November 22, 2017

Early Deals

In early November I got in the habit of leaving a separate browser open dedicated to shopping. I was interested in a pumpkin Halloween decoration that was strangely not on clearance sale yet, and considering getting some out door artificial pencil width trees to go on either side of the front door. I had a tab opened to each product I was considering, waiting to see if it would go on sale. While I was at it, I decided to add some tabs for some of the Black Friday things I was considering. I wasn’t expecting a deal yet, but I like to be organized.

Then something strange happened.

We were planning on purchasing a Samsung S8 for Domingo for the Black Friday sale price of $300 off. I calculated the monthly rate to be ~$17. As I was scrolling through my shopping tabs in the morning of the 16th, a full week before thanksgiving, I noticed Bestbuy offering the phone for ~$15 a month, or $350 off. I purchased it without hesitation. Bestbuy had jumped the gun and beaten their own advertised price which was already the best around!

Another deal I was considering was an Artificial tree from Michaels. One of our trees last year quit working thanks to faulty wiring in the plug. I was debating about restring the lights (a deceptively huge endeavor.) At the beginning of November Micheals had some kind of “tree event”. Domingo and I went to the store and really liked on of the trees which was an extremely reasonable price. “Was” being key. The tree was 50% off the day before, now only 25% off. It was still a good price, but not the best price. I often will balk at a purchase if it’s not the best price, regardless of how good it is. A little internet research suggested the price would come back down on Black Friday. Sure enough, when the Black Friday flyer finally came back the tree was once again advertised as 50% off. I opened a tab and was at the ready. The deal started Sunday, a full five days before it was advertised to start.

Then last night I got an email from bed bath and beyond advertising a 20% off an entire purchase for being a subscriber starting that moment. It was exactly the Black Friday deal i wanted to replace our thread bare sheets that i was dreading going in person to get! And they weren’t the only ones. Target also started their Black Friday deals today for people who have a red card (something I only realized when their automated system emailed me to let me know something I was looking at was on sale.)

That’s just three examples. Here we are, the day before thanksgiving and I’ve gotten most of the items off my Black Friday shopping list at the price I was expecting, or better. On the one hand, I will miss the tradition of going out to the store on Thanksgiving night after the kids are in bed. On the other, I look forward to having more time in the evening for our other tradition, trimming the trees up while the kids are sleeping.

November 16, 2017

New Baby

NikonUSA finally released their black friday ad this past Monday and, sadly, there was no deal on the d7500 body only. All the deals were on kits that came with lenses I don’t need since my lens collection meets my current needs perfectly. Of course, no black friday sale means no reason to wait until black friday!

I am amazed at the difference in image quality. My previous camera body, the 5100, is several models out of date, and was an entry model where the 7500 is considered a mid-range. I was expecting significantly better low light capabilities, and was still blown away by the difference when I redid the low-key maternity photos. I bumped up the ISO to 1000 without noticeable noise, whereas with my old 5100 the noise was extremely pronounced at ISO 800. The other advantage was the 7500 was able to autofocus much better in the dark than the 5100. I took roughly half the number of exposures and felt confident I had gotten “the shot.”

I’m super excited to test out the new camera on the kids on the weekend. I’ve been frustrated lately by the 5100’s soft focus like appearance in the face. I think it’s a relatively recent phenomenon. I never remember having this issue when the camera was new. It was particularly pronounced doing Nicole’s “1st day of Kindergarten” photos, which is part of the reason why I’m pining for AI photo enhancing. Ah well, some day.

That said, there are some things I do miss about the 5100. The 5100 has a rotatable LCD back screen that has been described as “selfie friendly.” I hate that term, but it was useful for taking maternity photos. I guess technically they’re “selfies.” The 7500 can tilt, but not rotate. The new camera is also noticeably heavier than the old one. But these are very minor concerns, especially when you consider all the benefits the new camera is bringing.

November 10, 2017

Low Key Maternity Photography

How can I possibly be 32 weeks already? It suddenly dawned on me that despite approaching the midway point in the third trimester, the only “bump” photos I have are a handful of bathroom selfies at 8 weeks when I couldn’t believe I was already showing. I needed to fix that, and I waned to challenge myself to try at something different.

Low key photos are low light, mostly dark photos that emphasize shadow and shape. I tried to do low-key bump portraits while pregnant with Alexis, but couldn’t master the light. I’ve experimented with dark background, spotlight photos before using a desk/craft light, but the craft light wasn’t strong enough to take photos of a larger subject (like my bump.)

This time around I decided to get a long, skinny adjustable craft light since I can almost always use more high quality desk lamps. I settled on TaoTronics LED Desk Lamp since it allowed me to adjust both brightness & color temperature. As an added bonus, TaoTronics had a newer model so the one I purchased was on the cheaper side. As long as it’s a bright white light and the right narrow shape, any lamp will do. To further control the light I cut up the Amazon box it shipped in and made cardboard flaps. I taped a flap to each side of the lamp, to focus the light so it wouldn’t illuminate the wall behind me.

As a general rule of thumb the darker the photo, the more visible the ISO noise. To make this photo work I had to shot at a very low ISO setting, which means a longer exposure time. Unfortunately, unlike my previous spotlight attempts I needed to shot with the room dark. The larger the subject, the further back the craft light needs to be. The further back the craft light, the less bright the light is when it reaches the subject. I shot the above photo ISO 100, f/5, 1/13 a second. Normally I’m comfortable shooting at ISO 1000, but it was just too much noise.
The above photo is pushing the boundaries of what my 5 year old camera can do.

If you want to attempt a similar photo, here are my tips:
– Where light color, possibly skin toned clothes. I tried this in a dark sweater and everything other than my hands all but disappeared.
– Use a Lower ISO settings to avoid noise. I know I said that before, but this is one instance where a little noise can really ruin your photo.
– Adjust the cardboard flaps (you can use masking tape at the tops and the bottoms) to control how narrow or wide the light beam is.

October 28, 2017

School Costumes

This year Nicole’s second costume for school is a Scientist, “like Mommy.” One morning, as I was driving Nicole to School, we were discussing what she wants to be when she grows up. One of the options we discussed was scientist. I told her mommy was a scientist and she got really excited about being a scientist, just like like mommy. We had already settled on the girls being astronauts for Trick or Treating, so I told her most Astronauts are also scientists, and asked her if she wanted to be a scientist/astronaut for Halloween. My proposal was met with a resounding yes.

I love how non-conventional my little girl is!

I also fear that she will regret her decision once she sees the other girls in their Disney princess costumes, so we decided pretty early on that she wasn’t going to be a stereotypical scientist with tapped glasses. Scientists come in all shapes and sizes, after all. She’s going to wear her favorite dress under her lab coat, because why not? My two favorite details of her costume are her badge, and her astronaut necklace. The badge has her picture from her first day in kindergarten, title and the official NASA logo. She is an astronaut/scientist after all! The necklace is a special surprise I’m going to give her the day of her school party.

I had dubbed Alexis’ school costume “color explosion.” I was going to put her in a her rainbow fairy skirt and give her a rainbow lei garland. I thought she’d love all the colors. Unfortunately they had a dress up day earlier this week, and while my not quite three year old was initially content in her costume, she got upset when she saw all the other Elsa, Moana, and super heroes. Oh Irony, that’s what I was worried about with Nicole!

So Alexis is going to her school party in Nicole’s old Wonder woman costume from last year. Crises resolved.

Most of our second costumes came from the dress up corner. The safety glasses were an additional $3.59 for a pack of six, and the necklace was $3.39. I did purchase a Moana costume for Alexis when she was sad, but the only one I could find was a 4-6x. Technically she sometimes wears 4, but that size was too big in the astronaut. I was worried we’d risk another round of disappointment when the costume she coveted didn’t fit. When the Wonder Woman costume sufficed I decided to keep the Moana costume for the dress up corner. We should get a lot of good use out of it for a few more years still.

I think this may be the last year I will be able to convince my two kids to do joint costumes. Nicole’s love of all things astronaut did not transfer to Alexis. We went through quite a few negotiations to get her into her orange jumpsuit for our costume dry run. She’s actually wearing her favorite dress underneath. Hey, whatever works!

Other than getting the kids suited up, our costume dry run went well. Both girls had a lot of fun posing as astronauts, gazing into the distance and pointing up at the pretend stars. We did a little mock trick or treating as well, since I’m not planning on bringing my camera for the day. Any photo shoot that ends with candy is a win in their book.

I have the most ridiculously bad luck when ordering Halloween costumes online. I had an issue with Nicole’s Wonder Woman costume last year. The first costume came ripped, and even though it was still early October the store couldn’t guarantee a replacement in time. In fact, the replacement wasn’t guaranteed to arrive until November 28th! This year I decided to order in late September to be safe, and it’s a good thing I did as I ended up making four separate purchases!

The plan since August has been for Nicole to be a white astronaut and Alexis to be an orange astronaut.

The first problem was I wasn’t sure of the girls’ sizes. Alexis was sometimes in a 3T and sometimes in a 4T, Nicole was pretty solidly in the 5-6 range. the costume comes in 4-6x and 2-3T. I was sure Alexis would be a solid 4T by Halloween, but there’s a six inch height difference between the kids! I couldn’t believe they’d be in the same size costume with such a large height difference. Since the 4-6x would definitely fit at least one of my kids and the orange version was on sale, I ordered it.

It was big, but not ridiculously big on Alexis. It fit Nicole well, but Nicole’s heart was set on the white astronaut. So I ordered the 4-6x in white, and the 2-3T in orange. The 2-3T in orange fit Alexis just right. Perhaps it was a hair small, but the kind of thing that would only be noticeable to mom. I didn’t want to return the 4-6x, just in case Alexis hit a growth spurt between early September and now. It still has the tag, but we’re outside the return window. I haven’t decided whether it’ll go to the dress up corner, or I’ll donate it.

The white astronaut costume was a disaster. The company sent an Adult small instead of a child’s 4-6x. It was a different, much cheaper brand which didn’t have the accessories. The benefit of having ordered the first 4-6x in orange, I guess, was that it was immediately apparent to me that the mistake was on the costume company, and not mine. Everything other than the color was supposed to be exactly the same. I didn’t hesitate to return that one. At least it was still early enough to order from someone else.

Oh well, at least the kids look great and what’s one extra costume at the end of the day?

I have been slow to put up Halloween decorations this year. At first I blamed the wild life, as it was ripping up our lawn and wreaking havoc in our flower beds. Why risk the Halloween decorations being knocked over and damaged, I told myself. But as the weeks progressed I realized I’m just not that happy with our current set of Halloween decorations.

Most of our outdoor decorations just don’t work for our current home. There’s the “Welcome” orange street lamp that worked well on our town home front stoop, what with the non-existent front yard. At our home, it all but disappears from view on our porch. After nine years years the finish is coming off, it’s starting to rust, and it’s barely up right. There are the skulls and scattered bones that look cool, but you can only see them up close. Lastly there’s the posable spider which ended up being a huge mistake as it sheds like crazy and is hard to find a good spot for it.

We’ve been in our home now for two years, and plan to stay throughout the kids’ high school years. I thought it was time to do away with the decorations that just aren’t cutting it. Alexis has been a little fearful of some of the more animated and scary decorations, so I wanted something friendly and approachable while still being appropriate for the season.

My first concern was to light the walkway. I wanted to use luminaries, but rather than use traditional paper bag luminaries with LED tealights, I decided to go with candles. I found these. Ironically the reviewers chief complaint (that they’re too orange) made them ideal for me. It ended up being a bit pricey for luminaries ($24 for the candle holders, $10 for the tea lights), but they should last for years.

In the corner on the other side of our walk way I plan to put a non-animatronic stone statue and a lit pumpkin. I envision something made out of grapevine with twinkle lights. This would be perfect, if it was weather resistent. Alas, a carved pumpkin doesn’t work too well here. Last year our jack-o-lantern liquefied in 36 hours thanks to the intense UV rays.

I have my eye on a statue that will work, and am just waiting for the right sale. (I’ve waited this long, might as well wait a few more days.) The grapevine pumpkin is proving to be a bit more difficult. It seems to be a popular in door only decoration. Still, I’m nothing if not persistent. And frugal. Most of the time.

October 17, 2017

Unicorn Sandwhich

Yesterday when picking Alexis up from daycare she immediately wanted to be held, burring her head into the crook of my neck. I felt the warmth radiating from her and just knew she had a fever. The thermometer at home confirmed: 102.4. She would be staying home today. Daycare rules.

What ever was brewing last night seems to have blown over. She slept reasonably well, all things considered and her fever is gone. She’s energetic, and her usual happy self. The only indication that she may not be feeling well was a reduced appetite. She eat only a few bites of her morning cereal when she can normally eat a bowl and a half. A few hours later she was asking for gold fish like a champ.

Since my little tropper seemed to be doing so much, but had to stay home anyway, I was looking for ways to make our impromptu Mommy and Me day a little more special. After all, big sister just had a bunch of them, and she got go to the movie theater!

One of my ideas: Unicorn Sandwhiches. Sprinkles have about 2-3g of sugar per teaspoon, depending on the brand. A pinch can be estimated to be, what, a 1/16 a teaspoon? Not enough for the added sugar to disrupted a vulnerable stomach, but enough to add a bit of excitement.

Alexis eat about 3/4ths of her sandwich. Not as much as I was expecting, but she loved the sprinkles and asked if we could have more Unicorn Sandwiches on the next home day.

October 4, 2017

Black Friday Game Plan

It’s almost that time of year again: shopping season! One again I find myself making a list of deals I’m hoping for to help keep my shopping focused and my splurges to a minimum.

Kids clothes. Nicole has just about out grown her current size, so we’re ready to expand her wardrobe. I’ve purchased her a few clothes so we won’t be suddenly on a lurch, but a blanket sale on kids clothes seems to be a Black Friday staple.
Where I’m looking: Carters or Target

Baby Stuff. No surprise there. Our baby monitor is in terrible shape, which is understandable given it’s age. The video sometimes goes, the signal cuts out and it’s battery life is non existent. I’m also like a new crib and an additional rocking chair. (You can never have too many rocking chairs with multiple kids in the house!)
Where I’m looking: Amazon mostly. I’m expecting to only succeed on the monitor, I’ve never seen the other two as a part of a Black Friday holiday sale.

Kitchen/Home Stuff. There’s nothing big that we need. Our pizza pan is pretty gross at this point, and I’d like to try flexible cutting boards instead of the stiff ones we have now that seem to take up so much room in the dishwasher. Domingo would also like wireless meet thermometers for the right price. New sheets and additional coat hangers would also be nice.
Where I’m looking: Target most likely, Bed Bath and Beyond as a possibility. Target tends to have a spend $X get a coupon for $Y on your next visit promotion. They’re also where our original hangers come from, and no price will make up for them non-matching. I like our sheets from Bed Bath and Beyond, but in order to get the percentage off your whole order you need to be in store by noon and I’m not sure that will be doable.

Cell Phones. I’m not sure why this wasn’t on our last last year, but Domingo’s phone Badly needs to be upgraded. It’s five years old, and doesn’t always charge. Additionally the wireless antenna was knocked lose and sometimes it won’t connect to the internet. This is not a good phone for the parent who travels! He’s pretty flexible, so we’ll be looking for the best android deal we can fine. My phone may also be replaced for the right deal. I’m looking at the iPhone 8 to replace my three year old iPhone 6.
Where I’m looking: All over.

Other. Cheap movies for the kids, more board games for the kids, you know, the things that are always on our list.

In the Bull Pen. At some point a new printer would be nice. I’d like one that can spool requests even if the computer is turned off.

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Addendum. We now have another thing to hunt for this Black Friday: A new DSLR camera. I’ve long since exceeded the expected shutter life on my camera, and every once in a while it’s behavior has been inconsistent. A few weekends ago I swear the camera autofocused after the shutter released, and this summer the light meter was ridiculously off when taking photos of the girls outside. These have been rare issues, usually only effecting one photo in a bunch, so I have so far been willing to over look them. Now the grip is starting to come detached.
Where I’m looking: NikonUSA. Last year they had a sale on the 7000 series line, $200 off a body. That was partly because the 7500 (the model I’m currently coveting) was due out this sprint, but even the newer models were $100 off. I’m hoping to get $100 of the 7500 this Black Friday.

September 28, 2017

Differences in Pregnancies

This pregnancy has been so amazingly different from my other two. I’ve had virtually no migraines, when that was a pretty common system with both my first two. Instead I’ve had way more morning sickness. It’s part of the reason most everyone around me guessed Z3 was a boy (spoiler, she’s a girl). My Mother in law was convinced I was carrying differently and that must be because Z3 was a boy. Alexis’ former daycare teacher was sure it was a boy because I looked like I had lost weight. I hadn’t, but I appreciate the complement.

I thought it would be fun to put together a list of how all my pregnancies differ.

Morning Sickness
1st/Zippy: No real morning sickness or food aversions to speak of. I did find myself loving sun dried tomatoes which normally I pass on.
2nd/Ziggy: Can’t eat black beans, pinto beans are the same. This is note worthy since my go-to lunch while working at Google was a burrito so I had to skip on black bean days. All else remains the same.
3rd/Z3: Food is the DEVIL. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to what I can eat. It was if some invisible force was rolling the dice each and every time I tried to eat. Something I could eat yesterday would turn my stomach today. Sometimes even bread was on my no-can-do list. I could eat the flesh of a plum, but the skin makes my stomach turn. Morning sickness finally started going away around 20 weeks.

Diet (At least initally)
1st/Zippy: Cried on a five hour flight because I was hungry and all they had to eat was ham and cheese sandwhiches and that’s on the no-no list when pregnant.
2nd/Ziggy: Stuck to the no-no list reasonably well.
3rd/Z3: Forgot delimeat was a no-no item and lived off of ham & cheese sandwhiches for a week before remembering.

Prenatals
1st/Zippy: 3 months before we started trying, during the trying to conceive journey and every day pregnant.
2nd/Ziggy: Took a few off an on when we started trying to conceive. Was a lot more diligent about it after we got our pregnancy test, but I know I missed a few days here and there.
3rd/Z3: Pretty sure I last took one in the 1st trimester. At least I’m eating a lot healthier over all (now) and the carbs I was eating back then were heavily fortified with folic acid.

Migraines
1st/Zippy: Started around 10 weeks with one that lasted four days. Got worse in the second trimester and stayed bad mostly through the third.
2nd/Ziggy: I had 3-4 a week, not sure when they started. Magnesium supplements helped.
3rd/Z3: I’ve had 2 or 3 total since becoming pregnant the third time. I’ve only needed to take medication for it once.

Gestational Diabetes
1st/Zippy: Nope!
2nd/Ziggy: Nope!
3rd/Z3: Partially failed the diabetes test. I’m on the diet (hence the eating a lot healthier now) but am not technically diabetic.

Weight Gain
1st/Zippy: 10 lbs (lost a lot thanks to those pesky migraines)
2nd/Ziggy: 16 lbs
3rd/Z3: So far (28 weeks) 7lbs, but that’s including weight loss from the gestational diabetes diet.

Energy Levels
1st/Zippy: I felt pretty normal, assembled her crib at 37 weeks pregnant mostly by myself.
2nd/Ziggy: Got stuck under my desk trying to plug an Ethernet cable back in around 27 weeks.
3rd/Z3: By 20 weeks walking upstairs was too much effort, I think I’ll nap on the couch.

Sleeping
1st/Zippy: Boppy please!
2nd/Ziggy: Ugh, no boppy!
3rd/Z3: Random pillow between the knees to spare my hips.

Kids’ reactions to future pregnancies
2nd/Ziggy: Nicole would tell everyone she had a baby in her tummy too.
3rd/Z3: Both Nicole and Alexis would say they have a baby in their tummies too until I had to go on the gestational diabetes diet. Once Nicole learned I couldn’t have candy she quite adamantly determined she did NOT have a baby in her tummy.

September 23, 2017

A Not So Helpful Helper

I am in awe of how Kindergarten teachers handle their classrooms.

For several weeks I have been volunteering in Nicole’s classroom. I manage the art table and math table once a week when the students break into small groups. Last week the math table was cutting out “topping” shapes and gluing them onto their “pizza.” They then created a graph of how many of each toppings there were. I was too focused on the art table and didn’t notice one of the students at the math gluing the left over paper scraps to the table until it was too late. This week I was determined to keep a better eye on the math table. While helping them with their calendars, two of the students at the art table started dueling with their scissors.

I fear I’m not a very effective helper. My only solace is that those things would have also likely happened had I not been there.

Despite the chaos I greatly enjoy volunteering in Nicole’s classroom. It’s been a handy way for me to get the inside scoop and see what the range of skills are. There are some kids who are amazingly ahead and could probably skip ahead to first grade if our district wasn’t such a stickler for the age cutoffs, and some for who all this is clearly new. Seeing the range of where the kids are for each skill set helps me see where I need to focus our efforts at home.

As a parent, it’s definitely beneficial to get an up close view of the teacher in action. I attended the school night where her teacher discussed the skill sets the teacher felt most valuable. Kindergarten has a little of everything in their curriculum, but the emphasis is on learning to read. Seeing her teacher in action and how she works gives me ideas on how I can best encourage Nicole at home while doing homework, and how I can work in reading and writing even on math or science projects. Nicole’s teacher keeps a folder of “early finisher” worksheets, and I was able to find similar worksheets at home that we could practice with.

I also enjoy the access it provides to the teacher. I am a classic over thinker with a tendency to dwell, so waiting for a parent teacher conference to ask a question isn’t always a practical approach for me. I also don’t want to be a pest with constant emails. I can ask quick questions during recess while the kids are all playing that don’t feel important enough to warrant an email.

I might not be the best parent volunteer, but volunteering has helped me be a better kindergarten parent.

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