Sunday, October 31, 2010


Here's some of what's been happening:
  • Because of my parking fiasco, we were grounded for most of the weekend. C didn't get to go to her horse riding class, we missed our appointment for getting our photograph done for the parish directory and our grocery shopping was limited to whatever my husband and C could carry home the nine blocks from our HEB (they did get a large pumpkin a gallon of milk). This finally ended after church. My husband and I walked (and the kids biked) to the campus Catholic chaplaincy this morning. After Mass, while eating cookies in the foyer, we discussed the problem with our old neighbor and a dad from the kids' school and they agreed to help. I took the kids across campus to the cafeteria and before we got our food ready, my husband had already returned. At the parking garage, he and his helpers had jiggled the car free. It left only about a one inch scratch (and possibly a small dent, although that is debatable) on the Pontiac. I'm still waiting to hear from the Pontiac's owner.
  • My husband wanted to do the jack o'lantern right, so instead of getting a cheapo pumpkin carver, he got a proper blade and fitted it up with a wooden handle, which he lovingly sanded. He and the kids cleaned the pumpkin, washed the seeds, and carved a classic two-toothed grin into the pumpkin. He baked the pumpkin seeds with some oil and cinnamon-and-sugar, to sprinkled on pumpkin muffins and eaten whole. I was initially resistant at the idea of eating the pumpkin seeds in the hull, although my husband assured me that that's what it said to do on the internet. "Who wrote that?" I asked. "A parakeet?" Later, I had a chance to try the pumpkin seeds, and they're actually pretty good in the hull, particularly when baked with oil and cinnamon and sugar. The pumpkin flesh is sitting in a big glass bowl in the fridge, waiting to be transformed into pumpkin muffins. The jack o'lantern looked great on our front porch, lit by several red LEDs.
  • The kids wore last year's Gryffindor robes and took turns carrying a large foam-and-feathers Hedwig. We circled the neighborhood ringing doorbells and the kids did very well, although C had twice the candy that D did. Among the neighbor children were Cleopatra, Iron Man, a cheerleader, a tiger, a lion, and an infant pumpkin. For our trick-or-treaters, we had a large glass dish of mini-Snickers and mini chocolate bars. My husband had his telescope out on the front lawn and offered passers-by a chance to look at Jupiter.
  • I'm finally doing sprouts again. I've got some alfalfa sprouts going on the kitchen counter. They've been thoroughly soaked and are just starting to sprout.
  • Tonight was budget night and I just finished my paper work. We had less business and babysitting income in October, so we estimate that our November savings will be only $230.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Good news, bad news II

Here are a few more things:
  • About the parking fiasco--this sort of thing never happened to me when we used to just ride the bus. My husband just got back from a speaker dinner (he got a ride from a colleague) and he says that our car is still entwined with the Pontiac.
  • C is enjoying her subscription to National Geographic, particularly the maps. I was hanging up a new world map under her direction this evening. She also owns a laminated map of the US where we mark all the cities that she's visited.
  • C still wants to help us buy a house. She suggests that 10% of her income go to our house fund. However, there would be strings attached. C wants to have her say as to the house. This evening, she was telling me that she wants a house with a live oak tree, live oaks being extremely desirable for shade and tire swings. I pitched the idea of saving the money to decorate her future room, but C was not interested in that.
  • We got a letter from the college explaining their plan for our neighborhood. This summer, they will demolish the inner circle (or "island") half of the neighborhood. They'll also do a few houses in the outer ring, including one directly next to our house. The rest of the neighborhood will be demolished in summer 2012, although who knows? There might easily be more delays.

Good news, bad news

Here's some of what's been happening today:
  • Let's not talk about what happened to most of that bag of mini-Reese's cups that were supposed to be for trick-or-treaters.
  • C's candy order from Liberty Orchards (the Aplets & Cotlets people) arrived today. I only had two of those.
  • I made a big, expensive mistake while parking in a campus garage today with the kids. While easing into a parking space, I heard a nasty scriiitch noise. Remembering an incident where a young relative had put a horrific two-foot scrape on a truck in a similar situation by scriiitching forward and then scriiitching back out again, I stopped and tried to figure out the situation. My spatial skills weren't up to solving the puzzle, though, so I crawled out the passenger side of the car and started writing a note on a post-it to the owner of the black Pontiac that our car was stuck against. Eventually, my husband came to evaluate the situation. His verdict was that while the owner of the Pontiac might be able to get their car out safely, we couldn't get ours out. I wrote a follow-up post-it and the kids and I went home. I've since been waiting to hear from the owner of the Pontiac, but so far, no luck. I eventually talked to campus security. They had already gotten a report on the situation, but there's no sign of the car owner, who is unfortunately a visitor, so isn't in the campus system. Security told me that we have two choices: 1) tow or 2) wait. We're waiting. I wonder how expensive this is going to be and how long it's going to take.
  • I was talking to a kid expert today who recommends Silly Bandz as an excellent fidget item. I find it very interesting that a lot of behaviors (gum chewing, fidgeting, ring twisting, hair tugging, skin picking) that drive grownups nuts actually help kids focus on their work. The trick is how to steer kids toward more socially acceptable fidgets.
  • I saw D's kindergarten teacher for a parent-teacher conference today. D's classroom hosts a red-eared slider turtle named Tertullian. As expected, D is practically perfect at school. His teacher says D reverses some letters, has a bit of trouble with pronouncing "th" (C did too, a couple of years ago), stutters a little, but mixes well with other children, learns new information almost instantaneously, is kind, considerate, super conscientious, eager to participate in class, and has a real joy in learning. Awww.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Fight for Mecca

Here's some of what's happening:
  • C wants to help us buy our house. She wants to contribute $10.
  • In school, C is studying the early years of Islam. Here are some sample questions from a worksheet. Muhammad was more than a prophet. What other jobs did he have in Medina? C writes: He was a king and a judge. What problem did the people of Medina have? They went hungry. What solution did Muhammad have for the food shortage? His plan was to stop caravan carrying food for the Meccans. How did Meccans respond to their caravans being attacked? They fought the people of Medina.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fall reboot

Our high temperatures have been hitting well into the 80s lately, but it sounds like we'll be rebooting fall again soon, with a low of 47 degrees tomorrow, just in time for Halloween weekend. Here's some of what's been happening:
  • C got to paint a tiny little pumpkin at an afterschool class today.
  • The kids got their CCD grades today. C is "a joy to have in class" and D has "excellent knowledge and participation."
  • We came home late after CCD, but C did a bunch of her Kumon workbooks and met her goal of getting together $10 to buy some penguin stationery from the Scholastic catalogue. She's also got $26 in her travel fund, which will be very nice for our visit to Baltimore and DC next month. I've been exacting a payroll tax of 20% for the kids' travel funds, and C has voluntarily been putting extra money in the fund.
  • Today, one of the houses I've been watching dropped from $150k to $145k. It's a 3BR/3BA with a garage converted to living space.

Muffins and pie

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • The kids have been watching an old Looney Tunes collection that came with a special warning for racial and ethnic insensitivity. Anyway, I was very much struck by one of the cartoons that featured a little squirrel who becomes ensnared by the wiles of a professional gambler squirrel. I didn't watch the whole thing, but as I understand it, the little squirrel loses more and more of his nut supply to the professional gambler, until finally the little squirrel taps his family's nut supply, and he loses that, too. When the games of chance are over he wanders home as the snow falls and falls all around him in the forest. Winter is beginning, and he's lost everything. That is pretty darn bleak. Then he gets home and papa squirrel gives him a good thrashing.
  • Last night, my husband made his usual pumpkin muffins, but with 2/3 whole wheat, a bit of corn flour, fresh ground spices, and pecans (store pecans, unfortunately--our squirrels aren't as improvident as the ones in the cartoon). They're absolutely amazing, and we've got about a dozen in the freezer for snacks and lunches.
  • My husband and I just had the following conversation. Him: D was asking me to make a pecan pie and C was asking for a pumpkin pie. Me: Nobody asks me to make pie. Him: Well, there's a gender bias.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Saved by the Closet

This is a repost of an item that I saw on Instapundit (normally a blogging no-no), but I really liked it. Virginia Postrel's piece in the Wall Street Journal is entitled "Saved by the Closet: we've got so much stuff that it's easing the slump":

In today's sour economy, however, what once seemed like waste is starting to look like wealth: assets to draw on when times get tough (and not just because of all those ads promising top dollar for your gold jewelry). Material abundance, it turns out, produces economic resilience. Even if today's recession approached Great Depression levels of unemployment, the hardship wouldn't be as severe, because today's consumers aren't living as close to the edge.
Postrel argues that Americans have so much stuff stockpiled in our homes that we have a sort of automatic inventory of goods to see us through hard times, an interesting contrarian view. Aesthetically, minimalism is very seductive, but is it practical, especially when you live with other people? My personal wardrobe is much smaller than it used to be, and although there are many benefits to not having a mountain of clothes, Postrel is correct about the downside. My stuff wears out a lot faster than it used to, and disaster is always a possibility when you've only got two pairs of seasonally-appropriate pants (I try to have at least three now).
I'm currently in the midst of a long-term housekeeping project where I'm going from closet to closet, from drawer to drawer, opening every box and considering every object I find (my husband's office and the garage excepted). We have a lot of stuff and we've given a bunch away, but that said, the problem is not so much that we have too much, but that we forget what we already have. Shopping in your own closets is a very helpful exercise, and much less expensive than real shopping.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Here are some things that have been happening around here:
  • The parish is doing a huge three-day road trip for 7-12 graders, with a day at Carlsbad Caverns, a canyon, a "mountain," some day hikes, etc. Aside from the part about "7-12 graders" it sounds fantastic. They're also organizing a tour of painted churches for parishioners 50 and up. We need to do this stuff.
  • My husband has put the hard drive in the freezer, in an effort to recover some photographs from this year. This is a big deal, since we need to have something to put in our Christmas photobooks for the family.
  • We have pretty strict Sunday observance in our family--no shopping, no unnecessary work, etc. The kids understand that if they do the sort of work that is usually paid on Sunday, they themselves will get no payment. However, they are free to do paid work if they donate the proceeds. So if the kids choose to clean their rooms on Sunday evening, I put the money in their charity boxes. Today, for instance, D did three pages of math workbook for 75 cents. He was just short of $20, which is what he needed to do buy chicks for, but those 75 cents put him over the top, and my husband did the donation over the computer.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Catch up

I'm somehow behind on the blog. Here's some of what's been happening.
  • My neighbors (recently relocated from the NE) have been having some opossum sightings in their back yard near the trash. Speaking of opossums, I still can't believe that somebody thought turning opossums loose in Brooklyn was a good idea. Even I could have told them that opossums like garbage.
  • The temperature has shot up over the past few days, and I've had the air conditioning on for short stretches. The geckos are still hanging out on my kitchen window screen.
  • We got turned by the homeseller (we'd offered $130k on her $180k listing). The realtor told us that she owes $167k, doesn't have any cash on hand, and won't budge much below what she owes. At the same time, we've just learned that we'll be able to stay in our rental house until summer 2012, so there's much less pressure to find a house.
  • My husband and the kids been watching a sort of documentary/docudrama thing on great engineering feats of the past. They've seen segments on Hoover Dam and the Panama Canal.
  • Somebody in Paris, France used our credit card number, so my husband had to cancel the card. We're going to have a lot of automated payments to fix up, once we get our new number--car insurance, home insurance, natural gas, electricity, etc.
  • D thought that Monticello on the nickel was the Alamo. He's also still working on the idea that Texas is part of the United States, not an independent country.
  • There was a spirit week at school this past week, with a crazy hair/hat day, a crazy sock/shoe day, and a twin day/literary character dress-up day. C went as Hermione from Harry Potter. There were a lot of Gryffindors at school that day. There was also a belated meet-and-greet thing for C's new 3rd grade teacher. She talked a bit and we all had coffee and pastries. It was very relaxed and civilized, so much so in fact that I may have talked my way into producing the auction item for the third grade class. My idea was to bring a digital camera to school, appoint an official student photographer every week, and then compile a photobook from their efforts. It would be real work, but its doable. We parents are going to be voting on our options soon. If I win, yay me! If I lose, I'm a free woman.
  • This morning, my husband took the kids to C's horse riding lesson and then to the Lowes bat puppet making event. The bats are wooden and are satisfactorily flappy. I spent the morning doing preliminary work on two large pieces of storage in our bedroom that are home to many, many things: craft stuff, rubber stamps, puzzles, board games, a detective kit, a magic kit, science kits, view finder stuff, a robotic dinosaur, a radio, CDs, audiocassettes, etc. I listened to a bit of almost every CD or audiocassette before making my decision. There was a horrible massacre of 90s Russian diskoteka music, but I kept my 1970s bards and 1980s and 1990s rock. After everybody came home and had lunch, my husband and I made some final decisions and then he arranged the stuff back in the cabinet. Between a few items from today and the baby and kid clothing from last weekend, we're going to be sending four full kitchen trash bags full of stuff to Goodwill.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Here's some of what's been happening:
  • Just as we are getting ready to make an offer on that house, my husband gets a bulletin from the backfence telegraph, informing him that the destruction of our neighborhood has been put off until summer 2012. This is very good news (prices will be a year better in 2012, we'll have more savings, and a house might go on the market in the other small faculty neighborhood that I keep leafleting), but what about our house offer?
  • C's class will be performing the Pooh-stuck-in-rabbit-hole scene from Winnie the Pooh.
  • C is anxious about memorizing the Nicene Creed, which she has to do this year for CCD.
  • Just as the kids and I were coming in the door from school today, C suddenly announced that she and a chum from school have decided to dress alike for the upcoming twin day. An elaborate plan had been concocted, involving us meeting the girl's family near the school at 4 and then going to a clothing store to get stuff. We hurried back to school but nobody appeared. Some hours later, I got an email from the girl's mom. We made plans to meet at the store and agreed on a budget limit of $20. For this, dear readers, we're skipping a scheduled event, I've drafted my husband to drive (I'd never have managed the interstate on my own), and I've agreed to spend money. I guess I'm just so impressed by all this independence and organization on the part of the girls. However, next time, if there is a next time, C will buy it herself.

Water heater!

Here's some of what's happening:
  • After nearly a week of my husband having to light the pilot light on the water heater once or twice a day, the college has installed a new water heater in our rental. We had two plumbers here this morning and one told my husband that they have been replacing this type all over campus. Now, I'll have a hot bath as soon as I want it, rather than either having to remember that the water heater needs to be turned on first and then wait for the water to warm up, or else take an emergency cold bath. The old water heater wasn't lighting well, either.
  • I had my babysittee this morning.
  • School finally has a Silly Bandz policy. Trading is allowed outside class, but it is forbidden to bring boxes (!!!) of Silly Bandz to school.
  • We eventually heard from a bank and got prequalified for an $180k loan with $10,000 down, and we have quotes for several different amortization schedules (15 years, 30 years, and something else). I just wrote the realtor for the $180k 4BR/2BA house I like and made an offer of $130k. I said the offer was good for one week and was subject to inspections (I haven't done this before). The seller had previously turned down an offer of $155k, so I don't expect much to happen. And what if she takes our offer? I don't know what we'll do, but it would be a pretty good deal, almost good enough to make up for having to move sooner than expected.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Xantippe procrastinates

I ought to be getting ready for my Russian lesson right now, but I've been distracted by a) the internet b) dealing with the repair guy who has been working on a running toilet and our hot water heater pilot light that goes off once or twice a day d) taking a walk to Starbucks. I'll do a post and then do a few minutes of Russian before my tutor comes.

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • C bought the translucent rainbow-colored Duplo-compatible Prism Blocks that I got for D, but D decided not to buy. She paid $19, which is what I paid at the children's museum. I had it sitting around for months, but now that they have it, the kids love it. I will try to remember my lesson now and not buy anything in advance for the kids to save up for. If they want something, they'll save up for it first and then I'll order it. (When they were little, I needed to be able to show the kids actual items to motivate them to earn potty prizes or reading prizes, but they don't need that now.)
  • Around town, we saw a mobile BBQ grill (the barrel kind that's a trailer and is meant to be hitched to the back of a truck) in the shape of a big pink piggy.
  • C loves watching Fawlty Towers with her dad, but there needs to be some discretion in choosing episodes. A particular favorite in our house is the one with the German tourists and Basil's breakdown under the pressure of not mentioning the war.
  • The "Friendface" episode from The IT Crowd is fantastic. (Go on, click on that link, you'll like it. And when you have time, watch the whole episode on Netflix.)
  • Our friends at the payday loan place have sent us another seasonal postcard. "Fall is in the air and that means: Football games, home repairs, winter clothes, the list goes on! Don't wait! Get a jumpstart on that list of things to do!" I admire the way they make it sound like taking out a payday loan is the responsible thing to do.
  • The early 1950s house with the converted garage is still on sale for $150k. The owner is also trying to rent it out, and he's just dropped the rent from $1350 to $1200. When my neighbor and I did our big five house blitz with her realtor, the lockbox key on that house didn't work, so we didn't get to see the interior. I called the owner to tell him that as my good deed of the day.
  • My husband gave up on the first mortgage guy he contacted a week or two ago and contacted two more over the weekend so that we can prequalify and put in a $130k offer on the $180k 4/2 house I like. They are supposed to call us soon, but I'm starting to have my doubts. The bank people sure aren't beating down our door the way they used to back in 2006/2007 (when the mortgage broker offered us a $615k interest-only mortgage). Too busy shredding documents and packing bags for Costa Rica?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Xantippe spams the neighbors

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • The kids got their flu spray today.
  • Facing a wasted day with no Craigslist sales, I did a mass email to my neighbors (probably about 10 families) with children who are the right age. I got an email from my next door neighbor who wanted the puzzles. I had them listed as FREE, but she made me take $4, which was nice. It's a family of chemists, and they keep their spare change in a huge glass beaker. We're not going to post more ads, but I haven't completely given up hope.
  • My husband got the kids out to enjoy our exquisite October weather, but they also worked very hard at Kumon workbooks. C did 24 pages of the Kumon 2nd grade Subtraction workbook, which is really hard. I'm too sleepy to do it justice, but toward the end, they introduce some mixed calculations with and without parantheses, for instance both "55 - 19 - 16" and "55 - (19 + 16)." I don't know that it was explained very well (either by the book or by me), but by the end, C herself rephrased "54 - 18 -12" as "54 - (18 + 12)."
  • D is almost done with the ugly preliminaries in his Kumon Counting Coins book. For the first four pages, kids are supposed to trace and copy numbers from 1 to 100. D has done the first four pages. He has one more to go before he can switch to actually counting pennies, which is much, much easier.


This is the most disappointing Craigslisting we've ever done. We posted a text ad last night and got no responses last night or this morning. Then this morning my husband suggested that we add some photos. We wrote up and posted several ads with photos and he texted a Craigslist poster who had asked for some sizes that we had. So far, I've had only one phone call, and that person has not materialized yet. I don't know what to attribute this too, particularly since we made a point of photographing fleece coats, baby buntings, warm sleepers, and the most expensive items are $1. Is there a baby clothes glut? We've never had so much trouble stirring interest.

At least one person in the house has done better than me with reselling. C sorted out a bunch of small toys this morning and was selling them to D for reasonable prices (under my supervision).

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday night catch-up

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • Yesterday, we went to carnival night at one of the cafeterias. They had carnival-type food (funnel cakes, corn dogs, sausage, deep-fried twinkies, cotton candy) and assorted carnival games. I blanched when C got handed a metal dart to pop balloons (a minute or so before a toddler left the line of fire), but most of the games were safer.
  • When I got up this morning, the kids were putting colored flannel squares on their horses and unicorns as "jackets," securing them with sparkly pipe cleaners. Later, C was putting jewelry around the horses' necks.
  • I continue to empty and rearrange cabinets, drawers, and closets. Over the past couple days, I've done both bathrooms, two dressers in the master bedroom, one of D's two closets, and two drawers in C's bedroom. In the master bedroom, I came across a number of objects that we adults don't need, but that the kids would appreciate. I distributed them in an orderly manner this morning (C picks, D picks, C picks, D picks, etc.). D got a wallet and a small Russian notebook, C got some scarves, some napkins with scalloped edges and a machine-embroidered leaf motif, and some embroidered handkerchiefs (with the days of the week machine-stitched in Russian), among other things.
  • The turning-out process has not been as horrible as I expected. I keep getting the feeling that I have passed this way before and that I've already made a lot of choices about what to keep, probably mostly three years ago during the big unpacking after our move from DC. That said, we've got so much stuff that it's easy to forget what we have and where it is. As our lives change, we need to rethink what we do with our stuff. I was going through my jewelry (relics of my teens and early 20s) and realizing that in 2 or 3 years, it would be quite appropriate to give some nice jewelry to C. I find things that I need, too. It can be like going shopping in your own house.
  • We're doing another Craigslisting this weekend for a few toys and some children's clothing, maximum price $1. Nobody called tonight, but I'm hoping for some activity tomorrow. I've already sorted out two trash bags of stuff for Goodwill, but some of the kid stuff was in such good condition that I thought I should try to sell at least some of it. I looked at the other Craigslist ads in the Baby section, and there's quite a glut of listings, but a lot of them are the typical pay-me-80%-of-what-the-item-cost-new resellers.
  • D has started working on his Kumon 1st grade Geometry & Measurement.
  • My husband got an interesting piece of junk mail today. It's from a Ford dealer in a nearby town and it's printed in fake handwriting. "I am sending this letter concerning your 2004 Taurus. We are completely depleted of these Ford vehicles and so are local auctions. We have a list of customers waiting for us to locate these vehicles." "P.S. If you have any other vehicles you would be interested in selling, CALL ME!" I'm not sure how far this letter is motivated by a desire to get our car, and how far it's motivated by a desire to sell us a new one, but it's probably a both/and.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dolphin village

D (to C): I'd like to welcome you to my village. I'm a dolphin, so it's underwater.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Here's some of what's been happening:
  • I watched my babysittee for 2.5 hours yesterday. Three minutes after I called his mom to tell her he was sleeping soundly and she could take some more time if she wanted, he woke up. C'est la vie, but his mom had a quiet lunch, and I got my extra $5.50.
  • I chaperoned a kindergarten/1st grade field trip to the big city park yesterday. The classes got to hear a talk by a mounted ranger, asked him questions, and petted his very intelligent looking quarter horse. After that, the kids had an outdoor lesson on basic tree anatomy and tree identification and then we broke into groups and went off for a scavenger hunt. Up until the scavenger hunt, I was mentally weighing whether or not to write this down as part of my volunteer hours, but once I got a group of my own and had them hunting for acorns, pecans, bark, round pebbles, etc., the scales tipped in favor of writing the hours down. Between my husband and me, we have 9 hours recorded so far for the term, 5 hours being the required minimum. We'll also have a couple more game club meetings this fall, hopefully. Our long term plan is to start a monthly math club next year.
  • We're a bit spoiled by the fact that C had no homework for the first month when she had a substitute teacher, but C is having a hard time with the new spelling homework. Last night, she had to write 22 words 2X, in addition to her two pages of math and her 20 minutes of reading. Even at the best of times, C reacts to spelling homework like a banshee with a toothache, so it was a bad scene. My husband and I wrote an email about it to school late last night. C just doesn't miss spelling words (OK, maybe one word in a hundred), so there's no point to the torture.
  • C has warmed up to the National Geographic subscription I got her. The latest issue was on the Gulf oil spill and C is thrilled with the bonus map with wildlife illustration that was included. "I think that is an amazing map," C said.
  • I had a walk-and-coffee date this morning with my next door neighbor, who is new to town. She had her 2-year-old in the jogging stroller and I showed her the other faculty neighborhood. We were out nearly 90 minutes.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Last night, C was able to donate $20 to D was a bit short when I counted out the money from his charity box, but he'll have $20 in a couple of weeks.

Yesterday, the kids' temperatures were around 99.5, so my husband and I kept them home from church and each went separately. They had normal temperatures this morning and went to school.
The kids are getting good use out of C's new Hot Wheels set.

We're still waiting to prequalify for a mortgage. When that comes through, we'll put in a $130k offer on the $180k house that I saw and liked last Monday. I don't expect much to come of that (given that my neighbor has offered $155k for the house already been refused), but we need to do it. It's good practice.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

C on Anne of Green Gables

My husband asked C if she and Anne of Green Gables would be kindred spirits. C said yes.

Speaking of kindred spirits, my husband just made chocolate whole wheat muffins with Ghirardelli chocolate chips. We're going to eat some while watching The Office.

Cheese cube

My husband and C went to the cafeteria for dinner and D and I stayed home (D is sniffly). At some point, D's dinner degenerated into a cheese-cube-and-toothpick building project. "You should always trust the trusses," D told me. Noticing the suspicious clicking from my side of the dining room table, D said, "What? You're blogging it?"

D's castle

Here's some Saturday stuff:
  • My husband was explaining to C that only one in 7 million would get a winning ticket in a certain "Instant Win" promotion. C wanted to know why, in that case, it wasn't called an "Instant Lose."
  • D owns a castle built from the cardboard tray from a case of water bottles, but he's always wanting to make improvements. Today he was adding a drawbridge. D told me, "My soldiers will definitely not have a dungeon." "Why not?" I asked. "They won't need it," said D.
  • My husband drove C to her riding class this morning and I took the opportunity to clean the fridge. The timing was good, because it makes sense to tackle the fridge when food stocks are low, which it tends to be on Saturday morning before my big grocery trip with the kids.
  • This afternoon is devoted to C's Misty of Chincoteague book report. I turned C and the report over to my husband and have been hanging out with D. D is working on an activity book where you spell out words with letter magnets, which is exactly his speed.
  • It turns out that D thinks the preschool type math workbooks (lots of counting, lots of number writing) that I have been offering him are beneath his kindergartenly dignity. He wants real math problems, like the ones his dad has been giving him orally after dinner. My husband has also been generating worksheets for D on the computer with mixed operations (3 X 1, 7 - 2, 2 X 0, 38 + 3, etc.). D's computation skills are currently stronger than his number writing skills. Given our ability to create worksheets at home, we don't need vanilla math computation workbooks. I took D to Barnes and Noble this afternoon (leaving C working on her Misty report) and had a look at the Kumon workbook section. I chose My First Book of Money: Counting Coins and the 1st grade Geometry & Measurement workbook for D. The coin counting workbook is for ages 5-7, starts with a quick practice with counting to 100 and covers pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and mixed groups of coins. There is a sequel entitled My Book of Money: Dollars & Cents. C did both money workbooks when she was younger and I was impressed with both. The 1st grade Geometry & Measurement book starts with counting, covers numbers up to 10, numbers up to 20, numbers up to 120 (!!!), telling time (on the hour), an intro to length, weight, area, volume, temperature, coins (not as pretty as the coin counting book, though), and two-dimensional and three-dimensional shapes.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Star night

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • I rode along with the first, third, and sixth graders to a song-and-dance version of Cinderella, put on by the local community college. That was a nearly three hour commitment.
  • It was the end of the school day by the time C and I got off the bus. I collected C and D and drove them to a playground to meet some other school families. On the way back, there was construction and a detour in downtown. Downtown is a confusing mess of one-way-streets. By the time I figured out what to do, I was 15 blocks south of my original route. I had a good general idea of my location the whole time, but it was stressful.
  • After dinner at the cafeteria, my husband stuffed the kids and telescopes and whatnot into the car. I was left at home and fully planned to spend a quiet evening by myself. While doing email, I discovered that some neighbors were going to the star night after all, and that I'd be able to ride along. I'm too sleepy to write much about the star night, but there were hotdogs and s'mores.

D likes school

It's official. D really does like school. This morning he said, "I keep having wonderful days at school. Maybe I love school?"

This is fantastic, because his older sister is a prolific anti-school propagandist, and I was worried that she would poison D against school (when C was in preschool and pre-K, she used to spend the entire 20-25 minute commute telling me that she didn't like school and didn't want to go). Despite D being a follower by nature (or nurture), he's come to his own conclusions about school.

Speaking of D and school, he got an award from his kindergarten teacher this week. It says on the back: "For working diligently on assignments" and says that D "works intently and carefully on projects and assignments. He is creative and neat." I'm putting that one in his scrapbook.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

County fair

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • I walked quite a bit today around the college neighborhoods while listening to Emma. I've got two more chapters to go.
  • My husband is trying to prequalify us for a mortgage, but the process is much slower than I remember from when we last did this (in 2006?).
  • The kids were telling me about studying The Magic Flute in music.
  • I think D really likes school. I've heard about these kids, but I've never seen one before.
  • El patito es amarillo, said D. The duckling is yellow.
  • We went to preview night at the county fair and parked out in Siberia to avoid the $5 parking. A complete stranger at the gate gave us two coupons for free admission, which was nice. We grownups spent $13 on the evening's entertainment (admission and ride tokens, mostly) and C contributed $10, split between ride tokens and funnel cake. (D was out of cash today, but next time I will make sure he pulls his weight.) We were very efficient. The kids climbed on tractors, we visited goats, steers, and horses in the livestock barn, the kids did three obstacle courses and a small dragon roller coaster, D did a medium roller coaster by himself, and C rode a white and gold horse on the carousel. Then the kids had funnel cake with chocolate syrup and powdered sugar and we headed home. Tomorrow's a school day. One of these days, when we are more flush with cash, I'll want to try out some of the guilty pleasures of the fair, the deep-fried this and that, the smoked turkey drumsticks, the taquitos, etc. We were also tempted by an attraction where you get put in a big plastic bubble (a sort of giant gerbil bubble), get put into a pool, and entertain bystanders with your antics.
  • I never thought that it was going to be a big deal, but my husband and I have had to come down hard on gambling. The problem is, that left to their own devices, the kids are capable of feeding every last token into some highly dubious game of chance and learning nothing from the experience except that they "won" some trinket. I normally don't go in for neo-Puritan strictness with the kids, but even I got fed up from seeing them getting ripped off by kiddie one-armed bandits at the local birthday place. I believe that the psychological mechanism at work is intermittent reinforcement, which is one of the most powerful forms of reinforcement. Karen Pryor explains in Don't Shoot the Dog that the most hard-working dolphin is not the one that knows that he's always going to get a fish--that dolphin gets minimalistic and lazy. The hardest-working, most enthusiastic dolphin is the intermittently rewarded dolphin, the one who doesn't know which spectacular leap is going to earn him a fish. Tonight, I steered C far away from the carnival games. Sometime soon, I'm going to have to have my husband explain to her the mathematics of games of chance.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Homework pass

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • Today was our usual Wednesday, the only day in the week in which we experience the full horrors of the upper-middle class extracurricular schedule. The kids and I drove home after school and then walked to a thing on campus for C, D and I hung about waiting for her (D loves going up and down stairs), my husband met us for dinner at the cafeteria, we all walked home and discovered it was very late and my husband drove the kids to CCD. I had some time off while they were out, but when they returned there was a stampede involving bedtime snack for the two kids, C's homework, my husband putting D to bed, me washing C's hair, and me putting C to bed around 9:45 PM (9 PM is our usual goal). We had a month of no homework with the substitute teacher, and it's a sad thing to have to get back to the daily grind. C was so tired and her attempts at alphabetizing her spelling words were so off-track that I decided that it was time to use the "Homework Pass" that C got as a prize for her summer reading.
  • Knowing what lay ahead, I took it easy while the kids were at school today. I took a nap and explored the neighborhood on foot while listening to Jane Austen's Emma. I am much less familiar with Emma than with Jane Austen's other novels.. Although I remembered the general outlines of the story and the characters, I noticed a lot more foreshadowing this time.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Here's some of what's been happening:
  • C had a sheet in her CCD folder where she had written out examples of thing in creation that mirror the attributes of God. C wrote "Wisdom: Grass, Air," "Goodness: People," "Power: Seeds," "Perfection: Birds, light," "Beauty: Sunset, flowers," "Love: People," "Holiness: Sun," "Infinity: Sky."
  • For her CCD homework tonight, C had to read the parable of the Good Samaritan in the Bible (I gave her the RSV) and answer questions on it. This is a big step forward for C.
  • C finished her book report on Misty of Chincoteague. This year, she's required to do a minimum of four such reports on books from a list.
  • C now has $13.40 in her travel fund. C makes a point of putting extra money in the travel fund and she says she wants to put in a dollar every day.
  • Today, Money Sense for Kids arrived in the mail for C. She's reading it by herself, but I'm hoping to talk over the material with her. My plan is for C to start a long-term investing plan right now, although I'm not sure in what, or how much money we would need to start. I would be happy with a 50% bond/50% stock mix, although I realize that that is very conservative for C's age.
  • I overheard a conversation between two bigger elementary girls at school. I'll paraphrase from memory. Girl 1: My mom is sesquipedalian. Girl 2: What's that mean? Girl 1: A person who uses big words. Girl 2: So you're sus-sus--one too!

Monday, October 4, 2010

House hunt/Russian

This morning, I tagged along with a neighbor and her realtor to see houses in the old, established neighborhood near downtown that I watch. Before today, I had never set foot in a house in this neighborhood. We saw five houses and tried to see a sixth, but the key didn't work. In descending order of price:
  • A 2700 sq. ft. early 1950s house for $250k. It's a well-maintained, comfy home, but not very exciting. It backs to commercial and is on a big street. There are new roundabouts on the street that slow down traffic.
  • Another 2700 sq. ft. rambling early 1950s house for $195k, also backing to commercial, also on that same big street. It's prettier than the previous one, but in a less solid part of the neighborhood. There's practically no grass with all the pavement in the front and rock-covered patio in the back. The owners have 90% of the house staged, and have retreated to the mother-in-law suite. It's a lot of house for the money, and it wouldn't kill me to live there, but it doesn't speak to me.
  • A 2000 sq. ft. home listed at $180k. This one is my favorite of all the houses, but the price isn't right for us. The owner is living in a different city, but refused a previous offer of $155k and she says she "has to" get $178k. It Zillows at between 100k and 155k, and the local tax people assess it at 140k. It's a 1.5 story 4BR/2BA and very cute. It was built in the early 1950s, but doesn't really give off a 1950s vibe. It's on a .16 acre lot (good news for my husband) but doesn't feel crowded. There's a free-standing single-car garage around the back. The kitchen is small, white, and old, but I don't hold that against it. There's also an undisturbed pink bathroom. I can't really describe what gets me about this place, but it really does feel like my house. So many times, I see houses that are objectively pretty, but I think to myself, this isn't my house. The street is toward the edge of the neighborhood, there's an Episcopal church a few blocks away, and I've never seen too much traffic here (although it probably is on Sundays or other major occasions at the church). It's a street full of small, tidy homes. Can we get the owner to budge on the price? That is the question.
  • A 2000 sq. ft. home listed at $168k. This is an extremely pretty early 1950s 3BR/3BA home, with very cleverly painted wooden floors. Unfortunately, it's a bit high for its location, and the neighbors' dogs were barking loudly the whole time we were there: woof, woof, WOOF!, WOOF!, woof, WOOF!, WOOF!, woof, etc.
  • A 2000 sq. ft. home listed at $150. (The four of us did a drive-by of this house a few weeks ago.) This 3/3 house is in an excellent location, but we were unable to get into it, because the key didn't fit any of the doors. Oops! From the online photos, it has a very pretty interior. The exterior is so-so, and they seem to have converted the garage into living-space, which is on my list of the 7 Deadly Real Estate Sins.
  • A 1500 sq. ft. home for $115k. It's also in a marginal location, near the $168k house, but it has fun-house floors because of foundation issues. I immediately made a big X on the flyer for the house.
I got home before noon and rushed to tidy up before my new Russian tutor (a graduate student at my husband's department) came to work with me for the first time. I had been planning to spend the morning prepping for my lesson with her, but wound up looking at houses instead. I served her tea, we had a very good chat, she looked at my Russian books, I gave her her pick of some other Russian books I had been planning to send over to the Russian department here, and the hour was over before I even noticed.


Here are some things that have been happening:
  • My husband and C put together a moose paper craft last night.
  • My husband rebuilt a broken train bridge, swapping out the plastic trusses for popsicle sticks. It looks great. The kids want to paint the popsicle trusses yellow, like the old plastic trusses were.
  • C asked to read my copy of Don't Shoot the Dog!, the animal and human behavior book. I'd been telling the family stories from the book, like the one about the cat that learned to do a trick just by watching a dog learning the trick and getting diced ham. I wonder what C will get out of it.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hot Wheels

Here's some of what's been happening (it's been a very commercial day):
  • C had her first riding class of the first term. The therapeutic riding outfit has gotten more horses and had a big push to recruit more kids. The local autism center and the riding place are running a study together on the effect of horse riding on autistic children.
  • My husband got us a new bathroom scale and put new pedals on D's bike. He also got himself a drill press. I forget if I've mentioned this earlier, but he recently picked up a free cherry wood crib from Craigslist and has converted some of the slats from it into an adjustable binocular mount for star nights.
  • D was begging for math worksheets this morning. I found a few for him. He was doing worksheets with a mix of single digit problems (2 x 6, 5 + 2, 9 - 3, etc.). Although D is generally the milder mannered of our two children, I notice that he beats himself up a lot more over wrong answers than C does, so I tried to point out to him how many he got right. So far, he's been working for points.
  • D turned down an age-appropriate Kumon workbook where you count dots and fill in missing numbers (1_3_5_7). He prefers actual computation. However, the mechanics of writing down answers hampers him a bit at this point. His best math performance is done orally.
  • D made a piece of art that spelled out "I love you" for me and he also made me a little necklace this morning.
  • I took the kids to the grocery today and they each bought one of those huge 96-crayon Crayola sets. I nearly bought the discount brand, but discovering that they were made in China and the Crayola crayons were made in the US, I had the kids get the more expensive box.
  • The kids pooled their points and took us to Rosa's Tortilla Factory this evening for dinner. We had a very good dinner and then stood around watching the tortilla cooker through the glass. The flattened tortilla dough goes into the machine, spirals down while cooking and puffing up like a balloon, then deflates a bit as it cools before being ejected onto the big tortilla pile. Rosa's Tortilla Factory sells them for $2.49 a dozen. When the cafeteria closes for Thanksgiving and Christmas, we should definitely look into getting some fresh tortillas for dinner at home.
  • Today, C finally got a Hot Wheels set at Toys R Us. It's a build-your-own set, where you're able to customize the track to your taste. C paid $27 for it (including tax) and she is thrilled with it. She's been asking for it for months now, and both kids have vast collections of Hot Wheels cars from the supermarket.
  • Our current financial regimen for the kids is that when they get paid, 10% goes to charity, 20% goes to travel and fun savings, and they get the rest in cash (this has been good for my math skills, too). C has lately been a little workhorse. Earlier today, before we hit the stores, C had very nearly $50, which is the most she's ever had in her own possession, ever. At the moment, there's an enormous pile of money on the dining room table from the kids for me to tidy up from all the kids' purchases.
  • Back when the kids were smaller and more concrete thinkers, we used to keep a small store of items in the closet for them to earn and purchase (activity sets, My Little Ponies, stuffed animals, etc.). Lately, I've had a few bad experiences with buying items at the kids' request and the items gathering dust in my closet, so we've decided that we will not buy stuff if the kids don't have the money right now.
  • C has taken very well to the travel fund, and in fact she's been telling me to put extra money in the travel fund. Lately, she's had such good cash flow that I've suggested to my husband that we should have her channel an additional 10% of income into long-term savings, for instance a high-interest savings account or a mutual fund, or a 529 or something. I'm not clear on what we should go with, but if she only had a few hundred dollars in a savings account yielding 1% interest annually, I don't know that it would have the proper educational effect (or it would, but not the one I would like to instill). This may be premature, because C's recent earning spree may just be a fluke, but if she continues to work hard and earn well, I don't want to see her fritter away the money.

Friday, October 1, 2010

October budget

Last night my husband and I did the October budget. We are just entering the happy time of year when we don't need to either heat or cool the house, which helps. We also did very well with my babysitting income this month. The major new expense this month is that I am going to be working with a Russian tutor again once a week ($20). Other than that, we have our Baltimore trip and Christmas to get ready for. Despite all that, we are on track to save $400 toward our house downpayment this month.

The return of board game club

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • D got sent home sick yesterday with a persistent cough. Some time after he got home, it turned into a real fever, peaking around 101 degrees. So he stayed home from school today. D didn't like that. He also felt sad about missing board game club and the graduate potluck at our former neighbors' new house. This is the first missed school of the year, I think.
  • A lot of plans for today got scrapped. I stayed home with D and my husband went to school with four game sets to run the board game club. Fourteen or fifteen kids from kindergarten to sixth grade had signed up. It used to be just grades 1-6, but this year I decided to open it to pre-K and K, if children are accompanied by a parent. Today's game was chess. We'll try to run the board game club once a month and each time it will be something different.
  • D was building tippy towers and drawing rainbows while he was home today. He had to have me tell him which colors were which. Green vs. red is a problem, as is blue vs. purple. Which items are brown is also a mystery.
  • My parents are having a new metal roof put on their house, the old roof having just passed the quarter century. Grandpa (who is turning 89 in a week) was up on the 2-story high roof, too.
  • I somehow missed the deadline for signing up for therapeutic riding for C, but I got in touch with them, and she's signed up for 10 sessions. She'll be in a group riding class, which will be more challenging, but also hopefully more interesting and social.
  • This is a big year for travel for us, and this fall, we'll all be accompanying my husband to a conference in Baltimore. It's going to be a fast trip, but we're hoping to see DC and Virginia friends and Baltimore and Washington, DC sights. I'm also hoping to go to Russia with my old Peace Corps friend sometime during summer 2011, but how that will work with our move is an open question.
  • C continues to obliterate Kumon workbooks. Tonight, she finished up My Book of Addition (that's single digit addition) and then did 5 pages of Kumon's 2nd grade Subtraction workbook. That may sound too easy for a 3rd grader, but the latter workbook covers up to 3-digit subtraction.