My quest to organize has been temporarily stalled due to insufficient number of storage bins. I like to color coordinate our tins to make it easier to find things. What I really need is another Christmas stuff tin and fall tin so I need to wait for the fall & winter colors to come out. Curse my love of the season! So I’ve moved on to other ways I can improve my organization, besides just filing stuff away in plastic containers.

Since a move is around the corner, the first thing I wanted to do was make sure things that are “stored away” are also protected and won’t get damaged in the shuffle.

My PhD diploma is still in the cardboard envelope it was mailed to me in. The 4 x 6 proofs from our wedding are in a shoe box that were previously kept in the garage. (Fortunately the digital copies are safety backed up in the cloud. I protect my data.) These nondescript storage locations are easy to mistake as housing something less important, and then handled with less care. I forgot about the shoe box full of wedding photos during the initial move. Domingo figured an old shoe box in the garage couldn’t possibly have anything important, so it was one of the last things he looked at. It could have easily been a casualty of the move.

I ordered a blue & gold (our wedding colors) photo album to get those proofs our of the shoe box, and a document picture frame for my degree. I figure a nice frame will protect it, even if it never makes it to my wall. I’ll put the the ‘proof album’ on the entrance way console next to the Nicole’s baby book and the wedding album I had printed. The degree will still probably go into a storage box, but at least the frame will keep it protected. Now it will also be easier to find, should I ever choose to hang it on my wall.

On my list was also tackling fix some crud patches I’ve been neglecting.

I’ve keep the pocket change from our travels abroad as an inexpensive souvenir. A few years ago I put them in a 3 ring binder. The trouble is I’ve never collected coins before, so it didn’t occur to me that the little plastic sleeves weren’t enough. One needs the cardboard coin holders called flips to keep the coins from sliding out. (Actually I’ve gotten around this issue the past couple years by scotch tapping the plastic sleeves shuts. Shhh! Don’t tell). I decided it was high time I get those handy coin flips.

Lastly I wanted to deal with my bead collection. Back in the day one of the things I’d do was peruse inspiration websites, like Fusion Beads that would let me buy in piecemeal. I’d fine something like this, and buy exactly the number of beads I needed. Alas, I had more ambition that time, and I haven’t gotten around to all those projects. It doesn’t make sense to put four 6mm azure bicone beads in a box by themselves. I’ll run out of space! So I decided to get larger favor tins for these still unstarted projects. Maybe some day I’ll find the time to actually tackle them!

Disclaimer: This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links. Read more

Perhaps it’s because the weather’s been cooler this summer than normal, or maybe it’s that Hallmark’s ornament premium is tomorrow, but I have winter holidays on the brain! I even read Llama Llama Holiday Drama to Nicki as her bed time story last night. Since we’ve been spending a lot of time going through everything we own I’ve been starting to make our Black Friday wish list.

Here’s what I’m hoping to find deals for:

New Screw drivers The blades on all our screw drivers are pretty worn down. When assembling our desk I had to constantly switch between them trying to find one with enough grip to get the job done. I’d really like to get one or two high quality screw drivers that will outlast me. Tools are a popular holiday gift, and you can usually find them on sale.

New Coffee Maker Poor Domingo. His barely six month old coffee maker is already seeing better days. Both the coffee pot lid and the lip of pot are deformed from the heat of the washing machine. The lid no longer sits on the pot, and the pot is prone to spilling. Prone to spilling is not big deal per se, which is why we’re willing to wait for a replacement. Given how much he does around the house for me, I’d really like him to have a “nice” coffee maker. Alas, not being a coffee drinker myself I don’t really know what features constitute “nice”, so I’ll have to do more consumer research on this one.

New Shaver for Domingo This is another item that went kaput way earlier than we expected. Domingo has been using his backup/travel shaver in the mean time. Given that Black Friday is still 4 months away, I’m not entirely sure we’re going to wait on this one. Since it’s his shaver I’m leaving the decision of wait or not up to him.

What I (probably) won’t wait for:

IPhone 6 I’ve been using an IPhone 4s and eligible for a phone upgrade since February. At the time, there were some rumors that the iPhone 6 might make a debut during the World Wide Developer Conference in June, and was supposed to have a significantly improved camera over the IPhone 5s. I didn’t want to update my phone and have the camera component be obsolete again in a few months. The new rumor is September. I’m hoping this one is true, as I’d very much like to have a better camera phone for Ziggy’s arrival! (I plan to use my DSLR more, but late’s face it, the camera phone is easier…) Given that I’m not the kind of person to wait in line overnight when not pregnant, and Ziggy’s due date is November 20th, waiting for a Black Friday deal may be tricky.

SodaStream Fountain Jet Home Soda Maker Starter Kit, Black and Silver We live in a top floor apartment towards the end of the hall. Carrying groceries, but especially something heavy like drinks back and forth from the car can get real tiring, real fast, especially at the end of a long day. Last year there were a tone of Black Friday deals, so I was planning on waiting for another Black Friday, but noticed they were in the middle of a $20 rebate promotion. That brings the effective price to be in line with the average Black Friday deal last year (although last year there were a few better bundle deals). I found the cheapest one above the $65 minimum needed for the rebate and decided to make the purchase now. The added cost will be offset by a few extra months of usage. After I made the purchase Domingo pointed out we can make other carbonated beverages, like sparkling apple juice. I have been craving it all pregnancy with Ziggy. Double win.

A word of caution: if you go with the amazon one, do NOT accept the 10% coupon. The rebate is not valid with any coupons. Unless your buying a $200 soda stream, the rebate will be a better choice.


Update: Domingo did a little research and found the after school sale season is a good time to buy a shaver. Guess we won’t be waiting until Black Friday after all! The back to school sign sales flyers already starting to circulate.

July 6, 2014

Two!

It has not been two years. I refuse to believe.


20 Weeks with Ziggy

Yesterday was Nicki’s birthday party. It was a pretty low key affair, a few relatives, balloons, a dinner out, and a birthday cake. The initial plan was to go to the park in the morning, and Domingo and I would setup for the party while she napped. We’d open presents and go to an old fashioned dinner across the street for dinner (a place Nicki loves), then have cake.

Instead I ended up with a migraine. We (well, mostly Nicole) boogied to sesame street videos in the morning since I did not have the energy to make it off the couch. We both napped, leaving Domingo – super dad! – to get ready for the party. I was hoping to nap longer but Lily – who is not my favorite feline right now – felt the need to dig me out of the covers a half hour or so after finally falling asleep. By then even if I was able to fall asleep again quickly, it wouldn’t be a quality nap, so I decided to try and make do without. I didn’t want to cancel Nicki’s birthday party. I was already feeling guilty it wouldn’t measure up to last year’s. Besides, there was no guarantee I’d be feeling better if we did reschedule.

As miserable as I was Nicki had a blast, and that’s the important thing. She had grand time chasing the balloons, adored spending time with the family, loved the restaurant and devoured her cake. She even blew out the candle all by herself! Since she was having so much fun with her grandparents we let her stay up a bit past her bedtime. Once she was asleep, I made a bee line for my own bed. Thirteen hours in bed later and I was finally doing better.

July 4, 2014

Technical Difficulties

I’ve had a string of technical difficulties lately, some with regard to my website, some with regard to my on-going backup efforts.

On Monday my webhost upgraded the version of PHP running on the server. Unfortunately one of the plugins (not the one I wrote) I was using was incompatible with new PHP. It was relying on a technique that was so insecure, the new compiler catches identifies the problem and refuses to execute the script. The problem is, this effectively brought down my blog.

Even though I had plenty of warning, I didn’t get around to checking my blog until yesterday.


June/July Traffic
Ouch. Those stats do not make for a happy Sarah.

At least it’s back up now. The offending plugin has been removed.

The other technical battle I’ve been fighting is getting my backup system setup.

The first problem was with our ISP. Our download rate dropped to 2.5 mbs (megabytes per second), a mere 5% of the promised rate. As much as I would love to blame my ISP, I’m not sure it’s entirely their fault. Living in an apartment in the heart of silicon valley, I’m sure there are a number of start-ups within 50 feet of our apartment. One of them could be saturating the line. Of course the onus is still on the ISP to deliver what’s promised, so they’re not off the hook either.

What does a cruddy internet connect have to do with transferring files on a home network? I’m glad you asked that question! Apparently in order for our home network to work (also set up by our ISP), our modem needs to connect to the outside world. That’s a bit like living on an island, and driving over the bridge to the mainland any time you want to go anywhere on the island. It’s that stupid. With our connection being so slow it would time out, and with the bridge to the mainland down, those files weren’t going anywhere.

The second issue I had was with crash plan itself. I’m using multiple external hard drives for my backup. All hard drives have a UUID (Universally Unique Identifier). It’s a way of identifying the drive. Crash plan identifies a drive not by it’s UUID, but by the drive letter the disk has been mounted to. The problem is the drive letter can change and is usually assigned in order of the drive’s being mounted. A system restart can change those drive letters! That’s like running a pizza delivery place and identifying your customers with phone in orders based on their arrival time rather than their name.

This last one was fixable by manually assigning the drive letters, it just took a while to realize what was wrong. At least I’m making progress. I finished sorting through one external hard drive. Four more to go through.

July 3, 2014

Little Sister

Going into today I’ve had four level 2 ultrasounds: a Nuchal Translucency screening for both Ziggy and Zippy, and 2 anatomy scans for Zippy. I have never once had a cooperative baby. Our appointments always ran fifteen minutes or so late, and the reason for our second anatomy scan with Zippy was failure to get all the required views the first time around. I expected Ziggy to not cooperate, though my main fear was Ziggy’s propensity to stay curled up in a ball would prevent us from getting a gimps of gender. Ziggy ended up the picture of cooperation.


Ziggy at 20 Weeks
Hello again, Ms. Ziggy!
Ziggy sure does like being curled up, I predict we’ll have a swaddle lover with this one.

Ziggy was so cooperative in fact, that not only did we have extremely clear confirmation of gender, but the technician was able to get a series of images that are typically omitted due to their difficulty. I’ve also gotten a lot better at identifying fetal anatomy too, and was doing pretty good at guessing what was on screen. Ziggy is the picture of health, the technician even commented on her “beautiful spine.” Guess I really was over worrying.

The down side of having a cooperator is no repeat anatomy scan scheduled for me. I will have to wait 20 or so more weeks to see Ziggy.


20 Weeks with Ziggy
20 weeks with Ziggy, and looking a mighty bit further along (and a bit lumpier) than with Zippy.

Weight gain at this point was non-existent with Zippy. This time I’ve gained a little, so I think I will end up with a higher overall weight gain. At least I’m looking obviously pregnant. Or so thought my co-worker last Wednesday when he asked if we were expecting number two, much to my delight.

I wish I had tracked weight gain and migraines better with Zippy. It would be interesting to compare. One huge difference is how much time is flying. It still feels like we were just finding out Ziggy existed, and now we’re only a few weeks away from viability!

June 29, 2014

New Lens

I had been pinning for a new lens ever since I took my kit lenses to the zoo. I just wasn’t happy with the contrast and detail of the 55-200 zoom. As Nicki gets older, she sits still less and less. I love my primes, but a zoom is becoming a must to photograph a toddler.

I decided to replace my 55-200mm with two lenses: a midzoom/portrait 20ish-70ish lense, and a telezoom 70ish-200/300ish lens. The former covers the distance of my most use primes, and is the lens I expect to utilize the most these days where Nicki is never allowed to wonder that far. The later I expect to like more for things likes recitals and soccer practice. I can wait on that one.

The contenders for my new mid-range Zoom:

  1. Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 (~$450)
  2. Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 (~$1,000)
  3. Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 (~$600)
  4. Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 (~$1,900)

Consumer research on the lenses:

The first lens has been in my “save for later” list on Amazon since before Nicki was born. I read a photography forum were all the moms raved about it for child photography. It lacks optical image stabilization, which could be a problem at the far end, so I also started considering the second Tamron on the list. While most of the reviews on the Tamron lenses were overwhelmingly positive, there were more than a few that complained about the auto focusing locking. Apparently when auto focus locks the only way to fix the lens is to detach and reattach it to the camera body. Given that my camera does not have it’s own focusing motor, I was worried that I would be more likely to encounter the locking problem.

The thinking behind considering the nearly $2k Nikon lens is it is one of the “pro lenses”. At that price, I probably won’t be buying anything else camera related for quite some time. Yet, I’d rather buy a top of the line lens that I will love throughout my photography career, than a marginally better lens every few years. In the long run, it’s got to be cheaper, right? The big issue with the Nikon 24-70mm is the weight. It’s nearly two lbs, twice the weight of any other lens I own.

The general rule of thumb that my photography friends tell me is that a lens with constant aperture over the zoom range (e.g. F/2.8) is usually better a quality lens. Then again, I’m trying to train myself not to rely on large aperture.

The third lens, Nikon 24-85 f/3.5-4.5, is actually a kit lens for the full frame (FX) camera models. I admit the fact that it’s a kit lens biased me against it from the start. It wasn’t until I realized my 18-55mm kit lens is also considered semi-pro (as indicated by the gold ring) that I started to lean towards it.

To compare image quality I tried a number of different sites: the digital picture, Ken Rockwell’s review and flickr. The digital picture review made the image seem terribly not sharp, though the sharpness was one of the the things Ken Rockwell raved about. There are also some gorgeous pictures on flickr.

The deciding factor:

A friend pointed out that the Nikon 24-85mm F/3.5-4.5 was available on Nikon’s website refurbished for a roughly $200 off. Yup, I’m cheaped out. At that price I was willing to take a risk.

The verdict:

The lens arrived Monday so this was the first weekend I was able to play with it. We took it out for water play in the park today. It was a hot, bright sunny day and I was exhausted out in the hot sun. I loved the ability to zoom and stay in the shade. The images were pretty sharp too.

Here’s a photo I took of Lily this evening: 1/30s, f/4.5, 28mm focal length, ISO 640.


Lily captured with my new lens
Resized, no other edits

Lily captured with my new lens
Cropped, no other edits

I’m happy with that. At 100% the fur around her eye is a little soft, but given the relatively slow shutter speed, I’m hardly surprised.

The lens is definitely capable of delivering at my current skill level.

June 26, 2014

Too Fast

I can not believe how fast time is flying this time around. Next week I will be twenty weeks pregnant. Twenty! How is that even possible? My anatomy scan is scheduled for Thursday and we’ll finally find out if Ziggy is a little boy or girl. My guess is boy, Daddy thinks girl. (Incidentally, mommy also thought Nicki was going to be a boy. So much for my mother’s intuition…)

Time is flying way, way too fast.

The big thing I need to get a handle on is the organizing. It’s starting to reach the daunting, I-don’t-want-to-do-it, but-I-know-I-have-to phase. Domingo and I are taking a full vacation day the day of the anatomy scan, Nicki is still going to school. That’ll give us 6ish hours to tackle things uninterrupted. Fingers crossed for some serious progress then.

Another item high on my to do list is to take out my camera more. I have taken hardly any DIY maternity photos this time around. Part of the problem is I don’t have a good spot. Last time most of my photos were taken in our home’s entrance way, which had great natural light, a bare wall, and a full length mirror. Our apartment has spots with natural light, and spots with full length mirrors, but none that are both. We also lack empty walls. Then again, maybe if I get a handle on the organizing and free up a photo spot.

Since we don’t have as many good natural light spots, I think it’s also beyond time for me to learn how to use my external flash. I want to be in tip top photography shape when the baby gets here. Days with a newborn can be so chaotic, I can only imagine it being how it will be with a toddler in tow. I regret how few photos I have from the first few months with Nicki. I want picking up the camera to be second nature.

Another thing I’d like to get a handle, though it’s too early to do it now, is freezer meals. We planned to do it last time, but I ran out of energy. With Nicki around making sure there’s an easy, nutritious meal available is even the more important. Given the time of year that Ziggy will be born we also want to reduce the exposure to germs, and thus the amount of trips outside, as much as possible. Newborn colds are not fun!

June 22, 2014

A Place for Every Thing

It feels like we’re unpacking/organizing at the rate of one box per day. At this rate it’ll be eleventy billion (slight exaggeration) years until we finish. I am determined to finish organizing everything this time. No more useless junk!

The biggest accomplishment of the weekend was organizing the tool box. We had a tool box filled to the brim, plus a small tin of tools Domingo brought from his apartment. We sorted everything, kept the best of anything we had duplicates of, and pitched anything that we couldn’t identify or was too warn to work well. Did you know we had a wrench? We didn’t! That’s one item off our Black Friday buy list. We also had 3 micro screw driver sets. Oops. We did correctly surmise that we are lacking a set of good, full size screw drivers. By the time we were finished with the tool box, everything we were keeping fit nicely into it, and we could actually close it without force for the first time since we bought it. Bonus: the most useful stuff is in the top try.

Organizing makes me happy. Yes, I’m weird.

Other areas we tackled (or at least have a game plan to tackle):

Nicole’s ‘Artwork.’ We’ve gotten a lot of stuff from daycare that includes hand prints and foot prints, and I want to save those as best as possible. Unfortunately they’re often bigger than standard 8 x 10 pages, and too big to fit in folders. I’m thinking about getting one a large art portfolios. It’s kind of over kill (and thus pricey), but it should protect those prints. It’ll also stand up flat, so I can store it in a closet. I also figure it will be able to hold a lot, so we should get many years of use out of it before needing another.

My sister (the artist in the family) recommended Itoya Original Art Profolios.

Nicole’s hair bows. If you had told me I would be the kind of mom with a collection of hair bows for my little girl, I probably would have burst out laughing. Hair bows on babies is not my thing. What I wasn’t counting on was a kid with so much hair! She goes through phases of what she tolerates, and hair accessories are apparently a popular gift idea when a little girl has a lot of hair. As a result we have quite the collection. The problem is they’re small, and they have a tendency to find there way behind furniture.

hair ties
Bows and ties and clips, on my!
It never fails: unpack/organize anything and the toddler wants to play with it.

For these I used a bead organizer. I used to be fairly into beading, and bought a bunch of these on sale back in the day. It was nice to be able to put one to good use!

What I have no idea what to do with:

My jewelry: Over the years my taste in jewelry has evolved somewhat. I used to be really into things like silver jewelry club and the $20 side of brands like peora where you could snag silver jewelry for next to nothing. Lately I’ve been more into Diamonique solitaries and the simpler Swarovski pendants. They’re inexpensive stones in delicate settings. The delicate settings helps to make the jewelry look more expensive than it actually is (in my opinion at least.) The problem is most of the chains are too delicate for a shoe box, yet I do not have the space for a jewelry box.

June 15, 2014

Screen Negative

I always knew I would be a ball of nerves throughout my first pregnancy. What if something bad happens? What if Zippy’s not ‘ok’? I figured I’d relax for all subsequent pregnancies. Sure there’s less time to think about all the things that can go wrong when chasing after a toddler. Turns out, however, when I’m alone with my thoughts I’m just as big a ball of nerves and what ifs?.

My big fear this time has been spina bifida.

The first time around I started taking prenatal for a full 3 months prior to trying to conceive. Since supplements are not the best way to get vitamins, I was also eating enough spinach to make Popeye jealous. It took longer than I anticipated conceiving Nicki, so there was plenty of time for the folate to build up in my system. Neural tube defects was one of the things I didn’t (excessively) worry about.

I started taking a prenatal again only a few weeks before we wanted to grow our family again. I figured we were looking at roughly the same time line to conceive, and would thus have time to build the folate back up in my system. I was wrong. And because life is more hectic these days, I was also occasionally forgetting to take my prenatal. There was one week in particular where my parents were visiting where I forgot the prenatal four or five days in a row. I was pretty beside myself when I realized that. I resolved to do better, and got one of those Sunday through Saturday pill boxes. Nothing makes you feel old like needing a pill box organizer, but at least it worked.

This Saturday I got our NT screen results. Negative for all things, including neural tube defects.

Phew.

I was hoping to discover one go-to trick for toddler photography like I did for baby photography. Alas, I haven’t found one yet. My old trick? It doesn’t work as well these days. These days Nicki isn’t likely to sit still, unless there is a very enticing reason, like cookies.


Admiring the Tree
Nicki admiring the tree. Or is she? She was admiring the tree, and I wanted to get a quick photo on my cell phone. Kids these days seem to come with smart phone proximity detectors. As soon as I picked up my phone, she forgot about the tree. We faked it by having daddy hold up his cell phone next to the tree, and just off frame. That is what she is looking at. I am an instagram photo fraud.

I need a new strategy. Here’s what’s working for me these days.

Stay put, do not chase. This advice is easier to follow if you are photographing something that can easily be repeated, like swinging. Babies ‘first’ anything? Much harder. I find if I chase after her most of my photos are of the back of her head. If I’m moving around I’m constantly in a spot that would have made for a good photo a few minutes ago. If you stay on one spot, the action eventually comes to you. You’ll get five killer photos, instead of oodles of ho hum photos.

The spot I picked for the chocolate bunny photos ended up being pretty lame. I was getting very typical (read: boring) kid eating chocolate bunny photos. Then Nicki did something unexpected. She went from the sitting position to flat on her tummy and offered Mommy a bite of the bunny. The end result was pretty magical, even if the depth of field was too shallow for the close up.

Use the camera in no longer than five minute intervals. Nicki loves, loves, loves dress up. She’ll go through her dresser, find her super girl outfit and ask to wear it. Yesterday she asked to wear her swim suit to daycare. While she can be quite the little ham, she will get bored with it eventually. I find that the first five minutes are the best expression wise. Once we hit that point I usually put the camera down and enjoy the rest of our play time without it. No sense getting everyone frustrated with the camera, especially for photos were the smile is no longer as bright.

Putting the camera down also gives me a chance to regroup. I can go through my photos off line to try and figure out where we’re going wrong, and how I can plan to do better next time. (I benefit so much from the chance to do do-overs.)

Strive for fun first, photos second. This one is pretty much a no-brainer. If Nicki enjoys an activity, she’s likely to want to do it again and be just as excited for the activity, which means I’ll have more opportunities for additional photos in the future. Nicki is less likely to be as expressive or cooperate for those future photos if the activity ever becomes not fun. Thus we strive for fun first, and photos second.

Lately I’ve been taking photos of Nicki in the swing. If the swing slows down too much, Daddy gives her a good push, even if that means blocking my shot of her with his hand. No push means no smiles, which makes for a lame photo anyway.

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