Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Big Five Oh

I have never fully appreciated life's milestones. From birth through adolescence and on through adulthood I have hit many milestones of one kind or another. Some, like turning sixteen and getting my driver's license, felt significant. Others, like my twenty-first birthday, blew by with hardly any notice.

My "decade" birthdays, in particular, seem to pass with very little fanfare. There was one attempt, on my thirtieth, to work up the whole "black arm band" theme with some close family friends from my previous life. That was an interesting night. I'd gotten home just about dark. The house looked normal from the driveway. I should have known my night would be downhill from there as soon as I opened the screen door and it promptly fell off its hinges. That wasn't planned, by the way. Then came the surprise party in my living room. Black arm bands and black crepe decorations. My oldest daughter — a teenager at the time — got her Dad a tube of Poli-grip® and a can of Turtle Wax® (for my forehead).

Otherwise, my decade marks have been relatively colorless. My tenth was probably typical of any young boy, with the exception of my confection of choice: since about my seventh birthday, I have always preferred pumpkin pie to birthday cake. I haven't missed a year since.

This milestone year, however, marks something more of a passage for me. Years ago when reading Parley P. Pratt's autobiography, I was fascinated by his description of his "jubilee year." I shouldn't have been surprised, actually. Life expectancies were significantly lower in those days, for one thing. Still, there was something about having lived for one half of a century. In my case, this is almost literally true. I was born shortly after the halfway mark of the 20th century, and now find myself in the early years of the 21st. The "ought" years.

Jubilee, of course, indicates a celebration. A reason to rejoice, if you will. A need to make a fuss over having survived through fifty years of... what, exactly?

Well, as a baby-boomer, I was a child of the Cold War. It was the one conflict we thought we'd never see the end of. I was born too late for the Korean conflict, but lived through the Vietnam war. The Cuban revolution played out just miles south of our borders and then nearly brought us to the edge of nuclear war. As a youth I was convinced that the Cold War would rage on throughout my entire life. That it has ostensibly ended is remarkable in itself. That some people seem to think it won't be back is somewhat frightening. I'm not so sure.

I have survived illnesses that might have killed me when I was a baby, but which I need little fear today. I have been asthmatic from infancy. As my mother's first child I can only guess at the stress I put her through every time I had an attack or a convulsion. Mom once told me I'd worn out just about every nurse at the local hospital over the years. It wasn't until my mission that I finally outgrew my extreme fear of needles. Losing yourself in the Lord's service can do that for you. That, and having no access to any nurse but your junior companion who gleefully played the part for ten whole days.

Then there was my mission itself; a lasting testament to the Lord's highly developed sense of humor. I was (and in some ways still am) an intellectually lazy individual. If it doesn't come easy to me, I tend to avoid it. When the time came to entertain the notion of actually serving the Lord for two years, it was truly the Spirit that catapulted me into the process of endless interviews and paperwork. When my bishop interviewed me, he asked the "do you have any preferences where you serve?" question. I said, quote, "Anywhere but south of the border." Neither the language nor the food possibilities appealed to me.

The letter signed by Spencer W. Kimball informed me that I would be going to Ft. Lauderdale in Florida where I would be speaking Spanish. My complacency bubble burst noisily in my ear as I contemplated life among retired mafiosos in south Florida (that being Dad's romanticized notion of my call).

That was just the hook, though. The Lord really needed to get me to Guatemala — precisely where I'd indicated I'd rather NOT serve — so the Ft. Lauderdale call was just a carrot, really. I still remember the scene in President Pinegar's office one night after our Tuesday devotional:
"So, I understand you brethren (there were four of us sitting very nervously in his office) have all been called to the Florida Ft. Lauderdale mission, is that correct?"

General nods of assent.

"Well, we'll have to do something about that."

One elder looked like we were all about to be sent home for disgracing the Church with our weak Spanish skills.

"Effective immediately, you four are called to serve in the Guatemala Quetzaltenango Mission as Quiché-speaking Elders."
I don't remember anything after that. But I survived that experience and had a tremendous time learning to love those Mayan children of God.

There can be no talk of surviving anything in my life without mentioning family. I have been abundantly blessed in my life with strong family. Mom and Dad gave me a spiritual grounding for which I can never thank them enough. My relatively new step-Dad is just as powerful an example as Dad was in his inimitable way. My grandparents all taught me things about life that have proven invaluable time and time again. Their experiences and wisdom I have tried to make my own, with varying degrees of success.

My siblings have both endured me and sustained me through all the milestones I have reached. That we remain close is something of a novelty in American life nowadays, but not so much for members of the Church. We understand what family represents, and we share at least that common goal of being together in eternity.

Without my wife and children, however, I am truly nothing. They are my life-blood. They give me joy even in times of severe stress. Today marked just one such occasion:

I have been under stress at work lately. This is nothing new, mind you; it seems to come with the territory. Programmers like myself tend to live and die by the project, and I have a number of them to which I am currently attached. Each project has its own set of priorities, many of which conflict with my other projects, so that I am constantly behind the curve.

This morning I logged in briefly to see whether a process I'd run last night had been successful. I'd spent many hours on short notice to get that process squared away, so my reaction was not good when I realized that the process had failed. Twice. I was angry, and nearer to giving up on everything right that minute than I'd been in many months. (I get near to quitting at least once a year. Keeps me limber for retirement in, oh, about 12 more years.)

My girls, however, were making preparations for a small field trip to a regional park not far from here. It's Halloween time, and there's a pumpkin patch with a hay-bale maze, not to mention a small zoo. I decided to drop a couple of hours out of my anxiety and take them on their field trip.

That field trip saved my life today. As field trips go, it was nothing. It hardly registers on the scale of neat things we've ever done for homeschool. But for my mental health, it was just what the doctor ordered. Time with my Sweetheart and my young sweethearts. Balm for the soul. And more to come this weekend, apparently. Much secrecy about where they're taking me. I've even offered my daughters twenty bucks if they'll let it slip to Daddy, but they're being too cagey for that.

So I'm celebrating my jubilee year this year. As you can see, I have much to celebrate. I have my health. I have my career. I have my testimony and love for the gospel. I have my sweet wife and children.

I have everything.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

God Bless Homeschool

One of the greatest blessings of homeschool is the flexibility built into the schedule. If our academy decides that a field trip is in order, we hop in our trusty minivan and take a field trip. There are no permission slips or extra insurance liability to worry over; we just go.

Today was a "just go" kind of day. A month ago or so when we took advantage of Homeschool Days at the Aquarium of the Pacific, we decided that this would be a good year to hold a membership there. For less than it would take this family to have a day at one of the local Disney parks, we can visit the Aquarium whenever we want for an entire year. We even get breaks on parking, so that our Aquarium adventure today cost us all of $6.00. That was $3.00 for parking, and another $3.00 to feed the lorikeets. Everything else was covered by our membership.

This is good because our family loves the Aquarium. The hard part is seeing all of it in a single visit. We're the kind of family that loves to linger over exhibits and take our time oohing and aahing over the various fauna throughout the museum. Of particular interest to our Woodyettes are the harbor seals and sea lions on display there. We weren't there during the feeding/training show, but we love to just sit and watch the animals. Today a few of them were quite playful, chasing each other around the tank and play-fighting. We had excellent views from the underground viewing windows.

After about an hour and a half or so, Woody was getting a bit worn out. It was decided to go have some lunch ("Hey, we can come back in a few weeks!"), then see about visiting one of the local beaches.

We lunched on breakfast at a local IHOP, which is always a treat for our family. We've loved IHOP since Mrs. Woody and I were dating. It's always fun to have breakfast for lunch, and we feasted well on crepes, pancakes, eggs, and fruit.

From there we drove down PCH for a few miles into Seal Beach, which is actually back in Orange County. We found the pier at the end of Main St, which was (hooray!) wheelchair accessible. We all had a chance to walk (or ride) down the pier. By then it was late enough in the afternoon that a beautiful silver glow could be seen where the sun was getting low over the horizon. A couple of wind-surfers could be seen gliding across the breakers, and fishermen were having various levels of success up and down the pier. The girls enjoyed watching them pull in a few fish, and one fellow even caught a small dogfish shark.

A quick stop at Sonic on our way home for Slushes was the perfect ending to our "just go" adventure.

Adventures are part of the fun we have as a family. We call them "adventures," but they're really just opportunities to meander around an area, taking in the sights and not particularly worrying about where we're actually going. Aside from the Aquarium, we had no destinations firmly set. We just sort of pointed the car and drove.

Our tradition of "adventuring" began when Mrs. Woody realized early in our courting that occasionally Woody had absolutely no clue where he was going, but was determined to find it without having to (you guessed it) ask for directions. Mrs. Woody found that she actually enjoyed just being with me enough that she renamed this bane of all female existence an "adventure" and just went along with it.

Nowadays, of course, we have GPS if we really need to find something, so a day like today required simply admitting that we wanted to meander rather than arrive somewhere.

It's all quite therapeutic, and (since we homeschool) quite educational as well. The Woodyettes got to learn a bit more about marine life, and the Headmistress and Dean of the Academy got a chance to get out of the house go off-campus for awhile.

We love homeschool!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Family Auditions

I have mentioned over the years our triumphs in getting the Woodyettes to sing in church. Every year for the Primary presentation Mrs. Woody and I sit and watch our girls struggle with the concept of singing (or even appearing to sing) in public. The first few years were downright painful. In fact, Jelly actually had a pained expression on her face (when we could see it through the crowd of kids behind which she was strategically placed) as if making her do this were a form of punishment.

Then, over time, both girls got to a point where — perhaps not quite willingly — they both will sing. They even move their mouths to show that they have learned the words as well. And each successive year gets a little bit better. (Important note: this year will be Jelly's last ever Primary presentation. Next year she will have become a Beehive and even attended her first ever Girls Camp. Yikes!)

A few months ago we became aware of our Stake's desire to produce the Church's musical presentation called "The Savior of the World." This is the production for which the Stake Presidency asked me to present a series of lessons giving the historical and spiritual background of the events covered by the script. We were also aware that, as a member of the Anaheim Mormon Chorale (which is based in our stake) I was already considered a member of the chorus.

When they announced open auditions for the Angel Choir, Mrs. Woody expressed a desire to participate. There are some logistical challenges to be considered, but Mrs. Woody has a wonderful, sweet alto voice and will be a valuable member of the choir. What surprised us, however, was Jelly's desire to be a part of the show. Over the summer, perhaps as a result of listening to Daddy's lessons, she had begun to ask whether she might be able to participate in the chorus, so long as she didn't have to do any real, you know, acting.

Of course, this sets up a huge paradox. Performing in a production like this requires auditions. Auditions require the candidate to sing, generally alone, in front of several people. Jelly's shyness is such that we knew she would struggle mightily with this concept of auditioning, even for a relatively safe chorus part. However, we also knew that she can sing, in key, and has a wonderful, sweet voice just like her mother. So can the Doodle, but she had already stated her intention to be a member of the audience. She did NOT like the idea of singing, even in a chorus, in front of other people.

Auditions were set for this weekend. There were three slots available on Friday evening, Saturday afternoon, and tonight. In typical Mormon fashion, about 90% of the aspirants waited until tonight to audition. So we decided to go tonight and have Mrs. Woody audition. We also encouraged the girls that, if they wanted to, they could audition as well.

That's when the stomach aches began. Headaches, too. Loss of sleep, even. It got worse yesterday when we actually picked out songs on which to audition. Mrs. Woody went with "Lead, Kindly Light" because it was one of few songs in the hymn book that keep the melody low enough for her alto voice to shine through. Jelly's favorite song is "I Am a Child of God," and we sing it nearly every night as a family as part of our bedtime devotional. When we tried to get her to practice it, however, the lock-jaw set in. So did the headache. Ultimately, as the Woodyettes are wont to do, Doodle offered to sing with Jelly, even though she wasn't intending to audition herself, if it would help Jelly feel braver.

Throughout the day today Jelly vacillated between wanting to audition, and wanting instead to be in a completely different time zone when the auditions happened. Right up until Mrs. Woody and I walked into the audition room we had no idea if Jelly was going to audition or not. I had actually filled out an audition sheet for her on the off chance that she might change her mind. However, she had spent the time waiting for the audition turning various shades of green.

Mrs. Woody went first. I should mention that JoLane Jolley, the music director, is also our director for the Chorale. A sweeter, more gracious lady you could not hope to find. She knows exactly how to make people feel at ease (or as much as is physically possible under such circumstances), and was at the piano herself tonight. Mrs. Woody did a wonderful job, and I am sure will be an anchor in the alto part of the choir. They had me sing because, I think, they're looking into some of the other ancillary parts that require singing in the production and want to know what they have to work with. (Asked if I was willing to grow a beard. Well, yeah, I am, although they get pretty itchy. But Mrs. Woody loves 'em, so there are benefits.)

Then we asked the Woodyettes if they wanted to sing together. Doodle had been watching Mommy and Daddy audition and was having second thoughts about auditioning herself, but only if she could sing with her sister. So, with great trepidation, Jelly and Doodle stood side by side next to Sis. Jolley and sang "I Am a Child of God."

They by no means belted it out (Daddy was hovering over their shoulders encouraging them to sing out, and even Sis. Jolley was trying to help them sing a bit louder), but it was sweet and on key. Mommy and Daddy were absolutely thrilled. As much because they scraped together enough courage to actually audition as by the performance they gave.

We have little doubt that the girls would do well as members of a larger chorus. So long as they aren't required to do anything that would get them noticed in any way, they'll be cool. Mrs. Woody is excited about the prospect of performing in this production. She's been feeling some promptings that I feel certain come from the Spirit, and this will be a good experience for her.

Daddy is thrilled to think that his whole little family might be in this play together.

But most of all, we are so prilled (proud and thrilled, so we don't have to actually say "proud") of our Woodyettes. They both overcame a huge monster that lives in their bellies tonight, and that counts for a lot in this life. My patriarchal blessing tells me that on occasion I need to make myself do things that I know are right, even if my natural inclination is to avoid them. That's what my (not so) little girls did tonight.

What a family!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pease Porridge Hot

There are risks involved with being a homeschool Dad. My situation is especially risky since I happen to work from home quite a lot of late. My job is one of those that can literally be called in most days, so I find myself sitting at our dining room table in a sort of mini-cubicle (albeit with a better view) whilst the girls take up the nice, comfy seats on our couches in the living room. But, hey, I'm willing to sacrifice for the sake of their education.

Most of the risks are minimal, really. We occasionally have focus issues whenever I have a telecon while they're trying to read, or do math. One of the girls might not take note of the ear-piece in Daddy's ear when she sits at the piano and tries to practice. "What, Boss? That? Nothing. Just the sound of my blood pressure going up."

However, these risks are small and easily dealt with. Most of the time, Mommy is pretty good about scheduling things around my meetings. That way my noise doesn't conflict with the girls' studies. If I'm not on the phone they can do whatever they please because I do, after all, work in an office that is never quiet.

Along with the risks, however, there are perqs. Primary of which is that I get to be with my family all day. But next on the list, in my estimation, is the food.

Mrs. Woody is big on unit studies. She'll pick a primary topic or period of time to study, then build her curriculum and lesson plans around that topic. Lately the girls have been working through a curriculum called Learning Adventures and they're well into their world history tour right now. They've studied ancient civilizations, and with each culture they've been able to sample some of the cuisine that was typical of the time and place of study. Rome, Greece, Egypt. Each with its own culinary delights and traditions, and many of them sampled in the Woody classroom.

Right now the girls are wrapping up their study of the middle ages. Mrs. Woody decided on a meal of bannock and pease porridge. Bannock is essentially a heavy unleavened bread that uses fat from butter and buttermilk and is perfect for dipping in the porridge. Pease porridge is just an early version of split pea soup, and every bit as tasty. We didn't have ham to use, but we did have a can of corned beef in the cupboard. Quite tasty, I must admit.

One thing about healthy soups: they have a wonderfully cleansing effect, if you catch my drift. It started several nights ago when Mrs. Woody whipped up an Italian soup (similar to minestrone) in the crock pot. Lasted us for three meals. We're on our second meal of the pease porridge today, and will likely have it again tomorrow. Needless to say, I've been spending a lot of time in the loo cleansing room. With all this cleansing action, I should have dropped about 15 pounds this week. Alas, the scale will only give me 2 over which to rejoice.

Progress is progress, I guess.

Anyway, I'm certain Mrs. Woody will expound further on this particular study. It's been a lot of fun, but she's anxious to move on to the Renaissance. Huzzah! More food!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Two Lessons to End Them All

So we have a double-header today. I failed to upload last week's lesson last week (as my sainted mother pointed out), so by way of repentance you get both lessons today.

Lesson 5 begins our discussion of the events immediately subsequent to the resurrection of the Savior. We cover that very busy first Sunday where He appears to several women in the morning, the faithful disciples on the road to Emmaus, and the ten apostles in the Upper Room that evening.

Lesson 5

The last lesson of the series wraps it all up. Lesson 6 picks up where we left off last week and talks about the Savior's 40 day ministry among His followers. We follow them to Galilee where Peter is given his chance both to repent for his denials as well as to accept his great commission as the chief apostle. We also discuss the Savior's ascension at the Mount of Olives and His subsequent appearances to the Americas as well as the lost tribes of Israel.

Lesson 6

You'll hear it in the recording, but I can't overemphasize the tremendous gift we have of being able to study the life of our Redeemer. I truly have gotten to know Him far better than I have before, and I know I can make these opportunities through the remainder of my own life. What a blessing!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Thoughts and Observations

With two sessions remaining of this assignment I wanted to point out a couple of things that I've really enjoyed.

Firstly, there's been the tremendous personal boost that comes from a concentrated and detailed study of any gospel topic, but particularly when that topic is the Savior Himself. What an opportunity! My always steady, firm testimony has grown exponentially throughout this cycle of study and preparation each week. I believe it's akin to what I've heard seminary teachers experience.

Secondly, there's the class itself. Those who can attend in the middle of the day in the middle of the work week tend to be, obviously, those who have little interference from work schedules. Thus I have a proportionately larger population of retirees in this class. I also have a few folks who are there at least in part because they've already received assignments to work as production staff for putting together the "Savior of the World" performances next year. They're looking to get some of the historical background surrounding the events portrayed in the script.

Mostly, though, these are just wonderful people who have made teaching this class an absolute joy. Mrs. Woody and the Woodyettes are always my biggest supporters and fans, of course. But I also get to interact with some well-experienced testimonies from among these wonderful retirees that I've mentioned.

One fun little "controversy" (for lack of a better description) to tell: these sessions are overseen by a member of the Stake Presidency. The same counselor, I might add, that gave me the assignment in the first place. During our discussion of John the Baptist last week, he asked the question as to which priesthood John received from the angel when he was ordained at 8 days old. He wondered out loud whether it wasn't the Melchizedek Priesthood that John received. I had always supposed that it was in fact the Aaronic, since those were the keys he held and delivered to Joseph Smith at the beginning of the Restoration. So I promised to research it and return to topic in this last lesson.

I had found no firm, definitive statements to the effect that "the angel ordained John to the ____________ Priesthood." No one, it seems, would commit themselves to such a declaration. However, Boyd K. Packer made some statements to the effect that John was, in fact, a Priest in the Aaronic Priesthood during his earthly ministry, and that's what I reported back to the class on Wednesday.

After class — not recorded by my little voice recorder — was a discussion between myself and my lovely Chorale director (who is also the music director for the production). She said that, when discussing this topic of John's priesthood with others (her hubby is also our Stake Patriarch), the statement that Joseph Smith made that "all prophets hold the Melchizedek Priesthood" sprang immediately to mind. We were then joined by our Stake Presidency counselor who basically shrugged his shoulders and admitted that we were really no further along in answering the question than we were before.

The upshot is that everyone accepts the fact that this question is still in play, and no one seems at all upset by this. So next week I will also throw my hands up and shrug that question firmly into the realm of personal study and prayer, which is where all such mysteries rightly belong.

Did I mention I'm having the time of my life?

I hope I'm not coming off as a huge know-it-all in all of this. I'm just excited to share what I've been learning. If you download and listen to the recordings, you may pick up on that. I have a hard time listening to my own voice, really. It has an unusual timbre that always sets my own teeth just a little on edge. But I'd like to think that my enthusiasm for the topic is coming through, and this class has certainly been faithful in their attendance.

Now I just need to figure out what to do with myself when this Institute ends. Go back to Family History, would be my guess. May have to put certain missionaries in Salt Lake to work for me. Assuming their heads haven't exploded yet.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lesson 4

Sorry it took a couple of days to process. This was my first week back to work after vacation and things always pile up while you're gone. So, what with putting out numerous virtual fires and fighting a bad case of the doldrums (except for Wednesday's Institute class!), I think I'm lucky to be posting this at all.

Good news: the recorder worked for the entire run this time!

That 20 or so minutes I lost from the last lesson gall me... it reminds me strongly of my first missionary journal which was stolen in the highlands of Guatemala when I'd been out about 7 or 8 months. My entire MTC experience and my first two area assignments are gone forever. I did happen to write down quite a bit of what I'd lost, but you just know that there are memories on those pages that are unrecoverable until the hereafter. Phooey. Luckily, my notes for the lesson help compensate for whatever I lost, so it's not quite as traumatic as the journal was.

Anyway, here's the latest:

Lesson 4 (Quicktime, Ma!)

Here we play catchup with material that I didn't get to cover last session (not lost, just ran out of time!), and take a comprehensive look at the Savior's childhood leading up to His ministry. I make the case for why we aren't looking at the ministry itself; this is what we have Sunday School for, yes?


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Signs of the Times

Two interesting items from church this morning, both of which relate to the family:

Bishop read the latest letter from the First Presidency this morning that dealt with California's struggles to keep marriage defined as being between a man and a woman. Given the overwhelming majority that passed Proposition 22 in 2000, it is an especially grave thing to have a majority of the California Supreme Court reject the voice of the voters in allowing same-sex marriages in this state. The Church is strongly encouraging us — as it always does when the family unit is under attack — to do everything we can to support the new ballot initiative that will make the traditional definition of marriage a constitutional amendment.

In a related discussion, our 5th Sunday lesson in the 3rd hour was a Bishopric discourse on the dangers of texting among our youth today. The visible problem is that the kids are seen to be texting during the passing of the Sacrament, and even during events such as Bishop's firesides. Our Bishop said today that there are few things as frustrating as trying to talk about deeply spiritual topics and having one group of kids laughing at something that someone else had just texted to them from across the room.

But the visible dangers pale in comparison with the more hidden problem: the content of those messages. Texting is a (pardon the seeming contradiction) disconnected form of communication that gives the texter a feeling of anonymous power. This means that kids will do and say outrageous things using their phones (or, of course, their computers) that they might never have done in person. Bishop disclosed that some of the things these kids are doing to each other are downright pornographic in nature, and that the problem is steadily increasing.

I call this a related issue because, as with most social activities, the boundaries that our youth observe should be well established within the family unit long before they get turned loose on their social networks. If a righteous set of parents are working together to set reasonable limits on what kids can and (more importantly) cannot do, it becomes more difficult for those kids to wander outside of those boundaries as they get older.

Notice I do not say "impossible." I'm no fool. My own experiences as a parent remind me that every child has his or her agency and will ultimately do what they decide to do. My job is to help them make the best-informed decisions possible, hopefully before they arrive at a critical junction.

Fortunately, Mrs. Woody and I do not live in a vacuum. We have both come from technophile backgrounds and fully understand the impact of the information age. It was, after all, the power of the internet that brought us back together after a mutual absence of more than fifteen years. We know as well as any expert in the field what dangers exist in this day of instantaneous communication. We have therefore established rules of engagement in this battle that have been in place since before our kids were born, and even in advance of the current craze of texting that kids seem to do 24x7 these days.

Our daughters are being raised to understand the need for privacy in their internet dealings. We have parental controls in place, obviously, but one of our counselors in the bishopric reminded us today that these are not enough. In fact, any tech-savvy teenager can overcome just about any form of parental control given time and privacy. This same counselor is a lawyer by profession and exploded for us one of the greatest myths under which parents seem to operate today. Too many parents, he said, seem to labor under the belief that once they hand their teenager a cell phone their privacy is somehow inviolable. This is nonsense. For as long as those kids live under your roof — and certainly until they reach 18 — you have every right and responsibility to understand what they are involved with. Pick up those phones, he advised, and read those messages. If your service has such an option, make sure you get reports outlining your kids' phone usage, including the content.

I agree with one of my co-workers who refuses to activate texting on his sons' phones. If it's important enough to communicate, he told them, you can take the time to dial the number and talk. Talking is somewhat less private than texting because it's easier for parents to listen. Even if we're only getting one side of a story, it's generally enough to help us know whether this is something that needs our attention before it gets out of hand. With texting it's generally already gotten out of hand before we even become aware of it.

When my Elders Quorum President told me essentially the same thing after the meeting this morning, it basically confirmed what Mrs. Woody and I had already decided. Our daughters will not become text addicts until they're old enough to choose that (and take responsibility for that) themselves.

I know that social "networking" is one of the new trends that everyone says will represent the world in which the next generation lives. I even understand what the benefits may be. But in order to benefit from this trend, controls must be in place in order to keep this new world from devolving into a full-blown anarchy.

So I will be pounding the pavement later this year to support the marriage amendment in California. I want to make sure that traditional families have all the support they need because, based on the discussion above, they're gonna need all the support they can get. This fight is a long way from being resolved. But it is a fight that requires my participation.

This is, after all, what Inner Dads do. They fight for their families.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Lesson 3

Oh, boy, this is embarrasing. The recorder stopped for some reason with about 20-25 minutes of lesson to go. Fortunately it saved the first 42 minutes, so I'm grateful for that. For those of you who happen to be my mother, I'll send my notes along under separate cover.

This lesson attempts to discuss the events of the births of John the Baptist and the Savior, including those which occurred in ancient America. Next lesson (July 9) will cover the period between Act I and Act II of "Savior of the World," which includes the Savior's childhood and his ministry leading up to the Garden Tomb.

Lesson 3 (Don't forget: QuickTime!)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Lesson 2

This lesson moves into the historical backdrop in the 600 years immediately preceding the Savior's birth, including the annunciations of the angel Gabriel. Mini history lesson for the first half, then a discussion of why the Jews seemed to be so confused with the scriptures that foretold the coming of the Messiah.

Lesson 2

Friday, June 13, 2008

Lesson 1

This past Wednesday we had our first Summer Institute session and I'm pleased with the result. For those who happen to be related to me and may therefore find this of some interest, I recorded the session. Unfortunately I move around a lot when teaching, so I'm not always at the best position to be picked up by the mic. You may need good volume control when listening.

The lesson ran just a hair over one hour. When you click on the link below, you'll be taken to a file sharing service (no worries... this stuff is most definitely not copyrighted!), and you'll have to scroll down to see the download button. It's about 25MB, and will require either iTunes or QuickTime to listen ( or anything that supports MPEG 4 or M4A format).

Lesson 1

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Family Home Evening - Doodle Style

Mrs. Woody documented Jelly's first official Family Home Evening that she planned and executed all by herself a couple of weeks ago. Tonight was Doodle's turn.

Not unreasonably, she used the same sort of template that Jelly had created when planning her lesson. She created a basic agenda which included the songs, prayers, and a brief outline of the activities we would have. She taped this agenda on our entertainment center so we could follow along. (The girls are big proponents of "following along." They have a pathological need to read the cover of whatever DVD or video we happen to be watching, no matter how many times they've seen the silly movie! They can't stand it when Mommy and Daddy have "adult" conversations and they happen to miss a phrase or two because they have to ask us repeatedly what it was we were talking about while we repeatedly remind them - gently of course - that it's none of their business.)

Doodle got a bit of guidance from Mommy when planning her actual lesson, of course. Repentance is one of those topics that can only improve with age, and the first time out takes a bit of learning on the part of the teacher. Particularly when it comes to finding just the right object lesson. These are miniature females, I remind you, and they will all too soon be part of the doily-and-crocheted-table-cloth set in just a few short years.

Daddy got assigned to read a story from the Friend; something about muddy rain boots. The girls are not only avid readers themselves, but they love to hear stories. Doesn't matter whether you're reading to them, or making one up out of whole cloth, the girls love 'em all. Jelly has also reached that age where she peppers Mommy and Daddy both with questions about their pasts: "Daaaaaddy, when you were little did you...?" And of course this prompts another story where I have to admit that I did, which seems to give her no small relief. Whew! Daddy did that when he was younger! I'm not so bad after all!

(You may ask what, precisely, it was that Daddy did when he was little. It's none of your darned business, is what.)

(I seem to say that an awful lot these days, don't I?)

The object lesson (Jelly did the treasure hunt last time) involved Doodle's "Kerplunk" game. She couldn't find the actual Kerplunk marbles, of course, prompting Mrs. Woody to ask whether some repentance was in order. But we made do with some of those decorative — and decidedly UNround — marbles that people (who are not guys) generally put in glass jars. They don't roll well, but that wasn't the point of the object lesson. The point of the lesson was that the marbles represented the yucky feelings we have whenever we do something bad, and the sticks represented the process of repentance that help us to release those yucky feelings. Boy, when you get more than just a little trickle of bad feelings come crashing down into the tray, you're feeling pretty excited, I must say. In fact, when I got my first deluge of bad feelings, I began to wonder just how much repentance I might personally require, since I was apparently oblivious to those feelings in the first place.

The neatest part is when they get it. As Mrs. Woody and I listened to the banter after closing prayer as they shuffled off to put things away and play for awhile, we realized that they were using points they'd learned in the lesson whilst chattering with one another. It's similar to what happens when they read the scriptures (Mrs. Woody has them do this for 15 minutes every school day) and they begin to ask questions specifically related to whatever they happen to be reading at the time. And they're not just "what does 'iniquity' mean?" types of questions, either. Just this evening, for example, Jelly asked the question about whether heaven really exists. "After all," she said, "it all seems too wonderful to be real." It was one of those neat opportunities to bear your testimony to your child about the fact that, yes, heaven truly exists and it's just as wonderful as you can possibly imagine. That was all she needed to hear. Tomorrow she'll be back to reading about the Anti-Nephi-Lehies and smirking about the fact that she's farther along in the Book of Mormon than Daddy is right now. (Quite a bit farther, actually... I'm just starting Mosiah!)

So, good job tonight, Doodle! We all had a wonderful time in our Family Home Evening. Looking forward to next week!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Moms and Missions

Two significant events transpired in the last week. My mother became both a missionary and a blogger.

Mom and Official Woody Step-Dad® ZeeMeister report for their one year mission in the Family History Center on June 5. They've been looking forward to this for months now, or years if you follow their own history. Practically since they were courting they've been discussing missions (note: plural) and have already served a local service mission in their home stake in Texas. Now they're actually "going" on a mission (I guess they've grown a foot or two), and were officially set apart last weekend.

I know Mom is particularly excited about family history work, so this is a perfect mission call for her. We are also excited about this; but I have to be fair and realize that missions require serving others, and having her up there doing research on our own family lines just doesn't seem cricket. I suppose I could always go to Salt Lake and feign ignorance of the Church just so I could get her to surreptitiously look up old Uncle So-and-So, but they'd find her out. They always do. My own mission president had eyes everywhere in a country where communication required extensive knowledge of local telegraph offices. (You may think I'm kidding. You would be incorrect.) Anyway, he always found out when we weren't toeing the line, and I suspect it had to do with a much higher form of communication. So I don't think I'll be tempting that hotline with any non-member performances over the next year.

The blogging aspect of my mother's life is a hoot. I'm not saying that Mom has been in any way a late adopter. Reluctant, perhaps. Recalcitrant, even. But not late. Still, blogging requires a bit more confidence in navigating one's way through the bowels of the internet, getting lost in the occasional backwater or even swamping the boat with a crocodile or two in the water. I suspect that's been Mom's perspective, at any rate. Now, as she puts it, she ARE one. Her writing is wonderful. I wish I'd gotten just a bit more of that talent for myself, dagnabbit. Check her (and perhaps even Bob's on occasion) posting efforts at Bro. and Sis. Zornes on a Mission.

I'm so prilled* for my Mom.

* "Prilled" is a coined word that one of our ward members uses to indicate the sort of pride that it's probably alright for good Latter-day Saints to have without actually being, you know, prideful, which is a heinous crime. At least according to President Benson. "Prilled" seems like a workable compromise between "pleased" and "thrilled," which are used almost interchangeably when talking about our loved ones anyway. That's about as close to "proud" as we allow ourselves to get these days. Just so you know.

P.S. A hat tip goes to Baby Sis Amy who actually presented the blog all set up and ready for posting to Mom and Bob before they left. Where DOES she get those funky templates?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Mouthpiece? Or Just Mouthy?

I think I finally figured out part of my patriarchal blessing.

I received my patriarchal blessing thirty-five years ago. It's fortunate that my mother was the patriarch's transcriptionist at the time, because her off-the-tape transcript is the only copy I have of that blessing. I'm told there's a way to get an "official" copy, but I've never really had the time or inclination to pursue it.

I kind of like having the original. It's like listening to a recording of Wilford Woodruff bearing his testimony "into a talking machine" as he did over a hundred years ago. It's one thing to read it, and another thing altogether to hear it as it fell from his lips. I of course have no copy of the original recording of my patriarchal blessing, but having the unedited transcript is the next best thing. I remember the man's voice extremely well. He was a tenor, and tenors rarely forget other tenor voices. Also, he'd been our bishop at one time, and our family doctor for many years.

I received some wonderful counsel in that blessing. I was told in no uncertain terms that it was time to "turn away from the childish things." I'm sure that was included because that's always been a weakness of mine. I've been slow — very slow — to grow up. Part of being a performer for so many years, among other things. I was given many wonderful promises about my life as a husband and father, several of which have already come to pass. I was admonished to do temple work for my kindred dead. Took me a few years to catch on to that one.

The one phrase that always struck me, however, came about halfway through the blessing. I can still vaguely remember hearing it come from the patriarch's mouth when he said it. He said that I would serve as one of the Lord's mouthpieces, as it were.

A mouthpiece.

My siblings can read this and smile. They know what a mouthy kid I was (and still am, really). I may be painfully shy around folks I don't really know, but if I'm comfortable around someone, I talk. Probably too much. (This may be why I don't have many "close" friends.) At one point I wondered if this had anything to do with my acting skills. But the term "mouthpiece" usually put me in mind of a special witness. Something along the lines of an apostle or prophet. Something that I've never felt I could be.

Now I think I get it.

I've made no secret of the fact that I have a passion for teaching, and teaching the gospel is one of my favorite pastimes. I have taught in most of the Sunday School courses over the years, and substituted in nearly all the auxiliaries (excepting Young Women, of course). (Wait; not strictly true. I have on occasion taught young women as a visiting "specialist" on one topic or another. I guess that counts.) My favorite callings in the Church are teaching callings.

The funny thing is, most of us are called to teach. If we have families, we teach. We all teach by example, whether we intend to or not and whether that example is good or bad. Parents by definition are teachers, again for better or worse. Even as children and siblings we teach each other every day. It's a natural part of who we are as children of a loving Eternal Father.

The kind of teaching I love, though, is the kind that comes from having a spiritual gift. When in the presence of a teacher who has such a gift, I enjoy that experience more than going to the theater. When called to teach, no matter how challenging the class may be, I pour myself into that calling and will likely think back on it as my favorite. At least until the next such calling comes along. I believe this to be one of the gifts of the Spirit that were promised to me so many years ago.

When called to teach, I become a mouthpiece. I believe this is what my patriarchal blessing presaged.

I've been given a wonderful opportunity to do just that this summer. Every year our Stake sponsors a sort of Summer Institute, and I've been asked to be its instructor this year. Remember when I wrote that a member of the Stake Presidency can just lean over my shoulder in Church and tell me, "Say, Bro. Woody, I've been meaning to talk to you...?" Well, that's literally how I received this assignment. Fortunately, it's a temporary one.

Every Wednesday for six weeks I get to expound on the life of the Savior from the perspective of the Church's musical production of "The Savior of the World," which our Stake plans to produce next spring. Another Stake in our region produced it last year. We'd heard that they did fifteen minute devotionals before rehearsals to give the cast and staff the historical and spiritual settings for the scenes they were about to practice. Our Stake wants to expand on that idea and do something similar in six one-hour lessons beginning in June. That becomes my job, and suddenly I'm like the proverbial kid in the candy store. The problem is in deciding on which reference materials to use. The scriptures are a given, as are several of the available Institute and Sunday School manuals. But there are so many good scholarly books on this topic that it's nearly impossible to pare it all down into a manageable avalanche of information.

So if you're in the north Orange County area during June and July and have nothing better to do on Wednesdays at lunch time, poke your head in. I shouldn't be too hard to find. I'll be the guy up front wearing sackcloth and ashes. May even have a locust wing stuck to my long, flowing beard with a little dribble of honey.

I am a method actor, after all.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Will I Never Learn?

I'm sure there's a Gospel lesson in here somewhere. Probably there's a story buried deep in my scriptures; we'll call it "the Allegory of the Electronic Gaming Device." It tells the spiritually informed that the House of Israel was scattered because they failed to heed the Lord's repeated warnings that if they didn't cast out their Nintendo DS's, they would be cut off from the presence of the Lord for a good long time. But of course the Israelites failed to heed these warnings, among others, and found themselves suddenly living in, I don't know, Russia or someplace where they make inferior microchips and can't handle even a simple Mario Bros. game.

You may recall that I'd written about my unreasoning fear of my daughter's Nintendo DS a week and a half ago. You may appreciate that my daughter has kept intense pressure focused on her reluctant Dad to play "Animal Crossing." Today was no different. She was relentless. "Daaaaddy," she began. That sing-song "Daaaaddy" of hers modulates between about three distinct pitches and is the rough equivalent of the Central American phrase pues, fíjese. "Fijese" in Guatemala pretty much means, "I'm about to give you a whopper of an excuse as to why, precisely, I can't be bothered to read that wonderful Book of Mormon you gave me a week ago, Elder, so get ready." When my daughter uses her modulated "Daaaaddy" on me, I get similar results. "Here comes an outrageous request, Daddy, so you'd better prepare yourself." In either instance, whether my daughter or a well-meaning but highly ambivalent Quiché tat, I have just about 10 seconds to drum up my steely resolve and put on my poker face. Let me state for the record that I had a much higher success rate with the Quichés.

"Daaaaaddy," she said, "since you don't have anything to do right now..."

Huh? Whaddaya mean, "nothing to do?" I'm sitting here on a Sunday afternoon, relaxing, and contemplating taking a nap. How could that possibly be construed as "nothing to do?"

"Would you like to play 'Animal Crossing?'"

*heavy dramatic sigh*

I was trapped, and I knew it. She had me dead to rights. I didn't have anything that I was doing at that particular moment, although I could have fabricated something pretty darn'd quickly. I'm still under about a gazillion deadlines at work, and I should probably be working on at least one of them even as I write this. However...

I relented.

"Okay, Punkin', let's have it."

See below the look of a defeated man:

See, the girls love to watch Daddy play computer games. This has always been true, because Daddy is not one of those hideous Doom 3 kinds of Dads. I just don't get into that level of violence. But I love the Monkey Island series, and so do the girls. So every time I play one of those types of games, the girls will sit and literally watch me for hours, if I let 'em. Ditto Harry Potter. Or even Indiana Jones, although there are scarier things in the Indy games and they tend to leave the room more often when I play those.

That's why you see both Woodyettes perched immediately above and behind me, watching with enrapt looks on their faces. The way they look in the photo, I'd probably just burned down the Town Hall or something. (This, of course, is not true. What actually happened was, I trampled on their flowers. Frankly, I had no idea how to avoid trampling on them, and wasn't interested in taking the Traffic School option. Just fine me and be done with it.)

So I played for about an hour. At the end of which I had had enough of "Animal Crossing" to last me until approximately the next presidential administration.

I was exhausted. I finally managed to learn how to sell things to the town Dictator-for-Life Tom Nook. I even got a rod and reel and tried my hand at a fishing tournament. Now, I've been fishing on and off (mostly off) for most of my life, and I have to say that if, in real life, I hooked into a 34+ inch carp, I'd be feeling pretty good. So imagine my dismay at presenting said carp to the Mayor (who always appears tipsy to me, for some odd reason) only to learn that someone else had bagged a 43 inch sea bass! Phooey.

Jelly also coerced me into visiting the museum. I'd managed to bag an octopus while fishing, and Mrs. Woody suggested I donate it to the museum, so off I went. After Jelly told me where to find it, that is. Then she kept urging me to visit various exhibit halls. "Visit the aquarium, Daddy!" "Now visit the art gallery, Daddy!" "Now go jump in the river and soak your head, Daddy!" (I may have imagined that last one.) Finally she got me to visit the bug exhibit. I wasn't sure exactly why she wanted me to visit this one in particular until she told me to find and stomp on the cockroach. Yes, a cockroach. So I located it and tried to stomp on it. "Notice: this cockroach was lovingly donated by Violet..." Of course. A protected cockroach. Only in "Animal Crossing."

By that time, my head was pounding. Time for a Sudafed. I steered my character back to bed — envying him his ability to crash whenever he wanted to — and politely handed the Machine of Doom back to my daughter.

But not before Mrs. Woody had captured my shell-shocked face for future generations to enjoy.

The Spirit of Change

Recent writings aside, I'm not the most spiritually sensitive character around. I believe myself to be one of those souls for whom the Spirit carries a really, really big hammer in case he needs to get in touch with me. "Hello? Woody? You listening?..." CLANG! "Ah. Finally got your attention." He then fills me in on something that was probably obvious to everyone else in my life, and figured I needed to be clued in. "Yo. Woody. See that gal? The one you knew in high school and were too chicken to talk to? She's the one you need to marry. Get on it."

I'm taking a few liberties here, of course. In real life, the Spirit probably would have communicated the above in a somewhat different manner:

"And the Spirit appeareth unto Woody by night in a dream because Woody was too busy by day venting his spleen at various Microsoft® products. And the Spirit saith unto Woody, 'Verily, the woman thou beholdest; and whom thou hast known from thy shallow and vain youth; she it is whom thou shalt wed. NOW.'" Or maybe it was just a strong impression that I had.

I say this because of a bad habit of mine. Once in a great while, I'll be sitting around doing things of little or no consequence (although in this morning's case, one could argue that there could indeed be huge consequences if I fail to take my shower) and I'll feel the rumblings of pending change in my life. Most of the time these rumblings are innocuous in nature. Probably the result of little or no sleep the night before. But occasionally they take on the aspect of a life-changing event. It happened a few months in advance of my learning that the company I'd worked for for over fifteen years was about to trade me to another division in another county. Hence our move to Orange County. It also happened a few months before my calling to the Stake Sunday School presidency.

And therein lies the rub. It always happens at a minimum of a few months before anything of consequence actually happens. The problem is, I hate dealing with the anticipation. What if whatever it is that's supposed to happen doesn't happen? What then? Was it my fault, or was I picking up on the wrong signal to begin with? And occasionally I miss the boat altogether. Mrs. Woody just received a new calling that appeared literally out of nowhere, so far as I was concerned. One minute we're both planning lessons for the 2nd Sunday together, the next she's doing the Ward bulletin instead. Didn't see that one coming! (I'll grant that this hardly qualifies as a "life-changing event," but it could. One never knows, with Ward bulletins.)

So I'm taking my shower this morning and it hits me. Change is in the air. (Note to my siblings: No, taking a shower is NOT that kind of change for Woody.) I felt it hard enough to make mention of it to Mrs. Woody afterward. She handled it quite well, I must admit. Mildly interested, I would have to say. Of course, knowing as she does that I get these feelings many weeks before anything actually happens, it could also be that she's taking the "wait and see" approach. Wait until Bro. So-and-so, the Stake Executive Secretary nails me in the hallway one Sunday. Then get worked up about it.

Of course you know what will happen. In a few weeks I'll have forgotten all about today's feeling. I'll be blissfully walking the halls of the Stake Center during the bloc and WHAM! I'll be cornered by one of our Stake Presidency. We have two of them in our ward. It's unfair, really, because either one of them could just plant himself down behind me in Priesthood and lean over. "Say, Bro. Woody, we've been meaning to talk to you..." It's happened before.

So remind me, would you, next time you see me? Just say, "Hey, Woody, don't forget: Change is coming!" I'll probably look at you as if wondering who forgot to lock the doors to the asylum, but it'll eventually remind me.

Change is good.



Wednesday, April 16, 2008

That Which We Do Not Understand

I fear my daughter's Nintendo®. It's one of those next-generation Game Boy replacements called the "DS." It was her major Christmas gift last year and I have developed an uneasy relationship with it.

It resembles a PDA on steroids. It has two screens. I don't get this concept. Being a simplex thinker, the dual-screen aspect of the machine bothers me. When I play my games on my computer, I have a hard enough time keeping track of whatever is happening on my one (and only) screen. I'm sure I'm missing stuff even on a single screen, because I keep getting killed. I never see something coming. If it's dead-center in front of me, I can track it. Generally, however, in a PC game death comes from behind. It's the guys I can't see that always get me. If I had two screens to deal with, life would end much more quickly than it already does. Probably not just metaphorically, either.

Death is less of a problem with the Nintendo® because we don't allow Jelly to play those kinds of games. She really only has two right now. Game cartridges are rather expensive (dual screens are costlier to support, I guess) so we've had to be very selective of what she plays. For Christmas she really, really, really wanted "Nintendogz™" which is a virtual pet game. No problem. More than happy to oblige. Virtual pets I can handle. Virtual poop is MUCH easier to clean up than the real stuff, which is to say that even if Jelly ignores it, Daddy doesn't have to clean it up instead. It can stay in ever-growing virtual mounds in her DS for eternity for all I care. It still won't stink up the house.

Since she got some virtual money for Christmas (in the form of gift cards), we decided to allow her to buy one more game to supplement her collection. Given my statement above about being selective, we found this to be more challenging than we thought it would be. Of all the DS games available for purchase at EvilCorporateGiantMart, Inc., only three looked to be non-violent or anti-South-Park-attitude-ish. Of those, only one, "Animal Crossings," appeared not to insult a normal human's intelligence.

Which is where my fear comes into play.

I fear "Animal Crossings."

"Animal Crossings" turns out to be the sort of virtual universe that Jelly has been creating — without an electronic processor — for her entire life. I've written about Jellyville before. It still exists. Jellyville becomes her way of dealing with all the nonsense that the real world dishes out. "In Jellyville," she might say, "there is no bedtime. You can stay up for as long as you like. School won't start the next day until you wake up." This kind of pronouncement usually accompanies our shutting down a movie prematurely because of our unreasoning desire to have the girls go to bed. Before midnight. You might wonder why the kids are watching movies so late at night. You will understand this when I tell you that we start all movies before 7:00 PM, but there's a reason why someone invented the remote control. Whoever invented remote controls had daughters with tiny bladders and empty tummies. 'Nuff said.

Anyway, "Animal Crossings" is very much like Jellyville. It is, above all else, a virtual community. Probably you can make it a multi-player community if another DS is within, I dunno, 30 feet or something. But it's the kind of virtual universe that Jelly thrives on. You can create your own character and town. Then you "move in" to this town and begin interacting with all the characters that inhabit the place. The fact that all of the characters resemble Japanese anime animals reminds us who exactly developed the Nintendo and its games. Central to this universe is a character named Tom Nook. He owns the local store, which means he controls the local economy. He also apparently is a real estate baron because you can only purchase houses through Tom Nook. He holds your mortgage. And you can only gain employment through Tom. I instinctively distrust this guy, but Jelly loves him. Probably because she's figured out how to eke a living without having to work for the guy.

I created my own character and began to play. I found that you first have a brief period of actual employment with Tom, after which you're pretty much on your own. You make your living (post-Tom) by selling things back to him. Pears are a staple, for example. Thus a person spends a lot of time shaking fruit trees. You take the fruit and sell it to Tom, who probably sells it to others for a kazillion percent mark-up. Tom is a shrewd operator.

This isn't the only way to earn money, by the way. You can sell just about anything you find to anyone who's interested in it. If you find fossils, you can give them to the museum. These are the things I know about. My daughters (and even Mrs. Woody) have been able to figure out just about every conceivable way of interacting with this community.

I'm not that smart. I have yet to sell my first pear. Every time I tried to take pears into Tom, he ignored me. Jelly kept giving me instructions on how to talk to Tom, but I'm not that patient. If he can't tell I'm there to sell fruit, I'd rather take my business elsewhere. Unfortunately, there's nowhere else to go. It's kind of like Twilight Zone; you can enter the town, but it's darned difficult to leave. The funny part is, characters are moving out all the time. It's like they know something that we humans don't. They figured out the secret code or handshake that allows you to pack and leave town. Or perhaps they were evicted and just didn't want to say anything. I'd do that myself, but I'm afraid that wherever I go, Tom Nook will be there. Waiting for me. Ready to sell me a house.

There's also the dual screen problem. While all the action takes place on the lower screen, the upper screen shows things like constellations. These constellations mean something, but I'm not smart enough to figure out what it is. Also, which button do I push? A? X? Gaah! I can't take the pressure! Of all the male inadequacies I could be dealing with, I need this one the least.

I guess I mostly fear this game because it makes me look like such a schlumpf. I feel like I'm back on my mission in Guatemala during monsoon season, tracking through mile after mile of mud. After a few miles you begin to feel like you're not getting anywhere. This is how I feel when playing "Animal Crossings." Hence I haven't played it much. I always plead work conflicts; I'm just too busy, I'll tell Jelly when she offers to "let" me play the game.

This morning she even tried to trick me into playing it in a moment of weakness. She had stashed the game in our one working bathroom. She knows that I will play our electronic Yahtzee® game faithfully, no matter why I'm in there. Today she told me that the DS was in there, and that I was more than welcome to play it, if I wanted. She repeated this about twenty times before I was finally able to close the door and resume my lousy Yahtzee streak. "You can check your mail, Daddy!" she said as I closed the door. Great. I have mail.

Someday, perhaps, I'll get motivated to learn this game. But not right now. Right now I have work to do. My virtual boss is wondering why I haven't completed one of my virtual projects yet.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Mantle of the Prophet - Amended

This is more by way of a journal entry. I need to keep this one in mind over time to remind myself that miraculous things can and do still happen in these cynical days of earth's history. Doubtless many others will write about this experience, probably more eloquently that I possibly could. This, then, is for my family and posterity.

Today was an amazing day. This has been the weekend of our annual General Conference of the Church. Since we have satellite we have the privilege of watching the proceedings from the comfort of our home. My sister has been visiting us so she, too, could watch from relative comfort. (She may also have enjoyed spending time with her nieces, but she came to watch Conference.)

I was already excited about this Conference. I have particularly enjoyed those Conferences where we sustain a new President of the Church. Also, with the re-organization of the First Presidency, we fully expected a new Apostle to be called yesterday. We were not disappointed. Although I know very little about Elder Christofferson, I was able to sense his spirit and testimony when he appeared in the press conference shortly after the morning session of Conference.

The first session of Conference was given over to a declared Solemn Assembly for the purpose of sustaining our new prophet, the First Presidency, and the Quorum of the Twelve. This was the first time that both Woodyettes have been old enough as baptized members of the Church to stand and raise their hands in a sustaining vote. I am happy to report that the members of the Church residing (or visiting) at Hacienda Woody voted unanimously in the affirmative.

But it is of this morning's session that I wish to speak. All of the sessions (I missed the Priesthood session, as I was helping Mrs. Woody in hosting our guest) were wonderful, but this morning was very special to me. All of the talks had hit home with me, but President Monson's talk has completely overshadowed me and I can't for the life of me remember a single other talk.

It was about halfway through his talk. He was talking about our fight with evil and, quite boldly, declared that we as a Church have all the tools necessary given to us by our Father to win this war. It was at that moment of his talk that I perceived the prophetic mantle resting upon his shoulders. Not visually, by any means. It was a spiritual perception, but a powerful one. It had the effect of bearing direct testimony to my own spirit that here was the anointed prophet of God on the earth. Here was the man holding all the keys of the Church who will guide us in the Lord's name for the foreseeable future.

I'm not a weeper, but I nearly wept. Mrs. Woody has no such compunction and was clearly moist of eye.

Mrs. Woody and I both felt it and agreed that we had seen something significant. What I did not expect was that others had felt it as well. Not, that is, until Elder Holland voiced it himself as the first speaker of the afternoon session. He had perceived it, too! That means this event was probably witnessed, or at least felt, by others. This must be true because I am not the most spiritually sensitive of souls. I have been guided throughout my life in numerous ways, but each event was more or less subtle to me. Only a few events stand out as strongly and firmly as today's. Foremost among those was the realization that Mrs. Woody would be my eternal companion. Today's testimony of President Monson hit me every bit as strongly as did that wonderful realization over a dozen years ago.

[Amended: As if to prove why I needed to write this down, I had originally said that I had not initially voiced my opinion that we had just witnessed the mantle of the prophet descend upon President Monson. Mrs. Woody corrected me and reminded me that I had actually voiced what we both had felt. Hence my rewrite of the paragraph above. If a man can't trust his memory after a mere few hours...]

For me this experience was on par with experiences I have read about over the years. I envied the Saints living at the time of the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, for example. What a tremendous thing to see angels while celebrating the construction of a House of the Lord in modern times. Likewise the saints who witnessed the transfiguration of Brigham Young after the martyrdom of Joseph Smith. What a blessing to be given such a confirmation of the man who would carry on the work of the Restoration! My own wife has had experiences in her life of which I can only dream. Powerful witnesses of various aspects of the Gospel plan.

Thomas S. Monson stands 16th in the unbroken line of men who have held and exercised the keys of the Priesthood on our behalf. He is the Lord's chosen mouthpiece in all matters pertaining to our salvation. The Spirit made that abundantly clear to me this morning. I fully expect time and experience to bear that out.

God bless our new prophet, seer, and revelator.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dad's Invisible Stuff

Apparently I have a Backingnese. I have no idea what it is, or even what it looks like, but in my imagination it looks similar to a Pekingnese, only not as annoying. The reason I know I have one is because my younger daughter, Doodle, blesses it in almost every prayer:

"Please bless Daddy's Backingnese..."

Astonishingly, my mother has one, too.

"Please bless Grandma NanZ's Backingnese..."

Every single prayer.

Lately I've begun to look under the furniture. Every once in awhile I think I've caught a whiff of something suspicious and try to follow the trail, only to discover that one of the kids put a wet towel on the laundry pile again. Then I think I hear something barking. The problem there is that we live in a busy city in between a Burlington Northern Sante Fe main line, and the 91 freeway. Plus our immediate neighbors on either side both have small dogs of the yippy variety that make me want to sue PETA for mis-classifying them as "intelligent life forms." Could be anything.

So, for now, the Backingnese remains a complete mystery to this clueless Dad. I haven't asked Mom whether she (contrary to type) has acquired a pet recently.

Gotta go. I need some Tylenol®. My back and knees are acting up with all these weather changes lately.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Just What We Need

Dave Barry's blog (this time posted by his so-called "stealth bloggerette" Judi) occasionally points in the direction of some pretty fun, funny, and downright outrageous gadgets and/or technological wonders.

Add to this growing list something called the "MediaCart" being developed by a company of the same name, and in conjunction with (cue evil Darth Vader theme) Microsoft.

It sounds great. But then, these things always sound great when described in a paper. The concept is to have your shopping cart become "interactive," which is geek-speak for "annoying as all get-out." This new cart will hook into the store's local network. Using maps and your shopping history, not to mention all the nutritional data for the items they sell, the cart would be able to help you navigate your way around the store, taking you directly to the items you need, and even helpfully suggesting recipes using the items in your cart.

I'm sure this would prove to be a boon for those moronic scatter-brained organizationally-challenged shoppers who never make shopping lists, never plan meals, and refuse to memorize the layout of their favorite market. For the rest of us, this thing sounds like a nightmare.

I do most of the shopping for Hacienda Woody. This is because of a tacit understanding between myself and Mrs. Woody that a) I am a pretty decent shopper when I have a list, and b) she makes lists. This does not take into account the fact that, without a list, I become the Congress of grocery shoppers. "Ooh. Pork! Gotta have me some o' that!" This is simply one of those "divisions of labor" that couples decide upon in a marriage out of love, mutual respect, and a desire to remain financially solvent until they retire.

My idea of a perfect shopping trip has three basic elements:

1. The List, lovingly provided by my Sweetheart.

2. The Store. Preferably the same store I've been haunting since moving to the Hacienda over six years ago. If I end up in another store, I'm lost. I have no idea where the cashews are in my local Vons, even when the aisle markers helpfully state "SNACK FOODS HERE, IDIOT." I'm too busy fretting that I'll never make it through my list. I don't see them! They must not have them! Grocery Store Anxiety. Look it up.

3. No Kids. I love my children. Really, I do. But taking them on a simple shopping trip is like being a department-store Santa on December 24th. It's a no-win situation. "Daaaaaddy! Can we get some of those?" "No." "But, Daaaaaaaddy...!" And so on. Plus, they fight over whose turn it is to push the cart. They started this particular argument, which has not been resolved to date, four years ago when neither one of them was tall enough to see over the top of the cart. I actually let Jelly push it one night and she immediately toppled over a display of champagne bottles, strategically placed in the same aisle as the bottled water, which was my original target. This did not deter her determination to push the cart, while simultaneously preventing her sister from having that privilege. No kids. Not in the store, anyway.

Now, instead of worrying about my kids, I get to worry about arguing with this technological infant ("But, Daaaaaddy!").

I'll grant you that keeping track of your cart total is a good thing for folks on a budget. I am less impressed, on the other hand, with store navigation.

I have a GPS. Flim-Flam, or Jungle Jim, or one of those. We programmed it with a very nice British female's voice. That way, she can nag me but it sounds cool. The problem is that I disagree with her frequently.
"After fifty yards, turn left."

Sorry, can't do that.

"Turn left. Now."

No, ma'am. Not gonna.

"Turn around now."


"Go back and turn where I told you, or I'll tell your wife about that milkshake you bought on the way home from work the other day."

Cute, but where you told me to turn is a ONE WAY GATE, AND WE'RE ON THE WRONG SIDE OF IT.
Anyway, I can't imagine some upstart shopping cart is going to improve on this process. Neither am I a huge fan of voice-activated anything.
Where're the eggs, please.

"Did you say... 'legs?'"


"Did you say... 'wigs?'"

You don't sell wigs.

"Wigs are on aisle 13."

Of course they are.

"May we interest you in today's special on pantyhose?"

Then there's this business of a "loyalty card." Apparently this card will allow one to "download shopping lists," along with recipe suggestions and — like we need this aggravation — diet checks.
"You know, you've put on an extra 5 pounds."

Have not.

"Oh, yes. I was chatting with your doctor's computer yesterday and you were in for your checkup. 5 pounds and your cholesterol is up another 12 points."


"May I suggest a nice Caesar salad tonight?"


"At least take a trip to the gym."

Get lost.
No, all things considered, I think we're better off without automated shopping carts.

"Rice cakes are fifty cents off today."

Go away, already.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A Change in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir - UPDATED

(Hat Tip: MomZee, who stays tuned to these items better than I do.)

Bro. Craig Jessop has resigned from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. This news comes as a shock to all of us who have appreciated his contributions to the choir over the years. I especially have appreciated his ability to coax ever-increasing musical proficiency from such a large group of singers. Many of us struggle to pull good sound out of a 20 voice choir; Jessop has done so with 360 voices.

Beyond that, Bro. Jessop is a genuinely nice person. I've only met him once, when I was privileged last fall to sing under his baton during our Interfaith Council concert here in Orange County. Although he was able to martial a group of 10 or so different church choirs using his well-honed rehearsal skills, he also exuded the kind of peaceful testimony of the gospel to which we all aspire.

Craig Jessop is the fourth director of the Tab Choir to serve during my lifetime. I was born and raised during the "reign" of Richard P. Condie. Under Condie, the Choir grew in both size and reputation, becoming a particular favorite of Eugene Ormandy of the Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra. Several of my favorite MTC recordings hail from this period, including one of my absolute favorite Christmas recordings.

[Update: Reader "aloysiusmiller" reminds me that Bro. Jay Welch served for a brief time following Bro. Condie. Apparently he didn't make any impression on me — the name is only vaguely familiar to me — but I certainly don't want to slight his memory. Thanks, aloysius!]

In 1974 the baton passed to Jerold Ottley. Under Bro. Ottley the Choir (sometimes affectionately called "Jerry O and the MoTabs") began a significant improvement in both technique and degree of musical difficulty. This was also the same period where I began my own musical "career" in earnest in high school. During a family vacation that year, we were able to attend one of their public rehearsals. I was both thrilled and fascinated by the dynamics of working with such a large group of people. I was impressed that Bro. Ottley had to use a microphone to conduct the rehearsal, and that the Choir had such a professional rehearsal work ethic. Not a sound was heard between run-throughs, and everyone listened intently to Bro. Ottley's direction and teaching. Dad always remembered my critiques of the music they were rehearsing and was impressed that I had learned as much as I had by that time.

When Bro. Jessop was announced as Bro. Ottley's replacement I was, at first, unsure what to think. I had seen Bro. Jessop conduct when he served as Assistant Director during a few sessions of General Conference, and I always found his baton technique to be too physical. I'd never seen a conductor move like he does. It's completely unique in my experience, and I confess it took some getting used to. However, I don't believe anyone can argue with his success as the Choir's director for the past decade. The sound they produce today is nearly flawless, especially compared with recordings from their past. Under the combined talents of Jessop and Mack Wilberg the Choir has continued to impress me musically, and inspire me spiritually.

Fortunately, the Choir is not left entirely bereft. Bro. Wilberg will serve as interim director until the First Presidency can appoint a full-time replacement. Bro. Wilberg may not be quite as dynamic a front-man as Bro. Jessop, but there's no arguing with his musical bona fides. He is every bit the master of this element as is Bro. Jessop, and I have little doubt that he would make an equally wonderful full-time director for the Choir. It will, of course, be fascinating to see just who the Lord chooses to fill this position. It always is.

As a more or less life-long musical servant in the Kingdom myself, I appreciate what Bro. Jessop has done for the Choir, and I wish him every success in whatever endeavors he pursues. He will remain one of my musical and personal inspirations in life. May I aspire to serve as Bro. Jessop has served; faithfully and with complete dedication to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Midnight (or Later) for Charlie Bone

I've said before that I am not a critic. Not a proper one, anyway. I just can't muster up enough nastiness to sound like a professional critic, because one has to couch their language in professional-sounding tones: "The author's use of tired plot devices and 17th century colloquialisms leads one to believe that there is no redemption of the soul unless the zodiac is in proper alignment, which, of course, negates the possibility that the author's position in the evolutionary chain ranks somewhere between simple bacteria and slightly more complex parasites, such as Congresspersons..." And so on.

I am not that kind of critic. I consider myself more of an "everyman" critic, meaning that when I read something, I do so for one of two reasons. I want to either learn something that I didn't know before, or I want to be entertained. If I get both in the same book, so much the better. That's why my reading material may sound a little fluffy to some of my readers. "Pollyanna? This character has read Polly-flippin'-anna??" Well, yes, I have. I sometimes read children's tales simply because I missed out on such books when I was a youngster, and now my girls are enjoying them. I'd just kind of like to keep up with them, if that's all right.

So, that said, Mrs. Woody mentioned in her latest post that I have just read "Midnight for Charlie Bone," the first in a series by Jenny Nimmo. As Mrs. Woody says, we've been hearing a lot about Charlie Bone from homeschoolers both in and out of our little support group, and she finally decided to check one out. We've been looking for a follow-up to our Harry Potter mania here at Hacienda Woody, and we're hopeful this will work.

I believe it will.

Charlie Bone is an engaging character, written very much in the same vein as Harry Potter. It could be said that Charlie, in fact, is one of numerous characters that rose to prominence largely because of Harry's success. There are many parallels between Charlie and Harry that may seem more than obvious, but Nimmo is careful to keep her distance from Harry's world. Children in Charlie's universe are "endowed," and all of them are descended from a single ancestor through one of his ten children. There is a constant underpinning of war between the various factions of this extended family. There is no one single "dark wizard" who rules with terror, but rather one portion of a family constantly battling against another, as if engaged in a colossal "king of the hill" game.

Fortunately, Nimmo keeps her characters consistent and believable. We have little trouble accepting the nastiness of some characters because such nastiness is seen whenever selfishness is one's defining characteristic. Likewise, we can root for a young hero like Charlie because he embodies many qualities that we appreciate in good-hearted souls. We instinctively know that Charlie will prevail because he has better reasons for doing what he does.

"Midnight for Charlie Bone" was a fast read. It took me parts of two very late evenings (I used Charlie as one of my "brain breaks" while working on deadlines for work), and kept me engaged from the first chapter. I think my Woodyettes will appreciate the story because Charlie is the same age as my older daughter, and the younger one is only a couple of years behind. Plus, there are girl characters with whom my girls may relate. This is a big selling point for my daughters. Books about boys alone just don't do anything for them.

[Mrs. Woody corrects me: the girls went ga-ga over "The Golden Goblet" which, apparently, had nothing to do with girls. Go figure!]

If you're looking for a new family adventure series, I'd say give Charlie Bone and his friends a try. I enjoyed the first book, and I'm looking forward to the next.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Daughter Survivors' Guide

It's not that having daughters is a bad thing. I love my girls. They love me. Everything is good with the world.

They are, however, both sub-teens.

Someday they will have grown to a point where boys actually get over their fear of cooties and realize that my girls are stunning creatures. When that happens, I need a plan. Fortunately, my friends up north have dropped one in my virtual lap. It's one of those ubiquitous internet things to which one can never give proper attribution. If you're the author, please let me know. If you prefer to remain anonymous, please know that I applaud both your craft and your sentiments. Comments in [brackets] are mine.

For those of my friends who have sons, I'm sure you're already teaching them the best ways to prepare for this ordeal:


NOTE: This application will be incomplete and rejected unless accompanied by a complete financial statement, job history, lineage, and current medical report from your doctor.

NAME_____________________________________ DATE OF BIRTH_____________

HEIGHT___________ WEIGHT____________ IQ__________


SOCIAL SECURITY #_________________ DRIVERS LICENSE #___________ _____

BOY SCOUT RANK AND BADGES__________________________________________

HOME ADDRESS_______________________ CITY/STATE___________ ZIP______

Do you have parents? ___Yes ___No
Is one male and the other female? ___Yes ___No
If No, explain: _____________________________________________________________

Number of years they have been married ______________________________

If less than your age, explain



A. Do you own or have access to a van? __Yes __No

B. A truck with oversized tires? __Yes __No

C. A waterbed? __Yes __No

D. A pickup with a mattress in the back? __Yes __No

E. A tattoo? __Yes __No

F. Do you have an earring, nose ring, __Yes __No
pierced tongue, pierced cheek or a belly button ring?



In 50 words or less, what does 'LATE' mean to you?



In 50 words or less, what does 'DON'T TOUCH MY DAUGHTER' mean to you?



In 50 words or less, what does 'ABSTINENCE' mean to you?




Church you attend ___________________________________________________

How often you attend ________________________________________________

When would be the best time to interview your:

father? _____________

mother? _____________

pastor? _____________


Answer by filling in the blank. Please answer freely, all answers
are confidential.

A: If I were shot, the last place I would want shot would be:


B: If I were beaten, the last bone I would want broken is my:

_______________________________________________ _______________

C: A woman's place is in the:


D: The one thing I hope this application does not ask me about is:


E. What do you want to do IF you grow up? ___________________________



F. When I meet a girl, the thing I always notice about her first is:


F. What is the current going rate of a hotel room? __________________

[Okay, got me on that one. There's a Hillary Clinton "Kiss Torture?"
Does this involve hideous singers wearing Kabuki makeup?

Applicant's Signature (that means sign your name, moron!)

_______________________________ ________________________________
Mother's Signature Father's Signature

_______________________________ ________________________________
Pastor/Priest/Rabbi State Representative/Congressman

Thank you for your interest, and it had better be genuine and non-sexual.
Please allow four to six years for processing.

You will be contacted in writing if you are approved. Please do not try to call or write (since you probably can't, and it would cause you injury). If your application is rejected, you will be notified by two gentlemen wearing white ties carrying violin cases. (you might watch your back)

To prepare yourself, start studying Daddy's Rules for Dating.

Rules for Dating My Daughter

Rule One:
If you pull into my driveway and honk you'd better be delivering a package, because you're sure not picking anything up.

Rule Two:
You do not touch my daughter in front of me. You may glance at her, so long as you do not peer at anything below her neck [or, for my comfort, below her eyes]. If you cannot keep your eyes or hands off of my daughter's body, I will remove them.

Rule Three:
I am aware that it is considered fashionable for boys of your age to wear their trousers so loosely that they appear to be falling off their hips. Please don't take this as an insult, but you and all of your friends are complete idiots. Still, I want to be fair and open minded about this issue, so I propose this compromise: You may come to the door with your underwear showing and your pants ten sizes too big, and I will not object. However, in order to ensure that your clothes do not, in fact come off during the course of your date with my daughter, I will take my electric nail gun and fasten your trousers securely in place to your waist.

Rule Four:
I'm sure you've been told that in today's world, sex without utilizing a 'Barrier method' of some kind can kill you. Let me elaborate, when it comes to sex, I am the barrier, and I will kill you.

Rule Five:
It is usually understood that in order for us to get to know each other, we should talk about sports, politics, and other issues of the day. Please do not do this. The only information I require from you is an indication of when you expect to have my daughter safely back at my house, and the only word I need from you on this subject is: 'early.'

Rule Six:
I have no doubt you are a popular fellow, with many opportunities to date other girls. This is fine with me as long as it is okay with my daughter. Otherwise, once you have gone out with my little girl, you will continue to date no one but her until she is finished with you. If you make her cry, I will make you cry.

Rule Seven:
As you stand in my front hallway, waiting for my daughter to appear, and more than an hour goes by, do not sigh and fidget. If you want to be on time for the movie, you should not be dating. My daughter is putting on her makeup, a process than can take longer than painting the Golden Gate Bridge. Instead of just standing there, why don't you do something useful, like changing the oil in my car? [Mrs. Woody notes that makeup will likely not be that big of an issue. Mrs. Woody is not a huge makeup wearer, and we're teaching our girls to have healthly self-images. Woody notes for the record, however, that there are numerous ways for females to delay things that do not necessarily include makeup.]

Rule Eight:
The following places are not appropriate for a date with my daughter: Places where there are beds, sofas, or anything softer than a wooden stool. Places where there is darkness. Places where there is dancing, holding hands, or happiness. Places where the ambient temperature is warm enough to induce my daughter to wear shorts, tank tops, midriff T-shirts, or anything other than overalls, a sweater, and a goose down parka - zipped up to her throat. Movies with strong romantic or sexual themes are to be avoided; movies which feature chain saws are okay. [No, scratch the chain saws. Or anything worse than a PG rating, for that matter.] Hockey games are okay [if it's a Pee-Wee league]. Old folk's homes are better.

Rule Nine:
Do not lie to me. I may appear to be a potbellied, balding, middle-aged, dim-witted has-been [Hey!]. But on issues relating to my daughter, I am the all-knowing, merciless god of your universe. If I ask you where you are going and with whom, you have one chance to tell me the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I have a shotgun, a shovel, and five acres behind the house. Do not trifle with me.

Rule Ten:
Be afraid. Be very afraid. It takes very little for me to mistake the sound of your car in the driveway for a chopper coming in over a rice paddy near Hanoi .. When my Agent Orange starts acting up, the voices in my head frequently tell me to clean the guns as I wait for you to bring my daughter home. As soon as you pull into the driveway you should exit the car with both hands in plain sight. Speak the perimeter password, announce in a clear voice that you have brought my daughter home safely and early, and then return to your car - there is no need for you to come inside. The camouflaged face at the window is mine. [I don't have rice paddies or Agent Orange. I have Governor Moonbeam Brown and malathion spraying. But the principle is the same.]

Friday, February 15, 2008

Teaching and Inspiration

I'm still serving as 2nd counselor in our Stake Sunday School presidency, and I still have no idea what it is we do for a living. I'm not trying to be ironic about it. I'm merely pointing out that after nearly two years, the face of the Sunday School has changed to where our positions seem to matter less than perhaps they once did.

We had been a presidency only for about six months when the Church announced that they were doing away with the position of Teacher Improvement Coordinator (or TIC). This stymied us — and me, in particular — because my special assignment in the presidency was to "train the trainers," so to speak. When that position was retired, I was left with occasional visits to wards on Sunday, and our semi-annual Auxilliary Training meetings.

I bring this up, incidentally, because of something Mrs. Woody has experienced lately. At the turn of every year we receive new manuals (we call them "books" now) for Priesthood and Relief Society. Since we're both using the same book in our 2nd and 3rd week instruction, it's been fascinating to me how differently the two organizations approach a given topic. I'm not just referring to the stereotypical difference between Priesthood (read it, discuss it, deep-six it) versus Relief Society (doilies, graphics, object lessons) either. Mrs. Woody and I both teach 3rd hour on the same schedule. (This is my moonlighting job because it comes from the quorum.) Our approaches to any given topic tend to be vastly different, because we both understand our intended audiences and what will help them learn the main objectives of those lessons. We constantly bounce ideas off of each other, and we even occasionally use the same material, but our lessons are always quite different in execution.

In the front of each manual (or book) we find counsel from the brethren not to stray from the material presented in that manual. There are valid reasons for this counsel, primary of which is that these manuals are prepared under inspiration and give us valuable guidance regarding the topic at hand. My stake Sunday School boss takes the view that nothing should ever be presented in a class that isn't found in the manual. He has been in classes where a teacher may completely ignore the manual and take their material from, say, some book McConkie wrote forty years ago. He has asked us to pass this counsel along to the wards we visit, and we have done so.

At the same time, I find myself in a quandry as an instructor. I have never been able to stick completely with the manual. I have always taken the position that, as an instructor, I am also allowed a certain amount of inspiration in preparing my lessons. So long as I am careful to use materials that support what is presented in the manual, I feel that this is acceptable. Mrs. Woody has a similar view, and her style includes the use of stories that help illustrate the quotes she focuses on in her lessons.

When we received the Joseph Smith book this year, Mrs. Woody was determined to try it the way she felt the manual wanted her to. In other words, she was going to try to stick to the manual and not use the stories that have been such a huge part of her lesson plan. She has had two lessons so far this year, and has felt as if she weren't reaching her class the way she wanted. We discussed this after our first lesson in January and decided that it might have been one of those occasions where someone needed to hear that lesson, even if we ourselves didn't feel terrific about it. This past Sunday, though, she still didn't feel quite right about her lesson and we discussed it again.

Drawing on my long experience as an instructor in the Church, and perhaps despite the counsel I've received from my Sunday School president, I told Mrs. Woody about my views on personal inspiration in the preparation of our lessons. I told her that, as her husband, I supported her decisions to teach by the Spirit and take those lessons whereever he seemed to point her. She appreciated that advice and felt that this was in line with her own thoughts and feelings.

Her inspiration in all of this is our new President and Prophet of the Church, President Monson. Mrs. Woody found a quote by Orson Scott Card describing precisely why President Monson's reputation as a storyteller is a good thing for the Church. Key quote:
We have learned to expect that a talk by President Monson will include many stories about real people. I've heard some of my intellectual friends complain that it's all fluff — but that is only because they don't understand that the stories are the deep and important doctrines[.]

That's why Christ taught using stories.
There's so much more to Card's explanation, and I heartily recommend you read the entire thing. This quote, however, was exactly the vindication (or justification, if you prefer) that Mrs. Woody needed. If our living Prophet of the Lord uses stories in his teaching, and is, in fact, only mirroring the Lord's earthly ministry, why shouldn't she be able to continue to use stories to illustrate her lessons?

One thing I've learned about the Church over the years: Rigidity has its place, particularly where saving ordinances are concerned. There can be no wavering when administering the sacrament, for example. The baptismal prayer is so essential to our individual salvation that we say it, word for word, as it was dictated by the Lord to his servants on earth.

But nearly everything else has some wiggle room built into it. I have known a man in my life who was able to serve in the temple, even though he had a Word of Wisdom problem. Clearly he had worked that out between himself, his bishop, and the Lord. I have heard just about every interpretation possible of what the phrase "love thy neighbor as thyself" means, and they are probably all correct as they pertain to the progression and understanding of the individuals involved. I myself have made mistakes in my instruction over the years — again, based on my level of progression and understanding at the time — and have never been called for "false doctrine." I have been corrected, certainly, but the people who heard me probably realized that it was never my intention to deliberately lead my class astray.

One of the problems the Israelites had throughout the years in which they labored under Mosaic law was their increasingly rigid interpretation of that law. Had they restricted themselves to observance of the law and an understanding of the intent of that law, they would perhaps never have had organizations such as the Pharisees leading them astray.

So Mrs. Woody will prepare her next lesson under the direction of the Spirit and allow herself to find just the right material that will support the topic. My money says she'll probably find a story or two. (For the record, she has never used a doily in her lessons since I've known her.) She will likely feel better about her lesson, and the sisters will respond as they have in the past. They will give her the attention that says "that's a wonderful story, and, you know, it reminds me of something that happened to me..."

Which thing is, I believe, very pleasing to the Lord.