Archive for June, 2013

Warning, look away if you have a soft spot for pastries.

Not the messiest cake smasher I’ve ever seen, but she get’s the job done! Click for a larger image

Normally I like to have at least two or three “sessions” for each “shoot”. (Typically I break the sessions out over different days/weeks to deal with baby sized patience levels. Hers and mine.) It can take me that long to get the photo I want. While I’m sure Nicki would love to destroy multiple smash cakes, there’s a limit to how much sugar I am willing to let her ingest. I am only allowing myself one session for this.

I didn’t want to risk my white satin backdrop, as I still need it to complete her baby book, so my first stop was to the craft store to get a background fabric. I know, I know – “real” backdrops are not draped fabrics, but I some fabrics work well enough for a tiny fraction of the cost. I took the diaper cover I was planning on using to the store to pick out a fabric that would go with it that would also be somewhat resilient to having cake smeared all over it. I ended up with a dark brown pleather for $10.78 that I’m planning on reusing.

I knew I was going to use my 35mm prime lens (the 50mm crop would be too tight, and the only other option would have been my kit lens). But what settings should I use? I tend to err on too wide an aperture, and too slow a shutter speed, due to poor lighting in my house. In order to get these settings correct from the start I started playing around. I took a few photos during bath time this past week and learned I needed a shutter speed of 1/320 of a second to freeze a splash. (I normally try to get away with 1/125.) I also tested the shooting space with a few props and learned I needed a f-stop of about f/2.8 to make sure she’d be completely in focus. This left me needing an ISO of at least 400, and I still had a slight under exposure according to my camera’s metering light. The test image, however, looked completely washed out in the “correct” exposure, so I figured I’d go with the under exposure. My guess is the metering light was tricked by the dark background into thinking the image was too dark overall.

At first she just picked off the sprinkles and poked the frosting. Too cute.

I think I like this!

Messy! She loved squishing the cake between her fingers

Nicki realized she could rake her hand across the cake and destroy it that way. Grand fun.

The aftermath

It ended up being more cake destruction than cake eating. I’ve seem much messier faces after spaghetti! But she had a ball with it, and that’s the important thing! At one point I decided to step down my shutter speed to 1/250 seconds. Just one step to try and let in a little more light. Big mistake. She started waving with her hand covered in frosted cake goo and it went everywhere. Of course 1/250 was just slightly too slow and I have motion blur. Live and learn, live and learn.

Set up for the curious:

Materials Cost:
$10.78 – Pleather Backdrop (JoAnn’s)
$9.99 – Clear cake presentation dish (Micheals)
$7.03 – 6″ Cake Pan (Amazon)
$15.36 – Diaper Cover (Amazon, and actually purchased for another photo idea I haven’t gotten around to yet)
Total Cost – $43.16 before tax.

I thought I’d start keeping track of how much these little photography projects (and projects in general) cost. I am a numbers person, after all.

June 25, 2013

County Fair

Domingo and I have been looking forward to taking Nicole to the zoo, but we’re not sure she’s ready. While she loves her kitty, she became tense seeing the dog in the park and seemed scared of the ducks at the pond. With the zoo being a fair drive away, it would be an unpleasant mistake to make. We decided a good “test” would be to take her to the local county fair. 4-H (an youth organization focusing on =animal husbandry) always has a large presence at the fair so we’d get some exposure to other animals without a long drive or the expense of the zoo.

We couldn’t have picked a better day to go. We opted for the first Tuesday (Tuesday’s are $2 admission days) the fair was opened figuring we could go back next week if she had a ball. The weather was perfect: 75 and mostly cloudy. Next week’s forecast is over 100! Well, I guess there’s one aspect that could have been better. Nicole’s teething pain seems to be subsiding, but isn’t gone completely and she refused her nap. Poor Pooky.

Check out the size of those prizes!

The fair also had rides and games. At one point Domingo was trying to show Nicole the roller coaster. He didn’t realize he was standing directly in front of one of those 3 foot tall giant raccoon prizes. He was pointing at the roller coaster while she was trying so hard to reach back towards the raccoon. Luckily we’re not at the “I want it, I NEED it, I’LL DIE WITHOUT IT” phase yet and we were able to make a hasty retreat.

Looking at the parakets

We visited the birds next. Nicki tensed up when two silk chickens started fighting with each other, and gripped on tight when she saw the giant geese so we quickly moved on to the mammals. Rabbits were cool. One came up and sniffed in her direction when she looked at him, and I think she liked that. She wasn’t impressed with the sheep. All in all I think a petting zoo is more her speed. She seems to like when the animals interact with her, and doesn’t seem interested in watching them from afar. Definitely no birds.

Eventually her skipped nap caught up with her.


All in all I think it was a worthwhile experience for Nicki. She was exposed to new things and had a little ice cream treat. Still, I don’t think we’ll be back next week.

June 22, 2013

Teething Pains

To the tune of “On top of Spaghetti”:

On top of the Wor-ld
With my Darlin’ Nicole
I lost my poor Marbles
When somebody Teethed

Nicki had a difficult time sleeping when her first two teeth were coming in. Of course there were other factors, and we weren’t sure if it was the teething keeping her up. Teeth #3 and #4 came in with little fanfare. For just a couple of days as they were breaking through the surface Nicki would fuss going to bed and took longer to fall asleep. Easy Peasy.

Then came Tuesday. Nicki rebelled against the nap. She slept for twenty minutes in the morning and would not go to sleep in the afternoon. A friend suggested teething might be the culpable, but I was skeptical. She just had two new teeth. These things are supposed to be spread out to give parents a break, right? Right?!

I checked and tooth #5 had already cut through the surface. Yes, with no symptoms. So we would just have one rough patch with tooth #6, right? It can’t be that different than the other teeth, right? RIGHT?!?!

Tooth #6 has caused more pain and grief than all other teeth combined. The pain is worse when she lies down and she’s fighting going to sleep, even to be rocked to sleep.

Thursday night Nicki woke up in the middle of the night. She was an hour away from her next possible Tylenol dose and you could just hear the pain in her cries. But even though she was crying in pain, she wasn’t fully awake. She kept turning over, like she was trying to get comfortable and just couldn’t. I was left with two options. (1) Go in and cuddle my crying baby. I could attempt to sooth her back to sleep (or at least until her next Tylenol dose) but in the process she’d wake up fully by my presence, and face the full brunt of her pain. or (2) Let her cry and see if she can go back to sleep on her own. The risk with this option is that she might not go back to sleep, and then I would have just let her wallow in agony, alone in the dark. Worst.Mom.Ever

Letting a baby cry has got to be the hardest thing a parent ever has to do. I certainty can’t begrudge anyone who would have picked option 1. Thankfully, just four minutes later she was asleep again, and she slept through the rest of the night without needing another Tylenol dose.

Here we are almost a week later and tooth #6 doesn’t appear to be any closer to breaking through. I’ve tried:

* Freezable Teethers. They work ok, but they tend to get warm too quickly, and Nicki isn’t really interested in them.
* Rubber Teethers. She’ll chew on them if she’s not in too much pain. Once she starts crying, forget about it.
* Tylenol. It’s effective for us, but I think part of the reason it’s so effective is because we use it sparingly. My main beef with baby acetaminophen is that they typically flavor it like candy. Nicki will insist on more after she gets the full dose. She’s already overtired and fussy, I don’t need to give her another reason to cry.
* Chilling a banana. This has been one of our better remedies. She loves banana, and eating chilled banana bits keeps something cool on her gums longer than the freezable teethers. Nicki loves to eat.
* Frozen Washclothes. I’m told these will work wonders when her back molars are come in. Babies can get the washcloths back to where the gums need the relief. Right now she doesn’t really seem interested, although she did chow down on her bath washcloth for a good five minutes the other day.

You can guess how well all this is working from the title of this post. I’m open to suggestions if you have any. In the mean time I will keep reminding myself that this, too, shall pass. There are a finite number of teeth coming in. We just have to wait them out.

June 16, 2013




I can’t believe this happened! It still feels so surreal.

Photo credit goes to my dad. Thank you for spending father’s day with me!

June 14, 2013

Babies in Grad School?

It’s the question I had three years ago. Do Babies and Grad School Mix? Domingo and I had just gotten married and were emotionally ready, but questioning whether the timing was right to take the parenthood plunge. So we started asking everyone we could think of who either had kids in gradschool, or shortly thereafter. There were obvious pitfalls, but where there also benefits? Now, nearing the end of gradschool tenure and with a baby about to become a toddler, I can add my own perspective to the advice I received.

First the cons because they’re kind of obvious, then the pros to end on a positive note.


Grad School Insurance Sucks. And by sucks I mean really sucks. Unlike large companies where good insurance is often a perk of employment, grad student insurance generally just covers the basics and comes with large deductibles. I had already experienced grad student insurance and jumped ship to my husband’s plan even though it had higher premiums. That’s saying a lot as I hate to be parted from my money. I think this lack of coverage may be changing with the current health care laws, but you may want to look into what exactly your insurance covers before getting pregnant. You can sign up for supplemental insurance, but be warned: pregnancy counts as a pre-existing condition so plan ahead!

No Paid Maternity Leave (and not really much of a leave…). Technically you can take off as much as you want (Quarter? Semester? Year?!) but it won’t be paid. If you’re pursuing a PhD, you’re expected to remain current. That means keeping on top of the research in your field. The longer break you take, the more work you’ll have to do to get caught back up.

It can also be very difficult to completely disconnect from graduate school even for a short time. Very early into my maternity leave I was asked to do a review for a journal article. I felt pressured into doing the review, even though I was as exhausted and technically “on break” and completed the review before being 4 weeks postpartum. I also had several meetings with my adviser to plan for our next user study, which ended up cutting my maternity leave shorter than I wanted to. In my exhausted, sleep deprived state, being asked to do work while not being paid made me question my resolve to continue with graduate school.

It can be difficult to strike a good work/life balance. Babies are exhausting and time consuming. You’ll likely find yourself struggling to keep up with your pre-baby work pace. Grad school can be incredibly competitive, and even the best of us question our decision to go to grad school at some point. Add the stress of kids into the mix, and it can be even harder to find the motivation to keep going.

The best peace of advice I can give is get really good at setting limits and sticking to them. If you need to designate family only time, or put one paper idea on hold, do it. Block off the time on your calender. Keep in mind that if you are working the required hours, it is okay to tell your adviser ‘no’. Like any boss, he or she relies on you to determine what is a reasonable work load and what is asking too much. Better to do two things well, than three things poorly. One paper published counts more than three rejected papers.


Flexibility! This one was huge for us. While you need to do your work, you have a lot of flexibility when those work hours are. A lot of flexibility. The kind you only get when you are self employed, because, effectively you are. Up all night with the baby and need a mid day nap? Go for it. Need to work at home because your child (or your care giver) is sick? No problem.

I took a midday nap throughout most of my third trimester, which I think is one of the reasons I was felt so good during the later half of my pregnancy. I went back to grad school part time after having Nicki, and will always cherish those two days a week I stayed home with her. My most productive hours have been between 7 and midnight lately.

Stress Relief I know that’s crazy, but hear me out: having a baby can help put grad school stress in perspective. I’ve found it easier to deal with the typical grad school upsets (paper rejections, failed experiments, etc) when I have Nicki to come home to. Whether I would get a paper published or not, graduate or walk away, I knew the best thing in my life would continue to be there for me. That thought helped me persevere.

It can be a little intimidating, but I there are some perks to starting your family while still in grad school. I’m very happy with our decision. Obviously every situation is different. You should take my advice with a grain of salt, I haven’t technically finished yet!

It’s official, Nicki is cuter in a doctoral hood than I am.

And she tolerated another staged photo!

After our last attempt at DIY graduation photos, we were thinking of trying again at local park. We decided against the park for a couple reasons. It’s uncomfortably hot outdoors in our neck of the woods, a full 20 degrees warmer than UCSC, and far too hot for a heavy weight, big black graduation gown. Gotta love these microclimate! It’s also incredibly hard to get Nicki to smile for the camera when using the tripod. It can be hard in general, but at least with a person behind the camera you have a chance of hitting the right moment. We would have had a long outting, and been trying Nicki’s patience again. And lastly, I can’t find my camera remote. Using the timed shutter would make an already challenging problem next to impossible. All around it seemed like it was going to be a miserable experience, so we passed.

I admitted defeat with the DIY graduation photos and we went to JC Penney Portrait studio. Scoff if you will, but this kind of formal (staged) photo is the sort of thing they excel in, and I was very happy with the results. I can relax now.

Of course I had to have a little fun behind the camera too. I’m always happier behind the camera than in front of it.

On the Move

Silly Mommy, the hood is on upside down!
(I didn’t notice my mistake until afterwards, but I have to admit, it fits well with her expression)

Photo from JCPenney

June 10, 2013

DIY Graduation Photos

It’s Graduation time again, which means another photo opportunity!



Commencement itself is going to be crowded. Between the other graduates, family and honored guests, it’ll be hard to find a good secluded spot for photos without passerbyes. Campus is also far away, so it’s going to be a long day, even though the actual ceremony isn’t too long. I don’t want to tax the patience of my family (including Nicki!) by trying to cram in photo time as well. It seemed our best bet for graduation photos was to make a separate trip to campus. Domingo took the day off from work, so we drove down to pick up my cap and gown together with Nicki in tow. Our plan was to leave the house just before Nicki’s morning naptime. We hoped she’d nap in the car on the way to campus, be up for photo time, and nap as we returned home. Car naps aren’t ideal, but they’re better than no naps. At least that was the plan.

Nicki woke up before 6 am, so no one was rested for the long day ahead of us. We decided to use Domingo’s car since his car seat which has better head support and we wanted her to be as comfortable for the long ride as possible. As we were getting ready I noticed the right strap had somehow become twisted to the point where it no longer seemed safe. The strap couldn’t be fixed without first removing both straps completely, and in order to do that I had to readjust pretty much everything. It was a giant pain, setting us back a full half hour. Nicki then refused to sleep in the car for the majority of the trip, only falling asleep for the last 30 minutes.

A full belly later, an opportunity to explore new places while walking and she was a content baby, although a tired and not an overly smiley one.

Alas, I didn’t like the way most of these turned out. I like the two above, but in most I have a weird expression in most of these trying to entice a smile from Nicki. Think deranged clown. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but the popped hip to support Nicki makes the gown especially unflattering. We did the woods/bridge photo first. When we got to the vista I adjusted the shutter speed, but didn’t really think about the aperture. That’s the ocean behind us yet despite it being a clear day you can’t tell because the aperture is too large. boo

Some things I have learned:
* This one came from the woman distributing the caps and gowns: Use a pin to attach the hood. The hood is so heavy it kept falling back against my neck and I felt like I was being strangled with it. Next time I’ll pint it to the front of the gown to keep it in place.
* I draped the PhD hood over my shoulder a bit like a cape in the top photo. It makes the hood more noticeable, and helps with the strangling problem.
* Where dark pants, or at least dark shorts. I figured since the gown was supposed to be tea-length, you wouldn’t see my shorts. Except the zipper starts at thigh level, and a pop hip can reveal the color of your shorts like in the second photo.

While there’s a part of me that wants to try again, it doesn’t seem fair to Nicki. We have a local park that has a similar back drop to the hills on campus (just not the sweeping vistas, ocean backdrop or iconic bridges and redwoods.) We may make a family outing there and try for a full family photo, Domingo included. It feels a little like cheating since the photos wouldn’t be on Santa Cruz campus, but no one has to know. (Shh, don’t tell).

With my Amazon Prime membership account up for renewal next month it’s time for me to go back over my receipts and ask the age old question: “was it worth it?” Which means I am going to face the reality of just how much I spend on Amazon. gulp.

Momappriciation Events:
Being a paid member of Prime and also an “Amazon Mom” I was able to participate in Momappriciation Events. During these events many of the baby and toddler merchandise is 20% off with coupon code. There were three events last year that I know of and I participated in two for a savings of $101.04. Most of that savings can be attributed to the convertible car seat and stroller. Good timing on my part, but unlikely to be repeat purchases any time soon.

I spent $361.56 on diapers averaging 19.4 cents per diaper. Don’t think that’s just because I’m on top of things with the Subscribe and Save discount. The additional 15% subscribe and save discount through Amazon Prime translated to $67.80 in savings. I missed the cutoff on for subscribe and save three times and had to pay full price. Had that not been the case I would have saved an extra $21.19. Amazon has some of the best prices for diapers.

This has me thinking that every disposable diaper cost analysis I’ve ever seen is crazy off. They all seem to think it will cost an average 30 cents per diaper for a $800 total price tag to diaper a baby in disposables. I’d be shocked if it cost more than $500 to diaper Nicki in brand name, non-generic diapers. (Huggies for the curious, they fit around her umbilical cord stump best as a newborn and we’ve never had the need to switch.) Not included in this total is gifted diapers (a friend’s baby outgrew his size 2s, so we got half a box plus some overnights for free – maybe $30 worth?) or in store purchases. We purchased 3 packs of various brands of newborn diapers to try out prior to giving birth (3 packs costing roughly $10 a piece, some of which were given away). My parents also bought a small pack of regular and overnight diapers when we flew East so we wouldn’t have to travel with them, and we ended up needing another small box while there (Maybe $50 total?). That would put the total cost of diapers at $470, well below $800.

Shipping Savings:
Out of the 42 purchases I made last year, 11 were under the $25 threshold needed for free Super Saver Shipping. Guestimating an average shipping cost of $4.99, that translates to about $54.89 shipping charges I would have faced without Prime. Now, that’s assuming I act rationally. I hate paying shipping costs, and am just as likely to look for additional items to add to my cart to qualify for free shipping. In order to qualify for free shipping, however, I would have had to add at least $173.32 worth of merchandise spread out over those eleven orders. Of course, I probably wouldn’t have spent quite that much. Some of those small purchases were not time sensitive and could have been combined into a single purchase that would have qualified for free shipping. Some, not all.

The true savings is probably somewhere between $54.89 and $173.32, so we’ll go with the lower number of $54.89 to make our savings estimate a conservative one.

Impulse Buys:
It’s been speculated that Amazon Prime is so profitable for Amazon because it encourages impulse buys and extraneous purchases. Since it’s so quick and easy to purchase from Amazon, people purchase more than they initially intended to.

To figure out the additional cost of impulse buys, I first considered what items I purchased are a part of the long tail. The long tail refers to items that only a few customers would want (e.g. table bumpers in less popular colors) as opposed to mass marketable items that appeal to a large group of customers (e.g. table bumpers in common colors). Big box stores do not stock long tail items because they’re likely to sit on the shelf for a while since they appeal to very few customers. An example of a long tail purchase I made is an unusual shaped cake pan. It’s not popular enough for box stores to keep it in stock, so my choice was to buy it online or don’t buy it. I’m only considering these long tail impulse buys because if the item was also available in box stores it might be just as likely to be impulse buy at some later point in time.

Of all the long tail purchases I made, $29.98 were on impulse buys. That is, $29.98 were on items I would not have felt compelled to shop for it outside of Amazon.

The Verdict:
Total Savings: $101.04 (mom appreciation events) + $67.80 (savings on diapers) + $54.89 (savings on shipping) = $223.73
Total Cost: $29.98 (the cost of impulse buys) + $39 (the cost of Prime with student discount) = $68.98
Net Result: A savings of $154.75

Definitely worth it this year, but I’m predicting the savings I enjoy will go down over time. Next year I’m less likely to benefit from the mom appreciation event since we won’t need new items like car seats and strollers, and when we’re out of diapers we’ll save even less. But for now, I’m a very happy prime customer.

June 1, 2013

Nicki at Eleven Months

Dear Nicki,

Eleven. E-Lev-En. How is that even possible?! Next month is the big one-(decimal)-oh!

You’ve hit many major milestones this past month, including crawling. You picked up crawling by lunging forward from a sitting position, so you quickly learned how to get back from a crawling position to the sitting position, and from there how to go from your tummy to sitting. You also started pulling yourself up to a stand constantly. You can stand independently, and get up without support, but you don’t realize this yet. I’ve seen you take your hand off your activity table to hold a toy, but as soon as you realize you’re not holding onto anything, you grab for it. Maybe this month you’ll gain the confidence to do stand unsupported intentionally?


The weather finally turned warm and we switched you to two piece PJs. It was just in time too, as you were starting to outgrow your Christmas fuzzy sleeper! In mid May! One of these days I will buy those in the right size. Mommy promises.

Last week we got you your first pair of shoes and took your first steps outside. Did you know the average size for a nine month old baby is a 3 or 4? You? At a month shy of the one year mark your size 2 shoes are too big! Or at least too long! Looks like I wasn’t far off the mark in my observation that you have ity bity feet for your age!


The milestone I’m most eagerly anticipating is talking. We thought we may have had a first word (other than “mama” and “dada”) a few weeks ago when Daddy and I were picking you up from daycare. As we were walking to the car, you turned back waved and said “bye”! We both heard it clear as day, but you haven’t done it again yet. You parrot back a lot of words. Mommy can say “hi” to you and you say “hi” back (much to the delight of your grandparents.) You’ll also say “hello” after your toy says “hello” sometimes, but it’s not clear you understand what those words mean yet.

Domingo calls this one the executive at her desk pose

We’re also working on teeth number #3 and #4! Right now you can just see the white bits under the gum, they haven’t broken through yet, but they are there. You have been so incredibly good this time around, which makes me think last time it wasn’t the teething keeping you up. So far you’re still sleeping like a champ and we haven’t needed to give you anything for the pain. Knock on wood. Speaking of sleep, you’re also up to an hour and a half per nap in the crib at home. I am a happy mama!

Love Always,
Mommy & Daddy