Sunday, November 30, 2008


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

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Model trains

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

Return of the King

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


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

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving craft fair

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


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

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

How do you say "pecan"?

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

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

No pecans

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

This can't be good

I heard the following from the next room.

C: D's a Lunchable!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Real estate report

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

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


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

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The more ecologically you live, the more illegal it is

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

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

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

Mountain Buggy

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

The Two Towers II

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


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

Friday, November 21, 2008

End of the month budget blues

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


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

Baby dragon

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

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Underpants II

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

C makes movies

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


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


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

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Economic stimulus

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

Coffee table book

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

Stargazing with the kids

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

Monday, November 17, 2008

Video archives

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

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

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ancient jokes

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

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Simple Multiplication

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


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

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

Horse engraving

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

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Farm

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Overheard at the cafeteria

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Interior designers

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

This is all so very wrong.

Paint by numbers

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

Monday, November 10, 2008

Stuff White People Like #115

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Eighth notes

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

Today, D read the word "green."


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

Saturday, November 8, 2008

D on potty training

Me: When are you going to stop using diapers?

D: When you stop buying diapers.

We assimilate

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

Chess board

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

Star night

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

Dress up

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

Friday, November 7, 2008

Leaf book

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

D on banking

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

Good question, kid.

Another foreclosure?

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 6, 2008


I just had lunch with four philosophers.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election results

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

First graders talk about the election

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


D: Hydrogen is a very light gas.


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

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Two Towers

C has just started listening to The Two Towers.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Eye patch

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

Fellowship of the Ring

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

November reading/listening

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

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

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Time capsule

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

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