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.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Fish Stories

Every man has them. Tall(ish) tales of fierce combat with unseen enemies, generally of the variety that "got away." I actually have two; one involving a halibut (we think) that was large enough to pull Grandpa's boat before we had to cut the line, and the other involving my having caught a fish large enough to have won the boat pool, had we bothered to join it.

But this is not about fish. This is about the Yahtzee Championship Score of the World That No One Will Ever See.

We have an electronic Yahtzee game. I got it for (I think) a Christmas present many years ago. I got it because Santa (and you know who she is) knows that I am basically just a kid in a nearly fifty-year old body and I love to play with toys. We also have an affinity for certain games that Mrs. Woody and I have played for most of our marriage. Yahtzee is one of them.

If you've ever played the electronic Yahtzee game, you know it has certain advantages over the physical dice game. Every time I play the physical dice game, I get summarily stomped by Mrs. Woody. I mean every stinkin' time. I have no idea what mystical powers she possesses over those dice, but she beats me in at least nine games out of ten. The one game in ten that I actually win is always a squeaker; I may win by five points or less.

But the electronic version rocks. If you have any programming knowledge at all, you know that building a truly random algorithm is nearly impossible. It's always based on some event — usually time — which means that in theory you can actually replicate a so-called "random" pattern that is generated by any computer, no matter how complex. Electronic Yahtzee is not a complex computer. It's one of those things you could probably put together with your average electronics project kits at Radio Shack.

In real Yahtzee, I rarely see scores of over 300. You must get at least one "Yahtzee" (worth 50 points), all of the lower section scores, plus the upper section bonus in order to break 300. In real Yahtzee, "Yahtzees" are hard to come by. Large straights also give me fits, although I can usually score a full house in any game. I run about 50% on upper section bonuses (worth an additional 35 points) for the most part.

Electronic Yahtzee, on the other hand, is much more generous than real life. My little hand-held game resides in our bathreading room, where it gets played several times every day. An average game takes only about as long as our average bathreading room visit, so you can imagine how many games it plays in the course of a year.

Most fun are the games where you score multiple "Yahtzees." Each "Yahtzee" you score after the first one is worth an additional 100 points. And the hand-held version is extremely generous about "Yahtzees." Games with two or even three "Yahtzees" are not uncommon.

The game also holds onto the top score played, although it doesn't tell you who that player happened to be. Not to brag (which is, after all, the whole purpose of a fish story), but I will have you know that for many months now, the high score (belonging, it goes without saying, to yours truly) has been 612. I believe I had no fewer than four "Yahtzees" to capture that score. But it also means something else: it means that Mrs. Woody's personal best of 607 was not enough to unseat me from the champion's podium! Yes! She can whip me all she wants in real Yahtzee, but until this morning I was the undisputed KING of Electronic Yahtzee!

I say "until this morning" because, sadly, Electronic Yahtzee is incredibly cheap and has no flash memory. Thus, when its AAA battery died this morning after more than five years' faithful service, my high score went with it.

So the unofficial battle of Yahtzee Titans will commence again. I've replaced the battery (go DuraCell!), and fully expect Mrs. Woody and I to rub scores in each other's faces for the next several months. It takes time, you know, to build up the high scores until they register in the 500s and 600s as they did before. But I'm confident that they will.

Electronic Yahtzee is like that. Fish-like, if you know what I mean.

Visiting the House of the Mouse

So we checked our timeframe and it turns out that the last time we visited Disneyland was about three and a half years ago. Jelly would have been six-plus and the Doodle would have been nearly four. Three and a half years is a decent interval between D-Land visits because it takes about that long to save up the money required to go. (Of course, we didn't pay to actually get in. What you do, when you live here, is find someone who works there and have them sign you in. My boss's boss [read: wife] met us there with a friend and they did us the honor. But my statement still stands: it takes about that long to save up the money to eat and/or not suffer severe dehydration; not to mention buying of souvenirs without which no trip to the Big D would be complete.)

This also means that our girls are just the right ages now to really capture the wonder of the park. Three years ago our girls were still in their painfully shy modes — both of them — so that meeting the giant Goofy that strolls around ToonTown was a terrifying experience. I think we got Jelly to go up and meet Winnie the Pooh, but she didn't really look happy about it. Doodle was still so young that most of her memories of the park were probably manufactured. All she really knew about it was what she read in books or saw on TV.

With the girls now old enough to really appreciate the experience, we (Mrs. Woody and I) were filled with anticipation of how much fun they would have, and we weren't disappointed. I suppose that even an old jaded guy like Woody can still vicariously enjoy the park through my children. Truth is, Woody spent most of the day from about lunch time in pain. My joints just start protesting after so much walking, and all you do in Disneyland is either walk or inch through many lines. On some rides we got an assist in the form of Mrs. Woody. My sweetheart has mobility challenges in the form of a hereditary arthritis (Thanks, Dad! And Grandpa!) and spent the day in a rather uncomfortable electronic cart. But that cart, if she could handle the ride, moved us right up to the front of the class, so to speak.

Pain aside, just watching the girls have all the fun we used to have when we were kids was well worth the effort. They had a ball. They also [insert parental pride here] overcame some of their fears to go on rides that had terrified the Jelly three years ago. All those themed, indoor rides where the room is dark and they use flourescent paint, strobe lights, and loud noises just scared the poor child to tears on our last trip. But we were determined that she overcome her nerves and try at least one. We rode on Roger Rabbit's ToonTown Spin, and she managed to hold herself together. We did that rather early in the day so we could build her up to a roller-coaster or two.

Specifically we wanted her to experience the bobsleds and Big Thunder Railroad. At this point, however, I must interject that the Doodle was nearly fearless. Mostly because we'd already checked that she was tall enough, she wanted to ride as many rides "by herself" (meaning sitting in a chair without Daddy) as possible. On the bobsleds, however, Doodle rode with Daddy and Jelly — trooper that she was — rode by herself. And she loved it.

All of it, really. Oh, she still wasn't thrilled with Roger Rabbit. That meant we never did get to do Mr. Toad, Peter Pan, or even Snow White. But the girls loved Pirates of the Caribbean, and they even got through the Haunted Mansion. Doodle was less thrilled with the Haunted Mansion, but she got through it without any discernible trauma. They were appropriately giggly about riding on Dumbo, the Tea Cups, and the Astro Orbiter. They enjoyed the Storybook Land boat ride.

I must tell you that Doodle fell asleep in the Enchanted Tiki Room. It enchanted her right into a stupor and before the third song she was slumped at my side. This wasn't all bad, though. We let her nap on Daddy while we all took a sit-down break for about half an hour.

At the end of our very long day, the girls enjoyed some shopping. Mommy parked herself out of traffic and sent us forth to find a few items. She wanted the girls to get t-shirts (matching, of course), have them pick out a souvenir each, and the girls wanted to find a birthday present for Mommy. They were thrilled when Daddy pointed out the Disney-themed scrapbooking punches, and we got her a few of those.

Taken altogether it was a wonderful day. Time, I guess, to start saving money now so we can go again in another three or four years.