Tuesday, June 30, 2009

July budget

Tonight was budget night. Thanks to tuition expenses and drops in business income and some other things (uniform costs for D and medical), our savings for this month are only $400, just like last month. This is a revolting (although not unexpected) development. I think we'll probably wait until the beginning of the summer before doing anything radical.

Summer camp

C has started another week of summer camp. This session focuses on hands-on activities with plants, butterflies, vegetables and fruit. There will also be some work with a GPS-device, I believe. The site is a suburban elementary school with an impressive garden. I think C is having a good time, but the veggie pizza they made today and the veggie smoothies they are going to make challenge her goodwill.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Tire swing II

The kids have earned 47 points out of the 60 that they need for work on the tire swing to begin. They have been showing super-human self-control in not spending their points prematurely. My husband has mail-ordered (!!!) new tires for our car, and we are hoping to use one of our old tires for the swing.
UPDATE: Despite some Lego purchases by D, the kids now have a combined 61 points. In addition, the tires arrived today. We need hardware and an old tire from the car, but we are on our way!

Wind in the Willows

Our current audiobook for the car is Wind in the Willows.

Zucchini bread

The kids and I made zucchini bread today. We are all veteran zucchini bread-eaters, but it was the very first time any of us had made zucchini bread. We used lemon essence instead of lemon peel and skipped the nuts. Today's high was around 104 degrees and I suppose that's not optimal for baking, but we had zucchinis in the fridge and needed something to do.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


D (showing me a picture he had drawn of a face): This is the ear door!

me: An ear door?

D: It just looks like an ear. Here's the knob.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tire swing

My husband is in the process of researching how to go about building a tire swing. We have a live oak tree in the front yard of the house we rent, so that's probably where it's going to go. (We also have a bunch of pecan trees, but they are much more brittle.) The project is going to cost about $50 for hardware, aside from the cost of the tire, which we are hoping to get for free. Our preliminary plan is for the kids to jointly save 60 points to get the swing. C is very fond of the tire swings at school.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Erdos numbers

I have only the fuzziest idea what they are, but I thought MH might be interested to know that my husband's Erdos number is apparently 4 (he had a short first career in mathematics, which helps).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

C likes garlic chives

One of the many side benefits of my herb farming efforts is that it helps broaden the children's gastronomical horizons. C was helping herself to some garlic chives yesterday and telling me how much she likes it in small doses.

D news

Yesterday, D asked me for a mini-pillow for Blue Coconut (a tiny blue stuffed elephant from IKEA). With some translation help from C, I learned that what he wanted was a cotton ball to use as a pillow for Blue Coconut.

In other news, my husband and D finished work on the covered railway bridge. It has a red roof, green exterior walls, black paint on the interior, and round windows.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Car wash

The kids are playing car wash. D is the car.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Chocolate orange cake

I'm on sick leave this evening (stuffy nose and sore throat) and my husband and the kids are working on the frosting for my birthday cake for tomorrow. It's a two-layer chocolate cake with orange flavoring, plus chocolate cream cheese frosting with orange flavoring. The cake contains some of my husband's signature whole wheat flour and granulated sugar in the frosting. One of the cake layers had an accident on its way out of the pan, but my husband is busy repairing it.

UPDATE: Actually, both layers had trouble coming out. I think the cake itself will be very good, but I don't think I'm going to eat the frosting.

Chicken with fresh basil

Last night, I made the chicken with fresh basil recipe from p. 52 of Nancie McDermott's Quick and Easy Thai. This was my first (mostly) by-the-book Thai dinner. I did modify the recipe by halving the fish sauce (it smelled horrible in the bottle) and fishing the chilis out before serving. For the basil, I decapitated (as per McGee and Stuckey's Bountiful Container) two sweet (Italian) basil plants and one Thai basil. When eaten fresh, I prefer the Italian basil--the thai basil tastes licorice-y. However, once the basil leaves had been tossed with the hot chicken, I honestly can't tell the difference. I served it with brown rice and the kids ate the chicken happily. It was a bit bland for us big people, although I loved the basil.

What to do differently? The fish sauce smell improves during cooking, so I'll use the full quantity next time and maybe just remove the chilis from the kids' portions. Also, I think I'd like even more basil. There's also the issue of appearance: beige chicken, beige onions, beige brown rice and a few flecks of dark green basil. I'm thinking of omitting much of the onion at the beginning and just toss in some slices of green onion at the end to improve the color.

UPDATE: The chicken with fresh basil recipe suggests mint as a possible substitute for basil. I was skeptical (since the fresh mint leaves are overpowering), but I thought it was worth a try, particularly since I've been pretty brutal with my basil plants lately. So I microwaved the leftover chicken with brown rice, added soy sauce, and then tossed it with some Thai basil and some mint leaves. The result was much closer to basil than I expected. This is excellent news since, unlike the basil plants that will go black at the first frost, the mint bush is essentially immortal.

D on colorblindness

D (to C): Maybe colorblindies can't see green?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Covered bridge

My husband and D have just started work on a covered bridge for D's train set. They've decided that it needs windows.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Water lilies and soap

This morning, C made two 3D paper water lilies with lily pads and then a small blue paper pond for them. Later in the morning, she went to bead camp and then came back with half a dozen peppermint-scented glycerin soaps with beads embedded in them: light green turtles, light green frogs and one big rectangular light lavender bar. C and D have been industriously washing in the hope of reaching the beads. C also made some jewelry for a teddy bear. (My husband would like to mold soap some time in the future, but we'd like to go with a low-budget option rather than making $5 bars.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bead camp

C did two hours of bead camp this morning. She was the only camper today and it was just her, the proprietor, and the proprietor's whippet. This week of bead camp is a gift from my parents and C is enjoying it very much.

UPDATE: The bead lady's dog is not a whippet, but an Italian Greyhound.

What Xantippe reads at the gym

I did 3.5 miles on the treadmill today (thanks to D's parents' day out and C's bead camp). My reading these days is Betty Crocker's Indian Home Cooking (we don't have an Indian restaurant around here and I really miss having a cheap lunch buffet--MH, you lucky guy). I was initially freaked out by the introductory material on Indian cooking (it's rather obvious that Indian women spend all day marketing or cooking), but further reading suggests that Raghavan Iyer is letting us off pretty easy. (He even writes canned beans into his recipes.) The spices are the tricky part and it seems like if one is going to be at all serious, one has to get a coffee grinder and devote it to milling spices. On the bright side, the produce required is generally pretty humdrum: cabbage, peas, sweet potatoes, etc. I'm not going to place a mail order for any Indian spices until I work through my Thai recipes, which at the projected rate should be in about a year.

Mobiles and a tunnel

Back in DC, C and my husband were really into making 3D paper models (airplines, a rocket, a space shuttle, a retro taxi, a fish, a butterfly, etc.) and then hanging them from the ceiling of her room. A number of them had a rough ride to Texas and the surviving models have since been languishing on some bookshelves.

This morning, my husband took some time off to install C's models on the ceiling with nylon thread, thumbtacks and glue. It looks great. C's bedroom has a ceiling fan, so it is especially satisfying to watch the models twisting and fluttering in the artificial breeze.

My husband and D have also just finished painting a homemade railroad tunnel for D's train set. We have been getting D Thomas the Tank Engine pals as potty prizes and had been getting sticker shock from the prices, even on ebay. (Zut alors! $67 for a roundhouse!) This tunnel is good-sized, sparkly red on the outside and black on the inside.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


This afternoon, my husband decided to make whole wheat bagels for the first time. He took a normal bread machine bagel recipe and substituted whole wheat flour for 40% of the bread flour. (Don't try this at home, kids.) Shaping, boiling and painting the bagels with egg white ensued (with some help from me and the kids here and there). Eventually, 1/3 were topped with cinnamon sugar, 1/3 got sesame seeds, and 1/3 were left plain and they went into the oven. It was much faster and easier than you might think.

How did they turn out? Fresh out of the oven, they were literally the best whole wheat bagels I've ever had. However, once they cooled, they started to acquire the doggy biscuit texture that you are probably familiar with from your own experiences of buying whole wheat bagels. I gave a cinnamon sugar one to C at that point and she handed it back and had a dish of raspberries with whipped cream instead.

Bail bonds

On the way back from IKEA yesterday, we saw a business near the interstate called "Smoking Gun Bail Bonds." There was a large picture of a revolver on the sign.


I'm still planning to go ahead with trying to plant lemongrass in the fall, but am feeling more cautious about the enterprise, ever since I learned that the stuff turns into an impenetrable, sharp-leaved jungle, approximately 5 feet tall.

The Goode Family II

Dear readers, you need to be watching The Goode Family. The deal is, I hope to give the first season as a gift for Christmas 2010, which means that I'd like the show to survive for at least several more episodes. I'm counting on you!


C and D are having a dominoes championship. There are occasional squeaks, but things are generally peaceful. C is organizing the prizes and the winner will get an M & M and the runner up will get a ribbon. (D hates losing.) C has been showing a lot of self-control by setting aside her M & Ms to use them as prizes. (I generally give C an M & M when D gets one for using the potty. It guarantees D an enthusiastic cheering section.)

Summer begins

I think today is the first unofficial day of summer. It was 99 degrees when we got home late yesterday afternoon, and this morning it is 79 degrees indoors (after a morning of air conditioning) and 81 degrees outside. It is very soon no longer going to be feasible to cool the house with air from outdoors, so this marks the real beginning of the (expensive) AC season.

In other news, our trip yesterday was to IKEA. It was D's second visit to Smaland. Smaland requires underpants (no pull-ups and no diapers). The trip was a reward for D's having been dry for three days in a row a while back. He's currently about 60% potty-trained, although I think he was dry basically all yesterday, including riding back from IKEA in underpants.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Xantippe uses her Thai produce

I just lost a big detailed post on some work I was doing with some fresh galanga, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Boo hoo. I will try again later.

UPDATE: This morning we got our delivery of fresh Thai produce: lemongrass, galanga and kaffir lime leaves. The lime leaves were in pretty good shape. The lemongrass was blotchy but smelled properly lemony when I handled it and the galanga (a relative of ginger) looked like it might have spent some time in a freezer. For dinner tonight, I poured some coconut milk in a pan and added lime leaves, chopped galanga and chopped lemongrass. Then I chopped up some chicken and set the mixture cooking on the stove. I wanted to isolate the new ingredients and see what they could do on their own. When the chicken finished cooking, it was mild. I put some of the mild chicken aside for the kids and went back to work. I opened up a jar of Patak's Indian Biryani curry paste (cumin and coriander) and stirred several spoonfulls into the chicken mixture. By this time, a packet of frozen vegetables (peapods, carrots and baby corn) were ready. I stirred them in and then immediately served the chicken and vegetables over brown rice from my rice cooker (which I'm actually using these days). D had the milder chicken (and eventually had my husband rinse the sauce off). Everybody else loved our unorthodox Asian dinner. The Thai produce added some extra notes to the spicy Indian curry and gave it a bit more range.

Was the order worth it? Here's what I think:
  1. I like ginger better than galanga (which is milder and slightly soapy tasting) and you can buy fresh ginger at our neighborhood HEB. So I don't feel the need to buy galanga in future. I tossed out the leftovers from tonight's project.
  2. The lemongrass was a bit the worse for its travels, but still performed. For the moment I can either buy it in the big city or mail order it, freezing it to use as I need it. I froze the leftover raw lemongrass stalks. I'm also expecting to get some lemongrass seeds in the mail soon. I hope to plant them in the fall.
  3. While cooking, I realized that I have encountered kaffir lime leaves many times before--floating in pananag curry at my favorite Thai restaurant in Washington, DC. I only used a few of the leaves from the mail order tonight and I froze the rest. When we run out, we can either mail order more or buy some in the big city.

I still haven't either used any of the Thai basil from my backyard or made a recipe from my Quick and Easy Thai cookbook or gotten my order of Thai curry pastes and Thai tea. We have a lot of fun ahead of us, God willing.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


C is attending a summer camp this week where the little campers are creating a model of a city in the jungle. Just today, they had an election for mayor, and tomorrow there will be a slide show for the parents. C's chum L ran for mayor, running on a platform that if she were elected, there would be an ice cream party. Regrettably, she did not win.


There's a new house on the market in the historic district I watch. It's $92k, 2400 square feet, 3 BR/3BA, built in the early 50s. It's very modest (aside from the size) and I wouldn't want to live there, but the pricing makes me want to jump up and down. Under $100k and right on the edge of one of the hotsy-totsiest neighborhoods in town! It's about a block away from a listing for $720k. Holy cow!

Here's a list of all the listings in the neighborhood that I could find that are at least 3/2 (it shades from early 20th century mansions to much more modest midcentury homes):
  • 92k 3BR/3BA
  • 120k 4BR/3BA
  • 135k 3BR/2BA
  • 137k 3BR/2BA
  • 165k 3BR/2BA
  • 165k 4BR/3BA
  • 170k 3BR/2.5BA
  • 200k 5BR/3BA
  • 245k 3BR/3.5BA
  • 250k 3BR/3BA
  • 280k 4BR/2BA
  • 280k 3BR/2BA
  • 300k 3BR/2.5BA
  • 400k 4BR/4.5BA
  • 580k 4BR/3.5BA
  • 720k 5BR/5BA

Baby Books

C is in summer camp this week (building "Jungle City" with other elementary school kids) and yesterday my husband and I caught up the children's baby books. We did three years of catch-up for C and four years for D. Up until yesterday, we didn't even have a baby book for D, so all his scrapbookables (ultrasound pictures, hospital wrist-bands, congratulatory cards, birthday cards, etc.) resided in a cardboard box. We did it, though. My husband operated the glue gun and I did the other things.

This means that we are down to two boxes (or maybe 1.5) in the master bedroom of unprocessed stuff from our move two years ago. One box contains the mixed-up ingredients of a toddler girl's Krakow costume (Krakowianka--scroll down to the little girls at the bottom of the page). The other box is full of unsorted photographs. Compared to the baby books, that should be technically easier since I just have to sort photos, label them, and stuff them into albums. In order to prevent the cardboard box situation from recurring, I've also labeled one drawer of a tall IKEA cabinet "scrapbook stuff for C and D" and another drawer "photos for albums."

UPDATE: I should probably mention that 2D ultrasound paper is heat sensitive, so don't use hot glue to put them in an album

UPDATE II: I'm thinking that there really is an advantage to waiting a bit before putting together a scrapbook. When working on C's baby book yesterday, I noticed that back when I was putting things in the book almost instantly (when she was around 2), I put in far too many scribbles.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Fish sauce

I've been trying to come up with a minimal list of Thai foods that we're going to need. At the moment, I think we could get pretty far with lemongrass, galanga, kaffir lime leaves, Thai curry paste, oyster sauce, and fish sauce. I was just looking at the Amazon reviews for a fish sauce and thought I ought to share it with you:

Thai food simply does not taste right without [fish sauce]. I do recommend this product. Just a tip though...DO NOT research as to how they make this stuff. I have watched the process and must admit that it took a bit of time to get over it.

A new scheme

I've just finished reading Quick and Easy Thai and I'm thinking seriously about growing some lemongrass (and maybe a kaffir lime eventually). The lemongrass is within reach: you can either sprout a stalk in a glass of water and then plant it or just order seeds (in fact, I accidentally ordered some seeds just now while I was on Amazon). The kaffir lime requires more research, but I'd love to get one (I'm a bit like Mr. Toad with his hobbies). In the meantime, you can order fresh Thai produce off Amazon at pretty reasonable prices. According to my book, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and galanga (a relative of ginger) can all be stored frozen. We don't live in an area with good Asian groceries, so we need to either grow our own produce or get them in bulk and freeze them. I have a birthday coming up soon, which is very handy.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Apropos of the D-Day anniversary celebrations, I'd like to mention that before the Normandy Invasion, one of my grandpa's army gigs was teaching recruits to swim. His mother ran horse tours near a resort area, so before the war, grandpa put in a lot of hours in the pool (when not working for mom).

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Xantippe had company

Sorry for the neglect, dear readers. We've been home, but we've been entertaining my grandparents. We showed them parts of campus, visited that exhibit of Renaissance machinery, had many good meals together, visited the crunchy local Anabaptist commune and made a visit to the pool. The only thing thing we didn't manage was a trip to a museum devoted to Texas law enforcement. C is working on sewing a small felt stuffed cat, and is eager to spend more time on it. Her first camp starts on Monday.

I'm almost done reading my Quick and Easy Thai cookbook. We don't spend a lot of time in restaurants these days, so I normally don't get much out of the fact that we have a very decent Thai restaurant downtown. This week, my grandparents generously took us there twice and it's been very interesting to be reading my new cookbook and seeing the menus with new eyes. Tonight was my first chance to sample sticky rice (AKA sweet rice) with coconut ice cream.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


I have an evite in my in-box from the United Macedonian Diaspora.

My First Sewing Kit

UPS brought us many good things today (including the intimidating Betty Crocker's Indian Home Cooking and Nancie McDermott's more approachable Quick and Easy Thai). Most importantly, it brought C a beginnning sewing kit (Alex's My First Sewing Kit). C was very eager to begin. We finally got to work after dinner. C installed her pins in her tomato pin cushion, we read through the beginning of the instruction booklet and C sewed a small draw-string pouch (with occasional help from me). Her stitches were a bit long, but it was a very impressive first effort. The other projects in the kit are a stuffed felt kitty, elephant and dog, as well as a notebook cover that I'm not sure I see the utility of. All the pieces are pre-cut, so the child just sews. I suppose a craftier mother could have assembled the kit herself much more cheaply than the $24 we paid through Amazon, but I appreciate the convenience. I'm a rough and ready mender rather than a seamstress and I had only the briefest contact with a sewing machine in junior high home ec, but while working with C, I've had a renewed appreciation for the skills that I do have. I can thread a needle, sew a button, fix a seam and tie appropriate knots without thinking about it, and I get a lot of mileage out of those rudimentary skills.

One of the nice things about these sewing projects is that they are very time-consuming. C sat down to work and it was at least an hour before we got up again. I look forward to doing the sewing kit projects with C and then eventually moving on to Alex's embroidery kit, a flannel blanket tying kit, a big girl loom, and (who knows?) maybe a sewing machine some day. It's going to be fun.

Potty training update XXXII

D is not quite as potty trained as I had hoped, but he is acting cranky and sick.

Rose jam

Speaking of the lavish grocery budget, my husband and I finally got around to placing a mail order with sadaf.com, purveyors of Middle Eastern foods. We ordered about 10 jars of Patak Indian sauces and pastes, some Israeli marble halva and some Persian rose jam.

More June budget

As expected, the June budget had a lot of bad news. We are now paying $275 more in tuition and take-home income is down $500 (thanks to increased tax withholding, slightly increased 401(k) contribution, decreasing business income). We've cut our vacation savings, but with one thing and another, the projected house savings for this month is $432 (down from the usual $1,000). Plus, later in the summer we'll be spending an extra $100 a month on electricity for the AC. That expense will disappear during the fall and income should be up a couple hundred dollars around the same time, but all in all, it's not a pretty picture. We may trim our admittedly lavish grocery budget, but that's only going to give us at most $200-300.

It's unclear when we'll have to leave our rental, but it's no sooner than 18-24 months. If we can stay longer than that, it could be a blessing in disguise. Housing markets are different everywhere (and move very slowly), but some of the guys at thehousingbubbleblog.com think that 2012 will be the bottom of the housing market.


C and I went to the pool together last night. She wore floaties on her arms (even helped me inflate them), but beyond that, she is very comfortable in the water and engages in swim-like motion with her arms and legs. She can touch bottom now, which makes a big difference. Ever since spring break, I've noticed that being in the water makes her very cheerful. Her great-grandpa (who is super aquatic) is coming for a visit soon so we're going to be hitting the pool some more. C also has two weeks of swim classes with the Red Cross coming up in July. I think she's going to be a real swimmer by the end of the summer. This has been nearly three years coming. Starting when she was nearly 4, I spent untold hours with her in group and individual classes, making very little progress. I think the problems were 1) lack of a zero-entry pool 2) C's distress at the noise and splashing at the group class 3) C's dislike of having her face splashed.

This may be premature, but D may have finally potty-trained (at least during the day). We still have an accident and some reluctance here and there, but he is in charge and has a very high rate of success. Hallelujah! It's impossible to convey how delightful it is when a late trainee finally sees the light. I wouldn't trade it for a week in Paris.