This made my Sunday 10x easier

Saturday we had 2 birthday parties.

PJ and his buddies

PJ and his buddies

As a result we also had:

  • One Jamba Juice and one Krispy Kreme donut (on our way to Toys R Us to buy gifts)
  • Pizza
  • Cupcakes
  • Juice
  • Not much else
  • No nap
treats with Mom

treats with Mom

After we got home, Dad left to go take care of some errands, so I had a wonderful afternoon with the kids. Do you sense the sarcasm?  It was torture. PJ has learned the phrase “I need Mommy Time”.  So every time I tried to get something done, he would whine and say that. How do you resist?

In the backyard I was sitting on a blanket with LJ.  PJ wanted me to come play with him on the lounge chairs. He likes to pretend it’s a pirate ship.  I said I would stay on blanket as my ship.  He got really mad and said “That’s not EVEN a ship!  That’s a blanket!”  He said it over and over.  Incredulous that I would even say that!  Anyway.  After an afternoon of both kids whining and crying at the same time, I couldn’t wait till Dad got home.

Fast forward to Sunday – I had planned for Dad to go golfing. I would stay home with the kids and get some things done.  Wanting to avoid a meltdown, I sat down with PJ and we did this:

Sunday List

Sunday List

It was like he was a different kid!  I don’t know if it made it easier on me, on him, or on both of us.  But since we came up with the plan together and both committed to it, it worked!  We missed a few things on the list, but we agreed on it and had some fun instead.

Reminds me of the idea to use Agile for Families – I’ve always thought that would make things so much easier! Maybe when they’re older 🙂

Nursing moms, nurture yourself!

So over Thanksgiving my family took a vacation to Pacific grove. We stayed on a house overlooking the ocean, just steps from a beautiful walk along the California coast. One day while out on a jog I met this lady in a gazebo overlooking the ocean waves. We got to talking about babies and she told me that she used to come there to nurse her son everyday when he was little. In true NorCal (crunchy granola all-natural mom) fashion she said,

“Moms give so much of themselves! They give and give and give. They nurture their families and do so much for others. It’s important to remember who you are and meditate on that, nurturing yourself in that most important time.”

And it’s so true!

I like to joke that my baby literally “sucks the life out of me”. Sometimes when you’re done nursing your baby you can feel so weak, thirsty, and tired.  While your baby feels so happy, full, and energized.  And although that is not a metaphor, it can be a metaphor for how things will feel for you as a mom for awhile to come!

I really miss certain things this year as I nurse my baby.  I love working out and giving myself that me-time and energy. I’ve spent months at a time waking before 5 to make it to bootcamp or bikram yoga.  But when I have a baby calling for me at 3AM, 5AM, etc, how can I plan on leaving the house for a couple hours?  On top of that the sleep deprivation!  At this point if I even have to get up once in the middle of the night I end up sleeping through my alarm.

I also have been watching less TV and working less at night.  All that matters now is sleep!  When you wake up 1-3 times per night you need more than 8 hours.

And how about work time at work?  Oh yeah, I have to pump!  OK. So I love nursing my baby… but the pumping! Ugh. You don’t even get the touchy-feely good stuff from that.  Just the life sucked out of you, and smack in the middle of your work day.  Just when you get in a groove with something, POP, up comes the reminder and you have to walk across campus and get down with your little black bag.  And forget working while you pump… any stress reduces the supply, so you might as well be on Pinterest 🙂

And the calorie intake needed to keep this up…. ok, that’s not so bad 🙂  I’m really enjoying eating what I can for the next few months.  OK, I’m avoiding too much sugar and milk products, but that’s good anyways.  It’s pretty amazing that I’ve been able to lose all 40 lbs from pregnancy within 3-4 months, even getting below my pre-PJ weight!  All while eating a loaded (albeit healthy) diet.

I love the snuggle time with my LJ.  The precious face staring up at you like you’re the only thing in the world is something you just can’t explain. And my little secret — it gets me some nice quiet time after a long day when I have to nurse him to sleep.  It just happens to be during PJ’s crazy witching hour 🙂  My reading has increased if I can get away with a book on my phone while he nurses. Not sure how I’ll keep up with my book club after he weans.

I’ve made sure to nurture myself in ways that I can.  Shaun has been helpful and generous enough to make me get out – either at night with girlfriends after LJ is in bed, or on the weekend on my own.  Massages – either at work (therapist visits every Tuesday) or on the weekend (gift card from loving husband) – are amazing and help not only with the relaxation but also the sore shoulders. Chiropractor visits qualify as me time.  As do Starbucks runs on the way to work.  Heck, even the dentist is relaxing at this point 🙂

So I have to enjoy this as much as possible while I can!  It’s not hard in these precious evenings, but in the middle of the night, or at work when I could be working on a deadline, I need to remember that this might be it!  The last chance to nurture someone in this way. I can relax and enjoy it – catch up on the working out, working hard, and me-time in the very near future.

Photography: It’s Technical Stuff

I was treated with a Photography Class for my birthday this year from my wonderful husband.  I asked for it last year, but it was worth the wait 🙂 Five weeks of Saturdays on my own was also a gift! Classes were near home at the San Jose Learning Center.

The first class was all about the technical aspects of photography.  ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed, and all that elusive stuff 🙂  I’ll not cover the details, since you can find all about that on Pinterest and the Interwebs.  But I will share what I learned to be my process in taking pictures manually.

Equipment

Canon EOS Rebel T1i 15.1 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 3-Inch LCD and EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens
This is probably a “beginner” camera, but that’s what we needed a year ago when we got it 🙂 It definitely suits our needs right now, and the investment is really in the lenses, right?

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens
We got this at the recommendation of some friends that also had young kids. They mentioned that you could pretty much foolproof take great pictures of your kids with this lens.  Only challenge is that it’s a fixed lens, so you have to stand back a bit if you want a lot in your frame.  It’s meant for close up portraits.  Now I know the reason behind how it works – it has the capability to go extremely low in aperture – f/1.8 – which allows smaller depth of field, or more focused attention on your subject, while the background and/or foreground are blurred.

Books

The BetterPhoto Guide to Digital Photography (BetterPhoto Series)
This one has GREAT pictures that show the difference between shutter speeds and apertures.  Also explains good composition.  After my class I noticed that a lot of the images my instructor used to explain the concepts were actually from this book!  Nice that I can look back on them whenever I want.

The Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi/450D Companion
Specific to our camera, and has really helped me to learn the advanced features on our camera.  Helpful for when I don’t want to shoot fully manual.  I’m still learning a lot from this one!

Process

So after my first class we had an assignment to take pictures with different shutter speeds, apertures, ISOs, and white balance.  This really helped me to figure out my process each time I’m using my camera.  Here is what I’ve come up with:

  1. When you arrive at your location, check and set your ISO and White Balance.  Take a few pictures, adjust, take again, until you’re comfortable with the settings.
    My instructor advised leaving White Balance at Auto.  I like this idea – but I would recommend consciously thinking about whether it is appropriate or not when looking at those test photos.  It is adjustable post-edit, but its much more satisfying to have the picture turn out the right tone from the get go.  If you might be changing locations, it would also be best to leave it Auto so that you won’t have to keep adjusting it. For ISO, try to leave it as low as possible for your setting.  I am always tempted to turn it higher to make it brighter, but you want to avoid the graininess.  I believe you can fix the brightness post-edit, but not the graininess.
  2. Once you’re ready to start taking pictures, decide what Aperture you want.
    Remember, low aperture numbers mean small depth of field, while large aperture numbers mean large depth of field.  Depth of field means the area that is in focus.  So if you want to focus attention on the subject, select a low aperture number.  If you want to show the full picture frame in focus (say, a landscape), select a high aperture number.
  3. Frame your picture and focus.
  4. Hold the shutter button down half way to see the exposure scale.
    Correct the exposure by using the wheel to adjust the shutter speed.  Sometimes you will have to adjust the aperture or ISO to allow for a more realistic shutter speed.  I think over time I will learn what the reasonable apertures/ISOs are for certain settings and just start with that.  Well, I hope so! This can be a lot of adjusting!
  5. Take your picture!

Now, of course, this has to all happen before you lose your shot!  It’s pretty tough for an amateur like me.  I’m still getting the hang of it, and honestly, will probably only use fully manual mode when I feel like practicing.

Alternatively to the above – you can decide to set the shutter speed first and then use your aperture to correct the exposure.  I can see needing that in certain scenarios, but for now I will stick with the process above as I am only still learning.

So they say “a picture is worth a thousand words”… let’s get talking 🙂

IMG_5827 IMG_5830

The left image above shows shallow depth of field (aka smaller aperture number, or larger aperture), while the right shows larger depth of field.  You can see the trees in the background a little more blurry on the left picture. Isn’t this guy handsome?

IMG_5862 IMG_5863

Again, the left is shallow depth of field, while the right is larger depth of field.  The “subject” is the tree, while you can see the trees in the very back are more blurry on the left picture.

IMG_5834 IMG_5836

Now, shutter speed.  You can use a fast shutter speed to “freeze time” as in the picture on the left.  Or you can use a slow shutter speed to make something or someone look like they’re moving.   Such a little acrobat 🙂

IMG_5846 IMG_5848

Shutter speed again.  Same slide, same speed, but the image on the left makes PJ look frozen, while on the right he looks like he’s speeding down.

IMG_5839 IMG_5840

Camera panning – this will take some more practice,  but it’s fun to do!  You move the camera with the subject to get the subject in focus, while the background is blurry.  It helps you to see that they are in motion.  If you look closely you can see that PJ is crying.  Luckily there were quite a few other people there to help him while Mommy kept snapping away!

IMG_5841 IMG_5842 IMG_5843

The three images above show the difference in ISO.  The first is ISO100, second ISO400, and third ISO1600.  In this environment, either ISO100 or ISO400 would work, which means I should have had it on ISO100, since you want to use as low as possible to make the photo sharp.

IMG_5872 IMG_5873

Now fun with White Balance.  Left = Daylight, Right = Shade

IMG_5874 IMG_5875

Left = Cloudy, Right = Tungsten

IMG_5876 IMG_5877

Left = Flourescent, Right = Flash

IMG_5878 IMG_5879

Left = Custom, Right = Auto

So, looking at all those White Balance options, you can see that Tungsten and Auto both look the best.  The others are either too blue or too yellow in tone.

Wasn’t that fun?  Obviously I have so much more to learn… More lessons to come!

Book Review: The Continuum Concept: In Search Of Happiness Lost by Jean Liedloff

The Continuum Concept: In Search Of Happiness Lost by Jean Liedloff

What an interesting read!  Some aspects really good and some aspects really “off.”  And it can really mess with your confidence as a parent, at the same time, building your trust in your instincts.  How’s that for confusing?

This book was written back in the ’70s and I can imagine it being one of the books and concepts that really triggered the “attachment parenting” movement.  It’s written by a woman that, by chance, ended up living with and studying a tribe of natives in the deep Amazon jungle. Over many trips back and forth, she learned a lot about how they raised their children and lived with each other, noticing the differences between them and us. She is a little over the top in her admiration of these people and seems to lose her ability to objectively judge the situation; also, given that it’s about 40 years in the past, there are certain observations that really turn you off (like how homosexuals are a certain way because of how their mother treated them!)  But overall, her observations are something to learn from, as long as you take them with a grain of salt! I can imagine that coming from the 60’s the advice she was giving was quite extreme.  Nowadays we tend to practice a lot of this already, just as the trend of the times.

My biggest takeaways:

Your children become what you expect of them.  If you talk down to them, they will have a poor vocabulary.  If you speak intelligently and of intelligent things, you show them that you expect them to understand; and they do! Or they will.  If you tell them “be careful, don’t fall” – they will do what you expect of them – and fall!  Ok, maybe that one is not 100% believable, but I do agree that you want to put things in a positive perspective to give them confidence rather than add to the epidemic of worry in our society.

Live your life and take your baby and children along for the ride.  So many parents today just play with their kids all day long, let the laundry slide, don’t have a social life, get utterly depressed, and then wonder why their kids feel so entitled.  I like the idea that we should live our lives as we would like to, and bring our kids with us!  They will learn how to behave better through example than by playing with a multitude of toys.  If you’re vacuuming and they’re interested, give them a mini vacuum to help you.  If you’re cooking and they’re interested, find things to allow them to help you.  If you’re going out to eat, take them with you and show them how to behave.  I couldn’t agree with this one more!  As I think back on the really good days with PJ, they are the days when we just had to get things done and he was right alongside us helping.  It makes him happy too!  It also really helps me to feel that I’m setting a good example for my kids by living my life, working and going out with friends.  Now, if this author were to have her way, I would take my baby to work with me and let him be a part of my whole day. Unfortunately that’s not ideal in our office world.

Ease the transition from the womb to the world a little bit better. Don’t just move your baby from crib to stroller to swing.  Hold your baby. Wear your baby.  Let them hear the heartbeat they have known since they’ve existed.  This part really touched me and made me want to hold LJ tighter. The hard part here is the advice to keep your child in your bed as long as possible – until they’re ready to be on their own.  I seriously don’t have a problem with the family bed, but with both boys, they were in their own room by 6-8 weeks.  We all just sleep better that way (them and me!)  Now that PJ is older, I’m sure he would LOVE to sleep in our bed.  But I can’t say that it would be fun.  We would all sleep horribly for some time.  What this book makes me wonder is what type of lesson I’m missing out on teaching him by doing this.  But alas!   We can’t all do everything. If I’m to get enough sleep and work too, I need my space and quiet!

Don’t help when they don’t need it, but once they ask, help right away. This can help to build confidence and allow them to see that their needs are responded to, that they have a place in their world.  I’ve always thought this, but it helps to have someone say it explicitly to believe that it’s worth it and working.  It’s hard to hold back showing them what to do and how to do it better. I know it’s better if they learn to do it on their own.

I rate this 4 out of 5 stars.  Mostly because the message it gives is so different than other parenting books.  I’ll be passing it on to my next pregnant friend or relative.  As the quote on the front says…

“If the world could be saved by a book, this just might be the book” – John Holt

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

This is not a book about “cancer kids” but rather a book about young teenage attitude, intellect, heart, heartbreak, and loss.

Part of me was annoyed reading this book and part of me yearned to feel the way these kids felt so deeply. Hazel meets Augustus in a cancer support group for kids. She has terminal lung cancer and he’s recovered from bone cancer. As they spend time together and learn to love each other you think about the inevitable moment when one of them will no longer be there. In the beginning you feel cynical that it’s just “young love” or infatuation. But as the characters grow together and love each other more, you begin to feel it more deeply as well. There is a moment where they are on a plane together where they tell each other “I love you.” When reading their words and thoughts I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic about that intense feeling that you have when you first realize this and tell someone you love them. Being married almost 9 years it’s been awhile since that happened. Although I am very happily married and thoroughly love my husband, it is a very different manifestation of that feeling of love. One I am happy to have! But oh so different than that newly-in-love feeling.

One other aspect of this book that resonated with me is the need for sick people to feel that they are capable. At one point Augustine drives himself to a gas station to buy cigarettes (he “not smokes” as a statement against smoking!) He obviously wasn’t capable of this at the time and paid the price with a trip to the emergency room. My mom is currently battling breast cancer, and as I help her with her recovery from different surgeries and treatments, I want to help her with everything I possibly can! But there are moments where I can tell – she just wants to do it herself! And I can resonate. Hardly a comparable circumstance, but having just had a baby, and c-section at that, there were a few weeks there where people wanted to help and help and help. And I couldn’t keep myself from feeling that I just wanted to show that I could do it myself! Maybe I get that from my mom 🙂 But how do you balance that as someone caring for someone else in need? You want them to feel empowered, but you also just want to care for them. I don’t think there’s an easy answer here… I haven’t really found it yet.

We read this book in my book club and there was positive response from everyone who read it. That said, some could not read it. You start the book knowing that it will be a sad topic. Even with the wit and humor it does get heavy at the end. Most people will be ok with this – it helps you to think about mortality and leaving your stamp on the world. But I can see how someone dealing with similar issues might not want to go there.

Overall I rate this a 4 out of 5 stars. I liked it. The writing was witty and intelligent. The story touching. Not on my favorites list, but I would pass the book on to a friend.

happiness

The quest for happiness is different for everyone.  It matters where they are coming from – their emotional history and where they are at that moment.

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.
Thomas Merton

This hits the nail on the head for me personally.  I am not an “intense” person… anyone who knows me can tell you that it’s rare when I show extreme passion over any topic (but when I do….watch out!)  So intensely pursuing something in the name of happiness is not in my DNA. Balance, order, rhythm, and harmony are!

Balance: Balance of work and family.  Balance of wake and sleep.  Balance of nice and firm.  Balance of flavors.  Balance in yoga poses. Balance of emotions.

Order: Order in our daily routine.  Order in our home.  Order in our jobs. Order in our brains.  Order in our closets.

Rhythm: Rhythm of music. Rhythm of stories. Rhythm of human interaction. Rhythm of running feet. Rhythm of typing fingers. Rhythm of travelling.

Harmony: Harmony of music. Harmony in our family.  Harmony with others. Harmony of friendship.  Harmony with your creator or all-powerful being. Harmony in the eyes and smile of your child.  Harmony with nature.  Harmony in design. Harmony in style.  Harmony of ingredients in a recipe.

My dear reader, I hope you enjoy this blog. It is my quest to understand what happiness is for me. You might find recipes, book reviews, travel blogs, family moments, and many other yet unforeseen randomness. All of it encompassing happiness – or the understanding of happiness – for me.