Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

December 5, 2015

Her Tree

The first two of our Christmas trees went up Thanksgiving night. With my parents staying in the playroom, we thought it best to wait for this weekend before putting the kid’s tree up.

treeproud
So proud of tree

I’m so glad we decided to go the three tree route. Daycare’s been strongly encouraging independence lately, and she was so excited to get to decorate her tree all by herself. She picked the placement of all the ornaments herself, and put all but one on the tree herself. Cookie Monster ended up being a little heavier than the rest and with a shorter string, so she supervised Mommy’s placement of him.

decorating

She had 12 ornaments, which ended up being a fine amount. She could have kept going, but wasn’t upset that there were no more ornaments to put up.

As for the tree itself, well, we ended up purchasing it at half price and I can’t say it was worth much more than that. The construction of the tree is fine, it was the perfect height, but the light placement is very odd. It’s a pre-lit tree. Usually with pre-lit trees the light strand runs along each branch, and goes between branches near the “trunk” so the cord isn’t visible. For whatever reason the lights on this tree goes between branches towards at the tip of some of the branches. Not only is the cord visible, but it makes fluffing out the tree impossible because the tips of neighboring branches are practically tied together. It’s not a big deal. I was able to remove the cord from the branches and re-string it, but I really shouldn’t have to.

decorating2

I’ve already promised to take her to the craft store tomorrow so we can make some ornaments for her tree. I definitely have a little mini me on my hands!

peekaboo
Alexis may be a bit young to help decorate the trees, but she sure does seem to enjoy them too!
November 21, 2015

Taking Chances

Poor Domingo. I have dragged him all over town the past couple of weeks looking for our third tree, our main tree. We’ve been to Lowes (twice!), Home Depot (twice!), Sears, JCPenney, Walmart… If they sold an artificial tree we were there.

We wanted a 7 1/2 foot, tree with colored lights. I had visions of something that reminded me of the Christmas trees of my childhood, like our old tree. The height was proving to be the easy feature.

I believe our last tree was a Holiday Living tree from Lowes. I remember purchasing it at a home improvement store, and the Holiday Living line – a lowes brand – had the same foot on/off switch, and the same tree base. I wanted to like the new Holiday Living Trees. We even picked out a tree (box 18). But when Domingo went to put one of the boxes in our cart I hesitated. They had no less than five Box 18 trees. We could afford to keep searching a few more days, I reasoned.

The problem was that it wasn’t a tree with purely colored lights. Like most trees we found with colored LED lights, it also had the ability to switch to pure white lights. This is accomplished by multiple leds in a clear bulb, rather than a clear light in a colored bulb. As a result they had far fewer colors: blue, green, yellow and red. For a tree with color lights, it seemed rather lacking in color. What I really needed was a tree with old fashioned incandescent lights.

But those we found with the incandescent lights looked decidedly artificial. The nicer looking trees all had LEDs. I guess incandescent lights are considered lesser.

We were out of options, and with Turkey day approaching, out of time. I started looking online at Amazon Prime eligible trees. At least then I could find some trees that matched both the height and light type criteria. Each listing included the number of branch tips, but branch quality was a bit of a question mark. PE (molded) or PVC (cut-out)? Both? And if so, in what ratio? I prefer to see my trees in person. Not all cuts/molds are equal in my mind.

In the end I decided the lights mattered more to be than branch tips, so I decided to take a chance.

Tree ordered, sight unseen.

Here’s hoping.


Edited to add:

newtree

I’m happy. It has a bit more “filler” branches than I would have wanted at the price point. It is much closer to the tree in our mind’s eye than any of the others we’ve seen, and that counts for a lot.

How did I get so far behind? Wasn’t it just October? And now it’s already almost mid November? Adding insult to injury, most of the stores I frequent have already started their holiday deals and I haven’t even figured out when I’m on the hunt for yet!

One thing I know I need more of is ornaments. It’s no secret that I’m quite addicted to Christmas Tree, and Christmas ornaments. Every year I buy at least a couple new ornaments for our tree. Pretty much every year since Domingo and I first started dating he has been teasing me about the ornaments that will one day grace my tree. We’d be at Hallmark store and he’d point to the Twilight Ornament, or the Hanna Montana Ornament. One day, he’d warn, our future kids would want those. The notion of kid centric ornaments on our tree didn’t bother me, per se. I do love me some Dr. Suess, as evident from Nicole’s first birthday party. But I do cringe a little at the idea of tween pop culture on the tree. I could do without vampire romance, thank you very much.

The big driver for ornaments this year is the second tree I’ve been pinning over. As we were discussing where the trees will go in our new home it finally dawned on us; why stop there? We can get a third kid-height, narrow tree for the playroom. The kids can have total say of what goes on the tree, and decorate it to their hearts content. Domingo and I plan to put up the other two trees and decorate them with the fragile ornaments Thanksgiving night after the girls go to sleep, per tradition. Then, the following morning, we’ll let the girls direct the show when setting up their own tree. It’s all the magic of “Santa” bringing the tree, with all the family fun of setting it up together.

Three trees it is!

Yesterday evening I found the multi-colored light tree on Target.com, equivalent to one we really liked when we saw it in person. The website were stacking sales, including “a buy three, get an additional 15% off” ending that night. I did the frugal thing: searched by sale items, sorted by price, and added two $1 ornament hooks to my card for an additional $9 in savings. This morning I couldn’t help myself. I logged back on to target.com and found the tree had a whole new set of stackable sales, and was now about $5 lower. My order, made just hours before, couldn’t be canceled. My two choices were to suck it up, or call the customer help line and ask for a price reduction. I’m sure you can guess which option I picked. The kind customer sales agent refunded my order the requested amount seemingly without verifying the exact price difference.

There could be several reasons why Target issued me a flat price adjustment. Perhaps they have a minimum price for which they want to sell the item, and my price adjustment was still north of it. (If my math is correct, I came out 11 cents ahead of today’s sale price.) Or perhaps they view it as a means of customer retention. In retail there’s a notion of customer lifetime value. It’s often cheaper to retain a customer than to acquire a new one. There’s also a growing field in Customer Analytics, analytics derived from customer data. Target knows a surprising amount about me. They know my credit card information and address from the online order. From there they can easily figure out how many other purchases I’ve made using the same card or shipping to the same address. From my purchase history they can predict things about me, and my future consumer behaviors. They can predict how profitable I’m likely to continue to be. That assessment cam lead to special perks. It’s a practice that’s been around for ages (think Casino “comps”), but is becoming more frequent with the advent of big data.

It’s hard to know for sure what a company considers my worth to be. Eleven cents extra doesn’t tell you much. I tend to think of myself as not a very profitable customer. I like to think I’m pretty good about ferreting out the best possible deals. I’m clearly the kind of person who double checks sale prices after a purchase, and requests price matching even when it’s just a few dollars. Each dollar I save is a dollar the retailer doesn’t earn. The margins on me can’t be very good. Domingo keeps reminding me it’s not just the margins retailers care about, but the reduction of inventory. In that regard I’m a golden goose, what with my three trees and two Halloween costumes per child. In my own analysis, I did point out that I paid slightly more ($5-7 per child) than average.

This year I’m sure the models will tell the retailers I’m anything but frugal. I’m going to try and hold off on the bulk of my holiday decorations until the after sales, but we will need at least some ornaments for our new trees.

January 1, 2015

Newborn Photos by the Tree

Happy New Year! Are you tired of Christmas yet? I’m sure not (although this is probably my last Christmas related posted until next December.) One thing I can’t get enough of is photographing Christmas Trees.

There are two ways of doing tree photos: shallow focus (wide aperture, short exposure) and deep focus (narrow aperture, long exposure). Personally I like the wide aperture when shooting up close. It makes our artificial tree look less artificial, and means I don’t need to use a tripod. When shooting from a distance, however, I just love the way the narrow aperture gives a nice star effect to the tree lights.

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Aperture and Christmas Tree Lights

I love Christmas, and I love newborns, so naturally I wanted some newborn Christmas photos by the tree.

christmasnewborn
So Dreamy
F/16, 15 second exposure, 50mm prime lens, ISO-125

The setup was really simple. I used a pillow on top of one of our storage boxes to raise Alexis high enough that the Christmas tree would fill the entire background. Under the blanket is a water proof sheet, and under that a heating pad. I used Nick Kelsh’s tip of white Christmas tree lights (sans pizza box) to cast a nice soft glow on Alexis. I wanted the Christmas light star effect, so I needed a narrow aperture and long exposure. That meant turning off most of the other lights in our living room, and cranking the ISO way down.

christmastreesetup
The pull back. Ignore the scattered toys, my home is in perpetual mess state these days.

A long exposure requires a (mostly) still baby. Breathing is obviously okay. No babies should be harmed in the making of this photo! Once I put Alexis down I gave her a good 15 minutes to get into a nice deep sleep. Don’t forget your safety spotter! Even newborns will sometimes roll, especially if the surface their on is uneven.

Once she was asleep I needed to act quick. From start to finish I only had 28 minutes before Alexis was stirring too much for me to continue. In order to ensure I’d end up with some usable frames I made only one adjustment between frames. Between one frame I might straighten out the blanket under Alexis’ head. Before another I might move her hand away from blocking her mouth. That way there’s less risk of her waking enough to stir, and also I’m guaranteed to have some photos to fall back on in the event that she does wake up.

For comparison, here is one of the first photos I took of Alexis and the tree (barely a week old!) with wide aperture. She’s not asleep. One of the nice things about fast shutter speeds, you can catch those eyes closed, fleeting smiles moments!

christmasnewborn2
f/2, 1/50 sec, ISO-1000
(not using Nick Kelsh’s tree light trick)

My favorite photos are always from Christmas time.

Santa's List

I love newborns, and I love Christmas, and I especially love newborns at Christmas. I am running on adrenaline right now, averaging only a few hours of sleep a night yet somehow I finished wrapping the presents, the new glider assembled, and the crib reassembled in advance of the holiday. Now I can sit back and enjoy my favorite Holiday with the girls.

We’re having a low key Christmas this year, after the big family event last year. My parents visited us for almost a month leading up to and after Alexis’ birth, so it really didn’t make sense for them to return for Christmas. My in-laws were going to spend the day with us, but have a little cold, so we opted to celebrate Christmas again with them as soon as they feel better. As fun as it would be for another large family affair, there’s something very special about spending the day with just our new family of four, especially given how tired Domingo and I have been.

Nicole has been very excited about Christmas this year. We were surprised in October when, while walking through Target, Nicole pointed out Santa Clause in the holiday decorations section. On a whim, Domingo asked her if she knew what Santa brought. Without skipping a beat she exclaimed “TOYS!” We’re in trouble.

I made the mistake of putting some presents under the tree a week ago. Nicole wanted to open them right away. We told her she had to wait until Christmas/Santa comes. She went and got her chair, put it down next to the tree and exclaimed “I’ll wait!” She notices when new presents arrive, and even when we put a few more balls up on the tree. She knows which stocking is hers and which is Alexis’, and will happily point them out if you ask.

As much as I have been looking forward to this Christmas as a new family of four, I am really hoping to get back into baking next year. And craft projects. And sleep.

This week is the tipping point. If Ziggy was born today she’d have a 50% chance of survival. As I was filling out the paper work for maternity leave this weekend, I kept thinking about how extra special this holiday season will be. I also couldn’t help but think about all the things I want to accomplish in advance of the holidays. So this week I decided to get a head start on some of those items.

Holiday Card

Every year I design and send out a Christmas Card. Since we’re working on a compress time frame, I thought I would get a head start designing this years card. Now. In August. In actuality I used to have several years worth of card layouts done, but I’ve since burned through my stash. I suspect one of these years I will recycle a card layout, but I am determined for that year not to be this year.

So far I’ve covered the standard Christmas & winter basic colors (red, green (x2), blue, & white.) To mix it up a little I thought I’d challenge myself with a gold theme card. Since I print the cards from home, that means creating the illusion of a metallic sheen from standard RBG colors. I followed this tutorial, adapting the instructions to paint shop pro. I really love how it turned out!

Happy Holidays
A sneak peak at the gold lettering.

It’s usually my preference to have all family members on the card. I also prefer to have them all in the same shot if doable. In order to get the cards out in a timely manner, I’ll need to have a family photo taken no later than early to mid December, possibly just days after Ziggy’s arrival. That’s going to cause the protectionist in me a great deal of stress. I think for my own sanity we’ll just have a photo of the girls this time around. Having too people look good is much easier to accomplish than having four. And really, kids are pretty much always adorable, even when they’re messy and not cooperating. I’m sure everyone will be more interested in the girls than Domingo and I anyway.

Birth Announcement

Another high priority in my mind is creating birth announcement ornament. In order to create the ornament, I first need the birth announcement! While I can wait until December 25th for this one, it will be much more convenient to send it with the holiday cards, so this week I finished the layout.

I decided to go with a three photo layout. That could back fire on me. I designed our 2012 card with a four photo layout long before taking our Christmas photos, than took one of my most favorite photos ever. Alas, the photo didn’t really work with the multi-photo layout. I like the photos I ultimately choose, but it’s hard not to look at the card and remember how much more I like the photo that never made it onto the card.

Ziggy’s Stocking

We’re only about 80% settled on a name, but I did the very unfruggle thing of going ahead and purchasing a stocking.

When I purchased the stockings last year I didn’t realize how badly I was over paying. It turns out I was going through a middle man. I made this discovery when two of the three stockings came back with the names off center. My stocking was just off center enough to annoy a perfectionists. Nicole’s stocking was ridiculously off center.

Stockings
Off Center Stockings.
A 3 inch margin on the left, 1.5 on the right.

When I contacted customer support to request a replacement stocking for Nicki, the company I ordered forwarded my request to the supplier, whom I could have ordered the stocking directly from myself. Of course I couldn’t help but look up the price – $10 less than what I had paid per stocking!

Lesson learned: Next time do a reverse image source on the item I’m considering purchasing. The search will bring up all other retailers using the same stock photo. Then I can do a true price comparison.

The new stocking came in time for Christmas, but not before the milk & cookies photos by the tree. At least you can’t tell in the photos.

I am hoping to make stockings for the girls. I have a notion of using seed beads to spell out their names, but I’m not sure how to pull it off. Since I’m not sure I will figure it out in time, I wanted to have a personalized set complete with one for Ziggy.

December 24, 2013

A Very Merry Christmas

christmastree
The Tree, before the arrival of Santa and Grandparents

This is a very special year for us. Domingo and I are hosting Christmas, for the first time, and having both sets of Grandparents. It’s the first Christmas in our new place, and the first time my parents will see our new place (and wouldn’t you know there’s still some boxes left to unpack). In a lot of ways, it feels like our first Christmas with Nicki. That’s not true, of course.

Nicki has grown so much in the last year, as babies and toddlers are wont to do. Her level of understanding these days is amazing. She adores the tree, and presents (although right now it’s more the sparkly paper that holds her interests). Add four grandparents and a Christmas cookie or two into the mix and you have a recipe for one very happy little girl!

Since she didn’t really understand last year and we were traveling, we gave her her Christmas gift early (the jumperoo!). This year Santa is giving her a gift (the play kitchen), and Mommy and daddy are giving her a gift (the Hallmark Wacky Doodle Dandy Duck, a toy duck that sings and dances the chicken dance) to unwrap under the tree. She is also getting a stocking from Santa. I am particularly excited about the duck. Daycare has another one, which Nicki adored. She insisted on having it every morning and would bop up and down doing the toddler dance as it sang. Then it broke and stopped singing and dancing. She still hugs it and asks to hold it every day when I drop her off, but it’s not the same level of excitement. I am so excited to give her one that sings and dances.

The Christmas season flew by so fast. There are so many things I didn’t get a chance to do, like make cinnamon rolls. Time is moving just to quickly these days.

December 12, 2013

Holiday Card Dilemma

The problem with being a data miner is that you become obsessed with finding patterns. Perhaps it’s my analytically nature, or my pension for order but it drives me batty when there’s a pattern that doesn’t carry through to all the elements in a set. Once I see a broken pattern, I cannot not see it. The element that doesn’t match the pattern sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s like an itch in the middle of my back I can’t scratch.

I have been working on our Christmas card. It’s the 5th year that we’re doing one. As you can imagine, with just four cards already done there’s going to be some similarities (and differences) between them.

DIY Layout (4 out of 4 cards) – I love the fact that I have designed all our holiday cards. I was particularly proud of last year’s (although last year’s family photo was my favorite). I’ve learned a lot about graphical editing in the process of doing these cards, skills I’ve also applied to photo editing. My only quibble is the 2009 and 2010 layouts are pretty similar.
Different Colors (4) – The primary color on our 2009 card was green, our 2010 was blue, 2011 was red and 2012 was white.
DIY Photos (3) – Using one of my photos has also been a source of pride, but one of the 3 photos on our 2010 holiday card was a professional wedding photo.
Family Photo (3) – I figure anyone with a blood relation is going to be most interested in seeing Nicole on the card, but since we do send it to work friends, and old high school friends it makes sense to include our photos as well. After all, I go by my maiden name, Tyler, at work, and use my husband’s name on the family card. I wouldn’t want someone wondering who this ‘Colón’ family is upon receiving our card.
Our Family Name/Family Website (3) – Since 2010 I’ve always signed our card ‘The Colón Family’ with a link to our family website. A website that is sorely in need of updating, but I digress.
Lily (2) – Lily was our original baby. She’s since been demoted back to pet status, at least as far as our holiday card is concerned. Fear not, she prefers it this way as it means she no longer has to wear the silly Christmas hats, nor chased around with my camera.

Alas, I am going to have to break some of these patterns.

The only unique primary colors I could come up with that fit the bill is gold, and my graphical knowledge foo just isn’t that strong. I am leaning towards at least a different green, but still a green.

DIY Photos and a Family Photo are two points that are at odds. It can pretty hard to get a decent family photo when using a tripod and remote. In fact, I’m not really happy with our 2012 Family photo, but babies don’t smile too well for tripods. I’m debating about splitting up the family photo. Instead of one photo of the three of us, I’ll have one of Nicki and I and one of Domingo and I. I’d much rather have the whole family in a single family, but that might be asking too much right now.

I am being neurotic and hyper critical again, aren’t I?

For the curious, here are prior years’ Christmas Cards

December 8, 2013

Milk and Cookies by the Tree

milkandcookies
What do you mean “Santa’s?”

I’ve loved the idea of a milk and cookies in front of the Christmas tree photo ever since coming across this photo. I think these were some of Nicki’s favorite photos too, for obvious reasons. I’ve been trying to do more of these kinds of photos, technically formal in the sense that I planned the photo right down to the Christmas PJs and pig tails, but the could have been spontaneous. So far my strategy is to set the scene, typically during nap time, and let her do her own thing.

We have never given her sugar cookies before. Outside her birthday party and cake smash, we have never given her frosting. Me thinks someone has had frosted sugar cookies at day care because she knew just what to do with those cookies! Frosting first! And, oh boy, did she attack the frosting. It went everywhere! You can’t really see it in the small photo above, but she actually has green frosting over her left eye brow.

I can’t get over how big she’s getting. It seems like just last weekend she was my bitty baby, and now she’s a little girl. It all goes by way to fast.

Material Costs
Cookies – Target ($3? Domingo bought them when he was at the store.)
PJs – Target pre black friday sale ($10).

Total Cost: ~$13

milkandcookiestaketwo
Take 2, two weeks later (12/22) with the presents and stockings. Mommy does better with practice, and Nicki doesn’t mind obliging mommy. Add another $3 for more cookies, but totally worth it.
December 27, 2012

Nicki’s First Christmas

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Domingo and I are in trouble. This kid seems to have an innate sense that December 24th is not for sleeping. Not only did she take a while to fall asleep, but she woke up two hours early. So what’s a mom to do? Picture Time of course!

tree
Smiling under the tree on Christmas Day

Nicki had a lot of fun. She loved being the star of the show and seeing so many new people. At one point she was sleeping on me (in the ergo) when my first cousin once removed arrived with my great aunt and uncle. When she woke up and noticed three new pairs of eyes on her, she was ear-to-ear grins. She eat up all the attention!

When she wasn’t meeting new family members, she was helping Mommy and Daddy (and Grandma) with their presents. Everyone cheered the first time she ripped the wrapping paper, so she started making little pulls and looking up for praise. So cute!

presenthelper
Helping Mommy with her present

She also made out like a bandit. My sister, Emily, found this great set of alphabet links by sassy. They’re multi colored and textured, just like the bright stars set, only Alphabet! Big hit. She also got some great clothes, which was great because someone decided to grow out of all her clothes two days after we arrived! I brought one 6-9 month outfit because I thought she might grow a little, I didn’t expect her pants to suddenly look like capris!

Yesterday we visited a hallmark store for those coveted post Christmas sales. You know my predictions on what ornaments would sell out? Yeah… Those ornaments I was waiting on? Gone. The ones I bought early? Still available. Postal Penguins was gone, so I correctly predicted that one. I was stunned at the number of Deerly-Loved Cookies, and Cookie Cutter Christmas available. Ah well, clearly I am never going to make my fortune in the secondary hallmark ornament market. I didn’t end up waiting for the after Christmas sale for Baby’s First Christmas ornament, after all. Hallmark had a facebook coupon for $5 off a month ago and I used it. Turned out to be a good thing too, it was also gone!

It was a great holiday. Lots of family, Lots of food (turns out we love squash!). All mommy could ask for is a little more sleeping.

elf
More photos of my little Christmas elf.

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