Tuesday, June 29, 2010

D on art

I forgot to mention that D disapproves of abstract art. He calls it "nonsense art."

Marigolds for lunch

Here are some things that have been happening:
  • We tried marigolds for lunch at the faculty club (they were in the salad bar today). They are edible, although I didn't detect the lemon flavor that the best marigolds are supposed to have. These were too bitter.
  • The 401(k) rollover from our last stop finally got done, three years after our move. It's only a small account. We're going 24% into bonds, which may or may not be a good idea. Normally, I think people would say that that's too conservative for people our age. And now that I think of it, I'm hoping there weren't too many municipal bonds in there.
  • There's a Spanish colonial home (a sort of 1920s compound type set-up) in the old neighborhood that I watch that has been for sale for a couple of years now. It's more compound than we would be able to take care of, it's now at $250k, and the decor is very 1980s. Interestingly, today I saw an advertisement for a 1-bedroom garage apartment on that street for $700 a month, and it looks like the garage apartment is part of the Spanish colonial compound. This suggests that the owners may be in difficulties, or have given up on selling soon.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Getting better

Here are some things that have been happening:
  • The past couple days, I've been mostly lying on my tummy, surfing the internet and feeling dreadful whenever I had to move. I think I'm improving, but I have a doctor's visit tomorrow.
  • C has started her gifted camp that focuses on plants and the outdoors.
  • The kids enjoyed re-watching The Incredible Mr. Limpet with their dad today. That's the movie where Don Knotts is a milquetoast who turns into a fish and helps the U.S. Navy fight Nazi subs.
  • On Sunday, we got our old double jogging stroller back from a graduate family at church that is moving to a job. That's right--a real, genuine teaching job. They do exist.
  • D says that he has made up a very small number: a googolth.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

All together again

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • After 5 days in Ireland, a brief weekend stopover and 5 days in Minnesota, my husband is back!
  • On Friday, the kids and I went to see How to Train Your Dragon at the $1.25 theater. We liked it a whole bunch, and C is planning to take her dad to see it again. I didn't like the way the vikings were drawn, the two-dimensional father-son relationship, or the big monster, but I loved the scenery (lovely forest and coastal landscape), the viking village, the hero's time in dragon-killing school, the dragons in general, and the hero's pet dragon, which is both cute and menacing. The animators did a super job giving the hero's dragon believable wild animal body language, and the scenes in which the boy and the dragon train each other are very good.
  • On Saturday, C and I went to a birthday party across the street. There were 13 children, and we had a very full schedule of musical chairs, scavenger hunt, lime sherbet punch, toenail painting, cupcake decorating, and present opening.
  • Saturday night, D was asking how seedless grapes reproduce. Had to look that one up. Answer--cuttings.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Geometry and Measurement

Not to brag or anything, but C just told me she wants to finish up her Kumon 3rd grade Geometry & Measurement workbook before the beginning of 3rd grade and start the 4th grade workbook.

Summer school

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • Multitudes of tiny ants started coming out from under a switch plate (!!!) in the kitchen a day or two ago. I've taped over the area and that seems to have slowed traffic.
  • D continues to read Clifford phonics books and bounce on the indoor trampoline on his breaks. He has been buying glitter glue from me, 1 tube for three phonics books read, an sharing his glitter glue with C.
  • C has started rereading Harry Potter. She has also been working on her Kumon 3rd grade Geometry & Measurement. Every page completed earns her a quarter and a 5 minute Pink Panther cartoon. C has skipped around a bit, but today she worked on boxes (if the box is unfolded, what will the shape be?), measuring millimeters and centimeters (I hate millimeters--much too small!), kilometer/meter conversion (so easy compared to miles/feet) and area. She has finished about half of the 3rd grade Geometry & Measurement workbook.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Here's some of what has been happening:
  • C finished reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy.
  • D got enough points to earn the doctor kit. So far, he has treated a stuffed kitty, a dinosaur and a snake.
  • D has finished 5 boxed phonics sets so far: four Bob sets and one Clifford set. He is getting pretty fluent, but has some trouble with digraphs like "ch" and "th." He also has difficulty distinguishing "b" and "d."
  • We're watching Hogfather, which is a Pratchett Discworld story. It could be cut down quite a bit, but there are some nice scenes, for instance a governess's vigorous response to a child's complaint of monsters in the basement, a mouse-run wizard computer, as well as a sock-eating fairy. I soon tired of Teatime, the villain, who overstays his welcome while ripping off Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka performance. Unfortunately, Teatime spends half his time standing around complaining about how hard it is to get good help, and the other half killing disgruntled henchmen and innocent bystanders. There's too much murder for this to be a really good little kid's movie. I like Color of Magic better, but I'm looking forward to watching the finale of Hogfather tomorrow.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sewing camp, again

Here are some things that have been happening:
  • On Sunday, we took the kids to the new public spray park near our parish. We also celebrated my birthday with brownies and vanilla bean ice cream.
  • C went to the first day of her second sewing camp today. This one is at a quilting store, so it has a rather nicer fabric selection than at the sewing machine store where she was last week. Today C sewed both a travel-size pillow and a pillow case. While she was working, D and I spent a pleasant but expensive morning at Barnes and Noble. We visited the cafe, I got a couple of house magazines, and D picked out a toy doctor's kit. This was not a mere momentary whim--D is very excited about the kit, which he plans to use for the veterinary needs of his dragons and snake. It was $14.95, so I told him that the price would be 30 points. As of this writing (after some heroic efforts with his Clifford phonics books) D has 26 points and is committed to earning the last 4 as soon as possible tomorrow. D loves the Clifford phonics books.
  • From time to time, we recalibrate the point systems to concentrate on challenging areas. Currently, D can earn a point for dressing himself in the morning, getting into the car promptly when asked, putting on pajamas at night, reading a phonics book, or unusual virtue. In the case of the doctor kit, I suppose that means that each point is the equivalent of 50 cents, which sounds really out of control when you consider how many points he could theoretically earn in the course of a day. However, in practice, all of these tasks are hard or problem areas, so when D gets 30 points, he'll have really exerted himself for a number of days.
  • C finished Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter and is reading Farmer Boy.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Embroidery and Monopoly

Here are some things that have been happening:
  • D told me, "I won a game of cards against my kitty cat!"
  • D has read 4 out of 12 books from the first Clifford phonics boxed set, a nice breather after finishing the first 4 Bob phonics boxed sets. There are pretty pictures, engaging characters and stories, repetition, and (at this level) not too much text on each page. D's getting his confidence back. I have four sets of Clifford boxed sets, but there is a fifth one that I don't have. I also have several Dora the Explorer boxed phonics sets, but D has nixed Dora.
  • I decided to chance letting C keep her embroidery kit overnight in her room in order to work on it in the morning. The bad thing that came from doing that was that C managed to break a needle and the broken-off piece took a while to turn up. The good thing was that C learned to thread the needle all by herself! She was mainly employed this morning in stitching sequins and flowers to a piece of felt and then she supervised D while he did similar work. D's project (which involved lots of buttons) ended up gracing Stretchy's treasure room in the Little People house where he spends much of his time. C has some trouble making small stitches and sewing in a straight line, but today's projects were exactly at her level.
  • We had a playdate at home today with two other children and their mom. Ostensibly, this was supposed to be a Monopoly date for C and her friend, but as I expected, they took a while to get down to business. C's friend got to do some embroidery work, too. They eventually got around to Monopoly, but there was substantial interference from several dragons and a stuffed snake. Toward the end of our playdate, the kids switched to Wii Fit.
  • My husband is due back from Ireland this evening.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Another sewing camp

I booked C for another sewing camp next week. This is another 3-day camp (2 hours each day), but at another sewing store. This second store has a very ambitious sequence of classes. The 12-and-up classes make shorts, skirts, a lap quilt and applique a t-shirt.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

End of sewing camp

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • C finished sewing camp today. She made the following items over the course of three days: a pin cushion (like a small pillow), a medium-sized pillow, and (most impressively) a pillow case made with three different kinds of fabric. In the afternoon, she paid me 10 points for an embroidery kit that I was hoping to save for later. I've just ordered two embroidery books that I hope C will find inspiring: Doodle Stitching: Fresh & Fun Embroidery for Beginners and the forthcoming sequel by the same author Doodle Stitching: The Motif Collection: 400+ Easy Embroidery Designs. It's ambitious, and her interest may flag before the second book arrives, but I think embroidery might be very suitable for C--what craft could be easier and cheaper than just turning her loose with some colored floss and an old t-shirt or pillow case? Just the cover of the second book makes my mouth water--click that link and have a look at that peacock feather.
  • I'd like to ensure that both kids get lots of opportunities to work with their hands. It's so much easier to acquire physical skills when you are young. The deadline has passed, but there is another sewing camp at a different store next week, and I'm going to try to get C into it. I'm also thinking about 4-H. I did baking in 4-H as a sixth grader (including a demonstration at the county fair) and it was a very good experience. I don't know what age our local 4-H starts at (the websites are not very easy to navigate), but I can imagine C doing baking or maybe sewing. Gardening would be another option, but although I think she is theoretically interested in it, I can't really imagine her doing the work.
  • D made a LEGO sign with Lego bricks, replacing the 123 sign he made earlier. It looks great.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sewing camp

Here are some things that have been happening:
  • C has had two days of her sewing camp at a local sewing store (it's two hours per session). Sewing straight is hard, but she can thread the sewing machine and she's already made a pin cushion and a pillow. Tomorrow is the last day.
  • My husband is on the road, but will be home soon. Before he left, he loaded the dishwasher and made chocolate muffins. Yum!
  • C bought a MathART: Projects and Activities (Grades 3-5) book from me for 10 points. She did a couple of projects, including one where you make geometrical shapes with marshmallows and toothpicks.
  • My exercise has been limited with my husband gone, but we have done a number of non-routine things in his absence. The kids and I went to Pei Wei for lunch and I had a very decent pad thai. My driving has long been a very tentative business (I've had my license for two years), but I've had a lot of practice over the past two days. My current driving repertoire is: school, HEB, children's museum, Starbucks (and maybe a second backup Starbucks), zoo, horse ranch, big plaza (with sewing machine store, Pei Wei, $1.25 movie theater, Jamba Juice, etc.), downtown library, Barnes and Noble and dentist. I need to add some more routes to my city driving (Walmart, Target, downtown, Walgreens, playgrounds) and start working up to interstate driving (which is necessary for church, a hospital, going to a mall, or doing trips to outlying communities). The one place that I'm pretty sure I'll never drive is Dallas, which is simply a nightmare--it's like a big bowl of spaghetti, but with freeways instead of noodles.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Here are some things that have been happening:
  • D has finished reading the 4th set of Bob phonics books.
  • D is very shocked that Vikings stole.
  • "I need help cutting eighths," D told me, having already successfully cut his waffle into quarters.
  • C finished reading Usborne's Time Traveler, which covers life among the Vikings, Romans and Egyptians.
  • Yesterday, we all went to the college pool. My husband helped with transport, but I handled aquatic duties while he read. C swam and D wore a flotation vest. Between D's flotation vest and a pool noodle, he did very well, although I also had him on my back part of the time. He'll be starting two weeks of Red Cross swim lessons with C in less than a month. I think he'll swim this year.

C doesn't want to go to the zoo

It's not super hot yet this summer and the morning was pleasantly cool, plus we had house cleaners working. I got the kids into their matching National Zoo panda t-shirts and told them we were going to our local zoo. This was surprisingly unpopular with C, and the following conversation ensued.

C: I don't want to go to the zoo!

Cleaner #1: I'd like to go to the zoo!

Cleaner #2: I'd like to go to the zoo, too!

C was holding out for frito pie for lunch at the zoo cafe as her price, but we eventually got the kids into the car and I got off with a trip to the gift shop (the kids will be buying the stuff from me) and $6 worth of zoo concession lemonade at the very end of our visit.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

C on foreign travel

The kids and I were talking about a set of tea towels I have, where each one has a different day of the week in Russian. C was wearing voskresen'e (Sunday) around her neck to eat ice cream.

C: But you wouldn't be able to read it, D. It's in Russian.

D: Does mommy know Russian?

C: Of course. She's been to Russia.

me: Not everybody who visits a country knows how to speak the language.

C: Then why do they go?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Tom was a cat

Here are a few things that have been happening:
  • C was sick, so we stayed home from the big parish water park outing last night. We also missed a graduate pot luck today.
  • Earlier today, D asked me how to spell "was." Somewhat later, I saw a piece of paper where D had written "Tom was a cat" over and over again.
  • Yet another neighbor (on the next street over) is moving out. Our elderly neighbors to the left are in the process of moving out and I expect that our right-hand neighbors will also be moving out soon. I hope the college puts renters into all these empty houses. We also need to write a letter to the president to point out the importance of a stronger faculty presence near campus for a healthy college community.
  • I went grocery shopping today at our local poor folk HEB. I didn't get to see everything in their cart, but the people behind me in line put the following on the conveyor belt at the check stand: Nilla Wafers, two large packs of fresh meat, vegetable oil, and white bread. Yoo, hoo Jamie Oliver!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ant invasion

Here are some things that have been happening:
  • My husband and I were up late Wednesday battling an invasion of tiny ants. Their point of entry was the middle shelf of some kitchen cupboards, so presumably there's some sort of vast ant empire with tunnels running up through the walls of our rental house. Ick. My husband emptied and cleaned the cupboards and sealed cracks with silicone sealant while I went through the contents of the cupboards, checking for ants and improperly sealed packages. The ants will probably break through elsewhere in a few days or weeks.
  • D can spell out his name with magnetic letters! He spelled out "CLOC" on the fridge, adding a K at my suggestion.
  • This is the last day of C's gifted camp, which focuses on life on the space station. She has been getting more enthused about it as the week goes on. Later today, D and I will go and admire C's work.
  • C is working on her summer book bingo sheet from school. There are some categories (book about famous person, story from another country, history, Caldecott book, fairy tale, Bible story, non-fiction, tall tale, and five poems), as well as many free choice books on the bingo sheet. Last summer, she filled her sheet mostly with non-chapter books, but I'm a bit stricter this year. I'm accepting non-chapter books for the categories, but requiring chapter-books for the free choice books. We should also sign up for the public library summer reading program.
  • Last night, C did yet another math competition test. I'm not sure where my husband got this one, but it seems to be the easiest of the bunch. It's supposed to be for 3rd graders, but C got 20 out of 25 correct. Here's a question from the test: "Fred has 3 bicycles and 4 tricycles. How many wheels total are there?"
  • I've got C's sketch book from art class here. Inside, I see one one page C's notes "Norman Rockwell liked to paint American Scenes and children. His paintings told a story." On the facing page, C wrote "BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH" in increasingly large print. She also has a marker sketch of water lilies, an unfinished sketch of dozens of ducks on a pond, a fire-breathing dragon and a crowded picture with pyramids, a unicorn, a camel, a sphinx, and an ice cream stand with the banner "Happy birthday sphinx!" The birthday ones form a series: "Happy birthday octopus!" and "Happy birthday unicorn!" also appear. Dragons appear frequently, as well as maps of rooms in our house. There are occasional items in larger drawings that seem to be the product of a different hand.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Flash floods

Here are some things that have been happening:
  • We've had a flash flood warnings for today, due to heavy rain. Our area in Texas gets about as much yearly precipitation as Seattle, but it tends to bunch up more. I drove myself to the dentist today (a first!) and drove to pick up C from camp by myself (another first!), doing my best to avoid floating off the road. I also picked C up from camp on Monday and Tuesday, but that was with my husband navigating. Today, I just had the GPS. The emergency flash flood messages on the radio explained that an SUV or a pickup will become inoperable in about two feet of water. I've had my driver's license for two years now and my repertoire of destinations has been limited (school, grocery, Starbucks), but now that it's summer, I've been encouraging my husband to remind me to do more in-town driving for the family. The interstate (which is crucial for destinations like the hospital and our parish) is above my current skill level, but my current task is to get comfortable with city driving. We save about $20 a month for driving lessons for me and I've got $220 set aside at this point. I think I probably need one city lesson and maybe two or three highway/interstate lessons. I'm unfortunately not a very good spatial thinker and I need to memorize routes very exactly, but the GPS helps quite a lot.
  • I botched that story about D and the snail--he actually brought me 16 quarters, exactly $4.
  • D said, "This is the donut truck. It delivers donuts to the dragon house."
  • The kids' school (which is heavily influenced by a liturgical/historically minded Baptist church) lays heavy emphasis on the virtues. The kids were discussing what virtues they need. C says she needs fortitude and D thinks he needs temperance.
  • There's a new listing in the historic neighborhood I watch. This one is 3BR/3BA and it's $172k. It's a plain but updated and respectable house from the early 1950s. As I said earlier, high 100s seems to be the market price for moderate-sized homes in that neighborhood.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

D buys a wind-up snail

D just bought a wind-up snail from my store. It's really cute, although a bit overpriced. I told D that it was $4 and he brought me 12 quarters. I haven't been teaching him to count money--I suppose C must have given him some lessons.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Cave trip

Here are a few things that have been happening:
  • C paid for $4 of ball bearings, to be used in building a toy car.
  • Yesterday after lunch, my husband took the kids on a big trip to some local caves. Because of the limestone so prevalent in the area, we have an excellent supply of caves. The one my husband and the kids visited was discovered during the construction of a stretch of I-35. They spent over an hour underground and my husband spotted a bat. Left at home, I took a nice long nap and walked 4 miles uphill on the treadmill while listening to Mansfield Park.
  • C has finished On the Banks of Plum Creek.
  • C just came home from her first day of a week-long gifted camp that focuses on life on the space station.
  • There's a new listing for a house near an Episcopal church on the edge of the historic neighborhood I watch. The house is 2000 sq. ft. and is listed at $175k. High 100s is starting to look like the going rate for moderate-sized homes in this neighborhood.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Beavers and education fads

There were two magazine articles that have caught my eye. The first one is a multi-page article from this month's Mother Earth News: "The Good Work of Busy Beavers." It has some nice photography and I've been reading it to the kids. It's not every day you see a good article on beavers.

The second article is Mary McConnell's First Things review of Diane Ravitch's The Death and Life of the Great American School Systems. I loved McConnell's opening paragraph:
"Catholic schools reap one benefit from poverty," the high-school principal hiring me commented ruefully (I'd just glimpsed my pay package). "By the time we've scrounged up money for the latest educational innovation, everybody else has figured out it doesn't work."

The telescope is done

Here are some things that have been happening:
  • My husband finished assembling the telescope for his colleague, with some help from the kids, the colleague and our neighbor down the street who owns a table saw. The telescope has Japanese optics and a homemade casing made from Baltic birch plywood. The colleague came by with his three boys to pick the telescope up late this afternoon.
  • My husband will be home from a star night soon. He just called to report from the road that he saw his first local scorpion in the men's room tonight. It was reddish, 2", and had a nicely coiled tail.
  • I did some grocery shopping with the kids today while my husband was slaving away at the lawn. Grocery shopping with the kids is always more expensive and involves more high fructose corn syrup than when I shop by myself, but it guarantees that the kids will be eager at meal times and well-primed with ideas for what to have. Part of the deal is that each co-shopper gets to choose exactly one special item at the store. Today, C chose a helium balloon and D chose chocolate-covered pretzels. On previous occasions, D has chosen flowers. Today, my special item was a tub of 2% fat Fage (fa-yeh) Greek-style yogurt. It's pretty shockingly expensive (about twice as much as the usual US brands), but it's got a very interesting velvety texture (similar to sour cream) and doesn't have the aggressive bite that a lot of plain yogurts have. A cup of the 2% yogurt has 150 calories, 7% of daily fat, 9g sugar, 25% of daily calcium and 38% of daily protein, which is pretty spectacular. I had about a serving of it with fresh cherries for lunch, and didn't feel deprived at all. I first ran into this brand of yogurt in NW DC at Marvelous Market, in the single-serving version where there are two compartments, one with yogurt, one with honey, a combination which I whole-heartedly endorse.
  • There aren't any new developments on the real estate front, although I was playing with the NYT rent or buy calculator today. I used the following assumptions: 10% downpayment, $1,000 a month rent, 5% interest rate, 1% yearly home appreciation, 3% yearly rent increase, and presumably a 30-year mortgage term. The home appreciation and the rent increase numbers are highly speculative, but I think those numbers not unreasonable. Anyway, I plugged in various home prices, from $90k to $240k. At $100k, the decision to buy paid off in 2 years, at $120k in 4 years, at $140k in 5 years, at $160k in 8 years, at $180k in 12 years, at $200k in 19 years, at $220k in 26 years, and at $240k we run out of chart before it is more financially rewarding to buy rather than rent. I don't have formal financial training or higher level math, so it's very interesting to me to see how non-linear this all is. Looking at these numbers, I think that $180k is probably the upper end of my comfort zone.
  • On a lighter note, I have some kid notes and quotes. Although there has been a lengthy dispute over a stick horse which C traded away and then regretted, the kids were exchanging affectionate notes today. D dictated notes to me that said things like "I love you, C" and "You can splash me once today." C (who has been doing a lot of tracings today) produced a note for D with an elaborate dragon tracing with the following text: "Dear D, inclosed in a zipblock bag are some little coupons that say things like Hug from C."
  • My husband has been telling me that there's been talk of changing Radio Shack to simply The Shack. In the car today, he pointed out a Radio Shack store with the old name and explained to the kids that radio just isn't very relevant these days. "What's radio?" asked D from the back seat.
  • "Stay, dragon!" said D, securing it to a chair with a shoe lace leash. "He knows the stay trick."
  • "I know a little how to sound like Dark Vader," said D and demonstrated an excellent imitation of Darth Vader breathing.

Friday, June 4, 2010

They're back!

Here are a few things that have been happening:
  • I'd been wondering where the mega roaches were. They usually start appearing indoors in February or March, but we'd seen very little of them this year and so haven't asked the landlord for an Ecolab visit yet. That was until this week. I just had an unsettling encounter in the kitchen with a really big guy with wings who was (and it hurts to type this) rustling around in the pan for my bread machine in the dish drainer on my kitchen counter. My husband caught him with a plastic cup and piece of cardboard and took him far outside (there's such a thing as being too big to squish). Summary execution would have been better, but the thing was HUGE. It's time for an indoor and an outdoor spray by an exterminator. I've sprayed the bread pan with disinfectant spray and plan to finish off the job by washing it with soap and hot water. Everything else either got a disinfectant scrub or a run through the dishwasher. I'd like to nuke the bread pan from orbit, but that's wasteful and excessive. If you think about it, raw eggs or meat are much worse contaminants than a tree roach.
  • D went to see the tummy doctor in Ft. Worth yesterday. He's complained of stomach pain for several months, but it's hard to say if it's serious. They're doing some lab work and we are supposed to get him a sonogram and try Nexium and probiotics on him. We're trying to get this wrapped up before the start of the school year.
  • We went to the Ft. Worth stockyards (that's the historic district) to take in some culture. There are carriage and stagecoach rides, which the kids would have liked. We did spring for the kids' admission to an enormous maze. You clock in, try to find four letters inside the maze and then find your way to the exit and clock out. We sent the kids in like Hansel and Gretel and watched their progress from a viewing platform. It was hard and it took the kids 30 minutes.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Xantippe visits the uniform closet

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • Today was the start of a three-day used uniform sale at school and I was the first person there. I brought in one middy blouse, three polo shirts, and a plaid jumper to sell, with five wire hangers and five envelopes labeled with our name, a description of the item, and the price desired ($25 total). I bought one sweater vest with logo, two plaid skirts, and a pair of khakis ($40).
  • My husband and I worked on our June budget last night. Oddly, we came out with a $619 surplus that will be directed to our house savings.
  • My husband notes that when watching movies, C covers her ears to block out scenes of embarrassment or lying.
  • A cafeteria is open, as is the cheap and delicious faculty club!