November 25, 2018

Capturing Magic

From almost the moment I took my new camera out of the box, I noticed an immediate improvement in my photography. Since then my photography has continued to improve.

This evening, after the kids went to bed I set down at my computer to pull the images off my camera. I quickly called Domingo over, and spun my computer around to show him what I captured.

“Wow! I’m surprised you got that!” he said.

“To be honest, me too.”

His comment wasn’t a slight. The odds were stacked against us. It had been raining and gloomy all day. We decided to try for the photo towards the end of the day when we were about to lose what little light we had left. Alexis hadn’t napped, Dana was in need of hers. Both of the older girls were over excited, eagerly anticipating making gingerbread houses. On a normal Sunday I would have put my camera down and waited for a better day.

Today was also our last opportunity to take photos while my parents were visiting. When photographing a multiple kids at once, more hands are always helpful! I’ve found the faster you can get set up and everyone ready, the more likely you’ll have success. This is extra especially true on days you can expect the children’s patience to run even shorter than normal. So we decided to take a chance.

Then magic happened.

Our experience today nearly identically mirrored our experience last Sunday when we did a mini shoot for our Christmas card. That day it was smoke rather than rain clouds blocking the sun light. The kids were going completely stir crazy after being cooped up inside for three days. Naps failed. We were at the end of the day; thirty-seven minutes from sunset according to the time stamp on my camera. To say it was not an ideal time to be shooting indoors using only natural lighting would be putting it mildly. Even the photo set up was largely the same – just with Santa hats! The odds we’d get something usable seemed slim, yet we somehow managed to capture magic that time too. In fact, I was so pleased with the outcome I needed another non-Christmas photo to frame for my walls, hence today’s photo session.

I’ve been giving the new camera a lot of credit for the improvement in my photography. It’s true, our Christmas Card Photo would not have been possible with my old camera under those lighting conditions. The photo was shot at 1/250th a second on my D7500. The ISO limitations of my old camera would have required 1/50th a second, or a wider aperture. Either would have introduced the likelihood of unwanted blur.
(When photographing kids even 1/250th of a second is often too slow as holding a pose doesn’t exactly come naturally. I ended up with a few shots with motion blur, along with the keepers.)

At the same time, I don’t think my new camera deserves all the credit. The success of this week and last is partly due to a better intuitive feel for both the technical and non technical aspects of photography. I had a vision in my mind of the image I wanted to capture, and a good feel of how to execute that vision. I knew what camera settings I would need, and how to best get the expressions I was after from the kids. That means I’m more likely to get the shot I want the first time, when the kids are the most amenable to it. These days it’s rare that I don’t have at least one capture I’m proud of whenever I pick up my camera. I’m relying on luck less and less.

I guess it wasn’t more frames I needed when shooting my kids together, but another three and a half years of practice.

Between this Thanksgiving occurring as early as possible, and our plan to abandon Black Friday shopping in favor of decorating, I’m on track to cross off a substantial portion of my Christmas To Do list before the start of December. Here is all that I’ve accomplished already, ahead of Thanksgiving.

Christmas Cards, (✔)

We took our Christmas Card photo on Sunday, and finished our cards yesterday. I misread a coupon from Shutterfly and was rushing to get it done by Thanksgiving. Turns out I have no shortage of 40% off coupons that don’t expire until the end of December, so I’m sitting on our card until Black Friday/Cyber Monday to see if there’s a better deal coming.

Incidentally, rushing to get a family photo ended up being a good thing as not 24 hours later a cold started to make it’s way through our family bringing with it crusty noses, tired eyes and pale faces.

Black Friday, (✔)

BestBuy’s deal on the iPhone went live somewhere around 10 o’clock my time. Around the same time CamelCamelCamel alerted me to a good deal on the previous Kindle Paperwhite. Neither deal was spectacular, but can’t beat the convenience of shopping in my PJs while sipping my hot chocolate – especially since I’ve been hit by that cold!

While I am content to be finished with Black Friday shopping this year, I am a little disappointed. There didn’t appear to be a deal on the leap pad, either in person or online, and the phone ended up being not as discounted as I previously believed. I miss the spectacular deals.

“Santa’s” Shopping, (Mostly ✔)

Stockings

I’m ridiculously proud of how well Nicole’s and Alexis’ stockings came together. I started planning them back in September as Santa was getting the girls custom name necklaces. I got the idea when Alexis’ started writing her own name. Wouldn’t you know one of the four things Nicole wanted (along with headbands, and nail polish) was a new necklace? Way ahead of you, girlie!

Alexis wants a real life unicorn, so Santa is stuck there, but I think she’ll be happy with what Santa came up with.

That just leaves Dana’s stockings. Her’s was always going to be the most difficult as I like the stockings to be somewhat practical and we have so many hand me downs she is not of want for anything. I’m thinking maybe teethes and bath toys.

Presents

Handled across the board. Domingo and I happened to be in Target the day of the 20% off toys sale, which worked out perfectly.

November 16, 2018

Hazardous


Haze from the Smoke

Last year it was a big deal when the air quality index (AQI) reached 150. Today it topped out around 300, shattering records.

And I still don’t have the air purifiers I talked about getting. [Insert Expletives].

And the air is going to stay this way until Saturday next Tuesday. [Insert More Expletives].

The fire that first got me thinking about purchasing air purifiers was just a little brush fire, easily handled by the fire department and out the same day. No need to rush into a purchase, I told myself, I had time to do research first. Not all purifiers are equally good at handling all particulate matter in all spaces, and if I could fine one that worked well with wild fire smoke and pollen all the better.

When the Camp Fire started last week, the original prediction was the air would start to improve by this past Tuesday, so I didn’t feel pressured to act quickly. AQI was bad, but the standard bad that we’ve grown used to the past couple of years. Instead of improving, however, the air quality worsened. Schools closed in anticipation that the AQI reaching Hazardous levels.

I wasn’t surprised to discover the local big box stores were sold out of purifiers. The air quality had been teetering between “Unhealthy” and “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” for a week. I was shocked that even online giants are completely sold out. With wild fires burning across the state, however, even Amazon is struggling to keep inventory.

I am so mad at myself, and so worried about our little lungs. I waited to buy and we are all paying the price for it now.

We are doing what we can to lessen the impact of the smoke. Being inside helps, but the particulate matter still works its way inside over time. The smoke is blocking out the sun, keeping the temperature a good ten degrees colder than it would otherwise be. With the lows in the thirties we have no choice but to run the HVAC and I have yet to figure out if or how to use recycled air. We’re running it as little as possible.

Four more days.


Last night I couldn’t sleep. My eyes and throat burned, my head ached. The kids were getting up nearly constantly with similar complaints. I was lying in bed, browsing social media at 2:40am when someone posted that Amazon was selling the Coway air purifier again, one of the most consistently highly rated purifiers. I didn’t wait. I didn’t price check. It won’t ship for another two days, and won’t make it here until after the smoke is supposed to abate. I’m not taking any more chances. Good thing too, by the morning it was sold out again.

November 12, 2018

Dana at Ten Months

Dear Dana,

Shortly after my last letter to you, Daddy took off on travel and you just took off crawling! I texted Daddy as he was in the Taxi on his way to the airport to inform him that you had crawled six steps, the most yet. By the time Daddy was back home, just a few days later, there was no denying it – you were a crawler! You’re still mastering your crawling technique. You crawl on two hands and a flat foot and a knee with your leg turned in wards. It’s surprisingly effective. Sometimes you try crawling on two flat feet. So far you haven’t tried two knees yet, but when you do you’ll really start to take off.


You’re hair is getting so long, I’m going to have to start using barrettes or hair ties.

While Daddy was gone I broke out your play pen. We’ve been affectionately referring to the it as the “baby jail.” So far, you’re a fan. I thought you wouldn’t like being contained now that you can crawl, but you don’t seem to mind. You love when your big sisters make faces at you through the mesh sidings of your play pen. I think you also feel safer in it than on the floor when sisters come home all wound up after school. As much as you love their attention and hugs, the after-school hugs can sometimes be a little intimidating.

Just this week you started pulling up to a stand by your table. You’re still not cruising yet, I think we still have another month to go before we reach that milestone. Instead of going around your activity table when there’s something you want on the other side, you attempt to go over it.

We’re starting to transition away from purees to table food. Spaghetti was a huge hit, chicken was not. You enjoyed beef crumbles one day, but not another. You seem to prefer solid fruit to the mushed variety. You have eaten banana, water mellon and strawberries consistently well.

We’re also starting to hear words from you now. Aside from Mama and Dada, “yeah” and “no” are the words we hear most often. I have video where I’m trying to coax you to crawl for mommy. You’re on all fours, looking like you’re giving crawling some serious consideration before you say “no”, pushing back into a sitting position. Daddy and I both heard you say “more” in reference to cheerios, along with the sign. The girls are convinced you’re saying even more words, but I’m pretty confident that’s just wishful thinking. Truth be told, ‘yeah’ and ‘no’ may be wishful thinking on our part. ‘Yeah’ seems to be the sound you naturally make when excited and smiling, which may be why it seems right in context. As excited as I am to hear you start to talk for real, I’ll miss you’re happy little baby squeals.

Love Always,
Mommy and Daddy

November 9, 2018

Black Friday 2018 Wishlist

I’m still feeling a bit burned by last year’s Black Friday, which is perhaps why I have been slow about really making plans this year. I still fully intend to shop online only, and while I know there will be good deals to be found online, I’m know I’ll also miss the atmosphere. C’est la vie.

If this year’s Black Friday had a theme it would be “get a good deal, not necessarily the best deal.” (Incidentally, that was my original Black Friday motto.)

Kindle paperwhite

Domingo’s current kindle, the Graphite modal, doesn’t have a backlight. He does have a detachable light, but the light only affixes to the kindle when the kindle is out of it’s carrying case. He’s traveling for work a lot more this year and what was once an inconvenience is becoming more a nuisance. As if sensing we needed just a little more of a push to get a new kindle, the light quit working on his last trip.

From my research it looks like I can expect $30-40 off if I wait until Black Friday.

Leappad for Alexis

Alexis loves her tablet, but they don’t really make good apps for three and four year olds. The games are either a little too advanced, or a little too juvenile so the device has become more of a mini tv. Nicole’s old leappad, on the other hand, is more age appropriate, but, well, old and the touch screen isn’t as responsive any more. We decided to get her a new tablet for her upcoming birthday to tide her over while she grows into her current tablet.

Last year the best deal was at end of October by stacking coupons. So far, I haven’t seen any comparable deals, or any black friday deals of any kind on leappad tablets, but I haven’t given up hope yet.

Hatchibabies

Both kids have decided their asking Santa for Hatchibabies.

Walmart’s Black Friday ad came out and they’re offering an exclusive hatchibaby, the Foxfin, for $34.88. I checked the website and there’s currently no listing of the foxfin, which makes me think the Foxfin is being produced just for he season. Our TV was manufactured for Black Friday. It was designed and produced at a super cheap price point so it could be one of those amazing door buster deals. One of the ways the manufacture made it cheap was by removing HDMI ports. When it hit the market on Black Friday it looked like a steal compared to fully featured TVs sold all year round. I’m not complaining. It’s certainly good enough for us, and in the same situation I’d buy it again. On the other hand, I’m not sure the “missing some features, but still largely the same at a lower price point” mentality works for a Santa Present. Besides, when I was doing research into the foxfin I found someone wrote an app to track store inventory for this hatchibaby only. Not a good sign it’s going to be easily available.

Since Walmart’s exclusive hatchibaby was being offered at $35, I figured it was unlikely anyone would beat that price. That made the current price for the Ponette ($39.37 on Amazon) not bad. Previously they have been “on sale” since October for $48.88. I bought ours last night.

Wilton large baking sheet

Our non stick backing sheets are no longer non stick. Besides, now that we have a larger family it would be nice to have a baking sheet large enough to fit food for everyone! I bought one of these over the summer and it works great. We can make due with the one we have, but two would be nice. This is a good candidate for a sale, so I’m waiting to see.

IPhone

My current phone is now four years old, can no longer hold a charge for a day, and a particularly JavaScript heavy website can bring it to its knees.

Target is doing another $250 gift card with activation, but I’d have to go in person and that was the straw that broke the camels back last year. We got a good deal on Domingo’s phone by purchasing it online at BestBuy the week before, and they’re doing $150 off the iPhone this year so I’m hoping that works again this time. It’s not the best deal possible, but it’s the most convenient! My time is worth an extra $100.

November 5, 2018

Better Bedtimes

Bedtime for us was a mess. We had three different kids in need of three different bedtimes, with only two adults and two of the kids sharing a bed room. It seemed unlikely.

Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and try anyway.

Our initial routine had Nicole and Alexis on the same schedule, both going to bed between 7:30 and 8pm. Alexis was always over tired by the time 7:30 rolled around. She’d have a hard time sitting still at the homework table, or playing quietly, and would often inadvertently distract Nicole. The more Nicole lost focus, the longer it took for her to finish her work. The more over tired the girls got, the less cooperative they were getting dressed into PJs or brushing teeth. As a result, we often weren’t going to bed on the best note. While I can’t say for certain, I believe the rocky bedtime was effecting the quality of their sleep, and by transitivity, our sleep.

The first change we made was to move teeth brushing and pajamas to immediately after dinner, before homework. While Domingo helps the girls get ready for bed, I’m giving Dana her bath and putting her down to sleep. Usually Nicole and Alexis finish before I come down stairs, and start homework while waiting for me.

Once I put Dana to bed at 7, it’s Mommy & Alexis time until 7:30. Alexis picks out a chapter book for me to read as a bed time story. The nice thing about our new routine is it lends itself well to natural consequences. If she hasn’t cooperated with Daddy and isn’t in her pajamas with her teeth brushed, we have less reading time. Thus far we have only had to skip bed time story once for the lesson to sink in.

When Nicole finishes her homework she either works on her math game for school, or practices her reading with Domingo until I put Alexis to bed at 7:30. Then it’s Nicole’s turn for individual Mommy time. She goes to bed at 8. By then, Alexis is almost always asleep.

The down side to our new routine is Alexis is getting less “homework” time to practice her letters and numbers. What we’re gaining is the reintroduction of bed time stories, 20-30 minutes of individual mommy time for each girl, additional reading and math practice for Nicole, and a more peaceful bedtime. I’ll call that a win.

Now I need to figure out a way to have better mornings so we’re not always rushing to get out the door on time.

October was a month of tepid gains.

Income wise, I earned $1,022.07, down just $72 from September. The difference appears to be that October’s revenue remained consistent at the lower, post second-week-in-September rate, whereas September had one good week before income dropped. I’m still disappointed that revenue dropped in the first place, but the good news is that revenue isn’t dropping further.

In terms of engagement, users were up 8.6% in October. October’s gains, combined with September’s and August’s were enough to finally overcome the loss of audience size that started back in May. Comparing comparable time periods (both starting the same day of the week, and counting the same number of days), Audience size in October is just four tenths of a percent down from April, which is within the noise.

It’s not all good news when looking at audience size, however. While October and April’s overall audience sizes were comparable, per day rates were not. On average there were fewer users per day in October than per day in April, which could indicate a lower retention rate in October. Diving in with Google analytics it appears April users were more likely to return quickly, within 0-4 days. I’d really like to investigate this further, and get a sense of why users might not be coming back as frequently as they once were. It looks like a different breakdown in app popularity could explain the difference, but I’d like to be sure there isn’t some larger issue lurking.

This month I’ve been working on bug fixes, interface design and user experience.

At the end of September I was alerted that mobile-first indexing was now enabled for datayze. I knew it was coming, and was already pretty pleased with my current approach to mobile. One area of concern still is browser resizing. Each app interface is great if you’re on a mobile screen, or a desktop screen, but if you grow from the former to the later, or shrink from the later to the former, sometimes things can get a little wonky. It’s not a common case, but one that should be addressed just the same.

October 31, 2018

Little Jedi

I love, love, love how these turned out.

We took our annual family group costume photo this past weekend. As a treat, we let the girls run around with their light sabors at dusk, so they could see them all light up. Of course I followed the girls around with my camera because, why not? Since it was only dusk the glow wasn’t very pronounced in the pictures in the pictures. Nicole was disappointed her blue light saber wasn’t showing up as nicely as Alexis’ green saber. She wanted to take more photos (in her own words “a thousand photos”) were you could really see the saber too. An idea was born.

The initial plan was just photograph Nicole and Alexis in costume with their blue and green sabers. I hadn’t gotten a light saber for Dana, what with her being nine months old and all. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted a matching photo of her with a sabor as well. I wasn’t too enamored with her with Yoda custom (either the original or the one I hobbled together). She kind of looked like a green lamb in her headpiece. Having a “Jedi Dana” photo seemed like a good way to make up for that fact, and to ease the pain of way over spending on our costumes. Domingo thought she looked at bit like Anakin Skywalker in her tunic and pants. We had a Kylo Ren sword (free conference swag) and so “Darth Dana” was born.

Only problem was the free light saber was terrible. It had just two LEDs in the base of the sword where Nicole and Alexis’ had at least nine running down the length of it. Those two puny LEDs did not cast enough light for the camera to focus well, or to illuminate her face. Having already spend a ridiculous amount on costumes this year, buying another saber was the last thing I wanted to do. I needed to improvise. I shot Dana with the blue light saber and changed the hue in my poor man’s photoshop.

As for the pose, I just got lucky. She was looking down at a toy in her hands and I happened to snap the photo as she was raising her gaze to look at me. The framing isn’t perfect, but it’s one of those moments you can never manufacture.

Technical details: the kids are standing in front of a black backdrop which is probably not needed, but doesn’t hurt. I used full manual mode: small shutter (~F/7.1) and fast shutter (1/200s or faster) to reduce any chance of blur. The raw photos are very dark, so when I bumped up the histogram they’re a touch grainy. Personally I think it adds to the look.

October 17, 2018

An Unnatural Hue

I didn’t think much of it when I noticed a strange orange color casting taking photos of the kids outside.

I didn’t think much of it when I saw the wild turkeys, and, rather than appear indifferent to my presence like they always do, they scrambled to get away.

I didn’t think much of it when I smelled the smell of barbecue. Or maybe that was a fire in a fireplace I was smelling?

It wasn’t until Domingo pointed the sky line that I realized a wild fire was burning nearby.


It’s subtle, but the dried grass is a little more orange and a little less yellow in the above photograph than on a typical day.

I’ve lived in California now for nearly a decade and a half. Domingo longer. We plan for earthquakes. I never thought when I moved here I’d have to have an emergency wild fire plan as well. Four of the last three years there’s been a wild fire burning close enough to us to severely hamper the air quality. I’ve lost count of the actual fires.

It’s time to rethink our emergency plans.

Air purifiers – Last year I was pregnant during a time the air quality was unhealthy. I’d feel winded simply driving from our home to daycare. We joked that I was the family’s canary in the coal mine: I’d wake up in the middle of the night with a terrible headache. Domingo would whip out the phone and – yup – AQI just spiked to 150+.

Being pregnant during a wildfire is something I’ll never have to experience again, but it made me acutely aware of how miserable reduce long capacity and poor air quality can be. I also worry about the long term effects on the little lungs in our family.

Our plan is a small room air purifier for each bedroom. If nothing else, may the smoke not interrupt the kids’ sleep!

Escape plan – I’m the kind of person who wants to have an idea of what to grab in case the evacuation order comes. The sad reality is that the fires in recent years were moving too fast to allow for that. We could find ourselves in a situation where I’m crouched in the back row of the minivan trying to buckle the kids in their seats while Domingo drives us away from the flames.

Time permitting, I’ll grab the local copy of my photos and other data backup since that’s just unplugging a single USB cable and grabbing a single hard drive. Possessions can be purchased again. Even birth certificates can be reordered.

As terrifying as a forced evacuation can be for adults, it’s scarier for kids. The second item on my grab list is the kids’ lovey.

As much as I’d love to save keepsakes, I don’t think that’s a practical expectation. The kids’ footprints, travel souvenirs, wedding mementoes. It’s all too scattered around the house. I tried to scan anything flat into the computer, and photograph anything not so I at least have a digital back up of sorts.

The overall theme – Whether it’s sheltering in place during earthquakes, or running from wild fires, our plans have us co-locating the kids so one parent can keep them from panicking while the other assess the situation.

May we never have to test our plans.

October 12, 2018

Dana at Nine Months

Dear Dana,

And here we are, nine months. Wasn’t it just a few days ago that I was writing your eighth month entry? At least I’m finally starting to think of you more as a baby and less of a newborn. See, mommies can learn too!

This month we decided to work on teaching you to fall asleep on your own, sans rocking and sans nursing. I mentioned previously how good you were at learning to falling back to sleep by yourself after waking up in the middle of the night. You’d also occasionally put yourself to sleep in the rock n’ play for daddy. (What amazes me about that is that you started doing this months after we moved you out of the rock n play for sleeping!) So we felt pretty confident you were ready and just needed a little more encouragement. By October you were doing it consistently. Now you even settle yourself back to sleep after every middle of the night nursing.

You had your second cold this month. You were such a trooper during the day that no one would have ever suspected you were under the whether. It wasn’t until night time that the congestion would become apparent. To help with the congestion we introduced you to your first shower, which is now most definitely one of your favorite things. You squealed with delight when I’d move you through the jet stream, alternately turning your face to the water and away. Oh how you loved to get your face wet! You even put out your tongue to catch the droplets.

Finger food is no longer just for gravity experiments, now it’s an acceptable form of nourishment. You like Cheerios and Puffs, but aren’t really a fan of much else yet. We’re teaching you the sign language for “more” and “done,” although you preferred way to signal the meal is over is by dumping the rest on the floor. Remind me to thank your sisters for encouraging that one.

The big news, though, is that someone is starting to crawl! At the start of October you’d get on your hands and knees, staring longingly at objects in front of you, before diving on your tummy and reaching for them. Then, you’d crawl move forward on your hands, your knees still stationary until you pancaked on your belly. Now your managing to move both your arms and legs, getting some forward propulsion. You don’t seem fully aware of how you’re making yourself move, so you aren’t making it very far yet, but I’m sure you will in no time!

Love Always,
Mommy and Daddy

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