Monday, July 28, 2008


C is now 138 pages into The Hobbit. Gandalf is on one of his side trips and the dwarves and Bilbo are in Mirkwood and are thinking of going off the path in search of food. C has been reading her book with the gorgeous red and gold Smaug snuggled next to her.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Birthday themes

Before the movie, C asked me if people ever do Greek mythology themed birthday parties. After we got back from the movie, she was talking about having a WALL-E themed 7th birthday.

Whose Body?

I've just started listening to Dorothy Sayers' Whose Body?, and managed to do five miles on the treadmill this evening.

The Hobbit

C is now 80 pages into The Hobbit. She's just finished reading Bilbo Baggins' riddle contest with Gollum.


We took the kids to see WALL-E this afternoon. It wasn't tip-top Pixar, but C has been talking about the film for some time, bought two different WALL-E coloring books, and has been reading out loud from them to D. I wonder how WALL-E (with its chubby, bottle sucking, immobile, infantile humans) affects concession sales. I got up mid-way for the obligatory syrupy movie theater iced mocha, but I probably should have asked for "cupcake in a cup." The romance between lonely WALL-E and the lovely but terrifying EVE is very nicely handled, and the scenes of WALL-E's working day on earth were very good. The spaceship scenes were OK, but unengaging.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Boy Scouts

There were hundreds of people affiliated with Boy Scouts at the cafeteria tonight. I saw one adult man wearing a lobster hat, and a teenager wearing a very authentic-looking coonskin cap. I was standing near the entrance holding baby D and waiting for my husband, when a man walked up with a chair for me. I also scored an undeserved place in the fried chicken line.

Emma's honeymoon

I finished Emma, although towards the end, I was reading it rather than listening to it. Emma gets to go to the seaside for her honeymoon for two weeks, which is a nice touch. I hadn't realized when I read the book before that although Mr. Knightley owns a large and flourishing estate, he is cash poor, and doesn't even keep horses for his carriage. I believe Emma is the one Jane Austen novel where the heroine is richer than the hero.

C's books

C has finished reading her Greek mythology book. We still need to work with her on the pronunciation of the names of Greek gods and heroes. This evening, my husband finished reading C (and me) E. Nesbit's The Enchanted Castle. I still think Five Children and It is the best of the Nesbit books that I've listened to, but I found it hard to tear myself away from The Enchanted Castle. Some statues of Greek gods come to life and talk to the children in the Nesbit book, so there is some overlap between it and the Greek mythology book. Once C was jammied up and had her teeth brushed, my husband took her and the big red telescope out in the back yard for some star gazing. C saw Jupiter with its four biggest moons, a globular cluster (M13), and three of the four stars in the Alcor-Mizar double-double system (middle of Big Dipper handle). I had my husband type that last bit!

Alice in Wonderland

C to me (while watching Alice in Wonderland): Could you skip past the part where the flowers are rude?

Saturday morning

D (to C): Do you like me at home?

C: I love you at home.


D (anxiously to C): Do you miss me at school?

C: Yes, I miss you a bit.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Another 5 miles

I managed to do another 5 miles on the treadmill this evening while listening to Emma. Earlier, we had a babysitter and I did some practice driving with my husband. I was practicing the school and preschool pick-up and drop-off routes. In other news, I'm now counting down to the big DC trip that I'm going to do with C on Tuesday.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

C and her father go canoeing

My husband took C canoeing tonight on the river. The college has a little marina and college folk can take kayaks and canoes out for free.

Dragon boat

C's Playmobil Noah's Ark is now the property of C's dragons. There's the gold and red stuffed dragon, several small plaster Chinese dragons in various hues (molded and painted by C and her father), a McDonald's Happy Meal dragon (from a Shrek promotion), and one metallic red and one metallic green dragon (bought as a kit and painted by C). C tells me that one of the dragons recently turned 6, just like herself.

Greek myths and dominoes

C is about 150 pages into reading D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths all by herself. She got it on Saturday as a birthday present, so that's five days' work. I'm very pleased, since it was assigned as summer family reading, and the more she reads, the less we have to read. We will need to go conscientiously over the book after she's done to make sure that she knows the proper English pronunciation of all those unfamiliar Greek names. She can read long stretches of fat books as long as the books are broken up into short segments, like this collection of myths or the collection of fairy tales that she got from my childhood collection. I wonder when she will make the jump to reading chapter books. She recently read a few chapters of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but not with the sort of dedication with which she's been attacking the Greek myth book.

Yesterday, we went to a game store and C picked out a set of dominoes. My husband thinks that keeping score will be very good for her arithmetic skills. He played both kids last night (without keeping score).

Australia and Oceania

The really excellent local children's museum is running a summer program, with a series of day-long events highlighting different areas of the globe. The Africa day was spectacular, but we've only gone to the Africa and Australia/Oceania days. Today's schedule was to have included crafts, a critter talk, a hula dance lesson, a didgeridoo performance, a New Zealand arm tattoo, etc. Unfortunately, this very edifying plan wasn't realized. To begin with, the kids revolted at the critter talk, with C saying loudly that she'd been before, and that the critter talks are boring. D began yelping, and we had to leave. Kids 1, Xantippe 0. I eventually persuaded them to follow me to the didgeridoo performance. All was well, and we were waiting for the show to get going, when out of the blue, D started yelping again. We had to leave (again), and as we were making our exit, D said brightly, "Let's go to the big car room!" D did not get to go to the "big car room," but he'd had a very narrow escape from educational programming. I called my husband, who came and picked D up, and C and I stayed for a while. C decorated a couple of boomerangs, did several fish scratch-offs, got a tattoo and we saw the very end of the hula lesson, but we left a lot earlier than I had been planning to.

Monday, July 21, 2008

5 miles

I did 5 miles on the treadmill this evening, which is a personal best. I'm still listening to Emma. I don't think I've ever heard it phrased this way, but Jane Austen is a sort of early mystery writer, and the pages of her books are thick with clues missed by heroines. Thanks to this quality of Austen's novels, rereading them is extremely rewarding.

On this reading, I was noticing Emma's virtues--how patient she is with her sweet and very selfish father, how attentive to his comfort, and what a generous hostess she is to her fathers' friends who bore her. Emma is a bird in a gilded cage. She's rich, she's admired, and she has everything at home as she likes it. She has everything she wants, except freedom. She can't leave father, she can't travel, she doesn't seem to go to London much, she's never seen the sea, and she's confined to socializing with the small subset of the gentry in her village who are willing to put up with her father's foibles.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


D decided that the bar from his magnetic letter set is half of an equals sign. He calls it an "equal."


I'm now listening to Emma, my sixth and last Jane Austen novel this year, while doing the treadmill at the gym. I don't really know what I'll do after Emma--possibly Sir Walter Scott or something along those lines.


It's really hard to talk the kids into watching their old videos these days. Only fresh stuff from Netflix will do, and then only for two or three viewings. What will I do?


Hearing that there would be a magic show, one of our young guests said that she hoped there would be live bunnies, since she would like one.

C is 6!

Yesterday was C's sixth birthday party. It was one of the most stressful weeks of my life, since I was having driving lessons Monday-Thursday and running C's birthday party on Saturday. We did OK, especially with help from a sitter on Friday. There were nine at the party: the four of us and two other families. My husband did a big magic show, we had an Ariel cake (C's choice) that left everyone's teeth blue, C opened gifts, and then the kids had popsicles outside and frolicked in the wading pool and sprinkler.

Ford and the Soviet Union

I've been reading Amity Shlaes The Forgotten Man, and came across some material that casts an interesting light on Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism. It's a commonplace of discussing Nazism to define fascism as a cooperative union of big business with a repressive government. We don't generally think about early Soviet communism as having had a close relationship with Western big business, but that seems to have been the case from very early revolutionary days. Ford, in particular, seems to have been the father of early Soviet agriculture, thanks to the literally tens of thousands of Fordson tractors that Ford sold to the Soviets starting in 1919. Other Western businessmen (Andrew Mellon, for instance) bought masterpieces from the Hermitage. They got priceless masterpieces, while the Soviets got cash to keep the revolution going.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The big red cannon

After we finished the evening's birthday preparations, my husband was pleasantly employed cleaning the mirror on what C calls "the big red cannon" (i.e. his new used telescope). C felt the need to express her approval. "I think you deserve your telescope," she told her father. She was similarly warm toward me at bedtime, telling me that she wouldn't trade me for any treasure or any other mother. I asked her if she had any alternate mother in mind, but she didn't have any.

Lead test

Today we finally tested some Russian and Polish ceramics for lead that I've had some concerns about, especially since lead has been so much in the news. I chose a few representative items (the test kit instructions said that's all you need), filled them with white vinegar, let them sit for four hours, and then my husband took samples of the vinegar, mixed it with test solution, and we waited 30 seconds to see if it would change color. It didn't, so I get to keep my pretty blue and white tea cups. C's birthday tomorrow is tea party themed and I wanted to use my fancy tea cups, so this seemed as good a time as any for finally using the lead testing kit.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

D's gender studies

D is very interested these days in what mommies do and what daddies do, and how the two are different. Yesterday, after I served the kids some whole wheat blueberry muffins that my husband had made, D and I had the following conversation.

D: Who baked the muffins?
Me: Daddy.
D: Mommies don't do it?

D lays down the law

I'm drinking my coffee in the doorway between the dining room and the living room. (Family rules dictate that children do not get food outside the dining room or kitchen.)

D: Have it in the dining room!

Day 4 of driving

Today was my fourth day of driving, my last for a while. We went over the test course and I practiced the hideously complicated parallel parking algorithm that the driving school teaches (Right-Left-Left-Right). Saturday is C's birthday party, then we have a bunch of doctor's appointments, C and I will be in DC for most of a week, and then and only then will I be free to take more lessons and venture to take the test. I should also do some practice driving with my husband if I can book a sitter. The goal is for me to be able to drive the kids to school and preschool by the end of August.


My husband took the kids to the circus tonight. Both kids had earned free tickets through the library's summer reading program, C through reading 5 books, and D through listening to 5 books. There were Siberian tigers, performing dachshunds, a French (or possibly "French") cyclist braving flames on a 6" bike, and other such things.

It was really hard to get the kids out the door to go to the show. Today, a box of children's books from my parent's house arrived, and C was immediately smitten with a fat collection of fairy tales that long ago as a somewhat bigger girl, I had bought from the library for 25 cents. C initially wanted to stay home and read rather than go to the circus, but she eventually took the book with her to read on the way. The last I heard, she had reached page 70. C has yet to finish a chapter book, so a collection of engaging stories may be exactly the right level for her.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Half past

The natives were getting restless this evening while my husband was away, so I made C a present of a Color Wonder princess poster set from my store. All too soon, she was done, and asking me for the Dover dinosaur stained glass coloring book in my store, also for free. All her workbooks were hard, she said. Finally, we settled on a Kumon Easy Telling Time workbook and she earned $3, which was enough when combined with the $3 she had before.

We finished up the section with full hours (1:00) and started the section with half hours (1:30). C has done some of this stuff at school, and she was very comfortable dealing with questions like, "If it's half past 1 now, what time will it be in half an hour?" or "If it's half past 1 now, what time was it half an hour ago?"

Cardboard telescope

After my drive today, my husband headed south to meet a Craigslist seller who had a large cardboard tube telescope to sell. Both my husband and the telescope came home safely around bedtime. He's been talking about getting a telescope for years, and now he's finally got one.

Third day of driving

The night after my first day of driving, I was having anxiety dreams involving laundry and huge insects. Fortunately, they haven't recurred, and my anxiety level is lower. Today we did a lot of driving just off-campus, lots of turns, four way stops, etc. We did some downtown driving (lots of one way streets), some rush hour traffic, some lane changes, and continued work on parallel parking. Incidentally, an informal, unscientific poll of two of my near connections says that neither parallel parks. I continue to be puzzled by the question of what lane I'm supposed to be in and anxious not to accidentally wind up driving against traffic on a one way street.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Magic tricks

The magic kit came in the mail, and my husband has started practicing the show that he's going to put on for C's sixth birthday party guests.

Second day of driving

I was really stressed about driving today, but it was surprisingly enjoyable. We did literally get run off the road by some guy who forgot to "Drive Friendly," but I got the scenic tour of town and actually enjoyed the long stretches where you don't have to worry about lights and stop signs and one ways, etc. I did some parallel parking (the school's recommended recipe has 8 steps!), did a couple U-turns, and drove on some of the major roads during rush hour. My instructor thinks I won't be ready by Thursday (Hallelujah!), so we're just going to keep working on my general driving, rather than working on the test course. That's fine with me.

Monday, July 14, 2008

First official driving lesson

I had 90 minutes of in-car driving instruction today, mainly practicing right and left turns in a residential neighborhood. My reverse driving passed muster (thanks to grandpa's efforts a couple weeks ago) and I drove the whole way back. I just listened to the instructor and did what he said, so I'm not totally sure how I got home, but the route included some major roads, including a real highway. This was my first day. On the fourth day, I'll take the driving test. C's sixth birthday party is on the weekend.


I bought a set of simple ("It's not simple," protested C) arithmetic flashcards a while back but we had never used them. C brought them to me and we did the set after breakfast. Some of the higher numbers give her trouble (as do the problems phrased _ + 8 = 12), but we got through the whole set, and she earned $3.


Yesterday, in the car on the way to a friend's birthday party, C folded a small piece of cardboard in two, creating a "laptop" for D.

The Elephant's Child

Yesterday, C was reading to D with great enjoyment from a bilingual collection of children's stories, with text both in English and Russian. The title story ("The Little Elephant") was a highly simplified (but enjoyable) version of Kipling's "The Elephant's Child." I think it was a gift from our old friend I.S. Thank you!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Electric bill

The June electric bill arrived today, and it was "only" $244. We had budgeted $400 for that bill. Woo-hoo! I haven't yet had a chance to talk about the surplus with my husband, but we could put it on the car. The car is our last remaining debt, and once it's paid for (probably in 1-2 months), the race will be on to save up a house downpayment before our rental house is bulldozed.

Joel Osteen

On the flight into Dallas-Ft. Worth, the two young men sitting kitty-corner from me were an African and a young Texan. The African had a copy of a Joel Osteen book and was being chatted up by the Texan, who my husband told me later was engaging in spirited Catholic apologetics. I don't think they knew each other before the flight.

Friday, July 11, 2008

C's spelling

C did a huge number of pages of a dry-erase activity book (My Big Activity Work Book) this morning, enough to earn $4.10. Together with yesterday's earnings, that was enough for her to buy the $7 Cars Color Wonder book from my store. The dry-erase book had a variety of different activities: letter writing, word tracing, number writing, writing in missing letters, counting, adding up to ten, subtracting from up to ten, doubling, halving, crosswords, etc. I gave 20 or 25 cents per page, depending on difficulty and neatness.There were also some less academic activities in the book that I did not give credit for.

The math was toward the low end of her range (five butterflies minus three butterflies), but I welcome opportunities for C to practice her math facts. There was one page where the parent is supposed to write problems for the child, but instead C wrote problems for herself. That was not my initial plan, but I'm glad she did, since it gave me a good idea of her comfort zone. She wrote a lot of single digit addition and subtraction problems, as well as 20+20, 100+100, and 100-10. (I don't think C knows about carrying, but she can do "friendly" double-digit addition and subtraction in her head, for instance calculating that 43 is half of 86. Yesterday, she was counting by 20s all the way past 200. Her number sense seems to be good.)

I was also surprised during her work on the crosswords by how good her spelling is. She was writing in words like butterfly, spider, snail, bucket, starfish, shell, monkey, lion, panda, tiger, zebra, and elephant, although I think she hesitated over "beetle." I suspect that my spelling wasn't anywhere that good until at least second grade, and I think that the school's spelling-oriented phonics program is probably responsible.

She worked through her Cars prize very quickly, as expected. I'm very happy that I am not having to provide C with all the expensive little activity books that she would like, but that she has to spend time laboriously earning the ones she gets. The summer goes by a lot more happily and affordably this way.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Golden age of flight

On the plane home, the male flight attendant offered me a small bag of starchy BBQ flavored thingies with my drink. I handed it right back, saying that if it were smoked almonds, I'd eat it. "You remember the good old days, when we actually served food," said the flight attendant morosely.


Tonight C earned $3.10. She was able to tell us how many pennies that is, how many dimes that is, and how many nickels that is, but she continues to insist that the advanced coin-counting book is too hard.

We're back!

We're finally back from two weeks of travel to various grandmas, grandpas, aunties, uncles, and one solitary cousin at various undisclosed locations in Washington and British Columbia. Thanks to all our hosts! In recollection, it's now a blur of ferry terminals, beaches, purple starfish, tiramisu gelato, variously sized live crabs, a nearly missed bus (ten minutes early!), and excellent breakfasts, but here are some events that stand out:
  • My husband told D that he wanted to show D something pretty. "Is it a vulture?" D asked hopefully.
  • The kids like the concept of touch tanks but don't really want to touch the critters. They preferred to sift sand.
  • D was a fantastic potty trainee on the road.
  • Grandpa took me out in the pickup to the barnyard twice and I practiced driving at length for the first time since I was probably 10 or 11 years old and driving an enormous hay truck (about ten years back a neighbor briefly and unexpectedly handed me the steering wheel of his pickup and I bumped into his woodpile). Grandpa introduced reverse pretty quickly, and I really struggled with the concept, but I got somewhat more comfortable by the end of the second outing. I spent a lot of time backing up on a fiendishly curving bit of lane in the field, fighting to stay on the tracks and avoid the ruins of the old milking shed and unsure exactly what was going to happen if I turned the wheel left or right. At some point, Grandpa decided that I'd do better backing up if we took out his newish Kubota tractor, which would offer me the ability to see what the rear tires were doing. That was helpful.
  • D says that a house is for keeping your toys "from blowing away." D is a somewhat anxious child.
  • A (in my limited experience) unique feature of far western Washington is the small non-chain espresso shack, often drive-through.
  • Me: Pee in the potty... D:...not on the floor!
  • My husband asked C what half of 86 is. She said 43.
  • I took the kids a couple times to my home town's excellent (and only) public playground. One of the times, D had a near faceplant in the gravel. A probably 12-year-old boy (very capable and well provisioned with Cheetos and vitamin water) who was there chaperoning a little sister told me seriously "He's a boy. He'll get over it."
  • D was intrigued by the "fuzzy toilets" (i.e. encased in carpet covers) he encountered on the road, and wants us to have one.
  • The Filipino priest at my home town parish wore beautiful contemporary red and gold brocade vestments with velvet trim. They were a delightful change from the standard thawed-out-with-Austen-Powers vestments one usually sees. The parish is undergoing Latinization, under the pressure of Central American immigration, and there is now an Immaculate Heart clock in the vestibule.
  • My husband asked D if his elephants liked C's dragon. No, said D, because the dragon is pretend.
  • C has been pressing D for a while to say that she is his best friend. He finally said it on the trip and obviously meant it.
  • Here's the list of our luggage on the ferry to Canada: large tippy "rolling" suitcase, medium rolling suitcase, disintegrating backpack, new backback (thanks mom and dad!), C's booster seat, D's car seat, C's pink rolling suitcase, one Maclaren Volo, one Dell laptop case, one binocular case (for husband's stargazing).
  • I tried the Treo on the road for the first time. It's great for passive internet on the road, but I didn't want to post anything written with two thumbs.
  • Overheard cell phone conversation outside tourist trap in Victoria, BC: "Do you have a code name for that guy?"
  • My husband taught C the meaning of the word "radiance" at bedtime on July 4. "Tomorrow's word will be schadenfreude," he said. I don't think it happened, but a nightly vocabulary word is a nice idea.
  • Here's another overheard conversation, this time a Caucasian mom in Vancouver talking to her small daughter: "We're going to eat sushi on the beach. Doesn't that sound nice?"
  • While in BC, we twice saw a mama raccoon and her four half-grown babies come down boldly to grandma's suburban swimming pool for a drink.
  • Reproached for running around and yelling, C told her father calmly and helpfully, "That's just what kids do. You just have to take it."