Archive for March, 2014

March 27, 2014

4th Anniversary

Mommy’s Little Shutterbug taking a stab at the family portraits

I know I’ve said it before, but I am a lucky girl!

Ever since we moved Domingo has been handling our town home. Almost every day he stops by the home during his lunch break to clean, organize, and bring any left over stuff to our apartment in preparation to sell. I really shouldn’t have been surprised that he was also researching real estate agents in the area. He found not just the company but the specific agent that sold two other units for above asking in our community. He asked if I would mind if we just going with that agent. Of course I wouldn’t mind! I couldn’t be more grateful that he’s been taking the reigns on this one!

Nicki is also growing so fast these days it’s amazing. She adjusted so quickly to our new city and her new home – quicker than either Mommy or Daddy even! I’m constantly stunned at all the new things she seems to understand daily. I have no idea how she knew this but when I got out the tripod so we could take this year’s family photo she started chanting “picture! picture! CHHHEEEEESSEEEEE!”

The “cheese” must have come from daycare, I never ask her to say it. Anyway, if you want a great toddler smile, let her push the button on camera remote. It was apparently grand fun.

March 24, 2014

Bot or Not?

The past two weeks I received 1113 comments flagged by my spam filter. To put that in perspective, my blog has been live for a little over three years, and I’ve received 28 actual comments.

The bots clearly love me. So do bot-like people. And sometimes it’s surprisingly difficult to tell the difference.

Here’s a comment posted to “Getting Over Photo Envy

So I’ve been doing paid photography work for about 3 years now and it’s been a joy… [personal antidote cut for bravery.] Anyway, I don’t envy you school photographers one bit. I’d rather shoot a full-day wedding than a full-day of school photos. Keep up the good work!

It appears that someone issued a key word searches for certain topics (e.g. school photography). When they came across my post, they left this prefab comment along with a link to the comment author’s photography business. Since the comment is partially related to the topic of the blog post, it has a better chance of getting through spam filters and thus generating traffic for the business. It got through mine.

Quasi on topic spam comments seems to be a trend these days like this one on my post “Stollen Baby Photos“. Here’s another:

With havin (sic) so much written content do you ever run into any issues of plagorism (sic) or copyright infringement? [cut for brevity]

The dead give away for identifying this comment as spam was the author/website link. The link was not to a blog, but to a specific article. The commentor used a (presumably) fake email address and (obviously) fake name. Someone was likely trying to drum up page views and potentially click revenue for their article.

Protip: setting your name to “what is the best flea treatment for dogs” is a probably not going to fool many.

The author of the plagiarism comment may have never even visited my blog! Google analytics shows no activity on that page the day the comment was posted. Either the comment appears to was posted remotely, i.e. from another website using a cross site $_POST request, or Google analytics thought it was a bot and removed it from my daily totals.

With so few comments I haven’t really given much thought to a comment policy. My intention was to allow any comments from a human, and disallow those from a bot. But these days the line is getting blurrier. There was this comment:

Hi! Stopping by from Mom Bloggers Club. Great blog!
Have a nice day!

I could see from my analytic traffic that this was a real, honest to goodness, human leaving the comment. But it was left on the “Duplicate Image Search” blog post, which was my response to the fact that someone had been passing of my photos of Nicki as their photos of their child. The comment seemed misplaced. I could also tell from Analytics that the author spent almost no time on my blog, and certainly not enough time to read any posts. The comment was left within seconds of her arrival, on the most recent post. I suspect she left the comment in hopes of gaining traffic from the comment website link. I doubt she even skimmed the content of the post she commented on. Because it didn’t seem like a “real” comment, I opted to spam it.

So for now, I guess my comment policy is “if it could be mistaken for a bot, it’s marked as spam.” If there are any humans out there reading this, whose comments have been spammed, forgive me, I’m only human.

March 22, 2014

Hello Toddler Bed!

#$%! Cribs and their #$%! non-standard parts.

Last night, at around 2:45 am, Nicki discovered she was capable of scaling Mt. Crib. We thought this day might be coming. This month has been a whole different ball game at the park, she’s been much more independent and adventurous. Yesterday she tried to climb the cat tree, managing to get a foot securely planted in the platform above her head before mommy interviewed. At nearly 3 in the morning we weren’t going gamble whether her escape was a freak accident, or a new found ability. Nicki spent the rest of the night with us on the toddler cot we use for naptime.

In the morning I put Nicki in the crib with some toys to see what she’d do. She had no hesitation when she was done with her toys and ready for out. Rather than throw up the arms and ask for “up!”, she grappled onto the railing, swung her leg over, hooked her foot, and pulled herself up onto the rail. Before I had much of a chance to react, she was straddling the railing, and mighty pleased with herself about it too. I am not sure what her strategy would have been to get down. Probably gravity.

escape attempt
I snapped a couple photos with my cell phone until it became clear she was going to succeed in her endeavor. As cute as a pooky riding the railing photo would have been, skull fractures would not have been.

Looks like we’ve out grown the crib.

Our crib came with an extra front panel that could be used to convert it to a toddler bed. I had kept the panel, but apparently not the hardware. This was a major problem. As we learned last time, baby furniture typically uses custom hardware. I printed out the instructions online, including their description of the missing four screws: “1-3/4″ Allen Head Bolt”. Domingo came back from the hardware store with every 1-3/4ths screw they had. No Dice. They all had different groove sizes. #$% &$@#!

We felt like we needed some kind of fourth panel. Nicki doesn’t roll around that much anymore, but she does roll around some. I didn’t want her to roll out of bed any more than I wanted her to climb out. I ended up “borrowing” two screws used for the decorative top rail since they were at least the same size (different heads). After all, we don’t actually need a top rail, it’s just to for her to hold onto when she was a baby and unsure of her footing.

We needed at least three fixed points to keep the panel from rotating. For the third screw, I used one of the 2-1/2” Round Head Bolt that was originally used to keep the now defunct crib front panel in place. It sticks out about 3/8th an inch, but it’s between the slats, and lower than the mattress, so I doubt it’ll cause much of a problem.

My initial plan was to reuse this crib with any future children. This is the second time we’ve had to kludge together a working solution without the original manufacture’s hardware. I think it’s fine for now, but with another move on our horizon, I just don’t think it’s holding up well enough to survive another child. It’s a bummer, but paying for a second crib also beats skull fractures.

At least Nicki loves her new bed. She spent most of the day climbing in and out of it, jumping around on the matress, and throwing toys overboard. Domingo and I were convinced we were in for a long night of chasing her down and carting her back to bed. I’m stunned to report she fell asleep in the toddler bed tonight without a fuss, and didn’t climb out once.

asleep in the toddler bed
Happy sleeping toddler.

Growing up my sister and I loved mom’s macaroni and cheese. She made it from scratch, using extra sharp white cheddar cheese. I’m pretty sure my sister and I were the only two kids in the world who would protest when the blue box came out.

When Nicki started solid foods I was so eager to try Macaroni and cheese. Not just any macaroni and Cheese, Mommy’s macaroni and cheese. I should have known not to push it. The white cheeses can be just a little more pungent than the yellows, and Nicki initially rejected it in favor of the box stuff. A few more months, a lot more exposure to new flavors, and I think she now actually prefers Mommy’s variety. And given that this variety reheats better, and is a better packed lunch for daycare, it’s a win-win!

2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons flour
1/8th teaspoon dried mustard
16oz of cheeder cheese (I tend to use Cracker Barrel)
2 1/4 Cup Milk.
2 to 3 Cups of macaroni (depending on how cheesy you like your macaroni)

Cup up the cheese into small, thin slices for easy melting. Melt butter. Blend in the flour and dry mustard. Warm up 2 1/4 cup milk on medium low heat in a medium size saucepan, and add the butter/flour mix. Once the mix has been dissolved, gradually add the pieces of cheese. Do not add the cheese pieces too quickly or they will stick together and take longer to dissolve!

While dissolving cheese, cook the macaroni until it is soft enough to eat. For us I use 2.5 cups of macaroni.

Combine macaroni and cheese sauce into a casserole dish and microwave for 10-12 minutes. You could also bake it in the oven at 350 degrees if you prefer, but I prefer the texture from the microwave better. It’s creamier.

In my never ending quest to learn about the business of blogging I recently stumbled onto FTCs rules for .com disclosure. I had previously setup a disclosure page, and often mentioned the types of revenue from my blog (namely Adsense and Amazon Affiliate links), but I realized I could do better.

The basic premise from the FTC’s release is that any visitor should know a link is sponsored, before viewing said link, regardless of what device they’re on.

With roughly 300 posts I didn’t relish the idea of labeling every post or link by hand. Manual processes like these are prone with errors, and I was sure to make one. A better solution was a plug-in to automate the process. Since I only use one affiliate program, it’s a pretty simple to automatically parse my blog posts looking for affiliate links. Alas, the only affiliate plug-ins I found were designed to cloak (i.e. hide) the fact that a link was an affiliate link – the exact opposite of what I wanted to do! I finally had an excuse to write my own plug-in.

Writing the plug-in ended up being easier than I thought it would. The harder question was coming up with a labeling scheme I liked. I didn’t want anything to interrupt the prose of the post. I decided to go with an “affiliate link” title to all affiliate links’ <a> tags. Now when you hover your an affiliate link, you see a little pop box that properly identifies the link. I’ve seen this method used before, namely by I’ve verified the title also appears on my blog posts in, and

There is just one problem.

The devices used to view my blog in 2013

Over half of my web traffic is coming from a mobile device or a tablet and there is no concept of “hover” on such devices. Affiliate links are still unlabeled on these devices. Since I wanted to minimize the time I was not compliant with the FTC, I decided to bite the bullet and add a disclaimer to the top of each blog post using my plug-in. I hope to come up with another solution in the future.

Side note: Apparently there’s a belief out there that search engines will demote pages with affiliate links, hence the prevalence of affiliate link cloakers. While I have no first hand knowledge of the truth of this, it feels like an old wives tale to me. In fact, cloaking is probably counter productive. It’s trivial for a computer program to find where a cloaked link leads. If there’s one thing I’ve read about SEO time and time again, it’s engaging in deceptive practices, like cloaking, will eventually negatively impact your ranking.

March 13, 2014

Small Misfortunes & eBay

It feels like we’re running into a string of bad luck lately.


Last Saturday we took Nicki to the duck pound to get her out of the house. When we returned we discovered one of our refrigerator magnets had bit the dust. It was as though it had just lost structural integrity. The piece still attached to the magnet back end was still on the refrigerator. The base piece had slide down the refrigerator and was resting on another magnet a few inches below. The broken Caryatids were on the floor.

I was really bummed. The magnet was a souvenir from our honeymoon in Greece, and my favorite one at that. We visited Greece at the end of tourist season, when most of the souvenir stands were somewhat picked through. I broke our original Caryatid magnet on the last day of our trip. I remember wondering Monastiraki Square our final night looking for a decent replacement.

Alas, Monastiraki Square is pretty far away these days.

We did find a replacement on eBay, but it’s the colored version which I don’t like as much and five times as expensive. At least we found a similar one?

We also didn’t win that baby’s first Christmas ornament. Shortly after we placed our bid there was another person who bid over us, and then removed their bid. We figured they were testing to get a feel for our bid price. Sure enough, we were outbid again a few hours later. I told Domingo not let it go. At the time I figured we didn’t really need a spare, and another cheap one would come along at some point. I can’t imagine demand for “Baby’s First Christmas 2012” ornaments increasing over time. After the breakage of our Greece magnet (and the end of the auction) I had a change of heart. Rather than spend $6, we spent $13.

Here’s the dilemma: I’ve been using eBay a fair amount in recent years, especially for out of print replacements, but I don’t feel like I have a good handle on how to effectively shop on eBay. Does the magnet I want exist on eBay without color? Is there another cheap rocking horse ornament? How do I avoid other people bidding up the item I want?

Auction psychology is an area I know little about.

eBay uses a proxy bidding system, which is a second price auction. It’s provably mathematically optimal to bid exactly the maximum price you’re willing to pay. In other words, if everyone customer bids exactly once, and exactly the maximum price we’re willing to pay, then whoever wins the item actually pays the minimal amount needed to secure it.

Truthfull bidding may be provably optimal in theory, but there’s often a difference between theory and practice. Consumers are often not objective. I remember thinking to myself $25 was the maximum I was willing to spend on any ornament for our tree. When I was outbid for the 2009’s Season’s Treatings, I kept inching my bid upwards. After all, $27 isn’t that much more than $25. The final price tag? Just over $40.

I need to learn a little auction psychology and to be more objective.

Use Turbotax? If you do, and you are due a federal refund, you can put some of that refund towards Amazon gift cards and get a 5-10% bonus. Which begs the question, how much of our return should we put into gift cards?

While I’m usually not one to say no to free money, and we do use amazon frequently, I don’t want to tie up too much money into Amazon. Money spent on Amazon gift cards can not be used for useful things, like 529 plans. I want to find the sweet spot of maximizing the bonus, without overspending. It was once again time to take another peek at how much we’re spending on Amazon.

The amount (actual and project) I’ve spent on Amazon since 2009


The 2012 bump was anticipated. With a newborn baby I knew there would be many supplies we needed, and that we’d have limited time to go to the store. I figured between prime & camelcamelcamel most of my purchases would shift from brick and mortar type stores, like target, to amazon. I knew initially necessity would win out over frugality, and I’d find myself with many purchases that couldn’t wait. But I figured most of those purchases (crib, car seat, etc) would be single time purchases. As I became more experienced with this Mom thing, I was sure I’d be able to be better at predicting what we’d need and when so I could be more frugal about my purchases. So then what the heck happened in 2013?!

2013 Amazon Spending Breakdown.

By in large the bump in 2013 comes in part from additional subscribe & save discounts beyond just diapers. We started subscribing to all manor of paper towels, toilet paper, tissue paper, detergent, etc since it was both slightly cheaper and much more convenient. I was surprised how much all that added up! We spent 20 times more in 2013 than we did in 2012 on subscribe and save items. I was expecting the increase in incidental spending (toilet paper, toothpaste, etc) in 2013 to be offset by the reduction in baby gear spending, but that’s hard to do when you spend so much on incidentals! Yet another example where I paid attention to the individual prices and not the totals.

The next two categories are home related. “Basic household” are every day things we need but don’t regularly replace (fans, carbon monoxide testers, etc). I added up everything house related in this category. Alas, moving is expensive in more ways that one. There are some setup costs. New lights and new linens are sometimes necessary to fit new places. Some dishes and other odds and ends broke in the move. I did my best to maximize what we did have so we wouldn’t have to buy much. Our linens are very miss-matchy, but who cares? I didn’t want to buy a whole new set for the apartment, and then again when we move in a year or two. Admittedly not all the new purchases were necessities. I do love my new vacuum.

The Nicole category includes everything other than diapers – toys, books, Christmas presents, etc. Infants require tons of gear. We spent 6% less in this category in 2013 than in 2012. I expect we’ll continue to buy less in gear going forward, but make up the difference with toys and books.

If we ignore the Subscribe and Save purchases (since that wasn’t an apples to apples comparison), and the new home setup costs (how often am I going to buy a new vacuum cleaner anyway?!), I spent 31% less in 2013 than 2012 rather than 38% more. Phew. Now that’s a more palatable number!

Better, we don’t expect to see another rise in spending on Amazon in 2014. I did a crude estimate for our spending for 2014 based on our 2013 and current 2014 spending. It’s no surprise I spend more around Black Friday. Last year I spent 31% more on average in November and December than any other month. To come up with my projected total I use January & February’s expenditure and assumed a similar 31% rise for the end of the year. The result? We expect to spend about 3% less. Double Phew.

March 5, 2014

Early Hallmarking

It’s March 5th. You know what that means? I’m thinking about Christmas! Or at least Hallmark ornaments. ‘Tis the time of cheap ornaments from past years on secondary markets (ebay, amazon, etc). In another month or so the dreambook will be out, and the time when news of this year’s collections begin to leak.

For the first time ever I joined the keepsake ornament club (KOC). It’s a $25 membership (~$31 with tax and shipping), and you can get 2 of 3 ornaments for ‘free’ in the cost of the membership. The other perks, like sneak peaks, aren’t really worth it to me since the news always leaks online in a few days. Normally I don’t like the ‘free’ ornaments, or I like only one of the three, so I don’t have much incentive to join.

This year I saw a promo with the special KOC only ornaments. That Mice Cream Sundae? In the words of Nicole: an emphatic “WANT!” followed by a frantic “PWESE!”. The grandfather clock is sure to be a Domingo favorite. He loves the old fashioned Santa’s, sleighs, and yes, grandfather clocks. That makes two exclusive ornaments we wanted for effectively ~$15.50 each Typical prices for similar ornaments would be $13.95, or ~$15.20 including tax. Not too bad a deal if you ask me.

I started poking around the secondary markets as well. I found a spare Baby’s First Christmas 2012 – for just $6 on ebay! We decided to bid on it, as I like to have a spare of major milestone type ornaments. I realize I may be breaking one of the cardinal rules of eBay shopping by mentioning a good price auction before it closes, but, what the hey, I’ll live dangerously.

This year marks five years of collecting Hallmark ornaments. Five! I’m going to need a bigger Christmas tin. And a bigger tree!