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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Holiday Gift Ideas - Part 2

  • Gift memberships are great gifts for families. As I've mentioned , I think the Los Angeles Zoo is a great deal for families with young children. There is also the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. Families with older children might enjoy memberships to places like the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the newly reopened Griffith Observatory, or the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. If you don't live in Los Angeles, check out the membership programs of similar places in your neighborhood.

  • Fan club memberships can be great gifts for fans of all things, and aren't just kids. Membership to a sports team fan club often gives you freebies and discounts on tickets and merchandise. Memberships to other types of fan clubs also frequently come with exclusive access to newsletters, merchandise and similar items.

  • Magazine subscriptions can make nice gifts if you know what the recipient likes. For example, I really enjoy reading my monthly copy of Parents magazine, so I took advantage of a special offer to renew my own subscription for one year at the rate of $12 and give two "free" subscriptions to friends (I chose my two closest friends who also have toddlers). I've also given many subscriptions to my favorite magazine of all time, Cooking Light, in the past.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Book Review: Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki

My dad gave me a copy of Robert Kiyosaki's book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad years ago but I didn't get around to reading it until a few weeks ago. I wish I'd read it earlier, although I'm not sure I would have appreciated it quite so much. I didn't agree with everything Kiyosaki says, but I thought he had some interesting points to make.

For example, he defines wealth not in terms of net worth, but in terms of how long you can pay your bills without working. His position is that ideally, one's income comes from assets, not a job. So if your assets produce enough income each month to meet your monthly expenses, you are wealthy because you don't have to work in order to pay your bills. Kiyosaki also suggests that luxuries should be purchased with income from assets, rather than with "savings." He believes that "savings" should be used to purchase assets, which will produce income.

One theme that Kiyosaki repeats throughout the book is that maximizing knowledge minimizes risk. In a similar vein, Kiyosaki also notes that opportunities for making money are everywhere if one has the right mind set. I liked these points of view as they are quite different from my usual perspective and, I suspect, the perspective of most people.

A disturbing moment, at least to me, was reading that Kiyosaki believes that paying oneself first is so important that he does it before he pays his creditors. He claims that knowing he owes his creditors money makes him work harder to make or find money, but that it's more important to build his wealth than to pay his bills. I personally can't agree, but it's definitely an interesting point of view that makes this book a worthwhile read.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Preparing to Breastfeed #2

Before Alex was born, I took the hospital's breastfeeding class and made sure the pediatrician we selected was supportive of breastfeeding. I read enough baby care books to decide on the My Brest Friend nursing pillow, but I don't think I even took it to the hospital with me. I also knew that a lot of women have trouble with nursing so I took the advice I read somewhere (Baby Bargains, I think) and bought a good manual pump (the Avent Isis) instead of an electric pump (although I had already decided that if breastfeeding worked out, I would get a Medela Pump In Style Advanced before I went back to work).

Despite my hesitation to invest in an electric pump from the start, I had a feeling breastfeeding would go smoothly. Boy, I couldn't have been more wrong! I've chronicled my woes here already, so I won't go into them all over again. Suffice it to say, I'm not taking breastfeeding for granted this time.

Instead, I've already checked in with my lactation consultant, Ellen Steinberg, several times. I know she'll be out of town on the day of my scheduled surgery (I have opted to have a planned c-section instead of trying for a VBAC), but we have agreed to talk the week before to go over what I should keep in mind while in the hospital. I am particularly concerned about positioning, since it's been nearly two years since I nursed a newborn (and developed extremely painful tendinitis in my wrists from holding Alex's head in place). I've already discussed my concern about my milk coming in after the surgery with my obstetrician, who assured me that the surgery won't affect my milk supply because that is controlled by my hormone levels.

I will be bringing my nursing pillow to the hospital this time, and I am already stocked on supplements in case my milk supply is low again. I will also make sure I have replaced the necessary parts of my breast pump so that I can pump when I get home from the hospital if needed, but I also know that I don't need to bring my own pump to the hospital because they'll provide me with a Medela Symphony if I need to pump while I'm there.

Hopefully, all of these steps will help the new baby and me get breastfeeding off to a good start. I'm optimistic that things will be different this time and that if breastfeeding goes well, I can avoid another bout of postpartum depression.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

LA DWP Rebates

We have two refrigerators - the regular one in the kitchen, and an extra one in the garage. This came about by happenstance, since we owned a refrigerator when we bought our house and the previous owner left us a refrigerator when we moved in. The refrigerator we inherited from the previous owner was an older model, and we moved it into the garage, where it housed extra frozen meals, drinks, large bags of flour and rice, etc. A couple of months ago, the old refrigerator began malfunctioning. It still worked, but somewhat unreliably, and we decided it was time for it to go.

I checked the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power website for information on how to dispose of our refrigerator and discovered that they provide free pick up for working refrigerators as an incentive to reduce energy consumption. The pick up even comes with a $35 rebate and 6 free compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Marc and I decided that we use our second refrigerator enough to warrant buying a new one. In fact, without our second refrigerator, I wouldn't be able to do Dream Dinners. LA DWP also offers a $65 rebate if you replace your old refrigerator with an Energy Star rated refrigerator. A basic Energy Star refrigerator turned out to be about $100 more expensive than a basic non-Energy Star refrigerator, but we figured that would be offset by the $100 total rebate from DWP and should result in savings on our electric bill.

It's been about 5 weeks since I sent in the rebate form and we haven't heard anything yet, but the DWP website indicates it takes 6 to 8 weeks to process a rebate. I'm optimistic things will go smoothly because we didn't have any trouble a few years ago when we installed new low-flush toilets in our house and received a $100 rebate per toilet. If you plan to install any new appliances, check with your power company to see if there are any incentives (for instance, LA DWP also offers rebates for high efficiency washing machines).

Note: If you're interested in the toilet rebate program, act quickly. The DWP website indicates the rebate program is being terminated at the end of the year.


Friday, November 10, 2006

My New Mei Tai

I like the concept of babywearing - basically, I like keeping my baby close and having lots of contact. But when Alex was born a year and a half ago, I didn't know about options beyond the Baby Bjorn and Snugli. These days, I'm a lot more educated - maybe because I hated the Bjorn, which made me awfully hot and hurt my back, even though it was the version with the lumbar support. (One of our most comical moments in Alex's early days involved the Bjorn. It was the middle of the night, Alex (as usual) wouldn't stop crying, and we thought maybe a ride in the Bjorn would calm him down. But we had only used it once before, and figuring it out wasn't that easy. In trying to help Marc with the straps, I lost my grip and punched him square in the nose! Fortunately, he was okay. Unfortunately, being in the Bjorn did not settle Alex at all.)

I'm sure that at some point we'll buy a double stroller, but my plan for the majority of the time after the baby is born is to wear the baby and leave myself free to chase Alex, who generally dislikes riding in the stroller and would much rather run around. I looked at slings, pouches and wraps, but fell in love with the mei tai, which is sometimes called an Asian baby carrier. A mei tai is simply a panel of fabric with four long straps. The bottom two straps tie around your waist and the top two straps go over your shoulders in various adjustable ways to secure the baby to your chest or back. I especially liked that the mei tai is supposed to be comfortable even for those with back problems and that some versions can be used from the newborn stage all the way through with toddlerhood.

I ordered mine from Baby Hawk after reading good things about the brand on Babycenter's Babywearing board and on the forums of The Babywearer. I have to say, though, that I chose Baby Hawk over Kozy Carrier only because Baby Hawk offered a camoflauge pattern as a fabric choice (Marc said that he might actually wear a mei tai in this pattern). My mei tai arrived a few weeks ago and I expect to love it and use it a lot. But I want to mention that although Baby Hawk says their custom carriers ship in 10 to 14 days, mine did not ship until the 17th day and there was no communication from them between the confirmation email and the automatically generated notice from PayPal informing me that Baby Hawk had created a shipping label for my order. I was actually about to contact them about the status of my order when I got the PayPal email.

I'll update you after the baby's born and let you know how the mei tai is working out for me.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Dream Dinners: The Verdict

As I posted previously, I purchased three different meals at an introductory price from Dream Dinners, a company that prepares all the ingredients for you so that all you have to do is show up, assemble a meal, take it home, freeze it, and cook it at your convenience. The meals I selected were Four Cheese and Meatball Calzones, Chicken Enchiladas, and Braised BBQ Beef with Buttermilk Biscuits.

The final verdict is a thumbs up. Although I was skeptical, the meals all tasted quite good. Here's a quick run down of each meal:

  • Four Cheese and Meatball Calzones with Marinara Sauce: The oddest part of this meal was that although it is supposed to serve six, you only get four calzones. I baked two and still have two in the freezer, since the directions called for putting two calzones each in two baking pans. We did get three servings out of the two calzones, but that was only because I wasn't very hungry and ate only a part of one. I also made extra marinara sauce since the small container of sauce provided really wasn't enough.
  • Chicken Enchiladas: I liked this meal quite a bit, although I do prefer shredded chicken to diced, which is what was provided. The sauce, which was simply a combination of jarred salsa and sour cream, was surprisingly good. This dish would be extremely easy to re-create on my own, and I just might do that before the baby comes.
  • Braised BBQ Beef with Buttermilk Biscuits: This was probably the overall favorite. The directions called for searing the meat and then simmering it on the stove for 2 1/2 hours, but I threw everything into the slow cooker for the day instead and it came out quite tasty. The biscuits were delicious when fresh out of the oven but not nearly as good the next day.

My biggest complaint is that it can be difficult to plan ahead so that there is enough time for each meal to defrost before cooking. I wish the meals could go straight from freezer to oven, which I know is possible for at least some meals (like my meatloaf).

We've decided that it's worth going back for a full session later this month. Although the meals aren't as healthy as meals I make from scratch, they are healthier and cheaper than fast food or take out, and I definitely won't be cooking from scratch every night for quite some time. You can find Dream Dinners' current menu here.

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Monday, November 06, 2006

The Finances of Preparing to Breastfeed #2

I had so much trouble breastfeeding Alex during the first six weeks or so of his life that the prospect of nursing my second child looms large on the horizon. I have been reassured by other moms that it will be easier this time around, and I know I am better prepared in every way. I also have the satisfaction of knowing that I nursed Alex until he was 15 1/2 months old. Nevertheless, I find myself dwelling on this topic a lot lately.

One positive thing that stands out is the financial aspect. I think that the first time around, I spent as much on breastfeeding equipment, supplements and consultations as I would have on a year's worth of formula. Before Alex was born, I spent about $40 on an Avent Isis manual breast pump, which I never used. On the day we left the hospital, I bought a Medela Pump In Style Advanced breast pump, which was $350 (comparable to Babies R Us at the time). I spent $25 for a nearly worthless hour with the hospital's lactation consultant when Alex was two days old, and another $80 to $100 for an almost equally worthless hour with an independent lactation consultant when Alex was four or five days old. A few days after that, I spent $180 on a (finally!) fruitful consultation with Ellen Steinberg, who also rented me a baby scale for three weeks for approximately $100. Over the course of the next year, I spent another several hundred dollars on supplements to increase my milk supply, extra pumping equipment, and nursing bras, pads and pillows.

I've read that the average cost of formula-feeding an infant for one year is approximately $1200, and I'd guess that's about what I spent in total to breastfeed Alex. While I will need to pay for some of these things again, I won't have to spend quite so much - I estimate about $200-$300 over the course of a year on new pump parts, nursing pads, and such. So we will actually see some savings due to breastfeeding this time. It's also quite possible that breastfeeding saves us on medical costs, since Alex has been remarkably healthy and hopefully this baby will be also.

I'll post more about the non-financial aspects of preparing to breastfeed #2 in the near future.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

One Paragraph Book Review: The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

The last 280 pages of Yann Martel’s critically acclaimed novel, The Life of Pi, were highly entertaining. But if I hadn’t been obligated to finish the book for my book club, I never would have made it past the first 120 pages, which didn’t advance the plot and left me bored and mildly irritated. Starting at page 121, however, when the protagonist, Pi, finds himself stranded in the middle of the ocean with a Bengal tiger, I found the story of survival compelling. (I have to acknowledge that I read fiction primarily for content and plot development, and not so much the nature of the writing - I like a good story, and it doesn’t really matter to me if it’s told poetically. That said, the quality of writing in this story is quite good.)