Ah, Winter Break

This being Claire’s first Christmas in elementary school,  she is enjoying her first extended break in a long time.  Molly’s pre-school is only closed for a couple of days for the holidays, but Claire has about two weeks off.  Here are some of the ways that Claire has kept herself busy while off of school…

She spent the first couple of days in Corpus Christi with he Grammy and Grandaddy.  Claire was very excited to take the trip down there without the me and Kit (Grammy and Grandaddy picked her up in Austin and drove her down there).  Not having been there for the visit, I can’t say much about it, but Claire appears to have had a very good time baking, playing, reading, and entertaining guests.  I think Claire did not want to come back home, and when Grammy returned home after Christmas, she said she really felt like something was missing (Claire).  It was odd having Molly to ourselves without Claire at home.  It was quiet around the house, and it reminded us of the old days when Claire was a toddler before we had Molly.

Heading out to Corpus

Claire spent the next week here at home with a sitter.  Claire and Cassie got along well, although Cassie seemed quiet and only spoke about three words the whole week (yes, I am exaggerating, but not by much).  Claire and Cassie spent the mornings working on art projects, including making necklaces and bracelets from some bead sets she had received for her birthday back in November.  The two were as quiet as a mouse downstairs while I worked in my office upstairs.  They never so much as turned on the TV.

Every afternoon at 1:00, Claire had a one-on-one swimming lesson.  Claire had just started to really swim at the very end of the summer this year, and then all the pubic pools shut down for the summer (while it was still over 100 degrees outside).  This week was a chance to keep Claire a little bit practiced on swimming without waiting until next summer.  Claire ended the week swimming way better than she ever has before, swimming 15 feet out and 15 back by herself.  Claire also practiced “falling” (jumping) into the pool and getting herself safely to shore as well as diving under water to pick up rings from the bottom of the pool.  It was amazing what five half-hour lessons with Hannah Jo did for Claire’s swimming skills (and confidence).  As a side note, once or twice, I took Claire out for lunch at Taco Cabana before swimming, and she learned to love flautas after I convinced her to just try one.

Swim lessons

After swimming, Cassie normally took Claire to Pease Park for a couple of hours.  I would drop them off, and they would walk back home.  Claire apparently made different friends with each trip to the park and invented some pretty crazy games. The weather was absolutely perfect every day this week, right around 70 degrees and sunny.  There was no sun screen, bug spray, or heart exhaustion to worry about when venturing to the park.  You could just stay out there all day and never break a sweat or get a chill.  After getting back from the park, Claire was pretty wiped out and would sit in her bedroom with Cassie and read books for an hour or so before Cassie took off.

It almost sounds like a perfect day to me… swimming, the park, Mexican food, hanging out.  I would personally trade the arts and crafts for some computer games (Battlefield 3, anyone?), but I would even make necklaces if that were a required part of the package.  We wanted to get Claire some rest for her holiday break, but we might be wearing her out with all this fun!

Christmas 2011

This Christmas was a great dose of family, food, relaxing, and yes, presents.

This may have been the first Christmas that Molly was somewhat aware of.  She seemed to understand that the Christmas tree signified something, that the lights could be turned on and off with a little foot switch, and that the ornaments could be rearranged by her.  Molly’s style is to cluster many ornaments onto a single branch.  She understood that the presents were a surprise for different people and that they needed to stay wrapped and under the tree (after some gentle guidance from us) until some undisclosed date.  Molly also got to sign and help wrap her first present, which happened to be some wooden play food (pickle jar, salt shaker, etc.) for Claire.  Molly also received some presents, including a singing and dancing Elmo, a tiny indoor basketball hoop, a tiny tricycle, a pile of Elmo books (from Santa) and a little lamb stuffed animal (also from Santa) to match her class mascot.  Molly liked all the gifts, but mostly she loved having her grandparents around to lavish her with attention.

Molly proudly holding her gift to Claire.
Note her signature in the “from” area.

But it was not all good tidings for Molly.  She came down with an ear infection on Christmas eve.  She had been sort of grumpy and “off” for a while, and then she started to mess with her right ear and eventually said that the ear hurt.  Kit and I got her into an urgent care clinic one hour before they closed on Christmas eve.  Writing this a few days later, I can tell you that the prescribed antibiotic caused upset stomach, diarrhea, and possibly a rash.  The diarrhea continued with the next antibiotic prescribed later by her regular doctor, and the resulting diaper rash is only adding to Molly’s discomfort.  But Molly is hanging in there.

Molly took a late night (7 pm!) visit to the doctor in her pajamas.
She loved the adventure of being out in her PJs after bedtime.

Claire and Molly admiring Santa’s offerings,
with Grandpa Phil looking on.

For Claire, Santa produced a mini-trampoline and a purple monkey stuffed animal to match her own class mascot.  The trampoline seemed a little random, but Claire practiced on it for the next few days and ended up doing some super-high jumps with her dad’s help, nearly touching her head to the ceiling (really).  Leading up to Christmas, Claire had asked several times whether we thought Santa would bring her anything good, or only coal.  I think Claire was worried she had “been bad” lately, with her various mood and temper issues that have flared up since this summer.  We assured her that Santa would bring her something, and I am glad the big guy came through.  Claire also had a number of incisive questions about how Santa actually operates.  Does he ever deliver the presents to the wrong house?  Does he ever give a boy’s present (such as a “Batman toy”) to a girl?  How does he keep track of who is naughty and nice?  I suggested to Claire that it is almost like he is magical, but she said no, it’s not magic.  He is probably just really smart and well organized.  (At this stage in my life, I consider the two to be almost indistinguishable).

Claire and Grammy admiring
the Olivia 2-in-1 playhouse from Noni.
Claire and Noni doing a little Christmas drawing.
Claire received many fine gifts from her family as well, including a jewelry box from her mom, a foam rocket from me, a deluxe art set from Grammy, an Olivia 2-in-1 playhouse from Noni, and many others. (I like to write some of the presents down since I think it could be interesting later.)
Noni set us up with a great Christmas dinner featuring honey-baked ham and many sides, while Grammy and I pitched in some too.  It was a real team effort.  We have a pretty good system.  Grammy mostly handled Thanksgiving’s dinner and now Noni took on Christmas.  I usually pitch in a side and enjoy helping out with the unique spectacle of a real, slow, home-cooked feast.
There are many more details to include, but I don’t want this to get too long (or keep me up later), so I better wrap up.  (It is all a blur now anyways, writing this only a few days later.)  It was a fun Christmas, and as corny as it sounds, the girls really did seem to enjoy having all the grandparents around even more than their presents.  The weekend went by really quickly, and pretty soon it was Sunday night and time for another greuling work week.  Kit actually didn’t have any extra time off this Christmas, working until Friday evening, with Christmas being on Sunday, and then Kit being on call starting on Monday morning for a 7:30 am surgery (scheduled by the Grinch, I guess).

Jixipix 2011

I love the jixipix software.  It lets you turn a regular photograph into art.  To me, it makes things look sort of magical and is a reminder that maybe life is more beautiful and serene that it seems when you are sprinting through it.

Anyways, one of our presents to the kids’ grandparents (aka, our parents) this year was a calendar featuring jixipix of the girls for each month.  Here are a few samples.  Many more pictures, including lots left out of the final calendars, are located on shutterfly.

Art Samples #2

Continuing with the new art samples series, here are the latest highlights from Claire and Molly.  This covers the last batch to come home from school before the holiday break.

As usual, Claire’s drawings are full of cryptic words that are a really nice, courageous shot at sounding out the words phonetically.

“You are a flower” 
I can’t tell what this one is trying to say, but I like it.
No idea what “GOTAN” is, but I love this picture.
It looks like it’s out of a botanist’s field journal.  
This one is infused with a bit of Christmas cheer.

Molly is making her mark with finger paint and stickers.


Tonight during her bedtime story, Claire noticed a little whitish speck on one of the pillows.  She said, “Ew!  I don’t want to touch that earwack!”.  Now, Claire does not just make up words too much any more, so we were wondering what the heck she was talking about.  We finally realized out that “earwack” is singular for “ear wax”.  It was a single speck of ear wax, she was saying, while more than one would constitute “ear wacks”.  That it a pretty good linguistic innovation, in my book.  I guess even at 6 years old, language is still a little confusing.

No bath, no bath!

If you were wondering what was the exact point in time when Molly started to dislike taking baths, it was this Monday.  Or maybe over the weekend.  Either way, it was definitely this week.

Molly used to enjoy her baths, taking her time to soak and play with toys, and even wash herself some with a wash cloth.  She only got upset with shampoo time and the resulting water and baby soap on the face.  But mostly it was a good time.

But now, all of the sudden, this has changed.  Molly has started to cry and scream, “No bath!  No bath!”, at the mere mention of her bath.  This has happened consistently for the last few nights.  She continues to cry through the bath itself, calming down only when out of the bath and in her dry towel.

We have no idea why Molly started to detest baths, but in case this never turns back around (like in the case of Claire, who now begrudgingly takes a shower before bed), I thought it would be interesting to pinpoint exactly when the shift occurred.  At this point, it is pretty safe to say that Claire and Moly love to sit around together and not take baths.  That is a favorite activity.

Holiday Traditions Poster

One issue with kindergarten so far has been trying to squeeze in the time to focus on Claire’s home projects (aka homework assignments). ¬†Usually these assignments are fun and creative, such as Disguise-a-Turkey, where Claire was given a picture of a turkey and had to turn it into something else so that it did not get eaten for Thanksgiving. ¬†That one did not go so well, though. ¬†We spent several days trying to get Claire focused on the assignment, but she just wasn’t “feeling” it, maybe because her time to work on these projects is also her grumpiest, most unfocused time of the day: late afternoon after school before we pick of Molly, or the 30 minutes before bed (which is otherwise “free time”). ¬†This was tricky to complete because the instructions were very specific about the kid doing the project, with only minimal help from parents. ¬†But without any real interest from Claire, we ended up with a somewhat random splattering of sparkle paint, which Claire declared a fairy, finally completed the night before it was due just before bedtime.

Claire McG’s Family Holiday Traditions
With that in mind, we finally had a solid success. ¬†Kit was able to work very well with Claire on her Holiday Family Traditions Poster. ¬†Kit and Claire got off on the right foot many days in advance, and Kit managed the slippery slope of supporting Claire without getting in her way or taking over the project. ¬†In the end, Claire felt enthusiastic and energized about the poster. ¬†It is nice to have a solid piece of work under our belt, and Kit and Claire made a good team while I mostly stayed out of the way (don’t mess with a good thing!).
The kids each presented their own posters to the class over the course of several days.  Claire got to learn about different family tradition besides the standard Christmas celebration, such as Hanukkah and the Muslin holiday Eid, which I had never heard of.  Sadly, I do not think anyone covered Festivus.
The Disguise-a-Turkey project,
for matter of comparison.

Molly sees the doctor

Today Molly was at the doctor for a weight check and sort of a very basic check-up.  This was at 11:00 am, after I had dropped Claire off at school, dropped Molly off at her school, squeezed in a little work, and then picked Molly up to go to the doctor.  Molly was covered in a layer of sticky orange goop when I picked her up at school.  I might have asked the teachers what it was, but was in a hurry, and frankly, I didn’t think much of it since she is often covered in something or other anyways.

These magazines were entirely too well organized.

By the time we arrived at the doctor’s office, Molly had removed both shoes and socks, as she likes to do, and produced a pretty smelly BM (“byem!”) in her diaper.  The check-in nurse thought it was funny that Molly was covered in orange goop and asked what it was.  I shrugged and said I didn’t know, and she thought that was even funnier, I guess since it implied that was just the norm with her.  I cleaned Molly up as we waited.  Two face wipes, six diaper wipes, and two diapers later, she was passably clean with just a few hardened bits of orange goop left on her face.  For the next few minutes, Molly climbed on the waiting benches and rearranged the magazines as we waited.

The weight check showed the same slight weight gain as usual, despite trying to stuff Molly full of calories for the last couple of months.  Besides the weight check, Dr. Miller wanted to get a general feel for Molly’s development.  She asked Molly some questions to get a feel for her verbal development.  Where is your ear?  Where is your foot?  Am I holding up one finger or two?  Molly answered all questions enthusiastically and appropriately.  Then Dr. Miller asked about her family.  Who is your sister?  “Caire”, Molly replied, still skipping the tricky “L” sound a bit.  The next question seemed tough to me: Where is your sister?  I was thinking… How could Molly possibly know where her sister is?  Does she even remember us dropping Claire off at school this morning?  Does she know that is a school?  Does she have any idea what Claire is doing there?  Would she assume Claire is still there?  Molly’s answer amazed me, not only because it showed her perception, but also because it showed she can say a pretty tricky word I had not heard her say before: “kindergarten”.  Yep, Molly nailed it.  These little ones really do know more than you think.

We hurried Molly back to school, rushing to arrive in time for her nap.  For lunch, Molly ate a peanut butter sandwich and some cheese in the car.  By the time we got to school, Molly’s her face had a fresh coat of peanut butter and jelly spread on top of the remaining orange goop, all on top of a contented smile.  She had also removed one shoe and sock, as per the normal protocol.  We arrived just as the teachers were quietly putting the kids down to sleep for their nap, and I didn’t have chance to ask what the heck that orange goop was.  Perhaps we will never know.

Seriously, what is that orange stuff?

Trip to D.C.

This week, we went on our first full-family airplane trip!  We traveled all the way to Washington D.C. to visit Claire and Molly’s uncle and aunt Tim and Cindy as well as our long-time friend Andrea.  This trip was Kit’s idea so that the girls could get to know their one and only uncle and aunt, and she hopes to make it a regular visit to keep the girls in touch.  This goes with Kit’s philosophy that it is worth the effort and hassle to keep in touch with your family.  I was a little hesitant at the idea of taking an exhausting and potentially frustrating trip right in the middle of the busiest time of year, but I know Kit was right to get us all out there.
This was Molly’s first airplane flight ever.  It was also Molly’s first ever trip outside of Texas.  It was also Molly and Claire’s first visit to states of Maryland and Virginia and the territory (?) of Washington D.C.
The flight went surprisingly well.  We thought it might be tough for Molly to sit more or less still in a seat for three hours, and to not scream and cry when she inevitably got frustrated by sitting there so long.  But she actually seemed to enjoy the flight quite a lot.   She seemed to enjoy the novelty of the airplane experience.  She browsed in-flight magazines and catalogs from the seat in front of her.  Then she collected all the duplicate in-flight magazines and catalogs from the adorning seats.  Then she stacked them all on the seat next to herself just so.  Don’t even think about touching those magazines!  Don’t so much as look at them!  Any disturbing of the in-flight magazine stack immediately caused a shrieking protest from Molly.  But she always settled right back down once you … left … the … damn … magazines … alone.
Claire also enjoyed the flight.  One favorite activity was playing with some reading flashcards.  After she tired of reading the flashcards, Claire invented her own “game” with the cards, a game which was completely arbitrary and impossible to win until the she basically just agreed to let you win.  To be fair, she let her opponent use the same arbitrary and impossible rules against her when it was their turn.  So… impossible and arbitrary?  Yes.  Unfair?  No.
(Jeez… We’re still on the airplane out to DC, and this is already getting long.  Got to pick up the pace…)
We actually flew into Baltimore, where the rental car company offered us a free upgrade to a minivan.  So we drove around Maryland, DC, and Virginia in a Chrysler minivan with Massachusetts plates.  It was almost like we had somehow transformed into a different family.
Approaching Tim’s house in Arlington, Virginia, Claire told us to tell Tim she was shy and did not want to talk.  But on entering their house, Claire almost immediately repudiated this tact and started chatting up her uncle who looked kind of like her dad.
The next morning, Tim took us to the National Museum of Natural History to see a butterfly exhibit.  The girls liked the butterflies, but Claire loved the mummies and the other Egyptian artifacts around the corner, past the insects, which Claire quickly bypassed because she was creeped out.  Claire was fascinated that the Egyptian mummies were real people from long ago.  She was a little bit surprised that mummies were actually real, perhaps thinking they fell into the not-so-real realm of fairies and ghosts. Kit got Claire a kids’ book about ancient Egypt from the museum store before we left, and it quickly turned into Claire’s favorite new book.  Claire also loved the animal skeletons, especially the monkeys since those are her class mascot at school.  And she loved the gems, rubies, and diamonds exhibit.  She also liked the dinosaurs a lot.  Basically, Claire loved the National Museum of Natural History, as did we all.  Molly liked the museum too, most of all when we let her out of the stroller to walk around on her own.  She seemed to like the skeletons best of all.

The girls admiring a “please touch” gemstone.
Me and Molly with Uncle Tim in the butterfly house.

Skeletons = fun

Playing it cool by the monkeys
The next day, Kit, Claire, Molly, and I headed out to see our college friend Andrea in Silver Spring, Maryland.  Andrea is providing foster care for two girls, ages 4 and 12, who we had not yet met.  Claire and the younger girl, Caitlin, hit it off nicely.  They were pretty quickly dancing and singing around the house.  They made a few trips into the bathroom together to say “bathroom words” in the one place where that was okay.  So were heard them in there yelling words like “toilet” and “diarrhea” over and over and giggling wildly.  The bathroom words were probably what sealed their friendship more than anything.  Claire and Caitlin settled down and drew pictures together.  Molly played with Caitlin’s mega-blocks and generally hung out.  We eventually walked down to the neighborhood park, where the girls played themselves nearly to exhaustion, Claire showing off her new monkey-bar skills to the younger Caitlin.  Molly had the best time of all, throwing herself down the twisty slide in as many odd and dangerous ways as possible, but walking away okay as usual. After the park, it was getting late and time to head back to Tim’s house.  Claire knew she was having to say goodbye to a great new friend, and she said to Caitlin, “I hope I see you again some day”, looking down glumly at the ground.  I nearly wept.

Claire and Caitlin drawing together.

For lunch, Molly pulled up a chair for herself
and refused a taller chair or a lap to sit on.
Molly at the park in her vaguely superhero outfit.

Sad goodbyes with Caitlin.

Back a Tim’s, Claire and Molly settled into more fun with their aunt and uncle.  Claire loved to hang out in Tim’s basement with Tim.  She kept him cornered down there for an hour at a time, chatting him up and playing with the exercise equipment down there.  When I went down to see what they were up to, they were sitting on exercise balls talking.  Tim, who has never really known a 6-year-old girl, as far as I know, explained that they were “just talking about Fancy Nancy and stuff like that.”  Claire also loved the chin-up bar in the basement.  She would hang from it and swing like a monkey.

Molly was kept close at hand the whole time at Tim’s house to keep her from provoking Tim’s two sweet but large and energetic dogs, as well as the general watch to “keep Molly’s body safe” as we are always like to do.  Plus Molly generally needed to sleep during most of the hours actually in Tim’s house.  She did like to play in the guest room bed and eat apples, though.
Molly enjoying the guest room.
So it was a great visit, if only for two full days in town.  It was tough to say goodbye, especially for Claire, who had grown quite attached to her aunt and uncle and their super fun house and city.  But Claire had also been sorely missing her teddy bear, who she decided to leave at home so she would not lose him.  When we got home, Claire spent a lot of time cuddling with and talking to her teddy and other stuffed animals, which was the first time she had shown so much interest in them.  I am glad she had her teddy or else she would have likely been crying over the fine friends she left behind in DC.

The morning after we got home, we had the national news on the television.  A reporter was covering something political from Washington DC, live, with the Washington Monument in the background.  Claire immediately recognized the setting and ecstatically said, “Hey!  Look!  She’s in Washington!”  Yes, besides meeting some great people and having a really fun time on her trip, Claire also got to see a true famous place.  And mummies.  You can’t do much better than that!