Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Madelyn Elizabeth Burckart

Announcing the birth of Madelyn Elizabeth Burckart at 7:28 PM this evening. She weighed in at 7 lbs 11 oz and 21.25" long. Both Mommy and Madelyn are in great shape and recovering at Rex until Thursday.



Know your stuff

Another tidbit from the Erie Insurance Magazine, Eriesense, this quarter was to go do a home inventory of your stuff in case of a fire. After hearing a story about someone losing their house to a fire last night, I am ready to start. The magazine points your to knowyourstuff.org (although the magazine got the URL wrong initially, it was correct off their website) from the Insurance Information Institute which looks to be a pretty cool program.

You start the program by adding pictures of your house, your name and contact information, and your insurance company information including policy number. After that, you name each room, add pictures of that room, and add items to that room. Each item needs information about it from replacement costs to make, model, and serial numbers. It seems pretty simple, albeit time consuming. :-) So, its going to be my side project for a while until I have our inventory complete.

Update: The program crashed when I completed the second room. I think I may go back to another suggestion I heard and just video tape each room.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Daddy's Little Helper

Anna loves to do what we are doing more and more. Since Anna likes to play in the dirt, we can't use Roundup in the back any longer. Therefore, I spent Saturday morning weeding our back Garden. My wife had been working on it slowly but something made me feel bad about having the pregnant woman on her knees pulling weeds, as much as I hate weeding. First I raked away the pine straw and then took out the weeds in the area. After I filled a trash bag with weeds and clippings, Anna grabbed the rake and was off working on the garden herself. She was cute and determined, albeit not successful since the rake was upside down. Now I am looking forward to the fall and maybe planting some bulbs with her that we can see pop up next spring.

Investment or Mortgage

I had a conversation with a friend this morning about how poorly our 401ks have faired this year. Although they are almost breaking even for the year, the market volatility had me thinking...

One of the popular questions people ask is whether it is better to push money into investments or on to your mortgage. Some financial advisers will tell you to put it into investments which will get you 8-10% while you only pay 6% on your mortgage. Others will point out the tax advantages of the interest on your mortgage, while ignoring the tax implications on your investments. Either way, working out the numbers you can make more if you assume an 8-10% return than you spend would on a 6% mortgage.

Other financial advisers, like popular anti-debt talk show host Dave Ramsey, will tell you to fully fund your 401k and Roth IRAs before paying off your mortgage. Fully funding, according to Dave Ramsey, means 15% of your gross income towards Roth IRAs and your pre-tax retirement accounts like IRAs and 401ks. At that point, he would tell you to put it towards your house debt because you wouldn't take equity out of your home to put it in the stock market, would you? The answer is, you especially wouldn't do so now.

The key is that the 8-10% return on investment is projected and you will not find guaranteed interest higher than your mortgage. The market has proven its volatility this year and you would have struggled to get over 5% back on stocks, mutual funds, through money market/savings accounts, or through CDs/bonds this year so far. Yet, most of us with mortgages have primary mortgages somewhere between 5-7% with some secondary mortgages from 7-10%. So far this year, paying off your mortgage would have been the better financial decision. In the end, paying down your house also brings more financial stability to your family and more freedom overall.

An executive who I reported to around 2004-2005 when hearing I was purchasing a house made the comment that he hopes it was a big mortgage, cause "thats how we lock in our employees." Was he joking? He said it jokingly, but there was some truth behind that joke. Many people rely on their salaries to pay their mortgages and couldn't take a pay cut. If you had your house paid off, you might be able to support your family while working a lower paying job. That helps financial stability. Also, you might be able to choose to do something you love rather than what you put up with. :-)

Finally, imagine what you can do with an extra mortgage payment in your pocket every month. Let's say you have a low mortgage payment of $1000 per month. If you could invest that over the next 10 years instead of use it to pay off your mortgage, in 10 years at 10% annual return your would have over $205,000. Try it with your mortgage numbers using this Investment Calculator.

As my friend concluded our conversation today, "That guaranteed 8% by paying down my [second] mortgage is sounding pretty good about now."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Another sunny "rainy" day

Local meteorologists have predicted rain this weekend for the fourth weekend in a row...and keep failing. After a beautiful sunny 85 degree day yesterday, today is beautiful sunny and 80. It did sprinkle this morning when Heather and I were trying to walk the baby out of her...but not so much to even be noticeable. So, where is all of this rain anyway?

It started raining here around 6:30...no excuse for calling for rain all weekend for Sunday evening rain....just in case someone from WRAL weather reads this.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Legislating against predatory lending

I have said in the past that I was all for legislating against predatory lending practices. However, this Forbes commentary makes a good point about the current legislation, which is not very specific, may hurt more than it will help. If you need some background on predatory lending, this this Forbes article provides a lot of background like this statement:

Three market conditions are associated with predatory lending, Musto and his colleagues found: There is little competition among lenders, property owners are sitting on lots of equity and borrowers are poorly informed about risks. In casual conversation, predatory lending usually means a loan that is bad for the borrower. "But this begs the question: How do such loans arise in the first place, when borrowing is voluntary?" Musto and his colleagues write.

To many people, loans with extraordinarily high interest rates constitute predatory lending. Critics often cite payday loans, which charge the annual equivalent of more than 100% for loans in advance of a worker's next paycheck. Loans putting borrowers at high risk of default also are often called predatory. This would include "negative amortization" mortgages that allow borrowers to make very low monthly payments, causing the outstanding balance to grow over time rather than get smaller.

The first article makes the claim that the free market has corrected itself:
When bad loans are made, both borrowers and lenders are punished--and must correct course. Observe that Wall Street financial firms and direct lenders who engaged in lax lending are suffering huge losses (such as Merrill Lynch's (nyse: MER - news - people ) $8 billion loss) and internal upheaval--and have changed their practices accordingly. The number of subprime, adjustable-rate mortgages has declined by 50% this year. As for the middlemen who tried to make (and often succeeded in doing so) a quick buck on dubious loans, their reputations are sullied and their business has dried up.

While I believe that it is the case that the market has corrected itself for now, what is to prevent it from getting back this way. These practices have cost everyone in the US money as taxpayers are bailing out the mess that the commercial lenders created. How can we ensure that we do not again get in a situation that our taxes will be used to bail out predatory lenders? The only way I can figure to do that is through legislation. Maybe this legislation isn't the right legislation, I must confess to not having read through it, but I don't again want to pay for these bank's mistakes.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Mario Kart for Wii!!!

I am excited as I have been in a while about a video game because Mario Kart comes out for the Wii in 2 days! Now, I don't follow video games, so I had no idea until i walked into Best Buy today and saw someone playing it. Heather and I tried it and it was very cool. It plays up to 4 people with cool steering wheels. I am excited since I loved this game in college...and I have a birthday coming up in May. :-)

Prayers for health

Somehow, unfortunately, Anna got sick with 4 days left til Heather's due date. Yesterday she had a runny nose, last night she was up with a cough, and this morning she has continued to cough. We need God to bring health to our family, particularly before Anna's little sister comes home from the hospital!

How much life insurance do you need?

I have written about this very subject in the past, but I was reading the magazine Erie insurance sends us and the Q&A section was this very question. The cynical side of me said, why would you ask an insurance agent how much life insurance you need? Insurance agents are not like brokers, they are not held by law to look out for your best interests. That means they can sell you a $10 million policy if you only need $100k. That does not mean they are all that way, but some are and a second opinion is a good idea. Otherwise, its like asking a car salesman how much you should spend on a car or a Realtor how much you can afford to spend on your home. Sure, some may answer the ways we wish they would. I have a friend who is a Realtor who would be helpful and honest. But, that doesn't mean they all will be. Anyway, the Erie insurance agent answering essentially said, talk to me or use the insurance calculator on erieinsurance.com. So, I decided to check out the insurance calculator there, on the right hand column of this page.

I think its interesting what their defaults are, but the calculator is not bad. I think that you need to carefully read each of the sections and make decisions. I wonder if insurance agents actually take you through all of these or assume the defaults? One example is the private school versus public school. The defaults say that your kids are going to private school. In the end, I actually was told that I was over insured right now. Its better than the one I linked to in the past on Smart Money. In my opinion, its also better than the Zander Insurance calculator, Zander being the company Dave Ramsey suggests you purchase term life insurance from. The Zander Insurance calculator, unlike the other two, asks you how much the person being insured makes per year and how many years the surviving spouse will need that money. The other two, in contrast, ask what the surviving spouse's annual living expenses are minus their annual income, which is more accurately what you need to insure for.

Overall, I would recommend the Erie insurance calculator. But, I would recommend that people carefully fill it out themselves instead of letting an salesman, I mean life insurance agent, do it for them.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Anna asleep on the couch

My cousin Lori's recent blog about her daughter Kelsey falling asleep in her high chair made me think of all the times Anna has just crashed in the past 18 months. (Today she is officially 18 months old!) The most recent time was about two weeks ago when we were on our way home from Kohls, which is less than 2 miles away, and boom...she is out. Now, she has not been napping so well for the past over a month and this was one of those bad nap days. But, it was like 6 PM, time for her to eat, have some chill time, then go to sleep...no to sleep now because there was no way she would sleep through the night. So, at first while we began to get dinner I laid her down on the couch, shoes in, sunglasses on, everything. But, once dinner was ready we began to try to wake her up. No matter how we would position her, she would stay asleep. Sitting up, she would slouch over. In my lap and arms, she would nuzzle into my shoulder and remain asleep. When we finally got her awake, she was angry. Not to worry, she was happy again when she saw she had a tray of fruit at her high chair. Here she is asleep on the couch:

Anna asleep on the couch

Looking again at this picture made me think, how cruel parent blogs might be to their little children. Imagine when she is 16 years old and searches the web on her name. Will she come up with this picture? If so, I am sorry Anna!

The Grand Sitter

One of the things that has come more apparent as Heather and I have had children is how far our family lives away from us. Most of our friends have a sibling or parent who live close by or at least a parent who is retired and can come stay the week when needed. Heather and I have no immediate family within an hour drive which means that "stop by" help is almost non-existant. We are blessed by having Heather's best friend since she was born, Suzanne, living just 20 minutes away and she is Anna's primary caretaker outside of us generally.

In this age where grandparents involvement in the raising of their grandchildren is becoming even more commonplace, this has had me at times feel jealous that we don't have that situation. It has never become more apparent than it is as we plan to have our second little girl any day now. Many of our friends, when this happens, will not have to ask other friends to be on call while they have a parent who can be around or stay with them. In general, Suzanne is our one single contact for taking care of Anna while Heather is in the hospital and she has been gracious enough to keep her schedule as clear as possible. Because the doctor is telling us we have to make it quickly to the hospital due to Heather's already advanced stages and history with Anna, we have my close friend John on call just two miles down the road to come and take care of Anna should Heather go into labor again at night. We also have a variety of other friends willing to be called, as well as another set of friends, Andy and Kristen, on call this Saturday when Suzanne is out of town. I recently programmed four close neighborhood stay at home mom's phone numbers into my cell phone so I could quickly reach them if needed. If all else fails, we will take Anna to the hospital with us and hope someone can meet us there to take care of her.

As you can see from that long description of our action plan just to take care of Anna, we are blessed with many local friends who can help but at the same time don't have that simple "call mom to come" type plan that others have. When it comes to having a regular sitter, Heather's family is only about an hour away which is too far to babysit while Heather and I go on a date for example. Other friends of ours have siblings and we are blessed to have Suzanne who is closer to us than many of those friend's siblings. But I see, for example, the situation my sister is in having my mother there and two retired in-laws all to gladly help with one wonderful 6 year old girl. We have other friends in the neighborhood who also have more than one set of parents not to mention siblings local to call on. I do realize we are blessed with our friends who we can call on and I am very thankful for that...but it still would be nice to have the Grand Sitter around when needed :-)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Let My People Think!

Wow...a couple of weeks ago a good friend of mine, Bert, suggested I listen to Ravi Zacharias's podcasts and wow, I now have a new favorite podcast.

Ravi has two podcasts, one called "Let My People Think!" and "Just Thinking". They are 30 minutes weekly and 15 minutes daily respectively, and cover a variety of topics many of which are apologetics. When Ravi isn't speaking, there are some great guest speakers worth listening to. Recently at the beginning of April, apologist Michael Ramsden had a great 4 part series on "Just Thinking" on "Conversational Apologetics" challenging listeners to have answers to questions that people commonly have in questions. This series really got me thinking and looking at my life and how I respond to questions and comments those around me make.

Since this is currently my favorite podcast, I highly recommend spending the 15 minutes per day listening!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Birthday to my best friend

My best friend turns 28 years old today. She is my partner in adventures, traveling, and fun. For the last almost 5 years, I have been blessed to call her my wife. For the past year and a half, Anna has been blessed to have her as her mommy. I hope to have her longer than the next 28 years of our lives. Some pictures of my wonderful wife to celebrate 28:

Backpacking in the summer of 2002:

My beautiful bride and I in 2003 at our wedding:

In Switzerland 2005:
Pic 158

Pregnant with Anna in Hawaii 2006:
Sunset off the balcony from our hotel

Pregnant with Anna in Boston 2006:
Pictures 002

As a new Mommy in 2006:
Anna and Mommy

With Giraffes in San Diego 2007:
My favorite photo of us and the giraffes

With a nine month old Anna in 2007:
Mommy and Anna

Pregnant again with Anna over Thanksgiving 2007:
Anna & Mommy

8 months pregnant with Anna in over Easter 2008:
Easter Dinner in Ponte Vedra

Happy birthday beautiful, thanks for all the great memories!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Full moon and babies

There is some old wive's tale about full moons bringing out babies. I have heard people claim that the full moon brings more babies and that hospitals staff more people on full moons. Is it true? I don't know, but I found this article on it which had some interesting information:

Contractions known as "Braxton Hicks" -- sometimes noticeable to the mother and sometimes not -- become more pronounced and many travel to the maternity unit in the belief that "it's time". Disappointed -- or perhaps relieved -- they return home, the pains having subsided and with no dilation of the cervix.

While these expectant mothers visiting the clinic with their mistaken signs of labor are part of the reason why extra staff are needed, the major difference is found in the number of women whose amniotic sac -- the water -- breaks.

Just as some women experience false labor pains, in cases where the water breaking marks the start of childbirth, full moon is the time when it's most likely to happen.

In order to discover for myself whether this could be true, I asked several female friends how their births had started. Those who responded with "the water breaking" were then asked the date of the birth. On checking this against a moon phase chart, I discovered that almost all had given birth on, or very close to, a full moon.

Well, last night was a full moon, 1 week before Heather is due. And, needless to say since I am writing this, there is no baby. But notice how the last part of that says "very close to" a full moon. I guess anytime this week would count towards that statistic. The theory is that when pregnancy starts with water breaking, this is caused by a full moon much in the way the full moon affects the tides. If there is anything really to this, I guess Heather has a better chance of her water breaking which starts labor because of the moon.

For background, Heather is due on April 28th although I believe that it started as the 27th. Anna was 5 days early and came out at 8 lbs 2 oz. This next little girl is much smaller, so if the size of the baby helps bring along birth, then that may affect things.

This week is a week of a couple important dates for us. Heather's 28th birthday is on Tuesday. My mom's (Oma to Anna and my niece Tori) birthday is on Thursday...which happens to be exactly 6 months away from Anna's birthday. So our little girl may be sharing her birthday with one of the other important women in my life. Of course, she could also be born late and in May...also pretty crazy to think since we have been expecting her early due to Anna being early!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Green Eyes Redux

Anna likes to attack us when we take pictures of her, so when getting a picture of her dressed nicely for a dinner party last night in her new shoes and a dress daddy picked out, she got real close and you can see her green eyes. Here is our green eyed beautiful girl:
Green Eye Close-up

And here she is in her dinner party dress:
Anna ready for a dinner party

Friday, April 18, 2008

Personal Responsibility in Finances

Listening to Dave Ramsey and watching Maxed Out have reiterated in my mind the need for personal responsibility in finances. When I was at the highest point of debt I had, it was due to my own miscalculations, stupid decisions, and lifestyle. I didn't blame the credit card companies, the car dealerships, the price of higher education in this country, or the housing market for the debt I had, but rather I accepted that it was my personal decisions that led to credit card debt, car loans, student loans, and a mortgage at an age that was entirely too young, 22 years old. I liked high tech toys and spent too much on them. I liked cars, and had two of them. I spent my earnings while in college on eating out and having fun rather than on the necessities that my student loans paid for. All of these were dumb decisions.

What's amazing is the numbers of people who do blame these other factors and are not willing to own up to their decisions. Even Maxed Out, which was an eye opening movie talking about the state of debt in the country, puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of the credit card companies for offering too much credit or to people who are too young, for credit collectors for harassing people, and to the federal government for not regulating the big businesses offering loans and credit to the people. Granted, many collectors may be the scum of the earth and I think Maxed Out proved that nicely, but if a person were not in debt in the first place, they wouldn't be coming after them.

I realize that others get in debt out of necessity. They may have lost their job or got very sick. But again, the debt wasn't the fault of the credit card companies. It probably wasn't the fault of the federal government, although I am sure there were cases where it was, but the government regulating banks lending closer would not have helped those situations often.

I think in the end a lot of consumer debt is because people are living a lifestyle they can't afford. Not all, but a lot. I just wished people took more personal responsibility in those cases.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Green Eyed Monster

Last Friday, Anna has her 18 month check up as reported by my wife. The doctor declared Anna's ever changing eyes "green" and it looks like they will stay that way. Green I think means they can look brown, can look blue...or can look green. Here are a cute couple pictures of our sweet girl...the first looking shy and not like a monster...

She is really pretty shy these days

Or is she a monster that wants to eat you? (This is Heather's favorite)

I'm going to eat you

According to Wikipedia, the internet source of knowledge:

Green eyes are the product of moderate amounts of melanin. Only 1-2% of the world's population has green eyes and is the least common eye color. Green eyes are most often found among people of Northern and Southern European origin, and to a lesser extent, in the Middle East, Afghanistan, India and other countries with a predominant Caucasian population. Many Irish people are found to have green eyes. Other countries like Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Germany, and the Netherlands have a high percentage of green eyes.

At least she will be fairly unique in her eyes...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Babpah Babpah -- Anna's talking skills

Anna's been working hard on her listening skills and tonight during our date night, I heard her working on her talking skills for the first time. For over the past month, Anna has been listening and responding to many questions and statements. Every day she seems to pick up something new. Tonight after her bath while Mommy was at water aerobics (Yes, less than two weeks before she is due Mommy is still doing water aerobics!) Anna and I were watching Dora the Explorer.

During Dora, when she needs something (like a towel tonight) they sing a song that goes "Backpack, Backpack." Knowing this from when my niece was younger, I started singing along which thrilled Anna. A couple of minutes later she looked at me and said, "Babaa." At first, I thought this was the "Buh-Bah" she has been calling Mommy instead of "Momma." So, I asked her, "Momma?" She said no and said, "Babpah." I thought for another second and said, "Backpack?" She said, "Yea, Babpah Babpah!" She was so excited and kept saying it. So I went and got her backpack and said, "backpack." She then wanted to wear it which i let her and she walked around saying "Babpah."

Here is a month old picture of Anna wearing her "Babpah"...
Backpack, Backpack

Monday, April 14, 2008

Good news on the baby front..

As you can read in Heather's blog, all is well on the baby front. She is progressing further (2-3 cm dilated), gained a pound, and the measurements that caused us concern last week don't concern the doctor. It would have been nice if they told us that last week! We expect our new little girl soon!

The doctor said since Anna came out so easy, we better get to the hospital quick since this baby is smaller and Anna was just 18 months ago. Great...another stress point... :-) I'd rather worry about getting to the hospital though than the health of our baby.

Obama calls those in depressed region of the country gun bearing hate mongers

After reading this NY Times article and seeing these quotes from presidential candidate Barack Obama, he went from someone interesting on my list to someone I would absolutely never even consider voting for. Specifically, it was this statement:

“You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them,” Mr. Obama responded, according to a transcript of the fund-raiser published on Friday on The Huffington Post Web site.

“And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not,” Mr. Obama went on. “And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or antitrade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

As my friend John summarized this comment, "So they are gun bearing hate mongers because the area has no jobs."

I am not going to say anymore but maybe we are seeing who Barack Obama really is now with these sort of comments...

Thanks to Rhys for alerting me to this.

Also, check out this Pittsburgh blog response

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Growing up..

Anna is growing up too fast...she understands all sort of questions, answers yes and no questions, and picks up on lots of little words you say. Today, i said look at that bird and she looks up in the air. I said ball and she didn't move, then I said balloon and she immediately pointed at it. She likes to wear bows in her hair, sunglasses, and other such older kids things. These pictures remind me of how much she has grown up...here is one of her from today and one from a year ago...

Anna, looking so old
Anna playing on her playmat

Friday, April 11, 2008

Anna's playpace redux

I know I said I was done with the Anna's playplace blogs, but I have spent more time and wanted to share the things I learned.

1) 2-3" of mulch gets moved really easy by sliding toddlers, running dogs, and any combination of the two running or jumping. We bought another cubic yard of playground mulch to spread on top.
2) I measured the perfect amount of sod, but the beautiful sod made the close by not so good looking grass look bad. So, plan to replace the not so good looking grass as well next time. I had to get 5 more rolls of sod.
3) If your child loves playing outside like ours, you will spend a lot of time out there. Plan to buy a bench. We had planned to buy one, but we did it a lot sooner. Good thing too, because Anna and my poor pregnant wife averaged probably four hours per day outside this past week.

Here is an updated picture...
Anna's playplace updated

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Creamy Cheese Lasagna

So, I am in the recipe posting mood. Here is a favorite...Last year I set out to make a creamy cheese lasagna like my good friend's mom used to make. I read about 80 recipes and came up with my own. My friend, John, told me it was the second best he ever had behind his mom's. So, I thought I would share the recipe.

The one trick I did learn was to cook it, let it sit to congeal, then heat it again. This is how it stays together when you cut it. This works nicely also if you are bringing it to a friend as you can do the last heating at their house hours later.
Creamy Cheese Lasagna

1 box of lasagna noodles (16 oz)
1.5 c mozzarella
1.5 jar of sauce
Cheese Mixture
1 c parmasean finely grated
1 lb ricotta
1 c romano finely grated
3 eggs
1 clove garlic minces
basil (more basil than parsley or oregano, fresh if possible)

Spray 8x12 - 9x13 pan with cooking spray. Cover the bottom of the pan with sauce light layer of sauce
Start with a layer of noodles (4-5). First and last layers should have the most noodles.
Put 1/3 cheese mixture on the noodles. (Lowest layer should have least cheese)
Approx 3/4 c of sauce on that. Place 4-5 noodles on that.
Another 1/3 cheese and 3/4c sauce.
On last layer, put 1/2c mozzarella on top of sauce. Put final layer of noodles.
Then put remaining mozzarella and then sauce on that. Should be covered in sauce on top.

Bake at 375 for 35 mins covered, 10 mins uncovered. Let sit on counter for 4 hrs uncovered to let it congeal.

Bake again at 350 for 20 mins.

Anna is a slider

We learned probably 5-6 months ago that Anna is a slider. What I mean is that every kid has some sort of specific entertainment that they are drawn to. Some kids love jumping, swinging, running, climbing, building, etc. Anna is a slider. She loves sliding. She will always slide. When she is upset, we say, "Can you go and slide?" She will hobble over, sometimes still crying, and by the time she is at the bottom of the slide...she has a smile. We have an indoor slide that Heather has blogged about. We also have an outdoor slide in her new play place. Here is an action shot of her sliding on it from just before lunch this morning.

Anna sliding down the slide wth Mommy watching

Why kids choose these things, I doubt we will never know. But we know that for now, Anna has chosen her slide as the activity of choice. Here are some more of Anna sliding in the past 5 months...
Anna's slide
Egg Hunt - Slide Time!
Anna at the Playground

Hot Fudge Sundae Cake

After adding the Dump Cake recipe, I decided to post another dessert for those chocoholics. Another Burckart family favorite is our hot fudge sundae cake. Years and years ago, my mom got this recipe off a Hershey's container and its survived in our family ever since. Hershey's calls it something different now, Hot Fudge Pudding Cake, and uses butter instead of Crisco, but its still excellent.

Not only is this a great treat, but its fun to watch it be made also. You make the cake, then dump sugar and cocoa on top of the cake and pour hot water all over it. So, what goes in the over is a cake with a pool of water over the top. But when it comes out, the water has crept through to the bottom making a layer of rich fudge underneath the cake. Yummy!

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake

* 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* 1/2 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa, divided
* 2 teaspoons baking powder
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 cup milk
* 1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
* 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
* 1-1/4 cups hot water
* Whipped topping

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Combine 3/4 cup granulated sugar, flour, 1/4 cup cocoa, baking powder and salt. Stir in milk, butter and vanilla; beat until smooth.

2. Pour batter into ungreased 9-inch square baking pan. Stir together remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar and remaining 1/4 cup cocoa; sprinkle mixture evenly over batter. Pour hot water over top; do not stir.

3. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until center is almost set. Remove from oven; let stand 15 minutes. Serve in dessert dishes, spooning sauce from bottom of pan over top. Garnish with whipped topping. About 8 servings.

The changes we make to it is that it serves like 6 and to use ice cream, spooning the hot fudge on top of the ice cream.

News on the baby front

Our next baby girl is healthy albeit very small according to the ultrasound this morning. She was 5 lbs 13 oz and in the 18th percentile with less than 3 weeks to go. I take this as good news that she is healthy. She is very tight in there and head down. The doctors said typically they like to see half a pound a week, which would put her right around 7 lbs when she is full term.

Heather and I are no longer wishing that she comes early since she is so small. We'd like her to stay in there a while longer to allow her the maximum time to grow. Although its tough since she is so tight in there and causes Heather a lot of pain when she moves.

Monday, April 07, 2008

North Carolina Dump Cake

Tonight, Heather had a craving for dump cake. The first and only time we made this was on Groundhog's day this past February, which happens to also be my good friend Derick's birthday. He just so happened to stop by with his mom and dad, and we all had dump cake for his birthday. Then, we had it the next night for the Super Bowl. Well, we are making the same recipe again and I thought I would share it for all of you who have never heard of such a thing.
Dump Cake

Spray a 9x13 or 8x13 pan. Dump (Put) each of the following on as layers in order:
20 oz can of crushed pineapple including juice
2 cans of cherry pie filling
1 box of yellow cake mix
(optional) sprinkle coconut on the top
1 stick of butter melted and drizzled evenly over the top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 48 minutes.

Serve warm will vanilla ice cream.

You can substitute the cherry pie filling for other types of pie filling.

3 weeks to go...

Heather is 37 weeks pregnant today with three weeks to go. Unfortunately, she is not growing as well externally as the doctor would like (has still gained < 15 lbs) and so they ordered an ultrasound for tomorrow. Last time we had an ultrasound for the same reason, they found the little girl was growing regular and in the 51% for body. We are praying that they will find the same thing tomorrow. More news on this tomorrow...

We have just about everything ready for our new little girl to come home to. Heather has washed the clothes and the room is clean and ready. Heather has a bag to pack and we have a variety of people prepared to watch Anna while we run to the hospital. The car seat base is back in the Pilot. All we have left is to set up the bassinet and raise the crib...but since I will be home with Anna after the baby is born, I can set it up then.

Heather and I have been continually been making commitments with clauses such as "so long as the baby does not come." I even have been doing this a lot at work. At work, I try to finish all of my longer term deliverables immediately so that I don't have anything outstanding should the baby come.

Its really a new mode of thinking throughout, an anticipation in all of our lives. When will she come? Only God knows. But, those of us down here cannot wait!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Anna's completed playplace (in pictures)

Anna saw it immediately and was excited after her nap. Here she is climbing on it the first time
Anna's new playplace
And looking through the side
Anna's new playplace
First zoomed out view from the back porch
Anna's new playplace
Second zoomed out view from the back porch
Anna's new playplace
Cassie wants to get on it as well!
Anna's new playplace

Part 5 of Anna's playplace - Complete

We are done!!!

1.5 cubic yards was the perfect amount of playground mulch. It took a about 30 minutes to move and spread with Heathers help (don't worry, she just pushed the mulch around after I dumped it!)...
Anna's playplace with mulch

Then, we assembled the Step 2 playset. Wow was that easy! Snap together and 4 screws completes the task.
Anna's playplace with playset

We are eager for Anna to wake up from her nap so that she can try it out!

Running total including tax:
Dirt: $135
Seed, weed barrier, and tools: $55
Sod: $125
Playground mulch: $50
Playset: $290
Total: $655

Part 4 of Anna's playplace

Our lawn person happened to come Thursday and mentioned that we would be dealing with a lot of mud based on the shade in that area and suggested we just sod it. She mentioned getting good sod at Super Sod which is just down at the farmer's market and sells sod in smaller amounts than by the pallet. John helped with his pickup and we got 25 rolls of sod, each of which covers 9 sq ft. We laid it out and now we have sod around the playplace:

New sod around the playplace...

We also picked up 1.5 cu yds of mulch, all his Honda Ridgeline would hold. I should have it all done by this weekend!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

I don't drink coffee

At work, we have several places to get coffee without leaving the building depending on how much of a connoisseur you are. There is the lowest level, the free stuff available in every break room on every floor. The middle level is available only in the mornings in the cafeteria. And the highest level is available in the convenience store is Starbucks. All that said, I often hear "Let's get coffee" when someone wants to talk in the morning. Furthermore, its the same people offering to get coffee with me again and again. It also nearly never fails that they ask, "Aren't you getting coffee?" when I do not myself pick up a cup wherever we end up. I've decided I need a t-shirt or sign in my cube that points out that I don't drink coffee as a reminder to these people. :-)

Floored this morning..

This morning I was reading our friend Julie's latest blog posting and was absolutely floored. I think two things really hit me this morning:
1) How wonderful and selfless Julie is, to show so much concern for others in the midst of such tough times they themselves have gone through in the last year. Julie's son Ethan was born with HLHS, Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, meaning he essentially is missing half of his heart. He is doing great, but the family has been through a lot including two surgeries for Ethan in less than 9 months and staying at the Ronald McDonald house in Chapel Hill to be near their son. This isn't the first time that Julie has asked for prayers and focus on other families through her blog...and I think that shows an amazing attitude. Many people when faced with a tough situation tend to focus on themselves, but not Julie...
2) I read through the blog she referenced yesterday, Confessions of a CF (Cystic Fibrosis) Husband and again was hit as to how blessed Heather and I have been with good health. The strength of this 27 year old man I do not know who has a two (almost three) month old premature child and a wife battling to live is amazing in this blog. Its like a book I can't put down. I can't imagine going through what he is going through with such dignity and hope, but I pray that if I ever find myself in such a situation that God will give me the strength to do so.

For now, I just ask for you to pray for Julie and her husband Dan and their son Ethan as well as Nate, Tricia, and their little daughter Gwyneth.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Part 3 os Anna's playplace

Anna's playplace is almost complete. Today I installed the weed barrier as discussed in my last post. We also purchased the Step2 Naturally Playful Woodland Climber at Woodplay of the Carolinas today. Amazingly enough, the box fit into my Toyota Matrix with the back seats down.
Anna on her new playplace, before it gets mulch
Anna on her new playplace, before it gets mulch
Unfortunately, The Mulch Masters where I planned to buy the playground mulch from won't deliver less than a 5 cubic yard group of mulch and I don't have a pickup truck. The first time I could borrow a friend's pickup between the hours of 7 AM and 5 PM when they are open was on Friday...so no mulch yet means Anna can only play on the weed barrier...hence the pictures above :-)

There should be a rule...

That the first 10 Sunny Days of the year where the weather is between 65-80, you get the day off. Working is difficult on a day like today.

And while I am at it, I want a rule that says all coworkers should have access to natural sunlight in their primary work environment...