Thursday, June 30, 2011

Kumon Grade 4 Geometry & Measurement

C is getting toward the end of her Kumon Grade 4 Geometry & Measurement workbook. I like this series a lot, but we stalled for a long time in the rounding section. You have to round to tens, hundreds, thousands, ten thousands, and so forth, so it's pretty hairy even for me. However, once we got through that (with my husband's help), the fraction section was a breeze. C also did fine with decimals, volume, capacity, area, elapsed time and circles. The only sections left are spheres, angles, triangles and review. We're going to need to buy a compass, a triangle ruler (???) and a protractor. I believe I have never used the last two items, so we may need some more daddy help and some pages may need to be redone with correct equipment. I was really pleased with her circle work. They had a number of problems with a circle inscribed in a square, and C did very well figuring out the length of the side of the square based on the radius of the circle. They even had some of those problems with two circles, one with half the radius of the other. This is what I would call "critical thinking." Anyway, I was very pleased to order the next book in the series for C, the Grade 5 Geometry & Measurement. One of the things that I like best about this Kumon series is that it gives such a variety of problems and that they are conceptually pretty advanced, while keeping the actual computation friendly.

Thanks to her work on the Grade 4 Geometry & Measurement, C has earned a balloon animal kit from Barnes & Noble. She's working on it right now.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Museum and cafeteria

After garden camp today and a snack, I took the kids to the children's museum where they were having an ancient Egyptian day. We chatted with Cleopatra, hauled blocks on skids, built pyramids and played dress-up. In the arts-and-crafts area, I overheard a woman asking, "Did y'all have fun making your sarcophaguses?"

We went to dinner at the cafeteria. A cafeteria worker (African?) was telling two coworkers about a big night of dancing and drumming, a combination which he found as obvious as peanut butter and jelly, but which bemused his colleagues. He was just as bemused by their bemusement. "You don't drum and dance?" he asked them. No, they did not.

Wednesday notes

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • I've been trying to get out for my morning walk as quickly as possible, because we are in toaster-oven weather right now. When I got back from my walk about half an hour ago, it was already 87 degrees (and headed up). I was planning to go further, but wimped out. I'll take the second half of my walk this evening, as soon as temperatures fall to body temperature (not kidding!).
  • The local government is starting to talk about voluntary water restrictions. Because of the drought, 1) our water supply is down and 2) people are using more water than usual. We continue to have an ecologically friendly dead lawn.
  • The doomed houses on the central island in our neighborhood are being worked over by the asbestos abatement people. We'll have more demolition within the next week or two, but there are only four houses left to demolish in a fairly small area, so it should be less disruptive than before. During the demolition of the house adjacent to us a month ago, we had a sort of multi-day earthquake because of all the heavy equipment rumbling across the lot, but these remaining houses are farther away.
  • The kids are still in garden camp.
  • We have had a lot of family discussions about how wrong it feels to pulverize pinatas with cute faces (big-eyed ponies, unicorns, etc.). D was suggesting yesterday that a deathstar pinata would be a very good alternative. I was just googling around, and D is not the only one to get that idea. Here's a crude one, and here's a nicer one. Lots of people have done versions of it.
  • I just saw another price drop in the older neighborhood I watch. The house has some lovely restored 1920s features and some less lovely additions. It's really loooong. I also worry about energy efficiency. Here's the price history $238k>$200k>$180k>$175k. Timber! There's a bigger, nicer foreclosure at $180k that is wreaking havoc with comps. The way this is going, I think we'll do really well if we buy in that neighborhood in early 2012. I'd still prefer the other small faculty/staff neighborhood near campus, but there's currently nothing for sale there.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Monday, June 27, 2011

Back home

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • My husband and C had a big day on the town the day they were picking us up in Dallas. They went to the Ft. Worth science museum and the National Cowgirl Museum and after the museums closed, they went to the Galleria and went ice skating. C did very well.
  • C made a spectacular quilted bag at her sewing class while I was in Washington State. It looks like something you'd see in a store. It has a zipper, no strap (C didn't want a strap), and the pattern is alternating strips of zebra, leopard and tiger print. That wouldn't normally be my thing, but it looks fantastic. I'm hoping to have C continue with her sewing in future.
  • C has been working hard on her 4th grade Kumon Geometry & Measurement workbook.
  • C has been reading (or having read to her) a book of Fr. Brown stories and Out of the Silent Planet. She has lately shown a taste for science fiction. She said recently, "I think there should be an Out of the Silent Planet movie."
  • My husband has been enjoying the ripe figs from the empty house next door. They turn into a nasty mess when they hit the sidewalk, so it's socially responsible to eat them.
  • My MIL is funding some lunch/dessert/salad plates for me as a birthday gift. They look great. Thank you so much! I'm pretty much done buying dishes for now, although I think I'm going to turn a check from my grandma into a set of six 10" Spode Traditions plates. I might buy some more rice bowls if I find some good ones, but I can't honestly say I need more dishes right now.
  • There's now a very pretty house for sale for $320k in the early 20th century neighborhood near downtown that I watch. It is a beautiful house that I can imagine moving into today, the location within the neighborhood is ideal, but the price is out of our range. It's been really hard to get house, location, and price to all work.
  • The kids are enjoying garden camp.

Washington State

D and I are just back from a 6-day trip to see family and friends in Washington State. It is delightfully cool this time of year, especially coming from Texas. Here's some of what's been happening:
  • My parents picked us up at Seatac and we went directly over to see some old family friends near Olympia. They have a superb garden with native plants and no lawn whatsoever. My family is hoping to build some cabins soon and the plan is to eventually landscape with native plants.
  • My parents, D and I went to Mt. St. Helens, hiked a little (D was determined to cover the same ground C had last year) and saw the movie at the visitor center. The high that day was around 81 degrees.
  • We also spent a lot of time waiting for a used tractor to come in at the John Deere dealership. It eventually did.
  • We drove home to my parents' house.
  • We had two dinners in town with my grandma and D and I visited my high school English teacher (Hi, Mrs. W!).
  • I got to see an adorable baby coyote crossing the road (safely). It was fuzzy and cute like an oversized kitten.
  • While in my home town, I met with another family friend, a painter that I have known since I was a wee thing. He did some small kitchen-themed still lifes for my grandma that I have always admired, and it has occurred to me that I would like something similar, using a blue and white color scheme. I brought the painter two books (Blue and White Living and Decorating with China and Glass), pointed out some things I liked, and then we went to my grandparents' house and we looked at the paintings he'd done earlier, as well as some blue-and-white Russian and Polish ceramics that my grandma has. The painter is talking about doing a series. I may or may not be able to afford the whole thing, depending on how many pictures he does and how much they are.
  • We got home very late Saturday, and I've been digging out ever since.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Birthday party

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • Tomorrow is my birthday, but we're celebrating today. After church, we went to Pei Wei for lunch. We went home, I opened my new plates (the Spode Blue Room Zoological set), and we had HEB chocolate cake with coconut frosting. The drawing on the plates is cruder than I would like (you call that a kangaroo?), but now I own 12 fancy 10" blue-and-white dinner plates: a kangaroo, a zebra, an ostrich, a camel, an (unconvincing) rhinoceros and a tiger. I think the kids will like them. I have some birthday money coming my way and I expect that will go toward more dishes. I think Spode's Blue Room Traditions will probably be my next acquisition. I'm within a few months of finishing up my dish-buying project. The plates and bowls are relatively inexpensive ($10-20 a piece). It's serving pieces that are expensive. I may eventually get a few, but for now, it's just not part of our lifestyle.
  • In related news, I'm talking to an artist (an old friend of the family) about painting me a picture with blue-and-white china. I gave him a long list of URLs to look at and am hoping to meet with him during my trip to Washington State.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Peanut sauce

I have two stories from this afternoon:
  • I brokered a toy sale between the kids this morning. C had pulled out a bunch of toys she didn't want anymore (some transparent LEGO-like blocks and miscellaneous junk toys) and wanted to sell them to D. I oversaw the sale (these transactions are otherwise illegal in our home), but was unable to budge C much on price. She got $5.50, which brings her closer to her goal of getting a Nerf squirt gun for about $12. For D, on the other hand, it was quite a lot to spend for used toys, but the transparent blocks are pretty expensive new, so I think he did well. It's always good to be able to get new toys without having to bring more stuff into the house.
  • We went to confession at our parish this afternoon. Before we left home, my husband and I were both in a hurry to work off a decade we had accrued the previous month. We mentioned this to the kids, and very quickly, they were sitting on our bed with us, doing the rosary together (C brought the rosary she made in CCD this past year).
  • I had the forethought to cut up the chicken for dinner before we left.
  • As soon as we got home from church, I started dinner. At the fancy HEB, I'd found a couple of bottles of House of Tsang's Bangkok Padang Peanut Sauce, which used to be a big favorite with my husband and me. I started cooking the chicken and ran some old brown rice through the rice cooker again, eventually added the peanut sauce to the chicken, microwaved some frozen stir fry veggies (pea pods, carrots, onions), drained the veggies, added the veggies to the chicken and peanut sauce and put a lid on everything until it was ready to serve. We had stir fried chicken and veggies in peanut sauce served with brown rice with crushed peanuts and lemon wedges on the side. The veggies were a bit soggy and overcooked, but that's the price of convenience. It was otherwise very good and the kids asked for seconds. The results reminded me a bit of pad thai, and I would be happy to cook it with noodles instead of rice. I mentioned to the kids the possibility of making the dish with tofu rather than chicken, and they took it very well. It might also have worked well with fresh pineapple.

Water park

Here's some of what's happening:
  • Last night, our parish rented out the water park for our yearly parish outing. It was 7-9PM, late enough that it was only pleasantly warm and we didn't worry about sunburn. This is the first time we've managed to go. C swims very nicely. I think D may start swimming this summer.
  • My birthday is coming up early next week, so we made a family outing this morning to the fancy suburban HEB for cake, etc. If we lived in the suburbs, oh the money we would spend there. Among other things, I got a tube of lemongrass paste. I don't know if this will work, but it may be a good compromise, because when we mail order or even when I've seen it in Dallas at the big Asian grocery, it's much the worse for wear. I also bought a cupcake carrier (it's a muffin plan plus plastic lid with a handle)--it's such a pain to improvise a carrying device. When you need to deliver cupcakes, you really need to deliver cupcakes.
  • I saw something really pointless at the suburban HEB. It was (I kid you not) a plastic carrier for paper plates. Your paper plate sits carefully supported by the plastic frame and you avoid embarrassing structural failures. Oh my goodness--just use real plates, people, or even the really heavy-duty paper plates.
  • D and I are headed to Washington State soon for about a week, so this space may be quiet for a while.
  • I'm really looking forward to opening my Spode Zoological plates when we celebrate my birthday tomorrow.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Archeology camp

Here's what's been happening:
  • The kids are doing archeology camp this week. D is in the museum group and got to reassemble a broken pot. C is in the speliology (!) group and has been helping create a big walk-in cave. She has also been working on the daily camp newsletter. What with the local limestone, we have lots of caves within a few hours of here.
  • During C's group's research, one of the kids did an internet search for "bat cave." Unsurprisingly, that primarily turned up Batman and Robin stuff.
  • C is borrowing a headlamp from my husband for camp.
  • Dinner last night was fried rice with tofu, egg, mixed veggies, and lemon soy sauce. It was tolerable with sweet chili sauce and with peanuts sprinkled on top.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Here's some of what's happening:
  • A small correction--the Discworld dessert was purely theoretical.
  • C has finished the public library's summer reading program (5 books and 20 hours). She now needs to start her school's summer reading program. To max out on that program, she'll need to read 25 books, some on selected themes, some free-choice.
  • C has been working with her embroidery kit. She has a hoop, a big-eyed needle, an instruction booklet and a bunch of embroidery floss, as well as some iron-on patterns. Yesterday, I transferred a heart pattern onto a plain pink t-shirt and C wanted to fill the heart pattern in with satin stitch. That was not a success. Today, C wanted to stitch a coffee cup from this book onto something. I found her a plain white cloth to work with and my husband helped her trace the coffee cup onto the cloth. C did a very creditable job stitching the cup outline, but eventually got frustrated after she switched to pink decorative stitching. I snipped the pink threads out, so it's ready to go if she wants to try again.
  • I almost forgot to mention that C can now thread her embroidery needle (with the threader) and tie her own knots.
  • Both Doodle Stitching: Fresh & Fun Embroidery for Beginners and Doodle Stitching: The Motif Collection have been a huge source of inspiration for C. She has spent hours on end tracing the patterns in the book, but this is the first time she's ever attempted to sew one of the patterns.
  • My husband worked with D today and D read 4 phonics books from our Nemo set.
  • On reflection, we've decided we can't really face the summer cafeteria fare, at least not night after night. We did a big grocery shopping today and had Swedish meatballs (made with ground turkey and no gravy), noodles, tiny fresh tomatoes and microwaved mixed vegetables. I regret the lack of IKEA lingonberry jam and actual red meat, but it was very good. D had seconds. The dishwasher ran three times today.
  • The kids and I made brownies from a box. I had C do a lot of the work, including measuring water and oil. I'm in the process of turning the process over to C (which is the responsible mom thing to do), but it feels kind of lazy.
  • I continue to be very pleased with my new blue and white Japanese rice bowls. They are proving very versatile and serve nicely as small serving bowls.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Discworld dessert

C (a big Pratchett fan) has come up with the following discworld dessert:
  • take large, flat round cookie
  • make 4 small white chocolate elephants and a large dark chocolate turtle
  • put the elephants on top of the turtle and put the cookie on top of the elephants
D suggests putting frosting on the cookie to show the land. Both kids suggest using frosting as adhesive to keep the cookie on the elephants and the elephants on the turtle.

Real estate report

There are 12 houses for sale in the early 20th century neighborhood near downtown that I watch. The prices break down into several natural groups.
  • $96k
  • $180k
  • $180k
  • $180k
  • $180k
  • $192k
  • $260k
  • $270k
  • $420k
  • $430k
  • $430k
  • $830k
The groups are $180k-$192k, $260k-$270k and $420k-$430k. The lowest group would be more or less affordable for us, but I'm not crazy about any of those houses (except maybe the $192k house that used to be $180k, before the owner hired the expensive realtor). We shall see.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Blue and White Japan

At the beginning of every month, I usually place a couple of book orders. This month's book was Amy Katoh's Blue and White Japan (1996). The book is somewhat dated with regard to photography and decor, but since the basic subject matter is indigo-and-white traditional Japanese textiles and ceramics, it doesn't matter that much. I lean more toward the ceramics than textiles, but I get that textiles are really important in interior design. One of the Amazon reviewers complains that Katoh doesn't give more design guidance, but her basic message is that you can't go wrong with lots of natural materials and indigo-and-white in varied patterns. I'm keeping this book.

Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Here's some of what's happening:
  • C is working steadily at the public library reading program.
  • Our official summer read-aloud book from the kids' school is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. We're listening to it on audiobook in the car. It's pretty good.
  • Many years ago, I first heard of a book called The Wizard of the Emerald City, which is half piracy, half free translation of the American classic by a Soviet writer named Alexander Volkov. While marooned in the hotel lobby in San Antonio, I read the first chapter or so from the Russian book. Maybe it gets better, but the opening is pretty banal. I see from the Wikipedia entry on Volkov that he wrote a whole series of these books where he makes free with Baum's material. I'm giving away or discarding my copy and not feeling bad about it. The only thing I like about the Volkov version is that Toto is named Totoshka and is able to talk in Oz.
  • We're in the middle of a drought. I can't remember the last time it rained (the spring and summer in our area usually alternate sunshine and violent thunderstorms), although it might have been during our tornado warning a month or two ago. The only good thing about this is I feel that it is our civic responsibility to let the lawn go brown, which is what we wanted to do anyway (watering costs $20 a go, and my husband hates mowing).
  • We've had quite a few days over 100 degrees already, but the mornings are relatively pleasant (high 70s, low 80s).
  • The college has put in some fresh squares of turf on a couple of empty lots in our neighborhood.
  • There isn't a lot of action, real estate-wise, although I saw this morning that that foreclosure in the historic neighborhood I watch has slipped down to $180k. To recap, before foreclosure that house bobbed between $272k and $245k for three years. Then the bank foreclosed this spring and had it offered for something like $205k (?). Then they cut it down to $195k. And now it's at $180k. The current price works out to $67 per square foot, which is pretty shocking for this neighborhood. It's still the wrong side of the street, and too busy for me. Also, there are now 4 houses in that neighborhood for sale at $180k. That has got to be the busiest price range right now.
  • Shiller says that home prices may drop up to another 25%.
  • My birthday present (six Spode Blue Room Zoological plates) arrived today. I have over a week left until my actual birthday.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Rice bowls

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • I recently finished a reread of Bonnie's Household Organizer (1983) by Bonnie Runyan McCullough. It's dated in spots (ironing has practically disappeared from the housewife's life and many of the homemade organizing devices she suggests can be bought very inexpensively nowadays at Walmart), but she offers a comprehensive (if very intimidating) vision of an organized, clockwork home. After reading Flylady's Sink Reflections (a much more encouraging, although less detailed book), I was thinking about disposing of Bonnie's Household Organizer, but BHO's chapter on "Training Apprentices" made me change my mind. Again, BHO's vision of the skills that your kids need to learn before leaving your care is extremely intimidating (there are quite a few on her list that I can't do, or can't do without a lot of preliminary study), but I think her check list is worth looking at once a year to see how your child is progressing. I also like her Minimal Maintenance model for high-pressure times (illness, new baby, etc.).
  • I'm in the process of changing over our dishes, so every month, I'm buying a box or two of new items. This month, I got six blue-and-white Japanese rice bowls and I've ordered Spode's six plate set of Blue Room Zoological (as my birthday gift). Each piece in the set is different. You can't really tell what they're going to look like just from the Amazon photos, so it's a bit of an adventure. I've got several more months of small orders before I'll be finished buying plates and bowls. I'm simultaneously decommissioning orphan dishes, but keeping my old white IKEA set for dangerous microwave duty.
  • Today I got Blue and White Japan in the mail.
  • D has finished his second potholder (with finishing help from C and me). This one is striped turquoise and orange (remember--D is color blind).
  • C is warming up a bit to zoo camp. (Both kids are enrolled, but D was home sick today.) C says, "Zoo camp wasn't so bad today."

Sunday, June 5, 2011


Me to husband (about half-way to the Mercado): I don't think the kids are ready for Europe yet.

Sea World

We did a quick trip to San Antonio this weekend. We drove to San Antonio, taking in lunch, Smaland, some plastic hangers, and a blue flowered tray that I've wanted for a while at IKEA. We checked into the Staybridge Hotel San Antonio Sunset Station and then spent a hot afternoon (it was around 97 degrees) walking on Commerce to the Mercado. After dinner, we took a water taxi as close as we could get to our hotel, and then got icy treats to get us back to the hotel. (Note to self: do downtown San Antonio in the winter. Also: stay in a more central location.) I was feeling a bit off. A few hours after the kids got to bed, I took my temperature and discovered that I had a 101+ fever. No Sea World for me. My husband got me some Tylenol PM from the lobby mini-mart and I had an OK night. He consulted with the hotel desk and we were able to get a late check out. In the morning, he took the kids to Sea World for an abbreviated visit while I stayed in the hotel room until check out time. Then I hung out in the hotel lobby until they returned from Sea World and we drove home. We were on the road Friday and Saturday and this is our first morning back. My throat still hurts, but I'm on the mend. Here are some notes from the road. We didn't do everything in San Antonio, but we'll know what to do when we come back.
  • On the way back, we finished listening to E. Nesbit's House of Arden.
  • We didn't have a chance to really look it over, but Sunset Station is a really interesting place.
  • It would have been nicer not to have such a hike to the sites, but Staybridge was a very convenient hotel. We had two beds and a sofabed and a well-stocked kitchenette. They also had a mini-mart with everything I needed to survive being sick and marooned at the hotel.
  • San Antonio has very good pedestrian signage for tourists.
  • On our walk to the Mercado, we passed San Fernando Cathedral. Nearby, there's a bank with large copies of coins carved (???) into the exterior--Indian heads and buffaloes and eagles. It's a simple and obvious idea, but beautifully executed. We also passed the Spanish Governor's palace.
  • At the Mercado, we ate at Mi Tierra (it's a good website, but loud). Mi Tierra has lots and lots of atmosphere and acceptable food. The kids got helium balloons from our waitress and we didn't lose them!
  • There was some sort of exhibit going on about the Mexican Revolution's effect on San Antonio.
  • There were a lot of servicemen seeing the sites with relatives.
  • At the Mercado, there were a number of gringo-baiting t-shirts for sale. One of them had a rude Spanish phrase, followed by the alleged English translation, "Thank you very much." There was another one about not wanting to be called Hispanic or Latino, because all of those terms refer to Anglo Europeans. I didn't read far enough to find out what the desired terminology is.
  • Meanwhile, a white guy strolled buy in an enormous straw sombrero with Viva Fiesta stitched on it.
  • We also walked by a barber shop that promised a free beer with each haircut.
  • San Antonio has some of the most interesting and varied architecture I've seen anywhere in the US.
  • We didn't spend a lot of time on the Riverwalk this time, but we all enjoyed our water taxi trip, which was only $5 a head.
  • I didn't get to go to Sea World, but I am told that the family did some of everything, except the water park. They visited penguins, alligators, saw part of a killer whale show, did some rides (Atlantis and a white water ride), went on the play area and had some water play.


We got home from a quick trip to Sea World San Antonio last night. Before driving home, we stopped by our neighborhood HEB and I went in to buy some ice cream. Behind me in line, a black woman was showing a magazine with the Caylee Anthony story on the front cover to the cashier (another black woman). "I want to go to Florida and kill this [inaudible]," the customer behind me said, flourishing the magazine.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Pot holder

Here's some of what's happening:
  • C is working on a weaving on her new lap loom.
  • C gave D her old pot holder loom and materials (also Harrisville--a metal loom and cotton loops). D wove a multicolored potholder this morning, C finished the edges and I sewed the loop in place so the thing wouldn't unravel.
  • C and her dad finished mowing the lawn. Thanks to our visit to the Rainforest Cafe gift shop yesterday, I was able to get a new sun hat with an adjustable strap for C that fits over her sound cancelling headphones. This hat is crucial for C's future as a happy lawn mower--she hates having sunblock on her face.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


There's a lot to catch up. Here's some of what's been happening:
  • C has had some success trying to play two recorders at once.
  • C has gotten really good at the Disney version of Dance Dance Revolution on the Wii.
  • This evening, D was wearing the following ensemble: lizard camo pj bottoms (the ones Auntie K made), a green t-shirt with a big tree frog on it (from his grandparents' shop), dog tags (a birthday party favor) and a camo headband (also a party favor). I had my husband take a picture.
  • I made two ham and fresh spinach quiches on Monday using ready-made crust. The crust, I regret to say, turned out to be sweetened, which wasn't exactly what we were going for. We had one quiche for dinner on Monday and one on Wednesday and I think it had improved slightly with time.
  • C has taken 25 steps at a time on her bamboo stilts.
  • Yesterday, we made a big day trip to Dallas's Legoland, which is part of a slightly tired outlet mall. The mall has a number of downmarket outlet stores, but they've got Legoland and are about to get a fancy new aquarium, so they're definitely trying. The kids spent several hours doing everything at Legoland and then each bought a $13 LEGO car at the gift shop. The kids also used their money to ride a carousel at the food court and to go in those human gerbil wheel plastic bubbles that float in the water. It's impossible to stand up in the balls, but D did a bunch of somersaults. A good time was had by all, especially by the spectators.
  • Today, the kids worked on their LEGO cars, C practiced her calligraphy (I'd bought her an inexpensive kit) and C's loom finally arrived. She and I and her father were figuring it out this evening. She also finished Pratchett's The Light Fantastic. We have four days until the kids' first camp starts, but so far, so good.
  • Most wonderfully, campus dining is back open for the summer!