Mommy’s Little Monster!

monster dance
Monster Dance!

monster hair whisps
I love those hair wisps Daddy is putting her monster “shoes” on her, which is why she is distracted.

I’m sure the time will come when she tires of “photo time”, but it doesn’t seem appear like that time will be any time soon, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.

October 28, 2014

Maternity Silhouettes

In just two days I will be term, which means we’re rapidly coming to an end of the maternity photography window. Lack of free time and energy kept me away from my camera this time around, so I have fewer maternity photos, and definitely less variety. On the other hand, I’ve gotten much better with my camera. It takes me less practice shots to get some nice ones.

I really enjoyed doing silhouettes this time around, which is interesting given I was less pleased with my overall figure.


Cloned out the blinds in this one.

Paying close attention to posture really helps with these. Slouching, even just a tad, made the photo look frumpy. I even started stretching as much as possible to elongate my torso and smooth out some of the *aheam* less baby related bumps.

A near duplicate of last week’s photo, but with less of a clubbed hand holding the remote.

The other thing I learned to pay close attention to was my metering. If I did matrix metering the camera would select the most well rounded exposure where the view out the window wasn’t getting blown out. Alas that meant I was very dark, and most of the detail, especially the detail in my face, was lost. Of course the goal is to photograph myself and my baby bump, not the traffic behind me. I started with spot exposure and increased it as necessary. (See, I am learning! Last time I just strived for over exposure, this time I didn’t sacrifice depth of field to do it!)

I wanted to do a photo like this. It strikes me as the photographic equivalent of a bump cast. Alas, I do not have barn doors lighting. I thought I could kludge together a solution using the spotlight trick. My thinking was to create a large differential in light between two rooms, then open the door just a crack to let a sliver of light spill out. So far no luck. Turns out professional photographers tend to buy expensive gear for a reason.

October 23, 2014



Last pregnancy I wrote a blog post about reaching the 35/35 point – 35 weeks down, 35 days to go until the due date. If we were counting until Nicki’s arrival it would have been more like 36/36 for me. I had my today 36 week check up and my OB confirmed my suspicion: while anything can happen, the two pregnancies are not entirely independent events. I’m likely to go late again. It might be another 36/36.

Here are my thoughts for being mostly through a second pregnancy:

I know each pregnancy is different, but I am constantly surprised at the ways in which each pregnancy differs. I expected different cravings. Last time I couldn’t stand apples, this time I love them. I’ve also been more sensitive to food in general. Black beans were the coolest thing since sliced bread, pinto beans made me ill. It doesn’t matter how they were cooked, I couldn’t stand pinto beans. Wierd no? I was also prepared for different in utero personalities. Ziggy is still more of a roller than a kicker.

One of the big surprises was in how different my sleep would be. Last time I loved my boppy pregnancy pillow. I can’t remember when I started using it, but I used it every night throughout the third trimester at least. This time I haven’t had a comfortable night with it yet! I’ve tried a few times, and each time the boppy’s been thrown to the floor after just a few hours later. I sleep much better without it.

Although both pregnancies I still want to sleep on my back. It’s been hard to train myself not to.

I have no belly button! Kindda. I *think* it can still be classified as an innie, but it’s getting close. If I stretch the skin around my belly button a little it looks like a small “popped” button. I keep wondering if this means my belly button will actually pop soon. It never did with my first pregnancy. It did flatten out last time, but I think not until much closer to my due date. It does still remind me of soft spot in fruit, though.

In other changes, as of 34 weeks I barely fit into my pre pregnancy jeans, and these days not at all. I might if I was carrying higher, but I can no longer button my pants. At least I can still wear my wedding rings. It’s one of those things that doesn’t actually matter, but makes me happy.

Infant car seats are a lot easier with modern cars. Ain’t LATCH systems great?

October 13, 2014

Lighting Solutions

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

Nicki had her first nightmare recently. At least we assumed that’s what it was. She woke up in the middle of the night and, while not distressed, insisted we not leave her side. Domingo (who is the best dad ever in my ever so slightly biased opinion) very graciously stayed with her until she fell asleep again. The next night she cried hysterically whenever we tried to leave the room. An hour after she was supposed to be asleep, I offered to leave the door open and the bathroom light on. That finally did it.

Leaving the door open with the bathroom light on just wasn’t a viable long term option. Not when you’re in a small apartment. That means no laundry, no dishes, no anything that causes noises after the little one goes to sleep. It was time to get a proper night light, and stat!

We ended up selecting Philip’s HUE Living Colors Minnie & Mickey Mouse. What I liked about HUE:

  • It’s a LED, which means it doesn’t burn hot. If Nicki decides to play with it in the middle of the night I don’t worry that she’ll burn herself.
  • It sits on a desk. A night light that sits on top of an outlet might be too tempting for a toddler whose no longer contained in a crib to play with.
  • She’s already infatuated with HUE. And probably more important, she’s experienced with HUE. She’s used to requesting colors and us being able to change them immediately. She loves it, and we thought she’d love to have one of her own, even if it didn’t work out as a night light.

Alas, even with rush shipping we were still at least one night time away from using the HUE mickey mouse light. For a stop gap I sent Domingo to Target to pick up a tap light. (Seriously, best dad ever.) Tap lights are battery powered LEDs, so they also have the benefit of being cool and unlikely to encourage playing with outlets. You tap them to turn them on, hence the name. Since Tap lights are meant to be more lighting solutions for areas where plugging in a lamp is infesable, Domingo really wasn’t sure which ones would function well as night lights. He ended up getting one of each kind target had, figuring we’d find use for them.

And did we ever! You know how I keep complaining about the lack of light by the washer and dryer?

Problem Solved!

You know how annoyed I am that I didn’t think of this sooner? A $5 tap light solved the problem I’ve been having for over a year.

We also put one by the flashlights and by the batteries. Where I grew up we’d lose power at least once a year. If it wasn’t thunderstorms it was snow storms. You know when you’re most likely to notice your flash light needs new batteries? When you lose power and need your flash light. Having a tap light near your flashlights/batteries adds one extra layer of redundancy.

Alas, both tap lights and HUE ended up being too bright for a night light as is. But they are low powered LEDs. That means I can restrict the light without fear of what ever they’re confined in getting too hot as to be a fire hazard. My choice? An empty diaper box.

I know, I know. I’m cheap. Next time I have an order to make on Amazon, I’ll get a fabric box.

The light stays mostly confined to the box, and isn’t so over overpoweringly bright as to keep Nicki up. She loves the new night light. When I plugged it in the first time I got an enthusiastic “Thank you, Mommy!” It seems to be working. So far, she hasn’t seemed afraid to go to bed.

October 7, 2014

Perfect Timing

Our initial plan (as much as these things can be planned) was to space out Nicki and Ziggy between 30 to 36 months which would have put Ziggy’s due date between January and June 2015. Then one evening while I was giving Nicki a bath I just suddenly felt so ready to have another child. Domingo and I decided the timing was right. A few weeks later Ziggy was in the making with a due date just a month and a half earlier than our initial time frame. Since then the timing has just felt so perfect. We couldn’t have planned things any better.

* There is a possibility (depending on when Ziggy comes) that between holidays, company issued paternity leave, and vacation time Domingo will be able to take off the full month of December to stay home with us. How wonderful will that be? Christmas time is our favorite time of the year, and we could get the whole month to spend together as a family of four.

* California allows for pregnancy related disability to start a four weeks before the due date. For me that means a bit before Halloween. I will be able to go to Nicki’s preschool Halloween party. That might not seem like a big deal, but I’ve been racked with guilt over my absence at the Mother’s day party. All us moms were invited for a special lunch. Out of Nicki’s class of 12 only one mom didn’t go: me. I was too new in my job, and too short of vacation days to get away. Her school posted photos on facebook. Every child was sitting in his or her mom’s lap for story time. Every child except mine, who was sitting by herself in the middle of the rug. Worse.Mom.Ever. She didn’t seem bothered by the fact that I wasn’t there, and I’m sure at this point it’s been long forgotten mother’s day just like I’m sure she won’t remember the Halloween party by this time next month. But I will remember.

* There’s a tax advantage to having a baby late in the year vs early. That’s because the dependency deduction and child tax credit are not prorated on the birth of the child. (Not that I advocate trying to plan your child around when it’s most cost effective, but if it happens to work out – hey, who am I to argue?)

* In the cool anecdotes column, if Ziggy comes as late as Nicki came, Ziggy and Nicki will be one day more apart than my sister and I!

October 4, 2014

Disenchanted with Hallmark

I’ve been a bit disappointing with Hallmark as of late. In the beginning of the year there was the issue with my keepsake ornament club (KOC) membership not being activated for over a month after I signed up (and I still have not received my reward points by the way…). The less forgivable issue, however, is the quality of the ornaments.

The one ornament I am happy with

I purchased 5 including the two from joining the KOC, 2 from the July premiere and 1 from the October premiere. Exactly one came in pristine condition – Santa’s grandfather clock. The paint job is misaligned on the sprinkles of Mice Cream Sundae, and one of the tails looks like it may fall off. Both Present Packing Penguins and Baby’s first Christmas have small but noticeable scratches. And Happy Little Elf’s gundrop is missing sprinkles on the front.

Domingo thinks I’m being too picky, that you get what you pay for. Maybe, maybe, I agree with Happy Little Elf which is only a $8 ornament. Baby’s First Christmas and Present Packing Penguins are $20 and $18, respectively! When I was picking up Happy Little Elf today the cashier asked if I had inspected the ornament yet. Um no. It seemed wrong to take it out of the box before paying for it. It is a collectible after all, or at least is marketed as such. Don’t collectibles lose value as soon as their removed from the packaging? Apparently the store accepts no refunds or substitutions even if the ornament is sold broken!

The frustrating thing about this is that it’s the first year I’ve ever had issue with the quality of the ornaments. In the past five years I’ve only had two issues with ornaments, neither of which was Hallmark’s fault. I purchased Snow Fort Fun off of ebay which came with a scratch caused by an ornament hook that was still attached to it. (So much for mint-in-box.) I also purchased Santa’s Magic Sleigh off of amazon which came broken in two. It too was reported as new, but the break was clearly the kind of break that would happen if someone pulled the ornament off the tree by grabbing the sleigh, not something that could happen naturally.

So now I’m disenchanted with Hallmark. The initially driver behind my desire to collect ornaments was to have a tree with personality – one that reflected both Domingo and I. We now have more ornaments than tree. So maybe next year I start looking at other brands, and relax a little when it comes to Hallmark. Maybe (hopefully?) this year was just a fluke.

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!

September 15, 2014

Our (Pre)school Philosopy

It’s that time of year again. With September comes in inevitable back to school posts of smiling elementary students. What I wasn’t prepared for was the wave of Moms with kid’s Nicki’s age signing up for preschool, which got me thinking – should I be doing the same?

Domingo and I plan on buying into the best school district we can come house hunting time next year, as I’m sure most parents do when they house hunt. I don’t want to rely on getting into a good school, though. The school system I want to is consistently ranked in the top 10 of my fairly large home state. Overall the school did very well by me, they noticed the early signs of my learning disability, got me tested, and provided the accommodations I needed to succeed. Yet before the dyslexia diagnosis my first grade teacher told my parents I was a “non academic” child, and math would never be my strong suit. I think I’ve proven her wrong, thank you very much. It just goes to show that even great schools can have not so great teachers. Thus we don’t want to rely solely on a getting into a good school district.

Which then has us wondering: How? How do we ensure the drive is there to want to learn, and that our children get a quality education, independent of school system?

On Praise

The biggest eye opener was on the glowing research of how to praise. Specifically, telling kids that they are smart is counter productive. They become less risk adverse, choosing easier tasks so they don’t jeopardize the “smart” label. Praising process and effort encourages kids to try harder and take on hard tasks. That was a hard pill to swallow, especially for someone who get’s irritated at today’s “A for effort” most grade schools seem to dole out in spades. So a few months back Domingo and I started working on praising the effort. It was a hard change, and I still occasionally slip up. Saying “you’re so smart” still feels more natural to me.

On Learning

By far the biggest thing that I’m not happy with in our local school system is the emphasis on rote pattern matching, rather than actual learning. When I first started looking at daycares one of the centers told me with great pride that every one of their four year olds can count to 100. That sounded like an incredibly boring waste of everyone’s time to me. If it takes 3 minutes for each kid to count, and there are 20 kids in the class, an hour without any actually learning just went by.

Turns out counting to 100 is actually a kindergarden state requirement. Near as I can tell this requirement was started after a discovery that kindergartners did not have good number literacy. Back when I was in kindergarten, I only had to count to 13. At some point they raised the bar to 30, and now to 100. I get counting to 30 or so. The teens are sort of like the irregular verbs of the number world (it’s “thirteen” or “3-10″, all non teen numbers specify the tens digit first). After 30 the challenge is gone. I doubt there are many kids who can count to 30 who can’t count to 100, or even 10,000 for that matter. Knowing the pattern, and understanding numbers are not the same thing.

Anyone into machine learning will tell you: memorizing is not learning. Learning occurs when you can apply a concept to a new situation. That’s why Domingo and I would much rather focus on new experiences and new challenges, especially now while the brain is under such rapid development.

On Failure and Success

I love the Khan Academy motto: You can learn anything. There have been numerous studies that argue that intelligence is not fixed, that we learn best in failure than we do in success, which is why it is important not to ignore the failures. I think this is why Khan Academy resonates with me so much. The general premise is learning at your own rate and not moving on until the subject matter is 100% mastered. That’s because new subjects tend to rely on skill mastered in past subject. If one only ‘mostly‘ understand a subject like calculus, one may struggle with physics, or Bayesian theory, for example.

Obviously this approach doesn’t work as well in the classroom, but it is something Domingo and I can do with the girls. It also fits in nicely with the notion of praising process and effort. Failure is okay as long as you don’t give up and learning something in the process.

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.

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