Ultrasound at Week 20

A couple of weeks ago my OB/GYN doctor requested that I do an ultrasound.  Since I already had my amniocentesis done at 16th week and know that it is a boy without any genetic defects, I wasn’t too nervous or excited about the ultrasound. To me, it is a check point to make sure there are ten fingers and ten toes.  In any case, I wanted to get it out of the way before the holidays so I scheduled an appointment on last work day of the year, December 23rd.

I learned from my last ultrasound to drink just enough liquid to meet minimum requirement, and also to assume that I will be called in late so drink only 40 minutes before the appointment time versus 1 hour as suggested by the ultrasound instruction.  It was a painful lesson to learn last time, I drank more than 30 fluid oz (vs. 28 fl-oz minimum requirement) of liquid but was called in about 50 minutes later than the scheduled time.  I had no choice but to pee and drink all the liquid all over again.  It was definitely more painful than most people realized to hold a full bladder that’s being pushed and kicked upon by the baby in your womb.   This time I had the first appointment of the day and arrived 30 minutes ahead of schedule,  but still got called in about 30 minutes late.  It was really uncomfortable, but thank heavens I didn’t reach the bursting point.  I am very thankful this experience is behind me, hopefully forever!

After we got called in, everything went very smoothly.  We saw some very detailed pictures of the little one from all sorts of perspectives.  One thing the technician pointed out was that he is an extremely active little boy.  In fact, he moved so much that the technician had a hard time imaging and allowed me to pee midway in order to calm him down.  I guess I am not surprised.  This little one shouldn’t be that much different from Ravi or me and Mario when we were little.

At the end, we got some really cool pictures.

Profile in blue

We were asked to pick a color for this photo and we thought what else can be better than blue!  For someone who wiggles all day, he paused just long enough for us to take this picture.

His Left Foot

For a while we were able to see both of his feet, but that opportunity disappeared and he decided to not corporate at picture taking anymore.  So the best we could do was one foot.  I can sense much stubbornness in him, just like daddy 😉

-Flo.

How to Remove Ink Off of Leather Sofa

Couple of weeks ago, me and Ravi went to grandpa and grandma’s home for the weekend.  While we were there, an Ravi related incident occurred.  Don’t worry, nobody got hurt.  Let me tell you the story.

As usual, Ravi ran around the place for three hours straight and finally slowed down to catch his breath.  I opted out of going out shopping with grandpa and grandma to stay home and rest with Ravi.  For anyone that has never watched a kid like Ravi, let me tell you it is really hard work.  I finally wrestled him down and put him on the sofa with a bottle of milk.  I turned around for 30 seconds to smooth out a spot full of toys to make room for me, and when I return my eye back to Ravi, I saw this…

Aaahhhhhh!!!

Somehow Ravi got hold of a ball pen and decided to start his masterpiece on a white leather sofa!  Grandpa and grandma just bought this house a few months ago, then gone through months of renovation.  This sofa is only two months old and now it has ink all over it!  I can’t imaging how anyone would react with this huge eye sore in the middle of their brand new family room.  I panicked and got really scared.  All kinds of thoughts went through my head: the way my parents would react when they come home and see this, me paying out god knows how much money to replace this sofa, maybe we should stay home for the weekends from now on…etc.  I pulled the pen off of Ravi’s hand and left him to cry while I ran to the computer to see if I could find some way on the internet to clean the ink off of the leather.  Maybe I can get it off before my parents come home and we can pretend this never happened.  There were lots of suggestions on the internet but none that I could use with the supply I got at home.

Around this time, my parents walked in.  I had to show them the ink.  To my surprise, they reacted better than I thought.  They were more concerned about Ravi then the sofa.  My mom came back a few minutes later and told me that she read from somewhere that alcohol is a good agent to clean ink off of leather.  I spun into action immediately.  I used a piece of cloth and dabbed a little bit of  isoproply alcohol (rubbing alcohol) I found in the bathroom, then gently use the wet cloth to wipe on the ink.  Magically, it began to fade.  Couple more cycles with clean cloth and alcohol, and all the ink disappeared!  The whole process took me 5 minutes!  I was amazed.  It really was that simple to remove ink off of leather, who knew!  I took a deep breath, and finally exited the panic mode.

Now we can pretend this incident never happened.  The lesson learned here is to never let Ravi near a ball pen again!

-Flo.

The Slowly Declining Housing Market

It is interesting how things can change within the span of a couple of months. Two months ago, the housing market was seen as just slowly stabilizing and the housing industry being able to eek out a small change in price over summer over last year. Unfortunately, with the summer selling season and tax rebates over, the lack of sustained buyer interest has caused house prices to restart their inexorable downward decline.
At first it seemed that the lack of a tax rebate would only limit the upside potential in house prices. The Case-Shiller Home Price Index (which is one of the most respected and accurate) is a rolling three month average that is published a full month later. At the end of  August (the end of the summer home buying season), the Case-Shiller HPI actually only shows data for the July index point, which happens to be an average of the change in prices for the months of May, June, and July. There are many valid and applicable reasons that the Case-Shiller index does this, but it tends to delay the ability to see sudden price changes due to external events (like tax rebates). To get a truly accurate picture of price momentum after the rebate (which maxed out positive price momentum) in July you’d have to wait till at least October (which would have July, August, and September data), with the November report accurately  portraying the correct downward slope. Unfortunately at the end of November another disastrous event might have potentially started that guarantees even greater declines in the following year: the increase in interest rates.

For the last two weeks, interest rates on the 10 year and 30 year bond have been slowly trending upwards. This is seen as positive news for the economy since higher interest rates imply growth and increased inflation. Why higher levels of inflation is good for the economy is a topic for another post at a later date; it is sufficient to understand that our current government sees it as a good thing and something they have actively been trying to promote. One consequence of higher government interest rates though is higher mortgage rates. And higher mortgage rates are never good for nominal home prices. I tried to capture the issue in an earlier post, but at that time it seemed more of an academic argument than an actual issue. (The fact that the article was only published a week ago is more due to my class and work schedule and not a factor to when I started thinking about the issue. I started the original draft for the post in the middle of November). With the move in interest rates becoming concrete, there are a number of other bloggers that are starting to sound the alarm on what is to be expected for next year. If mortgage rates move 1%, the average potential decline in home prices is nominally 10%. From the bottom in October, we’re already seeing a 0.75% increase in mortgage rates. That means that for 2011, we can expect a nominal decrease in  home prices of roughly 7 to 10%. On a country-wide basis we had a 1.7 trillion loss this year, and we can expect around a 2 trillion loss next year.

I’ll leave my readers with links to other great posts. For those that are interested and need more information, they can help shed light on the big issue we’ll be seeing in 2011.

Why are home mortgage interest rates rising so quickly?

Higher Mortgage Rates Could Kick a Down Housing Market.

Mortgage-Bond Slump No ‘Fun’ for Housing as Rates Increase.

Mario.

Ravi’s Portraits

I have not posted many pictures of Ravi in the last few months.  This is mainly due to my pregnancy, at least I am going to blame it.  In all honesty, the “morning sickness” whacks me over the head during all hours of the day and leaves me tired and not wanting to move.  Good thing my dad helps watch Ravi on the weekends while Mario goes to school, and he takes some really good pictures of Ravi.  Last weekend, I got off my lazy ass and downloaded some pictures from his computer and camera.

Picture with grandpa and grandma, Ravi, and cousin Jo (in white) and Do (in black). Ravi was one year old in the picture.

My sister’s family came to visit for the first time after Ravi was born.  We had so much fun hanging out with cousins.  Grandpa took this opportunity to take tones of pictures with all his grand kids.

Ravi Crys, at 18 months of age.

This is when Ravi demanded to touch the camera lens and I refused.  He wanted to show me how devastating my decision had been for him.

Ravi's serious look. Ravi at 18 months.

I was surprised at how serious Ravi looked in this picture.  I believe I caught a rare moment that maybe Ravi didn’t even intend to show.  He had such powerful stare, I felt like it penetrated me.  I’ve always wondered how he would look like when he grows up and this gives me a hint of what’s to come.

Ravi Speaks. Ravi at 18 months of age.

Ravi talks a lot.  Back a few months ago, we had no idea what he was saying even though he was always saying something.  Now it is clear that he says more than we understood.  Ever once in a while, he would surprise us by throwing out couple of words that we do understand.

Ravi at 21 months of age.

This picture was taken yesterday (Sunday) while we waited for laundry to dry.  We had to change Ravi three times on Saturday because he kept getting really dirty while playing in the back yard, thus depleted our supply of clean cloths I packed for the weekend.  He kept wanting to play outside but we have no choice but to wait for cloth to get dry.  Looks like it is good time go give him a hair cut too.

-Flo.

Mortgage Rates and Their Impact on Homeownership

I was reading a fantastic article over at Dr. Housing Bubble Blog about how now isn’t the time to buy a house in Southern California.  I won’t argue one bit with Dr. Housing’s analysis, because I agree with it entirely. No sane person would be looking to buy a place in southern California, and definitely not within any of the neighborhoods Dr. Housing has honored as a “Real Home of Genius” neighborhood. These ‘featured’ neighborhoods are a great synopsis of neighborhoods where a person can ‘invest’ and lose a lot of money. His main thesis is that there are multiple signs that should warn anyone about when is and isn’t a great time to buy real estate. One of the more interesting graphs he shows is from the US Gov. and details the average mortgage rate in America. The graph is shown below:

Source: Article by Dr. Housing Bubble Blog.

One of the real reasons that this graph is so valuable is due to how people in America buy Real Estate. They buy a fixed monthly payment that lasts for 30 years. This allows them to amortize the cost of the house over an extended period, while paying an interest rate commensurate with long term inflation risk. Many people think that they’re getting a good deal, because the payment stays fixed and inflation helps to ease the burden in the future. What they don’t realize is that the bank’s mortgage rate more than compensates for inflation and still charges a premium for the money loaned. (Ex. current conforming mortgage rates are around 4.35%, 10 yr T-bond is at 2.75%, and the current annualized inflation rate for the US is around 1%. There are decent margin spreads on the mortgage rate over both comparable indices.)

More importantly, when people buy a house they have two things they have to qualify for to actually buy the place. They have to have an adequate down payment (which is usually 20%), and they have to afford the monthly payment on the note. Each and every month for 360 payments they have to come up with the amount that they’ve signed up for. This is no mean feat and figures hugely in the affordability of the house. Typically, the home buyer allows the bank to do this calculation for them and present them with the amount that they can afford. What most people don’t realize is that the interest payment for a mortgage note is a huge factor in how much house you can afford. The amount of the note moves inversely with the interest rate. Consider a typical house with a price of $250,000, a down payment of $50,000 (20%), and at the long term average of 9% in interest rate. The average monthly payment is $1,500. This is a reasonable amount per month. What would that monthly payment be if the interest rate was say 7%, or 5%? At 7% it would be only $1,166.67 a month and at 5% it would be $833.33. At a 5% interest rate you can nearly afford a house that is twice the principal (or $500,000). Does this mean that you can buy a house twice the size? Not really. In the real world, the typical price for a house rises and the monthly payment stays the same. The main reason for this is that as interest rates go down, people realize they can afford more (per month) and they then tend to bid more per house which raises the overall price of housing.

As long as interest rates fall and price goes up as a result, it’s a virtuous circle because people gain equity due to their initial leverage when they purchase. When interest rates rise and price goes down as a result, it can easily wipe out home buyers equity and help speed along the possibility of default. I built a quick and dirty table in excel to help visualize the reduction in home prices IF a mean reversion in interest rates occur. I fully expect some sort of mean reversion within the next five years and this table helps determine how much I can lose when purchasing real estate. In the table I’ve listed three interest rates- 4.35%, 6%, and 9% and a home price of $600,000.00, with 20% down. These interest rates represent the current mortgage environment, a rate we’ve seen just within the last five years, and the typical average. The calculation is shown below:

The calculation lists the effective home price for a house with a similar monthly payment (called ‘monthly nut’ in the spreadsheet). Using this spreadsheet calculation, I can see that a house currently worth $600k currently is only really worth $290k if interest rates move. This represents over a 50% loss if one was to purchase a house at the current prevailing interest rates. That is something to seriously consider if you’re planning on buying.

Mario.

Note: The reason the monthly nut isn’t the same in all three lines is because the imputed down payment in the following rows is held constant. If one was to reduce the down payment to 20% of the effective house price we would have a table that looks like this:

Another couple of points: The rate listed is the annual percentage rate (or APR), the term is the number of months of the loan (so 30 years at 12 months per year is equal to 360 total months), the effective rate is the monthly interest rate (i.e. for the 4.35%/year rate it is just 4.35%/12 months or 0.36%/month) the cashflow is the monthly expenditure required for the loan (both principal and interest amounts) PER EVERY 1oo THOUSAND DOLLARS (which is the present value column). The house price is the full purchase price that the house would retail for if the monthly payments (aka monthly nut) stayed constant, and finally the down payment is the amount put down for the loan.

Update: Since I actually put this article together (two weeks ago), interest rates have turned in the market and a slew of articles by other bloggers have appeared also detailing the same issue I bring up. Namely, as interest rates turn, house prices will fall.

Mortgage interest rates hit five-month high by IrvineRenter  on Irvine Housing Blog and

Mortgage Rates Go Parabolic by Tyler Durden on ZeroHedge

If mortgage rates keep increasing, you will probably see a decent uptick in articles about the drop in house prices because of it and widespread pressure on house prices in 2011.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Ever since Ravi was a little boy, his favorite song has been Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.  We always sing or play to him the traditional version, until recently.  Ravi has developed a fascination with computers, so to prevent him from breaking the key board and destroying our files and applications, we play songs on Youtube to keep him distracted.  One of my favorite songs I’ve found is the Giggle Bellies version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

To me this is the sweetest little song.  I love the twist they made to the traditional version which made this old song so fresh and intriguing.  I love the near raspy voice and the cute animation.  It is definitely a song we play regularly.  Giggle Bellies also produced other toddler songs on Youtube including Wheels On The Bus and ABC, but the Twinkle Twinkle Little Star will always have a special spot in my heart.

Flo.

Ravi is 21 Months Old Today!

Dear Ravi,

You turned 21 months old yesterday.  You keep growing bigger and more capable , mommy is so proud of you.

You have learned so many new things this month.  You’ve expanded your alphabets from “O” to “B”, “C”, “E”, “M”, and “Y”.  You are also able to pronounce more two syllable words, like “again” as what we say together when we reach the end of a book, and “blankie” which you just said for the first time last night.  You can only say two words in Chinese, “guo-guo” (fruit) and “mao-mao” (cat).  We are amazed at your ability to learn.  You are able to pick up any word we teach you and repeat them dozens of times.

You are able to use your hands and fingers much better during the past month.  On your wooden play center, you are able to use your fingers to channel the beads along the wires and push the wooden dolls through their tracks.  You weren’t able to do this before and used to get very frustrated when they don’t go the way you wanted them to.  One of your favorite thing to do before falling asleep is plucking the tiny lint balls off your security blanket, then hand them to mommy no matter if she is falling asleep or not.  Usually I would be too sleepy to think anything about it, but now I think about it, you were able to manipulate such small objects.  That’s pretty amazing.

Last month we saw two of your pearly whites getting ready to push out between your bottom molars and the four front teeth.  I thought, they will be out in a few days, but they are still at the brink of piercing through.  Somehow, I have stopped worrying about your teeth since you’ve become such an avid climber.  You climb onto everything you can reach!  Stairs, no problem.  You climb those about twenty times a day.  In fact, you have gotten so good at your stair climbing, you can now go up without much help, and come down the small three level stairs yourself.  Regardless of the levels of difficulty, your grandpa watches over you all the time and try to hold your hand ever step you take.  You love to climb onto grandpa and grandma’s bed and jump on it.  Good thing they have an ottoman at the foot of the bed, so you can climb onto it first before you climb onto the bed.  Grandpa and Grandma would each guard one side of the bed to make sure you don’t fall off. You climb onto the back of sofa too which freaks me out because there’s nothing against it!  If you fall, it would four feet straight down!  You must have taken lessons from the kitty cats when I am not looking.  Please do remind me to go home and beat them up for being such bad role models to you!

A few weeks ago I realized that you call grandma by the name “mom”.  First I thought you got confused and try to call her by the same name as you call me, but then I noticed that you always call me “mommy” and grandma “mom”.  rarely do you mix those two together.  Grandma is so happy that you gave her a name, because you haven’t even consistently call your grandpa by a name yet even though he is clearly your favorite.  The name comes with a downside, as you now ask grandma to do all kinds of things.  This makes her happy sometimes, but when she gets busy, she just hide away from you.

One of the things you constantly ask us to do is to sit by you.  You would point to a spot and say “sit”, and expect us to comply immediately.  Your new favorite play spot is grandpa and grandma’s shower.  To you, it must look like a small playroom, with a seating bench and all kinds of sponge toys.  You would demand everybody to sit in it while you run to different spots to play, but you always come back to check on us.  If we attempt to move, you would raise your voice and repeat your demand again even more firmly.

Ravi, mommy loves you so much.  The first thing I want to do in the morning is to see you, and at the end of an extremely tiring day all I want to do is to come get you from the day care.  I want to hold you and kiss you all the time and won’t stop even after you tell me to, and I hope I can keep doing this for ever and ever because nothing beats your cute little cheeks!

Love,

Mommy.

Eggs Toys

My sister always pick really cool gifts for Ravi, it must have something to do with her years of experience being a great mom!  In a sense, she opened a door into the world of exotic toys from all over the world for us.  I love her different point of view and enjoyed playing with every single toy she sent to us.

Last Christmas she gave Ravi a set of toy Eggs (International Playthings Hide’N Squeak Eggs, aka Tomy Eggs), which I’ve found extremely fascinating.  The toy itself is rated for age twelve months and up.  It is extremely cute to look at and is more complex than what meets the eye.  There are so many features that can be explored as the child grows from infant to toddler, and even to a pre-schooler.  And what surprised me the most was the price.  It ranged from $12 to $15 at different stores. At one point, it was $9.99 on Amazon, but that didn’t last long.  To me, the quality and fun factor really worth lot more than it is priced.

When you first open the yellow box, you find six little eggs each with a different little face on it.

International Playthings Hide'N Squeak Eggs

Once you open the each egg, surprise, there’s a little chick inside with the same face and a cute little beak.  The chicks come in three colors: two in purple, two in orange, and two in blue.  As you press on each chick, they squeak!


As you remove the eggs from the box, you find that the bottom of each egg has a different shapes to it and can only sit in its dedicated slot in the box.


Last Christmas Ravi was nine months old.  He enjoyed taking the egg shells and the eggs out of the box, turn the box upside down, and sometimes chew on the chicks.  He couldn’t press hard enough on the chicks to make them squeak yet, but he had fun watching me doing it.  Then when he was done, I had fun collecting the eggs, putting each egg into its own slot, and match the egg shell with the chick.  The older Ravi got, the longer he played with the eggs.  Now at twenty months of age, Ravi can put the shells on the eggs, though he hasn’t got the idea of matching the faces yet.  He can also match the shapes of the eggs with the box, but mostly with my help.  Certainly making the chicks squeak is lots of fun since he can do that all by himself.  Last weekend we had a bunch of older kids come by, and I was surprised how three to five year old enjoy playing with the eggs too.

I love this egg toy.  It is cheap enough so I don’t have to worry about loosing the pieces.  It is so cute and fun to play with, we always manage to distract Ravi with it for at least twenty minutes at a time.  This is the toy I pack up with us when we visit friends and family.  For the last year, this egg toy has also been my go-to-toy for birthday parties and other gathering.  From the way things are going, we will be playing with the eggs for a long time.