Saturday, May 31, 2008

C's bike practice

This afternoon, I took C and her bike over to campus and she made nearly two big loops, covering probably a total of 1/2 a mile. It was hot and she was pretty tired by the end of it. I didn't run along beside her, but I got a lot of exercise just following at a distance. She is doing better with her braking, and she gives herself lots of room to brake. She finds it difficult to get started, and bumpy, twisty sidewalks require help, but I think it's not a stretch to say that she knows how to ride a bike. Both C and I look forward to biking together soon.


We went to Homestead Heritage this morning. It was C's first visit. The baby farm animals weren't available this morning, but the kids (especially C) got lots of mileage out of watching a large cloud of butterflies circling around some purple flowers. C also enjoyed listening to the blacksmith talk about the red-hot iron he was working with. Towards the end, we all four shared an apple turnover out on the porch of the visitor center.

Good nightmares

D says he likes "good nightmares." He often talks about what kinds of dreams he wants to have during his nap, and favorite options are his Lego house, trains, etc. (He generally goes down snuggling an elephant and a large plastic school bus.) C says that she dreamed of fabric and a pretty patterned blanket with a design like in her optical art coloring book.

Math is hard, Barbie said

C has been avoiding her math workbooks, saying they're hard, and sticking to word-writing exercises. On the other hand, my husband was working with her on her math today orally, and she did very well. He introduced the subject of negative numbers, and she readily computed the answer to 327-328. To me she volunteered that 3004 plus 3004 is 6008. She knew the answer to 7 times 10, but didn't know the answer to 10 times 7.

My husband and I had a pedagogicheskii sovet this evening on C's Kumon math workbooks. He thinks they are all too easy, with the exception of the addition one, the subtraction one, the telling time one, and the second coin counting one. The coin counting one is the only one C has worked with much so far, and it's currently in hiatus, thanks to her repeated claims that it's "too hard." I think she should be able to easily manage the beginning of both the addition and subtraction books and the rest of the coin counting book, but it may take a while to get her going. We have decided to increase the carrot offered for these more difficult workbooks. Instead of 5 pages for a dollar, we'll offer 4 pages for a dollar.

This academic focus may seem really mean of us, but C has really been at loose ends ever since summer break started. No matter how many fun activities we organize every day, it never seems to be enough. So, now it's time for housework and academics. (I told the kids yesterday that we wouldn't leave for the children's museum until they picked up the living room, and lo, they picked it up.)

Friday, May 30, 2008

What now?

Yesterday, about 48 hours in to her summer vacation, C finished her 25-item summer reading program. Next summer I'm going to be stricter about reading level, length, and chapter books, but it would have felt churlish to be picky about all that at this point. But what now?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

11 down, 14 to go

C got credit for 11 of the 25 books she needs for her summer reading program, all today. I was mainly flipping through the books and asking her questions, but I think I'm going to need to ask for detailed summaries first thing for the sake of quality control. Her summer reading bingo chart has themed books arranged in an X and free choice books in the other spaces. C has read all the themed books except a "tall tale," and at 8 PM this evening, she was demanding that we drive immediately to the library to pick one up. Her school gives a prize for reading all the books in the X and also for blackout, and we have promised her that she can choose one item from my store if she gets a blackout.

Estrogen poisoning

The third book C has read for the summer reading program is a My Little Pony Crystal Princess volume entitled "The Runaway Rainbow" which C earned long ago as a prize for something. The book contains a lost unicorn princess, a magic wand that makes rainbows, butterfly-winged mini-ponies, a cute purple dragon, a marshmallow roast, a crystal carriage, etc. The book is basically the boiled down, syrupy essence of the 4 and 5-year-old female mind. When I was quizzing C on the contents just now, she had it down pat.

Summer reading program

This was C's last day of kindergarten, and she's thrown herself headfirst into her school's summer reading program. There are some required topics (history, non-fiction, mythology, poems, Bible story, etc.), but a lot of free choice books. The school offers some prizes and we'll probably offer some, too, but I'm trying to keep it vague. The school book chart has 25 spaces and C has already read two non-chapter books in the past hour, so I'm not sure the school chart will last the week. Fortunately, there's also the public library summer reading program, which we'll be able to start as soon as she finishes with the school program. I'm not crazy about the way the programs push kids toward shorter, simpler books, but she is still 5, so at least this summer it's OK.


I just finished about an hour of backyard lifeguarding duties. After much begging by C, my husband finally pulled out and filled the wading pool and set up the kids' slide so they could swoosh into the pool. It was only an hour, but my nerves are shot. On the other hand, C puts on her own swim things now and D is pretty cooperative, so it's much easier to set up. We should be able to use the wading pool at least once a week.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Taking turns

We're taking turns reading Peter Pan with C, with C reading a couple pages when it's her turn.

AC management

We're back down to the mid-80s now, and our current protocol is to open the windows and cool down the house first thing in the morning, shut the windows and turn on the AC when the outside temperature becomes warmer than the inside temperature, and then turn off the AC in the evening when we go to bed (each bedroom has a ceiling fan). We have the fans running all the time. This system is not perfect, but hopefully we'll be able to ward off those yucky $400 a month electric bills a bit longer. How I want a geothermal system! (I'm not totally sure that it's cost-effective at this point, but if energy prices rise, it certainly will be.)

C's small business idea

C is offering to pick pecans for pay this fall. It's going to be her against the squirrels--they go into a perfect frenzy once the nuts start dropping.


My husband says: It's not liturgy if it's designed by a liturgist.


My husband, Baby D and I all went to C's school today for an end-of-year ceremony. Baby D was very good (it was much longer than expected), and my husband says he was trying to sound out "commitment" in a hymnal. He got as far as c-o-m, but wasn't able to blend the sounds.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Moominpappa's Memoirs

C finished the last four pages of Moominpappa's Memoirs all by herself, without any encouragement. Yay!

Peter Pan

This morning I found C with her unabridged Peter Pan and her Disney Peter Pan action figure set out. She seemed a little embarrassed at being caught, as she often does when being found absorbed in pretend play at her advanced age. I'm not sure if she was reading it, or just looking at it.

Moomin madness

We're almost finished reading a third Moomin book (Moominpappa's Memoirs) to C and I ordered a fourth book this evening. There are some slow spots, but at their best, the Moomintroll books are enchanting, and I really love the elegant and inventive line drawings.

If one wanted to go deep into Moomin madness, the sky's the limit. There's a variety of cartoon versions from across the globe (none readily accessible in the US, unfortunately), and I've got my eye on some adorable little Moomin mugs. If you really want to go whole hog, there's Moomin World in Finland (AKA Muumimaailma), which I have to admit I'd love to visit someday.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Rosemary chicken

With the cafeterias all closed for another week, we are thrown back on our resources. My husband baked chicken in aluminum foil this evening with vegetable oil, a sprig of fresh rosemary, and garlic. He also added fresh mint, but that didn't seem to come through. Cooked rosemary is yummy and mellow, much less aggressive and pine-flavored than fresh rosemary. My container gardening book says you can make a pesto from fresh rosemary, and I'd love to try, although I'm not totally clear on what you do with pesto. We've got about five little well-established rosemary bushes, so we'd certainly have enough needles.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

We give up and turn on the AC--Hurrah!

Later this afternoon, it was 90 degrees outside and 86 degrees inside and my productivity went to zero and both C and I were getting cranky. I walked to the store and was fine--it's just high indoor temperatures that I find unbearable. We gave up and turned on the AC. It's now nearly 9 PM and a chilly 79.7 degrees inside and 84.7 outside. We'll keep an eye on the thermometer and turn off the AC and open the windows when the outdoors gets to a nice temperature. Hopefully, if we do a better job and start tomorrow with nice cool air, we'll be able to husband it better this time. I think I could be very happy and productive between 82-83 degrees. And we should make sure to keep watermelons at home and keep making juice popsicles.

Oh, and we got me a bike helmet today.

May without AC

When we lived further north, it seemed like we would go immediately from running the heating to running the AC. This is the end of our first year in Texas, and we have found that there is a long shoulder season when you don't need either. That is delightful, but we are reaching the end of May and time is running out. Last summer we were paying about $400 a month to cool a 2000 square foot house to about 80 degrees, and I'd like to delay that as long as possible. My current goal is to make it until the beginning of June, but we shall see.

My husband got back from a five-day retreat yesterday and this morning he set up the neat remote thermometer his parents gave us. We've now got a thermometer mounted on a tree outside, and a thermometer inside that shows both the indoor and the outdoor reading. It's now just past 10 AM, the dryer's running (unfortunately), I've got just about all the lights off, we've got a bunch of windows open, the three ceiling fans in the bedrooms running, the outdoor temperature is overcast and 82.8 (I got up and now it's 83.1) and the indoor temperature is 83.5 and very sticky. The house is probably 45-years-old, very dark in spots (no windows in the dining room!), with eight-foot ceilings, decent eaves and a chunky floorplan not conducive to air flow. I'm just wondering what we do next--at what point is the air flow from outside no longer worth it? If it gets to be 85 indoors and out, do we give up then?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

To-may-to, to-mah-to

You say "weed," I say hardy, drought-resistant native ground cover.

Financial Peace Jr. for C

Yesterday, the Financial Peace Jr. kit that I'd ordered for C arrived in the mail. There's not a lot to it, but the items are very pretty. We listened to the CD together and filled in some of the spaces on the dry erase chore chart with chores and their dollar value (clean bedroom--$1, clean living room--$1, one page of workbook--$.20, help move trash containers on trash days--$.25). C can earn money for tidying and doing workbooks every day of the week but Saturday, so theoretically she could clean us out, and it sounds like she fully intends to once school is out, but she's only earned $17 this month. There's a dry erase board where you clip a picture of a large item you are saving for and calculate how long it will take you to purchase. We wrote in that C is saving for the $10 flower fairy scratch-off, but C wasn't sure how long it would take. That was easy. The key to the Dave Ramsey system for kids is the three envelopes (give, save, and spend) where you put all the money you get. So far, almost all of C's spending has been in the "save" category. The issue there is that she tends to go for cheap items that she wants less, when the thing she really wants will require her to save up for a few more days. Hopefully, keeping her goals on the fridge will be helpful. The "give" category will probably be the most controversial, especially since C will be getting her money a dollar at a time and it will be a pain to split it at that point. My plan is to make charity a sort of sales tax on her spending, so I've told her that to buy the flower fairy scratch-off, she'll need $11, $10 for the scratch-off and $1 for her giving envelope (and I'm going to need to monitor the contents of that envelope). C is more accepting of the idea of giving than I expected. I've asked her if she wants to give to our parish or to poor children. C says she wants to give to poor children so their parents can buy them new toys. I suppose that means we should save up until Christmas and then participate in one of those giving tree programs. That will be a lot more satisfactory than mommy taking her money and writing a check. I also showed C our budget for May, impressing her with the idea that mommy and daddy have a lot of things we have to spend money on.

I don't know how far to go with this since I don't want to accidentally spawn a little child miser (a very unattractive and common type), but broke parasitic young adults are if anything less appealing.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

C on family structure

C was lobbying to limit our family to two children and expressing her opinions on family structure. Here's a paraphrase:

"We have a normal family with two kids, one mommy, one daddy, and no stepfather or stepmother. I don't want a stepmother. It's not because a stepmother would be mean, it's because I love you so much."

Adios, cilantro!

It's been pretty hot lately, and it looks like my cilantro plants are going to go to seed soon. They were my first gardening success, so I'm going to miss them. We'll meet again in the fall, I hope.

On a less lyrical note, a 1.5 inch long creature with six legs and long antennae that I will not describe further came into our living room to die this morning (that's not a big one, by the way). Baby D pointed it out to me and I managed to dispose of it before our cleaners got to that room. Time to call the landlord and ask for an exterminator!

Hello, Ghana!

A visitor from Ghana got here looking for the answer to the question "What is fraternal correction." I'm also at the moment the number one google search choice for "planting Russian sunflowers." Too bad mine have almost all died.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Basil, Thai basil, chives, and lavender

This evening I whacked back the mint bush to give its neighbors a place in the sun and finally planted the seeds and plants I got at Homestead Heritage: sweet basil seeds, Thai basil seeds, a garlic chives plant, and a lavender plant. Then I watered everything. I planted basil twice earlier in the spring, but while the leaves I've tried have been very tasty, the biggest plants are probably only three inches tall. I'm hoping that the new basil plants will do better in a sunnier location farther away from the octopus-like mint bush.


We've got a woodpecker working on one of our pecan trees!

Prince Caspian

We all four went to see Prince Caspian on Saturday. I didn't like the previous treatment of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Except for Lucy's luminous performance, the kids in the first movie were all pretty stiff. The filmmakers seemed determined to make a LOTR Jr., so they took the slender book and epicized it, blowing up the battle scene and clumsily tacking on extra material. I particularly disliked the White Queen's wolves, who are given American accents and lots of unclever movie villain dialogue, when it would have been more appropriate to give them either sinister upper-class British or central European accents, since they are supposed to be the White Queen's secret police. I was particularly offended by the heavy, plodding film treatment since The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has really zippy pacing. When my husband and I read it to C (after seeing the film), she had us reading several chapters at a sitting and we got through it really quickly.

The book Prince Caspian is structurally a mess, as I discovered when we read it to C after doing so well with reading the first book. It has some very good material, but the Pevensies spend so much of the book blundering around the woods that Prince Caspian doesn't have any narrative momentum. We were just as lost reading the book as the Pevensies were in the woods, and it took us much longer to get out. And what about the movie? The filmmakers did very well to streamline the lost-in-the-woods section (although all that luscious scenery helps a lot). The LOTR Jr. treatment suits Prince Caspain very well and the movie is better than the book. The added material works really well, particularly the attack on Miraz's castle. Reepicheep and his brave mice are also very well handled. I mainly regret the stuff from the beginning and the end that got left out of the movie: Caspian's lessons with his tutor and the awakening of the trees and bacchanalia that follows. I also liked the scene from the book of Aslan, Susan, and Lucy liberating Telmarine school children--there's never a good school in the Chronicles of Narnia. The close of the film is very good, too, and left me very excited that we have all these sequels to look forward to.

The very sensitive handling of Prince Caspian gives me hope that they'll do well with subsequent books. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is great, but highly episodic, so it's going to be very challenging to give it a unifying narrative arc. One option is to focus on Eustace Scrubb (one of my very favorite characters) and his development during the sea voyage. I love the description of the Scrubbs at the beginning of the book, and I hope that the filmmakers will do a good job showing Eustace's home life.

Cut flowers

Noticing that two of my gladioli were starting to bow under the weight of their flowers, I got permission from C, cut the flowering tops off and put them in a vase with my two Mother's Day carnations. There are also two plants with purple blossoms flowering in the "old-fashioned mixed flowers" section of the flower bed. This is officially the very first time I've successfully grown flowers. The gladioli have been very forgiving.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


As I mentioned, C (still 5-years-old) told me yesterday that she would do 50 pages of workbooks to earn $10. Today, she said that she would do 65 pages to earn $13. I believe C probably counted by 5s to get those two sums, but it's still tantalizingly close to multiplication.

Optical Art

C went on an academic rampage yesterday and earned $5, mostly doing dry-erase letter writing and arithmetic. Combining that with one dollar from her savings, she bought a $6 Dover Optical Art book from mommy's store. I don't have any cheap items left in my store now, and I'm down to a $7 book of Cars posters, a gorgeous red and gold stuffed dragon for $8, a $10 flower fairy scratch-off book, and a fat $13 coloring book with hundreds of stickers. C says she is going to do 50 pages of work and earn the $10 flower fairy scratch-off. Wow. She tends to earn in fits and starts, so I wouldn't be surprised if she went ahead and did it. She's done several pages of the optical art book already. Her coloring isn't ideal, but her color choices are perfectly symmetrical.

Mother's Day

I asked C why she has been wanting to spend so much time with me, being my dinner partner and my church partner. C says, "Because I love you. I'm behaving like every day is Mother's Day." Awww.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The cafeterias are closing

The college kids are almost gone and soon all the cafeterias will be closed. Eventually one will re-open for the summer, but it won't be the same as during the normal school year when we happily rotate between our three favorites. I am going to have to rediscover what exactly it is you do with that hot black shiny thing with knobs in the kitchen.


We paid $95 today for my pseudo-retro no-name single-gear bike with coaster brakes. My dad tells me that 50 years ago, he paid over $100 for a Schwinn. The bike he bought was much more sophisticated than my bike is and had an actual brand behind it, but it's still a very striking example of the power of globalization to stall price inflation.

Xantippe gets a bike

This morning my husband zipped over to Walmart and got me the retro-looking La Jolla bike with coaster brakes that I picked out earlier. It's aluminum, weighs 28.5 pounds, and I can lift it with one hand. My husband inflated the tires and greased it up and now it's ready to go. C needs one more training session and I need a bike helmet and then we can hit campus. We'd also better go to a bike shop and make inquiries about safe riding options within range of campus. I can see a bike rack coming on. The hilly wilderness park (with 20 miles of trails, rated from beginner to expert) may be too challenging for us, but there's also supposed to be a bike path near the lake. We'll probably get D his first bike for his 4th birthday next spring, and my husband should probably have one, too. At this rate, I see an SUV coming on!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

No training wheels

Tonight was C's second outing with her new 16" bike with no training wheels. Her dad chased her up and down our driveway as she got better and better. Eventually, they went over to campus to find a larger space. C did a 1/4 mile loop, braking three times to rest. My husband ran along beside her but wasn't holding on. He says that if she has one more evening of practice, she'll be ready to ride without back-up. Then I'll get a bike and helmet and we'll go out together.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


I have been implying to D that his taking a nap causes his sister to come home from school. So far, he's buying it.

U is for umbrella

My husband was watching D's work with magnetic letters. D drew what he said was an apple, and put a magnetic A on top of it. He did the same with an umbrella and a U.

Daddy: Why are you so smart?

D: Because I love you!

Gladioli buds

About half my gladiolus plants have visible buds now, and they are mostly at least three feet tall now. C is going to be very excited! We now have about twelve pink and green caladiums coming up. It was a long wait and something's been eating them, but the color really is very pretty.


We still haven't turned on the air conditioning! This is great.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Playing school

C is playing school with D, two stuffed elephants, and two stuffed snakes.

C: Who wants to go on a safari? Raise your hand! If you're a snake, raise your tail!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

First pool trip 2008

Today was our first pool trip for 2008. C can touch bottom in the 3.5 foot deep leisure pool. She wore water wings and she kicked up so much water that I had to stand back and give her space. D wore his Safe T. Seal floats and also kicked a lot. We enjoyed the short lazy river, the vortex, and my husband went down the big spiral slide once. I need to get C a swim instructor ASAP. I think where she is, she should be able to learn to swim very quickly. C also had her first try today at riding her new 16 inch bike (without training wheels!).

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Dollars and cents

C did 14 pages of her more advanced Kumon money counting workbook and earned $3. She's now doing simple counting problems involving both paper dollars and change. She bought a Little Mermaid magic ink workbook from me with her earnings

C and I have birthdays coming up in the next couple months, and C has been bikeless for a couple months. We got her a new 16" bike at Walmart and I looked at bikes and helmets for me, too. My ambition is for us to both have bikes and go pedal around campus together.

Sunflower watch

I noticed the 5 and 6-inch tall sunflower seedlings looked bent and at first attributed it to my husband's overdoing the leafblowing. However, he thinks (and I bet he's right) that the sunflowers are already turning to follow the sun. This is very exciting. It's too bad so few of the sunflowers came up.


The kids (especially C) are crazy about limeade, which I've started making from concentrated lime juice. I fell in love with Odwalla's limeade in DC last year, and was disappointed that it doesn't seem to be available in our town. However, my experiments with grocery store concentrated lime juice have been very successful: a few tablespoons of juice, a cup of water, a couple packets of Splenda, and some crushed ice produce fantastic results. I like lemonade, but I've never had any luck making lemonade from concentrate and it always turns out musty and sour. I'm really looking forward to drinking limeade this summer.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Chickens at the library

The children's section at the public library has a bunch of live critters, including a big bunny, two hamsters, and a cage full of half-grown chickens. The chickens are destined for a hunger-relief farm.

Public library

We were all four at the public library yesterday. D agreed to return his old library books on space on the condition that he would get new library books on space. C delivered a little lecture to him on the virtues of diversification, and then loaded up with her usual pile of books on undersea creatures. OK, she did take out one collection of stories (which she had checked out before).

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Are astronauts real?

Baby D asked his father if astronauts are real or pretend. His follow-up question was to ask if there are any left. He'd had some earlier disappointments with dinosaurs and dragons.

Sounding out

D (talking to himself in other room): I'm sounding out words. S-s-s-s-nake.

Search terms

It's time for a roundup of search terms that brought people here!
  • xantippe (not surprising)
  • homestead heritage (3 visitors, including one from San Angelo, TX, a town now famous due to the FLDS)
  • bed snake for toddler bed
  • twin elephants (an Indian visitor)
  • pluto secret to socrates (also an Indian visitor)
  • several variants of "star wars math"--it's the name of an educational software product
  • esl pricer ikea wal mart (a Swedish visitor)
  • gzhel astronaut (it sounds adorable--I'd love to have one)

Sunday, May 4, 2008


C (to D): What do cowboys do?

D: Ride cows!


Spouse (to D): What does milk make strong?

D: Milk makes bones strong. Dogs eat bones!

Sunday drive

After church, we made a day-trip to a small town which makes much of its Norwegian heritage. Coming from Washington state, being familiar with such places as Poulsbo, and having some interest in Scandinavian design, I was disappointed to find the town's offerings were almost exclusively American antiques, with some contemporary art. On the other hand, the 19th century Lutheran church in the country that we drove out to was well worth the visit. The exterior had been repeatedly and recently modified, but from the interior it was a perfect country church with creaky wooden floors and wooden pews, the ceiling boards painted mint green with white trim, a high altar (suggesting an ad orientem liturgy), and a circular altar rail.


After weeks of nothing, five caladiums have finally appeared and three have unfurled their green and pink leaves. Most wonderfully, the replacement leaf blower/vacuum arrived back from Toro Friday, just in time for the weekend. I can now face the neighborhood.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Why we should have lots of cats

I was in the middle of one of my design marathons, clicking through the Scandinavian section of the blogroll over at

My husband said, "If we had 30 cats, no one would notice the interior decorating."

C cleans her room

Following a restless evening of popping in and out of bed, C burst into our bedroom at 5:30 AM with the news that she had cleaned her room. The room was nicely done, but she only got her dollar at a more civilized hour several hours later. C has $5 and she is saving up for a Cars sticker book, for which she needs two more dollars.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Training pants

Potty training has begun in earnest today, and Baby D is now on his fourth set of thick underwear and vinyl training pants. I've been setting a kitchen timer for 55 minutes, and he's beat it every time, but the vinyl pants have done their job. I've only got two more pairs of dry underwear underwear left for him, so he needs to get with the program fast, or he'll have to go back to pull-ups and diapers.