March 28, 2015

Alexis at Four months

Dear Alexis,

Your daddy and I have a running joke that I didn’t give birth to a newborn, I gave birth to a three month old. You were smiling at just a few days old. You had excellent head control, and were giggling way earlier than one might expect. But your most astonishing feat? Supported standing. At three months old.

alexis standing

When we go to put you down on the changing pad, or sit you in the high chair, you lock your knees. Daddy refers to it as ‘deploying your landing gear.’ I suspect you’ll be a cruiser before a crawler. Of course since you’re still only three months old, you need Mom or Dad to prop you up, and we’re never more than a few inches away, but boy do you love your new found independence.


You’re getting better at grabbing. You have managed to get your toes a couple of times, and the toys that dangle from your activity gym. We started putting you in your high chair in an effort to return to family meals. You dine on toys (when you manage to get them into your mouth) of course. You love the new vantage point. Like your sister you are completely fascinated with the world around you, and love having a seat at the table.


My maternity leave is rapidly approaching it’s end. I thought it would be easier to return to work this time. Alas, it is never ease to leave your child in the care of another for the first time. I will miss our days together, just as I missed them with Nicole when she was your age. I know we like to joke that I gave birth to a three month old, but do me a favor and remain a tiny baby as long as possible, mmm kay?

Love always,
Mommy and Daddy

March 27, 2015

Fifth Anniversary

Still working on that family photo…

Today marks the fifth year anniversary of our wedding vows, and what a journey it’s been!

Five years.
5 years of wedded bliss
4 places of employment
3 continents traveled together
2 amazing daughters
and 1 incredible adventure on the horizon!

I am so incredibly grateful for all we’ve been able to build together. Sure there are sleepless nights, spit-ups and hiccups, but I can’t imagine navigating life with anyone else by my side.

It’s been a surprisingly long week. My parents were visiting while I’m still on maternity leave, giving Domingo and I a chance to cross off some much needed tasks from our to-do list before I return to work. We also kept Nicole home so she could soak up some grandparent attention. Somehow even with the extra pairs of helping hands the week felt more chaotic than our usual weekends.

One of my things I was desperate to do was get a hair cut. I hadn’t had a hair cut since I was five weeks pregnant with Alexis. It was long, straggly, and thanks to pregnancy hormones – or more specifically the lack there of – coming out in handfuls. It’s still coming out, but now that it’s much shorter and the ends no longer feel like a bristle brush, it’s not as annoying.

Another thing on my chore list was to go to the eye doctor. I hadn’t been since Nicole was a baby. I ran out of contacts a year ago, and broke my current glasses. Since we moved in October 2013 I was using my back up pair from when I first moved to California in summer of 2004. The good news is that my prescription hasn’t changed. If my understanding is correct, that means I’m a good candidate for laser eye correction! Mayo Clinic recommends not having it done while breastfeeding since related hormones can affect vision. I also want to wait until we have a house. A fix mortgage brings a lot of cost certitude. Our rent increased a whopping 24% last year, and is expected to climb further this year. I want to be sure of our financial picture before dipping into our savings.

Speaking of house hunting, we started the process! Hopefully soon I’ll have a happy announcement.

Lastly we started packing & organizing for the move. We had some items in our downstairs storage locker in the parking garage, but the fellow who parks there tends to park fairly close to the door. We made sure to remove the larger items that can be difficult to get out while he (and his car) were away at work. They’re now safely stored on our balcony. We also took recycled three old computers, and through out our vacuum after learning it couldn’t be repaired.

While we got a lot accomplished this past week, we did not have a chance to take a non-Christmas themed family photo. I have a few ho-hum ones, but I’d really like one I can put over the mantle by the time we move.

Nearly a year ago I tried to predict how much I would spend on this year. t’s always hard to make such predictions, as life is always changing. On the one hand, we had moved the previous year, and there were setup costs associated which we wouldn’t expect to need to pay again. On the other hand, at the time I knew I was pregnant (though we weren’t spilling the beans yet!) and there would be new baby expenses. My estimate was very crude, to stay the least.

Today only a tenth of a percent is left on my gift card balance. Not to shabby a prediction, although given my crude method of estimation, much of the credit goes to blind luck.

Impulse purchase were way down this year, although overall spending was nearly identical. Going through my order history for this year there’s about $70.85 of what I consider “purchase regrets” – things like an extra swim diaper we didn’t use, or a cheap toy that wasn’t even worth the $10 we spent. Part of the reason that number is so low is I’ve been better about returning things that were broken, didn’t match their descriptions or otherwise had material defects. The other reason is I spent so little time browsing on Amazon, even though I was home on Maternity leave leading during the Black Friday season. (Yes, I consider it a season.)

I can also proudly say that I didn’t let the fact that I had a gift card balance influence my decision to make a purchase much. If an item was cheaper elsewhere before applying the gift card, I purchased it elsewhere. I knew I would eventually use the full gift card balance, so why waste it? I came closest with hue, which was a bit of a splurge.

While reviewing my Amazon purchase history it’s become apparent how little I use Amazon prime. I like to go back every year and see whether it’s actually saving us money or not. This year the verdict appears to be ‘not’. The only benefit we take advantage of is the free two day shipping. Since they raised the rates it’s not really worth it to us. Or at least it won’t be when my subscription runs out later this summer. By then we should be beyond the points of need-this-tomorrow-for-the-baby and too-hard-to-take-the-baby-out. I doubt I’ll miss prime, but if I do I can always reactive it again later.

What I will miss is the year long 10% discount we had. I wish I could take advantage of TurboTax’s gift card offer again, but, alas, we won’t be receiving a refund this year. What I didn’t do a good job of was estimating our taxes and setting our deductions accordingly. Going from grad student to full time employee I earned a lot more, which means we owe a lot more. Oh well, next time.


Maybe it’s the postpartum hormones (I can still use those as an excuse, right?), but I feel like I’ve blinked and my little toddler is now a little girl. She’s changing so rapidly, even now, when she’s well on her way to three. She’s doing more imaginary play, having conversations with her toys and integrating them in interesting ways. She’s given up naps. She even had her first hair cut a couple of months ago.

The biggest change I see in her is her language. It’s exploding. Each week there are new words, being strung together in new ways. She’s formulating more and more complex sentence structures to get her point across. The other day I picked her up from daycare and yawned in the car. Nicole asked if I was tired, and suggested I take a nap. We had a whole conversation about it.

When did she get so big? It’s hard to believe she’s just a few years away from kindergarten, from losing her first tooth, riding her first bike.

It’s true what they say: the days are long, but the years are short.

February 27, 2015

Alexis at Three Months

Dear Alexis,

I have a bone to pick with February. It’s bad enough time is flying so fast and you’re a forth of your way through babydom, the month has the nerve to be so short.


This month was all about grabbing, giggling, and goo-gooing.

You have most definitely found your voice, a necessary feet when a little sibling. You are still very mellow, but you know how to make yourself heard. I took you with me to visit my office and everyone marveled at how sweet and calm you were. They couldn’t get over you sleeping 20 hours at night. You just smiled away and cooed back at them. Speaking of cooing, you are becoming quiet the chatter bug. Not only do you vary your phonemes, but your tone and inflection as well.

You enjoy holding out fingers. You seek them out like little security blankets when your going to sleep or drinking from the bottle.

Holding Daddy’s fingers in January, and mine in February.

A few days ago mommy got our link toys and strung them over your bouncy seat. You’ve managed to pick them up several times. Mommy is super impressed, although will admit it’s an easier feet when your fingers get tangled between the rings while exploring them. Still, you’ve managed to bring them to your mouth a few times already.


This was a light photo taking month, not only because it was shorter, but also because we had a few distractions. A small health scare sent us back to the hospital for tests. Thankfully it turned out we were just being overly cautious. While we were waiting for the all clear from your pediatrician I wasn’t in much of a photo taking mind set. If you’ll permit me, I will make up for it this month.

Love Always,
Mommy & Daddy

It may (or may not) come to a surprise to you that I didn’t know anything about the technical side of photography when I bought my first DSLR in 2009. How little did I know? Well, on July 4th, after just owning the camera for a few weeks, I took some photos of fireworks. When someone asked me what settings I used, I responded with:

I’m not really sure what settings I used, I’m still figuring out what all the buttons do. The shutter was all the way open, and I think “M” and “A” pretty high.

I’ll give you camera gear nerds a minute to pick yourself off the floor from laughing. (For the uninitiated: Aperture priority mode (“A”) overrides shutter speed, “M” is full manual mode and lets you change the shutter speed after you’ve set the aperture speed. Order matters! Also you can have the shutter speed be fast or slow, but you don’t set “manual” to high. Anyway, I digress…).

For the past six years now I’ve been mostly self taught figuring out what all the different settings do, and what all the little icons on my camera mean.

In 2012 shortly before the arrival of our first daughter I purchased a new lens. Shortly there after a new camera body. A few months later I started having problems. Occasionally when I’d go to take a photo nothing would happen. There’d be no whurr of the auto focus, no snap of the shutter. Just a little beep, indicating an error had occurred. It happened in good lighting and in bad, and seemed to be timed perfectly for when I was getting the best baby smiles. A moment or two later the camera would behave as expected. We had lots of theories – bad lens, faulty contacts – but the problem was too intermittent for me to test any hypothesis and I was too cheap to send in the camera for repairs without a good idea what was wrong. I also didn’t want to be without my camera or lenses for weeks.

After moving to Silicon Valley the frequency with which I’d encounter the shutter release issue increased and I became more intent on identifying the problem. I figured since the shutter wasn’t releasing, and there was a beep that was clearly digital and not mechanical – some component must be detecting the issue and trying to signal to me what it was. I just had to figure out where to find the error message. Alas, here’s where not knowing much about DSLRs (and not having bothered to read the manual) was hurting me. I had no idea what half of the icons on my menu view finder screen mean!

For the past weeks (months?) when ever the camera would beep and the shutter refused to release I’d quickly scan every screen I could. I was looking for anything that would appear whenever there was an issue, and not otherwise. It took me a while to notice the little bottom right hand corner had an “[ r# ]” at the bottom, and that the number was typically low when the shutter wouldn’t release. Then I realized that number was always zero.

A quick internet search later (because who keeps around paper manuals these days?) I had my answer. I was looking at the internal buffer indicator. The number was the Number of shots remaining before memory buffer fills. I was taking photos at a faster rate than could be written to my memory card. Momtographer likes to take a lot of photos, apparently.

That’s when it dawned on me. Way back in 2009 when I purchased my first DSLR a photographer friend advised me to get a fast memory card. I did, and I haven’t updated since. When I upgraded my camera in 2012, I went from 10 mega pixels to 16 mega pixels. Once Nicki started smiling I learned burst mode is the best mode for the greatest chance of capturing optimal baby smiles. When she started running, I never took my finger off the shutter button. It wasn’t a progressive problem after all, just reflective of a change in the equipment and the way I used it.

Through empirical study I’ve determine it takes ~10 seconds for a photo to be written to the old memory card, and only ~1 second to be written to a new, much faster one. For the last three years I’ve been having problems stemming from not having a fast enough memory card. When I think of all those missed opportunities where the shutter wouldn’t release, I could kick myself.

February 17, 2015

In the Box Thinking

Disclaimer: This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links. Read more about how I use affiliate links.

I love this photo. It reminds me of something out of national geographic. In concept at least.

Meeting the needs of an active, rambunctious toddler and young baby simultaneously is still proving to be a bit challenging for me, especially when confined to our apartment. There aren’t that many activities that are both mentally stimulating and relatively quiet that hold Nicole’s interest for long. Then there’s the mess factor. I’d really like to avoid losing any of my deposit, but with my arms full, I can’t always get to the mess right away.

A recent discovery I made is that underpads do a great job at protecting the carpet from paint to play doh. I’d even surmise they work better than laying out junk mail, as junk mail is so thin and light it’s easily disturbed leaving exposed carpet. I swear exposed carpet is a finger paint magnet. I recently purchased these disposable underpads for newborn photography and they work great for art time as well. Incidentally, the number one complaint about the underpads I linked to, that they’re super thin, makes them ideal for newborn photography. They’re so thin they don’t create any bulges in the fabric, unlike the previous brand I used. Since newborn bladders are so tiny, they’re still plenty absorbent. If your cheap like me, you can also reuse them for multiple art projects.

But underpads still aren’t fool proof. Play doh can roll off of them, getting stuck in the fibers of the carpet. Crayons and chalk have a tendency to roll too, although they are less prone to mess.

Last week we had a subscribe and save Amazon delivery. We have quite a few subscriptions, so the deliveries tend to be brought in giant boxes. Nicole is always climbing on them, and in them. It just now occurred to us that large cardboard boxes are excellent creative mess containers. I put her in the box with a set of crayons, markers, and anything else I’d rather keep out of the carpet and let her decorate to her hearts content.

The above photo was from her first time with finger paints in the box. It didn’t take long for her to realize that she was in the box, and thus a member of the class of paintable objects. She seemed surprised I didn’t object to her painting her legs purple (which says something about how much of a control freak I’ve been over messes so far.) At the moment the photo was snapped, it was just occurring to her that she could intentionally paint her face as well. I adore her expression.

February 14, 2015

My All


I have a lot to be thankful for in my life, and having a wonderful spouse would be one of the top ones. We’re approaching our five year anniversary, and as cheesy as it sounds, every day I love him more and more.

He loves me for me, even my idiosyncrasies and internal inconsistencies. He cherishes my weird personality quarks. Every year on valentines day he buys me a small arrangement of flowers because he knows that even though I say I don’t like flower arrangements, I only mean it most of the time. He managed to make me laugh as the anesthesiologist was placing the epidural. He stayed up all night just to sit by my side and offer moral support when an unrealistic deadline set by my supervisor meant I wouldn’t be going to bed any time soon.

I’m so grateful that someone so wonderful fell in love with me. I cannot imagine spending my life with anyone else.

February 9, 2015

Head Start on Hallmarking

The Hallmark ornament season seems to get earlier and earlier every year, doesn’t it? This time around I blame insomnia after a middle of the night child waking. While I was up at 4 am last night I noticed the keepsake ornament club offer is available, which got me curious as to what new ornaments have already been revealed for this year.

I’m not too terribly excited about this year.

Between Digital Dreambook and Hooked on Hallmark, I’ve already seen most of the ornaments I’m interested. This year they’re all just ‘ok’, none I hate, none I love. I might get Cookie Cutter Christmas in an after Christmas sale. I’ll probably skip Snowball and Tuxedo this year (a tree on a tree is a bit too meta for me, unless it’s an ice tree.) Seaons’s treatings will either be another after Christmas sale purchase, or skipped all together depending on how it looks in person. Of the series I tend to collect, that just leaves the miniature gumdrop ornament. Could this be the year I buy one ornament? Or None?

I will also be skipping the membership this year. I didn’t like any of the three ornaments you pay for with your membership dues. I do like Cozy on Ice. Mrs Claus’ Kitchen is ok, although I prefer Mrs Claus’ Cupboard, which way in excessive of anything I’m willing to pay. Both the ice skate and the sink they’re extras available only to members, meaning I’d have to pay for them on top of the membership. Too rich for my blood.

In terms of new series, I’m intrigued by Mary’s Bears. The bear ice skating is totally cute. The fact that it’s not dated is another big plus, as it means I can collect only the bears I want, and it won’t be obvious that I’m missing some. (This was the stratagy I used for Visit From Santa Series. Loved the Bear, Doe and Squirrel, but the Fox and Dove ornaments were lacking in the details department.)

Since I wasn’t seeing much that I liked, I decided to splurge on the One Sweet Gingerbread repaint. I love the gumdrops, and wanted to have a white gumdrop as well. I’ve also been price watching Baby’s First Christmas 2014, so I can have a spare.

Domingo and I are considering getting two trees this year (assuming we move into a big enough house as planned.) I’ve always found trees with colored lights warm and friendly, but there’s something so elegant about trees with classic white twinkle lights. We’re thinking of having our usual tree with the colored lights and fun ornaments by the fireplace, and a smaller/thinner tree with just white ornaments and lights as decoration piece in the dinning room.

I do so love Christmas time.

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