Fourth of Juliowa

Fourth of Juliowa

We made it up to Iowa for a Fourth Of July family reunion (Kit’s mom’s side) this year. ¬†This trip was Molly’s first to Iowa and her first time to meet most of the Iowa¬†side of the family.

The girls had a blast. ¬†They met their first-cousin-once-removed,¬†Jayvon, who was a boy but was close to Claire’s age and was lots of fun. ¬†He and Claire really hit it off and spent lots of time playing tennis, basketball, and just goofing off during the boring family farm meeting at the hotel. ¬†Molly tagged along some with them too. ¬†I keept an eye on them, but Claire didn’t want me to hover too close.

The whole family¬†got to ride in the (locally) famous Yale, Iowa 4th of July parade, which really was a heck of a parade for a tiny little farm town. ¬†We set off daytime fireworks on the family farm. ¬†We¬†spent hours in the hotel’s indoor pool. ¬†Molly was the lucky recipient of a swimming noodle with a head and tail. ¬†We named it Hydra, and she spent hours riding it around the pool. ¬†Hydra got silly and mad and tired. ¬†I spent 95% of my attention making sure Molly didn’t drown herself, so I didn’t get to play much with Claire in the pool. ¬†Luckily, Claire got to play with¬†Jayvon and his dad, Scott, who had some really good ways to splash and toss the kids.

Here are some photos of the fun and patriotic weekend.

Sunshine State (Part 2)

Sunshine State (Part 2)

After the big family meet-up in Siesta Key, the four of us headed towards Clearwater, Florida.  While in Florida, we had to meet the most famous dolphin in the world: Winter!  Winter is the real-life inspiration for the movie A Dolphin Tale, a favorite of 8-year-old girls around the globe.  Claire had even donated some of her allowance money to Winter in the past.  That is how much she likes Winter.

On the way up to Clearwater, we toured Sarasota a bit. ¬†We spent the¬†morning¬†at Selby Botanical Gardens, which Kit really enjoyed. ¬†The girls got to see some amazing tropical plants. ¬†Kit had also been scouting great local dining locations, and we ended up having some fantastic lunches at little restaurants like¬†The Serving Spoon in Sarasota. ¬†We headed up to a family-ish resort called Tradewinds, in St. Pete’s Beach. ¬†It was not as cozy as our house in Siesta Key, but it was nice to have a swimming pool and a beach cabana. ¬†We did the paddle boats around the resort too, and the girls¬†loved feeding the swans as they followed us. ¬†Kit nearly had a heart attack when she realized that her iPhone had slipped out of her pocket on the paddle boat. ¬†By almost freakish luck, the phone ended up safe and dry on a little inch-wide lip on the exterior of the boat. ¬†It was a quarter inch from becoming swan food.

Once in Clearwater, we spent most of the day at Winer’s home, the¬†Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which is really a marine animal rescue and rehab hospital that suddenly got famous with the Dolphin Tale movie. ¬†Claire had talked about seeing Winter for years now. ¬†We¬†got to see Winter floating around in her tank. ¬†The poor thing was indeed missing¬†her tail and was somewhat lethargic. ¬†Having come all this way to Florida, Claire got do a special (as in expensive) “dolphin encounter” with Hope, who is Winter’s friend and apparently the star of the upcoming Dolphin Tale 2. ¬†Molly was too young to do the dolphin encounter but¬†was familiar with the movie and enjoyed seeing Winter and all the sea animals. ¬†Molly got a Winter stuffed animal, unique with its missing tail. ¬†

After many hours at the Clearwater aquarium, we headed off¬†for our last night of the trip, near the Tampa airport. ¬†Kit had picked out a local Greek restaurant for a nice final meal. ¬†When we finally fought¬†our way there through the St. Petersburg sprawl, hungry and thirsty from a long hot day with only a small snack or two, the family restaurant was closed for two weeks for vacation. ¬†This was a disappointment to us all, especially our stomachs. ¬†Trying to avoid a small riot, Kit directed us to a family-owned Italian¬†restaurant nearby. ¬†It was also closed for two weeks! ¬†We all started to complain bitterly, and Kit even went so far as to say that it was “Un-American” to just close like that. ¬†Late and now¬†really hungry, we¬†found a Chili’s on the iPhone and headed¬†there, mostly on the grounds that it would probably be open and have, you know, food to eat. ¬†Mercifully, they were indeed open, and we stuffed ourselves on steak and pizza and even shared a big dessert.

Then next morning, we flew home.  Claire and Molly spent the next two days resting up from our big, busy family vacation in sunny Florida.

Sunshine State

Sunshine State

To celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday, the family met up at his favorite place: Siesta Key, Florida. ¬†Phil and Noni flew in from Houston, Uncle¬†Tim and Aunt¬†Cindy came down from¬†DC, and Kit, me, and the girls flew in on on¬†our first family flight since last summer to¬†the two Washintgon’s.

What you’ll find below is lots of pictures¬†of this great¬†but¬†brief family gathering. ¬†We all stayed in a cozy¬†off-the-beach house together. ¬†We had only one full day all together, and a couple of nights, but it was really amazing¬†to have everyone together, especially for an occasion like my dad’s big¬†birthday. ¬†His official birthday meal was a “taco bash”, which meant a huge volume of taco meat, shells, and fixings delivered to¬†enjoy on the sunny patio, truly Phil-style.

A few quick¬†notes, and then on to the pictures…

  • Claire was fanatical about swimming on the beach. ¬†She was brought¬†almost to the point of tears when we had to leave each night.
  • Molly¬†was fanatical about the beach toys that came with the rental house. ¬†Her favorite was her little plastic beach wagon, which is featured prominently in the pictures. ¬†There was also a¬†little plastic dinosaur, which Molly named Rexi. ¬†Molly built entire sand castles for Rexi and carefully took him around everywhere. ¬†Tragically,¬†at some point Molly¬†lost Rexi to the¬†sea. ¬†She handled it pretty well, and we hoped¬†that a mermaid might adopt it.
  • Molly also had a project make the ocean “less deep” by dumping one tiny shovel-full of sand at a time into the ocean. ¬†She got her little scoop of sand from a spot about 20 years inland and carefully carried each scoop to the sea, making sure not to spill any until she actually got to the water. ¬†She did this for nearly two hours.
  • Besides Rexi, we also lost two pairs of goggles (mine and Claire’s) during the trip, plus Molly’s at home just before the trip. ¬†When Claire lost her goggles to the sea, she was in a near state of panic because it meant lost ocean swimming time. ¬†After some negotiation, Molly kindly agreed to share her replacement goggles with Claire.
Off to Anacortes

Off to Anacortes

The girls took their big summer trip to Washington state this year, to visit Grammy and Granddaddy and their namesake boat, the Molly Claire, in Anacortes.  I was all set to go on this trip, but ended up staying back in Austin at the last minute to make a big push on my secret project.

Claire was rightfully upset that I was not going, saying, “This is the worst plan in the world!” ¬†But we all knew she would end up having tons of fun up in Washington, exploring islands, riding on boats, escaping the Texas summer heat, and of course, seeing her grandparents. ¬†Molly is at that lucky age where she did not especially care (or understand?) that I was not going along.

Kit was brave enough to fly out there with both girls by herself.  The trip out sounded like it went pretty well, but the trip back was a little tricky, including turbulence that kept Claire buckled into her seat and caused her first peeing accident since she was a baby.  Yikes!  The girls arrived back in Austin jet lagged and urine soaked but in very good spirits.  They made quite a loud, happy racket in the airport when I greeted them, and I ended up with two girls hanging off of various limbs all the way to the car.

Since I did not go along, I can only post pictures of the trip. ¬†I am sure the¬†MV Molly Claire blog¬†will cover it, though! ¬†BTW, this is both of the girls’ first visit to Washington state.

While Kit and the girls were up galavanting around the islands, I took advantage of a huge amount of time — six full days — and got more work done on my project (80+ hours) than I had in about the last five months of working on Sunday afternoons. ¬†I missed everyone greatly, as did our dog Muffin, who seemed “off” and confused with the house so quiet. ¬†By the time the girls got back, I was pretty worn out from solitary working and definitely ready for the silliness, smiles, and yes, even all the yelling and stomping that comes with the girls.

Huddling with Grammy Huddling with GrammyTossing stones Tossing stonesClimbing on the rocks Climbing on the rocksExploring the harbor on the dingy Exploring the harbor on the dingyClaire sketching away on the ferryClaire sketching away on the ferry

Picking strawberries
Picking strawberries

Molly on the Molly ClaireMolly on the Molly Claire

Welcoming the girls back home
Greeting the girls at the airport

 

Trip to D.C.

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!

Iowa

Iowa

Claire accompanied her mom to Iowa this weekend to attend a service for her late, great uncle (?) Jim, and to take part in an Alzheimer’s fundraiser walk .  Molly stayed back home with me, as she is still not quite ready for a fast-pased weekend trip, in and our of airports and hotels, like this.  And it’s a good thing she stayed home, because there were some late nights and no real nap times.  In particular, the well-planned return flight from Iowa got delayed by several hours.  Kit and Claire ended up ditching the last leg of their flight and driving home to Austin from Dallas, arriving home at 11 pm on Sunday night.  Claire was up for school at 6:30 the next morning.  That might have been sort of tough on Claire, but if Molly had been on the trip, it would have cut Sunday night’s sleep just about in half!

Anyways, I just wanted to briefly mark this trip, and the fact that Claire visited a new state, and the old family farmland in Iowa no less.  And Claire, as always, we super excited to go on a trip with her mom and fly in an airplane.  And she got to visit a butterfly house thingy.  I did not go on the trip, so I will just stick some of Kit’s pictures in here to tell the main part of the story.  (Kit and I tried on several to sit down and write this blog together, but time does not allow such frivolities.  Now I am writing it along a month later!).

Santa Fe

Santa Fe

Kit, Claire, and I all took a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico this week.  Kit went for a three-day liver biopsy conference, and Claire and I just went along for fun.  We decided that Molly was still not up for an extended trip like this; with her still somewhat baby-like sleeping and eating requirements, we would be pretty well tethered to the hotel and would not have a chance to explore.  Maybe next year, Molly will “pull herself together” enough for this kind of trip, as Kit and I like to say. But this time, Molly stayed at home with Grammy and Grandaddy, who offered to come up and lavish her with attention while we were out of town.
Describing a big trip like this can quickly get out of hand for a single blog post. And hey, this is a kid blog, not a travel log.  So this post will focus on Claire’s experience of the trip rather than our tourist impressions of New Mexico as such.  Suffice it to say that New Mexico was beautiful, and Kit learned a lot about livers (I suppose). Now let me just paint a sketch of how the trip went for Claire, and I’ll try not to let it get too long…
Claire was very excited about the airplane flight in particular. She got to pack her carry-on Mickey Mouse suitcase with more or less whatever she wanted to entertain herself on the trip. She piled it full of books, notepads, and stickerbooks. In the interest of keeping things running smoothly in case Claire got bored over the next few days in airplanes, cars, and the hotel room, I packed some extra electronic entertainment such as her Leapster game system, some movies and games on the iPad, and even some audiobooks to listen to. As it would turn out, Claire did not need any of this stuff. She spent most of her travel time drawing in her special travel notebook from Noni, talking and joking around with me and Kit, and reading books with me and Kit.
Claire spent most of her flying time drawing with her fuzzy green pen.
On the plane, we also talked a lot about our route to Santa Fe: fly from Austin to Houston, then fly to Albuquerque by another plane, then take a bus to pick up a rental care, then drive to Santa Fe. Claire jokingly called Albuquerque “Albu-cookie”. In the Houston airport, Claire got to choose pretty much whatever she wanted for lunch, and she ended up with a collection of curiously retro food: Fritos, Orange Crush, and a turkey sandwich. What is this, 1979? By the way, that Orange Crush made it all the way to Santa Fe, where Claire continued to sip on it daily throughout the rest of the trip, and not for lack of other (fresher) options.

Claire travels back to a 1979 TV commercial for lunch.
Once in New Mexico, we drove the Turquoise Trail to Santa Fe. Claire had been interested in seeing the desert, but had also been worried about being poked by a cactus.  Fortunately, we steered clear of cactuses (alright, “cacti”). Claire had expected New Mexico to look like the desert planet Tatooine from Star Wars. It was not quite as sandy as that, but in Madrid, NM, we did come across something that looked kind of like the feared Sand People of Tatooine.

Claire runs from a Sand Person
A “real” Sand Person, as a matter of comparison
By the time we actually got to Santa Fe, we were all exhausted, and we dined in our hotel room on Lunchables from the local convenience store, and then went right to bed. 
The next morning, Kit headed downstairs for her conference, and Claire and I headed out to explore Santa Fe on foot.  We ended up in the literally freezing wind at the beautiful central plaza.  The cold weather was sort of a shock coming from the balmy weather back home. We ducked into a mall across the street from where there was supposed to be a great breakfast restaurant where we were supposed to be having a nice warm breakfast right now.  But alas, the restaurant was closed for remodeling.  The mall, and actually the whole city, was empty, I guess because it was Sunday morning and everything was closed.  We slowly trudged our way back two or three blocks to the hotel, ducking in for cover from the wind as the situation allowed.  Claire complained bitterly about the cold, which was not like her. She did not even want to walk and asked me to carry her the whole way. We made it to the hotel and eventually took the car to an open restaurant (which we ended up going to three different times) where we warmed up over some breakfast and a gigantic hot chocolate, which Claire barely touched.  
Then we tried heading out again, this time to a park overlooking the city. Claire was miserable the very minute we got out of the car, and she begged to go back to the car as soon as I took this one picture of her being miserable.

Claire continue to complain and was not acting like herself the rest of the day. She eventually settled into an unusually quiet mood and seemed somehow uncomfortable.  Only later did we put it together that she was probably sick and exhausted and just gathering enough strength for me to drag her around town. Poor thing.  Anyways, we did manage to meet up with Kit for lunch.

We did manage to see some of Kit. 

Still not realizing Claire was probably sick, I took her to the local children’s museum in hopes of lifting her spirits.  It kind of worked.

Claire loved the museum’s kid-sized door.
The museum had yet another Star Wars reference to enjoy.

The next day, we took the 90-minute drive to Taos to see the 1000-year-old pueblo.  I explained to Claire that when pilgrims landed in American, this village was already here, and it was already hundreds of years old.  That actually did impress Claire, who responded with a genuine, “Wow!  Really?”  The drive to Taos was scenic, and it was a good chance for Claire to sit and rest up.  At Claire’s behest, we played “Max and Emma” for almost the whole drive up and back.  This is a game where Claire is a girl once year older than Claire named Emma, and I am her little toddler brother named Max.  Occasionally Emma reverts to a baby, but usually she’s older.  The game is mostly about talking funny, and she especially like when little Max badly slurs his “S” sounds because he’s a toddler.  She’ll also give me ideas to riff on, such as, “Pretend you think those rocks are giant meatballs and you want to eat them, and you get really upset because you can’t…” Anyways, that got us to Taos.

At the Taos Pueblo, Claire was asked where all the Indians were.  I pointed out a few locals, and she seemed surprised, I think because they were not wearing native clothing.  We were told not to take pictures of the natives without asking their permission.  Claire, who also had a disposable camera from Noni for her travels, took this rule very seriously and went to great trouble to not take anyone’s picture.  She thought she might have accidentally taken a local’s picture, but the panic was over when I told her it was just another tourist like us.

Claire at her favorite spot at Taos Pueblo.
Claire wanted to take a picture of her camera.
But she first made sure it was okay, with the picture rules and all.

We made friends with a couple of village dogs and chatted with some storekeepers before buying some small pottery for Kit.  Claire loved to hang out at the river and was fascinated by all the insects, mostly ants, crawling around the common dirt area.  There was even a gigantic ant carrying a whole dead caterpillar back to it’s clam-sized hole all by itself.  Right around that point, the fascination turned to fear, and we carefully hopped around the insects all the way back to the car.  Then it was a stop by the modern town of Toas for some souvenir shopping and lunch.

Claire was pretty droopy by this point.
But she did her best to put a good face on it. 

Then it was back to Santa Fe.  On the drive back, you guessed it, more Max and Emma.

Let me just wrap this thing up with a few final highlights…

We were able to sneak Kit out of town during an extended lunch break for a quick trip to the closer-by pueblo of Tesuque.  It was good to show Kit some of the countryside north of Santa Fe and some pueblo goodness.

At Tesuque, we found a real-live tumble weed,
which looked better tumbling around on the ground.
On the way back, we also got to see this cool rock thingy by the highway.

I think this was called “Devil’s Rock”,
or something like that.
On the final day, once we realized just how worn-out Claire was, we took it super easy and went to see a movie in the afternoon.  We chose the only kid’s movie, Gnoneo and Juliet, which was pretty enjoyable, actually.  Being a kid’s movie at 2:40 on a Tuesday afternoon, Claire and I were the only ones in the theater.  It was a little weird with nobody else around, but we did not have to whisper when we wanted to talk to each other.
The plane flight home was dominated by jokes from a book of 2000 kid’s jokes, supplied by Grammy for the trip.  The book did have roughly 2000 jokes.  At least.  I guess what lacked in quality it made up for in quantity. ūüôā  Claire absolutely loved this book, although she did not really understand most of the jokes.  She just liked the tone and delivery of the jokes. She did pick out a doctor joke for Kit, “What do you call a children’s knees? Kidneys.”  Claire spent most of the flight home making up her own jokes, including a “New Mexico joke” what went like this, “Why did the hill go to the hospital?  Because it got poked by a cactus.”  This went on for hours, until we stopped to literally run across the Houston airport to catch our connection to Austin.  We made it to the gate after everyone had been seated, with about five minutes until take off.
By the way, New Mexico was a new state for Claire.
Okay, that should do it.  I am worn out, and it’s time to move on.  I think that should paint a more than ample picture of the trip.  (Jeez, next time I really need to keep these trip blogs to a minimum!)