Sunday, August 28, 2011


It's the beginning of the year and it's time to sign the kids up for stuff. I was perusing one of the lists of names from an activity and discovered that one of the kids is named "Nacho Garcia."
Well, I'm back from having a look at the internet, and now I know that 1) Nacho is short for the Spanish name Ignacio and 2) the US is full of people named Nacho Garcia.

I am chastened by my discoveries, but I still find that the name "Nacho Garcia" makes me hungry.

D on measurement

D (climbing down from the doorframe): There are infinite units of measurement. We can always make more.

D on time

Me: Thanksgiving is approaching!

D: No, we are approaching Thanksgiving. It's not like the months are moving in time. We are!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Kings of Pastry

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • Hunting for micrometeorites, my husband collected some stuff from under a downspout and then used a magnet to pull out the metallic dust. He then put the metallic dust under a microscope and was able to locate some micrometeorites. Because of their hot journey through our atmosphere, they are very round.
  • D has been playing with Stretchy the purple rubber dragon. "Stretchy even has an RV," D told me, having put the deck of a Playmobil Noah's Ark on a Little People pink van and then loading the deck up with various animals and their fodder. Stretchy has a lot of pets.
  • We've all enjoyed watching Kings of Pastry, a documentary about French pastry chefs trying to qualify as a Meilleur Ouvrier de France (best craftsman of France) at a 3-day exam in Lyon, some for the second or even fourth time. It was riveting and the kids lunch wound up being at nearly 3 today because we couldn't stop. (A quick warning for parents--there is an occasional 2nd tier bad word used.) This is the pastry equivalent of the Tour de France, but way more interesting to watch.

For Wendy

I saw this over at a NYC blogger's site. He's talking about hurricane preparations.

Our daughter in Florida is yelling at us that we are not taking this phony hurricane seriously. She wants us to put all of our gardne furniture against the side of the house. And the grill of course. Somehow I don't think the wind is going to pick up the grill and throw it through a couple of yards. Or if it does maybe a better one will land in my yard.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Math contests

Here's some of what's happening:
  • C has (I think) seven separate teachers (home room, Latin, math, science, PE, art and music), although she doesn't see every teacher every day. The home room teacher covers the core subjects like history, Bible, spelling, etc. I suspect C doesn't know all of her teachers' names.
  • Yesterday the kids thought it was donut day at school (it wasn't) and they dressed at high speed. Today, they also ate breakfast and dressed speedily. D has been so sleepy in the morning for the past week that we've been pushing his bedtime back to make sure that I can get him up. Last night he went to bed at 7:30 PM and this morning he walked right into the kitchen without needing to be woken up. The kids even had time for LEGO this morning.
  • My husband ordered a book of sample math contest problems for 4th, 5th and 6th graders (something like this, but not the same year). C has done a couple of the 4th grade contests and one 5th grade contest. Each contest has 30 problems and you get 30 minutes and there are cute little illustrations.

Monday, August 22, 2011

4th grade

C is starting her second week of school. As she got in the car at pick-up, she was starting to wail about her huge homework. "Does this call for Starbucks?" I asked. Some time and $10 later, after a banana chocolate pastry and a few sips of my iced mocha, the three of us were home and C was hard at work. She knocked out her Latin (Latin-to-English vocabulary translation) and went on to her two pages of math and then her cursive spelling words without a pause. That, my friends, is the power of carbohydrates. That's pretty much it, except that she probably needs to do some reading, too. Being a 1st grader, D has much less homework. His usual homework (aside from annoying "hands-on" math assignments) is to read or be read to for 15 minutes. I can joyously announce that C has gone to read to him, thereby knocking out both her reading homework and D's.

C's teacher sent out a typical weekly schedule for reference:
  • MWF PE Clothes
  • Tuesday Chapel dress
  • Wednesday Latin quiz
  • Thursday Spelling practice quiz
  • Friday School spirit t-shirt and jeans; spelling quiz; Bible quiz
I haven't quite figured out C's extracurriculars. At the moment, it's probably going to look like this:
  • 30 minutes of Spanish after school MTWThF (!)
  • CCD (religious education) one night a week
  • mandatory team sports (either basketball or volleyball--practice is during school hours but evening games may interfere with CCD--C is also talking about cheerleading!!!???)
  • Saturday AM horse therapy for C
That seems like a lot (in fact way too much), and yet individually there's nothing crazy there--the team sport and the CCD is obligatory, the Spanish is what I've been asking the administration about for years, and C loves her riding therapy. We'll try the Spanish, but if it's too much, we may need to bail. I had thought of ballet or flute for C, but neither of those two is going to be happening this fall, and I think I should probably shelve ballet (but maybe as a summer activity?). Maybe we could start flute in the summer, too, if the spring doesn't work out? I think C also needs to drop out of her social skills group, at least for now. In general, the summers are so empty and the school year is so busy that my tendency is to shift things from the fall and spring to the summer.

One last note about cheerleading. Apparently, one of the teachers or coaches was pitching cheerleading to the kids. C likes the idea, although I pointed out to her that cheerleaders have to keep their hair brushed. C was also reflecting on the fact that for doing a pyramid, she doesn't have the balance for the top tier or the strength for the bottom tier. What about the middle, I asked. C explained that in the middle of the pyramid, you need both strength and balance. They were doing some volleyball work in PE today, and C's results were unsatisfactory enough that C felt that cheerleading would be a better fit. I wonder how she'll do when they try basketball.
As you can see, now that C is in 4th grade, we've really hit the big time.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday wrap-up

Here's some of what's happening:
  • The kids successfully got through their first week of school. D went Wednesday, Thursday and Friday but C was sick for Wednesday and didn't go.
  • C is starting to learn Latin in 4th grade. So far, I haven't seen any Latin homework, but she has come home singing an English-Latin song based on the first verses of John, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." C was pronouncing the word "regina" for us, with a rolled r and a soft g. She was also singing the conjugation of "to love." I am gratified to see that elementary Latin pedagogy is so well worked out.
  • Yesterday was a big Walmart day for the whole family. I try to stay away from there because it's such a time suck just walking through it, but my husband needed a haircut and I needed new glasses, so it was natural to buy groceries there, too.
  • Tonight, I am happy to report, the goldfishes' family is back from vacation and is coming to get them. C has been very responsible about feeding them, but for me it's always been a bit suspenseful. I'm very excited to get them back home while they're both alive and well. C is going to get a very well-earned $5. This is her second outside paying gig, the first being the flower-watering she did a month or so ago.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Geometry and Measurement

Here's some of what's going on:
  • The kids and I went to a meet-the-teacher night and met their teachers. C's new 4th grade teacher, I note, is great with child. D's class will be sharing a chinchilla with another 1st grade class. I have so much school paperwork.
  • The cafeterias are shut down and I think Starbucks is too.
  • The school is starting some sort of indoor exercise program to increase alertness.
  • We've had some thunderstorms and a little rain in patches, but not the sort of torrential rains that usually come with our thunderstorms.
  • I was supposed to work with my Russian tutor today, but being low on steam and hearing a lot of I'm bored, I don't know what to do, I did a last-minute substitution and asked my tutor to babysit the kids while I went for a walk (at her tutoring rate, of course). The kids were fine for the rest of the day. C later did a bit of needlepoint.
  • We have a playdate tomorrow.
  • C set her heart on a stable-and-pony set where the stable is a carrying case for the pony. The pony is not super well-made, but the stable is tolerable. I showed C a bunch of similar options, but this is exactly the one she wants. Thereupon C did 56 pages of Kumon's Grade 5 Geometry & Measurement workbook, which was quite enough for the stable-and-pony set. My husband did most of the correction, with some help from me. We have reached the point where I'm faking my way through the math a bit, although I could actually learn it again, I think. It's just that with 56 pages to correct, one needs to cut some corners.
  • Here's what C has done so far in her Geometry & Measurement book: a review of previous material, decimals, decimals and metric, decimals and fractions, perpendicular and parallel lines, quadrilaterals, angles, polygons, congruent figures, axial symmetry, rotational symmetry, coordinate geometry, area and volume. It's a pretty stiff climb. And just think--there's a Grade 6 workbook, too!
  • In the coordinate geometry section, my husband gave C some negative coordinates and asked her where the point would be located. She found it!
  • The book didn't explain why the area of a parallelogram is base times height, but C was able to figure it out herself and explain it to her dad. C pointed out that if you lopped off the protruding corner of the parallelogram and stuck it on the other side, you'd have a rectangle, so that's why the formula for area is the same for rectangles and parallelograms.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Texas Ranger

A cousin is graduating and we have some relatives in town (my great-aunt, great-uncle, my first cousin once removed and my second cousin). The kids and I met them this morning and went to a museum featuring the history of Texas law-enforcement, followed by lunch at IHOP. The giftshop was naturally on our itinerary. D bought a Texas Ranger star badge and this evening he has been riding a stick horse, wearing his new badge and a cowboy hat. We learned quite a lot about Bonnie and Clyde, their demise being a cherished accomplishment of the Texas Rangers.
In other Texas news, I'm having trouble keeping up with all of the new Blue Bell ice cream flavors. My latest purchase is something called "Mexican Praline."

The kids go back to school Wednesday. They're doing pretty well at home. I am terribly behind on my clerical work, but hope I can catch up next week.

The temperature is moderating. It was around 104 today and is trending down. The worst thing I have to complain of is that our tap water suddenly tastes and smells moldy.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Foreclosure news

As readers may recall, there's a foreclosure in the early 20th century neighborhood I watch that has been depressing prices considerably. The 2700 sq. ft. house was initially $272k, had some small price cuts, eventually went into foreclosure and was priced at around $200k. There have been a series of price cuts, down to $165k, with other nearby houses cutting and cutting to keep up. Well, as of today, the foreclosure is now listed at $150k.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

More turf

Here's some of what's happening:
  • D is waiting impatiently to hang up clothes with me.
  • C is studying a Halloween costume catalog.
  • More turf is being planted across the street.
  • The pop-up camo play tent from BabyGAP that I got when C was 2 or 3 has finally reached the end of its natural life. Farewell, faithful play tent! C will have a bit more floor space in her bedroom now, but some dragons are now homeless.
  • I got a phone call yesterday from a neighbor and C has a goldfish-sitting gig for about 10 days. For $5 total, she needs to feed the fish twice a day. C is not enthusiastic about the job itself, but she also doesn't want to give up the $5. I think it will be nice to have temporary pets and I hope they will survive our care.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Gator wrestling

C was surprisingly interested in hanging up her clothes in her closet, particularly when I talked about the gator clips on the hangers. Pretty soon, she had D in her room learning all she knows about hanging clothes, and the two of them were industriously hanging up her pajamas.

C has also been an excellent reading tutor to D the past couple of days.

In other news, I got a couple phone calls from my old housecleaner, the one who mysteriously disappeared several months ago. Well, you'll never guess where she was--jail! Talk about awkward. I didn't ask what she was in for (hopefully something traffic-oriented), but I told her truthfully we have a different company working for us now.

D's insight

D says (to me): It would be a bad dream for you if every room in the house was messy.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Cool Cats

D and his dad have been doing a reading marathon today and have been steadily filling up D's school summer reading bingo chart. They've mainly been doing read-aloud, but D has just finished reading the last book in the Cool Cats phonics set (one of my favorites--careful phonics, cute illustrations, and strong stories). They're now working on the last Bob books phonics set. We have a total of three phonics boxed sets left for D to read (we also own a bunch of Dora phonics, but D thinks Dora too girly): the Bob set, a Backyardigans set (strong story interest, occasional phonics lapses) and a Clifford set (ditto). At least when I was originally collecting these boxed phonics sets for C 5 years ago, it was very difficult to get both story interest and careful phonics. It's all too easy to pat yourself on the back for creating a text with a lot of uses of a letter, without noticing that the letter is producing totally different sounds (for instance, the u in "cut" versus the u in "university" or the u in "quit".

D has 11, 10, no 9! spaces on his reading bingo chart to fill in and 10 more days to go until school starts, which is more than enough, given how small books are for kids his age. C has been selecting some of her favorites for D to listen to. The last book I recorded on the bingo chart was that classic Purple Hair? I Don't Care!

Dining room

Yesterday was a very happy day. I vacuumed the dining room and my husband shampooed the carpet with his homemade detergent solution. There are still some dark shadows (those never come out), but the spots and stains are all gone (thanks to pre-treating with Resolve). It looks and feels fantastic.

As I always say, our next dining room will not be carpeted!

In other news, the turf is only about 2/3 or 3/4 done across the street and C got her long-awaited LEGO semi with two cars. So far, she has assembled one red LEGO car.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


As of yesterday, work recommenced in earnest on the central island in our neighborhood. Sprinklers and streetlights were installed and squares of turf were pieced together. This is the second day, and they're almost done with the turf. Hopefully, by the time school starts, the neighborhood kids will be able to go and play there. The larger trees from the old neighborhood have been preserved, so the effect is going to be very elegant and park-like. With the houses from the island gone, it's now possible to see the entire neighborhood from our front lawns. We're also getting a steady flow of new neighbors, so in September, I should try to do a fresh neighborhood directory.

Elsewhere on campus, the main library is being freshened up. My first clue was when I noticed that the windows of the main reading room were blocked by large, enticing boxes from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams (I own their book Let's Get Comfortable). I mentioned this to my husband, and he tells me that the plan is for much of the library's first floor to become one enormous Starbucks.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Voyage of the Dawn Treader

We finished up watching Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I felt like the filmmakers did a good job on the main characters and worked out Eustace's development and relationship with Reepicheep pretty well. The final scenes (leaving Narnia and returning to England) were effective. I also liked Tavros the talking bull. However, the episodes of derring-do were often disappointing or over-CGIed. The tone seemed too dark--like a sort of LOTR Jr. or Harry Potter lite. The Narnia books are much brighter in tone than LOTR, and Voyage of the Dawn Treader in particular should be mostly very pretty and fun, with only intermittent peril. The natural drive to unify the material (which could easily fall apart into disconnected episode) probably led the filmmakers to take too heavy a hand to the book. I didn't really mind the seven swords, but I object strenuously to the evil green mist, as well as to the cute little girl stowaway. (I'm OK with the green mist on the dark island where dreams come true, but it shouldn't be wafting all over the place.) The movie was effective enough, though, that I hope they will have a go at The Silver Chair, which will be much easier to work with. Just stick to the book, people.


I recently discovered that our neighborhood grocery store does not stock actual maple syrup (there are dozens of different kinds of syrup, but no maple). However, in the frozen food section, they stock deep fried breaded jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese.


Here's some of what's been happening:
  • The kids and I have been coping with the heat wave (up to 110 degrees) with an LOTR (extended-version!) marathon.
  • Yesterday, we had a playdate with a family of younger neighbor children. The oldest daughter (6 years old) had commemorated the deceased family hamster by constructing a cardboard box hamster cage with a hamster paper cutout, shredded paper in the bottom and a 3D water dispenser. My two kids and the older two host kids worked on a large Melissa & Doug human body puzzle, hampered by an 18-month-old baby sister. D liked their jack-in-the-box. I evangelized the mom on the subject of Kumon's Geometry & Measurement series. (The family homeschools.)
  • As a family, we're now watching Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I knew there were going to be a lot of necessary changes from the book (which is very episodic), but I've been more and more annoyed. The opening scenes in England are fine (although the Scrubbs should have a more modern, hygienic, uncomfortable home) and I like Eustace and Reepicheep and I love the Dawn Treader itself, but there's a lot of unnecessary stuff. Green mist? Seven swords? Why? They actually cut out a lot of dramatic material from the Lone Islands episode (the overthrow of the governor) and substitute their own stuff, which is weak. I'm still looking forward to Eustace's experiences as a dragon, although I shouldn't get my hopes up to high. (My kids brought dragons to watch the movie with.) It would be too bad if this installment killed the chance of further movies, because the next three in the series are much more straightforward from the point of view of movie-making. (I thought the Prince Caspian movie was actually much better than the book, as a piece of work.)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Geometry and Measurement

This morning D finished his Kumon Grade 1 Geometry & Measurement workbook. As I've said before, I am a very big fan of the Geometry & Measurement series, because it gives lots of varied and interesting problems without belaboring the arithmetic facts. There is a time and place for belaboring, of course, but it's nice to have access to this sort of challenging and varied workbook series. At the 1st grade level, the workbook has very little geometry (there's a lot more measurement), but the geometry exercises are exactly right for D. They show you a 3D shape (for instance a cylinder) and they ask you to figure out what the top and sides look like.

In related news, C has been selling off piles of unwanted toys (a pair of binoculars, various cars and planes and rockets) to D. The prices are usually substantially higher than garage sale rates, but far less expensive than if D were to buy the stuff new (also, I like the idea of recirculating toys, rather than each child getting a new set). I also usually suggest that D offer somewhat less than asking price.

Real estate report

There have been two more price drops in the early 20th century neighborhood near downtown that I watch. A house (very cute 1920s portion with clunky later additions) originally listed at around $240k and has been riding the market down. It is now listed at $170k. On the main drag, another house (in dire need of paint and carpet) listed originally at $180k (?) and has now been cut down to $160k. If I were less fussy about location (it's too busy), that would be very interesting. I think this is all being driven by a 2700 sq. ft. foreclosure (also on the main drag) that originally appeared on the market at $272k, but is now listed at $165k. The prices are phenomenal, but either I don't like the house or the location is too busy or both. The houses where I actually like both the house and the location are not screaming deals, but who knows what the fall and spring will bring. Meanwhile, some of my neighbors are musing about buying a big old house that comes with a warren of small rentals--not my cup of tea, but they may like it.

Meanwhile, I'm waiting to hear when the renovators near campus put their house on the market. With the temperatures so high (highs over 100 for a long time), I've been curtailing my usual walks and haven't made it over there. That house would be my favorite option right now, but I don't know what they're going to be asking for it. The suspense is killing me.