July 21, 2018

Changing Traditions

I first started Hallmarking the winter of 2009. It was just before New Years. Domingo and I were vacationing in D.C., and killing time before meeting family for dinner when we wondered into a hallmark store. It wasn’t even an ornament from the current year’s collection I first picked up, but the previous year’s “Welcome Friends” the store still had on hand for a steep discount.

Hallmarking combined many of my great loves: shopping, bargain hunting and Christmas. Since I was new to the hobby there were lots of great ornaments that fit my ascetic found cheaply on eBay and Amazon. A few years after I picked up that first “Welcome Friends” ornament, however, I began to exhaust that supply.

It wasn’t long before the only deals to be were after Christmas sales. That worked fine, up until I started have multiple kids, and couldn’t always make time for in person shopping. Last year, at 39 weeks pregnant I opted to just order online from Hallmark.com after the holidays. The ornaments were on sale, but I had to pay shipping. I paid effectively the same price as if I had bought in store at full price before the holiday, and didn’t even get to enjoy the ornament that year. Anticipating not making the after Christmas sale again this year, I purchased online from Hallmark.com, paying both full price and shipping.

The truth is, now that I don’t have time for the bargain hunting aspect, the hobby isn’t nearly as enjoyable. It’s feeling more like an obligation and less like a joy. So for now, I’m likely stopping our hallmark tradition.

Another tradition that’s changing this year is Black Friday in person shopping. The biggest driver for this change is time, and lack there of.

We always intended our Thanksgiving tradition to be putting up the Christmas decorations after the kids go to sleep. There’s something magical about waking up to a fully trimmed tree and festive house. We haven’t met that goal since 2013, and with multiple trees it’s even harder. Nicole is already starting to question the existence of certain mythical entities, so this may be the last year to really embrace that Christmas magic while she still believes.

We’ve been having better luck snagging deals online shopping anyway, and last year’s experience was pretty miserable (though I won’t be pregnant again during any future black Fridays!) So this year we’re committing to online Black Friday shopping only.

As far as traditions go, ones based on shopping are the least worth preserving anyway.

July 15, 2018

Puzzlemania

2018 will forever be remembered as the summer of the jigsaw puzzle in our house.

Jigsaw puzzles were a big part of my childhood. I remember sitting in front of the coffee table with my mom and sister, working on 5,000 piece puzzles together. The one in particular that sticks out in my memory was sheet music of Beethoven’s 5th. Growing up we had a collection a 100 and 250 piece puzzles that, when they became two easy, my sister and I would dump them over backwards and assemble them upside down. I even spent a summer with my best friend on an “impossible” branded puzzle which had no straight edges. Since that wasn’t challenging enough, the backside of the puzzle was stamped with the same image as the front side, just rotated so you could never tell by looking at a single piece if it was upside down or not.

We were always destined to be a puzzle house.

As new parents Domingo and I stocked up on baby puzzles. I remember baby Alexis chewing on the wooden knob of a Melisa and Doug Shapes puzzle, holding it in her mouth like a binky. I probably even have a picture of it somewhere.

When the kids got a little bigger we tried the foam puzzles, and the kind that are meant to be stored assembled where the backing has an outline of each puzzle piece.

The girls never really seemed that interested, and the puzzles stayed mostly in the closet, forgotten. We decided to change that this summer. I wanted to try and bestow my love of jigsaw puzzles onto them, to see if I couldn’t pique their interest.

This summer I purchased a 250 piece puzzle, just to see what the kids were capable of. Nicole, Alexis and I sat down to work on it together. The design ended up being a little more monochromatic (see above), and thus more challenging than I anticipated, but that didn’t stop the girls from getting into it. Even Alexis was able to put some pieces together, and she’s three and a half!

From there we broke out the 48 piece puzzles and when those were two easy, I mixed up the pieces and had Nicole do two puzzles simultaneously. When that proved too easy Domingo found some 100 piece puzzles. In no time the girls were assembling multiple puzzles a night together, though Alexis can do the 48 piece puzzles herself. Alexis told me quite emphatically recently that they did not need my help.

I can’t wait for Dana to get a little bit bigger. We’re going to get a coffee table, and then really see what the kids can do!

July 10, 2018

Dana at Six Months

Dear Dana,

As much as I still want to think of you as a newborn, I now have two pointy white reminders that you are most definitely not. That’s right, someone is cutting her first teeth! A full two months earlier than either of your sisters. You are determined to march to your own drum, and keep this “experienced” mom on her toes, that’s for sure!

We started solids last week, which was super exciting for your sisters who were eager to show you how it’s done. We choose your purees to match the vegetables they were having for dinner so they could show you how to eat the non-mashed kind. It was the best I’ve seen Alexis eat her peas in a long time, so I thank you for that. So far your favorite seems to be squash, but you did equally well with carrots and peas too.

This month we finally were able to break you of the swaddle habit. You seemed unable to settle down and go to sleep without the swaddle, but also uncomfortable when we swaddled you. It was an ongoing battle until I figured out why you like the swaddle so much. I believe the soft muslin fabric reminds you of mommy’s shirt. Every time we nurse, you like to pull Mommy’s shirt over your face. I think the swaddle blanket rubbing against your check reminds you of mommy and that’s why you find comfort in it, even though the act of swaddling is no longer comfortable to you. Once we figured that out I started loosely wrapping you in the blanket and you slept so much better. Of course this means you only get a blanket at nap time when we can keep an eye on you. Once it’s safe for you to sleep with a blanket at night, the muslin swaddle blanket will probably be promoted to blankie.


You love to stick your tongue out to let me know you want to nurse or nap.

Thumb suckings, and finger sucking for that matter, is now passé. I can’t remember the last time I saw your hand in your mouth. Instead you’re all about gnawing on anything that crosses your path, including mommy sometimes! Those teeth will likely fully erupt in short order.

I can’t believe how quickly time is flying, or that we’re already halfway through your first year. It doesn’t matter how big you get, I will always think of you as my itsy bitsy baby.

Love Always,
Mommy & Daddy

July 9, 2018

Here Comes Six

Six. How is it possible? I feel like it was just a few weeks ago that we were signing Nicole up for kindergarten, a month or so ago that we were bringing her home from the hospital. And now she’s six. Six.

Nicole requested her kid birthday party be at Chuck-E-Cheese again this year. Two years ago the experience was super smooth, but I was dreading it this year. As a special treat the birthday ‘star’ gets to go in the ticket blaster machine. For one minute the birthday ‘star’ collects as many tickets as possible, as wind blows them about. At least for the small kids, they get to choose a friend to accompany them. Two years ago, Nicole’s friend got intimidated at the last minute and Daddy accompanied her in the machine. Alexis was too small to attend the party then. This year Alexis was joining us, along with many friends from summer camp. There was no shortage of kids to choose from. I was sure Nicole would pick a friend over her sister, and that Alexis would be heartbroken to be left out.

In the end my fears were unfounded. Nicole chose Alexis. Not only that, but she happily pooled all her tickets from the day with Alexis so they could each get a toy. Nicole got a gumball machine, Alexis a magic mirror. This kid has a heart of gold.

We had are traditional swim in the pool with Grandma and Grandpa, and the great helium balloon release in the stair way. Both kids actually eat their cake this year, rather than pick at it, much to my surprise. Of course we had our traditional giant foil number balloon photo time. The only thing we weren’t able to do was a restaurant dinner like she wanted. I promised to make it up to both girls later by doing one on one lunch dates with them before the start of school.

July 8, 2018

Datayze is Two!

Two years ago I officially rebranded as Datayze, and forever changed the trajectory of my business.

Four days ago I did a major new launch, and this change could prove to be just as meaningful. Not only is the set up more professional – I can now monitor site health from my phone! but I can also do light weight debugging from the rocking chair. Productivity is up, and so is what I’m dubbing ‘developer confidence’.

This past year I’ve had six times the users, six times the revenue, and six times the page views. My Alexa rank is 127,191 surpassing the ranks of all my major competitors, and grown from 4,000 monthly users to a quarter million. It’s stunning to me that I’ve been able to maintain a near 20% month-over-month growth rate since Datayze’s launch. I remember when 600 daily users was a big deal, and crossing the threshold of 1,000 daily visitors. Then came the mornings where I’d reach for my phone as I was getting out of bed to see if Datayze had already had 1,000 visitors by 6:30am. Followed by mornings where I’d eagerly check to see if it was 3,000. Then there are the intangibles not reflected in the numbers. Datayze is having a real impact.

Working for yourself is difficult, exhausting and at times demoralizing, but also ridiculously rewarding. Revenue looks like it’s going to be way up this month, surpassing the monthly target I initially set for myself. It’s an incredible feeling. It’s taken me longer than I anticipated to get to this point as I had hoped to reach this revenue goal last year, and yet, I also never thought I could build such a popular site. (Which also says something about my revenue per user expectations.)

Growth will inevitably slow. It already is showing some signs of a slow down (though I’m still hoping that’s summer related.) I’m hoping to spend the following year diversifying more and insulating myself from seasonal patterns. Diversifying could mean a wider portfolio of apps, or multiple different revenue sources.

I also wouldn’t say no to an Alexa rank of 100,000.

Forgive me for a late update, I’ve been working crazy hours ahead of this last launch. I was desperate to get it out during the holiday week when traffic was low. So far everything looks great, but before I get into that let’s talk numbers.

In June I earned $630.34, just under $100 from March’s high. Users are down 6% overall, and down 9% from organic traffic, two numbers I’m not thrilled about. Mobile users is up 5%, while desktop is down 25% and my Alexa rank continues to inch upwards, a possible sign that summer may be keeping people away from there desktops. I’ll be keeping close tabs on the numbers this month.

Delaying the launch was outstanding issues in Time Until and Miscarriage Chart. Combined those two apps make up 66% of my traffic so they needed to work flawlessly ahead of the launch.

The primary hold up with the Miscarriage Chart had to do with my new approach to mobile. Prior to the launch I had been using PHP code to detect device type (mobile or desktop) and serve appropriate content for the screen size. The primary advantage of this approach was I could serve vastly different html per device. The drawback, however, the PHP code needed to be kept update with the ever changing device landscape. Now that tablets are becoming more common, there’s more device types and screen sizes I need to pay attention to. It was going to become unmanageable. I’m now doing the cleaner approach of using media CSS statements, but it took sometime to find a block of HTML code that could be display as desired correctly across all device sizes via CSS.

For Time Until I wanted to incorporate time selection into the datechooser modal to clean up the interface a bit. I had started this process last year and finally felt comfortable that it was bug free and wouldn’t hurt my brand. I wasn’t sure it was as intuitive as the original datepicker. This is we’re having more experience with interface design would be useful. The interface could still use a little more work – here’s where not having a UX experience is working against me – but it’s better!

The past month, and especially this past week has been crazy busy ahead of the new launch. During evening and middle of the night time feedings I’d test out my site on my phone. I’d open every app on my phone, test every possible input, including invalid ones. I’d check the site health on my new admin panel and logging bugs and issues into todoist, all from my phone. During the day I’d hammer out as many quick fixes as possible. Truth be told I’d rather have another week before the launch, as not all apps were working quite to the level I wanted, but most of the issues I was discovering existed in both my test bed, and the previous launched code already in production. I didn’t want perfect to be the enemy of good.

I was initially thinking I’d have a long night ahead of me, but I’ve been watching the admin panel and have confidence there are no major fires.

June 26, 2018

Perceived Importance

After five months of being firmly anti-binky, Dana did something unexpected yesterday. She was sleepy, but too full to nurse to sleep, so I did something I hadn’t done in weeks. I gave her a binky. She didn’t hate it! In fact, she went to right to sleep with it. Not knowing when or if it would happen again, I decided to take as much photographic evidence as possible. I have photos, videos, and even slow motion videos on my phone.

I am reminded of the faux fall photos we did with Nicole. I say faux fall because it was a super warm Thanksgiving day. We dressed her in a sweater jacket, found a sad little leaf pile and carefully took pictures reminiscent of the kinds I would expect growing up in the north east.

The photos of Dana with the binky were about as authentic as Nicole in the leaves. Yes, it really did happened, but the photo conveys something that isn’t really true. She still doesn’t really take the binky. I got her to do it again yesterday afternoon, but just once, and not at all today.

(Edited to add: She appears to be teething. In retrospect she appears to be chewing on the pacifier in some of the pictures, not sucking on the pacifier.)

The experience has me thinking about the perceived importance of moments, and which moments we choose to photograph and remember. This moment felt extraordinary because it was rare. Ironically, it would have been a more meaningful moment to capture if it was more representative of our experience, yet I may not think to pick up the camera in that case. This realization has been weighing on me lately. I pick up my camera often with Dana, capturing both the every day and the extraordinary alike since we spend so much time together, but the older two? I keep meaning to take more photos each weekend, but the weekends are so busy we rarely have time to follow through. The last photos I took of the girls? I can’t remember. It feels like ages.

Things will settle down. I will find a way to make more time for photography. It is my life blood, after all.

June 22, 2018

No Partner Requests

Guys, things are getting a little ridiculous. Today I received a request to pitch a fashion line on my blog. I think I have been pretty candid in the past about my wardrobe basically consisting of free conference t-shirts, and wearing maternity pants with the legs rolled up rather than bothering to hem them. I will be the first to admit I have no fashion sense, nor any meaningful blog readership to speak of. Even a cursory glance at my blog should have revealed this ad would have had terrible ROI (Return on Investment.)

Unless…. Unless the advertiser was less interested in using my blog as an advertising medium and more interested in me as a customer. I’ve had a theory about advertisers who pitch on small to medium blogs.

Often social media product pitches include free merchandise without, or with very little, monetary compensation in exchange for a “candid” reviews from “influences”. Psychology tells us that it isn’t truly candid, though, even if the advertiser doesn’t dictate any of the terms of the review. In fact, it may be more advantageous to the advertiser to dictate as little about the review as possible.

Cognitive dissonance, the mental discomfort that occurs when one has two different points of view, works in the advertiser’s favor. When we agree to review a product we’re agreeing to spend mental effort. Subconsciously we want that mental effort to pay off. We want to like the the product. Not only are we less likely to be critical, but since this is happening on a subconscious level we’re less likely to even be aware we’re not being critical. Additionally, advertisers often include a list of positive product features in their pitch, which can prime our opinions prior to even receiving the product. Cognitive dissonance won’t make you love a product you’d otherwise loath, but it can tip the scale in the advertiser’s favor. For little more than a free sample, you may have created a customer – out of the blogger him/herself!

Had I agreed to the “partnership” and liked the free sample, I may have decided to fill out the rest of my missing wardrobe.

To be fair, I doubt the advertiser knew this when I was sent the request. I don’t think I was being targeted because of how badly I need new clothes. The request was generic, only including easily scrap-able pieces of information like my name and blog title. It was the email equivalent of a cold call.

I’ve been getting more and more cold calls lately. I used to respond, but I’m oversubscribed and something’s gotta give. I’m adopting a similar email policy to my comment policy: if I can’t tell if you’re human, I’m ignoring you.

(And for the record, no, I’m not open to any advertising partnerships on my blog.)

June 19, 2018

Peas in a Pod


Can you tell which child is which? Answer key at the bottom of the post

“Who does she take after? Nicole or Alexis?” Was a frequent question right after Dana’s birth, followed by “Did they all have this much hair?” The latter question was much easier to answer – yes! – as for the former? Alexis maybe? I remember studying Dana’s face from the hospital recovery bed, trying to see either big sister in her features. Dana’s face was rounder like Alexis’, but her hair resembled Nicole’s. She simultaneously resembled both of her big sisters, and neither of them at the same time.


My three kids as two week old newborns

When friends and family asked a few weeks after birth, I’d tell them that Nicole had the most hair of the three, Dana second and Alexis’ third. That’s what my memory lead me to believe. Seeing them side by side I think Dana might take that crown.

Now that Dana has filled out a little there’s no question she’s a near carbon copy of Nicole. If I wasn’t the family photographer, I’d swear I wouldn’t be able to tell some of those photos apart. And I used to think Nicole and Alexis looked so much alike as newborns! Ironically, everyone tells me Dana looks like Nicole whenever we’re out and about. I don’t see the similarities as clearly between 5 year old Nicole and baby Dana, though I do find there baby pictures nearly identical.

Dana’s personality is still starting to show, so it’s hard to say which one of her sisters she will take after there. So far she seems to be a mellow baby, like big sister Alexis. She’s perfectly content to hide out and nap in the ergo during weekend outings, and rarely cries. Although she can’t stand to hear anyone else cry (a phenomenon I don’t remember with either big sister).

I’m pretty amazed at how early sisterly love takes hold.

Alexis still hugs and kisses Dana every chance she gets, first thing in the morning, after breakfaste, before leaving for school… Even if it’s only been a few minutes since the last hug and kiss. Dana adores the attention, even when it nearly knocks her over. The other day at dinner she got so excited when Alexis walked past her on her way to the bathroom, waving her arms and doing the happy baby dance. Alexis turned to her and said “I go poo and pee, then I give you hug and kiss! Okay, baby?” It was pretty adorable. She tells me all the time that “I like Baby Dana.”

Nicole can often be found sitting next to a fussing Dana, singing or dangling toys to entertain her. She tells me she loves the baby, and the baby is so cute. I’m surprised baby cuteness would register to a not quite six year old, but it really has! She loves showing off Dana whenever the two of us pick her up from camp, referring to Dana as “her baby.” Not “her baby sister”, but “her baby.”

Watching their relationships develop with each other is my favorite part of being their mom.

So which child was which? Top left: Nicole, Top right: Dana, bottom left: Nicole, bottom right: Alexis.

June 14, 2018

Project Sarah

I’m back to my prepregnancy weight which is a bad thing when I was 10 lbs under 2 weeks postpartum.

I could tell I was gaining weight. I couldn’t (and still can’t) stop eating. I crave sugar, which I’ve read is a sign that I’m not sleeping enough. (Not like I needed a sign.) I’m embarrassed to admit that on at least one occasion I chose to eat when I knew I was thirsty, not hungry. This is a problem of my own making.

I have to be realistic. As much as I may want to, exercise is not going to happen. Not while Dana is home with me. There just isn’t the time. I need to prioritize my business right now, so even if I could free up a spare block of time here or there, exercising is pretty low on the priority list. Calorie restriction is also not something I think is a good idea as a nursing mom. My body needs fuel so I can feed Dana.

Eating healthier is my best bet. Swapping out empty carbs for healthy alternatives. More protein. More fiber. Less carbs. Improving diet may not lead to weight loss, but it can hopefully stem the weight gain.

One of the benefits of the gestational diabetes diet is I have a better understanding of nutrition and what works for me. I now know not all fruit is created equal, and berries contain the most fiber. We got in the habit during pregnancy of keeping quick to warm up protein sources in the refrigerator. Our go-tos were tacos, meatloaf and garlic chicken. We’d make a big batch of it on Sunday and I’d have leftovers the rest of the week. For snacks I would do a spoonful of peanut butter or slice of cheese.

It’s a little harder to manage these days. A handful of chips is easier to grab while carrying a baby around the house than warming up left over dinner. Hard or not, I have to try.

The other thing I’m trying to do is drink more water. I started about a month ago. I found an online calculator that said I should strive for 110oz a day. As a side benefit to all that water, I’m down to one diet soda every couple of days. Last time I nearly kicked the soda habit was before becoming pregnant with Nicole.

While I can’t say I’ve noticed any differences either on the scale or otherwise after making these changes, I can tell they’re starting to have an effect. I used to really dislike drinking plain water, but I’ve gotten used to it over the last month. Drinking 110oz is becoming second nature. I could do another 15-20 without much effort. It’s funny, I used to hate substituting a peanut butter sandwich on wheat for my usual morning cereal when pregnant, but I’m so used to it now it’s no big deal.

Good habits develop slowly, I guess.

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