Three Months Old

Well, today is Lily’s three-month birthday! I feel like I say this in every baby-related post, but it’s hard to believe how time flies, and how quickly babies grow and change. She’s definitely not a newborn anymore.

Today, I took the third photo for her stuffed bunny series, this time on another one of the lovely handmade baby blankets she received as a gift:

Lillian's three-month baby photo.

Isn’t it crazy how that stuffed bunny used to be almost as big as her? (To see all of the pics in a row for easy comparison, check out this page.)

And in addition to growing physically, she’s been growing in other ways. By now, she can sit up pretty well on her own as long as she has a little support, and seems to really like being more upright so she can look around. And she smiles all the time, and babbles and coos like she just can’t wait to have a conversation with us.

Wearing a blue and purple ruffled outfit.

Also, remember that outfit? It’s actually the one she wore home from the hospital — the one that was way, way too big for her then, except she fills it out pretty well now. (To see how ridiculously huge it was on her in the beginning, check out the photo at the end of the post about her delivery.)

And just to round out this post, here’s one more baby photo of Lily modeling the cute little handmade baby bonnet she received as a gift from her great-grandmama:

Lily sporting the latest and greatest in baby headgear.

It’s probably a good thing we got a picture now, because I have a feeling she’s going to grow out of it at any minute!

Keeping the Cat out of the Nursery

In my blog post introducing our cat Grendel, written before Lillian was born, I expressed some concerns about how to ensure a safe coexistence for our longtime pet and our impending new arrival. It seemed to be accepted wisdom that letting a cat into a baby’s crib — or leaving unattended pets around babies in general — just isn’t such a great idea, so we wanted to come up with some easy way to keep Grendel out of the nursery for when we were asleep or otherwise unable to keep a close eye on her. Here are the general ideas we considered:

  • Just keep the nursery door closed. We didn’t care for this one very much, and didn’t really take it too seriously as a solution — we just didn’t like the idea of having an opaque, sound-muffling barrier between us and the baby. Plus it seemed like it would be bad for the air circulation in the room, which we’ve heard has been associated (however loosely) with SIDS.
  • Replace the nursery door with some sort of screen door. This one was probably my first choice, but it turned out to be really difficult to find an interior-style screen door (as opposed to a storm door that goes on the outside of your house). The closest thing we were able to find — unless we wanted to build one ourselves — was a louvered door, the likes of which do exist in non-bifold form at Home Depot (though they appear to be a special-order rarity).
  • Rig up some kind of screen or gate in the doorway. Similar to the last option, but instead of replacing the existing door, it would involve installing something in addition to it. There seemed to be more options available for this approach, such as retractable screen doors that can be installed in standard interior doorways.

What we eventually decided to try was a child safety gate. Since we assumed Grendel (or any cat) would easily be able to hop over the 36″ barrier, we figured we would have to put something else above it. Like maybe a second child safety gate.

Gate for keeping the cat out of the nursery.

The child safety gate in the nursery doorway.

But then we noticed something interesting: it seemed like Grendel wouldn’t — or couldn’t — get over this gate. At first we thought this was just due to lack of interest on her part, so we devised the following ingenious super-scientific experiment to test whether or not she could actually get into the room:

You know those chewy treats that cats love? We put a little pile of those on the floor just beyond the gate, only slightly out of paw’s reach, to test what Grendel would do. It was obvious that she could see and/or smell the treats, and she made some pretty impressive efforts to get at them. She tried reaching through with an outstretched paw, she tried wrapping her paws around the bars and pulling the gate open. She even tried turning her head sideways and squeezing in between the bars, though there wasn’t nearly enough room, and we worried a few times that she’d get her silly self stuck.

We kept this experiment going for a few consecutive nights, but the treats were never touched. And we figured that if our plant-eating glutton of a cat wouldn’t jump over that gate for treats, she probably wouldn’t jump over it for any reason.

(Don’t worry though, we lavished Grendel with no-strings-attached treats just to be nice afterwards — tantalizing her with unreachable meaty morsels like that made us feel kind of like jerks.)

The footnote to this story is that after all these efforts we put in before Lillian was born, Grendel seemed pretty bewildered by the tiny wiggling thing we brought home from the hospital, to the point where she did a pretty good job keeping away from the baby all on her own. I had to bribe her with food just to get her to stay near Lillian long enough to snap this photo:

Grendel and Lillian, December 2011. (I call this shot "Hello, Kitty.")

Anyway, our theory on the whole gate thing is that cats like to have something solid to jump onto, and generally don’t like jumping straight up and over a barrier so narrow. (Because if they miscalculate even a little, they’ll up the laughingstock of the internet like this poor cat on YouTube.)

For any cat-owners who may be reading, would a child gate like this keep your cat(s) at bay? I feel like it probably depends a lot on each cat’s individual personality and athletic ability, but I’d be especially curious to hear from anyone who’s tried something similar, and whether it was successful or not.

Property Tax Troubles

Uncle Sam wants your property taxes!I haven’t blogged much about the financial complexities of homeownership so far, and for the most part, there really hasn’t been much to say about it. Sure, getting the mortgage was an ordeal that took many weeks and required mountains of paperwork — I wrote a bit about that here — but since then, it’s just been a matter of sending in the mortgage payment every month. Aside from having to pay our utility bills separately, which wasn’t the case at our last apartment, it hasn’t been much different than paying rent was.

Of course, what’s going on behind the scenes is quite a bit different. Instead of a single rent check that goes to the landlord, each month’s single rolled-into-one house payment has to go toward interest, the actual balance owed on the house, and an escrow account that automatically sends out payments for the homeowners insurance and property taxes.

The bank takes care of those last two things not to make your life easier, but out of their own self-interest: that house is the collateral on your loan, and if it gets burned down uninsured or seized by the government for unpaid property taxes, they’ll have nothing to foreclose on in the event that you stop making your payments. So instead of trusting you to send in those all-important tax and insurance payments, they take control of the matter by making your monthly payment a bit larger, stuffing that extra money into an escrow account, and using that account to make the payments for you.

Or at least, that’s how it’s all supposed to work. But something went very wrong somewhere along the line, and we ended up with a bill for $2700 in unpaid, overdue property taxes.

I think an unexpected bill that large would be enough to make anyone hyperventilate a little, and I even called my dad (the family tax expert) to make sure we didn’t have some horrible misunderstanding about how property taxes and escrow accounts are supposed to work. We concluded that our bank (Wells Fargo) was supposed to be sending in the payments for these taxes, but for some reason hadn’t. More specifically, when checking the escrow account balance online, we could see that the money had been deducted, but had somehow just never made it into the greasy hands of the county tax collectors.

Wells Fargo Bank

I took this picture of a Wells Fargo branch just to illustrate this blog post.

So we contacted Wells Fargo, and learned that they had the wrong property ID number on file — it was off by one digit, so our payments were going towards the taxes on our neighbor’s house. You might think that would be a pretty easy thing for them to correct, but it was surprisingly difficult to find anyone at the company who could do anything about it. (It seemed like they had tons of people to sell you new banking products, but not as many to help fix problems with existing ones.)

For your entertainment, here’s a diagram I made showing how the whole “call Wells Fargo to fix the incorrect property ID number” thing went down. I put it together late at night and didn’t really bother to explain who’s saying what, so I hope it makes sense.

Diagram of the phone tunnels.

I think the thing that surprised me the most was how they kept trying to sell us more bank accounts. When you’re calling a bank to resolve a problem where they screwed up and literally sent thousands of dollars to the wrong place, giving them more of your money seems like the sort of thing that you’re just not that likely to be interested in that day.

Anyway, the diagram doesn’t completely cover the resolution process — we did have to call back a few more times after that to stay on their case, first to verify that the tax payments were going to be made (even with the corrected ID number they were a little slow about it) and then one more time to make sure that the escrow account would be refunded for the wrong payments. (As of this writing, the money is still nowhere to be seen, so it may take another phone call or two to finish getting this straightened out.)

And that’s the story of our property tax snafu, which I think I’m going to file away in my Hard-Earned Lessons category. The moral of the story being something like, “always keep a close eye on your escrow account,” or maybe, “never trust any bank to do anything for any reason, ever.”

Uncle Sam image from Wikimedia Commons.

Baby’s First Road Trip: A Crash Course in Traveling with a Two-Month-Old

Last week, we returned home from our holiday trip to Pensacola Florida, where Lillian got to meet her dad’s side of the family for the first time. (For a glimpse of what we were up to down there, check out my posts about our four-generetion photo shoots and Lily’s opportunity to try out the antique family bassinet.) This was the first time we’ve left the Chicagoland area since Lillian was born, and now that it’s over, I thought I would share some reflections on what it was like to travel across the country with a two-month-old baby.

First of all, we decided to make the 900+ mile trip by car instead of by plane. This was for various reasons, some better than others:

  • It’s how we’ve always done it. Since the first year we were together, Joe and I have been making the trip down to visit his family by car in a single-day mad dash, and I’ve driven it so many times that I swear I can get from Chicago to Pensacola and back without even looking at a map. (Or, you know, the newfangled GPS equivalent.)
  • Concerns about germs and stuff. Even though the whole “recycled air causes diseases in planes” thing is a myth, you’re pretty likely to get coughed / sneezed / breathed on when packed into close quarters with a hundred strangers — and a sick baby at Christmas is the last thing anyone wants.
  • No desire to deal with TSA security theater. I’ve flown on only two occasions since 9/11, and found that it’s enough of a pain getting through airport security without a baby and baby paraphernalia to worry about.
  • The ear-popping pressure changes. These tend to be pretty uncomfortable for both Joe and me, especially during landings, and we weren’t too keen on subjecting Lily to them at this age if we could avoid it.
  • There’s no such thing as a direct flight from Chicago to Pensacola. So all of the plane-related unpleasantries listed above would have to be dealt with twice each way.

Money-wise, it worked out about the same: gas for the entire trip ended up costing $178 (one of the benefits of driving a hybrid), but we knew it would be nearly impossible to make the trip in a single day with a baby onboard. So we opted to stay in a hotel overnight halfway there, in Bowling Green Kentucky on the way down and Nashville Tennessee on the way back home. The money spent on the hotel rooms would have eaten up any savings over flying, although since Joe’s mom generously provided the hotel costs both ways, it didn’t end up stinging the wallet quite so bad.

So how difficult was it traveling across the country with a two-month-old baby? Surprisingly, it wasn’t as hard as we might’ve feared.

Lillian all buckled up in her car seat.

Being in the car seat seems to lull Lillian right to sleep — which I hear is pretty common for babies — although after about eight straight hours of travel, she does start to get pretty fussy.

We had to stop every three hours or so for feedings. For preparing the formula, we filled the baby bottles with pre-measured amounts of purified water, and carried pre-measured amounts of powered formula in a formula dispenser like this one. Then we’d just mix powder with water and shake it up — usually while still driving — whenever it seemed like Lily was starting to get fussy and hungry.

The feedings themselves each took about 30 minutes, though it was longer if we lingered a bit to play and interact with Lillian before buckling her back into the car seat and continuing on the road. It was cute how she seemed to really like the fuzzy red dice hanging from our rearview mirror.

Our fuzzy dice are 20-sided because we're nerds that way.

Diaper changes also turned out to be less difficult than I’d expected — we ended up being able to do them all right there in the car, saving us the trouble of hunting for changing tables at rest stops and whatnot. It also saved us the need to take Lily out of the car when we were further north, which was nice because it was about 20 degrees in Chicago as we were getting back into town.

And our first hotel stay with a baby turned out to be pretty nice. On both the way there and the way back, we stayed at Drury Inns, and with the exception of a small snafu with our registration on the way down, we had no complaints. The rooms were big and spacious, there were free hot breakfasts in the mornings, and they provided a nice sturdy crib for Lily both times.

Our hotel room at Drury Inn on the trip home.

Depending on the room configuration, we would try to position the crib so that Lily could have her own quiet little corner or alcove, and I think that may have helped her sleep a little.

Other highlights: While we were down in Florida, Lillian ended up getting so many presents for Christmas that we had a hard time getting them all to fit into the car. And on the way home, it snowed on and off pretty much from Kentucky onward.

Anyway, that’s the story of our first experience taking a family road trip with Lillian onboard. For anyone reading, have you had any interesting experiences traveling with a baby — whether by car, plane, train, bus, dogsled, etc.? I hear that these trips get a lot more interesting once they’re old enough to ask, “Are we there yet?” Heh heh, so much to look forward to in the not-too-distant future…