Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fun day at the zoo

We had a blast at the North Carolina Zoo today. We packed up this morning and headed to the zoo and after about a 90 minute drive we got there. We took the BOB Revolution Duallie Jogging stroller with us and plopped the girls down in it. At many exhibits, Anna was able to see without leaving the stroller which was good since she was at first afraid. She warmed up to getting out and seeing the animals from a distance or through the glass.

Here she is pointing at the chimps from the stroller:
Anna pointing at the chimps

At other exhibits, we had to hold her up to see the animals. Here she is at the Patas Monkeys:
Daddy and Anna looking at the monkeys

Here are Mommy and Anna looking for the gorillas:
Where did the gorilla go?

And The Flamingos:

But, her favorites were the Baboons and Meerkats:
Anna loved the baboons
Anna loved the meerkats too

In honor of those two animals, I thought they deserved some solo shots without us in the way :-)


Friday, August 29, 2008

Moments with my little girls

I thought I would show a couple short clips of my little girls from the past week which were just some of the moments which I like to remember with my girls. After my post yesterday, I felt it was appropriate to share some of those Cinderella moments with my girls.

First, from last weekend we set out a sprinkler and Anna played in it for the first time. It was getting late and neither Heather or I felt like going to the the sprinkler seemed like a fun option to beat the heat. Here she is in a photo and video. I took the video from the deck while holding Maddie, you can hear Maddie talking the whole time:
playing in the sprinkler

Last night, I was on the ground playing with Anna and Maddie. When Maddie finished her tummy time, I put her in the Bumbo seat and she was thrilled by the Bunny to the point she was laughing. Here is a picture of Anna and Madelyn in their matching outfits and a video of Madelyn laughing at the bunny.
The girls are ready for another party

Note, Maddie still has her little Wubbanub that Lori sent us...its with her pretty much all the time.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I danced with Cinderella

I have been hearing a song often on the radio that just has been breaking me down. I think its lyrics are powerful for any father who has a little girl who may be struggling with the realization that their little girl is growing up so fast they will be dancing away from us so quick. I don't have a boy to know if its similar, but now that Anna is growing up I just realize how much more they need their daddy especially if you have a girl with a very sensitive spirit like Anna.

Back to the makes me desire to cherish the moments I have with my girl more than I do now. It also reminds me to take a step away from what I am doing and hug her when I am busy with something else whether it be work or a chore around the house. The song is even more bittersweet knowing that the artist lost one of his daughters in May at 5 years old.

So, the song is called Cinderella by Steven Curtis Chapman. Here is a youtube video of his song with the story of the song at the end of the video...and of course what I stated above were the intentions behind the song:

Here are some of the lyrics:

So I will dance with Cinderella
While she is here in my arms
'Cause I know something the prince never knew
Oooooh, I will dance with Cinderella
I don't wanna miss even one song
'Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight
And she'll be gone...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

While you were out

Dear Mommy,

While you were out tonight we had a great time. Sissy had a great tummy time.
Madelyn Tummy Time
While I danced.
Anna Dancing
Then I read books to Sissy like Snuggle Puppy, Can You Cuddle Like a Koala, and Goldbug.
Anna reading to Madelyn
But we missed our Mommy!

Love, Anna

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Anna plays with Madelyn more and more since Madelyn reacts.

Anna & Maddie

Here is a fun picture of them playing and it looks like Madelyn copied Anna's facial expression:
Anna & Maddie

Monday, August 25, 2008

Didn't lose a beat...

I had a wonderful time last night. My good friend, Drew, drove up from Fort Bragg to visit with us. John came over and we ate a good meal, played some Mariokart for the first time in 10 years, and just had a good time. There was a bit of reminiscing...but it was more catching up than anything. We were able to, for the first time in a while, find out what the other person has really been up to. It was not awkward or uncomfortable, it was as if we didn't lose a beat. It was powerful and had me thinking a lot this morning. But before I share my thoughts, here is a picture of Drew and John from last night:
Drew and John

So, for some history...This was the first time I had seen Drew in a couple of years. Drew and I go back to the middle school days, although we became closer friends later in high school. We lived together with John all four years of college and have experienced much of life with one another. When I moved from Pittsburgh, the most difficult thing was not having him around consistently. I think I have realized that friendships like Drew's are the most difficult to replace. I have some good new friends in Raleigh and obviously my best friend being my wife...but losing that history with Drew was tough. He reminded me of the time we drove through Delaware in 90 degree weather with the heat blasting to keep my car from overheating. It was just he and I on that trip, so there is no one else that knows the details of that story. Although John lived in the same suite as Drew and I all throughout college, Drew and I shared rooms freshman and sophomore year. So silly stories about fights over the temperatures and whatnot are also unique to him and I. Drew, his date, my date, another couple, and I went to our senior prom together. I worked for Drew's parents for about 3 years in high school and college at Loafer's Bread Company. Through it all..Drew and I spent a lot of time is an old picture I stole off Drew's website with us cooking breakfast for ~50 kids when we were probably 17 or 18 years old.
Drew and Erik grease fire

In the end, I reflected this morning on this being one disappointment in my life. I see other guys, like my friend Andy, take a yearly camping trip with his guy friends still. My brother in law plays Fantasy Football with his friends and they get together yearly for a draft. Others take beach trips or trips to Vegas. We unfortunately did not start any traditions like that and now I yearn for that time when we can get together and not just reminisce but catch up. With Drew in the Army, I imagine it will be difficult to start a tradition like that now. But I hope in about 4 years once he is done with his active duty that we can try to plan some yearly event.

In the meantime, I hope to keep up with Drew when he is stationed at Bragg. Hopefully I can see some more of his family when they head down this way. Last October we saw Drew's little sister Leah (pictures below with Anna who was about 1 yr old) when she and her friend stayed here. Hopefully, I can catch up with the rest of Drew's family when they are this way.
Leah Croker and Anna

Friday, August 22, 2008

The big three lunch spots

Its no secret that Heather and I love the neighborhood we live in. Heather has written about it many times. I love it. We don't think we will want to move away from this area. In our neighborhood, Heather and I have 3 lunch spots that we love and often visit. Here is a google map of the area..

View Larger Map

First there is Bella Italia. Great pizza, calzones and strombolis...and great homemade style italian for dinner.

Next there is Taza Grill which is a great Mediterranean food. The one downfall here is they don't have a great kid's menu.

Finally, there is Andy's which has great burgers and cheesesteaks.

All of these are within one mile and walkable from our home..we love it!

In the past couple months, a sushi restaurant and NY deli have opened up in Falls River Town Center where all the other restaurants are. We need to get around to trying them too :-) But, if you are in this area, we highly recommend all of these places.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I wanted to like him..

Raise your hand if you were born in your mom's third trimester! Yea, that's what I are the type to raise your hand when reading a blog. Regardless, most of of us were born in the third trimester. Some even born in the second trimester are alive and well today. Unfortunately, its this issue that totally has made it no way that I can vote for Barack Obama.

If you missed it this weekend, Obama and McCain were interviewed at Saddleback church by Pastor Rick Warren, author of the famous Purpose Driven Life book. Overall, Obama danced around most questions and didn't give very many clear answers. This combined with his relatively short record in public politics make a lot of his positions unknown. But, he was clear on one issue. Around 2:16 of the clip below he is alright with late term abortions and says he is in favor of limiting late term abortions. To me, since there are some who are alive and well born at 22-26 weeks....considered the second trimester and not the third. Want to see proof? You can read here about a baby who was born in January and living at 24 weeks. I find that those who don't believe that life starts at conception will sway towards pro-choice. But, do you continue to support "choice" when otherwise the baby would live?

For the record, I wanted to like Obama. In my opinion, he had a better health care plan and a better view on the environment. More importantly, I thought he would shake up things more and I felt like we needed a political change.

However, my concerns have started outweighing his positives. His speeches across Europe made it sound like he was pandering to that European audience. I have no desire for our president to be pandering to a European audience. His position on abortion is irreconcilable against my beliefs. And he has too many grey areas where I cannot draw a conclusion as to what his stance is. This Saddleback forum showed that to me.

In contrast, McCain has been clear. You may not like his positions, but there is no doubt as to what they are. McCain's health care plan has come around. Its not just a $5000 tax credit but provisions for those who have pre-existing conditions that make their insurance much higher than $5000.

McCain has not won my vote yet but I think Obama has lost it due to his stance on abortions. Here is more on Obama's stance on abortion. He even voted against banning partial birth abortions when an exception for the mother's health was made. Here is the definition of partial birth abortion, sometimes called late term abortion which Obama talks about in the video below, from wikipedia:

In the U.S., a federal statute defines "partial-birth abortion" as any abortion in which the fetus is extracted "past the navel [of the fetus] . . . outside the body of the mother," or "in the case of head-first presentation, the entire fetal head is outside the body of the mother," in order to cause death of the fetus. [...] Removing a dead fetus does not meet the federal legal definition of "partial-birth abortion," which specifies that partial live delivery must precede "the overt act, other than completion of delivery, that kills the partially delivered living fetus."[27] Additionally, a doctor may extract a fetus past the navel and then cut through the neck.

So, thats a baby that is extracted alive from the mother and then killed purposefully. Obama has continually voted against banning those.

Here is his position on abortion from his own mouth. He even mentions late term abortions which can be another term for partial birth abortions. Although he claims to support "limiting" late term abortions, he has voted against banning them even when there are exclusions for the mother's health.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Organic vs hormone free

When Heather was pregnant with Anna, we changed our eating habits to do better at staying away from foods with artificial hormones. We began by simply eating organic foods. But, our budget was severely affected at a time that we were preparing to lose one salary. So, we started to research and eat hormone free products...and I learned some things just now doing research...

One of the first things we began eating was Tyson chicken as they advertised it being steroid and hormone free. However, I recently saw this:

The campaign so stirred up two rivals that they complained to the Better Business Bureau's National Advertising Division. Perdue Farms Inc. and Gold 'n Plump Poultry Inc. contended that the ads were misleading, since federal regulations prohibit any commercial grower from adding hormones or steroids to chicken products.

And this:

You mention that the eggs you are asking about are produced without added hormones. That sounds nice, but it means nothing. Tyson Foods, the world's largest poultry producer, also brags in its ads that its products are "hormone free." Hormone-free labels are meaningless when it comes to eggs and other U.S. poultry products because - although hormones are nearly universal in U.S. beef production - no hormones are currently approved for use in U.S. egg or poultry production.

So, I learned something here...eggs and poultry are all steroid and hormone free in the US. The bigger thing for poultry is being antibiotic free or you may actually be eating some antibiotics unnecessarily. From the articles I read, Tyson chicken is not antibiotic free.

Meanwhile, we tried for the first time hormone free milk. We bought local Hunter Farms, owned by local grocery store Harris Teeter, milk as it claims to be hormone (rBGH, recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, or rbST, recombinant Bovine Somatotropin) free rather than the $1.50/gallon more organic. Are there similar concerns about things beyond this hormone? I know the other overwhelming difference from Organic would be the chemicals in the feed. But are there things to worry about otherwise?

After considerable research, you can find a lot of information that seems like it might be sponsored by those making rBGH trying to claim there is no difference. I thought this blog was interesting:

The study looked specifically at three label claims related to dairy-cow management: conventional milk, recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST)-free milk and organic milk. The recent trend in misleading food labeling based on agricultural management prompted the study.
While minor differences were observed for the three labels, the differences were not “biologically meaningful.” The authors of the study (including me) concluded that label claims “were not related to any meaningful differences in the milk compositional variables measured.” The only difference among conventional, rbST-free and organic milk is price, according to the study, with milk labeled rbST-free or organic selling for anywhere from $1 to $4 more per gallon than conventional milk.

In general, that last blog is a wealth of information about food fact versus fiction...but whether the studies it quotes are sponsored by special interests or not is the tough part. I think that having had my father involved in pharmaceutical research as I grew up, I learned that many studies were sponsored by those with a particular agenda. To do this, they may tweak the parameters of the study to prove something they want to prove. So, who can you trust? Well, something else I learned from my dad was that you can trust studies done by the National Institutes of Health which provides oversight and funding for specific studies which attempt to keep them neutral to begin with. Check out this NIH study:

We substituted most of children's conventional diets with organic food items for 5 consecutive days and collected two spot daily urine samples, first-morning and before-bedtime voids, throughout the 15-day study period. We found that the median urinary concentrations of the specific metabolites for malathion and chlorpyrifos decreased to the nondetect levels immediately after the introduction of organic diets and remained nondetectable until the conventional diets were reintroduced.
In conclusion, we were able to demonstrate that an organic diet provides a dramatic and immediate protective effect against exposures to organophosphorus pesticides that are commonly used in agricultural production. We also concluded that these children were most likely exposed to these organophosphorus pesticides exclusively through their diet.

So, a simple study proving that organic diets do successfully keep children away from pesticides. Here is the complete research publication if you want to read it.

Checking into the rBGH related information, I found these articles. If I was going to summarize them, the first is a FDA study that states that "Recombinant bGH treatment produces an increase in the concentration of insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) in cow's milk." The second study from a Cancer prevention group states "that increased IGF-1 levels are risk factors for breast and colon cancer." Another study from Harvard stated that this IGF-1 is linked to prostate cancer. Meanwhile, one recent NIH study on IGF-1 and cancer was inconclusive while another leaned towards there being some correlation but was also inconclusive.

So, it seems to me the thing to do would be:
1) In eggs/poultry avoid unnecessary antibiotics
2) In milk/beef avoid rBGH as it may increase IGF-1 levels which can increase the risk of cancer.
3) Go for organics if you are worried about pesticide levels in your body.

Any other useful info?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Maddie in the exersaucer

Here is a short video of Madelyn in her Baby Einstein exersaucer from this evening. I think her ability to do this at 3.5 months is amazing...

Friday, August 15, 2008

Wills and estate planning

Heather and I finally got our wills signed and done today. It was a relief as this was something we both felt bad about taking so long to do... especially since we have little kids which may one day depend on our estate. We actually have had two wills done since Anna was born. The first one we used a prepaid legal services which offered a free will, living will, and other documents as part of the sign up. The hope was that you kept the prepaid legal around. Overall we kept the prepaid legal services for 3 months and it cost around $75. An inexpensive estate attorney, from what I saw, would run about $150 for a will. We had the documents, but they were unsigned. Why unsigned? Because we needed three witnesses for these documents which was quite difficult. The closest and easiest notary was the UPS Store around the corner...but the notary there is only available during the weekday and we never did ask two people to go with us to have the three witnesses (generally 2 people working at the UPS Store, meaning one witness and the notary) we needed. Finally, Heather got pregnant again and we stopped thinking about it until Madelyn was born...

When Madelyn was born, we needed a new will that had her in it. So, I took Dave Ramsey's advice and went with U.S. Legal Forms documents. We just went with a basic will at this point since we weren't sure we were going to get it signed based off our last try and decided to spend the least in case we ended up going to a full fledged lawyer so we get the signatures. In one business day I received an email with the U.S. Legal Forms will. For 2 wills, it cost us $25. This was a word document that you had to essentially fill in the blanks on. This document only required two witnesses. Then, after printing them out, Heather and I arranged for one of our friends (important: they cannot be in the will itself) to meet us at the UPS Store today and get it signed. It took approximately 15 minutes at the UPS Store and cost us $10. So, grand total of $35 we have a basic will which chooses who will take care of our kids if we both die and how are estate will be handled. Also, we have the word document that we could update and sign again if something changes.

In the end, the prepaid legal service's will was slightly more complex than the much simpler U.S. Legal Forms one....however it was still one way in nature as we never spoke with anyone but rather just filled out a form. I would probably recommend that for basic needs you use U.S. Legal Forms and for complex needs you get a local lawyer that you can meet with in person.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Scary Story for parents

This scary story will scare all parents, especially those with kids in small day cares. I horrible is this? A 7 yr old beats to death a 10-month old, Marcia Poston, in a day care while the nursery worker, a 20 year old named Ashley Swann, was gone for 20 minutes. I can't even begin to imagine how I would react would that happen to my child. This is sad and my heart goes out to Marcia's family.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Anna's hair

Anna finally has enough hair that she doesn't look like as much of a toddler. Her hair is past her shoulders in length and because we decided to not give her bangs, we have been letting it all grow and have to be fairly diligent about keeping her hair out of her face using barrettes and bows. This has been a large learning curve for Daddy, who never had to put barrettes in a girls hair before. Also, Anna has very fine hair, making it difficult to gather u and get into a barrette. Anyway, you can see in the picture below how long her hair has gotten, even with those big curls.

Anna's long hair

Friday, August 08, 2008

The dream of a lake house

I was viewing a friend's pictures of their gorgeous lake lot and went down the rat-hole of looking into lakefront properties and the prices and viability of buying a lakefront home. I have been dreaming of owning a lake front property for years. It probably all started when going to my sister's in-law's house in Maine. (The picture above is from that lake house when Heather and I visited there in 2004). Heather and I also enjoyed multiple relaxing weekends in Virginia at her uncle's river house. These non-beach but very nice vacation homes have given us something to dream about for our future...

The problem is, as you know if you have been following my blog, I don't want any debt...let alone on a house we don't use frequently. Our ability to save up the money to buy a house will be near impossible in the next 10 years while meeting our other financial objectives relative to our primary residence, retirement savings, college savings, and schooling for our children.

I have to admit, the thought of waiting for 15-20 yrs to have my dream vacation home kind of stinks. Anyone else have a similar dream they are holding off on?

Will a credit freeze affect my insurance?

I am still considering whether or not we should freeze our family credit reports. Having recently sifted through a credit report, I noticed that my insurance company, Erie Insurance, checks my credit every year. I decided to surf on over to their website to see why they do this and if having a frozen credit report would affect my credit.

Erie is calling what they create with your credit report an "insurance score." They claim that they have found some correlation between people with bad credit issues and risk:

Erie Insurance uses credit information in order to help predict a policyholder or prospective policyholder’s propensity for future loss. Many independent studies have shown that there is a distinct and consistent decline in risk of loss as an insurance score improves. Therefore, the more favorable an individual’s insurance score, the less likely the policyholder is to experience a loss, and vice versa.

Erie further describes how it uses the score on another page:

When evaluating a person’s credit information to determine an insurance score, an insurer only considers those items from credit reports that are relevant to insurance loss potential. Both an insurance score and a credit score are derived from the same thing: a credit report; but they are distinctly different.

The main difference between an insurance score and a credit score is that insurance scores do not take into account a consumer’s income. Unlike a mortgage company, an insurance company is not assessing a customer’s credit-worthiness and therefore doesn’t consider income. Instead, an insurance company only considers those items on a credit report that will indicate future loss potential.

We recognize that people sometimes face difficult circumstances in their lives such as job loss, medical bills or divorce. When we consider an applicant’s insurance score, an isolated instance of a late payment will not have a significant impact on your eligibility. We are looking at long-term patterns and overall responsible use of credit.

Similarly, applicants who use cash for purchases or who don’t have established credit will not be scored negatively.

I assume then a credit freeze will lock in current credit information and move to the last line about people who use cash...therefore would not be scored negatively. Based on that, I believe a credit freeze would not negatively affect my insurance rates.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Family income with kids

I found myself thinking about what life is like on one income based on a book Heather checked out of the library, a conversation at work with a friend, and chatting with another coworker and my cousin about their part time jobs. Finally, Dave Ramsey has been asking for what people do to earn extra money as stay at home parents and will have a show on it. All of this has occurred this week, and has had me thinking about what life is like on one income.

I think the first question is normally can people afford it. If you have researched the subject, you will hear many people talk about the hidden costs of working and sending your kids to daycare. Doing some searching, I found this "Second Income Calculator", which is supposed to help you figure out how much you are really making or saving paying for childcare.

Whether the second income from the father or mother results in additional income or not, it may mean you are living off less income either way. The DINK (dual income no kids) lifestyle is great but can lead to higher expectations of lifestyle after kids. No one wants to lose the luxuries we enjoy after having kids. But, whether you keep two incomes or one income, your lifestyle must change unless you either:
1) Increase the incomes significantly in one year
2) Live on less than one income before kids

In the end, cutting back will probably be necessary. Sacrificing is necessary. Otherwise, you may end in heaps of debt.

The good news, as I pointed out to my friend, is that later as your family income grows you can easily begin budgeting in the luxuries you used to enjoy again. You can get digital cable again, get an iPhone or something better later, and re-add those services you are losing out on now because you have learned to live on less.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Good article on the new tax provisions in the housing bill

I finally found a good article about the new tax provisions in the big housing bill that was signed last week. Although each of the provisions targets a very select audience, I thought I would try to summarize:

1) If you are a first time home buyer (did not own a primary residence for 3 years prior to this purchase) between April 9, 2008 and July 1, 2009, you can get an interest free loan of 10% on the house up to $7,500. It comes in your next years taxes as a tax credit and must be repaid starting in the second year for 15 years. You can't make more than $95,000 for singles and $170,000 for couples and the credit is reduced for those above $75,000 and $150,000.

2) If you own a home but don't itemize your deductions and therefore take the standard deduction, you can property taxes on your home above the itemized deduction of up to $1000 for couples and $500 for individuals.

Those are the "helping" provisions. To pay for this, there is a third provision which is a tax hike. Here is a quote from the article describing that tax hike:

To pay for the new breaks, Congress adopted some revenue raisers, otherwise known as tax hikes, including one that affects homeowners. At present, taxpayers who own a vacation or rental property can begin using it as their principal residence and then sell it after two years, taking advantage of the break that excludes from income capital gains from the sale of a principal residence. The excluded amount is up to $500,000 for a couple or $250,000 for a single.

But thanks to the new law, after January 1, any time a house isn't used as a principal residence it reduces the gains eligible for exclusion on a pro rata basis. So, if a couple uses a house as a vacation or rental home for five years and then as a principal residence for five years, only half their gain will qualify for the exclusion.

If the couple has a $100,000 gain, they can only exclude $50,000 of that gain from their income. But if the same couple owns a mansion and sells at a $1 million gain, they can still claim the maximum $500,000 exclusion, because it's just half of their gain.

An odd result from a law that was supposed to help struggling, ordinary homeowners.

Well, it looks like that hurts people also that maybe haven't been able to sell their home because of the bad market. For example, if they moved from a house they lived in for 4 years and established another primary residence, and didn't sell their home for 1 year after that, they would only be able to exclude 80% of their gains regardless of the fact the last year of house taxes have been dismal. That's how I read it, but I am no tax professional. I think this is going to hurt a lot of people who already were hurt by the housing market.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Love her smile

Madelyn is at an age where I the thing that brightens my day the most is her smile. As she grows up, I look forward to the little hugs and holding hands I get with Anna, but for now I just am enjoying this beautiful little smile. Here it is in big version...

Sunday, August 03, 2008

How does she do it?

My poor wife was stricken with a stomach bug much of yesterday that meant that Daddy was the primary caretaker of the household. This is really the first time I have had to pull extended double duty of Anna and Madelyn and I was worn out. At 9 PM, I just had finished the 1 hour marathon of putting both kids to bed and cleaning up the dishes/house and I wanted to curl up in a little ball in the corner. Either kid, one on one, was no big deal. But, when I had both kids, a 3 month old and 21 month old, requiring my attention or screaming I just about lost it. How does Heather do it everyday? I decided at one point, just before giving Anna a bath then Maddie a bath before bed that I would get a picture of the three of us. I may not look it, but I am beat by the time I took this picture around 6:30.

All I can think of is that it must be a personality thing and I am all wrong for it. Maybe its just patience...or patience plus many other traits which I severely lack in. Whatever it is, a couple thoughts crossed my mind at the end of the day that I shared with Heather...
1) She deserves a raise
2) I think I need to get more life insurance out on her because I will need help more than just the working hours if, God forbid, anything ever happens to her.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Anna taking pictures

Anna is either getting more imaginative or we notice it more because she has been amazing lately. One thing she did while I was in Phoenix was start using her Lego window as a camera. So, Daddy helped her fashion more of a substantial camera and she began taking pictures of Dadda, Momma, Sissy, Woof Woof, Elmo, and more. Such a cute little girl. Here is a picture of her with her camera:
Anna and her camera