Saturday, May 26, 2007

Daddy's Clues®

It wasn't that many years ago that the Woodyettes were into Blue's Clues, but big time. They watched every show. They were scandalized when Steve left the show and Joe took over. They were a little bummed that Blue's Room never really went anywhere. They kind of liked the notion that Blue could turn into a puppet and talk.

Mommy and Daddy were fond of the notion that the girls were learning critical thinking skills that they actually applied to everyday life. They loved taking the wind out of our sails whenever Mommy and Daddy would try to talk in code and the girls could actually guess what we were talking about and then giggle uproariously when Mommy and Daddy would look crestfallen and say things like, "You weren't supposed to figure that out!"

So it came as a huge thrill to my daughters (Jelly first) that Daddy one day came up with a game of "Daddy's Clues" for them to play. I'd only done it a few times, primarily because it's actually hard work — coming up with all those clues and stuff. Also, instead of a paw print, I had to draw a little caricature of myself that the girls could easily identify as Daddy's Clues that were then placed strategically around the house. Usually the clues led up to something that Daddy and the girls could do together, such as having a play date at the park.

Of late, the Jelly Woodyette had been sighing wistfully that she really really missed playing Daddy's Clues, followed by more sighs and heavy shoulder lifts. Mrs. Woody, of course, picked up on this line of thought immediately. "Bud," she said. "The girls really really miss playing Daddy's Clues."

Yeah, Honey, I heard that.

"Really, really, really," she emphasized.

Oh, um, of course. Guess I'd better do something about that.

Then a golden opportunity presented itself that was just too good to pass up. May is a busy month for the Woodys. We have Mothers Day, of course. But this is followed in short order by our wedding anniversary and (a few SHORT days later) the anniversary of Mrs. Woody's natal day. ("Daddy? What's a 'natal?'" "Dunno, Honey... I think it's some sort of military organization in Europe somewhere.")

Anyway, I thought it might be really fun to take the family someplace that Mrs. Woody and I had been discussing to celebrate her birthday, and for which the Woodyettes are just about the perfect age now. Plus, I could make up a Daddy's Clues game to make them guess where we were going.

So, yesterday after work I took our incredibly cheap video cam (one of those $100 all-in-one jobs that takes grainy, out of synch video, crummy photos, and tinny-sounding audio) into our bathroom, which is the only room in the house where I can expect a modicum of privacy. I donned my shades and goofy-looking retired fogey hat and turned myself into the geek equivalent of Q. I shot five short videos which I then burned onto separate DVDs. The first one was addressed to "Special Agents Jelly & Doodle."

Mrs. Woody watched me put all this together and started getting excited in anticipation of how much fun the girls would have.

The idea was to record four hints that would each solve to part of the name of our intended destination. Most of them I just made up (although I did write a brief script for my videos... I didn't trust myself to be completely extemporaneous), but I did borrow one directly from "Harry Potter," just for effect. I even sang a Primary song with an incorrect word that the girls were instructed to correct. The videos also gave hints as to where the next clue was hidden. In other words, as Mrs. Woody put it later, "Daddy's Clues, ver. 2.0."

The girls loved it. As soon as they saw the first DVD they began jumping up and down. In fact, they had so much fun watching the videos, they had a hard time paying attention to the actual clues. Fortunately, DVDs can be rewound and played over, and that's exactly what we had to do — several times, in some cases — for each clue. Then they would race, excited, to the site of the clue and look for the next installment.

It turned out that the girls both found and solved equal numbers of clues and hiding places. Doodle imploded a bit when it came time to rearrange the solved pieces of the word, but Jelly got it right away. We finally coaxed Doodle through the solving process, and then watched her little jaw drop as she realized that in a few SHORT days, we will be taking Mommy to Disneyland™®©. [Begin endless looping of "When You Wish Upon a Star" in your brain now]

Mommy had me document the entire process with our much-better-near-professional-quality camera, and the girls had a tremendous time. So did Mommy and Daddy, come to that.

I'm sure we'll have a wonderful time later this coming week, too.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Hallelujah Chorus - Of a Sort

Via my mostly-saintly mother, who got it from a former conductor:

My co-workers now think I have completely lost it.

I think I very nearly did. Enjoy.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Woodys Celebrate an Anniversary

We were married eleven years ago over the Memorial Day weekend, and every year Mrs. Woody and I like to spend a quiet weekend together to celebrate that anniversary. Well, obviously the word "quiet" most certainly does not apply to Memorial Day weekend. Serious vacationers and weekend travellers seem to be sitting on tenterhooks on Thursday evening, just waiting for the crack of dawn on Friday to hit the pavement. For that reason alone we have chosen to celebrate every anniversary since our first on a weekend other than Memorial Day. Preferably sooner. We might have left town on our first anniversary except a) we hadn't quite dreamed up that tradition yet, and b) Mrs. Woody was, by her reckoning, approximately 100 months pregnant. So travelling that year was quite out of the question.

Over the years we have enjoyed some spectacular and wondrous sights in our home state. California boasts everything from beaches to mountains, deserts to plains, and just about everything inbetween. We enjoyed a trip to Poway one year, just north of San Diego, and found a beautiful little park complete with bandstand and (as it happened) a Memorial Day band celebration in progress. Another year we took a trip to Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada, and wove our way home through Gold Country.

This year we wanted to visit the beach. Or, more specifically, we wanted to visit that beautifully rocky expanse of coastline that constitutes California's Central Coast where the waves break on jagged volcanic rocks that jut out into the ocean for mile after mile.

San Simeon is about three miles south of the entrance to the famed Hearst Castle (one of the highlights of this trip) and is itself just a community of motels and hotels close to the water with Highway 1 passing through it. We booked ourselves into a place called "The Silver Surf" motel on the north side of the highway, but with enough of a view of the ocean and surf that we felt quite pleased with our choice.

If you hear theme music from "Psycho II" running through your mind, I ask you to please ignore it until I've told the whole story.

We took advantage of the evening meal vouchers that came with our package deal on Friday, then settled into our room to enjoy the spectacular sunset and enjoy some relaxation before having our adventures on Saturday.

All was well until about 9:00 that evening. Suddenly, it seemed, the rooms immediately surrounding us to the west and above us (we were in a corner room) exploded to life. These three rooms were inhabited by a single family apparently there to attend a wedding that weekend, and also apparently unable to communicate below a shout. They had evidently invited the entire wedding party to visit their three rooms, and we learned three important things about our motel:

  1. Paper thin walls. At one point I swear I could hear blow driers in the upper bathroom, and what sounded like a roulette wheel at 5:30 the next morning. These walls are incapable of blocking communications such as, "HEY. DO YOU WANT ME TO BRING IN THE KEG?" "NO, WE'LL JUST DRINK IT IN FRONT OF OUR NEIGHBORS' ROOM. THEY WON'T MIND." "GREAT. CRANK UP THE TUNES, WOULDJA? THEY'RE TRYING TO GET SOME SLEEP."

  2. Being a beach town, just miles from San Luis Obispo (home of one of the Cal Poly campuses), San Simeon is also a magnet for every punk kid with a car and stereo capable of skyscraper demolition who refuses to keep his or her windows closed. They apparently believe that merely by driving through and thumping everyone's ear drums into submission that members of the opposite sex will just jump right into their vehicle and enflame their passion. That may very well have been happening, but my closed doors and windows were the only things standing between me and permanent brain injury, so I refused to investigate. Of course, it could be they believe that their car stereos are somehow assisting the elephant seals that line local beaches with their annual molting, but I doubt it.

  3. Even if you survive the punk demolition experts, the town boasts "live entertainment" somewhere in the strip of hotels across the highway which cranks up to full volume at about 9:30 in the evening and does not subside until about 12:30. Thus my brain has now memorized the bass lines (the only notes I could actually discern) to every beach song they played over two successive nights.

Aside from the fact that I didn't get a wink of sleep until 2:00 in the morning on Saturday, we actually had a pretty good time on our adventure. Hearst Castle is incredible. We took a special tour designed for those with mobility challenges (the other tours are extensive walking tours) that included the indoor Roman pool, one of the guest "cottages" (three cottages, each one a mansion unto itself), and portions of the main house. The idea of living among such opulence is ludicrous, of course, but it was meant after all to be a sort of private resort. Hearst could invite his friends and luminaries from Hollywood's Golden Age for a visit, which automatically made everything a media event.

Then we drove up the coast a bit to see the elephant seals. Or, at least, the ones that survived the punk demolition kids. We found a small pocket of about five or six animals that were lazing on the rocky beach below the vista point. Quite a sight. Farther down the road we could see a much larger rookery, but couldn't quite get close enough to see them. Yesterday before leaving town for good (and to make an appointment with my ear doctor) we managed to get closer to the rookery. It reminded me of old Jacques Cousteau specials where the animals just lay there, flipping sand up over themselves to stay cool. By about that point on our journey they appeared to have more energy than I did. A few animals were bobbing up and down in the surf, but they were the radicals. Everyone else just lay around, idly wondering who the next president of the country would be.

The long drive home was broken up only by a visit to a ward in Santa Maria for Sacrament meeting, plus a stop or two to eat along the way. Then a wonderful visit with my sister's family, who had been gracious enough to watch our Woodyettes for us while we were away.

I'll be interested to see what kind of spin Mrs. Woody takes on this trip when she gets around to scrapbooking it. It was definitely a memorable experience. I just hope we retain the right memories.

Hopefully I won't read my own blog too much. ;-)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Flash Card Anxiety

Wonderwood Academy, like so many other prestigious campuses across the country, has its share of challenges. Our admission standards, for example, are so restrictive that we have only a total of two (count 'em!) students. This may have something to do with the fact that they were the only ones who'd ever applied, but we prefer to think of it as maintaining high standards for our student body.

We are so exclusive that there aren't even any tests required for admission. We simply know which students qualify under our rigorous and exhaustive searches, and they magically appear in our classroom, ready to learn. At least it looks like magic when we finally get their collective attention in the morning and roust them out of their comfortable dorm room beds.

Still, as I say, even with all this exclusivity which should, at a minimum, qualify us for millions of government dollars in aid, we do have our little challenges.

Math, for example.

One of the most rigorous of our rigorous standards is that each child share many genes with one or more of the Academy directors. The original idea had been that our students would only possess the better genes that the directors contribute. In practice, however, a few of the less desirable ones have slipped through our tight security net. In this case, our students have inherited their father's math genes.

You might think, what with their father being a programmer in real life and all, that the girls might have an advantage there. But no; unfortunately they seem to have inherited Daddy's lazy math genes. The ones where they could probably figure it all out any ol' time they wanted to, if it weren't for, you know, all those rules and stuff. And memorization. And flash cards.

Ah, yes. The flash cards.

Mrs. Woody whipped out the flash cards today to general moanings and groanings from our suddenly rebellious (but exclusive!) student body. Truth to tell, to hear Mrs. Woody's account, they sounded downright mutinous. I remember this phenomenon. Back in the Dark Ages, when Woody was in elementary school, Woody was often kept after class (always, it seemed, on those beautiful, sunny days when my friends would likely want to take a ball and bat over to the field next door) because he refused to understand that each bundle of pencils on the worksheet just automatically represented 10 pencils. Instead, Woody insisted that each bundle needed to be counted. Pattern recognition was not Woody's long suit in elementary school. Thus it took Woody about four hours longer than the rest of the class to complete most math assignments.

Even today, years later, if you ask Woody a direct math-related question you can actually see Woody's brain throbbing at the temples while he tries to figure it all out in his head. And now I'm a programmer. My employer is in for some real surprises somewhere down the road.

The Woodyettes, however, probably won't suffer quite as much as Woody did in school. For one thing, they have a much better teacher than I ever had. Mrs. Woody is the kind of teacher I wished I'd had throughout my entire school career. (She's also cuter than any other teacher I ever had, but I think my math skills prevented me from noticing that fact until it was nearly too late.) Also, the girls are arguably brighter than their Dad. Once they learn something, it tends to stay learned. Oh, they may suffer from a little confidence drop if they haven't drilled something in a couple of weeks, but once they get the hang of it again they simply plow through.

As always, focus is really the enemy here. Jelly, as I've mentioned before, has more focus issues than her little sister. This can create situations where Doodle seems to be smarter than her sister (from Jelly's perspective, mind you) simply because she was more focused when Mommy asked a particular question. This cuts to the heart of Jelly's older-competitive-sibling spirit and causes her to have frowny moments.

But it's not all bad news. Jelly's focus is improving every month. Nowadays if she's having focus issues, it's generally because we've left her to her own devices for a tad too long before trying to rein her in for another lesson. Once she's into full-blown fantasyland play, it's hard to get her out of it.

Doodle's primary weakness is endurance rather than focus. She just gets tired faster. It's kind of a funny contrast, actually; Doodle is a much faster eater than Jelly, but Jelly can be finished with a task quicker than her younger sister. (Then they gloat at each other, which causes things that I'll save for another post.)

So I apologize now to my daughters for inheriting my math genes. The good news is that they'll both probably exceed their Dad's abilities by the time they graduate. Until then, we'll just have to deal with Flash Card Anxiety. It's not fun, but they need it.

Probably I do, too.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

An Ocean of Memories

[Cross-posted over at Woody's Woundup]

I have mentioned before that my late Grandpa was one of my boyhood heroes. Grandpa had a boat — the Seagull III — and we would go out on that wonderful boat several times a year when I was younger. I loved going up on the fly deck (Grandpa hated calling it a "fly deck," and insisted that we call it the "bridge") to help Grandpa pilot the boat through the treacherous waters of San Pedro Harbor.

Those trips to San Pedro were among the happiest of my young life. For one thing, it was one of the few venues where even Dad was awe-struck enough that we kids never got yelled at. I think he actually preferred to defer to Grandpa's absolute authority as captain of the vessel, meaning his rotten kids were someone else's problem for a few hours. (Dad loved us, but I'm certain we gave him ulcers.)

The slip where the Seagull III was tied up was accessible by a cantilevered bridge. This allowed for larger traffic to pass underneath on its way out to sea, and also served as entertainment for us kids if we timed things just right. On the days when we were allowed to watch the bridge open and rise up before us, Dad would swear softly under his breath while we kids would cheer.

Then there was the dock and slips where the boat was tied up. I spent countless hours fishing from the slip where we caught smallish perch that would hardly qualify as bait. Grandpa taught us to toss those back. Or we'd try to extricate mussels that were growing just under the waterline, or play with the anemones that were anchored on the wooden supports in the water. We'd go crab-watching on the big boulders that bordered the dock.

Grandma would always take us out in the dinghy (of course they had a dinghy!) and teach us to row. By the time I was 10 or 11 I was old enough to row the dinghy around the slips, always making at least one pass underneath the one catamaran (or, come to think of it, it may have been a trimaran) that Grandma showed us how to navigate through.

The Seagull III itself was a constant source of entertainment. Grandma and Grandpa had friends from all over the world. Whenever these friends would come to Los Angeles for a visit, the boat was a must. These friends often presented my grandparents with gifts which inevitably ended up in the smallish cabin of the boat for future use by the grandkids. Grandma would try to teach us to play "My Dog Has Fleas" on her ukelele, or teach us to play Canasta with the omnipresent decks of cards (with neat nautical designs on the back!). They also had a book on fishes commonly found in local waters so that I could be an insufferable brainiac and parrot all the stuff I'd just read as though I were some sort of internationally famous marine biologist.

I mention these things because these were some (only some!) of the memories that came flooding back to me this afternoon when we took our student body on a field trip to the Port of Long Beach. A family in our on-again off-again homeschool group helped arrange for the tour, which was free. An hour and a half of one very wet joy ride around the second busiest port in the western United States. The pier from which the boat departed lies directly north of the Queen Mary, so we got to see her in all her glory as we headed out into the breakwater beyond.

The trip was extremely reminiscent of all those trips that we'd taken in Grandpa's boat those many years ago. We were there when the Queen Mary was sitting in her brand new berth, and painted a uniform coat of chocolate brown as she was being outfitted for her new life as a tourist attraction. (We have home movie footage of Grandpa piloting near the breakwater when the QM was sailing into Long Beach on her last-ever voyage, along with what appears to be about three million other small craft.) Every time I see the Queen Mary, I remember every one of those voyages with Grandpa.

What's missing, of course, is the Navy. Long Beach used to be home to part of the Pacific Fleet, and I remember as a boy having each battleship, cruiser, and PT boat pointed out to me (one of my uncles had served in the Navy) until I could name them by sight. Seeing them on a movie screen, or even being on deck doesn't give you the same perspective of massive naval might that you get from a twenty-seven foot cabin cruiser passing very close by at water level. But the fleet parted company with Long Beach back in 1994, and no trace remains of those ships.

To help make up for that loss, though, is the presence of the Sea Launch operation. We happened to take a tour on a day when both the launch platform and the Sea Launch Commander were in port. Since my company is one of the partners in Sea Launch, I of course snapped a few photos.

At one point in our tour we slipped nearly underneath one of the giant cargo ships that move over 8,000 piggy-back containers across the ocean in a single load. It was an impressive sight to see commerce in action. We were told by the hosts, who also happen to be members of the Port Authority, that two American companies have recently signed long-term "green" leases with the Port, meaning that they agree to adhere to new stricter environmental standards if they want to continue to do business in Long Beach. Matson was one of those companies, and we watched one of their ships preparing to move much-needed cargo to Hawaii. As each lease comes up for renewal, the tenants will have to agree to these new regulations or move out of the port.

The girls had a wonderful time, although I suspect they were less enchanted with the port and its beehive of activity and were instead enjoying an afternoon with their friends from the homeschool group. This was fine with us. They were, I think, suitably impressed with the huge cargo ships. They also got to see a couple of harbor tugs, one of which was actually tied up to a ship and beginning to pull it out into the breakwater. I pointed out a fireboat to the Doodle Woodyette, who was amazed to see it painted red just like a firetruck. We also got to see a pair of sea lions lazing on a buoy in the middle of the harbor, which was probably the most exciting thing they'd seen all day.

I'm sorry to say that our girls will probably never be able to invoke the same kinds of memories I can whenever we get close to the ocean. They've never been on a boat owned by anyone who wasn't eager to make money off of us. They've never been able to fish for smelt or stick their fingers in a convenient anemone. They've never gone crab hunting on the rocks.

With any luck, though, trips like this one will spring to mind and become part of that catalog of memories that will spring up when they take a boat ride years from now. It's only fair. And I hope, for them, those memories are just as sweet as the ones I had today.

Monday, May 07, 2007

I'm Getting a Reading Here...

It's Quiet Time™ at Wonderwood Academy (11:00 PM) which means the girls are reading. I think the older one is re-reading The Wizard of Oz. Not terribly certain just what the younger is reading, because she chose to go read in Mommy and Daddy's bedroom the Teachers Lounge. The Lounge has nice reading lamps on the night stands tables, and she can snuggle relax in the blankets padded comfort of the chairs.

We love Quiet Time™ here at the Academy. This is primarily because the difference in decibel level from, say, five minutes ago is about 50 points. You really don't think two smallish persons who tend to be tremendously shy in public could possibly generate enough sound waves to register on seismic equipment in the Balkans, but they do.

Mrs. Woody, our Headmistress at Wonderwood, keeps a reading log on our student body. Since we are both technophiles from waaaay back she tends to do her own downloads. Thus I, personally, have never seen this reading log. But I'm in there because Mrs. Woody has decided that the Wonderwood Custodian is subject to the same accountability as the students. I have no idea how many books I've got listed under my name right now, but I can tell you this much: it's a considerably shorter list than the Woodyettes'.

I suppose this is because they tend — generally — to read shorter books. At least, they used to. The Doodle, who is now seven and a half years old, was until recently reading the sort of short pulp-fiction-for-young-reader books with titles like "Little Miss Muffet and the Cave of Danger." Nowadays, however, she appears to have graduated to tomes with titles like "War and Peace - An Exhaustive Concordance." That's what it looks like to me, anyway.

Jelly — now nearly ten — tends to favor volumes that enhance her already fertile imagination. She tries hard to become the characters she's reading about. In Harry Potter, for example, she dons Hogwarts robes and prances about the house Academy casting spells on everything that's not already enchanted. Like Dad. I mean, the Custodian. If she's reading an Oz book, I half expect to see her wearing blue gingham dresses and pony tails. (I haven't actually seen this behavior in conjunction with the Baum books, though... she may consider these to be a more cerebral exercise overall. My personal favorite Baum book is "Ozma of Oz." It has more to do with a favorite childhood memory rather than an appreciation for the story, but there you are.)

When we of the adult staff read books, we love to lose ourselves in cozies. I've only recently become aware of cozies. I'd been reading them for some time before Mrs. Woody informed me as to what, exactly, a "cozy" is. Several years ago I'd become a big fan of "The Cat Who..." series by Lilian Jackson Braun. Now my sweet wife has me hooked on the Hannah Swensen mysteries by Joanne Fluke. I admit it: I'm a sap.

I truly appreciate the fact that the Woodyettes choose to read whenever they need to wind down. They love to take books on our longer road trips. They'll curl up with a good story by themselves, or read one together, or snuggle with Mommy while she reads aloud to them.

We are, let's face it, a bookish family. And I love that about us.