December 25, 2017

Not A Christmas Baby Afterall

For a brief moment, it looked like we were going to have a Christmas baby.

I had finished nearly all of my Christmas prep work early: tree trimmed, presents purchased and all but one wrapped (it was a last minute addition by a family member). I’m trying to stay off my off my feet as much as possible, feeling what could be the start of contractions since early to mid December. That meant no baking for me. Instead of making Grandma’s Cinnamon rolls from scratch we bought the Pillsbury kind which turned out pretty reasonable, especially given the effort to end product trade off. After the kids went to sleep on Christmas Eve the only thing left was for Santa to stuff the stockings and put out the special presents, and then (of course) to take the last photographs of everything finished and done.

I went to bed shortly after 11. I had been uncomfortable all day, with lower back pain, but no measurable cramping or contractions to speak of. By around 11:30 I was still awake and tossing uncomfortably, noting the back pain was now radiating down into my legs in waves like it did when I was contracting with Nicole. That’s when I noticed the discomfort I was feeling was not the baby moving, but a tightening in my abdomen. For a moment I thought this was it. Fortunately by 11:45 everything stopped and I was able to finally fall asleep.

By morning everything was back to normal. I am still uncomfortable, but no signs of early labor. I was even able to get up early with the kids and take some photos of them with their stockings. I’m still getting used to my new camera in low light situations, but I walked away with at least one really nice shot and I always treasure those.

A mild cold has been making it’s rounds through our house, and by mid day it was clear it was my turn. So it’s contractions and a cough for me for Christmas this year! So far it’s just a dry cough and a sore throat.

Domingo is insisting I spent even less time on my feet than I already was. We’re hoping to make it at least to 39 weeks, which will be Friday. I’d prefer January, but logistically things get a lot easier if we could make it to at least Friday. It’d also be nice if I can go into labor at full strength, so I’m resting, running the humidifier and drinking as much hot tea as possible.

Now watch as I go all the way to induction day again. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

December 21, 2017

Sarah Brain

Whether it’s lack of sleep, seasonal stress or the mythical “mommy brain” my cognitive functions appear to be lacking I’m making some really epic level of mistakes lately. Let me count the ways in just the last couple of weeks:

  • I very carefully measured out the single portion of the home made chili I’m allowed to eat per my pregnancy gestational diabetics diet, put the rest in the microwave and my portion back in the fridge.
  • Fat fingered not just my account number, but also the bill amount while paying online. Still trying to get that resolved.
  • Lost my phone and the *first* place I look, without thinking, is the refrigerator. (Thankfully it was not there.)
  • Forgot about my ~38 week appointment until the end of the day when Domingo got home from work and asked how it went.

Oopsies.

At least we are continuing to make good progress through our to-do list.

The infant car seat has been checked over for any weak spots in the plastic, cleaned and installed in the car. I even found the newborn insert for it! The rocking chair is assembled and upstairs. The nursery is still a disheveled mess, but we have a rock n’ play that the baby will likely sleep in for the first couple weeks or months anyway.

One source of stress during both Alexis’ and Nicole’s first year was the baby book. There were many, many months struggled to find a workable onesie for the monthly photo in time for the photo shoot, often settling for something that was over priced that I didn’t really like. I decided to do things a little differently this time around. I took advantage of a year end sale, found a onesie that would have matched both girls’ complexion and purchased it in all-the-sizes, that is from newborn to 18 months! I plan to keep them separate from all the other baby clothes so there’s little change it’ll get stained before it’s needed. At the end of the year, they’ll be very gently used and I can easily donate them at close to their full value.

I also decided to purchase both girls a new dress for newborn/sibling photos, again taking advantage of the year end sales.

Hospital bag is not packed, but was also not really used either previous delivery. I am slowly gathering a few things (e.g. going home shirt/blanket). It’ll be easy enough to throw those things in a plastic shopping bag on our way out the door, and in an emergency I can send Domingo home to pick them up if we forget them. The only other thing of importance is my camera, but I plan to use it between now and then so pre-packing it makes no sense.

My modus operandi these days is whatever reduces stress and makes my life easier. Can you tell?

December 15, 2017

Staying in

This pregnancy continues to be vastly different from my other two. With both Nicole and Alexis I used being hours away from my induction as an excuse to walk around the mall. I felt annoyingly fine, and was anxious for things to started. This pregnancy? Moving at all has been a struggle for weeks.

Z3 is super low. I feel her in my hips as I walk, pushing against my pelvic bone. By the time I get to the store from the parking lot I’m usually in need of sitting down. Yesterday I thought I’d preserve and power through for the last of my holiday shopping least Domingo be left picking out nail polish colors for the girl’s stockings.

When I was nearly done the discomfort started to intensify into undeniable pain. The kind of pain where I wasn’t sure I could physically make it out of the store. I leaned against my cart, breathing deep and slow waiting for the feeling to pass. My spare hand was resting on my 8.5 month pregnant belly.

All of a sudden my cart was pulled out from under me. I nearly hit the ground, but luckily my grip on the card was strong enough that I was able to stay up right. I glanced over to see an older woman with her hand still on my cart. She gestured that I was blocking the merchandise. No “excuse me” or “I’m sorry.” Thanks lady. I would have moved out of your way had you given me the chance.

I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she didn’t notice my big pregnant belly under my T-shirt. Even so, moving an object someone is leaning against is still a jerky thing to do, even if they’re physically fine.

Nail polish was not acquired. I left as soon as I felt able.

Domingo and I decided that, jerks aside, it would probably be best that I not tax myself like that again in the future. Especially by myself. I’m still going to do daycare/school drop-offs solo, partially out of necessity and partially because I usually feel the best in the morning. We’ll stick to reheating meals in the evening so Domingo can help me with pick-ups. Even if that means cooking them the night before, after the kids are asleep.

One more week until vacation starts. Two more weeks until we have family in town to help out. Five more weeks at most of pregnancy. According to my Labor Probability Calculator, there’s a 10.5% Z3 will come before vacation starts, a 14.1% she’ll be here before Christmas and a 30.6% chance she’ll be born in December. Fingers crossed we make it to January. We can do this.

At least Santa was able to finish the shopping online.

December 13, 2017

Mery and Done! (Almost)

The stars have aligned and I’ve been able clear out my Christmas task list in a major way.

Christmas cards can take weeks for me to finish, since I like to do everything from take the photo to designing the actual card. This year I didn’t even have a design concept I was happy with coming into the weekend. I have been mulling over just using past photos of the kids, and maybe even an old card layout when an idea struck me Saturday night as I was going to bed. I told Domingo my plan Sunday morning and we were able to do a mini photo shoot with the kids that afternoon. After the kids went to sleep I managed to design the cards in what felt like a lightening fast two hours. Check it out, I think it’s one of my best. One day, people. I have never designed anything so fast.

To send out the cards I opted to use Shutterfly’s addressing service for the Christmas Cards again. It’s not as nice as hand addressing them, but I figure most of our friends and family won’t mind. I don’t mind. Life’s busy for everyone, do what you got to do. Besides, I have a better excuse for not hand addressing the cards this year than last since I’m roughly the size of a beached whale with an energy level that ranges from almost non-existent to flat-lining. At least they’re done early enough that recipients should receive their cards before the holidays. Last year a few cards didn’t arrive until the day after Christmas.

Santa needs to find one more present and a few stocking stuffers, but all non-Santa presents have been ordered and sent. All presents that I have received from out of town friends and family have been wrapped and are under the now trimmed tree. I know a few more presents are on their way, but nothing that will require too much energy to wrap. They may even come wrapped.

The house could use still use some tidying up (when does it not?).

That only leaves taking the kids to see Santa which we’re planning on doing this weekend, and getting a nice family photo by the tree. I won’t stress it if the family photo happens after Christmas again. For that matter, we can always do decorating cookies or gingerbread houses after the holidays again too. The kids will be home for two weeks, starting Christmas day, anyway, and it’s a nice way to prolong the season.

Now I just need to finish getting ready for the baby. Putting the car seat in the car and assembling the crib would be a good idea before hitting 37-weeks/term on Friday. Tidying up the nursery would be nice too. Baby clothes up to 12 months have been cleaned, sorted and put away in the dresser. The rest are sitting in piles on the floor of the nursery, or in the not put back together crib, waiting to be put away. I’m also planning on using a heavy dose of fabric softener on the older clothes. Time has not been super kind to them.

We’re getting there, and it’s helping with my stress level.

The biggest sense of relief this past week came in the form of two offers to watch the girls should Z3 decide to make an early arrival. Z3 is head down and very low. My doctor was initially pretty sure I’d need to be induced again, but seemed much less convinced when she checked on Z3’s position. I have been feeling what might be off and on again contractions. Could be braxton hicks. Could be somersaults. I know it sounds weird or a 3rd time mom to not be sure, but I had made next to no progress before either induction. I am not entirely sure what it feels like when things start to kick off on their own!

December 10, 2017

Order Fails

One sign you’re doing too much shopping? A number of orders get messed up all at once. Tomorrow I need to call three different companies and ask “What the heck?!”

The first is the photography company that does the school photos at Nicole’s school. The level of fail with these guys is impressive. I paid for Nicole’s Kindergarten portrait back at the end of August. I volunteered on picture day. I saw her get her photo taken and physically handed the check & order form to the photographer.

In October Nicole’s teacher sent out an email reminding parents of retake day the next day in case they weren’t happy with their proofs. What proofs? I went through Nicole’s bookbag and the parent folder. Nothing. I double checked my check had been cashed in August. Fearing a mixup I signed Nicole up for retakes, just in case. Worse comes to worse I’d pay for two sets of photos. First thing in the morning I called the company asking about the missing proofs. They didn’t have a record of Nicole having her photo taken (besides the cashed check) but it didn’t seem like this situation was too unusual, and they said they’d look into it.

In early November I got an email from the photography company. They couldn’t find Nicole’s missing photo and would be returning my money. I asked if they had her photo from retake day. No response.

In December, a full 3 months after I paid for the silly things, I finally received Nicole’s official Kindergarten portraits. They were all the quality you’d expect from a school photo, but at least they were non-theoretical!

The company takes the kids’ photos against a green screen, so I decided to order another image with a different color background that goes better with Nicole’s complexion. Unlike my first order, this one came quickly, but came watermarked! Tomorrow I will be calling and asking for the Non-watermarked version.

The second issue is with my Target bookshelf order. Domingo and I are setting up a Homework/project nook area in the living room. We needed a place to store Nicole’s book bag that wasn’t the middle of the floor (where it currently is.) The space is small, and there’s a window with a ledge so I needed the two-tiered, 2 shelf case. The 3-tiered one arrived. I’m sure in most cases that would be a nice surprise upgrade, but it doesn’t fit!

The final issue is with the light up deer lawn decorations we ordered. The baby deer is missing a piece. Not an important piece, we can make do without it, but we shouldn’t have to!


Edited to Add:

And the photography company continues to impress me with their level of fail. The customer service rep kept insisting that all images come watermarked (then why didn’t my first order?) and Walmart (their suggestion) can remove the watermark for me if I were to take the digital image file to them to print (Ridiculous. The technology to do it is in it’s infancy and not publicly available. Besides, there are legal implications for a commercial entity to remove someone else’s watermark).

We are out of luck with the bookshelf. The two tiered version is out of stock, and no longer listed on Target’s page. I’m dissappointed because it was an awesome deal on a really cute bookshelf that’s twice as expensive anywhere else, but they’re letting me keep the three tiered one for free. I can maybe make it work somewhere else in the house, just not for the intended purpose. At least I’m no worse off than if I hadn’t ordered it.

The missing part on the baby deer is also out of stock and the company isn’t sure when they’ll be able to restock it, so it may be a while before they can send one to me. Luckily we can make do without.


Edited a second time.

I had given up getting a resolution with respect to Nicole’s photos, but then I got a response back from the Photography company this (Tuesday) morning that irritated me so much I couldn’t let it go. Eight more back-and-forths and we may have reached a resolution I’m satisfied with.

December 6, 2017

First Time Charm

My best photo shoot is usually my third. Unless it’s something I’m shooting on a regular basis, I usually take a few iterations to figure out the best settings to lessen the chances of unintentional blur (both depth of field related, camera shake and motion). So when I decided to try a modified low key maternity photo in front of the Christmas tree, I was pretty stoked to get this on my first attempt.


ISO 5000
F/36 (to produce the star light effect)
2 Second Shutter Speed

It was a difficult shot. I’m kneeling so my bump is against to the widest part of the tree (you can see the floor in the background to the right.) I had troubles sitting still for so long, and ended up leaning against Alexis’ training potty so I could hold my position better. Even still there’s a bit of noise, but it’s not horrible. Given the difficulty of the shot, I think the end result was rather impressive. I was using normal noise reduction, and could experiment with pushing it to the max. If I used a star filter (something I didn’t yet own) I could create the stars with a wider aperture and not rely on such a high ISO setting or long shutter speed. If this is what I got when I didn’t quite know what I was doing, imagine what I could get with a little work!

All other attempts have been flops.

The stars created with a small aperture are small and dense with 14 rays that don’t stretch very far from the point light. The star filter set I purchased produce a maximum 10 rays. I was hoping there wouldn’t be much of a difference between 10 and 14 rays, but the 10 rays looked mighty thin compared to the 14 rays. Adding insult to injury, the greater the difference in contrast between point light to the rest of the photo, the longer the rays. The end result? Long streaks of light that didn’t really look like stars stretching across most of the photo. The darker the photo, like these low key setups, the worse the filter stars looked.


With star filter

Results with increased noise reduction were ok, but not remarkably better.

Sadly for me and my perfectionist tendencies, the further along I get in this pregnancy the less energy I have to try for better photos. I’m also getting impatient with the still yet untrimmed tree (I worry the ornaments will detract from the photo) so I decided to declare this photo attempt done after five tries. I did take a back up shot with an increased the aperture (bye bye pretty point light stars) which at least doesn’t suffer from noise or blur. I’m convinced that somewhere out there is a program that can add stars to point lights after the fact. If it doesn’t exist now, I’m sure it will at some point.

In the mean time, I ran my best photo (above) through every single photo manipulation app on my phone. Here are my two favorite results.

The first is from an app called Camera+ using the faded filter. I love the nearly black and white look with the stars supplying little bursts of color. The color tone is a nice touch as well.

Next up is Prism with the Curly Hair style. It’s another mostly black and white image, this one looks almost like a drawing.

Tomorrow while the kids are at school I plan to trim the tree while blasting Christmas music. My goal: be done with my to-do list early enough that I can relax the week leading up to Christmas and get plenty of sleep before the chaos that is Christmas morning. I did it before, I can do it again!

November was another strong growth month, but income still fell short of projections. Datayze saw a user growth of 19.2% and earned $569.45.

I won’t meet the $1000/month target by the end of the year, but I can’t be dissappointed with the growth I’ve seen this year. Average monthly revenue has increased by a factor of 4 and will likely continue to increase. I’ve hit all the targets I set for myself just under two years ago.

Next goals include:
– $1000/month (I consider this the point of viability)
– Covering the kids’ daycare/afterschool costs
– Replacing my previous full time salary

One of the differences I noticed right away between this year and last was in the impact of Thanksgiving on audience size. Last year Thanksgiving didn’t seem to have much of an effect on audience size. There was a markable dip on the day off, and a small dip the day before, but audience size recovered quickly over the weekend. This year my user stats started to drop on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and remained slightly lower than expected the following week. It’s further evidence that my demographics may have shifted with the change in relative App popularity.

One of the nice things about increased traffic is I’m starting to see a non trivial number of Amazon affiliate links. Over a year ago I implemented a backup ad system that served Amazon affiliate links for users who use ad blockers. (It’s against my terms of service to use an ad blocker on my site, but I realize some corporate networks don’t give users a choice.) Clicks is the first step to conversions, which is the next step before creating a steady revenue stream. I spent a lot of time designing the system to be unintrusive, fast and light weight, but not a lot of time selecting products so there’s at least that potential avenue for improvement.

I’m setting my expectations low for December. Last year my audience size decreased in the middle of the month and it took about a month to recover. I noticed a similar winter dip the year before. The January lull will give me a chance to launch a whole bunch of new content and site improvements I’ve been holding off from (assuming a little miss doesn’t make an early appearance.)

November 26, 2017

No Phone for Me

Despite early online successes, in person Black Friday shopping this year was a colossal failure.

I was able to get a sale as good, or better than I was expecting on pretty much everything on my list through online shopping. I had sorted all our old baby clothes, knew what we were missing, and took advantage of the sales to flush out Z3’s early wardrobe. I opted to skip most of the baby gear on our list in favor of just in time decisions based on what we need. Since Z3 is our last, there’s no point in stocking up in what we might need. The monitor is the clear need, but a simple security camera will likely suffice and can stream to our phones which means one less component that could fail.

By the time the kids were in bed Thursday night, there was just one thing left on my list: my new phone.

We arrived at Target at 7:30 pm, about 90 minutes after the doors opened. I was surprised to see a line still outside the door. My heart sank when we noticed it was the iphone line. Not a good sign to begin with, and our night was about to get even worse.

We have never waited in a Black Friday sale before, let alone at nearly 8 months pregnant. I wasn’t sure how long I could hold out with Z3 compressing my internal organs. Simply standing can be exhausting. As we stood in line I started the timer on my phone. I wanted to be able to estimate how much longer we would likely weight if I felt like I was maxing out my capabilities. We alternated between both of us standing in line, and me sitting on the nearby bench while Domingo held our place. At 31 minutes, 30.11 seconds one of the Target employees made an announcement.

It turns out the line we were in was the pre-line line. When we got to the front they’d check our eligibility for an upgrade, and verify they still had the phone we wanted (network, color, memory size, etc) in stock. Then we’d enter the actual line, an virtual queue. At some point later we’d get a text/call that we were next and have 15 minutes to make our way to the counter and claim the phone, otherwise our spot was forfeit. It could be any time between then (8pm) and midnight, or after 6 am the next day. The employee’s best guess was the next day.

We abandoned all hope and left the line. I couldn’t spend that much time at Target, and if we went home it was unlikely we’d be able to return promptly in fifteen minutes, and that’s assuming I didn’t miss the call/text. I didn’t want to feel pressured into getting a different size, or color than I wanted, and worried I’d be told the phone was in stock, only to discover it wasn’t once I arrived. But I was still disappointing, and as we returned home I started to second guess myself. There was no guarantee the call/text would come at a bad time. I might have been able to get my phone had we stayed in line, I definitely wouldn’t by exiting the line.

On Friday I read a market watch article talking about the frustrations many customers had purchasing their phones. Even those who were in line before the doors opened were waiting for hours. I felt a little better for not sticking it out. It sounded like a miserable experience.

Saturday I realized we had forgotten candles for Alexis’ birthday cake and had to send Domingo to the store for an emergency pick up. The party aisle is right by the electronics section and he couldn’t help but overhear one of the annoyed customers. The customers had been summoned to pick up his iPhone twice. The first time, despite being told the phone he wanted was in stalk and ready to be picked up he arrived at Target only to discover they had made a mistake and did not have that particular phone after all. This was his second call back. One of the other customers had returned their phones, but there was some issue surrounding the fact that it was a returned, already activated phone. Another clearly miserable experience.

I’m disapointed I didn’t get a new phone, but if I could only have one new phone or a new camera, I’m much happier with the new camera.

November 25, 2017

The Big Wonderful Three

Who’s turning three? This girl!

I still can’t believe this sweet, beautiful girl, who gives giant kisses and takes any excuse for a hug has been a part of our family for three years already!

We celebrated Alexis’ birthday the weekend after Thanksgiving with family still in town. It’s amazing what the kids remember year to year. Alexis has been talking about her “Princess cake” she was going to get on her birthday for a couple of weeks now (even though, like years past, neither kid cared to eat it!). But it didn’t dawn on her that she was going to get presents until Nicole pointed it out to her the night before her party. She also appeared to forget about the big foil balloon. It may not have been important to her last year, but this year she was all about the big balloon.

We were super proud of our three year old who choose the occasion to show off what a big girl she was. Both Domingo and I were surprised she willingly napped before the party. Some of the party guests arrived as lunch was finishing up, just before nap time. Six months ago there would have been tears and protests as she was carried upstairs for nap just after guests arrived. Today she happily greeted them with a hug before telling them it was nap time and her party would start after nap. And she had no problem sharing her new toys. She received both a Rapunzel and Ariel barbie dolls, and handed the Ariel doll to Nicole while it was still in the box so the two could play together. She also had no problem splitting the Shimmer and Shine bracelets so they could each have one.

I just wish I was able to get better pictures of the birthday girl. Alexis also enjoys “teasing” mommy when Mommy has her camera. It started last summer. If you asked her to say smile for the camera, she’d gladly comply, but facing whatever direction she was facing. If the back of her head was towards the camera, she’d say “Cheese!” without turning to look at you. Back then it was because she didn’t understand, now it’s become a bit of a game. So there was a lot of smiling while looking to the person to the left or right of me. Normally I can catch her off when her gaze shifts to me momentarily, but this time I had the added issues of still getting used to the settings on my new camera and the controls aren’t second nature yet. I forgot how to change the focal point, so I’m relying on Auto-focus which sometimes doesn’t do what I want. At least I did manage a couple really cute ones, and sometimes looking off camera adds to the photo.

I’m so proud of my girls and how big they’re getting.

November 22, 2017

Early Deals

In early November I got in the habit of leaving a separate browser open dedicated to shopping. I was interested in a pumpkin Halloween decoration that was strangely not on clearance sale yet, and considering getting some out door artificial pencil width trees to go on either side of the front door. I had a tab opened to each product I was considering, waiting to see if it would go on sale. While I was at it, I decided to add some tabs for some of the Black Friday things I was considering. I wasn’t expecting a deal yet, but I like to be organized.

Then something strange happened.

We were planning on purchasing a Samsung S8 for Domingo for the Black Friday sale price of $300 off. I calculated the monthly rate to be ~$17. As I was scrolling through my shopping tabs in the morning of the 16th, a full week before thanksgiving, I noticed Bestbuy offering the phone for ~$15 a month, or $350 off. I purchased it without hesitation. Bestbuy had jumped the gun and beaten their own advertised price which was already the best around!

Another deal I was considering was an Artificial tree from Michaels. One of our trees last year quit working thanks to faulty wiring in the plug. I was debating about restring the lights (a deceptively huge endeavor.) At the beginning of November Micheals had some kind of “tree event”. Domingo and I went to the store and really liked on of the trees which was an extremely reasonable price. “Was” being key. The tree was 50% off the day before, now only 25% off. It was still a good price, but not the best price. I often will balk at a purchase if it’s not the best price, regardless of how good it is. A little internet research suggested the price would come back down on Black Friday. Sure enough, when the Black Friday flyer finally came back the tree was once again advertised as 50% off. I opened a tab and was at the ready. The deal started Sunday, a full five days before it was advertised to start.

Then last night I got an email from bed bath and beyond advertising a 20% off an entire purchase for being a subscriber starting that moment. It was exactly the Black Friday deal i wanted to replace our thread bare sheets that i was dreading going in person to get! And they weren’t the only ones. Target also started their Black Friday deals today for people who have a red card (something I only realized when their automated system emailed me to let me know something I was looking at was on sale.)

That’s just three examples. Here we are, the day before thanksgiving and I’ve gotten most of the items off my Black Friday shopping list at the price I was expecting, or better. On the one hand, I will miss the tradition of going out to the store on Thanksgiving night after the kids are in bed. On the other, I look forward to having more time in the evening for our other tradition, trimming the trees up while the kids are sleeping.

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