Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Potty training update VII

D made three successful potty trips today. That's pretty good.

C and D's Christmas gift

The kids have lots of stuff (as well as cash flow that allows them to buy the small items they actually want), so we have been encouraging their grandparents to give them activities (a day trip or a camp) rather than toys. Yesterday was their Christmas present from one set of grandparents. We went to the Big City and spent the whole day amusing them. We went to the Big City zoo and they rode the carousel, ran back and forth a dozen times underground at the dwarf mongoose exhibit, C had a pony ride, C fed the birds and the kids ran wild on the animal-themed playground (which features giant hollow eggs to climb into, a large spider web, etc.). After our lunch (homemade PBJ, dave s.!), we went to the science museum/children's museum and stayed until closing. C saw a film on the progress of food through the digestive tract and D practiced milking a life-size plastic cow that squirted water from its udder. We then drove over to the largest mall I have ever been in (four stories), had an undistinguished food court Chinese dinner, and then the kids played on a soft African animal-themed indoor playground. There was also a huge skating rink with a towering Christmas tree in the center, but it was late and C decided that she wanted to go to the soft playground. She changed her mind later, but it was too late by then. In any case, as my husband pointed out, ice skating is hard, so C should be fresh and rested for a successful first experience. We'll go again (maybe in the summer?) to try the rink. And that was our day.

Woodworking Day

"Happy Woodworking Day!" D yelled happily. This was the day that my husband promised the kids that they would put together and paint the simple wooden models (a tank and an airplane) that C picked out at Michaels ($1 each, dave s.). The tank is for C and she has graciously left the airplane for D.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Potty training update VI

D has used the potty successfully twice today. The first time, we were at the children's museum, and I informed him that he needed to at least try before we would go play at the museum. The second time, he went completely independently and informed me only afterward. I am trying to make a big deal of D being in charge of his own pottying and his own body.

His pull-up purchases are slowly cutting into his savings. He started with about $16 in savings, but that has gradually eroded down to $10.

UPDATE: D had 4 successful potty trips today. Will this continue?

Xantippe's husband gets ready to do yard work

The season's last leaves need to be cleaned up. My husband has loaded up a bunch of Chesterton detective stories on his PDA to listen to while he works. "I have five Father Brown stories and when they run out, I'm coming home," he says.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


You can buy store-brand chai at HEB.

Chocolate chip cookies

My husband made chocolate chunk cookies last night. He used the Tollhouse recipe, but omitting nuts and substituting broken pieces of chocolate bar for the chocolate chips. The texture was gritty, but not unpleasant--sort of like coconut. That was my first clue that he had substituted whole wheat flour for half of the all purpose flour. His theory is that you can use this half-substitution in any recipe.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

C's first potholder

C succeeded in making a potholder on her new potholder loom for the first time today. The first two tries were heartbreakers--she labored over the loom for what seemed like hours, and then when the time came for me to finish the edges for her, the potholder started to come apart. Finally, on the third try, I managed to finish the edges without having the potholder jump off the loom and unravel.

I had a similar setup when I was little, but while my potholder loom was plastic and used nylon loops, hers is metal and uses cotton loops. The cotton frays more than nylon, but I feel better about setting hot pans on cotton than on nylon. C's potholders also seem a lot bigger than the ones I remember. As an older kid (4th grade?) I had a Fisher Price loom that I adored. It will be interesting to see if C wants to continue with weaving. The Fisher Price loom is apparently no longer being manufactured, but Harrisville makes a number of different looms. The summer we moved here, the children's museum had a four-day weaving camp. Something like that would be really nice for C. Much as I like Klutz's little kits, they are really expensive, and I'd like C to eventually be able to branch out so that she isn't dependent on kits. Sewing, embroidery, and knitting would also be nice things for her to learn--especially sewing.

Xantippe runs the washer and dryer all day long

I started out today with six moving boxes, and decided to devote myself to the three with bedding, table cloths, place mats, and so forth. We had somehow managed to live here for 17.5 months without unpacking a single tablecloth. The washer and dryer ran all day, but all the linen has been dealt with now, some seriously ugly blankets are awaiting their fate in my Craigslist/donation box, and D is going to get a satisfyingly large cardboard box to play with tomorrow. Our bedroom is beginning to look pretty civilized. The three remaining moving boxes contain
  • loose photos and albums
  • C's baby book and C and D memorabilia that should go into a scrapbook
  • a toddler-size Polish costume and a couple of t-shirts that I would like to have framed (one is a memento of my Peace Corps service and the other is from a family reunion and has a sepia-tinted photograph of the big old family farmhouse in western Washington, which is now a B & B)

As you can see, dealing with the remaining items is going to require a lot of intellectual effort, but it's not going to be heavy work.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Crawford, TX

We spent much of today on a trip to Crawford, TX. An era is ending, so we thought we should visit now to get the maximum experience. As expected, it's very small, very agricultural, and very remote. Practically the first thing we saw while driving into town was the Peace House. Downtown itself consists chiefly of a 1.5 block-long commercial strip. We had lunch at Coffee Station (as my husband said afterward, "Is there anything that doesn't taste better deep-fried?") and then went to look at souvenir stuff. We didn't buy anything, although The Yellow Rose had by far the best ambience and selection. We bumped into a group of Secret Service guys there who were souvenir shopping. A couple had counter-sniper insignia and a couple had special operations insignia, and one had a fire arm in a holster on his thigh. The latter and a colleague were deep in discussion about whether a polo shirt that said something like "Crawford TX: Western White House" was black or navy. We drove past fields of sheep and cattle to as close to the Bush ranch as was feasible (eventually you come upon a big orange plastic barrier and a couple of cops) before heading for home.

Potty training update V

Last night, after some soul-searching, I decided to stop enforcing a potty schedule on D. He's a sensitive soul, and he's been noticeably subdued lately, as well as cranky and argumentative when I take him to go potty. The morning began well with D using the potty without any prompting. Then I told him of my new plan--he is in charge of going to the potty himself. He will get a sticker each time he succeeds, and if he can be dry for several days, we'll go to IKEA's Smaland play area. I'll try to leave it at that, perhaps occasionally bringing out the space sticker book to show him some especially enticing galaxies or that big gorgeous space station. (Each time D gets a sticker, he installs it in his own homemade wax paper sticker book.)

Christmas vacation is an especially good time for potty training D. It's long enough to have an effect, yet short enough that there's an end in sight. In a couple of weeks, he'll be at preschool two days a week, so we won't have the sort of round-the-clock responsibility for his waste products that we have now. My blog says that I put D into cotton underwear on December 14. It's less than two weeks, but it feels like a whole lifetime ago. My plan is to leave him basically alone for the next week or so, and then switch back to hands-on, scheduled potty training if there is no progress.

UPDATE: I randomly came across the following from my archives from April 30, 2008. "Baby D told my husband tonight that tomorrow he wants to use the potty all the time. We haven't been pressing him on the subject at all, and in fact I feel daunted by the prospect of starting serious potty training on his proposed schedule. He's also been asking to wear underwear." That, dear readers, was 8 months ago.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Potty training update IV

D has lately been questioning the philosophical underpinnings of potty training. "Why do you want me to wear underwear?" he asks, as well as "Why do babies wear diapers?" He has yet to have a successful potty visit today.

Christmas Day

After the hustle and bustle of Christmas Eve, I found myself at loose ends on Christmas day. We went to a 9 AM mass at our parish, did some unsuccessful potty training, C almost succeeded in making a pot holder before the thing started unraveling, D painted two small canvases, my husband took the kids to the park, I was persuaded to give C a Klutz tiara-making kit from my store and D got a large cardboard box from the garage (my husband cut doors and small windows in it), but that was really it. Dinner was ham, sweet potatoes, brown rice (from yesterday), and cranberry sauce. For dessert, we split a large pumpkin roll from that Czech bakery. We also had some locum (which I found disappointingly gumdrop-like), and the kids had chocolate T. Rex bones.

The good news/bad news is that my husband and D will be staying home, rather than flying to Canada for 5 days. They'll try to make the trip in March. The only bad thing about this is that it means that we have nearly two more full weeks of family togetherness ahead of us, and I think the kids lost interest in/used up their Christmas stuff at around 2 PM today. We are thinking about taking a couple of short road trips.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve II

Our nativity set is out and the kids have put up nearly all the Christmas tree ornaments. Thanks to the preschool and elementary school curriculum (as well my husband's and C's love of plaster molds), we have an ever-growing collection of child-made ornaments. My husband made dinner: mushroom soup (canned, with fried canned mushrooms), macaroni to go in the soup, brown rice, salmon cooked in aluminum foil wrappers with bay leaves and fresh rosemary, and peas. It tastes a lot better than it sounds. This was our first outing with the rice cooker, which is much less intimidating than I thought. We're looking at a long stretch without cafeteria dinners, which means rediscovering what you do with that black thing with knobs in the kitchen. We opened our gifts after dinner. The kids were very eager to run off and hydrate their sponge capsules. C has been working on her new pot holder loom for much of the evening, and she's waiting for me to finish the edges for her. The kids also got some molds from an auntie in Washington, and my husband and C have just finished work on a large chocolate Tyrannosaurus skeleton as well as one small reindeer head (that's how far one mega Hershey bar goes).

Xantippe gives the kids a gift wrap tube

D: We're limboing!

325k to 300k

Most of the time, watching real estate listings is like watching paint dry. Nothing happens for long periods of time, and then--wham! I was just looking at and discovered that that cozy 1950s house that went on the market earlier this month has been cut from 325k to 300k. It's in the heart of the historic neighborhood I'm interested in, in a very good location.

Christmas Eve

The tree is up, our Christmas stuff has been pulled out of the garage, and my husband is hard at work fixing the tree lights. Before the day is done, the tree will be decorated, the gifts will be wrapped and under the tree, we'll have dinner (salmon, sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce?), open the gifts, and exchange Christmas wishes over the phone with my in-laws using oplatki (oh-pwaht-kee--Polish Christmas wafers).

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Winter break

The downside of living right next to a college campus is that many of the conveniences of life shut down during Christmas break. The gym is closed, and so are all of the 5 or so coffee places on and around campus. It's going to be another week and a half before the place comes back to life.


D got his bike and helmet!

Monday, December 22, 2008


We moved to Texas in July 2007. Nonetheless, there are 7 boxes of stuff in our master bedroom that have yet to be unpacked: several with photo albums, calendars, diaries, old notebooks, loose photos, stuff to put into baby books, and several boxes of blankets and linens. I finished sifting through the first set of boxes this afternoon, but the main work is going to be sorting the photos, putting them into albums, and assembling baby books and scrapbooks. It wasn't as bad as I expected just to go through the stuff. My goal is to have everything unpacked by our next move.


D's at 37, but it doesn't look like we'll be able to get him a bike tonight.

Christmas tree chicken

Last year, we waited until the last minute and got a deeply-discounted $5 Christmas tree from Walmart. This year, we were planning to do the same thing. Earlier today, it was looking like our little game of Christmas tree chicken with Walmart was going to turn out badly--I called up two Walmarts and was told that they were sold out of fresh trees. My husband was out when I finished my last call, and it was looking bad. Somewhat later, our car pulled into the garage with a tree sticking out of the trunk. What had happened?

My husband had come across an abandoned open-air Christmas tree stand with a sign saying "Free Trees." It had been very cold for our area of Texas that morning (probably 29 degrees), so it's entirely possible that the tree seller gave up early after a cold, slow morning. Too bad, too. As my husband was loading a tree into our car, two people came up and asked how much the trees were--they were sure he was the one selling the trees.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

C writes II

On her last day of school, C brought home three double-sided sheets. Each had a picture she had drawn of a chess piece, as well as a short description of how the piece moves. Here's what she wrote
  • this is a king. A king moves one space in any direction.
  • This is a bishop. A bishop moves diagonall.
  • This is a knight it moves forward two spaces then one to the side
  • This is a Queen. A Queen moves as many spaces you want in any direction.
  • This is a pawn. A pawn moves straight. untill it captures another. pese
  • This is a Rook. A rook moves forward or sideways.

C writes

C wrote me a reminder that said "Make pancakes." The issue was that I was going to be taking a nap this afternoon, and C wanted to make sure that I would remember to start dinner when I woke up.

Potty madness

I just made a potty schedule for myself and D:
  • first thing in the morning
  • after breakfast
  • 60 minutes later
  • 60 minutes later
  • before lunch
  • after lunch
  • 60 minutes later
  • 60 minutes later
  • before dinner
  • after dinner
  • 60 minutes later
  • before bed
Frightful, isn't it?


There was a lot of encouragement involved, but D is five potty trips away from his first bike. Theoretically, he could get it tomorrow.


D just made a second independent potty run. We went to Barnes and Noble last night and got a space sticker book. I also gave him a sheet of waxed paper for storing his stickers. Those two things seem to be the inspiration for his current enthusiasm.


D had two successful parent-encouraged potty trips last night. Then this morning after breakfast, he ran off to the bathroom himself and there was rejoicing throughout the land. This is the first time in oh, so long that he's chosen to go himself.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

D is closer to his bike

The plan was that D needed 40 potty points to get his first bike. It's been a long road, and there's been a lot of reluctance lately, but nonetheless, D is at 29 points as of tonight. (I also give a sticker for immediate gratification.) If he picks up his pace, he could have a bike before Christmas.

D decides he needs a nap

D asked for a nap a few minutes ago (I haven't been enforcing them since the big potty training offensive started earlier this week). He asked to buy a pull-up for his nap, which shows that he's thinking ahead. As he was looking for a dollar in his wallet, he said regretfully that he was running out of money (that's not exactly true--his usual $1 a day for pull-up and $1 a day for cleaning his room cancel out exactly). His bed had a box in it. I opened it up and found a nest of dragons, including a gold dragon in pink doll jammies. D informed me that the dragons were sleeping and told me to close the box, which I did.

Wind chimes

We are doing some pre-Christmas Craigslisting and Ebaying right now. The listings went up yesterday and we're getting an unusually good response. I don't know if this is typical of this time of year in our area, or if it's some sort of economic indicator. By far the most popular item has been a set of ceramic wind chimes--I've had around 8 enquiries, including a phone call at 6:56 this morning. I had no idea that wind chimes were such a popular item.

(I, if you're reading this, I really love the sound of the wind chimes, but my husband would have a hard time sleeping if we had them up. He's also against backyard waterfalls and the ocean for the same reason. On the other hand, he finds traffic sounds very soothing.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Aplets and Cotlets

My Christmas candy order arrived today from Liberty Orchards in eastern Washington State. We got aplets and cotlets, fruit delights, and some sort of thing called locum (AKA Turkish delight). The candies are squishy rather than hard and are made from boiled-down fruit and nuts, dusted with powdered sugar. I ordered boxes of factory seconds, so it was less expensive than the normal gift boxes.

I was just googling locum and came across They're California-based and I wouldn't be surprised if they were Armenians, too, just like the founders of Liberty Orchards. The website says that they make locum in the following flavors:
bergamot, strawberry, raspberry, orange, orange blossom, passion fruit, lemon lime, rose, licorice, coffee, mango, pineapple and coconut. I don't know how reliable the company is, but their product list is pure poetry. They also make something called St. Sarkis halva (a seasonal treat). There are several different formulas for it. One of the more promising is "Rolled with pistachio in orange blossom flavor." We usually order Israeli halva, but this looks really promising.

Of course, we can't live on sweets alone. I haven't thought seriously about our Christmas menu, but I've been promising the kids that we'll get smoked salmon for Christmas. Sweet potatoes? Our standard Christmas menu is heavily Polish-influenced, which means a large meatless (but not fish-less) Christmas Eve dinner.

We get ready for a Christmas at home

Today, my husband, D and I picked up C at school and then we all hit the road for a historically German and Czech town. It's small, slightly decayed, and in what seems to be mainly an agricultural area, but right on a major route. It's home to several Czech bakeries, a deer processing place or two, a couple sausage makers, and a Central European-flavored restaurant or two. We went to confession at a Czech church, picked up some German sausage and some summer sausage, went next door to a bakery we haven't been to before and bought a variety bag of kolaches and four grapefruit-sized rolls (raisin, pumpkin, poppy, and something else). In a corner there were two shelves groaning with awards for baking excellence, and the kolaches were exceptionally buttery and moist. I've frozen the rolls for Sunday and Christmas, which are both coming up fast. On the way home, we listened to a Wodehouse story about golf, and I saw a combination steakhouse/biergarten as we went down the Interstate.

Good news, bad news II

Bad news: Very little/no progress on the potty training front and I have to do a small load of whites every night.

Good news: The Diaper Genie has been decomissioned, the kids' bathroom no longer smells of stale diapers, we're spending a fraction of what we used to on pull-ups, and I've finally found a use for all those plastic bags under the kitchen sink.

Xantippe's Christmas tree is going corporate

For weeks now, C has been admiring the Starbucks Christmas tree ornaments--tiny white and red ceramic facsimiles of Starbucks cups, complete with a lid and a sleeve for $4.95. Today D and I were at Starbucks, and they had one last white one for $1.50. It's a campus store and will soon be closing for several weeks, so their Christmas goods were almost gone. 60 years from now, her grandkids can wonder "Grandma, what was Starbucks?," just as we wonder exactly what a soda fountain was.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Potty training update III

I'm not totally sure of the count at this point, but I think D had 4 successful potty tries today, none of which were initiated by him. He bought a pull-up from me for the night, as is now usual. I'm digging in for the long haul and just ordered fifteen 4T pairs of training pants.

Potty training update II

D has used the potty successfully twice today, and I believe he's had two "accidents". That's not really the right term, though, because he's not really trying, so it's not an accident. He's been in cotton underwear and vinyl pants all day.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Potty training update

D wore a pull-up to preschool today and was dry there, up until I picked him up. He went potty once today, soaked one pair of underwear, and paid a dollar for a pull-up at bedtime. Tomorrow we'll be home together much of the day, so we'll see what happens. We don't seem to be making progress yet, but the combination of thick cotton underwear and vinyl pants is effective enough at stopping leaks that I can afford to be patient.

Overheard before the Christmas program

1st grade girl to chum: I'm wearing mascara!

New listing

My target neighborhood has a new listing--a comfy mid-century home at 325k. The location is pretty good, but even the perpetually optimistic has it at 228k (it's supposed to be 2400 sq. ft.). There are now three listings very close in price in this neighborhood: this one, the 1920s duplex at 325k, and a freshly renovated mid-century home at 330k. This new listing is probably the best of the three. Meanwhile, the 200s are still busy: there's an early 20th century home in a marginal location under 280k, a recently remodeled mid-century home at 250k, a small 1920s cottage at 250k, a large 1920s house at 225k, and a 1920s English cottage that just reappeared for a little over 200k. The latter is the neighborhood's only foreclosure that I know of, and it has had a variety of prices over the past year or so. The house at 165k isn't at anymore, but it's been gutted to the studs, so I expect it to reappear at a higher price soon. There are also two houses at 150k, one very ugly and in a fringe location, the other recently remodeled but only two bedroom. On the other end, there's one house at 460k and one at 580k, but the 200s are by far the busiest price range. There should be a bunch of new listings in a few weeks, and it will be interesting to see how they are priced.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Spanish

C brought home a manger scene from her Spanish class today. Among the vocabulary terms are "el burro," "la vaca," and "la estrella."

Good news, bad news

Good news: D spent the whole day in thick cotton underwear and vinyl pants!

Bad news: He only used the potty once the whole day, producing a number of wet and soiled pairs of cotton underwear.

He bought another pull-up from me at bedtime. Tomorrow he'll go to preschool. He's usually perfectly dry there.

Question of the day

Is it fair to say that Australians are like Texans, but with kangaroos instead of armadillos?

Bleeding rental houses

I just heard Dave Ramsey tell a military caller on his Friday show to expect house prices in Florida to recover in 18 months. The caller has four mortgages on three houses and is having to pay the $900 difference between the rents and the mortgages every month.

Aside from the mortgages, the caller sounded very financially secure--it wasn't a do-or-die scenario. However, Ramsey's advice about waiting 18 months was almost certainly wrong. Based on my reading of (which used to run a Florida thread on a daily basis), Florida is a low-wage high-tax and high-insurance state that can't support high real estate prices. Ramsey's very good about telling individual callers whether they personally can afford to buy or hold a house at a certain mortgage (emergency fund of 3-6 months expenses, large downpayment, 15-year mortgage ideally no more than a quarter of income), but he doesn't ever reflect on the question of whether wages in a given area support existing home prices.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Evil Republican mommy

I just charged D $1 for a pull-up before putting him to bed. He was dry most of the afternoon and evening.

Why potty train now?

I should mention that the main reason I switched D to underwear this afternoon is that we just ran out of Diaper Genie refills. That had always been my mental deadline for potty training him. I look forward to a speedy release from $6 Diaper Genie refills and $16 packs of pull-ups (I'll still buy baby wipes since they are generally useful). D's going to do his little bit to save up for our ski vacation.

Budget issues II

The Christmas budget now stands at $105. That needs to cover our tree, some gift bags (they can be gotten around here for about $1) and Christmas groceries, hopefully with a smidgen left to carry over for that ski trip next year. The grocery budget for the rest of the month is at $340, which is about right, and there are a few other categories still running a surplus. The gasoline budget is doing swell, of course--we started the month with $100 there and still have $83.

Budget issues

I forgot to post earlier that we came in $7 under household budget in November. That's after a year of exact on-the-nose budgets. We have a real emergency fund now (although more would be better), and are just starting on house savings. $1100 a month is our current level of savings. 15 months X $1100/month is $16,500, which sounds low. 18 months X $1100/month is $19,800. That's better, but it puts our move well into the summer and we'll need to cover our moving expenses and all the miscellaneous costs out of that $20k. More would definitely be better, especially if we're going to be doing any small decorating projects on our new house. Aside from my well-known Starbucks habit and my less well-known home magazine habit, the main obstacles to kicking up our savings are going to be C's two or three varieties of therapy and the big family ski vacation. The deductible for C's therapy is $700, which probably amounts to two months of paying it out-of-pocket before insurance starts paying most (???) of it. Put that way, it doesn't sound insurmountable. The other issue is the big family ski trip. When I was a kid, our extended family would do a big yearly ski trip, and some of my happiest memories involve skiing with my cousins at Sun Valley and Whistler. Skiing, as you all know, is horridly expensive. C got to go skiing with my family once three years ago, and we are considering joining the family group for winter 09/10. We currently have $150 a month that we allot for travel and Christmas expenses. I'm thinking about raising that to $220 a month, and kicking any found money (birthday checks, Christmas checks, Amazon reward checks) into the travel kitty. We'll also need to be more conservative about Christmas spending for next year. We'll start saving January 1, and then make our final decision later in the spring. I think it is doable, but if it isn't, it will be that much more in savings, which is a good thing.

Potty training, again

D was practically potty trained five months ago, when we were traveling on the West Coast. We got home and he relapsed. Nowadays, he manages to be dry all day at his preschool program, 5.5 hours twice a week, but potties infrequently at home. He's 3 years and 9 months old, dangerously close to 4 (C potty trained right around 3 years, 11 months). So it's time to boldly stick him in thick cotton underwear and vinyl training pants and hope for the best, which I did a few minutes ago. D's a finicky, sensitive little guy, so I'm hoping that the sensation of wet cotton will be all the incentive he needs. The holiday rush is just about over for the next week, so this is as good a time as any.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Redecorating the White House

January's House Beautiful has a two page article with a collection of suggestions on how the Obamas should redecorate the White House. Looking at the photos, it's easy to see why designers would be itching to make changes--many of the rooms are very heavy, very busy. I agree with David Netto who says "I would start with the carpets." If the old rugs can be rolled up and stored, there's really no risk--you can always bring them back later. Other than that, I'd hesitate to lift my hand to touch so much history (even though I hate literally each and every one of the curtains in the photos). I like the apple green of the Green Room and the brickish red of the Red Room, while deploring the diamond-patterned wallpaper in the Lincoln Bedroom. Basically, I don't like patterns. Then there's Clodagh of New York:

Burn plenty of sage to get rid of all the negativity of the past eight years. Use a feng shui master to cleanse old energy and bring in fresh peace and balance. Work with an environmental auditor to ensure the health of the building and its green message. Install a home spa. The message of a healthy America begins at the top.

At the grocery store

I was the grocery store today when I happened upon a couple of men with clip boards leading around a small group of college guys (student athletes?). The leader of the group had lots of earnest nutritional advice for the group. He was stressing the importance of eating fruits and vegetables and less-processed, less sugary food whose origin you can readily identify. "Hot dogs are not an animal," he said. "Don't eat 'em."

Christmas progress II

My husband just headed out to mail our Christmas packages (mainly photobooks and family video DVDs) after a marathon wrapping, labeling, and packing session this morning. With that done, we'll have a week with almost no Christmas work. We do a somewhat traditional Christmas around here, which means we buy a last-minute $5-10 Christmas tree on Dec. 22 or 23, decorate it on Christmas Eve, and then leave it up until after Epiphany.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas progress

I'm basically done writing and addressing my Christmas cards and I've placed all my Amazon and Aplets and Cotlets orders (if you don't know, Aplets and Cotlets are an Americanized take on Turkish delight that was created by some Armenian immigrants to Washington State 90 years ago). I've done everything I can do right now, Christmas-wise. I can't do anything more until the home movie DVDs are copied and the photobooks come back from Walmart. Then we can start wrapping and labeling and make the big trip to the post office and UPS.

We got our first two photobooks from Walmart last night. The photo quality was slightly worse than with the ones we had done with Walgreens, and I think we've been waiting since the last day of November for them to arrive at the store. The big family Christmas party is in Washington Dec. 20, so that's my deadline.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

C is building a castle

C turned in some money and some points to buy a $15 Klutz "How to build castles" card set and she's having a ball. The set comes with a small knight figure and a bunch of notched cards (stone, stained glass, wooden doors) of various shapes. C has been saving up for this for some time and has withstood the temptation to buy cheaper items along the way. So far, she's built a surprisingly sturdy four-sided fortress. D is also edging closer and closer to his goal, which is $40 for his first bicycle.

Video work

My husband added transitions (a rolling paper effect) and a few captions with dates to our year-end video last night. I'll get to view the resulting 1 hour, 12 minute video later today. The Christmas machine rolls on.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Russian Wodehouse Society

There is such a thing as the Russian Wodehouse Society.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Love Among the Chickens

Our last audiobook was a recording of P.G. Wodehouse's Love Among the Chickens. I didn't get to hear the whole thing, but it's pretty zippy.

Russian kid books

The past couple days, C has been really into my Russian kids' books. She really likes to have me translate them into English for her. One or two pages is my personal limit for this activity, which tends to involve lots of guesswork. Tonight I was reading her a poem by a Soviet children's poet. It was entitled "Handwriting," and it is about a little boy who struggles with his handwriting and blots his notebook. C could relate to that.

More potty training

I told D today that sometime soon, I'm going to start charging him for pull-ups. D replied that the money was for him to buy a bicycle. I pointed out that a package of pull-ups costs $16.

Video editing

This weekend, my husband and I went back through 5 years of video archives (that I had been culling a few weeks ago) and were choosing and editing clips. We took 5 hours of footage and cut it down to just over 1. The next step is to add transitions and captions (dates, names, places), make up a bunch of DVDs and send them out to our families.

Spanish words

This morning, I came to get C up for school and found her copying from one of her Spanish for kids books (My World of Spanish Words): "la rana verde," "la manzana verde," "la pintura verde." Previously, C had been copying out short children's books on notebook paper and Post-Its, but this is a new development. I'm a modern language gal and my mom's side of the family is gifted linguistically, so I am very pleased, especially since I jumped the gun with Spanish and C a couple years ago (after seeing her parrot back words from Dora.) I bought some books and the Muzzy set and got a bilingual college student sitter to come work with C when she was about 4, but the thing fizzled pretty quickly. She started Spanish in kindergarten last year, but her achievements were mostly limited to gracias and por favor. However, for whatever reason, ever since 1st grade started, she's been on fire. This is really exciting. The kids at her school switch over to Latin in 4th grade. I'd prefer that she continue with Spanish, but 2.5 more years of it at her current pace is a very good thing. AP Spanish, here we come!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Shoe laces

We bought C her first pair of laced tennis shoes over Thanksgiving break and discovered that thanks to practice at school, she knows how to tie shoes. This is a delightful surprise, since I was dreading having to teach her.


We went to C's very first ballet recital yesterday morning. There were half a dozen classes performing (including a young woman who danced a piece from the Nutcracker), but each performance was mercifully brief. I was in a panic when I arrived, since the venue was large and unfamiliar, I didn't see anyone I knew, and C still needed to get her costume and have her hair done. We eventually were shown into the curtained dressing area and got the costume. I had been a bit bent out of shape about the extra $33 for the costumes, but I think they're going to have a long life as dress-up clothes. C's class wore black t-shirts with the name of the dance school in rhinestones, snowman skirts, and long black footless leggings. Each of the other classes wore the same ensemble, but with a different Christmas-themed print for the skirt. C had been nervous, but was very pleased with herself afterwards for having performed in front of "a hundred people!" It was probably easily two hundred people. We left before the very end, but the kids also had a chance to watch a potter working with a wheel at the end of the hall and seemingly magically producing pots and vases.


C says: Did you know that vanilla is spelled the same way in Spanish as in English?

me: How do you pronounce it in Spanish?

C: Van-ee-ya.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Another walk

I took another walk in my favorite historic neighborhood today. There's a lot of renovation activity going on right now, including a gut job of a house on sale for $165k. There were probably at least 5 tradesmen's trucks outside a large bland 1950s house that had previously had acres of white paint and beige carpet, as well as a huge white built-in buffet with lacy trim that I have a weakness for. I hope it survives the remodel!

We passed a sign on a vacant lot, and I wound up having a long conversation with a contractor on the phone. The lot is up for sale at $110k (but the price is negotiable), and they can build on it for $100-125 per square foot. The contractor stressed that they can build a house with contemporary amenities that will fit in with the neighborhood. He lives two doors down, and the people who co-own the lot live on either side, so I expect there would be a lot of friendly, neighborly input. Existing neighborhood homes run around $100 per square foot, land and all. If we were a lot wealthier, I'd be very tempted to round up an architect and get to work, but we're not, so I won't. This contractor specializes in this neighborhood, and he mentioned that he'd done the renovation on a 1920s Mediterranean home on the main historic street. I'd walked by the home just minutes earlier, and the exterior is a beautiful job. So I'm taking note of the name of the company for future reference.

I'm like a kid at Christmas waiting to unwrap my gifts. In a few months, all these remodeling jobs will be done, and I'll finally be able to have a look. It's very exciting. It looks like there are going to be a lot more homes on the market by March.

It looks like one more walk (my fourth) will cover the rest of the neighborhood.

Return of the King

We finished listening to Return of the King last night (except for the long historical appendixes at the back) and we also managed to finish the Peter Jackson movie. C is going to want to at least try the appendixes and the film extras. It was an interesting experience flipping back and forth between the 52-hour audiobook and the movie, because it highlighted the differences. I think the most dramatic changes are at the end, where Peter Jackson ruthlessly chopped out the "Scouring of the Shire" chapter, where the four hobbits return home and find that Saruman's flunkies have been looting and disfiguring the Shire in their absence. I understand why Jackson did it. I recall that when Return of the King came out, a lot of people complained that the truncated film version had about five endings, one after the other. Keeping Tolkien's ending would have lengthened the film and perhaps created a feeling of anti-climax. On the other hand, I would have happpily chopped up the scene of Frodo at Minas Tirith being lengthily hugged by each and every surviving member of the fellowship of the ring, the coronation scene, as well as several Sam-and-Frodo-wandering-through-wastelands scenes if it would have made space for Tolkien's ending. I think there's a lot to be said for the original version. For one thing, Tolkien's ending explains a couple of incidents in the movie, for instance the mysterious presence of pipe-weed at Isengard and Galadriel's gift to Sam. I also like the fact that the "Scouring of the Shire" chapter gives an opportunity for the four comrades to shine in the roles that they have grown into on their journey: Pippin and Merry as warriors, Frodo as a peace-maker, and Sam as a gardener (not just Mr. Frodo's gardener anymore, but responsible for bringing the whole Shire back to life). Interestingly, after I first saw Return of the King in the theater, I heard a guy ask a friend "Why did Frodo have to leave?" So at least in his case, Jackson's theatrical version left Frodo's motivation unclear.

Jackson's orcs are quite a bit different from Tolkien's, but I think Jackson probably made the right move in simplifying the orcs. Tolkien overloads his orcs with contradictory features that would be difficult to put on screen. Tolkien's orcs are violent, cannibalistic, sneaky, crudely modern in speech, and talk a lot about obeying "orders." Likewise, when the four hobbits return to the shire, they find that there are suddenly lots of rules everywhere. I ran that past my husband, and he suggested that Tolkien is contrasting the orcs and bad men who can only understand violent exterior compulsion with the good characters who do the right thing because it is the right thing.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Out of order

I was reaching for change to get my usual Diet Dr. Pepper from the vending machine at C's school, when I heard D's little voice saying "Out of order." That's what the sign on the vending machine said. He had either guessed it or actually read it, I'm not sure which.

Monday, December 1, 2008

How we got where we are

Perusing our local Craigslist realty section, I noticed an ad for an eleven property "investors package."

Sunday, November 30, 2008


C had a week off of school for Thanksgiving, and I was sick both weekends. However, against all odds, we managed to do the photo-retouching, layout and captioning for six different versions of the Christmas photobook. We are ordering 11 copies, and we'll be sending them mostly to Washington State, several to Canada, one to Russia and one to Egypt. We still need to make some photobooks for our own household, but I no longer feel anxious about 95% of our photos being on the computer or the quick-fade photo paper that we used to use for home printing. We also have some loose photos that need to be sorted and put into albums, but I'm confident that if we can lick four years of photos and create elegant digitally-produced albums (with lots of help from a good web interface), we can deal with a few dozen photos in a box.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Model trains

We went to a model train exhibit at the children's museum. It was mostly carefully roped off, a bunch of of 50ish guys presided, and there were a lot of "Don't touch" signs. Some toys are too much fun to share with the kids.

Return of the King

C is listening to the "Mount Doom" chapter of Return of the King, and we've reached that point in the director's cut of the movie.


With some help from C and the bread machine, my husband whipped up a batch of whole wheat cinnamon pretzels. They're shaped, briefly simmered in a bath of water and baking soda, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, and then baked. They were very good.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving craft fair

We spent the morning and early afternoon at Homestead Heritage, an Anabaptist commune, at their annual Thanksgiving craft fair. It's a huge three-day event. We did only a fraction of the activities. C had a horseback ride, the kids made a wooden sailboat and petted some puppies, we saw a horseshoeing demonstration and a black sheep being sheered, we saw new baby chicks and a white turkey with his harem, I saw border collies herding goats, we walked by a candle-dipping station, and at the big craft exhibition hall, we saw weaving, soap-making and basket-making, as well as finished goods from all conceivable crafts (stained glass, quilts, pottery, boots, furniture, etc.). Quite a few of the crafts for sale had been produced by children of the community, and their names and ages were on many tags. There was a small charge for each hands-on activity. C would have loved to do basket-weaving or soap-making, but we left when our money ran out.


In the interests of encouraging self-reliance, we've been telling D that he should change his wet diapers himself. There's been some resistance, but this afternoon, he changed himself without any prompting on my part.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

How do you say "pecan"?

Since moving south to a rental house surrounded by pecan trees, I've faced a dilemma. My whole life, I grew up believing that the pronunciation of pecan was "pee-kahn," with the stress on the first syllable (I grew up in WA, but there's a large Southern wing in my ancestry). In our new area in Texas, the pronunciation is "p'kahn," and it's almost a one-syllable word. I've looked up the pronunciation online, and our local Texas pronunciation is one of the most accepted pronunciations in the US, or very close to it. What to do? It's an unavoidable issue--the pecan is even the state tree. I've decided to bow to local usage and I've been retraining myself to say "p'kahn."

I also grew up saying "pop," and then went over to "soda" as a college student in Los Angeles. I eventually got to be bilingual, managing to say "pop" and "soda" in the right contexts. I haven't quite figured out what the local terminology is. Googling suggests that it's probably "coke."

No pecans

Last year, pecans rained down on our patio during the fall and winter and my husband raced the squirrels to harvest a winter's worth of nuts for pies and muffins. This year, we've seen less than a handful of pecans. 2007 was a very good year for pecans in our area, and many of the trees tend to bear well on alternate years. Yet another factor is that there was a bit of a drought this year, and 2008 has not been a good year for pecan production in our part of Texas.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

This can't be good

I heard the following from the next room.

C: D's a Lunchable!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Real estate report

I was just taking a look at the bottom end of the local real estate market and noticed a couple things. First of all, there used to be a couple of $10k houses on the market. They're gone, and the cheapest homes are now in the mid-20s. However, there is now a major glut of low-end lots. There's one at $1k, a couple at $6k, a bunch at $7k. Those are mainly city lots, I believe. There are a bunch of $20k lots out in the suburbs. I don't remember ever seeing so many lots for sale--the builders must be dumping them like mad.

One of the house ads was for a house at $49k. The ad touted it as being "recession proof," pointing out the large space (almost big enough for a cow) available for a garden.


I've told D that if he gets 40 potty points, he'll get a bicycle with training wheels. I would normally hesitate to offer an incentive that's so far away, but D just hasn't been interested in smaller prizes. We were planning on getting him a bike for Christmas or his birthday, but it seems like the bike is exactly the sort of motivation that he needs right now.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The more ecologically you live, the more illegal it is

I just bought a copy of Taunton Press's Fine Homebuilding: Kitchens & Baths Annual Issue. There's a longish article by Art Ludwig, entitled "Living better, but wasting less." Ludwig is a gray water guru. Here is a paragraph from the piece:

Why aren't we all getting healthy on fruit from Eden-like gray-water gardens? Well, we're not allowed, at least in most parts of the United States. Even as all of the humanity's life-support systems are threatened, the more ecologically you live, the more illegal it is. In Santa Barbara, 20,000-sq.-ft. mansions are approved routinely, but living in a yurt is illegal. You can build an entirely passive-solar and wood-heated house, but the law also requires a fossil-fueled central-heating system. If a sewer passes the house, you must hook up to it, and pay for the privilege.

You could wind a libertarian up with that paragraph and they could go all day. I have no immediate plans for harvesting gray water or catching rainwater, but city water is expensive stuff, and my inner Yankee (every American has one) rejoices at the thought of wasting not and wanting not.

Mountain Buggy

How wrong is it to want a new baby just to justify the purchase of another stroller?

The Two Towers II

C finished listening to The Two Towers last night, and we watched the end of the Peter Jackson movie with her. Then she started listening to Return of the King.


D has had a high temperature for a couple days and was listless with little appetite yesterday. Last night I started to feel funny myself, and this morning, I've got a full-blown something. It's subtle, but it seems to be some sort of version of what D has had. I want to spend all day in bed, but I don't feel good there. Fortunately, this is Sunday, so I have been able to take one of my three union-mandated SAHM sickdays. If it's infectious, my husband will be down in a day or two, so I need to be back in fighting form by 7:30 AM tomorrow.

Friday, November 21, 2008

End of the month budget blues

Why does Thanksgiving have to come at the end of the month? (I'd ask the same thing about Christmas, but the Christmas budget is looking pretty good.)


I saw a D magazine cover story at the Barnes and Noble checkstand: "Is Jewish Culture Dead in Dallas?"

Baby dragon

Between medical appointments this morning, my husband and I took D to Barnes and Noble to buy prizes. D was only willing to pick out a small golden dragon, very similar to the large golden dragon he chose earlier. We couldn't persuade him to pick out anything else. D is happy to earn points and money without having any tangible goal ahead of him. At home, he said that the small dragon is the baby, and the big one is the daddy. I asked him if he needed a big sister dragon or a mommy dragon, but he stood his ground, insisting that there only needed to be a baby and a daddy dragon.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Underpants II

D was dry all day at school. Later, on the playground, he had poopy underpants. I, being rusty at this sort of thing, forgot the spare pants in the car and did not have enough plastic bags on hand, so D had to be carried a block and a half to the car with no pants on a cool, windy day. I hope we have both learned something valuable from the experience.

C makes movies

After having gone through all our video clips (including many by C), I'm starting to realize that C is a real auteur. Based on what the camera picked up while she was filming, C's very self-conscious about herself as a film-maker, including when she's filming wobbly footage of the ceiling. I deleted most of her clips, but kept a long tracking shot of local sites taken from the back seat of the car as well as the short film she produced that stars cut-outs of Dora, Diego and Boots, with a castle as the setting.


D went to preschool today in underpants for the first time. The teachers say that he has been dry for the past three or four days of school, so it was time to try.


I just finished going through several years of unsorted family photos and videos on the computer. We hadn't done any album or baby book work for at least three years. Last night, my husband and I did a small Walgreens photo book online last for a friend. It was the first we had ever done. We need to do seven more photo books for friends and family, some photo books for us (I don't see myself doing manual scrapbooking), six videos for family, and some sort of mammoth video archive for us. It's going to be a lot of work, but we are on track for our Christmas deadline. I've also got plenty of loose physical photographs that need to be dealt with, but the digital photos and video are the easiest place to start.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I just got back from a 90 minute walk through my favorite historic neighborhood with D and my relative in town. We managed to walk seven more blocks of the main drag than I saw on my previous walk, plus some meandering and looping through some quieter streets. There's a lot of remodeling underway, but I only found one new home for sale. It's a standard 1950s brick house and is being renovated by one of the big local construction outfits. I called the number on the sign, and was told that they will want 325k when they are done. Elsewhere in the neighborhood, there are plenty of early 20th century houses for sale in the mid and high 200s that have been for sale for as long as I can remember. This is going to be the only non-descript 1950s house in the neighborhood over 300k.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Economic stimulus

I just wrote a check for $325 to a landscaping guy who spent the morning here with a helper getting leaves and branches off the roof, doing the gutters, mowing, leaf-blowing everything, edging the lawn, trimming bushes, and generally improving things. My current budget practice is to put $50 for household maintenance into every budget. It adds up quickly and takes the bite out of these major projects. The next project is steam cleaning the living room and the dining room, which are our main high-traffic areas. Ideally, we'd have both steam cleaning and landscaping help twice a year.

Coffee table book

Going through the hundreds of raw digital photos on the computer, it seems to me that my husband has the makings of a coffee table book here. My proposed title is Playgrounds of North America.

Stargazing with the kids

Yesterday, my husband took the kids out to a nice dark spot and they did some stargazing. They saw the space station through the telescope, and D marveled at the fact that we can see the Milky Way despite being in it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Video archives

We are about 4.5 years behind on our family video archiving work. My husband did a very nice first year video montage for C for the family, and then life happened and we got buried under hundreds of clips. The past several days, rather than read the umpteenth election recriminations comment thread, I've gone through about a hundred clips from a hard drive, deleting some and making notes about what parts of the others seem worth preserving. I'm only about a third of the way through the collection, but I'm getting the hang of it. After I'm done, my husband and I will need to sit down and figure out what to do with the surviving material. We'll probably do a long version of almost everything for us and video highlights for the grandmas and grandpas and aunties and uncles. After that, we should move on to the digital photo archive, which we are just as behind on. The hope is that we will be able to produce a video and digitally produced scrapbook in time for Christmas giving.

In related news, the video clips provide hard evidence of the steady increase in entropy in our home in DC. Good thing we moved when we did.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ancient jokes

My husband has been looking at that collection of ancient Hellenistic jokes. He says that his impression is that a Roman who wanted to be with it could do so by purchasing a Greek philosopher at the slave market. Oh, how things have changed!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Simple Multiplication

C just started work on Kumon's My Book of Simple Multiplication. She has gone through the single-digit addition review, multiplication by 1, and is just starting multiplication by two. The book goes up to 5 x 10.


We showed Breach last night. It's a deceptively simple movie, with a lot of depth and subtlety, and a lot of suspense, considering that it's known in advance how the story ends. We had six people (our pastor, an undergraduate, and several graduate students) come.

There's a very good reflection on the film and the Hanssen case here:
from a DC area blogger who was an acquaintance of Hanssen's. Scroll down to March 11 for a long post.

Horse engraving

This morning, C and D bought items from my store. D got some off-brand play dough for $2 and C got an "Engraving Art" horse picture for $4. It's a black sheet with printed on lines showing where to use your metal stylus, and as you work, the gold-colored foil underneath is revealed, ultimately producing a picture of three horses. Both kids disappeared with their stuff after the purchase. D played quietly and then put the play dough carefully away when he was done (a big step forward). C has been working carefully for some time now, and is about 1/3 done.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Farm

C is taking a break from reading The Two Towers and is reading Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Farm (her class recently did Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle as a read-aloud). C is completely absorbed in the book. The chapters are self-contained (each telling the story of the reform of some difficult or naughty child), which makes it faster reading. She is still listening to The Two Towers on audio in the car, and the last I heard, Gimli, Legolas and Aragorn were defending Helm's Deep from Saruman's army of orcs.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Overheard at the cafeteria

Female undergrad to female undergrad (on seeing D reaching for an ice cream bar from the freezer): I want a baby!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Interior designers

I am becoming convinced that interior decorators hate books. Here is my evidence from my extensive reading of interior design books and magazines:
  • pictures hung artfully on bookcases, blocking access to the books on the shelves
  • books grouped by color, rather than subject matter
  • shelves of books covered in specially made (unlabeled) white jackets
  • books grouped by size, rather than subject matter
  • an entire bookcase with all the books turned backward, with the title facing the wall

This is all so very wrong.

Paint by numbers

We made an evening run to Michaels last night to find a birthday present for C's classmate and to buy prizes for my store. We weren't able to find much for D, who enjoys earning and saving much more than spending, but we came away with a large pile of stuff for C to earn. I'm not crazy about Michaels' large craft kits, but they have some very nice small, inexpensive items. When we got home, C immediately bought a small paint-by-numbers set from me for $1. It features a diver meeting a large green octopus. After she finished her math and spelling homework after school today, I set it up for her, and she's been working hard at almost without a break.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Stuff White People Like #115

Christian Lander's continues to impress. His most recent post (#115) is "Promising to Learn a New Language." I love the whole thing, and you should definitely read it, too, but I'm just going to excerpt the following:

When you hear that a white person say that they speak your native language, you will probably think it’s a good idea to start talking to them in said language. WRONG! Instead you should say something like “you speak (insert language)?” to which they will reply “a little” in your native tongue. If you just leave it here, the white person will feel fantastic for the rest of the day.

This has happened to me more than once. Head over to SWPL for more sound advice on handling polyglot wannabes.

UPDATE: Tex, I believe you have a relative who would appreciate this.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Eighth notes

Thanks to music instruction at school, C can identify rests and notes from an eighth to a whole note, my husband reports.

Today, D read the word "green."


We had dinner last night with a friend who told us that he once translated Kumbaya into Latin and put it to Gregorian chant. I file this away along with a conversation I overheard at a conference at Notre Dame, where someone was talking about how a friend had translated the Hail Mary into Elvish.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

D on potty training

Me: When are you going to stop using diapers?

D: When you stop buying diapers.

We assimilate

This morning, D earned his 15th point, mostly for using the potty. That earned him a prize he had earlier picked out with his dad, a toy boat with a toy trailer and a toy truck to pull them. There was much rejoicing by both kids.

Chess board

The kids and I hung out a while near the giant chess board on campus. The pieces (which are as tall as D) weren't there, but C had fun pretending to be a chess piece. I would tell her to move like a rook, a queen, a knight or a bishop, and she would shoot across the board, and then as a king or a pawn, she would move a single square. When she was a knight, she jumped to her target square. Eventually, D was able to call out moves to C. It was a very nice way to be able to reinforce the rules of the game, as well as get some physical exercise.

Star night

My husband and C took the telescope, binoculars and a bunch of other gear to a star night organized through C's school. Everybody (20 or so car-fulls of participants) got to take turns looking at stuff through the four or so telescopes that were available. The Pleiades were the most popular constellation.

Dress up

D is in his dragon costume, and C has squeezed into his elephant costume (which is absolutely adorable on her). The kids have been mixing and matching costume elements, and they have been talking about producing an "eledragon." D likes the idea of a "dragon cheerleader."

Friday, November 7, 2008

Leaf book

C brought home a project she did in Spanish class. It's a booklet entitled "Libro de Hojas" and on each of the six pages there is a leaf of a different color. I apologize in advance for my Spanish punctuation. "De que color es la hoja?" "La hoja es verde." "De que color es la hoja?" "La hoja es anaranjada." It's a nice seasonal project and it's nicely within reach for the kids' language abilities. C was reading the book to me and D in the car on the way home, and her accent sounded OK.

D on banking

D: Why do big people put their money in the bank?...Why don't big people have piggy banks?

Good question, kid.

Another foreclosure?

There's a house on the outer edge of the historic neighborhood I watch that is now at 225k after some price reductions. It's a wood-frame two-story 5BR/2BA, it was built in the teens, the house itself is nearly 3000 sq. ft. and there's an efficiency apartment over the free-standing garage. I believe I remember seeing staged (???) photos a year ago, but it's currently empty. After a long dry spell with only one photo in the listing, there's recently been some activity. There are now a number of photos available online, as well as a virtual tour. The red dining room suggests that there must have been some recent work on the house, but I'm not sure how far it went. The pictures show that the kitchen and one bath in the house are basically untouched. The kitchen has pink flowered wallpaper, lime green tile counter and backsplash, white cabinets, white island with wood or wood-tone countertop and a black dishwasher. The effect is "busy," as my grandma said when I described it to her, but certain elements aren't all that bad. The house has wood floors, but I can't tell from the pictures if they are original or freshly installed--the narrow, variegated strips make me a bit suspicious, although it's not a bad look for the house.

The negatives are big--large square footage to heat and cool, choppy floorplan on the ground floor, efficiency apartment to manage, iffy baths and kitchen. Unfairly, the efficiency kitchen looks adorable. It's very white and basic and the appliances are old, but it's got one of those slotted plate racks that are so trendy right now, and I'm pretty sure that it must be original. In the house itself, there's a built-in breakfast nook of the kind I've been circling in countless home books and magazines. In short, I am in danger of falling in love, even though the object of my affection is wrong for me, needs a lot of work, and isn't capable of loving me back.

I would like to know what the story is behind the house. Depending on the backstory, it may also wind up a foreclosure like the house two blocks away. I'm going to keep watching.

Elsewhere in the neighborhood, an irreparably ugly (and recently freshened up) 3BR 50s home in a fringe location has just dropped from 155k to 150k. They are also trying to rent it for $1400 a month.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


I just had lunch with four philosophers.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election results

I'm hearing whooping and hollering from outside, presumably election celebrations. I wonder how many of the revelers actually voted.

First graders talk about the election

C told us that the kids at her lunch table were talking about the election, and everybody said that their mommy was going to be voting for John McCain.


D: Hydrogen is a very light gas.


I got a note from D's preschool, saying that a child has salmonellosis, and asking for care in hand-washing. As it happens, D was mildly ill earlier this week (one bout of vomiting and several days of fever) and C also had some elevated temperatures, so I'm going to have to talk to the pediatrician's office. D hasn't been ill half as much as C was her preschool year, but I am vividly reminded of the bout of rotovirus that took C to the ER and forced the infant D to spend the night in the hospital on an IV to rehydrate (the following year, the vaccine for rotovirus came out). After that episode, we finally pulled C out of preschool. I'm beginning to want to pull D out of preschool and dig and fill a moat. I'm OK with stimulating the immune system with the occasional case of sniffles, but four and five-syllable illnesses are different.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Two Towers

C has just started listening to The Two Towers.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Eye patch

My husband recently purchased an eye patch to facilitate his amateur astronomy hobby.

Fellowship of the Ring

C finished listening to The Fellowship of the Ring this evening and we finished watching the Peter Jackson movie version. My husband gave her our print copy of The Two Towers and set her up with the audio version, with the understanding that we'll start watching the movie once she gets a bit into the book.

November reading/listening

C is almost done listening to The Fellowship of the Ring. She listens and reads part of the time, but mostly she just sits and listens. This is the unabridged Rob Inglis reading and its great virtue is that they put all of the LOTR songs to music and actually perform them. My eyes glazed over while reading those songs in print, but it's completely different to listen to them. We are also watching Peter Jackson's LOTR as C progresses through the book. I'm wondering if it's too violent, but that doesn't seem to bother the kids. I just try not to leave off on a scary scene before bedtime.

Ever since I finished listening to all six Jane Austen novels, I've been at loose ends about what to listen to on the treadmill, and it's been hurting my motivation (and twisting my ankle three weeks ago didn't help). I need something long, but compelling. I had to give up on The Pickwick Papers, since it just wasn't motivating enough. It's choppy and episodic and nothing much happens, and there are no interesting major female characters. I just started Bleak House last night, and I have high hopes.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Time capsule

A couple days ago, I was looking for a winter coat for D in my boxes of outgrown C clothes. I found a red 4T Landsend snowsuit, which is too hot and inconvenient for our climate, but if anybody knows a deserving preschooler up north, contactify me and I'll box it up and send it, perhaps with a few matching items.

One box in particular was a treasure trove and a perfect time capsule of the 2005/6, which was the year C went to preschool. For a long, long stretch, C called herself "Thomas" (as in the Tank Engine) at home and at school, and insisted on wearing blue. Between that, my former proximity to and passion for GapKids, and the presence of her infant brother pushing me toward unisex items, it turns out that I have this winter basically covered. The box contained two pairs of 4T jeans, two pairs of 4T navy corduroy pants, a long-sleeved knit top with a large snow plow applique, teddy bear slippers, and some other tops. Going through the boxes was as good as a trip to the mall.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Champurrado on Cheerios

We've been out of milk for a couple of days now, so I was wondering what to put on my Cheerios this evening. Inspiration struck, and I mixed the champurrado powder with hot water and added it to Cheerios. The package describes it as an "authentic chocolate, masa & cinnamon flavored drink mix" (masa flour being some sort of white corn product). I had tried champurrado earlier, having mistaken it for Mexican hot chocolate at the store, but found it too starchy, bland and low in chocolate value to drink by itself (maybe with cinnamon toast?). However, it makes a very passable milk substitute.

Why am I out of milk? It was the end of the month, and a couple pairs of fleece pajamas for D and some Starbucks visits left me with no milk money. Fortunately, today is the last day of October, my husband and I have had our budget meeting for November, and a shiny new month is about to begin. This is the second month of saving for our house downpayment, our Christmas savings are respectable, and it looks like we'll be able to hire somebody to whack the shrubbery back.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Things you don't want to hear at pick-up II

I thought the bug was going to pass him by, but D did throw up in his bed last night at 2 AM. He's staying home from school today. He's very happy, just a little subdued.

Buttons IV

My husband and C worked on buttons last night. C worked on the dressing doll, some men's shirts and (most wonderfully) she was able to zip and button her uniform skort in 25 seconds. She tied the shoe on the dressing doll. She hasn't done the pants and belt yet, but she needs to, since it's getting cold.

This morning she insisted on dressing herself. I zipped up her jumper in the back and might have helped with a sock, but this is a huge first. (She dresses herself on the weekend, but those clothes are mostly stretchy pull-on items.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

C gets her grades

C had her first Spanish test a couple days ago. It was on the names of animals, and I think she got all of them. I'm very pleased that the kids are learning to write Spanish as well as speak it, since a lot of the challenge of learning a foreign language is hearing the words correctly. (Only this year when C started ballet did it finally occur to me that the ballet term is grand plie, not "bromplie" as my little kid ears heard it years ago.) I don't know any Spanish beyond the small vocabulary that one picks up automatically. Fortunately, Spanish pronunciation is blessedly consistent. I'm only a bit hesitant over the pronunciation of "c" in different words. What sound does the "c" in "dulce" make?

C's grades for the quarter came in. Based on her grades and what I've seen of her work, her spelling, arithmetic, and Spanish are very good. Her handwriting is good when she's fresh and rather bad when she's tired. There are a bunch of "need improvements" that I'm going to need to talk to the teacher about, but her performance in core subjects is very reassuring.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Things you don't want to hear at pick-up

I was collecting D from parents' day out this afternoon when I heard one of the teachers calling urgently to another teacher: "Alex is throwing up in the hall!" Alex is one of D's classmates.

We shall see if D makes it to school on Thursday. They are having an "Orange Party."

Grass head

I finally tossed out the grass head C brought home from school a few weeks ago. It consisted of panty hose stuffed with dirt with googly eyes and a yarn mouth to form a face, with grass growing wildly from the top to signify hair. The thing was mounted on a coke can, with a length of panty hose dangling down to wick water up to the head from inside the can. It's been living (if you call it that) on my kitchen window sill, which does not have adequate sunlight. A week or two later, after the grass had died, it looked like nothing so much as those really un-PC shrunken head exhibits from the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History. It was a pretty macabre item to have staring at me in the kitchen.

Hopefully, C will not notice the head's passing.

Monday, October 27, 2008


C angrily to D: I told you! I don't know everything!

D's car

D: I drew a car with hair!

Golden dragon II

D got his golden dragon prize yesterday, after 15 successful potty trips.


Whataburger goes a different route than McDonald's with the surprises in their kids' meals, probably because they're not big enough to land the big movie tie-ins. We stopped there Saturday night and scored two "Mad Lab Flasks," along with instructions for a magic card trick, crystal string, penny magic, and liquid layers. My husband did the penny cleaning experiment with the kids and the crystal string experiment is still underway.

Good job, Whataburger!

Sunday, October 26, 2008


We made a family trip to NASA outside Houston over the weekend. The kids spent much of their time in a multi-story enclosed play area, we saw moon rocks and soil, looked at exhibits of space craft, had some disappointing experiences with simulators, enjoyed a $39 fast food lunch for the four of us and hit the gift shop. We skipped the 90 minute tram tour of Rocket Park. C loved space stuff about three years ago (when she was D's age), but she's past it now, and this weekend she was in no mood to be edified.

We listened to Fellowship of the Ring in the car both ways, which kept everybody quiet and happy. We also watched the beginning of the movie this evening with the kids, which I'm not sure was a good call. I just can't quite figure out what would be an appropriate age to show the movie to kids.

Friday, October 24, 2008

How to get dressed

D: I can get dressed by myself because I know there's a tag!

He later brought me an inverted t-shirt, informing me that the tag should be on the inside, and the panda should be on the outside.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Quote of the day

I love, which is a site featuring San Francisco real estate. The photography, the architecture and the commenters are fantastic. Here's a sample comment from today from an anonymous author, critiquing a practically windowless modern 0/1 home with a roof deck reached by ladder: "It's the perfect pad for the serial killer who reads Dwell." That's very clever, but I believe serial killers need more storage.

A note to realtors

Dear Realtors:

When you don't give any interior photos for homes, I assume the very worst. Thanks!

Foreclosure II

I was looking at one of my real estate sites just now, and realizing that I completely botched my guess on the identity of the foreclosure now listed for $150k. My previous guess was that it was the enormous mansion-turned-gallery. Looking at the two pins on the map just now, it finally dawned on me that the 5BR/3BA foreclosure has got to be the same as the $250k (first listed in the 300s) 5BR/3BA flip that has been on the market ever since I can remember. I hadn't seen the identical bedroom and bath numbers side by side before, so it didn't occur to me that they were the same listing. Oops. I walked by the house a month ago, and there was some litter on the lawn and an air of neglect. It's a pre-war English cottage, about 3000 square feet, it's got a spiffy new kitchen and it's an obvious flip (the photos don't have a stick of furniture). It was last sold in October 2006 and has been for sale for about a year, as far as I can remember. It's a decent remodel (judging from the photos), but it's only on the edge of the neighborhood I like, and heaven only knows what the summer AC bills are like for a house that big in this climate.


My husband asks me to report that D is engrossed by a text-to-speech program on an early 90s Mac that we have ceded to him. He types in a word (CAT, HAT) on Microsoft Word, sounds it out, then has the computer read him the word. My husband thinks D is teaching himself to read.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hard candy

Halloween is just around the corner, and I see that we still have some heart-shaped suckers from Valentine's Day and a bunch of Tootsie Rolls and Dum Dums from a pinata scramble at a summer birthday party. And this despite my best efforts to throw away candy while no one was watching.

Hopefully, President Obama will ban hard candy.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

D reads

D read the following words today off a computer screen: STOP, SUN, ZOO, ZOOM, SOON, JUMP, HOP, CAT, HAND.

C's ballet plans

C says that she wants to do ballet until the end of the school year, and next year too. I'm glad, since I think it's very good for her. It makes her more conscious of her movements and gives her more control over her body.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

House Lust

I took a break from The White Man's Burden to breeze through Daniel McGinn's House Lust. It came out in early 2008, just in time. As his dentist in told McGinn in January 2006 when he mentioned that he was writing a book on the housing boom, "I hope you're writing really fast." It's a very enjoyable overview of US housing, and I only wish it were bigger. Here are a few things that drew my attention:
  • "From 2001 to 2006, the average U.S. home rose in value by 56 percent. In some of the hottest regions prices doubled over that period, while in a few white-hot markets values jumped 40 percent in a single year. And with the homeownership rate at record levels--it rose from 44 percent in 1940 to 69 percent in 2006--more people than ever had a rooting interest."
  • "In 2005, for the first time since the Great Depression, the nation's savings rate dipped below zero, meaning the average American was spending more than he earned. Families were doing this, some economists reckoned, because they figured the rising value of their home was providing all the savings they needed."
  • "As recently as 1950, one-third of American homes lacked complete indoor plumbing."
  • In Potomac, Maryland, McGinn visits an upscale development. "The average Potomac View buyer earns around $400,000 a year, puts down $1 million in cash, and ends up with a monthly mortgage payment of perhaps $12,000 to $14,000. Initially, the sales team figured most buyers would be doctors, lawyers, or entrepeneurs, but the reality illustrates how our House Lust has reconfigured socioeconomic status: Instead, the community is dominated by mortgage brokers who grew rich during wave after wave of refinancing."
  • "In Sweden, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and the United Kingdom, the average new house is less than 1,000 square feet."
  • "New York University sociologist Dalton Conley cites studies showing that people who live in homes where the number of rooms is less than the number of inhabitants suffer from increased irritability, withdrawal, weariness, and poor physical and mental health."
  • "No matter what the house size, Graesch says, people tended to spend most of their time near the kitchen--generally congregating around the nearest flat surface, whether it was a kitchen island or an adjacent dining room table."
  • "...regardless of a home's size or layout, people tend to spend a ton of time wherever there's a TV or a computer."
  • "As recently as 1870, one in eight American families had full-time domestic help."
  • "A house, David Owen wrote in his memoir of home repair, "is essentially a huge box filled with complicated things that want to break--a box that sits outside, day and night, in the rain and snow, surrounded by creatures that would like to eat it.""
  • "During the four years Fraser worked as a designer, as many as one-third of her clients ended up divorcing during the course of a job or soon afterward."
  • "In 2004, according to one Wall Street analyst's calculations, the percentage of homes bought by investors reached 14.5 percent of all residential real estate transactions, double the average from 1978 to 2002. By 2005 one real estate economist figured, 27.7 percent of the seven million houses that changed hands were bought by someone with no plans to live there or use them for vacation homes, but simply to try to make money off them."
  • "When Dick Clark rang in the new millenium in 2000, the National Association of Realtors had 761,181 members. Five years later its membership had swollen to 1,264,640. That's an increase of 66%--and it represents a half million people..."
  • "In 2000 the California Association of Realtors began a longitudinal study to find out how new agents fare during their first years in the business. The association picked 100 people who passed the state's licensing exam that year and began tracking them. Five years later, 57 of those 100 had dropped out of the field. Among the quitters the biggest complaints were lack of support from their brokerage bosses and their inability to make enough money."
  • "The average vacation-home owner spends just thirty-nine nights a year in his second property, according to research by the real estate industry."
  • "Yale economist Robert Shiller has analyzed home price movements going back to the 1890s, and he's convinced that over the long term, houses appreciate at a rate only slightly faster than inflation."

Buttons III

My husband and C are doing another training session this evening. C worked on buttoning her blue jeans on the clock and then moved on to buttoning and unbuttoning her uniform skort. Part of the time, she was working with her eyes closed. Her best time on the skort was 15 seconds, but her last time was 39 seconds. Right now, they are doing the dining room obstacle course. They are continuing to do Goal-Plan-Check.

One of her uniform items is a pair of pants that must be worn with a belt. I didn't know about the belt rule until this year and she hasn't worn pants since I found out. We finally got the belt in the mail a few days ago, but I was concerned that she wouldn't be able to manage it and the pants, especially under high stress conditions. However, given her success with buttoning her jeans and skort, it looks like she should be cleared to wear the pants and belt within the week. Cold weather is around the corner, so this is important.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Buttons II

This evening, we met C's chum for another bike date on campus. The girls rode their bikes for about half an hour, and C didn't have any falls. I've also noted that after a month or so of ballet, C is starting to use ballet-style moves outside class.

My husband gave C her first training session this evening. He set up an obstacle course for her with the dining room set, asking her to move around the table between the table and the chairs without bumping. She suggested skipping over boxes, so he had her do that, too. The main business of the evening was button work. They started with the training doll, and C practiced buttoning, snapping and velcroing (we skipped shoelace tying) with a stopwatch running. C was very successful working with a man's dress shirt, and managed to fasten even the tiny collar buttons. They worked up to the button on her jeans and the button on her uniform skort. She was a very good sport for the practice session, but the skort button was so frustrating that she demanded a point for it. We agreed, since that seemed like a fair exchange for so much hard work. Next time, she'll need more timed practice with snaps, the button on her jeans and the button on her skort. Shoelaces will have to wait.

The theoretical framework for all this is Polatajko's Goal-Plan-Do-Check. It may sound funny for an operation as simple as fastening a button, but it really is difficult if you don't know how.

We visit the missionary training farm

The local hippie Christian missionary training farm was having an open house today, so we loaded up the kids and headed out of town. It was the real deal, beginning with the toilet facilities. There was a chemical toilet, but C and I wound up visiting the composting toilet. I'd heard of that phenomenon, but never seen one. This one reminded me of the facilities one sees in National Parks, with one crucial difference. They had a big bin of sawdust, and the instructions said to toss in a scoop of sawdust after use. There was a sign urging users to shut the lid, but there actually wasn't much odor. The facility was also rather grandly decorated with bamboo along the walls and a mural on the door. The kids and I watched some other kids feed goats, saw the chickens, saw bunnies, saw the ducks in the duck tractor and picked out a sparkly embroidered fair-traded bag for C to buy from my store. There was a talk going on in a tent, and every so often, I'd catch something about their work figuring out the best possible diet for chickens and the importance of a healthy prayer life and strong community. The kids had a pony ride in a miniature wagon drawn by a small pony (think Great Dane-sized). C really wanted to do the interactive map activity (there was a map of the world painted on a wooden floor), but I assured her that the activity (which was about poverty and resource distribution) wasn't nearly as much fun as she thought it would be. The kids also wanted to go on a hay ride. My husband had spent most of the visit in the car working on his book manuscript, but given that he was wearing Dockers and I was wearing knit mom pants, I decided that it would be a good plan for him to do the hay ride with the kids. While they were having a hay ride (with tour narration provided by an African trainee), I hung out near the tent and listened to singers. A young woman came by and urged us to come over and listen to a talk and have a chance to win a worm bin (I passed). Eventually, my husband and kids returned, and we all headed home to normal American life.

It could have been a lot worse

D rushed in a minute ago to tell me that, "There's a kitty cat picture on the wall!" Uh oh. I followed him to the kid's bathroom, and discovered (to my infinite relief) that he was referring to the fact that C was using her Shrek projector to project a picture of Puss in Boots onto the wall of the darkened room.

Friday, October 17, 2008


My husband and I were able to talk to Researcher Relative last night about C's physical challenges (buttons, walking straight without tripping, running, not bumping into people and things, etc.), and RR says to modify C's school uniform so that she doesn't have to struggle with the button, since that sort of daily struggle with an everyday item is hard on self-esteem. RR doesn't think we can find a congenial physiotherapist or occupational therapist locally (the really good work on coordination seems to be done in Canada), and thinks we can collectively come up with some sort of program. I'd like to have some sort of trained professional helping us. RR thinks that it will be revealing to talk to therapists and ask them exactly how they deal with each of the problem areas. RR agrees with Polatajko that working on individual skills is the best way to go.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mission accomplished

C had a boy classmate over for a playdate and showed him her Asterix movie. This is the first time that we've hosted a playdate in our home in Texas and the first time ever that we've had a child come for a playdate without their mother (except when I had a babysitting gig back in DC when C was a toddler). It's new territory, but the kids are big now and it went off without a hitch. D and I picked up C and M from school, and on the way to the car, C and M talked about The Magic Treehouse and M told me he has started Harry Potter. We went home, the kids refused a snack, watched the video, played with C's Scratch and Sketch books, played with Do-A-Dots, played a bit of hide-and-seek, and then his mom picked him up. It was especially nice that this was the last day of the week and since we have a day off tomorrow.

I mainly just drive to and from school, but even that step forward has opened up new worlds. My plan is to try to average one playdate or birthday every week.

Bubble case study

In my target neighborhood, there are two midcentury homes two blocks away from each other with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. One is listed for sale at $175k and the other (which is listed as-is, with a contractor recommended for doing renovation) is listed at $280k. It will be interesting to see how this anomaly resolves itself.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ballet progress

C had ballet today and the teachers report that she did fine. Yay! C says: "When I'm a real ballerina, I will wear pink." All the girls came out with a page and a half of choreography for the Christmas program.

Most delightfully, C's allergies seem to have cleared up for the season.

Golden dragon

D has earned 2 points toward the 15 he needs for the golden stuffed dragon. In related news, we had a "teachable moment" this afternoon when I discovered that the children's toilet had had a mountain of paper thrown into it. There was no disastrous flooding, I am happy to report.

C's candle holder

C brought home from art a glass jar with multi-colored tissue paper glued on the outside, and asked that I blog it. It's a candle holder, and C was thrilled with the results when we lit it up and turned off the lights.

Tiara thank-you

The mail just came, and there was a thank-you from C's friend whose birthday party we attended Friday. "I loved your tiaras book," says the note, which has a pencil sketch showing C's friend in a tiara, and then a larger sketch of a tiara decorated with "jewels." Awwww.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


C's school uses a spelling and writing instructional program known as "The Spalding Method" or Romalda Bishop Spalding's The Writing Road to Reading. For homework, they do ten words on Monday night, a second set of ten words on Tuesday night and both sets on Wednesday night. On Thursday night, the pre-test comes home and the child reviews any they missed, and there's a final test on Friday. It's a well-oiled program, and I expect a lot of schools do more or less the same thing.

The Spalding Method has a lot of unique features. One of them is that they teach kids 70 different phonograms (th, ch, b, k, etc.) and they explicitly teach all of the sounds produced by a letter or set of letters. When teaching kids "a," the kids will learn that it makes three different sounds in English (a as in "cat," a as in "late," a as in the first and last syllables of "banana"). A bit of their childhood innocence will drop away when they learn that "ough" has six different pronunciations. As if that weren't enough, children are also supposed to underline the t and h in "th" to show that they are working together as a phonogram, to put two lines under a silent e, and to add numbers to words to signal the correct pronunciation. Beyond that, there are 29 different rules, which take up three pages of the book. I have the Spalding book (400 some pages) and I've been faking my way through C's homework, but I'm eventually going to get back to reading the book.

On the bright side, the Spalding Method teaches a lovely round well-designed manuscript hand that is designed as a good jumping-off point for cursive.

Sophies and Alexes

D tells me that his little friends at preschool are named Alex and Sophie. Is there any school anywhere in the country today that does not have an Alex and a Sophie?

D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths

C is rereading her pretty illustrated D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths (1962), which she had to read this summer for school. This time she's reading it out loud, which gives me a chance to work on her pronunciation of "Artemis," "Hephaestus," "Athena" and "Aphrodite."

October preschool

D went to preschool today for the first time this month, after several inconveniently timed colds. I'm glad he doesn't go to a hotsy-totsy $10k a year preschool.


I hear you, Texas motorists: I promise not to mess with Texas.

Scrubbed post

I've scrubbed the previous post (as I said I would), as well as the comment thread. My apologies if anybody was planning on anthologizing their contribution.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Attention, readers!

This post has self-destructed.

Tortilla machine

Over the weekend, I finally got a chance to see the cafeteria's tortilla machine in action. I noticed a pile of floury balls of dough in the work area, and was puzzled as to what they were, until I saw a cafeteria worker start feeding them into the machine. They emerged from the machine as thin discs and went straight to the cooking surface, where they quickly turned into soft, puffy tortillas and were used to make chicken quesadillas. After 30-some years of dry store-bought in-the-bag tortillas, fresh-cooked tortillas are a revelation. How did I live without you?

Elsewhere in the cafeteria, my husband tells me that there is a self-serve waffle iron that produces waffles with the college's initials on it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Walking the fence

Today C spent a lot of time walking the fence at the local Old West village under her father's supervision (I was home). Normally, I would discourage that kind of activity, but C has been physically inactive for the past year or so, and she needs all the balance practice she can get. The thing is that (as with the arabesque issue at ballet), when C gets frustrated, she is liable to despair and give up.

How many months of inventory?

I finally came across some real estate statistics for our area. This year, the number of months of inventory has been roughly 9 months. The stats I was looking at are incomplete, but the lowest inventory number was from 2004, when the average was roughly 5.5 months. The number of months of inventory has been creeping up steadily ever since 2004, which is earlier than I expected. It looks like peak prices were in 2007, and we have nearly twice as many listings now as in 2003. I was also comparing the number of homes sold from 2003-8 to figures from 10 years earlier (2003 compared to 1993, 2004 compared to 1994, etc.). The number of homes sold yearly from 2003 to 2008 was generally around 50% more than the number that sold yearly from 1993 to 1998. Meanwhile, the population was flat.

Today's sermon

Father was preaching against the theory of the social contract and the idea of autonomy as the ultimate human good.

Tea party

D (to C): Can we have a tea party with Smaug?

Moments later, D, C, Smaug (the red and gold dragon) and a panda from the National Zoo were all enjoying tea together.

Pop beads II

D earned his pop bead critter set at 7:46 this morning, with coaching from C, who is very excited about the pop beads.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Wagner is this month's composer at C's school.


Out on the patio this morning, C sketched out a hopscotch grid on her own initiative and did some hopping on one leg. I was very pleased.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Alexander Nevskii

Husband (while watching Eisenstein's Alexander Nevskii): This should be a musical.

C and I go to a birthday party

C and I went to her chum's birthday party today after school. Twenty-some 1st graders, their parents and siblings were there, as well as a hamster. The hamster was having a rough time of it until I stepped in. There was a magician who faced a barrage of pretzel bits from his audience as well as a little girl who pounced on his props at every opportunity. We had cake and the kids queued as the magician made balloon animals and swords for everybody. C's behavior was very good. The kids had a glorious time.

I am never, ever going to invite an entire first grade to a birthday party.


I was just on Amazon, and ordered a copy of the documentary Weather Underground as a gift for some relatives before the election, and a doll with snaps, zipper, and buttons as a training device for C.

Lazy gardener

I am currently improving the organic content of my small garden by letting the pecan leaves and shells that fall there lie. The pecans themselves need to be picked up, since they eventually turn into tenacious, hard-to-pull pecan seedlings. If we let them go, we'd have literally hundreds of baby pecan trees growing all over the yard.

Tale of Grandfather Mole

I take back my doubts about the dramatic possibilities of The Tale of Grandfather Mole. In the car tonight, we were listening to a truly harrowing scene in which Grandfather Mole is captured by the farm cat and barely escapes.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Against my better judgment II

I was just looking at Amazon's offerings for developmental coordination disorder, and a book popped out at me. This is quite possibly the best book title ever.

Tictionary: A Reference Guide to the World of Tourette Syndrome, Asperger Syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for Parents and Professionals by Becky Ottinger (Paperback - Feb 3, 2003)

Norwegian fairy tales II

C finished reading her big book of Norwegian fairy tales tonight. I bought it for a quarter at a library surplus sale when I was a little older than her and it was one of the books I brought home from my parents' house this summer.

Twelve Tasks of Asterix

I was just writing a note to a mother I've never met, inviting her son to a playdate to watch The Twelve Tasks of Asterix with C. My husband loved the cartoon as a kid in Eastern Europe, and we eventually bought a copy in European DVD format and he made a copy in the North American format. It's an English language version of the French cartoon, and it's about Asterix and Obelix's heroic efforts to perform a series of twelve tasks in order to save their Gaullish village from Julius Caesar's Roman legions. Anyway, C has been talking for weeks about inviting a certain boy over to watch the cartoon. Here's hoping we can secure at least one playdate! Having seen C love and lose two different male chums (one in pre-k, one in kindergarten), I'm somewhat pessimistic about her chances of lasting friendship with a boy, but it's worth a try. I'm aiming for one playdate or birthday party for C every week.

Speaking of tasks, I've been reading a couple of occupational therapy articles and making a list of tasks for C to work on once we find a therapist. So far my list is: buttoning, walking with less tripping and bumping into things and people, running and standing on one foot. The latter is a big deal for ballet. The last two ballet classes, the teacher has told me that when asked to do an arabesque (stand on one leg, other leg lifted gracefully, arms stretched in the opposite direction), C has been saying that she can't do it and flopping dramatically onto her knees. This is problematic, since 1) she wants to stay in ballet 2) her teachers may lose patience if she isn't cooperative 3) her classmates may lose patience 4) it really is hard for her, and it shouldn't be and 5) arabesques are in the Christmas program. Think, think. I've suggested to the teachers that they not discuss it with her and just let her sit that part out, but that's not a permanent fix.

I'd like to sign her up for therapy immediately and get going. The problem is that based on the two occupational therapy articles we've been reading (the main author is a Helene Polatajko), some popular methods don't work in treating developmental coordination disorder (C is borderline--she's about 15th percentile). I don't have a good picture of how Polatajko's CO-OP method works in practice, but it's a cognitive approach. The child helps decide the list of skills to be mastered (I'm not excited about that aspect of the method) and the child works on the individual skills, rather than doing neurological stuff that is supposed to magically fix everything (the latter is the approach favored by the author of The Out-of-Sync Child, which does have very helpful descriptions of symptoms and behaviors). They also have a procedure called Goal-Plan-Do-Check that they teach the kids. I like the theory (and the results are supposed to be good), but I'd like to see how they teach how to button and unbutton or how to walk without falling down. The other question is whether we can find a therapist in our area who is effective. This is going to take a while, and I'd like to be doing something helpful right now.

Pop beads

D is up to 11 potty points, with 4 left to go. He's changed his mind, and now he wants to earn the bug pop bead set. Next time I lay in a supply of prizes, I think I'll get some cheap stuff from the children's museum and keep my prices the same.

Alice in Wonderland II

C has finished listening to Alice in Wonderland. She has been getting a lot of high quality literature on her commute. She's now on Arthur Scott Bailey's Tale of Grandfather Mole (the mole is a neighbor of Timothy Turtle, Peter Mink, and Tommy Fox). I haven't listened to it myself, but I'm not sure how much dramatic potential there is in the life of a mole.

A house for Tex?

Tex, maybe you should have a look?


Watching housing is a slow business, but every so often, something big happens. Today, a foreclosure suddenly appeared on the fringe of the historic neighborhood that I've been watching. It's a 5 bedroom 3 bath house, it's listed for $150k, it's on the main historic street, and it was supposed to be auctioned earlier this week. The foreclosure listings are always rather vague, but if it's the house I'm thinking of, it's a huge early 20th century mansion that was converted to use as an art gallery. This is the first foreclosure to appear in my target neighborhood. Who knows what it went for at auction, but it's beginning to look like I'm not crazy to think that we should be able to buy a modest home in that neighborhood for $100k in a couple years.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Mother on Fire II

Loh eventually winds up sending her oldest to an LA magnet public school. Although she takes us to see her neighborhood public school (Guuavatorina) toward the end of her odyssey and finds it to be basically OK, Loh does not favor us with a visit to the magnet that her child is miraculously accepted to, or any information about the school itself. The focus is on Loh herself, and her transformation into public school crusader mom.

How does it go? What are the teachers like? What do they teach the kids? How? It's all a blur. That's the bad news. The good news is that as the previous chapters on LA private schools demonstrate, Loh is in fine form. In 2-4 years, I hope she'll have another book out, with a detailed description of her public school experience. She'll be older and wiser and will be able to make a real contribution to the public's understanding of the public school system.