Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top Ten Things About LA in 2009

I thought this list might make it easier for me to remember all the things I have to be thankful for in my life. 2009 was my first full year as a stay-at-home mom and it was really tough. Though there are times during the day I still wonder what the heck I'm doing, those moments are becoming fewer and far between. This next year will hopefully bring the end of diapers for R, and then life will become even better. But enough of that, here is my top ten list!

This list is in random order and entirely my opinion.

1) Kogi Truck. I don't think I can say enough about how much I like the Kogi burrito. It by itself is almost enough for anyone to live in the LA area. Once it was pouring rain and I had the boys with me. Kogi is too spicy for them so they gave the boys some toasted slider buns gratis. Nice!

2) New Hope South Bay. I've never been to a church that has so challenged my comfort zone and made me part of community outreach. I may not be in LA for life, but I will never lose the sense of mission that I've gained at this church.

3) The weather. It's going to be 72 degrees on Saturday. No complaints! H went out into the snow and has told me that he does not like it, he likes no snow.

4) LA Moms Blog. It's been great getting to know the fellow mom bloggers in the LA Moms Blog community. So many different voices in so many different areas; makes me feel more connected than I did last year. I'm fortunate enough to be mentored by @mintcool. Without her, I never would have started blogging.

5) Farmers Markets. I love being able to get fresh local produce. I'm not saying I do it that much but knowing that there is the option of going to a different farmer's market every day of the week makes me feel like I am not stuck with eating garlic from China or apples from Chile. One of my favorites is the original farmers market next to The Grove. Once I got raspberries and blueberries there for $.99 in the height of berry season. So good. You'd never see those prices in Manhattan. Of course I also love the original farmers market because Bob's Doughnuts is there--best doughnuts in LA.

6) Koreatown. I've never lived in a place (other than Korea) where you could get a full dish with banchan for $4.99. There are a ton of those sullongtang places in K-town. So good.

7) Disneyland. I've been to Disneyland/California Adventure 5 times this year and I don't have an annual pass. I think I've made up for all the times I didn't get to go when I was a kid. It really is the happiest place on Earth!

8) International Moms Club. I went to the Founders Day lunch in February and heard Dr. Laura speak. A lot of people don't like her, but she gave me what I needed at the time--validation as a SAHM. It's really tough sometimes to be in such a thankless job. So many people think that I am on some sort of vacation. I no longer talk to those people. If you're an at-home mom, definitely find your local chapter and join. I don't think I would have survived this year without the Moms Club. I guess this isn't technically LA specific, but it is for me since I never would have joined without having moved here.

9) The Strand. Without it, I would not be able to fit into my clothes. The dolphin at one end is something I use to keep the kids willing to sit in the double stroller. I'm not sure why they like to climb on it but it never fails to engage them. (photo from wikipedia, Joelle Leder)

10) The weather. Did I mention that already? Well, it's definitely worth mentioning twice because H went swimming in our outdoor pool last week, something that probably wouldn't happen in winter in any other place I've lived.

I couldn't mention Legoland because that's technically in the San Diego area but that's another place we love. I can even take the kids there by myself because there are so many free play areas they enjoy.

So get out there and experience all the good things in LA. While you still can. I'm convinced it will fall into the ocean when the Big One hits, but hopefully that is a long ways away. Hello 2010!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Did Someone Say Minivan? Yes, the 2011 Toyota Sienna

If you're thinking about trading your BMW for a minivan like my friend Elizabeth did or getting a new car by the end of the year to take advantage of the 2009 tax credit, you might just want to wait till next year if you're in the market for a minivan or a car with a lot of cargo space. I was invited down to the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel last week to test drive the various models of the all new third-generation 2011 Toyota Sienna.

I'm one of those SAHMs that still has a hard time letting go of her past life as a young urban professional. So a minivan has been a very difficult sell to me. When we moved to Southern California from New York, we had to buy a second car. We bought a Honda Accord with the plan of trading in the BMW a year or so later for a minivan. It hasn't happened. But now I'm feeling the pressure more and more with both boys acquiring their sets of friends and the need to be able to pick those friends up and drive everyone around instead of being trapped at home. So when the opportunity came up last week to test drive the ten different renditions of the five models of the 2011 Toyota Sienna, I knew I had to go. Elizabeth was also there and we partnered up to test drive three models, the XLE V6 AWD, the SE, and the new Sienna 4 cylinder. The XLE V6 AWD felt just like Elizabeth's current model XLE. We didn't really have the road conditions to experience the difference AWD would make. Some nice new features about the XLE AWD (XLE MSRP $32,175) are the standard leather interior and Lounge Seating (reclining captain chairs in the second row, complete with footrests). I think the new Sienna 4 cylinder with a base MSRP of $24,260 is meant to compete with the Kia Sedona, which had a base MSRP of $22,195 in 2010. With just a $2K price difference, I bet more consumers would go with the better reviews, styling and reputation of the Toyota Sienna over the Sedona, especially if you're only driving around town with the kids. The 4 cylinder vs. a V6 really makes a difference only if you're lugging a lot of cargo or doing frequent highway driving where you need the extra power. With gas prices going up and down, the better fuel economy of a 4 cylinder (26 mpg highway) also makes sense for the budget-conscious consumer.

That brings me to the new SE (MSRP $30,550). I really think that Toyota should have called the SE something else, and labeled it not-a-minivan. It sits lower and the steering is a lot tighter so when you are inside you feel like you are in a regular sedan, maybe even a sports car. The Chief Engineer of the 2011 Sienna is Kazuo Mori, someone who spent his youth competing in the All Japan Kart Championships. When he began redesigning the Sienna in 2006, it was after a 7,000 mile cross-country road trip from Socal to NY to Detroit with the Toyota Alphard, known as the King of the Minivans in Japan. His market research led to him believe that there was a need out there for a minivan that was not only about Comfort and Convenience, but, based on the comments he got on the stylish Alphard, also the "Cool" factor. So he was able to infuse his passion for sports cars into the design of the third generation Sienna, namely the Toyota Sienna SE. If I were to buy a minivan, this would be the one for me. It even has cool exclusive instrumentation that has a completely different look from the other Sienna models.

The all-new 2011 Sienna will go on sale in February with the arrival of V6-powered Sienna grade, LE, XLE, and Limited models. Four-cylinder Sienna grade and LE models, and SE grade will arrive at dealerships in April. Another neat aspect of the third-generation Sienna is that the sliding door slots are so well hidden that they are barely noticeable. A lot more features have become standard equipment at all levels so this means that the Sienna is giving the Sedona a run for its money, literally. That means even though you wouldn't get the 2009 new car tax credit, you'd be getting a lot more car for your money to make up for it.
So now that I know which Sienna I would get if I were to get a Sienna, I just need to make the decision whether to trade in that BMW. Bob Carter, the Toyota Division Group VP & GM I met at the test drive event, said that if I were to get the SE, he would change the name on that car for me so it wouldn't be a minivan. After all, what makes a minivan? The sliding doors? Well, at first glance you can't even tell that the SE has sliding doors. So I wouldn't really be buying a minivan, right? Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

December Halftime Report

At times this December it's felt like we were in the middle of a very intense rivalry football game like Army-Navy, Stanford-Cal, Yale-Harvard. As we go from activity to activity, play to play, we're fighting to keep our energy up so we can make it to the end zone. So far this December we've been to 9 different events, not counting playdates at the park and at friends' houses. It was all kicked off by the Got Milk? event on December 1 where H got the best face painting of his short life. I got to sample delicious lattes in between chasing H and R around the patio of Le Pain Quotidien. Everyone at the event got to go home with their own Got Milk? apron, a milk frother and CD of latte recipes.

Then it was four Christmas parties in the span of a week. H got to see Santa twice and R actually sat on Santa's lap without crying this year. I think giving him a big piece of chocolate right before he met Santa really helped. It's really strange, I never sat down with H and said, there is a man called Santa Claus and he brings presents with his reindeer on Christmas. Yet he somehow knew all about it. He kept asking Santa, "Where are your reindeer?" Santa pretended not to hear him. Before I knew it, even though I hadn't made up my mind whether I was going to have the boys believe in Santa or not, I was telling H, "Santa sees you, he only brings presents to the good boys." And before I knew it, H was crying and saying, "I want to be a bad boy, I want to be a bad boy." So at least I know he won't be tricked into doing something bad by a stranger with a present. Right?

Then we made our way over to the Treehouse Social Club in Beverly Hills for the HAMO playdate. The only packs of unopened diapers we had in our house were the Fisher Price ones we had gotten from Toys R Us on Black Friday at 6 am. I had never tried those diapers before but bought four packs because they were half price. Surprisingly high quality. I never even knew Fisher Price made diapers, but I will definitely buy them again. A long non sequitur, sorry. I told H that we were going to a place like Pump it Up Party because I couldn't really describe the TSC. Well, the TSC is nothing like PIUP. There is a giant treehouse in the middle with a slide and areas with different themes, like a game room (complete with Macs and Nintendo Wii), a supermarket room and craft area. H had a fabulous time, but when we were leaving, he said, are we going to Pump it Up Party now? What is it with toddlers and the fascination with giant inflatables? And why does the nearest PIUP have to be in the OC? I was exhausted after two hours of live children's music and running after R. H was ready for the afterparty.

Disney on Ice. By then I couldn't even remember to bring a camera. I had heard a radio message on KFSH that sometimes the best thing to do is just enjoy the event instead of trying to run around capturing the event. Yes, that's what I was doing! Except I wasn't really enjoying it because H ran away before the show started (thankfully he was found quickly by security) and R kept trying to run away during the show and we were asked by security to keep a tighter rein on him. I learned that the boys are, and I am, NOT ready to go to shows like this, at least not R for another two years. A few weeks ago, a friend forwarded me information about this product called Mommy I'm Here that you can attach to your child's shoe to prevent them from running off. I wish I had ordered it then! By the way, I loved the parts of the show I did get to see--especially the Tinkerbell portion in the second half. The flowers popping out of the sides of the rink were definitely an unexpected cool effect. You can still catch the show in various locations in the Los Angeles area. Read my previous post about the discount.

That brings me to this past Friday. (I have a good reason for the lack of updates, my sister-in-law was visiting the past five days and staying in the computer room so no internet for me!) Cookie exchange at the park. Umm...did someone forget to tell the weatherman that it is December and should be cooler than the middle of July? 85 degrees. R was sweating in corduroy overalls and H was drenched from wearing his bike helmet. Finally I just took off R's pants. Someone once said that a toddler can get away with just a diaper as pants until age 2. I wholeheartedly agree. At least if you live in the desert. It would probably be considered child neglect if you did it in the middle of winter in Minnesota. So, cookies exchanged, ensuing crashing from sugar high experienced, vow to never eat cookies made. Broken the next day.

I won't even mention the Christmas party yesterday except to say that I have now officially seen the worst white elephant gift ever. Worse than the poop tea given at the mom's club Christmas party, worse than the spool of half-empty blank DVDs at a previous church Christmas party, and worse than the enormous bottle of pickled peppers given two years in a row. I can't even describe it because it makes absolutely no sense, and yet it completely explains why 10% of the attendees at the party refused to participate in the exchange based on previous year's experience. What is the worst white elephant gift you've ever seen?

And somewhere in the middle of all these running plays, I've been fortunate enough to participate in some really great outreach ministries in our community, from putting together gift baskets for victims of human trafficking to filling toiletry shoeboxes for the homeless to getting up early to score $3 sweatshirts at Old Navy for the Fresh Brothers sweatshirt drive. Fortunate because it completes the message behind all the celebration during Jesus's birthday month, that he came to earth to help us all. Touchdown.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fitness Quest Take Three, or is it Four?

A couple days ago H looked at my stomach and said, the milk in your booby went into your belly. I don't know if he was commenting on the fact that my breasts have shrunk since I weaned R or if he was just trying to explain why my stomach was so large. And so, I got the kick in the stomach I needed to get out the exercise mat. The Wii Fit Plus yoga mat to be exact. I recently received a Wii Fit Starter Kit to review from Performance Design Products, headquartered in nearby Sherman Oaks, CA. I hadn't taken it out of the package but H gave me the incentive I needed to take it up a notch in my Wii Fit routine. I've been doing the Balance Games and bypassing the yoga option. If you had a choice between a hula hoop game and the tree pose, which would you pick? Precisely. But if you're serious about core strengthening, you have to fire up the yoga, be it bikram or otherwise.

Performance Designed Products is an industry leader in designing and manufacturing peripherals for all major video game platforms, including PS2, PS3, PSP, Wii, GameCube, DS Lite, XBOX 360, and XBOX. PDP has been supplying video game accessories to the U.S. market for over a decade. The Wii Fit Starter Kit is manufactured and sold under the Pelican brand name. It retails for $29.99 on Amazon, which includes shipping. I've seen it for $19.99 at Gamestop, which ends up being less (after tax) if you buy it at the bricks and mortar store, but about the same as the price on Amazon if you have to pay for shipping by buying online.

The Starter Kit comes with a yoga mat and a fitted neoprene sleeve to protect the Wii Balance Board and cushion your feet. For anyone with young kids, the cover is essential. When I put on the cover, I noticed R had spilled grape juice on the Wii Fit board. Not sure what the board was doing out since Stewart "hid" it under the couch, but if you want to extend the life of your Wii Fit balance board, definitely get a cover. The yoga mat gave me the push to do a yoga routine on the balance board. Since our living room is carpeted, this actually helped a lot because it prevented my feet from slipping all over the place.

So I think the Starter Kit is helpful if the user of the balance board is likely to use it for yoga on Wii Fit Plus or for stretching and working out with other Wii fitness games like EA Sports Active and Jillian Michaels Fitness Ultimatum. I know you can drip sweat at the end of one of the hard aerobic workouts featured on those games, so a yoga mat is especially nice to stop you from getting sweat all over your carpet. The protective cover is a great idea for anyone with young kids or old kids (husbands/boyfriends) who spill things. I'm thankful to Performance Designed Products for giving me another tool to help me get my butt (and stomach) in gear. Maybe one day God will appreciate my efforts and give me the opportunity to review Charm City Cakes when they open their LA location. Here's to hoping!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Help a Mother Out Playdate this Sunday

If you are in LA and have kids, you would probably have a great time at the playdate hosted by fellow LA Moms Blogger, Kim Prince, at the Treehouse Social Club on Sunday December 13. She's collecting diapers for the charity, Help a Mother Out. Grab a pack of diapers and join the fun!

HAMO Holiday Playdate

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Next Up on Quest for Fitness Motivation-Interview with Alison Sweeney

I am still having a tough time getting out there. Last week I exercised 2x. I would have done more Wii Fit Plus had I not put it in my closet because the boys were insisting upon doing it the minute they woke up. Well, after demanding chocolate and cookies. Need to hide those too. So this week I'm vowing to exercise 3x. Not sure what it will be but I've gotten a boost from my e-interview with Alison Sweeney. I missed interviewing her in person last month at the Glide Tight Spaces Challenge because of H's concussion, but she graciously agreed to answer some questions by email! Without further ado, here is my first celebrity e-interview:

Alison, it's so great to see you looking so svelte after having your baby girl. What are some of the things you did to help you lose the weight quickly?
I began working out slowly building up to my pre-baby workout routine. I also watched my diet and tried to eat as healthy as possible. I have a ton of advice for mom's trying to lose weight - I'm writing a book about it! It's going to come out next October, The Mommy Diet. And one of my tips, is don't beat yourself up about those last 10 pounds! Believe me; I'm still working on it, myself!!

I really admire women who are out there working and fulfilling their dreams. How do you balance your career with being a mom? Do you have the kids travel with you? What is something you do to keep connected to them?
It's always easiest to say it starts with balance but it's about every day making the decisions you can live with for that day. Then it is about looking back over your day and checking that nothing has fallen off your radar. I also give my job 100% while I'm there... not regretting that decision. I decided that I'm going to be away from my kids, I owe it to them to make that time worth it. When I am with my family, I give them my 100 percent attention too. I love when there are opportunities for Megan and Ben to travel with me for my job and am lucky enough for them to often be on set with me.

How did you get involved with Feeding America? And how did Glide get involved? Is Glide also providing dental floss for Feeding America to give away with meals?
I got to know Feeding America through the relationship with The Biggest Loser. It's been an eye-opening experience to realize how many people in this country fight hunger. When you think about how many of those are children, it was clear to me that I wanted to be involved. I wanted to help.
I’ve partnered with Glide to help raise money for Feeding America this holiday season. Those who follow me on Twitter @ali_sweeney know that I’m talking to my fans about it and showing them how they can get involved. They are not donating product but for every person who Tweets with the hashtag #GlideTightSpaces through December 31, 2009, Crest Glide will also donate $1 to Feeding America with a guaranteed donation of $20,000. We also hosted two Tight Space Challenge events in NY and LA last month where Glide donated $1 for every person who went through their Tight Spaces obstacle course.
I was so excited when Crest asked me to be involved with this campaign because not only do I love working with Feeding America, but I actually floss with Crest Glide every day before I go on set. It's an important part of my routine and helps me to feel more confident. Glide is just much smoother than other floss, so it slides easily between the tight spaces of my teeth - allowing me to be camera ready. So, this partnership was truly a perfect fit.

I'm really curious as to how the show The Biggest Loser has influenced you, if at all. Were there things health wise that you changed because of your involvement with the show? Does hosting the show make you conscious about your weight all the time?
I guess because I struggled with my own weight as a teenager, obesity issues strike a chord with me. And since joining the Biggest Loser, I’ve seen so many success stories, Jerry from season 6 is a perfect example. At the finale, Dr H told him he won 25 years of his life back! It IS possible to regain control of your weight, and it’s so scary to see how many people in this country are playing Russian Roulette with their health. Especially kids. Now with two children of my own, it’s impossible for me not to be passionate about encouraging people to get healthy, and to help their children be healthy.
I'm really impressed that she took the time to answer my questions through email. I think she definitely thinks about how to manage her time and be a good mom. If you have a twitter account, please tweet #GlideTightSpaces through December 31, 2009 to make a donation to Feeding America. Please note, I didn't receive anything for posting this interview. I really believe in the need for groups like Feeding America, especially in these tough times, and love the fact that I can raise awareness by blogging.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Republican Moms Night Out

A few nights ago, I went to my first Republican Moms Night Out. The evening festivities in Santa Monica started out with a spin class at Revolution (my first time spinning and a great experience!) and ended with dinner at Kreation Kafe (organic everything, so delicious). We enjoyed a special of spinning/dinner for $25. This is an awesome deal since many of the menu items for dinner are that much alone. Now they are having a special for pilates and dinner for $30. Still an awesome deal.

The dinner was so much fun. Anyone who is a Republican mom in the Los Angeles area should definitely join. I think we scared the people sitting next to us in the restaurant with our talk about breastfeeding/weaning, Sarah Palin, and our kids taking guns to school. I'm still sore from the spin class and smiling from the great conversation at dinner. You are not alone, join us!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Disney On Ice Worlds of Fantasy coming to LA!

Once early on in our relationship, Stewart made the mistake of saying that ice skating was not a real sport because you couldn't score points. After listening to my subsequent diatribe, he never made that same error again. For many years, I lived vicariously through Michelle Kwan. She was Asian-American, her parents were immigrants, and she was roughly the same age. I felt such immense pain for her when Tara Lipinski and then Sarah Hughes won Olympic gold. But I digress. I've always been entranced by figure skating and even took my first skating lessons while I was in college. I dated a guy mostly because he was a speed skater who went to the Olympic trials. These days I live vicariously through my good friend who, even now as we come into our middle age, skates on a champion synchronized skating team. All this to say, I love ice skating! So of course when I heard about Disney On Ice Worlds of Fantasy coming to LA, I thought it would be a great opportunity to introduce the boys to the wonders of skating. I hope to take my family and review the show on my blog. I figure if I take them to a show first, then they'll have more of an idea of what to do when I take them to real rink to try it out the next week.

You can watch Disney on Ice in the LA area from December 17th-January 10th at the following locations: Los Angeles, Anaheim, Ontario and Long Beach. I received a press release stating that the show will bring four magical Disney stories to the ice with characters from Disney/Pixar’s Cars and Disney’s Tinker Bell, The Lion King and The Little Mermaid. The Disney Princess Pre-Show taking place an hour before each show is free with ticket purchase and includes a special appearance by a Disney Princess.

There is a promotion going on right now if you enter the coupon code MOM you can receive 4 tickets for $44 on weekday performances or $4 off single weekend tickets. You can order online by heading to or You can also order tickets by phone: 800-745-3000 or at the venue box office. Minimum purchase of 4 tickets required; additional weekday tickets above 4 can be purchased at $11 each. Email me if you would like a copy of the flyer. (I tried uploading it to share on google docs but it doesn't seem to be working.)

I'm so excited about the show and hope to see you there!