Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Between this Thanksgiving occurring as early as possible, and our plan to abandon Black Friday shopping in favor of decorating, I’m on track to cross off a substantial portion of my Christmas To Do list before the start of December. Here is all that I’ve accomplished already, ahead of Thanksgiving.

Christmas Cards, (✔)

We took our Christmas Card photo on Sunday, and finished our cards yesterday. I misread a coupon from Shutterfly and was rushing to get it done by Thanksgiving. Turns out I have no shortage of 40% off coupons that don’t expire until the end of December, so I’m sitting on our card until Black Friday/Cyber Monday to see if there’s a better deal coming.

Incidentally, rushing to get a family photo ended up being a good thing as not 24 hours later a cold started to make it’s way through our family bringing with it crusty noses, tired eyes and pale faces.

Black Friday, (✔)

BestBuy’s deal on the iPhone went live somewhere around 10 o’clock my time. Around the same time CamelCamelCamel alerted me to a good deal on the previous Kindle Paperwhite. Neither deal was spectacular, but can’t beat the convenience of shopping in my PJs while sipping my hot chocolate – especially since I’ve been hit by that cold!

While I am content to be finished with Black Friday shopping this year, I am a little disappointed. There didn’t appear to be a deal on the leap pad, either in person or online, and the phone ended up being not as discounted as I previously believed. I miss the spectacular deals.

“Santa’s” Shopping, (Mostly ✔)


I’m ridiculously proud of how well Nicole’s and Alexis’ stockings came together. I started planning them back in September as Santa was getting the girls custom name necklaces. I got the idea when Alexis’ started writing her own name. Wouldn’t you know one of the four things Nicole wanted (along with headbands, and nail polish) was a new necklace? Way ahead of you, girlie!

Alexis wants a real life unicorn, so Santa is stuck there, but I think she’ll be happy with what Santa came up with.

That just leaves Dana’s stockings. Her’s was always going to be the most difficult as I like the stockings to be somewhat practical and we have so many hand me downs she is not of want for anything. I’m thinking maybe teethes and bath toys.


Handled across the board. Domingo and I happened to be in Target the day of the 20% off toys sale, which worked out perfectly.

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. By 11:45, however, 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! It’s just a dry cough and a sore throat, thus far. Here’s hoping it stays that way.

I told Domingo about the possible contractions and he 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 when company is arriving to help with the kid logistics. 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 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 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!

January 7, 2017

Our First Gingerbread House

Daddy’s contribution.

One of the things we wanted to do this past Holiday season, and never seemed to get around to, was decorating gingerbread houses. We bought the kits on Black Friday (and saved $1, wahoo!), and they’ve been on our kitchen counter ever since.

No time like the present, right? It’s not like the kids care that the holiday has already passed.

Nicole has been asking about the gingerbread kits since they first appeared on the counter back in November. She’s always had a love for all things creative. Combining crafts with candy? Pure perfection. The first thing she asked me this morning was whether I remembered promising we would decorate the gingerbread houses today. She was not going to let me forget!

Nicole and I set up while Alexis was napping. Mommy was on construction, while Nicole inspecting the quantity and quality of the different types of candy. When Alexis woke up, Nicole ran to go show her that everything had been set up and we were ready to start. I asked Alexis if she wanted to decorate the gingerbread house. Alexis replied, “No, Alexis eat it!”

Both kids had a blast. I wasn’t sure what to expect (besides copious candy consumption). I was really impressed with the ideas Nicole came up with. She made a Christmas light strand out of mini gum drops, and put holly in the windows. Even Alexis got into putting candies on her house and not just in her mouth, eventually. I predict a start of a new tradition.

Lessons for next time:

– Use a knife to shave down the sides of the ginger bread prior to assembly. I have vague recollections of doing this when I was growing up. It didn’t occur to me to shave down the excess gingerbread along the edges until the first time a house collapsed. The excess gingerbread prevented all the edges from touching at once, making it harder to hold together the house while the icing set.

– Assemble overnight and give plenty of time to set. The instructions indicated the icing only needed 15 minutes, but that wasn’t my experience. Over an hour after assembly and decoration I moved the houses so I could take a photo of each of them. As I was moving Nicole’s it collapsed. Nicole heard my “oh no!” from the family room and came running. I was really proud of her for not getting overly upset. She didn’t cry, and understood it was an accident. I’m not sure I would have had that level of maturity at four.

I did manage to get it back together, but it’s a lot harder once the icing has partially set, and it collapsed a third time on me.

– Extra candy is not really needed. At least not when one of your kids is just two. Another vague recollection I had from decorating gingerbread houses as a child was that the candy the houses came with wasn’t enough, so I bought some extra candies. My fear was premature. Alexis could really only eat the gum drops that came with the kit, so we supplemented her with left over holiday m&ms. That meant there was a lot of extra kit candy for Nicole. I plan to hold on to the supplemental candy set for next year since there’s no expiration date. It may get a little stale and maybe even chewy, but the kids won’t mind.

– Extra icing, on the other hand, is an excellent idea. The kit comes with a large tube of thick royal icing. I had two kits and two tubes, and only needed one. The challenge is that the tube is really hard for little kids to handle. The grocery store sells tubes of icing that are actually much easier for little kids and rather inexpensive. I could also make my own icing and use icing bags, but that seems likely to dramatically increase the mess factor.

December 19, 2016

Coming Together

Don’t you just love it when things work out?


There’s nothing like waiting until the last minute to ratcheted that stress level up to eleventy. Today starts our winter vacation, tomorrow we get on a plane to visit family. Before leaving I wanted to get a nice photo of the girls in their Christmas pjs to print and frame. I have been planning this for a few weeks. Today was our first attempt, you know, hours before I needed the photo. I am smart. S-M-R-T.

The chips were stacked against us. The thermostat went a little AWOL last night again, and the low extra temperature combined with Christmas vacation excitement meant for light sleep all around. The girls were a little wired to begin with, and not in the most cooperative moods though happy(ish). We did have a few temper tantrums today, not going to lie. Such is life with over tired little kids.

I took 110 frames in 8 minutes and 22 seconds (fastest shutter finger in the West, thank you very much), and most were pretty bad. Alexis thought it would be fun to pull her hat down completely over her head. Big sister thought it was hilarious and started copying, just as we convinced Alexis to leave her hat atop her head. At various times one or both of the girls would leap up from in front of the tree and run away. We got 109 frames of out takes and one perfect shot. I was shooting in continuous mode, like always, and this is still the only frame of both girls looking directly at the camera and smiling. The fact that it’s also the best cropped photo in the bunch and in focus? Icing on the cake.

How rare is it to get a photo I’m completely happy with? Let’s put it this way, I’m getting quite good at head swapping. The one with the good expression is the one where my camera settings are wrong, or it’s poorly framed. As long as it’s not a motion blur or depth of field issue I can usually fix it up in post processing. That’s usually my goal: fixable in post processing.

The above exposure is one of those rare times where the good expression coincides with the good settings and the good cropping. I brightened the image a scotch to post it online, but the original raw was what I used for both family and face book.

The good thing about taking a lot of photos? Sometimes you get lucky!

December 16, 2016

Finally Trimmed

I was on top of things last year. This year? Hah.


“Santa” brought our Trees after Thanksgiving. Normally Santa sets them up before going to bed, but got tired before trimming our main tree. Three weeks later, on the day of the kid’s Christmas party at school, and four days before flying out, I finally found the time to finish our last tree.

Nicole and Alexis noticed the difference right away. Alexis kept pointing and screaming “Tree! Tree”! Nicole wanted to know “Who did that?!”

“Santa?” I propose.

“No, Mommy!”

Someone is already on to me. Adding insult to injury, we purchased two of those little foil trees to put on the girl’s dressers. I wanted to claim Santa put those up as well, but Nicole caught me sneaking into her room. She was quite annoyed at me when I tried to convince her she was mistaken, that it was actually Santa disguised as Mommy.

I am not ready for the Christmas magic to be over yet!

Trimming our main tree this year proved to be a little more challenging because I just didn’t like the ornaments we had.

Our white light tree uses shatter proof ornaments, as does the kids’ tree. The later was out of necessity, the former because I fell in love with the champagne set that only came in the shatterproof variety. They’re realistic enough to pass for typical balls. Shatterproof ornaments have come a long way. You used to be able to spot them at a distance. Now you have to get close, and even then it’s not always obvious. I can attest that they are, indeed, quite hardy. I dropped two on the hard wood floor with the kind of thunk you would have thought would wake the kids. Ornament survived. Not so sure about my hardwood floor.

Sadly many of our non shattered resistent ornaments have bitten the dust over the years, and what we’ve been left with is a miss match collection of balls for our main tree. So miss-match hodgepodge-y that it’s noticeable, even on our tree with five different color lights and collection of non-ball, non-collection ornaments. We barely put any balls on our main tree last year, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it again this year. As I was going through the ornament box I discovered two sets of shatter resistent mini balls I had purchased a few years ago in an after Christmas sale. It was forty little balls, just red, green and white/silver, but it worked. I think I’ll probably stick to the same color scheme. While the mini balls really make the hallmark ornaments stand out, I think I want to experiment with some traditional sized balls as well.

Alas, the store does not have any in the right color pallet. Trends tend to change from year to year. The ones I have are deep green and slightly blue tint. The current green ones at the store are leaning more into a lime direction. I dislike yellow greens, and fuschia pinks and neon oranges which appear all the rage these days. It may take a few years for the colors I like to come back in style, so I’ll have to wait.

I finished Christmas shopping yesterday, and the cards went out earlier this week. That just leaves baking, and getting some Christmas themed photos of the girls. I can do this.

December 13, 2016

Our Sunshines


Last Last weekend it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t done anything in terms of Holiday cards.

I do everything for the cards, from concept to design and photography. It’s a lot of work, and the effort to payoff ratio isn’t always there, but I take pride in it. In the past I’ve queued up a bunch of different designs, which helps reduce the December time work load. In good years I not only have a concept in mind but have already taken the family photo. (Recently the family photo happens in early to mid December.) This year I had… nothing.

Since time was running out I decided to do things a little differently this year. Rather than one big family photo, I decided to use the individual head shots of the girls I had been working on the past month. (At least it’s a recent photo, if not a holiday themed one, right?) I was initially going to get a similar style photo of Domingo and I, and do a three-photo card. (It’s a lot easier to get a good photo of adults on cue than it is to get one of the kids!) After a little design work I decided to just forgo that idea.

I dub this year’s card “My Sunshines.” Not exactly Christmas themed, but I like it. Call it “California Christmas.”

I finished the card a week ago Monday. I figured I’d print them and address the envelopes one of the days the kids are in school. I’m sure you can see where this is going.

When I finally got around to printing the cards this afternoon I discovered we were out of ink. Out printer is pretty old at this point, and finding ink for it is getting harder these days. I usually have to buy it online, but I didn’t want to wait for shipping. Fine, I’ll use one of the local print shops. Queue eye ball popping, you are charging how much?! for a five by seven realization. Ugh. And there was no time to bulk print online. ARGH.

If I was going to pay a lot, I decided I was going to get something extra out of it. I decided to use Shutterfly* and have them mail the cards directly.

* Disclaimer, that’s an affiliate link. If anyone clicks on it and signs up I can order more discounted Christmas cards.

Entering the mailing address was a giant pain in butt, but all the addresses were saved, which should make this much easier in future years, should we decide to do it again. The final per-card price ended up being about 40 cents more than printing locally would have been, which seems worth it. Next year I’ll keep an eye out for a coupon. I’m sure the prices are better much earlier in the season.


I am so grateful I decided to attack that Christmas to-do list early. I kept up the momentum from Monday, and completed the Cinnamon rolls, and that hand print craft project before the girls had off from School, which meant I could go to bed early and get plenty of rest. Or at least that was the theory. You know what they say about the difference between theory and practice: in theory there is no difference, in practice there always is. As long as the kids are small, getting as much done early as possible will be a necessity.

But what we’re lacking in sleep, we’re making up for in good memories.

We did a Mommy, Daughter bake-a-thon! Nicole has been taking a cooking class at school, and was eager to help me with both the cinnamon rolls and the cookies. She brushed the melted butter on the rolls, sprinkled on the cinnamon sugar mixture, and cracked the eggs. She was my very eager little sous chef.

We visited Santa! The last two years Nicole has been a bit wary of the bearded guy in the red suit. She was excited to meet the big guy last year, up until the moment came to sit on his lap. Nicole was a mix of nervous and excited again this year, but this time it was the excitement that won out. She asked Santa for a “purple present” and a “blue present”. We never did get a smile out of Alexis, but she didn’t cry either. I think having Nicole near by was the only thing that kept the tears at bay.

We did Photos! Well, we tried at least, and we have funny out takes. Maybe taking our family photo after Christmas like last year will become our tradition.

Hope you all have a wonderful Holiday & Happy New Year!

December 20, 2015

Ready for Saint Nick

Playing with angles

After finishing the Christmas cards just last Wednesday, I decided to power through the rest of my to-do list. I stayed up late finishing the rest of our (online) shopping, and have been carving out little blocks of time to wrap presents. For the first time in a long time I am actually d.o.n.e with our Christmas preparations well in advance of the actual day. Getting things done actually helped with my feeling of being burned out, which is a bit ironic given that when I’m feeling burnt out I don’t really want to do anything. I’m evening having fun picking up my camera again.

There’s still a few photos I want to take. I know, I know, I am hopeless. The highest priority photo for me is a family photo by the tree. Last year it was taken a few days after Christmas, and we can certainty do that again, but it’d be nice to have the presents in the background. I also want to do another round of Cookies by the tree. We did some by the white light tree this morning, but my camera settings weren’t quite right. Something tells me I’ll have two willing participants to retake those any time I choose. *grin*

I decided to push back the non-Christmas crafts & photos until the new year. After all, The girls footprints will likely be the same size in January as they are now. I say likely because a little miss is now in size 3 shoes.

Now I can sit back and relax in the evenings (or, more realistically, work on my start-up) and go to bed at a reasonable hour so I can actually enjoy the big day with my family. I may even have enough time bake a batch of Grandma’s Cinnamon Rolls. I haven’t made them in years.

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