Friday, July 31, 2009

Potty training update XXXVIII

D was dry all day yesterday and woke up dry this morning. He has 80 points now. He needs 20 more points in order to get his train loot. That should be in about three days.

D says: "Why are they called points? They're not actually pointy."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Potty training update XXXVII

D woke up dry this morning and was dry all day long until an accident at 9 PM tonight.

Speaking of D, he was recently telling a story that contained the following line, "...and then an elephant stomped on his house."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Potty training update XXXVI

D woke up dry this morning and has been dry all day so far. Yay!

Monday, July 27, 2009

State of the yard

The pecan tree near the patio (our best producer two years ago) is showering the patio with tiny green pecans. Hopefully, this means that we will have a good crop this fall and lots of whole wheat pecan muffins. The rosemary bushes and the mint bush that were here when we moved are pretty much bomb-proof and are coping well with high temperatures around 100 degrees. My Thai basil plants are also doing surprisingly well. I'm not totally sure, but my garlic chives made it through last winter and seem to be multiplying. My pumpkin plants seem to have died and the rest of my herbs are suffering. The sweet basil plants look especially miserable, but based on last year's experience, I know that they will have several happy months after it cools down and before the first frost.


The kids passed the PPD test they had to take last week. That's a relief.

Potty training update XXXV

D insisted on going to bed tonight in cotton underpants. He was dry all day long.


C was playing Monopoly with her dad and auntie yesterday and won her second game. She eventually had to mortgage a number of properties, which she was strongly opposed to. Her dad attributes this to my Dave Ramsey habit. He also says that C did a good job making change with her Monopoly money and she was able to multiply by four as needed. I'm glad to hear this, since we haven't done any formal math work this summer.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Potty training update XXXIV

D was dry this morning.

1:38 PM D had an accident in the living room.

5:15 PM D had an accident in the dining room, right after a too-fast trip to the bathroom.

To paraphrase a movie quote, we're going to need a bigger spray bottle of Resolve.

7:15 PM D had wet underpants, but managed to run to the potty to finish the job. His jeans stayed dry and there were no carpet puddles. Progress?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Potty training update XXXIII

I'm unfortunately having to scrub this post, given that it is a magnet for creepy Asian-language spam.

Friday, July 24, 2009

David and Bathsheba

C is almost finished with her summer reading chart for school. The kids get quite a few "free choice" books, plus they read books or stories in particular categories. A day or two ago, C needed to read a Bible story. As it happens, the Bible story book that C chose was The Bible for Children: from Good Books (2002). It's got about 250 stories from the Old and New Testaments, each occupying one or two pages, the art is both beautiful and contemporary, and the stories aren't dumbed down. It originally came out in Oxford, England as The Lion Bible for Children. Of all the stories among the 250 to choose for her summer reading chart, C happened to select David and Bathsheba. As I mentioned, this edition doesn't dumb things down for the kiddies, so it de-euphemizes and amplifies the elliptical scriptural account and spells out exactly what King David was up to. I didn't check C's reading comprehension of the story, but urged her to read a different story for the summer reading chart. She read two about Solomon and I dutifully recorded them. Whew.
In other "birds and bees" news, C had a pretty good answer for D when he asked her what an anther was. She learned a bunch at her garden camp in June.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


D is enjoying a new shipment of library books. His current favorite is a picture book on insects.

Climbing wall

Tonight, my husband took C for her third visit to the climbing wall, and D for his second. C made four attempts on the wall, each time getting a bit higher. Her furthest reach was eight feet from the ground. She also ran on the indoor track and did 1/9 of a mile in 1:13. That's better than her last time. C avoids running games because she thinks that she always comes in last, so this is important.

Earlier today, C did physical therapy. The therapist reports that she has made a lot of progress and has met a number of goals. We'll make further plans in August.

Travel preparations

My husband is using the color printer to put together travel versions of Chinese Chess and Dou Shou Qi (AKA Jungle, the Chinese board game). C thought this an excellent plan, and appropriated some of the paper scraps to create a Jungle set for herself.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Overheard at HEB

I heard the following in the checkout line today.

Guy: ...Germany. You know what I mean? Nazis. Tom Cruise...

I take it he was talking about Valkyrie, but I like just leaving those words hanging out there together, free of context. I didn't get any.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sweet tea

While C and I were waiting in the shade for a ride home from the children's museum, a family picnicking nearby offered us cups of sweet tea. I've seen sweet tea around here and I've often heard people talk about sweet tea and its importance in Southern culture, but as a committed drinker of ascetical barely-sweetened iced tea, I didn't really understand the appeal of hyper-brewed, syrupy iced tea. Well, my eyes are open (and probably will be until well after midnight). For a few minutes, it was as if the doors of perception opened.

C is 7

We are now in the home stretch of summer. C has finished up all of her classes and camps and we successfully celebrated her birthday yesterday (the official date is today). We celebrated with two other families. We met our friends at the college pool at 10, swam and hot-tubbed, went to the cafeteria for lunch and then served chocolate mint cake and ice cream (HEB's 1905 Vanilla and HEB's Birthday Cake) at home. The kids played, C opened presents, and the last kids went home 6.5 hours after the whole extravaganza started. We gave C a small Chinese board game called Jungle (it's apparently a lot like Stratego, but with shorter play time) and a Highlights kit for creating a patchwork fleece throw by tying together precut squares. Various grandparents helped fund C's camps earlier this summer. Some guests brought some crafts and another guest brought a Crayola item called the Glow Station (it combines stencils with glow in the dark in a very original manner). This last item was so successful that all of the children locked themselves in the bathroom with it for a very long time in order to have a suitably dark work space.

My cake back in June was chocolate orange, which inspired C to ask for chocolate mint. My husband and D did the work Friday while C and I were having a playdate at the children's museum. The base was the Hershey's Perfect Chocolate Cake recipe. They cut up chocolate mint patties and put them in the batter. Removing the cake layers from the pans was predictably difficult, especially given the gooiness of chocolate mint cake. As always, frosting covers a multitude of sins. (This was just plain fudgy chocolate frosting. My husband was trying to avoid excess mintiness.) C's chosen decoration for the top was the number 7 formed from green and white starlight mints. It was absolutely gorgeous, it tasted fabulous with the 1905 Vanilla, and I only wish there was more left.

Friday, July 17, 2009


The $82k 3BR/1BA house with the crime-scene carpet that popped onto the market a few days ago is now $75k!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Renaissance day

Today there was a Renaissance day at our local children's museum and C and I met some friends there. The kids made garlands and masks, they tried on blouses and bodices on loan from the college theater program, they handled replica armor, chain mail, (sheathed) swords, helmets and various weaponry. The weaponry display was presided over by some reenactors in costume who told us that the armor was in actual current use for jousts (!!!) and who explained the origin of the military salute. (In the days of armor, helmeted knights saluted by lifting the visor of their helmets. That gesture is preserved in the traditions of various armies, despite the fact that in the absence of a helmet, it is obsolete.)

Having done our duty and seen all there was to see of the special events, the kids typed on mechanical typewriters, played with rubber stamps and visited with (i.e. annoyed) a molting iguana and a bullsnake. We also spent a long time outside the butterfly room. In over two years of being here, this was the most spectacular day I've ever seen at the butterfly room. There were caterpillars, chrysalises, and butterflies (monarchs, swallowtails, etc.) in great profusion.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

School uniforms

After carefully studying the school uniform regulations and engaging in a number of Talmudic email exchanges with the school office staff, I finally worked up the courage to place my school uniform order this morning with Landsend. This is a new experience in two different ways: the school just switched over to Landsend from Sue Mills and I've never had to deal with the minutiae of uniform rules for boys. I got a few items for C (tights and jeans) but had to do a complete outfitting for D who is going to be in pre-K three days a week. I tried to keep it very minimal, but between the backpack and the shoes and the two pairs of black elastic chinos and the v-necked sweater vest with a school logo and the black braided belt and the short and long-sleeved pinpoint shirts with school logos, not to mention taxes and shipping, our total ballooned to $354. That's not the end of it, either, because I still need to get D black socks and tennis shoes and to buy PE stuff for C at the school office. I feel like a freshly-shorn lamb and the grocery budget (my traditional slush fund) has taken a hit.

The only bright side to all of this is that after you first outfit a child, it's never going to be that expensive again all at once. From here on out, I'll be able to just fill in an outgrown item here and there for D, just as I already do for C.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Yet another sub-100k house has appeared on the edge of the historic neighborhood I watch. It's 1200 sq. feet, 3BR/1BA, $82k with scary crime-scene carpet. Several blocks away is the previous record-holder: $92k, 3BR/3BA, 2400 sq. ft. and somewhat renovated. Holy cow!

I still love the historic neighborhood (particularly all the 1920s houses), but I'd like to live closer to campus. Unfortunately, the faculty neighborhood that I'm thinking of rarely has houses for sale and the last time there were houses for sale, they were about twice as much as I would like to pay.

Round house

We recently ordered a number of fancy train set accoutrements. D is currently saving for a roundhouse for his train engines to sleep in. He has 24 potty points right now and he needs 36 more to get the roundhouse. After that, there's a turn table that goes with the roundhouse, a bridge that opens for boat traffic and some track.

Fifth day of swim class

C swam!

C wants a book

C told her dad that she wants a book about American history from the time of the Civil War. Her 1st grade history covered material from the early Viking explorers to the American Civil War. C says history is her favorite class.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Hot dogs

D is sickish, so my husband and I wound up going to Mass separately. He wound up at a suburban parish with an Indian priest who mentioned (in the obligatory opening anecdote) that when he first arrived in the US, he understood "hot dogs" literally. The rest of the homily was on evangelism, but I'm not sure that any of it stuck as well as the hot dog story.

More seriously, on the previous Sunday at our own parish we had an Indian missionary priest (himself Indian) who talked about Catholics' work in India fighting the dowry system and trying to make sure that girls are educated as well as efforts to educate poorer Indians about their legal rights. Violent Hindu extremism is also an issue.

C goes to the college gym

Yesterday, C and I went swimming at the college gym. She isn't exactly swimming, but she doesn't need floaties and she isn't walking and obviously there aren't any swim diapers or rubber pants involved. Thanks to this week's progress, she's able to pick up her feet from the bottom of the pool and float a bit. I am the veteran of three years or so of laborious and unproductive pool expeditions, so this means a lot to me.

Today C and I went to the college gym again and C got to go up the vast three-story tall indoor climbing rock. She wore a harness and was tied to a staffer who was tied to the floor and she did very well. She had several tries and eventually went up something like 6-8 feet. She also had a couple of thrilling swings when she lost hold of the wall and went sailing across the rock face like a clock pendulum. She didn't like that, but she kept going.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fourth day of swim class

Today was water safety day, so the kids worked with rescue equipment like life preservers. C told us that she wishes that she could have swim classes for the rest of the summer. C has one more week of swim class and I think that it's safe to say now that our camp choices (city-building camp, bead camp, garden camp, swim classes) have been very successful (knock on wood).

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Third day of swim class

C had special permission to wear goggles today for class. She also got a tip from her dad about filling her lungs up with air before trying to float. For whatever reason, today was the first time ever that C managed to float. She floated both on her tummy and her back and was very excited about it. We were talking about how many swim classes she has left (5), and she told me tonight that she wishes that she could take courses for the rest of the summer. That is very gratifying to hear.

Pit bulls

Overheard [mother to young daughter]: ...if your grandma starts raising pit bulls...

The rest of the conversation was lost to history.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Second day of swim class

The bad news is that C has been moved down to the Red Cross's water familiarity class. There is no lower group and the other kids are smaller than C. The good news is that my husband did the helicopter parent thing and secured permission for C to wear goggles during class.


We did Barnes and Noble yesterday and I was very happy to see that Kumon now has math workbooks (including separate workbooks Word Problems and Geometry & Measurement) keyed to particular grades. C did not share my excitement at this discovery. She's on math hiatus this summer. I hope she's not losing too much academic knowledge over the summer, but she is working pretty hard on things like swimming and physical therapy.

In other book news, I'd like to put in a plug for the American Girl library of how-to books. I'm glad to have escaped the gravitational pull of the American Girl doll empire, but I really like their nonfiction titles. We're working on friendship and social interaction skills with C, and we've gotten into a routine where I read to her from some book on the subject and we discuss it while I wash her hair (always a major undertaking). I've read her Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown's How to Be a Friend (it's a kids' book with cartoons of dinosaurs), parts of Fred Frankel's Good Friends are Hard to Find, all of American Girl's Friends: Making Them & Keeping Them, and parts of American Girl's Smart Girl's Guide to Manners. I've also just ordered an American Girl book on doing well at school and I'm hoping that it will help C get off on the right foot with her 2nd grade teacher.

First day of swim class

Yesterday C had her first swim class of an 8-lesson Red Cross course at the local water park. She was in the beginning swim group rather than the water familiarity group so all the kids in the group of seven were about her age and size and a couple of the girls swam like mermaids. Having seen C through a couple of unsuccessful swim courses and private lessons 2-3 years ago (C held onto either me or the instructors in the water with a koala death-grip), I followed the group around the facility with some concern. C's nearly 7 and I really want her to learn to swim this summer. The kids bobbed in the the water, blew bubbles, floated, played with dive sticks and then (for the grand finale) jumped one by one into the water, floated and then paddled to the steps. That last activity was a bridge too far. C got water up her nose and howled. However, she did jump in a second time when the instructor asked her to.

"I don't want to come back," she said after the lesson. That didn't surprise me. What did surprise me was the end of the sentence. " year." She's willing to accept the idea that she's in the class this summer and that she needs to stick with it. That's amazing progress. Incidentally, I picked up a flyer. Apparently, for $175, you can get a birthday package rental of a pavilion at the water park, 10 admissions, cake, ice cream sandwiches, pizza or hot dogs, drinks, a party hostess, etc. It sounds absolutely glorious. I've told C that she can have her party there next year if she can swim. She's interested, but unsure if she'll be able to swim.

Speaking of progress, I drove across town and out to the water park yesterday with the help of my husband and our GPS.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Xantippe gets yet more Taunton Press books

With the start of a new fiscal month, I found myself with $45 in fun money to dispose of. It went very quickly as it always does. I got a microplane grater and two Taunton books: Patterns of Home: The Ten Essentials of Enduring Design and The Farmhouse: New Inspiration for the Classic American Home. Taunton, of course, is the publishing house that brings us Sarah Susanka and her Not So Big House empire, as well as a series of very useful paperback idea books on different facets of residential home design. I own about a dozen Taunton books. Did I really need to buy these two?

Patterns of Home is by the same three architects (Jacobson, Silverstein and Winslow) who produced the classic work A Pattern Language and it's supposed to be a streamlined update of that work. The "ten essentials" are: inhabiting the site, creating rooms outside and inside, sheltering roof, capturing light, proportion, flow, private edges/common core, refuge and outlook, places in between (which in my opinion repeats both private edges/common core and refuge and outlook) and composing with materials. On my first reading, I felt disappointed by the book, but I'm warming up to it as I skim through it again. I think the principles are very good, but the houses chosen to illustrate them don't always manage to. The beginning of the roof section is particularly unfortunate. It's full of exterior shots of busy rooflines and interior shots of cavernous rooms with the sort of soaring beamed ceilings that always make me think of winter heating bills and cobwebs. I'm glad I have the book, but any Susanka book will give you more consistently appealing photos.

What about The Farmhouse? With a lot of other books, I think "This is pretty, but it isn't my house and I don't belong there," but this book and these houses speak to me. There's something wonderfully elemental about the farmhouse. Farmhouses have clean, simple lines and uncomplicated floorplans but are very traditional. They are warm and welcoming with surfaces and floorplan that are oriented toward function. Interestingly, the stuff that I like about these American farmhouses is very similar to what I like about the Scandinavian homes that I've seen on the blogroll at

4th of July

We had a quiet 4th of July. We went to the neighborhood barbeque Saturday, the kids enjoyed their tire swing, and on Sunday we made it to the pool. C is starting a two week Red Cross swim course this week and the Red Cross is strict about no floaties, no goggles, no nothing. C hates having water splashed in her face and she has had group and private lessons starting when she was four to very little effect, so I've been hyperventilating a bit ever since I heard the rules at the parent orientation. The initial plan was to do the helicopter parent thing and insist on goggles (or maybe even get a pediatrician's note), but we had the sudden inspiration yesterday to tell C that she would spend the first 30 minutes in the pool with no floaties and no goggles. I am happy to report that the 30 minutes stretched until nearly an hour. This is very good.

The swim course was supposed to start today but we woke this morning to thunder and rain. The class today was canceled. That's the bad news. The good news is that it's 77 degrees outside now and we got free water for the lawn.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Tire swing III

The old tires came off the car, the new tires went on, and the tire swing went up yesterday on the live oak tree in the front yard, complete with at least a dozen holes drilled in the bottom for drainage as per dave. s's advice. I will try to remember to interview my husband later to get more technical details. The hardware cost $71 I believe, which is about $20 less than the kits you can get premade. Every bit of the hardware on our swing is good for at least 500 pounds of weight, which is apparently not true of playground-grade stuff. The chains attach to the tire at three points, and those chains are sheathed in vinyl tubing. I helped a bit with getting a chain into a vinyl tube and it was fiendishly difficult. Eventually, he set up a pulley system to make the work easier. The tire swing looks great and the kids love it.

Oh, and he made lemon muffins last night and we watched Gran Torino.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

HEB bread flour

HEB is our big Texas grocery chain. As a thrifty (hee!) housewife, I try to buy almost everything through their store brand. As I was getting ready to empty a bag of HEB bread flour into an air-tight canister, I had a look at the recipes (all in English) on the packaging. Here's a list:
  • sopapillas
  • flour tortillas
  • bread machine white bread
  • traditional challah bread
  • pizza dough

So those are the recipes that HEB thinks will appeal to English-speaking Texan buyers of inexpensive bread flour. It is true that my husband wants to learn to make both tortillas and Indian nan, but I'm not sure that he's the demographic they have in mind.

While I'm talking about HEB, I'd like to rave a bit about their vintage-looking Texas-themed facial tissue boxes. They sell various facial tissue boxes with cowboys and horses and bluebonnets and old-time seed packages. They're the most beautiful disposable thing I've ever bought and I hope they keep making them.

4 miles

I did 4 miles on the treadmill this afternoon, listening to an audio version of Bleak House. I'm nearly one third in. The thing is, if I can manage to carve out the time, it isn't really that much more physically difficult to do 4 miles rather than 2 miles.