First movie in a theater: Finding Dory!

June 25th, 2016

It’s Saturday and it’s summer. We swam yesterday in Galveston, and we’ll swim tomorrow at Memorial Park. Storm clouds and thunder moved in around noon, perfect for a first movie theater outing. We’ve been looking forward to Pixar’s next feature — the sequel to a movie we know — Finding Dory.

Although we have watched several movies at home, we always pause or mute tense scenes with dramatic music, suspense, or peril. I was concerned that we might not make it through a whole feature in one shot, and I didn’t relish the thought of spending $35-40 for just part of a movie.

So while we were still at home, I found a plot synopsis and read it aloud to the girls. Cate squirmed at several points and exclaimed, “Mom! I’m scared!” But we worked through the whole story, and remembered that the stories we choose always have happy endings for the characters we like.

We grabbed quick tacos and quesadillas at 100% Taquito, and drove over to the Edwards Greenway theater. Bill bought tickets from the kiosk and took the girls to the restroom while I bought a small bag of popcorn.

The theater was small and nearly full, so we landed way down front in the third row. There were 20 minutes of previews, including Tarzan and a remake of Pete’s Dragon. Then we got a wonderful new Pixar short called Piper.

Finding Dory was wonderful, full of heart, and very well done. Both girls succeeded in sitting rapt through the whole thing.

Cate said, “It was really scary, but ok in the end.”

Sam said, “It was great! I want to watch it ten times more. You should definitely come see this movie. It barely just came out!”

Movie “posters” have grown a lot in the last decade

Big nap-free weekend!

March 13th, 2016

In retrospect, the winter holidays marked our last routine naps. I count us really lucky (and persistent) that we managed to keep these girls benefiting from daily naps until a few months past age four.

As nap frequencies plummeted through January and February, even I admit they have well and truly grown out of them. We still wind down and need some “down time” after lunch, but we can now do stuff in the afternoon, too.

Bill left early to participate in his first charity bike ride of the season. He sent this selfie from the rest stop at mile 40, then wrapped up 49.6 miles before coming home:


While Bill was riding, the girls and I played at home. Cate and Sam quietly tackled our big space puzzle:

Sam worked on planets and the sun while Cate worked on the moon and earth

They high-fived each other once the last piece was placed.

After lunch, girls took a super extendo bath with ALL of the bath toys. Afterward, we laid in bed together and read a Magic Tree House adventure with Jack and Annie from cover to cover.

Sam and Cate love a warm bath!

Somehow the beginning of daylight “savings” time meant both girls woke up an hour earlier than usual. Cate climbed into bed by me and asked if she could “play a little Ida” (Monument Valley), but Sam and Dad declared for seeking breakfast. When asked, Sam chose Taco Cabana as an outing, and before they left, Cate decided we should go, too.

After lunch, Sam and Cate lobbied to tackle an activity from our Big Book of Experiments, and recruited Daddy Bill to help them make balloon rockets. A quick trip to Walgreens produced fancy balloons with battery-powered LEDs inside. Then, Bill strung twine from the front door to the far end of the dining room, and mounted a straw.

Bill helped Cate tape her balloon to her straw

Sam was initially concerned by the balloon deflating rapidly. But once she grasped how the “rocket” worked, she asked Dad to run twine and a straw for her, too. With two tracks in place, there were balloon rocket races.

Cate and Sam don’t quite have the embouchure strength yet to inflate their own balloons.

Both shouting, “Ten! Nine! Eight!…”

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After rockets, it was time to play outside again. Hand walking immediately segued into scaling the automated containers:

Cate on garbage and Sam on recycling…

A little later, someone observed the ever-larger loquat tree next door was covered with yellow fruit, and asked if we could go pick some. I boldly asserted that loquat season comes later in the spring, but I was mistaken. A ton of these loquats are already ripe!

Just like last year, the neighbor’s house is still vacant, and I feel comfortable entering the yard to gather some of the fruit that will otherwise go to birds, squirrels, and opossums. Apparently, Cate and Sam feel comfortable, too. Within moments, wildly autonomous children raided the kitchen for big plastic bowls, departed the house, and went next door to collect fruit.


Sam and Cate munching loquat “twins” and “triplets”!

I went back inside to inquire whether Bill might want to help us reach some of the bulgingly ripe fruit higher up on the tree. But before we came out again, girls had taken the matter into their own hands and feet, and were halfway up the tree!

Sam and Cate up the loquat tree

The best part of our care-free Sunday? It will be followed by a week of spring break. More fun soon!

Shopping with Cate and Sam…

September 20th, 2015

While we were in San Antonio over Labor Day weekend, Houston had big weather with rainstorms and lightning. When we returned, our microwave no longer functioned.

Bill will observe that the 16-year-old Sharp microwave had been dysfunctional for years. Early in its tenure, an electrical surge blew a capacitor, but I liked it enough to spend $30 replacing the capacitor. Some of the display elements had gone dark, and over time, more of them went dark until it was unreadable. But I still used it easily.

However, the microwave is essential equipment in our kitchen and not turning on was problematic. So we reviewed Consumer Reports and read user reviews at Amazon during nap time, and after girls woke, we headed out to put eyeballs on a few models.

Shopping with the kids is a hoot — because we don’t do it very often — and they especially enjoy Home Depot. Here’s Bill walking them back from the obligatory search for fork lifts:

Bill, Sam, and Cate striding through Home Depot

The girls had fun playing with the small selection of microwaves. They especially liked the teeny tiny one with the door that you just tug open, instead of pushing a button:

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Pressing on to Best Buy, we found a big well-regarded LG microwave at a reasonable price. While we transacted for it, the girls surveyed the impulse purchase offerings, and became fascinated with some kind of candy with battery-powered helicopters on top. I still don’t know whose candy it was, and we did not acquire them.

Sam spinning

Cate spinning

When we finished, Auntie Emily met us at Beck’s Prime in Meyerland for dinner and chocolate milkshakes. Great end to a great summer Saturday!

Cate, Emily, and Sam

Ohio roots: Chuck with a guitar

August 23rd, 2015

We just returned from our first family trip to Ohio. My aunt Amy shared another handful of old photos she found for me, which included this gem. It’s a newly-wed Chuck at 25, in what looks to me like Gran’mom Sarah and Gran’pop Roger’s house in Orlando, strumming Jean’s guitar:

When Jean was in college, she bought a guitar and began teaching herself to play. Over time, after she and Chuck married, it became Dad’s to play, although Jean still asserted that “it’s My guitar.”

I have many fond memories of listening to my Dad play and sing folk songs from the 1960s and 1970s. Pete Seeger and The Weavers, Peter Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, the Beach Boys, and other singer-songwriters were all cherished performers in our home. Sometimes, Mom and I sang along, too. And occasionally, they hosted wonderful parties where their friends played and sang, too.

I admired — and envied — people like my Dad who could play and sing at the same time. After high school, when I played bass guitar in a band* with Geoff Fish and Del, I aspired to get good enough to sing, too. But while I achieved some proficiency on bass, I never practiced enough to multi-task. I was also too self-conscious to want a microphone in front of me.

* Geoff and Del were both 5-8 years older than me, and called us The Lawrence Welk Renegades. It sounded funny to me, but I wasn’t really old enough to get the reference.

* * *
Last summer, when the girls were two, we managed to spend a day in Galveston every week or two. This summer, I’ve been busy assembling submittals and building website content for Traffic Engineers, Inc. (TEI), and I’m sad to admit we have only made it to Galveston 6 or 7 times this summer.

Bill was in London for the last three weeks of July on proposal work for Wipro. He got 36 hours at home the weekend of the 18th, but we saw him little between flight delays and jet lag. The Zoo snow day was all we really managed.

In Bill’s absence, I decided to make the most of it by taking Sam and Cate on their first overnight grandparent visits. We spent one night at Gram Nancy’s house, and we spent a night in Galveston, too.

We had big plans for that Friday morning (July 31): Dr. Glenn (my dentist) invited us to come fish (for the first time!) from his dock, and ride in his boat, and swim in his pool. Unfortunately, Sam and I were awake from about 2 am to 6 am, after she succumbed to the puking bug that Cate suffered from the prior Sunday night. Poor kids.

When Cate woke, Baba Jean found her breakfast and entertained her so Sam and I could sleep, for which I’m most grateful. Friday afternoon brought much-needed naps, which helped immensely. When the girls woke, Dad and I were sitting in the office. They pointed to the guitar, hanging from the bookshelves, and I asked Dad to play something for us.

He hasn’t practiced in too long. He can barely see for cataracts and retina damage. The tremor makes his arms shake even as his hands finger long-familiar chords. The affliction of it all is profoundly sad. But hearing Chuck play for Cate and Sam, and hearing them start to learn the haunting melody of “Goodnight, Irene” makes me really, really happy.

Apologies for the upside-down free-handed video. I may be able to right it the next time I can upload files from my mom’s phone. In the meantime, the audio makes me happy.

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Snow day at the Houston Zoo!

July 18th, 2015

For the last couple of Julys, TXU Energy has sponsored a snowy “chill out” day at the Houston Zoo. So Saturday morning, we treated ourselves to breakfast out at Harry’s, and then hit the Zoo around 9:30 am. We were glad to be members because parking was scarce and the lines were really long. I overheard an EMT tell a colleague that their gate was nearly 6,000 people before 11 am!

We remembered to wear boots but forgot gloves, so our hands got cold. Nonetheless, the girls played in the “snow” for almost an hour!

Dad and Cate charged through the heat and crowds past the elephants to the snowy clearing

Cate and bootless Sam. Sam says, “my feet were hot in the boots” (it was about 95 degrees outside), so she took off a boot to cool off. But “I got cold and put it back on.”

Sam insisted I dig her “snow boots from Mt. Charleston” out of the winter bin.

Sam, Cate, and Mama Bob

Cate explained to me earnestly that she was super hot (it was 95 degrees out!) and so she pulled up her pants to rub snow on her leg, and then “I put snow in my boot!” Cate and Sam then both pulled up their shirts to rub handfulls of snow on their bellies.

Cate says, “I was trying to ring up snow.” Sam asks, “do you mean rough up?” Cate agrees, “yes, rough up snow!”

Sam says, “I was trying to dig in the snow. I was trying to make holes in the snow.”

Sam says, “I put snow in my boot. I was trying to cool off! But there was too much pieces of snow.”

Sam with sweat beading off her brow and lip

Cate says, “I was putting ice in my boot, toot, toot.”


Daddy Bill

Cate laid down briefly. She says, “I’m trying to get up from making a snow angel.”

After the snow, we rested and snacked on benches in the new clearing where the vulture pen used to be. Sam asked me very nicely if she could take some pictures with my camera. I really like what she got!

Cate and Dad, as seen by Sam

Mama Bob as seen by Sam

Personal obsessions at 3-3/4…

July 18th, 2015

Even now, upon realizing our kids are twins, strangers still sometimes ask, “are they identical?”

“This word, identical, it does not mean what you think it means.”

Mostly I smile and answer, “no, not really in any possible way.” Aside from skin tone and that cute nose, Sam and Cate are as different as any two sisters might be, including different personal interests.

A couple of months ago, the girls extended their independence to climbing counters and retrieving from cupboards any items that interest them at will. Sam has become very fond of bandaids. If at any point you realize that it’s quiet and Cate’s in sight but Sam isn’t, odds are you can find her in our bathroom, helping herself to a variety of plain and character bandaids:

Sam emerged wearing 9 bandaids and several wraps of gentle tape (July 3)

Meanwhile, both girls mastered counting — that is, uniquely enumerating discrete objects — last year, sometime around age 2-1/2. Then in April, it occurred to me we could make counting more interesting with playing cards. So Bill started teaching them variations on Go Fish and War:

Bill teaching the girls Go Fish

At the beginning of July, I showed the girls how to play Solitaire on my iPhone. Sam enjoys sliding the cards around, but seems to prefer physical cards to touchscreen cards.

We played this first game together (July 1)

Cate, meanwhile, *loves* to play the game on my phone. She squeals with delight when she finds an ace to start a “home suit” pile or clears a column: “Mom! I have room for a King now!” She knows how to use the Hint button to confirm when there are no more useful moves remaining, and she even wins sometimes!

Several times in the last two weeks, I have waked to the sensation of a no-longer-sleepy Cate at the bedside, asking “may I come up?” But where she used to want to cuddle, she now declares conspiratorially, “Mom, it’s Solitaire time!”

Friday morning, it was too cold inside, so first Sam and then Cate took turns wearing the Lion costume we received from Nicole’s guys. But as soon as she was warm, Cate wanted a Solitaire fix:

Lion Cate working the cards on my phone (July 17)

Ship Channel boat tour!

July 15th, 2015

A couple of months ago, Bill declared we had reservations for a boat tour. The Port of Houston Authority operates the M/V Sam Houston on a free 90-minute tour of Houston’s Ship Channel. Baba Jean and Izzy joined us for this outing, Sam and Cate’s second ride on a boat!

Baba Jean, Bob, Sam

Bill, Cate, Izzy

Sam dancing

Tank farm

Pine 5 freighter

Cate and Sam in the fantail


Jean and Izzy

About an hour into the ride, I realized my camera auto-focus was disabled. Sorry!





Ship Channel Bridge

After the boat tour, we crossed back over the bayou and headed to Brady’s Landing. The parking lot was packed — they had 5 events that morning! — but the restaurant was wide open. We enjoyed their seafood buffet, dessert, and their panoramic view of boats and birds along the bayou.

Sleepy Cate

Sleeping Sam

Looking at how this sleeping Sam neatly fills her car seat, I’m reminded of an earlier trip to the Ship Channel, while a tiny Sam dozed. Such changes in two years!

Sous chefs!

July 10th, 2015

Back in 2010, I was duly impressed by Elizabeth’s account of 3-year-old-Carter making waffles and attempting coffee unassisted. I had no idea how you get that kind of initiative from a preschooler.

But flash forward five years, and we’re there. One girl or the other — usually Sam, but sometimes Cate — emerges from the bedroom before we do. Beyond self-serve yogurt and berries, we have arrived in the kitchen to find:

  • Sam with a skillet full of cabbage and Brussels sprouts
  • Cate with a toaster full of mini-bagels
  • Sam with a French press holding 9 (“Nine!”) scoops of coffee ready to brew
  • Cate whisking an egg in a bowl with food color, and some butter smeared in a cold skillet

Fortunately, forewarned is forearmed. So we have relentlessly coached that toasters and microwaves and stoves and ovens are only for grown-ups. So far, they still believe us. And I’m comforted knowing that Carter survived his independent cooking adventures!

Bill and I are mostly looking forward to having help in the kitchen. In the meantime, here’s a photo of Cate and Sam peeling carrots (“we’re making carrot salad!”) on June 6. Enjoy!

Long-awaited tree climbing girls!

May 10th, 2015

I used to love climbing trees. One of my earliest memories is of our little white house in Gainesville, and the enormous bushes along the front of the house, which were excellent for climbing. I remember that their branches were smooth, sturdy, and easy to climb, and that their deep shade kept both the cinder block wall of the house and the dirt below cool to the touch. Those bushes were like a house to me, outside our house.

* * *
There’s an ancient Greek proverb I appreciate: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

From time to time, Trees for Houston gives away trees to be planted in the public right of way. About ten years ago, our neighbors — Doug and Deanna — accepted and planted a pair of tiny magnolia trees in front of their house. They also planted a tiny loquat tree inside their yard. They moved across town in 2006, but their little trees kept growing. The loquat now bears an enormous crop of fruit, and the magnolias are an excellent size for climbing!

Saturday morning (May 9), our Auntie Emi was in town. We took her next door to pick loquats — the house is currently vacant — but we found almost no fruit on the tree, presumably thanks in part to this guy:

Furry little loquat picker

So we considered the magnolias instead. Several parks — like Baldwin and Glenwood — have ancient live oak trees, and we have helped the girls sit or stand on enormous branches. But at the moment, I’m thinking that our first encounter with the concept of self-climbing into trees is from Kevin Henkes’ Kitten in Kitten’s First Full Moon

Kevin Henke’s “Kitten”

… but I’m not sure, so I asked the girls, “who do we know that climbs trees, and when did we learn about it?”

Cate immediately grins and replies, “from the Bandaid song!”

Sam says, “I learned tree climbing from Cliffhanger…, I mean Clif Bar! He’s a climber, and I want to climb.”

I asked further, “Do we know anyone else who climbs trees?”

Cate looks thoughtful for a longer moment, and then replies slowly, “squirrels.”

Sam concludes, “and sloth-es.”


* * *
Now, back to the magnolias. Although Cate was still in jammies, both girls were prepared with sturdy play shoes, so they went straight to the tree. Both magnolias still have all their low branches, so climbing in is easy.

Cate followed Sam into the tree

Sam in the west magnolia

Cate was initially disappointed that I deemed the tree big enough for just one girl at a time. But fortunately, there are two trees, one for each girl!

Emily spotting Cate in the east magnolia

Cate shouted, “Mom! Look how high I am!”

After they were each satisfied with their first tree, they climbed down and switched.

Emi and Sam


After several minutes, they each concluded that the first tree was better and switched back. Sam ascended more quickly the third climb, swung down and out of the tree, then turned and climbed right back in.




I love this expression of satisfaction on Sam’s face. Moments later, she turned to me and said, “Mom, I’m going to stay in this tree ALL NIGHT!” When I asked, “Really? All night?” Sam confirmed, “all night!” But then a large-ish ant crawled across the branch near her hand, and she decided that she was ready to climb down after all.

At this point, Cate wandered back into view, shirtless. I will need Emily — or Cate! — to chime in and explain why she became half naked, as I was unclear. But she was eager to climb the west tree again.

Emi and Cate discussing attire



* * *
I mentioned Kevin Henkes’ story about the kitten because at one point, Kitten races — trying to reach the great big bowl of milk in the sky — all the way to the top of a tree, where she becomes frightened and unsure how to get down. I can readily imagine having to call the Houston Fire Department to come rescue our child from 20+ feet up a tree. In order to preclude this fate, I have asked the girls not to climb any higher than my head, else I not be able to reach and help them down. For now, they both comply. But I expect higher exploits will soon be at hand!

Catherineism #: Sock it to you…

February 22nd, 2015

Friday morning (Feb 20), Emily was in Houston, and we invited her to come with us to Shabbat at Becker. While I was making breakfast, the girls got out the musical greeting cards Emi gave them for Valentine’s Day.

Catie’s card plays a snippet of “Who let the dogs out?” I pulled up the Baha Men’s original video on YouTube, and the girls found it fascinating.

Sammie’s card plays a song by the Isley Brothers:

“It’s your thing
Whatcha gonna do?
I can’t tell you
who to sock it to…”

* * *
Listening to that snippet reminded me of Gran’mom.

Language and idiom change over time. I’m not sure which factors most shape which elements stick with each person. Many of my expressions date to the 1980s; many of my Gran’mom’s expressions were much earlier.

During her final year or two, Gran’mom was decreasingly able to care for her cat. More pertinently, she was unable to fend him off. When Zachary batted at her ankles, her paper-thin skin split open into painful wounds that needed nursing care.

One time, when a nurse was tending to her wound dressing, he caused her discomfort. Gran’mom squirmed and exclaimed, “Ouch! Watch it, Buster, or I’ll sock it to you!”

* * *
Emily arrived in time to help the girls get dressed for school. Cate decided to skip socks and just wear her berry-colored play shoes. While Cate was getting her shoes, Sam opened the card to play the song again, and Emi and I sang along.

When we finished the song snippet, Cate was standing in the doorway looking quizzical. She asked, “What is ‘sock it to you’?” Emi replied, “Oh, it’s a very 1960s expression” and Cate wandered off.

I captured Sam and started talking her into blue leggings, a long-sleeve blue tee, her Becker blue top, and fleece pants with pockets for Tzedakah. Just then, Cate approached from the dressing room, and lobbed a roll of turquoise socks at me.

When I asked, “What’d you do that for?!” — feeling puzzled because she’d declared for going sock-free — Cate beamed and exclaimed, “I socked it to you, Mom!”