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Friday, January 30, 2009

Update to Graco Nautilus Review

As you might recall, we were rear-ended back in November and needed to get new car seats. I first tried the Sunshine Radian and hated it because I couldn't get it to fit right.

I ended up with two Graco Nautilus seats, which I liked. But after less than one month, the belt on one of the Nautilus seats began to fray – and since it was the belt that you pull to tighten the harness, it would get stuck and the belt would be impossible to tighten or loosen. In other words, the seat became unusable. (See photo.)

If this had been my only Nautilus seat, or if the problem had happened with both seats, I probably would have demanded a full refund from Graco so that I could go purchase a Britax Regent.

But since the other Nautilus has been fine, I was willing to give Graco the benefit of the doubt and assume the problem was unique to the car seat that we'd bought. I contacted them through their web site, explained the problem, offered to send photos, and asked for a replacement seat. The next day, I received a response requesting the photos. The day after I sent the photos, I received an email stating that the replacement parts had been sent.

Since I had asked for a new seat, I wasn't exactly sure what "parts" to expect. But I'd forgotten that the Nautilus isn't just a car seat, it's convertible to a booster. So what arrived was the booster part of the seat, and all I had to do was remove the back from the old booster seat and attach it to the new one. I just followed the instructions that were in the manual. It took me less than 30 minutes to remove the seat from the car, replace the booster, and reinstall the seat. Not bad.

While I was less than pleased to have the frayed belt problem in the first place, I must say that Graco's customer service handled the problem exactly as I would have hoped. And while I don't love the Nautilus the way I love the Marathon, it's almost as easy to install and use. So if you're looking for a five-point harness seat that looks like a high back booster, I continue to recommend the Nautilus as a more affordable option than the Regent (though I look forward to personally trying out the Regent at some point).

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

More free Swag Bucks

Search & WinEnter the code BeMine (case sensitive) to get a free Swag Buck.

And head over to the Swag Bucks polls page to guess the total number of points that will be scored in the Super Bowl. If the most popular answer turns out to be correct, there will be more free Swag Bucks on Monday.

Finally, there's an urgent plea for people not to post fraudulent inducements to get others to join Swag Bucks, and for people to report such fraudulent users if you see any.

Curious about Swag Bucks? Read my original Swag Bucks review and most recent follow up post.

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Three recalls today: Necklace, aromatherapy kit & construction set

If you think you have the following item(s), click through to the CPSC press release for more details:

Skull-And-Crossbones Necklaces Recalled By Spencer Gifts Due to Risk of Lead Exposure


JAKKS Pacific® Recalls Spa Factory™ Aromatherapy Kits Due to Explosion and Projectile Hazards - Click through for a close up.


DDI Inc. Recalls Toy Construction Play Sets Due to Violation of Lead Paint Standard


As always, I highly recommend signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.

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A look back on my 2008 resolutions

I made three four resolutions for 2008, and I figured I'd better review how I did with them before the month is over.

Resolution #1 was to pay cash for a new car. We didn't quite accomplish this, but we came so close that I'm giving myself credit for this one. Last March, we decided it was time to buy a new car or pay $1000 to have some work done on our old car. Since we planned on buying a new car anyway, we went with that option. We didn't have quite enough set aside at the time to pay cash for the entire purchase, so we financed a portion of it. Thanks to our tax refund and economic stimulus payment, the new car loan was paid off in May. And because the car was fully paid for within two months of our purchase, I consider this goal accomplished.

Resolution #2 was to stop buying things just because they're a great deal. From one perspective, I did terribly with this goal: thanks to the Drugstore Game, I bought hundreds of things that I didn't need just because they were free. But, at least I did it on purpose and with a greater savings goal in mind – after all, buying things I don't need saves me money in the Drugstore Game. And aside from those Drugstore Game buys, I made far fewer "great deal" purchases in 2008 than I did in 2007. So this goal was also accomplished.

Resolution #3 was to buy only fair trade chocolate. This goal came about because Adrienne of Baby Toolkit posted information I hadn't known before: that the chocolate industry is largely based on child slavery. Unfortunately, I owe Adrienne a huge apology because I just wasn't as committed as she is. Where fair trade chocolate products were available, I did buy them – all of my chocolate bars, chocolate chips, cocoa, and truffles are fair trade. But where fair trade chocolate products haven't been available – as with cereal, for instance – I faltered and gave in to my love of all things chocolate. In 2009, I will seek out as many fair trade chocolate products as possible. But I have to consider this goal a failure.

Resolution #4 was to record more conversations with the boys. Alas, I never really got around to this one. The record function on my Sansahasn't really been used. However, we took many videos of the boys, and they pretty much capture the flavor of our days, so I'm not overly disappointed. Still, I do have to consider this goal a failure.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

One recall today: Canopies

If you think you have the following item(s), click through to the CPSC press release for more details:

The Land of Nod Recalls Children’s Canopies Due to Entrapment and Strangulation Hazards


As always, I highly recommend signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.

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Update on our refi: We closed yesterday at 4.875%

We finally signed the closing documents for the refinance on our mortgage yesterday. After fees, the math works out to an APR of just over 5%, and of course, APR is what really matters when it comes to figuring out our savings. We plan on staying in our house forever, and to continue paying the same amount that we do now, so the benefits of our refi will be substantial. We'll save over $30,000 in interest and pay off our mortgage in 2031, two years earlier than our current payoff date in 2033.

It must be awful for the escrow company's notary to have an attorney come in to sign closing documents. I read every sheet of paper and questioned multiple figures. I also questioned a couple of whole documents, including one that was completely irrelevant that we didn't have to sign. It was an IRS form permitting the mortgage company to obtain copies of our tax returns – the form itself said something like "If completing form for a third party, do not sign if Lines 6 and 9 are blank" and of course, Lines 6 and 9 were blank. The notary had to call the lender, who said, "Oops, they don't need to sign that." I'd like to think nothing bad would have happened even if we'd signed it without reading it, but I hate to think of all the people who have given lenders permission to obtain their tax returns when it wasn't necessary.

Finally, while we plan on paying extra on the principal every month, I must admit that a tiny part of me is glad to have the reduced monthly payment – just in case something bad happens and suddenly that $200 monthly difference becomes significant.

Now I just have to update our list of accounts.

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Works for me: Flossing in the shower

I have a confession: I hate flossing my teeth. So much so that up until about ten years ago, I didn't use to floss every night. There's just something about sticking my fingers in my mouth, and little bits of food flying out, that makes me cringe.

But then I learned to floss in the shower. And I've been flossing every night since. (Yes, I shower at night - it shortens my morning routine considerably.) With the water running down my back and washing all those food particles away, flossing in the shower is about as pleasant as flossing can possibly be. And it was particularly helpful back in my pregnancy days, when all of a sudden, in the middle of flossing, I'd be hit with a wave of nausea.

So if you hate flossing as much as I do, why not do it in the shower?

Find more Works for Me Wednesday tips at Rocks in My Dryer.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Two recalls today: Manicure kits & keychains

If you think you have the following item(s), click through to the CPSC press release for more details:

High School Musical Manicure Kits Recalled by Fantas-Eyes Due to Risk of Lead Exposure


Lip Gloss Keychains Recalled By Markwins Beauty Products Due to Risk of Lead Exposure


As always, I highly recommend signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.

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Guess the Super Bowl score & win 20 Swag Bucks!

Search & WinNote: Read the entire post since I'm not the one giving away the Swag Bucks - if you win, you'll be getting them from The Swag Guy, who writes the official blog.

If you guess the score of Sunday's Super Bowl, you'll win 20 free Swag Bucks.

Just send an email to TheSwagGuy@Swagbucks.com with your guess in the subject line (for example, Steelers __ Cardinals __).

Read my original Swag Bucks review and most recent follow up post.

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Valentine's Day Giveaway: The Day It Rained Hearts by Felicia Bond

This week's second giveaway is part of the Bloggy Giveaways Quarterly Carnival and is for a paperback copy of Felicia Bond's The Day It Rained Hearts.

The book was previously published as Four Valentines in a Rainstorm, and while I've never heard of either version, it's apparently a popular story that's been around since 1983. From the back of the book:
One day it rains hearts, and Cornelia Augusta catches them. Each heart is special in its own way, and Cornelia Augusta knows exactly who to send them to.
The book is recommended for ages 4 to 8.

If this is your first time visiting Chief Family Officer, WELCOME! I post daily on family finances, parenting, cooking, and other family-related topics. And I almost always have a weekly giveaway - in fact, while you're here, go ahead and enter the 40 free Kodak prints giveaways. Don't forget to check out the Best of CFO as well. There are lots of money-saving tips, and in today's economy, who doesn't want to save as much money as possible?

To enter this giveaway, simply fill out the form below. (If you're reading this in a feed aggregator or email, you'll need to click through to the post to reach the form.)

For an additional entry, subscribe to CFO via RSS or email and fill out the form again to let me know you've done so.

For a third entry, spread the word about this contest – tell a friend or write about it on your own blog. Then let me know about it by filling out the form again.


You can enter up to three times (one for each type), and you must submit separate entries for each type. Only one entry of each type per email address will be counted. I'll select the winner using Random.org and announce them here on CFO as well as contact them by email. The winner will have 48 hours to send me their address, otherwise their prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected.

The giveaway ends at 6:00 p.m. PST on Tuesday, February 3.

Good luck!

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Giveaway: 40 free Kodak prints from Target

Bloggy Giveaways Quarterly Carnival ButtonThe Bloggy Giveaways Quarterly Carnival starts today, and I couldn't pass up the chance to participate. Enter here, then head over there for literally thousands of giveaways to enter in the next week. And come back tomorrow for another giveaway here, too.

Today's giveaway is for a coupon good for 40 free 4x6 Kodak prints from Target One-hour Photo Labs. The coupon expires May 9, 2009, and has a maximum retail value of $11.60. The coupon isn't entirely clear, but in order to redeem it, I think you'll need to take your memory stick to the store and order your prints there.

If this is your first time visiting Chief Family Officer, WELCOME! I post daily on family finances, parenting, cooking, and other family-related topics. And I almost always have a weekly giveaway - in fact, while you're here, go ahead and enter the Day It Rained Hearts book giveaway. Don't forget to check out the Best of CFO as well. There are lots of money-saving tips, and in today's economy, who doesn't want to save as much money as possible?

To enter the Kodak prints coupon giveaway, simply fill out the form below. (If you're reading this in a feed aggregator or email, you'll need to click through to the post to reach the form.)

For an additional entry, subscribe to CFO via RSS or email and fill out the form again to let me know you've done so.

For a third entry, spread the word about this contest – tell a friend or write about it on your own blog. Then let me know about it by filling out the form again.


You can enter up to three times (one for each type), and you must submit separate entries for each type. Only one entry of each type per email address will be counted. I'll select the winner using Random.org and announce them here on CFO as well as contact them by email. The winner will have 48 hours to send me their address, otherwise their prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected.

The giveaway ends at 6:00 p.m. PST on Monday, February 2. This giveaway is open to everyone, regardless of location.

Good luck!

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Chester's Way winner

Thank you to everyone who entered the Chester's Way giveaway. Congratulations to the lucky random winner:

Angie (shopan****@yahoo.com)

Angie, you have 48 hours to email me at cfoblog [at] gmail [dot] com with your mailing address.

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Feeding the kids: A new approach

Thank you for all of the emails and comments regarding my dilemma over feeding the kids and handling their rejection of my cooking. It's nice to know I'm not alone, and it was very interesting and enlightening to read all of the different perspectives. Camille's comment in particular really grabbed my attention because I realized that she's absolutely (and rather obviously) right: I haven't been putting myself in the kids' shoes enough.

I haven't been asking myself on a regular basis if they'd be interested in what I was planning to make, let alone asking them (or at least Alex) if they'd be interested. I've been more focused on cooking things that I want to eat, rather than things they might be willing to try.

Which isn't to say that I haven't made things that I was sure they would like, only to have them rejected upon sight. (Like the bolognese with alphabet shaped pasta, as I previously mentioned.) But overall, I have to admit that I haven't been respectful enough of the boys' opinions.

So last week, I pulled out my folder of new recipes while Alex was eating and asked him what he'd like for dinner that night. We ran through a few general categories and he picked (unsurprisingly) pasta. I pulled out my pasta recipes and showed him a few that I thought he might be interested in, but all he said was, "That sounds yucky."

Then I got to a page from an old Martha Stewart Kids issue, which included a recipe for Baked Rigatoni Cake. "That looks yummy." Okay, we had a winner.

I considered making the "cake" with whole wheat penne, because I've never been able to find whole wheat rigatoni. But I really needed a flat end, so I had to use regular rigatoni. Instead of making the sauce in the recipe, I just pulled out some frozen bolognese base and made some of our favorite bolognese. It wasn't as red as the sauce in the picture, but it was probably a lot tastier. The rigatoni wasn't as hard to assemble as I thought it would be – in fact, it wasn't hard at all. And one pound was the exact right amount for a 9-inch springform pan.

I even assembled the "cake" in the early afternoon, wrapped the bottom of the pan in foil to catch any seeping liquid, and parked the pan in the fridge while we went out on a play date. When we got home, I popped the pan into the oven, adding about ten minutes to the baking time since everything was cold.

Alex didn't actually help me with the cooking process – he wasn't really interested, although I did call him over to watch me set up the rigatoni in the pan. And throughout the day and at dinner, I emphasized that we were having something he'd picked out and requested.

It worked. He didn't actually love the dish, but because he felt some ownership of it, he ate a decent amount.

I freely admit that I'm not thrilled with the nutritional content of the dish, but only because the pasta wasn't whole wheat. And it was a good start. It made me realize that I need to include the boys more in the menu planning that I do.

Camille recommended books by Ellen Satter, and subsequent commenter Dina echoed the endorsement. So I ordered Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: Orchestrating and Enjoying the Family Meal.It sounded like what I needed, particularly the parts on ways to involve kids in the kitchen and guidelines on adapting menus for young children. I'll review the book after I've had a chance to read it and implement its suggestions.

Thanks again, everyone!

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

One recall today: Boys' pajamas

If you think you have the following item(s), click through to the CPSC press release for more details:

Mad Dog Concepts Recalls Boy’s Pajamas Due to Burn Hazard


As always, I highly recommend signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.

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Do you really value financial security?

Here's a hypothetical: Finances are tight but your cell phone is broken. You call your service provider and they tell you, "Oh yeah, that phone is known for always breaking. But good news! It's under warranty so we'll send you a new one for free."

Assume for purposes of this exercise that your livelihood does not require a reliable cell phone. Do you respond:
(A) "Great - send it ASAP!" or
(B) "Gosh, I can't live with an unreliable cell phone for even a minute even if I only use it socially. Let me spend money on a new one instead."

Not surprisingly, I would choose (A), especially if each new phone came with its own (new) warranty, so that if the new phone broke, I'd simply get yet another replacement for free. Obviously, it would be a hassle, but if money is truly tight, I can live without my phone for a few days. And I might not have to, since I could (probably) get a replacement at my service provider's store.

Do you know anyone who would choose (B)? I do.

And I just don't get it. I mean, I understand that a cell phone is important, but if I'm worried about being able to pay my bills, I'm not choosing to spend money on a new cell phone when I don't have to.

When I was reflecting on my friend's choice, I realized that it all comes down to priorities. And some people value other things over financial security, stability and independence. It may be status, or it may be safety. It may simply be denial – a sense of "I'm worth it, no matter what my true financial state."

Since it's a new year, when people traditionally establish goals for the next twelve months, I ask you:

Is financial security truly a priority? And if so, do you act in accordance with that priority?

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Works for Me: Google Calendar

It happened gradually, starting when Alex was born nearly four years ago, and then escalating dramatically when Tyler was born two years ago: DISORGANIZATION.

Before kids, I was one of the most Type-A, organized people you would ever meet. Now, I sometimes struggle to remember to pay the bills on time.

Here's one way I've learned to adapt: I no longer have a paper calendar on my desk. There was no point – half the time, I wouldn't be able to find it, one quarter of the time, I'd forget to write something down, and the other quarter of the time, I'd forget to look something up. I realized I needed another way.

My new way turned out to be Google Calendar. It has a reminder function that I use constantly. I list appointments and send myself multiple reminders – usually one week ahead, and then the day before, and sometimes additional reminders if I need to act before the actual event. I've even created a recurring weekly event, with a corresponding weekly reminder, to remind myself to pocket my office key card every Monday morning. That became a necessity after I forgot the card three Mondays in a row upon returning from my maternity leave after Tyler's birth.

The reminders are particularly useful for events scheduled way ahead of time that I'm likely to forget because my brain simply has no room left to store extraneous information. Things like calling in to the jury duty phone line to see if I am supposed to report the next day, and dental appointments that were scheduled at our last cleaning six months ago.

I simply can't keep track of paper anymore, but with Google Calendar, I don't have to. I must admit, I don't keep notes on it the way I would on paper – partly because an online appointment book doesn't feel anything like a journal, and partly because I just don't feel comfortable putting personal details and information online, even though logic tells me it's perfectly secure. But that's okay – Google Calendar keeps me from dropping the ball on so many things, and that's all I ask.

Find more Works for Me Wednesday tips at Rocks in My Dryer.

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We may be in the market for a new treadmill

I think I might have broken our treadmill last night. Considering it's nine years old and has had very little maintenance, I can't complain at all. It's a ProForm something or other - perhaps a 550 or 650 S. I can't tell anymore because the numbers rubbed off long ago.

I'll definitely be replacing the treadmill if it really is broken, but since it's been nearly ten years since I was in the market for one, I need advice: What should I look for? How much should I expect to spend?

I'm obviously high on ProForm since it's held up so well, but I'm open to any and all suggestions. Thanks!

Image credit: Proform C 525 Treadmill at Amazon.

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Giveaway: Curious George and the Hot Air Balloon with read-along CD

This week's giveaway is a hardcover copy of Curious George and the Hot Air Balloon.The book comes with a Weekly Reader read-along CD.

In this Curious George adventure, George and the man with the yellow hat visit Mount Rushmore. George gets up close and personal with the presidents. The book is recommended for ages 4 to 8.

To enter this giveaway, simply fill out the form below. (If you're reading this in a feed aggregator or email, you'll need to click through to the post to reach the form.)

For an additional entry, subscribe to CFO via RSS or email and fill out the form again to let me know you've done so.

For a third entry, spread the word about this contest – tell a friend or write about it on your own blog. Then let me know about it by filling out the form again.


You can enter up to three times (one for each type), and you must submit separate entries for each type. Only one entry of each type per email address will be counted. I'll select the winner using Random.org and announce them here on CFO as well as contact them by email. The winner will have 48 hours to send me their address, otherwise their prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected.

The giveaway ends at 6:00 p.m. PST on Tuesday, January 27. Sorry, this giveaway is open only to residents of the U.S. and Canada.

Good luck!

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Mommy needs a thicker skin in order to feed her children properly

One wonderful things about young kids is that they're so honest.

One terrible, horrible thing about young kids is that they're so honest. They're also picky.


I made our favorite bolognese sauce the other night, with alphabet-shaped pasta from Trader Joe's. I was excited to serve it to the kids because I knew they'd love it.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Both decided without even trying it that they didn't like it. I could reason with/threaten almost-four-year-old Alex to at least take a bite, although of course that didn't change his mind (it so rarely does – but occasionally, it works). Tyler wouldn't even take a bite.

I was crushed. I always am when I prepare a meal that I think is going to be well-received, only to have it rejected.

This is why the kids' meals end up being a rotation of chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, pizza, and grilled cheese, and why Marc and I don't eat much better than that.

Because I can't take the rejection.

After a couple of weeks of nothing but the previously mentioned food groups, I start to feel guilty so I make more of an effort to vary everyone's meals.

But then everything gets rejected, so I get hurt and revert back to the trusty kid fare.

The problem is, it's not healthy. And I'm a foodie, so it's important for me to raise kids who know good food and want to eat it, even if it's something they've never had before.

Every expert says that picky eaters need to be constantly offered new foods, and that rejected foods need to be offered over and over again. But it's hard to handle that rejection. I obviously need a thicker skin. Am I the only one who feels this way?

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

My health & fitness goals for 2009

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that one of my goals for this year is to lose weight and promised to talk more about it. That time has come.

But first, let's review 2008: I didn't have any concrete weight loss goals, but I did want to make exercise a habit and eat more fruit and vegetables. I did pretty well with the first goal, since at the beginning of the year, I wasn't exercising at all. And by the end of the year, I was exercising three to four days per week. Plus, I ran a 5K in November for the first time ever. (That was such an awesome feeling of accomplishment!)

Also, I joined Weight Watchers last summer. I had great success at the beginning, but then hit a major plateau, got discouraged, and went back to my old habits. I'm still down almost 10 pounds from my initial weigh-in, however, so I'd still call that a success.

And that brings us to 2009. I'm still doing Weight Watchers, and I'm still exercising regularly. Mostly because of Weight Watchers, I do have a firm weight loss goal in mind for the year – I want to lose 15 pounds. After that, I may want to lose another five, but we'll have to see how I feel 15 pounds from now.

I also want to run another race – I'm thinking of an 8K, since there's one in April not too far from home. That's 4.9 miles, which would be a good distance for me – it's realistic but difficult enough that I would have to push myself to train for it.

And perhaps most importantly, I want to develop better eating habits. I realize that this is something I didn't do when I first started Weight Watchers. I thought I'd changed my habits for good, but it really didn't take long for me to revert to my old ways. My downfalls have always been portion sizes and sweets. So it's important to me that this year, I learn to regard sweets as a treat, and learn to be satisfied with less food in general.

For me, these are all very realistic goals, and if I achieve them all, then I'll be pretty close to being a poster child for healthy living. My weight will be in a healthy range, I'll be in good physical condition, and I'll be eating a nutritious diet. What more could I ask?

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

How You Tube helped me clear my desk

One of my 2007 holiday gifts was a Tetris Cube.It's basically a complicated puzzle: a bunch of different sized blocks that you dump out and then have to fit back together into a cube.

It seemed like a good idea at the time - I love the original Tetris and still play it on my Gameboy. (I know, some of you are gasping in horror and some of you are wondering what Tetris is, but I know some of you must understand. ;) )

The Tetris Cube completely defeated me, though. I would come close, and have just one or two pieces sticking out, but I could never quite solve it. The pieces sat on my desk for over a year, taunting me.

Finally, I gave up. I cheated. And I found this fabulous video that showed me exactly how to solve the puzzle. Which is now tucked away in the closet!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Should you buy a house together before you get married?

Yesterday, Free Money Finance asked readers to help another reader on the issue of how to buy a house together before getting married. But - since there were a lot of responses along the lines of "don't do it" - I couldn't help thinking about the should question, as in, Should this couple buy a house together before they were married?

And I realized that my answer has changed over the years. Five to ten years ago, I would have said no way. I would have said that buying a house together before marriage was too risky – that even if the couple seemed totally committed, the fallout of an unconsummated engagement would just be too huge.

But now my answer is, it depends. I have friends who bought a house together during their engagements and have been happily married for years now. I actually don't have any friends who broke up while they were engaged. If the couple in question have been together for a few years, and in particular, have lived together for a while, then it probably doesn't matter whether they buy their house before or after their marriage.

I wouldn't have done it myself, but I knew Marc for "only" 18 months before we got engaged, and we were engaged for "only" a year. And we were both in our twenties at the time. I look at some of my unmarried friends who are in their thirties and have been living together for several years and just don't see that it matters whether they buy a house before or after they're married.

What do you think?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Three recalls today: Sunglasses, play yards and rattles

If you think you have the following item(s), click through to the CPSC press release for more details:

Children’s Sunglasses Recalled by Axiom Due to Violation of Lead Paint Standard


Fisher-Price Recalls Simplicity’s Rainforest™ Portable Play Yards Due to Fall and Entrapment Hazards


Infantino Expands Recall of Infant Rattles Due to Choking Hazard


As always, I highly recommend signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.

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Why people live in Southern California

FMF's posts about increasing wealth by moving to a location with a low cost of living always rankles me because I know that to some extent, he's right. But we do just fine living in expensive Los Angeles (where we are both paid salaries that we probably couldn't get in other locations). And most importantly, living in LA has some fabulous benefits.

I've been reminded of one of them during the last few days, because the weather has been in the mid-80's. The boys have heading out the door in a T-shirt, shorts, and no jacket! Sure, the warm temperatures have been accompanied by some gusty and nasty Santa Ana winds (which aggravate allergies and have actually given me a headache a couple of times). But I'll take all of that in exchange for the balmy weather, grateful that I don't live somewhere where it's below freezing without wind chill.

California's economic situation is even more dire than the nation's as a whole, but this is one reason why people live here: it can be glorious. And it's going to stay that way for another week!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

One recall today: Toy xylophone

If you think you have the following item(s), click through to the CPSC press release for more details:

Toy Xylophones Recalled by The Land of Nod Due to Choking Hazard


As always, I highly recommend signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.

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Little Debbie 100-Calorie Snacks Sampler Winners

Thank you to everyone who entered the Little Debbie 100-Calorie Snacks Sampler giveaway. Congratulations to the lucky random winners:

Susan (susan.w*****@gmail.com)
Liz (***ine4e@aol.com)
and Jennifer (jls_wss****@yahoo.com)!

Susan, Liz and Judy, you have 48 hours to email me at cfoblog [at] gmail [dot] com with your address.

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My Absolute Favorite Bolognese

I've mentioned my favorite bolognese recipe before – it's this Cooking Light recipe from 2002, and we've loved it from the first time I made it.

But over the years, I've tweaked the recipe a lot to suit our tastes and the limited time I have to cook. Because I now double the quantities and do the simmering in the crock pot, I thought I'd share my current version of this recipe.

Chief Family Officer's Favorite Bolognese (adapted from Cooking Light)
Serves 12 to 16

nonstick cooking spray
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 sweet onion, roughly chopped
3-4 stalks celery, roughly chopped
3-4 carrots, roughly chopped
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
salt and black pepper to taste
1 32-oz carton low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
4 cups whole milk, half and half, or cream
2 tablespoons dried parsley (fresh would be better, but I rarely have it these days)
1 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

1. Spray a 4 or 6 quart crock with cooking spray. Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Puree garlic, onion, celery and carrot in a food processor and add to oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook five minutes, stirring frequently. Transfer onion mixture to crock and return pan to stove.

2. Add ground beef, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook until browned, stirring to crumble. Drain the fat, add the oregano and basil, and cook one more minute, stirring to incorporate the spices. Transfer beef to crock.

3. To the onion and beef mixture in the crock, add the broth, bay leaves and crushed tomatoes. Cover the crock and cook on high for 8-12 hours. After the first hour, prop the lid with a toothpick so some of the steam can escape. (Thanks to Steph at A Year of Crockpotting for this awesome tip - it's transformed the way I use my slow cooker!)

4. At this point, I divide the sauce into four portions. They can all be frozen, and then prepared as follows. But invariably, I freeze three portions, set a pot of water boiling for 1/2 pound of dried pasta, and transfer the fourth portion to a large saucepan. So for the remainder of the recipe, I'm going to assume that you're now working with 1/4 of the original tomato-beef sauce.

5. To the sauce that's now in the saucepan, add 1 cup of whole milk, half and half or cream, and 1/2 tablespoon of dried parsley. Simmer until thick (conveniently, about the same time that the pasta is ready), stirring occasionally. Add drained pasta to the sauce, toss with 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, and serve. (Steamed broccoli or a tossed green salad go great with this.)

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

4 recalls today + 1 recall yesterday

If you think you have the following item(s), click through to the CPSC press release for more details:

Rashti & Rashti Expands Recall of Infant Garments Due to Choking Hazard - Click through for a list of style numbers and descriptions.


Top Goods Trading Recalls Flashing Pacifiers Due to Choking and Strangulation Hazard


Risk of Strangulation Prompts Recall of Window Blinds Sold at Cost Plus and World Market Stores - Click through for photos of several additional styles.


TDI International Recalls Toy Cars Due to Violation of Lead Paint Standard


Stork Craft Recalls More Than 500,000 Cribs; Mattress Support Bracket Failures Create Risk of Entrapment and Suffocation - Click through for closeups of the affected parts.


As always, I highly recommend signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.

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Giveaway: Chester's Way by Kevin Henkes, with read-along CD

This week's giveaway is a hardcover copy of Chester's Way by Kevin Henkes.The book comes with a Weekly Reader read-along CD.

The story centers around Chester and his friend Wilson, who enjoy their regular routines. But then Lily comes along and doesn't do anything the way they do. Can they be friends anyway? This is a kid's book – recommended for ages 4 to 8 – so I think we all know the answer to that question.

To enter this giveaway, simply fill out the form below. (If you're reading this in a feed aggregator or email, you'll need to click through to the post to reach the form.)

For an additional entry, subscribe to CFO via RSS or email and fill out the form again to let me know you've done so.

For a third entry, spread the word about this contest – tell a friend or write about it on your own blog. Then let me know about it by filling out the form again.


You can enter up to three times (one for each type), and you must submit separate entries for each type. Only one entry of each type per email address will be counted. I'll select the winner using Random.org and announce them here on CFO as well as contact them by email. The winner will have 48 hours to send me their address, otherwise their prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected.

The giveaway ends at 6:00 p.m. PST on Tuesday, January 27 20. Sorry, this giveaway is open only to residents of the U.S. and Canada.

Good luck!

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Amelia Bedelia, Bookworm winner

Thank you to everyone who entered the Amelia Bedelia, Bookworm giveaway. Congratulations to the lucky random winner:

Andrea L. (jand****@yahoo.com)

Andrea, you have 48 hours to email me at cfoblog [at] gmail [dot] com with your mailing address.

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Review: Black and Decker 9.6-Volt Cyclonic DustBuster

As promised, here's that review of the Black and Decker 9.6-Volt Cyclonic DustBuster.
I ordered it in June of last year, when Amazon included it in a Friday sale for $24.99. I'd been looking for a handheld vacuum, and several of you recommended a DustBuster. At that price, I figured it was worth a shot.

I wanted the DustBuster mostly to help me clean the car, and that's what I've used it for. That said, I use it irregularly – mostly because, I must admit, I don't clean the car nearly as often as I should.

But when I have used the DustBuster, I've been quite pleased with it. The suction power is excellent, which was very important to me. The crevice tool has been especially handy for getting into all of the nooks and crannies in the car and car seats. And I love that the canister is very easy to empty – plus, it's clear, which makes it easy to see how full it is.

I've also used the DustBuster with great success in our small foyer, where we take off our shoes. Sometimes we forget to empty the boys' shoes out at the park, and we'll find ourselves pouring sand onto the floor when we get home. The little DustBuster does a better job sucking up those little grains than the big vacuum, which seems to blow away as much sand as it sucks up.

And perhaps most importantly, I don't have anything bad to say about this DustBuster. Some DustBuster reviews complain about the battery life, and I haven't owned this one long enough to see if that's going to be a problem. But so far so good!

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Resellers (and others?) not affected by new children's product safety laws

For those who might not be aware: This past week, a major issue on various parenting blogs was the impending children's product safety law that's set to go into effect in February. First, an LA Times story started a rash of blog posts all across the blogsphere about how the law was going to affect not just small business owners, but also resellers like thrift and consignment stores, garage salers, and even someone who simply wanted to give some hand me downs. (See, e.g., two of my very favorite blogs, Baby Cheapskate and Like Merchant Ships.)

Those posts were followed by calls to action to contact legislators and the CPSC to tell them how unrealistic and wasteful the law is.

Finally, on Friday, the CPSC issued a clarification, stating that second-hand items need not be tested before being sold (or, presumably, gifted). But the CPSC also says that resellers "should avoid products that are likely to have lead content," and that resellers who "do sell products in violation of the new limits could face civil and/or criminal penalties." The language there seems a little inconsistent to me - I can't tell if there's an absolute standard or an objectively reasonable standard (i.e., whether someone who resells an item that turns out to have an excess level of lead is liable regardless of whether she reasonably believed the item was legally considered safe).

I do know one thing: To eliminate personal liability, I'll never sell another used child-related item again. (I've sold a few things on eBay in the past.) I will only give these items away, either to friends or to charities.

How will the new law affect you, if at all?

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Enrolling in organized sports

Around this time last year, I saw a notice at the park about soccer enrollment, and thought to myself that it was too bad Alex was too young to play, but that at least he'd be able to play next year. So earlier this week, I looked up our region on the AYSO web site, only to discover that "early registration" had ended on December 6, and that there would be only one day for "late registration." Keep in mind that the season apparently starts in August!

I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I like being the organized mom who's on top of things, and I'm usually months early when it comes to preparing for things like this. So I was shocked that I'd missed the deadline by over a month! I even checked the region that's to our west, a little farther away, and it had the exact same "early registration" deadline.

We'll definitely make the "late registration" deadline, which is later this month. And I'm looking forward to becoming a "soccer mom" for the first time. (Ha! I hear "soccer" at this age is a swarm of kids surrounding the ball and moving up and down the field as a single mob.)

I have a question, though: Is this typical? Or is this one of those weird Los Angeles things?

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Friday, January 09, 2009

Peg Perego Primo Viaggio recalled (sort of)

I got an email from the NHTSA this morning, stating that the plastic adjustment cover on certain Peg Perego Primo Viaggio infant car seats may have an exposed mold flash with a sharp edge that could cause cuts, scratches or abrasions on babies' feet or legs. The affected car seats were manufactured in Juuly 2007 through mid-March 2008, so over 32,500 seats are possibly affected.

Peg Perego has been sending free repair kits to registered owners since April 2008. I'm going to speculate that this notice was sent out this morning to reach unregistered owners, though I still can't figure out why it's going out now if Peg Perego has been aware of the problem since early last year.

To obtain your own free repair kit, call Peg Perego at 1-800-671-1701.

I say this is "sort of" a recall because Peg Perego is simply calling it a "safety campaign." You can read more about the safety campaign at their web site. And the NHTSA notice is here.

Image credit: Amazon.com.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

My favorite necklace: Mommy Tags

Since the World's Smallest Letter was such a big hit, I want to share another great gift idea, courtesy of my darling husband again (and I'm afraid that I have no idea where he finds these marvelous things). This is actually a gift I received a few years ago, but now that the boys are getting older – and I don't have to worry about breakage or injury – I can actually wear it, and I've found myself going back to it several times a week: it's the Mommy Tags necklace pictured here. Marc gave it to me after Alex's birth, and my necklace now has a second tag commemorating Tyler's birth as well.

I love that the necklace is simple and goes with just about anything - that's the main reason I wear it so often. Also, even though I went a long period without wearing it when the kids were very young, it's barely tarnished so it's very easy to care for.

I have to admit, I was very pleased that Marc had picked a very reasonably priced gift for me – these days, it's easy to find stories about the extravagant "birth gifts" that some new mothers receive. This necklace is $75 – not cheap, but not crazy expensive either. Unfortunately, I can't tell how much they charge for shipping. This would be especially appropriate for Mother's Day, or as a gift from the kids to Mom on Valentine's Day.

Note: I'm not affiliated with Mommy Tags in any way, I just like my necklace a lot!

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Works for Me: Mr. Clean Magic Eraser

I remember when the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser first came on the market. Marc immediately bought one to use on all of the dark streaks that had accumulated on the white walls of our house. I started off a skeptic, but was an immediate convert. It worked amazingly.

And it's just gotten better over the years. I received the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Extra Power to try out, and it works great. It removes marker, crayon, dirt, and even stuff you can't identify. I use it to scrub my stove, and it gets off the grease.

My only complaint is about the tiny white bits that come off when scrubbing a rough surface. But they're a small price to pay for a clean surface :)

Find more Works for Me Wednesday tips at Rocks in My Dryer.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Two recalls today: Jackets and more Jardine cribs

If you think you have the following item(s), click through to the CPSC press release for more details:

Children’s Hooded Jackets with Drawstrings Recalled by Ms. Bubbles Inc. Due to Strangulation Hazard


Jardine Expands Recall of Cribs Sold by Babies R Us; Cribs Pose Entrapment and Strangulation Hazards - Click through for photos of additional styles.


As always, I highly recommend signing up for recall notifications by email at the CPSC web site.

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Little Debbie 100-Calorie Snacks Giveaway (3 winners!)

Note: Comments do not count as entries. You must fill out the form at the bottom of the post!

Last month, the folks at Little Debbie asked if I'd like to sample some of their 100 calorie snacks. Since I'm always up for trying something new, I immediately said yes. But I wasn't expecting such a large box to show up last week. The sampler pack included one box of each variety:
  • Chocolate Cakes
  • Yellow Cakes
  • Nutty Bar Singles
  • Nutty Bar P.B. Stix
  • Gingerbread Cookies
  • Marshmallow Treats
  • Triple Fudge Brownies
  • Snow Puffs
I mentioned the Little Debbie snacks to my Weight Watchers leader and she was so excited. She'd seen an ad for them in the Weight Watchers magazine, and noted that at $1.79, they're actually cheaper than their Weight Watchers counterparts. Each treat seems to be worth 2 points.

And the best part is, Little Debbie wants to give away three of these sampler packs to CFO readers!

To enter, just visit the Little Debbie web site, then come back and fill out the form below with the best thing you saw over there besides the 100 calorie snacks. (If you're reading this in a feed aggregator or email, you'll need to click through to the post to reach the form.)

For an additional entry, subscribe to CFO via RSS or email and fill out the form again to let me know you've done so.

For a third entry, spread the word about this contest - tell a friend or write about it on your own blog. Then let me know about it by filling out the form again.


You can enter up to three times (one for each type), and you must submit separate entries for each type. Only one entry of each type per email address will be counted. I'll select the winner using Random.org and announce them here on CFO as well as contact them by email. The winner will have 48 hours to send me their address, otherwise their prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected.

The giveaway ends at 6:00 p.m. PST on Tuesday, January 13. Sorry, this giveaway is open only to residents of the U.S. and Canada.

Good luck!

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