Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Trip to Philly

My company had its holiday party this last Friday and generously offered to offset most of Julie and Dada's travel cost for the trip. We decided to make a weekend out of it and spend Saturday and Sunday morning sightseeing in downtown Philadelphia.

I had gone out to Norristown on Monday for my usual monthly week at HQ. Julie and Dada came out Thursday afternoon, arriving at PHL airport about 4:30. Our plan was for them to take the train from the airport to Philadelphia's 30th St. train station, where I would meet them and we would all take the train back to Norristown and then take a taxi to our hotel near the massive King of Prussia mall (the 2nd largest mall in the U.S., after, I presume, the Mall of America).

Everything went smoothly at first: I made it to 30th St. at 5:30, the earliest they could have possibly gotten there. They got to 30th St. right at 6:00, where I met them on the platform.

Dada was wearing her new puffy coat, in preparation for the frigid cold that had been predicted for the weekend. It had started snowing Thursday afternoon and Dada was very excited to see snow for the first time since leaving China.

We hung out in the train station waiting for our 6:30 train back to Norristown and then caught our train. It's about a 45 minute ride and Dada fell asleep on the way, having not slept on the plane out. I tried to call ahead for a cab but the dude said I had to wait until we got to Norristown. That came as a surprise.

When we did get to Norristown, at about 7:30, I called again only to learn that there was a 45 minute wait due to the weather and whatnot. I tried calling the other cab company I had a number for, but there was no answer. I checked the bus schedule but the only bus that would take us to King of Prussia didn't go until 8:30. So I said I'd wait the 45 minutes.

Happy to be in our hotel
Where we were was the Norristown Transporation Center, which has an enclosed waiting area that connects two rail lines and the buses for the area, but there was no bathroom and there's really nowhere to go around it, being in a rather dicey part of town (and it certainly wasn't an area to be wandering around in the dark and snowy cold dragging big bags and a four-year-old). So we waited, cold, hungry, tired. Finally, I tried the other cab company and got through. They sent a guy immediately and suddenly we were off, dashing to our hotel. Whew, crisis averted.

Finally, we got to the hotel about 8:00, hungry but grateful.

[You might ask why we didn't just take a cab from the airport. A cab from the airport takes almost as long as the train and costs about $80.00 on a good day. With the nasty weather and traffic it could have taken longer in a cab. And Dada likes trains. And I didn't expect to have to wait for a cab in Norristown.]

Dada playing in the snow
We had a nice dinner at the Indian restaurant next door to our hotel. Dada played in the snow, such as it was, until we decided our hands were too cold. Then we all had an early bedtime.

Dada had proved herself to be a good traveler on this leg of the trip, doing most of her own walking and generally being very well behaved.

On Friday I had to work in the morning and then our plan was to go to the home of my colleague Marianne, who had generously offered to have her sitter watch Dada as well as her own kids, Adler (3.5) and Sylvia (22 months). The adults would go to the party and then we'd all spend the night there and then head to downtown Philly in the morning.

Dada and Adler enthralled
Adler and Dada got along very well, playing together like old friends. We had no trouble making our exit for the party, the kids zombified by some wholesome educational TV.

We had a very nice party, getting to meet all the spouses of all my co-workers and eating some really good French food.

When we got back to the house we discovered that Dada had, for the first time, allowed a sitter to put her to bed--in fact the report was that she had put herself to bed, more or less.

In the morning we had a nice breakfast and the kids played some more--it would have been nice to let Dada and Adler play all day, but we had to get back to our hotel in King of Prussia in order to check out and get into Philly in time to hit a museum. Marianne's husband Andre toted us back to our hotel, waited for us to pack, and then got us back to the Norristown Transportation Center in time to catch our train into the city.

Walking to our hotel from the
Our hotel in the city was only three blocks from the train station, so we humped our bags through the streets. The promised cold weather had arrived and now it was bitterly cold, with a biting north wind. We got to the hotel about 1:00 or so.

Our room wasn't ready so we check our luggage and headed back out to find a cheese steak and then head to the Please Touch children's museum. Marianne had given us a little "Not For Tourists" guide to Philly that directed us to a cheese steak purveyor just down from the hotel. We had a really good cheese steak (at least I presume it was, it was my first, but by the ingredients I could tell that it was probably about as a good a cheese steak could be). I had pizza and Dada ate most of the parmesian cheese out of the shaker on the table.

At the Please Touch Museum
Fortified, we braved the cold to the Please Touch museum, which is a pretty nice children's museum. The focus there is literary, with elaborate displays based on Where the Wild Things Are and Alice in Wonderland. Dada spent a lot of time building with blocks and pounding plastic "nails" into a building. About 4:30 we called it a day and headed back to our hotel, about six blocks away.

We got into our room and had a little rest then set out for some dinner.

I wanted to eat at a mildly formal Italian restaurant, the sort of place we don't really have here in Texas. Our little guidebook wasn't much help but an online search led us to a nice little place just a few blocks away, Ernesto's 1521. It wasn't even 6:30 but when we got there it was packed. The hostess explained that it was symphony night and everyone was there early so they could make their show. She said they had no space and gave us a couple of recommendations near by.

We started walking up the street looking for one of the places she had mentioned when we were called back--apparently they discovered they did have room for us afterall and seated us right away. The meal was wonderful, just what I had envisioned. Julie had Osso Buco and I had the duck special. Dada ate all the parmesian cheese out of the dish on the table.

More than satisfied with our dinner it was back to the hotel for another early bedtime.

Dada in her nest
Even though the room had a pull-out couch for Dada, she decided to make a nest in the little closet in the room (using the cushions from the pull-out couch) and sleep in there, which she did.

In the morning we worked out that we could do museums until noon, when we would need to make our way to the train station in order to be at the airport by 1:30 for our 3:00 flight (PHL is a relatively small airport but the security line is always long and slow).

So we went out into the even more bitter cold and biting wind to get breakfast and then headed to the Franklin Institute, which is a kid-friendly science museum.

At the Franklin Institute
The walk was cold. Very cold. We were walking straight into a strong north wind with our thin Texas blood. But we made it to the museum without getting frostbite.

Dada enjoyed the museum a lot, as did we--lots of interactive science stuff. Julie's favorite part was the giant heart where you walk through the heart tracing the path blood takes. It frightened Dada but she asked to go through a second time. Dada also liked the area where you could make little paper whirlygigs and fly them on these jets of air. She probably could have stayed there all day.

Waiting for our cab
We grabbed a quick lunch at the museum snack bar and then at noon headed back to our hotel. Even though the wind was now at our back, it still seemed to be just as cold.

We had planned to take the train to the airport, but by the time we got back to the hotel a cab ride seemed like a good investment.

We got a cab to the airport and got there in good time.

As predicted the security line was long and slow--apparently half the people in front of us had been living in bomb shelters or something and hadn't gotten the memo about NO FREAKIN LIQUIDS! Anyway, we finally made it through.

On the jetway in PHL
We caught our flight to Houston with no particular problem. I had gotten upgraded to first class but they couldn't upgrade Julie (we had decided that if Julie also got upgraded then she and Dada could sit in first while I went steerage, but it was not to be). So the dude who was in what had been my seat in the back got the first class seat.

In Houston our plane was delayed but we were able to hang out in the President's Club, although they lied to us about the delay and we ended up waiting another half hour at the gate with the little people. But Dada got a chance to run around, so that was good.

Finally, we got our flight to Austin. I had also gotten upgraded on this leg, so this time Julie sat in first and Dada and I flew steerage. Dada was very good the whole time, as well behaved as one could ask for a child her age.

We got into Austin about 10:00 p.m., got our bags and scampered home, ready for a good night's sleep in our own beds.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Now We are Four

Dada turned 4 on 29 December. We had planned a party at the Spaghetti Warehouse so we had to get home from Houston early enough to make that party. We got back to Austin about 2:30, opened the birthday presents that had arrived from relatives, and then we all immediately went down for much-needed naps.

We had forgotten to put together Dada's birthday present, which was one of those egg chairs from Ikea with the fold-down canopy. We'd bought it months before and stashed it in the garage.

So about 5:30 (dinner being at 6:00) Julie dragged the parts in and I quickly assembled it while Julie got Dada up and dressed. I was literally tightening the last little bolt as Julie brought Dada downstairs.

We presented the chair and then rushed to the car to dash downtown. Remarkably, we pulled up in front of the restaurant right at 6:00, where most of our guests were waiting for us. We had invited all our adult friends and neighbors--unfortunately Dada's China travel companion Jane and her parents couldn't make it.

We had a very nice dinner and the usual cake and then presents, which Dada liked very much. The gifts included a collection of art supplies including scissors, which Dada immediately turned to the task of modifying party hats to add little doors backed by paper with Hello Kitty stickers. We also cut down some party hats to fit the Dora doll she'd been given.

Overall a very pleasant birthday. Dada likes all her presents, although between Christmas and birthdays and travel it's hard to even have played with everything yet.

Cactus Series 20080101

We are trying to get Dada to write thankyou notes today. In between notes she executed two quick pictures that she identified as "cactus" (by which she means prickly pear with spines, in reference to some growing in the yard of one of our neighbors and by which Dada had gotten poked some months past--the spines are small and barbed and quite painful).

Cactus Series 20080101-02

Cactus Series 20080101-02

I suppose it's father's pride, but I find both of these drawings remarkable for a just-turned-four-year-old, both in their simplicity yet clarity of expression and the clear connection between Dada's obvious intent and the quality of the execution and the variation on the theme. She drew these two pictures one after the other, so they don't reflect a maturing over time but simply two different abstractions of the same source object.

Christmas Report

For the first time we had Christmas morning here in Austin, instead of in Houston. This was also the first year we stayed up late as parents to assemble "Santa" gifts for Dada.

Dada's big presents were a wooden kitchen play set (from GranJudy), delivered as an Ikea-style flat pack, and a wooden tree doll house (from Grandpa Bill). Both required assembly.

IMG_4193In breaking with tradition, I chose to do the assembly sober, which made the work go more quickly but took away the angry, desperate edge that one normally associates with late night Christmas eve. We didn't even have any missing parts or tool-related injuries and we were in bed well before midnight. Bor-ing.

Dada is very much about process and not yet so focused on the getting aspect of gift-getting occasions. On Christmas morning she got up relatively late and came downstairs. The first thing she went for was the stack of her own books that she had individually wrapped in the days prior. The magnificent big gifts under the tree were of only minimal interest at first. But, once all the wrapped things had been unwrapped she turned her attention to the tree house and the play kitchen and declared them both fun and engaging.

After present opening, we had a nice breakfast of homemade biscuits, farmers' market bacon, and freshly-laid eggs, then packed as quickly as we could in order to get to Houston in time for Christmas dinner at Boo's house (and another gift opening free-for-all).

We made it to Boo's house in good time, opened our presents, and had a very nice Christmas dinner with Boo, Julie's brother Tom, Boo's friend Bill, his son John and his family (Jeanie, Andrew, and Mathew), his daughter Nora, and Robin, the daughter of one of Boo's long-time neighbors (who was, unfortunately, not feeling well enough to come to dinner).

After dinner we all watched the kids play Super Mario Galaxies on the Wii (which I had brought from Austin) and then moved the party to Nora's fiance Kevin's mother's house, where they were hosting a dessert party. Keven's mother's husband's sons had gotten Guitar Hero I and II for Christmas so Eliot spent a good bit of the evening showing those kids how its done while Dada played with the boys and Julie got to have an evening of adult conversation.

The next several days were spent mostly taking it easy and trying to stay away from shopping centers (although we did take Dada to the local mall where there is a carousel and an indoor playscape).

On Friday night we went back to Kevin's mother's house for a party celebrating the engagement of Kevin and Nora. More adult conversation, more Guitar Hero.

Saturday we came back to Austin in time to celebrate Dada's birthday....

Forrest's New Pal: Helen

Following the passing of our basset Lucy, we discussed getting a new dog, in large part so that our remaining basset Forrest would be a little less lonely. We noticed that the Central Texas basset rescue people would be at PetCo a couple of Sunday's ago so we went down to talk to them.

However, I had misread the date and they had been there the day before. Doh!

However, the lady who manages the cat rescue at that PetCo said that she had the perfect cat for us, a sweet cat that likes dogs and doesn't like cats.

We met the cat, Helen, and decided she would be good. I had said in the past that I would only have a cat if it could do its business outdoors because I never wanted to step on cat litter again. But we decided we'd give the cat a try.

She is so far a wonderful cat--she's about 18 months old, already spayed, as almost all her shots, is house trained. She's very friendly and well mannered and very smart. So far she's proved to be the least neurotic cat I've had.

The only downside at the moment is that we were cautioned in no uncertain terms not to let her outside for three months to ensure she doesn't flee. Not sure I can make three months but we have taken pains to keep her inside, including blocking the dog door, which she had already figured out how to use. So that's a little annoying but not that big a deal.

We are enjoying have a cat in the house--she's very playful and likes to be wherever we are, generally brightening up the place.

And the upstairs Roomba seems to be able to deal with the cat litter.