodle immediately went into Full Paper Craft Mode, which consists of cutting out various paper dolls and assorted accessories. You can instantly tell where in the house my youngest daughter has been merely by following the trail of paper scraps and cuttings along the floor. Jelly bounced out of the room, presumably to get in some quick computer time, or maybe even read a book.

Except she didn't. What she did, during her recess time, was ask Mommy if there was a workbook she could work in. "Honey, don't you want to go play for awhile?" "Mooooooom, I really, really want to do a workbook!"

I suppose this is part of the homeschool disease. Homeschooled kids are apparently so twisted and deprived, that they will beg to do school work during recess.

Fortunately, all is not lost. Doodle seems to have inherited more of her father's genes, which means that she views school work with as much enthusiasm as Daddy has for those medical exams we male types receive at around this age of life. I think, however, most of her trouble at the moment is that she's having a hard time getting certain concepts. Jelly was there not more than a couple of years ago, but is starting to get those concepts now and is loving it. I suspect Doodle will get there before too much longer. This is, after all, the child who taught herself to read at the age of four, just so she could keep up with her big sister.

So school is off to a running start at Hacienda Woody. Mommy is primed and ready to deliver another sterling year of instruction. Daddy is primed for being stumped by two people much shorter than he is. And the kids? Well, the kids love being in 5th and 3rd grades this year. Jelly is especially excited about havng school experiences that she can share with her classmates in Primary.

Yes, our Woodyettes are pretty wonderful.

Weird, but wonderful.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Mrs. Woody Update

It dawns on me that, like many a bad writer before me, I've been leaving huge chunks of plot threads largely unresolved. I am primarily guilty of failing to provide an online update on Mrs. Woody's condition as she recovers from her horrific infection that had her hospitalized for twelve days after our vacation.

Mrs. Woody is doing extremely well considering what she's had to overcome. The infection is pretty much gone and the only thing left is the healing of the actual abcess. The trick there is to have the pocket left behind by the infection heal up at or around the same time as the opening. We have become stockholders in whatever companies make Iodoform. Also rubber gloves, ABD pads, and a number of other medical supplies that we had hitherto ignored. We also have become evangelists for Duo-Derm, which has saved Mrs. Woody's skin, quite literally. We use the Duo-Derm as a patch surrounding the wound, and the dressings are anchored to the patch, rather than to Mrs. Woody.

Woody sits second chair when it comes to wound care. We've had home-care nurses come out — every day for a few weeks, but now only twice a week — to do the irrigation and repacking. Volunteers from our ward take the off days. These sweet sisters are all trained nurses, but only one of them is a working nurse right now. However, all three of them have been more than willing to use their skills on Mrs. Woody's behalf and have huge rewards awaiting them in higher places. The upshot for Woody is that I become the work site foreman. Since we have so many different people (we've had at least 9 different home-care nurses so far!) come to repack and dress Mrs. Woody's "second belly button," we have to reiterate the instructions over and over and over. One physician's assistant that saw Mrs. Woody on a follow-up was quite pleased that we were able between us to give her everything she needed to know when she was seeing the wound for the first time. One learns a lot when one is subjected to modern medical care.

Naturally the Relief Society has been providing meals a couple times a week. Woody is not quite the miracle worker that Mrs. Woody sometimes portrays him to be, and my domestic skills are somewhat toddler-like in their execution. I can cook. I can clean. I can spend time with the Woodyettes. I have a miserable time doing all three things at once, along with putting in my eight hours (or more) a day for the office. Thank goodness I can telecommute!

So Mrs. Woody is home, healing up nicely, and raring to be back on her feet for good. We're in the first week of our school year, and Mrs. Woody hasn't been able to so much as boot up her computer to prepare her lessons for the Woodyettes. We're going to work on that today. Also, we're kind of hoping to catch Harry Potter 5 before it disappears completely from the theaters. We're back to Church now, but only for Sacrament and a portion of Sunday School. Endurance is another thing on Mrs. Woody's To Do list.

Meanwhile, the Woodyettes have enjoyed a far longer summer vacation than we had intended this year. Not only has Mrs. Woody not been able to start school up yet, but our friends from the ward keep inviting the girls over for play days and swimming parties. Tonight we do start-of-school-year father's blessings which is how they know we're serious about getting school started. I think they're actually looking forward to it.

So are we.

Monday, September 03, 2007

High School (NOT the Musical!)

If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you'll remember Woody's steadfast opposition to reunions of any kind relating to my wayward school years. My stated reason to this point has been the idea that kids in my class were either stoned, about to get stoned, or recovering from having been stoned. I just didn't want to see all those train wrecks.

So explain to me, please, why I found myself updating my® profile this evening.


I find no logic in this move. I've been "associated with" (which sounds marginally better than "stalked by")® for many years now, going back to our time in Ventura County. It seemed like a good way to keep up with the three or four people who gave my high school years any kind of bearable significance at all; see what may have become of them.

The problem, of course, is that none of the people I was thus interested in bothered to sign in and make themselves known to me. Also, my deep-rooted self-imposed boycott of all school reunions has kept me backpedalling in full reverse thrust mode whenever those letters appear in my mailbox. ("They've found me! What'll I do??")

So I ask again: What the heck was I doing updating my profile tonight?

I suspect it has more to do with wanting to correct any misconceptions about my life post-academia than anything else. I guess some explanation is in order.

As anyone who knew me in high school (especially those who knew me well) could tell you, ol' Woody was one self-centered little dweeb in high school. A very skinny self-centered dweeb, mind, and one whose social skills consistently ranked right up there with cockroaches and certain bottom-feeding parasites, only with less charm. Chalk it all up to "talent," if you like, because that's what the problem really was. I was a talented kid whose head became over-inflated about one month into my high school career and stayed that way right up until graduation.

As a tenor I was pretty much in high demand as a vocalist throughout high school. I somehow figured this was because I had some sort of miraculous voice. The truth, it transpired several years later, was that any tenor who could (not necessarily in this order) read music and breathe was considered a hot commodity. The fact that I was the supposed scion of an extremely musical family only served to enhance this self-image and made me the unbearable snot that I became. That, coupled with the tutelage of a choir director who felt the only acceptable form of self-expression was biting sarcasm, made me what I was: a hideous (albeit talented) child.

My high school experience was pretty miserable overall. For one thing, I stank as a student. If it wasn't a music or theater class of some sort, I was doing well to pull C's and occasional D's. One teacher had gone so far as to make me sign what he labelled as a "bona fide contract" in the presence of the dean and my mother in order to pass the class. It worked, but that was the exception rather than the rule.

My misery in my performing arts classes was compounded by the fact that I was (I may have mentioned) a skinny dweeb. For most of those three years I had the whole package: greasy hair, pock-marked face, concave chest. My chances of scoring any female companionship were nil until my senior year when one of them — no doubt in a moment of weakness — thought I really did have some talent and was worth a second look. (Just kidding, Betsy!) (Mostly!)

Oddly enough, the experiences I had in high school in a way helped propel me into my post-graduation life of serving a mission, marrying in the temple, and trying to raise a family. The moment I matured enough to take a hard look at myself, I realized that what I had become in high school needed to die a quick, painless death. I deep-sixed that part of my life with fond wishes never to lay eyes on it again. I decided to remake myself from that moment on, and I haven't really looked back.

So why the sudden interest in posting an online bio on "Classmates?" To let those poor kids who had to put up with me in high school know that I really have turned out okay. I suspect that, had the yearbook had such a category, I would have been named "Kid Most Likey to Have His Jaw Wired Shut By a Jock" in my senior year. I want them to understand that I'm still alive, but that I'm not the same miserable kid they all knew. I want them merely to know that people can change.

Even skinny, sarcastic little dweebs like me.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Inner Curmudgeon

There are advantages to being a curmudgeon, if only a half-hearted one.

Got a phone call last evening. Bear in mind that any call that comes to the house now is usually either my hospitalized Sweetheart or someone desiring an update on her condition (generally fair, with patchy low clouds in the morning). This call was different.

"Hello? Mr. [garbled]?"

Any mispronunciation of my name, even given certain domestic dialects, generally means yet another calling service outsourced to somewhere in the middle-to-far east. I place this one in Pakistan or India. I start with Mr. Polite first.

Inner Dad: "Yes. Can I help you?"

Telemarketer: [reading from script] "Mr. [unintelligible], I am calling to ask for your help in answering a product survey with regards to your sporting goods purchases."

Clearly this lad has not been a regular reader of the Inner Dad or Woody's Woundup.

Inner Dad: [unable to help myself] "Are you serious? I haven't seen the inside of a sporting goods store in years!"

Telemarketer: [quickly scanning suddenly unhelpful script] "You say you don't buy sporting goods?"

Inner Dad: [now enjoying the call, having gained the upper hand] "Oh, I suppose you could count the scooters I buy for my daughters at Target, but other than that, no, I don't."

Telemarketer: [abandoning now useless script] "Ah, um, [Hindi expletive for all I know], thank you very much for your time, Mr. [still unintelligible]."

Inner Dad: "My pleasure."

And I meant it.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Inner Dad Requires the Inner Mom

Being a successful Inner Dad is all about having the love, companionship, and support of a loving Inner Mom. If I have become any sort of good father to my children, it's only because I have married the greatest Mom on earth that I know of, next to my own.

Mrs. Woody is ill. We were on the last leg of our Inner Vacation a couple of weeks ago when Mrs. Woody got a smallish wound that ultimately developed into a massive infection. Bad enough, at any rate, to land her in the hospital a few days ago.

Inner Dads can get a tad maudlin about family members and hospitals. It goes without saying, of course, that when an Inner Dad himself enters a hospital for any reason, we (in our own minds) have a much more stoic outlook about the whole thing. (At least one Inner Mom of my acquaintance, who happens to work at the hospital where my beloved rests tonight, disputes me on this point. According to her, her husband was the "worst patient" she'd ever seen when he was in for arthroscopic work on his knee.) We boast about being able to weather even hospital food because we are manly men, and not adverse to a little human suffering.

So long as it's us, anyway.

But let this Inner Dad confess tonight that even on those occasions when my daughters required a quick visit to Urgent Care, I was screaming on the inside. "Please, Heavenly Father," my prayers began, "let me be the one to suffer through this!"

Once it became clear that Mrs. Woody was destined to endure several days' worth of suffering and (as Dave Barry puts it) being subjected to medical care, my prayers began in earnest. Let this pain and agony be upon me, and not my sweet wife! My fevered brain began conjuring up all sorts of worst-case scenarios that have affected not only my dreams, but my ability to get to sleep in the first place. My heart hurts; not because of any perceived physical abnormality, but because it wants nothing more than to have my Sweetheart not suffer anymore.

I need my Inner Mom. My own Mom — the one who bore and raised me — has limited powers now to help me through life. I know she prays constantly on my behalf, but she also has four other children who need equal access to those prayers. She also has a loving husband, numerous grandchildren, and lives in Texas.

Mrs. Woody, on the other hand, is my constant companion. We do everything together. We share each other's ambitions and dreams. We love and support each other through lean times and physical challenges. We enjoy our children. We love teaching them (and being taught by them). We are a team.

So I crave your prayers tonight. Not really for me, but for the main reason why I'm a sane man today. She will get better; of that there is no doubt. She has access to talented medical professionals, and we have fairly decent Inner Insurance. Pray that she'll recover soon so we can get back to enjoying our life's many challenges and blessings.

The Inner Dad thanks you in advance.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Vacation Windows

There is a window, albeit a relatively small one, during which kids seem to blossom into the concept of a family vacation. We're at a point in time where family vacations can be more about the kids and having them relish the experience.

We've just returned from two weeks of fireworks and lighthouses along the Pacific coast. Every other year (give or take) we spend the July 4th holiday with our friends who live in Vancouver, Washington. Vancouver still believes in celebrating the 4th in the traditional way, which means blowing optional body parts to kingdom come. Who needs an old finger, anyway? It works for us, though, because we're the guests. This means we don't have to go out there and risk contact with these IED's in patriotic wrappings. Not unless we really want to. Thus we spent our 4th having (literally) front-row seats for one of the best 4th spectacles you'll ever see. This is primarily because not only were we setting off fireworks in our own cul-de-sac, but we got to watch every other street in Vancouver light off their boomers as well. Had we stopped to listen, we might even have heard the show they have every year at Fort Vancouver. But we couldn't because our hosts like to open their windows and play patriotic CDs (they have a 25-disc player!) as loudly as they can.

But the 4th was only a sliver of our time spent in Vancouver this year. For a whole week we imposed on their hospitality, whilst our girls attended Hogwarts Owl Camp this year. Yes, you heard me. Our goddaughter, who is exactly one year older than our Jelly Woodyette, got to be a "Prefect In Training" (or, as we preferred to call her, a "PIT"), and the Woodyettes were willing camperettes. It involved a lot of work on the part of someone-who-shall-not-be-named-in-this-blog-but-whom-we-call-"neighbor"-just-in-case-my-daughters-are-reading-this-post. Doodle had a pretty good time with the crafts and the games of Field Quidditch, but Jelly had the time of her life. They even had camp tee shirts and vests, complete with badges. Jelly loves any activity where you can completely immerse yourself in some other world, and Hogwarts is one of her favorites. They had enough fun that the Inner Dad didn't even mind those occasions when he was required to assist. I was pretty much the official photographer/videographer for much of the camp, and was also an ad hoc camp counsellor when things like a nature hike were called for. Not a huge problem, though, with a camp of three.

Jelly also loved our lighthouse tour on the way back down the coast. We started at the southern peninsula in Washington and worked our way down through several lighthouses in Oregon, ending our tour with the lighthouse in Crescent City, California. I'm sure Jelly loved looking at the lighthouses themselves, but what she really loved was the opportunity to "hike" out to see them. Most of the lighthouses we saw don't have terribly convenient parking where you can just sit in the car, point, and say, "Ok, kids, that's what a lighthouse looks like." No, most of them require some sort of hike. And Jelly loves hikes.

"Daddy! Can we take this trail?"

[Daddy looks at a dirt path leading into a stand of trees that's probably inhabited with rattlesnakes and gophers the size of HumVees]

"No, Sweetie. Let's stick to this (paved, varmint-proof) trail here."

I am also happy to report that there were only a couple of houses that Mrs. Woody couldn't see on this trip. She's the true lighthouse afficcionado in our family, and the tour was primarily her idea. She knew, having done her research, that some of them just aren't terribly wheelchair accessible, but she wanted us to see them (and, of course, document them) anyway. I compensated somewhat by buying her commemorative spoons of every lighthouse I could find along the way.

We also visited one of our favorite places in Oregon: the Tillamook Cheese factory. Tillamook cheese is famous, and it was one of our stops during our honeymoon eleven years ago. We couldn't wait to return and take our kidlings through the tour (which is, for the record, wheelchair accessible). The kids were appropriately fascinated, right up to the part where Doodle managed to get a big glob of BubbleGum ice cream on her sister's shirt. Fortunately that waited until the tour was over and all we had left was the gift shop.

We also had some time to consider where we might like to retire in a few (hah!) years. In fact, Mrs. Woody and I discussed it so much that Jelly pulled me aside one evening with a worried look on her face. "Daddy? Why are you and Mommy talking about moving?" I hastened to reassure her that Mommy and Daddy are only planning for a kid-free future and realize that we can't afford to live in California on a fixed income. "By the time we're ready to move, Sweetheart," I told her, "you'll be on your own, or may even have your own family. We plan to leave no forwarding address." I didn't really say that last part, but I was thinking it.

So we're home now. Mrs. Woody picked up a nasty infection somewhere along the way and is recovering from that, but we are otherwise glad to be home. It's nice to pick up and leave for awhile, but it's also nice to come home. Home is (for the Woodys, at least) our haven; our refuge from the world. Having been out amongst the world for a couple of weeks, our love for home has simply magnified.

Of course, it's about time now to begin planning our next vacation. We'd better hurry. That window is already closing fast, and our vacations will once again be mostly for Mom and Dad.

Not that we won't enjoy that.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Things Are Going Swimmingly, Thanks

Woody was a merman today.

It pains me to admit this. I'm not the merman type, for one thing. Not since I was the Woodyettes' age at least. I normally wouldn't even blog something like this, but it demonstrates a similarity between myself and my older Woodyette that I find refreshing.

As a kid in summer, I could make any pool a complete fantasyland all my own. Irregular shapes were best. If a pool had an angle, or even a bent oval, I could create entire worlds. Since the only mode of transportation was liquid, I became the small, skinny equivalent of Aquaman. Also, we didn't have a pool of our own, so pool visits were a treat. One grandma had a pool at the trailer park where she lived at the time (it had a bend in it!), or we would occasionally swim at one of the local high schools that offered public swimming during the week.

I became pretty proficient at swimming underwater. I had very little natural buoyancy because I was so thin, so I could torpedo around the bottom of the pool for as long as I could hold my breath. All the while I was travelling from one underwater city to another, or from a submarine to a secret underwater base. My missions were always life or death (this is more of a boy thing, I imagine). I think probably they involved espionage of one sort or another in those days.

Jelly, of course, prefers mermaids. Still, that doesn't prevent her from dividing the pool into various sections that serve numerous purposes. One moment she was designating one section as my bedroom (as the Merman Daddy, of course), another section as Doodle's bedroom, and the jacuzzi (no fool is she) as her own bedroom. Mommy was exempt as she was swimming actual laps at the time.

Later, while Mommy and Daddy were drying off next to the pool, Jelly was a dolphin show at Sea World. She was alternately Dolly the Dolphin, or Dolly's trainer (depending on which one would get more applause) and begging the audience to notice all the neat tricks she (or the dolphin) could do.

[Side Note: I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. This child can come up with names faster than I've ever known. She appears to have swallowed "1001 Names for Baby" and can recall them at will. The problem is, she assigns these names to whatever imaginary characters she has either assumed or created for purposes of her latest fantasy, and I CAN'T KEEP UP. No matter how hard I try, I am always at least three names behind the curve. So no matter what I call her, it's wrong. Plus, she has, like, enough dolls to populate small towns in Louisiana, and each one has a name. Heaven help me if I don't remember which doll goes with which name. I try to avoid trouble by describing them, rather than calling them by name. "Go pick up that doll that looks like it got run over by a Peterbilt," I'll say. "Daaaaaaddy!" Jelly will respond, "that's Charlotte!"

Of course. Silly me.

I pity her poor husband years from now as they breathlessly await the arrival of their new baby, and that increasingly desperate soul tries to keep up with the latest nom du jour. "So we're calling her Susan, right?" "No! That's so 30 minutes ago! We'll call her Ariel, of course!"]

This pool is not ours, I should mention. Mrs. Woody has become good friends with her visiting teacher, and this gracious lady has insisted for the last couple of years that we come over and use their pool whenever we like. I believe she started doing this because Mrs. Woody had mentioned that she liked the therapeutic quality of exercise she gets from swimming. But what started as a wonderful act of service has now become a nice tradition, cementing our friendship with that family and giving both Mrs. Woody and myself extra chances to work off a bit of poundage.

Our pool is a community pool, and now that school is out it will be forever populated by all the raucous, bored-out-of-their-collective-skulls teenagers that I always feel an impulse to throw in jail rather than look at. (I'm sure many of them are wonderful kids. I just can't take that chance.) So we prefer not to use our community pool. Our friends' pool is cleaner, and has cool waterfalls. No contest.

Also worthy of note: tomorrow is Jelly's 10th birthday. 8 was significant for the obvious baptism reason. 10 becomes significant because it's her first double-digit birthday. Two more years and she'll be... dare I say it?... a BEEHIVE. [Cue scary music]

Fortunately for the Woodys, 10 is still young enough to be lost in the wonder of it all, and we will drive Jelly over to a place called Whimsic Alley which specializes in (surprise!) Harry Potter paraphernalia. She's definitely looking forward to spending some of her birthday cash ("Thanks, Grandma!") while Daddy huffs and puffs behind her, panting like a labrador in 110° heat while trying to keep up.

Wish me well.