Archive for September, 2014

Our biggest clutter concern right now are the toys. I’ve been pretty ruthless about purging Domingo and my belongings we no longer use/need, but Nicoles’? Not so much. It also doesn’t help that we, like all parents, like to spoil our child. I think most of what we own these days are toys! We needed to get these painful tripping hazards off the floor, and stat!

Stuffed Toy Organizer


A pop up laundry basket is an awesome storage device for stuffed animals. It takes up less space than those traditional stuffed animal bags, at about a forth the cost, making it perfect for small apartments.

You can still use the bag of stuffed animals as a seat. Nicki can attest to that.

Puzzle Bag


Once you lose a puzzle piece, the puzzle is effectively worthless. No kid is going to want to play with a puzzle for which they first have to hunt down all the pieces. A puzzle shelf wouldn’t cut it, as we have different brands of puzzles and no shelf would easily hold them all. We also didn’t want to limit the number of puzzles we own to what fits on a shelf, since puzzles are great learning toys.

It turns out mesh laundry bags for delicates are a near perfect fit, perhaps erring on the side of being too big. You can easily see through them so you know which puzzle you’re getting out of the box. Bonus? They’re only about $1.50 a pop.

September 22, 2014

Carpet Cleaning Maniac

About month ago Domingo and I decided to get a carpet cleaner. We were previously using resolve carpet cleaner to get out toddler and cat created spots in the rugs, but I wanted a deeper clean before Ziggy’s arrival and before we moved out. I also didn’t want to have to keep bending over all the time. We were thinking of renting a steam cleaner, but the math ended up working out to be cheaper to purchase a cleaner if we were planning on cleaning the carpets more than 4 times. With a messy toddler, one on the way, and a pet, that seemed like a likely bet to me!

We ended up going with the Bissell DeepClean Carpet Cleaner. It was one of the cheaper options (I always prefer to stick with the low end cost wise when I’m not sure if new type of product will fit my family) and had some of the highest reviews. It was also being sold at the lowest price ever on Amazon. I love my price watches.

Shampooing the carpets really satisfies my nesting itch! There’s something extremely satisfying about dumping out the murky water afterwards. Having new looking rugs again doesn’t hurt either. I might be crazy, but the rug actually feels nicer under my feet after being cleaned.

In our current state, buying definitely seems like the right way to have gone. I’m a little weary of having Nicki and the cat walk on damp carpets. I’m sure the cleaning agent is ‘safe’ but I prefer to do the shampooing at night after Nicki’s asleep and I can quarantine Lily. Besides, I generally only have enough energy for one room at a time. I plan on shampooing the carpet in at least one room once every week or so until Ziggy’s arrival. The whole place will have been cleaned twice by then.

Nesting is a powerful thing.

Aside: if you’re thinking of getting a carpet cleaner, my guess is they’ll come on sale in late October or early November. At least that tends to be the best time I find for home goods.

September 20, 2014

Pixel Count Convert

I find myself increasingly a pixel count convert. For years I’ve been on the megapixels-don’t-count bandwagon. My old 10.2 megapixel D60 was capable of producing an image large enough to get a 20 by 30 wall print, if but just barely. More megapixels don’t necessarily translate into a better quality image, but they do add up in terms of file size. I’m already running out of space on my hard drive. Again.

But every once in a while I start wishing I had more mega pixels.

This weekend I wanted to take more maternity photos, this time with my face showing. Nicki, who is quite the little ham these days for the camera, wanted to be a part of it. She kept running in and out of frame. In most of the photos she’s weirdly cropped, or there’s a bit of motion blur. I swear toddlers must be related to the flash. Even at 1/640 seconds, with my 50mm prime she can be a blur on camera. I still love the photos with my little toddler photo bomber (what parent wouldn’t?) but they’re not something I intended to share.

Then I came across this one:

Straight out of the camera
Straight out of the camera

After some cropping.

Cropped to capture a sweet moment
Cropped to capture a sweet moment

I love it! Since it’s a 60% crop I can get a 5 by 7 high res print easily. I can even (probably) do a 8 by 12 with a little tweaking. It’s moments like these that make me grateful my current camera is 16.2 Megapixels, and even makes me wish it was a little higher!

September 16, 2014

Fashion Opinion

My two year old cracks me up. This weekend we went to Target looking for some oversized sweaters to use while doing maternity photography among other things. Nicole was sitting in the front of the cart while Domingo pushed. I found a pink one I liked, and went to put it in the cart. “Don’t like it!” she insisted as she stretched out her hand to block its entry into the cart. I tried to explain it was for me, but she was not having it. “Don’t like it!” She repeated.

I thought I’d have a few more years before my children start criticizing my fashion sense.

Nicole’s favorite color these days is loud. She loves neon green and orange. The brighter the better, especially if there are multiple colors. Especially, especially if they clash. She likes sparkles but not ruffles, and definitively not tulle of any kind. Fortunately for her, that’s the kind of stuff that seems to be in style these days. For daycare she can wear what ever she wants to wear. The probability of my kid finding the one permanent marker is proportional to the newness of the clothes. That lime green giraffe shirt? I don’t sweat as much. (And to be fair, neither does she.)

Fashion is not something I excel at, so I do little cheats. I buy white socks since they match anything (and, bonus, there’s no hunting down the missing matching sock when they all match!) Dark denim goes with anything. I will even buy multiples of a shirt I like. Sometimes even in the same size if it’s cheap enough. I figure there’s no fundamental difference between buying a $5 shirt I like and a $5 one I don’t verses two of the same $5 one. It’s the same number of clean shirts, and the same cost.

Some of my favorite clothes for Nicole have come from the boys section. I like her curious George shirt with the flap. Down, George is hiding in a paint can. Pull the flap up and he pops out! I like her mickey mouse shirt. I like simple colors with understated designs. I like the way they fit better. Girl shorts are short, even for two year olds. I find diapers and bare baby bums to be the most adorable things ever. Until they’re hanging out of a pair of too short shorts.

Maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised she has an opinion on my clothes shopping. After all, what do I know about style? Nine days out of ten I’m wearing a free conference t-shirt for a company that went out of business years ago.

September 15, 2014

Our (Pre)school Philosopy

It’s that time of year again. With September comes in inevitable back to school posts of smiling elementary students. What I wasn’t prepared for was the wave of Moms with kid’s Nicki’s age signing up for preschool, which got me thinking – should I be doing the same?

Domingo and I plan on buying into the best school district we can come house hunting time next year, as I’m sure most parents do when they house hunt. I don’t want to rely on getting into a good school, though.

The school system I went to is consistently ranked in the top 10 of my fairly large home state. Overall the school did very well by me, they noticed the early signs of my learning disability, got me tested, and provided the accommodations I needed to succeed. Yet before the dyslexia diagnosis my first grade teacher told my parents I was a “non academic” child, and math would never be my strong suit. I think I’ve proven her wrong, thank you very much. It just goes to show that even great schools can have not so great teachers. Thus we don’t want to rely solely on a getting into a good school district.

Which then has us wondering: How? How do we ensure the drive is there to want to learn, and that our children get a quality education, independent of school system?

On Praise

The biggest eye opener was on the glowing research of how to praise. Specifically, telling kids that they are smart is counter productive. They become less risk adverse, choosing easier tasks so they don’t jeopardize the “smart” label. Praising process and effort encourages kids to try harder and take on hard tasks. That was a hard pill to swallow, especially for someone who get’s irritated at today’s “A for effort” most grade schools seem to dole out in spades. I think the catch is reward meaningful effort, and not for token effort. So a few months back Domingo and I started working on praising the effort. It was a hard change, and I still occasionally slip up. Saying “you’re so smart” still feels more natural to me.

On Learning

By far the biggest thing that I’m not happy with in our local school system is the emphasis on rote pattern matching, rather than actual learning. When I first started looking at daycares one of the centers told me with great pride that every one of their four year olds can count to 100. That sounded like an incredibly boring waste of everyone’s time to me. If it takes 3 minutes for each kid to count, and there are 20 kids in the class, an hour without any actually learning just went by.

Turns out counting to 100 is actually a kindergarden state requirement. Near as I can tell this requirement was started after a discovery that kindergartners did not have good number literacy. Back when I was in kindergarten, I only had to count to 13. At some point they raised the bar to 30, and now to 100. I get counting to 30 or so. The teens are sort of like the irregular verbs of the number world (13 is “thir-teen”, not “teen-thir”, while it’s “twenty-three”, “thirty-three”, etc.) After 30 the challenge is gone. I doubt there are many kids who can count to 30 who can’t count to 100, or even 10,000 for that matter. Knowing the pattern, and understanding numbers are not the same thing.

Anyone into machine learning will tell you: memorizing is not learning. Learning occurs when you can apply a concept to a new situation. That’s why Domingo and I would much rather focus on new experiences and new challenges, especially now while the brain is under such rapid development.

On Failure and Success

I love the Khan Academy motto: You can learn anything. There have been numerous studies that argue that intelligence is not fixed, that we learn best in failure than we do in success, which is why it is important not to ignore the failures. I think this is why Khan Academy resonates with me so much. The general premise is learning at your own rate and not moving on until the subject matter is 100% mastered. That’s because new subjects tend to rely on skill mastered in past subject. If one only ‘mostly‘ understand a subject like calculus, one may struggle with physics, or Bayesian theory, for example.

Obviously this approach doesn’t work as well in the classroom, but it is something Domingo and I can do with the girls. It also fits in nicely with the notion of praising process and effort. Failure is okay as long as you don’t give up and learning something in the process.

As predicted, I did not wait to purchase the new iPhone. I cannot wait to try out the camera! We did get a pleasant surprise on the deal. It turns out Verizon (our current carrier) is offering a $200 trade in for an iPhone 4s with the purchase of an iPhone 6. That’s roughly 4 times what an iPhone 4s is worth! Since I was planning on renewing with Verizon anyway, it’s a pretty sweet deal. This is the second time I’ve had a phone actually worth something when I’ve upgrading. It’s pretty nice to be able to get a little cash back. I love my “free” money! Now if only Verizon would do away with those lame upgrade fees.

Incidentally, it’s becoming obvious just how critical good timing is to get good deals. That phone that Domingo got last black Friday for a penny now retails for $200! I’m very happy Domingo and I are now on the ‘holiday’ schedule for renewals.

We also came up with another idea for this year’s dinky Black Friday list: Santa will be getting Nicki a leap frog tablet. The tablets are geared for ages 3 and up and she’ll be just shy of 2 & 1/2. Like the play kitchen, though, I suspect she’ll manage to get some use out of it early. She’s already pretty good with my phone. We’re also planning a couple trips back East closer to when she’s three and I have friends who swear by the leap frog to keep kids entertained on long plane flights. From what I can tell, it’s a good bet this toy will come on sale.

We also briefly considered a toy camera. Nicki loves my camera. Most of the time she loves being in front of the camera, but I’ve let her press the remote button during more than a few family photos. Now whenever I get out the remote she wants to push the button! She’s always chanting “cheese!” and “more photos!”. The big issue (besides her being on the young side of recommended age range) is most toy cameras seem too toy and not enough camera. I don’t see that holding her interest as much, so we’re going to wait until she’s older.

There’s a part of me that misses our old Black Friday ritual of sleeping in, visiting the stores during the afternoon lull, the hot chocolates and fun decorations. Sure, shopping from the couch in my PJs is easier (and more effective!). Still I can’t help but think this would be a good year to go out, since we don’t have much of a list. Like last year I could be done shopping before the turkey comes out of the oven. My parents will be in town for the holiday and to spend time with Nicki. Maybe if Ziggy decides to come late Domingo and I will go out for a little bit.

September 7, 2014

Finding My Pretty

I haven’t been feeling as good this pregnancy than last. I’m a bit more tired, and a bit more over worked. I’m also about 5 lbs heavier at this point with Ziggy than I was with Nicki. Intellectually I know those 5 lbs are rather meaningless, especially when pregnant, but I’m rather self conscious about them. For the past few months I’ve been struggling to take maternity photos.

I really like this photo, despite the lens flair.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I shouldn’t take the same photos I took in my first pregnancy. It’s too tempting to compare them, and then I inevitably find fault in my figure this time around. My belly button is a bit stretched out looking, and I still have the silver lines from past stretch marks. I did attempt more bare belly photos, but I ultimately decided to pass on them (for now at least) to spare my sanity. Besides, challenging myself to come up with something different from what I’ve already done will help me grow as a photographer.

I’m determined to stick with it and keep trying for more photos. Often photos I don’t like will grow on me over time. I did take some at seven weeks with what I felt was the biggest-bump-ever, but couldn’t bring myself to post them feeling I looked too fat and bloated. Now I think they’re kind of cute. Digital memory is cheap. I just don’t want to look back five years from now and regret not having some photos of my pregnancy with Ziggy like I have of my pregnancy with Nicki.

Addendum (9/13): I took some more photos this afternoon, this time with the UV filter off to reduce lens flair. I am supper happy with the way these turned out. I am starting to feel pretty again.

Here’s what helped me get some of my confidence back:

New clothes! I purchased two new (cheap) non-maternity sweater a size up from what I normally wear. There’s something comforting about fitting into a non-maternity clothes, even when your 30 weeks pregnant. The one sweater is so incredibly soft I plan on using it as an around the house sweater post-ziggy. The other one looked a bit nicer in the photos, but ended up being a bit scratchy, so it will probably be donated.

Showing a little skin! didn’t want to get that not so attractive maternity-pants-full-panel-waist-line in the photo, so I ended up doing them sans pants. I didn’t intend to show a little leg, but one of the hazards of using a tripod and not having a real photographer is never knowing exactly how you will be framed. Actually, I think it adds a little something to the photo to see a little bit of leg.

I did originally post a photo from my second session. I figured it wasn’t too risqué. After all you’d see the same amount of skin if I was wearing a swim suit cover. I guess I’m still feeling a bit self conscious because I ultimately decided to take it down. Oh well, it makes me happy to have it and that’s the important thing!

September 4, 2014

First Aid Kit

A while ago Domingo and I started discussing the need for a first aid kit. Our toddler is constantly coming home from daycare with “owies” and since getting her her first tricycle a few weeks ago, we’re sure she’ll start getting more “owies” at home too! I don’t like the idea of prefabbed kits. I wanted to put together my own.


The Box:

I ordered the Stack-On SBR-18 17 Compartment Parts Storage Organizer Box from Amazon for $6.77. Like with the battery box, I wanted something with removable partitions so I could more easily customize it with the first aid supplies we needed. I also wanted something red, because, well, it’s a first aid kit.

The box was a bit bigger than I expected, which ended up being a good thing. Just packing the things we already had around the house (band-aids, a plastic squirt bottle to wash out scrapes, Neosporin, anti-itch cream, antiseptic wipes, medical tape, and ace bandages) the box ended up pretty full! I intend to aid Bactine, and gauze pads. I’m sure the SBR-13 at $2.96 would have worked out as well. My primary goal was to store band-aids, Neosporin and Bactine. Everything else was a nice extra.

I am not pre filling the squirt bottle. I don’t want to let the water sit and risk growing bacteria – that would defeat the purpose of washing out the wound in the first place! We do have a bottled water on hand, as recommended by the red cross, since we live in earthquake country.

The Bag:

The bag is actually the plastic bag that held the waterproof mattress cover for Nicki’s new twin bed. I rarely discard resealable plastic bags items tend to ship in. You never know what will come in handy! Right now the bag that had my boppy pregnancy pillow is being used to store canvas tote bags, and I have the stuffed animals from my childhood in the big square bag that the foam tiles came in. This bag is just the right size for some instant hot and cold packs, and some additional water squirt bottles.

I’m not 100% sure that keeping the instant hot pad is a good idea, and I may remove it at some point. I don’t believe it can melt the plastic bag. (It shouldn’t get hot enough to burn skin – right?!) Use caution if you decide to store an instant hot pad.

To finish it off I used red Washi tape ($2.99 from Target) to make the iconic health cross symbol.

Dr. Mommy’s Owie Stickers

After creating our initial first aid kit I kept coming back to the band-aids. I liked the idea of having a fun collection of band-aids for Nicole to pick through. Her owies typically aren’t too sever, so if I can distract her from them (like by offering her fun “owie stickers”), I’m sure she’ll forget about the actual owie.

While the band-aids themselves may have interesting designs, the wraping they’re stored was plain and not see through. That takes all the fun our of picking a band-aide! So I needed to keep the box so she’d have some idea which band-aide she was choosing from. I decided I needed yet a third box and went with this card storage box. At $5.52 it felt a bit pricey, but it got the job done nicely.