Monday, February 21, 2011


On entertainment:

We just started rewatching Babylon 5, and I have absolutely no problem seeing why it took me a while to warm up to it. I can see the seeds of the characters I grew to love, but holy stilted dialogue, Batman.

In other brain-rotting, we enjoyed Downton Abbey on PBS immensely. I think there's something about a highly regulated society that makes for the best soap operas, probably because there are so many more ways to transgress, and the stakes are so much higher. People sleeping together in these dissolute days means very little, but 100 years ago, just the hint of impropriety could exile someone forever. That makes for the really good drama.

I'm very glad to find out that there's a second season coming, because the number of dangling plotlines. I hope we don't have to wait an entire year or more for it to come over. I may have to find out when it's showing in the UK so we can acquire it early.

On children:

K's latest entertainment is cleaning things. She's really not too bad at it, going at things with a spray bottle of cleaning solution so diluted that it's practically water and a cleaning cloth. Although we're still dealing with the aftermath of last week when she decided to clean the bathroom with Goo Gone, on the whole this is a hobby I encourage. I was rather bemused to find myself having to say yesterday, "You may not clean the bathroom until your schoolwork is done!"

On Wisconsin:

Being a household that is largely supported by a unionized public worker, we've been following the events in Wisconsin pretty closely and feeling a great deal of solidarity with the demonstrators there.

I... don't even know how to respond to the things I hear about this. I can say that while I'm sure there are ways that unions can create abuse, most of the frothing I hear about lazy union workers who get fat salaries and benefit packages for no work are rather heated fantasies. Certainly every union worker I know works quite hard for the same number of hours as everyone else. B's good benefits package more or less makes up for the fact that he's making less money than he would in the private sector. The number of times B has had to fear for his job in the four years we've been here certainly shows that it's possible to get fired from a union job.

And then there are the people who feel it's preferable that other people lose there entire pension or even livelihood to their having to pay another $30 a year in taxes. I'm not sure my response to this is printable, except to say to the people insisting that we all have to make sacrifices that, well, we all have to make sacrifices, so why are you insisting that other people's sacrifices be so much bigger than yours?

And the attitude I understand least of all is the people who seem to resent the fact that we've found a way to make our working lives better. The chain of logic seems to go: your workplace treats you well and mine treats me like crap. Therefore I want to take away any protection you have so you can be treated like crap too. Er, I can think of better solutions to this problem. I mean, while B's benefits package is good, I don't consider it unreasonably generous, I consider it reasonable because it's the sort of benefits everyone should get. The only area that it's really better than many benefit plans it that we get very good health insurance and don't have to pay a lot for it. This is something everyone deserves. Wouldn't you rather work to get what we have instead of trying to take it away?

Government workers are struggling and sacrificing in the bad economy like everyone else - B hasn't had a raise in two years, there have been multiple waves of layoffs and it's entirely likely his next contract will include the city having the ability to impose furlough days. But being part of a union means that even though we work for what is quite frankly a fairly corrupt city government that is scrambling to deal with a lack of money, we can feel like we have a measure of protection. I can think of several instances where B's union prevented the city from doing something abusive, and goodness knows how many things they haven't tried to do because of the union being there. I can't imagine how bad it would get if that protection were taken away.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

And in other news

We have found a new house. A really really nice house.

One of the nice things about the current real estate market is that it's not just good for buyers. It's also very good for renters because the people who can't sell their houses are often renting them out instead. And since they're just trying to cover the mortgage, not make a profit, you can get quite a nice price indeed for a house that's been fixed up to sell.

So it's not just that we're getting:

- Much more space
- A lovely setup in the basement with a family room with a wood-burning stove and an in-law suite that will serve as a great space for having a schoolroom connected to a playroom for optimal older-kid-teaching and toddler-entertaining
- A fenced backyard with a storage shed, across the street from some nice woods

The fact that they were trying to sell the house means that we also get:

- Nice, up-to-date appliances that aren't the cheapest models available
- Clean walls and carpets that aren't Rental Beige (and thankfully also not orange shag)
- New, energy efficient windows and doors

All for not much more than we're paying now. Groovy.

Really, the only real drawbacks I can think of are that it's not that convenient to a grocery store and all of the banisters are metal which will make it hard to set up baby gates, a necessity in a three-story house. In particular, we need them on the stairs going up to the third floor, which are fairly steep and lead down to a brick wall at the bottom. Ai-yi-yi. We like our toddler's brains on the inside, thank you. Right now, he's terrified of going down stairs on his own, but he'll outgrow that eventually and I think my hair will go entirely grey at that point, the hair that's remaining after I've torn large portions out, that is.

And, of course, the REAL disadvantage of the new house: now we have to move. Sigh. Can't I just hope for helpful moving fairies to arrive and magically transport all of our stuff to the new house, conveniently organizing and purging in the process? Sounds like a plan to me!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Homeschooling, week 2

Last week, K read, with heavy prompting, a little phonics book today of the "Pat and Nan sat" variety. I think the unwillingness to read out loud is something that will probably improve as she gains confidence with reading. I suspect the unwillingness to give answers unless she's really sure of them is something that will go on for years.

I am quite sure that the problem is that she doesn't want to take risks, not that she doesn't understand. Last week, in the middle of a lesson where we were adding letters to -an and I was struggling to get her to read "fan" and "pan," she said "If we add 'K' we'll have the beginning of 'kangaroo.'"

...okay then. You can't get "man" but you can extrapolate "kangaroo"?

Her last school was working on more of a whole word approach to reading while this school is using phonics, and I think phonics definitely suits K better. It gives the student tools to figure things out on their own, instead of expecting them to simply memorize things and be able to repeat them back on demand. This suits K's learning style and personality vastly better. After only two weeks, she's really getting the idea of sounding things out. Today, we were about to close the tray on the dvd player and she looked at a label and said "C-c-c-close" and then hit the right button. Not too shabby.

We're getting a better rhythm to our days. We start out with a recorded message from her teacher and a round of educational computer games assigned by the school, then work on the parent-taught lessons. If we're on the ball, we can have the vast majority done by lunch. The majority of the work isn't hard at all for her, but my goal has never been to stretch her to her limits academically but just to prevent her from having to sit there all day doing stuff that's too easy for her over and over again. Right now, she's engaged, she's learning, and she has plenty of free play time, which is what a kindergartener needs.