Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

A little Christmas 2014…

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

At two, Cate and Sam really enjoyed the modest return of Christmas in 2013, and I did, too. So this year, we started a little earlier. And Gram Nancy invited us to come help decorate her house, too.

On Sunday morning (Dec 7), we had breakfast at home, cajoled girls into getting dressed, eventually made it out of the house and drove to Conroe. Gram picked up lunch from the Club, and after lunch, girls took good long naps on the floor of the dormitory.

Eventually, both girls acceded to my demand they sleep

Sam woke first, and was delighted to help decorate Gram’s tree. Cate slept longer and woke up chipper and ready to help, too.

Ready to hang

Gram showed Cate how to hang balls on her tree…

… and then helped Sam hang balls, too.

Nancy acquired this animatronic Santa when Bill was just 2 or 3.

Nancy’s mother Alice crocheted these snowpeople

Only Bill was tall enough to mount the bow on top



Holiday Bob

* * *
For Christmas eve, morning, and day after, my camera was not in its drawer and I couldn’t remember where I’d stashed it (next to its battery charger). So while we did make the rounds from home to Conroe to Galveston, and we did enjoy time with our extended families, and the girls did get to play with both sets of cousins, I didn’t capture any of it digitally. With a little luck, some subset of us may remember some of it anyway.

Beethoven’s 1st and 4th symphonies

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

When I woke Sunday morning, a text message from my mom was waiting in my phone:

Sounds like peeps in Sugar Land are sick. Are you or Bill available for HSO tomorrow 2pm?

Although I haven’t listened to much classical music since high school in the 1980s, and I’ve played even less, I do enjoy attending the symphony, and going with my mom is a treat. Jean told me they would perform Beethoven’s 1st and 4th symphonies, and I remembered that Gran’mom especially enjoyed Beethoven. Bill agreed to cover naptime so I could go.

Jean and Bob en route to Jones Hall

As Bill came outside to snap this photo of me and my mom, a lone monarch butterfly appeared out of nowhere. It swooped toward us, then just as abruptly, flitted away. I immediately thought of Gran’mom, and I turned to see if Mom had seen it too. Her eyes met mine and she smiled, and I knew she was thinking of Gran’mom, too.

* * *
Houston’s symphony has a new music director — Andres Orozco-Estrada — who is not only more animated and visibly enthusiastic than Hans Graf, but also reassuringly beats his baton in rhythm with the piece. He’s fun!

Andres Orozco-Estrada

Beethoven’s 1st symphony in C major is a cheerful piece and it sounds Beethoven-y. I enjoyed it, and intend to seek out a recording of it so I can listen again. Beethoven’s 4th is striking in how light and modest it seems compared to his 3rd, 5th, and 9th symphonies. The program quoted his contemporary, Schumann, who described it as a “slender Grecian maiden between two Nordic giants,” and I can kind of see that.

The middle piece of today’s concert was a Schumann cello concerto in a minor key. I liked it well enough, although my appreciation of the tone and tenor of cellos goes most of the way toward enjoyment before the specifics of a given piece.

HSO cellist Brinton Averil Smith

* * *
When I was a teenager, my mom brought us to see Houston Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker. Later, in honor of my 20th birthday, she brought me to see Swan Lake. (She also gave me a bouquet of 20 pink roses in a vase that I just used to start some paperwhite narcissus bulbs that we bought together at Buchanan’s this afternoon.)

I played the flute from 4th grade through high school, and as a senior, I earned first chair and solos in symphonic band. So I got to hear our “symphony” perform every spring.

But I’m pretty sure it was Gran’mom who brought me to my first real symphony performances. In 1998, I was single and working for Plaut as an SAP implementation consultant. I was working in rural Georgia and most weekends I came home to my parents’ house in Galveston. (I needed a tax home in Texas and it seemed silly to pay a lot of rent for an apartment I’d only use 10-12 days a month. So I paid a little rent to my parents and enjoyed their company, too!)

My client paid for me to fly home to Texas every Thursday, but several times I flew to Florida instead, to play with Gran’mom. That fall, she bought a pair of season tickets to the Orlando Symphony and I scheduled a couple of visits so that I could attend the matinees with her. I recently unearthed the letter in which she wrote me excitedly to say she had our tickets. Gran’mom thought of me as her “little playmate.”

I just remember how sophisticated she made me feel. I didn’t think either the suits or the khaki pants and sweaters I wore to work were appropriate attire for concerts, so she took me shopping along Winter Park Ave. She introduced me to Ann Taylor, where I found the pale green silk pant suit that I later wore to the rehearsal dinner before our wedding. I also found my slinky black ankle-length opera dress.

She prepared delicious meals with fresh, local ingredients, introduced me to meat seared in herbes de Provence, and taught me to appreciate chardonnay. She read the newspaper and Newsweek, watched the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour, and wrote letters to the editor and to her Congressman. She listened to classical music and made me feel special.

* * *
As I sat in Jones Hall this afternoon, immersed in the 4th Symphony, I was struck by how incredibly lucky I was to have Gran’mom dote on me. I really miss her. And she would have enjoyed the Beethoven today.

Pool 6.0: semi-independent with bar floats!

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

Saturday afternoon, Gram Nancy invited us to come enjoy swimming and a picnic dinner at the River Plantation club pool. The Odales were in town and the Friedmans came, too.

We haven’t seen Bill’s sister, Barb, and her family since Christmas, and the kids all seem so grown-up now. Jordan, the youngest, will be 13 in a few weeks, and Jeremiah earned his lifeguard certification this summer. All three of the kids swim like fishes!


Sarah, Barb, and Jordan

Gram Nancy

Suzi’s daughter, Addison, will be 4 in September, and has been learning to swim at Houston Swim Club (HSC). Addi showed me how she can blow bubbles and swim underwater. She also brought a really clever pair of bar floats — constructed from PVC with old-fashioned rope floats at each end — that are part of the HSC curriculum.

Sam was eager to try Addi’s floats (“Please, I use your floats!”) and when she got in the water and tucked them under her armpits, a remarkable transformation occurred. For the first time, Sam was totally stable, floating independently in the water. Within a few minutes, she got the hang of bicycling her feet, and was self-propelled. She wore herself out, kicking to the deep part of the pool and back again. We have never seen Sam so happy in the water!

After dinner, Cate wanted a go. She, too, quickly got the hang of propelling herself through the water. But where Sam was quietly studious in her endeavor, Cate made up a mantra to sing, “I can go back and forth, back and forth, back and forth!”

After that, Sam wanted to go again. And when Aunt Betty let us know it was time for them to go home, taking Addi’s floats with them, Sam tried to hustle away to the deep end of the pool again.

Get the Flash Player to see this video.

Get the Flash Player to see this video.

We’ll find out tomorrow, when HSC opens after the holiday weekend, how much they extort for their bar floats. We may just knock ’em off and make our own. Either way, we can hardly wait to see how quickly the girls progress with them. What a great teaching tool!

Mail from Sharon!

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

One day after breakfast, we emptied the mailbox and found an envelope addressed to Sam and Cate. It was a letter from Aunt Sharon — who departed Houston for Greensboro, North Carolina at the end of April — and it included a tiny knit (crocheted?) butterfly finger puppet. Much delight ensued! Thanks, Sharon!

Cate, Sam, and a heap of new mail

Cate holding the letter

Sam with a butterfly on her finger

After dinner conversation: livestock show!

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Every March, Houston hosts a livestock show and rodeo at Reliant Center. The show includes tons (literally) of toddler-friendly displays and a petting zoo. This year, we brought Gram Nancy with us one week and Baba Jean the next.

From time to time, I capture some after-dinner conversation with Sam and Cate, as a snapshot of their personality at the time. Here they are on March 12, 2014 — nearly 2-1/2 years old — talking about their trip to the livestock show:

Get the Flash Player to see this video.


Beach, the sequel, with seagulls!

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Last month on MLK Day, when Baba Jean and I brought the girls back to Dansby from their maiden foray into the Gulf, Papa Chuck allowed as how the beach can be really pleasant this time of year. I have fond memories of beach outings with my parents, and I decided that I would endeavor to entice him to come out with us the next time.

It’s taken me a month to get us back to Galveston, but it was worth it. Both girls were super excited to go back to the beach. Sam was so excited that during the ride down, when a brief stop interrupted her 5-10 minutes into her rolling nap, she woke and exclaimed, “we’re at the beach!” and declined to go back to sleep. [I had told the girls that we would be in Galveston by the time they woke up. Oops.]

Galveston offered up some of my very favorite weather: 60s, crisp, and foggy! After lunch, we drove to the end of the Seawall and parked.

This time, Papa Chuck came with us, and we brought treats: a giant bag of Kroger cheese puffs for the seagulls, and a big bag of Cheese Toes for the rest of us.

I remember pitching puffs to the gulls from the balcony of our first Galveston apartment with my Dad. But that was 29 years ago, and I couldn’t remember how we attracted the seagulls. I naively wondered whether there would be gulls already when we arrived, and if not, how we might lure them to us.

Never fear.

Somehow, the sight or sound of our toddlers walking onto the beach holding big crinkly orange bags was sufficient to attract a swarm of seagulls and grackles.

Seagulls swarmed out of the fog upon our arrival

While my parents opened snacks, both girls offed clothes to go swim.

Get the Flash Player to see this video.

The time stamps on these photos indicate that feeding the seagulls held the girls’ attention for 5, maybe 6, minutes before the siren call of the water lured them in. The water is still just 65 degrees — chilly! — but Cate and Sam were undeterred.

Get the Flash Player to see this video.

They’re rapidly getting more comfortable with the surf, and boldly charging in further. I’m rapidly getting less comfortable with lifeguarding solo. I’m eager to get them more swimming lessons this summer.

I asked them repeatedly about the temperature and whether they were uncomfortable. Over and over, they paused — their pale skin plastered with myriad tiny goose bumps, their teeth chattering, and their hands shaking from the cold — just long enough to respond, “I’m not cold!” and the temperature was “just right!”

Uh, huh.

Cate and Mama Bob

Papa Chuck talking with Sam

Baba Jean and Papa Chuck with Bob and girls

I know that elsewhere, it’s much colder, or even snowy, where some of you are reading this. If a spring getaway to the Texas Gulf Coast appeals to you, please consider yourself invited.

And a final word of thanks: I’m most grateful to our nanny, Nane, who not only helped us all schlep to the beach and back, but also captured a few nice photos of all of us!

Enjoying a binge of quality girl time

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

At the end of August, my nieces started back to school. Sierra is now a 6th-grader at the middle school in our neighborhood, and Izzy is a 1st-grader at Sierra’s former charter school. They both get out of school at 3:30 pm. However, Chris is working in Sugar Land and Shawnacy just started an MFA program in San Marcos, which means neither of them are available three days a week.

In general, they plan to have a babysitter collect the girls on those days, but that fell through on several days in the early weeks of school. The upshot is that I got to be Aunt Bob for four days and enjoy some quality time with my nieces. One day, we ran errands together to the post office and grocery, but other days we sat together at the dining room table and tackled important stuff, like:

  • making sure we all ate a healthy afternoon snack and talking about what kinds of foods are good for growing strong bodies and brains,
  • having Izzy practice her writing/spelling to tell a story instead of just drawing pretty pictures,
  • insisting that Sierra do her math homework before reading “The Far Side” for fun, and talking about how math processes are like recipes for cooking, to make sure you get the correct result everytime, and
  • going through Sierra’s schoolwork binder together daily to make sure she clipped loose papers into the right sections, so that she can learn where everything is and reduce her odds of losing something important.

Keeping the two of them engaged and on task required both patience and undivided attention. By the end of the fourth day, I was exhausted, but it was totally worth it. (I’m also thankful that by the time I have to shepherd my own girls after school, I won’t be 7 months pregnant anymore.)

As a bonus, we enjoyed family dinner together each night, too. One night, Chris and I cooked chicken fajitas and quesadillas; another night, we went out for Vietnamese with Sharon; and a third night, we met our parents at Barnaby’s.

Somewhere in there, I introduced Sierra and Izzy to the joy of being kicked by our baby girls. The shared experience of their little hands pressed to the top of my belly, their looks of quiet concentration as they waited for something to happen, and then their simultaneous joyous exclamations of “I felt her!” when Baby B finally kicked for them, were absolutely delightful. Good times!

Bob, Sierra, Izzy
Jean’s photo of Bob, Sierra, and Izzy outside Barnaby’s

With my energy level dwindling by the day, and my to do lists for both work and home still endless, it’s good that Chris and Shawn have other after-school arrangements for their girls. But I sure enjoyed the heck out of the four days we spent together.

Adventias: Yet another moving day

Friday, July 15th, 2011

The last time I wrote about our Gran’mom, her brother Frank had just moved from Las Vegas to Houston to live in the same assisted living facility with her. Sharon and I were both optimistic that having a sibling in the same building would be both reassuring and entertaining to both of them.

I’m sad to say that’s not how things turned out.

Best we can tell, Sarah is unable to internalize that her brother now lives in the same building. If Sharon or I get the two of them together for a meal or visit, and explain who’s who, Sarah understands who Frank is and they relate to each other. But most of the other times, he’s just “some old goat” who shows up at her door, wants to sit with her at meals, and meddles about what she’s eating or doing. Belmont staff told us that Sarah and Frank would escalate to bickering at each other in the time it took to walk together from her room and ride the elevator to the first floor, by which point, sitting together in the dining room didn’t work.

For Sarah’s part, she doesn’t remember these interchanges and is apparently not upset by them. But poor Frank is deeply concerned over the condition his big sister is in and really wants to help her stay as healthy and happy as possible. It really wounds him when she rejects him so callously, and it saddens me that we got them together too late to enjoy a robust sibling relationship. Sharon and I will continue to get them together for meals or other events from time to time, but daily togetherness isn’t working.

* * *

What’s more, it became clear that Sarah was becoming less copacetic in general. Some of the behaviors we/staff observed:

  • Refusing staff direction/help to bathe and/or change clothes, and wearing the same clothes nonstop for weeks on end
  • Telling staff she didn’t know where she’s supposed to be or what she should do, repeatedly
  • Standing aimlessly in the hallway, apparently uncertain where to go, and declining direction to join group activities
  • Standing in the middle of the dining room for 30+ minutes, unable to sit at a full table that she perceives as “her’s”, and unable to choose (refusing to choose?) an empty seat at another table instead

In addition, Sharon drove Sarah to lunch and observed:

  • In the car, Sarah declared, “Wow! I don’t think I’ve ever seen an all-white car!”, and then expressed the same revelation 20+ additional times during the 5-mile trip to and from the restaurant
  • At the restaurant, Sarah was repeatedly discomfited by their loud/gregarious waiter, and told Sharon, “If he ‘shouts’ at me one more time, I’m going to say something rude back to him!”

So two and a half years after we moved Sarah to Belmont, we made the tough decision that it was time for Sarah to leave the (large) “assisted living” section and move to the (small) secure dementia “Neighborhood,” where the higher staffing ratio provides more one-on-one direction.

Given that familiarity and routine are essential to help someone with memory impairment function, moving obviously poses serious challenges. We got really lucky in that the room available for Sarah in the “Neighborhood” was the same basic floorplan and orientation as her room upstairs, just a little smaller. That made it possible to move almost all of her furniture and keep it in essentially the same configuration. That was the first hurdle.

The second hurdle was figuring out how to effect the move with minimal disruption to Sarah’s existence, but we pulled it off on June 8, 2011. Sharon whisked Sarah away for a *long* (4-hour) “lunch” while staff moved her furniture and belongings to the new room, and Bill and I set everything up again, which went remarkably smoothly. Prior to the move, Jean and I talked with her about moving and while Sarah acknowledged the merits of having full-time staff help available, she said she “wasn’t interested in moving.” But once we brought her back to the new room, she didn’t get upset. She said that it felt “totally unfamiliar” but also thanked me profusely for all my help.

The next day, I went back to meet movers to pack and return Sarah’s excess furniture and clothing to her condo in Galveston. Thankfully, Jean met the movers at that end, saving me the 100-mile round trip. Two days of moving antics while four-months pregnant with twins was exhausting, and it took me two days of downtime afterward to recover. But I did what I had to do to minimize the disruption for Sarah.

disassembling #269

disassembling #269
Disassembling, packing, and moving out of #269

exploring #141
Sarah and Jean exploring #141 over the weekend before the move

pictures up
Pictures up in the same places feel familiar

Gran'mom in new room
Gran’mom in her accustomed spot on the loveseat, but in #141

Since the move, Sarah has not only come to meals without incident, she has even participated in the group activities, which is a welcome improvement. She is also now allowing staff to help her bathe periodically and change clothes almost daily. In general, she seems more copacetic than she did before the move.

As explanation, staff suggested that Belmont had become bigger than Sarah could process, which was overwhelming and agitating. But the “Neighborhood” is a smaller, more manageable scale, and easier for Sarah to wrap her head around. While I was very anxious about how she would handle the move, I am confident now that it was the right shift at the right time.

Happy belated Fathers’ Day!

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

Here’s another catch-up post…

With babies on the way, June 19th was Bill’s first Father’s Day. The folks at Marble Slab were giving dads free scoops of ice cream with one mixin that day, so we met up with my brother and his family to celebrate Father’s Day. Much yumminess was had by all!

Bill, Izzy, and Chris
Bill, Izzy, and Chris

Shawnacy, Bob, and Sierra
Shawnacy, Bob, and Sierra

Happy belated Fathers’ Day, too, to my Dad and all the special men folk in our lives!

Happy belated Mothers’ Day!

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, our friends Ben & Rebecca came back to Houston for a weekend, and we made plans to go to brunch together Sunday. As Bill made us reservations at America’s, it struck me as odd that we were going out for Mother’s Day brunch with our friends, instead of our mothers.

Only later did it dawn on me that Rebecca is a mother, and now I am, too. So we celebrated my first Mother’s Day together. And we enjoyed a lovely meal!

Rebecca and Miranda

Ben and Bill

It’s always fun to catch up with Rebecca and Ben, and their daughter Miranda is engaging and adorable. We had a good time!

* * *
Later in the afternoon — after a much-needed nap! — I met up with my Mom and Gran’mom at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston to see an exhibition of Impressionist paintings that were visiting from the National Gallery in DC. We borrowed a wheelchair from the museum so Sarah could save her energy for enjoying the art.

Jean and Sarah admiring a still-life by Paul Cezanne

The three of us have enjoyed seeing Impressionist art together many times in several cities. This time, we moved leisurely through the galleries and I played personal docent, identifying the artists, summarizing the placards, and then highlighting some tidbit to get Sarah talking about the art.

Claude Monet’s “The Water-Lily Pond”, painted in 1899

For example, Claude Monet produced this painting of the Japanese bridge over his water lily pond in Giverny, a small town just northwest of Paris. Not only did Sarah and I visit this place together in 2006, but she also visited it in the 1980s with her late husband, Roger, and she hung reproductions of Monet’s water lillies in her dining room for many years. I was delighted that she still remembers visiting Giverny with Roger and she declared delightedly, “It really looked like that!”

With other paintings, we talked about composition. Sarah used to paint, and as a clinical chemist, her still-“life” work was more likely to include beakers and flasks than fruit and flowers. While her hands tremble too much to paint now, her neurologist observed that the part of Sarah’s brain that understands spatial relationships is still remarkably intact. As a result, she’s still interested in and able to talk about the underlying geometries, massing, and spatial arrangement of the compositions we saw, and observe differences between the styles of different artists. That’s pretty cool.

Sarah and Robin at the MFAH

Sarah and Jean back at Belmont Village

After two hours of gallery gazing, Sarah and I were both exhausted, and Mom took each of us home. But we really enjoyed our afternoon together!