March 28, 2015

Alexis at Four months

Dear Alexis,

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


alexis standing

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


alexisfourmonths

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


alexislaugh

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

Love always,
Mommy and Daddy

March 27, 2015

Fifth Anniversary

fifthanniversary
Still working on that family photo…

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

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

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

biggirlswing

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

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

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

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

February 27, 2015

Alexis at Three Months

Dear Alexis,

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


baby

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

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

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


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

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


alexisrings

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

Love Always,
Mommy & Daddy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 17, 2015

In the Box Thinking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 14, 2015

My All

roses

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

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

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

February 9, 2015

Head Start on Hallmarking

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

I’m not too terribly excited about this year.

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

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

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

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

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

I do so love Christmas time.

February 5, 2015

Nicolies

Nicole’s nickname at daycare is ‘Nicolie’, so I think of ‘Nicolies’ as the things she says or does.

I’ve been making an effort to blog less about Nicole these days in order to protect her privacy, but an article in The Atlantic reminded me why I started in the first place: so I will always be able to look back and remember. In that vein I thought I’d share some cute, but rather benign stories I hope I never forget.

Mommy I’m drawing!

While I was driving her home from daycare a few weeks ago she exclaimed happily from the back seat “Mommy, I’m drawing!” I responded with a casual “that’s nice, sweetie” without a glance. I knew those were dangerous words to ignore, but it’s not like we have any writing instruments back there and I needed to concentrate on driving.

A little while later Nicole starts screaming something that sounds like “My Sock! My Sock!” She went through a phase of taking her socks and shoes off in the car, so I’m thinking she took them off again and accidentally dropped her sock. I tell her I will put her shoes and socks back on when we get home, but she starts crying harder “Sock! Sock! Sock!”

When we get to a red light I turn around and notice both her shoes are still on. That’s wierd. I glance up and my car door is covered in green CHALK. I did not even notice she had taken it from daycare.


chalk
Chalk. It’s toddler war paint, basically

You’d think I’d have learned my lesson about checking the contents of her hands before leaving school, but that would be a big ‘Nope’. A few days latter the green chalk was joined by it’s yellow brethren.


cardoor
Nicole’s artwork, a few weeks (and smudges) later

Wipers

Nothing says you’ve been in a drought too long than your two year old being fascinated by light rain, other than perhaps same said two year old being terrified of windshield wipers. We made this discovery last November during a rare day of rain. From then on every time it rains I warn Nicole that I have to turn on the wipers. She’d usually protest so one day I asked her if she could be brave.

“Yes, mommy.”
I’m going to count to three and turn the wipers on, ok? One… Two… THREE!
“Do again.”
One… Two… THREE!
“Do again, mommy!”

This continued throughout our entire drive. I kept remarking how brave she was and she kept asking for more wipers without so much as a whimper. We arrive at daycare, I stop the car, look back and see…


eyescovered
Nicole covering her eyes so she doesn’t have to see the wipers (after we parked the car, obviously. Momtographer may be obsessive, but not stupid!)

Hands covering the face the whole time. Since then she has also used Fuzzy Bunny (her toy for the car) to shield her eyes. My silly California girl prefers her sunshine.

Baby Necklace

Of course my favorite Nicolies right now is how she refers to her sister as “Baby Necklace.” Nicole adores her little sister… most of the time. She insists “Baby Necklace comes too” and that she’ll help change her diaper or feed her her bottle.

February 2, 2015

Capturing Sisterly Love

I’ve gotten so much better with my camera, and photographing Nicole, that I didn’t really give much thought to how much more difficult it would be to photograph the girls together. I thought I’d be able to hammer out a few good photos in time for our Christmas card. In retrospect, the difficulty should have been obvious.

When I’m photographic Nicole I can easily take ten frames to get that one good frame. That’s why I always shot on burst mode – better odds that I’ll hit that perfect hundredth of second moment. Some frames her eyes may be closed, the framing is off, the exposure is wrong, etc. And she’s mostly a cooperator! If we treat the photographing the two girls as independent events (a not unreasonable assumption when they’re both in a good mood, terribly inaccurate if one of them is upset for whatever reason), then it’d be 1 in 100 frames to get a good shot of both of them simultaneously. Mathematically the probability of getting a good shot of one kid (1/10) times the probability of getting a good shot of the other (1/10).

We can extrapolate out for n kids getting the function: probability_of_good_shots = photographer_hit_ratenumber_of_kids. Thus the number of frames needed when photographic n kids to get one good frame as a function of n can be plotted as follows:


number of frames needed
f(n) = 10n

In other words, it gets exponentially harder with each additional kid.


concerned
Hmm. Alexis looks mighty concerned.

My hit rate is less than 1%, so I might be underestimating the difficulty. Or overestimating my skill.


going in for a kiss
My best one so far. I just wish I had panned a little more to the right and the lighting was a little better on Alexis’ face.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Swaddle the Baby. It helps keep the baby calm and, as an added bonus, helps the baby appear more newborn like. That’s very handy when it may take you multiple tries to get those 10^n frames! Alas, Alexis is now a champion swaddle buster.
  • Have an Assistant. Not only are you going to want a safety spotter (depending on the age and activity level of your toddler, a total must!) but getting the girls ready in unison helped maximize our in-front-of-the-camera-time. Daddy swaddles while mommy assembles the camera.
  • Bribes. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out! I’ve found that my energetic, rambunctious toddler exhibits a little more self control when a piece of candy or new toy is on the line. When photographic near a baby, that’s a trade off I’m willing to make.
  • Patience, Patience, Patience. I feel like a amateur photographer again, which can be frustrating. Nicole is pretty perceptive. If I let my frustrations get the best of me she’ll pick up on it and will instantly be done with photo time. It’s better to keep it fun, and hope I get lucky.
  • and Learn to Love the Outtakes. Hi, my name is Sarah, and I’m a recovering perfectionist…

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