This week is the tipping point. If Ziggy was born today she’d have a 50% chance of survival. As I was filling out the paper work for maternity leave this weekend, I kept thinking about how extra special this holiday season will be. I also couldn’t help but think about all the things I want to accomplish in advance of the holidays. So this week I decided to get a head start on some of those items.

Holiday Card

Every year I design and send out a Christmas Card. Since we’re working on a compress time frame, I thought I would get a head start designing this years card. Now. In August. In actuality I used to have several years worth of card layouts done, but I’ve since burned through my stash. I suspect one of these years I will recycle a card layout, but I am determined for that year not to be this year.

So far I’ve covered the standard Christmas & winter basic colors (red, green (x2), blue, & white.) To mix it up a little I thought I’d challenge myself with a gold theme card. Since I print the cards from home, that means creating the illusion of a metallic sheen from standard RBG colors. I followed this tutorial, adapting the instructions to paint shop pro. I really love how it turned out!


Happy Holidays
A sneak peak at the gold lettering.

It’s usually my preference to have all family members on the card. I also prefer to have them all in the same shot if doable. In order to get the cards out in a timely manner, I’ll need to have a family photo taken no later than early to mid December, possibly just days after Ziggy’s arrival. That’s going to cause the protectionist in me a great deal of stress. I think for my own sanity we’ll just have a photo of the girls this time around. Having too people look good is much easier to accomplish than having four. And really, kids are pretty much always adorable, even when they’re messy and not cooperating. I’m sure everyone will be more interested in the girls than Domingo and I anyway.

Birth Announcement

Another high priority in my mind is creating birth announcement ornament. In order to create the ornament, I first need the birth announcement! While I can wait until December 25th for this one, it will be much more convenient to send it with the holiday cards, so this week I finished the layout.

I decided to go with a three photo layout. That could back fire on me. I designed our 2012 card with a four photo layout long before taking our Christmas photos, than took one of my most favorite photos ever. Alas, the photo didn’t really work with the multi-photo layout. I like the photos I ultimately choose, but it’s hard not to look at the card and remember how much more I like the photo that never made it onto the card.

Ziggy’s Stocking

We’re only about 80% settled on a name, but I did the very unfruggle thing of going ahead and purchasing a stocking.

When I purchased the stockings last year I didn’t realize how badly I was over paying. It turns out I was going through a middle man. I made this discovery when two of the three stockings came back with the names off center. My stocking was just off center enough to annoy a perfectionists. Nicole’s stocking was ridiculously off center.


Stockings
Off Center Stockings.
A 3 inch margin on the left, 1.5 on the right.

When I contacted customer support to request a replacement stocking for Nicki, the company I ordered forwarded my request to the supplier, whom I could have ordered the stocking directly from myself. Of course I couldn’t help but look up the price – $10 less than what I had paid per stocking!

Lesson learned: Next time do a reverse image source on the item I’m considering purchasing. The search will bring up all other retailers using the stock photo. Then I can do a true price comparison.

The new stocking came in time for Christmas, but not before the milk & cookies photos by the tree. At least you can’t tell in the photos.

I am hoping to make stockings for the girls. I have a notion of using seed beads to spell out their names, but I’m not sure how to pull it off. Since I’m not sure I will figure it out in time, I wanted to have a personalized set complete with one for Ziggy.

August 3, 2014

DIY Bath Toy Organizer

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DIY Bath Toy Organizer
DIY Bath Toy Organizer

I thought I was really clever with this one. That is, until I checked pinterest this afternoon and noticed many others had come up with the same idea I had. Oh well. At least I can rest assured I’m in good company.

We had two issues when it came to bath time: (1) too many toys, and (2) a safety beam that’s just begging to be a concussion instrument.

When Nicki was young she had a bunch of bath squirters. We could fit most of them into the stacking buckets her aunt bought her. Recently, we also bought her bath letters set since she can’t get enough of the ABCs. Suddenly we had too many bath toys to store even remotely neatly. We’re in a two bathroom apartment, and Nicki’s bathtub is the one that’s shared whenever grandparents stay over. We needed a quick way to remove the toys so the shower was usable for adults.

The other concern was the safety bar. Nicki is generally good about sitting in the tub, but the bar is a little too inviting, and she occasionally likes to investigate it. It’s also at the wrong height so sometimes when she stands up to signal she’s ready for out she comes pretty close to clonking her head on it. We needed some sort of padding to keep her away from the bar.

That’s when I got the idea to attach plastic buckets to the bar to act as a buffer. Now if Nicki stands up, she’ll bump into the far-less-likely-to-cause-a-concussion bucket long before she bumps into the bar, and we have a place to store all those toys. We needed very deep buckets to both hold all the toys, and to hang mostly even since the bar’s a good 1.25″ from the wall.


Diagram
The deeper the bucket (side ‘A‘ of the triangle) the shallower the angle to the wall (θ)

We found these at Target for $5.99 a piece. They’re not exactly the most fetching baskets, but they’re plastic so they won’t rust and have holes so they’ll drain water. We attached them with left over shower curtain hooks.


DIY Bath Toy Organizer Buckets
The Buckets

From pinterest it seems that dollar tree buckets are much more popular. They’re a bit shallower than what we used, but if you put a tension shower curtain rod close to the wall, would work great and be a bit cheaper. I suspect when we move we’ll go this route. At least I hope we don’t have another safety bar in our kids’ bathroom.

Nicki had a blast taking all the toys out at bath time. She was so enamored with the baskets, she even put the toys away when it was time to get out!


Addendum: Looks like I am not as clever as I thought I was. Nicki loves her basket, but now she wants to stand in the tub to inspect all the toys! We ended up buying a shower curtain rod after all.

July 30, 2014

Sold!

Imagine here a picture of a “home for sale sign” with the big white and red SOLD placard over top. Escrow closed around noon yesterday, but apparently the “for sale” sign was just taken down, rather than changed to “sold”. I took it as sign that everyone involved in the process was just happy escrow was finally over.

We put our house on the market in April. The first weekend we got several above asking offers. We went with the best one, but alas, it was not meant to be. We granted several extensions to the perspective buyers, but in the end the buyer walked citing the loan contingency. It was now mid June, and many of the aspects that made our home so attractive were no longer working in our favor. There were more homes in our price category, whereas we were the only one before, and the summer peak buying season had passed. The new offers were not as nice as those early offers had been.

I am still bummed the first offer didn’t pan out, but Domingo keeps reminding me that “real money beats imaginary money.” An offer that doesn’t get through escrow isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. The final offer we accepted may not have been as nice, but it was above what we had originally paid.

In actually, we really were quite lucky. We weren’t expecting to be make any profit when we first talked about moving. Domingo and I bought in 2008, when the market was declining but hadn’t reached it’s bottom yet. The neighboring houses sold for significantly less, dropping as much as 30%, just six months or so after we purchased. Most of our time in the house it looked like we would lose money when we moved. The question in our minds was just how much we would lose. I started interviewing winter/spring of 2013. That summer home prices finally started creeping up. Had we sold when we moved, we probably would have broken even when all things were said and done. Selling when we did we made a profit, but it’s not like we could have predicted that. We purchased when we got engaged, and were ready to move in together. We moved when it was clear our current location would not work with my new job, and sold as soon as we were ready to once moving out. We got lucky with the timing.

My planning for Ziggy is so far as been for naught. Nearly everything on my list is no longer easily available. Most of the items have newer versions, so to buy the previous version you have to pay the rare-item premium. That sucks because I don’t like those newer versions!

The bjorn baby sitter bouncer. I really wanted the brown/beige one that would match our living room. It looks like it’s no longer a color being produced, however. At least it’s not shown on the website. They have similar ones, but are either too dark, or too light. I’ve been searching for one for months and it looks like if I really want that particular color I’ll have to spend between $50 to $100 more, or buy from a non-name company without much of an online reputation. Neither I’m particularly willing to do.

I decided to do the snugabunny bouncer second-hand from someone at work. It won’t hold her as long as babysitter balance will, but I suspect that is probably okay. Nicki was an early sitter. While Ziggy is not Nicki, (and is already proving to have a different personality), she is made from the same two sets of DNA, so I think there’s a chance she’ll also be an early sitter. I also think it’s unlikely she’ll be a super late sitter. By buying the bouncer second hand it really wasn’t that expensive, and I can always course correct if we need something capable of holding a bigger baby.

Since the bouncer is nice and round, I think I can drape blankets over it and make it a nice nest like area for newborn photos. Double win. I paid a cheap enough price for it that if all I get out of it is cute pictures, I’ll still be happy.

Motorola Spare Camera. Motorola has come out with a new line of camera baby monitors (Motorola blink1) that do not have the handheld unit. Instead they broadcast to your smart phone. Sounds like an awesome deal except the reviews are lousily. I’m used to most baby products having an average 4 star review or higher. That’s because a lot of them are rated and reviewed when mom to be gets them at her shower, rather than when the baby arrives. Usually the review goes like “This is adorable, I’m so excited to use it!” (Not really that helpful, but I do appreciate knowing when things are super soft, or not.)

The blink cameras reviewers have an average 3 star review, much lower than it’s predecessor, with reviewers citing software and connectivity issues. Our wireless is spotty, which will likely compound the issue. Additionally, since there’s no hand held unit, the camera costs a bit more. Instead of $100 for an extra camera, I’d pay $170 for a single camera that our hand held unit wouldn’t work with it. Or I could pay $340 in order to have both kid’s viewable from the same app. No thank you. I’d rather buy a new lens with that kind of money. Or a new knife set.

I actually called Motorola’s customer support. They are still making the cameras, even though they’re out of stock everywhere, and no longer show the spare camera on their website. I ordered one from amazon so that I could reserve a spot on the wait list, and am keeping an eye out elsewhere to see if I can’t snag a better deal.

It would suck not to be able to use a 20% Buy Buy Baby coupon on this one – I figured I would only be paying $80ish for this one – but I refuse, refuse to spend more than $100.

Baby Neptune Ocean Adventure Gym

This one probably makes me saddest of all. I was really getting into the ocean gym theme for Ziggy much the way I loved the space theme for Nicki. I loved the orca toy with high contrast for developing baby eyes, and the octopus with dangly legs to grab.

The Neptune Ocean Adventure gym has been replaced with the Nautical Friends Gym. The Orca is now a blue whale, complete with lower contrast, and the octopus has been replace with a little turtle. Rather than spending $40 for a new Neptune Ocean Adventure Gym I can expect to spend $80 for a used gym, or $100-250$ on a brand new one.

I’m hoping a new gym will strike my fancy after a trip to the baby store. At least if I find one in store it’s likely not to be discontinued yet.

July 20, 2014

Two Year Old Portraits


Hair Whispies
One of Nicki’s daycare teachers occasionally asks me when I will cut Nicole’s hair. Never. I love those hair whispies!

Last year I didn’t explicitly plan on doing One Year Old Portraits with Nicki. We were already doing the girl with pearls photos, even if I didn’t share them until much later. Between the amazing photographer our daycare hired to do all the kids (they specialized in a vintage theme, and brought all sorts of fun props), and doing the department store (specifically for graduation, but we also got a few of just Nicole) I had a tone of ‘professional’ photos as well.

This new daycare’s hired photographer is more typical of school photographers, and not nearly as awesome. We probably will do department store photos, but not until I’m further along so we can get some maternity shots as well. I figured I would try for some DIY Two Year Old Portraits.

Side note: I have relaxed some about taking A Bazillion Awesome, Amazaballs Photos (tm). I’m tend to prefer one or two large prints type, rather than gallery walls, so I really only need to luck into a handful of really awesome photos. It takes the pressure off considerably!

I’ve always loved that dreamy, innocent, eyes cast down pose. This was amazing easily to achieve. I just gave Nicki a book to read through.


Reading
Those lashes! That button nose!

A good smile was harder to achieve, but that was my fault. We turned on some happy toddler dance music, and Nicki was having a grand time. The problem was we were doing the photos early morning (before our plans to go out) and the sun was not cooperating. My settings were not quite right to accommodate both the less light, and the active dancing toddler. Many of the happy photos ended up being at least a little blurry.


Two Year old Smiles
Perfect little pose. Photo sharpened to an inch of it’s life. Too bad mommy’s camera settings were anything but.

I used the same blue background for the superman photos. I liked the cream outfit Nicki wore, but it doesn’t really work with the blue. I think next time (and there will be a next time since Nicki enjoyed herself and I’d like to get my camera settings right!) I’ll try the peacock colored bed sheet.

While I haven’t finished sorting through all the old external hard drives, I have cleared enough to setup the home cloud to run as planned. After a bit of a rough start, we’ve been up and running for the past few weeks. So far, the results are mixed.

In the pro column, it’s very nice to not have to plug the external hard drive into my laptop every time I want access to one my files, or to download my photos off of my memory card. I’m no longer relegated to doing work from a single spot in the house. It’s like I suddenly have a much larger hard drive on my laptop. Everything is always at my fingertips. I didn’t realize just how inconvenient my old setup was until the cloud was up and running.

The backup also runs more smoothly from the cloud than it ever did from my laptop. I’d often leave the external hard drive unplugged for days on end. Obviously if the drive is disconnected it cannot be backed up. Our cloud computer is always on, so there are no interruptions.

As predicted, however, using the old hardware is s…l…o…w… It’s probably also partially the wireless in the apartment, as the signal isn’t great in the office were our home cloud is running. How slow is it? A weekend set of photos would take about 10 to 20 minutes with the old setup of plugging the hard drive in directly to my laptop. The new setup, with the “new” hard drive takes seven hours. Not exactly ideal.

I think I may have to break down and buy a new computer/new external drives after all. I’m going to try and limp along, at least until after the holidays and Ziggy’s arrival. I’d prefer not to get anything new until after the move, especially since I’m not sure what the where exactly is the bottle neck. For now, I’ll try and make do.

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.


Diploma
My diploma in a floating frame. Definitely happy with this purchase, even if the diploma never makes it out of the box!

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.


Coins Quasi-Sorted
Quasi-sorted. If I had the energy I would have each page be a different country. Oh well, that can be another task.

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!


ETA: Okay, scratch that. The “wedding proof album” is going in a box. It’s too tall for our console, which should have been obvious to me. Three, 4 x 6s, would mean the album has to be at least 12 inches tall. The shelves on the console are not tall enough.

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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.

What we (probably) won’t wait for:

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.

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.

What we’re considering, but only if we find a super awesome deal:

Dishwasher safe Knives (and other odds and ends) The switch to dishwasher safe dishes has been an awesome time savor. (Seriously Calaphon, why couldn’t the contemporary line have been dishwasher safe before we set up our wedding registry?!) So now we’re making an even bigger push to have only dishwasher safe items. The biggest issue right now is the knife set. The set, like most of our good kitchen stuff, is Calaphon brand. It doesn’t appear that they make dishwasher safe knives, so I’ll have to do consumer research to find out good brands. I likely won’t have time to pick out a new set and hunt for the best deals before the holiday sales start. (Deals on kitchen stuff tend to be early November, sometimes even late October in preparation for Thanksgiving.)


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.

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