Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Potty training update VII

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

C and D's Christmas gift

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

Woodworking Day

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

Monday, December 29, 2008

Potty training update VI

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

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

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

Xantippe's husband gets ready to do yard work

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

Sunday, December 28, 2008


You can buy store-brand chai at HEB.

Chocolate chip cookies

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

Saturday, December 27, 2008

C's first potholder

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

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

Xantippe runs the washer and dryer all day long

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

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

Friday, December 26, 2008

Crawford, TX

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

Potty training update V

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

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

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

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Potty training update IV

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

Christmas Day

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

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve II

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

Xantippe gives the kids a gift wrap tube

D: We're limboing!

325k to 300k

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

Christmas Eve

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Winter break

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


D got his bike and helmet!

Monday, December 22, 2008


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


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

Christmas tree chicken

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

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

Sunday, December 21, 2008

C writes II

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

C writes

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

Potty madness

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


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


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


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

Saturday, December 20, 2008

D is closer to his bike

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

D decides he needs a nap

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

Wind chimes

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

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

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Aplets and Cotlets

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

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

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

We get ready for a Christmas at home

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

Good news, bad news II

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

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

Xantippe's Christmas tree is going corporate

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Potty training update III

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

Potty training update II

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Potty training update

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

Overheard before the Christmas program

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

New listing

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

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Spanish

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

Good news, bad news

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

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

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

Question of the day

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

Bleeding rental houses

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

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

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Evil Republican mommy

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

Why potty train now?

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

Budget issues II

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

Budget issues

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

Potty training, again

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

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Redecorating the White House

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

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

At the grocery store

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

Christmas progress II

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

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas progress

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

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

C is building a castle

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

Video work

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Russian Wodehouse Society

There is such a thing as the Russian Wodehouse Society.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Love Among the Chickens

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

Russian kid books

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

More potty training

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

Video editing

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

Spanish words

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

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Shoe laces

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


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


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

me: How do you pronounce it in Spanish?

C: Van-ee-ya.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Another walk

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

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

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

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

Return of the King

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

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

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Out of order

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

Monday, December 1, 2008

How we got where we are

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