Saturday, August 30, 2008

Labor Day weekend

Today was the final geography-themed summer event at the children's museum. We saw a dragon dance and some African drummers and dancers and the kids did crafts. This was the first time that D had participated in organized crafts at the museum. Both kids made carnival masks (C's with colored feathers), decorated fans with rubber stamps and C made (with expert adult help) a large multi-colored paper flower, which she wore attached to her headband.

Friday, August 29, 2008

C warms up to school

C told her father today that she doesn't want to skip any school, because she doesn't want to miss any math.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Unhelpful financial advice

Here is a priceless quote from Eric Tyson and Ray Brown's otherwise helpful Mortgages for Dummies (this is advice on how to save up a downpayment):

Put yourself on a budget by eliminating life's little excesses. Rent a DVD for a couple of bucks instead of forking over the better part of $20 to gaze at a first-run flick while munching on pricey popcorn. Don't buy so many fancy designer outfits. Skip that expensive ski vacation, and check out the local museums instead. Take a brown bag lunch to work, and eat dinner at home. Stifle the urge to be the first one on your block to own a high-definition TV set. Stop smoking. Squirrel away all the money you don't waste on frivolities. You'll be astonished to see how quickly your savings grow.

Where, oh where to begin?

  1. We already do Netflix and don't have cable.
  2. Since we arrived in Texas, I believe we have purchased a total of nine movie theater tickets, although one or two movies may be slipping my mind.
  3. What is a "designer outfit"? Wouldn't it be more realistic to say: "Stop buying clothes except for replacements for worn-out or outgrown items."
  4. Expensive ski vacation?
  5. High-definition TV?
  6. Smoking?

C likes school

C said tonight that Friday (the school spirit day) is her teacher's favorite day, but that Monday is her own favorite, since it's the first day of the school week. Mission accomplished!

Darwin award nominees IV and V

This evening, on the drive home, we encountered two guys proceeding toward us in the middle of our lane. One was on a bike. The other was on a skateboard and was holding his friend's shoulder as they cruised down the road. This was about a block or two from home.

joyful and content

I got a note from C's teacher, saying that C is "joyful and content" and "seems to be doing well on every task I assign." That is delightful, although I'm having difficulty believing the "joyful and content" part.

I did the drive to pick up C from school today, under my husband's supervision. I also drove Wednesday afternoon. It's going to be automatic eventually, but it's going to take a while.


C is explaining to D the meaning of onomatopoeia.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Yesterday I got the kids pompons in the college's colors from the campus bookstore, but the kids had to pick up most of the shreds of the previous pompons before I sold them the new ones. The kids also have their eyes on some metallic beads (also in the school colors), but they look too much like a choking hazard to me.

D was sniffly today and will be staying home from preschool tomorrow. C is starting to be sniffly, and would also like a sick day. We shall see.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

C's reading

C's homework lately has been to read 15 minutes at night. Her current book is The Phantom Tollbooth, but we occasionally read her a few pages, especially at bedtime. Given the abstract, punning material, I think she's benefited from the opportunity to discuss it.

My husband has been downloading Librivox audiobooks to listen to in the car with the kids. We recently listened to The Story of Doctor Dolittle and The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. We also watched the 1967 film version, which draws (fairly successfully) from a variety of Dolittle books. There are a number of un-PC moments in the books and the books can be uneven and illogical (a man accused of murdering a friend in Mexico is inexplicably tried in Dolittle's Puddleby and the animal-loving doctor is frequently seen eating bacon), but the idea of a doctor who can speak the languages of the animals is really charming and the author (Hugh Lofting) does a lot with it. Voyages is probably the better book of the two. I like the episode where he proves to a judge that he can speak the language of dogs by chatting with the judge's dog and producing an exhaustive (and embarrassing) list of what the judge had for dinner the previous night. I also like the episode where Dolittle wrecks the bull-fighting industry on a Spanish-run island by colluding with the bulls.

Listening to books on tape during her commute takes some of the sting out of getting up early to go to school for C. Her current car book is Baum's Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz.


We saw a male student on a unicycle this evening.

First day of fall term

Today is D's first day of fall term preschool. He's in a new room, but one teacher has moved up with him, which is nice. He insisted on carrying his bee backpack and hand-me-down Thomas lunchbox. I walked him to his classroom, and was lining up his backpack and lunch box out in the hall when I noticed that he was gone. I walked into the classroom and found him already sitting with about five other kids and the teacher, doing puzzles. I don't think he noticed me leave.

The drop-off and pick-up schedule is going to be a bit harder than I thought. There's about 85 minutes between the kids' drop-off times, so we'll make two runs. The pick-up times are about an hour apart, so I'll probably just hang out with D on a playground until C gets out of school. It's only two days a week, but I need to work on this to make sure that my husband doesn't lose too much time due to the staggered drop-offs.

Darwin award nominee III

The local competition for the Darwin awards is fierce. This morning's nominee was a guy on in-line skates who was roller blading down the road between two lanes of cars in heavy traffic.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Darwin award nominee II

On the drive home from the cafeteria, my husband spotted a young woman on a bike and talking on her cell phone--while biking against traffic.


After 2-3 months of hiding indoors and letting my plants scorch, I returned to gardening this morning (it was about 89 degrees). I hoed the weeds in my herb garden while catching up with an auntie on my cell phone. D pitched in, too, tossing dirt into the air with wild abandon. Before going inside, D and I watered my basil plants and rosemary bushes. D loves watering plants. It was a bit hot, but it will be growing pleasanter and pleasanter. One of these days, D and I need to plant some radishes and carrots. Store bought carrots are nothing like fresh-pulled.

The landlord's guys cleaned the gutters today, too. They say that the mesh covers were installed improperly, which is why the gutters have been trapping a lot of leaf crud. Once we are homeowners, this will all be our responsibility.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Kung Fu Panda

After church and lunch, we went to the discount theater and paid $5 total for the four of us to see Kung Fu Panda. It was really violent, but better than I thought. I especially liked the scenes where Po the fat panda trains to be a kung fu master by climbing for cookies and fighting for dumplings. I'd earlier read complaints about lack of script and plot, but I thought there was just enough of both, and the movie was visually very witty and attractive. Of course, the fact that we paid pocket change for our tickets makes me a very forgiving reviewer.

D keeps his room clean

We are trying to talk D into playing with the toys in his room. He is so taken with the idea of earning money for a clean room that he doesn't want to pull out his toys to play anymore.

Second spring

Our high temperatures have been down into the 80s, and thanks to that and the rain we've been getting, the yard has rebounded. The grass is suddenly lush (in spots), the caladiums that withered up and disappeared during our two weeks away have reappeared, and my basil plants look great, in spite of all they've been through, and weeds are starting to come up. The garlic chives that I treated pretty rough are back, too. Elsewhere, I've seen a second blooming of wildflowers. I've read that the Texas gardening season has two phases (spring and fall) with desolate baking summer in between, and we seem to have entered the second spring of the year.

D stays in his room

My husband informs me that D can now open the child-proofed doors of his room. He has been staying in his room during naps and at night, but only as a courtesy to his parents. When told to leave the room, he easily opens the doors.


Here's a sentence that has probably never previously been uttered.

Husband (driving us home from the cafeteria): That man is driving while hugging a whippet.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Multiplication chart

C filled in her multiplication chart (every math fact from 1 x 1 to 10 x 10) today. There was a lot of angst toward the end of the process, but she did the whole thing.

D's earnings

D has been earning money regularly for cleaning his room and picking up sticks in the yard and yesterday he made his first two purchases. He bought a roll of Scotch tape from me for $2 and he bought a new and improved night light for $3. The night light has green LEDs and projects a palm frond-like pattern on the wall at night. C covets it and has been trying to trade him her night light for it, but we've been putting the kibbosh on C's business deals with her 3-year-old brother. The kids are very picky about their night lights.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Driver's license

We spent this afternoon at DPS. My husband's tweaks to my parallel parking recipe worked, and I passed my driving test.

Arts and crafts

These days, D is suddenly very arts and crafty. He loves cutting up paper into snips, and this morning he has been working with his Do-a-Dot paint markers on his easel. I remember that around 3.5, C was also very interested in art.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Parallel parking II

This evening, my husband and I loaded up the kids, had a quick high-protein dinner in the parking lot of Whataburger, went over to DPS, set the kids up with electronic entertainment in the backseat and spent probably 90 minutes on the parallel parking course and 30 minutes driving the area where DPS does road tests. I'm not sure how many times I attempted to park tonight, but it was somewhere between a dozen and two dozen times. I've now got the parallel parking steps memorized (Right-Left-Left-Right), but I only succeed 50% of the time. My results seem to vary a lot depending on very minor differences in distance and procedure. We were experimenting, trying to find the recipe that would yield perfect results every time, but didn't figure it out tonight. My husband thinks that there is a formula that would work better. It involves making sure that the car is at a 30-40 degree angle to the curb, but it may be too complicated for me to manage under pressure.

Parallel parking

I was supposed to take my road test today, but my driving instructor wants to wait until my final day of instruction next week. What with getting up to drive at 7 and being stressed out over the road test, I'm a sleep-deprived mess. I'm aggravated that I've had 7 90-minute sessions so far, and I still don't have the whole parallel parking thing down. I think I haven't had enough practice doing it without cues. My parallel parking so far has been really good, but I've just been following directions, one at a time. I don't really know what I'm doing, and I don't have the full sequence memorized (it's at least an eight-step procedure). After I got back from my lesson this morning, my husband pulled out some of the kids' Tonka-sized cars and was demonstrating parallel parking. We're also planning on hitting the parallel parking test course a couple times before the test on Monday. I'll have to do it with the kids in the car, but they'll listen to a book on tape and I won't be driving in traffic.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Darwin Award nominee

This evening, I saw yet another young man texting while riding a bike near campus.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

First day of school

Me: C has gone to school.

D: I miss her.

He later asked if he would be able to pick her up from school. C, by the way, was moderately positive about school this morning, and was talking about people she expected to see at school.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Dutch auction

It's a bit of a waste of time watching as closely as I do, but there are rewards. A few days ago, a beautiful mansiony house in that historic neighborhood I watch dropped from 300k to 285k. Likewise, a probably neglected but historically interesting house on the rougher periphery of that neighborhood has just dropped from 99k to 89k. That house is supposed to have all sorts of fossils in the structure and I'd love to see it. Elsewhere, on, a colonialish 2-story 1800 sq. ft. (according to early 1950s house on a loop deep in that neighborhood has just appeared at 165k. I have no idea what the interior looks like, but the size and the price are almost right.

We don't have a downpayment right now and I'm not yet a licensed driver, so all of these places are currently out of reach, but things are trending in the right direction. I expect that the ongoing Dutch auction will continue over the winter. It will be interesting to see when our budget and the housing market finally converge. Hopefully, we can hold onto our rental until we're in a position to buy a house.

More driving lessons

I'm supposed to do four driving lessons this week, and early this morning was my first. I had a new instructor, and she thinks that I could be ready to take the road test by Wednesday. That way, either I'll pass Wednesday and have Thursday for extra practice, or I'll retake the test Thursday.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Rod Dreher's Crunchy Cons, part III

I was re-reading the "Home" chapter in Rod Dreher's Crunchy Cons a few nights ago, and decided that I have enough material for another post.
  • Rod Dreher draws his line of demarcation between pre and post-WWII US houses. "If the Mississippi River rose in my hometown and washed away all the houses, aside from the human aspect of the loss, history would mourn only a small fraction of the structures lost in the disaster--and nothing built after 1945. How come?" I think Dreher's being a bit too hard on post-war houses. "Midcentury Modern" is awfully trendy these days, and there are a lot of people out there who see real beauty in ranch houses. In fact, there's a whole magazine called Atomic Ranch, featuring funky restored and reimagined ranch houses. I agree that the exteriors of ranch houses can be depressing, but a good ranch house will have a strong indoor-outdoor connection, excellent natural light, decent storage, and be moderately sized.
  • While we may idolize the exteriors of classic American homes, all too often the interiors are dark, chopped up, and have no storage at all. Also, the design of one-of-a-kind houses can be really stupid. Our post-war rental, for instance, has two baths. One can only be accessed by walking through either of the kids' rooms. The other bath can be accessed either by walking through the master bedroom or the dining room. Cozy!
  • As I mentioned earlier, being a crunchy con doesn't preserve you from being materialistic. You just wind up being materialistic about different stuff. Here's one of Dreher's interview subjects: "I'll have my house paid off before McMansion owners start making principal payments, and I have lots of resources for better things, like taking the grandkids out for Bohemian Weekend. Last year, we spent a weekend at the art museum, checking out the graffiti wall and eating weird food. You can't blow a hundred bucks on Indian food, lattes, and authentic Thai if you're worrying about making a $2,400 mortgage payment."

Past tense

D is very interested in being told what the past tense of different verbs is, and my husband thinks the theoretical knowledge is helping him learn the correct forms faster.


Yesterday my husband set C up with a subtraction chart. She filled in the answers (including the negative answers), and then I quizzed her on her (positive) subtraction facts. She's accurate but a little slow, so we'll need to keep quizzing her periodically until her speed improves. C is interested in doing a multiplication chart.

In other news, she's read enough books to collect a prize from the Barnes and Noble summer reading program. With all the different programs she's done this summer, she's made out like a bandit. In general, I'm very comfortable with incentives for unpleasant tasks (room cleaning) or for mastering new material (phonics, math facts), but I don't like non-book incentives for reading. There is a slippery slope, and it's easy to slide on it, especially during the summer. (C got a pool trip for finishing The Hobbit, and she was also required to read chapters to earn the right to play electronic games.)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Addition table

Last night, my husband made up an addition table for C, covering all facts from 1+1 to 10+10. C filled in the answers this morning and I quizzed her on her addition facts. Her answers weren't totally automatic (in a couple cases she was obviously counting), but she is very accurate, and I think automaticity is just around the corner. Down the road, she'll also need a subtraction and a multiplication table.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Paying for college

I finally had a look at some estimates of what it costs to send a kid to UT Austin and Texas A & M. Including living expenses, it seems that it now costs nearly $20,000 a year.


I've signed C up for ballet this fall and we finally made it out to the suburban dance emporium this afternoon. It was dazzling--an entire store full of ballet shoes and tap shoes and leotards and tights and various sparkly outfits. Operating within her ballet teacher's guidelines, we bought C a blue skirted leotard, two pairs of pink tights, and ballet shoes. The tab for her ballet kit was $63. C also picked out a pair of fairy wings, which she will eventually buy from me. We spent quite a while picking out the right size ballet shoes, and C tip-toed around in three or four different pairs before we reached the right size. She and I made plans to put more Angelina Ballerina DVDs in her Netflix queue. Around us, girls came, were fitted with ballet shoes (even shiny pink satin toe shoes!), and went. I began to understand that dance is a very serious business, and that the purchase of a first pair of ballet shoes is a rite of passage. Next stop, anorexia?

Later, at home, C and I had a difference of opinion over my store. C thinks that she and D should each contribute $3 to buy a $6 sticker book, and then the two of them will share it. I'm not going to allow this arrangement, believing that think that it would ultimately be unfair to D.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Halving and negative numbers

C is pretty good at halving numbers, although we stumped her tonight with "What is half of 98?" She knows what half of 1,000 is, and what's more, she was able to tell us what half of 1,050 is. My husband was also asking her simple arithmetic questions with negative answers. She correctly answered problems like 1 minus 2 and 10 minus 15. I am very pleased.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

C gets her Disney Princesses

C bought her Disney Princesses Color Wonder coloring book today, thanks to dragging back empty trash containers, cleaning her room, the living room, moving hands on a clock to show times for daily activities and doing math workbooks. It was a very busy day.

House hunt

For the past year or so, I've been watching a certain mainly early 20th century neighborhood in our new hometown in Texas. It's near downtown (maybe too close) and the well-maintained housing stock is analogous to a certain leafy section of Pittsburgh (hi, MH!), but unfortunately doesn't have the same convenient village-y main street. Anyway, when I first started watching the neighborhood, the only houses available were $300k and higher. Currently, most of the listings are pretty stale, and there are a couple houses around $270k, one at $300k, one (a 1920s duplex) at $325k, an enormous and rather dated 4000 sq. foot 1980s white elephant at $460k (not in a million years) and four different houses in a small area duking it out at just below $250k. An adorable (but overpriced for the size) storybook cottage just appeared on the market yesterday There's nothing at all in the low 200s, but there are a number of slightly too small (but very pretty homes) ranging from $100k to $180k, as well as one spacious but slightly too trendy remodel at $200k.

It's funny how things work. When I was house-hunting in DC around 2006-7, $400k was the magic number. I was sure that we could manage that sort of mortgage. After we moved to Texas and I had studied local suburban developments, my number changed to $150-200k. However, now that I'm familiar with local geography and have been carefully doing a budget for most of the past year, I have come to several contradictory conclusions. 1) We should live close-in in a good neighborhood rather than far-out in a cheap newer subdivision. 2) We should have a mortgage of no more than $100,000 to allow for taxes, maintenance, higher utilities, and acts of God. 3) The cheapest house in that neighborhood that is anywhere near big enough for us (1700 sq. feet) is $180k.

What to do? As I said, there are a lot of stale listings in the neighborhood, there have already been price cuts, and a number of listings look like flips. As time goes by, house prices may continue to edge down while our downpayment fund grows. I think time is on our side, but this process is like watching paint dry.

Piggy bank

D's piggy bank arrived in the mail yesterday. C has long had a small, transparent piggy from the Container Store, but D's large pink plastic piggy (with a blue checked bow!) has filled her with longing. She would like one just like it, and barring that, she has been trying to get D to trade piggies with her. Knowing that D is bound to get the short end of any of these business transactions with his big sister, I've announced to the children that there will be no trading without prior parental approval.

C's attitude toward money and earning follows a predictable pattern. When she has no or very little money and her earning goal seems far away (for instance $8.50 to purchase a Disney Princess Color Wonder book), she wallows in the Slough of Despond and talks about how "hard" her math workbooks are or how hard it is to clean up the living room or her bedroom. However, once she has several dollars in her savings, she picks up momentum and buckles down, cleans rooms, and goes on a math workbook spree. She just spontaneously cleaned up the living room (earning one dollar) and she has $4.50 total. Her mood has definitely improved, and it would not surprise me at all if she were to earn the Princess book by either tonight or tomorrow morning. I'm curious when (if ever) she will start skipping the Slough of Despond phase of her earning and saving cycle.

Coca Cola

On my last grocery trip, I noticed that our HEB stocks Mexican-bottled Coca Cola in the traditional glass bottles. I checked the ingredients, and sure enough, the Mexican Coca Cola is made with real sugar. I haven't tried it yet. There's a Dr. Pepper bottling plant in Dublin, TX which produces Dr. Pepper with real sugar as per the original recipe. I laid hands on a six-pack of the stuff last fall, but I am sorry to report that (at least to my wrecked palate) the cane sugar leaves a nasty aftertaste.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Quote of the day

"My undergraduate degree was in mathematics. Back in the early 80s, even though my small, private liberal arts college was 51% female, there were NO female math majors. They are incapable of understanding mathematics. It’s like the “ROM” in their brain that should handle math has been removed and replaced with ones for shopping and planning weddings." Source: a commenter on a housing blog

C finishes Wet Magic

C finished reading Nesbit's Wet Magic this morning. That is her second chapter book. Yay!

UPDATE: My husband reminds me that C has also read one or two of the Magic Treehouse books, but I'm not sure I would count them as real chapter books.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Rod Dreher's Crunchy Cons, part II

Here's the continuation of my thoughts on Rod Dreher's Crunchy Cons.

  • I like Dreher's chapter on "Home" quite a lot. I'm an aspiring homeowner and have read a pile of books on architecture and design (especially Susanka's Not-So-Big books and other Taunton titles), and the chapter resonated with me. There's a neighborhood in our town with spectacular, well maintained early twentieth century homes where we might buy a house. I do wonder about lead paint, bad wiring, upkeep and the future of the neighborhood, though.
  • Dreher talks about his conservative intellectual forebears (Chesterton and Tolkien) and his subtitle is "The New Conservative Counterculture and Its Return to Roots." I think that at least in that subtitle, he's overselling the newness of the phenomena he's describing. I'd argue that some crunchiness has always been almost unavoidable if you have limited means and a large family. You'd have to be ridiculously wealthy to raise a family of six kids in the style of the people on TV. Unsurprisingly, my first introduction to such perennial crunchy topics as breastfeeding, attachment parenting, homebirths, and midwives came via a Natural Family Planning newsletter and various Catholic publications. Amy Dacyczyn is yet another example of the nexus between crunchiness and large families. She's the mother of a bunch of kids and the author of The Complete Tightwad Gazette (1998), which is 900+ pages of advice for frugal living, much of it extremely crunchy.
  • I haven't yet read many Amazon reviews of Crunchy Cons, but I believe some people doubt the existence of the phenomenon. I had the good luck to go hang out with some moms from my neighborhood while I was reading the book, and witnessed a conversation that ranged effortlessly between a comparison of different chastity education programs and the difficulties of obtaining affordable grass-fed beef. Yes, Virginia, there are crunchy conservatives.
  • I'm sure a hundred people have made this observation already, but while Dreher mentions the evils of materialism fairly regularly, materialism isn't just triple cheese burgers, SUVs, and exurban McMansions. Speaking as a person with two dozen architecture and design books on my shelf, I'm pretty sure that materialism can take other forms. I think there is a large grey area. On the one hand, it's perfectly right and good to love and rejoice in the beautiful, whether food, drink, or house. On the other hand, at some point this enjoyment of the beautiful crosses over into acquisitiveness, gluttony, and selfishness, just as a Chestertonian embrace of simple pleasures can easily cross over into gross excess. I don't think Dreher ever discusses that dark side in Crunchy Cons, although I bet he's thought of it.

Betty MacDonald's The Egg and I (1945)

No discussion of the personal costs of small-time farming is complete without quoting Betty MacDonald's The Egg and I. As newlyweds, she and her first husband started a small chicken farm in the wilds of western Washington, initially without either running water or electricity. The Egg and I tells their story, which is in some ways a chronicle of the toll "simple living" takes on womenfolk.

"Aunty Vida [a visitor] took another swallow of coffee, rinsed it around in her mouth as if it were an antiseptic, and said, "You have solved the problem of living! You have the answer to happiness! There are thousands of people in this bitter world who only hope some day to achieve by dint of hard work and sacrifice what you and bob have now!" It was nine o'clock in the morning, and Bob and I had been up since four and had not gone to bed the night before until after twelve. Aunty Vida was just having breakfast."

Rod Dreher's Crunchy Cons, part I

I read Rod Dreher's Crunchy Cons several months ago and never got around to writing up my notes on it. I'm clearing out my reading backlog right now, so here are some thoughts on the book.

His food chapter is very passionate and convincing, and there's no way I'd turn down the offer of dinner with the Drehers. On the other hand, there's not enough attention paid to the economic risks that aspiring small-scale farmers face. Agriculture is a very tough industry, and it's seen a century of attrition, with fewer and fewer people involved, and more and more work done by GPS-controlled heavy equipment. As Dreher writes, "Whole regions of the prairies and plains are emptying out of people whose ancestors farmed those fields from the pioneer days." I wish he had found a failed organic farmer to talk to--someone who had poured a couple hundred thousand dollars into land, equipment, materials, who had worked himself, his wife, and his kids from before dawn until well past dark for years, and then lost everything. There must be quite a few people out there like that. And even if the business should prosper, is it ethical for us consumers to ask someone to live on nothing and work round the clock, just so we can enjoy extra yummy free-range chicken?

From Shirley Jackson's Raising Demons

"...I was a faculty wife. A faculty wife is a person who is married to a faculty. She has frequently read at least one good book lately, she has one "nice" black dress to wear to student parties, and she is always just the teensiest bit in the way, particularly in a girls' college such as the one where my husband taught. She is presumed to have pressing and wholly absorbing interests at home, to which, when out, she is always anxious to return, and when at home, reluctant to leave. It is considered probable that ten years or so ago she had a face and personality of her own, but if she has it still, she is expected to keep it decently to herself. She will ask students questions like "And what did you do during vacation?" and answer in turn questions like "How old is your little boy now?""

"Naturally a husband presents enormous irritations no matter what he is doing, and I think it is unreasonable to regard a teaching husband as necessarily more faulty than, say, a plumbing husband, but there is no question but what the ego of a teaching husband is going to be more vividly developed..."

"Unlike faculty wives, students are nice girls who have come to college to get an education."

(Raising Demons, 1957)

From Shirley Jackson's Life Among the Savages

"From the girls' room, small voices rose in song, and I listened happily, thinking how pleasant it was to hear a brother and two sisters playing affectionately together; then, suddenly, the words of the song penetrated into my hot mind, and I was out of bed in one leap and racing down the hall. "Baby ate a spider, Baby ate a spider," was what they were singing."
Shirley Jackson, Life Among the Savages

Saturday, August 9, 2008

D's first dollar

Baby D, who is three years and four months old, earned his very first dollar today. He was picking sticks off the lawn with his dad. C is displeased. She thinks D is too young to be getting cash, and she thinks I should give him prizes instead.

July electric bill

Last summer, after we moved to Texas, our initial electric billing was delayed and we got a monster $1200 bill for three hot-weather months. We were expecting the same this summer, but we watched the thermostat carefully, and I am very pleased to report that the July bill was $201.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Wet Magic

C is about 1/4 of the way into Nesbit's Wet Magic.

Half moon

The moon was out during the day today, and my husband had his big red telescope out in the driveway. D had a look. He was disappointed that the telescope couldn't turn the half moon (all there was today) into a full moon.

C's first chapter book

C has finished reading The Hobbit. That is officially her first chapter book. There was a bit of bribery towards the end--my husband has promised to take her to the pool. He read the kids Tolkien's Farmer Giles of Ham yesterday, and today E. Nesbit's Wet Magic arrived in the mail. C had a good look at the chapter titles of Wet Magic and is very excited to begin.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Physical therapy

C and I were at the physical therapist's this morning. This was her first visit. She has some issues with balance, and it sounds like we have a lot of appointments ahead of us. I've already signed her up for once-a-week ballet this fall, and I was glad to hear the therapist say that ballet would also be helpful. C liked the therapist's office of course--they alternated playing Chutes and Ladders and doing physical activities like running or skipping back and forth.

C dreams of WALL-E

C had a dream last night of playing with WALL-E on the playground. A few minutes ago, she was telling me that his bedtime is 6:42. There are plans afoot of her earning up to buy a WALL-E action figure--C seems to have a mild crush. C is notably not interested in getting an EVE.

Whither country music?

C and I were in a taxi this morning, and the driver had on a country radio statio. I heard two songs on the way. The first country song included the phrase "player hater." The hero of the second country song sings about selling turnips from his truck, chewing pork rinds, and wooing a lost traveller by sending her to get sweet tea from Aunt So-and-So at the country store. He gets the girl.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Easy Telling Time

D is at preschool today, and C just finished her Kumon Easy Telling Time workbook. That book covers times like 12:00 and 1:30. C's on a roll and she just started the second Kumon time book.

Leopard gecko?

Last night, my husband and I captured a fat little leopard gecko that was running around the kitchen under the cabinets. He was returned to the wild (i.e. the patio). This was the first leopard gecko that we've ever seen in the house. The geckoes we see are usually small and nearly transparent, rather than large and spotted.

Monday, August 4, 2008

C and B talk about WALL-E

C and her old friend B from pre-K had a long discussion about WALL-E their last morning together in DC.

C: If WALL-E were coming to our house, I'd clean my room.

B: I wouldn't.

C: WALL-E would cube your toys.

C divides

On the road, I mentioned to C that she had a budget of $30 for the trip. She told me that that meant either 3 $10 items or 6 $5 items. As it turned out, she spent the entire $30, as well as the rest of her birthday money, but she did come home with some very nice coloring books and a panda from the National Zoo gift shop just like D's.

What to feed a dragon

C took Smaug (the red and gold dragon) on the road to DC. At one house we visited, C and a small friend were gently caring for Smaug, feeding him carrot juice and blood.


C and I were on the road five days last week, visiting our friends in the DC area. We stayed two nights on Capitol Hill, two nights in Silver Spring, and visited the National Zoo, Union Station, Georgetown (in transit), Air and Space, the Sculpture Garden, the carousel on the Mall (which miraculously revived C), Dupont Circle, and Rockville. Thanks to all our hosts and friends!

I think the trip was very good for C. It was a sort of intensive social camp for C. Now that we're home, I'm reading a book called Good Friends are Hard to Find, which encourages parents to provide children with lots of one-on-one self-guided playdates. C got hours of that type of interaction during our trip, and there was almost none of the sort of behavior (monologing on subjects that do not interest her audience) that other children have found off-putting. She did really well in that respect. The other nice thing about us traveling together by ourselves was that I was able to focus on her behavior and follow through in a way that isn't possible in normal life, when there are so many distractions and things and people to think about. It was especially good to be able to work on C's social graces right before the start of the school year.

Debt free!

Just a few minutes ago, my husband sent in our final car payment electronically. We may have to send in an extra dollar or two, depending on when they manage to credit the payment, but we are essentially debt-free as of today: no car loan, no student loan, no revolving credit card debt. To do it, we used the surplus from my DC trip and my husband's zoo trip, our large Christmas savings, our small savings for car and home maintenance and a chunk of my August fun money.

I'm very pleased. Next on our to-do list is to create a larger emergency fund and restore the Christmas, travel, home maintenance and car maintenance savings funds. Then we start saving for our house downpayment. I no longer have a burning case of house fever, but given the uncertainty of our current rental situation, we need to be ready for the unexpected. The housing listings I look at are so stale that it's hard to work up much of a sense of urgency about buying. Also, prices have been edging down slowly but very consistently, and I really don't want to overpay. Next spring is probably going to be too early for us to think about buying, both from the point of view of price and not having a big enough downpayment yet, but two years seems an awfully long time to wait. On the other hand, we're going to be getting closer and closer all the time.

Raising bobos

C and I were just visiting our old friends in DC. One of the families is relocating to the Middle East. The following conversation happened today, as the four of us were headed off to lunch at the faculty club.

Daddy: C, would you like to go to Egypt?

C: No, I don't think they have any Starbucks.

UPDATE: This post was edited slightly for accuracy. For the record, there is at least one Starbucks in Cairo.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Wall-E goes to school

C and I are back in Texas after a five day trip to Washington DC. This is our first full day at home. C and D have built a WALL-E out of a blue milk crate type box, a pair of child's binoculars (for the eyes), and some Saxoflute tubing for the arms. They say they're playing school with him. D says he's the teacher, but C thinks that when it's necessary for the teacher to read, she and D should switch places.