2008 in Review

Here is this year’s Christmas mass mailing.

2008 was an eventful year for us. We started the year in a house in Atlanta with a two year old, and ended the year in a townhouse in Dallas with a three year old. That may not be the most radical transformation imaginable, but it seemed pretty big to us. Fortunately, the two year old turned out to be the same kid as the three year old, just slightly aged.

Kit spent the first half of the year finishing up her pathology residency at Emory University and preparing for her fellowship at UT Southwestern in Dallas. She completed the dreaded medical boards and endless other exams, licensures, and registrations to practice medicine in Texas. On the other hand, I transferred my current software position to the Dallas office by simply filling out a change-of-address form.

Meanwhile, we prepared to sell our house in Atlanta. Although the market was tough, we did turn down a generous cash offer from an “English woman” whose email happened to originate from a Nigerian cyber-cafe. In the end, we managed to sell the house to a local person who was legitimate but substantially less generous. Moving was not easy, but with some creative scheduling and plenty of help from our parents, we eventually got everyone and everything to Texas in good shape.

We left behind great friends and memories in Atlanta. We have also enjoyed our time so far in Dallas. Claire declared upon seeing her new house, “I love it! It’s my Christmas day!” She is a huge fan of the Texas Rangers baseball team, a connoisseur of the local parks, and even a local architecture enthusiast, especially the Bank of America Tower, which is trimmed with bright green lights from top to bottom like a 921-foot tall Christmas tree. Claire insists that a prince lives in the tower, but I am pretty sure it is zoned for office space. Claire left her beloved nanny back in Atlanta but has transitioned admirably to daycare, where she has met many fun friends, learned about art and music, and developed a taste for
chicken fingers.

We are now trying to figure out what to do when Kit’s fellowship ends next summer. It is shaping up to be another eventful year.

Merry Christmas and everything else from Kit, Pat, and Claire.

Movie Mistake

Today we were looking for a fun activity to fight the post-Christmas blues. It was too cold for the zoo, and we wanted to do something new anyways. So we decided to go to a movie. This would be Claire’s first real movie in a theater!

The theater at the nearby mall had two cartoons showing in the late morning.The Tale of Despereaux was about a mouse who lives in some sort of castle and maybe sings or something. Then there was Bolt, about a scrappy superhero dog. We leaned towards Bolt since it looked cute and was about a dog, which is always fun, right? The reviews on imdb also favored Bolt, plus it was showing earlier in the morning. So it was clinched, we would take our sweet little girl to the cute movie about the scruffy white dog.

Bolt started out promisingly enough, with the expected cute puppy playing around with a little girl. I whispered to Claire that the little girl looked just like her. She seemed to enjoy the giant movie screen and the engrossing sound, all of which really shamed our little TV at home. Her eyes and mouth were wide open.

Ten minutes later, we had witnessed roughly three helicopter explosions, a pair of bad guys being “shaken down” for information with their car dangling off a bridge, the violent deaths of several evil guys in black suits and masks with deadly electric shocking hands, the destruction of an entire dessert valley along and the entire army of evil guys populating it, and of course several near-death incidents involving the scrappy white dog and the little girl who looked just like Claire.

Claire was terrified. Well, may not quite terrified, but she was definitely scared and grasping her mom’s arm really hard. She tried to say something, but I could not hear it. I asked if she wanted to leave the movie for a while, and she nodded her head. I took her out to the lobby to get some delicious theater popcorn. We sat in the lobby for a few minutes enjoying our popcorn. When we returned to the movie, it had settled down. In the movie, all of the mayhem was revealed to have been fake — a show within a show. But of course Claire did not understand these concepts. It was just scary to her, really scary. When the little girl in the movie got dragged off by bad guys at the protests of her howling dog, who was being dragged off somewhere else, Claire calmly asked to leave. And so we did.

Uh, what was this thing rated? Oops, it turns out Bolt was rated PG, which basically means, “think about leaving your sweet little three year old at home”. Normally we pay pretty close attention to what Claire sees and hears. But not today! We had assumed that Bolt was rated G, or maybe we just hadn’t thought about it at all. Either way, it was the idiot moment of the day.

We snuck next door to try out The Tale of Despereaux, which was just beginning and really was rated G. It started out as a nice sweet movie about some soup — yes, soup. Things picked up, and eventually a bunch of people were chasing down the silly protagonist rat, who was running for his life. There were no explosions or scary evil guys. It was standard old-school little kid cartoon stuff, lighthearted and decidedly more funny than scary. But Claire’s mood for this sort of thing had already been ruined by Bolt, and she politely asked to leave.

We spent the unexpected free time getting a little post-Christmas shopping done at the mall. Ann Taylor Loft had a kid’s bench set up outside the fitting room, filled with Dr. Seuse books, which was a nice touch. I read Green Eggs and Ham and Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? to Claire while Kit tried on sweaters. Claire may actually enjoy Bolt in another 10 years. It’s supposed to be a good movie, at least for the right audience. But for now, Dr. Seuse was just the ticket. It was silly and colorful and very G-rated.

Christmas ’08

This year we ended up hosting Christmas at our house for the first time. It all had to do with Kit’s call schedule at the hospital. At first Kit was not supposed to be on call for Christmas, then the schedule got botched and she was supposed to be on call. Since we cannot travel or even go very far from our house when Kit is on call, we planned to spend Christmas at home in Dallas. All the grandparents agreed to come up. Sometime after that, it was determined that Kit did not need to be on call after all.

But the plans were already made, and so we still had Christmas at our house. This was a good development anyways because Claire gets so excited (read: messed up) over the holidays with all the grandparents and presents and being out of school and off her routine. She gets so worked up that she has trouble sleeping or even just settling down. Staying at home also saved us a potential 16 hour round trip in the car with the kid and the dog. I am sure the first 4 to 6 hours would have been fine; it was the other 10 to 12 hours I was worried about.

Well, I learned one thing from Claire’s recent birthday blog entry. I could go on and on about every little thing and try to tell a nice involved story about the holidays, but frankly that approach is going to wear me out and would probably do the same to you reading it. So I will keep it short and sweet (just like Claire?). How about a bullet list of highlights?
  • We had seven people and three dogs in the house, which was a little tight but not too bad.
  • Christmas dinner was a festive affair coordinated by my mom and Kit’s mom, served early (ie, normal lunch time) in hopes of accommodating Claire’s nap schedule. Claire still had trouble with her Christmas nap, as expected.
  • Claire charmed the socks off of everyone, singing songs, telling stories about trains and princes and the kids at school, or pretending to be a waiter taking our lunch order, or a Little Einstein.
  • Claire is learning the Christmas music, but she does not have it down perfectly. She is very insistent that on the first night of Christmas, my true love gave to me a pirate in a pear tree.
  • We were all determined to cut back on presents, but with me & Kit, the grandparents, an uncle and aunt, cousins, and oh yes — Santa! — it was a very good haul for Claire. For posterity, the list included a kid’s art easel set, a treasure chest full of princess stuff, a deluxe play-dough set, a giant teddy bear, something called “connectagons“, and a kid-sized shopping cart full of fake food goods to collect and distribute.
  • Claire gave everyone hand-made items, in one case quite literally. She gave Kit and me a framed handprint with decorative paper cutouts around it.
  • Many hours were spent, mostly by the ladies, working on a jigsaw puzzle. It was a tricky puzzle portraying a dog and cats made up in holiday cheer with no straight edges or corners at all. At the end of the holidays, part of a dog’s head could be recognized.
  • We took a driving tour to see the fine holiday lights on Armstrong Parkway, and also swung by George W. Bush’s future house, just out of curiosity. The “W” house was nice but not nearly as fancy as the houses on Armstrong Parkway. Some people in the neighborhood had street signs that read “Welcome home, George and Laura!”
  • Claire freaked out pretty bad when the last of the grandparents left, screaming that she wanted to go too. Kit’s theory is that Claire knew that was the end of the fun.
  • Three days after Christmas, with everyone gone, Claire is still having trouble getting to sleep. Her refusal to sleep has driven most of us to madness at one point during the holidays as we tried to lure her to rest.
  • After Christmas, we were getting together some things to donate. We wanted Claire to pick out an old toy to give away, but she resisted stubbornly. She was adamant that she would give away any brand new toys from Christmas, but no old toys!

Finally, here is a video montage showing Claire getting more and more excited as Christmas day goes on, and into the next day.

Sleepy Time

Claire has been pretty good about taking her naps the last few months. But today she was extra wired up around nap time, maybe because she was over-tired. When Kit put her down to nap, Claire came right back out of her room and declared that she wanted to play instead. Then Kit did her trick where she sets a timer for 20 minutes and tells Claire she can come out when it beeps. Claire begrudgingly agreed to this plan and disappeared into her room. Within a couple of minutes she was quiet.

Three hours later.. Claire showed up on the stairs outside her room, a little confused and rubbing her eyes. She asked very sincerely, “Did the timer beep yet?”

We said yes, and she could come down and play now. Her hair was soaked with sleepy sweat. She motioned toward her room and said, “But my pillow is sweating, We need to clean it up.” She may have gotten too much of a nap, actually, because she woke up pretty early the next morning, and that darn pillow was sweating on Claire’s head again.

First and Last

Kit, her mom, Claire, and I were playing a game called “First and Last” from a deck of cards called “52 alternatives to TV”. This game read as such…

Someone says the name of an animal, and the next person says an animal that starts with the last letter of the name. So if you said “elephant,” the next person might say “tiger.” Take turns saying animals without repeating any until someone can’t thin of another one. The last person left gets to pick the next category (countries, people’s names, etc.).

This turned out to be a pretty fun game. We did not make Claire play since she, uh, cannot read or spell, but she sort of hung around and watched. The game was pretty tough, actually. It went something like this…

Kit: Elephant
Joyce: Tiger
Pat: Raccoon
Kit: Nene (this is a Hawaiian bird from a book Joyce brought back from Hawaii)
Claire: Eagle!

Yes, the three year old jumped in with a good answer. She even said it with real conviction, like she just knew “eagle” was right. We cannot say how Claire knew “Nene” ended in an “e” and “Eagle” started in the same letter. She may have gone by the sounds of the words, or it may have been a lucky guess, or maybe she actually knew what she was talking about. We’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and go with the last one.

Claire Turns 3!

Claire tacked on another year today. She is now exactly three feet tall and three years old. To tell you the truth, this was sort of a tough birthday. But Claire soldiered through it quite admirably and had a pretty good day.

Claire had been talking about this day for a long time. For months, she had been asking, “When is my birthday?” Unlike last year, this time she really had the drill down. She must have been inspired by all the birthday parties at school. She has been reminding us not to forget the balloons and party hats and birthday cake — especially the birthday cake! She had been specifying a “red cake!” for a few weeks, but in a surprising and provocative move, she switched to blue in final days before her party. Further, she clarified that she was talking about the frosting, and she did not have a preference on what the inside looked or tasted like, just as long as it was cake.

The grandparents all planned to come up for the big day. The Houston grandparents made the trip up for Thanksgiving and the birthday, although Claire and I had just been down to Houston the weekend before. Grammy and Granddaddy would not have missed it for anything… except one thing, which stepped in and kept them back in Corpus Christi. They had to arrange funeral services and legal matters for Kit’s Gramma Marvel, who had just passed. We will all miss Marvel.

This next part is sort of an aside. The afternoon before the birthday, Kit and I left Claire at home with Noni and headed out to get some mylar helium balloons for the party. Kit knew from Marvel’s 103rd birthday party a few weeks earlier that Claire loved playing with these shiny balloons. We arrived at Party City and went straight to the the balloon counter. There, surrounded by countless colorful inflated animals and cartoon characters, was a gloomy and cheerless lady who initially refused to even acknowledge our presence. When we tried to ask about getting some balloons, she sighed and rolled her eyes like we were really out of line. She explained with some exasperation that we needed to give her “at least a day’s notice” for any balloon orders, and the balloons would probably not be ready in time. How did this lady end up at the Party City balloon counter, of all places? Maybe was just burned out from the grueling world of party balloons, or maybe the local DMV office was not hiring. We decided towait until tomorrow and get whatever balloons they had at the nearby grocery store, where they presumably could to blow up whatever balloon you want right then and there (amazing, I know).

Then it was off to said grocery store to pick out a cake. I was prepared to get burned on this too. If Party City could not blow up some balloons in 24 hours, how could I expect someone to bake a special cake in that time? I had just recently given up on the idea of baking one at home, because that was going to take away time from other fun. Not surprisingly, the grocery had no blue cakes ready to go. But they did have a really cute”character cake” with the frosting done to look like a furry brown unnamed Sesame Street character. I asked the nice lady at the bakery if they could do that one in blue. She said no, but they could do a Cookie Monster, who always comes in blue, and they could have it ready first thing in the morning. Now that is more like it!

The next morning was the actual birthday. Today of all days, you would have expected Claire to wake up early and excited. She did wake up early, but not because she was excited. She woke up because she was uncomfortable. She was acting worn out and slightly irritable. We would find out a couple of days later, when the doctor’s office reopened after the Thanksgiving weekend, that Claire has been suffering from a tough case of pneumonia and an accompanying ear infection. On her birthday, it turns out that Claire was in bad shape, and was even in some pain.

Knowing this now, I am really proud of the way Claire handled herself. Though she certainly felt miserable, she managed to enjoy herself, especially as long as we kept her full of kid’s Tylenol. We had planned a zoo trip for the morning. With Claire sick and the weather cold, we made the trip pretty quick and took a monorail tour through the African section rather than walking around on foot too much. We dropped by the grocery store on the way home to get the Cookie Monster cake and pick out a balloon. We settled on a giant ladybug. Claire loved the balloon and played with it in the car and the all day. A week later, it was still afloat and still a favorite toy.

It took three of us to carry Noni’s and Phil’s present from their car. It was a huge dollhouse / treehouse, which took up a large part of the living room and was taller than Claire. She could not even reach the top with her hands! Only a picture can really describe this thing. Claire loved the present, but soon started to show signs of wearing out, so we skipped the other presents for the time being to avoid overwhelming her.

The pièce de résistance for the birthday was the lunch with cake, candles, more balloons, and of course the birthday song. Claire carefully picked out birthday hats, all with different colors and patterns, for everyone. (She would spend the next few days putting on each hat and pretending to be that person.) By this time she was getting exhausted. With her pneumonia, her appetite was down, and she barely touched her special birthday spaghetti. She managed, with some help, to blow out the candles on her special blue cake (and blow pneumonia germs all over it!). She could not quite eat her whole slice of cake, although still she did eat a lot of it. Birthday cake was probably the only thing in the world she would actually right then, so it was lucky we had it. Grammy and Granddaddy called in from Corpus Christi to wish Claire a happy birthday and to sing the birthday song to her. They would see her in person soon enough, just not today.

Claire spent the remainder of the day hanging around the house resting up, playing with her new tree house, and just cuddling with everyone. You could certainly do worse than that for a birthday, but still, I think we owe her an extra fun one next year!

Here is a short video montage of the birthday activities.