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™.