Saturday, June 30, 2007

If You're a Business User...You May Not Like Apple Right Now

And no, I'm not obsessed with this new iGadget that happens to be a phone this time around. Well, maybe a little.

Turns out that there's a catch for business users, per CNN Money.

"Apparently, if you ever had a corporate discount on your account or if you were ported from Cingular to AT&T after the merger, your account ends up with a "business code" on it. After spending another 30 minutes on the phone with AT&T and Apple - and sending a nasty note to Apple tech support - you get a courtesy response: "We realize that this is not a business phone and are working diligently to fix the known problem." Which apparently takes a full 24 to 72 hours to fix.

"Upon reading the fine print further and wading through some legalese, it turns out that if you are a CRU (Corporate Responsibility User - someone who uses their phone primarily for business and a company pays for it) or a SLB (Split Liability Billing User - someone whose employer is responsible for part, but not all of the wireless bill) you have roughly 3 options:

1. Sign up for a new "consumer line" phone and get a completely new phone number (Now, correct me if I am wrong here, but doesn't that defeat the whole purpose of the iPhone?)

2. Activate the phone and then associate it with your company, but lose any discount you might usually get.

3. Return the darn thing."

So, if you fall into any of those categories and you bought an iPhone, you're probably more annoyed than enamored with your new toy right now. On the bright side, it comes in a pretty box, no?

What's in the iPhone?


For the true geeks out there, of which I know there are at least a couple...the iPhone, dissected

Don't try this at home.

Solving Annoying Problems

If you're looking to solve an annoying problem, Top Tips for Girls has a great list of questions asked and answered by contributors. It's a bit annoying that it's "for girls" in my opinion, but it's useful nonetheless. Another quirk is that it's from the UK, so some of the words and references used are different (e.g., nappy = diaper, biro = pen).

Sample questions asked and answered:

How to clean hard water stains from glass shower doors
How to deal with annoying co worker

And if you have some trying questions, feel free to pose a question.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Happy Birthday, ATM

No, seriously. The first ATM was installed in a branch of Barclays in Enfield, north London, 40 years ago this week.

"Plastic cards had not been invented, so Mr Shepherd-Barron's machine used cheques that were impregnated with carbon 14, a mildly radioactive substance. The machine detected it, then matched the cheque against a Pin number."

EEP!!

Happy Birthday to all of those out there turning 40 or 41 this year ;-)

Pogue on iPhone

In our house, David Pogue is a guru. We buy his books, debate his articles, watch his show...his word might as well be gospel. And how does he feel about the iPhone? He doesn't hate it. Excellent!!!

"As it turns out, much of the hype and some of the criticisms are justified. The iPhone is revolutionary; it’s flawed. It’s substance; it’s style. It does things no phone has ever done before; it lacks features found even on the most basic phones."

It seems AT&T's agreement to let Apple revamp the way cell phones work allowed for some interesting touches, including adding the option of purchasing a plan online and pricing for cheaper internet access. As for the utility: answering a call is easy, checking your voice mail is easy (no calling required), playing music is easy, making a call is a pain, typing on the keyboard is a pain, checking your email is "fantastic," and the web browser is dazzling.

"But the bigger achievement is the software. It’s fast, beautiful, menu-free, and dead simple to operate. You can’t get lost, because the solitary physical button below the screen always opens the Home page, arrayed with icons for the iPhone’s 16 functions."

Though it's not quite a GPS because it can't tell you where you are, you can find locations on maps...next best thing. And for the road warriors out there, free live traffic reports with color coded roads on maps.

Other stuff to consider: hard to scratch screen, mediocre battery life (I'm still bitter about my first iPod), no memory card slots, no chat programs (sorry, Yahoo), no video recording, no sending pictures to other phones...NO WAY!!

AT&T's cell coverage sounds terrible, as does the internet access when using "AT&T’s ancient EDGE cellular network, which is excruciatingly slow." Ugh.

"In other words, maybe all the iPhone hype isn’t hype at all. As the ball player Dizzy Dean once said, 'It ain’t bragging if you done it.'"

So, we're still not getting one, but I'm perfectly willing to covet yours.

Tom Colicchio comes to LA

If you know Bravo's Top Chef, you know Tom Colicchio. As one of the discerning judges, he's been keeping a watchful eye on the contestants as they impress or depress foodies everywhere. If you know him as a talented restauranteur from New York, than you'll be even more pleased about this.

Personally, I'm excited to hear about his new restaurant venture in Century City, Craft, which should be opening soon. At 10,000 square feet, sounds like it shouldn't be a problem fitting a stroller in there ;-)

The Menu

Craft
10100 Constellation Blvd
Century City, CA 90067
(310) 279-4180

La Brea Tar Pits

I used to go to the La Brea Tar Pits a lot as a kid, and I always wondered...is that really tar?

Los Angeles Magazine's Ask Chris by Chris Nichols answered that in May's Issue. It's actually asphalt, the lowest grade of petroleum, and dates back to more than 5 million years ago. Early settlers mistook it for tree sap and applied the name "tar" instead.

"According to Chris Shaw, collections manager and project coordinator at the Page Museum's Pit 91, asphalt will keep bubbling through any cracks and fissures it finds because osmotic pressure, methane, and sulphur dioxide push it upward. There is less pressure now than a century ago, when residents from Hancock Park to downtown complained of escaping gas that hissed loudly out of the earth. When the liquid asphalt reaches the open air, it oxidizes and congeals into pools of black ooze. Shaw says the staff at the pits to through cases of Lemon Gojo cleaner to remove the sludge from skin and shoes. Removing it from fabric, he says, is a lost cause."

I was fascinated by that, as I was at the thought of strange hissing sounds throughout Los Angeles. And the sludge...ewww. I don't envy the cleaning crew.

In any event, this is a great place to take kids, especially if they're into dinosaurs. Oh, the joys!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Price Fixing OK'd by Supreme Court

*Sigh*

Marketplace reported on the Supreme Court's decision to overturn a 96 year old ruling to ban "minimum price agreements."

"These are deals between companies that make things and the retailers that sell them. For example, a TV manufacturer tells the electronics store its new TV has to sell for a thousand dollars, not a penny less. The electronics store says, OK."

It turns out that since 1911, it's been deemed illegal for a retailer to agree to a manufacturer's set price, and today's ruling had Justice Stephen Brier comment that it will likely raise the price of retail goods. As a consumer, I had no idea about this because it feels like I constantly see products that have fixed prices like Apple, Mustela, and various baby gear brands. However, it seems that it used to be that pricing agreements between manufacturers and retailers could be challenged on a case-by-case basis. Now, the situation has reversed and the burden of proof is on the distributer, or the discounter.

I can see prices increasing in general, and I can see my precious savings found at my beloved Amazon fizzle away. I'll be looking out for more news on this to see what kind of impact it has on price fixing.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Dinner and a Show to Celebrate

Using Open Table to make a reservation, my husband and I celebrated our anniversary by having our first nice meal out with our highchair bandit in tow. We treated ourselves to a lovely meal at Campanile, and oh was it good. We made our reservation for 6, which is when they open. However, traffic was a bit of an issue as one of the streets we took was blocked off (caution tape, police officers, police cars blocking several blocks...very unsettling). So we took a detour, but we were definitely running late. I didn't have the restaurant's phone number, so I tried 1(800)GOOG-411, but after two attempts, I gave up. So I texted "Campanile Los Angeles" to 46645(GOOGL), and they texted back the phone number within a minute...free and quick. It doesn't any get better than that.

They thanked me for calling, and even better, they held our table. Once we got there, they seated us and we got our drinks. They make a killer mojito. Since it was already 6:30, we decided quickly to get the ball rolling. We had an arsenal of toys and snacks, so we were ready, but no point in delaying the inevitable. He had a few teensy pieces of bread, which he seemed to love (mouth wide open waiting for more). He also really took to my starter (see below), which was precious. It made me wish I'd gotten more ravioli ;-)

MetaMommy had:
Appetizer - Green garbanzo puree ravioli roasted cherry tomatoes and spring onions - Garbanzo in ravioli is delicious. There's a creaminess that isn't heavy...I'll definitely try this one day if I ever get into making my own pasta.

Entree - Copper River salmon en papillote with sweet corn, roasted porcinis, pancetta, dry vermouth, and garlic butter - En papillote means cooked in parchment paper, which it was. A lovely presentation, and a great way to cook fish. Incredibly flavorful overall.

Dessert - Cream biscuits with wild huckleberry compote & creme fraiche ice cream - Comfort food at it's best, though the creme fraiche ice cream was a nice twist.

MetaDaddy had:
Appetizer - Greek salad with heirloom tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, kalamata olives, fresh goats cheese - Gourmet version of a delicious salad. I'm surprised he didn't go for something a bit more exotic, but you never know with him ;-)

Entree - Roasted pork chop with saffron onions, braised cabbage, bacon, and saba - There was an unexpected bit of honey in the sauce, but it was still pretty darn good. Saba, which we pondered, is apparently a vinegar. You learn something new every day.

Cheese Course - A glass of port with a some fine aged blue cheese and a firm white portugese cow's milk cheese - Loved the blue cheese, though the firm white cheese was a bit strong for me. It was sharp like a goat's cheese, which I've never been fond of.

MetaSon had:
Appetizer - Some of mommy's garbanzo puree and a little ravioli

Entree - Homemade mix of lentils, zucchini, and butternut squash

Dessert #1 - Mashed banana

Dessert #2 - A taste of huckleberry compote



The whole time, we had to entertain our lad, but he wasn't too disruptive at all. We did suspect him of larsony when it seemed like he was going for the busboy's wallet, but we stopped him in time. Towards the end he got a bit more vocal, but not too bad. Even better, we didn't get any rude looks or comments from anyone. The staff was very nice and accomodating (we were offered both crayons and a sippy cup). Better still, there were at least two other young children in the restaurant while we were there. While we might have assumed that upscalre restaurants generally aren't kid friendly as a rule, I now know anyplace is capable of being a good place to go with well behaved kids. The well behaved part...well, therein lies the challenge.

We wrapped up at about 8PM, happy to have gotten a nice evening out, and happy to have been able to share it with our big, bad 10 month old.

A Quiet Green Gap

Gap carries a line of clothes called (Product) Red. When someone buys one of these products, they donate a portion of its profits to buy and distribute AIDS medicine throughout Africa. I'd heard about that, as it feels as though the (Product) Red campaign has gotten a reasonable amount of publicity. I did not, however, know that Gap has been doing some other environmentally conscious things. Fool's recent article outlines a couple of interesting things:

"In 2004, Gap partnered with Delhi's government and two NGOs to help women who have been victims of domestic violence by employing them as garment makers. Project Swabhiman, as it was called, provided the women shelter, support services, job training, and a healthy environment to work in. Did you know that in February, the company began testing a more earth-friendly product made from 100% organic cotton? Were you aware that last summer, Banana Republic sold a skirt from an environmentally friendlier hemp/silk material?"

I respect them for doing this, and I'll be watching for more.

Travel Soap



Daily Candy found a cool travel product to comply with the liquid/gel restrictions on airlines these days. It also works for those of us who like to be ready for any messy challenges. They sell small cases with 30 sheets of either paper soap, paper laundry soap, paper shampoo, or paper shaving cream for $6. No, it's not cheap, but it's not bad for the travel or emergency needs. I don't think we ever did find a bathroom in Paris that had hand soap, so being prepared was a must!!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

June Sales on My Radar

It feels like everone's got a good sale going on:

Red Envelope They have such cute baby and gift stuff, but I seldom find anything I would actually consider buying for myself. The baby hooded towels are a good deal, though.
J Crew Really cute stuff, but there are some items that are only available online, and their shipping prices are a bit outrageous IMHO
Babystyle I love their clothes, but I can't bring myself to spend retail dollars on them. But last week, I bought several items, all 30% off and used a $20 off card, so it was quite a bargain.

Always good to visit...kind shipping policies, too
Banana Republic
Gap
Old Navy

iPhone...To Love or Not to Love

I like the idea of the iPhone, but I'm skeptical of the first generation anything and I don't know about that screen. How well is it really going to work? My husband, however, would trade all of his current gadgets for one, but it's not supported by his company, so too bad :-P

I have a phone, iPod, etc. so I don't know that I'd really benefit from one. However, if it were also a GPS device, I might be seriously tempted. I can get lost faster than I can dial my husband's number (not while driving, of course), so a GPS device would seriously come in handy. And in that case, I would gladly get one for myself...one that my husband can ogle :-D

The Virtues of Open Table

OpenTable is great. The NY Times recent article on them just reminds me of how useful the service is to restaurant goers.

Each restaurant listed has a plethora of information (food, cost, location, hours of operation, special features), but if you need more, they include links to the restaurant's website and menu, if available. They could add a bit more family/kid information in my opinion, though. High chairs? Kid-friendly?

To use it, I go online and make a free reservation for the perfect time (never after 6 these days), and there's an optional feature where I can make special requests (e.g., high chair, corner booth, crayons, secret cake for a birthday). I earn points for each kept reservation which can be redeemed for gift certificates. Each regular reservation earns 100 points and 2,000 points get me a $20 gift certificate to be used within 6 months of issuing at any restaurant listed on Open Table. That's not much really, but I use the service for the convenience, so the reward points are just gravy. As I said, it could use a bit of tweeking for families, but so far, it's one of the most useful tools for handling the logistics. I can quickly check the viability of going out. Not every place is on there, but there are a lot, and they're adding new ones every day. If you'd like a specific restaurant to be listed, they ask that you submit a request.

We've found small family restaurants, though there are many more high end restaurants listed. So if you're traveling to an Open Table city, or you've ever wanted to get the red carpet treatment at a posh restaurant, what better way than to go online and make all sorts of silly requests to make you feel special. And since it's the only such online service, they've got the market cornered.

The NY Times article points out some reasons why users like OpenTable.:

Making a reservation through OpenTable "reduces the inconvenience. Say you want a table on short notice at a busy Manhattan restaurant — Danny Meyer’s Union Square Cafe. Placing a phone call there usually requires calling during business hours, enduring loud jazz for hold music, and talking with a reservationist for a while before finding an acceptable time. OpenTable might give you the same results, but it will do the work in 10 seconds."

"One user said he "liked the one-click cancellation feature. And he likes the convenience of making a reservation at 2 a.m. (One-third of OpenTable’s reservations are made between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m.)"

The NY Times adds a few interesting things to consider with regards to the restaurant's ability to remain organized and efficient, which will absolutely impact diners' experiences.

"The software also reveals the idiosyncrasies of thousands of guests. The restaurant staff knows in advance, for instance, that a regular always insists on a table under a particular piece of artwork. They know about another person’s request for kosher food — but only when dining in certain company. And there is the guest so reliably late that staff members know to add 45 minutes to the reservation time."

One restauranteur "likes the information he gleans from the system. “We can know what kind of seating people like,” Mr. Pipes said. “And we can know if they have a favorite server.” And that favorite server can note, ever so discreetly, whether a customer happened to order the restaurant’s $1,000 frittata, or that he is a reliably generous tipper."

"Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, on the other hand, arguably the most popular restaurant in the nation, signed up in early 2003 and Per Se, his New York version, is also there. “Thomas Keller needs more reservations like a hole in the head,” Mr. Meyer said. “But even he knows that anyone truly into hospitality is being disingenuous to say they wouldn’t benefit from all that great guest information provided automatically.”

Monday, June 25, 2007

Is Altruism Dead?

I was doing errands and remembered to drop of the mail. There's a drive-by mailbox that I frequent. A car was parked in front of the boxes, so I parked behind him, found my mail, got out, locked the doors (because I leave my son in there for the 10 seconds and I couldn't imagine leaving the doors unlocked), and started walking towards the mailbox. Then, the guy who was just ahead of me asked "would you like me to take that?" I thought about it, accepted, and thanked him. I'm a pretty paranoid person, so I watched him out of the corner of my eye as he walked over and tossed the mail in. I didn't have a return address label on this particular piece of mail, so that wasn't an issue. And I've since checked to make sure the mail arrived. We both got in our respective cars and drove away.

And then I realized, maybe he's just nice! There was no additional effort on his part to take the mail over than to stop and ask me. But as a jaded Angeleno or American or whatever...I am trained to distrust and watch for the "angle." Perhaps he was looking for something...address, etc. But the funny thing is, I'm a pretty honest person and if I were to offer the same thing to a stranger, it would be completely altruistic. So why do I have such a hard time believing that someone else is capable of the same thing?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Chili My Soul

Jonathan Gold received the first Pulitzer Prize in food writing this year, and it's certainly made his name much more recognizable. His reviews are fun because he's not stuffy or full of himself...he just really, really likes food. As a restaurant reviewer for the L.A. Weekly and Good Food, he's visited the sushi nazi as well as a tiny little Peruvian restaurant well outside of L.A., and he's found all the gold in between.

A friend of mine was raving about Chili My Soul once, so I only thought it fair to share that he and Mr. Gold's tastebuds are delighted by similar pleasures.

"Proprietor Randy Hoffman brings his family's history to Chili My Soul, leaning on his teachings from the food chemists that worked in the family’s salad dressing factory. Jonathan Gold visits the restaurant and indulges in a little spicy chili chemistry -- taking on an array of heat and chili varieties -- like the Roasted Garlic Beef, Tecate (made with beer) and Durango (enhanced with masa). Those who don't want to drive to the restaurant's Encino location can also find Hoffman's chili at The Griddle in West Hollywood and at all of the Jinky's cafes."

Chili My Soul
4928 Balboa Blvd.
Encino
818-981-7685

Virtual Bakesale for a Good Cause

Hold a virtual bake sale to help end childhood hunger in America. Sounds shady, but it's all legitimate. It's just about raising funds for a worthwhile cause in which you too can be involved.

There is hunger in America, and when kids face it, the damage can be seen in poor school attendance, test scores, and medical costs, all of which affect the community in the long run. Share Our Strength (SOS) states that "Nationally, 1 in 6 American children live in homes at risk of hunger. Many of these children are helped by federal and state feeding programs, but there remains gaps in their eating during the summer and after school." I do so much to make sure that our son not only eats enough, but is happy in doing so. It saddens me to think of the need facing so many kids in our own communities.

Jamba Juice Coupon

Buy one smoothie, get one free at Jamba Juice!

Good until July 4th

Unsolicated Credit Card Offers - Any End in Sight?

Have you ever gotten an unsolicted credit card offer in the mail? Though we Opted Out, we still receive solicitations from organizations that we have relationships with (e.g., alumni groups) and non-profit organizations. Worse still, sometimes we get offers that simply don't make any sense.

American Express was sending credit card offers to "X." Not in my name, not in my husbands name, but "X." We called to get them to stop sending it, but they didn't. So we tried a sneakier trick that we'd heard about, though it requires a bit of patience. Every time we got an offer, we used the prepaid return envelope and filled it with weighty material (e.g., fliers, cardboard). After doing this a few times, they got the message and stopped sending the offers.

On a similar note, thanks to Get Rich Slowly, I recently found out about the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) where one can opt-out from receiving mass mailings. Sounds like it could help reduce our junk mail.

How does the Mail Preference Service work?
When you register with DMA's Mail Preference Service, your name and home address are placed on a "do-not-mail" file. DMA members are required to run their list of prospective customers against the file and remove individuals who registered so that they do not send their mailings to these individuals. MPS is also available to non-DMA members, so that all marketers may take advantage of this service, and remove the names of individuals who have already indicated they don't wish to receive unsolicited mail at their homes. If you are receiving mail for a previous occupant at your address you may register them for MPS in the same way as you would register yourself.

The "do-not-mail" file is updated monthly and distributed four times a year (January, April, July, and October), though some mailers choose to receive the file monthly. Your name remains on MPS for five years, after which time you may register again. Typically, you will see the amount of mail you receive begin to decrease approximately three months after your name is entered onto the quarterly file (a little longer if you use the mail-in option).

Does this service include mail from charitable organizations?
Yes. DMA nonprofit member organizations are also required to remove prospective donors who have indicated they wish to receive less mail.

Sounds good overall, but it might require a bit more research.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

New Recipe: Dinner Gone Awry

Apparently, SOMEBODY doesn't like crunchy pasta.

Watch Your Credit Card Activity Online

So much talk of credit cards reminds me of an incident that happened to us recently. My husband is religious about checking our credit card bill online. In doing so with our Citibank American Airlines Mastercard, he noted some small charges made in New York. RED FLAG!! Besides not living in New York, these were small charges at a McDonald's and a 7-11 (i.e., $5 and $2, respectively). Not much, but that's the whole point. People who use stolen credit cards have to test them out first to see if they work. Once that's established with small charges, they can start using it on seirous purchases.

My husband called Citibank. They canceled it and issued a new one, but if we were to avoid being held liable for the charges, we had to fill out an affidavit that needed notarized. This, I remind you, is for charges netting less than $10, which is less than the cost of the notary. In the end, we filled out the form and sent it back, not notarized. We also canceled the credit card because there are other companies (i.e., American Express) that in our experience, are much more vigilant in watching for suspiciuos activity, and that's the kind of surveillance you want with your credit.

Most annoying was that Citibank was running ads about identity theft and patting themselves on the back for their efforts in keeping their customers' credit safe.

The Sensitive Baker - Gluten Free Zone

There's a new bakery it town, and I know some people who are finally going to breathe a sigh of relief. If you have celiac disease or a gluten allergy, there are a lot of foods that have been off limits to you. Wheat, rye, barley, and triticale, which translate into bread, cakes, pizza, chicken stock, soy sauce, most thickening agents, and so on. It really turns your food world upside down and forces you to restock your fridge, pantry and cravings with gluten-free minded foods. Not an easy task by half. We have a couple of friends who have celiac disease, and it's tough on them. The hardest part is going out and seeing all of the delicious foods they can't try. So this new bakery in Culver City had them in mind, and I'm glad to hear it.

Some of the foods they carry: Cinnamon Rolls, Cupcakes, Muffins, Breadsticks, Foccaccia, Crusty Rolls, Bagels, Dinner Knots, 7" Pizza Crust. In addition to being gluten free, they're allso Kosher (100% casein-free), and trans-fat free. That last one is a must for me.


"Southern California's first (and only!) dedicated gluten-free facility is so incredibly delectable, you won't miss what you're missing!"

Hardy, har...cute.

The Sensitive Baker
10836 1/2 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
(between Overland and the 405)
(310) 815-1800
They're pretty new, so I would confirm their hours before venturing over for a tasting.

Babies as Pandas



"Babies disguised as pandas take part in a crawling contest in a Hong Kong shopping mall."

A BBC image from Friday June, 21

New 7 Wonders of the World

A new campaign is underway to select the new 7 wonders of the world. Here's are several current lists for comparison.

The nominated monuments are pretty old, and despite their fame and history, many are in dire need of maintenance. Winning the title of one of the new 7 wonders will provide the much needed funds for restoration and care. Personally, I had no idea that an architectural wonder as recognized around the world as the Taj Mahal needs a lot of work and care to keep the structure from slowly crumbling away.

The final nominees are:

Acropolis, Athens, Greece
Alhambra, Granada, Spain
Angkor, Cambodia
Chichen Itza, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
Christ Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Colosseum, Rome, Italy
Easter Island Statues, Easter Island, Chile
Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
Great Wall, China
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
Klyomizu Temple, Kyoto, Japan
Kremlin / St. Basil, Moscow, Russia
Machu Picchu, Peru
Neuschwanstein Castle, Schwangau, Germany
Petra, Jordan
Statue of Liberty, New York City, U.S.A.
Stonehenge, Amesbury, United Kingdom
Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
Taj Mahal, Agra, India
Timbuktu, Mali

You can vote online or vote via text message.

I know who I'm voting for. Ooo the excitement!!

The winners will be announced on lucky 7/7/07.

Spain and its Paradores

We love to travel, and we've done our fair share over the past few years. High up on our list is Spain, where we will surely be returning to in the near future. We stayed in Paradors while we were there, which have an immense amount of character and local flair. The Spanish government takes an historic building like a castle or a monastery, renovates it, and turns it into a hotel. The proceeds of the hotel go towards the continued maintenance of the property. And the restaurant in the Parador always has great local food with regional ingredients. Our favorite one was a 14th century Arabic fortress high up on a hill in Carmona.

When we return, we hope to stay at the Parador in the Alhambra.

"Spending a night in the gardens of the Alhambra, among fountains, trees and large arched windows is the exclusive opportunity offered by this Parador, a former convent built by decision of the Catholic Monarchs. This monumental ensemble proposes placid walks around the city for the guest, although the building itself invites you to discover a dreamlike interior, where Arabic and Christian styles mix. Its bedrooms offer exceptional views of the Generalife, the Secano gardens and the AlbaicĂ­n, while the classical furniture and numerous portraits mark the decoration of the interior rooms. Under the coffered ceiling of the dining room and the freshness of the summer terrace 'gazpacho andaluz' (cold tomato soup), 'tortilla de Sacromonte' (omelet) and 'piononos de Santa Fe' (typical sponge caked soaked in liqueur) are offered."

Hopefully, the 7 Wonders of the World campaign won't ruin our plans!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Non-Toxic Insect Repellent Patch

This is an interesting product. The Don't Bug Me! patch is a deet-free, waterproof insect repellent that doesn't have to be sprayed or rubbed on. Vitamin B1 (water-soluble) in the patch is absorbed into the bloodstream and the excess is excreted through your pores creating a subtle scent that's just strong enough to deter mosquitos.

Next time we go somewhere exotic, we might be looking into this.

Household Ideas from Real Simple

Real Simple has some clever household ideas:

Roll of Tape - Instead of folding over the end like I do, use a toothpick to mark the end.

Thread a Needle - It's easier to thread the needle if you spritz the end of the thread with some hairspray first and let it dry.

Hand Cleanser - If you've got a greasy mess on your hands (literally), give yourself a good rub with a handful of moistened sugar granules and rinse with water. It's faster than soap, and I'm guessing less drying for your hands.

Do the Eldest Boys Have the Advantage?

Norweigian researchers debunk the assumption that the eldest boy in families has the IQ advantage by presenting a more complex story. Boys who grow up as the "senior" child in the family have a higher IQ on average than other siblings. It's a fascinating finding because it really brings back the debate of nature vs. nurture and it reminds us that nothing is ever black and white, but an indiscernible series of grays.

They studied the IQ results of 240,000 men drafted into the armed forces over a 10 year period and found the following:
1st born: 103.2
2nd born:101.2
2nd born if 1st born dies: 102.9
3rd born: 100.0
3rd born if 1st & 2nd die: 102.6

A few concerns I have about the conclusions:
-- Are the differences in the IQ scores statistically significant? Perhaps they are, but the differences seem very slight to me.
-- How do girls rate by comparison? I can understand that given their source of data (drafted men aged 18-19), a comparison simply wasn't possible. However, it would be interesting to see the differences. Do girls fare as well in a similar situation? Does the eldest boy fare differently if he's the elder of sisters only? The article notes that some such studies have been conducted with conflicting results. Is it possible that the boys' higher IQ scores are, as the article suggests, caused by his role in the family? That is, he has to help younger siblings with various tasks including homework. If data on girls is conflicting, perhaps it's because not all families expect the eldest girl to help younger siblings in an intellectual.

One more thought. The article mentions that "the older child benefits by having to organize and express its thoughts to tutor youngsters." This is interesting to me because I've heard of a classroom learning technique where two different grades are mixed together so that the younger student can learn from the older, and the older is challenged to reinterpret something learned so as to explain it to someone else. Personally, I believe that's an incredibly effective method of learning because I know that if I can repeat something effectively in my own words, I've understood the concept, not just the words.

Internet Words: I think someone's jealous

A recent British poll found that some words hatched from the ol' internet egg are annoying to some.

Oh bother.

Well, personally I don't mind blog, netiquette, cookie or wiki (the latter two are just cute to me), but blook just sounds like something I'd find in an old diaper. I guess that means I agree with one of the top 10 words.

Even better, the Collins English Dictionary will be adding a few of these annoying words. Me-media? You bet your me-loving britches.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Getting Locked Out

It was a fine spring day. We were up to our usual tricks...eating, napping, errands, playing, and so forth. I set all wee 20 lbs of him in his playpen for a minute while I went downstairs, keys in hand. I set them down as I got to the bottom of the stairs, but then I remembered I hadn't gotten the mail yet. So, I go outside, shut the door behind me...AND HAD A PANIC ATTACK!!!

Yes, the keys were on the stairs, and our door automatically locks. I didn't have my phone, which is the only way I know anyone's phone number any more. My husband was on a plane returning from a business trip. I knew this would happen one day, but honestly, I hoped it wouldn't. I realized I had to calm down and think it through. My son was in the playpen, so he was safe. I just had to get back in there before he realized I was gone and went into meltdown mode. I ran around the block to a local cafe and asked to borrow a phone and phone book. They didn't really want to give it over until I explained my situation, and only then with hesitation. Had they been scammed by panicked women looking to borrow a phone to call a locksmith? Did I really look like a threat? All 5 feet of me?

So, an employee lends me his cell phone and a phone book and I start looking for locksmiths who do emergency calls. The first one is on a call, but recommends another place. That second place said they could be over in 10 minutes. OMG!!! I return the phone and hightail it back to wait for the locksmith. Years later, he shows up (I'm sure it was no more than 10 minutes, but try and explain that to me in the moment) and he gets to work. The front door is a challenge, and we suspect the sliding door will be as well. So after 10 minutes of trying differnt things, he says we either have to try the back door, or take out the drills. I think he saw the pained look on my face, and I wondered "did I tell him there's a baby in there? I know I mentioned it to a lot of people, but was he one." So I say, holding back tears, "my son's in there." Now, he has a pained look on his face. I guess I hadn't told him. We go to the back door, he jumps the gate, and he's in within 30 seconds. He opens the front door and I run upstairs to see a crying little face. He had fallen asleep it seems until he heard the commotion.

I happily paid and tipped the locksmith and thanked him profusely, all the while holding my son tighter and tighter. Maybe subconsciously I was trying to make up for something? Or maybe I just didn't want to let go for fear of getting separated again. Either way, I didn't let go of him for a good while after that.

I'm reminded of this agonizing experience because of a recent post on Baby Toolkit. Getting locked out was hard for me, but at least I knew he was safe. After being on the fence about getting a playpen for him, I would recommend one to anyone simply for safety purposes. If you have to walk away or worse, you know he'll be safe. That's one less thing to panic about. The post goes into getting locked out of a car. That's a whole new level of panic. She gives some great info on what to do and what not to do. Most importantly, don't panic because you just can't think straight. Besides that, just keep the baby's best interest in mind...if you have to call 911, that's what they're there for. And as a preventative measure, hold your keys in your hand until you're in the drivers' seat. Seriously, the minute you set them down, they will get forgotten. Even my idiot-proof Jetta has almost locked me out (almost!).

Good Luck!

Going Paperless

An article on going paperless caught my eye today. It actually gives a few good reasons for NOT going paperless. How retro.

Personally, we've scanned most of our bulky documents and shredded the evidence. We bought an older model of this scanner. It was pricey, but we had a severe amount of paperwork to scan. This one is fast and reliable and does double-sided as well as color scans. As we scanned initially, and continue to scan, we do frequent backups on a .Mac account, as well as on an off-sight hard drive. Once that's done, we feel safe enough to shred. Overall, we're pretty happy because we're no longer wasting precious space on paper we're probably never going to need (Amex bill from June 2002? Really?). If we ever do need to find something, we're talking minutes instead of days.

That said, the article makes a couple of good points:
-- Viewing multiple pages at once is difficult without multiple monitors.
-- Paper is portable, lightweight, and doesn't require a powersource.

So we're both still glad we went paperless, but it's not for everyone. There's much less clutter though, and that means the world to a neat freak like me.

Human Tetris

No, seriously. Human Tetris.

Google or Yahoo?

How do you get around on the net? It seems most people in the US use Google. 65.1% of the U.S. search market in May, in fact. Duh. Wee little Yahoo only saw 20.9% of that action. That's quite a difference. That said, I don't remember the last time I used Yahoo. And Ask.com? Please. Those annoying billboards have assured I'll never bother with them again.

Taste of the Nation-June 24

We used to eat out a lot more, but these days, if we go out it's for an early bird special to one of a handful of trusted places. One local restaurant is great...the owner (who we've known for years and loves kids) once held our son and cooed at him while we ate. Everyone left happy that day. That said, if the little guy hasn't napped or is generally cranky, all bets are off because he just won't 10 minutes in a high chair. And in a current fit of cooking, we've been eating in a lot more than usual these days...just to offset the cost of going to the farmers' market ;-)

Which brings me to this fundraising event this coming Sunday, June 24th, from 1-5 PM in Culver City that intrigues me. Taste of the Nation is an annual event to raise money to end childhood hunger in America. This is so many great things all wrapped into one...great food in small quantities (i.e., more to taste), funds go to a good cause, it's an excuse to eat outdoors, and a lot of restaurants we won't be able to go to for a few years will be there. It's not cheap, but as I said, it's a fundraiser. They say "100% of ticket sales benefits the fight to end childhood hunger." Besides, if all goes well, we'll get to try tastey bits from various restaurants (list here) which would charge nearly the same amount for just one meal. If you'd like to minimize your cost, buy tickets in advance and use the discount code KCRW for 15% off.

- VIP: $150 (in advance or at event)
VIP Package includes:
* Valet parking
* Access to HD Buttercup Luxury Lounge featuring premium food, wine and service
* VIP gift bag
* Reserved front of the stage seating for cook-off and live auction

- General Admission: $95 in advance, $105 at the event
- Children 6-15: $25
- Children under 6: Free!

15% discount code: KCRW

Locally, the money raised will be distributed to the following Los Angeles organizations in recognition of their exemplary efforts:
- The Chrysalis Center
- Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger & Homelessness
- St. Joseph's Center
- Los Angeles Regional Food Bank
- California Food Policy Advocates
- The Garden School Foundation

Event Information:
Sunday, June 24 2007
Media Park
Corner of Venice Blvd. & Culver Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Toss your Sunscreen, Pronto!!

ABC reported on the Environmental Working Group's study on sunscreen, and it looks like we're going to have to re-evaluate our medicine cabinet. They studied 783 brand name sunscreens and found that not only are the claims on the labels misleading, 84% offer inadequate protection from the sun.

It seems that the lack of government regulations in the industry allow manufacturers to make all sorts of outrageous claims. The following are some serious shortcomings to be concerned about:

--There's no such thing as an all day sunscreen
--Sunscreen is generally not as effective as labels suggest (e.g., mild as water, waterproof)
--SPF ratings refer to UVB ray protection only
--Currently, there are no ratings for the deeper penetrating UVA rays which can cause skin cancer and wrinkling
--Some sunscreens absorb into the blood and raise safety concerns

ABC lists the following suggestions from the American Academy of Dermatology:

--Use a sunscreen with a high SPF rating, the higher the better.
--Apply sunscreen every two hours even on a cloudy day. Also reapply after taking a swim, and use extra caution at the beach or near a pool as water and sand reflect the damaging rays of the sun.
--For long-lasting UVA protection look for products tested and endorsed by the American Cancer Society or the Academy of Dermatology.

We currently use a sunscreen for my son that I'm not entirely happy with. I've been looking around for something safe and effective, so this study is just in time. The Cosmetic Safety Database provides a lot more information, as well as a grid to help you find how your sunscreen rates.

Recipe for Organization

I love to bake, but I've been getting into cooking a lot more lately. I might say it's because I love food, but that's only part of the story. My husband truly loves food. If I make food for myself, I make it to eat it. He'll make himself a tuna sandwich and garnish it with paprika and some parsley. He makes it to enjoy it.

Besides enjoying good food, I also have fun trying new recipes. When I'm looking for something interesting while planning the coming week's menu, I'll search the web, as well as my collection of books and printed recipes. I have a lot of recipes in Word docs, and I wish they were in a database, but that would be a serious challenge. There are a few programs out there, but nothing that I'm too happy with. Besides, even if I were to get all of my recipes in there, that would leave half of my collection (my more used half) untouched. I use my books so much, some are actually falling apart.

So, in order to make my chaotic system a bit more usable, I do a couple of things:
--Print out all recipes for reference
--Title all Word docs with easy to search titles (e.g., pork ginger stir fry)
--In my books, I use multi-colored flags to mark pages of recipes I like. Red = meat; green = vegetables; yellow = desserts; blue = other

I'm a big fan of the earlier books of Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver since we've found some truly stellar recipes in their books, so the flag system is a nice way to make interesting recipes easy access for those times when I have less time to ponder food. I can take advantage of the rare downtime when I sit and flip through a recipe book and find something delicious that I never noticed before. I flag it, and if I have time, write something quick and descriptive like "quinoa."

It saves me a lot of time, and it allows me to avoid the same meals again and again. My husband asking for the same meal again and again...that's another post.

Trader Joe's Onion Recall

I love Trader Joe's. They have such a wonderful selection of food, and they're so much more reasonably priced than Whole Foods or the like. Hence, it pains me when I see a recall there, which I do see every now and then. Today, I saw a flier at the checkout announcing a recall of diced onions because one bag was found to have listeria monocytogenes.

All the packages are printed with a use by date of 6.16.07 and lot number 2017-R. Call (800) 348-2255 for more information.

Ground Beef Recall

And THIS is why I avoid purchasing ground beef. The article is admittedly a few weeks old, but it's more in knowing that it happened at all.

Fresh and frozen ground beef with sell-by dates of April 6 thru April 20th, potentially tainted with the e-coli bacteria, have been recalled. United Food Group shipped the meat which was primarily sold under the Moran’s label at Albertsons stores in California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, as well as a few stores in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. Other brand names the meat was sold under: Miller Meat Company, Stater Brothers, Trader Joes Butcher Shop, Inter-American Products and Basha's.

Even my poor Trader Joe's is on that list :-(

If you think you might have been affected, you might want to check your freezers for any of this product.

Dads as Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneur.com has an article on the creative side of dads. Being at home with a child makes you re-evaluate all of the little things you never used to care about...laundry detergent, toilet cleaner, toothpaste. Having to change habits and routines to accomodate a little one, a parent can accidentally stumble into brilliance. Mom's have been doing this a lot lately. But now that dads are spending more time raising their kids, they're starting to show off their clever side, too. Furniture, cleaning products, are medicine flavorings are mentioned.
Hey sweetie...got any good ideas yet? Or do you need a few more daddy-baby days?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

World's Healthiest Foods

Information overload!!

The World's Healthiest Foods all in one neat little website.

Guess the Google

This game is insanely addictive.

Quick and Mindless Game

Stop the Sheep

Oh, how violent!

Random Entertainment: Poke a Penguin

Patience is a virtue...
now Poke the Penguin

Making Lego

Cool website that shows the step-by-step process of making Lego.
I envision watching this a lot with a certain little someone some day.

101 Financial Tips

Ask Mr Credit Card has a great list of personal financial tips. From insurance to real estate to college funds, there are lots of tips and reminders on how to maximize your savings.

Toy Recalls 2007

The NY Times reported that of the 24 toys recalled for safety reasons to date in 2007 in the US, all of them were made in China. The number seems possible since 70-80% of toys sold in the US are actually made in China. In fact, given the soaring number of recalls over the past few years, the article states that "China today is responsible for about 60 percent of the overall product recalls, compared with 36 percent in 2000."

Given the overload in federal systems that oversee quality for this kind of stuff, it seems like consumer groups have been working overtime to pick up the slack.
"The toy industry in the United States is largely self-regulated, as the Consumer Product Safety Commission has only about 100 field investigators and compliance staff nationwide to conduct inspections at ports, warehouses and stores - not only of toys, but all consumer products."

Yikes!!

After some thought, while it seems highly unlikely we'll be able to completely avoid toys made in China, I'll be watching out for their construction. Right now, my son puts everything in his mouth and gnaws...so painted toys are the best to avoid. Going forward, we might consider a something else is best avoided. Hopefully, manufacturing regulations will tighten as Chinese authorities consider the loss of business they face. Consumer dollars, or lack thereof, are the loudest way to express distrust and anger with toy makers.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Subjective parenting

Today I ran into my neighbor...figuratively, that is. We exchanged pleasantries. Apparently, she just got a dog. A puppy, in fact. She must be having a hard time because she said she now knows just how I feel because she hasn't slept in days.

OK...I wonder how the breastfeeding's going :-P

Creature Comforts

A great British import has finally made it to Prime Time. Creature Comforts, by Aardman Animations, will be airing on Monday's at 8PM on CBS. Though the animation is essentially the same, the new episodes feature American voices. We used to watch the British ones, but we saw them all. So I'm really excited at the thought of new ones. They're cute, clever, and funny...just like me :-)

Are Plastics and Soda toxic?

Toxic substances and Green solutions are certainly popular and controvertial these days. The Huffington Post's Marc Gunter discusses the elimination of toxic substances as reminded by the Thomas the Tank toy recall last week. He details how environmental groups are working to get businesses to reduce or eliminate certain toxins from production and/or their store shelves, including Whole Foods, Walmart, ConAgra, and Johnson and Johnson.

Across the pond, an article in the Independent reports the dangers in soft drinks.
"A new health scare erupted over soft drinks last night amid evidence they may cause serious cell damage. Research from a British university suggests a common preservative found in drinks such as Fanta and Pepsi Max has the ability to switch off vital parts of DNA."
Of course, these are preliminary findings, but it's a reminder that the more chemicals there are in our food/drink supply, the greater the potential for unknown dangers. The EU tends to be much more conservative with things like the food supply than the US, in my opinion. For example, Genetically Modified seems much more controvertial in the EU (banned in several countries), but the jury still seems out in the US.

If it's not toys, it's make-up, or soda. There's always something to be concerned about it seems, and it's hard to keep up with the "dangers" our society presents. Though I sometimes feel like an alarmist, I prefer to be well informed about potential dangers and then take it all with a grain of salt. One study isn't going to stop me from doing anything, but a few might slow me down. These days, I try to avoid plastic containers for food and drinks, and I've decided that fewer well-made wooden toys are safer for my son than a lot of cheap plastic ones made in China.

The Great Big Google Monster

I'm a Google-ite. I search for everything on Google, and it keeps me coming back. But I do believe that when a company gets to be as big, powerful, and self-admiring as Google is becoming, it can lose its effectiveness. It's easier to buy a company that does something they'd like to do than to come up with the idea on their own. They're growing in leaps and bounds (did i hear at an average of 500 new employees per month this year?). And as they grow into this behemoth, I can't help wonder how much internal progress they're stifling. In terms of creativity, large companies just don't function as well as smaller companies...there are far too many points to compromise. Steve Wozniak's development of the Apple while at HP comes to mind.

So when I saw this article on PBS, I was amused. The Final Days of Google points out "Google is an amazing entrepreneurial petri dish. Yet at the same time, it is doomed to disappoint nearly every entrepreneurial type who works there. This is key: Google is sowing the seeds of its own eventual destruction. It can't help doing so."

Just reminding myself to take even the brilliance of Google with just a pinch of salt.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sippy Cups are Big News

Sippy cups are in the news today.

Was the TSA tough on a mother traveling alone with her toddler, or was she just rude? The NY Times reported that a woman traveling with her 19 month old was stopped by the TSA for having water in her toddler's sippy cup. Beyond that, the story's a bit more vague.

The TSA says she was rude and unhelpful. "A TSA report said Emmerson told an officer that she was a Secret Service agent, flashed her credentials and said she was exempt from the ''stupid'' policy restricting liquids on planes. But Emmerson denied that she flashed her badge, saying the video footage shows her digging in her luggage for identification."

The mother says they harassed her."Emmerson said an officer threatened to arrest her after the water spilled, telling her she was ''endangering the public.'' She said there was no place to dump the water near the security area, and that she was worried when her son started wandering away from her."

Just to clear up the story, the TSA actually posted the video online. I don't know if it clears much up, so as far as I'm concerned, it's a lot of heresay. What I do know is that this was all started by water in a toddler's sippy cup, and per the video, she was detained for no less than 10 minutes. It's nice to know our tax dollars are paying for moments like these. My question: if a toddler can drink the water, how dangerous can it be?"

************************************************************************************************************
This one's a good reminder to taste what your kid eats and drinks. An Applebee's server filled a 2 year old's sippy cup with a margarita instead of the requested apple juice. An honest mistake, I'm sure. Since we haven't had the need to order anything for our son when we go out, this hasn't been a thought. However, going forward, we'll be sure to be cautious of what he's actually getting.

Once a Month Cooking

Get Rich Slowly's talking about "once a month cooking" these days. It's a very clever idea, but honestly, I don't think I'd be able to have the same/similar food one looooooooooong month. I like spending time in the kitchen trying out new recipes. That said, just before we had our son we knew time was going to be of the essence, so we did something along these lines. We cooked a large portion of a different freezable meal every day for about a week, ate from it that night, and froze the rest. From those efforts, we stockpiled about 4 weeks worth of food which carried us through those brutal, sleepless nights with our precious little bundle of joy ;-)
Going forward, we do something similar. When we make a meal that can be frozen, as long as we're not counting on the food for leftover purposes, we freeze it. This assures emergency meals that are better and more nutritious than store-bought frozen meals, and it means we're not eating the same leftovers for days, and days, and days.
Now all I need is a bigger freezer...*le sigh*

Save time - Read a Movie Spoiler

This is so exciting to me. I love movies, but we just haven't been able to see any lately. I can explain it away by reminding myself that I'll get to see them eventually, but eventually may never come because there just isn't always enough time. If I only get to see so many movies, I want the ones I see to be good. The Movie Spoiler is great because I get to feel like I saw a movie that I might have seen before, but probably won't get to see now.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Whirlpool Contest for Moms

If you're a mom (sorry dads) with a clever concept or idea, consider showing it off by entering Whirlpool's Mother of Invention Grant contest. The winner will receive $20k in seed money, as well as expert advice on making her dream a business reality. Starting your own business and keeping it running is tough, so this kind of support is invaluable. Bohemian Baby, a wonderful organic baby food manufacturer in the area, recently shut its doors due to lack of funding despite a devoted customer base.

There I go being pessimitic again. My point is, go forth and conquer. And if you win, let me know ;-)

Friday, June 15, 2007

Kid Gift: Medibag First Aid Kit

A cute gift for a helpful kid:

Me4Kidz Medibag First Aid Kits

Coping with Parenthood: Mystery puddles



There's a lot of moisture in my life these days. Water, drool, breastmilk, spit up, and mystery have all become commonplace on or near me. I might find a mystery wet patch on my knee or step in a small puddle of *something.* Either way, it's strange and unpleasant, but I've learned to accept it. I reconcile it by hoping and longing for drier days. Ironically, I'm sure that when that one day comes, I'll miss the wet patch on my knee.

Girls at Work

Being a woman in the workplace can be tough. How do you get others to take you seriously? Being a woman with a "youthful" voice in the workplace is taking things to the next level. Marketplace's Ashley Milne-Tyte discussed the difficulties women face in the workplace in being taken seriously when their voices don't reflect authority. In fact, there are programs designed to train women to develop a stronger voice, both in content and intonation. Sounds like a better investment than those authoritative Jimmy Choos :-)

Camping in Style




I loved camping when I was a kid, but that was a long time ago. I like running water and electricity far too much these days. But I saw this Airstream, and I gotta tell ya, it makes me want to go camping.

Pack your bags, honey. We're headed for the wilderness!!

Discounts: Entertainment Book

I like coupons, but I don't like to live my life by them. But if I have the chance to use a coupon on something I would have spent money on anyway, I'm all for it. After much debating, I purchased an Entertainment Book at a 50% discount in April. It came to $15, plus $5 in shipping. I checked some of the coupons online, and I felt I would come out on top. I've definitely saved at least the purchase price, and I've been able to share some of the other coupons with friends who might get to use them. There are 9 coupons for $5 off a purchase of $25 at Bristol Farms, and while I don't usually go there, they do carry my favorite cheese :-) There are also coupons for target, rental cars, movie theaters, as well as various restaurants in my area.

Per Dealcatcher, the book is now free (plus $5 shipping) if you pre-order the 2008 copy at a cost of $32 flat (i.e., no shipping).

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Diapers on Amazon

Amazon is great for diapers and other such baby supplies. We use Seventh Generation diapers which comes to $41.99 per box of 160 diapers, or about $10.50 per package of 40. I set up a monthly subscription which gets us an additional 15% off, bringing the total to $8.92 per package of 40. Even better, Amazon reminds me then automatically sends me a box every month. If I were to decide that I needed them less frequently, I can change frequency of the subscription. So it's cheaper, more convenient, and no more last minute diaper runs.

Babyproofing Saga

When my son started rolling over on his own, I knew it was the beginning of the end for us. No longer could we know that he'd be where we left him. Not to say that we leave him, but there's something watching his budding mobility that makes me uneasy. So, we obviously must babyproof. We've done a few small things (e.g., outlet covers), but the bigger things are more challenging.

There's a great company in the area called Family First. For a reasonable fee, they'll come out and inspect your home for child safety and give you a list of the things you should secure. You can avoid the fee all together if you have them install a minimum of $150 at the time of the visit. We had someone come out and it was really educational, though we haven't yet followed through with everything on the list.

More recently, his crawling expeditions have lead him to the volume control knob. So we found Hastings Plastics, a store nearby that cuts plastic to specifications. They cut me a 45"x14" piece of plexiglass, sanded down the edges & corners, and drilled holes in it for a total of $22. I took it home and hooked it onto the table with the cable ties, and the power struggle has ended...for now.

Speaking of babyproofing, I would be remiss if I didn't mention David Keeps' LA Times article The Kids are Alright where he interviews parents who are unwilling to sacrifice style in order to turn their home into a playhouse for junior.

Some parents compare the safety gadgets, or lack thereof, from their childhood and point out that they simply had to learn limits. "Back then, Capobianco recalls, the bowl of hazelnuts and a heavy metal nutcracker in her childhood family room were not considered a choking hazard or a broken finger waiting to happen." I might go one step further and ask how kids of parents who can't afford the plethora of safety gadgets survive today. I'm guessing just fine.

Andrew Baseman, the set decorator of the film "The Nanny Diaries" (how appropriate), commented that "All the Alexanders and Ashleys who stay up until 11 o'clock and are allowed to draw on the walls because their parents put up vinyl wallpaper are going to end up in therapy because they don't know what's appropriate."

We want to give our son the opportunity to learn and explore without feeling that we're endangering him, but we also feel that kids are much smarter than some adults give them credit for. As he matures, he understands and communicates more and more. In turn, we want to communicate with him more instead of treating him like a wild puppy.

Santa Monica Parking Meters-Santa MoniCard

Santa Monica's got a lot of money to burn. So it was no surprise to me when the Santa Monica Daily Press reported that City Hall spent $1.8 million a couple of years ago to replace the city’s 6,600 parking meters with new ones that include a slot where the thin, plastic cards can be inserted. What I do find strange is that after this great effort, they've done very little to publicize these upgrades.

I really wanted one to help reduce the weight and clutter in my purse. Yes, I'm that focused on details. After calling around and speaking to a few different people, I finally found the office that sold these elusive cards. It's not at City Hall, but in a non-descript office about a mile away. If you want to buy a card or reload it, it has to be done at this office as City Hall does not have the equipment needed. At least that's what they told me.

Here's the breakdown:

-Cards can be purchased for $2.
-You can reload your card in increments of $10, 20, 50, 100, or 120 for a maximum of $120.
-They only accept cash or checks.
-You should be able to use your card anywhere in the city, though I've found a few that will only take coins despite having the slot.
-It's a convenience card, so don't expect a discount for usage.

For more information, call City Hall's parking office at (310) 458-8295. Or stop by the office at 429 Santa Monica Blvd. (Union Bank building), room 350.

Update: They now accept credit cards, and you can reload for any amount (up to $200, if I remember correctly). While cards are now available for purchase ($2) at certain Santa Monica locations (e.g., Santa Monica main library), you can still only reload your card at the office listed above.

Costco's return policy

When you have a kid, not having a DVD player sucks. And having one that doesn't work sucks even more. It makes you bitter.

In November 2005, we bought a cheap Lite-on DVD player/recorder from Costco. We were so excited at the thought of (1) replacing our temperamental Toshiba and (2) having a recorder to burn some of our saved Tivo episodes to clear the hard drive. It was definitely an impulse buy. And it worked...at first. The recorder was strange in that it recorded not only the episode, but all of the Tivo activity (e.g., time bar). Then I bought a fitness DVD, and it wouldn't play, though it played in my computer. After that, it became even more selective and wouldn't play various DVDs the first time we tried, so we'd fidget with it until it finally cooperated. And then it struck us. We bought this lousy DVD player at Costco...wonderful, return-friendly Costco. We'd heard of people who had taken advantage of their more than generous policy, but we had never felt the need to return anything. So, after hemming and hawing, we went to Costco with the DVD player, cables, instructions, and receipt in hand, and held our breathe as we figured they'd tell us to buzz off with our boxless purchase from 19 months ago. But they didn't. We were refunded for the purchase price in full without any hassles. So we turned around and bought another plain old Samsung DVD player and a blender with what was left.

In February 2007, Costco revamped its return policy on its big ticket electronic items. Televisions, computers, cameras, camcorders, portable music players and cell phones, which represt 5% of sales for their prior fiscal year, must be exchanged or returned within 90 days. It's still a very forgiving policy though, and that's going to keep us coming back for more.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Thomas the Tank Toys Recalled

We were eying some Thomas the Tank toys this past weekend. Glad we resisted, if only this one time. ABC news reported the most recent China exports to be recalled are the Thomas & Friends wooden railway toys.

For more details and a comprehensive of the toys recalled, click here

Breastfeeding in Vogue?

Another interesting topic on the Huffington Post today. This time, Jennifer Block discusses breastfeeding in New York City and the impact of free samples of baby formula in maternity wards.

It seems to me that for a long time, formula was the norm. I was formula fed, as was my sister, husband, his siblings, and many of my friends, and we're all still alive and kicking. But there's a lot of public noise encouraging breastfeeding and it's changing policy in hospitals, as well as in the minds of people across America. I'm glad to see things moving in this direction.

As a first time mother, I did a lot of reading up on breastfeeding. Breastmilk is everything a baby needs for the first 6 months of life, though some cultures nurse their babies far beyond that. It's complex and nutritious and evolves over time to meet the infant's changing nutritional needs. So we were sure to find a pediatrician who is a staunch believer in the benefits of breastmilk, and he even has an on-staff lactation consultant whose help has been invaluable to us. That said, we live in Santa Monica, and everywhere you turn, someone is encouraging you to breastfeed. Saint John's, where my son was born, has a lactation consultant on staff, the nurses all had tips and advice, and even our doula offered support. So despite having a c-section and being unable to hold my son for several hours after his birth, he latched on really well and has been nursing ever since with little or no difficulty. My milk came in 2 days after he was born, and when we left the hospital 4 days later, he was already back to his birth weight. I'm sure our case is more the exception than the rule, but that's all the more reason to have encouraging images and behavior surrounding new mothers trying to nurse.

I've considered how different things would have been had I not had so many professionals around me encouraging me to nurse. It's difficult and painful at first, and if the baby isn't cooperative, I imagine the pain and frustration can wear you down. Worse still, if a nurse were to suggest that the baby isn't getting enough milk, which is subjective in my experience, a woman could be scared into thinking formula is the best option, either exclusively or as a supplement to breastmilk. As Block says, it's a "time-sensitive relationship" that needs encouragement, which is not provided by gift baskets promoting formula.

If a woman wants or needs to feed her child with formula, it's always an option. But it's so much harder to nurse that I really believe the encouragment helps keep a mother motivated. And in the event that I would have fed my son formula, why would I have chosen the freebie instead of researching for the best option for him? Besides, having free samples of formula in the maternity ward seems shady to me. It's a hospital, not a flea market.

Farmers' Market Shopping



I consider myself so lucky to have the time to patronize our local farmers' market. I love the opportunity to buy fresh, local produce, as well as the ability to support local farmers. I'm not going to pretend I could do what they do, which makes them like heros in my mind. What's more is that they're just nice. They care about keeping me as a customer, and do little things to reflect that. I ask questions and get great advice on storing, prepping, and cooking the food. You just couldn't get that kind of service at any grocery store. There's something exciting in the air at the market that makes me want to buy more food than we could possibly eat, and that keeps me peering over at every stand each week to see what they're offering.

Today was quite plentiful. Peaches, nectarines, and the like are in season, so I tend to save that stand until the end. I like to splurge a little if I have enough money left. Cherries made their last appearance today (apparently, mother's day thru father's day only). I also picked up a bunch of other beautiful fruits and vegetables to last us the week, including something I haven't seen in ages...figs! I've been experimenting with fresh and sprouted legumes, and they are just delicious. You can eat them raw in a salad, but if that's a bit too hearty, just cook them up for about 30 minutes. It's enough to cook them while still retaining nice body and bite. I got a mix of black beans, garbanzo beans, peas, and lentils, and I'm very happy with the results.

Red Lentils

Olive oil
pinch of salt
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 small carrots, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1/2 lb red lentils, which cook faster than other lentils
1-1 1/2 cups water (you can use broth, but I've had great results with just plain water)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat some olive oil in a pot. Add a pinch of salt (helps keep the onions from burning) and the onion. Reduce to low heat and sweat for about 10 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the carrots, celery, beans, and water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes (more for other lentils). Season to taste.

Are School Events Scheduled for Non-Working Parents?

Dani Shapiro, a writer and mother, wrote a piece on the Huffington Post today about having to miss her 8 year old son's school play despite her best efforts to attend. She posed an interesting question that I have to wonder about myself. "Why would a performance of a school play be scheduled for nine o'clock in the morning?"

Since my son isn't of school age, I never think about stuff like this. But it does make me worry about the day I do. I don't plan on being a stay at home parent forever, so what kind of balancing act will my husband and I find ourselves in? And until then, there will surely be days when he will have to miss events because of work. Maybe I'm jumping the gun here, but the piece certainly made me pause for thought.

Monday, June 11, 2007

What the World Eats - Images from Time Magazine

I've seen the book, and the photographs, but time and time again I'm riveted by what the images symbolize, and how they compare to what I know about food. The weekly food supply of families from wealthier countries is not only significantly more expensive, it's also full of processed foods, refined sugars, and high fructose corn syrup...potato chips, pizza, chocolate, soda! The lower the weekly food budget, the more nutritious foods the family seems to consume.

Staying at home with my son has allowed me the time to make more meals at home, so I'm more concerned about what we eat. I try be true to our tastes, while attempting to maintain a degree of nutrition and variety to broaden our palates. I enjoy testing out new recipes with new ingredients, which has led me to few recent discoveries. For example, quinoa is a great staple food as it's incredibly nutritious, easy to make, keeps well for leftovers, and is wheat/gluten free. The latter is relevant because I've been making most of my son's food since he's been on solids (he's 9 months now), and his pediatrician, who is highly concerned about maintaining a healthy diet, wants to keep his wheat consumption to a minimum as it's much more likely to be an allergen. So I make quinoa dishes for us, as well as for our son, and everyone wins!

Back to my point, as lucky as we are to live in a wealthy nation with a seemingly endless food supply, it's worth considering the source and nature of the foods we eat on a weekly basis. We have to start reasoning health with affordability, flavor, and time constraints. That said, there's nothing like a tasty treat every now and then...it really makes the game worth playing ;-)

Cherry Season




Note to self...next time, get the yellow cherries.

I Love Profiteroles

I do! I absolutely love profiteroles, and I love making desserts. This should serve as a marriage made in heaven, but it's only proved to be a sad tale of unrequited love. I've tried making them time and time again, and they just fall flat in the oven. We got a new oven about a year ago, so it's much more reliable. But I'm still afraid of taking out the ol' pate a choux tools.

A great new show called "Chef's Story" interviews a different star chef every week. What drives them? How did they learn their craft? Where did they learn to cook? When did they know their calling? And finally, a demo. It's a great series if you're a foodie or interested in the chefs http://www.chefsstory.com/
A recent interview with Jacques Pepin was not only a great interview, it also had a great demo. He was an apprentice for years to learn his trade, but it wasn't an easy journey because the cooks he was learning from didn't explain anything to him. So he had to "steal" the recipe. And later in life, he turned down a job working as JFK's chef in 1960 to work at Howard Johnson's. Though he didn't realize the potential of the job he turned down, he had no regrets because of how much he actually learned. Another topic close to my heart...stomach... is the quality of our food today, and he addressed the lack of information available through influencial sources like television. He suggested more diversity on the Food Network programming which might inform viewers on food distribution, supermarkets, bioengineered foods, and the use of insecticides, pestacides, fungacides. I fully agree and I wish the Food Network put its resources into broadening its programming instead of adding another fluffy cupie doll to cook something pink (I really, really don't like Sandra Lee).

Finally, he made a great basic recipe for Pate a Choux, the pastry used to make my precious little profiteroles. I will be trying this over the next few days, and I'll report my findings. If it goes well, I suspect I might not see my skinny jeans again for a long, long time.

Awesome Quote:
"I'm not too fat, I'm a bit short for my weight"
Jacques Pepin

American Airlines Changes the Rules

My husband and I love to travel. Over the years, we've been pretty faithful to American Airlines, and we've accrued a good few miles by:
-always trying to fly AA or a carrier in the One World Alliance
-having an AA miles credit card
-using it for business travel (my husbands employers preferred carrier)

However, some recent changes have changed our mile accrual pattern:
-since having a child we don't travel as much as we used to
-we changed credit cards because research on the benefits of credit cards that accrue miles reflected a loss of benefits over the past few years. We got a Starwood card instead which offers us more options on spending our accrued points.
-my husband's employer recently changed preferred carriers

As a result of these 3 changes, we haven't used our account much lately. And while the points used to expire after 3 years, they now expire after 18 months. This does not improve our image of the airline industry. We still fly a few times a year, and that will only increase again as our son gets older, but I can't say we'll be very faithful to AA any more. The cost of cutbacks, I suppose.

AMO recalls contact lens solution

I've been wearing soft contact lenses for nearly 10 years, and I couldn't think of giving them up. There's so convenient and my vision coverage is so much better than with my glasses (i.e., peripheral vision). That said, I'm always a bit concerned when I hear about a contact lens solution recall. Most recently, Advanced Medical Optics Inc. (AMO) recalled Complete MoisturePlus contact lens citing infection risk, which is unfortunately the solution I use. CNN Money reported that "The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) interviewed 46 patients with Acanthamoeba keratitis, a rare but serious cornea infection, and found that of the 39 who wore soft contact lenses, 21 used Complete MoisturePlus." And just last year, Bausch & Lomb's ReNu with MoistureLoc was recalled after it was linked to keratitis.
I'm a numbers sort of person, so this data isn't enough to make me stop wearing my lenses, but I'll keep my eyes peeled for new studies and data.