Monday, August 31, 2009

Don't need AC

Once again, I've got the AC off and windows open. The dryer is running and I'm sitting under the electric candelabra in the dining room (five little IKEA compact fluorescent bulbs produce a surprising amount of heat), but it's only 80.6 degrees in here and 80.1 outside. We started the morning at 71 degrees outside with the indoor temperature about 10 degrees warmer. I ran the AC briefly to flush out the hot air, but I expect to be able to keep it off until lunch time. I wasn't expecting that the end of August would be so cool. I am positively looking forward to seeing my September electric bill.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Flatland

C is reading Flatland.

Fall begins?

This morning, it was 72 degrees Fahrenheit. We had windows open all morning long for the first time in months.

The weekend was very busy. On Saturday, we all went to a picnic hosted in the backyard of one of C's 2nd grade classmates. We left early to meet some neighbors at the pool. Today (Sunday), my husband took C to a Sherlock Holmes-themed birthday party. Our gift was a set of Encyclopedia Brown books. On Tuesday night, there's a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. We won't be able to go to that, but the school year is starting with a bang.

Dragon costume

I'm looking for a size 5T dragon costume for D. His current one (size 4T?) is getting too small for him after two years of wear. I'd like to get him a really nice replacement, but I'm not wild about the ones I've seen at Amazon and Nextag. Old Navy has OK looking (although slightly too Barney-ish) costumes for $22.50. I wouldn't mind spending a bunch (OK, $50) for an attractive costume. Any suggestions?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children II

Here are some more quotes. It's better than I remembered it.

  • Gifted children enjoy soaking up information even more than other children. They learn quickly and easily, and they remember things with less practice than their age mates.
  • ...gifted children of almost any age show longer attention spans--in the things they are interested in at the moment, not necessarily in what others think they should be interested in.
  • Persistence is a long-lasting trait of gifted children and adults.
  • The most common motivation problem that parents and teachers describe is underachievement in school, where a student's performance is significantly below his potential. It is indeed ironic that school--which of all society's institutions should be a haven for a gifted child--is often a source of frustration and disappointment...Unfortunately, it is in school that gifted children often learn to underachieve. If standards are low and little effort is required to succeed, and if significant praise is heaped upon the child for his abilities, strong work habits and self-motivation cannot develop.
  • For highly gifted children, as much as three-fourths of class may be spent in "busy work" or waiting for others. If appropriate educational modifications are not made, the gap widens with each passing year between the skills of these children and the average grade-level work.

A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children

I recently read Webb, Gore, Amend, and Devries' A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children. I wanted to like it more than I did. It's somewhat bloated, but I think it was worth reading. Here are some quotes from the book:

  • Some educators believe that "bright children don't need any special help; after all, they already have so many things going for them." The reality is that gifted children's educational needs arise directly from their strengths; it is precisely because these children are rapid and advanced learners that they need specialized learning opportunities.
  • A child whose IQ score is 45 points above average (145) is as different from the norm (100) as a child with an IQ that is 45 points below average (55).
  • ...they may be excellent in reading but poor in math, or they may show precocious ability in verbal development. Sometimes intellectual skills are quite advanced while motor or social skills are far behind. Or their knowledge is advanced, but their judgment in social areas--such as tact--lags far behind. This uneven pattern of behavior is called asynchronous development. Because it is prominent in so many gifted children, some professionals believe asynchronous development, rather than potential or ability, is the defining characteristic of giftedness. Their asynchronous development makes gifted children, as a group, more heterogeneous and diverse than a group of average children...
  • The more highly gifted the child, the more out of sync she is likely to be within herself, with wide differences between areas of strength and areas of relative weakness. Thus it is not at all unusual, for example, for a seven-year-old gifted highly gifted child to be reading at a sixth-grade level, performing math tasks at a fourth grade level, and with fine-motor skills that are still at a second-grade level--her chronological age level...This type of asynchronous child, even though gifted, often needs an individualized educational plan.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wacky track

D earned 25 points and bought some Thomas Wacky Track from my store.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Phoebe in Wonderland II

SPOILERS AHEAD

Phoebe in Wonderland is an almost. The visuals are beautiful, I love the Lichtens' house and the depiction of their marriage suggests that the script writer had been hanging around at 11d.typepad.com taking notes on academic motherhood and its discontents. And yet, it all seems a bit too pat and the parents and the teachers and the principal are a bit too stupid in their dealings with 9-year-old Phoebe. Here's a girl who might as well wear a sandwich-board announcing: "Hi! I'm Phoebe. I have a mental illness!" but it takes about 30 minutes into the film before mom notices that there's a problem and then there's nearly an hour of denial after that. It's about ten minutes from the end before we hear the word "Tourette's."

New arrival

My sprouting seeds have arrived!

UPDATE: D and I soaked the broccoli seeds and we now need to wait 3-4 days for them to sprout so that we can eat them.

UPDATE II: Little root tails appeared in 24 hours of the start of the project. As of this morning, we are over 36 hours in. The roots are now as long as the seeds themselves. D and I sampled some this morning. They already taste broccoli-ish. I'm using an Easysprout sprouter, which consists of a number of plastic containers and lids. It's hard to understand what they're all for, but the outer plastic container holds an inner plastic container for sprouting with vents at the bottom. I've topped it off with a vented lid. The thing is set up to encourage air circulation and minimize the need for handling the sprouts during the process. The directions confuse me. I'm not sure whether to rinse or how often, but I'm doing it about twice a day.

Whole wheat zucchini muffins

Last night, I was having some cravings for sweets, so I made up a batch of whole wheat zucchini muffins. I used the sugar and the vegetable oil options and replaced 1/2 cup of the whole wheat flour with all purpose flour. They turned out great and I will be putting them in the kids' lunches.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Phoebe in Wonderland

I want to watch Phoebe in Wonderland, but unfortunately, my husband found the subject matter unappealing (cute obsessive compulsive girl + Alice in Wonderland). As I said, I want to watch it, and Netflix sent it to us, but I am also almost incapable of sitting down and watching anything by myself, and I'm afraid it's probably unsuitable for C.

Anyway, I've just popped the DVD in. So far I'm not impressed. We see Phoebe going through a succession of dry, boring classrooms with row after row of desks, and we see a succession of teachers with improbably large rulers telling the kids only to ask during question time. When is question time, Phoebe asks? This isn't question time, I just told you, says the teacher. The only ray of light is Ms. Dodger, the theater teacher, who comes into one of these dismal classrooms reciting from the Jabberwocky. (Why didn't they get Robin William? I'm kidding. I can't stand Robin Williams. But it's that kind of role, obviously.)

I realize that this isn't necessarily going to be a realistic film and the depiction of Phoebe's environment may reflect her internal state rather than objective reality, but right from the beginning, the depiction of the classrooms bothers me. For the past 30 years, elementary classrooms have never looked remotely like the ones shown at the beginning of Phoebe in Wonderland. Phoebe's parents are supposed to be yuppie/creative types. Why on earth did they send her to this school? And why did they keep her there? I'm having a hard time suspending belief.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

CPSIA

I've been reading a chapter of Pecos Bill and Lightning to D every night for the past few nights, and tonight we finished the book. This version of the Pecos Bill stories is by Leigh Peck and came out in 1940. The illustrations are simple and bold, with lots of blue, red, and yellow. My copy is a library discard that I probably bought for 25 cents as a kid. It's a beautiful book, and I hope it has many years of use in it.

The most striking element for me of CPSIA is the complete absence of common sense. An old book can only give a child lead poisoning if the child chews on it, and the sort of parent who wants their child to enjoy reading a vintage book is very unlikely to allow that child to chew on it.

Saturday II

This has been a very eventful day. At some point after lunch, our new neighbor M (who is in C's 2nd grade class) rang the doorbell. She's been wanting to play with C for quite a while, but they hadn't gotten the chance before. M collects bird feathers and she has quite a few blue jay feathers now.

Around 4:30, F (an older neighbor girl) rang the doorbell to announce a water balloon fight. C and D put on their sandals and hats and we went down the block. It took a long time to fill the balloons with the hose--they kept breaking. A very wet time was had by all and C enjoyed the neighbors' rope swing (you put your foot in and swiiiiing).

All this neighborly doorbell ringing makes me want to put on pearls and heels to vacuum--kids aren't supposed to do that kind of stuff anymore. They are supposed to stay home alone and cultivate a bluish gamer's pallor and muscular thumbs for texting. Neighborhood protocol is that the kids roam on foot and bike around the loop. Given my maternal training in Washington DC, I accompany my kids on their neighborhood rounds and when they bike, I walk or bike alongside and bark out safety instructions on oncoming cars and safe turning at intersections.

Saturday

C made some unauthorized changes to the decor of D's wooden school bus and had to apologize. Some time later, I discovered that she had made D a school bus, using different colors of construction paper. It's very cute.

Years ago, I bought a book called Making Toys for Preschool Children: Using Ordinary Stuff for Extraordinary Play. I don't think I ever used an activity from it, but I gave the book to C and just this morning she made a cereal box puppet with paper towel tube arms for D. Just a few minutes ago, she secured permission to do the make-a-beach activity from the book. We have sand, sea shells, and rocks available at home, so I said yes, but suggested the bathroom as a venue. Minutes later, there was a crash and when I got up to investigate, C was yelling to D to "Get a towel!" It wasn't that bad. I'm hoping that the sand will vacuum out of the carpet when it dries.

School begins

School started this week. C is going 5 days a week and D is going 3 days a week. Both get dropped off and picked up at the same time on school days. That's much more streamlined than last year, and I am enjoying it. On the kids' first day of school, my husband and I snuck out to a movie (Star Trek!!!) at the $1.25 theater. By Friday, I got into gear and cleared out my backlog of papers from school and the parish and started working over my calendar (it's one of those non-year-specific ones where you need to write in the dates). That burst of activity continued this morning, and I finished feeding stuff into the calendar and finished up my to-do lists. Now that I theoretically have three full days a week at my disposal, I need to be organized in order to keep the time from slipping through my fingers. This being-your-own boss thing is hard.

The kids have had a very promising start at school. D's teacher is a former babysitter of his and he's stayed dry at school so far (with a couple of accidents at home). C has a desk in a prime location right next to the teacher. Her class is going to be studying ancient Egypt, which I think will be exactly her cup of tea. She'll have physical therapy twice a week after school, with some other regular appointments. It's going to be a busy fall, but I hope we'll be able to cut back eventually.

The kids make school buses

My husband took the kids to a free Saturday activity at Lowes today. The kids got aprons, goggles and a badge representing the project they completed, which was a small wooden school bus. My husband says that they got to work with adorable child-size hammers.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Red curry

My husband opened up a can of Thai red curry, added a bit of coconut milk (according to the recipe on the can), added the chicken that I had cut up (not his favorite job), and then added pineapple chunks and a can of sliced water chestnuts. I microwaved some frozen stir fry veggies and some brown rice from yesterday. The resulting dinner was delicious and fiery hot. It was so hot, in fact, that we had to rinse the kids' chicken after they complained.

Fried rice

On Monday night, we went out to dinner at our local Thai restaurant. It was a spectacular dinner (we got the coconut ice cream with sticky rice at C's suggestion) and it set us back $50 after the tip.

Last night, I helped my husband make fried rice (this was the first time, I think). He fried tofu in lots of oil, added lemongrass and ginger, added several eggs, added cold rice from the fridge, added microwaved cut stir fry vegetables and sweet and sour sauce. The kids were dubious (C would have preferred chicken rather than tofu), but ate a few bites. Family rules state that when we cook at home, they are entitled to an a la carte order (peanut butter and jelly or instant oatmeal), but only after mommy has finished eating her dinner. The fried rice was somewhat too bland. Next time, I think we'll want more lemongrass, more ginger, and maybe some lemon slices on the side.

The cafeterias are reopening much sooner than expected.

Entre les murs III

We finished up watching Entre les murs last night. Here are a few short thoughts:
  • M. Marin does become somewhat more encouraging, but it's too little, too late. He's always one step behind where he ought to be.
  • An important problem which develops late in the film is that Marin cannot apologize to his students, even when he's clearly in the wrong.
  • If you watch it, watch to the end. There are some surprises.
  • We watched a few minutes of the making-of documentary. The filmmakers went to a real French high school and used real students, with lots of improvisation and last-minute script rewrites. The resulting film feels very fresh and natural and real. You should see it!

Nonsense Novels

Our most recent audiobook for the car was Stephen Leacock's Nonsense Novels (1911), a collection of parodies of various genres. Leacock was a Canadian and very funny. The sea story parody involving the treacherous Captain Bilge was so funny that we had to turn it off in order to drive safely, but Leacock is more famous for the futuristic tale "The Man in Asbestos," which I enjoyed years ago in a 1960s school reader that I had picked up somewhere, probably for a quarter. (By the way, those 1960s readers are fantastic. If you see one for sale, buy it!)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Entre les murs II

We did another installment of Entre les murs last night. Catherine Johnson's excellent post on the movie is here. I like her treatment of the faculty meeting and the punitive, take-it-or-leave-it nature of the school system. All of the teachers are basically nice people, and they would all obviously rather have the students succeed than not, but they don't understand positive reinforcement. Because they don't understand positive reinforcement, they and their students are locked in a slow downward spiral of doom, the teachers negatively reinforcing the students and the students negatively reinforcing the teachers, over and over again. If Sartre had been there, he would have crumpled up his draft of No Exit and rewritten it as a classroom drama--hell is other people. While the American everybody-gets-a-trophy!/everybody-is-special! system is ripe for mockery, at least American teachers know that they are supposed to encourage and praise. Poor M. Marin suffers horribly, but many of his sufferings are self-inflicted. Consider, for instance, the Austria incident that I described in my previous post on the movie. Wei doesn't know what Austria is. During the ensuing discussion, one of the African boys from the back (by no means an academic star) speaks up and says that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was from Austria. This is by far the most helpful explanation offered by anyone in the class. Almost instantly, M. Marin starts correcting the student's pronunciation of the "W" in Wolfgang. So the African student gets negatively reinforced for contributing correct, helpful information to the classroom discussion. We'll see if he makes that mistake again.

Catherine has a nice treatment of the "intuition" discussion. There were a couple of other interesting bits from the section we watched last night. The city kids refer to people like Marin (ethnic French, educated, suit-wearing) as "Camemberters." I love that. In another effective scene, a kid is trying to conjugate the present tense of "to believe" on the blackboard and having horrible trouble. The rest of the class shouts out various muddled suggestions.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Black beans and tortillas

This morning, I put some black beans in the slow cooker before we left for Mass. The family has expressed disgust for the odor of garlic and onions slow cooking all day long in the Crockpot, so I decided to take a few shortcuts. I used my black bean recipe (from Betty Crocker's Slow Cooker Cookbook) for general inspiration, but substituted a couple of heaping tablespoons of Patak's biryani paste for most of the seasoning.

Just before dinner, my husband and the kids got to work on tortillas. He substituted for 1/4 of the white flour with whole wheat flour. The process involves some kneading and allowing the tortilla dough to rest. Eventually, you roll the tortilla dough out (as round as you can manage) and then cook it on a hot, dry skillet. Results today were excellent: hot and fluffy--just like they make them at the cafeteria!

I served the black beans and tortillas with brown rice from yesterday, ranchera salsa, lime juice, and (just like my mom used to!) cottage cheese. It was very good. It would have been even better (but more expensive) with guacamole. C didn't like dinner much, but she eventually enjoyed a tortilla with blueberry preserves. It was an excellent, very inexpensive dinner. Seven more dinners to go before the cafeterias reopen!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Theater

C was telling me this evening that regrets the fact that having only two actors (herself and D) means that she can only have two characters on stage at once.

Dinnerblogging

The cafeterias are all closed down now and we are going to be on our own for the next 8 days. Tonight, we (mainly my husband) cooked chicken and canned chick peas with 1/2 a jar of Patak's biryani paste, water, some frozen ginger (grated with our new Microplane zester) and some sesame seeds. I served it with microwaved snap peas and brown rice (made in the rice cooker). The kids took it pretty well. We have a bunch of brown rice left and a heaping dish of chicken and chick peas ready for lunch tomorrow. When the cafeterias are closed, I get some peace of mind from having fresh leftovers in the fridge.

After dinner, my husband made pumpkin muffins. We've already eaten half of them. Lately, I've also been enjoying frozen raspberries with whipped cream for dessert.

Entre les murs

My husband and I just started watching a 2008 French movie called Entre les murs (The Class). There's already been animated discussion of the film on http://www.kitchentablemath.blogspot.com/. The film is based on a recent autobiographical novel by a former teacher who also plays the leading role in the film. M. Marin teaches middle school French to an ethnically and linguistically diverse class and we see him in his fourth year. He's obviously a smart, literate guy, but he's out of his depth, and I found myself getting progressively more and more irritated with him. To be fair, it was very brave of the author/actor to be so brutally honest about his own failings. As an old Russian friend (a physics teacher) used to say, a negative result is also a result.

I don't think anybody noticed this over at KTM, but Marin starts his initial class without saying hello or introducing himself (the kids eventually get him to give his name). He doesn't ever seem to give a short preliminary talk on his subject and why it's important (that could have saved him a lot of grief). It's early still in the movie, but another thing that ticked me off is that despite the fact that this is his fourth year, it doesn't seem to have dawned on him that since a fair proportion of his class has very limited French and that that he needs to meet them where they actually are. His teaching style is reactive rather than proactive, and the kids frequently (and predictably) derail him. He doesn't get flustered by misbehavior, but he also doesn't seem to have ever heard about positive reinforcement. We're only about 20 minutes in, but I find myself thinking that maybe there are things that US schools do a lot better. For one thing, some of M. Marin's problems (for instance his explanations) could be fixed with technology. As it is, the only technology present in the classroom is the kids' contraband personal distractors (cell phones, etc.). When Wei doesn't know what Austria is and Marin attempts an explanation, it would help a lot to be able to project a map of Europe from a laptop onto a screen.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Art Dragon

The kids brought me a handmade ticket to their performance "the art dragon." The three characters in the play were the princess (C), the dragon (D) and the prince (D). I just got back from the performance in D's room. The dragon is an art lover and is slain offstage by the prince with a sword made from aluminum foil.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Offside

A couple nights ago, my husband and I finished watching the Iranian movie Offside (2007) and an interview with the director. Offside is about half a dozen Iranian girls who passionately love soccer. Each disguises herself as a boy (with various degrees of plausibility and expertise) in order to sneak into the stadium for the big game and each gets caught. We watched Offside itself in a single evening. Normally, we watch 15-45 minutes of a movie per night, and it can take us weeks to get through anything that isn't totally compelling, but Offside is incredibly dramatic. The movie has an interesting quasi-documentary feel. The director used non-actors and filmed much of the footage around an actual game. Because Offside was not officially screened in Iran, it wasn't eligible for the Oscars. It did sell very successfully on CD in Tehran.

I am a very big fan of the few Iranian movies that I am familiar with, and I'm hoping to show Leila as part of our home film series this fall. The best Iranian film-makers are expert at showing without telling and they produce sensitive, dramatic films with good pacing. There's really no other cinema like Iran's.

Trampoline

My husband bought some playground sand at Lowes today and has been using it to weight down the legs of our new trampoline. It's working, he says.

No ballet?

C says she doesn't want to do ballet. This is going to be a busy fall for her with lots of very necessary activities, so I wasn't going to argue. Once we get into spring, I may take it up with her again, since ballet is very beneficial for strength and balance.

Kids and money

Today D turned in over $19 and bought two Thomas items from me: a non-battery run Thomas (D gets anxious at the thought of batteries running out) and a breakdown engine with a flat car for carrying distressed engines. In other train news, C built a beautiful stretch of elevated track today.

I went to the bank today and got $20 worth of dimes. For some time, I've been wanting to get C to start tithing, or at least to set aside 10% of her income for charitable giving at Christmastime. C had earlier expressed agreement in principal and I figured that paying her in dimes would facilitate that process. I was all set up this evening: I had the dimes and I had a small plastic container for collecting C's charitable dimes. Unfortunately, there was no sale: C does not want to tithe. I put away my stuff and gave her her usual dollar, but I expect to repeat the pitch every night until grace moves her. I have also ordered a copy of Dave Ramsey's kid book on giving. To do C justice, my pitch led her to start talking about her plans for D's Christmas present.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Off-roading

D just got a spiffy remote-controlled car from his grandparents and C has fresh batteries in her red remote-controlled Off-Road F-150 with oversized tires. She's had it since she was around 2. Then, we mainly just ran the truck around the tennis court in DC for C and her chum P (hello, P!). Only now, with C big enough to tote the truck and remote, has the truck realized its full potential. We took a walk with it down the block this evening and C did a beautiful job negotiating the bumpy sidewalks with the remote. Earlier today, my husband took C and D to the climbing wall before dinner and the kids both worked very hard at it. C made 5 or 6 goes at the wall.

Last night, we visited some neighbors down the block. Our new neighbors have installed two ropes for swinging on the huge live oak tree in their front yard. It was tricky to stick a foot in a loop and swing without going splat. C fell a couple of times but she's crazy about it. D is now so fast on his little bike with training wheels that I have to waddle and jog a bit to keep up with him when we circle the block (we can do that because our neighborhood is donut-shaped with only two outlets). I'd like to switch to biking with D, but unfortunately, I somehow got a flat on my bike, so I've got to keep waddling.

In other kid news, a large mysterious clinking Amazon box arrived today. It turned out to be the mini-trampoline that we ordered. It's the 48" Bazoongi Bouncer. The Amazon reviewers praise the quality of construction, although they mention difficulty in assembly. It's also slightly tippy when C holds onto the safety (???) bar, but doesn't tip when D uses the bar. My husband is planning on getting some sand to weight down the legs a bit more. We take spinal cord injuries seriously around here, and the safety information is scary stuff. Our plan is to keep it in our bedroom and only pull it out for indoor use under supervision. The kids love it. The bouncer (like the climbing wall) is part of our home therapy program for C. She's in twice a week physical therapy right now and is finding it tough sledding. She wants to know when she can stop. Given her resistance to the formal program, our home activities need to be engaging and fun (and not require too much from us big people). So far, the wall climbing and the trampoline look like they will do the job. Swimming is also very good, but requires a lot of planning and set-up.

I should note that this post gives a somewhat deceptive picture of our recent life at home. First C was recovering from her trip, then the kids got sick, and now we're starting the final week before school starts. Most of the time, it's just me on the laptop (offering meals and clean clothes now and then) and the kids snipping construction paper all over the carpet while outside the temperature begins its slow, steady climb to 100+ degrees. The other activities I mentioned are the exception rather than the rule, but they do happen, especially after the sun goes down.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Electric bill

We switched electricity providers and just got our first bill with the new company. Last month's bill was $242 and this month's bill was $135. That's 9.9 cents per KW. There was much rejoicing.

In other news, $22 showed up unexpectedly, so this month's house savings is going to be $47. During our peak, we were managing to put over $1,000 a month into house savings, but with decreased income, increased tuition and medical stuff we are facing an uphill climb. We also had to spend a bundle (around $400) on school uniforms and other beginning-of-the year school expenses. On the other hand, there will be a small salary bump at the end of this month and we will also soon be entering the no-heating-no-cooling part of the year, which is financially a very happy time of year.

My feeling is that with everything we've got going on (D starting school and C's physical therapy, etc.) that we will be doing very well to make budget and save a couple hundred dollars a month this year. Once C and D are settled down in school I can start making enquiries about butter-and-egg money. ESL tutoring is the obvious thing. I'd also like to try Russian tutoring or see if I can find a gig as a research assistant to a professor. It's too early right now. The kids have a lot going on this fall, so I need to make sure that they get a good start before I get distracted.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Potty training update XLI

Today we celebrated D's many dry days and nights with a trip to IKEA's Smaland. Ironically (if that is the right word), he had 1.5 accidents today. The kids had a good time at Smaland, as usual. Also as usual, I found the 60 minutes very short and I had to speed up after an initial 30 minutes of obsessive note taking. I liked the IKEA steel kitchen carts (particularly the Flytta one with a cutting board that fits on top), the birch storage cabinets (Effektiv?), the metal IKEA PS laptop workstation, shiny black flecked granite and solid surface countertops.

As usual, I spent a fair amount of time looking at dining room tables. Our current dining room set came to us along with a window AC unit for a total of $200 in the late 90s when my husband and I moved into a one-bedroom apartment as newlyweds. It's darker than I prefer, the chairs and table have lots of lathe work that I dislike and is hard to keep clean, the table seats only 6 and the laminate surface over the particle board is starting to chip away. Periodically, one of the chairs gives way and my husband takes it out to the garage, glues it, adds screws, and returns the frankenchair to the dining room. I've wanted to replace the dining room set for years already, but the thing won't die. Now that I have eaten the fruit of the tree of furniture knowledge, I know that you can't get a decent new dining room set for less than a couple thousand dollars, but that doesn't stop me from visiting the dining room table section at IKEA and having a look at what $400 gets you.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

D's interests

While we were by ourselves at home, D had me reading through his library books, which were chiefly devoted to lizards in general, chameleons, geckos, the life cycle of the pumpkin, red wood trees, saguaro cactuses, insects and spiders. We are still slowly working our way through the insect and spider books. It gave me the creeps to read about pedipalps while putting D to bed by myself in an empty house, but D told me happily that he has been dreaming of insects.
D is very interested in mildew because I've been warning him not to pour water on the carpet. He exhausted my knowledge of the subject ("How does mildew protect itself from predators?"), so we turned to Wikipedia. This morning we were looking at an article on mildew, one on mold, and one on mushrooms. D is somewhat phobic about mushrooms after being warned that some are dangerous. In fact, he wants me to cross the street rather than walk past a certain patch of mushrooms.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

August budget

We just did the August budget. We are down to $25 this month for house savings. (Anything you'd like to say, dave s.?) That's the bad news. The good news is that we have a number of virtual savings accounts (medical, Christmas/travel, new computer fund, car maintenance fund, home maintenance fund, camp savings, highway driving lessons fund for me) that we pay into every month, so things like Christmas or new tires don't sneak up on us. We also have a small (2-3 month) emergency fund, but as Dave Ramsey says, Christmas is not an emergency. It comes the same time every year.

We have big plans for holiday travel this year. Practically every year my extended family does a big ski trip, but I've only gone once since getting married and C and my husband went once when D was a baby. Since my husband's family lives in BC, it should be reasonably easy to combine a holiday visit to them and three days of skiing and fun in the snow for the kids with my family. (Snow is a very big deal for Texans.) Despite the fact that this is going to be the year of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, the hotel rates are much better than last year. (We're not going to Whistler.) Our transportation is still up in the air. My husband driving is out of the question since the road conditions in the mountains can be extremely challenging even for experienced drivers, and he hasn't ever driven on ice or snow. We are entertaining the idea of doing a 5.5 hour trip each way on Greyhound, but I am happy to be talked out of that plan. (It is very affordable if you book ahead.) We've been saving for this ever since last Christmas. I don't really see us doing the ski trip every year, or even every other year, but the kids are big enough that I really think it's time to go.

Groceries

During C and her dad's trip, our only car spent a week and a half parked at the DFW parking lot. D and I had an opportunity to re-experience carlessness. There's a lot of talk about the relationship between cars, groceries, poverty, healthy diet, and frequent shopping, so I thought I should share my experiences. I think we did OK (we live 9 blocks from our HEB, even closer to various convenience stores and a stroller makes an effective mini-grocery cart), but it was a very hand-t0-mouth existence and I wound up overpaying for certain items. I had to walk to the grocery store every 2 to 3 days, but we were still always on the verge of running out of important staples. I didn't buy gallon containers of milk because of the transportation issues, so I paid $2 for a half gallon of milk whereas I could have gotten a gallon for $2.50. Likewise, when I wimped out and went to the gas station for milk rather than all the way to the grocery, the gas station wanted $3 for a half gallon. By the end, our fresh fruit was down to one apple in the fridge and we were out of laundry detergent and apple juice. My husband, C and the car got back late last night, so our first priority this morning was $177 of grocery shopping.

On reflection, I think the reason that D and I managed for so long was that it was just the two of us. Had it been me, C and D home alone without the car, I think I would have had to go begging to my neighbor for a ride.

Bread

D and I had a long talk about bread crust yesterday while I was cutting the crust off a slice for him. D just does not understand why bread has to have crust.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Homecoming

Why, you may wonder, has there been so much stuff on D and potty training and so little on C for the past week and a half? That's simple, dear readers--C and her dad have been in British Columbia visiting my in-laws. C has been enjoying grandma's pool, playing Monopoly, and finishing up Inkspell. There were also several days spent on an island off the coast of the Mainland. C got to see dolphins, seals, and mama and baby deer. There was also some boating, and C got to play a lot on the beach. C and her dad are due back in Texas later today.

How have D and I managed on our own? Pretty well, although there were several nights when I fell asleep reading and woke up at 6 AM with the fluorescent lights blazing and microwaved frozen burritos formed too large a proportion of my diet. D, of course, is now basically potty trained (I expect there will be some accidents once normal life resumes). As you know if you are a long time reader, potty training D has been a major project, but with just the two of us at home and no distractions, it was possible to go to cotton underpants and deal with puddles as they came. And, as it turned out, there weren't that many puddles. (I used vinyl training pants over D's cotton underpants during the winter and but abandoned them quickly this summer because they were just too hot.) There are thousands of crushed green pecans on the patio and driveway and the yardwork is seriously in arrears, partly thanks to all the rain that we've been having. Indoors, things are pretty much normal, except that I'm caught up with my laundry. I didn't manage to do any major household project and I've pretty much spent the past week and a half on the internet and D has watched hours of videos every day, but he is potty-trained, and nothing else really matters.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Potty training update XL

D was dry all day yesterday. He had an accident last night that he took care of himself and told me about in the morning. He has 97 points now.

UPDATE: D just reached 100 points and I unpacked and gave him some track, the roundhouse, a turn table, and a lifting bridge. They're off-brand items, but they look and feel great, especially the lifting bridge (the roundhouse has a somewhat cheaper feel, but so does the Thomas roundhouse). D is thrilled and has just attached the lifting bridge to the loop that runs around his toddler bed. He's currently building a second loop containing the roundhouse and the turntable. The question is, now that D has achieved his heart's desire, will he keep using the potty? If he starts balking, I'll talk about how much Emily would love to come live in the roundhouse. (Emily the train engine has been languishing in my store for a couple of months now.)

We have only one Thomas video at home. I recently thought I would spark D's interest in enlarging his train collection by renting more Thomas videos from Netflix, but D resisted the idea of watching new Thomas videos. He also hasn't watched our old Thomas video in quite some time. So D's interest in Thomas and his friends is now quite independent of the videos. I've seen something similar with Lightning McQueen from Cars--the character of the red race car is so aesthetically appealing to kids that Lightning Mcqueen exists independently from the movie in the world of tennis shoes and lunch boxes.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Potty training update XXXIX

D has been dry since my last update and he now has 90 points. 10 more points and he gets his pile of train loot. His three full days a week of school start in less than three weeks, so we are on track.