Monday, October 31, 2011


I have two houses I'm interested in, both at $220k, on the same street in that older neighborhood near downtown and four blocks apart. It's one of the most famous and well-loved residential streets in our city, but I prefer streets that are less inviting for cross-town travelers. The city fathers have put in a couple of traffic-slowing roundabouts, which is nice. Here's a comparison:
  • House A is brick, nearly 2900 square feet and built in the late 1940s (but has more of an early 1950s traditionalish ranch personality). The facade is OK. It's a FSBO now, after a long stretch on the market with a realtor and many, many price cuts. According to the online photos, the kitchen is quite nice without being super trendy and it looks reasonably well-maintained. I have an appointment to see the house in the next couple of weeks.
  • House B is new on the market, so new that there aren't any online photos yet (why, oh why do realtors do that?). It's a 3BR/2BA early 1930s brick cottage (I think, based on Zillow) and the facade is absolutely adorable. The square footage is around 1900, which makes the asking price an exercise in optimism. I've sent a query to the realtor.
It's too early for us to buy in this older neighborhood, which is our fallback option, but there's currently nothing for sale near campus. We'll probably give it until about February or March and then panic. Good thing we're not selling a house.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


D has produced the following set of "rools" for his room:

No bracing any ting! Do Not come in whith owt my permission! No jumping on my bed!

D asked my help with spelling "permission." He is currently revising the text for spelling.


C has a calligraphy kit (with a book of sample scripts and some pens) and she and D made welcome home cards for their dad. C also made D a coat of arms (not sure if that's the correct term) with a shield with a unicorn rampant on either side, a dragon over the shield and D's name in Gothic (?) script. It's made up as a scroll that is rolled up on either side, but open to the coat of arms.

C's current projects are weaving, embroidery and calligraphy. I think she would also be making balloon animals, too, but she's out of balloons. A major priority for C's next room will be figuring out a suitable way to store all her craft materials.

Halloween decorations

Here's some of what's happening:
  • My husband will be returning very soon from a trip to the American Catholic Philosophical Association meeting in St. Louis.
  • It really is fall now. We've had a couple of mornings in the 40s and today's high will be lowish/middlish 70s. It's fantastic weather for playing outside, scootering and running. The kids are having a good time.
  • My driving has improved, I think, or at least it's gotten more flexible and varied. After over 3 years of having a license, rather than having to memorize routes precisely and practice them a couple of times, I'm now able to improvise a bit and drive places I've never been before (thank you, Mr. GPS). I think I could probably drive almost anywhere in the city and one of our main suburbs. I've had to do a lot of driving to new places to get C to her volleyball games as well as doctors' appointments and Goodwill and we've figured out some longer, non-interstate routes for me. My main limitation now is that I don't drive the interstate (which is home to hundreds of semi trucks hauling stuff all over North America). Not driving the interstate doesn't interfere greatly with my quality of life, but I would dearly enjoy going by myself to IKEA (say, during the school day) so that I can take my time and not rush through before the kids finish up their hour at Smalland. Once I'm comfortable getting on and off the interstate, that's one of the first things I'll do.
  • The kids have been making a lot of Halloween-themed crafts. They made 2D pumpkin faces to hang on doorknobs and a 3D pumpkin and a jack o'lantern made from strips of orange paper. I claimed the 3D pumpkins for my display shelves in the dining room.
  • D's reading is coming along. He read 2 pages of The Phantom Tollbooth yesterday, under C's supervision.
  • C continues to work on her embroidery.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

C's room

Having finished D's room, I continued sifting C's room today. I've left the toughest areas for last, but we may be halfway through the work on her room. Today I went through some small boxes, a big bin of stuffed animals and craft projects and I went through her CDs with her and brokered the sale of some CDs to D. D went for several freebie chant CDs and a Baby Bach CD, as well as one more item I can't remember. What's left for us to work on is a medium bookcase (mainly books), a tall bookcase (toys and crafts), some medium boxes full of stuff, one drawerful of toys and an overcrowded dresser top.

I'm starting to think that I'd really like a lot of closed storage for C's stuff in her next room and just a few open shelves. A shelf or two would go a long way.

This was a big embroidery/sewing day for both kids, but C did an excellent job of picking up her stuff.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Brag note

D sometimes files his school papers so quickly that I don't have a chance to see them. So today was the first time I laid eyes on the following "Brag Note!" from D's teacher. "D is great at math and very engaged in learning. He always includes and lifts up others!" Awww. I collected the brag note for D's scrapbook. D wanted to ensure that the note wouldn't be displayed so that anybody could see the note because he doesn't want to brag.

Home game

Here's some of what's happening:
  • C's 4th grade volleyball team had their last game at home yesterday. They won! It was the first time this season. After the game, there was a celebratory award dinner at Pizza Hut. C is pizzaphobic, so there was a lot of back and forth as we decided whether or not to go. Finally, we decided to go. C had some sort of boneless (!) chicken wing thing and received an award for good sportsmanship.
  • This morning was parent-teacher conferences. I got a sitter and went forth, making good enough time that I was able to attend two conferences and visit Starbucks. The sitter brought her 11-month-old baby and the sitter and I are negotiating a swap so that she can finish a work project.
  • We took advantage of a free kids' meal deal at IHOP today.
  • C finished her raccoon American Girl sewing project. She embroidered an orange pumpkin onto a t-shirt of D's (with my authorization) and also started improving a couple of her tops without checking in with me (the pumpkin she was sewing wound up on the back of the shirt). I spent a huge amount of time this evening cleaning up the mayhem resulting from the embroidery stuff being emptied onto C's bedroom floor. I've since put nearly each color of floss into its own tiny ziploc, as well as bagging up the tiny sequins, bits of ribbon and felt letters that came with the kit. I am hoping that they will stay that way and I have no intention of picking it up again. We also sorted through C's drawer where she keeps her important papers. I had C take a number of her stained glass coloring pages and tape them up on our French doors in the living room, which is where we usually display that sort of thing.
  • C hung up a papercraft UFO of D's. It looks great.
  • I finished sifting and repacking the last of three boxes of my old letters today. This last box was mainly from the second half of the 00s, at which point the art of snail mail letter writing was clearly in severe decline. It's nearly all thank you notes and greeting cards, which was not the case 10 years earlier.
  • Lastly, D and I finished up our biannual turn-out of his room. We do it one shelf and drawer at a time, so it's a very slow, involved process. He was very good about letting go of old papers. Now, to move on to doing the same with C's room (we've already done something like 1/4 or 1/5 of her room together). C has more ongoing craft projects, so it's more challenging to deal with her stuff, but I have a couple clear plastic shoeboxes standing by.

Make posters

In the car today, D was asking me what terrorists are. I explained to the kids that terrorists are people who use violence against innocent people to achieve political goals and to get a political message across. C asked, "Why don't they just make posters?"

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Improved zebra

This evening, C made striped paper wings for her Playmobil zebra.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Catch up

We had a phone and internet outage, so I'm rather behind on news. Here's some of what's been happening:
  • My husband and I are starting to dip into Netflix's collection of P.D. James stories. I'm wondering if Commander Dalgliesh would get on with Inspector Morse or Inspector Lewis.
  • On Friday night, we had the big school star night. It was a success--no small children got run over or lost in the dark. My husband took so many telescopes that C and I had to secure a ride there with friends. My husband gave a short talk on the life cycle of stars and then it was out to the telescopes to see what we could see. D manned his telescope and C managed to get Jupiter in view. My husband clocked three hours of volunteer time, a very valuable commodity now. Our kids were fitted up with little red LEDs on their beltloops, as usual. According to amateur astronomy etiquette, white light is a no-no. My husband has, in fact, gone so far as to replace the overhead lights in our car with red LEDs.
  • We were all under the weather this past weekend, particularly C and my husband. Both have been feverish and C skipped school today and will do so again tomorrow. I have a pack of make-up work for her to do, although I fear that there's probably some more Latin work that we haven't been given yet.
  • In real estate news, the grimy 2400 square foot estate sale house in the older neighborhood I watch has had its price cut from $135k to $124k. That is interesting, but I think we're not the right buyer.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Worst car loan ever

I was just listening to an episode of the Dave Ramsey show from a few days ago, and he's got a woman on who has a car loan with 24% interest. That is the worst car loan terms I have ever heard of. I have heard of 14% and 19% before, but this really takes the cake.

French Country Kitchens

I am not really a French decor person (the living rooms tend to look like they should be roped off, with "Don't Sit Here!" on the chairs), but I really like the book I just got, Linda Dannenberg's French Country Kitchens (2008). Just the dustcover (a kitchen with white walls, a shelf of teapots, blue-and-white tile backsplash over the stove and some stainless steel) was worth the price of the book. Now, I warn you that you will look at this book and wonder, how do they keep these patina-ed, rough, antique-filled rooms clean? And then, on second thought, you'll think, those crevices are full of 200-year-old grime. But hang in there and enjoy the pictures, because it's an amazing book, even though I personally (living in a climate where the insect life is varied and robust) would prefer a version that is smoother, tidier and more scrubbable (une cuisine americaine). But there's definitely a part of me that wants to recreate the dustcover kitchen.

Interestingly, the book admits that many of the owners of these amazing living-museum kitchens have a second kitchen called the arriere-cuisine or back kitchen, which is where most of the modern appliances and some storage are located. I've heard similar stories about Asian homes having two kitchens (a showy Western kitchen open to the public and a smaller workmanlike Asian kitchen where all the hot, messy work happens) and one story (I can't remember from where) about an Italian-American family where there was an upstairs show kitchen and a downstairs work kitchen for heavy-canning and sauce cooking. Even in American kitchens with our historic trend toward uniting the kitchen with other living areas, there is also a countervailing need to be able to shove the less attractive byproducts of the cooking and eating process out of sight.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I just got back from flyering the other (and what will soon be the only) faculty/staff neighborhood. I flyered 18 houses in that neighborhood with our "Are you thinking of selling your house?" flyer. There are probably about 10 other houses in the neighborhood, but I skipped the ones that are way too big, the owner is out of town for the year, the owner is terminally ill, or the house has just been built or moved in to over the past two years.

Past flyering attempts have gotten me on average one response each time, I believe. One was over $400k (way too much), one was very affordable ($145k) but just a little too small for us (and some friends bought it), one was $219k (too much for us at the time, but we'd probably pay it now) and one was $285k. And then there was the lot there that we thought about seriously, and then somebody else bought it (or bought the lease on it) and built a spectacular 2800 square foot home on. The $219k house is the one I most regret (I regret almost all of them a little bit), but a lovely family lives there now, and we really didn't have the money at the time.

All I need is one good one...But hopefully it's not the undiluted 1970s house or the 1500 square foot house that barely fits on the lot or the pseudo-French chateau with no private yard space.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Stock market

We got a statement from my husband's retirement account today. This was the first time that a market drop managed to swamp contributions. We and the college put in about $2k and market loss was $9k, for a net loss of $7k this reporting period. Waaah.

Black and white

I'd like to make a quick plug here for black or white laminate countertops. I've seen white laminate in a couple of older white kitchens and it looks pretty good. I've also recently seen black laminate countertops in a white kitchen in a magazine (House Beautiful?) and it looks fine.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Here's some of what's happening:
  • On Saturday, the kids and I visited the lovely 2900 sq. ft. 4BR/2.5BA two story brick house built in 1925 that I have been admiring on the web. It's in the older neighborhood that I watch. The downstairs is just as pretty as on the web. The dining room is big and somewhat open to the living room (I suspect the renovator's hand removed a wall), there's a sort of tacked on small sun room, the white kitchen (circa 1950 something?) is a bit less spiffy than in the online photo (old white laminate counter and vinyl floor) but it's not bad, there's a nice big pantry and a built-in china cabinet/desk area (I like that). Upstairs, the floorplan is a bit of a mess (although everything is in tolerable condition). There's a bedroom and a bath with their separate doors opening onto the hallway and then there's a confusingly interconnected mess of sitting room/jack-and-jill-bath, small office and MBR. Part of the issue, I believe, is that the office was tacked on as part of an addition, along with the sun room downstairs, which helped to jumble the traffic flow. I can see us in this house, it's just that a lot of much smaller homes would have a more rational bedroom/bath layout (i.e., in a house with 2.5 baths, I want one of our very own, not shared with a kid). The heating and cooling costs for a house this size and this vintage also give me qualms. There is a very nice deck off the dining room. This is the house that is several houses away from the corner of a major street with continual traffic, but of more immediate concern are the 2 or 3 loud dogs that live in the neighboring yard. It's not very tempting yet (they want $250k), but by the spring, if it gets to $220k or something like that, we may need to think about it.
  • Later on Saturday, C went to a school friend's birthday party. It was initially a girls' only event, with tea, pastries and then sewing (an American Girls sewing kit for making two adorable blue raccoons). Around dinner time, a larger party (including several younger brothers) gathered for pizza and cake. A good time was had by all. C has been working on her big raccoon ever since. I must report that two of my needle threaders have already perished in the process.
  • My husband took the kids to the pool this afternoon (it's across the street, but getting there is somehow always an ordeal) and I visited the gym treadmill for the first time in quite a few months. I did 40 minutes and two miles and I got very sweaty. I was listening to Fellowship of the Ring. LOTR is excellent for listening to while walking.
  • We went to Panera's for dinner tonight after the gym. I had some excellent eavesdropping while enjoying a chopped Thai salad. The lady at the neighboring table had pulled her child out of kindergarten after discovering that the teacher was spending 1/3 of her time keeping the child in order. That was very public-spirited of the mom. The mom was pretty ticked off, though, at the fact that the school had sent a note home at the end of the day on a Friday saying that the kindergarten (!!!) child would be spending all of Monday in in-school detention with the school secretary. That strikes me as being a bad move on many different levels. First of all, punishment is being inflicted on a 5 or 6-year-old on Monday for sins committed on Friday. He or she probably doesn't even remember what happened on Friday. Secondly, the length of punishment is very weird and developmentally inappropriate. I know that I personally can get very good mileage out of 10 or 30 second penalties. A 30 second penalty with a cookie right in front of the child that they can't eat now or a 5-minute penalty for recess can bring the most hardened sinner to repentance. What do they teach in principal school?

Friday, October 14, 2011

D's room

We have a day off school today and my husband was out of town (he's coming back unexpectedly early) and the kids and I have been at loose ends, particularly since my husband has the car. We went to IHOP for lunch and then didn't really know what to do with ourselves. D and I eventually started working on his room. We sifted about 1/4 of the room and we are within striking distance of finishing the whole room. I think there's one more long session left--two boxes of papers and his easel (the easel's storage is loaded down with art supplies, finished projects and all sorts of debris). And then it will be time to work on C's room again. The kids' rooms need a major overhaul about every six months, and this past six months has seen an explosion of creativity (i.e. stuff) in D's room. The kids are now watching.

In other, somewhat related news, I talked to my sister today and I have her blessing to claim the adorable blue-and-white china mouse in kimono that I brought her back from Russia in the late 1990s. It has been sitting in my mother's china cabinets for some years, and my mom suggested that my sister might not want it. I wanted to get confirmation on this before prematurely pouncing on the mouse, but I spoke to my sister and have permission! The mouse is really cute.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Silly Bandz

I haven't seen or heard C doing anything with Silly Bandz lately (although she has some tied to her backpack), but it is a big deal in D's 1st grade class. The kids trade them back and forth and gift them enthusiastically.

Last night, my husband took the kids to the rodeo at the county fair. There was a rodeo participant on the ground as they came in, but he got up and walked. There was some bronco busting, some roping and also some mutton busting.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hello Kitty

In a previous post, I encountered a large, surly female Starbucks worker wearing a BITCH wristband.

An update is in order. As of a week or two ago, she is now wearing a pink I LOVE HELLO KITTY wristband and smiling. She has been assimilated.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

County fair

We're just back from an afternoon at the county fair. We had to go because the kids had an award ceremony today, they have week-long passes to the fair, and my husband discovered an offer for unlimited rides from 12-6. I drove the kids (it's the first time I've ever driven there myself), had an unplanned extra circuit of the fairgrounds due to lane change issues, negotiated the complicated fair parking (the free parking I had originally planned to use had new, unfriendly signs talking about towing non-customers), got myself a ticket and then took the kids to the awards ceremony location. We wandered around the exhibition hall, waiting for the ceremony to start, admiring photographs, quilts, afghans, homemade clothing, jams, pickles, salsa and things made out of macaroni. The kids eventually went up for their medals and a group photo and I got certificates entitling C to a $100 savings bond and D to a $50 savings bond. We'll be able to claim the savings bonds when we give the fair people the kids' Social Security numbers. I'm not sure what to do with the savings bonds, but it was a gratifying offset to the day's fair expenses. We left before the oral spelling bee began (there was a larger written spelling bee a week ago to thin the herd).

After the ceremony, I got $15 unlimited ride wristbands for the kids (they paid out of their travel fund savings--I put away 20% of all their earnings for such occasions) and we all sat down to corndogs for lunch. The kids rode everything they wanted to/were eligible for (occasionally twice) and it was so early that there were practically no lines. More than once, the kids went directly from the ride exit to the entrance. It was fantastic, and since the per-ride price is about $3, the kids quickly recouped their wristband investment. We got sweets (shaved ice for the kids, sweet tea and big chocolate chip cookie for me) on our way out and drove home without misadventure. I'm getting more able to improvise when driving unfamiliar routes and I think that I can probably drive just about anywhere in the city proper and certain suburban routes with enough time and planning. I-35, though, is on a totally different level.

In other news, C got a long-awaited shipment of balloons just before we left for the fair grounds. She paid for the balloons herself and had been asking about them very frequently. She made a large flower and then a balloon parrot that she attached to her shoulder. Very cute! D also made an elaborate black and yellow piece that he describes as "abstract." I pointed out to him that from one angle, it looks like a man in a wheel chair.

We also worked on D's bedroom this morning before we left. D did a big purge of toddler and preschool toys half a year ago, but since then, his room has filled up with various projects, papers, cheap toys and hand-me-down items from C. This morning, we went through several bins of toys, two shelves of books and several shelves of display items. We also removed non-train items from a train box. That's something like 1/4 of his room done. The process is very slow. I pick up practically every item and ask D if he wants it and then act accordingly. I need to do this with both kids' rooms in preparation for our eventual move.

Recorder concert

Last night, around dinner time, a small handmade ticket appeared on the kitchen counter that read "recorder concert 6:00." After dinner, the kids set up chairs in the living room and D put up a ticket booth just outside. He took my ticket and punched it and let me in to the living room. Both kids had put on their finest attire and C played three songs, ending with Ode to Joy.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

More volleyball

Due to circumstances beyond our control, we've had a couple really late homework nights this week. C had a volleyball game after school and I got to see again how important serving is in 4th grade girls' volleyball. Indeed, serving is just about everything in 4th grade volleyball, because the ball is almost never returned. When it is, there is frenzied clapping. A couple of stars have emerged on C's team, mainly taller girls.

As the kids and I were getting into the car in the parking lot, C told me (completely out of the blue) that she had a book report due tomorrow (we had another book project due earlier this week and I thought we had more breathing room before the next one). Last year, those book reports were a multi-day ordeal, so I was mentally preparing myself for a marathon homework session. I am happy to report that things were very different than I expected. C sat down and quickly knocked out a very respectable report (it was a sheet with questions and blanks). I had her amplify a few answers, but she did really well.

Earlier, I had been urging C to choose her book with an eye to the book report questions. Last year, we had had some very unsatisfactory results with one of her books, due largely to the fact that it really wasn't a good book, the descriptions were bland and the characters were poorly defined. For today's report, however, C chose Charlotte's Web, and the report practically wrote itself. I was so relieved by how easily we got off tonight that I let the kids have a good, solid dose of TV before bed.

In related news, a mommy blogger has written her true confession of how she is the one doing her daughter's homework.

$40 per square foot

From looking at's numbers for foreclosures in the nicer zip code I follow, the current sales price for foreclosures there hovers around $40 per square foot. The sales price for that zip code is normally about $50 per square foot, although sellers often price much higher. At least based on Trulia's numbers, over a quarter of homes for sale in that zip code are foreclosures. $50 per square foot we can pay, but the trick is persuading the seller that they want to sell for that.

From looking at a major local realtor's website, I discovered that one of those big, gorgeous 4,000 square foot 1920s Spanish revival homes has sold. They had been asking $420k. It's interesting to see what's selling. A lot of lower-end homes ($135k-$180k) in the neighborhood are just sitting. Price-wise, the $135k house is interesting, but I'm figuring at least $40k in renovation costs, which leaves me thinking that I'd really rather buy somebody else's remodeled home for $175k.

I'm scheduled to see a rather handsome 2900 sq. ft. 1920s red brick house (not sure how to describe it stylistically) in about a week. It's currently priced at $250k. As far as I know from a walk-by and frequent perusals of the house photos, its only major negative is that somewhere in the neighborhood, there's a huge, loud dog. It's the fourth house or so from a major thoroughfare. That's not great, but not as bad as a big, loud dog. For kitchen afficiandos among my readership, I'll note that the kitchen seems to have a lot of older cabinetry (midcentury?), just painted white (you know how during a certain era, all the houses had gingerbread wood trim over the kitchen window?). The painted kitchen looks great in the photos, gingerbread and all.

Mail order

We are still in that flush beginning-of-the-month time, and the mail orders have been coming in. Here's what I've gotten:
  • a volleyball for C to practice with at home. It's white with pink and zebra accents.
  • a bottle of Chipotle Tabasco sauce (I discovered this amazing product at Chipotle's).
  • a Jango Fett costume for D for Halloween and dress-up.
The nights have been chilly (especially since I discarded a couple of 10-year-old comforters this summer) and I drove myself to Bed, Bath and Beyond yesterday to hunt for either a new comforter or a warm blanket. I ultimately bought a big, stiff quilt made up of lots of strips of blue-and-white patterned fabric, in lots of different shades of blue and with stripes and plaids and what have you. It looks great.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Math bee

Saturday was very busy. Here's what we did:
  • Early in the morning, we went over to the fairgrounds and both kids participated in the county fair math bee. It's a 60-minute written test with 30 questions, but the kids finished in 20-25 minutes. The kids are so-so on checking their answers, but the benefit of finishing early is that in the case of a tie, the earlier finisher wins. D had to have some math questions read to him. We returned in the later afternoon to check the kids' results. C finished 1st in the 3rd/4th grade category and D finished 2nd among 1st graders. I'm not sure about the total number of participants, but we are very pleased.
  • After the math bee, I had a little shopping to do at Walmart, so my husband and the kids had celebratory cookie and cream milkshakes at Chik-fil-a while I shopped.
  • At home, we all picked up sticks in the yard and my husband greased the tire swing and then then he used the leaf blower on sidewalk, driveway and patio.
  • C worked on the pictures for a book project she's doing at school. She and I had creative differences over such issues as whether No 2 pencil is all you need to draw black-and-white photos and whether the photos should be drawn free-hand.
  • We picked up a carry-out dinner at Pei Wei and then drove out to a campground for a picnic dinner and bake sale. The kids enjoyed the playground, particularly this thing like a giant swinging purple egg, big enough for several medium-sized children to swing inside. Toward the end, the music teacher had the elementary kids singing You Are My Sunshine, Rock a My Soul In the Bosom of Abraham and He's Got the Whole World in His Hand.
  • It was a long, long but productive day.