Thursday, April 30, 2009

Budget meeting

My husband and I just had our monthly budget meeting for May. Everything's on track. Theoretically, we could buy a house in 12 months from now. The snags are that 1) starting next month, we'll be paying private school tuition for two kids and 2) the more we save for a house, the less I want to buy one.

Sniffles in the time of swine flu

The kids have been mildly sick for the past couple days and this is C's second day home from school. Both kids have been bobbing in and out of the 99s, temperature-wise. Normally, I'd be tempted to send C to school, but I suspect that with the swine flu in the news, the socially responsible move is to keep her home.

The kids are watching Monster's Inc. right now and we just got a small box of Lego special-purpose pieces from the postman: transparent windshield bricks, rocket pieces, and base plates.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


For some reason, C wants to sleep in the hall closet tonight.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Preparing for apocalypse

Gold ads are old hat. On the drive to pick up C from school today, I heard a radio ad urging listeners to buy non-hybridized seeds. They can sell you enough to cover an acre. Seeds have been worth more than gold in the past, they say.


C wants to use a pen to do her homework, both spelling and math. She actually does some pretty nice work with a pen. As C explains, "With a pen, I have to do my most beautiful handwriting!" This is a very interesting turn around because up until a few weeks ago, C had been producing some pretty scruffy assignments. The rule that I am experimenting with is that C is allowed to use the pen on her spelling until she messes up, and then she needs to switch over to pencil.

Meanwhile, in Germany, my nephew has to use a fountain pen to do his math.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Kid update

  • I have held back on reading for D, believing that he should first complete potty training. However, D is very interested in having us write out words for him to sound out, so he has read three of the Bob books with my husband. D read the first two Bob books for me this morning, but I saw signs of guessing rather than sounding out.
  • C tested for the summer gifted program on Friday.
  • C is studying the Civil War in school and she and D were attempting to play "Civil War" over the weekend.
  • On Saturday, C and I went for a playdate over to a friend's house. The friend is hosting a baby chick from school (which will eventually go back to life on the farm). After lunch, we went to the children's museum and saw two puppet shows and a loud (is there any other kind?) outdoor chemistry show.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Explosive Child

A while back, I reviewed Ross W. Greene's Lost at School. Now it's time for a look at his 1998 classic The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children. Like quite a few child behavior manuals, this book features lots of model conversations that go brilliantly thanks to using the author's methods. However, Greene does discuss pharmaceuticals and residential schools, so obviously he understands that his model won't fix every problem.

Greene's motto is that children behave when they can (I have some reservations on this one). He believes that the main issue is to teach explosive children skills and to provide scaffolding for the child to start problem solving. A great advantage of the method (which he calls Plan B) is that it is very simple:
  1. Express empathy
  2. Define the problem
  3. Invite the child to suggest possible solutions

The idea is to stick with 3 until a solution emerges that both parties can live with.

I like the fact that Greene invites us to stop walking straight into a brick wall and points out that we can walk around it or climb over it without compromising our parental authority. As you may remember, I'm a big fan of Howard Glasser's Transforming the Difficult Child, so while reading Greene's The Explosive Child, I've been haunted by the need to figure out how to fit the two different methods together. Here's my initial thought: I think Glasser's positive reinforcement methods should be the basis for relating to a difficult child during smooth sailing (and keeping the sailing smooth!), but I think that Greene's problem-solving method is superb for when you hit choppy water.

Day off

The college had a big open air party today. Texans are very fun-loving, so we have one of these things every couple months. Most of the good stuff happened while the kids were at school, but once they were both out, we took them to the event immediately. When we got there there was still lots going on. There were several cross-dressing protesters against sexism, some heavily-disguised representatives of a quasi-official secret society (in false noses, a rainbow wig, a keffiyeh, a winter hat with earflaps, a Santa beard, etc.), painfully loud live music, tug-of-war, and a sand play area for tots. The College Republicans had a "Fishin' for Bailout" attraction where D won a small toy car. The kids spent a long time at an inflatable, trying to toss footballs through holes. C also spent a while with the fine ladies of Kappa Alpha Theta who had set up a jewelry making table with beads and twine. C made a beautiful rainbow necklace.

Neufchatel and jam

I dawdled a bit with making a sandwich for C, so she went ahead and started making a neufchatel and strawberry jam sandwich for herself. Yay, C!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Apples don't fall far from the tree

My mom tells me that when I was five and getting ready for my first ballet role (as a gingerbread man in a performance of Hansel and Gretel), the teacher warned my class that anybody who wasn't ready for the performance would not be allowed to dance. Filled with angst, I locked myself in the family car, and it took my mom 10 minutes to talk me out. I have no recollection of this episode.

Dragon lunch

D set up his four dragons in chairs around an ottoman. Each dragon has a plate or dish full of toy food. It's so cute!

My Side of the Mountain

I started watching My Side of the Mountain (1969) together with the kids last night. It's about a boy who runs away from his home in Toronto with his pet raccoon to live in the wilds of Quebec (the book has him in New York) in order to emulate Thoreau. The nature and wildlife photography is really beautiful.

Monday, April 20, 2009


This morning, I dropped off C's application for a colleged-sponsored gifted and talented summer program. They do summer mini-courses for kids 1st grade and up and two different people have recommended the program to me. The application was what you would expect: a form for the teacher, a survey and a couple questions about the child's interests and character for the parent, and a request to include one to three items showing the child's creative work. I sent a copy of a simple 3-D house C made with a computer program when she was four, a pencil sketch of a giraffe she did last year as part of an outing to the zoo with her kindergarten class, and simple crayon sketches (from this school year) of chess pieces and descriptions of how each piece moves. The course offered for her age group this summer is going to be simulated city-building, so these items were somewhat pertinent. She'll also go in for a short intelligence test later this week.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


My husband took the kids to the zoo this afternoon. There was a themed event there today and the kids brought home piles of eco-loot from our electric company: light backpacks (I don't know what you call the really light ones), coloring sheets, magnets, and various brochures on energy efficiency. Most wonderfully, the kids brought home a cutting from a cactus. It is now planted and living on our narrow kitchen windowsill.

Steam cleaning

Most wonderfully, while the kids and I were out yesterday, my husband rented a steam cleaner from the grocery store and cleaned problem areas in the dining room, living room, and C's room (Color Explosion, dear readers, Color Explosion). Certain spots still suffer from permagrime, but it's nice to start the summer bug season knowing that there is no chocolate cake left in the carpet pile. We do own a Hoover Steamvac, but perversely, the Steamvac does not actually involve steam or heat the water. You, the user, pour boiling water into it. It has been a life-saver on occasions involving biohazard-producing sick kid situations, but it's not really what you want for whole-room cleaning.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Cherry blossoms

Today was a Japanese-themed day at our children's museum. The kids and I met C's classmate, her mom, and brother and we soaked in all things Japanese for over 4 hours, with a break for lunch at a nearby Thai restaurant. The kids folded origami, wore newspaper versions of a samurai hat, played Japanese carnival-type games, C had her name painted in Japanese script, C and D ignored a Japanese tea ceremony demonstration, and we watched a deafening drum performance. We did miss out on a karate demonstration and a dance performance, which is too bad.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Potty training update XXVII

D seems to have mastered one major bodily function. He is still not reliable in all respects, but we have four more months until pre-kindergarten begins.

It's been difficult to find the right prizes to motivate D. We had it pretty easy with C, back in the day, since she was crazy about little art kits (scratch offs, paint with water, invisible ink, etc.). This was effective, but very expensive. D has been much more finicky. During the fall, he earned points toward a bike. Later on, he earned points toward getting various dragons and elephants, but there were weeks at a time when he didn't have a clear goal and potty-training languished. On the bright side, he has been willing to work toward long-term goals, for instance items that cost 20 or 40 points. For the moment, we have a very cheap and highly-motivating set of prizes for D: various Lego doodads to go with the Lego set he got for his birthday. My husband ordered some doors, windows, propellers, wheels, base plates, jet engines and tail fins. That sounds very grand, but they all fit in a small box and cost $8 or so including shipping. We charge two points per item or set, some of which cost about 16 cents. For the moment, this is perfect. If his enthusiasm flags, we may have to go on another roadtrip.


I was just running through the listings for the historic neighborhood I follow and there's a new listing for $720k!!! This is $140k higher than the next most expensive house in the neighborhood. As I've mentioned before, the bulk of listings in this neighborhood are now in the high $200s and there are occasional houses in the high $100s (2 BR houses or in marginal locations). This new listing was built in the late 1930s and it has been recently renovated with a magazine-style kitchen: commercial stove and what looks like a soapstone sink.

UPDATE: I have the square footage now: it's an amazing 5900 square feet. Wow!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

3-D Color Explosion

C earned $3 this evening (she tidied the living room and did 10 pages of Kumon handwriting) and bought the 3-D Color Explosion book.

Folk dance

I went to school earlier this afternoon to give C moral support during her Spanish class's practice for a Mexican folk dance they will be performing at the end of the year. Each girl swished an imaginary skirt and circled her partner and the boys twirled the girls. The boys were mostly gentlemanly and there were no injuries caused by contact with girl toxins. C was flopsy but cooperative. I was very relieved.

Somewhere in Mexico, the performance skirts are being sewed. We already have her ballet recital costume, although C won't be dancing in the recital since she missed so many practices earlier in the year. The ballet costume has a black plush bodice with spaghetti straps and pink roses and a skirt with one layer of black voile and one layer of pink. I look at it and think "saucy Parisian can-can dancer" (tfoo-tfoo) but C is going to love it once I hand it over to her for dress-up.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Big sister

C is on a tear. She cleaned the living room, D's room, and her own room tonight, pocketing $3 (rather than her usual $1). She has her eyes on the $9 3-D Color Explosion set that we picked up at Walmart over the weekend and she has $6 saved up already. She wants it bad, although not bad enough to do Kumon workbooks at 20-25 cents a page. However, there are shortcuts. Little brother has a few dollars socked away, and C has been making him an offer that he can't refuse, suggesting that they make a joint venture of the purchase. D is standing his ground.

D had a fever this evening, so I've had to rethink my plans for the morning. No walk and no downtown Tea Party for me. C had a slightly elevated temperature in one ear tonight, so she may not make it to school tomorrow.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Rock tumbling

Yesterday, it was time for my husband and the kids to change the water in the rock tumbler and put in enough detergent to create "stiff suds." The instructions were not more exact than that, so my husband put in the rocks, plastic beads, water, and laundry detergent for a final day in the tumbler. Shortly thereafter, the area around the rock tumbler exploded with suds. An hour and a half of clean-up ensued, followed by a nastygram to the manufacturers.

The rocks came out this morning, some that came from the manufacturer, and some from the yard. They are smooth and very shiny and much smaller than when they originally went into the tumbler a month ago. C has some interest in making jewelry with the rocks. Thanks to all the house books that I have been consuming lately, I am thinking that it would be very attractive to keep some of them in a glass jar on a shelf along with my blue-and-white china and greeting cards.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Layer cake

My husband baked his first layer cake tonight, a variation on Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" chocolate cake. I have never made a layer cake myself, although I can remember frosting one with my grandma. Here are the ingredients that my husband used (the original ingredients are in bold and his variations are non-bold):

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour (he substituted about 1/2 cup whole wheat flour for 1/2 cup all-purpose)
  • 3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 12 oz. of Hershey's "Special Dark" chocolate chips

FROSTING (quantities have been increased)

  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine (he used butter)
  • 1/4 cup Neufchatel cheese
  • 1 cup HERSHEY'S cocoa
  • 3-1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

It came out as a huge, rich two-layer chocolate cake. We had some this evening to celebrate the end of Lent and beginning of Easter, but the four of us barely made a dent in it. My husband thinks that the ingredients cost about $8. It's not exactly an economy item since Walmart chocolate cakes retail for that much, but it is blessedly free of plastic-tasting hydrogenated frosting and it does actually taste like chocolate rather than just looking like chocolate.

By the way, my husband says that you really can't go wrong by googling for recipes.

Big sister

C wants to read some Harry Potter to D--whether he wants it or not.

Egg Hunt

Yesterday was the neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt. There were 12 egg hunters, plus a couple babes in arms. Each family was supposed to contribute a dozen eggs per child and there were three different egg hunt zones: one for the up-to-fives, one for girls over five, and one for boys over five. I overheard one big boy explaining to another boy the need for division: "If we were all together, the boys would find all the eggs!"

Friday, April 10, 2009


Me: What is liverwurst?

Husband: Your culinary experience isn't great, is it?


Husband: I long for the food of my native country: chanterelles and sheep cheese--smoked sheep cheese.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

No show

C won't get to dance in her ballet school's big spring performance since she was sick a lot this spring and missed many practices. I paid $65 for the costume four months ago, but that is neither here nor there. C wants to stop going to class until after the performance in May, and it looks like that's the way it's going to be. I sent her to class yesterday and I'm told she spent the entire class either on the sofa or under the piano. Checkmate!

On a happier note, we are putting in an application for a summer gifted program at the college. If it's like last year, it's going to be a week-long archeology simulation for 1st-4th graders. There's an application, there's testing, there's a teacher survey, and we need to supply samples of projects C has done. She may not get in, but a friend is applying, so it's worth a shot.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Eyeclops and Microscope

We are now done with our five hours of school service for the fall term. My husband took a large laundry basket of supplies (Eyeclops, microscope, camera, extension cords, prepared slides, river water, live oak pollen samples, fresh rosemary, meteorite, etc.) to school and did a half-hour presentation for 2.5 1st grade classes. The teachers provided some more fresh plant samples, some bunny hairs, a sand dollar, some pond water, and the use of a diamond ring. My husband had kids come up one at a time to use the Eyeclops on the various items. The Eyeclops was hooked up to a TV, so that all of the kids got to see the items at 200x magnification. After that, my husband switched over to the microscope, which was actually even more of a crowd-pleaser at 400x magnification. He put a digital camera over the microscope and had the digital camera hooked up to the TV, so that the whole class also got the benefit of the magnification. The pond water was very lively!

The technical side of it went flawlessly. I regret to say, however, that both of us have forgotten all the biology we ever knew.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Our rental house had gutters installed probably about a year and a half ago. It was a rather shoddy job as we eventually discovered--the improperly installed mesh cover was actually trapping leaves underneath rather than keeping them out. As the exterminator pointed out to us a while back, rotting leaves is exactly what our friend the American cockroach likes, so we need to be able to keep the gutters cleaner. Several emails later, a college maintenance guy arrived and is working on it right now. He said the mesh cover was the wrong material and about a quarter inch too small, and there were improperly installed gutters all over the neighborhood that he's been working on.

It's been a very important part of my adult education to live as a renter in an older single family home. It's awe-inspiring to see how much money, skill and manpower is needed to maintain a house. Not only do you need to pay your contractor, but you also need to pay somebody to fix your contractor's mistakes. The longer we live here, the less eager I am to leave the protective umbrella of the college's maintenance department.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Pumpkin muffins

Around here, we are big fans of Starbucks' pumpkin muffins (although I have reservations about the big gob of cream cheese filling in the middle). I've been thinking about making some.

I went to mass by myself this morning. When I came home, there were two platefulls of pumpkin muffins with cinnamon-and-sugar on top cooling on the kitchen counter. My husband and the kids ground the cloves themselves. I put half the batch in the freezer and will be doling them out during the week in the kids' lunches.

300 squares

After some thought and experimentation, my husband pulled out a paper-cutter (one of those things with a circular blade and inches marked all over the bed) to cut 300 2" fabric squares for the first grade's Civil War quilt block project. He did most of the cutting, and was eventually able to cut four blocks at a time. I kept count and tidied up. The whole thing took two hours, but we are almost done with our school service requirement.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

C is sicker

C was grumpy this afternoon and eventually we discovered that her temperature was 102. She went to bed around 3:30 this afternoon, and is now asleep with her head resting on an open copy of the sixth Harry Potter book.

Friday, April 3, 2009

School volunteering

It's always been hard to manage to do the 5 hours a term of volunteering required by C's school, but I've finally hit the jackpot. C's class is going to be doing Civil War quilt blocks. They'll be piecing the quilt block together and then gluing the block to a piece of cardboard backing. I picked up the fabric from school this afternoon and I'm supposed to deliver 300 2" by 2" fabric squares by Monday morning.

Pecos Bill at home

C had a slight fever last night (99.9), so she's home again today. C has lent D her cowboy boots and hat and has cast him as Pecos Bill in her home production of her class play. She is working D through the script and just fetched a stuffed snake for Pecos Bill to wrestle with.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Bike dance

In Spanish, C's class is now struggling to learn a Mexican folk dance for a performance later this spring. Special performance skirts are being sewn in a Mexican village as we speak. The kids are on their bikes right now, and C has been trying to teach D a bike-mounted version of the dance.


Left inside the house for a few minutes, C made lemonade for herself and D. This was her first solo culinary effort. She's been working hard to get the proportion of water, lemon juice, and sweetener right and she's very pleased with herself.

Outdoor chess

On our walk (one guess where, dave s.), the kids and I discovered that the outdoor chess board is set up with pieces. The pieces are D-sized and larger. C and I played a bit until I got chilled. It really is more fun to play chess with the big pieces--it feels more consequential when you take or lose a piece.

Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

My husband and I are watching the 1943 film The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. It sympathetically follows 40 years in the life of a British military officer who would generally not be a very sympathetic type (remember the long-winded reminiscing Indian colonels in Agatha Christie). Interestingly, General Candy marries a Miss Wynne in middle-age and becomes General Wynne-Candy (at least for certain purposes). It would be interesting to know more about the social history of the hyphenated British surname.

UPDATE: I found an unsourced wikipedia article entitled double-barreled name. As I suspected, the British hyphenated surname is traditionally an upper class phenomenon. There are even triple, quadruple, and quintuple surnames, but as a public service warning, I should point out that the family with the quintuple surname is apparently now extinct.

The kids are sick today

The kids are home sick day, just a little feverish. D objects to C's plans to engage in dragon-killing pretend play.

UPDATE: When I last looked in, the gold dragon and the red dragon were dressed up in pink doll clothes and a basket was fitted up with potholders as a bed for them.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hide and seek

D and I have just finished several fast rounds of hide and seek. As I've mentioned before, my technique is to hide either on the sofa or under the covers on some bed. D's technique involves telling himself the location out loud, generally loud enough for me to hear.

Potty training update XXVI

D just asked for cotton underpants, so I gave him some, along with some vinyl training pants on top.

D: Why do I need vinyl pants?

me: To keep the wetness in.

D (echoing parental happy talk): But I'm a good potty-user!


D thinks that the verb "dust" is nonsensical, since it doesn't mean "add dust." "Why not undust?" he asked.