Archive for January, 2013

January 27, 2013

Babyzilla and Other Outtakes

I know, you’re probably tired of Christmas photos by now. I’ve been organizing my photos on my hard drive and I came across a couple of hilarious outtakes that I couldn’t resist.

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Babyzilla destroys the set!

Most of our photo sessions end with Babyzilla destroying the set these days. Who could argue with such a happy baby, though?

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Something apparently stinks. Hopefully it’s not Mommy’s photography.

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Mommy’s Silly Billy

And I couldn’t resist a non-outtake.

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Before the arrival of Babyzilla
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Every list I’ve ever seen for prepping for baby’s arrival always include baby items: toys, clothes, etc. There are also a lot of non-baby specific items that can make caring for a baby so much easier. Here’s my list.

Laundry

Turns out, babies are messy. Poop? Purees? If it’s not coming out one end, it’s coming out the other. My laundry room has become a variable chem lab of detergents. In my arsenal:

  • A Plastic Wash Bucket – Or a sick if you have one close by the washer and dryer. Immediately pre-treating is often not practical, so I keep a plastic wash bucket with a little soapy water. When I have a particularly badly soiled garment, I throw it in to soak during the day until I have a chance to get it.
  • A Pre Treater (I used Oxiclean Gel Stick) – Really any pre-treater will work (and is a must!). After Nicki goes down I use a gel stick and go after any poop, purees or vitamin stains. Usually spit-up, breastmilk and formula come out with just detergent. Be prepared to need more than one iteration, especially after purees that weren’t presoaked.
  • The Heavy Duty Stuff (I use Oxiclean Powder) – I kid you not, this product got Gatorade out of my white nursing bra. The powder is really great for bibs and burb cloths in high heat. Most days I just use a perfume and dye free detergent and the gel stick for a spot check, but when that doesn’t work I turn to the powder.

So far we’ve only lost three items (2 onesies and a bib) that just would not get clean again. The bib was my fault. In an effort to get the squash out I washed it on high heat and the colors ran. Well, that count is not including things that started to wear due to frequent washing. You just can’t win.

Cleaning Baby

  • Underpads – We use the wipe and tuck diaper changing technique, but sometimes a little stray poop gets out. This was especially true early on when we didn’t have much practice. We cut these pads in half and place them between Nicki and the changing pad cover after particularly messy diapers to avoid mishap since, you know, poop stains. Since they’re thin, they also work well under blankets for naked baby pictures. (Another option would be changing pad liners. The problem with the reusable liners is they tend to curl after multiple washes won’t lie flat, and they’re not as soft.)
  • Heating Pad – Nicki, like all newborns, hated being cold. Bath time was fun, but getting out? It didn’t help that our bathroom has no door (it’s a weird California thing) so there was always a draft no matter how warm the house was. We used the heating pad to warm up the towel and our snugly little bug was much happier.
Disclosure: This blog post contains Amazon affiliate links. I may earn a small commission with each affiliate link click. For more details please see my full disclosure about blog profit.

Babies change so much so quickly. Six months is a whole new ball game from 3 months with a whole new set of gear! The theme this time around: toys, toys, toys!

Activity Toys

Nicki has (mostly) outgrown the Lamaze Space Symphony Motion Gym. She still enjoys kicking at the bars and bending it, but she can get the hanging toys off with ease. Her new favorite exercise toy? The Luv U Zoo Jumperoo! We got it when she was four months old, but she really got into it at five months. Now she rockets back and forth. I’m pretty sure we have a daredevil in the making.

Learning To Sit

Our house has hard wood floors. Not only are they uncomfortable to sit on, but I was worried she would hurt herself when she feel over. We needed something soft, or at least softer. Enter the Skip Hop PlaySpot Floor Mat. I kept thinking “this is way too hard, she’ll hurt herself when she falls backwards!” when I was assembling the mat. I went online and found some people had a similar complaint, while others raved about the softness. That’s when I realized there were two sides and I had it upside-down. ‘doh! (At least I wasn’t the only one?) Now that the mat is right side up it makes for a much better baby play surface. We’ve taken a tumble or two on it, and while she wasn’t happy, she wasn’t hurt.

When Nicki was just learning to sit independently we were also on the search for tall toys that she wouldn’t have to lean forward (and possibly fall over) to get. Two good ones were the Lamaze Multi Sensory Soft Sorter and the Fisher-Price Brilliant Basics Rock-a-Stack. I liked the soft sorter because it was soft, so the occasional face-plant on the toy didn’t hurt. The stacker was also good because she was able to manipulate the rings more easily than the soft sorter objects. Now she’s gotten really good at dumping the rings off the stack poll and even once put the blue ring back on (a nine month skill!).

Teething

For teething it’s a three way tie between the Manhattan Toy Winkel (which we refer to as the molecule because it looks something like the Crystalline Entity for Star Trek), Sophie and Chan Pie Gnon (which we refer to as her alien).

I love the alien because it squeaks so easily. Have it pretend to walk across the table and it’s chirping all the way. Give the body a good squeeze and it extends and bobbles its head with a loud squeal like a cartoon character. Nicki will squeak the alien by squishing it’s head when chewing its ear (antler? antenna?). It was her favorite last month, but now Sophie is giving it a run for it’s money. She’ll squeak Sophie by squeezing her neck when chewing on her ears. I have to admit, I’m kind of amazed she has the dexterity to do that. The molecule has a little rattle sound, but it’s subdued and sometimes stops which I think that frustrates her. She can get a good chomp going on the tubing that is also easy to grab and shake, which is why it’s still in our top three.

Honorable mention would also go to the Bright Starts Silly Sounds Safari Rattle. She loves it, but it is too easy to set it off. Walk near it and it sings. Sit on the other side of the couch and it sings.

If I had it to do over again…

If I could go back in time I would get a Graco Snugride instead of a Snugride 30. Nicki hasn’t outgrown the height or weight limits of the Snugride 30, but the combination of her and the seat is just a little too heavy for me to carry comfortably. I’ve been leaving the seat in the car and taking in her in and out. It would have been nicer if we could have used the bucket seat a little longer. Ah well. Hindsight is 20/20 and all.

January 18, 2013

This is Happening

By the end of 2013 I will no longer be a grad student. Whether I cash in my chips and get a Masters, see it all the way through to the PhD, or just walk away is yet to be determined. By the end of 2013 I will rejoin the work force.

I entered graduate school with the ultimate goal of technical leadership. My prior employer, a government contractor, put a great deal of important on the PhD credential. All positions of impact required a PhD, and I wanted impact.

In pursuit of my PhD, however, I discovered #BigData and found my calling. I found great joy in teasing out patterns no one else had seen before. My ability to find simple approaches made me extremely effective, as complexity often does not scale with big data. I had impact in terms of features shipped and patent applications doing something that I loved during my internships.

The career I want has changed, and a PhD is no longer required.

I’m close to graduating. Close enough that I started sending out my resume with my adviser’s blessing. I’ve updated my online resume and linkedin profile. I am still working on my thesis, but it’s secondary to my job search. This is happening. I’m excited for this new chapter, whether or not it’s with the word ‘dr’ in my title. I’m ready (so, so ready) to rejoin the workforce.

January 15, 2013

52 Week Project

Have you heard of the 365 day project? The goal is to take a photo of a subject every day for a year. It’s a wonderful way to keep life from passing us by.

I’ve been somewhat hung up about not having enough photos of Nicki. While my problem is not the number of photos I’m taking, it’s in the over reliance on my iPhone. While I’ve done my best to make the most of these photos, it just isn’t the same. I do have very nice newborn photography, and Holiday photos, but I’m missing the everyday style photos, and especially the mommy/daughter photos. I need a motivator to make me put down the iPhone and pick up the DSLR.

While there’s a lot of appeal to the 365 day project, it’s also pretty intimidating. I’m a full time student beginning her job search. Nicki comes home from day care around 5:30 and then there’s very little free time before starting the bed time routine. So I decided to do something a little different, a 52 week project. In 2013 I will find time to take DSLR photos of Nicki at least once a week.

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Weeks 1 & 2

My goal is a photo session with Nicki (which will hopefully lead to good photos of course!). I also hope this project will help me feel better about the number of photos I have of Nicki. I can’t go back in time to her earlier months, but I can make the most of the months ahead!

In my seemingly never ending quest to learn more about the business of blogging, I’m constantly diving back into the numbers. Of late I’ve be curious about the stickiness factor of blogs. What makes one blog memorable while another one with similar content is just so-so? And (since my blog is the only blog I have data for) how ‘sticky’ is my blog?

Bounce Rate

I started with the most basic of statistics, the bounce rate for last year. Overall I had a 78% bounce rate, meaning 78% of my visitors do not read a second page (at least during that visit) within my blog. Breaking it down further I see that Craft Projects and Photography had the lowest bounce rates (68% and 69% respectively), where Shopping and Family Life have the highest. This isn’t really surprising. Most visitors to my blog appear to be looking for answers to questions or general information, and not specifically for me. A random surfer to my blog will likely care more about my general info posts than the personal life.

I also have a bit of a keyword/query mismatch problem it looks like. Looking at my traffic data, I see the two most popular ‘Family Life’ posts are List Overload and Still a girl. Most visitors to ‘List Overload’ are looking for the city mini 2013 which the post mentions I was interested in buying, but isn’t what the post is about. For ‘Still a Girl’, visitors are interested in 4d ultrasound pictures. Since that’s not what either post is about, I certainly can’t fault visitors for leaving!

In terms of tags, the Maternity Photography had the lowest bounce rate at 40%! Alas, Newborn Photography’s bounce rate was pathetic at 96%. So I guess maybe you, anonymous reader, don’t like all of my photography? I was surprised to see that Consumer Research and Baby Gear also do well (bounce rates of 57% and 65% respectively) despite shopping being one of the worst categories.

The bigger killer of my bounce rate in the shopping category posts is Hallmark on a budget, a post on my Hallmark shopping strategies. It’s one of my most popular shopping posts. I got a huge bump in traffic for it on Christmas day with people looking for after Christmas sales. The problem? The post was written in August 2011 with no details on where to find this years sales. The key-word mismatch problem strikes again.

New vs Repeat Visitors

Bounce rate can be a little misleading. When I visit a blog I follow I will read the top one or two posts on the main page that I haven’t seen before. Once I see a post I’ve read before, I stop and go elsewhere. If the blog displays the full content for those few posts on the index page, I’ve effectively bounced. But the bounce doesn’t mean I’m not a loyal reader. I keep coming back, I keep reading the latest posts and bouncing. Thus, to explore my blog’s stickiness, I also looked at new vs repeat visitors, not just the bounce rates.

Overall, only 11% of my hits are from repeat visitors. Bummer. But here’s where I start to get good news: for my blog’s main page 37% of all visitations are from repeat visitors! Maybe I do have some readers after all?

But wait, there’s more interesting news! Posts with the Doing the Math tag, (which I’ve always thought of as my most favorite to write for, and least popular), had the best percentage of repeat visitors for any tag, at 10%! And, ironically, when I noticed that I immediately thought ‘must be a math mistake’. More likely, though, it has to do with how I handle those posts. Since those are the posts I love, they’re also the ones I tend to tweet to my friends on twitter.

Becoming Sticky

As a scientist it’s really tempting to tweak the variables and see what happens. If I post more maternity photos (Hah, I wish!) how will that affect my traffic?

I’ve always been a firm believer that the only real Search Engine Optimization strategy is to have good content. I have a similar philosophy with blogging. I should stick to the content I enjoy writing about, and not worry about tailoring it to the queries that bring visitors to my blog. When a visitor stumbles on to my blog by means of a query that doesn’t really match the blog content, he or she tends to bounce. There’s nothing I can do about the query mismatch, but I can strive for better content.

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My new favorite photo of Nicki and I, after a fair amount of editing.

I fancy myself a semi-serious armature photographer. There are few things that make me happier than being behind my camera’s view finder. Heck, I took 3 thousand photos of Nicki before she was two months old. I have photos I adore of her. I have tons of her with Dada, Grandma, even the cat. But something is missing. Me! I have so few photos of Nicki and I!

This week I stumbled upon this on my phone.

starting
Photo credit: my wonderful husband.
Nice composition, but the photo has the double whammy of slightly blurry (most noticeably by my hand), and nosy from high ISO (most noticeably on Nicki’s face.). I was probably rocking when the photo was taken.

Of course as soon as I saw it I wished I had a DSLR equivalent photo. I wanted something I could print out and frame. But alas, this was taken when Nicki was four weeks old. She’s a bit different today, and there’s no way we could recreate the photo. If I wanted a framed copy, I was going to have to fix it up in post processing.

For the first pass, I did some smoothing and contrast adjustment. While I can smooth out the texture a little bit, but there’s little I can do about the blur and loss of detail. My best bet is to make the issues look intentional, or at least as intentional as possible. Since the photo already has a warm, nostalgic feel to it, I decide to emphasize that and give in an old-time feel. To me that meant a Sepia filter (I picked Sepia over greyscale to preserve the warmth.) I used a special program to do this, but you can also do this by adjusting your hue and saturation to get the color palette you want.

huemapsepia
Adjusting hue and decreasing saturation to simulate a sepia color contrast. In this case since the image is already pretty red, I didn’t have to adjust the hue much. Had there not been as much red in the photo, I might have had to adjust the three color channels (Red, Blue and Green) separately to get the right red/brown hues.

The next step was to clean up the background a bit. I did this by using the clone tool to get ride of the glass of chocolate milk, and adding a slight vignette to put the focus squarely on Nicki and I.

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A comparison of the original (left) with the final version (right). Click it to see the comparison in more detail.

I’ve done a few photo enhancements in my time, but without a strong graphic design/drawing skill I’m limited to tools like the clone brush and minor adjustments. There seems to be an huge business opportunity here for someone with true graphic artists skills. How many of us have that one photo they would give there left arm to fix?

January 7, 2013

Crying it out

Sleep Training is Hard. I know, I know, Tautology is tautology (geek speak for “duh”.)

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Good morning, Mama! I haven’t seen you since last night!

Our wait and see approach was going well, but slowly. Nicki was up to 5 hours (longer than a sleep cycle!) continuous sleep in the crib. She was learning to stay asleep in the crib. I thought we were going to go all the way – to learn to sleep in the crib the full night through sans tears.

Then we went back east for the holidays. The sleeping routine wasn’t well established and Nicki didn’t like the port-a-crib. She ended up sleeping on us a lot, which of course she loved. Once we got back home, she still preferred sleeping on people and thought it was now an option. She was no longer trying to sleep in the crib. Once she started to stir, she realized she wasn’t in our arms and would wake herself up fully. There was no way our wait and see approach would work.

So we started sleep training.

Nicki had just recently added ‘ma’ and ‘da’ to her jabbering lexicon. (She smacks her lips when she wants purees, and it’s the sound you make through smacking lips.) I kept hearing ‘mama ma da dada mama’ between wails. I felt like the Worst.Mom.Ever. Ever time I went in to reassure her that first night, she’d scream louder than before. But 25 minutes into it? She was out cold, like someone had just flipped a switch. I checked on again a a little while later and she sounded like she was whimpering in her sleep. Worst.Mom.Ever.

But Nicki slept through the night. And she was in such a good mood the next day. She’s been a pretty amazing kid, even sick with the sniffles she was all smiles, but on a full night of uninterrupted sleep? Wow. I’ve never seen her have so many gigglefits, or be so adventurous with her play. That’s when I realized how much the night time wakings must have been affecting her. She may have been in bed for the same number of hours, but it was clearly not the same amount of rest. I figured the few minutes of crying up front was worth it so she would have a much better day. It gave me the courage to continue, and now she is doing much better with it.

Could we have cried it out sooner? Maybe. I still think it was important to have a gradual transition to the crib.

As Domingo and I were taking down the tree today, I made a comment of not wanting to pack up our wedding invitation ornament. Since the ornament display hook hasn’t been in use, I thought I would leave our wedding ornament out on the mantel all year round. I told Domingo this to which he replied: “Someone at work did that with an ornament made out of their birth announcement card.”

Wait. Why didn’t I think of that?!

So even though it’s after Christmas, I simply had to make another ornament out of our birth announcement. I also had to stop taking down the tree so I could post a picture of the ornament on the tree.

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I used the same card stock I used for the wedding invitation ornament. It printed gorgeous on the metallic paper, and it matched the wedding invitation so nicely.

I love it, but something is missing. It needs something to make it look finished. The wedding invitation ornament had one of the whine charm favors I made attached to the top, which did the trick nicely.

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Our wedding invitation ornament on the tree for comparison.

Thinking back to our wedding, I remembered the bouquet charm I created and I got an idea. I can arrange crystals in the shape of an N for Nicole on a silver disc.

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Bouquet charm from our wedding, photo credit goes to our wedding photographer
I arranged our monogram in blue crystals for our “something blue”. The fabric flower was made out of a piece of my grandmother’s wedding dress (“something old”), and a piece of Spanish lace (“something new”), and the chain was my mother’s (“something borrowed”).

I haven’t decided yet which color to use. Right now I’m leaning towards a soft pink (to match the invitation) and attaching a ruby bicone (her birth stone) to the charm. I also have to find the left over discs, or order more. Since I won’t be able to convince Domingo to leave our tree up for a month or so while I figure out what I want to do and order what I need, our birth announcement ornament will have to go unfinished for now.

Ah well, I have 11 months to finish it.

January 1, 2013

Nicki at Six Months

Dear Nicki,

I cannot believe how fast time has flown. It’s 2013, no longer the year you were born. You’ve been out of my belly and in our lives for six months now. This month was so many first for you. You started sitting for the first time (just in time for some Christmas photos by the tree, you are such a perfect baby!), you had your first plane flight, and your first night in the crib.

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Sitting by the tree. One of these days mommy will order your holiday clothes in the right size. At least this time it was too big.

Despite the lack of sleep, you had a ball at Christmas time. You loved meeting everyone. So many different laps to sit in! You love all the attention, and eat it up.

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First (well technically second) flight

Moving you to the crib and away from my side was tough on both of us. You were doing much better in the crib, sleeping up to five hours straight! Alas, we hit a snag at the end of the month. Our new night time sleeping arrangement wasn’t routine enough when we left California to visit Grandma and Grandpa. The port a crib just wasn’t the same, and you didn’t sleep well. The good news is, we know you CAN sleep in the crib now. You’ve learned! We just need to re-establish the routine.

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Morning Smiles. How do you know to look into the video camera?!

You’re now eating sweet potatoes, squash (your favorite) and carrots. Mommy made the mistake of trying peas. Before peas, you reminded us of a baby bird, mouth wide open to accept any puree we had to offer. Now? You’re a bit more cautious, trying everything through pursed lips. Mommy is sorry she tried the awful peas, but I promise you there are many more good foods out there. This month we’re moving on to fruits. If you have any of mommy’s genes, you will adore fruits.

Love always,
Mommy & Daddy