Saturday, July 30, 2011

Camp postmortem

For future reference, here's what C thinks about this summer's camps and activities:
  • zoo camp--bad, too hot! too much walking!
  • sewing camp--good, wants more
  • gifted camp--good, but doesn't want to go next year, when she graduates to a multiple course format, rather than the single-theme format used for 1-4 graders
  • swimming--good, wants more
D's views on the camps were similar, although he wants the same amount of swimming. He didn't do the sewing camp.

What to do next year? I'm hoping C will fall in love with at least a couple of the gifted camp course offerings, and we are talking about having my husband go help out with technical courses. There's also the option of doing a rather expensive arts-and-crafts camp that has the virtue of being very conveniently located. I will continue to think about this, but I think our basic format was sound.

Even more birthday

C's actual birthday was about a week and a half ago, but we are still wrapping up the celebrations. (And by the way, was that you Auntie K who sent the friendship bracelet set? Thank you very much!) We had two families over to celebrate C's birthday today. There was a total of 8 children, two less than at the previous party, when a small guest had his hand shut in a door. I had blueberries, baby carrots, mandarins, red grapes and cheese cubes set out for snack and we served chocolate muffins (my husband's) and Blue Bell's excellent homemade vanilla ice cream for dessert. The theme was "pink poodle in Paris," so we had pink poodle paper plates and there were pink poodle temporary tattoos for anyone who wanted one. The kids played a lot of Wii LEGO Star Wars and C made pink balloon poodles and balloon dachshunds for all who wanted one. C worked very hard on the balloon animals. Mid-party, her new scooter arrived via Fedex.

C's indoor remote-controlled helicopter is great fun (like an oversized dragonfly), but it is too delicate for party play. That's about the end of C's new stuff. We are still waiting for a LEGO 18-wheeler that hauls LEGO cars. We have 2.5 weeks left until school starts, so hopefully we can get there without getting bored or naughty.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


C got a treasure trove of checks for her birthday and we've been waiting to disburse them. At her request, my husband has ordered her a fancy LEGO set with a LEGO truck that carries LEGO cars. We've also been doling out birthday gifts (with me giving occasional warnings that today's gift may be a book). Today we gave her Usbourne's Who Were The Romans and a Harrisville needlepoint kit. C is working on a bookmark and is quite absorbed in it. Anyway, her dad called her over to help him with choosing a scooter for her. C has been panting for a scooter for some time, and we had all decided that that's what her birthday money would go for. The selection was made (a black Razor) and C asked, "Can I go back to my needlepoint?"

I think C will enjoy the scooter (all the kids I see love theirs), but it's just so hot this summer. One of the local Walgreens had an outdoor thermometer that was showing 113 degrees today, and another one was showing 109. It was probably several degrees cooler in our leafy neighborhood, but it's still way hot. It's going to be a while before we really enjoy ourselves outside.

C and her dad went to British Columbia for just over a week and returned Monday. While there, she got to go out to one of the Channel Islands and got to frolic in her grandparents' pool with an orca flotation device. My husband has also ordered C an inexpensive (about $20) flying toy helicopter that C will be paying for out of her personal funds.

The kids are in zoo camp this week, although C is having a shorter week because of her West Coast travel.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The virtues of losing

A Kitchen Table Math commentor named Mark Roulo has an interesting comment up about the virtues of losing. Here's most of it:
I'm coming to believe that one of the primary values in sports (especially team sports) is that most kids get exposed to the notion that they aren't the best. Tournaments where the winners advance pretty much ensure that almost everyone goes home having lost. I used to think that this was a flaw ... now I'm thinking that it might be a virtue.
A bright kid academically can easily never run into one of these tournament-type events where they find out that they are good, but only in the top 4,000 in the country (as an example). If you never/rarely leave your local pond (and if the field is such that there aren't clear winners and losers), it is easy to believe (a) that you are a lot better than you are, and (b) that someone who fails to solve a problem is stupid.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


I was just watching an episode of Hoarders on The less disgusting situation featured involved a woman in Oklahoma whose goats had chewed right through her siding and started raiding her pile o'stuff and who suspected that possums had moved in through the hole in the wall.

The ads were mostly for high-end cars, which is not really what I'm in the mood to buy after watching piles of used adult diapers and flattened rodents get shoveled out of a house. May I suggest cleaning products, maid service or IKEA storage ads instead? (They did do very well with product placement within the show--a garbage disposal company, a pod company, the clean up companies, psychologists, etc.)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Home report

I wrote up a list of homes in our price and size range in the early 20th century neighborhood near downtown that I watch. Here are the houses that are both 3BR/2BA or bigger and under $300k (there is also one in the $300s, several in the $400s and one in the $800s).
  • $260k 4/3 (near major road)
  • $260k 4/2 (also near same major road)
  • $215k 3/2.5 (NEW listing, renovated, purely residential location, 2000 sq. ft., very promising except for some iffy tile choices in the renovated kitchen and bath--I'm interested)
  • $195k 4/3 (2800 sq. ft., stale listing, busy street)
  • $192k 4/2 (2000 sq. ft., not busy street, lightly renovated, stale listing, non-resident owner, we previously offered about $130k when it was listed at $180k)
  • $175k 3/2 (street good, house iffy in parts, stale listing)
  • $170k 3/2 (location too busy)
  • $170k 3/3 (location too busy)
  • $165k 3/3 (originally $272k, foreclosure, location too busy)
  • $96k (marginal location, marginal house)
I've highlighted the two listings where I like both the house and the location. As you can see, there's a bulge in the $165k-$175k range--those people have desperately cutting prices lately. It's hard to get the house, location and price to all line up the way I'd like them to, but we're getting within negotiating distance of a home and price we could live with.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lawn painters

I just got a flyer in my mailbox from a lawn-painting service. "Currently 90% of Texas is under drought conditions. Water conservation is a must!"


There's a house in the early 20th century neighborhood I watch that went into foreclosure after three years on the market and prices between about $272k and $245k ($272k represents a not unreasonable $100 per square foot). It's been in foreclosure for a while now. It started out at around $200k and has been slowly slipping. As of yesterday, the price fell to $165k, which is $60 per square foot. I don't like the location (and that's true of most of the houses that have lingered on the market in that neighborhood), but this is going to be a very interesting year.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

D dreams he is a dinosaur

D told me he had had a good dream, but he was too embarrassed to tell me about it. C, however, informed me that D dreamed that he was a dinosaur. It sounds like it was an enjoyable dream, aside from the fact that the plants in D's dream didn't taste very good.

Friday, July 15, 2011


I forgot to mention that the kids did a lot of Kumon workbooks today. C did mostly handwriting, while D did 16 pages of Grade 1 Geometry & Measurement. D was a bit spooked by the pages dealing with clock time, but he cruised through much of the rest of the book. He did so much that we were able to order him the Nerf Super Soaker that C already has. C meanwhile got a child's coin book from a used bookstore and has been conscientiously filling it with pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. The book has pictures that you complete by adding money. I especially liked the gumball machine and the quarter quarry. I was skeptical of the book when C first picked it out at the store, but it is clearly a treasured possession now.


Here's some of what's been happening:
  • My husband was reading D a book entitled Carbon. There's an entire children's nonfiction series devoted to different elements.
  • The kids were asking me about the heat of different flames tonight.
  • They were also asking me about googol and googolplex. C was convinced that D had made up the term googolplex. I looked up both terms, and discovered that the inventor of both had been a mathematician's 9-year-old nephew.
  • We had some heavy errands today. We went to daily mass, confession, lunch at the faculty club, ATM, library (we picked up the rest of our summer reading swag) as well as hitting a notary office.
  • Late this evening, I made an unpleasant discovery. C had left a bunch of little personalized messages in pen on D's bed (it's a crib/toddler bed) that proved impossible to remove without removing the finish from the crib. I explained the awful significance of this to D (he's going to be living with this until he gets a real bed sometime later this year) and he was distraught. I think C was repentant, but D is our little Mr. Sensitive. Also, it's his bed, and he will have to lie in it. Fortunately, it was not an expensive piece of furniture.

Campus improvements

I was just taking my summer stroll across campus to Starbucks. This requires passing by one of the central lawns on campus. For weeks now, heavy equipment has been rumbling there, ripping up roads and sidewalks and endlessly pushing around dirt. Today, however, there are finally signs of definite progress. There was what looked like a sprinkler system going in, as well as multiple trucks of sod rolls being unloaded.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Red Cross swim course

Here's some of what's happening:
  • Both kids moved up a level with their Red Cross swim course. D has finished level 1 and C has finished level 3. The kids had a free water play for their last day, which was today.
  • I was volunteering in the uniform closet Tuesday. We were getting ready for a used uniform sale on Wednesday, as well as filling up two boxes of discontinued uniforms for donation to Uganda.
  • C has finished reading Cheaper by the Dozen, which she thought was very funny.
  • Neighborhood demolition recommenced yesterday. A smaller demolition crew than last time crushed two houses yesterday. They have two more to demolish, plus removal, lot preparation, bringing in soil, and putting in grass. It may take a week or so to get it all done. One of the houses demolished yesterday is across the street from us, and we had a spectacular front porch view of the demolition. I have to say, I found it even more fascinating than the kids did.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Men's clothes

There's a thread on Wall Street men's clothes here. I loved this quote from Rob Lyman, a lawyer:

"You know what's awesome about being a man? New clothing just appears in your dresser or in your closet. And when it gets shabby enough that it might embarrass someone to be seen with you, it disappears. You don't ever have to set foot in a store!

"At least it does at my house. But I don't work on Wall Street, so maybe things are different there."

Monday, July 11, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

I made my contribution to Amy Chua's piano lesson fund and purchased the infamous but very entertaining Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Chua's account of her somewhat successful battle to raise her Chinese/Jewish daughters Chinese-style. This is two books, the first being Chua's fiercely satirical treatment of herself and lax Western-style parenting, the second being a sentimental mother-daughter story, ready to be shot as a Shirley Maclaine vehicle. The two tones don't really mix very well, but I'm glad the book exists. I don't want to rip off all of Chua's best lines, but here are some quotes and notes:
  • How do Asian families turn out all of those prodigies? To quote Jessep from A Few Good Men, "You can't handle the truth." Chua gives a tour of the sausage factory to squeamish American parents who would rather not know where the sausage comes from.
  • "If the next time's not PERFECT, I'm going to TAKE ALL YOUR STUFFED ANIMALS AND BURN THEM."
  • " Chinese kid would ever say to their mother, "I got a part in the school play! I'm Villager Number Six. I'll have to stay after school for rehearsal every day from 3:00 to 7:00, and I'll also need a ride on weekends."
  • "Unlike my Western friends, I can never say, "As much as it kills me, I just have to let my kids make their choices and follow their hearts. It's the hardest thing in the world, but I'm doing my best to hold back." Then they get to have a glass of wine and go to a yoga class, whereas I have to stay home and scream and have my kids hate me."
  • "All these Western parents with the same party line about what's good for children and what's not--I'm not sure they're making choices at all. They just do what everyone else does. They're not questioning anything either, which is what Westerners are supposed to be so good at doing. They just keep repeating things like, 'You have to give your children the freedom to pursue their passion' when it's obvious that the 'passion' is just going to turn out to be Facebook for ten hours which is a total waste of time and eating all that disgusting junk food--I'm telling you this country is going to go straight downhill!"
Chua's parental peer group is Yale academics. I wonder exactly how laid back as parents Yale academics are. I suspect, not very. It may be that Chua's colleagues are hypocritically sneaking around, academically speaking. Somebody's buying all those hundreds of Kumon workbooks that I see at our local Barnes & Noble and it's not just me.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Tow truck

Here's some of what's happening:
  • On Friday, we took the kids to Chik-fil-a for a special deal. If you showed up dressed as a cow that day, you got free food. D wore his hat from Aunt K. I believe that it was supposed to be a monster hat (purple with green spots and horns), but the spots being Holstein-shaped, we repurposed it as a cow costume. C balked at the dress-up idea, but eventually put on black pants and a white blouse and cut out black spots to be taped to her blouse. Between the kids' costumes and the free ice cream coupon we got through the library reading program, we did very well. The Chik-fil-a we went to was mobbed with whole families in costume: moms, dads, kids. There was an employee at the door taking photographs and at least one employee wearing a cowbell. For future reference, it turns out that you can produce a very creditable cow tail with black felt, cut a few times at the end. I also saw some cow ears stuck to hats, which worked well.
  • The kids have successfully finished their first week of Red Cross swim lessons. D is swimming and C has had some diving practice.
  • On Saturday, the kids built tow trucks at Lowes. The next project is a pair of small binoculars.
  • One of the geckos that visits our kitchen window screen in the evening is missing a tail (they let their tail break off when frightened). My husband says that the tail is slowly growing back.
  • My current new dish count is that I have 18 (!) 10" plates, 8 8" lunch/salad/dessert plates, and 6 rice bowls. That's enough for now.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Spode Traditions

I got my last installment of Spode plates today, six plates from Spode's Traditions set. As always, you have to see the plates in person to judge them fairly.
  • I like the Lucano (1819) plate. It's got an arched bridge, a tower, and a lighter hillside. The border is grape vines, wheat and what I believe is supposed to be olive branches. Very pretty!
  • Milkmaid (1814) has a pretty floral border and the use of shading is nice, but (as is not unusual), the animal and human figures are a bit primitive.
  • Caramanian (1809) looks better on the internet, or from a distance. Up close, the sarcophagi and sepulchres are a bit too crude and flat. On the other hand, the border (with elephants, rhinoceroses, cattle, and horses) is probably destined to be a favorite at our house.
  • I like Castle (1806). It's really soft and romantic, with lots of curvy arches and lush vegetation, as well as a wild oriental border.
  • Aesop's Fables (1831) is so so. The floral border is wild and exuberant, but the lion and fox in the middle are tame.
  • Greek (1806) is for me the most striking of the set. The border is a Greek key pattern, there's a large and striking central image of a god with thunderbolts riding a chariot, and then there are smaller images with figures between the center and the border. I am not a neoclassical gal, but this plate makes me sit up and pay attention. The figures and horses are very well drawn for Spode and the use of color is very dramatic (white, light blue, and a dramatic dark blue). I particularly like the white horses and charioteer on a dark blue background.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Miller's Collecting Blue & White Pottery

I've just finished reading my copy of Miller's Collecting Blue & White Pottery by Gillian Neale. I spaced a bit during some technical portions of this book, but I've learned a lot from it, and I'm going to keep it. For one thing, the photography is superb, especially when one is used to squinting at internet images and trying to make out what the pictures represent. Here are some notes.
  • "The heyday for the manufacture of blue printed pottery was the early part of the nineteenth century, with the great Staffordshire potters producing it in vast quantities..."
  • There's been an interesting cycle. Initially, handpainted blue and white china came from China as ballast on tea ships. Then English-made transferware that imitated the Chinese designs became a low-cost everyday alternative for the middle class. Fast forward to the present day and a lot of china is once again being made in...China.
  • Neale says that Spode quality is consistently very good (yay!), but that in general, modern reproductions have less of a 3-dimensional quality than early blue and white china. For one thing, the copper plates used to print images are worn down and no longer have their original sharpness.
  • Neale blames the creation of British copyright law for ending a golden age of blue and white transferware. In the good old days, potters would swipe pictures and engravings (not to mention other potters' prize patterns) and turn out blue and white ceramics with those images. However, as copyright law came into force, the potters turned to using less detailed, less interesting images.
  • Spode's Indian Sporting series sounds interesting. How could I resist a prim blue and white china set with names like "Shooting a Leopard in a Tree"? Unfortunately, aside from a mug, it doesn't look like Spode manufactures the series anymore. There's another series (made by an unknown potter around 1835) called "Arctic Scenery": it's got polar bears, igloos, Eskimos, etc. There aren't any photos in the book, but how could they go wrong with polar bears on blue and white china? The Arctic series was most likely intended for export to Canada.
  • For some reason, the American market demanded very dark blue plates. There's much less white in pottery intended for the American export market. Neale thinks that English potters (who produced many patriotic items for export featuring American history and architecture) tended to fudge the national origin of their wares.
  • The Staffordshire potters made everything imaginable in blue and white, from foot baths for gout sufferers to candle snuffers, from soup tureens to cheese cradles, from sink basins to toilets.
  • Neale gives a nod to transferware in other colors: green, pink, puce, mauve, brown, black and orange.
  • Here's Neale showing the stiff upper lip. "A professional restorer, and some dealers, can remove staining using a peroxide solution that draws the stains out. This should never be tried at home, and is better left to the experts. Peroxide is highly inflammable and can cause burning to the skin. I was cleaning a platter once when it ignited: luckily the platter was not damaged."

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Here's some of what's been happening:
  • I got a new backpack from my parents. The old one was starting (no, continuing) to give out.
  • The kids have done two days of Red Cross swim lessons so far. C is working on the third level and D has been floating and learning the breast stroke.
  • C has been making balloon animals and a balloon flower (with a big green stem and white petals).
  • My husband and D are plugging away at the public library's summer reading program. Among other things, they've read about Celts, Egyptians and frogs.
  • C has finished her Kumon Grade 4 Geometry & Measurement workbook. This is really the big time as far as geometry goes, and yet the computation is really not that hard. There's a lot of work with a compass and a protractor. I've gotten her the Grade 5 book already, and that has even more geometry. C says she likes geometry, which is nice, because she had been making "I hate math" noises recently.
  • C has been reading the Father Brown mysteries.
  • My copy of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother arrived today.

Monday, July 4, 2011

July 4th

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • C has started her flower-watering gig.
  • C was picking out Ode to Joy on a baby piano (I mean, the kind with four keys for babies).
  • We have plans to all go see fireworks, but we may be derailed if one of the kids falls asleep--the show is at 10 PM. With the drought we've been having, we're lucky to have any fireworks show at all. There is a total ban on personal fireworks.
  • We had one huge coup this afternoon. My husband and I managed to catch up the kids scrapbooks (no fancy shmancy stuff, just getting the stuff organized and into the scrapbooks). We did C's 2nd and 3rd grade year and D's pre-kindergarten and kindergarten year. I did mostly editorial work and my husband did the actual paper-cutting and rubber-cementing. That still leaves some family and friends photo work and years and years and years of video editing to catch up on, but with the kids' scrapbooks caught up, we've cleared out an entire drawer.
  • C's birthday party theme is "pink poodle in Paris." She has been practicing making balloon poodles, in the hope of presenting her guests with pink poodles.
  • I was showing C Spode's four plate (???) American horse series. She was entranced. I personally really like the paint horse plate, which shows the horse in a Southwestern setting.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Fourth of July weekend

Here's some of what's happening:
  • D recently did an entire hallway's worth of train track.
  • The geckos are out in force. C went out with a flashlight last night and saw two on the window screen and a third hanging on the wall.
  • The squirrels continue to hug our shaded cement porch for coolness during the heat of the day. We saw one today or yesterday that had its tail pressed against a brick wall. Two more months, guys.
  • C has been learning to use a protractor to measure angles for her Kumon Geometry & Measurement workbook.
  • Yesterday, my husband took the kids swimming and I did 4 miles on the treadmill at the gym. My calendar informs me that I haven't been there since late January. In my defense, the weather has been very nice and I've been walking.
  • Starbucks on campus is closed for the weekend, and I have been dragging myself around.
  • The cafeteria is open!
  • The college gym (and its pool and indoor track and climbing wall) are closed today and the the 4th.
  • What with the four day weekend and the campus closures, I am discombobulated.
  • C is going to have a week-long flower-watering gig for a vacationing neighbor, starting tomorrow. Translation: I am going to walk her two doors down and wait while she waters for the next week and she is going to make $10.
  • From my birthday money from my grandparents, I ordered a set of six Spode plates ("Traditions") and two books, one on blue-and-white pottery, one on Depression glass. There will hopefully be a glowing review of the blue-and-white book soon. I enjoyed paging through Mauzy's Depression Glass 6th edition (and it really is a worthwhile book if that's your thing), but it's not my thing. I mean, I can imagine picking up a few decorative blue glass pieces (in fact, I plan to), but I don't think I could deal with the pressure of handling glass day in, day out. Having broken more than my share of glass tumblers, I don't even really like the idea of drinking from glasses. On the other hand, glass candle sticks or a blue glass lamp would be fine. As long as it didn't require regular washing or contact with knife and fork, I can deal with glass. Mauzy's Depression Glass is lovely and full of interesting facts about Depression glass. Depression glass was often given away free as a promotion (for instance, a free pepper shaker with the purchase of pepper) and is surprisingly beautiful for being a budget item. I also didn't realize that the glass factories offered a lot of scope for creativity for glass workers. With just a pinch here or a crimp there, you could create a totally different product. Workers would not infrequently create one-of-a-kind pieces and carry them home.
  • I just had to unwind an unauthorized trade that involved D losing all of his treasured temporary tattoos to C. Negotiating with C is a lot like negotiating with the Teamsters, which is one of the reasons why family rules state that the kids aren't allowed to do unmediated transactions.
  • Rumor has it that the owners of the house I want near campus are going to sell it. The suspense is killing me. 1) I wonder if I'm going to like the renovations that they have been pouring money into. 2) Dozens of other people are going to want this house. 3) I'm afraid we're going to get outbid. 4) When are they going to put it on the market? So, lots of room for handwringing. There are at least two things we have going for us. 1) The owners have the house pretty much free and clear, so they have a lot of latitude on price. 2) The bigger house in the neighborhood that went up for sale at $285k this spring never sold (I suspect the market price one was probably more like $260k or $270k). So, it's not true that people will pay any price to live in that neighborhood.