Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve II

I'm trying to figure out (by ear) whether the popping sound I hear is celebratory New Year's Eve fireworks or gunfire.

New Year's Eve

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • Work continues on a copper pipe xylophone/glockenspiel type thing. I can hear C tapping out "Ode to Joy" and "Hot Cross Buns" in the other room.
  • There was a good deal at the roller skating rink today ($5 for admission and skate rental). We took the kids and my husband skated and I popped out to Barnes & Noble. The rink was handing out New Year's and party paraphernalia (plastic leis, noise makers, New Year's Eve crowns) and there was a raffle. We won a t-shirt and a free admission to the rink. The kids were hoping for cotton candy.
  • After the rink, I made a quick run to the grocery store for emergency food supplies (milk, eggs, instant oatmeal, etc.) for the weekend.
  • At home, I quickly put rice in the rice cooker, cooked veggies and reheated the massaman curry I made two days ago. When I first made it, the little red potatoes were kind of waxy in texture, but by today, they were just right. My husband and D asked for seconds.
  • C seems a little bit under the weather. We'll keep an eye on her.
  • Our neighbors who have to move early are looking hard at the $124k fixer house in the older neighborhood that I watch. They have three months to get out of their house. We have six.
  • There's lots of demolition and mysterious ripping up of road bed going on near our neighborhood.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Galleria

We got some generous Christmas checks from my parents and grandparents and it was decided that we would spend some of it on an ice skating outing at the Galleria. On reflection, my husband thought we could add a visit to the Frisco IKEA to make the trip more worthwhile. Here's how the day went:
  • We left home in the morning and drove to the Frisco IKEA, arriving at lunch time. We had lunch at IKEA (kids' meals were free today) and checked the kids into Smalland. C is 1/4 inch away from no longer being eligible for Smalland, poor thing. My husband hung out nearby and amused himself. I took a brisk walk through IKEA and then had enough time to do a walk-through of about 4 or 5 nearby home furnishings stores. There was one home accessories store (in a very heavy, ornate style) that had for sale (I'm not making this up) a sort of throw with a fake mink underside (I had to touch it to see if it was real or fake).
  • I went back to IKEA and found that my husband had already picked the kids up from Smalland. We went by the IKEA food shop and got coffee for me (IKEA only has half and half as creamer, no milk--that's European living for you), two packs of star and heart gingerbread cookies, one jar of orange and elderflower marmalade and one chocolate hazelnut bar.
  • I'm partly Swedish, and our regular pilgrimages to IKEA are my main gesture of ethnic pride.
  • I heard a lot of funny remarks at IKEA from shoppers, but I can't do justice to all of them. There was a tween boy pointing out to his mom that for some reason, it takes an hour to buy a bench. His mom said something like, do you have some sort of urgent engagement that you're rushing off to? I also heard a guy telling another guy that he used to count pregnant women at IKEA just for fun. He'd get up to 25 without any problem. I didn't see that many pregnant ladies at IKEA today, perhaps because those women already had their babies. It was like bring-your-baby-to-IKEA day
  • Our next stop was the Galleria. We lined up, paid, got skates for my husband and the kids, and then spent what must have been half an hour trying to find skates that didn't hurt D's feet. After trying a size 13, another size 13 and then a size 1 with little success, I finally told D to just skate until his feet hurt too much to skate and then stop. As it happened, D skated and skated and was just fine.
  • My husband and the kids skated and I walked through nearly the whole mall, returning occasionally to the rink to provide gingerbread cookies and a water bottle refill. This is going to sound a little wimpy, but it was real exercise. It's a huge place.
  • I think C was staying on her feet pretty well from the beginning and D got there by the end of the skate session.
  • There are ice skating lessons at the Galleria, of course. It's kind of a bummer that we live hours from the Galleria, but I suppose it's not one of life's necessities. We have talked about doing an overnight trip to the area and working in two consecutive days of skating, and maybe doing a lesson. That would be nice.
  • We listened to Mark Twain stories in the car. The $30,000 Bequest isn't bad, but let me be the first (???) to say that Mark Twain was a bit of a hack.
  • We got home to find a Christmas package with three Trekkie-themed t-shirts with the following messages: When I grow up, I want to go to Starfleet, Resistance is futile and then an even nerdier shirt that says Resistance is not futile, it's voltage divided by current. I kind of imagine that at some point, my husband and the kids will all wear their t-shirts to watch Star Trek.
  • So tired!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Massaman beef

I just put this in the slow cooker--it's a Muslim-influenced peanuty Thai curry with beef and potatoes, essentially a beef stew. I thought better of using curry powder (especially after sniffing mine and finding it dusty and unfragrant), so I substituted some cinnamon-y garam masala. Then, after I'd gotten everything in the slow cooker and cleaned up, I remembered that I do in fact have a large unopened tub of Thai masman curry paste, which is more in the spirit of the recipe.

The prep time for the Massaman beef was very fast (especially since I was using dry minced onion and garlic). I am curious to see how it will turn out. We're going to have to wait a bit. When shopping yesterday, I didn't realize that both packs of meat I bought were due to expire today, so I'm going to be cooking two dinners today. The meat and potatoes in the Massaman curry will probably be better for the wait, although the coconut milk in the curry will probably separate in the fridge. It will be good, though.

The cafeterias reopen in a week. I think we can make it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Not anemic

All my hard work (pill popping and beef eating) has paid off--I saw my doctor this morning and my blood work is good. I'm not anemic and I can ditch my SlowFe iron pills!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Early move

I just talked to our long-time neighbor from two doors down. They were told just before Christmas that they and another set of neighbors will need to be out early, namely by the end of March. The other house is just one away from us, so we are lucky not to be moved out early ourselves. The issue is that the college needs to put down some utility lines to the new student housing development a block or two away from us, and the lines need to run through our neighborhood right through where are neighbors' houses are now.

We need a house.

Is the 30 year fixed mortgage safe?

I was just reading this article in Bloomberg, which questions the 30 year fixed mortgage and its role in the US economy. Here are some problems with the 30 year fixed mortgage:
  • It is federally subsidized.
  • It amortizes slowly, "exposing homeowners to years of unnecessary default risk."
  • The 30 year fixed mortgage has been involved in two federal bailouts in the last 20 years.
  • The 30 year mortgage has the potential to wreak yet more havoc in future. The author critiques the "closed system" in which the government subsidizes the issuing of these loans, while also taking on itself the burden of dealing with any of these loans that turn bad.
This article is a useful corrective, because people do tend to think of the 30 year mortgage as being as safe and as American as apple pie.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas

Here's some of what we've been doing:
  • My husband brought in our last-minute tree on Christmas Eve and the kids did much of the decorating.
  • We did the traditional Polish wishes with oplatek (oh-pwah-tek). D was especially detailed. I can't remembered what he wished his father (success with writing apps?), but he wished me that I would manage to catch up with my email. D is a very observant child.
  • For Christmas Eve, we had baked salmon (in foil packets with lime juice and rosemary sprigs) and bread pudding with dried cranberries and orange peel and ground cardamon (the cardamon was not as pronounced as last time--not sure what happened). We had a mishap with our two ovens and the bread pudding got turned off. I was so sincerely convinced that I hadn't turned it off that I volunteered to taste it to see how much it had cooked. The answer, unfortunately, was not at all. It finished cooking and the kids didn't like the bread pudding, so my husband and I had it all to ourselves.
  • We opened presents while waiting for the bread pudding to finish baking. D is very fond of (indeed inseparable from) his new digital watch, although he is now worrying about the fact that different clocks in our home give different times. Both kids have new calendars. In fact, C has two--one a freebie religious art calendar from church, one a $2.50 horse calendar from the grocery store. D has an Audobon calendar. I need to remember to write down important dates for D. C has a new Kindle. The kids also got a LEGO Mindstorm kit from their grandparents' Christmas checks. My husband has new roller blades that we are hoping to try out tomorrow at the skating rink and I got him a couple of Dirk Gently stories by Douglas Adams. I have a supply of rose soap and other rose-scented bath stuff and my new Kindle Fire. C is a bit miffed at the shortage of actual toys under the tree, but I see that she is enjoying the horse and pony encyclopedia we got her, as well as the Calvin and Hobbes treasury we got D. C is also enjoying the animal drawing book from us and the drawing book and sketching set from Auntie K.
  • It has been raining drearily for days now--just like home in Washington State.
  • This morning, the kids did the first project in the LEGO Mindstorm kit. LEGO Mindstorm is part LEGO, part robotics, part beginner programming. The first project is one where you make a robot that you then use a remote control on. There are endless variations. Currently, the kids (especially C) are working on a crocodile that snaps its jaws when anything comes within a certain range of it. Mindstorm is rated for kids 10 and up, but it seems about right for C, who is 9.5. (If you are interested in this sort of thing for your kids, sit down and brace yourself before checking the price--it's really expensive.)
  • The cafeterias are closed until the beginning of January, but thanks to the nice people at Patak curries, my kids believe I am an amazing cook. It was very lucky we had the foresight to mail order a supply of Patak curries before the cafeterias closed.
  • For Christmas dinner, we had tikka masala curry with chicken and kidney beans, rice and broccoli. For dessert, my husband had made a pumpkin pie with the kids (store crust).
  • My husband and I have started watching Anne of the Thousand Days. I read a couple of Tudor biographies back in high school, but I was reviewing the Wikipedia articles on the six wives of Henry VIII and on Anne Boleyn to freshen up. I particularly wanted to know if the adultery case against Anne was well-founded. Current scholarship says, no, it wasn't.

D on Monopods

D says: A standing-on-one-leg contest would probably be won by a Monopod!

Not very Christmas-y

This isn't very Christmas-y, but I still have to post it: School accused of putting autistic student in bag. Fortunately, the 9-year-old child's mother had been called to school to pick him up, so she was able to get him out.

In Kentucky, there are no laws on using restraint or seclusion in public schools, according to documents on the state Department of Education's website.
A July letter from the state agency to special education directors said the state had investigated two informal complaints this year.

In one, "a student (was) nearly asphyxiated while being restrained," and in the other, a student vomited from panic attacks after spending most of an academic year "confined to a closet, with no ventilation or outside source of light," according to the letter.
Needless to say, poorly used or ad hoc restraint methods can be very dangerous (indeed fatal), so there's a lot of legislative activity to get schools to stop using dangerous or cruel restraint and seclusion practices.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Pleo's birthday

C (to robotic dinosaur): Happy birthday, Pleo!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas card

We got the cutest Christmas card from a 1st grade classmate of D's. It is written as if by the classmate, and it talks about how he had been praying for a brother or sister since he was 2, how many years he kept praying, almost giving up when he was 5, and how he finally got a baby sister when he was 6. (He figured that his initial prayers hadn't worked, because he had been praying for an older brother or sister, and as his parents eventually explained, that is not how it works.) Anyway, it's a three hanky Christmas letter, so sad and so happy all at the same time.

I had my blood draw for my blood count for my anemia yesterday (I've been counting down to this more eagerly than to Christmas). I've been working on my anemia for about five weeks now, and I see my doctor to talk about my results a couple days after Christmas. Is it very wrong to be more interested in this than Christmas?

Cookie houses

We were supposed to make cookie houses at our house with friends on Monday, but D's illness led to a cancellation and delays. Finally, this morning, we were able to host a cookie house-making party with a sister and brother who are classmates and friends of C and D. The cookie houses (with reminders from C) have become a Christmas tradition at our house. I should have bought fig bars (they're ideal for the roofs), but we did OK with vanilla wafers (perfect for building walls), vanilla frosting (good mortar), Christmas-themed Pepperidge Farm Chessmen (makes a good door), oreos for the roof, animal crackers and gum drops for the fence and chimney. Oh, and we had a couple different kinds of sprinkles. I sent our guests' house home with them and our cookie house is sitting gloriously on my dining room table. So cute! It will be very yummy with tea.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Arabian Nights

C is reading a version of the Arabian Nights on her Kindle.

Cowboy boots

I'm hoping this is the last day of D's convalescence. He occasionally complains of tummy, but he looks better, sounds better, and his energy level is very good. He had the same food as everybody else for dinner and nothing bad happened. Yay!

This afternoon, C and I drove to Cavender's Boot City (the Western store) and we did some shopping with the Christmas money C's Washington grandparents sent. We got C a pair of blunt-toed pink cowboy boots (size 3.5) and a bright pink sparkly cowgirl shirt (size small) from the women's section. This is the first time I've knowingly shopped for C from the women's section and both that and the new boots feel like a rite of passage. The boots are very cute. If we'd been able to find the right size, we would have just gotten brown boots and passed them down to D when the time came, but unfortunately, there weren't any cute brown boots in the correct size. It's not exactly a cheap store, but I really like a lot of the cowgirl shirts in the women's section, even the sparkly ones. C LOVES sparkly stuff. In fact, when we made a quick trip to Michael's (which is on the same plaza), she purchased some gold ribbon (on sale) and some rhinestones ($4.09 total, paid out of C's personal funds). By the time we got home, the rhinestones had been neatly installed on her purse.

At home, C passed her old brown cowboy boots down to D and the kids played cowboy for a while. They have a stick horse, cowboy hats and boots, so they are well-equipped.

C remains inseparable from her new Kindle.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Kindle

D seems to have fewer tummy bug symptoms, but was still complaining of pain much of the day. I am tentatively hoping to pick up the threads of my social life some time tomorrow. I also hope to do a couple of outings with C tomorrow.

When we woke up at 6:30 this morning, we discovered that our water was totally cut off. I wasn't able to raise anybody on the facilities emergency line or the property management office, but later in the morning, I learned that a water main had broken, leaving ourselves, most of our neighbors, and part of campus waterless. Fortunately, our laundry and dishes were caught up and the outage didn't catch us with the big pile of sick bed laundry that I spent much of yesterday working my way through. We also had 5 gallons of emergency water on hand, which wouldn't have been enough to get us through a real emergency, but was more than enough to get through a morning and part of an afternoon, especially since the incident being a very local one, we could readily buy water at the store without fear that the store would run out. When I took a walk this afternoon, I was surprised (but very happy) to see three fire hydrants, totally open, gushing water--the water was finally back.

It's been a dull three days for C with D being sick. This evening, I suggested to my husband that we should give C an early Christmas present--namely the Kindle Touch that C's grandma got her (thanks!). I was concerned that C wouldn't take to it, but my husband had it loaded with a number of free classics, plus two books we paid for (a Redwall book and Terry Pratchett's The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents). I pried C away from the Kindle to take a bath just now, but she's been inseparable from it ever since my husband handed it to her. I meanwhile, am not quite as inseparable from my new Kindle Fire, but I have been enjoying the apparent magic of being able to buy a Kindle book on my netbook and have it appear almost instantly on my Kindle. I have read books on the PDA in the past and listened to audiobooks on a PDA or on my phone, but given my level of technical skill, I've been dependent on my husband to move stuff around for me (to get it off librivox and onto the PDA or phone), and the devices I use have been very crash-y. To be able to do this all myself, and with the touch of a few buttons, is a totally new sensation. (We bought the Kindle Fire primarily for me to use at the gym and the gym is closed now, so it really won't come into its own until the beginning of January.)

Monday, December 19, 2011

D is sick

We got D into the pediatrician's office first thing this morning and then spent the whole morning eliminating possibilities. The doctor's explanation was so involved that I asked her to write up the possibilities. She wrote up a quick flow chart that I found very helpful. (I think there are few more important skills than being able to tell a doctor that you don't understand what they are saying, rather than just nodding along as they go waa-waa-waa-waa) We spent the morning working our way through the flow chart. Various options (including appendicitis) were eliminated and finally we were left with the most humdrum of options, the tummy bug. It still might be something else (like salmonella), but if D's symptoms improve rather than intensifying, it's probably the tummy bug. I'm not saying "just the tummy bug," because the work involved in dealing with a stomach virus is quite substantial, from laundry to carpet cleaning.

I visited one of our hotsy totsy HEBs to collect convalescent diet items for D. The pediatrician had recommended bananas, ramen noodles, bread, rice, Gatorade and ginger ale and I got a lot of those items, as well as provisions for dinners at home. With the cafeterias closed, we are thrown on our own resources. Fortunately, those resources include couscous and Patak Indian sauces.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas break

The kids are out of school now. D has had some mysterious symptoms for over day with fever (up to 104, but mostly under control), sleepiness and tummy pain that comes and goes. I talked to the afterhours pediatric helpline this evening and was supposed to check back with them (they wanted to know what happens when D does jumping jacks), but they didn't return my page before D's bedtime. His tummy pain is gone right now, so that's less worrisome.

The cafeteria and gym and the campus Starbucks are closed, but the independent coffee place will be open until December 23. I think everything reopens around January 3. So I can't really properly appreciate my new Kindle Fire for another two weeks.

In other news, I may have a nanny gig for the fall.

C at work

C was working on cutting out and coloring the illustrations from our Advent chain. It's a paper chain where you tear off and read a Bible verse for each day of Advent.

C said (to her dad): I hate behind on my work. Don't you?

Monday, December 12, 2011

LEGO

D made a combination crocodile/cobra from LEGO. I think he calls it the "crocobra."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Nebuchadnezzar

C got 4 bonus points on her spelling test for spelling "Nebuchadnezzar" correctly.

Pot holders

D suggests using pot holders as Christmas tree decorations.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Tudor III

This morning, I got an owner-guided tour of the 2750 sq. ft. 1920s brick tudor home that is for-sale-by-owner at $255k. Here are some impressions:
  • Super interior location, little to no traffic noise.
  • Very nice curb appeal.
  • Outside there's a carport with guest room and half bath.
  • On the first floor, there's a living room, large dining room, kitchen (original cabinets, stainless steel counters, new slate floor), breakfast nook, half bath, and a very small sunroom type thing.
  • A family of 7 lived there until recently, so everything is serviceable, but it's not a showplace. Looking around, I think you'd probably want something like $40k for painting, refinishing floors, and dealing with miscellaneous issues. That sounds like a lot, but it's such a big house that I think it really would take that much to shine it up.
  • On the second floor, there are three large bedrooms, a nursery/study off the MBR, and two small shared baths.
  • On the attic level, there is an unfinished traditional attic space, a large seasonal storage closet, and a small finished room, suitable for office or bedroom. However, the steep attic stairs and the lack of a bath on that level make it difficult to figure out a good use for the office/bedroom.
  • There are lots of built-ins.
  • There's a basement (ideal for tornado shelter, I was told).
  • The construction is pier-and-beam.
  • The roof is slate, and was just replaced after this February's storm. The roof that was damaged was the house's original roof, and the replacement (which was fortunately covered by insurance) cost $41k. It will hopefully last 100 years.
  • All in all, it's an extremely spacious house, with a room for just about everything. Setting aside the fact that the master bedroom has no master bath, the floor plan is very good for a house of this era. It's a big house, and practically all of it is usable space, which is not at all the case with every home of this size.
  • I still want a house near campus, but if that isn't possible, this is an option (at a different price).

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bread pudding

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • D mysteriously started getting red blotches all over his body yesterday. Our pediatrician's office has new extended evening hours (Hallelujah!), so all went in last night for a 6 PM appointment. D was dosed and the splotches duly began to disappear.
  • Tonight at bedtime, C said, "My hopes have been thrown into a shark pit." I think that had something to do with the big pile of letter stickers she needed to clean up.
  • We went to the Christmas graduate potluck tonight. Both C and I wound up accidentally locking ourselves in the vintage 1920s (?) bathroom, apparently a common occurrence. There were smoked turkey, candied jalapenos, handmade caramels and various holiday fare. We brought bread pudding, based on the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. My husband made whole wheat bread the night before to go in it and we did a variant of the recipe with 1/2 rum flavoring and 1/2 vanilla extract, orange zest, cranberries and ground cardamon (at least 50% more than the recipe said). My husband nearly put in coriander rather than ground cardamon, but was saved just in time. We didn't do the whiskey sauce. Anyway, the bread pudding was a very successful contribution--namely there weren't any leftovers to bring home. We have noted over the years that bread pudding is somehow a deeply collegiate food. The quality of a college's bread pudding says much about its academic excellence. We should probably try it again during Christmas break.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

St. Nicholas

Today is St. Nicholas's Day. We don't always remember to do something for St. Nicholas's, but this year, we did. With input from the kids, I ordered C a pair of pink rubber boots and D some blue gummy bear slippers (like these except not red). (These happen to be the footwear items each child needed.) Then, I discreetly collected them from the mail (an important skill this time of year), held on to them, and then last night before going to bed, my husband and I put each pair of footwear in front of the appropriate child's door, complete with a large bar of Hershey's Special Dark.

D was ecstatic this morning and very pleased. He has been wearing too-small bear slippers for some time. I would have liked to get him more traditional brown bear slippers, but it was surprisingly difficult to find even the blue gummy slippers in his size. C was less excited about her new pink boots, but the bar of chocolate may eventually wind up being used in a moldable chocolate recipe (if we don't just order readymade moldable chocolate).

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sherlock

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • My husband printed out an advent chain (from a friend's design) and each day, a child rips off a paper chain link, reads a Bible verse, colors the picture, and then we stow it away for later use as a Christmas tree decoration.
  • I Tilexed the bath grout this morning (to little effect), defuzzed the laundry area and started hand washing a wool sweater.
  • We've finished up all the P.D. James Adam Dalgleish series on Netflix. They tend to be 6 episodes long (with strategically timed murders), so you really get into them. And now there aren't any more.
  • The good news is that the new BBC Sherlock is very, very good--or at least the first episode we saw was. The idea is a Sherlock Holmes set in 21st century London, and it really does work. (For a more traditional version, see Granada Television's Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett.)
  • D has a fresh batch of rocks in the rock tumbler. That's a four week project.
  • The kids have two more weeks of school.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Tudor II

I'm trying to book a showing of the 1920s 4/3 brick Tudor FSBO home that recently appeared for sale. Just today, it dropped from $275k to $255k. The location is super.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Roller skates

Today was a big errands day. Here's what we did:
  • bought gasoline
  • got me a flu shot and yet more iron pills (this should have happened earlier, but I kept getting sniffles)
  • unsuccessfully scoured the city for size 13 men's inline skates for my husband
  • bought a few basic clothing items at Walmart
  • made an unsuccessful visit to Lowes
  • had lunch at Pei Wei
  • kept looking for skates
  • got Chik-fil-a peppermint chocolate chip shakes at the mall (very good--totally recommend)
  • went home.
We did find a couple pairs of size 13 inline skates, but nothing that fit well. The rental skates at the skating rink don't fit him well either, which is why we are considering buying. My husband may order a well-reviewed pair from Amazon. By the way, sell your Sports Authority stock (if any)--it was practically deserted on a day when every other store we visited was mobbed with people.

The kids did homework and C finished a book report.