Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fencing it in

One rather curious feature of our house, at least for me, is the presence of a fence around the back yard. When I was growing up we lived on a corner lot with nary a fence in sight, and the boundaries between our yard, the alley, the boulevard, and the neighbor's yard were blurry at best.  There was a fence, come to think of it, but it was obscured by a line of evergreen trees so we just didn't think about it that much.  It was a nice environment in which to grow up, and helped to ensure that in our many games of kickball and soccer the fields were not limited by a wooden or metal line.  In our current location things are a bit different, but not necessarily in a bad way.  Even though the back yard is fenced in, it actually works quite well since the back yard isn't all that big to begin with.  It's kind of long and triangular shaped, and due to the presence of a large Chinese Pistache tree would not lend itself to many backyard sports at all.  But we enjoy it quite a bit, and since our front yard is much bigger and lacks any sort of fence, it does well when playing host to outdoor sports and games.

One thing about the fence though, is it does require some degree of maintenance and upkeep.  Case in point: the boards have a tendency to come loose like so:
Boards on a fence: good. Boards affixed with nails: not that good.
I've gone out and pounded the nails in from time to time, but found that what works best is to replace the nails with high-quality wood screws. A few days ago I went and took care of a couple loose boards again, with these trusty little fellers:
4 volts of SHEER POWER!!!
The screw gun is a fantastic little tool my dad gave me about a year ago, and even though it's small and relatively weak compared to its heavy-duty counterparts, it's great for little jobs around the house (and when it's not, I've got a nice DeWalt drill for the big jobs).  It takes almost any bit with a standard hex base, and has adjustable torque settings to make sure you don't screw in anything too tight.  The screws I used are exterior wood screws with a torx head, which basically means that instead of a standard slot- or philips-head design, they've got a star pattern.  This helps ensure that the bit will not slip off when screwing them in.  They're self-boring too, which means that you don't need to pre-drill holes in the wood. The result looked something like this:
All fixed up and ready to go
I suppose as the other fence nails work themselves out over time I might just replace everything with wood screws, but that for now this solution works well for the occasional patch-up job.

Monday, June 25, 2012


Last summer was hot. Super hot.  For two months the daily high was over 100 degrees, which meant that not only were were indoors almost exclusively for the first two months of our son's life, but we didn't really take care of some of the plants out in our yard. Unfortunately, one tragic victim of last year's heat was a big ol' birch tree out back.  This spring it wasn't looking so good, and while other trees were budding and grass was poking through, this birch tree rose tall and gray, casting one final wilting shadow over our back yard. We called Nate's Tree Service and after some consultation with Nate himself, we decided that the tree had to go. And in one fell swoop his crew dismantled the birch down clear down to the stump, and where it once stood there now remains only a low-spread pile of woodchips.

But we soon noticed something poking up from the organic rubble: a tall, green, leafy plant. At first we thought it was a weed, but a friend of ours suggested it might be a sunflower. So we let it be, and sure enough, a few days ago we saw the makings of a glowing golden head poking out from between the blades of a leafy bundle.
Could be a weed, a sunflower, or something out of a science fiction movie.
The very next morning, like a monarch emerging from a cocoon, the sunflower began to show its true colors.
Hello, what have we here?
By evening it had stretched and flexed to the point where it was truly living up to its namesake.
Our son mistakenly thought sunflower petals were for picking.
 And this morning, as the dark gave way to the soft glow of blue sky and glistening dewdrops, the sky, the sunflower in our yard stretched with all its might to seize the day in a glowing embrace.
Top o' the morning to you!
For a bit of perspective, here's the big guy just hanging out. Just to the left of the sunflower you can see the woodchips that used to be a birch tree. If my friend Julie were here, I'm sure she would find a way to turn this whole corner of our yard into some kind of magical garden with vegetables, flowers, and maybe even some faeries, but alas I'll probably just do my best to keep the grass mowed since that is pretty much the extent of all my yardworking skills.
Don't mind me...I'm just keeping an eye on things...
All this brought to mind a verse from the Gospel: "See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?" (Matthew 6:28-29) How incredible to think that our creator, the Lord God Almighty, who has crafted blooms like this with such beauty and intricate detail, cares for us more than endless fields of flowers!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Father's Day Swim

Father's Day was a little different for me this year, since it was the first time I have ever experienced it as a dad.  We don't really get too much into celebrating things like this in our house, and generally prefer to keep things low-key with maybe a present or two and a favorite meal.  And this year was no exception, though we did try one thing that turned out to be pretty awesome: we took our son to the pool.  When I was young I went to the local pool almost every day with my brothers and cousins, and even though our son is only 11 months old my wife and I thought it would be fun to take him to the local swimming hole for the first time on father's day.  So after his nap we loaded up a duffel bag with a few basics of aquatic attire, tossed in a couple buoyancy helpers, and headed down to the local rec center pool.

Since moving to this town a couple years ago people have been telling us that we gotta check out the pool, but we never really got around to it.  And wow, they sure were right: this pool is way cool.  It's not the biggest and certainly not the deepest, but it's just about ideal for families with kids--a demographic in which we now fall.  Here's an overhead pic showing just what this place has going for it:

(Click to view full size. Image courtesy of Bing Maps Aerial View)
Since our son can't exactly swim, or even stand up on his own for more than 30 seconds, we had him in the middle of a little floatie contraption most of the time but he thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon nonetheless.  We started out in the wading area, getting him acclimated to the water and all the people around him.  Then we spent a while just floating around and helping figure out how to splash with his hands--an activity which made him smile from ear to ear once he got it figured out.  Soon we went down to the lazy river portion, which was really more of a circle than a river, but the idea is basically the same as its amusement park counterparts: you are pulled along by a current.  By this time we had met up with some friends (in a small town like ours, running in to people you know happens almost everywhere) and we were all having a great time just lounging around in the lazy river while their kids floated and did little dives off the edge.  Since this place has no diving boards or even very deep water, it keeps the older rowdier kids away which means casual swimmers like us are free to just relax for a while in the water.  I don't know when we will go back, but we hope to very soon.

After that we went back home, put our son to bed, made some enchiladas for dinner, and watched game three of the NBA Finals.  It was a great day, thanks to my wife who made it all happen.

Monday, June 18, 2012


Came across this big guy on a walk and he let me take a picture. I think he wants out of his pen, though.
(click to view full size)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Crepe Myrtle

I just wanted to share this picture of one of our crepe myrtles in the back yard. I took it for my friend Julie, who is really into lavender.  And even though this is more of a red-slash-purple color, I thought she might like it anyway.
(click to view full size)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Apple is currently in the middle of its Worldwide Developer's Conference, an annual event it hosts for the good folks who write all the apps we enjoy so much on our iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers.  Throughout the week there will be sessions for these developers, time to network with other individuals in the industry, and a host of other activities designed to spur interest in, and excitement for, writing applications for Apple products.  While most of this takes place out of the public eye (and beneath layers of non-disclosure agreements), the big event of the week took place on Monday: the keynote presentation from none other than Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Throughout the two-hour presentation, various Apple luminaries presented all sorts of new tricks the company has up its sleeve, from 3D maps on the iPhone to a retina-display MacBook Pro.  From iOS6 to Mountain Lion, it seemed like a good time to be an Apple owner.  "Life here in the walled garden is fun, exciting, and comfortable!" bespake our friendly Cupertino overlords.  And all was well.

Except for the old-school Mac fans.  The Mac Pro, a computer designed specifically for the heavy-duty processor-intensive tasks required by industry professionals, has not seen a significant update in two years.  The iMac, once Apple's flagship personal computer, has been quietly shuffled to stage left to make way for its newer, flashier, more youthful mobile counterparts.  iOS , the superstar du jour, now takes center stage at 1 Infinite Loop while the Mountain Lion sideshow wanders back and forth in a cage somewhere in the basement.  Sure we get a few bones tossed our way every now and then, but people who prefer a solid desktop computer are, apparently, rapidly going the way of the buffalo.  And thus, last May's iMac remains firmly ensconsed at the front line of the Apple's greying line of consumer desktop machines.

My primary home computer, for instance, is a 2008-model iMac.  It's no powerhouse, but it gets the job done most of the time.  It's great for surfing the internet, using Google Docs, and looking at photos.  It's not so great for video editing, which is something in which I find myself engaged more often nowadays.  Mobile computers are nice, but I really like having a big ol' screen with millions of pixels spread out like a landscape canvas before my eyes.  Trouble is, this iMac is getting long in the tooth and really showing its age.  I was really hoping Apple would release an update at WWDC this year, but alas, they were content to focus on mobile and leave us desktop owners high and dry.

So what to do?  Since I have been essentially waiting for about eight months to buy a new computer, I figure I might as well bide my time and wait a little longer.  It's not going to kill me, and Lord knows I can use a lesson in patience as much as anyone else (especially when it comes to purchasing shiny electronics).  In the meantime, I figured now was as good a time as any to finally install OSX Lion and give my computer a hypospray in the arm to keep it kicking.  So last night I went on to the App Store and bought it, and thus far it's going well.  It's sad to see some traditional desktop elements disappear, but when I get frustrated about the little things I like to remember that more often than not, Apple does know what they are doing.  And when they finally do update the iMac and Mac Pro, it will likely be worth the wait.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

What's Old is New

I still remember the first digital camera I ever saw.  It was an Apple Quicktake 100 that my uncle brought over to my parents' house way, way back in the day.  It was big, bulky, and had a giant oblong button that had to be squeezed (almost as if your hand was clamping down on a sandwich) in order to activate the shutter.  But it sure was cool being able to take photos without film, though I didn't understand how groundbreaking this concept would be at the time.  Soon afterwards digital cameras like the Sony Digital Mavica started showing up in the hands of my high school teachers, and I remember Mr. Mann documenting our quiz bowl team's trip to Disney World on 3.5" floppy discs using his Mavica clear back in 1998.  But at this point I still used a 35mm film camera, and did not understand how digital photography was about to change the entire landscape of how our culture perceived and shared images.

40 Megs of storage, baby!
And then came storm chasing.  In the summer of 2000, some of my good friends and I spent a few weeks driving my old minivan up and down the midwest in a vain effort to see some tornadoes firsthand.  It was a great time, but unfortunately no tornadic activity was to be seen.  We did, however, have fun documenting the trip on my brother Phil's one-megapxel Kodak DC200 digital marvel (Phil was always way ahead of his time. He once bought an iomega HipZip music player when the iPod was a sparkle in Steve Jobs' eye).  If I remember right, that sucker took photos at a whopping 640x480 resolution and even stamped the date of the photo right on the image just like its 35mm counterparts.  Before we went on the trip, Phil went out and bought a 64 megabyte compact flash card for it too, and I actually scoffed at him for wasting his money. 64 megabytes is too much! There's simply no need for a card that big.

 Fast forward to the fall of 2004, and my girlfriend (who would later become my wife) and I wanted to get a digital camera of our own.  We took a great deal of trips to see our respective families, who were often out of town, and wanted a way to chronicle our visits in some way that could be easily shared.  And even though digital cameras were gaining in popularity by then (cameras on phones were not quite a novelty yet, but not entirely uncommon either) I still thought they were somewhat magical.  The one we picked out was a Canon Powershot SD100 Digital ELPH, which rendered images in a gigantic 3.2 megapixel canvas.  It even took videos, which I could edit in iMovie to create masterworks like this cheesy music video about my cousin's cat.

All this time I knew nothing of focal lengths, apertures, f-stops, ISO, or any of the other elements that are so critical to photography.  All I knew was that if I wanted to take more pictures on a memory card I could bump the JPEG compression down a notch to "Medium" from "Fine".  And that was good enough, really, because essentially cameras like this were doing what they were designed to do: democratize the photographic process by allowing virtually anyone to take snapshots and share them electronically.  And that little camera served us well for several years until the screen started to get all fuzzy due to some kind of microchip malfunction, and sometime in the fall of 2006 all the pictures it took were nothing but black and grey scratches.

So once again we upgraded, this time to a Canon Powershot SD1000 Digital ELPH, which if I understand Canon's naming conventions, was roughly nine-hundred better than our original camera.  But aside from jamming more pixels onto the CCD image sensor, this one was merely a smaller, lighter, more usable version of the other camera.  It was a great little device to have, that's for sure, and we took thousands of photos on it over the next several years.  We liked its small size and ability to take good photos, especially outdoors, and most of the photos that now line the walls of our house were taken with that little guy.

But then, as the wheels of time rolled ever onward, it became necessary for yet another upgrade.  Though to be fair, the desire for a new camera was not brought on by sheer techno-lust for the Next Coolest Thing, but by the need to have two cameras in order to photograph documents for a research project.  One would simply not suffice.  So after much research, and a recommendation from one of my favorite tech journalists Andy Ihnatko, we dropped about $250 for a Panasonic ZS7--surely the last digital camera we would ever purchase!  With a wide-angle lens, 720p movie recording capability, plenty of manual controls, and a built-in GPS, there simply would not be any reason for another camera...right?  And in the year and a half since we bought it, the little guy has served us remarkably well.  It's a rugged, durable piece of digital wizardry that takes amazing outdoor photos and crisp HD video.  And on a trip to DC, the ZS7's crazy zoom lens made the Washington Monument feel like it was right next to us while we stood by the Capitol building at the other end of the Mall.

Panasonic Lumix ZS7: Buttons, buttons, everywhere...
I even tried to make sense of all the manual controls, too.  Aperture-priority and shutter-priority modes, exposure adjustments, white balance settings, and a host of other buttons and knobs to fiddle with have resulted in many late nights poring over instruction manuals, online guides, and YouTube videos trying desperately to wrest the camera into photographic submission. I had always heard that it was the photographer, not the camera, that made for good photos.  But despite my efforts nothing seemed to work, and I always ended up going back to the ol' Auto setting most of the time.  And ever since our son was born last summer I could not figure out why so many of our pictures of him looked so bad, no matter how I fiddled with the camera.  It's not that they were terrible, but the color was always kind of flat, the photos were kind of distorted, and if we were indoors (which often happens with an infant) we had almost no choice but to use the flash unless we wanted pictures that were blurry or grainy.  It was downright frustrating, and several times we talked about going to a professional portrait studio to get some pictures taken because ours just weren't turning out that well.

And so about one month back we started thinking about purchasing a digital SLR camera.  Neither of us have really used digital SLR cameras, but when my dad or my brother Andy used their SLRs to take pictures of us or our son we were always impressed with how they looked.  The light was so natural.  The pictures were so realistic.  There was often no grain or pixellation in their photos, and at the risk of sounding like a photo snob, I really liked how much better these pictures turned out compared to our trusty little ZS7 or SD1000 (which, incidentally, was lost on a trip to Minnesota last October.  *snif*).  We weren't sure we were ready to take the leap though, so I asked a coworker who also happens to be a professional photographer if he could come by and show us his Nikon D200 for the afternoon.

And wow, did that ever open up the floodgates.

With just a couple snapshots of our son in the living room, we were hooked.  That camera was able to bring out so much detail in his face, and so much clarity in his steel-blue eyes, while showing nearly every wisp of hair on his 10-month-old head that I could hardly believe my coworker was not charging us hundreds of dollars for what surely must be a full-fledged portrait session. But no, these were just regular pictures that the three of us were taking with a much nicer camera than I had ever used before.  It was stunning.

Turns out the secret sauce for getting such good photographs wasn't so much the camera as it was the lens: a Nikon 50mm f/1.8G (numbers and letters that, a few weeks ago, were entirely meaningless to me), to be specific.  This 50mm lens my coworker brought over, as I have recently learned, is one of the tried-and-true tools of the photographic trade, and perfectly suited for the kinds of photos my wife and I have been wanting to take of our son.  We knew right away that we wanted to buy one of these fancy-pants digital SLR cameras and turn our photo-taking up to 11.

But which one to get?  That's the real trick, isn't it.  And one which we really wanted to get right.  After much research we settled on a Nikon D5100, which seemed to get everything right: a great image sensor, lots of manual controls like our ZS7, a big ol' LCD screen on the back that swiveled out, 1080p movie-recording name it, this camera has is.  It is generally well-reviewed at various online outlets too, which is always a good thing.  And then we went to Best Buy where I got to pick one up and hold it.  Ouch.  It felt like it was made of cheap plastic, and I got the feeling that the swivel-out LCD screen would break right off if I looked it funny.  I was not impressed, no matter how many megapixels it had or how good its built-in flash was.

Nikon D200: An oldie but a goodie.
So what to do?  After much deliberation, and frequent consulting with my professional photographer coworkers (both of whom are big Nikon fans), we settled on a used Nikon D200.  But why a used six-year-old camera that doesn't take movies instead of a brand-new D5100?  Good question.  To answer it we thought about what was really important for us: taking good photos of our son. Our ZS7 works fine for videos, so we did not really need another video-capable camera.  The D5100 has a higher megapixel count, but we rarely take any pictures above 5 megapixels.  The more we investigated, the more the D5100 seemed like a step up from point-and-shoot cameras, whereas the D200 appeared to offer more direct control over the photography process--something that, combined with the solid build quality that made the camera feel like it could easily withstand the rough handling of a family with an infant son, made the D200 the ideal choice.  That's not to say that the D5100 is a bad camera, though--far from it.  We have come across people who own similar models and greatly enjoy them. I'm sure it is a fine camera, but it didn't really fit the bill for what was important to us.

And so we bought one from Adorama Camera, which also sold us a two-year warranty for about $50.  Normally I don't go for these warranties, but on used equipment it seemed like a good idea.  And instead of the standard "kit" lens, we bought the 50mm 1.8G that my coworker showed us.  In the roughly four weeks since we have purchased the camera, it seems as a whole new world of photo-taking has opened up that was, previously, hidden right before our eyes.  I know this probably sounds a tad cliche, and possibly a bit snobbish, but I really had no idea what a camera could do until we started playing around with this D200 and accompanying 50mm lens.

I would like to post some examples to show what I mean when I say it takes so much better photos, and I probably will in the coming days and weeks, but if I had to sum up everything that makes this camera better than any of our previous point-and-shoot models in a couple bullet points it would be:

- Incredibly detailed photos, with very little grain or noise.
- We hardly ever need to use the flash, which makes photos look much more natural and pleasing.
- Bokeh. This is the effect that happens when the thing you want to stand out in the picture is sharp, but the background and foreground is kind of blurry.  Here's a photo I took last weekend that illustrates this concept:
(click for full-size version)
Bokeh might seem like a silly artsy-fartsy reason to have a camera, but we have discovered how much it enhances even simple photos of people (specifically our son).  Just google bokeh portrait images and you'll see what I mean.

Beyond that there's a whole bunch of other reasons we like this camera, but this blog post is getting pretty long and I think I need to wrap things up.  Suffice to say, the D200 has been an amazing improvement for us and we are excited to explore more about photography as we continue to learn more about the camera and how to use it.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Hungry for baby food and it's feeding time

I think it's high time to finally write a post on something I have been wanting to write about for a while: baby food.  Now, don't worry here--I'm not about to go off on an anti-corporate tirade, or tell you how you are feeding your child all wrong, or start looking for directions to Burning Man or anything like that. But like my cloth diapers post, I just want to take a few minutes to describe something my wife and I are doing for our kid.  Nothing more, nothing less.  All parents are different, and all kids are different, so don't take this as some kind of you-must-do-this-or-you-have-failed-as-a-parent blog post.  Basically, it's all good, so just hang in there as I explain what we have been doing for baby food the past several months.  :)

We started introducing solid foods to our son when he was about six months old, beginning with good ol' rice cereal.  He didn't like it that much, and if I remember right it didn't really sit well with his tummy, so we started looking for other alternatives.  We soon settled on buckwheat, thanks to a tip from my mom:
This is Buckwheat. What is Buckwheat? Who knows.
My mother has celiac sprue, a condition that renders her body unable to process wheat gluten. Unfortunately wheat gluten is found in just about everything, and we're trying to keep it away from our son until he's about a year old just in case it will help him avoid developing this condition as well.  Buckwheat, whatever it is, doesn't have wheat gluten, so that's good.  Buckwheat is pretty easy to make, and we have been mixing it with his other foods for several months now and it has worked out very well.  So there's that.

But what of his other foods?  Well, that's where things get interesting.  We wanted to try making baby food ourselves, since it didn't seem like it would be all that difficult and would probably be healthier than anything we could find at a store.  And rather than describe this, I'll just use an example from last night when we made up a batch of apples and apricots.

I like to eat, eat, eat, apples
That's a pot on our stove full of sliced apples and apricots.  I forget how many, but I think it was about 13 apricots and maybe 10 apples.  We get them from Nature's Supply, a local place that sells organic stuff.  But stay with me for a second here!  Why mess with all that hippie-dippie organic junk?  Simple: we just like it better. The fruit tastes better, the veggies are fresher, and we like that it's not treated with pesticides and stuff like that.  Like I said though, I'm not here to tell anyone else how to feed his or her child, so if organic food isn't your thing, no big deal.  We happen to like it.  And as for the cost? I'll get to that in a minute :)

So anyway, we chopped everything up, added about two cups of water, and cooked it for about 30 minutes.  All this is mostly guesswork and not an exact science, so for each batch of food we kind of just cook or bake or steam everything until we think it's soft enough to blend in a food processor.  The one we have is small, but it gets the job done very well.  It was a nice gift from my wife's parents, and we have certainly gotten plenty of use out of it.

It might not look like much, but it's got it where it counts.
Like I said, it's small, so it takes a few rounds of blending to get all the food processed into a nice gooey food-like substance:

A comb? A brush? Nope, just a bowl full of mush.
As you can see, this is not really a complicated process.  This blender only has two options: chop and grind, so it's hard to screw things up.  One spins the blade clockwise, and the other reverses it.  Grind pretty much does the trick these days, though when our son was younger we would grind and chop and grind and chop until everything was nice and runny.  Now that he's almost 11 months we leave a lot of bigger pieces because he's much better about chewing things up on his own.

But what to do about all this food once we get it in mush form?  It would spoil after a couple days in the fridge, and it is obviously too much to eat at once.  So we use my mom's solution: freeze it.  But not in one big chunk because that would be kind of difficult to, you know, actually use for a meal.  Instead we put everything in ice cube trays.
Ice cube trays, or tiny food storage lockers?
Last night we made so much food that there was even a bit leftover in the bowl, so we just put that in the fridge for meals today.  Pretty easy stuff, I tell ya.  And at mealtime we just thaw a couple cubes of food in the microwave, which takes about two minutes in total. Our freezer is full of tupperware dishes containing a variety of fruits and veggies that we have cooked up like this.  For veggies we steam them instead of boil them, but the process and the result is the same.  Come to think of it, here's all the homemade food we have made for our son using this method:

Carrots (cut up first, then steam, then blend)
Zucchini (cut up first, then steam, then blend)
Pears (slice 'em and put 'em right in the blender)
Avocados (scoop out the insides, then drop into the blender)
Butternut Squash (cut in half, scoop out seeds, bake in 1 inch of water for 40 minutes, then blend)
Sweet Potatoes (poke with fork, wrap in foil, bake for 1 hour at 400 degrees, then blend)
Green Beans (steam, then blend)
Peas, though he mostly just eats these on his own without blending
Apples (duh)
Apricots (duh again)

So what about the cost of all this?  Well, here's our bill for this particular batch of food:
Not included: hemp socks and acid-free dreadlock cleaning powder.
$25.58 might seem like a lot at first but let's break it down here.  Our son eats about two cubes of food per meal (two and a half for lunch), and has three meals of solid foods a day.  We haven't switched to solid foods entirely yet, so this amount will obviously increase in the coming months, but it's a good place to start for calculating the cost of everything.  If we leave out the extra food in the bowl, we have 48 cubes of food which translates into roughly 24 meals, give or take.  But remember the buckwheat from earlier?  Well, each meal for our son is one cube of buckwheat and one cube of fruits or veggies.  And one package of buckwheat makes roughly 60 cubes when prepared according to the stovetop directions.  So what we have here is a grand total of about 84 cubes of food for $25.58.  And if we figure 2.5 cubes of food per meal (which is overestimating) this translates into roughly 33 meals, which means the cost per meal is around 77 cents.  Or to put it another way, we can feed our son for a month on about $25.

So how does that compare to store-bought baby food?  To be honest I'm not really sure but I think it's roughly the same cost or thereabouts.  We don't buy a lot of store-bought baby food, and the point here is not to compare one method of baby food preparation to another.  I just wanted to share our particular method of making sure our kid is well nourished.  If you have any comments or questions, please share them below.  Or if you can shed any insight into how this compares to store-bought baby food, that would be cool too :)