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.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Reason Number One Why We Homeschool

I've debated with this for awhile, which is one of the reasons I haven't posted for a few days. Well, that, plus being sicker than the proverbial dog during this wonderful cold and flu season.

Here's the deal: The reasons why so many people choose to homeschool are typically legion. If you tried to pin down any one of us on the single biggest reason why we chose to shield our children from public schooling, we'd have multiple system failure trying to come up with one. You want a hundred reasons? No problem. I can dash off a list if you have the time. But you want one? Only one? Not sure I can do that.

Now, however, I believe I can articulate the primary reason why we homeschool. To do so, though, requires telling a bit of a story.

We have wonderful friends up north. We visit them once every other year or so, and more often if we can arrange it. Their only child is our god-daughter, and we love her nearly as much as we love our own girls. This god-daughter — we'll call her Anna — is suddenly experiencing something that most people would not consider all that big a deal. In fact, they would wonder why I even bring this incident up at all.

Anna has been homeschooled on and off. She's an exceptionally bright young lady and easily qualifies for gifted magnet-type school programs. She's had a fairly mixed bag of educational experiences throughout her elementary years, and is just now getting into middle school; at least partly at her own insistence. She loves the social aspects of school, and as she prepares to enter those critical teenage years she wants to experience it all. Her parents support her in this decision.

Anna was able to begin this school year with one of her closest friends from her elementary school. Through most of the first semester they were buddies who found themselves making new friends and starting their own little klatch. One can easily imagine the rapid-fire conversations covering the whole range of topics from boys to classes to which teachers they absolutely can't stand to favorite music and movies and back to boys again.

Then came the holiday break. Upon returning to school after the holidays, Anna began to notice that her close friend was suddenly becoming antagonistic toward her. In fact, she began to descend into downright meanness, and has since been going out of her way to make her now former friend as miserable as possible. Worse, she's taking their newfound friends with her. No physical violence thus far, that I'm aware of, but anyone who's been to middle school knows just how much of a toll the head games can take.

Anna is beside herself over this issue, and the stress is starting to affect other areas of her life. She's a swimmer, for instance, and this whole issue is quite probably affecting her times in various races and events.

Now, having written about this situation and reading back over what I've said, I still believe that most people would probably read this and go, "Hunh. Kids in middle school acting mean. Now there's a revelation." And you would be right. It is perfectly normal behavior in middle school, especially when I think back to my own experiences as a kid. I was a skinny, scrawny kid with big ears and a lip. I spent my fair share of time being the target of bigger, cooler kids on campus until I got smart and began avoiding the obvious traps. I believe I spent a lot of time in the library, now that I think about it.

Anna, however, is not the "hide in the library" type. She cannot understand why her friend has suddenly turned on her like this. She wants desperately to get things fixed that obviously are broken, but has no idea how. Her parents, for their parts, are full of sympathy and understanding, and feeling a little short on answers themselves right now. How do you teach your social daughter that she needs to rise above such pettiness and just be the same sweet kid she's always been?

Which brings up reason number one why our family homeschools. It isn't so much that we are not social creatures. We don't have a huge number of close friends, although our Christmas card list is a goodly size. Rather, it is that we would prefer not to be deemed the sort of social creature that today's society creates, condones, and even glorifies. We see it everywhere. We go to our carefully screened and vetted movies and see previews for other movies. Movies that show kids who have the sort of attitudes that make me want to campaign for corporal punishment in our schools. Our kids will never see these movies. Likewise nearly every kind of TV show involving kids who demonstrate that same attitude. Since the girls have mostly outgrown Dora and Blue, they don't watch a lot of TV anymore.

The problem is that most of the kids who attend public school these days do watch that stuff. They are immersed from infancy in the kinds of pulp entertainment that their parents enjoy, which statistically means they're being saturated with attitude from the time they learn to speak. "No!" becomes "You know I've got my lawyer on speed-dial..." in the overly sarcastic lives of our kids today. In a day and age when we need far more "Ozzie and Harriet" kinds of programming, kids today get "South Park" instead. It's a no-win situation.

I watch kids in our neighborhood who seem to have no higher ambition than to do skateboard tricks and back-talk to their parents. The only way they can communicate involves words that my daughters have grown to refer to as "potty words." These are kids that my Dad would have threatened to take a 2x4 and apply a little woodshed diplomacy to back in the day.

I don't want my kids growing up to see that this kind of behavior and thinking is in any way acceptable. I know how snotty and sarcastic I became, especially in high school, and I really don't want my kids to look back on their school years with the same sort of regret that I feel.

I do not mean for you to come away from this post with a feeling that Anna's experience encompasses the entire reason why we homeschool. Far from it. It is merely a vignette, if you will, that demonstrates one of the primary reasons. We know full well that even in a relatively cloistered homeschool environment, our girls will still come across such shenanigans. What we hope is that by being more careful with the things to which we expose them, they will have a better platform from which to handle those situations.

For the record, I'm sure Anna will come out of this experience just fine. She has a solid home life, and her parents love her. They have the wisdom to help her through this most-typical of all tweenie problems. As her god-daddy, I wish she didn't have to feel so bad even for a little while. As an interested observer, I know it happens all the time. She'll get through it and likely be a better person for all that.

In the meantime, we will continue to steer our daughters around the kinds of people who would do those things for as long as we can get away with it. Then we will hope that we, too, have the wisdom to help them deal with whatever challenges come their way.