Friday, March 30, 2012


C's daddy (while watching Prototype This with the kids): We should take a welding class together someday!

C: Yeah!


Here's some of what's been happening:
  • The new roof is on our future house.
  • The lawn fairy visited our neighborhood and our lawn (and those of all our neighbors) are now presentable. The plantation of 3-foot-high thistles has disappeared from the lawn of our next door neighbors (they have to move out in the next day or two). The neighbors two doors down bought an older home in a nice neighborhood, have gutted much of it, and are racing to complete the renovation.
  • Surveyors have been prowling the neighborhood and there are suddenly many little pink flags and wooden stakes. The college is going to be putting in some utility lines soon that will run through where several houses currently stand. There are two houses on our left that will be demolished very soon.
  • Last summer, the college demolished the house on our right and all the houses across the street. When the two houses to our left go, we will be in splendid isolation for a couple months. It's going to be a real mess, too.
  • C was very pleased to miss half the school day today in order to compete in our local UIL competition. She participated in the number sense and maps/graphs/charts events. She didn't place, but enjoyed the amenities: playground, movies and concession stand. She wants to do the science contest next year and for D to participate when he reaches 4th grade.
  • The kids are talking about summer camp. C really wants D to do sewing camp, and D is actually interested. There's also talk of swim lessons (mandatory--I say so) and an art camp that we haven't done before.

Peregrine falcon and squirrel

Last night, we saw a peregrine falcon perched in a tree on campus, firmly grasping a dead squirrel.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

C on cats

C suggests genetically engineering house cats with social cat genes from lions to produce social house cats.

I'm kind of scared at the idea of a pride of house cats prowling around at home.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Stale house supply

Ever since we started going steady with this house we're supposed to buy in a year, I've been expecting that there will be an influx of cheaper, cuter houses that will test our fidelity to the deal. However, for better or worse, that has not happened. Even though there has been a spring surge of houses on the market, we haven't seen anything better than the house we're supposed to buy.

D says

D says, "Why is there sibling rivalry? That's weird."

Saturday, March 24, 2012

New roof

The new roof is going on the house we are buying.

D asks tough questions

D just asked, when do women usually stop being able to have babies?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Peregrine falcon

This afternoon when the kids were playing on the green space, I saw what was probably a peregrine falcon. The bird I saw was some sort of hawk with a speckled chest and quite a good wing span. Wikipedia says, "In urban areas, the main component of the Peregrine's diet is the Rock or Feral Pigeon, which comprise 80% or more of the dietary intake for peregrines in some cities."

When straight men decorate

I saw the following on a Catholic Answers thread where people were discussing how much input husbands have on decorating:

If my husband were responsible for decorating our home we'd sit on cheap plastic yard chairs, store our clothing in cardboard boxes and laundry bags, and house our books and other detritus in milk crates that are occasionally abandoned near dumpsters. Our living room would be indistinguishable from a server room; cords and wires would be tacked to the walls or taped to the floor. Tinfoil over the windows would serve the dual purpose of affording us privacy and keeping out the sun's heat. Our space would be dominated by an 85-inch television set and gaming console for playing the latest video games. The walls would be painted black to make the space more cave-like.


C made a couple of braided bracelets, wore them to school, and then came back with orders from 9 different classmates. She just finished the batch last night. This is mainly gratis, although she did get milk at lunch from one of her grateful clients.

This morning, the kids had me order each of them a package of foil origami paper from Amazon.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

From Matt Labash's advice column

I thought this one was very good.

Matt, I want a puppy, but fear I can't care for one. Whatever shall I do?--Megan M.

You sound like my newly married friends, fretting as to whether they're ready to have children. So I'll tell you what I tell them: stop worrying. It's not as daunting as it looks. Just buy a decent cable package with lots of channels, and sit back and watch as the kids practically raise themselves.

Seen around town

...a church sign that said something like "Come whorship with us." OK!

New roof?

The people who own the house we are buying hope to put on a new roof this week (if it will just stop raining). They touched bases with us about color. I said just to match the old one. There's also the issue of a skylight in the master bath that has a crack in the lower layer of glass (so it's just a cosmetic issue). We've had very heavy rain, so I checked in with the current renter to ask if there was any sign of a leak in the skylight. She says no, so I take it that we shouldn't fuss with it. It's still going to drive me a little crazy to know that there's a crack there.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Wrong, but funny

I was just watching a Jim the Realtor video where Jim is showing an odd little room in a big house and explaining that it could be either "an office or a step-child room."

Tree duck

Last night we all got to see a very odd but not unusual pair of birds. My husband IDed them--it's the black-bellied whistling duck, which used to be called (more descriptively) the black-bellied tree duck. They were, indeed, hanging out in the trees in our neighborhood. As Wikipedia says, an early ornithologist described them as "most un-duck-like." In the US, it lives in Texas, Arizona and Louisiana. It's also, the internet says, "delicious."

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Spring break

Here's some of what's been happening:
  • D has been enjoying Calvin and Hobbes books from the library.
  • C and her father have been enjoying their respective Terry Pratchett Discworld books.
  • My husband has been working on a solar telescope for a 4th grade science demonstration.
  • The kids were doing a mammoth excavation that D got given as a birthday gift. It was nice and time-consuming. D eventually vacuumed the excavation debris from the kitchen floor.
  • The kids tried D's giant bubble kit that he got for his birthday.
  • C made balloon swords and she and D went outside to play with a neighbor girl.
  • C and D played Battleship.
  • D still has one more toy (some sort of small LEGO kit) to open tomorrow, his last day of break.
  • There's a lot to be said for having a birthday just as spring break starts.

Blue Bell, Galveston and NASA

We had a one-night road trip Tuesday and Wednesday. Here's what we did:
  • We visited the Blue Bell ice cream factory in Brenham, TX. My husband took pictures of the kids on the cow sculpture and we did the factory tour. I was very pleased to hear that they spend 2-4 hours a day disassembling, sterilizing and reassembling the ice cream factory apparatus. Homemade Vanilla is their best seller, apparently. (The other people on the tour seemed very, very familiar with Blue Bell's product line.) We got ice cream samples at the end. During spring break, Blue Bell was running tours every five minutes.
  • We had lunch at the Chappell Hill Bakery and Deli. Like the Czech Stop in West, TX, this is a convenient, high-visibility location near a major highway that offers high-quality, unpretentious food in a clean, informal setting. We had chopped BBQ and sausage sandwiches and will be back. (The Chappell Hill Bakery and Deli had a write-up from Southern Living Magazine on their door.)
  • We drove on to Galveston, which is located on a long, skinny island near Houston. It's very beachy. The newer houses are mostly on stilts, or with a carport or garage underneath, due to hurricane concerns. We saw dozens of pelicans over Galveston engaging in complicated Blue Angels-type maneuvers.
  • Galveston is a sort of mid-range beach community. There are haunted houses, as well as hotsy-totsy beach homes. There's a very vibrant beach life, especially with it being spring break. Our kids got very wet and sandy during our pre-dinner walk.
  • C immediately glommed on to the Rainforest Cafe coupon at the hotel brochure rack, and we eventually found ourselves eating dinner there. C has an absolutely infallible homing instinct for Rainforest Cafes, no matter where we are. There were a couple of balloon animal artistes wandering the restaurant. We didn't get balloons for the kids, but the kids nearby did and eventually discombobulated their balloons. C swooped in and fixed three. She is considering a career making balloon animals at Rainforest Cafe.
  • The kids got to do the hotel pool.
  • We spent much of the next day at NASA outside Houston. (We were there once before several years ago. I confess that the place looks a lot like Pizza Planet in Toy Story.) The kids did the huge multi-story play area, we did a tram tour (saw the old Mission Control, and saw the enormous Saturn-V), saw a snake show, and got matching NASA t-shirts. The t-shirts were very affordable ($16 for two). I did, however, accidentally buy a $5 Starbucks bottled Frappuccino.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Snake facts

Here is a quote from the internet. I'm not sure how accurate this is, but it's interesting!

An estimated 7,000 poisonous snake bites occur in the United States each year, and of these Texas leads the nation in occurrence. Texas doctors treat approximately 1,500 bites a year with the Diamondback Rattlesnake accounting for 2/3 of these, followed by the Copperhead, and then the Cottonmouth.


My husband and D went for a walk in our big urban park. They saw a diamondback rattler about three yards off the trail. My husband says that its coloration perfectly matched the light and dark dead leaves in the park.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Yesterday, we had a visit from my brother, SIL and their two toddler boys. The family is moving across the country in a Jeep with a stressed out fluffy grey kitty cat and towing a car. We hung out at home, went to Rosa's Cafe Tortilla Factory for fajitas, opened some more presents, celebrated D's birthday with more cake, and played outside. They're supposed to do 500 miles today and will hopefully reach SIL's brother's place in a Texas border town by tonight.

We, meanwhile, have some spring break travel plans of our own.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Birthday party

We had an evening birthday party for D at an indoor moonbounce place. Here's how it went:
  • I loaded up a cooler with ice, water, soda and juice bags/boxes and my husband got it in the trunk. I also packed birthday candles (the kind with flames that match the candles).
  • We picked up the half-sheet German chocolate birthday cake at HEB and I got some cherry and apple mini-strudels for the kids who didn't like chocolate or coconut.
  • We picked up 40 fruit cups at Chik-fil-A.
  • We got to the moonbounce place slightly early. Some guests were already arriving. We checked in, put the cake and fruit in the party room, and I hung out in the entry area, greeting and informing guests and offering cold beverages. I also used moral suasion to suggest to parents that they not drop off their kids and leave. (As it happened, the friskiest child was the one whose parent left him. My husband (having just listened to the Ransom of Red Chief), thinks that not a coincidence.)
  • The kids bounced and got very red.
  • I hung out with some moms. Meanwhile, the dads mostly enjoyed solitary electronic entertainment.
  • The kids went through incredible quantities of juice boxes and juice bags and a few bigger children sampled the Coke Zeroes.
  • We had fresh fruit cups and cake. It turned out that many of the children had an eye for the strudels, and they were eventually lining up for them. All of the mini-strudels were eaten. We had a party helper, which was super.
  • This was my very first off-site birthday party and it was very seamless. We usually do small home parties. This was a lot more expensive, but leads very naturally to piles of gifts.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Steve Landsburg is a funny guy

I just read the following on armchair economist Steve Landsburg's blog:
Having trouble getting Sudafed? Does your local pharmacy close at night? No problem: all you need is a set of simple step-by-step instructions for synthesizing Sudafed from crystal meth, which is readily available 24 hours a day in most American cities...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Yet more housing bailouts

I've been sharing the following Bloomberg article by email and I think it deserves a wider audience: "Boom-Era Property Speculators to Get Foreclosure Aid: Mortgages."

  • "The Obama administration will extend mortgage assistance for the first time to investors who bought multiple homes before the market imploded, helping some speculators who drove up prices and inflated the housing bubble."
  • "Landlords can qualify for up to four federally-subsidized loan workouts starting around May, as long as they rent out each house or have plans to fill them, under the revamped Home Affordable Modification Program, also known as HAMP, according to Timothy Massad, the Treasury’s assistant secretary for financial stability. The program pays banks to reduce monthly payments by cutting interest rates, stretching terms, and forgiving principal."
  • I like that--all they need is "plans to fill" the houses with renters, and they qualify for a bailout. Sweet.
  • "The government's need to protect neighborhoods from blight and renters from eviction by keeping the current owners in place is outweighing concern that taxpayers will end up bailing out real-estate investors. The program is being enlarged after less than 1 million borrowers modified loans through HAMP, compared with the administration's stated goal in 2009 of helping 3 million to 4 million homeowners."
  • "At the peak of the boom in 2006, more than a third of home purchase loans were made to borrowers who already owned at least one house, according to the study. In California, Florida, Nevada, and Arizona, which had the most pronounced bubbles, investors accounted for 45 percent of the mortgages."
  • "Bhattacharya said he doesn't understand why the government should be subsidizing workouts for property investors who are in the business of making money on their purchases. Vacancies are unlikely to increase if the houses go into foreclosure and are purchased by owner-occupants or new investors who fill them with tenants, he said."
  • Amen, Mr. Bhattacharya.
  • It's a very good piece. I could definitely go on quoting it, especially the quotes from the Michigan landlord with four houses that he is spending $20k a year to hold on to.
  • One very important issue that does not come up in this article is the question, what kind of landlords will these marginal, no equity real estate investors be? The new assistance program will perhaps bring them from losing money every month to having the rent cover the mortgage, but these people are very unlikely to have cash reserves available to maintain, repair, carpet and paint their investment homes. They will be predictably lousy landlords because they are broke. Why are we spending money on keeping inept real estate investors in business?
  • One of my relatives asks, these people have several houses--why can't I even find one?

What your college student needs to know

There's a piece at Get Rich Slowly by Tim Sullivan on saving money at college. I liked this quote about his totally un-housebroken roommate: "My roommate didn't know how to make pasta. He bought his food from the campus cafeteria, ate more bowls of Cocoa Dyno-Bites than any human should, and once washed his laundry, forgot to dry it, and left it rotting under his bed for weeks. Mommy's not there anymore, Josh."

Don't let that be your kid.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Lillyhammer and Kingdom

Here's our current TV schedule:
  • Netflix has made a series called Lillyhammer, the hero of which is an American mobster who decides to go to Norway as part of the witness protection program. The dialogue is a mixture of Norwegian and English, which was a very brave move on the part of Netflix. (I love the sweaters! I want to go to Norway now just to buy sweaters!) The mobster theme is one of the best-explored in American cinema and TV, so you might wonder, what is left to do without relapsing into cliche? However, I am happy to assure you that it is all different when you move your mobster to Norway. Along with our hero, we get to enjoy small town Norwegian life, deal with the passive aggressive cultural integration instructor, and plot the death of the wolf that attacked our hero's love interest's son's sheep. The wolf enjoys legal protection under Norwegian law, but I'm expecting that our hero's skill set will be equal to ensuring that it disappears without a trace.
  • We also just discovered a Stephen Fry TV mystery series entitled Kingdom. Fry plays a small town lawyer solving small town mysteries while dealing with a brother apparently lost at sea, a crazy sister, the town crank (who has purchased innumerable tiny land parcels to stall development) and his eager beaver young assistant. So far, no murders. I also admire his blue-and-white china pattern (Blue Onion? Blue Danube?).

Sunday, March 4, 2012

True Grit

Last night we finished the Coen brothers' version of True Grit (2010). I've seen the John Wayne version (1969) and read the book by Charles Portis (1968) some time ago. It's been long enough ago that I can't really say what the differences are between the different versions, although I suspect that the John Wayne version is more comic. Anyway, the Coen brothers' version looks fantastic. Everything looks and feels so real and the characters (Marshal Rooster Cogburn, the Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (pronounced "la beef" and the murderer Tom Chaney) feel right. One somewhat distracting element is that nobody uses contractions when speaking. I think that might work very well for Mattie, the girl seeking vengeance for her dead father, because Mattie is a sort of 14-year-old spinster-in-training, but the other characters shouldn't talk like that. I also wish they'd showed a bit more of Mattie's life between the aftermath of her hunt for Chaney and decades later when she learns that Rooster Cogburn has died, because as I recall, the book does give you a pretty good idea of what happened to her (a successful, though spinsterly life).

I'm not a Coen brothers groupie (O Brother Where Art Thou is good, but I'm not clear on what people see in Miller's Crossing), but True Grit made me stop and think--wow, this is deep. It's very simple as a movie, but it's almost perfect at what it does. In addition, I'm starting to notice that the Coen brothers have a very unusual sympathy for and intuitive understanding of the old time religion (you definitely also see that in O Brother Where Art Thou). I'm thinking we should show True Grit for our graduate movie series

Friday, March 2, 2012

C on Little Women

I have a 1940s Little Women from Netflix, but C doesn't want to watch it. C says Little Women is fine as a book, but she's not interested in it as a movie, especially the scene where Beth dies.