Monday, February 28, 2011

C the teacher

Here's some of what's happening:
  • C has been teaching D everything she knows about how to play the recorder. I was talking to my Russian tutor about C's efforts, and I discovered that the Oxford Russian dictionary translates "recorder" as "English flute" (angliiskaia fleita).
  • Speaking of Russian words, the word for rollercoaster is "amerikanskie gorki" (literally, "American hills").
  • D is doing a book talk today on The Trolls of Twelfth Street, a charming little story about a family of trolls that decides to leave their cozy cave under the Brooklyn Bridge and explore the uppper world.
  • My husband took the kids swimming at the college pool yesterday, which is the first time this spring.
  • D has lost another tooth and has barely any front teeth now.
  • I'm on sabbatical from gardening since I expect to move any time in the next year, but the bulbs and bushes continue by themselves. The patio garden looks like heck, but the garlic chives plant is back and I am pleased that the tulips I planted as bulbs last year from a grocery store pot are coming up very nicely.
  • I was just listening to Friday's Dave Ramsey show on the internet. A mom was calling in to ask advice for her daughter, who is pregnant, unemployed, and owes $90k in student loans for culinary school. The daughter's husband is making $1k a month. That's got to be a new record.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


I'm very sleepy, but here's some of what's been happening:
  • C now has a recorder and she has been joyously practicing it all over the house.
  • C has been reading Junie B. Jones to D as a bedtime story.
  • C has finished her Kumon Grade 3 Multiplication workbook. The latter part of the workbook was pushing the commutative property hard, and even called it that.
  • C had horse riding this morning and then we all drove to IKEA. We all had meatballs, the kids went to Smaland (C still has a few inches until she's too big) for an hour, my husband found a comfy spot, and I went through the store with a notebook. Current favorites are JONSBO (a lamp with a clear glass base), the HEMNES series (although I have concerns about the softness of the pine) and the TOBIAS clear plastic chairs with a bit of bounce. I don't know if there has been a change in direction, but at least the way things are now, you can get a very traditional look using IKEA stuff, especially with the oriental rugs they sell.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Spring, for real

Here's some of what's happening:
  • I've been having a productive streak, which I am interrupting to post this. I finished reading a Russian children's story in which two kids sell their parents' guests' galoshes to a rag man for a few kopecks in order to buy ice cream (Zoshchenko's "Galoshes and Ice Cream"), read the first chapter of the gospel of Matthew in the Navarre commentary, did some laundry, went to Starbucks, chatted with a neighbor/househunting buddy about new house listings, hardboiled some eggs, etc. The big thing that I must do this morning is to shovel out my email inbox.
  • The various bulbs outside are starting to come up, including the indefatigable garlic chive plant that I thought we killed. D's cactus didn't make it through the cold snap, though, I'm afraid. Around town, it looks like the same is true of practically all of the local palm trees. While palms flourish even just an hour south of here and while they do manage to survive here during normal weather, our sustained freeze and snowstorm was too much for them. On the bright side, I've turned off our heating and we should manage at least until the end of May with neither heating nor cooling, which will be fantastic for our utility bills.
  • My husband and the kids have been watching Between the Folds, an origami documentary.
  • I finally stumbled onto the kids' (or at least C's) plan for D's Mario Kart themed birthday party next month. I should have realized this a lot earlier, but the kids were planning to have everybody play Mario Kart. Given that each Grand Prix takes 8 or so minutes and we are inviting 10 kids, this is a no go, even if they went two at a time. We have informed the children that there will be some Mario Kart, but it will be at the very end of the party, two kids at a time will play, they'll get only one race each, and C and D will go last.
  • In real estate news, the cute little two-story house that was for sale for $180k (and that both ourselves and our neighbors have low-balled) has reappeared on the market with a new realtor and a $192k price tag.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Pretending to wear jeans

Here's some of what's happening:
  • D broke a toenail coming out of the bath and it started bleeding. We weren't sure whether to send him to school or not (it's one of those injuries that is small but can hurt a lot) but we ultimately sent him to school. He didn't want to miss anything!
  • I heard D say yesterday, "I'm pretending I'm wearing jeans!"
  • D's current plan is to paint the walls of his next room blue and to stick on fish decals.
  • Last night I dreamed that my hair had suddenly turned completely white. In the dream, I wasn't very concerned about it, but I was planning to go out and buy some sweaters that would look better with my new hair color.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Big horse

Here's some of what's happening:
  • C has been rereading books of fairy tales. Both kids are also enjoying a lot of Mario Kart.
  • C went to horse back riding today and rode a full-sized horse, not a pony. The horse had some balky moments--C was riding without anybody holding a lead-rope. C rode today using a Western saddle and stirrups. C has very nice posture, I think.
  • We ran errands this afternoon. At Walmart, we bought a big clear box for D's stuffed animals (he is expelling most of them from his bed), my husband bought some nuts at the hardware store, and the kids bought their heart's desire from the toy counter at the skating rink--a tiny skateboard for D and a big inflatable pink guitar for C. C has been talking about the inflatable pink guitar for weeks now. I haven't been able to do a thorough census of D's bed, but I think he's keeping his old and very beloved stuffed elephant and some stuffed snakes in his bed. It was about a year ago that D purged the baby toys and toddler toys from his room.
  • D is suddenly stretching out height-wise. I was concerned about him last year and we took him to the pediatric gastroenterologist this past summer because he just wasn't growing much or gaining weight. He spent about a year hovering around 40 pounds. He says he's 46 pounds now (he likes to weigh himself in our bathroom and report the results).
  • My husband and D have built a mount and a tripod for the telescope they made for D. They used Russian birch plywood and cherry wood from a recalled crib that my husband picked up free from Craigslist. It's quite pretty.
  • According to one of the big real estate websites (Trulia or Zillow--I forget which), the majority of foreclosures in our area are for sale for $37 per square foot. It's quite consistent--some sort of order must have come down from the big bank that all of the foreclosures here needed to be $37 per square foot. Meanwhile, there's a new listing for $270k in the older neighborhood near downtown that I watch (it's a 2550 sq. ft. home), so it's over $100 per square foot, which is what people try to get for nicer homes here. The Zillow estimate is for $200k, which is a lot lower than they want now, but reflects the asking price from when it was for sale three years ago. Maybe there was some sort of massive remodel?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Spring begins

Here's some of what's happening:
  • I think we may have hit 80 degrees today and I've had my first mosquito bite of 2011.
  • Last night, we had our grad movie and showed The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl. It's a fantastic film, but it's three hours long. To leave time for discussion, we showed the stuff about Riefenstahl's early film career, the section on Triumph of the Will, the section on Olympia, and a bit on Riefenstahl's post-war photography in Africa and underwater, skipping the war years when Riefenstahl's work was less interesting. It was a bummer to have to get up for school after a late Thursday night of socializing, but our interlibrary loan for the movie didn't give us a lot of choices.
  • After school today, we did board game club. My husband did a short lesson on dou shou qi (AKA Jungle or Chinese animal chess--it's a sort of relative of Stratego), using the giant board he manufactured last year. The kids played with sets he had printed out and saved from the year before. I like dou shou qi a lot better than Chinese chess, which I find dry. We also had our boxed game sets and one set of dominoes, and the kids definitely enjoyed the variety. I'm not sure what game we'll play next month. Thanks to board game club and my husband's astronomy activities, we have a fine surplus of volunteering hours.
  • We were supposed to go to a birthday party for a classmate of D's at an indoor play place this evening, but D's temperature is up (only to 99.5), he had a nose bleed during board game club, and he didn't seem his usual perky self, so we decided not to go to the party. Poor D! I have promised the kids that we will investigate the play place ourselves sometime soon.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


There's been a very interesting development in the college community. It looks like the elderly owners of an excellent bed and breakfast are packing it in. I stayed there a couple of times when we were investigating coming here and I've had my family stay there (my parents were once seriously delayed by a long and absorbing breakfast conversation with missionaries from Nigeria or some such place). It's going to be a huge loss to the campus community if it stops being a B&B, because it's so perfectly situated for visitors to the college. There's no neighborhood to speak of (besides cheaper student rentals) and it's situated about a block away from a fire station. The backyard is almost totally paved over to provide parking. The good news is that a 5BR early 1940s brick house with cute dormers, bathrooms galore, and a smaller 1BR cottage in the back is on the market. They're asking $450k, which is outrageous either for use either as a B&B or a single family home. With all those bedrooms, though, that makes some sense as a price for a student rental (although I can't really imagine 5+ college girls sharing that modest kitchen even just to pour some Cheerios in the morning or paying the brutal Texas property taxes on $450k). My understanding is that within the college bubble, landlords try to get $400-$500 per bedroom, or about $1 per square foot per month. On the other hand, there's been a building surge around campus and I think there is a student housing glut.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentine's Day

Here's some of what's happening:
  • D is home sick today, but his temperatures are in the 99s and I think he may be able to go to school tomorrow.
  • My husband made whole wheat double chocolate muffins with Ghirardelli chocolate chips yesterday in honor of Valentine's Day. D's Valentine's swag came home with C yesterday from school and between the two kids, we had a very impressive pile of cards, candies, stickers, temporary tattoos, holographic (?) cards, and fancy pencils. I should remember in future to tape a candy onto each Valentine, because local practice seems to be to attach one treat (either candy or other item) to your cards.
  • After stalling out for a while, D's reading is suddenly improving. Yesterday we read some Nemo and Cool Cats phonics books together and today D was laboriously reading a simple train book in his room, on his own initiative. D had recently been insisting that he didn't want to read and he didn't like books, so this is very good news.
  • C just finished reading Mark of the Horse Lord, yet another Roman Britain story by Rosemary Sutcliffe.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

St. Basil's

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • D had a 103 degree fever today. No school for him tomorrow, and no Valentine's party.
  • After many months of balking, C has finally started work on the Kumon Grade 2 Word Problems workbook. She says it's easy, which it is at this point. I note that later in the workbook, they start doing bar modeling for problem solving.
  • My husband says D loves the drill press.
  • C's 3D papercraft St. Basil's is done and it is on display on my dining room shelves with the blue-and-white china. I think it looks fantastic. D's Viking boat is finished, too.
  • For his birthday, I got my husband a subscription to Make Magazine (it's a quarterly). We just got the first issue and everybody is impressed (it's a sort of advanced do-it-yourselfer, ad-free techie journal).
  • We all watched a big stretch of Life in Cold Blood this evening. I needed to go do something else, but was riveted by the sections on chameleons, geckos and salamanders.
  • I took C out rollerskating this afternoon. She heroically tried inline skates for two circuits and then went back to quads (i.e. what I have always called "roller skates"). C only skated for an hour or so before wanting to leave, but she skated well and was magnificent during the rollerskating limbo competition where she competed until the very end. I'd like to see her take a private lesson, maybe this summer, but she's made tremendous progress already.
  • In real estate, there are no new listings near campus. In the early 20th century neighborhood near downtown, the houses that I like are at $180k, $200k and $250k. I have to admit, as time goes by, I like more expensive houses. There don't seem to be any fresh spring listings yet, but I continue to be hopeful that a couple in the $160s will eventually materialize. There haven't been any price drops for a while, but so far my experience has been that the really screaming deals are on new listings, not old listings with reduced prices.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

No school for C

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • The kids had a snow day on the previous Friday, C was feverish the first three days of the week and then we had school holidays this Thursday and Friday, so C's been home a lot. We did overhaul her room, though, and D and I have started organizing his room again. The kids clean their rooms almost every night, but the "Do you really need this? Do you really need that?" conversation is a much more intensive process. C's jewelry has been a major organizational problem, since the necklaces tend to tangle. My new fix for this is to put most in the transparent plastic eggs that a lot of them came out of vending machines in.
  • C has finished listening to E. Nesbit's House of Arden and finished reading Eagle of the Ninth (now a motion picture, under the title The Eagle (2011)).
  • Work continues on C's papercraft St. Basil's Cathedral. D and his dad have started working on a small Viking dragon boat papercraft.
  • D and his dad went to a physics show at the children's museum on Friday. They came home with light defracting (???) glasses that allow you to look at a light source and see the spectrum that makes it up. Our compact fluorescents look like a pile of ice cream scoops of different colors, while the incandescents have a much smoother and complete spectrum.
  • I ordered myself The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2011 and have been enjoying it almost as much as Disneyland itself.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Freezing rain

To my great disgust, it's 21 degrees outside and we've got freezing rain. I made my usual Starbucks run (OK, walk) this morning and found it very hard to cover the ground at anything more than a penguin shuffle. By the time I got to Starbucks, I had tiny beads of ice stuck to my glasses and coat. There are still areas of sidewalk that are wet rather than icy, but at 21 degrees Fahrenheit, that can't last long. I think they should have closed down the school and the college today (I doubt 10% of the local community knows how to drive safely on this stuff), but I'm still hoping that our parish will cancel tonight's CCD. My husband will be picking D up from school this afternoon.

C is home sick. We have a four-day weekend starting tomorrow, so that means no school for C this week.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Thanks to generous grandparents, we are going to Disneyland later this spring with my husband's sister! The kids are 8.5 and nearly 6 now and have never been before. I've been a number of times (last time in the 1990s, I think), but my husband and his sister have never visited. It looks like we're going to have three days split between the Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.

We still need to take care of transportation arrangements, but the hardest stuff is done. It was unbelievably difficult to find a hotel 1) within a mile of the parks 2) a suite for the five of us 3) not outrageously expensive 4) bedbug free. We found just one hotel that covered most of those (the Camelot Inn), but it turned out to be $180 a night. There'll be a fridge and microwave and continental breakfast, which will be very helpful.

C has been feverish for several days now, but I think this will be her last day off of school. She had a snow day Friday, a sick day Monday, a sick day today, and then she'll have school tomorrow and no school Thursday or Friday.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Here's some of what's been happening:
  • The kids got sick at some point and will probably be home tomorrow. Among other things, they've been playing The Return of the Incredible Machine and Armadillo Run. As is somewhat traditional on sick days, we had delivery Chinese today.
  • The snow is just about gone now, but D was attempting to build a slush castle or fort yesterday.
  • My husband and the kids have come to the end of a number of projects. D's paper craft Tower of London is done, as is his small telescope. In addition, my husband used blackboard paint and an unloved plywood puzzle backing and leftover chalkboard paint to create a small chalkboard for D. C's paper craft St. Basil's Cathedral is about half done, but the onion domes are slow and finicky work.
  • The highlight of the day was a group expedition to go look at my neighbor's new house (the nearly 1700 sq. ft. 2.5BR home in the other faculty neighborhood). I'd seen it before, but it looked quite different without the old owners' stuff. The house is in good shape, but is a time capsule of the early 1980s. My neighbor has super ambitious plans for the house, including plans to redo the kitchen in marble and stainless steel (and maybe black and white checkerboard floors). We begged her to keep the built-ins in the office, which will look totally different with some white paint. Another house in that neighborhood is supposed to go up for sale soon and I am waiting impatiently.
  • The big downer of the day is that I am just about to head out to the front yard with my husband to dispose of a dead cat that appeared there after the snow melted. It's been there all day. We've made a good faith effort to find out if anybody in the neighborhood is missing a cat, but it's probably one of the many feral kitties that live on and near campus.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Here's some of what's been happening:
  • On Thursday, D's class celebrated their hundredth day of school, bringing in baggies with 100 snack items to share and wearing t-shirts with 100 multicolored dots on them.
  • It looks like my Russia trip has fallen through again. I've still got the money, though, so it's going to happen eventually.
  • On Friday (yesterday), school was cancelled because of snowfall, this time a very respectable 4" or so. Through much of the day, temperatures were in the mid-twenties. We got the kids out playing several times. We saw some neighbors playing outside, went over to join them, played at length on their yard. Subsequently (I'm not sure exactly how this happened), there was a huge impromptu playdate at my neighbors' house with smores and hot chocolate and half a dozen moms and kids. We had a blast. By afternoon, temperatures edged over freezing and the snow began to melt,but the kids had lots of opportunities to build snow castles and miniature snowmen. Right now (Saturday afternoon), it's nearly 54 degrees and the snow is mostly gone, except for icy patches in the shadows. We had snow last year, too (an exotic rarity for the undergraduates), so maybe we're heading into some sort of long-term cooling trend.
  • C had a 100 degree fever this morning.
  • D asked C: "Are you or a mammal or a duck?"

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Siamese twins

Hearing us talking about twin beds, D asked, "Are there special beds for conjoined twins?"


Hallelujah! We now have cold water in our kitchen sink (so the frozen blockage in the pipe has thawed). And it's now a balmy 26 degrees. I didn't actually make it to the gym today, but I did sew my hood back on my coat and hung up all my laundry.

Rolling blackouts

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • D loves corduroy. He is very happy to wear both corduroy shirts and corduroy pants.
  • Yesterday we had a school closing. Temperatures were in the low 20s and we had a few stray flakes of snow whirling about, and that was it. Today, on the other hand, we've had similar temperatures (we started at 17 degrees but are up to 24), but the kids are in school and the state started having rolling blackouts this morning after a power plant shut down due to cold temperatures (Dallas's low today is 9 degrees Fahrenheit, which is pretty cold anywhere in the lower 48 but Minnesota). I was getting the kids ready for school this morning mainly in the dark (or at least twilight). Initially, we'd only get a few minutes of electricity before the lights went off again for a long stretch, so I haven't ventured to run the washing machine or do any other electrical project. Things seem much better this afternoon, but I keep expecting the lights to go off. During the longer dark stretches this morning, I was somewhat anxiously watching the slow downward trend of our indoor thermometer. Of course, to keep things on an even keel, my husband turned up the thermostat for our heat and the gas water heater.
  • In related news, I noticed this morning that the cold water tap for the kitchen sink wasn't working, a worrisome fact in these temperatures. Both bathrooms still had cold water. Later in the morning, a college maintenance guy came by and had a look at it (they're doing the rounds of all the college housing). My instructions are to keep faucets on and dribbling water until the situation improves. We chatted a bit about emergency preparedness, and the maintenance guy said we were lucky to have a fireplace. As it happens, we keep a small stockpile of fallen branches from the yard for just such an eventuality. Hopefully the situation will continue to improve.
  • Last night, my husband and I were looking at flights for me for Vladivostok this spring. I'll probably be flying DFW-LA-Seoul-Vladivostok, using Korean Air for the international portion.