Monday, November 29, 2010

Mummy friend

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • The kids put on a play where the three characters were a snake charmer, a snake and a thief.
  • A second play was entitled "A Day in the Life of a Mummy."
  • One of the kids said, "Every mummy needs to have at least one friend."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Masman curry with chicken and sweet potatoes

This was our only cooked dinner during break (except for Thanksgiving) and it was really good--I think C had thirds, and C is very picky. I put on brown rice and my husband cooked a variation on the recipe on the Mae Ploy Masman Curry Paste label: Stir fry 800ml of coconut milk with about 125g of the curry paste until it boils. Add 760g of chicken cut into bits and cook until the chicken is ready. Add about 400g of raw peeled sweet potato cut into approximately 2cm x 2cm x 1cm pieces, 40g of peanuts (crushed in a plastic bag with a mallet), and about 9cm3 of fresh grated ginger. Cook until the sweet potato is soft. Add about 1 cup of water and slightly less than 4TBSP of sugar at some point towards the end of process. Serve over brown rice and perhaps offer crushed peanuts, cilantro, and sliced green onions for guests to season to taste. (Apologies for the mixture of metric and imperial measurements.) The Mae Ploy recipe is somewhat different and calls for conventional potatoes, onions and tamarind juice. My Quick & Easy Thai cookbook (by Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Nancie McDermott has a recipe for "mussamun curry beef with potatoes and peanuts," which is similar to the recipe on the Mae Ploy Masman label (although with imperial measurements, rather than the alarming metric that my husband typed in above). McDermott's recipe contains beef, coconut milk, mussamun curry paste, broth, potatoes, onion, fish sauce, salt (I'd skip that--curry paste and fish sauce are plenty salty already), brown sugar, salted peanuts (I'd replace that with unsalted) and either lime juice or tamarind liquid.

I took the kids over to the campus indoor track for a run during the cooking process, and we could smell it from across the street as we were coming home. This is a very good cold weather meal, as are many Thai recipes. I'd like to try it with beef sometime, but it would probably taste pretty good with tofu, too.

Photobooks

Yesterday was a very productive day. Here's what we did:
  • D's room is 98% reorganized. I just need to have a word with him about some toys. I've promised to finish a craft for him when his room is done.
  • My husband and the kids spray painted about a dozen large pine cones gold that the kids collected from the yard of our parish. The plan is to turn them into Christmas tree ornaments. He and the kids also fixed a broken mast on a large toy wooden sailboat. The kids enjoyed using the drill press.
  • My husband and I went through a year's worth of digital photos (probably about a thousand), including many taken by the children on their cameras. D, I think, is very fond of his room and toys. He had many, many photos of LEGO and Zoob constructions, his artistically arranged dresser top, his dragons tucked into bed and various toys and we actually devoted a page to the kids' various projects, because it is a good reflection of D's psyche. My husband and I chose about a hundred photos to work with and then he set us up on Shutterfly and we put together a 26-page hardback photobook, trying as much as possible to arrange pages thematically. We ordered nine copies, one for us and eight as Christmas gifts for the adults in the family. We are moving toward only giving individual gifts to the children in the family. (I should mention here that although Shutterfly's prices are reasonable for the books themselves, they seem to make it up on shipping. We're having half our books go directly to my grandparents' house for distribution and the other half we will wrap and mail out ourselves. We're not planning to travel to the West Coast for Christmas, so we're going to be doing 90% of our gift-giving by mail.)
  • Last night, my husband took D to a star party that he was in charge of. D was warned repeatedly of the length of the event, the coldness of the evening and C mentioned the alternative of staying home and watching cartoons, but D was resolute and went to the star party. As it happened, it was a short night--there were five members of the astronomy club with telescopes and only two members of the public, so my husband, D and all our telescopes came back shortly after 8 PM.
  • I still need to consult with my sister and sister-in-law about gifts for our nephews and I need to finish my Christmas shopping. There will also be Christmas cards and a lot of mailing to do, plus the traditional last minute Christmas tree.
  • I was listening to a Dave Ramsey show from a few days ago while I cleaned D's room. One caller was a single guy of adequate means, but with good prospects, and he was wondering whether he shouldn't skip a family visit and work instead. That didn't totally weird me out. What weirded me out was hearing the guy's Christmas budget ($50 for transportation to the party, $50 for gifts for the entire family). Maybe he's just got a small family, but maybe he's getting everybody Altoids for Christmas.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Craft fair

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • Yesterday we met friends at the big local craft fair that's held at what is either an admirable intentional living community or a cult, depending on who you ask. It's a quasi-Amish group. During the year, they sell hand-made crafts of every conceivable variety (furniture, beeswax candles, soap, baking mixes, quilts, pottery, etc.) and offer a variety of classes on woodworking, gardening homesteading, etc. While I am not particularly interested in joining, it's one of the best places in town to have lunch and it's the first place I'd think of turning for post-apocalyptic survival training. (Although, how the post-apocalyptic economy is supposed to work without anybody around to buy $6 scented soaps, I do not know.) Anyway, yesterday we went to the fair and saw a carthorse being harnessed, visited the poultry, sheep and alpacas, saw a demonstration of mule-powered plowing (the farm is switching over from draft horses to mules because of better heat tolerance), the kids each had a pony ride, D made a wooden horse toy, C made a pretzel and ate it, we tasted prize-winning cheeses, we watched a hand-powered cider press, we had excellent donuts and hot cider, we watched the initial stages of a barn raising (done with pikes), and we saw a young border collie herding sheep. It was a huge day, although we left shortly after lunch.
  • One of the exhibits was a clean, empty chicken coop that kids could go in and out of. They did, with great enjoyment and flapping of arms. A woman with an accent (New Zealand? British?) said, "Here, this is fun. At home, it would be child abuse."
  • It was 31.8 degrees outside first thing this morning, which is about 40 degrees cooler than the same time a week ago. We were having highs into the mid-80s very recently. We lost our electricity for about an hour this morning but are fine now.
  • I've gotten seriously to work on D's room, which is very daunting. At this point in his life, he's a collector, and everything he owns is a treasure and everything needs to be displayed. He has collections of acorns, collections of shells, collections of rocks (bought at the kids' museum), collections of tracings, collections of LEGO projects, collections of bottle caps, collections of pull tabs, collections of caps from glitter glue tubes, etc. I was helped along this morning by the collapse of D's wire cube storage. In a few minutes, I'm going to go and put some toys back. I try to be respectful of the kids' stuff and ask "trash or treasure?", but desperate times call for desperate measures. I'm going to see what I can get away with.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Fractions and pie

C has gotten to the point where she is reducing fractions and adding fractions with different denominators. She says it's getting easier. Although I can add fractions with different denominators myself, I'm a bit fuzzy on how I'm doing it.

On a related subject, the secret ingredient in my husband's pumpkin pie can now be revealed: an 8 oz. package of cream cheese!!! He went with this Paula Deen recipe from the Food Network, which skates perilously close to cheesecake. Changes made were 1) 1 for 1 substitution of evaporated milk for the half and half in the recipe and 2) doubling the vanilla, cinnamon and ginger, and adding 1 tsp cloves and 1tsp nutmeg. It's really good.

Aluminum foil

My husband (with occasional help from me) made our Thanksgiving dinner of pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, ham, cornbread stuffing, and cranberry sauce (from berries). Meanwhile, C and I worked on her room. We went through her paper drawer, we edited and I dusted the top of her dresser, and then we started on the big bookcase full of treasures. We're about to get back to it, but at the moment, the kids are busy doing rubbings with aluminum foil, which produces an effect similar to stamped tin. My kitchen supply of aluminum foil is just about gone, and C is talking about buying a roll of her own.

Back in the spring, D stripped his room of almost all signs of infancy and toddlerhood. However, he is in an acquisitive and creative phase, and his room has quickly filled up with bits of this and that. It's going to be a big job to pare it back and reorganize.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

IKEA

I had big plans for our trip to the big city today, but we eventually pared them down to 1) a visit to an Indian lunch buffet (the excellent Red Onion in Killeen near Ft. Hood) and 2) a visit to the IKEA in Round Rock (a rather posh suburb of Austin). We checked the kids into Smaland, we bought ginger snaps, blueberry jam, a 25 cent mouse pad and gift wrapping paper, and my husband and I walked around the store for our hour of free babysitting while I entertained grandiose redecorating schemes.

I have a complicated relationship with IKEA. To put it in bullet points:
  • My husband was the person who originally introduced me to IKEA and since we've been married, 90% of our furniture has come from IKEA.
  • Smaland! (C has three more inches of eligibility.)
  • I do actually like Scandinavian design.
  • Back in the day, I wasn't nearly careful enough about matching wood tones, so I've accumulated items in birch, oak, pine and beech tones.
  • While you'll hear a lot of people complain about IKEA quality and materials and problems with moving it, I think a lot depends on how well the items are assembled. We've moved three or four times and lost at most only one or two items to wear and tear. If anything, I have the opposite problem with IKEA stuff. It just won't die, no matter how much I wish it would.
  • Although I would theoretically like to move on from IKEA, I don't think I'm going to be able to. While a Pottery Barn item may cost 4-10 times more, it's not 4-10 times better. It's pretty much guaranteed that when we get our next home, we're going to need a lot of help from IKEA to furnish it.
  • On the other hand, I'm going to try to be a more discriminating IKEA shopper. I'll try to buy more solid wood and avoid the white stuff that looks like heck when the finish chips off. Also, we should pay for assembly for larger and more complicated items
  • Delivery costs a flat $79!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

C sees through me

Here's some of what's happening:
  • This evening as I was getting ready to check her fractions workbook, C pointed out to me that I was not working the problems myself. I squirmed a bit and told her that I need to get her to bed quickly, and the answer key is faster than me doing the problems myself. C made no further objections. I've lately noticed that the kids have gotten much more alert and notice discrepancies between what we big people say and what we do. I suppose this is a leap forward for cognitive and emotional ability and to be applauded, but we'll have to watch our ps and qs from now on. (I've had some concerns that C herself may eventually decide to use the answer key as a time saver, but it hasn't happened so far, at least judging from the kind of mistakes she makes.)
  • C says the common denominator problems are getting easier. I'd been impatient to get her working seriously on fractions, but up until now, I didn't remember that fractions require mastery of all operations. C has just started division in school, so she realistically couldn't have done much with fractions until now.
  • The baby I sit for came over this morning and got rock star treatment from the kids. D was very concerned about chokable items and electronics. D also set up the play tunnel with a toy in the middle and a toy at the end in order to lure the baby to crawl through (the baby stayed in the middle). C also played with the baby. I mainly drew feeding and diaper duty, but everybody had a good time. The baby barely looked at most of the toys I offered him, he was so busy watching D and C. C and D were kind and very careful. The baby has lately enjoyed standing while supported, and he's gotten strong enough that he can hold onto a baby play table and play.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Nine days

Here's some of what's happening:
  • We're enjoying a pre-Thanksgiving heat wave. It's 82 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Yesterday, the four of us finally made it to the local arboretum. It's smallish and has limited formal gardens, but we loved the cacti and did almost all the nature trails. My husband took a bunch of photos for our Christmas photobooks that we'll be gifting to all of the adults in our families. A number of other people were doing the same thing. We saw 1) a family in matching white shirts 2) a family in matching black shirts and 3) a young woman in a bridal dress and green cowboy boots.
  • The kids have five days off school this week. Combined with the two weekends, that's a total of nine days. So far, so good. This morning, we were supposed to meet some neighbors at the zoo. Their two-year-old is unfortunately ill, so they weren't able to come, but the kids and I went to the zoo by ourselves this morning. D concedes that maybe the long vacation at home maybe isn't so bad after all.
  • C can trot on a horse!
  • My husband has started doing phonics work with D before bed time. D continues to work on his Counting Coins workbook.
  • C is getting into new material in her Kumon Grade 6 Fractions workbook. She's lately been reducing fractions and finding common denominators.
  • The real estate report is that the 2BR + office near campus has sold and the lot near campus is also sold. That leaves the 3BR + office that we have an offer out on. Their yard sign is still up. Their price was $219k and we have offered $165k, so it's a long shot. We still haven't heard a definitive "no," though.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

D the sophisticate

D (to me): When C does this [makes air quotes with fingers] she means "not really"!

Festive Friday

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • The kids get a whole week off school for Thanksgiving, so yesterday was the big party day. I attended (with no organizational responsibilities) D's Thanksgiving feast. His class recited a psalm, sang a song and each child had a chance to say into the mic what they are thankful for. D said he was thankful for his family (a popular choice). He also brought home a dixie cup transformed into a turkey with tail feathers and a Thanksgiving place mat. His placemat said "I am thankful for..." in his teacher's writing and then (in D's writing) "legos," "kittiens," "family," "turkey," and "yams."
  • I drove home after the feast and mixed up cream cheese frosting (butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla) and frosted most of the whole wheat pumpkin muffins my husband baked the previous night. Voila, cupcakes! The cupcakes had been preying on my mind, because 1) I was concerned about safe transport for 18 cupcakes 2) they needed to be frosted at the last minute to keep them sticky. The cupcakes were my only responsibility for the party, although I did pass out stuff. Another mom brought crafts and colored sprinkles for the cupcakes (hence the need for them to be sticky) and the kids had a great time transforming their cupcakes into fall art and then eating them. A third mom organized games. An hour in to the festivities, I headed over to the hippie Christian vegetarian cafe/student outreach center to get coffee and kill a little bit of time before pick-up. There's only so much party I can take. (I should mention here that thanks to C, my husband's whole wheat pumpkin muffins are starting to enjoy a school-wide reputation. C often asks for two in her lunch and then shares with a teacher or classmate. At the party, one of her classmates came up to me and told me that C shared a muffin with her when she had forgotten her lunch. Awww.)
  • After dinner, we started getting ready for our graduate movie night. Yes, dear readers, that's three parties in a single day. We started getting ready after dinner. My husband set up a projector and screen, we tidied up, the kids got on their pajamas and sampled party cookies, and I set up refreshments. Our home standards of entertaining are somewhat modest (water, Coke, tea, mandarins, grapes, nut and dried fruit mix, Pepperidge Farm cookies), but it's very easy to set up. Theoretically, we are trying to do a monthly movie night, but what with discussions with the university lawyer as to whether or not we can show a Netflix movie at a college event, this is our first movie night of this school year. We showed Goodbye, Lenin! The funny thing is that after this frenzy of socializing, we will enter a period of about 9 days with limited interactions with the outside world.
  • This morning, C has a horse riding lesson and D has been working on his Kumon Counting Coins workbook. It's a very pretty workbook with attractive, realistic graphics. D has finished the sections on pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters and is about to move into the section on 50 cent pieces.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Baby stuff

This morning, an expectant graduate wife came to our house to look at baby equipment and then we went together to look at some Chagall etchings at the children's museum. I lent her our Universal Carrier (it's a stroller frame that you stick your car seat on) and a vibrating bouncy seat (something like this), as well as giving her some other stuff from my stash. Although our collection of baby equipment and baby clothes is about right after several rounds of downsizing, I think we still have way too many small baby toys, so I was happy to see some of those go down the road. As a new mother (say, for the first three year or four years), I was under the delusion that if I could just get enough toys, I'd be able to keep C entertained. I'm older and wiser now, and understand that a child can be boooored with literally thousands of dollars of toys surrounding them. We need probably one more expectant graduate family to get our baby toy collection down to a more appropriate size.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fractions

Here's some of what's happening:
  • C has started work on Kumon's Grade 6 Fractions workbook. So far she's done review of same-denominator (3/5 - 2/5) addition and subtraction and has started to work on reducing fractions. (She finished the Kumon Grade 4 Decimals & Fractions, but we are skipping over the 5th grade Decimals & Fractions book, because it's very heavy to decimals. C may do the 5th grade book at some point. Heck, she's still got several 2nd grade workbooks that she hasn't finished yet in her workbook pile (a Kumon Grade 2 Addition, a Kumon Grade 2 Word Problems, and a grade 2 level Singapore Primary Mathematics: Challenging Word Problems). C isn't much for word problems, I suspect.
  • D counts money pretty well. Yesterday, he wanted me to check his count of $1.19 in dimes and nickels, and he got it exactly right.
  • D built a 3-car garage out of red construction paper for some Hot Wheels cars.
  • We've wimped out and have the heat turned on now.
  • Now that the grocery store has its seasonal supply of canned pumpkin, my husband says that we need to get 40 cans of the stuff for the rest of the year when they don't stock it. We take our whole wheat pumpkin muffins very seriously around here. C asked for two this morning for her school snack, one for her, one for her teacher. Awww.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Baby shower

Here's some of what happened today:
  • When I got up this morning, the kids were in the middle of a board game marathon. They played chess, checkers, Chinese chess and Chinese checkers.
  • After lunch, my husband took the kids for a hike in the big city park and they found a snake skin. Meanwhile, I took a Very Hungry Caterpillar gift set to a graduate baby shower and had a cupcake. The shower was being hosted at a house near the big city park, an interesting 1950s specimen with a turquoise-and-purple tile combo in the bathroom, quite the departure from the pink or mint green baths that are more typical of the era. I also hustled a bit for babysitting gigs at the party. We'll see if anything comes of that.
  • I've learned that the homesellers are closing on a house out in the country in three weeks, which is interesting. We had offered them $165k, which is about 25% less than their $219k asking price. My husband looked the property taxes up on the computer, and the tax valuation is $154k. I also did some rent/buy figuring on the NYT calculator. With our numbers and a $10k downpayment, the break-even point for buying a house for $165k is 7 years (presumably with a 30 year morgage). That's pretty good. Our offer is good for nearly two more weeks. It will be very interesting to see if they get back to us. I don't know how far we can budge from our initial offer. Coincidentally, a presentable 1700 sq. ft. house from the late 1940s on the main historic street just went on the market for $165k.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Decimals and fractions

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • This morning, C went to her horse riding class and then both kids made a periscope at Lowes.
  • C finished up her Kumon 4th grade Decimals & Fractions workbook.
  • C's 3rd grade teacher just moved into a house on our street.

Unicorn

C said: I'm going to dress up my unicorn!

D suggested that since C has riding lessons on Saturdays, maybe they should have a horsie party every Saturday!


Friday, November 12, 2010

Big day

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • This afternoon, my husband and I went to see the 3BR+office/2.5BA in the other faculty neighborhood near campus. It was a tantalizing experience, since the owners have rethought their price, bumping it up to $219k. It's a 2100 sq. ft. brick ranch and it just seems to go on and on. Aside from the price, the only problem with it is that the kitchen (including a white double oven) is vintage late 1970s. I emailed a (hopefully) polite and appreciative offer for $165k, which is about 25% less than asking, and is in the upper range of our financial comfort zone. I also (perhaps counterproductively) emailed some of my renter friends about the house. I suppose that deep down, what I'd really like to do is to stock the entire neighborhood with friends, current neighbors, and other families. I think that neighborhood is in the process of turning over right now, so even if this house gets away, there may be other chances over the next few years.
  • We had our board game club at school this afternoon. It was the smallest turnout we've ever had: our two kids, one 1st grade girl, and two third grade boys, but given the complexity of Chinese chess, it was kind of nice to have a small group. I think the kids had a good time, although I had a mini-revolt on my hands when C didn't want to be paired with the 1st grader. Fortunately, her two 3rd grade boy classmates were fairly tolerant of having her make a third at their table. I don't know what I would have done if C was too good to play with a 1st grade girl and the 3rd grade boys were to good to play with C. We were in the science classroom with a hamster, a turtle, a rabbit, some chinchillas and a sugar glider--quite the menagerie. Mrs. Y, the middle school science teacher, was trying to lure the sugar glider out with an orange slice. She said that the sugar glider is nocturnal and gets grumpy because of the daytime activity it has to deal with. She said it makes a sort of pencil sharpener noise when it's ticked off. The sugar glider likes to retreat into a sort of heavy bag. We finished up, had a quick dinner and rushed back to school because tonight was the night of the school plays.
  • Tonight was the night when the 2nd and 3rd graders did their book-based plays. There was an excellent Charlotte's Web (with fantastic spider costumes) and two 3rd grade classes acted out scenes from Winnie the Pooh. C was a narrator for the Winnie the Pooh play in which Pooh gets stuck in Rabbit's hole after overindulging. Another mother and I were in charge of punch. After much hand-wringing and emailing back and forth we decided on a recipe from a friend of hers involving Sprite, frozen limeade concentrate, frozen pink lemonade concentrate and slices of lime. I went to HEB and bought 8 two liter bottles of Sprite (only 5 of which got used), a 10 pound bag of ice (not much used, either), and about half a dozen fresh limes. We took the stuff to school in a big cooler. My punch partner had purchased the limeade and pink lemonade concentrate and left it in the refreshment room at school but had disappeared. As it got closer and closer to the appointed time, I eventually gave up on my punch partner and drafted my husband to help me put the punch together. Fortunately, the school had provided drink dispensers. The recipe made a pink punch with green lime slices, which was very pretty, festive, and very tasty. At intermission, the child actors came in and stripped the refreshment table like locusts. There were some adorable pig cookies and "Some Pig" spider web cookies that I never discovered the source of, but those had disappeared without a trace by the end of intermission.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chinese chess

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • C tries to teach D everything as soon as she learns it. Lately, she's been teaching D cursive.
  • We're going to be doing Chinese chess and international chess (that's the usual kind) at the next meeting of our elementary board game club. We have one commercially made Chinese chess set (a gift from us to C), but my husband has been assembling six more Chinese chess sets with the help of our color printer. He has been cutting a dowel into nearly 200 game pieces and then gluing symbols onto the dowel slices. At some point, he realized that it would work just as well to glue the symbols onto poker chips, but at that point, it was too late. The dowel slices look and feel very nice, I think.
  • My husband was telling the kids about Hilbert's hotel over dinner.
  • In the children's personal mythology, as the moon waxes, it's because the werewolves are baking a cookie (the moon). The moon wanes because the werewolves are eating it.
  • Today, C had 30 pages of her Kumon 4th grade Decimals & Fractions. She's finished the decimal section and is starting fractions.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

House?

Here's some of what's happening:
  • The kids' reusable cups have been reappearing.
  • We had the (natural gas) heat on briefly this week, but have it off now. Last month's electric bill was $75, which was very nice. We are still enjoying that blessed time of year when both the heat and the air conditioning are off. Our high temperatures this week are in the mid-70s, so we should be able to delay turning on the heat for a while. For now, it's the mornings that are cold (in the 40s). It will probably be pretty chilly here by Thanksgiving.
  • My babysittee has been creeping for a while, and just this week, he got his tummy off the ground. He's not crawling, per se, but it's pretty good. Since I usually see him about once a week, babysitting him is like a time-lapse movie of infant development.
  • C's class has started doing bar models in math (it's a typical Singapore Math thing for helping children visualize word problems). She doesn't like it much (since she figures she can do the problems without the bar models), but she's managing. I'm a bit foggy on how they work. Here's a problem: "The refrigerator costs 5 times as much as the rice cooker. What is the total cost of the refrigerator and the rice cooker?" The illustration says that the rice cooker as costing $150.
  • C is doing some math problems in school where you multiply a three-digit number by a one-digit number, for instance "781 X 5." When I was in 3rd grade, we were just starting our multiplication. C's class is also beginning to do work with division.
  • C has been studying "The Yamato Dynasty of Japan." I just got back a worksheet. Question: The Yamato emperors said they were descendants of what Japanese goddess? "They said they were descendants of Amaterasu."
  • We have some news on the house front. The house in the other faculty/staff neighborhood near campus (3BR/2.5BA + study) is for sale for $195k. There will certainly be other interested parties, so it's hard to figure out what to offer. My husband thinks there will be other houses, but it's so hard not to cave in when it's exactly what we want, location-wise. We'll see it Friday and will probably offer $170k as our opening position. That may not get us anywhere, but honestly, we don't want to pay more than that.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Baltimore and DC

We had our long-awaited Baltimore/DC trip this weekend and took Friday off school to do it. Here's what happened:
  • On Friday, we flew out of DFW. We had red grapes in the car, which proved to be a brilliant, non-messy fruit. Both Friday and Sunday wound up being chicken-nuggets-for-lunch-and-dinner days for the kids, so it was nice to at least make a gesture in the direction of the food pyramid. It's only a three-hour flight, which is nice. We arrived in Baltimore and installed ourselves in a hotel near Johns Hopkins University. I had qualms about bedbug issues for the first couple of days, but eventually gave up, facing the impossibility of keeping all those suitcases and backpacks off the floor. My husband had checked online for bedbug complaints and there weren't any for our hotel. He was attending a conference at our hotel, so we didn't see much of him Friday evening or Saturday. We brought along a child's inflatable mattress for D to sleep on. He snuggled with his grey stuffed kitty and loved the mattress. The late night kids' TV was predictably bad. Even the ads were bad--I think the very nadir of children's advertising has been reached (or nearly reached) by "Stinky the Garbage Truck."
  • Saturday was our DC day. The kids and I took a taxi to Penn Station and took the train to Union Station (this is much for affordable if you can do it on the weekend and take the MARC, but we paid $72 for round-trip tickets for the three of us). As we exited the hotel and various philosophers milled around the lobby, the piped-in music was the Indigo Girls' Closer to Fine. ( Here are the lyrics--there's a stanza about the heroine going to "the doctor of philosophy" and spending "four years prostrate to the higher mind".) It's a very quick trip between Penn Station and Union Station, although the kids and I walked through nearly half-a-dozen train cars before we found one with two empty seats next to each other. We rendezvoused with some friends at Union Station (C's old pre-K chum B) and we spent the day together, hanging around their house on Capitol Hill, shooting Nerf guns, playing chess and Littlest Pet Shop, doing Air and Space, walking around the National Mall, riding the carousel on the Mall twice, and eating a Chinese delivery dinner at our friends' house. I bought all four kids (my two and the two Capitol Hill kids) giant souvenir pencils from Air and Space (I wanted to get everybody matching t-shirts, but my kids were unenthusiastic). B's dad drove us back to Baltimore, which was very nice of him, so that we could have dinner together and didn't have to worry about making our train. B (C's old chum) kept me on my toes. I asked C in front of B if she needed to go to the potty. B said (carefully avoiding the word "potty"), "Nobody in 3rd grade says that word." Later, as the kids and I were leaving, B told his mom that he missed C already. Awwww.
  • Sunday was daylight savings, so it was surprisingly easy to make it to the 7:30 AM hotel mass in Baltimore. We met C's godparents and their four kids in Baltimore and had a very good breakfast at One World (it's theoretically vegan/vegetarian/etc., but they do serve fish). D and I split an order of cinnamon French toast with cooked pear. C initially balked at the word "vegan," but she wound up having the same as me and D, as well as a "raspberry chai freeze" that she paid for out of her travel savings. After breakfast, we all ten walked across the street to the Johns Hopkins campus and frolicked there. It's a pretty red brick campus, mostly. The kids discovered what happens when you push the emergency call button (BEEP!-BEEP!-BEEP!-BEEP!) and we all took lots of pictures at a sculpture garden with a snail, a camel, a bear, a horse, a penguin, and a bunch of other statues. We eventually parted. My husband took the kids to Port Discovery. I went off to the Johns Hopkins Barnes & Noble, prowled the shelves, bought Tom Wolfe's From Bauhaus to Our House and Nancy Trejos' Hot (broke) Messes, and had lunch by myself. At the appointed time, I collected our luggage from the hotel, took a taxi to Port Discovery, collected my family, and we all drove to BWI Airport. Although my current policy is to try to save money by not buying new books on how to save money, I really enjoyed Nancy Trejos's book on the plane, and of course Tom Wolfe is very fun. We drove home from DFW, arriving somewhat past 11 PM.
  • As of this morning, I am working on trip laundry. The kids were up at 5:56 AM this morning, thanks to the time zone change and daylight savings.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

School days

D is enjoying his Spanish at school very much. He was a bit shocked to hear that some homeschoolers we know do Latin, not Spanish. He doesn't like the brightly illustrated "math" sheets he gets at school and he was telling me that he is looking forward to 1st grade so he can do real math.

C is working on her Kumon Grade 4 Decimals & Fractions at home. She's doing addition with decimals in the hundredths and seems to have overcome her fear of decimals.

Near miss

I walked over to the other faculty neighborhood this morning to write down the phone number on the new for-sale-by-owner house, bumped into the owner herself as she was getting ready to clean her garage, chatted with her, and wound up taking a quick impromptu tour of the house. The elderly owners have unexpectedly gotten a slot in an assisted living community and they are in a hurry to sell. In such a hurry, in fact, that they didn't even have a price yet (they're waiting to hear from the appraiser).

It's a 2BR/2BA with an office. It's just slightly too small for our needs, but the location and the storage are so good that I've got more than a twinge of regret. After I got home, I immediately wrote an email to my two house-hunting neighbor friends, touting the house. Sure, it's museum quality 1970s, from the kitchen to the abundant dark woodwork, but it's good 1970s, and you could do a lot with just some new wallpaper and lots of paint. It's got two bay windows with window seats.

Crossing off this house still leaves me the 2100 sq. ft. 3BR/2.5BA house with study on the neighboring street. We haven't heard an exact price from them yet, but I will try not to look too needy.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election day

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • It rained a lot today and I don't think we got out of the 50s, temperature-wise. This is real fall weather. For the first time this fall, I am starting to think about switching out of sandals and into real shoes with socks. On the bright side, my husband informs me that chiggers become inactive below about 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • I voted this afternoon, after some morning babysitting. Although the signs said to present ID, the election worker was fine with just my registration card and waved away my driver's license.
  • At Starbucks, I saw an unmilitary-looking young man of Hispanic or Mediterranean appearance wearing a red"Camp Fallujah Iraq" t-shirt.
  • Surprisingly, the kids don't want to do toys for tots this year, but want to stick with Heifer.org. They may change their minds.
  • C has nearly $30 in her travel fund, which will come in handy when we go to Baltimore later this month.
  • The seller of the $145k house (the one with the converted garage) was trying to rent it at $1350 a month on Craigslist, dropped to $1200, and then dropped it again today to $1100 a month.
  • I have big news on the house-hunting front. This afternoon, we got a phone call from a homeowner in the other faculty neighborhood. They had gotten my flyer a couple of months ago, and now they're thinking of selling, so they called us. They're not officially selling or showing yet, but they're in the process of looking for a bigger home. Their current house is a late 1970s brick ranch (so, no lead paint!) and has 3BR (plus a study), 2.5 BA, formal dining, breakfast room, two car garage, and about 2100 square feet. The owner said that their price would be under $200k, but nothing is fixed as yet.
  • Even though it was a wet, chilly evening, I went for my usual walk through the other faculty neighborhood. I was very surprised to see a "for sale by owner" sign in front of yet another brick ranch, probably also 1970s. I'm hoping to walk over there tomorrow and give them a call.

Monday, November 1, 2010

C studies China

Here's some of what's happening:
  • The kids are in bed and my husband is attempting to bake a huge bowl full of pumpkin, prior to making a batch of pumpkin muffins.
  • I got a pair of used uniform pants for C for $7 from the school uniform closet. I also had a bit of a spree over at landsend.com this morning with the November clothing budget ($99 with free shipping, a coupon, and taxes). I'm a real sucker for corduroy.
  • C is just starting to work with her 4th grade Kumon decimals and fractions workbook and so far seems pretty comfortable working with decimals. In his money-counting workbook, D has worked with pennies and nickels and he is just starting to work on dimes.
  • C is just starting to learn about ancient China at school. They've covered the unification of southern and northern China, the Tang dynasty and Chinese science.

Kitchen

Here's some little stuff that's been happening.
  • Over the weekend, I finished a total going-over of the kitchen. I went through every cupboard, pantry and drawer and the whole fridge, too. It wasn't quite as bad as I was expecting (I did it over the course of quite a few days, but did a small area each time). I have a feeling I did something of the same sort (although less thoroughly) about a year ago. I wiped down shelves, sent lidless plastic containers to the garage to help store screws and nails, tossed out 1/4 full bags of tiny colored marshmallows (all fused together) and expired popcorn, tossed out worn-out kids' shoes, sent a never-used food processer to the give-away box, etc. We definitely have space for everything we currently own, but if we move to a smaller kitchen, choices will have to be made. We have a beautiful Kitchenaid stand mixer (a wedding gift) that has probably been used fewer than 10 times. On the one hand, we don't use it. On the other hand, it's a very expensive item and maybe the kids will get way into baking over the next few years. An additional issue is that we currently don't cook a lot of meals. I prepare endless breakfasts, lunches, and snacks, of course, but I can't say that I cook. I think our old electric wok (which was already ancient when we bought it used as graduate students) hasn't been used once since we moved three years ago, but our lifestyle will probably change quite a lot after we move away from the cafeterias, so it's hard to say what we actually need. It may even change this year, because D is turning 6 and will no longer eat free at the cafeteria, which will change the financial calculation quite a lot. My current thinking is to do a major kitchen go-through once a year and fine tune our collection, rather than doing anything radical. In the kitchen, as elsewhere in the house, I'm winning by attrition. More stuff is leaving the house than is coming in, except for the kids' rooms and the garage.
  • Speaking of attrition, I mostly switched over to reusable drink containers for the kids this fall. I had been somewhat skeptical of the savings involved (won't the kids lose the items before you break even?), so I'd like to report that so far, we've lost two reusable drinking containers (big kid sippies from Starbucks) and the cap for a metal bottle broke (it's about time to have a look at the lost-and-found at school). My feeling is that these reusable bottles don't have quite the lifespan that people think they do, especially reusable bottles for children.