Saturday, February 27, 2010

Saturday doings

My husband took C for her horse riding lesson this morning. Afterward, they went to Michael's to see demonstrations of science kits. C brought home a model of a water molecule and a cup full of crystals. With her own money (and some coupons), she bought a kit for making a dragon out of pieces of wood and a unicorn suncatcher. She finished both projects today.

C has been very aggressive about working with D on his math. Poor, poor D. However, some of her coaching is sinking in. Looking at a LEGO piece, D told me "2 plus 2 plus 3 plus 3 is 10." Later today, my husband reported that he asked C what 5 times 6 was. C told him that if you divide the 6 by 2, it's clear that it's 30. Presumably, C meant that we should recast 6 X 5 as 3 (2 X 5). Quite right. I'm not sure if she comes up with this stuff on her own, or if they teach it at school.

C has expressed some interest in The Lightning Thief. As usual, she wants me to buy the book, not get it from the library. I may just buy it for her, and then tell her that she'll need to purchase the sequels.

Weekend notes

A number of things have happened over the past few days, too small for their own post, but still noteworthy.
  • C has given up chocolate for Lent and is doing very well with self-control.
  • There was enough snow earlier this week that somebody built a very respectable igloo on campus.
  • The past couple days, a gecko with a stripy tail has been hanging out on our kitchen window screen.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

D's giving

I was counting D's charity savings last night. He has just over $9 right now. I asked him how he wants to spend his charity money. "I want to buy chickens!" he said. I think he needs $20 to get a set of chicks (or the equivalent) from Heifer.

Re-Forming Gifted Education VII

The kids are home again today and engrossed with Jumpstart's 2nd Grade (I'm not super impressed, but it's OK). I'll try to do a bit of blogging on Karen Rogers' Re-Forming Gifted Education. As usual, I will put quotes in bold or in quotation marks.

  • Third and fourth grades seem to be the trouble spots for many gifted children. By the fourth grade, they have experienced several years of coming to school, putting forward very little effort, and getting amply rewarded for it.
  • Many times, these bright children look around and notice that their classmates, who are working more slowly, are not having to do as much work as they do. Therefore, as a first step toward underachievement, they slow down their pace.
  • The second stage of underachievement often follows quickly. If they are frequently told how "good" their work is, even when they know they didn't put out their best effort, these children become less committed to doing their best work. You may recall from Chapter 1 that what these children wanted from their teachers was consistent, realistic feedback.
  • Rogers says that enrichment for bright students should involve 1) "exposure beyond the regular curriculum" 2) "extension of the regular curriculum" 3) "concept development" (3 sounds like 1 to me, but whatever). Enrichment should involve HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) not MOTS (More of the Same).
  • When asked how they like to learn, gifted children strongly prefer self-instructional tasks, games, or simulations--all with new content acquisition as the goal. Their greatest preference is for independent study projects that are reading-based or content acquisition-based. Their greatest interest in learning is to "learn something new and different" rather than to do hands-on learning without learning something new. Furthermore, high achieving students generally learn more and retain information more accurately when allowed to self-pace learning tasks that are relatively structured [...]

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


The kids are home today (C has been somewhat feverish) and we woke this morning to snow falling. It was around 33.4 degrees, so after breakfast, I hurried the kids into their coats and boots and sent them to play in the slush while it lasted. The snow vanished very quickly. A couple hours later, the snow started falling again and the temperature began slowly dropping. We are now at 32.5 degrees, and the driveway is obstinantly wet, but everything else outside is starting to turn white.

UPDATE: The kids' school emailed to say that school is closing early today. A couple minutes later, I got not one but two recorded messages from my husband's college (one on our home phone, one on my cell) saying that the college would be closing early today. It's not clear what will be happening tomorrow.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Working the system

D has been working on minimizing the amount of effort he expends on his Wii Fit virtual runs. Today, my husband noticed D lying on his tummy on the floor and shaking the Wii remote to simulate jogging.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Friday and Saturday

Yesterday was Friday. My husband and I went to school at pick-up time, collected the kids, and set up for game club. We had 12 elementary kids, including our own. My husband explained the rules for Chinese checkers and the kids played both Chinese checkers and chess. Chess is a reliable favorite, so the kids usually play it after giving the new game a try. We try to do a game club meeting about once a month, so we will probably do three more sessions before the end of the school year. I'm thinking of trying dominoes and checkers. C would love to do Monopoly, but we'd need to cut the game short.

Today, I drove C to the ranch for her horse riding lesson. She learned a little about horse anatomy terms ("withers"), helped put on the pony's tack, did some grooming and worked with the pony on an obstacle course. They say that her balance and seat are good. There will be a summer session at the ranch, plus possibly a week or two of summer camp, so I'm definitely considering those options.

After C and I got home from the ranch, my husband suggested that we drive to the closest Indian restaurant for lunch. It's slightly over an hour away and we had never eaten there before. We listened to E. Nesbit's The Phoenix and the Carpet on the way. We had a beautiful lunch and enjoyed the audiobook.

We dropped by Lowes on our way home today and my husband procured a telescoping widget for getting the leaves off our roof. Upon our return, he worked on the roof and gutters and managed to suck up some leaves with our leaf vacuum. The live oaks are shedding right now and it's going to take a couple hours more hard work to deal with the leaves on the ground. I (perhaps foolishly) raided the home maintenance fund this month to buy a $142 manual treadmill. That money would have paid for leaf removal and sprung my husband from yardwork hell, but instead, it bought me a treadmill that while providing an excellent workout, also has to be readjusted every few minutes because the belt keeps creeping to one side.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Baking soda and vinegar

I bought a jug of white vinegar today to descale an electric tea pot that had started to get fuzzy with lime deposits. I got a 64 oz. jug of white vinegar at HEB for $1.06, which helps to explain the wild enthusiasm that some people have for using white vinegar and baking soda for all their cleaning needs. I did a couple of experiments around the house this morning to test the white vinegar out (normally we have regular cleaning help, but we had to cancel our last appointment because of illness and certain areas of the house have reached critical). The white vinegar worked nicely on our bathroom mirror, but didn't quite do the job on the bathroom sink. I suspect the baking soda would be more appropriate there. I've seen some people suggest making a paste combining the white vinegar and the baking soda, but I'm not really sure how that even works chemically. Wouldn't the two just neutralize each other? I've done a little bit of googling, and I have yet to find an informed scientific opinion on the vinegar/baking soda mixture, although the consensus is that it makes a swell erupting volcano, and possibly a drain cleaning solution.

UPDATE: I was just looking at the chemical processes that go into making baking soda on Wikipedia. As expected, it doesn't exactly deserve its "natural" cred (link leads to a bathroom cleaning demonstration video). However, it is inexpensive and very useful for cleaning and deodorizing, so don't let it's unnaturalness hold you back.

Greece and Egypt

C asked D, "Do you know who Odysseus is?"

Earlier this evening, the kids were drawing and cutting out very nice mummies. C was telling D that Tutankhamun wasn't buried in a pyramid.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mardi Gras

Today is Mardi Gras and we had donuts. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. I'm thinking of going to the joint Baptist/Catholic Ash Wednesday service on campus. For some reason, there's been a recent swing toward liturgy even in the most unlikely quarters (my parents' Pentecostal church now has an Advent wreath), and Ash Wednesday has suddenly caught on with some of our our historically non-liturgical Protestant brethren.

The kids were talking tonight about what they will give up for Lent. C hasn't quite decided, but D has made up his mind. He wants to give up not playing Monopoly with C. For a 4-year-old younger brother who doesn't like Monopoly, this is truly heroic virtue. However, I plan to monitor the situation to make sure C doesn't take too much advantage of D.

Nuts & Bulbs & Squirrels

My March 2010 This Old House came in the mail today. The editor's letter is about some ill-fated bulbs.
"The squirrels!" my wife yelled from the deck. "The squirrels have dug up and eaten every single one of the bulbs we planted yesterday!"
It was late fall, and we had spent a Saturday afternoon putting dozens of tulips and I don't know how many hundreds of crocus in the ground.
I figured my wife was exaggerating the damage, so I went out to investigate. But she was--as always, she wants me to tell you--right. The squirrels had unearthed every single bulb. All of 'em. One hundred and fifty bucks' worth of yellow and orange tulips gobbled down in the twitch of a tail.
That is a pretty good story, although I suspect that the squirrels ate their fill and then reburied the leftovers elsewhere.

D writes

D has lately been doing some writing for fun. Here's what he just wrote:


I made the mistake of pointing out a couple spelling issues, which led D to crumple up his work and throw it away. D, like C before him, seems to have an "th" problem. C's cleared up by itself over the past year, which was nice.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Real Estate Intervention

Dear readers (especially DC metro readers), if you aren't watching HGTV's Real Estate Intervention, you are really missing out. It's a tough love real estate show where an experienced realtor helps DC/MD/VA homeowners figure out realistic pricing for their houses. I came across the show several days ago and watched all 13 available episodes in just a couple days. Two thumbs up!


Thanks to sick days and holidays, today was the first day in over a week that both kids have gone to school. I'm not sure how long it's been exactly, but it's been a long, long time. I've got a cold myself and have been feeling viral for a couple days. While the kids were at school today, I mostly took the day off. After school today I took C's temperature and discovered that she is slightly feverish. So tomorrow the two kids and I will be at home all day together again. I need a plan.

The kids have been sick a lot this year. They've rarely had high fevers and they haven't had any exotic symptoms, but they've had a lot of moderate fevers. I put it down to D's adjustment to school, and I'd like to think that next year will be different. I've had to cancel so many events and this year because of illness, and it's really been cramping our social life. I'd like both me and the kids to get out more and do more stuff, but it barely feels worth the effort to schedule anything.

In other news, I haven't had any responses to my house flyer.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Xantippe flyers a neighborhood

This afternoon, my husband and I printed up a "we are a nice family in need of a house" flyer and D and I went out to do flyering in the neighboring faculty/staff neighborhood. I flyered 27 single family homes, skipping two isolated houses and a townhouse complex that probably belongs to the college. If no one replies within the next two weeks, I'll take it that no one is interested in selling, but I'll probably flyer again in a year, just to be sure. There are some appealing modest homes in the neighborhood, as well as some monster energy-sucking houses that blot out the sun and a couple of 1970s Tudor homes (although I'm warming up to one of them--I think the kids would love living in a "castle"). My informal information is that one newer house in the neighborhood sold for $250k some years back and another sold for $135k. It's difficult to price these houses.
  1. The land is owned by college, only the house changes hands, and only faculty and staff can buy, and there is the danger that some decades from now, the college will buy everybody out and level this neighborhood, too. If we buy here, there's going to be a lot of fine print. There are obvious disadvantages to not owning the land under your house, which may be balanced by the fact that we would both avoid a lot of driving and be safe from being neighbors with college students who keep sofas and La-Z-Boys out on the front lawn near their sandy volleyball court.
  2. The public schools aren't very exciting.
  3. The neighborhood is small with a lot of variety in the housing stock (probably from the 1960s to the 1990s, and from about 1700 sq. ft. to 4000 sq. ft.).
When D and I got back from flyering, C wanted to know, "Did you buy a house?"

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Price drops

I'm suddenly noticing some price drops in the early 20th century neighborhood that I watch. Here are the recent drops: $540k to $520k, $280k to $270k, $275k to $225k, $242k to $230k, $175k to $162k. A couple of those houses have been for sale practically for years now at roughly the same price. There's only one really dramatic price drop there (the $275k to $225k drop), but it's movement in the right direction. The $8k federal incentive is about to run out, too.

I've been watching this neighborhood for years now, but my current preference is a very small newer one closer to campus that unfortunately almost never has any houses for sale. We are planning to leaflet that campus neighborhood this weekend to see if we can ferret out a seller. If that doesn't work, we'll have to make other plans. We have to be out of our rental by late spring 2011. I feel a bit like Mrs. Frisby from Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.

In other news, my Russia trip that I hoped to take this summer is off for now. I was planning to meet an old friend who would be leading a study abroad group, and her trip got canceled. She's hoping to go next summer. There are a few obstacles in my way (we might be moving right around then and my husband has a large commitment during the summer of 2011), but it's not impossible. Who knows? We might even move this summer. But I like my neighborhood (even with all the empty houses).

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

C on saving

C: I'm going to save up for two months without spending so that I will be able to get lots of money.

me: What were you doing before?

C: Saving up $4 or sometimes 10.

me: And then doing what?

C: And then spending.

Bugs Bunny

The kids are having another sick day, so I'm remediating a hole in C's cultural literacy. A couple days ago, I discovered that C had no idea who Bugs Bunny was, so I quickly put a Looney Tunes cartoon collection in the kids' Netflix queue. The DVD came in the mail today and the kids are glued to the TV. We have five straight days at home ahead of us, so there's lots of time for more edifying activities later.

Monday, February 8, 2010


Last night, we finally took care of C's Haiti donation. She gave $14 to Catholic Relief Services from her giving container and we matched her gift with another $14. We showed her the CRS website and talked about what they do, although she was a bit too tired to take it in. There was a photo on the website of a table loaded with water bottles and apple juice boxes. C noted the apple juice boxes with disapproval. Apple is not her favorite.

This evening, C and I discussed her gift and what it would buy in Haiti: food, water, shelter and medicine. C said: "I hope the kids will get the kind of juice boxes they like!"

Sunday, February 7, 2010

C writes down D's story

Yesterday, C was taking down a story by D. This is a favorite activity for the kids, and C sometimes makes multiple handwritten copies and takes them to school. Here's a sentence I overheard:

C (to D): You need to start a new story, not the viking and the octopus.

The kids were getting sick or being sick all weekend, so it's good we skipped San Antonio. They'll be home tomorrow, too.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sweet tea

My husband is just back from a conference in lovely San Antonio. While there, he twice unsuccessfully tried to order sweet tea in restaurants on the Riverwalk (admittedly Mexican restaurants, but most restaurants are Mexican in our part of the world). "Where do you think you are, Atlanta?" asked a Dallas-bred friend. This is puzzling, because sweet tea is ubiquitous in our part of Texas.

C's sewing project

A while back, I set aside a couple of drawers to store rainy day craft supplies for the kids. It's mainly odds and ends like a paper towel roll, some extra Christmas wrap, bits of scrap yarn I begged from a knitting friend, bits of ribbon and voile that have lost their original function. I've also started sending a few cloth items to the drawers (mainly those would be unsuitable for the Salvation Army): a pair or two of blue jeans with worn knees, a couple of pillow cases, a knit shirt with a snag. I've been hoping that C would use the fabric for sewing practice. Anyway, last night, she finally bit. She took a red violet pillowcase (a youthful mistake on my part), cut off a strip from the bottom and cut neck and arm holes. Then she decorated it with various stickers. Late last night, she cut the sleeves off a red knit shirt from the drawer, with the idea of having me sewing the red sleeves onto the red violet pillow case shirt. I demurred, but today I set her up with sewing supplies (I thread the needles and tie knots) and she has been hard at work. D wanted to try it to, so I gave him a wornout green pillowcase and C did the cutting. It looks a lot like scrubs. The execution is crude, but C is thinking in 3 dimensions, which I've never really been able to do. I'm not a seamstress, and the technical side of actually sewing new garments and other items is way beyond me, so I've been thinking of sending C to a one-week sewing camp this summer. They work with sewing machines, which is the big time.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Chick-fil-a To Do

I just found a to do list in my backpack that C wrote to prepare for our last visit to Chick-Fil-A (the trip cost her 35 points, which is about a week's worth of good behavior). Here it is:

Chick-fil-a To Do

Mikshake Cookies and cream

Go in Red rocket.

Dinner Chicken Nuggets

Drink Hi-C

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Belgian waffles

The kids are eating Eggo Belgian waffles for their bedtime snack. C immediately noticed that the square waffle is a 4 X 4 grid with 16 squares.

C (to D): I have a multiplication problem for you! Don't look at your waffle!

Campus fashion

I've been meaning to write a bulletin on campus fashion trends. In the summer and fall, I noticed a lot of (mostly muted) tie dye on campus, but that seems to have ebbed. For the past year or so, two longer-lasting trends have been patterned rubber boots and retro bikes. I've seen female students with paisley boots, plaid boots, leopard print boots, polka dot boots, boots patterned with whales, etc. They're very cute. (Sarah, I think you need a pair if you don't have some already, especially with the move to Washington State.) The retro bikes are also very cute, especially in bubble gum pink and mint green. I am much less happy with the newest trend I've seen: shapeless yardsale-type sweaters in various unflattering neutral tones. The 80s revival is pretty weird for me (was it really that long ago?), but enjoyable. The music is peppy and the colors are bright and I think skirts and leggings are pretty cute (but don't tell the bloggers at Go Fug Yourself that I said that!). I have seen one student with a sideways ponytail, but it doesn't look like we're going to see a full-blown hairspray renaissance.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

10 Commandments

C is in 2nd grade and will receive First Communion in the next year or so, so her CCD class at our parish is getting pretty serious. This week she needs to know the Ten Commandments, so last night we got to work on it. By the time we got to the Ten Commandments, C had already done a long day at school, a social skills class, dinner, three pages of Singapore Math, 25 spelling words (they are learning the rules for adding suffixes), a short chapter in her CCD textbook, and some worksheets for CCD on penance. It was a big day. So I had C memorize the commandments (mainly in chunks), allowing her to do a level of a computer game between chunks. I won't say that she got it down letter perfect (I think I can detect some interference from another translation), but it was close enough. Then I washed her hair while reading her 4 pages of Dawn Huebner's What To Do When You Grumble Too Much. C jammied up and then got to play Lego Star Wars on the Wii with her dad before going to bed.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

That was close

Today, I managed to talk D out of the unicorn-themed birthday party that C had persuaded him that he wanted. We're going to do WALL-E instead, which C approves of.

Xantippe on economic stimulus

I was just reading a post by Derek Thompson over at The Atlantic's business section. Thompson holds up for examination an Obama quote: "We also continue to lay a new foundation for lasting growth, which is essential as well. Just as it would be a terrible mistake to borrow against our children's future to pay our way today, it would be equally wrong to neglect their future by failing to invest in areas that will determine our economic success in this new century." Thompson disapproves of Obama's formulation. Borrowing money to be paid later "is our current policy," Thompson says. He then launches into a defense of Keynesianism:
Second deficit-spending isn't a terrible mistake, because it's not terrible, and it's not a mistake. It's not terrible because it's responsible economics to run up a deficit during a recession. When private demand falls
below the economy's productive capacity, government replaces the shortfall in demand by increasing its own (see: Richard Posner's post today). To finance that extra government spending, we borrow money against a future in which we hope to be more prosperous. If we'll more
money, then we'll have more money to give the government to pay back our debt. This practice is not a mistake because, once again, it is our current policy.

In theory, this sounds very plausible. Here are some objections:

1. The "shortfall in demand" is not a temporary aberration to be smoothed over with an infusion of federal spending. The housing-fueled economy was the aberration, not the current recession. Not in the next 20 years will we need so many real estate agents, mortgage brokers, construction workers, etc.

2. The US personal savings rate has gone up recently, but is only around 4.5 or 5%, so it is not vampirically sucking money out of the economy.

3. Late 20th/early 21st century federal spending is already huge without stimulus. As I read the chart, FDR's New Deal spending consumed around 20% of GDP. Meanwhile, in the Bush years, the federal government was spending about 35% of GDP and today, we are spending in the neighborhood of 45% of GDP. (That approaches our WWII federal spending, which went over 50% of GDP.) That's epic. If Lord Keynes were around today, I suspect that even he'd look at that chart and say, you guys are spending way too much money. Notice also that although Keynesian stimulus is perenially popular with politicians during recessions, countercyclically trimming government spending back during flush years (which Keynes also advocated) is not popular.

4. Derek Thompson's commenter nomenclaturist argues that we are currently suffering the effects of our last Keynesian episode, namely government efforts to save the US economy after the dot com bust and 9/11. Low interest rates made large mortgages and heavy consumer debt attractive while rapid home appreciation discouraged conventional savings, leaving many Americans defenseless in the face of job loss or drops in home prices. Nomenclaturist says, "Deficit spending may, indeed, soften the impact of an economic downturn, but even when it does, it will result in poor investment and cause the next downturn to arrive sooner, and hit harder. This, indeed, is exactly what we are experiencing now." I think I've encountered a similar phenomenon when trying to keep my sleep-deprived self awake and moving on a succession of muffins and iced mochas. It just made me tired, fat, and broke and the longer I persisted with this method, the tireder, fatter, and broker I got. What I actually needed was lots of sleep and exercise, which are a lot harder to get than Starbucks treats. I think there is an analogy in this story to the current recession, but unfortunately I have no idea what the economic equivalent of sleep and exercise is.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Re-Forming Gifted Education VI

This is my sixth post on Karen Rogers' Re-Forming Gifted Education. I'm finishing up the chapter on grouping, but this won't be a systematic summary. I'll just pull things out that interest me, magpie-fashion, and make of it what you will. As usual, quotes are either in quotation marks or bold.
  • Most of the general research on regrouping for reading and math instruction was reported over a decade ago by Robert Slavin (1987). He reported that it made no difference in overall achievement whether one learned to read and compute in a mixed ability classroom or in a regrouped class. However, Slavin calculated this after eliminating all studies that reported the effect of regrouping gifted children. Thus, Slavin's oft-cited research says nothing about the academic effects for gifted children who are regrouped or even tracked.
  • Rogers has a nice summary at the end of her chapter on grouping in school. "Teachers and parents must find ways to allow gifted or talented students to spend the majority of their learning time in the academic core areas with others of like abilities and interests." "Curriculum matters." "Ultimately, the curriculum is probably more important than how children are grouped." "Pull-out programs are not enough." "Enrichment is usually inadequate." "[Mixed ability dyads] should be used sparingly." "Mixed-ability cooperative learning is appropriate only in certain situations." "Whole-class instruction should be used rarely, if at all, with gifted or talented students" because the "pacing and instruction will not be suitable."