Monday, May 31, 2010

What to do with all the time?

We have about six days left until C's first summer program (it's focused on life in space) and we are already in the summer doldrums. Here's some of what's going on:
  • C has finished 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and is now reading Journey to the Center of the Earth.
  • Earlier today, the kids were pulling their dragons along on leashes or (in D's case) pushing a dragon around in a doll stroller.
  • My husband continues to explore the world of K-12 math contests. His most recent find is a largely Polish organization called Math Kangaroo in USA. Earlier today, C did a five-page 3rd/4th grade test from Math Kangaroo. It was HARD. C got a small cash prize for each correct answer, so she got about $1 for that test. She also got to watch an episode of Avatar with her dad. We're also rewarding her with movie time for going through her missed items. Later today, she did a 2nd grade level Math Kangaroo test, which was much easier, and I owe her $2 for that. She'll go over those missed items with her dad later.
  • What have we learned from this? First of all, the low-hanging fruit is math vocabulary. Just knowing a few more words (like "radius") would be very helpful. Secondly, C approaches her math very intuitively, solving problems in her head with no paper notes or computation. She isn't used to working at her problems, and if she doesn't immediately "see" the answer, she gets frustrated. Thirdly, a little algebra is very handy, even for the 3rd/4th grade problems.
  • Our long term plan is to have the kids do a science or math club, and it looks like there are some good options. For next year, we'll probably just do the board game club, and take it from there. C's 4th grade might be a good time to launch something like that, if nobody else steps forward.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Memorial Day weekend

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • C and I tidied and organized 6 shelves in her bedroom yesterday.
  • D has finished the third set of Bob phonics books and is starting the fourth.
  • From D's report card, I see that his pre-K class was covering the rainforest, the African savannah, the desert, caves and volcanoes. The kids studied all 26 single letter phonograms. D brought home a 3D cactus project (green construction paper with rice for spines).
  • I was just going through C's composition book from school and found her handwritten copy of the first verse of William Wordsworth's The Daffodils.
  • D did the Lowes stock car project today (they have free kids' workshops on Saturday morning). C was sick and had to stay home, but they sent a kit home for her with my husband and D, which was very nice.
  • My husband set up C with a 4th grade test from Math League. C got 19 out of 30 right, and finished well ahead of time (it's a 30 minute test). Oddly, the official rules allow calculators. It's a very attractive test with very cute illustrations. C was balky the last time we tried something similar on her, but this time (with a 10 cent prize for each correct answer) she showed a lot more enthusiasm. My husband and I would eventually like the kids to be involved with math and science competitions (which may require starting a club at school), so we are in the process of figuring out which organizations have the best stuff.
  • I spent probably about 90 minutes today picking branches and bark off the lawn in 90 degree weather. The larger branches go to our neighbors down the street, who have an insatiable appetite for roasted marshmallows and such.
  • For dinner, we used a kung pao chicken mix from the store. You mix up a sauce (adding water, brown sugar, soy sauce and peanuts) and add it to your fresh chicken in a steamer bag, then cook them in the microwave. I served it with whole wheat spaghetti noodles and microwaved frozen broccoli, plus a plate with the usual cilantro and green onions. I was hoping to make chicken with my favorite Thai peanut sauce mix, but it's suddenly hard to find. We should probably place a mail order soon for Asian stuff (Thai curries, etc.).

Friday, May 28, 2010

Yurt fever

MH will be happy to hear that my husband has caught the yurt urge. There's an article on yurts in the current Mother Earth News.

Adventures of Stretchy the Dragon

I just got shushed out of C's room by the kids. They are filming The Adventures of Stretchy the Dragon (the set of which involves a loop from the kids' train set) and it's time for quiet on the set.

First day of summer

Today is the first day of summer break for C. Here's some of what's been happening:
  • I just heard D say, "When you're in my room, you're a servant. I'm a king in my room." The latter half of that is family policy (if one sibling is in the other's room, the visiting sibling needs to mind their Ps and Qs or leave), but the "you're a servant" part is original to D and not official family policy.
  • C got a character award for gratefulness at school. C missed 35 days of school this year (that's about 1 in 5 days, or 7 solid weeks!), but her grades were OK.
  • C doesn't want to read Kidnapped, but she's reading an electronic, unabridged translation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
  • Our local bead store is going out of business! C went there for a summer camp last summer, and has been talking about it ever since. We had planned to send both her and D there, but it is not to be. They're closing in just a few days. Currently, C is scheduled to do two weeks of full-day gifted camp, one week of half-day sewing camp, and then both kids will do 8 45-minute swim lessons with the Red Cross. We will probably also have a trip to the West Coast late in the summer. The first scheduled activity starts June 7.
  • D read 2 Bob books yesterday.
  • The major business of the summer is how to manage time properly. I've been reading Don't Shoot the Dog! (a book by an animal trainer) and working on metering out screen time. It is all to easy to dump out your bucket of fish too fast and too soon, and then have no bargaining chips available for the rest of the day. So far today, C did two pages of Kumon's Geometry & Measurement (a really sticky section where you convert between miles and feet), watched half an episode of Avatar (click on the link--it's an American anime show related to the new movie The Last Airbender, not the movie with blue cat people) with my husband, did two pages of her Kumon Addition workbook, watched some more Avatar while I took a short walk and helped me tidy three shelves in her room. I'm on lunch break from the shelves right now. We have three more to do and then she'll watch another 24-minute episode. Anyway, the key is to break the day up into small chunks, which helps facilitate C finding her own activities, rather than having a major screen spree and then being immediately boooored. Just 10 more days until camp starts!
  • In real estate news, the cute 1920s brick cottage that was $165k has been hiked up to $175k. That's weird. The place was listed as pending on one real estate web site, just before the price went up. There's probably a story behind this. I'm puzzled by the price increase, but I rejoice at the fact that it's still on the market.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ginger tofu

Here's some of what's been happening today:
  • D had a fever of 99.9, which precluded his going to the pre-K pool party. As of today, he's done for the school year (C has one more half day tomorrow). D read 10 Bob phonics books for me today. He alternated reading with jumping on the trampoline. After each completed phonics book, he also got to choose one piece from the bag of tiny plastic LEGO components that my husband ordered for him. He was very eager and is now in the third box of Bob books.
  • This morning D said, "I don't want to spend my day in jammies."
  • This evening, I was exploring the question of whether it is possible to use too much fresh gingerroot. Dinner was last night's matsaman curry with chicken (reserved mainly for the children), freshly-made Thai rice (it's a lot stickier than the Indian rice), microwaved frozen carrots, and (mostly for us grownups) tofu fried with LOTS of chopped gingerrot and simmered in half a bottle of sweet and sour sauce. The ginger tofu reminded me a lot of hot and sour soup, but as I said, I was exploring the borderlands between yummy amounts of gingerroot and way too much. I was trying my hardest to avoid bland tofu, and things got out of hand. At dinner, I gave the kids each a small portion of the tofu, with instructions to be careful about the chunks of ginger. Interestingly, C (while continuing to deplore tofu) thought the cooked gingerroot very tasty.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Matsaman curry

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • Dinner tonight was ersatz Thai. My husband and I cooked chicken in matsaman curry (with coconut milk, crushed peanuts, brown sugar, fish sauce and some kaffir lime leaves and lots of grated fresh gingerroot). Toward the end, we added water chestnuts and microwaved frozen broccoli to the curry. My husband and I had ours over semi-transparent rice noodles. I set the now traditional plate of chopped cilantro and lemon and lime wedges on the table, for people to help themselves to. We also garnished our plates with extra peanuts. I think this dinner would be delicious with coconut ice cream. Our curry made enough that there will definitely be enough for lunch tomorrow, if we can avoid eating it tonight. The matsaman curry recipe on the curry paste package suggested cooking potatoes in the curry. That sounds good, too, although with potatoes it sounds like more of a cold weather meal--transparent noodles are more summery. As you can see, we are drifting toward throwing all available Thai ingredients into every meal, but the results have been very good.
  • This afternoon, D read 6 Bob books from the second boxed set of the phonics series. He did very well. We'd had a couple of false starts this afternoon with the other boxed sets. At this level, the Bob books are easier and more confidence-building.
  • The kids have been thinking about how to decorate their future rooms. C would like to decorate her next room with horses on the walls, while D is sticking to his earlier plan of having an undersea themed room, perhaps with an octopus.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dinner blues and science enrichment ideas

Here are a few things that are going on:
  • We are cruising toward the end of the month with less and less grocery money. The good news is that the fridge is full. The bad news is that it's full of ingredients, not food.
  • D now has an appointment with a pediatric gastroenterologist at a children's hospital in the big city for next week. We got a referral from our local pediatrician.
  • My husband has been showing C Scratch, the children's programming environment. He's concerned that the summer gifted program that C does doesn't have enough science in the upper grades. I talked to the director about this as I was dropping off a check for C's registration. She said that there are a couple of difficulties. First, it's hard to find science teachers for the program. Second, it's hard to get the facilities, especially now that the college has new science equipment and is very protective of it. She suggested that my husband could even teach a course if he were interested. I emailed the director with a list of ideas today. My husband thinks that a philosophy grad student could teach a logic puzzle course and he himself could do either a kids' programming course (like Scratch) or an astronomy course, perhaps with the kids building telescopes (materials would cost about $100 apiece). My husband won't be free to do this until probably summer 2012, which is coincidentally around the time that C will be moving out of the elementary program and into the 4th/5th grade program.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday catch-up post

I couldn't find any suitable title, but I'd best get things down anyway:
  • On Friday, D performed as a zebra in the pre-K class play. After the performance, each child got a certificate to honor their excellence in a particular character feature. D got a certificate for obedience and trying hard to obey rules. His teacher told a story about him raising his hand to speak, even on the tire swing on the playground when he needed both hands! The costuming was very cute for the play. A very nice set of curvy kudu horns was created from pipe cleaners, if I'm not mistaken. The leopards were also cute. They had commercial ears and tail, but they also wore yellow t-shirts with big black spots. D wore zebra ears and a zebra tail, a white uniform polo, black uniform pants, and black mocs, plus face paint. He disliked the face paint, but suffered for his art.
  • I made a second trip to school in the afternoon to deliver a cookie cake to C's class.
  • We've had the air conditioning on for a couple of days now, and our indoor temperatures are at 80 degrees. This morning, it was 80 degrees outdoors at 8:30 AM, so with these temperatures, we have no significant overnight low to use to cool the house. The kids have had fevers for the past couple of days, so the AC helps keep them cool.
  • My gladioluses are starting to bud and bloom. I've got a couple dozen of them in my patio garden, so I'm going to be very generous with the kids' requests for flowers for their vases. When we last went to HEB together, D chose some yellow carnations as his special store item, and the carnations are now in a blue glass vase in the kids' bathroom. I'll add some gladioluses as they mature.
  • C points out the oddity of needing to learn to sound out words as a beginning reader, and that advanced readers don't sound out words. She is reading Kidnapped, but may not finish. We will see.
  • C gave D some miniature Russian bark slippers (they are a traditional Russian souvenir item) from her collection. She told D that they are his "bravery slippers" and she said that she would put a sticker on the slippers for each time that D did something brave. She gave him some stickers for eating yogurt.
  • C independently checked the pears on the counter, found a ripe one, washed it, and cut it up. Yay, C! (There's a five-year-old down the street who packs his own school lunches, but every child is on a different schedule.)
  • C says that what she wants to be when she grows up is a 2nd grade teacher. I need to remember to share that with Mrs. S, her teacher.
  • D's new dinosaur stamp set comes with red and blue ink. D produced a sheet with rows and rows dinosaur stamp images that is now on the fridge. Due to the combination of inks, most have some blue and some red, and it looks a heck of a lot like the iconic Obama HOPE poster, but with dinosaurs.
  • Lastly, there's been some real estate movement. My next door neighbor tells me that he and his wife have bought the only house for sale in the other faculty/staff neighborhood. They will be moving in a few weeks from the house next door, which they built 40 some years ago. They were bought out by the college. I hope they got a good deal on their new house, which the last I heard was offered for something like $425k. That was a surprise. I knew that our other next door neighbors (also an elderly couple) were moving out soon, so may have new neighbors on either side of us very soon. Maybe with kids!
  • In the historic neighborhood I watch, one of those houses in the mid-200s has had its price cut by $12k. There are two new houses for sale on the most famous street. A mid-century brick home is for sale for $195k and a spectacular 1920s tudor (it's at least 3000 sq. ft., maybe even closer to 4000) is for sale for $270k. One year to go until we buy!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rosa's Cafe

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • This afternoon, three elementary grades performed Mexican folk dances that they have been practicing for months. C wore an orange performance skirt (ordered and handmade last year) decorated with ribbons and lace and a hot pink t-shirt. The other girls wore similar skirts in turquoise, hot pink, sunshine yellow and red and mostly more embroidered peasant blouses. The boys wore black pants and white shirts, and straw hats in some dances. I saw one little girl wearing a wreath of artificial flowers with ribbons, like the ones I saw on sale in San Antonio when we visited. Next time...
  • Due to the difference in costuming, the boys are a bit of an afterthought in these dances. The exception was the dance called Los Machetes, in which the boys dance with prop machetes and the girls mostly just swish their skirts. Here is a video from another school to give you the basic idea.
  • At the dance performance, there was an announcement that everybody should go in costume to Rosa's Cafe this evening to have dinner. About half the restaurants in town are Tex Mex, but due to C's lack of enthusiasm for Mexican food, I have barely set foot in a Mexican restaurant since we moved to Texas. I thought it was an excellent opportunity, so we went tonight, joining dozens of other families from school. It's a stand-up-to-order, pick-up-your-own-food type place, but good quality, and very fast. I recommend the chicken fajita plate, which you get with the fresh tortillas that they make there. I didn't get to see it in action, but they have one of those spiral tortilla makers. You can see videos here, but I warn you that just watching tortillas spiral down and poof up may make you hungry. Most wonderfully, you can get a dozen fresh tortillas for $2.49, which would be a nice shortcut when making dinner at home.
  • Our high temperature was about 90 degrees today, but we've had a thunderstorm and rapid cooling.
  • My husband has been experimenting with text-to-voice software. At bedtime, he had an assortment of British voices telling D that he was sleepy and that he ought to go to bed. C wanted to play with the program, too. She typed in "Ancient Egyptians worshiped many gods."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Chocolate muffins

Here are some things that have been happening:
  • I should have looked at the concert program before blogging. It was the 3rd graders who demonstrated the recorder, while the 4th and 5th graders demonstrated solfege and did a Latin chant.
  • My husband and I snuck off to catch a matinee of Ironman II.
  • C has finished earning a set of Hot Wheels cars from me (she's on her 6s in her Kumon Multiplication) and she and I were looking at Hot Wheels tracks on Amazon. For being strips of plastic, they can get pretty expensive.
  • Late this evening, we had an impromptu playdate in the front yard. My husband went to return a ladder to our neighbor (his colleague) and the next thing I knew, they were installed in lawn chairs on the front yard, talking philosophy. I quickly washed C's hair and got her to put on pjs so she could go play with D and the two neighbor kids. D ran around with a flashlight in tiger ears and tiger tail, I fed everybody chocolate muffins (my husband's) and trail mix and handed out waters. We got the kids into bed by 9:45. This time of year, it's hard to remember that we still have school to get up for in the morning.
  • C finished reading Treasure Island.

C's Scout Club

Here are some things that have been happening:
  • The kids produced a large paper towel banner (labeled "C's Scout Club) and taped it over the doorway between the dining room and the living room. C said, "D and I have started our very own scout troop and D and I are the only people in it." I have no idea what the inspiration for this was.
  • I had a dream last night in which I had a number of unexpected lunch guests, including Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. I wanted to make bean and rice burritos for everybody, but I didn't have enough ingredients. This is officially my first homemaking anxiety dream--my normal anxiety dreams are about finding myself in front of a strange class with no roster and no lesson plan.
  • We're waiting for a referral for D for a gastro. The clinic to which we are being referred is at least an hour away, but there may not be anything closer. Ever since we got the call, D has barely complained about his tummy.
  • C brought home a flower close-up drawing that she did in art. Her class was studying Georgia O'Keefe.
  • Last night was the big school concert and C's class was performing, along with the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders and the junior and senior high school. The 4th and 5th grade group was the most impressive. They did a couple of squeak-free pieces on their recorders, demonstrated solfege and sang well. When one of the classes was singing Scarborough Fair, I noticed several middle schoolers in the audience rocking out to it. ???????
  • C will be performing in a Mexican folk dance and D will be performing in his class play. As per instructions, I sent D to school in his zebra costume today. I ordered him a mask and tail, which he will be wearing with a white polo, black pants, and black mocs. D was worried about the school logo on his polo, but I suggested to him that the zebra goes to his school. D wasn't buying it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chicken with peanut sauce

We are starting the summer cafeteria blackout right now. Tonight's dinner was reasonably successful. I made brown rice in the rice cooker and my husband browned chicken and combined Taste of Thai's peanut sauce mix with coconut milk and then added the peanut sauce to the chicken. I microwaved frozen stir fry vegetables (minimally, so as not to make them mushy) and then added them to the pan with the peanut sauce and chicken. I crushed peanuts and put a dish of them on the table, as well as a serving dish with sliced lemons, green onion and cilantro for everybody to garnish their dinner with as they chose. It was an excellent dinner, although I should probably have cut up two lemons, because lemon juice brightens the flavors up quite a bit. It was also reasonably fast. The only unfortunate thing is that between the chicken (almost $8), the peanut sauce mix (about $3), coconut milk ($2???), frozen vegetables ($2???), and various odds and ends (the rice, peanuts, lemon, cilantro and green onions) it probably cost upwards of $17 to cook. On the other hand, we didn't have to field questions like "Where's the chicken?" as the children suspiciously poked their plates with a fork. They did that last night when my husband made a tofu/egg/veggie stir fry served with aromatic Thai rice.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pleo goes to school

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • I took Pleo the dinosaur to C's class for show-and-tell and center time.
  • C has been reading a Magic Schoolbus butterfly book to D. She has lately been very bigsisterly, except when she isn't.
  • We had the air conditioning on briefly today while a maintenance guy was checking it, but hope to tough it out for another week or two without turning it on. Today's outdoor high was in the upper 80s.
  • My Kumon workbook order arrived today. C did five pages of the Kumon Multiplication workbook and bought three Hot Wheels cars from my store.
  • D's tummy has been bothering him for some months now and the discomfort has lately been more accute. We've taken him to the pediatrician a couple times and done some basic testing to no effect. D continues to complain about tummy, so we're in the process of getting a referral to a gastro specialist. It's probably nothing serious, but we'd like to know for sure.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Real estate vulture

After lunch, my husband took the kids for shaved ice and playgrounds while I did another tour of the historic neighborhood near downtown on foot. I walked 16 blocks one way and then looped and zigzagged back to where I started, so I walked about 32 blocks in 85 minutes. I didn't manage to cover the whole neighborhood, which has a lot of odd curvy streets, even though it was laid out in the 1920s. Some notes:
  • There are many mansions in the neighborhood for $350k and up and there are low-end homes on the fringe in the low $100s, but up to now, the standard price for a basic house in a solid location has been $240k. However, we are beginning to see listings (even if very briefly) for nice homes in the upper $100s. There was a large 1950s home for $162k, a 1920s cottage for $165k, a 1920s cottage for $190k, and a 1950s home has just come on the market for $195k. We want to do a 15-year mortgage, so I would be happiest paying $150k or less to keep the mortgage payments under control, but we'll take what we can get.
  • There aren't nearly enough sidewalks.
  • I'd still prefer the other faculty neighborhood near campus, but the historic neighborhood is a pretty convenient commute to both school and the college.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Scary children's books

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • The kids and I did a big campus trip (them on bikes, me on foot) involving Starbucks and the college library's children's section. While I was picking out some books for C, I noticed a couple of interesting titles in the picture book section by the same author: I Wish Daddy Didn't Drink So Much and Nobody Wants a Nuclear War. I enjoyed this post on Vigna's oeuvre. Shoo! Get over there and read it.
  • C is reading Treasure Island.
  • C and D are putting together a serialized dramatic reading of C's Egyptology book (from the -ology series). We got the first installment tonight. C wore a tutu and D wore his elephant suit. Later in the evening, C was busy making paper crowns for the next installment.
  • I authorized C to pull up all of the big radishes in my patio garden, since some have started going to seed. For whatever reason, very few of them have formed much of an edible root. My gladioluses are looking good (they're over two feet tall) and some are starting to bud.
  • We made an afternoon trip to the fancy pants HEB out in the suburbs in preparation for the weeks that the cafeterias will all be closed. It's practically as big as a Walmart and it's a good thing we don't shop there regularly, because if we did, it would be over the hill to the poor house in short order. The nice thing about our wrong-side-of-the-tracks HEB is that if I don't see something, I don't want it (except non-slimy non-putrid raw chicken--I still want that pretty badly). On the other hand, the suburban HEB seems to have almost everything--walnut oil, grapeseed oil, a dozen different varieties of Greek style yogurt, etc. The yogurt, in particular, spoke to me, but I left it regretfully on the shelf. Back in NW DC, I once or twice got the Greek yogurt that comes with a little tub of honey for you to mix in at Marvelous Market. What a shock to see the same thing on the shelf in an untrendy Texas suburb and to see that Yoplait makes Greek-style yogurt. That's a trend that completely passed me by. The store was too big for an enjoyable experience, but going outside my usual shopping habits, I bought spring roll wrappers and a cabbage to go in the spring rolls. We couldn't find Patak's Indian sauces, which is odd, but I know that there's a closer HEB that does carry them.
  • This evening, my husband had a garage date with a colleague to work on a telescope that my husband is building for the colleague. They were eventually joined by a third colleague (our neighbor), his two daughters, their dog and a cat. C had an attack of kiddie insomnia and came out to the garage, too. It looks like the optics are basically taken care of, but there's a lot more to do.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Xantippe gets her netbook

Here are a few things that have been happening:
  • This afternoon we all four went to Best Buy and got me a Samsung 10.1" netbook with a matte screen and chiclet keyboard. The chiclet buttons are smaller than on a keyboard, but the greater space between the buttons improves typing accuracy. It has a 7hr battery, which is not top of the line, but the matte screen and the comfy keyboard were important to me, so we had to make compromises elsewhere. With tax, we paid $390. That leaves $179 in our desktop replacement fund, but although we've had the current one since before Y2K, there's no big rush. My husband has spent much of the evening deleting "free" stuff that the netbook came with. Right now, he's outside with it, assessing wifi range. The netbook is very, very cute, by the way, and not least of its many advantages is that being small it won't hog my dining room table the way my old laptop does. The old Dell laptop with its big screen is going to move to a permanent station in my husband's office where it will work on photo processing.
  • I had a chance to play briefly with an ipad at Best Buy. It's very pretty and the vividness and sharpness of the screen put all the netbooks we saw to shame. However, I couldn't help but notice that half of the display ipad screen was covered with greasy finger marks, the natural consequence of having the user type on the touch screen. As I discovered, I dislike typing on a screen. As a web surfing or reading device, the ipad looks great. With regard to actual typing of substantial texts, I am less impressed. I don't want an ipad, but I can see why other people do.
  • We had rain today, which brought our temperature down to 65 degrees. This is very good.
  • C has finished reading Tom Sawyer. I occasionally try to ask C questions about her reading, but her usual reply is to suggest that I read the book myself.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Xantippe's lunch

Here are a few things that have been happening:
  • There's a new foreclosure on the edge of the historic neighborhood I watch. I don't have the exact information (the website just shows a satellite image of the intersection), but it's a 100+ year old house, 1400 sq. ft., 3BR/1BA and offered at 90k. There's been one other foreclosure a few blocks away.
  • It's getting warm, particularly in the afternoon. The cleaning company called yesterday to tell us that "the girls" want us to turn the AC. I told them that we'd have it on the next time they come. We're currently limping by with open windows, ceiling fans and as many lights off as possible. My husband has brought in a rotating fan from the garage and set it up in the living room (which has no ceiling fan) and the results have been fantastic. The basic problem is that as the month wears on, our overnight and morning temperatures are creeping higher and higher into the 70s, so it's less feasible to capture cold night air and try to hold onto it for the rest of the day. We'll try to hold out for another couple weeks.
  • Another seasonal change is that the cafeterias will be closing down in a couple of days and will be closed for probably two weeks. A couple nights ago at dinner, a cook asked me, "What are you going to do when we close?" "Curl up and die," I replied.
  • I've been making myself bean and cheese burritos for lunch lately (multigrain tortilla, canned black beans, store-shredded cheese, ranchera salsa), but it occurred to me that I can actually fancy this up without too much trouble. For today's lunch, I cut up some fresh cilantro, some green onion, and a small avocado and had them on the side. The internet informs me that a medium avocado has 276 calories, 248 of which are fat, which I suppose explains why it's so filling. It was very good. This leads me to two conclusions. 1) I should stock green onions, cilantro, and avocado at home. 2) I could serve this for dinner on one of those cafeteria-free nights.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tom Sawyer

The kids were both home today, C with a slight temperature and D because he doesn't go to school on Tuesdays. Our outdoor temperatures are in the low 90s, but we're keeping our indoor temperatures in the high 70s/low 80s. It's pretty sweaty in the evening when the electric lights have to be on. I find that even fluorescent bulbs are pretty hot.

My husband took a break from grading to watch Color of Magic (an adaptation of a Terry Pratchett Discworld story) with the kids. For TV, it's very good. Wizards are lately a bit overdone, but this is a delightfully original story, with clever visuals and excellent production values. C did some Kumon Simple Multiplication. There's a lot of repetition in this particular workbook, but C does need the practice. At bedtime, my husband has been trying to hook C on Tom Sawyer by reading it out loud to her. C is between books.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Who says tenure is dead?

C is home sick today and has been working on an acrylic painting of some duckies on a pond with cattails. I am trying to alternate enriching activities with screen time. Does lunch count as an enriching activity?

We got some excellent news this morning. The graduate student father of the toddler and the infant that I promised to babysit has gotten a tenure-track job offer. It's a 4-4 teaching load at a small college, which is better than a poke with a sharp stick. Who says tenure is dead? Presumably, I will babysit the two little ones this summer while their parents pack for their move. This job offer is very good news for everybody. I'll be able to babysit for them for free this summer and then babysit for pay for a faculty family that we know while our kids are in school this fall. That will be very neat and tidy, more so than babysitting for both families this fall, which would have been the case if the job offer didn't come through. This summer, we will as usual be facing a high electric bill for air conditioning ($100-$150 a month extra from approximately June through September) plus we will have higher school tuition to pay ($200 a month from now on now that D is going to a 5-day schedule). That will zap our house downpayment savings for much of the summer, but I think we will do better starting in August. My husband is getting a small raise and I will have some babysitting income left over after paying all my taxes. The current downpayment fund isn't spectacular (it's currently just over $10,000) but it is slowly growing and we expect a windfall in 2011 (it's a summer college teaching seminar that comes with a nice stipend). Obviously, we're not exactly deprived around here. I still hit Starbucks regularly, the kids are going to some summer programs, we have some travel plans for the summer (Texas for fun and the West Coast to see family), and we're planning to buy some electronics over the next year or so. All the same, living within our income and saving for a downpayment is a slog.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Acrylic painting kits

As I mentioned, I wasn't able to find any more SpiceBox kits, but I did a search for acrylic painting kits on Amazon, and it turns out that there's an entire market devoted to acrylic kits, and it's not just puppies and horsies. My favorites are the ones that enable the aspiring artist to recreate a masterpiece at home. Here's a link to a kit for producing a copy of Van Gogh's Starry Night, which seems like an especially suitable work (I don't have a lot of confidence in the ability of the casual hobbyist to produce an appealing paint-by-number da Vinci Last Supper). It's an expensive pastime, but C is getting older, and I think that it's something that she could grow into, if the interest were there.

Sick on Sunday

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • C is teetering on the edge of a fever, so she's probably going to be staying home from school tomorrow. Because of her illness, we had to cancel our planned showing of Goodbye, Lenin! on Friday night as well as her riding lesson on Saturday morning. She's only got one more riding lesson for this session. C is more positive about riding now, but wishes that it didn't conflict so often with the free Lowes classes for kids that she and D enjoy.
  • There are only three more weeks of school left. I've been avoiding signing up for the various end of the year activities at school that have been choking my email inbox, because 1) we've already fulfilled our mandatory volunteer hours and 2) the kids have been missing a lot of school and I don't like to make commitments that I can't follow through on.
  • This weekend, C has been working on an acrylic painting kit that her grandma gave her some time ago. The company that makes the kits is called SpiceBox, but I wasn't able to find the exact product in their catalogue. You get a wooden palette, brushes, acrylic paint in tubes, a booklet, and several small canvases with pictures sketched on them, as well as a small picture of what the finished product should look like. It's along the lines of paint-by-numbers, but you have to put more thought into color choices and mixing paint. Yesterday C painted a picture of a kitty with a ball of yarn and today she painted a frog on a lily pad. Before I turned C loose with the kit, I gave her a pretty tough exam on the contents of the informational booklet to make sure she understood what she was doing with the paint.
  • C earned the horse stamp set this weekend, as well as a chance to make floats. Following the instructions in our reprint of a 1950s Better Homes and Gardens Jr Cook Book (thanks P!), we mixed grape juice and ginger ale and added a scoop of orange sherbet. That is such a classic 1950s recipe in so many different ways, but the kids liked it.
  • C didn't go to church today, but she has a church sticker chart that she is very eager to fill, so I had her study the scripture readings in her Magnifikids (it's a child's missalette) and demonstrate that she knew and understood the readings. C did very well and particularly liked the reading from Revelations with the description of the heavenly Jerusalem.
  • It's easy to think of the last several days as having consisted of nothing but sick kids at home and too much TV, but now that I write it all out, it seems like a lot of good things have been happening.
  • Grandpa was unable to figure out what happened to that unfortunate heifer.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Pinkeye again?

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • I think C may have pinkeye in one eye. Last time it was D.
  • C says, "I think girls are good at math." C is fresh from a classroom competition in which the girls' team won. Congratulations to G, who seems to have put in a really brilliant performance.
  • My husband has been wanting me to switch from Internet Explorer to Google Chrome. One day recently, I discovered that (thanks to a paternalism worthy of Nudge), Internet Explorer was no longer on my laptop tool bar. It worked, too. Now that I am weaned from Internet Explorer, I hope to be able to safely navigate the design blogs that I used to love. I don't know the technical side of this at all, but visiting my favorite design blogs used to trigger all sorts of scary virus warnings and ominous messages about virus protection automatically downloading to my laptop.
  • In other tech news that I don't fully understand, we have been planning for some time to get a new laptop for me, and have $569 saved and alloted for that purchase. The question is whether to get another full-size laptop similar to the Dell I have now (which would be around $600) or to go for a netbook, which would cost only about half as much as the conventional laptop. The current laptop has a fair amount of duct tape holding it together and very little ability to sustain a battery charge when not plugged in. Especially in the summer, it's nice to think about being able to go outside with a small netbook (under 3 pounds!) and be on the internet while the kids play. For outdoor use, I'll need a matte screen. The netbook would have no DVD drive (or any disk drives at all) and the small 10" screen would be inadequate for the photo processing which is the major job that my current laptop handles. So, there are sacrifices in functionality to get the small size and the smaller price. I suppose that if we keep this old laptop, we can continue to use it for photo work until it really dies. I'm getting very close to making the jump to an iphone type thing, but one of the great appeals of the netbook is that the keyboard is almost standard size and I'm not ready to give that up yet. I'm also put off by the ongoing expense of the iphone and small screen size. The whole thing is very complicated, but here's our current plan: 1) get netbook for me at first opportunity (around $300) 2) roll over savings from laptop fund into Dell desktop fund (for maximum lifespan and functionality, about $500) 3) at some indistinct point in the future (perhaps in 1.5 years when our Sprint contract is up) move over to smart phones (not at all sure how much that will cost). I now have a conventional cell phone and my husband has a Treo, but I get a lot of emails "sent from my iphone" and in the words of Janis Joplin "My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends."
  • I talked to my grandma yesterday. Grandpa was out performing an autopsy on a heifer that had been healthy and then suddenly died. They would like to rule out foul play.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Even more new neighbors

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • I saw a moving truck across the street this morning, and it wasn't for the new neighbors I mentioned before. This is for yet another new family. I wrote down our particulars on a piece of paper and went out to join the swarm of old neighbors greeting the new family, which turns out to have three little kids and bikes, a sandbox, an easel, a picnic bench, etc. And this isn't all, either. Our best-informed old neighbor informed the rest of us that there are going to be a couple more new families moving in. Given that the destruction of our neighborhood is supposed to start in a year, the college is putting a lot of effort into this.
  • C is home sick today.
  • D says, "I wonder if there is a country that has no cats."
  • I've finished watching Autism: The Musical and am watching the extras. In the documentary itself, at one point a middle-aged Jewish woman asks, "What does gefilte actually mean?"
  • We also finished watching The Goebbels Experiment, which is a film that juxtaposes extracts from Goebbels' diary and documentary material (including home movies showing the adorable, doomed children). Nearly all of the time, Goebbels seems like a very ordinary guy--a skinny, high-strung guy with a bad complexion and a bum foot. Although he's painfully sincere and idealistic about the Nazi project, you also see him joking at parties and enjoying a night on the town with Goering in Paris and getting called on the carpet by his wife for a liaison with an actress. You get a very similar feeling from Downfall about the ordinariness of Hitler, although that's not a documentary.
  • On Wednesday night, my husband came home with a nice haul of bamboo poles. Someone was getting rid of a bamboo plantation. The original bamboo poles were about 25 feet long, but my husband cut them down to about 9 feet for transport via our Taurus.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

New neighbours

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • I discovered on my evening walk that we have new neighbours across the street. That was lightning fast, but typical of the college. One day, contractors are putting in carpet, and the next day, there's a new couple there. I'm very curious to hear what terms they got from the college for their lease (if any). We're on a month-to-month basis.
  • Down the street, a different neighbour family has a May pole set up in their front yard. C took some flowers from our lawn for the May crowning at CCD tonight. Tonight was the last night of CCD classes for C.
  • Our high temperature today was about 94 degrees, but it's dropped into the 70s this evening. It was reasonably comfortable indoors much of the day with no air conditioning, but it's now 81 degrees inside and too warm, especially with the lights on. This time of year, I notice that even compact fluorescent bulbs generate a lot of heat. We had a brief city-wide blackout this evening that may or may not be a coincidence.
  • D will be performing in a version of Aesop's fable of the lion and the mouse as a zebra in a chorus. I've ordered him a mask and tail. D knows quite a bit of his part and everybody else's part.
  • I overheard the following at the cafeteria tonight from a male college student: "The white pants are a give away. He's either gay or Cuban."
  • I was listening to the Dave Ramsey show from a few days ago, and one of the small business people he talked to was a guy who trains border collies to patrol golf courses, parks and cemeteries and drive away Canada geese. Having once been hissed at and menaced by an enormous Canada goose in suburban Maryland (one of dozens in a flock that was blocking a sidewalk), I think this guy is brilliant.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The kids talk

D: I'm happy being a loser!

C: Some people are like that.

My husband took D out this morning while my husband was making arrangements for a star night that he will be running out at the wetlands. While they were out, I took a long walk with my Sense and Sensibility audio book and got to see that there is major work underway at the president's house (lots of new sod going in). That's not surprising. What is very surprising is that there's also work going on at the house across from us. The couple that lived there is moving or has moved out, and I had become reconciled to having two empty houses facing us across the street, not to mention all the other empty houses in the neighborhood that I notice on my evening walks. It didn't seem at all likely that the college would put in a new renter for only a year. Imagine my surprise when I saw a crew going in and out, and a pick up with a full load of carpet padding and beige carpet parked outside. Very curious. There's another neighbor at the opposite end of the street who is also moving out, and I will be curious to see if the college puts a renter in there, too.

D reads Cool Cats

This morning, D chose to do four Cool Cats phonics books (#4-7). I think they are my favorite very early phonics set. As before, D punctuated his reading efforts with bouncing sessions on the trampoline. It's about time to see if I can get C to part with her Dr. Seuss collection. UPDATE: I mentioned this plan to D and he wasn't interested. "Is Dr. Seuss too scary or too weird?" I asked. "Too weird," said D.

When I taught C to read, I believe we went through the five Bob Book sets and then went through various other sets. We used multiple Clifford phonics box sets and multiple Dora box sets, as well as one Nemo, one Backyardigans and the Cool Cats. The characters are about a year below D's current interests, but suited C very well when I was working on her when she was 4. There are probably a lot more options these days, but I'm going to try to work with what I've got. On reflection, I think that I shouldn't have gone straight through the Bob sets with C, since they get hard really fast. The quantity of text increases greatly and I remember that C and I really sweated our way through the upper levels of the boxed sets (although she was very eager to work, knowing that she'd get a My Little Pony or the equivalent at the end of each boxed set). My current thinking is that D and I should go through all the available lower-level books before moving up.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Xantippe drops a dime

I just got off the phone with campus security. Some lunkhead in a sports car went squealing down our street about an hour ago, making a totally gratuitous loop through our residential neighborhood while I was out walking. A few minutes later, I saw a large family of our neighbors out taking a walk, kids, dog, and stroller in the street, as is the usual custom in our neighborhood, which is not a thoroughfare, so I had a word with the neighbors. Just now, at home, I heard some more squealing. I opened our front door (I suppose unwisely) and saw the lights of a car down the street. Assuming that it was the same lunkhead, I called campus security, and was told that a neighbor had already called about the same incident. I gave a partial license number (they were going fast) and I am hoping that Justice is fast, too. My husband thinks that under the circumstances, we should limit our kids to biking on the sidewalk.

The kids were both in school today, which was nice. I did grocery shopping, went to the gym, and had a short nap before picking up the kids, which is a very full day for someone with my energy level. C did her last CCD assignment for the spring, which involved filling in blanks in the Apostle's Creed. My husband asked C, "What does Catholic mean?" C said, "It means the people who don't eat meat on Friday," looking not very excited about it. As you may remember from her comments yesterday on our chick pea dinner, C likes her meat.

I've passed the halfway point on Sense and Sensibility. Elinor has just learned of Edward's secret engagement and Marianne has discovered Willoughby's treachery.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Double chickpeas

After several days of illness and several dinners at home, one Chinese delivery dinner and a couple nights of sandwiches or canned soup, we hit bottom today and had to cook. I put brown rice in the rice cooker and heated up Patak's korma sauce (a slightly spicy coconut sauce) with one can of garbanzo beans, some pineapple chunks, and a small can of water chestnut slices. My husband stirred up a batch of Sadaf's falafel mix and deep fried the little "meatballs" in so much oil and with so much verve that we had a small kitchen fire. The falafel looked and tasted right, although it may have needed slightly cooler oil in order to cook through, and it looked lonely without its usual friends. My husband had his with a tortilla. I also served microwaved frozen broccoli and some fresh cilantro from my patio garden, so it was a more or less respectable Stuff White People Like dinner. (Speaking of which, I just did a search for "falafel" and "Middle Eastern food" on SWPL, and inexplicably, there were no entries. However, Hummus turned out to be #112. SWPL says, "All white people like hummus. In fact, if you find a white person who does not like hummus then they probably just haven't tasted it or they are the wrong kind of white person." As soon as I finished typing that, I immediately put hummus on my grocery shopping list.) C, like her father, enjoyed the korma sauce (I, however, believe that coconut is a dessert item and needs to stay out of the main course). Neither child liked the falafel. After dinner, C told me, "Too bad we didn't have any chicken." Expect more dinner blogging soon. The cafeterias close for a couple of weeks in the summer.

C was enjoying Cake Wrecks today. They have occasionally inappropriate items, but it is a source of much innocent amusement. C was telling me, "There's a site called Tomatoes Are Evil. You should check it out sometime." C has just started listening to a Libravox recording of Swiss Family Robinson. After we washed her hair tonight, we did a little bit of internet shopping together (it had slipped my mind that it was Sunday--we don't do recreational shopping on Sunday in our family). C needs a new lunch box, so we picked out a dolphin/undersea lunch box. She asked me to look for a horse coloring book, so I consulted with her and ordered a Dover horse coloring book, a small horse sticker book, and a Melissa and Doug horse stamp set, all for C to buy from me.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Kite update

My husband and the kids are working from the model provided by this site:

The resulting kite will be 36" tall and 33" wide. My husband had C do calculations ("real world math") for the string. They started with 500' of kite string. Each kite needed about 10' for its frame, so they were left with 480' of kite string. C divided 480' in two, arriving at 240' for each kite. They put two stakes in the ground 24' apart outdoors and C was responsible for measuring out the string and counting her loops around the stakes. My husband had bought only one commercial winder, which came with the 500' of string. For the second winder, he cut a length of bamboo from his stash. We were concerned that the kids would argue over the winders, but as it happened, C preferred the bamboo winder.

The kite frames are ready, but they are as yet just bare skeletons.

Worst cartoon

D was sent home with pinkeye on Monday and today was his last day of pinkeye treatment. C was feverish and home sick starting a couple days later and D caught her bug, too. We missed a birthday party last night, a birthday party this morning, a free Lowes project, and several dinners at the cafeteria. I think today or tomorrow will be the kids' last official day sick for now, but between the kids' having been home and isolated for several days, my husband's needing to catch up on yardwork today and his four store blitz in search of kite-making materials this afternoon, today has been an example of what I refer to as "screen saver" parenting. I managed a bit of quid pro quo with the kids (D had to read two Cool Cats phonics books before I let him do Tux Paints on the computer and I eventually started charging the kids for video time), but it was a C- day, culminating in the kids each spending 10 of their points to watch the worst cartoon I have seen in years, Kangaroo Jack: G'Day U.S.A. It features a kidnapped kangaroo who boxes, accidentally eats hot peppers at a Vegas buffet, water skis, etc. It was a Netflix/Wii option, of course.

C says that it would be nice to work at Starbucks. I asked what she would like about working there, and she said she'd like to make smoothies.

While trying to think of a fruit to eat (one fruit and one protein being our minimal requirement for dessert), D asked, "What do we have that's not a fruit but counts as a fruit?" D was balky earlier during the day when reading the second Cool Cats book, but did much better later with the third one. With the third book, he bounced on our trampoline for about a minute between pages. The Cool Cats boxed set is pretty pure phonics-wise, but at the same time has a strong story element, a very rare combination in the boxed phonics world. In the third book, Tom Cat loves hip hop and dances around to it. His dad hates hip hop and hides Tom's CD, but ultimately gives it back, because "Dad is hip."

I'm about to step out for my evening walk with Sense and Sensibility, but my husband is setting up a kite-making station for the kids. The kites will be built mostly from wooden dowels and kitchen trash bags. The kids will be compensating us a total of $5 for materials.