September 22, 2014

Carpet Cleaning Maniac

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

About month ago Domingo and I decided to get a carpet cleaner. We were previously using resolve carpet cleaner to get out toddler and cat created spots in the rugs, but I wanted a deeper clean before Ziggy’s arrival and before we moved out. I also didn’t want to have to keep bending over all the time. We were thinking of renting a steam cleaner, but the math ended up working out to be cheaper to purchase a cleaner if we were planning on cleaning the carpets more than 4 times. With a messy toddler, one on the way, and a pet, that seemed like a likely bet to me!

We ended up going with the Bissell DeepClean Carpet Cleaner. It was one of the cheaper options (I always prefer to stick with the low end cost wise when I’m not sure if new type of product will fit my family) and had some of the highest reviews. It was also being sold at the lowest price ever on Amazon. I love my price watches.

Shampooing the carpets really satisfies my nesting itch! There’s something extremely satisfying about dumping out the murky water afterwards. Having new looking rugs again doesn’t hurt either. I might be crazy, but the rug actually feels nicer under my feet after being cleaned.

In our current state, buying definitely seems like the right way to have gone. I’m a little weary of having Nicki and the cat walk on damp carpets. I’m sure the cleaning agent is ‘safe’ but I prefer to do the shampooing at night after Nicki’s asleep and I can quarantine Lily. Besides, I generally only have enough energy for one room at a time. I plan on shampooing the carpet in at least one room once every week or so until Ziggy’s arrival. The whole place will have been cleaned twice by then.

Nesting is a powerful thing.

Aside: if you’re thinking of getting a carpet cleaner, my guess is they’ll come on sale in late October or early November. At least that tends to be the best time I find for home goods.

September 20, 2014

Pixel Count Convert

I find myself increasingly a pixel count convert. For years I’ve been on the megapixels-don’t-count bandwagon. My old 10.2 megapixel D60 was capable of producing an image large enough to get a 20 by 30 wall print, if but just barely. More megapixels don’t necessarily translate into a better quality image, but they do add up in terms of file size. I’m already running out of space on my hard drive. Again.

But every once in a while I start wishing I had more mega pixels.

This weekend I wanted to take more maternity photos, this time with my face showing. Nicki, who is quite the little ham these days for the camera, wanted to be a part of it. She kept running in and out of frame. In most of the photos she’s weirdly cropped, or there’s a bit of motion blur. I swear toddlers must be related to the flash. Even at 1/640 seconds, with my 50mm prime she can be a blur on camera. I still love the photos with my little toddler photo bomber (what parent wouldn’t?) but they’re not something I intended to share.

Then I came across this one:

Straight out of the camera
Straight out of the camera

After some cropping.

Cropped to capture a sweet moment
Cropped to capture a sweet moment

I love it! Since it’s a 60% crop I can get a 5 by 7 high res print easily. I can even (probably) do a 8 by 12 with a little tweaking. It’s moments like these that make me grateful my current camera is 16.2 Megapixels, and even makes me wish it was a little higher!

As predicted, I did not wait to purchase the new iPhone. I cannot wait to try out the camera! We did get a pleasant surprise on the deal. It turns out Verizon (our current carrier) is offering a $200 trade in for an iPhone 4s with the purchase of an iPhone 6. That’s roughly 4 times what an iPhone 4s is worth! Since I was planning on renewing with Verizon anyway, it’s a pretty sweet deal. This is the second time I’ve had a phone actually worth something when I’ve upgrading. It’s pretty nice to be able to get a little cash back. I love my “free” money! Now if only Verizon would do away with those lame upgrade fees.

Incidentally, it’s becoming obvious just how critical good timing is to get good deals. That phone that Domingo got last black Friday for a penny now retails for $200! I’m very happy Domingo and I are now on the ‘holiday’ schedule for renewals.

We also came up with another idea for this year’s dinky Black Friday list: Santa will be getting Nicki a leap frog tablet. The tablets are geared for ages 3 and up and she’ll be just shy of 2 & 1/2. Like the play kitchen, though, I suspect she’ll manage to get some use out of it early. She’s already pretty good with my phone. We’re also planning a couple trips back East closer to when she’s three and I have friends who swear by the leap frog to keep kids entertained on long plane flights. From what I can tell, it’s a good bet this toy will come on sale.

We also briefly considered a toy camera. Nicki loves my camera. Most of the time she loves being in front of the camera, but I’ve let her press the remote button during more than a few family photos. Now whenever I get out the remote she wants to push the button! She’s always chanting “cheese!” and “more photos!”. The big issue (besides her being on the young side of recommended age range) is most toy cameras seem too toy and not enough camera. I don’t see that holding her interest as much, so we’re going to wait until she’s older.

There’s a part of me that misses our old Black Friday ritual of sleeping in, visiting the stores during the afternoon lull, the hot chocolates and fun decorations. Sure, shopping from the couch in my PJs is easier (and more effective!). Still I can’t help but think this would be a good year to go out, since we don’t have much of a list. Like last year I could be done shopping before the turkey comes out of the oven. My parents will be in town for the holiday and to spend time with Nicki. Maybe if Ziggy decides to come late Domingo and I will go out for a little bit.

September 7, 2014

Finding My Pretty

I haven’t been feeling as good this pregnancy than last. I’m a bit more tired, and a bit more over worked. I’m also about 5 lbs heavier at this point with Ziggy than I was with Nicki. Intellectually I know those 5 lbs are rather meaningless, especially when pregnant, but I’m rather self conscious about them. For the past few months I’ve been struggling to take maternity photos.


maternityziggy
I really like this photo, despite the lens flair.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I shouldn’t take the same photos I took in my first pregnancy. It’s too tempting to compare them, and then I inevitably find fault in my figure this time around. My belly button is a bit stretched out looking, and I still have the silver lines from past stretch marks. I did attempt more bare belly photos, but I ultimately decided to pass on them (for now at least) to spare my sanity. Besides, challenging myself to come up with something different from what I’ve already done will help me grow as a photographer.

I’m determined to stick with it and keep trying for more photos. Often photos I don’t like will grow on me over time. I did take some at seven weeks with what I felt was the biggest-bump-ever, but couldn’t bring myself to post them feeling I looked too fat and bloated. Now I think they’re kind of cute. Digital memory is cheap. I just don’t want to look back five years from now and regret not having some photos of my pregnancy with Ziggy like I have of my pregnancy with Nicki.


Addendum (9/13): I took some more photos this afternoon, this time with the UV filter off to reduce lens flair. I am supper happy with the way these turned out. I am starting to feel pretty again.

Here’s what helped me get some of my confidence back:

New clothes! I purchased two new (cheap) non-maternity sweater a size up from what I normally wear. There’s something comforting about fitting into a non-maternity clothes, even when your 30 weeks pregnant. The one sweater is so incredibly soft I plan on using it as an around the house sweater post-ziggy. The other one looked a bit nicer in the photos, but ended up being a bit scratchy, so it will probably be donated.

Showing a little skin! didn’t want to get that not so attractive maternity-pants-full-panel-waist-line in the photo, so I ended up doing them sans pants. I didn’t intend to show a little leg, but one of the hazards of using a tripod and not having a real photographer is never knowing exactly how you will be framed. Actually, I think it adds a little something to the photo to see a little bit of leg.

I did originally post a photo from my second session. I figured it wasn’t too risqué. After all you’d see the same amount of skin if I was wearing a swim suit cover. I guess I’m still feeling a bit self conscious because I ultimately decided to take it down. Oh well, it makes me happy to have it and that’s the important thing!

September 4, 2014

First Aid Kit

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

A while ago Domingo and I started discussing the need for a first aid kit. Our toddler is constantly coming home from daycare with “owies” and since getting her her first tricycle a few weeks ago, we’re sure she’ll start getting more “owies” at home too! I don’t like the idea of prefabbed kits. I wanted to put together my own.

firstaid

The Box:

I ordered the Stack-On SBR-18 17 Compartment Parts Storage Organizer Box from Amazon for $6.77. Like with the battery box, I wanted something with removable partitions so I could more easily customize it with the first aid supplies we needed. I also wanted something red, because, well, it’s a first aid kit.

The box was a bit bigger than I expected, which ended up being a good thing. Just packing the things we already had around the house (band aids, a plastic squirt bottle to wash out scrapes, Neosporin, anti-itch cream, antiseptic wipes, medical tape, and ace bandages) the box ended up pretty full! I intend to aid Bactine, and gauze pads. I’m sure the SBR-13 at $2.96 would have worked out as well. My primary goal was to store band aids, Neosporin and Bactine. Everything else was a nice extra.

I am not pre filling the squirt bottle. I don’t want to let the water sit and risk growing bacteria – that would defeat the purpose of washing out the wound in the first place! We do have a bottled water on hand, as recommended by the red cross, since we live in earthquake country.

The Bag:

The bag is actually the plastic bag that held the waterproof mattress cover for Nicki’s new twin bed. I rarely discard resealable plastic bags items tend to ship in. You never know what will come in handy! Right now the bag that had my boppy pregnancy pillow is being used to store canvas tote bags, and I have the stuffed animals from my childhood in the big square bag that the foam tiles came in. This bag is just the right size for some instant hot and cold packs, and some additional water squirt bottles.

I’m not 100% sure that keeping the instant hot pad is a good idea, and I may remove it at some point. I don’t believe it can melt the plastic bag. (It shouldn’t get hot enough to burn skin – right?!) Use caution if you decide to store an instant hot pad.

To finish it off I used red Washi tape ($2.99 from Target) to make the iconic health cross symbol.

August 31, 2014

Staying Put For Now

This month would have been the end of the lease had we not renewed. I was reminded of this fact when I got an email notification reminding me of the increase rent payment – a whopping 24%! (Thank you Silicon Valley housing crises…) While a large part of me wanted to say “thanks, but no thanks!” to this apartment community, it really would have been terrible timing. I’m tired. Bone tired. I can’t imagine trying to find a new home at ~28 weeks pregnant while working, let alone actually move.

Besides, we only just finished unpacking this weekend. The last few moving boxes have been flattened and are waiting to be taken down to the bin. We also pretty much finished our primary organization.

We want from this:


boxes
Piles of boxes hiding in corners behind couches

To this:


bins
Closets full of organizational bins.

I have a bin for college memorabilia, one for work memorabilia (yes I do have some!), one for old photos – all things that I’ll probably rarely pull out, but I’m not ready to part with. There are also the seasonal tins, such as fall decorations and Christmas ornaments. When the time comes to move, we’ll load up the moving truck with them, but we’re not expecting to actually unpack them. At least not permanently.

This is the most organized we’ve ever been. We even organized our vacuum parts.


vaccumparts
I am not kidding.

There’s still a little more to do in the master bedroom, and with a toddler around our home may be organized but it’s never tidy. One step at a time. I plan to take it easy for a week or so, and do my best to not dwell on the rent increase. We’re planning to start housing hunting in the spring, so at least we shouldn’t be stuck with it for too long.

Price watches and price histories are some of my favorite tools for online shopping. I use price histories to verify deals are actually deals, and price watches when I expect the price of something I want to drop in the coming months. The most common things I would price watch were electronics, kid’s toys, and kitchen gadgets – all of which tended to be expensive, and thus a small percentage differences could make a big difference. Lately I’ve found additional ways to save.

Requesting After Purchase Price Adjustments: I used to remove my price watches as soon as I made a purchase. After all, I hate finding out I could have paid even less. Then last Black Friday shopping season baby cheapskate posted a deal on the play kitchen I had just purchased a day or two earlier. The new price was $5 cheaper. Five dollars isn’t much in the grad scheme of things, but it wounded my frugal shopper pride. I decided to call the company I had purchased from to ask if they’d price match themselves. Sure enough they refunded the difference without hassle.

It seems so obvious to me now to ask for price adjustments. I was still within the return window, the kitchen was even still in the box as it was intended to be a Christmas present. I could have returned and repurchased the play kitchen in order to get the better price. (Not that I would have, given how hectic the holidays can be, but I could have.) It would have cost the company more in terms of shipping and restocking, than simply refunding a few dollars. Price adjustments also helps garner customer good will, and makes me more likely to be a repeat customer.

Now I continue to price watch items for a few weeks after I make the purchase. Yesterday we switched Nicki to a twin bed while my parents were visiting. Wouldn’t you know it, the price dropped nearly $30 since I purchased it a week ago! I called up, and got the refund of the price difference. Easy Peasy.

Replenishing Non Perishables akin to a Subscription Service: I am a fan of subscription services – especially subscription services that give a discount! Alas not everything is available through subscriptions, or runs out in predictable intervals. And sometimes the price of an item will drop lower than the subscription price for a brief window.

I started price watching diaper pail refill bags, and have recently added printer ink to my price watches. (We can easily shoot through 2 or 3 ink refills cartridges when printing photos ahead of Grandma’s visits every couple of months – have I mentioned I take a lot of photos?) If I get a price drop alert when my supply is starting to run low, I’ll make an additional purchase.

To get the best possible deal I’ll set up a couple of price watches for the same product, either for different stores, different variations (XL or regular) or different quantities (single or double pack). Usually buying in bulk is better, but not always. Likewise some stores tend to have better every day prices, and others sometimes have better sale prices. The more individual instances of a product I’m price watching the better the chance I’ll get a great deal.

August 18, 2014

Battery Storage Box


battery storage box
Battery Storage Box

I’ve been in love with this idea since I saw it on pinterest: A box with removable compartment dividers to store all your batteries. I had previously looked into buying battery boxes off of amazon or the container store, but they were all fixed sizes boxes. If I was running low on C batteries, that space would be wasted. We also had some non standard batteries for toys & camera equipment that I wanted to accommodate.

Every website I saw that described this particular image referred to the box as a “tackle box”. The box they used may have been a tackle box, but I spent enough time in JoAnn’s and Micheal’s to know a standard craft box would suffice. For the kinds of batteries we have, we needed something roughly 2.5 inches tall (About the size of a standing D battery 2.5 inches). I settled on the Creative Options brand, “deep utility box“. Regularly $8.99 on sale for $5.39 at Micheal’s. Online prices for the box are rather ridiculous. I recommend visiting your local craft stores and seeing what they have. If you don’t have a local craft store, you might have luck at a office supply store, Target or Walmart. Just make sure what ever box you do get is tall enough for your batteries, or at least has wide enough compartments for them to lie flat.


battery storage box

This particular box has three rows, the first row (closest to the latches) cannot be compartmentalized. I’m using that space to house the extra dividers and odd shaped batteries.

I had thought we had a ton of AA batteries. A while back when we had a Costco membership (5? 6? years ago) we bought one of those mega packs. Turns out we’re down to our last seven! I thought we also had AAA batteries. It wasn’t until I was putting together the box that I had a vague recollection of maybe using the last ones on a toy. Now I know what I need to stock up on so hopefully we won’t be caught off guard again!


battery storage box
Nicole investigating the box

Another big win? It’s defacto child proof. Or at least more baby proofed than the previous method of leaving batteries in the packaging. When I was taking the photos of the box she came up to investigate. She couldn’t open the box she grew bored with it and ignored it.

August 16, 2014

The Cost of Organization

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

We’re getting closer and closer to finish our organizational quest. It’s a very good thing since we’re getting closer and closer to running out of closet space! Now that we’re almost done and I don’t think I’ll be buying much more, I like to do what I always do – crunch the numbers!

Storage Tins: $90.24, roughly $8.20 per tin
Pasta containers: $76.95
Toy Chest: $62.99
Other (Diploma frame, “wedding proof” album, etc): $53.97
Total = $284.15

WOWZA.

The tins were mostly a necessity. I did get some specialty tins (like an anti-tarnish craft box for my hand made jewelry), though surprisingly the specialty tins tended to be the cheaper ones. I guess the price is more a function of volume of plastic more than anything else!

The pasta containers were a bit of a splurge. We go through a lot of pasta with a toddler in the house. It’s also easy for me to forget what I have, and we sometimes end up with multiple open boxes of the same pasta shape. I wanted to combine the half used boxes into something air tight so I could more easily see what pasta I do have, and what I needed to pick up at the store. Also they’re pretty. I ended up going Oxo pop top brand. Only I purchased them in the store rather than online and paid a bit more. Dang it!

We ended up getting the Little Tikes toy chest. Previously been using a bookshelf to keep Nicki’s toys organized. Nicki’s become quite the climber, and managed to topple the book shelf once. She wasn’t hurt, but I wasn’t going to risk it. Much like the crib, once she deemed the shelf “climbable” she wasn’t going to let one spill stop her from trying again. As a result, Nicki’s toys are all over our living room. (We really don’t need any more tripping hazards…)

The stuff in the other category is really superfluous. I don’t need a diploma frame, especially if I’m not planning on hanging my diploma.

Overall I’m happy with my purchases, even if I did overspend on a couple of occasions. I look forward to seeing those pasta containers on the counter in our new home one day.

August 12, 2014

It’s the Network

I’ve been watching the file transfers in my home cloud a little more closely, and now I can definitively say the bottle neck is the network. Oh sure, the hardware is slow too, but faster hardware won’t make much of a difference. On a very good day I can get about as much as 2 MB/s (roughly 1% of the theoretical max the hardware can do.) On a bad day I may not even get 100 KB/s. More typically I get maybe 300 KB/s.

In retrospect this should have been obvious. I’ve been really cranky with our internet speeds. The lines are so congested here that it’s not uncommon to be without internet all together a few times a week. (I blame both high density housing, and the fact that we’re currently living in Silicon Valley. I’m sure there are at least 3 start-ups within 50 feet of me as I write this blog post.) We’ve even had days were the wireless signal is so saturated our baby monitor – which doesn’t run over the internet – looses it’s signal! Thankfully things have been better, at least in terms of up time, maybe not in terms of speed.

On slow days even accessing my cloud can be painful. If I need to browse the photo directory to find a photo to show grandma? Not going to happen unless I go use the computer physically attached to the hard drive. Our network is just too slow.

My options:

  • Set up a wired connection. Get a large (50 ft? 75 ft?) ethernet cable and plug our cloud computer directly into the modem. I’d also need a shorter cable for my laptop. This will at least cut down on the wireless interference, and help with the weak signal. The fairly obvious con is now we have a cable running the lengthwise of our apartment. We don’t need additional tripping hazards. Believe me, we have plenty as it is.
  • Move the modem. It’s right now in the Living room since it’s cable and internet in one box. I kind of want to pitch cable, but I’m not sure I’m ready to. Besides, then I’d have the opposite problem of having very poor signal in the living room, instead of the office.
  • Purchase a repeater. A repeater can boost the wireless signal, but it can’t do much to combat the saturated line.
  • Live with it. I can avoid backing up my memory card during peek hours. I even joked with Domingo that not having immediate access to my photos might help with my photo separation anxiety.

“Live with it” is the option I’m leaning towards. We’re planning on moving in (hopefully) no more than 9 months, so I’m reluctant to buy a cable or repeater to fix a short term problem. I know, I know, they’re cheap, but so am I!

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