Monday, August 30, 2010

The kids' math

Our home math program has lately expanded.
  • My husband feels like it is time for C to start some algebra. I have in front of me some problems that he was working through with her. One is 3x + 2 = 2x + 6. The other is a simple problem with two unknowns.
  • D, in particular, has lately taken to climbing onto his daddy's lap after dinner and asking for a math problem. D has complained that the math at kindergarten is too easy, and so I asked my husband to write up a report for me to share with the kindergarten teacher. D can write all digits, but sometimes writes them backwards. For more complicated math problems, he prefers oral work. My husband writes that D "sometimes closes his eyes and imagines dots." D "imagines lighter colored dots for negative numbers." D prefers pure, naked numbers for addition, subtraction, and multiplication, but examples help him visualize division problems when the divisor is greater than two. D understands the idea of a square root. There's a lot more, but I should save the details for my report to D's teacher.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A very social weekend

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • My husband took the kids to Lowes for a project Saturday morning. They made little school buses with a small chalkboard panel. I spent my morning at Barnes and Noble and bought a blank journal to use for my Russian and a Temple Grandin memoir. Saturday night, my husband did the open-to-the-public star party talk for our town. He took C and she helped with the presentation. D went to bed promptly and I spent my time alone getting to the bottom of my laundry baskets and reading a story by Zoshchenko about two children who prematurely attack a Christmas tree. It was in Russian (from a children's book) and I dutifully looked up words and recorded some notes in my new notebook. My husband and C got back home from the star party at about 11:30 PM Saturday night.
  • Today being Sunday, we went to Mass. Later in the afternoon, we took the kids to the college gym and the kids raced on the indoor track. They did two 1/9-of-a-mile laps with a break in between and D ran nonstop both times. Then my husband took the kids to the pool and I walked on the indoor track by myself. I had C operate the change room shower by herself. Theoretically, C can do all the change room stuff by herself, but she hasn't yet done so. We rushed home after the pool, my husband made whole wheat chocolate muffins with chocolate chips and I fed the kids dinner. After that, I carried the muffins over to a cookie party in our neighborhood at 6 PM. I had a very good time and a couple other women and I had a nice long renterly chat on the oddities of the local housing market. One of my new neighbors is writing her dissertation and she talked about procrastination issues. "Why don't you check out another book?" I asked.
  • The $250k house that my neighbors offered $125k for is now listed at $240k.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Departmental party

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • Tonight was the night of the big departmental party at the graduate director's house (which is in the other faculty neighborhood). It was a huge to-do, with all the faculty and spouses and kids invited, plus the graduate students and their spouses and kids. The kids all frolicked on the lawn and stairs, I got to talk to the middle school science teacher at the kids' school (the new building is scheduled to be done by April, apparently), my former neighbor who recently got bitten by a non-venomous snake (she stepped on it in the dark), and many, many others. So tired! I wouldn't mind my husband being the graduate director some day (the position is a bit of a hot potato, although it comes with a nice stipend), but I can't even conceive what it's like to run a dinner party for 100 or so people even once a year.
  • C was up and dressed by 7:17 AM again today and got SpongeBob again. Good for her.
  • Ever since the new tent came, the kids have been playing "camping" just about every day.
  • Today, I did some major work on our living room. I went through the shelves and drawers of the built-in desk, which mostly belongs to the kids. Later, I went through the other two built-in bookcases in the living room, which is where we have some VHS tapes, some audiobooks, and my Russian language, history and literature books. My last Russian tutor got too busy to work with me about four years ago back in Washington DC, and ever since then my Russian books have been staring reproachfully at me, unread. What with living in non-big city Texas and being budget conscious, I haven't had a Russian tutor since then. However, two things have happened recently: 1) there's a likely prospect that I'm going to ask to be my tutor 2) I have an income stream from my babysitting, which while small, is very close to what I need to cover the tutoring. I sifted through the Russian books, keeping whatever seemed interesting, good for reference, or a classic (as you can well imagine, those last two requirements don't really narrow things down). I flipped through almost everything and I'm going to give away mostly my Russian pulp detective stories and the more cliched 2nd tier 19th and early 20th century poets.
  • Working with the Russian books was surprisingly good for my self-esteem. When I was flipping through the books this afternoon, I found myself thinking, "I understand this. Not everybody does." I don't know where I'm going with this, but for the moment, I think I'll try to start working with a tutor for a couple of months and then make contact with the Russian professors on campus and a guy who is in charge of a big Soviet-era archive. I'm pretty confident that I can get up to speed on my Russian pretty fast. My computer skills, which have eroded quite a bit over the past 10 years, are quite a different story.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fortune cookie

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • D got a fortune cookie at the cafeteria: Be prepared to change your plans.
  • We're a few pages from the end of the Anne of Green Gables audiobook. There was a quote tonight that we all liked. Rachel Lynde is commenting on Anne's upcoming job as school teacher in Avonlea: "You'll get along all right, now that there are no Pyes going. Josie was the last of them, and a good thing she was, that's what. There's been some Pye or other going to Avonlea school for the last twenty years, and I guess their mission in life was to keep schoolteachers reminded that earth isn't their home."
  • I went through nearly all my papers today: my household binder (with all my to do lists), my folders (a Texas folder, a college folder, medical folders, a folder for C's report cards, a folder for D's report cards, a folder for the parish, several folders with pretty magazine pictures from shelter magazines, etc.), and a small plastic file box containing the skeletal remains of my past careers. Later in the evening, I went through our large puzzle collection with my husband and we decided to disappear several less-loved puzzles. We'll give away a few, but my husband took a couple for scrap and he actually fabricated a replacement piece for a favorite shape puzzle this evening from one of the discards. We are going to have to be very serious about sifting our belongings before our move in the spring.
  • I had another laundry malfunction this week and I ran a second light-colored uniform polo through the dryer with a big stain. D started out at the beginning of school with two light-colored uniform polos (three-year-old hand-me-downs from C), two white button-down uniform dress shirts, and the school t-shirt they all wear on Fridays. That's five shirts for five days, but now two of the five are horribly stained and showing signs of distress after several launderings. And who is to say that the same thing won't happen to the two white button-down shirts? As soon as I can, I will try to order two forest green replacement polos (I've already been to the uniform closet at school and there are no size small used polos available). I suppose somebody has to buy uniforms new, but I wasn't planning on it being me.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

More flyering

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • C was up and dressed and fed by about 7:20 AM today, which is totally unprecedented. She even got to watch some SpongeBob before she left for school. This is amazing.
  • My husband and the kids have been watching a documentary series on the ancient Greeks, who seem very familiar in some ways. For instance, the following modern-sounding question was left for an oracle: "What can I do to make my children useful?"
  • My husband printed up some do-you-want-to-sell-you-house flyers for me, so I went out this evening with a pile and flyered the other faculty neighborhood (it consists mostly of several cul de sacs). Counting two houses that are a bit separated from the rest, I think the neighborhood has 30 houses. I flyered 25 houses this evening, skipping two monster houses (both easily 4000 square feet), one house with a showy, inconvenient front lawn, one house under construction, and one house that has just been moved into. This may not lead to anything, but I will try to flyer again there in early 2011.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The tent came!

Here are some things that have been happening:
  • The kids' tent came! It's huge, with lots of doors and windows and a skylight.
  • Yesterday, we got not one but two payday loan solicitations in the mail. They were both back-to-school themed, with lots of happy children. "We Can Help With Your Back To School Needs," said one. The other said, "Our business is to make loans to good people like you. FAST...with no delay!"
  • There's some sort of problem with the city water, and we're supposed to boil drinking water until further notice, although we'll probably drink mostly bottled water.
  • I had my babysittee this morning.
  • We are really enjoying The Guild, which deals with the collision between real life and life online in a gamer community. MH, if you haven't watched any of the episodes, get over there.
  • D is starting Spanish at school this year.
  • It's looking like a very good year for pecans in our yard. Three years ago, when we were new here, we were thrilled by the bounty of our pecan harvest, but the next two years there were barely any nuts. This year, however, green pecans (mostly squirrel-nibbled) have been showering from the tree near our patio. It's a huge mess now, but I think we're going to have a good harvest in about two months. There'll be a lot of collecting and cracking to do, but we'll be able to enjoy my husband's whole wheat blueberry pecan muffins and pecan pie.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Xantippe mends a skirt

I bought a used uniform skirt for C at school for $2 last week, not noticing that the hem was hanging on by a thread. By the time I ran the skirt through the washer, 99% of the hem was gone. These skirts cost $35 new from Lands End (before tax and shipping) and it was in perfect shape otherwise, so I decided to put the hem back. It took half the morning to sew the hem back in by hand, but it was definitely worthwhile considering the price of a new item. This is probably the first mending job I've ever done that would have been considerably faster with a sewing machine, but I don't do big jobs like this very often. Now, off for a celebratory iced mocha!

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Here's some of what's been happening:
  • Yesterday while the kids were at school, I vacuumed and wiped down the inside of the car with the thermometer showing 97 degrees outside.
  • C got a thank you card from Heifer yesterday with a girl holding a baby goat. I set it out for her on her bed. Giving is pretty abstract for kids, and it's nice to be able to make it a bit more concrete, to put the emphasis on the benefit conferred, rather than the loss to the child.
  • After a number of repetitions of "I'm bored," my husband followed through on a threat of dismantling the Zoob remote-controlled car. The Zoob car got built some months ago and then immediately froze in that form, even though it's supposed to be a creative toy you reconfigure, rather than a museum object. The kids reconfigured the Zoob car tonight and are playing with it again.
  • I also gave something like the following speech during a store visit (the third of the day) during which the kids wanted to buy yet more stuff: "Kids I've noticed some things. 1. You have a lot of toys. 2. You're bored. 3. You want to buy more toys, even though you just got some new ones." The nuclear option that I am prepared to adopt on weekends is that if the kids complain about being bored, we will start going through each shelf and drawer in their rooms, sifting and tidying, to 1) organize their rooms even better and 2) reintroduce them to forgotten toys.
  • At the grocery store this morning, C insisted on buying prune juice. I served her some later today. "It smells like prunes! Delicious!" she said. C has never been exposed to anti-prune animus.
  • We are getting very close to the end of the Anne of Green Gables audiobook. Anne has just passed the exams for Queens.
  • We made a second trip to a different store for distilled water and canned pumpkin this evening. Our neighborhood HEB has stopped stocking canned pumpkin outside pumpkin pie season, and our household lives and breathes pumpkin muffins, so it's crucial that we find an alternate source for canned pumpkin. The distilled water is for C's chemistry set, which requires distilled water and alcohol to mix the chemicals with.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

C still wants to be a 2nd grade teacher

Here's some of what happened today:
  • A few days ago, I explained to one of the Starbucks ladies that D (my youngest) will be in school full-time now. "So you're going to be a lady of leisure!" she said. Pretty close. Today was the second day of school and my total achievements while the kids were out were: spend a fair amount of time on internet, run some laundry, hang up all the kids' clean clothes, take short walk (in 97 degree heat--I'm DC-conditioned to bear the unbearable) to Starbucks, take a nap. The one very good thing that happened was the nap, which counteracted the effects of a late night finishing up the 2003 Czech/Slovak movie Zelary. The film is longish, but has beautiful rural scenery and is not totally predictable.
  • My hope for myself for these school days is that I will do something from several of these categories every day: 1) routine work (stuff that repeats over and over again like laundry and grocery shopping) 2) non-routine work that requires more peace and quiet or larger blocks of time (like making phone calls, writing emails, dealing with school papers, getting ready for our move, or dealing with my box of photos) 3) exercise 4) nap 5) personal improvement (either working on my Russian or doing spiritual reading would qualify). At this point, not knowing how the school year will shape up, I don't want to make any unwise commitments, either work or volunteering. There's also the possibility that some fantastic real estate deal will appear sometime during the school year and we'll have to move suddenly.
  • C says: "I'm going to be a 2nd grade teacher. Maybe when I grow up, I can be a teacher at [name of her school]."
  • This evening, the kids were listening to the Anne of Green Gables audiobook while hanging out in the living room. We are about 4/5 of the way through the book, although there are many other Anne of Green Gables books in the series. Interestingly, the kids don't want to watch the Anne of Green Gables movies that I got from Netflix, although C says she'd like one that was a cartoon (there is a cartoon version that looks terrible).
  • The kids continue to do a very good job keeping the living room tidy. As I've said before, it's just like having a live-in staff, and rather less expensive. When C earns $2, we generally give her $1 in cash and the other goes into her remote-controlled car fund. She currently has $105 in that fund (much of it from a birthday check) and needs $22 to get the car (which is waiting patiently in my bedroom closet).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tofuing leftovers

I picked the kids up at school, bought some uniform items at the office and then drove the kids to the children's museum for a "myths and legends" event. We visited briefly (long enough to acquire balloon swords and hit the gift shop), left and got home at about a quarter to five. By prior agreement, my husband was working on dinner. He extracted nearly all the chicken from last night's curry, so that the kids got white rice, curried chicken, and mixed veggies (corn, beans, carrots) on their plates, each item in splendid isolation from the others. Our grownup dinner was different. My husband fried up some firm tofu, then added the leftover curry sauce, sesame seeds, and powdered ginger to it. Last, he added some microwaved mixed veggies. We adults had the mixture with last night's rice. To be honest, the results looked like the contents of a dog dish, but it tasted fantastic, and it was not at all over-salted. We all got what we wanted for dinner, with minimum duplicated effort.

The cafeteria reopens Sunday night. Three more dinners.

Xantippe enjoys the first day of school

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • Today was the kids' first day of school. I set out uniforms the night before but we had our usual time crunch this morning, since a number of the members of the household are not morning people. The big issues is the problem of how to make lunches while simultaneously walking back and forth to the kids' rooms, offering encouragement as they got dressed. I was, however, pleased with D's lunch. He got a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a whole wheat pumpkin muffin (made by my husband last night) and some fresh blueberries. That's a bit carby, but full of vitamins.
  • I did some clerical work at home in the morning (some emails, flowers for a sick relative, some internet orders, making a honey-do list for my husband, new to-do list for me) and then walked to Starbucks with a big pile of cell phone manuals and school handbooks and papers. An hour of reading at Starbucks didn't quite do the job, but I'm making progress.
  • I looked at the kids' class blogs. C's class is reviewing the fall of Rome, studying rocks and minerals, reviewing manuscript writing and beginning cursive. I'm concerned about cursive and C and I may look into occupational therapy for her, depending on how this goes. On the bright side, I believe the school teaches a streamlined, non-threatening cursive script.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Red curry chicken

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • I watched my babysittee today. The kids as usual brought him toys and admired him. "The baby is adorable!" C told the baby's mother.
  • After two days in a row with a restaurant meal (the cafeterias are all closed), my husband and I buckled down and made dinner at home. It was red curry chicken. The chicken was simmered in red curry paste, coconut milk, a bit of cow's milk and a little brown sugar. I microwaved some frozen veggies and added them at the end and served the curry with sticky white Calrose Rice. We are pretty strict critics of our own cooking. My husband thinks it was a bit too salty, which suggests we need to be less free with the curry paste (today, we used half a tub). That said, I think this was the prettiest meal we have ever made. In the past, I've been dismayed by the dismal visual effect of beige curry, beigish chicken, and brown rice. This was visually spectacular--green broccoli and orange carrots swimming in red curry, accompanied by white rice. This was my first outing with the Calrose Rice, which is wonderfully sticky and would go very well with coconut ice cream. On reflection, I've decided to stop microwaving mixed stir fry veggies, since the different sized pieces cook at different speeds in the microwave, and all too often the little mushrooms and onions are in a very sad state before the broccoli cooks through. Henceforth, I will try to stick to microwaving only one type of vegetable at a time.
  • School starts tomorrow.


D is building with a set of multi-colored blocks.

D: I built the Parthenon!
D [after wreaking destruction on his project]: Now it's in ruins!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Meet the teacher

Here are some things that have been happening:
  • Tonight was meet-the-teacher night at school. One child's teacher looks pretty expectant and the other won't be in school for a few weeks (???) because of emergency surgery.
  • C and I had a long session today of trying on school uniform items. I also had a closer look at D's uniform polos (both of which had been worn by C every week for three years before D got them this summer) and discovered that they were in very poor condition. I mended a total of three uniform items this morning, but if I had studied the polos more carefully before I started work, I probably would have done something different (like buy new ones instead).
  • For some reason, C loves prunes.
  • C: D and I are planning to write a story called "Attack of the Giant Plums."
  • C has finished The Jungle Book. We're watching a movie version of Hound of the Baskervilles with C and all four of us are listening to an audiobook of Anne of Green Gables. Within a few minutes of starting the Hound, C immediately decided that the hound was painted with glow-in-the-dark paint.
  • I just finished reading the third O'Brian Aubrey-Maturin book.
  • I got a lead today from one of the Starbucks ladies about a professor who needs a nanny for a preschooler. I cold-called the professor by email as soon as I got home. Maybe nothing will come of it, but fortune favors the bold.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Here's some of what's been happening:
  • The Shoe Goo patch on the leather sofa didn't hold, so my husband sewed it up yesterday with nylon thread.
  • After months of avoiding it, C has done some work in the Kumon 2nd grade Word Problems workbook. She has also done a good chunk of work in the Kumon Multiplication workbook, where she's reached the x7 section.
  • D and I did the 100 piece Amazon rainforest puzzle from Melissa & Doug, at least the 99 pieces that were available to us.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Saturday shopping

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • We had a big afternoon on the town today. D needed some new tennis shoes for school (with velcro straps and solid black, white, or brown). We got a pair for $9.99, a bargain which fueled a spree later this afternoon. D and I went to Barnes and Noble, where he bought a small unicorn for $8 and I bought a leather-bound complete Hans Christian Andersen for $20. At Barnes and Noble, D was very patient when a teething young toddler at the train table started chewing on him, and he quickly alerted me when the toddler put a toy soldier in his (the toddler's) mouth.
  • The kids (but especially D) have been patiently saving up points to buy this palace play tent. We're going to spend about $50 ordering it from Sears, but the kids will be paying us 100 points, about 80 of those from D and about 20 from C. The tent is going to be about as long as our sofa, and it's going to consume large amounts of living room square footage, but it's a very pretty tent, and the kids (especially D) have worked very hard for this.
  • The kids have lately been doing a very good job keeping the living room in good order. It's like having live-in staff.
  • Me (to kids): Do you want to watch Breaking the Mayan Code or SpongeBob SquarePants?
  • School starts Wednesday. Tick, tick, tick...

Friday, August 13, 2010

School is coming

Here's what's been happening:
  • Yesterday, I went to registration and orientation at school. A neighbor (who has a child starting at the school this year) says that it reminds her of joining a sorority. The school has added 11th grade this year and the building fund is doing very well. The school needs $1 million to build a junior high/high school with ten classrooms, etc., and it's nearly all given or pledged (our family share works out to around $4,000). A lot of demolition has taken place and construction will start very soon. There's a donor who is matching up to $500,000, which helps a lot. The $1 million for construction seems reasonable for a school, but I'm curious how much it's going to cost to furnish the new school with desks, chairs blackboards, whiteboards, computers, bookcases, library, lab equipment, garden, etc.
  • My husband took the kids out to see the Perseids last night.
  • I got an invitation to join some neighborhood mothers and kids downtown for lunch at a vegan buffet downtown near school. The name suggested Indonesia. Before we left, I told the kids that it was a vegetarian place (which turned out to be not 100% true--it's partly vegetarian). "I need protein in my lunch!" said C. D repeated, "I need protein in my lunch! I need protein in my lunch!" "You don't even know what that means," I replied, and we left for downtown. The food was very good. I got fresh bread for the kids and a lunch buffet for each of us. I especially liked the coconut veggie soup, although I wound up eating both the kids' portions. They ate the bread and raided the dessert buffet and I tried to talk to my new neighbors. From the signs saying calvary something-or-other, as well as the website for the place, it seems that it's a sort of outreach center, possibly a sort of coffee shop/restaurant/student hangout/rec center/clothing bank/food pantry/cooking school/church, although not all of those aspects were immediately visible. They are offering cooking lessons as well as free coffee, fountain drinks and wi-fi for college students.
  • Over lunch, I heard a very interesting story from one of my neighbors. They are househunting in the same older neighborhood near downtown that I am, and they made an offer on a 1920s Spanish colonial that has long been sitting on the market. It's a huge home that is lovely, but will need an exorcism and major work on the interior to undo a 1980s renovation. The house is for sale for $250k. In light of the updating needed, my neighbors offered $125k. There was some back and forth, and ultimately the sellers said that they would take no less than $230k, so they weren't able to come to an agreement. It was worth going to lunch just to hear that story.
  • C is becoming more and more interested in Anne of Green Gables and has been enjoying the audiobook. We've just finished the part with the affair of the raspberry cordial.
  • D can stand on his head and tumbles very nicely.
  • Today, my husband and the kids were watching a documentary on Mayan archeology and the cracking of the ancient Mayan written language.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A mostly financial post

Here are some things that have been happening:
  • Having saved up over $30 in her charity box, C was able to give honey bees (or the equivalent) via I normally don't care for charities that send lots of mailings, but when we get a newsletter from Heifer, I make a point of passing it on to C, and I think it's genuinely educational.
  • We drove out to look at a house near a lake. It was $123k for a middle class home in a lower-middle-middle class mid-century city neighborhood. The price was very tempting, but the drive is too far for us, and I have concerns about which way those neighborhoods will trend. I think we'll have to either go for the nice older neighborhood near downtown or the other small faculty neighborhood just off campus, either of which would be much closer. I don't think we'd move to the suburbs (except maybe for high school). We're just not commuters.
  • We've done a little bit more thinking about the narrow vacant lot in the faculty neighborhood. The lot itself would cost $40-50k and my husband was emailing with a builder who said he could build a nice house for $75 per square foot ($100 for very nice, $120 for a showplace). I spent a very happy hour or so looking at floor plans online (giving myself license to look at plans up to 40' wide). Unfortunately, if we want a 2000 square foot home, the builder's quote (while very reasonable) is somewhat out of our range.
  • A few days ago, I noticed a Craigslist rental posting for $800 for a home that I knew was for sale for $185k. That was quite thrilling, up until I noticed the Craigslist counter-advertisement warning would-be renters that the house was not for rent and that the people who had posted the rental ad were scammers.
  • I went to school today for registration. We've been doing very well with the used uniform closet. I got $7 back today from items that we've sold, and I picked up three polo shirts and a uniform skirt for a total of $15.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

First day of babysitting and thoughts on taxes

Today was my first day with my 5-month-old new client. My kids were very excited and brought toys for the baby, played music, and asked to watch him sleep. They played with him for the first hour and then I sent them off to play while I tried to figure out if he really wanted to nap or not. I didn't ever really figure out what he wanted (was he hungry or sleepy?) and we mainly just spent some time together on the glider, but we have now been formally introduced. I had forgotten how hard just holding his head up is for a baby this age. The living room is very nicely set up, but now that I have seen the baby, I think I should get out my sling and the Jumperoo.

I last babysat professionally back in Washington DC when our two kids were both very small. My husband was somewhat concerned about the tax implications of this business. Although Texas doesn't have income tax (but does have a sales tax and a stiff property tax), the state requires businesses to pay a couple percent tax on all of the property used to transact business (with exceptions for things like personal vehicles). This is extremely onerous, hard on new or struggling businesses, as well as discriminatory for the following reasons. 1) It's not that easy to figure out how much stuff (particularly used stuff) is worth. 2) The inevitable subjective factor in deciding value is unfair to the honest or scrupulous. 3) Businesses vary in how much equipment they use. Texas tax law unfairly punishes businesses that require expensive equipment. You are taxed on your expenses, not your income, which is perverse. 4) You owe the tax whether or not you made any money that year. 5) This is particularly discouraging to small or new businesses, who have not yet made the sort of money to make this expense a matter of indifference. On reflection, I decided that if we Craigslisted all the baby equipment, toys and books used for my babysitting business, we would be very lucky to get $100 total. So we will be fine. However, I don't think a two-hour-a-week babysitting operation ought to require quite so much soul-searching and tax expertise.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Baby prep

Here are some things that have been happening:
  • Tomorrow is the big day when the baby I'll be babysitting and his mother will come over for the first time. So far we've pulled out a Pack-n-Play from storage and wiped it down, moved big kid toys from the living room, moved the treadmill out of the living room, pulled out some baby toys from storage and wiped them down, pulled out some board books, etc. My husband also put more foam padding on the bricks near the fireplace. I've laundered the highchair seat cover, found storage containers for the baby toys, worked on the kids' bathroom, vacuumed the big brick bench near the fireplace (that still had pine needles from Christmas despite Merry Maids), wiped the dirt out of the panels of our front door, wiped the cobwebs on the outside of the French doors that look out of the living room, and wiped down the toddler stuff on the patio. We didn't do positively everything (we'll have cleaners coming Wednesday to do routine cleaning), but it was a very big deal.
  • Having assigned the high chair to the visiting baby, it's time to move D (age 5!!!) to a place at the dining room table. Our active papers (bills, important mail, my calendar, my netbook, my big housekeeping binder, etc.) had occupied half of our dining room paper for years now (in deadly peril from spilled drinks), leaving the table only on special occasions. We have a solution, though. We moved a folding table from the garage and set it up in a corner of the dining room and transferred all of our papers there. The dining table is now free, and D will no longer sit exiled in the kitchen.
  • My husband just fixed our sofa with Shoe Goo and a clamp.
  • D read two Clifford phonics books today. C has finished reading Watership Down and is now finishing The Jungle Book.
  • My favorite (very friendly) Starbucks is closed for some reason, so I found myself at the "alternative" college coffee house, where a male barista was wearing a currently trendy v-neck t-shirt and a female barista was wearing smokey eye shadow and late 70s/early 80s eye brows. The tip jar had a note that said "Every time you don't tip, a hipster forgets to bathe."
  • We got a report from our money market account. The interest rate is plunging catastrophically. It was .95% just a few weeks ago, but as of the most recent date they gave, they are now paying .35%. That is pretty pitiful.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

On carpet cleaning

I forgot to mention that my husband has put his own mark on yet another household task. Unwilling to spend $20 on carpet cleaning solution to put in our Hoover SteamVac, he looked up alternatives on the internet. We pre-treated spots with Resolve and then (on a chemist's suggestion) he ran the SteamVac with a solution of hot water and a few tablespoons of laundry detergent. The results were adequate.

I continue to plot my escape from the world of carpeted dining rooms.

Getting ready for babysitting

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • Yesterday, the kids and I got things ready for my husband to carpet clean the dining room, part of the living room, and some hallways. Later this week, we are expecting a visit from the baby (and his mom) that I'm going to be sitting for. It's a small gig (only a couple hours a week at this point), but it will require many small changes to get ready.
  • My husband has been doing the Electronic Playground with the kids.
  • I'm at a bit of a loss what to do with the kids for the next week-and-a-half, after all these weeks of camps, classes, and one week of travel.
  • I've gotten back into Patrick O'Brian's Post Captain.
  • Our electric bill for the past month was a glorious $116. Depending on where you live, this may sound high, but my basis for comparison is our first summer here, when we got a three-month bill (for July, August and September) that averaged $400+ per month. I attribute this much smaller bill to our switching mostly to fluorescent bulbs (except for closets, kids' rooms, etc.), the one week that we were gone and the thermostat was set to the mid-80s, and our switch to a new electric company.
  • I loved this book review from a personal finance blogger who was irritated by Judith Levine's Not Buying It, which purports to be the memoir of a year of not shopping. Here's a quote: "I tried to glean as much as possible about living life frugally but finally became so annoyed with the author, I didn’t read the last 30 or so pages. She droned on and on about how Bush was to blame for just about everything, insisted that frequent political contributions and political activism trips didn’t count as spending, whined for a chapter or two about a cell phone tower she didn’t like, and then explained how purchases didn’t count if one of her friends paid for it. When she wrote about a friend who had invited her and her husband to dinner and they went in hopes the friend would offer to pay (he did), I blew a top."

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Back from the West Coast

We're back from an 8-day trip to the West Coast. My husband and D went to my husband's family in British Columbia, and C and I saw family and friends in Washington State. We all flew in and out of Sea-Tac. Here are a few notes:
  • C and I saw Mt. St. Helens with my parents and some old friends the day after we arrived in Washington. This was my second visit and C's first. We stopped at almost every visitor center or pull-out and we did the thing very thoroughly, although we didn't get to see the Ape Cave lava tube (over two miles long!!!), which is on the other side of the mountain.
  • Late one evening at a hotel, C and I caught the second half of the HBO Temple Grandin biopic. I'm looking forward to seeing the first half. The Temple Grandin movie was a lucky find, because C and I were two hours off Pacific Time and there was nothing else child-appropriate on TV at that late hour. C said about Temple, "One virtue she's got is perseverance."
  • C, who is botanically-minded, had many opportunities to learn about new plants from knowledgeable adults on our trip. We saw lupine, Indian paint brush, Queen Anne's lace, self-heal, alders, big leaf maple, vine maple, spruce, huckleberry, salmon berries, lichen, blackberry bushes, thistles, sword ferns, maidenhair ferns and many varieties of moss.
  • We didn't put on a lot of miles, but we did short hikes on three different days, walked out on the gravel bar at the river, and had a big picnic with a fire and marshmallow roast.
  • C and I went out to help her grandpa cut alder firewood. I helped and C enjoyed botany. C also enjoyed kicking at a sandy patch on a bluff where years ago the river used to go. My dad told us that this activity is widely enjoyed, by elk and cattle of all ages. He's seen a bull (bovine) and the lead cow elk square off over the right to to stand there and kick sand from the face of the bluff. The activity is enjoyable in itself, plus there may be some bug-repellent value.
  • At my parents' house, C enjoyed meeting and playing with their calico cat and reading books from the family library. She read Matilda, Far Side, Peanuts, David and the Phoenix, and part of The Princess and Curdie. C also enjoyed "shopping" for her birthday gifts at my parents' store. She got a bunch of Northwest Indian temporary tattoos and some rubber stamps in the same style. I picked out matching t-shirts for the kids (a favorite choice of mine), black with glow-in-the-dark animal footprints.
  • C finished the 3rd grade Kumon Geometry & Measurement workbook and started the 4th grade workbook. The 4th grade workbook is hard!!! C has finished the "large number" section that covers working with numbers in the billions and trillions and is in the middle of the section on rounding.
  • We went to Mass in my home town on Sunday morning. There's a new priest, and he was exhorting us to remember to share our elk if we manage to shoot one.
  • While we were on our trip, a very pretty colonial in the older neighborhood I watch dropped from $280k to $270k.
  • We got home around midnight on Tuesday and since then it's been around 100 degrees and the kids have been doing Wii and watching a lot of videos. We're about 50% unpacked.
  • My husband and I did our August budget last night. School is up by $200 a month (since we are paying for 5 days a week of tuition for D now) but I'll be babysitting a bit this fall and my husband has cut our car insurance in half. Since our car is worth at most around $4k, we're dropping almost everything from our insurance coverage except liability. Last month, our house savings was an anemic $159. This month, it's a pitiful $2. That is not impressive, but summer is always expensive. This year's savings priorities will be 1) home purchase 2) lots of travel (including my long-awaited Russia trip) and 3) extracurriculars and camps for the kids. It's going to be very suspenseful to see how well we do on our home purchase next year. As I've written before, there's a house I like that is $160k and another that I like that is $175k, but the math is quite unforgiving--every dollar that has to go to housing expenses is a dollar that can't go to other activities.