Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fall cleaning

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • The mornings are cool, the afternoons are hot (mid-80s), and the evenings are exquisite (low 80s and low humidity). This is what makes living in Texas a joy at least 8 months out of the year.
  • D likes school, but not recess. C is sometimes grumbly, but dresses promptly in the morning. In school, they are studying the Gupta Dynasty and the medieval Indian empire (I had to look those up just now--I did not study ancient Indian dynasties in 3rd grade). She has homework this week, and it has been a difficult transition. Her Singapore Math is introducing two step problems with bar models and C doesn't like it. She just wants to do the problems in her head. Spelling is also problematic, especially on Wednesdays when we're rushing here and there and homework gets done at 8:30. How do people manage with big sports schedules?
  • C's savings continue to pile up. She has a full piggy bank in her room and she now has $4.90 in her travel fund (I'm diverting 20% of her earnings there). I think C is pretty much reconciled to the travel fund. In fact, this evening, she had me put 25 cents in the travel fund, instead of putting it in her piggy.
  • My slow motion fall cleaning continues. While the kids were at school today, I went through three boxes of baby equipment and infant toys from D's closet. After that, I started working on the hall closet (between the kids' rooms) and got it finished up this evening. The hall closet contains our luggage, toddler toys (I plan to rotate them in as needed for my babysitting kids), a box of different kinds of tape, a box of child safety items, a box of DVD cases, a box of toddler stuffed animals, etc. There's still a lot to do around the house, but I think I'm moving slightly faster than the forces of entropy. By the end of this round, I will 1) have gotten rid of a lot of stuff 2) know what we have 3) have less to move with.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fall begins

Here are some things that have been happening:
  • For two days running, the early morning temperature has been 57 or 58 degrees. The pecan tree off the back patio is starting to shed yellow leaves. The squirrels continue to feed on green pecans in the front yard, sending down an untidy hail of partially eaten nuts on the front walk.
  • I'm very happy with the kids' schedule. I've lately been waking up around 7:10 AM to find C up and dressed in her school uniform and ready for breakfast (when she's ready and there's extra time, she gets a little TV before it's time to leave). D would like more of a hand with getting dressed, but he can do it himself. I think we'd do very well, were it not for the fact that I tend to get drawn into the blogosphere over breakfast, rather than industriously packing lunches. Lately, we've been consistently on time for school, which is totally amazing. Bedtime is also working well. I'm aiming for a bedtime snack at 7:30 PM, followed by pajamas, followed by 5 minutes of free time for D, followed by his bedtime (8:30ish). After that, C is free until her bedtime at 9 PM, although we often have to spend that time washing her hair. C also usually spends some of her free time picking up her room or picking up the living room. We do get discombobulated on CCD (religious education) nights and star nights and whenever there's some sort of late night special occasion.
  • D has been bringing home coloring sheets from his class's Texas unit, including a beautiful pair of cowboy boots and a cactus. He also brought home an armadillo craft assembled from pinto (???) beans, which is a real twofer.
  • Yesterday, I inadvertently sent D to school with red Canada socks with polar bears, rather than his regulation white uniform socks.
  • So far, I like the kids' CCD homework. When C was in kindergarten, her otherwise excellent CCD teacher sent home piles of redundant makework, but so far, D's CCD homework has been pretty harmless. Tonight's homework for D was for his dad to read him the story of creation from a children's Bible storybook (which they provide). C's homework tonight included reading much of the first chapter of Genesis. To my knowledge, this is the first year that C has done much with the Bible itself, rather than children's Bible storybooks. On Sunday, we always take a large bag of children's Bible storybooks to church for the kids to look at (as well as C's Magnifikids), but I've lately started bringing the more sophisticated children's Bible storybooks, for instance Murray Watts' The Bible for Children (that one has spectacular illustrations, but more S-E-X than the unwary parent may be ready for).
  • I had a dream a couple nights ago in which I was in a classroom playing hangman (viselitsa) in Russian. The word I chose was "prevoskhodnyi" (superlative, superb, outstanding). The funny thing is, until I looked it up just now, I didn't really know what it meant in English.
  • A house in the neighborhood I watch just dropped from $260k to $250k.
  • I continue to sift our possessions. Today, I finished going through all of the baby, toddler, and preschool clothes that I have in storage, dusting boxes, dusting shelves, pulling out a big pile of items for sale and/or Goodwill. It's pretty laborious, but I need to figure out what we actually have and whether or not we need it and want to move with it. We have vast reserves of baby, toddler, and preschooler clothes, partly because I used to have a pretty bad shopping habit, partly because we spent 4 years in an apartment without a washer/dryer of our own. I also made the kids try on old dress-up stuff to see if it still fits.

War on savers

I was just reading an article (via Instapundit) about quotes from a Bank of England official. "Older households could afford to suffer because they had benefited from previous property price rises, Charles Bean, the deputy governor, suggested. They should "not expect" to live off interest, he added, admitting that low returns were part of a strategy." "Mr. Bean said that encouraging Britons to spend was one reason why the bank had cut interest rates. They have been held at 0.5 per cent for 18 months, hitting rates offered on savings accounts."

Although I have heard lots of grumbling in internet comment boxes about the similar US policy, I don't think I have ever seen the issue so explicitly talked about either by a US official or in major US media. From the British, it's a very explicit attempt to starve out conservative savers and herd them into consumption. As I mentioned a few days ago, we just bailed out of a pathetic .1 percent money market into a slightly less pitiful 1.3 percent savings account.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

New castle

Here are a couple of things that happened today:
  • C cashed in some of her points (25) and my husband took her and D to the small local amusement park, which has had both rides and rates refurbished. The agreement was that the kids would enjoy $12 worth of rides for those 25 points, and would spend an extra $3 each of their own money on extra rides.
  • I thought we had arranged for the transfer of C's now too-small cowboy boots to D, but I was mistaken. I have informed C that before she gets new boots and a new cowboy shirt, she's going to have to make the old boots over to D.
  • My husband and C finished putting together a 3-D paper castle from Dover. C started by herself some weeks ago, but it really does require a steady adult helping hand to produce a nice product. My husband used his big paper cutter to do the job right and there was a lot of gluing. The finished product is so nice (complete with drawbridge and tiny blue and red pennants) that I claimed it for the dining room. It's now sitting in a place of honor on the bookshelf next to my blue-and-white Polish teapot.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Saturday chores

Here's some of what's been happening today:
  • My husband and I sorted through some clothes, books, and videos for Goodwill. He delivered most of the stuff to Goodwill, and took a selection of books to the free book table at his department.
  • C got a haircut and didn't make a federal case of it. Then the kids and I went grocery shopping at HEB and they both got a Hot Wheels car as their free item.
  • Jane Austen's Emma lies a lot.
  • C and her dad have been working on a paper 3-D castle from a kit.
  • I got C to try on her winter coat and various fleeces so I could see what she's outgrown, and what should last another winter.
  • C did 2 hours on the Wii today. Her temperature is slightly up.
  • I caught up on my email and collated the names of children coming for board game club next week, then emailed the names to the school office.
  • C and I worked our way through her right hand closet (each child's room has two closets--yay 50s homebuilding!) late tonight. She and I have done a lot of work on her room and I think we're at least halfway through as of tonight. As I've mentioned, I'm trying to go through every corner of the house before we move, to avoid moving with too many boxes of pointless debris.
  • D and his dad are out at a star party, but should be back very soon.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Plaid people

Here are some things that have been happening:
  • Two houses that I watch have dropped again, one from $175k to $168, and one from $150k to $140k.
  • C did about 20 pages of a Kumon subtraction workbook today, between stretches of Backyardigans. A lot of the time, C dislikes challenging tasks, but today she was describing the harder problems as more interesting, and the easier problems as boring. It's a good thing, too, because the way she's going, she'll be out of the easy workbooks soon.
  • My husband and I have just introduced the new vacation savings plan for the kids. As I mentioned earlier, the kids (especially C) have a pretty good cash, and I don't like to see it just turning into unplayed with toys and heaps of supermarket vending machine trinkets. We already have an established policy of setting aside 10% of the kids' income for charitable giving. As of tonight, I'm going to try to remember to pay the kids 80% of their net income in cash and put the other 20% in their trip fund to make sure that they have money on hand to pay for special vacation stuff. We'll see how this goes. At some later point, I'd like them to start saving for college, a car, and other grownup stuff.
  • C's Smithsonian Magazine came today (I set it out on her bed to wait for her) and she was quite absorbed in it. There's a big cover article on tattoos and body decoration around the world. Last month, C was not at all interested.
  • I'm really enjoying Inspector Lewis. In fact, I'd almost say that the new series is better than Inspector Morse.
  • D's kindergarten class has been learning about Texas. Today they were talking about line dancing and square dancing.
  • One of the parking garages on campus is a regular dovecote, to the kids' disgust. I was using the phrase "pigeon poop" with the kids today when C stopped me. "Let's call it pigeon droppings," she said. "It sounds better."
  • D said: There's no such thing as a plaid person.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Here are some things that have been happening:
  • I took my 4-year-old babysittee to the children's museum today. I had him for 3.5 hours today with much of the time spent at the museum. I've had a couple of cancellations this week, so as it turned out, I babysat only 5 hours Monday and 3.5 hours today, for a total of 8.5 hours.
  • In related news (some of my babysitting money is earmarked for this), one of the new graduate students at my husband's department is Russian, and she's agreed to be my tutor. It's been about 4 years since I last had a tutor and I am terribly rusty, but there might be certain on campus opportunities available for me if my Russian improves (there's a Russian language program and an interesting archive). The leftover babysitting money is supposed to be for our house fund. I've also considered doing some ESL tutoring again. There's also my recent dream of doing tax work, but I think it's too early to think seriously of that. In two years, I become eligible for free courses from the college.
  • We finally got fed up with .1% interest on our FDIC-insured money market account and my husband is in the process of moving it to a 1.3% FDIC-insured savings account. This is our house savings fund. As my dad would say, 1.3% is better than a poke with a sharp stick.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sedimentary rock cookies

Here are some things that have been happening:
  • I was a good girl scout and sent out an updated neighborhood directory again this evening. I've got 16 families now, which isn't everybody, but is probably at least 2/3. I'm not totally sure which houses are empty and which are occupied. It seems to changes day by day. I got a new family this evening, just by walking around the loop listening to Jane Austen's Emma and asking "Are you in my directory?" As of this summer, the number of school age kids in the neighborhood is sadly reduced. Three families with big kids are gone, and I haven't recently seen the big bicycle packs racing around the block that have been so characteristic of the neighborhood. Of course, they may be waiting for cooler weather.
  • At school, C's 3rd grade class made "sedimentary rock cookies." The recipe reminded me a lot of last year's "Roman road cookies."
  • D says: "I love grammar!" D learned the word "rojo" today in Spanish.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Xantippe's babysitting business

Here are some things that have been happening:
  • C has really taken to Fawlty Towers. Not all of the episodes are kid-appropriate, but my husband and C have been watching Basil the Rat with great enjoyment.
  • I've just started listening to Jane Austen's Emma. I wasn't really looking forward to listening to this one (it's very long and Emma can be annoying and obtuse), but the opening chapter is very good, and I'm looking forward to the slow unwinding of the various mysteries in the novel.
  • The kids have started listening to Anne of Avonlea.
  • The babysitting business has really caught fire this week. This morning, I was taking care of a baby with an earache whose mother thought he should stay home from daycare today and I had him for 5 hours. Later this week, I'll have a 4-year-old with a speech delay for 3.5 hours and a toddler for 2.5 hours. Not to count my chickens before they hatch, but that's $121 before taxes. It's a very nice addition to our house fund, allowing for taxes and my desire to renew our children's museum membership a couple of weeks earlier than planned. I'm quite wiped out, though, and am looking forward to spending tomorrow on untaxing solo activities like grocery shopping or going through a closet or writing a book review.


D and I were just doing his evening donation (5 cents) to the box where we keep the money for Heifer.

D: I'm getting maybe a goat so they can milk it to get goat milk.

I just looked, and a goat is $120 and a share in a goat is $10.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Model car

Here are some things that happened today:
  • My husband and C completed C's model car, which is some sort of 1950s model with flames painted on.
  • Our former neighbors were visiting their former house, picking and watering their peppers. D and I went down the block to say hello to them and play on their tree swings. The youngest child (formerly an infant) is on his feet now, and is starting to transform into a clone of his slightly older brother.
  • D was telling me that when he is pretending to be a horse, he likes to pretend that his shredded cheese is hay.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Saturday at the zoo

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • C did 39 pages of her Kumon multiplication book, covering the 8s, 9s, and 10s, as well as some review. That's $9.75 at our usual rates. Fortunately, such industry is unusual, or it would be over the hill to the poorhouse.
  • My husband and I are plotting to reduce the kids' disposable income while not hurting their motivation. We're thinking of requiring contributions to a travel and fun fund, so that they can buy things like admission to Sea World (we still haven't been to Sea World San Antonio). The kids are actually pretty friendly to the idea. The important thing is to reduce purchases of tangible objects, because one stuffed animal a week is 52 a year. When the kids have higher earnings (babysitting, lawnmowing, etc.), I'd also like them to start contributing to college savings.
  • I took the kids to the zoo this morning. I had issued a general invitation to the neighborhood to join us, but nobody appeared. We had a good, hot time, saw gorgeous dragon flies the size of hummingbirds, played with the river otters, and made the obligatory stop at the zoo gift shop.
  • D just calculated that if his dad has 100 latex gloves and he wears a pair every day, the gloves will last him 50 days.
  • Right now, my husband and the kids are putting together a model car for C.
  • I talked to my grandma today and my grandparents are going to be remodeling their circa 1959 kitchen. Their built-in stainless steel oven and (separate) stainless steel cooktop have finally gone out, and of course replacing built-in stuff is going to require a major overhaul: fiddling with the cabinets, replacing the original gold-flecked yellow Formica, etc. The loud patterned brown and yellow late 70s (?) carpet is also on the way out. Grandma has gotten some help from my aunties for choosing colors. The cabinets (which will be kept) are varnished a sort of dark gold wood tone, which may be difficult to coordinate with, but it's been decided to go with light flooring and light Formica with colored flecks. I should probably suggest to my grandparents that they see if they can get anything for the built-in Thermador oven, which somebody might at this point consider an antique worthy of rewiring. My grandparents built their house themselves in the late 1950s and put in what were then state-of-the-art appliances (the Thermador website said that Thermador was the first to introduce built-in ovens 50 years ago, so my grandparents were early adopters). The cooktop has a huge built-in griddle that my grandma is very attached to, and at one point, there was also a built-in deep fryer. It sounds like work will be starting soon. The hope is to get my grandparents' kitchen shipshape by Thanksgiving dinner.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Homemade vanilla extract

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • I've got a new babysitting gig for next week, thanks to the cover email I sent with the new neighborhood directory.
  • The downtown payday loan people just sent us another postcard. The photo on the front shows a balding 50ish African-American man sweating next to a thermostat set to 82 degrees with the caption, "Summer heat burning up your BUDGET?" They offer "$100-$700 CASH" for "bills, home repairs, or to pay for school supplies."
  • We continue to watch HBO's Temple Grandin. The chronology is a bit of a mess (we're always flashing backwards and forwards), but C is enjoying it a lot.
  • While the kids were at school today, I got to work on our entry closet, which is home to coats, hats, shoes, boots, gloves, mittens and whatever the kids have dragged in there to play with, that closet being a favorite play spot. There was a veritable nest at the bottom of the closet before I got to work. I'm pretty much done with it, but I still need to grab the kids and have them try on all the coats in there to make sure that they still fit.
  • Now that C is a third grader, she and her class now visit kindergarten to serve as reading buddies to the little kids. C has gotten to be D's buddy twice and she really likes that.
  • Last but not least, I'd like to draw your attention to two very good posts at The Simple Dollar. This one is on homemade Christmas gifts and this one is on how to make powerful yet relatively inexpensive vanilla extract with vodka and vanilla pods.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Temple Grandin/Emergence

The HBO Temple Grandin movie arrived via Netflix today, so I rounded up everybody and made them watch some of it this evening. The kids chose to watch some of it during their "fun" time (that small sliver of time between putting on pajamas and going to bed), which shows how engaging they found it. (C and I watched the second half of the movie in Washington State when we were on the road.)

I finished reading Temple Grandin's Emergence: Labeled Autistic (1986) a week or two ago, so I should probably talk about it, too. Let's go quickly to bullet points, because I'm not really a paragraph person:
  • Temple didn't talk until she was three and a half.
  • Temple was one of several children and her parents employed a governess. Strict Miss Cray was on to Temple's sensitivity to noise. "She used sound as a means of punishment. If I daydreamed, my spoon in mid-air, while eating lunch, Miss Cray would say, "Temple, eat. If you don't finish your soup right now, I'll pop a paper bag at you." She kept a supply of paper sacks on top of the refrigerator so that she could burst them in my face if I misbehaved or drifted away from the world of people."
  • Temple went to a small private elementary school where she was successful in reading and hands-on activities like sewing, embroidery, wood-shop, and "projects." There were only thirteen children per class and the school worked closely with her parents.
  • For 7th grade, Temple went to a large private girls' school, which was not nearly as successful as her elementary experience. "Entering Cherry Hill Girls School with thirty to forty students in a class and a different teacher for each subject, was a confusing, traumatic experience. I was lost--overwhelmed by the jostling, noisy crowd, and unable to do well in subjects such as math and French because these subjects are not learned visually." She did well in biology and "creative classes such as jewelry making." "But again, as in elementary school, when I didn't understand the subject, I became bored, and when I became bored, I was naughty." After 2.5 years, she was booted out of Cherry Hill for temper tantrums, the last one involving Temple hitting a classmate in the eye with a history textbook after the classmate called her a "retard."
  • Conveniently, Temple's mother had just been writing for documentaries about special needs schools, and she had discovered a small (32 students) boarding school in Vermont specializing in emotionally disturbed children. Her new school had "classrooms, theater and library" as well as a dairy, stables, and sheep pens. Temple was very excited about the horses.
  • For Temple's first six months at her new school, "I still reacted to any problem with a flare of temper and a forceful smack." This eventually ended after Temple "smacked a classmate for laughing at me when I tripped over a croquet wire" and Temple lost her horse riding privileges for a week.
  • Some of the more entertaining but sad passages of Emergence have to do with Temple's suffering at the hands of mid-century Freudians. "As a child growing up, instead of psychotherapy I should have received more speech therapy. Practicing with a tape recording and playing it back probably would have done more for my social life than trying to ferret out the dark secrets of my psyche."
  • One of Temple's most characteristic projects was a squeeze machine that allowed her to deal with anxiety, just as the squeeze chute on her aunt's ranch calmed down cattle. The Freudians had all sorts of dark suspicions of the symbolism involved. When she started building herself prototypes of her squeeze machine at her boarding school, "The psychiatry department, too, thought my project was strange--sick--and I shouldn't use it." The desire to prove the benefits of the squeeze machine empirically was a major motivation for Temple's further studies and inspired her college senior thesis.
  • After high school, Temple went to a college near her boarding school. "I will forever bless those who selected a small college for me."
There's a lot more, but to summarize, for autistic children: small schools--good. Big schools--bad.

Your Money Or Your Life

Here are a couple of notes and a short book review:
  • C's been in school for nearly a month and hasn't really gotten any homework besides reviewing spelling words. I'm not complaining, it's just that after a couple years of homework Monday-Thursday night, I feel at a loss not having homework.
  • The kids are getting much better at getting ready for school in the morning. D says he loves art and Spanish.
  • I just finished listening to Jane Austen's Persuasion. I think Emma is the only one I have left this cycle, and after that, I'm at a loss what to listen to. I should probably wait another year or so before doing Lord of the Rings again--I started my last listen-through less than a year ago, and it took me 6 months to go through the full 52 hours of audio.
  • A lot of people in the personal finance blog community love Your Money Or Your Life. (I should note here that I'm talking about the revised 2008 edition, rather than the original edition, which might be better.) I was disappointed. The basic idea (that your time is valuable, and that you sell chunks of your life for money when you work) is sound, but I would have preferred a tightly-written blog or magazine article, rather than a big mess of a book that keeps saying that over and over. This is a very influential book, but I wonder how many fans actually follow the authors' advice and tally up every dollar they've ever earned and the cash value of every item they own--that seems to me the point where 80% of even interested readers throw up their hands and give up. (As a Craigslister with a few years experience, the answer is that you're lucky to get 50 cents on the dollar for anything, and for most stuff, you'll get at most $1 or $2 for an item that originally cost $10-20. That fact alone has done a lot to cure my materialistic fervor.) I like the charts the authors encourage readers to make, where you graph your monthly expenses and monthly income, and there's a very good and influential bit on "gazingus pins". "Oh, there's a pink one...I don't have a pink one...Oh, that one runs on solar cells...That would be handy....My, a waterproof one...If I don't use it, I can always give it away..." There's a lot more of that, followed by "You arrive home with your purchase, put it in the gazingus-pin drawer (along with the five or ten others) and forget about gazingus pins until your next trip to the mall, at which point you come to the gazingus-pin section and...." That's very insightful. On the whole, Your Money Or Your Life is more a book to prick the conscience of unrepentant financial sinners, rather than a book for people who are already working seriously on this stuff. For example, the authors ask rhetorically, "What's the last item you actually wore out?" and I know immediately that they're not talking to me. All four of us actually wear out clothes and I do a lot of mending and darning. Finally, speaking as a housewife of over 8 years, I've don't understood why early retirement is so many people's holy grail in YMOYL and elsewhere. If you're doing something worthwhile with your life, shouldn't you keep on doing it? That said, I realize that I have what many of the YMOYL people want, but I don't see it as a permanent situation, just as a phase that I should enjoy while I've got it, and also plan to enjoy the next phase, too. Currently, I make sure we have clean laundry, milk and fresh produce. I make sure that everyone gets to the dentist and various doctors as needed. I go to school events, I exert myself in various neighborly ways, our clerical work is (mostly) caught up with, my email box is regularly swept out, and my husband and I have started taking care of time-intensive projects like photo albums and wills. I am trying to work through every closet and corner of the house, sifting our possessions in preparation for our planned move in the spring, and I do a little paid babysitting. I do have a lot of free time (a lot of which is wasted on the internet), but there's security in knowing that if the kids are home sick for a week, it wouldn't be a total disaster. Having some slack in the schedule is one way of foreseeing the unforeseen, just like having extra money saved is. I guess I don't really disagree with YMOYL as much as I thought I did, although it is going directly into the big donation box in my closet after this post.
  • I've lately tried to work hard on restraining myself from buying yet another book on personal finance and simple living. There are all sorts of gazingus pins, including books on not buying gazingus pins.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Here's some of what's been happening:
  • C has twice gotten Silly Bandz from little girls at school, which is very sweet. D loves his and we had to talk him out of wearing his to bed tonight.
  • My email got backed up and we somehow wound up with three kid engagements today: one at 2 (I picked C up early from school), one at 4, and one at 6:45. I'm going to see about moving one of these.
  • We have some big school news. C was supposed to be in Mrs. D's class this year, but Mrs. D had to have emergency surgery before school started. About four weeks into the year, it was announced that Mrs. D will not be returning this year. Mrs. W has been working with the class temporarily for the past four weeks (she has other responsibilities at school, too, that she needs to get back to). C really likes Mrs. W and would like to keep her. As of today, the school has found a permanent replacement for Mrs. D. Mrs. ? is an education MA, 30, has been teaching 3 years, and will be team-teaching the two small 3rd grade classes together with the other 3rd grade teacher as part of her training. That is all very good. The only part I'm not sure about is that Mrs. ? will be commuting over an hour each way every day, which has got to be tough.
  • C told me: I told D about the Angles and the Saxons and how the Angles are very sharp, the Saxons play the saxophone, and the Celts wear kilts.
  • My husband submitted a book manuscript (based on his dissertation) to his publisher today.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tuesday morning

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • We had a $194 electric bill for August's air conditioning (we had quite a few days at 105 degrees). Current highs have only gone to high 80s/low 90s, so I hope we will soon be entering that blessed time (but oh too brief) time of no air conditioning, no heat.
  • I've spotted my first Escalade Hybrid in the wild in the college parking lot.
  • Over the weekend, a 2000 sq. ft. 3BR/3BA house that started at $180k, went to $172k, and then went to to $160k has fallen still further in price to $150k. I told my husband (who normally hates house hunting), he suggested we drive over, so we loaded up the kids and cruised by it a couple of times. The location, price and interior (based on web photos) are very appealing. The outside is unimpressive, with an irregular shape suggesting that it had been expanded over the years. Furthermore, there was a small driveway leading not to a garage but to the house. I have dark suspicions that there used to be a garage, but they converted it into living space. Our ardor cooled. The owner is relocating or relocated (I googled him and he's got a job in VA) and the house is also for rent for $1350, which is a bit steep. It last sold in 2008 for $140k (but the tax assessment is for $70k), it looks like a bunch of interior work was done, and then it went back on the market in 2009. A neighbor across the street has a 1750 sq. ft. 2BR house for sale for $143k. Isn't that large for a 2BR, you may be asking? It's actually not atypical of nicer neighborhoods. Even back in the 1950s, middle class Texans in our area were quite addicted to formal dining rooms, living rooms, family rooms, sun rooms, etc. You can't really tell the size of a house just by the bedroom count. There was the opposite problem when I was house hunting in suburban Maryland. In suburban Maryland, the tiniest homes would somehow have four or five bedrooms, often in converted basements.
  • In other housing news, the number of houses for sale in the neighborhood I watch has suddenly contracted. They may have sold, or they may have been taken off the market for the fall and holiday season. I'm very curious to see what the new house crop will look like in February and March, especially since the most aggressive pricing has been in new listings. This is going to be very exciting!
  • Last night, I met some new neighbors (a woman who works with the football team on academics and her husband, a parole officer) across the street and exchanged contact information with them. Previously, I'd collected contact info from three other sets of new neighbors, and so last night, my husband and I put together a new draft of the neighborhood directory and emailed it out, asking for corrections. I'm hoping to send out a finished version later this week, but given the churn in our neighborhood, it needs to be revised at least once or twice a year. I took the liberty of mentioning in my cover email that 1) I'm looking for walking partners and 2) I babysit commercially.
  • Speaking of which, the infant I babysit is here right now. I gave him solids today (a month ago he was totally milk-fed). Another first for me is that he is actually taking a nap in my Pack N Play right now, having skipped his previous nap at home. That feels a little bit like cheating, but he is a baby.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

C multiplies

C asked me: Is 600 times 6 the same as 60 times 60?

Friday, September 10, 2010

New client

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • I've got a new client (a 4-year-old with a speech delay) and I did a total of 7.5 hours of babysitting over Thursday and Friday. At $11 an hour, that's $82.50 before taxes. It's a lot of responsibility. My new client enjoys our treadmill, trampoline, train set and other amenities. It's politically problematic to have a strange child at home during school hours playing with my kids' toys while they are away, but I expressed my gratitude to my kids and offered to help clean up any resulting messes, etc. I didn't mention to D that my client had used an orange Do-A-Dot on Thomas the Tank Engine's face while D was at school, but I did pay D generously this evening. I had 4.5 hours with my new client today, so we spent about half of that at the zoo.
  • I got a big box of goodies (books, clothes, toys) from my sister a few days ago. I especially like the book title O is for Orca.
  • Silly Bandz are finally on C's radar. She just got two at school from a friend, and C tells me that the kids are very excitedly trading them at school.
  • Our FDIC-insured money market account is now making .10% interest, which is dismal.
  • D is now into Wii skateboarding and calisthenics and really worked up a sweat this evening.
  • We all love Shaun the Sheep.
  • C tells me that rather than go to Barnes and Noble tomorrow, she would like to wait until next week to make sure that she has lots of money to spend.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Legal stuff/Open house

Yesterday was a sad but necessary waste of the first day of school after a four day weekend. I had to go grocery shopping and then my husband and I spent the entire early afternoon finishing up the paper work for our wills, powers of attorney, and medical powers of attorney. We went over to my husband's department twice to round up witnesses for the wills. The first time, I put a signature in the wrong place, so we had to return home and print up a fresh copy. The powers of attorney required a notary and the medical powers of attorney required a notary and two witnesses. I called half a dozen notary offices, asking if anybody had witnesses available on site. Only the last one, a used car lot, did. The car lot was fairly close to downtown, but on the wrong side of the river and it had the sorriest collection of cars I have ever seen for sale (one literally had weeds growing up through the bumper). However, the car lot manager was a notary and had enough employees to muster two witnesses, so that was all that mattered. We went home, filed papers in the fire-proof safe, and were done.

Last night was parent education night at school. The head of school talked about the school being classical (Latin starts in 4th grade), Christian, and influenced by Charlotte Mason. I'm not super familiar with Charlotte Mason (although I know she's influential with homeschoolers), but I learned a couple of things about her educational theory last night, namely "no twaddle" (i.e. don't dumb down materials for kids) and "no busy work." I went to a talk by C's temporary 3rd grade teacher (the permanent teacher is expected back next week), a talk by a math specialist at the school, and a talk by D's kindergarten teacher. I managed to catch the math specialist in the hall after her talk (she's also the mother of one of C's classmates). I was just telling her something like, "If nobody is doing it, my husband and I would like to put together..." when Mrs. C finished for me. "...A math club!!!" she said. That's very promising. We'd like to put something together for next year, perhaps monthly meetings organized around math contest problems. D is very eager about his math this year. C is less eager, but more knowledgeable.

Monday, September 6, 2010


Here's some of what's been happening:
  • We finally bought some gel pens suitable to use with the old Spirograph that we picked up at a yard sale a year or two ago. I loved my Spirograph as a kid. Unfortunately, the makers of the Spirograph have botched the new design, so if you want a functioning set, you either have to buy an old one or a knock-off. We're missing the apparatus that would keep the gears in place as you work, so my husband has been trying to fabricate a replacement.
  • D and I sifted through D's papers today and C and I went through C's books. I also went through all of the books in our master bedroom. I'm trying to do at least one of these projects every day or so. Beyond just thinning down our possessions, I find it very helpful to get to know what we've got, so we can use up old supplies and avoid accidental duplication and pointless storage. Also, doing organizing projects in the kids' rooms helps them reacquaint themselves with old favorites and avoid boredom.
  • I'm within striking distance of the end of Persuasion.
  • Our after dinner math tutorials have gotten serious. This evening, my husband was asking the kids "What is the square root of 99 times 99?" Somebody (probably C) got that one immediately. My husband had better luck with the problem that (according to legend), the young Gauss solved immediately: what is the sum of the integers from 1 to 100? The kids were stumped, but he walked C through the problem. What is 100 + 1, what is 99 + 2, 98 + 3, etc. Once that pattern was established, he helped her figure out how many of those pairs there were (50). Once that was done and C realized that the answer to the problem would be 101 times 50, she was able to come up with that almost instantly.
  • D said: "Pi is a yummy number!"

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Here's some of what's been happening:
  • This weekend, I've seen two different college girls wearing sundresses with cowboy boots. Cute patterned rubber boots continue to be popular. Pajama bottoms worn around campus may be on the wane, but it's too soon to call.
  • Yesterday's morning temperature was 71 degrees. The afternoons continue to get hot (Sunday's high was probably low 90s), but there's no need for 24-hour air conditioning now, and I've been experimenting with the thermostat.
  • Thanks to the pleasant weather and C's new remote-controlled car, the kids have been enjoying daily outings to the driveway to enjoy their cars. I've gotten back to walking and spent a lot of time circling the neighborhood today while listening to Jane Austen's Persuasion (my secret is a big bottle of ice water, frequently refilled). I'm about 2/3 in and Anne has just arrived in Bath. The cooler weather has brought more life to our neighborhood, and just today I collected 3 different sets of contact info from new neighbors that I've met at neighborhood parties. My plan is to put together a new edition of the neighborhood directory. The last edition came out just after July 4, but there has been a lot of churn, and three families that we knew have moved out since then, with several last minute additions. The three families that moved out all had school age children and the new additions are either childless or have little kids, so that's a bit of a trend. I like the new neighbors, though, and I'm hoping we'll have more than just this school year before the college warms up the bulldozers.
  • We had a playdate at our house yesterday (Saturday) with a family with a preschooler and a toddler. The preschooler goes to pre-K at D's school, which is nice. C organized a girls-only club with headquarters in the play tent that had been earned with 80+ points from D. I gave the girls five minutes and then broke up the club. I had a long real estate chat with my mom colleague and learned a bunch (she's looking at the same older neighborhood and has actually been inside most of the houses). Probably the most important thing I learned is that there are a couple of for-sale-by-owners that I wasn't aware of.
  • My husband took the kids to run at the gym again today (C wants to go frequently to practice for the big school track and field event). My husband also made pancakes (whole wheat, all purpose flour, corn flour) for dinner. We had dinner out at the downtown Thai restaurant last night. Both of the kids very happily had yellow curry.
  • It's a little bit too soon to speak, but the kids are doing pretty well at home this weekend, largely thanks to the new remote-controlled car (C did get into trouble after running her car repeatedly into D's cactus, but it wasn't on purpose--she just wasn't watching).

Friday, September 3, 2010

Four-day weekend

Here's some of what's happening:
  • The kids got Friday off from school, making this a four-day weekend for them. Even before we adults were awake this morning, C was at work on a Kumon handwriting workbook. She did 24 pages, which is exactly what she needed to earn her remote-controlled race car. My preference is that she do fewer pages of handwriting at a time so that I can check her work and encourage neater handwriting before she makes the same mistake 20 times, but you'd have to get up pretty early in the morning to stand between C and her car. I do appreciate the opportunity for C to concentrate on her penmanship. C got her race car late in the day, after my husband got home. The kids had their matching race cars out this evening for a trial run and had an excellent time until D's batteries ran out.
  • C did nearly all of a potholder today, although she's still got the fiendishly difficult edges to do.
  • This evening I got a new scrapbook at Michaels to put C stuff in. Her baby book is officially full, and it was time to get a new one to put little odds and ends and selected art work in. Hopefully, my husband and I will work on the kids' scrapbooks and our photobooks over Thanksgiving break. Our work yesterday turned up a surprising number of unused albums, frames, memory boxes, and other photo paraphernalia, including three unused kid-oriented albums. D agreed to take a cute blue castle-themed album and he and I chose some photos to go into it this evening. I think he was pretty excited about it. I'm probably going to need to get an album for C, too. (I should mention that the thing about Michaels is that they practically always have a 40% off coupon good for one (1) item online, so you can do pretty well there if you are getting a single large item.)
  • In the middle of the last bullet point, my husband called me into the master bedroom to help with a roach hunt. It was not a success, but we chased the large bug under a night stand, under the bed, under another night stand, back across the room, thought we caught him, and then lost him as he escaped into a crevice in the built-in vanity. We had another big outdoor roach in the house the night before, so we're one more sighting away from a New York Times trend. It had to be Labor Day weekend, of course. I'll contact the manager on Tuesday and ask for an exterminator, but we're looking at least three more nights of wary paranoia during the late evening or when visiting the bathroom at night. The most annoying thing about it is that we are just a few weeks away from cold weather, so we almost (but not quite) managed to avoid the inconvenience of another spray.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Here's some of what's been happening:
  • Our beloved $1.25 (50 cents on Tuesdays!) movie theater has closed. Boo hoo.
  • This morning, I had booked my husband to work with me on our family photo albums. There was one last, stubborn box from our move from DC in the master bedroom, containing physical photographs dating back to around 2001, albums, picture frames, wedding invitations, birth announcements, a baby shower invitation, etc. Thank goodness we went digital in 2002 (which was when C was born) or the situation would have been really dire. I was mainly there in an editorial/gofer capacity. My husband has much better spatial sense and he was cropping photos and whatnot with his paper cutter/guillotine, as well as arranging photos and gluing in stuff. We were pretty ruthless, but everything that we kept fit into a single album, got organized chronologically and thematically, and we didn't need to buy any new supplies. I've been wanting to get this done for years now. We have been on top of our family digital stuff for the past two years and are trying to establish a family tradition of using Thanksgiving break to assemble a photobook, our Christmas present to adult relatives.
  • The outside temperature was below 73 degrees this morning, so I turned off the AC and kept it off until late afternoon today. It was raining much of last night and today, and I think fall will be starting soon.
  • C's class did a historical enactment at school in which they wore cloaks (fastened with homemade Celtic brooches) and carried homemade Celtic axes and pelted Romans (i.e. the 4th grade class) with marshmallows.
  • C has $121 in her remote-controlled race car fund and is $6 away from getting the car. The kids have a 4-day weekend starting tomorrow, and C is planning to earn the whole $6 tomorrow.
  • C says: I want to be an art teacher or a 2nd grade teacher. Maybe a 3rd grade teacher.
  • Yesterday, my husband and I saw a Prius on the road ahead of us. Me: It looks narrow in the back. I wonder how many car seats you can fit in there. Husband: I wonder how telescopes fit.
  • I've been concentrating on major household projects while the kids are in school and went to the gym today for the first time in weeks. I'm listening to Jane Austen's Persuasion, which is actually a favorite of mine.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Here's some of what's happening:
  • I have mixed feelings about the Oval Office redecoration. On the one hand, I like the beige and cream striped wallpaper, and I think it looks reasonably sophisticated, and I think the white wainscoting and moulding contrasts well with all that beige. On the other hand, I think the sofas are all wrong--way, way too casual for the setting. A more traditional, more formal (but still comfortable) pair of medium-brown leather sofas would work better here, I think.
  • Last night, I finished sifting through nearly all of our books in the office, although I was chased away from my husband's book collection. Controlling the book collection is going to be a continuing process over the years, but I've made progress. This go around, I still need to have a look at the bookcases in the three bedrooms.
  • Our 50-year-old (???) thermostat went out last night, and we got a new one from facilities this morning. Given the impending destruction of our neighborhood, I wonder when the college will stop fixing stuff. I also got a new kitchen faucet earlier this week after the old one starting leaking. Oh, how I will miss having the college as my landlord.
  • We lost a bunch of neighbors over the past month or so (especially ones with older children--boo hoo), but we have been getting some new neighbors. The guy who manages the rentals in our neighborhood says that there's a big waiting list to get in.
  • Yesterday was the last day of August, which meant budget night. Our projected housing savings for August was $2 (yeah, I know). We would have gone over budget, had I not trimmed down our school hot lunch order, but we coasted to the end of the month successfully. I have a number of happy things to report: 1) my husband got a small raise 2) I made $88 (before taxes) last month from babysitting 3) our electricity bills should be shrinking in a few weeks as temperatures cool 4) as a result of 1) and 2), we are projected to save $311 for our house this month. I did, however, forget to budget for our childrens' museum membership, but I was so taken with the thought of actually saving money for the house this month that I decided to wait until next month to renew.
  • My husband and I are getting National Geographic for C.
  • Far too much of this morning was taken up doing an online order for Lands End with my lavish September clothing budget. I got one new forest green uniform polo for D, one pair of black uniform pants for D, two pairs of navy knit pants for me, and one pair of navy cords for C. That will hold us for now. I got free shipping and some online discounts, which kept costs reasonable.