Friday, November 30, 2007

Around the Internet

Retirements Spark Air Traffic Controller Shortage - In 1981, Ronald Reagan fired the air traffic controllers who went on strike. Guess what. That whole fleet of new controllers is now approaching retirement (25 years). And guess what the overworked and unhappy controllers are doing!

Netflix costs the post office way more than they bargained for. $21 million more, to be exact. Why? Because the envelopes, which are designed to allow the post office to sort them with machines, get snagged on their back back from customers because of frayed edges.

Game for a Cause: Free Rice

Game for the Halibut: Face Off via the Island Life - If you think you know your celebs, prepare to get served.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

13 Thoughts About the U.S. Dollar and the Economy

I'm no economist, but I read a few things here and there that catch my attention. With the writers' strike in effect, I look to the stumbling economy for entertainment. Here are 13 thoughts about the U.S. dollar, finance, and the economy.


DOLLAR VALUE
  1. Tourists from Canada, South America, etc. are traveling to the U.S. for bargain basement deals, despite the travel hassles. I've never known the U.S. dollar to be at par with its Canadian counterpart, so this was a real testament to the current state of the economy.

  2. Foreign tourists will no longer be able to pay the entrance fee at the Taj Mahal in dollars. Apparently, the 22% decline in the dollar impacted India's tourism revenue.

  3. As the dollar decreases in value compared to the Euro (a/o today,$1.47 buys 1.00 Euro), dollar holders have less spending power because imports are more expensive. As Americans buy less, European exporters sales decrease, thereby impacting their economy.

  4. In 2005, the Chinese Yuan was revalued so that it would no longer be tied to a fixed rate against the U.S. currency. As the Chinese economy gets stronger and the U.S. dollar weakens, I'm curious to know if this has impacted our Chinese imports. I haven't seen an analysis of it, though.

  5. Oil is purchased in dollars. What does that mean?
    "Oil producers sell their products in dollars. These dollars are used to purchase other goods in international markets. As the dollar lost its value starting in 2002, oil producers could afford to buy less in international markets with their dollars. To compensate for this loss of buying power, they may have raised the dollar price for oil."
    MONEY & THE ECONOMY

  6. Rapper Jay-Z and other celebs are touting the Euro, not the dollar. And just when I figured out what cheese is.

  7. Another possible rate cut, brought to you by the Fed. Bernanke's feeling the strain on the economy caused by the housing and mortgage mess, higher gas prices, tighter credit conditions, and stock declines, which means he's open to another drop in the fed rate.

  8. Banks Pay the Price for Risky Mortgage Bets - Financial institutions have been making a mint by employing a complex system where they bundle mortgages into one item and sell it to other major financial institutions. Some bundles are riskier than others. Back and forth, back and forth these bundles went until the real estate market started to soften. The backup plan on handling all high-risk loans was based on the theory that real estate goes up, not down; a borrower facing default could sell the property and pay off the loan. Once property values started dropping, selling the property was no longer viable. An obvious factor in the billions being written of at financial institutions this year. I'd like to know their profits on these transactions prior to this year, though.

  9. Reading Pays- Especially When It Comes to Credit Card Updates - Here's an interesting tip that I didn't know about. In the tiny text of the mind-numbing amendments to your credit card agreement, you might find an option to reject changes such as APR increases by writing a letter. That's worth skimming it over a bit closer going forward, methinks.

  10. Be Careful When Police and Firefighters Ask for Money - In general, I don't make donations to any organizations that contact me. I have a few organizations that I routinely donate to, and if I'm considering a donation outside of that circle, I research their efforts at Just Give.

  11. Plonkee addresses the reasons why people don't donate to charities, and knocks them off one by one. My take on it is that if you have money to spend on gifts for others, then you have enough money to donate to those who need your help. 'Tis the season to give 'til it hurts, people ;-)

  12. In the excitement of buying a home, first time home owners don't always think about the non-mortgage related costs, which can be significant. The biggest, for us, is property taxes, which in California increases about 1% annually. Other states property taxes are fixed to the market value of the property (see tips here for contesting property assessment), which seems to me as a frustrating liability. I like knowing what I owe and not having it tied to a vague estimate of market values.

  13. Speaking of housing, it looks like prices are still falling, for a net 13% from this time last year. I can tell you that although the median sales price for a new home is now $217,800, it's closer to half a million in Los Angeles. Since this is the median, a substantial number of homes here are in the million dollar range, which means that for the past few years, first-time home buyers had the choice of opting for a questionable loan (e.g., no interest, zero money down), or continuing to rent

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Stuffed

Ah, memories.

This is what I felt like after Thanksgiving...mmm...cranberry sauce

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Around the Internet

Winds of Change Blow into Roscoe, Texas - A small town gets a new lease on life with wind farms.

Google Goes Green - They're trying to make up for all of the electricity they use by masterminding some innovative power generating methods. A google of them, if you will.

Finally, a proposal to get seat belts in school buses. Yay!

Whimsy Cards - Mmm...greeting cards.

NBC Turns to Tivo Data - Finally, maybe Tivo will make a dollar. Though it sounds like viewer's preferences will be part of that new revenue source. Doh!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Mind the Gap

Nooooooooo!! Emma Clark? Fired?!? Say it ain't so!!

OK, I didn't really know her name before this article, but I knew the voice. And if you've been to London and riden the Underground, you do too. She's the voice that you hear saying "mind the gap" as the doors close.

Did she get canned due to her proclamation that "she no longer used the Tube because it was 'dreadful'." Or was it because of a little slagging on her own website. Hey, what's so bad about a little humor? (e.g., "We would like to remind our American tourist friends that you are almost certainly talking too loud.")

He said, she said. We may never know the truth.

Note: "Mind the Gap" is not to be confused with "Mind the GAAP." If you're an accountant, you're groaning in pain right now.

Shark Infested Upgrades

I love technology, but I don't like maintaining it. And I love that MetaDaddy loves technology enough to go to the pains to maintain it.

That said, this cartoon is ridiculously close to home. Not that we ever have a plethora of non-working stuff...I'm just saying...



Note to MetaDaddy: No, this isn't you! You're fabulous with techie stuff. I'm just saying, remember that Mac? Totally not your fault, obviously, but remember it? Ya, I thought so.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dinner These Days

This reminds me of dinner these days. Can you relate?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Beach, A Book, and A Pie

A day filled with interesting novelties for us.
  • Went for a walk on the beach and actually walked on sand. It was too cold for us to get in the water, though that didn't stop local surfers from taking the challenge. Instead, we scurried up and down the sand with our camera. Once MetaBaby got used to walking on the wettish sand, he was running and giggling like a pro.

  • I'm in the groove of my bookclub book, Middlesex. After having it on our "maybe" list for years, we finally gave in. It's a great read, and I'm at that stage where it's hard to put it down. In another lifetime, I'd be staying up until the crack of dawn to finish it.

  • We made Nigella Lawson's Chicken Pot Pie. It wasn't quite express as far as I'm concerned, but it was really tasty. In terms of prep, we only had to chop the bacon, mushrooms, chicken, and coat the chicken in a flour & thyme mixture. Honestly, the hardest part was managing to get the puff pastry on the ready dish.
Don't you love weekends?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Fun in Downtown Santa Monica

All sorts of fun stuff happening in Downtown Santa Monica. From a man-made ice skating rink, to a snow hill, it looks like the city's trying to bring everyone here for a good time. No, seriously...everyone!

Sure, it sounds like fun, but get there early to avoid traffic, as it's usually intense without this fanfare. You've got restaurants, movies, shopping, and the beach all within blocks. And now, snow in 70 degree weather. What more could you ask for?

Note: While this all sounds like fun, I will not say I'm proud of Santa Monica's efforts. Some events, like the ice rink, all seem like a significant and unnecessary drain on energy and resources. For a city that proclaims itself to be green and eco-friendly, I don't see how these actions fit with that model.

Oh, and it's brought to you by Starbucks.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Deals

It seems all everyone talks about this time of year is Black Friday. After the feast, but before resuming work, it's time to shop. Historically, Black Friday is the day of the year where retailers make enough money to go from being in the red (negative earnings) to in the black (positive earnings). I've never been into the whole idea of camping out to get a good deal on a big television, but if that's your cup of tea, make sure to do your research. BF Ads, for example, has plenty of ads listed to make sure you map out your conquests well.

Others might want to go the warm and comfy route of Cyber Monday, a sales bonanza that takes place online only on the Monday following Thanksgiving. If you're thinking of trying it out, make sure you take a few tips from this Fool (#4 is the best tip for all online shopping!):
  1. Check out comparison-shopping tools - Sites such as Cool Savings, Google Product Search, Shopzilla, and Street Prices, plus Deal News' companion sites, offer tools to compare prices.
  2. Re-sort and revisit - Some comparison websites deliver results skewed by ad dollars -- with the stores paying for placement getting top billing or activated links to their storefront. Try loading results based on price, location, rating, or other criteria to get a true view of the shopping landscape.
  3. Fill in the blanks - To capture results from retailers that may not be included in comparison sites and check on the latest promotions, type in the URL of stores directly to see whether their latest promotions are worthwhile.
  4. Erase your electronic footprints - Delete all cookies from your browser and search again another day. You want to make sure you're getting as good a price on an item as a first-time visitor to the website is. Some e-tailers serve up your old, cached search results (and old prices) if you've browsed there before.
  5. Compare clicks and mortar - Does your favorite store have an online shop? Sign up for its newsletter and get advance notice of sales and subscriber-only coupons. And also compare online and offline prices -- they aren't always identical.
  6. Crack the code - If you shop online, don't lose out by leaving the "enter promotional code here" box blank. Get the scoop on possible savings at sites such as Current Codes and Coupon Cabin. Also try typing in the retailer's name and "coupon code" in your search engine.
To be honest, I'm not really interested in either. We're not really in the market for anything we've seen in ads lately, and we try to avoid getting lured in to needless purchases. Besides, given the state of the economy per the Starbucks test, we might have some pretty good sales to look forward to before Christmas, without the crowds ;-)

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Over the years, I've ruined my fair share of meals. The most riveting of which was probably the one where I made pork chops with scalloped potatoes for my in-laws, only to find out that the pork chops I got were far thicker than the usual ones, and our oven was on the fritz. The meal, which took hours instead of 40 minutes (or so it felt) had to be saved by a few sneaky tricks, none of which came from my obviously limited arsenal of know-how.

Some thrive on stress. I am not one of those some.

Hence, I've learned a couple of things about me and the kitchen.
  • I am not to make a meal or any portion thereof for the first time in a stressful situation.
  • I am not to over-complicate the menu. One complicated thing maybe, but no more.
  • I am not to over-commit myself to cooking more than I can handle without stressing out MetaDaddy.
  • If I'm not enjoying my kitchen labor to some degree, everyone will suffer.
So, as Thanksgiving comes to a close, I would like to say I did none of that. Mostly because we ate out with some friends. It was stressful on other levels. MetaBaby, who napped and ate well, is still but a toddler, and as such, short on patience. MetaDaddy took the brunt of the force by holding and walking with him a lot. It turns out, he ate lots of turkey when he got a moment, but forgot to savor in any vegetables. Don't worry...the feast was grand, so he got plenty. He just didn't get as much of the green beans and mashed potato as he would have liked. *le sigh*

On the bright side, we got to take home some leftovers, so we're having turkey sandwiches tomorrow. Yet, we don't have 15 pounds of leftover turkey in the fridge. Whew!! And I didn't go nuts arranging the whole thing. That said, if we had done it at home, I would have ordered part of the meal so the ordeal would have been kept to a minimum. As a compromise, that's probably what we'll do next year. After all, we might have some turkey left over, but no cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie. And that's just sad.

And now for something completely different: A Psychedelic Thanksgiving

Hope you all had a wonderful holiday, and good luck with all of your Black Friday endeavors ;-)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Around the Internet

George Clooney Tells Off Paparazzi - Anyone who's a danger on the streets deserves to be corrected. Good for Clooney for stopping to remind the photographer of his irresponsible behavior. Unfortunately, said photographer obviously went on the sell the footage...ugh.

101 thoughts on losing 100 pounds via Chief Family Officer - I'm generally not allowed to put my two cents in on weight matters because I don't "appear" to have any weight issues. Every now and then, I feel like I could lose a couple of pounds, but it's not something I would say to most people because they'd just get annoyed and laugh at me. Whatever. When I see great tips and reminders on how to maintain a healthy diet that will impact your waistline, I get excited. Food is not the enemy!

Holiday Express Lane for Flyers - Delays and traveler woes were nowhere near as bad as everyone feared. The additional "express lanes" helped, I'm sure.

Rotten Neighbor - What to do if your neighbor's lame. Grr.

Airlines Scramble for Fresh Options for Travelers - Scott McCartney from the Wall Street Journal breaks down the new flight options out there for air travel this year, from no-frills airlines, to all business class models. Now if they could all just depart on time, we'd all be set.

Incidentally, Scott McCartney writes a column for the Wall Street Journal. While most of the site is still subscription based, that's going to change. Rupert Murdoch wants to make the Wall Street Journal Online free, possibly as soon as his purchase of Dow Jones is completed next month. I'll keep you posted ;-)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

L.A. is Huge!

If you ever wondered why the City of Los Angeles is so complicated and hard to manage, take a look at this map. The colored area of this map is the city, not county of Los Angeles, which includes the light gray area. It's HUGE! Los Angeles is comprised of a ridiculous number of communities, many of which represent our unique melting pot, such as Korea Town and China Town. There are a few wealthier cities that have seceded from Los Angeles, such as Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and Burbank. Those cities tend to function a bit better because money stays local and the city has the flexibility to move slealthily to resolve problems. Some argue that the loss of revenue to the city of L.A. negatively impacts the remaining low income residents.

Like I said, complicated and hard to manage.

And just to give you a bit of perspective on the size of the city versus the metro system, here's another map. It's what commuters here call "a joke."

Monday, November 19, 2007

Campari and Wine

MetaDaddy likes Campari, so I thought of him when I read this article on the Bicyclette, a drink made of nearly equal parts Campari and white wine created by Fergus Henderson. He's an oddball chef (odd to me, not to Tony Bourdain) who has made a living on “nose to tail eating,” which essentially means he eats what most don't. Snouts? Trotters? Brain? He's got a recipe for those. And if you stop by his restaurant in London, St. John, you might even be lucky enough to find his braised squirrel.

Oy, and I thought I didn't like Campari.

Via Becks and Posh

Sunday, November 18, 2007

L.A. Auto Show and SUVs

The L.A. Auto Show is this weekend (video clip here). We're not going this year because there isn't enough to entertain MetaBaby. That said, if we really wanted to go, we probably could. We just don't care that much. It's interesting to see all of the new models and prototypes, though. And this year like in all other industries, the green models are getting all of the hype.

Update:
Later that day, Toyota got stumped (via Emerald City). Personally, I don't understand hybrid SUVs. The SUV is really just an unfortunate compromise between having a reasonable car, and an useful minivan. We have a Volkswagon Jetta, which is agile and has spectacular trunk space. We have never come short of space, including a drive up to the mountains when we took luggage, a playpen, stroller, food, and other baby essentials. In speaking to some friends, they've actually said how small the interior to their SUVs are. One said that his high end SUV that can't even accommodate his rear-facing infant car seat in any position except the middle back seat.

If you think you really need a larger car, make sure you're making the right choice. A well proportioned 4 door sedan can be spacious, easier to drive, cheaper to operate (especially with soaring gas prices), and easier to park than an SUV. A minivan will offer you more seats, as wells as a more spacious and flexible interior. But an SUV costs more to operate, isn't as spacious as a minivan, and is harder to drive and park (e.g., no compact spots).

I'm just saying.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Random Quote: Mark Twain

"A baby is an inestimable blessing and bother."
-- Mark Twain

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Funny Commercial

I saw this commercial and nearly hypreventilated. It's the last bit that made me want to watch it again and again and again...

Around the Internet

Why now might not be the time to invest in a mutual fund - An easily forgotten bit of information, in case you're looking to invest right now.

8 secret credit scores you don't know about and Beyond your FICO (via Chief Family Officer) - A couple of posts on Liz Pulliam Weston's article about the nuances to your credit rating. It's not just enough to watch your credit score because that's not the only information lenders have access to. Good information to keep in mind when evaluating your credit image with lenders

Trading in old electronics - Costco will pay you for your old consumer electronics, which might or might not be worth it. Whatever you do, make sure you dispose of your electronics responsibly (e.g., donate or take it to the dump).

Biodegradable Diapers via Sustainable Works - Really biodegradable, made with a corn based material. This also means they're breathable, less bulky, and soft to the touch. They are, however, pretty pricey ($15.99 per package or $59.95 per box of 4 packages), and they're hard to find. If the trend catches on, availability and pricing should adjust accordingly. Stuff to ponder. Do you want to lead or be led?

Contact lens case - Sure you can get free ones, but this one's plain clever. If you travel, or you misplace your case often, this might be your ticket to peace of mind.

Funny stuff on Craigs List via David Lebovitz - Examples (I could list dozens, but I'll keep it brief in an attempt to keep you on my good side):

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Oxford’s Word of the Year: Locavore

Locavore is Oxford's word of the year.
"The past year saw the popularization of a trend in using locally grown ingredients, taking advantage of seasonally available foodstuffs that can be bought and prepared without the need for extra preservatives."
Other runners-up include:
  • mumblecore - an independent film movement featuring low-budget production, non-professional actors, and largely improvised dialogue.

  • colony collapse disorder - a still-unexplained phenomenon resulting in the widespread disappearance of honeybees from beehives, first observed in late 2006.

  • upcycling - the transformation of waste materials into something more useful or valuable.

    and my favorite

  • cougar - an older woman who romantically pursues younger men.
Rrrrrreeow

13 Gift Ideas for Kids

The number of toys that have been recalled for one reason or another is atrocious. It's really got me thinking that I don't want just anything for MetaBaby because you don't know the integrity of the item. This goes double if you haven't had the opportunity to vet the item in question. That said, what do you do when Christmas or birthdays come around? People want to give your son gifts because they care about you and him, and they want to see that little face light up (his, not yours). So it's hard to say "please don't give my child a gift." It's not fair to the giver or to the kid.

I'm also torn because of my aforementioned resistance to buying too many toys.

Well, there are always ways to compromise. There are good, safe toys that MetaBaby could benefit from, so I made a wishlist for him at Amazon. It includes items like books, music (that I wouldn't hate), and a few safe toys. Of course, there are always other things, but those would involve conversations. For example, MetaNana got MetaBaby one of the cutest little wooden trikes I've ever seen, and it was perfect because he didn't have one. He uses it all the time, and it allows him to express his dangerous side (i.e., standing on the seat!!).

That said, I figured I'd compile a list of 13 other gift ideas to give or be given that:
  • don't break the bank
  • are useful to parents and kids
  • potentially good learning experiences
  • are not plastic, over-packaged, blinking things made in China
This is just a start, so feel free to add on with more ideas :-)
  1. Get something small to keep the little one happy, and make the real gift a deposit into a 529 account.
  2. Homemade "coupon" for something fun with you, like a day at the zoo or museum.
  3. Give homemade sweets (e.g., cookies, chocolates).
  4. Take a cooking or baking class together. Or a "class" where you teach the little one how to cook or bake.
  5. A few seeds and other relevant items to plant something (e.g., flowers, herbs, tomatoes).
  6. Tickets to a favorite event.
  7. A class or series of classes (e.g., dance, art, something at a local museum).
  8. Pick a favorite non-profit organization to donate to (e.g., cute of Oxfam).
  9. Perhaps the instructions, tools, and help in building something (e.g., soapbox car, or check out The Dangerous Book for Boys or The Daring Book for Girls from the library for more ideas).

    From New Dream:
  10. The makings for hand puppets: Brown lunch bags, googly eyes, stray buttons, scissors, markers, etc.
  11. Box of dress up clothes: Old dresses, high heel shoes, cowboy boots, collared shorts, and millions of other fun outfit ideas can all be found at thrift or second-hand stores have great selections.

    From Suite 101:
  12. Gift certificates to a local movie theatre.
  13. Art supplies (e.g., construction paper, paints, crayons) to replenish the back-to-school box.

Side Note: This is not a cheap gift, but it's an interesting one. Between November 12 and November 26 only, the One Laptop per Child program has made available their revolutionary XO computer.
For a donation of $399, one XO laptop will be sent to empower a child in a developing nation and one will be sent to the child in your life in recognition of your contribution. $200 of your donation is tax-deductible (your $399 donation minus the fair market value of the XO laptop you will be receiving).
Perhaps it sounds crazy to give a destructive toddler a computer, but consider the following per David Pogue, guru to the geeks:
  • Spillproof
  • Rainproof
  • Dustproof
  • Drop-proof
  • Fanless
  • Silent
  • Powered by a solar panel (6 hours, or 24 if reading) (2,000 recharge cyles, 4 times more than the average laptop)
  • Weighs 3.2 lbs.
  • Built-in video camera, microphone, memory-card slot, graphics tablet, game-pad controllers and a screen that rotates into a tablet configuration.
  • Runs on Linux (only geeks care about this one ;-)

Amazon's Customers Vote

If you like deals, check out Amazon's "Customers Vote", which started today.

How This Works

The products that get the most votes in each of six rounds will be offered at ridiculous winning prices, and the runners-up will also be sold at slightly smaller discounts. (But they'll still be sweet deals.)

Step 1: Vote. Browse our six rounds of great products, and vote for the ones you’d like to buy at an amazing discount.
Step 2: Check back. Come back on each round's buying day to see if you were randomly selected to get a deal on the product you voted for in that round.

Keep in mind:
  • You're only eligible to be offered a deal on the products that you vote for.
  • You may vote in all six rounds on the same day if you like.
  • You cannot change your vote.
  • You must return to this page on the buying day for each round to find out whether you were randomly selected to be offered a deal on the product you voted for.
  • If you're offered a deal, be sure to check out soon, as the offer is good for a limited time only.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Recipe: Pasta alla Puttanesca

I was always against pasta alla puttanesca in restaurants because of the anchovies. I finally gave it a try, and the bold flavors left me craving more for weeks. You don't get "fishy," but a salty depth of flavor that works very well with it's neighbors.

I found this recipe in Alice Waters' cookbook The Art of Simple Food. I was struck by how easy it was, so I mustered up the courage to touch the anchovies. It should be noted that after dinner, the tin of remaining anchovies was sitting on the counter. My husband walked up...and ate them. Ewwww.....

The recipe was quick and painless. It's really too much for two, so we saved the rest for a future meal. Bonus meal!

Pasta alla Puttanesca
Makes about 2 cups

Pasta for 2

1/3 cup olive oil
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup tomato sauce
3 tablespoon capers, rinsed, drained, and chopped
1/4 cup pitted black olives, chopped
1/4 teaspoon (or more) dried chile flakes
1/4 cup chopped parsley
3 salt-packed anchovies, soaked, filleted, and chopped (I used anchovies packed in oil)

Cook the pasta per the packages' instructions.

Into a heavy saucepan over medium heat, pour the olive oil and garlic. When the garlic starts to sizzle, add everything but the anchovies and cook for 5 minutes. Add the anchovies and cook for a minute or two. Taste for salt and adjust as needed.

Remove half the sauce from the pan and add the pasta to the pan. Stir to coat and serve.

Michelin Starring Los Angeles - Follow Up

Maybe Los Angeles restaurants don't have much to worry about. I have no intention of purchasing a Michelin guide. Honestly, Chowhound is my go-to place for local food info. And from this post, it sounds like the Los Angeles Michelin guide is a bit clueless about their muse. If you don't "get" Asian food, you don't "get" Los Angeles food.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Nursing a Toddler

Nursing a toddler isn't quite what I expected. That said, I didn't expect much. I didn't really think about it at all. I figured I'd nurse as long as things worked out well. My frame of mind was that if something happened that made it too challenging, we would quit. Hopefully, we'd get at least 6 months.

I had a c-section, and I heard we might have trouble nursing as a result. We didn't.

I got mastitis, and it was really challenging to continue nursing, but it was also the best cure because it helped with the engorgement.

After that, nursing has been a breeze, and it's aided us through a lot of situations. It's served to feed MetaBaby when he was hungry, settle him in unfamiliar situations (e.g., airplane), and calm him enough to sleep when overly tired. It's also been a comfort to him when he's under stress, like when he's teething.

It's amusing to note the changes in how he nurses though. When he was really young, I cradled him with the aid of My Brest Friend (yes, that's what it's actually called, and it works like a dream because it protected my c-section scar) until he got too big for it. When he got too big and active for cradling, I tried a different approach that has worked quite well up until now. I sit him on my lap facing me, and if he's feeling cuddly, he can hug me. However, he usually feels more like dinner and a show, so he entertains himself by playing with my belly...the one he stretched out. And he laughs. Cute? Yes. Mean? Oh ya! He also lets me know he's hungry by walking up to me and lifting my shirt. Fortunately, he hasn't started doing that parlor trick in public yet. *le sigh*

I'm not sure how much longer nursing will last. Currently, he's only feeding once in the morning and once at night. It certainly doesn't offer him enough to stave off hunger since he usually ends up asking for "more" once he's finished. I figure he'll regress once teething flares up again. Only time will tell.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Nursing from the Other Side


MetaMommy only knows it from this side of the fence. There is no way I would have been able to capture the male sentiment as succinctly as Greg at Daddytypes has.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Things That Annoy Me: Week in Review

  1. A woman on a non-crowded street coughed on me.

  2. I saw what looked like the uneaten remains of a cat's dinner.

  3. We went to the park and MetaBaby touched sand. He looked at his hands in shock and wonder, as if to say "what is this odd substance on my hands and why won't it come off?" Obvious next step: he licked his hand.

  4. Netflix says there's a "short wait" on Ratatouille. Don't know if this bothers me that much after seeing #2 (above).

  5. Between making dinner and leftovers, I couldn't justify eating out at all this week. Le sigh.

  6. No more dinners at Joe's Restaurant in Venice after their Michelin star.

M6 Convertible Kids' Cars

No, we're not getting this for MetaBaby. But it sure does get my heart thumping. I sure would have cooed for one when I was a kid. In fact, I think I might have.

I wonder if they come in green.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Banning rBST Labeling

Andrew Martin at the New York Times reported on the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's decision to get on my nerves. Specifically,
"Pennsylvania is banning labels on milk and dairy products that say it comes from cows that haven’t been treated with artificial bovine growth hormone, which is sometimes known as rBGH or rBST. State officials say the labels are confusing and impossible to verify."
Farmers use recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) to increase a cow's production of milk by a gallon or more a day. The point of concern isn't with the use of the hormone, which is considered safe by the FDA, but with the "absence labeling,” which tells consumers what isn't in food instead of what is. While I don't see this happening in California, I don't like the trend since officials in Ohio are considering it, too.

Dennis Wolff, Pennsylvania’s agriculture secretary, took a position that directly impacts the diet of his state's residents, and Martin questions him on his loyalties.
Rather, Mr. Wolff is bucking consumer demand, which will benefit Monsanto [rBST manufacturer] and a bunch of whiny dairy farmers. Monsanto certainly doesn’t need his help. On Thursday, the company told investors that its gross profits should double in the next five years. And I find it hard to muster sympathy for farmers who refuse to change to meet consumer demands. Most businesses certainly don’t have that luxury.
I find this a terribly frustrating ruling since I don't find the state of food in the United States to be as safe as it should be. When foods are being treated with hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc., I want to know so I can avoid them. I'll pay the extra dollar if it means I can feel better about what I feed my family.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Michelin Starring Los Angeles

A most excellent friend told me about the Michelin *oopsie* this week. It's nice to know I'm not the only one making *oopsies* these days.

The L.A. Times reported that the finicky folks over at Michelin, the French-based food rating guide that has led kitchens to greatness or catastrophe, inadvertently revealed their Los Angeles and Las Vegas ratings results on their website before their official release.

Besides the prestige of receiving a star, the article points out that an increase in business is inevitable.
With Michelin stars come prestige, but stars also bring business. "It was one of the single greatest factors in affecting our business and the demographic of our clientele," says David Kinch, chef-owner of Manresa in Los Gatos. Last year the restaurant received two stars when the "Michelin Guide San Francisco, Bay Area & Wine Country" was published for the first time. "It changed everything. It's been amazing. Visitors coming from all over the world. All of a sudden we became a part of the trail."
You'll find the fully leaked list for Los Angeles here, which includes 3 two star restaurants ( "Excellent cooking and worth a detour"), and 15 one star ("A very good restaurant in its category").

Side Note: This became much more annoying when I realized that Joe's Restaurant in Venice received a star. It was busy enough when it was one of our favorite restaurants. Now, it'll be impossible to get into...much less with a high chair. *le sigh*

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Converting From Non-Stick

Most non-stick cookware is coated with teflon, the primary chemical of which is called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). This allows for wonderful things like omelettes, crepes, and muffins to cook or bake without sticking to it's surface. A great technological marvel. However, if heated above a certain temperature, this chemical gives off a toxic fume that has been known to kill birds (more susceptible due to their unique anatomy), and can cause respiratory problems in humans. A response to a query in the Austin Chronicle breaks down the potential dangers to using Teflon pretty well.
The main problem seems to be that when Teflon is heated to temperatures higher than about 450 degrees (twice the temperature of boiling water) it produces toxic particles and fumes that can deposit in the lungs. At higher temperatures, 680 degrees, other worrisome substances are given off, but many of them are poorly investigated. These temperatures can be reached if a pan is left sitting on a normal kitchen stove burner set on "high" for as little as five minutes. The "take-home" lesson is to use Teflon only to cook at lower temperatures.
I'd heard about the dangers of teflon on non-stick pans for a while, but I chose to ignore them. How bad could it really be? I was talking to a friend about it and her husband, who had done a significant amount of research on the topic, was dead set against using non-stick. That brought back my nagging doubts. Should I be dead set against it, too? It's actually quite easy to overheat an empty pan, so how could I be sure I wasn't heating the surface beyond safe levels? When I got pregnant, I decided it was time to switch over.

Our non-stick pots and pans were getting old, anyway. Once they become scratched, it's time to get rid of them because scratches increase the chances of getting toxic bits in your food. There are pros and cons to every kind of cookware, but the health risks were the issues that influenced my decisions the most. I did a lot of research and decided on 3 different kinds of pans.

Calphalon Contemporary Stainless Steel 8-Piece Cookware Set - While I didn't necessarily want a set, this one fit the bill at a lower price than buying the few individual pieces I wanted. The going price was about the same everywhere I checked, so I bought it at Bed Bath and Beyond with a 20% coupon, and it came with a bonus $50 BBB gift card. I chose this stainless steel set as the foundation for our cookware collection because I wanted a metal that has fewer health risks (proven or not). Unlike other sets, this one is dishwasher safe. While they're relatively easy to clean, they can be hard to keep in pristine condition. I'm hardly interested in that, though. If I want to stare at something, I'll go stare at MetaBaby.

A few cleaning tips:
  • Always wipe dry after washing to prevent spotting. Spots and marks can be removed with equal parts vinegar and water.
  • Do not use brushes or sponges that can scratch the surface.
  • To avoid salts stains, do not add salt to your food until the contents are boiling.
  • Remove calcium deposits by boiling water with some white vinegar. Allow your pan to cool, then wash with warm, soapy water.
Pros: Easy to clean, no health concerns, dishwasher safe, handles on pans stay cool while cooking, stovetop & oven friendly, browns food nicely, safe to use with acidic foods (e.g., tomatoes)

Cons: Difficult to keep in pristine condition, not non-stick, clear lids not as useful as I anticipated

Pre Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet - A seasoned cast iron skillet has the benefit of being naturally non-stick once seasoned. It's truly easy to maintain. Just wipe it down after use, preferably while warm, and never use soap on it. It took a bit of getting used to because it's not very reactive to changes in temperature. That is, if you lower the heat, it takes a while for the temperature to adjust accordingly.

Pros: Inexpensive, conducts heat evenly, stovetop & oven friendly, browns food nicely, increases iron in food, non-stick if seasoned, can last forever if cared for properly

Cons: Heavy, can rust if not dried after washing, slow to adjust to heat changes, can't use with acidic foods (e.g., tomato) because leaches too much iron into the food, not dishwasher safe

Le Creuset 5.5 quart round oven - I had wanted one of these pots for ages. I finally decided to bite the bullet when I made the transition. The going price seemed to be the same everywhere, but I found this pot on sale at Bloomingdale's, where I also had a gift card. I ended up paying 50% of the original price out of my own pocket, so it felt like destiny.
This pot goes from stove-top to oven without a hitch. It cleans in no time, and is a great size to do a variety of foods, so I end up using it almost daily. This is definitely my "go to" pot. And all at a bargain price. That said, I love this one so much, if something happened to it today, I'd go out and buy another one tomorrow.
I purchased a Le Creuset, but there are other manufacturers out there. I'm sure used ones would be well worth a try, too. Here are some cleaning tips for any type of enameled cast iron.

Pros: Easy to clean, no health concerns, stovetop & oven friendly, browns food nicely, safe to use with acidic foods, non-stick, can last forever if cared for properly, conducts heat evenly

Cons: Heavy, dishwasher safe (but too heavy to try), paint can chip

Here are a few types of cookware that I don't have any personal experience with, but appear interesting.

Soapstone Cookware - Oven-, stovetop-, grill-safe; ; not dishwasher safe; natural non-stick surface after curing; easy to clean

La Chamba Cookware - Made of natural clay; not dishwasher safe; oven-, microwave-, grill-safe

If you have any experience with these or other types of safe cookware, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Bunny

A Bunny Cookie Jar - It's a pricey cookie jar, ringing in at $100. And it's creepy because it reminds me of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Warning: this scene is a bit bloody. Watch at your own risk).

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

13 Things MetaBaby's Learned

MetaBaby is growing up so fast. It's so exciting for us to watch his learn new things. He doesn't have any real words, though he does start to whine "mamamamamamama" if I don't pick him up from his nap in a timely manner. We've been signing with him, but the only sign he has a firm grasp of is "more"...probably because it gets him more food. That said, you can tell that he understands more than he's letting on.

For example:
  1. When we ask "do you want some O's (i.e., Cheerios)," he grabs his bowl and walks to the cereal cupboard.
  2. After I pour said O's, he runs to the living room because that's where he's allowed to eat them.
  3. When we open the refrigerator, he runs over, pushes us out of the way and reaches in to grab the mustard.
  4. When we ask "do you want some more water," he walks to the refrigerator and stares up at the water spout.
  5. When we say "would you like some yogurt," he walks to the refrigerator and tries to open it.
  6. When we open the refrigerator, he runs over, pushes us out of the way and reaches in to grab the metal tube of chile paste.
  7. When we ask "where's your tummy," he pats his tummy.
  8. When we ask "where's your ear," he pats his ear.
  9. When we ask "where's your nose," he pats his ear.
  10. When we ask "where's your daddy's nose," he honks MetaDaddy's nose.
  11. When we say "are you hungry," he signs "more."
  12. When we say "do you want more," he signs "more."
  13. When we say "give me a hug," he runs towards us, arms extended!

Cooking Last Week

I'm excited about food these days. I get home from the farmers' market on a high, ready to start cooking. Unfortunately, MetaBaby goes for a nap after the market, so I have to bottle it up and keep quiet. Ah well...here I am.

Last week, in no particular order, we had the following:

Braised baby artichoke risotto - A bit time consuming, but worked out better than I expected. Even worked well as leftovers. Though I truly love artichokes, so I might be biased.

Chicken legs braised with tomatoes, onions, and garlic - This felt like home cooking at its best. Cooking time was close to an hour, but I'm sure it could be adapted to work with a crock pot or the like. We'll definitely do this one again.

Grilled Haloumi, salad, and cous cous - This was a really fast dinner because it cooks in no time. Haloumi is an interesting cheese that doesn't melt, so you can grill or BBQ it. In fact, it's a nice option for vegetarians if you're ever wondering what you can do other than grilled vegetables. The only flaw with this recipe is that it was hard to find. I tried Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Albertsons, and eventually found it at Bristol Farms. Keep in mind that it's very salty, so don't salt it or pay the price.

Cous Cous & Sautéed Vegetables - This is a quick and delicious stand-by recipe. I love getting tiny shiitake mushrooms from the farmers' market and just toss them in. No chopping makes the quick dish even faster. And it's a versatile recipe so you can add and subtract ingredients as desired.

Chicken Legs Braised with Tomatoes, Onions, and Garlic

This recipe is from my newest purchase, The Art of Simple Food. I wasn't going to get this book, but the Cook's Library had a book signing with Alice Waters, who started a food revolution back in the 1970s. Though I couldn't go because it was between 1 and 3 (can you imagine poor little MetaBaby? And poor little me trying to calm poor little MetaBaby? CRAZY!!), they're nice enough to offer to get the book signed for customers. So far, it's a lovely cookbook filled with tasty, fresh, nutritious homey recipes, as well as several variations to help the cook adapt the recipe to his or her tastes.

This recipe was delicious, and great for leftovers. It looks like it might be adaptable to crock pot and such, which makes for a time saving alternative. Serve with mashed potatoes or rice to take advantage of the juices.

Chicken Legs Braised with Tomatoes, Onions, and Garlic
Makes 4 servings

4 chicken legs
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, sliced thick (or diced large)
4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 bay leaf
1 small rosemary sprig
1/3 cup dry white wine (or vermouth)
4 tomatoes, diced course, or 1 small (12-ounce can organic whole tomatoes, diced (including juice)
1 cup chicken broth

Season the chicken with salt and pepper the day before, if possible. Though I didn't, and it was still delicious.

Heat a heavy-bottomed pan* over medium heat. Add olive oil. Place the chicken legs into the pan skin side down and cook until crisp and brown, about 12 minutes. Turn and cook for another 4 minutes. Remove the chicken and add the onions. Cook until translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic, bay leaf, and rosemary and cook for 2 minutes. Add the white wine and cook until reduced by half. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.

Arrange the chicken in the pan, skin side up, and pour in any juices that have collected. Pour in the chicken broth. The liquid should reach halfway up the chicken;add more if needed. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Cover and cook at a bare simmer or in a 325°F oven for 45 minutes. When done, pour the braising liquid into a small bowl and skim the fat. Discard the bay leaf and rosemary. Taste for salt and adjust as needed. Return to the pan and serve.

*Note: Non-stick pans don't brown food very well, so use something else, if possible.

Sautéed Vegetables with Cous Cous

This is such a quick and easy recipe, I love it. The original version from Weight Watchers is a vegetarian dish called Creamy Polenta with Sautéed Vegetables, but we're not big polenta fans. The following worked much better for our particular preferences, to which I also added the proscuitto for additional flavor (we really like proscuitto).

Sautéed Vegetables with Cous Cous
4 servings

1 cup cous cous, prepared per package
75 grams proscuitto (1/2 package) torn into small pieces
8 large shiitake mushrooms (6 ounces), stemmed and thinly sliced
1 (10-ounce) package frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup dry vermouth
1/2 teaspoon freshly gound pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

Prepare the cous cous per package.

Use a cast iron skillet or spray a large skillet with nonstick spray and set over medium-high heat. Add the proscuitto and mushrooms and cook until mushrooms softened, about 2 minutes. Add the peas and cook 1 minute. Add the vermouth, bring to a boil, and cook until it reduces slightly, about 1 minute. Stire in the pepper and salt.

Serve immediately.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Writers' Strike

The writers' strike seems to be getting a lot of press. I should think it's a nationwide issue since, while it is about the entertainment industry, it's also about our favorite shows, future movies, and newly emerging technology. That is, back in the day, writers got a raw deal when they agreed to pitiful residuals on DVDs because no one thought it was a money maker. Now, they want to make sure they get their fair share of the pie with regards to new media like downloads and DVRs.

I'm sure it's tough to decide to strike regardless of your industry; giving up your paycheck for an indefinite amount of time to stand outside your office and picket. Yes, some make an obscene amount of money. But so do the producers, directors, and studios. So while you may not feel for people who already make a good living, it is all about proportions.

Anyway, one of our favorite shows these days is 30 Rock. I couldn't help but wonder if Tina Fey, the show's creator, producer, writer, actor, was going to picket. After all, she was a writer and head writer (the first female) on Saturday Night Live for ages before she moved up in the world. She is. Good for her.

Update: Alec Baldwin's 2 cents.

Shopping With an Antsy Toddler

Here are some good tips from Baby Center to help keep your high energy toddler from driving you crazy while shopping. They're common sense ideas, but sometimes the obvious logic gets lost in the midst of running errands.

For example, go with someone to help you watch him. This is especially valuable if he's insisting on getting out of the cart or stroller. Currently, my tactic is to grab what I need (e.g., at Target), then browse. If he gets really unruly, we can just leave. If we're on a walk and we go into a store to browse, his threshold is much lower. As a result, I don't do much shopping or browsing, which is fine because I'm not a big shopper. It's for the best, isn't it.

Another good tip they suggested was to take your toddler to the playground before shopping. This will get more of that high-octane energy out, so he'll be more likely to sit in his stroller for a while. This might not fit into a tight schedule, but if you'd just like to get out and do a little shopping for yourself, this might buy you some time.

Take what you can get.

Now, if MetaBaby ends up becoming a drummer like the article said, we might be annoyed. We might have to channel his energy into quieter pursuits like dancing. Hmm...that might not work if he has MetaDaddy's Irish dancing legs. Eh, we'll see.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Swedish Chef by Andy Samberg

Tivo helps me watch things I would never otherwise watch. Well, I wouldn't watch most things these days without the help of Tivo since we never know what's going to happen when. And time, valuable that it is, is better used with the aid of a fast-forward button (the less ads in my life, the better).

Saturday Night Live isn't as funny as I wish it were. If I didn't have a fast-forward button, I'd never watch it. But I do, so I do. I saw this one, and I laughed out loud. Maybe it's because I loved the Muppet Show so much as a kid...um...well, maybe I still do. Anyway, I found it on You Tube...enjoy while you still can.



I LOVED the Swedish Chef, especially while dancing. I found this post that says this is how Andy Samberg actually landed the gig. He used to annoy me, but as of late, he's started growing on me. Funny how that happens.

A Wedding in L.A.

What a great time to have your wedding. A friend got married last night, the weekend daylight savings ends. That extra hour to recover from last night's festivities was much appreciated. I suspect MetaMommy had one too many glasses of wine...a total of 2. Essentially, I was really, really tired last night. So much so that MetaDaddy found himself helping get MetaBaby back to sleep after his 2 A.M. wake-up (MetaBaby's, that is). Generally, I do it. But this was a weekend (i.e., no work the following morning), and I could hardly move, so I didn't feel compelled to say "no, no...I'll do it."

The wedding was lovely. It was at our impressive Los Angeles cathedral. Once the ceremony ended, we walked across a courtyard for the cocktail hour, followed by the reception. The priest joked that nowhere else in Los Angeles provides the opportunity to park, pray, eat, drink, and dance all in the same venue. Also impressive was that it held what felt like around 300 of the couple's nearest and dearest. Turns out, that's a lot of people. I'm just glad I wasn't in the kitchen...musta been craaaaaaaaaaazy!!

So Congratulations to the couple! And to all of us who are recovering with the aid of that beautiful, extra hour.

(Can you tell this is my favorite day of the year?)

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Around the Internet

Udon Noodle Bowls - I'm not saying you should go out and buy something you don't need. It's not in the best interest of keeping green, frugal, or clutter-free. However, sometimes...a girl can dream of cute stuff. And they come with chopsticks!!

A really expensive cat toy - It's fun to watch kittens and know that you don't have to change litterboxes. It's a win, win.

Natural pain remedies - You might not believe or agree with me, but massages and chocolate are excellent remedies. Just think about the stress they dissolve away. Think about it...

Feel Your Boobies - Speaking of heath concerns, don't forget the basics :-)

Disposing of cooking oil via Sustainable Works - Learn how to dispose of cooking oil responsibly. Little things mean a lot.

Wall Street charity boxing event - Here's what the people managing your money and balancing the world's fortunes do on their time off. Nice.

Friday, November 2, 2007

A Partial Parody

Inspired, I set out to do a parody of The Major General's Song from The Pirates of Penzance. However, it's a long song, and I realized I'll never finish. Mostly because I have a toddler, but also because my patience runs thin these days.

So, I present to you my unfinished symphony, so to speak. Sorry it's so lame, but maybe it'll remind you that you might suck at some things, but at least you're not me :-)

I Am the Very Model of a Modern Mommy Blogging Stuff

I am the very model of a modern mommy blogging stuff,
I've information about food and poop and tushies in the buff,
I know the pains of labor, and I quote Seuss easy off the cuff,
From Sam I Am to Eggs and Ham, and other sorts of verbal fluff;
I'm very well acquainted too with blogging matters sure enough,
I understand the blogosphere, the blogrolls, memes, and widget guff,
About html I've data on tables and css
With riveting stats on my style sheets that are surely to impress

With riveting stats on my style sheets that are surely to impress
With riveting stats on my style sheets that are surely to impress
With riveting stats on my style sheets that are surely to impress
to impress

The Politics of Movies

I'm not here to get political. Other people are much better at it, and some of them even get paid for their banter. However, when I come across good dialogue, I feel compelled to share it, even if it seems political.

That said, read the following from the November 1st Democratic presidential debate while remembering Jack Nicholson's character Col. Nathan R. Jessep in A Few Good Men.

WILLIAMS: Now we turn to our lightning round in which each of the candidates will have 3.75 seconds to spout pandering clichés that demonstrate how the campaigning process has reduced their minds to pabulum. Senator Clinton, which issue would you like to obfuscate next?

CLINTON: Obfuscate? Son, let me tell you the truth, because you can’t handle the truth. We live in a world with enemies. We fight elections where people play rough. Who’s going to do it? These two pretty boys? The left-wing nutjobs in our party who sit around watching Bill Maher?

I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, leads to victory. Because deep down, in places you don’t talk about in Santa Monica dinner parties, you want me at that podium. You need me at that podium. And I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to the self-righteous liberals who rise and sleep under the blanket of the very victory I provide! I wish you’d just said thanks and went on your way. In any case, I don’t give a damn what answers you think you’re entitled to!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Dilbert's Toddlers

Ya, this explains a lot.

5 Places to Visit

CNN lists 5 places to visit before they're gone...like, for good. Interesting places, a couple that i've never heard of.
Better get cracking with the air miles :-)
  1. Nauru - The over-extraction of phosphate has crippled the country's economy.

  2. The Dead Sea - Evaporation and a lack of a water source is leaving a sad sinkhole in its place.

  3. Mexico City - We were there, and there are some places where buildings are no longer structurally sound because of the uneven foundation.

  4. Amish Country - I'd venture to say that the reason is not one most would expect.

  5. Freetown Christiania - The Danish government thinking of taking back its land.