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?


taplight
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.


huenightlight
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.

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.

September 7, 2014

Finding My Pretty

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

September 4, 2014

First Aid Kit

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

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

firstaid

The Box:

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

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

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

The Bag:

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

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

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

August 31, 2014

Staying Put For Now

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

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

We want from this:


boxes
Piles of boxes hiding in corners behind couches

To this:


bins
Closets full of organizational bins.

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

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


vaccumparts
I am not kidding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 18, 2014

Battery Storage Box


battery storage box
Battery Storage Box

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

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


battery storage box

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

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


battery storage box
Nicole investigating the box

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

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