Sunday, September 27, 2009

Packing Up: The Chaos

The new house is official. The final walk-through had been eagerly and fearfully anticipated, as I was terrified of finding the basement flooded, and having to put the whole thing off until after cleanup, or to start from scratch on one of the backup house choices in the neighborhood. Beyond a little bit of seepage through the door into the unfinished portion of the daylight basement, the house was high and dry.

Closing was Thursday. Beyond a snafu with the wire transfer, it went very smoothly. (Thank you, monster mega-bank, for noting that a large transfer of funds to a real estate attorney's escrow account is an "unusual transaction," and taking the extra precaution to place a hold on the "suspicious activity" until the next day. And an extra thank you for sending notification of the hold AFTER the day had ended for your customer service folks.)

With the movers coming on Tuesday, it's been crazy busy around here since this past Tuesday. Even with the packing, cleaning and closet purging, there's been time for a little bit of fun.

DD attended a Japanese themed birthday party, in a beautiful vintage kimono we purchased on eBay.

B1's first 10k - the Big Peach Sizzler 10k. He finished in 58:24, and I'm super proud of him. (Plus, for beating my time, and breaking 60 minutes, $10.)

Will be heading over soon to the local festival, where B2 and I will be serving up lemon twists in the 5th grade booth. That's not so much the fun part, but wandering around after our shift and trying food from the different restaurant booths will be.

Then, it's time to pull holiday decorations from the attic, and make a trip over to the new house with the rest of the toys and games I bribed (frozen yogurt) the kids into packing up early last week. It needs to be out of this house, before they decide they need to open the boxes back up.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Grocery Budgets

I'm weeks behind in getting the information typed up. No good reasons, just excuses. I started keeping the lists on Google Documents, instead of in AppleWorks, and I really like it. At least I think I like it - I'm lousy with spreadsheets. Odd, because I'm quite good at working with the data once it's in there, but I can mess up a template and formulas during setup faster than my 3rd grader.

Average weekly grocery bills for my family of five has continued to drop. As of the end of this week (39), it's down to $125.69. Means the per person is roughly $25/week, and that is not too shabby. (It can get better though, especially once I have the pantry for bulk rice, oat, and flour purchases, beginning in two weeks.) The totals for a couple of weeks are going to be great for pulling down my average for a week of groceries for a family of five. In getting ready to move, the fridge, freezer and pantry emptied out. The new house is only 5-10 minutes away, but still don't want to carry anything we don't have to.

I'm still figuring out the whole sharing thing on google docs. In theory, I can set these nifty links, and anyone can click over to see the shopping list.

The more interesting part of my catch-up will have to go up tomorrow. We've built up a decent number of kid-approved recipes during the 8-9 months of Try Something New Dinner, aka Supper Wars. We're not trying new recipes quite as many days each week, but there have been three pretty successful new additions over the last couple weeks. Want to take the time to post links, as they are really well worth trying. As of this moment, I need to get to bed. Have to make up my long run tomorrow morning, since I didn't get out in the heavy rain after B1's cross country meet.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Good Idea, Bad Idea

Waaaaay back when my teen was a tot, he and I would spend a little time on Saturday mornings watching Animaniacs. We both loved it, though for different reasons. General zaniness appealed to a four year old, and the clever songs and writing roped me in. How could you not relish the opportunity to sing along with Wakko during the 50 States & Capitols, Cheese Roll Call, Parts of the Brain, or Schnitzelbank?

There are a couple of things from the show which seeped into the family traditions:
  • Before DD was born, B1 & B2 were known affectionately as Yakko & Wakko, so it was only natural for a baby girl to become Dot.
  • For the last decade, any action taken which leads to a Doh! moment is greeted with the words Good Idea, Bad Idea

Today's Good Idea, Bad Idea moment for Joy?

Good Idea:
Taking photos of pretty flowers to send loved ones from a long run route.
Bad Idea:
Taking photos of bloody kneecap to send loved ones from a long run route.

As I learned today, that second type of photo tends to cause a panic. I tripped in spot where a missing chunk of sidewalk was masked by a few leaves. Narrowly averted face plant. Scraped up both hands, both knees, and jammed two fingers by bending them the wrong direction while trying to roll to one side... and scraped right shoulder & elbow when I got there.

No head trauma or bones protruding from skin, so my old tomboy mindset kicked in. The soon-to-be-swollen-purple fingers, road rash, scraps of skin dangling from kneecap, and all the blood... well, it's kind of cool. Helluva way to kick off the official fall half marathon training schedule, eh?

Just call me Grace.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tourism by Detours - Capulin Volcano, NM

Now that I've managed to recover most of the vacation photos lost during the unfortunate home invasion and electronics theft, I'm able to pick back up with some of the "off the beaten path" stops along the cross country trip. There are a few things I'll need to dig up other people's photos for, since not everything was recovered, but there's enough to get started.

We're big fans of exploring. Simply going to someplace and back may be fine for some folks, but not this family. We like to scour maps and read the state guides picked up at welcome centers to find interesting stuff along the way. Sometimes, it takes just a roadside marker to pull us off course. When we headed out for the Summer 2009 Road Trip, we had a few specific destinations firmly set:
  • The Gateway Arch in St. Louis
  • Grandma's house in Alma, NE
  • Grandpa's house, Garden of the Gods, and Pike's Peak in Colorado Springs, CO
  • Capulin Volcano, NM
That last destination was a roadside marker which screamed interesting stuff during the last trip home from Colorado. We saw the marker for Capulin Volcano just before dusk on a very chilly evening in late December. There was no time to stop then, but it did go down on the mental checklist for our next trip.

This time, we planned for the Volcano and built an extra day or two into the drive home along a southern route (CO-NM-TX-LA-MS-AL-GA).


Capulin Volcano is the cone of a volcano that was last active about 56,000 to 62,000 years ago. This volcano represents the last stage of a great period of volcanism that had begun about 7 million years earlier. Evidence of this activity can be seen in the scores of nearby volcanic hills and peaks. The largest of these is Sierra Grande, an extinct volcano rising some 2,200 feet above the surrounding plain, about 10 miles to the southeast. To the northwest of Capulin are a number of mesas that are capped with lava, the three largest of which are Barela, Raton and Johnson Mesas.

Lava erupted in four flows, each separated by long periods of inactivity. The last series of eruptions created Capulin Volcano, whose conical form rises more than 1,000 feet above its base to 8,182 feet above sea level. The mountain consists chiefly of loose cinders, ash and other rock debris. These materials were spewed out by successive eruptions and fell back on the vent, piling up to form the conical mound. The lava, though, flowed mostly from a boca (spanish for mouth) on the lower west side of the cinder cone.
Sounds pretty darn cool, especially if you have boys who like rocks and a girl who likes to carry a camera. Plus, in keeping with the current fun on a budget that is so important, $5 gets you a pass for the whole family. The pass is good for seven days, but even if you're only using it for one day, it's a heck of a deal for a family of five.

If you wonder whether a location on our official trip plan should really count as a detour, not only was this destination inspired by a roadside marker, we had to wait on two separate occasions along the two lane highway for cows to clear the road. Any travel that can be delayed by livestock automatically counts on my detour destination list. Now...

'Too windy, but really cool' is how the kids would describe it now, but the hike around the rim of the crater and into the center was actually filled with many exclamations of wonder.
  • Swarming ladybugs
  • Scrub trees that were completely engulfed in silk and blue caterpillars.
  • Rounding the top of the crater rim to be smacked by the wind so hard you swayed on your feet.
  • The bench with hole and scorch marks from lightning strikes at the top of the rim trail.
  • Time Stains (Lichen) - discussion about this tied back into what we'd learned about which colors are edible on the trip up to Pike's Peak.
  • The many lizards, too fast to be caught on camera, and
  • Finding so much color & life, smack in the middle of an ancient volcano in the desert.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Crayola Hike

Finally got a chance to upgrade to Flickr Pro and load up the photos I mentioned last evening.

This past Sunday, we went for a mini-hike at one of the trails in the Chattahoochee NRA. $25 buys an annual parking pass that covers all 16 locations along the river in the Metro area. Since some combination of family members can be found along the river at least once or twice each week, it's quite a bargain. (Single pass is $3.00, which adds up quickly.)

DottieB is branching out. Instead of sticking with our normal nature walk scavenger hunt, collecting the colors of the rainbow , she and Bugsy decided to collect what you'd find in a crayon box.

In addition to good old ROY G. BIV, they snapped shots of muddy reddish-brown creekbeds, white mushrooms, black-eyed susans, brown acorns, gray tree trunks with blue trail markers, pink puffs, lilac/lavender flowers (there was a lengthy debate on that last color designation)...

...until the battery ran out.

In the car on the way home, I heard plans to bring extra batteries next time, and a 24-pack of Crayola, just to make sure they don't miss any.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Where did the week go?

Between meetings with teachers about one child (yes, THOSE types of meetings), completely insane destructive puppy antics (4 months is apparently "normal" time for it), Open House at the HS, Parent University at the ES, and three-out-of-five family members spending a day or two at home with a cold, I just looked at the calendar and noticed tomorrow is Friday!

I know time is supposed to fly when you're having fun, but I'm not so sure the person who came up with that gem had this kind of fun in mind at the time. Think I'll choose another old saying for this week. Thanks to how quickly it ripped by, it was like taking off a band-aid.

I have a great set of photos to post from this past Sunday. By great, I'm speaking as the proud parent of the eight year old who is experimenting with angles, zoom and light. The photos are not as good as some of the shots she took at the Atlanta Botanical Garden last month, but that has a lot to do with being knocked about by a puppy who is quickly approaching her weight division.

Eek! I've exceeded my flickr uploads for September. Will have to add the pictures as a short slide show AFTER I sign up for the pay service. That'll be in the morning. Right now, I'm going to bed.

But before I do...
Waiting to hear the word about the last couple pieces falling into place on the house. Closing in two weeks, moving in three. Should Clifford and his canine equivalent of the terrible twos not be a thing of the past by then, we're all looking forward to opening the kitchen door and shooing both dogs outside for 20-30 minutes of Peter's favorite game. No name for the game yet, but here's the playbook:
  1. Peter T. Dog runs as fast as he can in a circle.
  2. Almost lets Clifford catch up.
  3. Turns around and runs directly at the puppy.
  4. Clifford stops short, and goes tail over head.
  5. Peter leaps over him in a graceful arc.
  6. Prance happily away, while Clifford looks around in confused state.
  7. Repeat.
I can post a single photo directly to blogger, even if flickr hates my little batch of photos. With the larger, FENCED, yard, frequent intervals of the game ought to wear Clifford out better than the 1.5-2 mile walk/run or 10 minutes of tag on a leash.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Am I from Georgia? Nope, never even heard of the place.

Once again, Georgia is in the news for all the best reasons. If the low, low placement on the rankings for education (41?), the high placement on obesity (12) and horrible commutes weren't enough, there's the Michael Vick dogfighting thing, the Kathryn Johnston shooting, and... yet another story of death by drug bust gone awry.

Octagenarians and Pastors. Lovely.

Well, I guess Georgians can always look at things the same way as we do for the obesity and education stats, and keep thanking heaven we're not as bad as Mississipi. (Radley Balko's reports on Cory Maye and Steven Hayne)

Thanks to a link sent via comment by Slamdunks, I'm now able to add to my list today's story from ABC News on Roger Stephens, a gem of a man here in the Atlanta metro area who slaps other people's toddlers in the store. To make it even better, guess which store. It happened in a Wal-Mart, of course.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Supper Wars: Moroccan Beef Stew

Try this recipe from Mike's Table.

Scale back on the peppers, if you are catering to those with mild tastes, like my kidlets, but simmer up this stew.



The recipe is a bit long, which can seem daunting at first, but only until you realize the steps are written with loads of detail. There's plenty of beautiful photos to show you how it should look along the way (like the lovely one shown here). Substitutions are pretty easy, and he's great about suggesting ways to adjust the spices to suit your flavor preferences.

I didn't have any preserved lemons, so my helper squeezed some fresh lemon juice in when adding the broth and red wine. It was delicious. The boys weren't fans of the chickpeas, but DD thought they were pretty good.

Promised the kidlets pizza tomorrow, but I can't wait to eat the leftovers with brown rice crisps (Rice Works - picked up at Costco), topped with fresh chopped cilantro.

We get it, already - kids are expensive!

What the heck is going on out there that I am finding so many articles and opinion pieces about children being too costly? Yesterday, the Ben Stein column in Fortune. Today, I read two posts in a row at Boston Gal's blog with links to stories on the opportunity costs of children.

Finances Before Family
The Boston Globe story: Money before baby? has reporter Jessica Cerretani confessing that the great recession has done more than just shrink her 401(k) balance or jeopardize her financial security. It may have torpedoed her plans to ever have a biological child.


Advice given through lens of economic principles
The NPR story: Priceless Advice From 'The Undercover Economist' interviews Financial Times advice columnist Tim Harford who answers readers questions from a ruthless economic-consideration-first perspective. The interview provides a excerpt from his book (based on six years of advice columns)and below is one column that seemed to go along with yesterday's post.

Dear Economist,

I'm an ambitious woman in my midtwenties, just starting what I hope will be a stellar career in business. But I also very much want to have at least one child. How long should I wait?

Yours sincerely,

Ms. E. Jones

Dear Ms. Jones,

Mothers seem to do worse in the labor market than women without children, but that might not be simple cause and effect. For instance, it might indicate that women who expected successful careers delayed having children, but the delay was not the cause of the success.

It all seems imponderable, but it isn't. Amalia Miller, an economist at the University of Virginia, studied the timing of maternity and its effect on earnings. That effect is large: delay maternity by just one year, and you can expect your career earnings to rise by 10 percent, partly because you will work longer hours and partly because you will enjoy a better wage rate. For professionals like you, the wage effect is even higher.

Ugh. I feel the compelling need at this point to defend my three children and the pre-30s timing by pointing out the non-monetary compensation they bring to my life. Call it silly, but there is something quite wonderful about the social, emotional and spiritual richness of my life which I'd not have had without them. There's plenty of time for career and travel later. After all, 50 might just turn out to be the new 25 by the time I get there.

It looks like a new house

Things are moving along smoothly so far, plus that's what the home inspector said about the house today. He said all of the updates were very well done, and that everything is clean & well maintained. In some ways, the inspector said this house is better than a new home, because of the higher quality of foundation and walls back when the home was originally built. There'll be a few things in the report, but nothing major. The highlights are:
  • Downspouts should be extended so they drain a few feet farther out from foundation.
  • Two outlets in front of house are not grounded.
  • At some point, an access panel will need to be cut for the master tub
  • He couldn't find the pressure valve for the water, but figures it's tucked in the middle of new ductwork
  • There are a few boards of siding which should have 1/2-1" shaved off, to get them to full inch away from shingles.
None of those are things which will require major fixes, so closing in three weeks shouldn't be a problem, especially since the paperwork & transferring of funds is done. Keeping fingers crossed the appraisal doesn't come out too far off where it had been appraised back in April.

I'm not a fan of buying a bunch of furniture for a new house, as that is one sure way to blow the budget and open the door for all kinds of unforeseen disaster. I also think it takes time to settle in and figure out what we really want / need for the new space. But - you knew that was coming - I am seriously considering this set of six mahogany chairs, to make a complete dining table. Right now, I move kitchen chairs to the dining table for the kidlets, and use the 4 chairs which are usually set around the table for adults. These are around 125 years old (dealer says possibly 150-meh), and are pretty darn sturdy, without any sway or creaking. Price is marked down to $350 from $500, which was already marked down from original $750... and I like them, so maybe this will be my one rule-breaking purchase?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Assessing the net value of children

I saw the link to a Fortune article by Ben Stein at Wenchypoo's site. She quoted the article:
"People in a free society will choose to have more of something if its return exceeds its cost. On the other hand, people in a free society will choose to have less of a good or service if its value is less than its cost."
Having become increasingly interested over the past few years in those things related to the dismal science of economics, this is not the first time I've seen a statement like that. Having read about falling birth rates in western nations, the concept of applying the phrase to child rearing wasn't new, either. And Ben Stein often manages to get me to think about things in a slightly different light. What? Can I place a value on the kidlets? I was intrigued. So I read.
"What is the value of a child in modern Western industrial society? More specifically, what is the value of a middle-class or upper-middle-class or upper-class child in America? And does this have anything to do with the fact that the birth rate among American women has been falling for decades and that the age of first childbirth among educated women is far higher than among less-well-educated women?

Start with economics. People in a free society will choose to have more of something if its return exceeds its cost. On the other hand, people in a free society will choose to have less of a good or service if its value is less than its cost.

Now, what is a modern child? Obviously, not a good or service, but something more and also something less. Long ago, as we all know, humans had children because they liked having sex and because children had some value as assistant hunters and gatherers and keepers of the hearth."

Goes on into the evolution of society, the move past needing many additional hands for hunting or farming, and the modern day wonders of contraception. Then, Stein gets into what makes modern middle-upper class children so costly:
"...raising modern children is such a major pain in the neck. For one thing, thanks to a variety of factors, often parents have to struggle like galley slaves to get their offspring into private schools and pay for them.

The private school parent also has to pony up for every kind of lesson -- ballet, horse, and music lessons, math tutoring, and chess club. The parent also has to drive the little ones to all of these events as well as to the "play dates" that lurk like unanesthetized colonoscopies in modern life. Then there is the most horrible event a healthy upper-middle-class American can have: social engagements with the parents of Junior's classmates.

In other words, we are talking about child rearing as part unpaid chauffeur, part torture."

One thing I'd like to clarify - it's not just private school parents. Parents utilizing the charter and magnet public schools pay for the private lessons, buy uniforms, buy/sell fundraising merchandise, join countless groups which ask for donations from members often, meet volunteer requirements at the school, drive to all the events... and are expected to all of this cheerfully, because we're not paying private school tuition.

"...part unpaid chauffeur, part torture." I love that line. Then there's college. After four (or more) years of paying lots of money to institutions of higher learning, what do you end up with?
"a son with a law degree who cannot get a job, a daughter with a film-school degree who works as a masseuse, or a musician who keeps you up all night with his drums."
Ooh. Goody. I have three children, so could potentially end up with all three of those hypotheticals trying to move back home in their 20s. Can't wait.

To be fair, Stein does point out that not all children grow up to be complete ingrates, with the sense of entitlement of a two year old's "MINE!" phase. His son, of course, is the exception. I may not disagree with his conclusions in the article, but I can't say it brings many pleasant thoughts, either:
"The costs and benefits of having children in affluent America are wildly off kilter. Too much cost, too little reward. Often the cost-benefit analysis of children prints out "Get a German shorthaired pointer instead."

Many people are doing that, and the birth rate is collapsing. But if we stop having enough children, because their value is so low relative to their cost, the society grinds down. It's happening right now. The native-born upper middle class barely replace themselves in America, if they do at all. In a way we are committing suicide as a class, possibly in part because of the burdens of child rearing in modern life.

What is the net present value of a child in modern America? Often, it's difficult to find much, and thereby hangs a question mark over our future as a nation, at least as we have known it."

Best laid (race) plans

That autumn schedule of races I'd carefully put together? Two or three events each month for September, October and November.

It's gone. Out the window. Kaput.

Most have been dropped due to B1's cross country schedule, which every Saturday but one filled through the first half of November. Two have been dropped because of new house and move plans. Both are extremely good reasons, so I can't complain. Wait. Yes, I can complain, but I won't. Except for a brief whine about one.

I'm not exactly thrilled about dropping the Midnight Flight 5k/10k off my calendar. (With all the last minute documents to find for the loan paperwork, the home inspection and contingency back-and-forth, it's just not a great idea to head out early on Friday for that first race on the schedule.) It's a fun night race, just far enough out of town that I have to spend the night and take Saturday morning to sleep in, soak in the tub, and take myself to a lazy brunch before the drive back to Atlanta. I'd planned to run the two races back-to-back, using the 5k as a warm up for the 10k. (The first mile or two of any run are always the blah miles, so I figured I'd be fully coordinated by the 11pm start time of the 10k.)

Depending on how the birthday parties, end-of-summer pool parties and requested sleep overs shake out over the next few days, I may still fit in a race this Labor Day weekend. The 10k Classic is on Labor Day, just a few miles from here, and is supposed to be a challenging, hilly course.

And, until something else pops up, here's the scaled back schedule. There may be a couple of 5k races added with the kidlets, during the off-week for cross country, or on Saturdays when B1's events are in the afternoon.

9/7 - 10k Classic (Maybe)
10/4 - Locomotive Half & 5k, Kennesaw
10/31 - Silver Comet Half Marathon
11/26 - Atlanta Half Marathon

A few hours over the next week will go into making a training plan with the October 31 and Thanksgiving Day half marathons as the main focus. The Locomotive HM on October 4th is going to be a practice run (in place of long run for the week) for the other two HMs. Treated Run the Reagan that way back in February, and it turned out to be a great race.

On a what the heck am I thinking? note, I took advantage of the discount for super-early registration for the ING on March 21, 2010. I signed up for the full marathon this time around. After all, I have 199 days, 22 hours and 14 minutes to prepare. What could possibly go wrong?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

It's time for a haircut. Really, REALLY time.

My hair is past the halfway point between shoulder & waist again. Ponytails are no longer adequate to control tangles & helmet hair. And you don't want to know what kind of a birdsnest I wake up to each morning, though my daughter finds it quite entertaining. I'm back to twisting hair up with a pencil while working, and braiding for exercise and sleep.

Though one might also suspect I've been watching old episodes of Little House on the Prairie while folding laundry, which I have most definitely not been doing. Well... not today, at least.

And now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to ride. Stumbling on Happiness is the audiobook on tap today. Started it over summer vacation, but found little time to listen while surrounded by little people.