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  • Looking for a Microscope

    We’ve gotten big into science around here, and I want to make the most of the boys’ curiosity while we can since who knows how long this stage will last.

    We’ve grown some alum crystals, colored celery to demonstrate capillary action, and are growing a container garden (we recently added some tomatoes, lettuce, strawberries and parsley to keep our lemon tree company).

    Next on our list of projects are sugar crystals and salt crystals.

    I thought it would be a good experience to compare the crystals’ structures under a microscope, but I haven’t touched a microscope since college. I know nothing about brand names, what to look for, or what’s a good price to pay.

    So before I buy this well-reviewed My First Lab Duo-Scope Microscope from Amazon, I wanted to ask for input. What should I be looking for in a kid’s microscope, and what’s a good price to pay? Thanks so much!

    P.S. And thanks to this review at Baby Toolkit, I’ve added the book Science Fair Season: Twelve Kids, a Robot Named Scorch . . . and What It Takes to Win to my reading list.

    LAUSD Choices Booklet Comes Out This Month

    I am having a seriously hard time accepting that it’s the beginning of November. I feel like school just started and that summer just ended, but I see Christmas decorations and Black Friday deals everywhere already.

    And, we got notice that the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Choices Brochure should be coming home next week. The Choices brochure contains an application and is the only way to apply for admission to a magnet school. I don’t know if other school districts offer similar choices or mechanisms, but I do know LAUSD’s magnet admissions process is rather confusing.

    At least the application itself is actually pretty straightforward. If your child is already enrolled in an LAUSD school, you should receive a pre-filled application next week. If you don’t get one, or your child isn’t in an LAUSD school, you can get a blank application at all LAUSD schools, LAUSD Local District Offices, Los Angeles City Libraries, and the Student Integration Services office downtown. Fill out the form and send it in.

    Everything else about the magnet admissions process is complicated, at least in my opinion. There are points to worry about, and I’ve written more about the points process here. The one thing really worth pointing out here is that if you have a child who will be entering kindergarten next fall and you think you might want to apply for a magnet school for first grade, you should apply for one of the few kindergarten magnets and hope to be rejected so you can get points for when you apply in 2011.

    Similarly, if you hope to get your child into a magnet later on, you should apply to a highly desirable magnet to build up points before your child is actually eligible to enroll. For example, there are a couple of schools that are Centers for Enriched Studies that start in either fourth or sixth grade and go through twelfth grade. To apply with the maximum number of points, you want to have failed to get into your desired magnet school for the previous three years (you can have a max of 12 wait list points and get 4 points each year you’re rejected). The Choices booklet should indicate the number of applications and the number of students admitted to each school last year, which will give you a good idea of which schools are the hardest to get into.

    Like I said, it’s all terribly confusing, especially when you factor in sibling points, ethnicity, and school status. I found the Choices Information Fair in 2008 very helpful, but they didn’t hold one last year probably because of budget cuts, and it doesn’t look like they’re doing one this year either. However, the Choices web site is useful and includes links to other helpful resources. It’s down for maintenance right now, but does have a list of important dates, and should be back up soon.

    And don’t forget, the Choices application must be postmarked by Friday, December 17.

    Is a law degree worth the cost and risk?

    As a lawyer, I follow the legal industry, and my favorite legal blog, Above the Law, actually bills itself as a “legal tabloid.” One constant theme is how much it sucks to be a lawyer right now, especially an unemployed one. And another recurring theme is how much it sucks to be a law student right now, with worse employment prospects than the fourth-year associate who just got laid off. Here’s a recent example: UCLA School of Law (arguably the most prestigious law school in LA) recently sent around a job listing to students that was for the position of chauffeur to an entertainment lawyer, the pitch being that you could talk to him about his job while you were driving him around to his various appointments. At least when I was a student, the law school tried to help students get hired as law clerks or externs doing real legal work.

    Last week, Above the Law discussed whether a student entering his second year should quit before incurring more loans. (The gender of the student isn’t disclosed so for simplicity, I’m going to assume he’s male.) The student in question goes to a top eight school, has decent but not stellar grades, thinks he would enjoy public interest law, already has $70,000 in student loans, and is convinced he would graduate with $170,000 in debt. The editors gave the pros and cons of staying in school, but I thought what was really interesting was what was missing from the discussion: deciding whether you really want to be a lawyer and if so, how to make it happen.

    For example, if the student really wants to be a prosecutor or legal legislative work, then continuing with law school is the only way to make that happen. Or maybe he really wants to be an entertainment lawyer – he’s still going to need that law degree. The fact that he is at a top law school indicates that he is bright and is likely to pass the bar exam, be considered for interviews, etc. Especially if the student is willing to relocate for his dream job, then I think someone bright enough to go to a top law school would be able to get the position. At the very least, he will be able to get some position in his chosen field.

    That leaves the money question. Crystal at Money Saving Mom often writes about how her husband was able to make it through law school without incurring any debt, but I don’t think that’s realistic for most people. Tuition and fees at the law schools in Los Angeles is about $40,000 per year. I don’t know if it’s even possible to come out completely debt-free if you go to a relatively respectable school and don’t have a whole lot of money coming from somewhere other than loans, such as savings, a spouse, or a job.

    Speaking of a job . . . that’s something most law students don’t have, and understandably so. I didn’t, for the first two years of law school. First year grades in particular are so important that most students don’t want to have distractions from studying. But the student we were discussing is already a second-year, and could conceivably hold down a job if he was serious about limiting the amount of debt he graduates with. Even ten hours a week would bring in some income.

    And of course, there’s the big one – lifestyle. To be honest, back when I was in law school, I didn’t have a full grasp of what it means to live within one’s means. And most of my peers seemed to be the same. But a frugal lifestyle could significantly reduce the total amount of loans at graduation.

    Just as important, a frugal lifestyle after graduation will ensure those loans are paid off relatively quickly. Most loan programs allow for 20 to 25 years to pay off your student loans. But if you follow the proven debt-reduction techniques like the debt snowball, you can cut that time by half or more. These are all things that should be taken into consideration when deciding on a future career path, whether it’s the law or something else.

    LA Times teacher database released

    I’ll probably have more on this later, but for locals, I just wanted to provide a link to the LA Times’ value-added teacher ratings. You can search by teacher or school, and some of the data appears incomplete – for example, the most recent data for a teacher at our local school was from 2006. The database only includes LAUSD teachers for grades 3 through 5.

    Morning Coffee: Kindergarten really is right around the corner

    The California economy is still doing terribly, and that has meant a whole lot of changes in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The budget apparently played a huge role in setting the dates for the 2010-2011 school year, which has been released online here. The first day of school is September 13 and the last day is June 24. Students will be off the entire week of Thanksgiving. Plus, there’s three weeks of winter vacation, one week of spring break, and assorted holidays including April 1, for the observance of Cesar Chavez Day. I’ve been asking all of my friends who work outside the home and have older kids how they handle all of the days off, so that I’ll know what my options are.

    Today’s Amazon’s Deal of the Dayis DVD sets for CBS shows: $89.99 for seasons 1 through 6 of NCIS, $45.99 for seasons 1 through 3 of Criminal Minds, $63.99 for seasons 1 through 5 of Medium, and $64.99 for seasons 1 through 5 of Numb3rs (that was on for five years?!). Disclosure: I’m an Amazon affiliate, so any purchase you make after entering Amazon through a link on Chief Family Officer supports this site at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

    Also, Amazon’s Video Game Deal of the Dayis EA Sports Active: More Workouts for $29.99 – it gets 4 1/2 stars in 108 reviews, and I’m a big fan of the original.

    Christian Clippers explains how to get three greeting cards and a “desk accessory” (like a journal) for 97 cents at Vons.

    Get 10 points at Pampers Gifts to Grow with code FacebookMay2010.

    Stretching a Buck has this week’s Target deals.

    If your CVS has a scanner, then you can do this Nivea deal to make $5.

    Coupons.comA new month means new coupons at, including $1/1 Kleenex Hand Towels (which on sale this week at Target, where you can also use this $1/1 store coupon). still has the B1G1 SunRype coupons, and I finally found those in a free-standing unit near the refrigerated produce at Vons. Links via

    Get a preview of tomorrow’s Harris Teeter ad.

    Get a preview of the 5/7 Shaw’s ad.

    Freebies 4 Mom has more Huggies Enjoy the Ride Rewards codes.

    You can now get a 2010 Entertainment Book for just $15. Moneywise Moms reports that there are three coupons for $5 off a $50 purchase at Safeway stores, and when I looked at a copy a few months ago at Walgreens, there were several coupons for $5 off a $75 purchase at Ralphs. If you click through, you’ll be able to see the coupons in your local book when you enter your zip code. And you can also buy books for top travel regions, like Orlando and Hawaii. Links via Logical Media