Archive for September, 2013

September 30, 2013

A Girl and her Pearls

A while ago I went looking for baby photography ideas back in may, and stumbled upon this gorgeous photo of a baby and pearls. (I actually found both photo inspirations on the same webpage, but wanted to link to the actual photographers.) I adore the color pallet, and that the baby is interacting with the pearls rather than just wearing them. I’m not normally into ‘girly’ photos, but I started to imagine Nicki with pearls. I was inspired.

I set off to Micheal’s to get some pearls that weekend. I decided to strand the pearls myself so I could have control over the length, size & color of the necklaces. To be extra safe I used fireline, and each necklace is double stranded. This was definitely one photo where I wanted to have my safety spotter!

Next I was on the hunt for a cute diaper cover. That’s where the idea stalled. Remember the diaper cover I used for Nicki’s Smash cake? I had originally intended to use it for this photo, but the coral color was a bit too bright. I was out shopping for fall clothes this week and saw a delicate pretty lace skirt, which I knew would go great with the pearls. For a backdrop I used a teal (official color description is “peacock”) bed sheets to help the pearls pop against the background.

pearls1

How gorgeous are those eyes?! I know I’m biased, but she is such a beautiful little girl.

pearls2

pearls3

I am amused that Nicki wasn’t really that into playing with her beads. She loved them, was smiling, clapping and “dancing” while wearing them, but she didn’t put them in her mouth and investigate them. That’s not what I would have predicted! These ended up nothing like my inspiration source, but very true to Nicki, and I love them. My little girly-girl loved her pearls.

Material Costs
Lace Skirt (JCPenney) – $6.99
Pearls (Micheal’s) – $5? (I think 20 strands at $.25, it’s been a while I can’t remember exactly)
Fire Wire String (Micheal’s) – $8?
Backdrop – Free

Total Cost: ~$20

September 28, 2013

Baby Gear to be Left Behind

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.

With our pending move we have been sorting belongings into the keep, donate and discard piles. I loathe waste. I hate getting rid of something I may want to use again later. It’s part of the reason I hold on to so much clutter. Hey, sometimes it’s useful! Like the backrest pillow. I bought it for college, but never really used it. It followed me from apartment to apartment and finally our home where it came in handy for Halloween photos with our 3 month old.

We’re moving into an apartment and won’t have room for everything. While we intended to buy gear that would last for multiple kids, not everything has held up as well as we might have hopped. It will cost more to store some of these items than it will to repurchase them. So as much as I hate waste, I’m afraid it’ll a fact of life.

Here’s the gear that we were very happy with, but won’t be making the trip with us (and what we expect to repurchase for the next baby.)

Lamaze Space Symphony Gym

Nicki loved her gym, and continued to play with it beyond 7 months. It was definitely one of our best purchases. Alas, she expresses her love in the form of destruction. Since she loved her gym for so long, she got quite good at manipulating it. She loved to bend the bars over her head, and yank the off the toys. The sad little motor that sways the bars no longer has enough strength to do a full rotation.

feetgym
beatingupthegym
Beating up her beloved gym. (7 months old.)

After much debate we decided to donate the gym. The mat is still in good shape and there are plenty of gyms where the bars don’t move, so a dead motor shouldn’t be a deal breaker. We’ll likely replace this one with another Lamaze Gym.

Blooming Baby Bath

I was so excited about the blooming bath, but it didn’t fit in any of our sinks. Instead we ended up using it as a soft spot to dry her off on the blooming bath. When she was big enough to sit in the tub on her own, I would also kneel on the blooming bath to spare my knees from the hard floor. After over a year of use the seam is starting to become undone.

bloomingbath
There’s nothing cuter than wrinkly post bath baby toes. (And wow, my 14 month old still has tiny feet, that’s a recent photo!)

Since the seam is busted, I’m afraid it isn’t in good enough shape for donation.

Breast Pump

We were warned in our breast feeding class that most pumps are designed to last for one baby. The motors just aren’t strong enough to last much longer. I used my pump way more often than the typical case due to our breastfeeding troubles. In fact, there was a time I was pumping eight times a day. By six months the motor was struggling. By nine months I was getting so little with my pump it hardly seemed worth it.

I plan on keeping the accessories and getting another pump for the next child. Obviously the pump cannot be donated.

Bottle Warmer

After a year of use, the bottle warmer started to look gross. The reservoir was hard to clean, and over many, many, many uses stuff just built up. I was happy enough with the bottle warmer, but it was a last minute purchase (I expected to breastfeed more and not need it as often.) Next time I will probably do a little more research before picking one. Another non-donatable item.

Snap N’ Go Stroller

The Snap N’ Go lasted up right up until our Christmas vacation (5 and a half months). The morning of our trip out the handle release got stuck, and we couldn’t fold the stroller without a great deal of force to go through security. We managed to force it to open and close during our trip, but that was the end of it’s useful life. Conveniently, that was also around the time we switched over from an infant bucket seat to a convertible seat.

September 24, 2013

Thesis Truths

As of 1:01 PM my dissertation draft has been mailed off to my committee. Six years of work written down onto 200 pages. Yes 200, exactly. It feels surreal to not be working on it right now. I have been consumed with writing, proof reading, and re-writing for the past month. This is what I learned about thesis writing that everyone told me, but I didn’t quite believe until I sat down to write my one myself.

thesis
My thesis when it was 172 pages, just 3/4″ tall. They grow up so fast, don’t they?

It will take at least six months to just write your thesis.

I figured using excerpts from a few polished papers as the bases for my thesis would help cut down on the time it takes to write the thesis, but it read like excerpts from separate published papers. It takes time to combine ideas behind several papers into one narrative.

I had a sketch of my thesis last winter. It may sound silly, but I would occasionally spend time tweaking my table on contents to make sure my thesis narrative was clear. I wanted my committee members to be able to gleam not only the problem space and my approach, but also my contributions from the table of concepts, like one might from an abstract. The last few weeks I focused on the cross references, and making sure the hypothesis brought up in the conclusion section of one chapter would be explored in another.

Solid writing isn’t a replacement for solid content. Poor writing, however, can make it difficult for your committee to understand your contributions. It takes time to write well.

A Thesis is Never Done. But it can be done enough.

One my mentors at Microsoft told me that at some point you just have to decide it’s done enough. It can always be better.

A dissertation is supposed to represent very deep knowledge in a single problem. You want to address questions your reading committee might have before they have a chance to have them. When ever you reach a conclusion, you try and think of the implications, the holes. What are the questions my committee will ask? You then come up with experiments to address these ideas, but that begets new ideas and new conclusions that warrant further exploration. There are always more avenues to explore.

One of my committee members suggest writing a “sufficient” thesis, one that is good enough to graduate and not to stress about making it perfect. Her thinking: conference papers and journal articles are more likely to be read, and a good published thesis trumps a near perfect draft.

It’s not about intelligence, it’s about tenacity.

Once you have the green light to write from your adviser you will graduate if you stick with it, it just may take time.

When I started writing my thesis I wasn’t certain that I would graduate. The whole process just seems so daunting. It wasn’t until I was about two thirds done that I really started appreciating all the work that had lead me to this point. At some point during the writing process it just sort of dawns on you that yes, you really are the expert on this topic.

Your committee members will undoubtedly have ideas on how to improve your thesis, and they may want to see changes before they are willing to sign off on it. If you’ve reached this point, however, it’s just a matter of sticking through to the end. You will graduate. I will graduate.

September 19, 2013

I am not Dead

honest.

Although sometimes lately it seems that way.

I have a thesis defense date, but that means I have to hurry up and get this runaway thesis back under control. It’s grown by about 40% since my last update, and ballooned up to 182 pages! And I still feel like I’m light on references so it will continue to grow.

I have a couple blog posts started, so expect a flurry of activity some time from me in the next week or so. Unless I am drowned by my thesis.

Shortly after I posted my Back to Blogging Basics piece, an article from slate about the dangers of posting photos of children online started popping up in my news feed. Although her central thesis is similar to my post, I found myself disagreeing with Ms. Webb’s piece. Judging from my news feed, I wasn’t the only one to feel this way.

The problem with Webb’s article is it has the same this is my parent philosophy and anything else is causing PERMANENT AND IRREVOCABLE HARM attitude that so many parenting articles have. What really frustrates me about these articles is that we don’t actually know, scientifically speaking, what, if any, many of these individual decisions actually have. Or worse, we have theories that sound valid, but turn out to be actually wrong. These parenting articles remind me of this PhD comic on scientific literature in the media. A similar analogy can be made on the parenting literature and social media.

I’m not qualified to talk about many of the mommy wars topics. I can talk about Nicki and what seemed to work for us, but it’s always hard to tell if we managed to get past some issue because of something I did, or despite it. A sample size of 1 (or 2 or 3) does not make for a very good study. What I am qualified to talk about is the internet, and I do know a thing or two about user studies. So with that introduction, let me explain why she (and I) may be wrong.

Claim: Sharing stories about your child could harm them for life.

Webb doesn’t give any evidence from this claim, but I did share a study from Kansas State that showed that knowledge that a mom is a working mom can negatively impact the perception of the child. There are two main issues with using this study to make sweeping claims: (1) the child in the video was 4; and (2) the participants in the study were college students and thus hardly a representative sample. Presumably they did not have much experience as parents, which may have also impacted their perceptions.

While it’s reasonable to assume the negative impact on impression of the child extend beyond the age of four, it’s difficult to imagine it extending all the way to adult hood. Adults are generally perceived to be autonomous. Once we reach adulthood we’re usually measured by actual achievements and qualifications, rather than potential. Yes, recruiters have scoured the internet for digital dirt, and have turned away applicants based on their online profile, but they’re looking for inappropriate photos, and drinking. Absent from that list are tales of poopsplosions, and whether an applicant was breastfeed or bottle fed. It’s possible that these aspects might affect the recruiter’s subconscious opinion, but not very likely and certainly not proven.

Claim: Once it’s on the internet it never goes away.

I plan scaring my daughter with this line when we first allow her online, but it’s not 100% accurate. You should never post anything online you’d be embarrassed if your mother read. That includes on private, password protected sites. Such sites can have security flaws. Besides, a privacy model that can be thwarted by someone in your friend’s list copying and pasting your information is not one to be counted on. Once something is out on the web, and on someone else’s website, you loose control over it and the ability to delete it. But – and this is a big but – the internet does eventually forget. Websites get abandoned, domains are re-purchased by someone else, new websites are setup replacing old.

The way back machine attempts to archive the internet, but even it can’t keep a copy of everything. Think about how vast the internet is. The way back machine currently has 364 billion URLs. In 2008, Google had already indexed 1 trillion (1 Trillion = 10004, or 1,000 billion). Yes, five years ago Google had 3X as many URLs as the Way Back Machine has today. Assuming an average of 1kb of information per URL, that’s 1 petabyte (10005) of disk space required to store a copy of the web as it was five years ago! And that’s not including the space required to save all those embarrassing childhood photos.

The more websites that pick up your story (and the more popular those websites are) the longer it will take for the internet to forget. Get reblogged in the national news, and it may be decades. For most of us, though, the internet will likely forget about our posts in a few years. The way back machine has already forgotten many of my old websites and blog posts.

Claim: Sharing stories about your children will effect their self image/self esteem

The internet is still relatively young. Google is only 15 years old, Facebook is 9 (and has only been available to the public for 7 years). While that may be an eternity in internet time, it’s hardly any in human development time. There are no studies about growing up ‘on facebook’ because no one has had a chance to grow up on facebook yet.

We could be completely backwards in our thinking about the effects of social media sharing. A few years ago a friend and I were discussing the trend of everyone in elementary schools winning an award (best smile, loudest laugh, etc). I explained to her the goal was to promote self esteem; to send the message ‘there is something special about you’. She thought for a moment “I would think not winning an award would be better for a child’s self esteem. That way the child learns they don’t need to win to be okay.” It’s plausible that sharing an embarrassing story erodes some of the trust our children have in us the same way not winning an award erodes confidence. Or perhaps, sharing said embarrassing stories and showing that we continue to love our kids is one way we can teach them that they don’t need to be perfect. Neither theory has been tested. Neither theory has been proven or disproven.

We don’t know the impact of blogging, facebooking, and instagramming because those activities are just too new. We can hypothesize all we like, but hypothesizing isn’t the same as knowing.

Claim: Someone is out there, lurking, waiting to take advantage of what you share, and use it for nefarious purposes.

In Webb’s article she gave an anecdote of a Facebook friend who posted a photo not realizing her street number was visibly. I, too, am no stranger to stumbling upon think kind of personal information. In fact, people have been so cavalier in sharing information without thought in recent years that the please rob me project was started to help show people that one of the pitfalls of public checkins is that they show the internet where you’re not – at home.

While bad things relating to publicizing too much information can and do happen, they happen to a small percentage of people online. Ms Webb’s anecdote didn’t involve anything bad happening to her friend. I’m sure I’m not the only one who stumbled onto those bloggers identities, and nothing bad happened to those bloggers either. ‘Could happen’ is not the same thing as ‘likely will happen’.

Reality

As with any parenting decision there isn’t a single right answer for everyone. There is no one internet presence. There’s no one risk level. There is no one comfort level. Some bloggers with large followings and may feel the need for more caution. Those of us with less of a following (and thus more likely to be forgotten by the internet achieve) may feel freer. Every situation and every personality is different.

I choose to blog about Nicki less today because today that felt like the right choice for us. That may not be the right choice for you, and that’s okay.

I know many a parent who have made a different parenting decisions than I, but none that have come to those decisions lightly or without forethought. It’s that whole ‘permanent and irrevocable harm’ thing.

September 7, 2013

Hello again, Mr. Fall

Fall snuck up on me. We prolonged the feeling of summer with our very belated summer vacation to the beach a last week. Despite the previews for the coming fall lineup on TV and Back to School sales, fall was the last thing on my mind. Confession time? It didn’t hit me that fall’s almost upon us until I saw a flier for Hallmark’s October ornament premier.

Time to start planning for the new season!

Nicki’s Halloween Costume – I bought Nicki’s Halloween costume on August 15th last year for under $10. We weren’t planning on it being her costume at the time, or even having a Halloween costume, since she would be 3 months old. At the time she had just outgrown her newborn sized clothes and needed new pajamas. I saw the skeleton sleep and play and was hooked. I figured she’d probably wear it up until Halloween. Ha! She outgrew it by mid October. When she started to outgrow it, we decided to take some photos and send out a Halloween card to our families, since there would be no wearing it on Halloween. Cheap, comfortable custom for a baby that looks great in photos? Yup, I’m sold.

This afternoon we were at the store looking for clothes and found several dress up play outfits in the same vain. Nicki gravitated to one of the blue ones (it’s her favorite color) so we decided to purchase it.

Maybe next year we’ll do an authentic custom, but this is good enough for our pre trick or treat days.

Black Friday Prep – I like to get started thinking about Black Friday long before the actual day. I like to build a list of what we’re seeking before I see any fliers to avoid being enticed by a good deal for a product we don’t want or need.

So far I can think of just one thing: A play kitchen. They’re usually geared for toddlers age 18 months and up. Nicki will be 17 months at Christmas, right on the cusp. We figured it would be a good “santa” present. Looks like these are a Black Friday staple, so I might as well save a few dollars if I can, right?

Everything else – The whole finish the thesis, graduate, find a new day care and move thing. Why was I in such a hurry to finish up again?!

September 2, 2013

Back to Blogging Basics

my baby you'll be
“I’ll love you forever
I’ll like you for always
As long as I’m living
My baby you’ll be.”
– Robert Munsch

When I was pregnant with Nicki, and she was a tiny embryo without a nervous system or brain capable of cognitive thought, I felt like I was sharing my story. Even when she a newborn in the “fourth trimester”, crying was her only means of interacting with the world and was completely dependent on Domingo and I. Her story was still our story. Then she learned to hold and manipulate objects. She learned to crawl, and walk and run. She’s talking. She has opinions, and gets frustrated when we don’t understand. Her personality is shining through in spades. While our stories are still intertwined, I’m becoming more and more weary of accidentally stepping my bounds and sharing her story.

I blog under my real name, without a pseudonym to offer at least a layer of indirection. By extension Domingo and Nicki are being blogged about in their real names as well. While I can ask Domingo what level of sharing he’s comfortable with, Nicki will not understand the possible ramifications for quite some time yet. I have so far used myself as a guideline (“Would I be comfortable if my parents posted this story about me?”), but I tend to be more open than the average person. I’m certainty more open than Domingo, and Nicki may take after her daddy.

I’m also concerned that what I might blog about would negatively impact her later in life. Stories of baby antics are a potential source of embarrassment but are unlikely to do real harm, especially since they’re pretty universal. Yet what if I accidentally hint at a health issue or a learning delay? Could that impact a potential future employers hiring decision, even subconsciously? I am dyslexic. It’s something I’m comfortable about enough to share openly, but there have been people (a high school teacher and an ex-supervise come to mind) who mocked me for it. If Nicki should find herself in a similar situation, it should be her choice to share it, not mine. Delays and health issues are pretty obvious topics to steer away from, but blogging is still relatively new, we don’t necessarily know the ramifications discussing seemingly innocent topics may have on our children.

A few years ago Kanses state published a study on societies impressions of working moms. In the study researchers showed a video of a mother and child interacting to two groups of people. In the first they described the mother as a stay at home mother. In the second she was a working mom. There were no other differences in the descriptions and the same video was shown to both groups. Not only did participants judge the “working mother” more harshly, but they had a more negative view of the child. On the one hand this study’s findings aren’t terribly surprising. It’s a form of confirmation bias called biased interpretation. We interpret our surroundings to fit our beliefs. If we believe the working outside the home damages the mother-child relationship, we are more likely to view those around us who work as having impacted relationships with their children because it fits our world view. Still, this study has been haunting me lately, particularly because the results extend to the child. I’m a working mom. I’ve formula feed (I’ve breast fed beyond a year as well, but that’s usually viewed as a positive by society). I’ve employed cry-it-out. I’ve even admitted to breaking the no media before two rule. I’ve admitted all these things here and while I absolutely think these were the right things to do for Nicki, I know they are somewhat controversial. Could you, anonymous reader, be subconsciously viewing Nicki more harshly because I blogged about those things openly? Worst.mom.ever.

So I’ve been making an effort to share less about Nicki since she turned one. I’m posting less candids, I’m sharing less antics. There is no way to completely disentangle Nicki’s story from my story, Nicki will be less of the focus. I’ll be returning to my original intention of blogging – a place to practice writing and maybe even growing my professional brand.

While I think this is the right decision, it wasn’t an easy one. I have a fear that Nicki will one day grow up, read my blog and wonder why I talk about her less. Will she think I loved her less as a toddler than an infant? Domingo and I will likely have at least one more child. Will the next child (and by induction nth child </math joke>) think I love them less if I don’t share as much about their first years? And if I share their first year as much as I shared Nicki’s, will Nicki feel less loved that I am discussing her less at the same time?

Domingo and I have a running joke that he knew I loved him when I was willing to accept the marriage tax penalty. Hopefully, one day Nicki and I will have a similar joke, that she knew I loved her because I was willing to blog about her less.