Four-Month Baby Milestone: Playing With Toys

Back when I was pregnant with Lillian, I signed up for BabyCenter’s “My Baby This Week” email newsletter, which sends you weekly updates on how your baby’s growing. It’s based on their birthdate, or how far along in the pregnancy you are if they haven’t been born yet, and even though I originally signed up to stay current on developmental milestones at various stages in pregnancy (like I wrote about here), I’ve happily continued to receive the newsletter in the months since Lily was born.

So when I recently got my routine BabyCenter email for babies approaching four months old, and it said the following:

“Your baby loves to reach out and touch anyone and anything she can get her hands on. With increasing coordination, she can reach for and pick up things that pique her interest.”

I couldn’t help feeling a little uneasy, because Lillian wasn’t doing these things yet. Sure, you could shake a colorful toy at her and she’d look at it, and track it with her eyes as it moved, but she never really seemed to reach out for it. And being overreactive hypochondriac new parents and all, Joe and I started to worry that there was some kind of problem — developmental delays, or vision problems, or something.

Then one evening a few days later, I was jingling my keys at Lillian, and she almost immediately reached out to try and grab them. She closed her little fist around the big purple keyring, tried to stuff the whole thing in her mouth, and generally just seemed fascinated by it.

It was kind of a revelation. Vision or coordination wasn’t a problem — by all accounts, she just wasn’t that interested in the toys we’d been waving at her so far. The next day, my mom ran out to the store specifically looking for toys that were more key-like, and Lillian has seemed rather pleased with the results so far:

Grabbing at a long, keychain-like string of colorful plastic loops.

It didn’t seem that obvious at the time, but in retrospect it kind of makes sense. Most of the toys we’d been using up to that point were rattlers, teethers, or stuffed toys that jingle or crinkle when they move. Noisy and colorful and especially designed for babies, but admittedly pretty simple. Compared to my keyring, with all its shiny shapes and intricate moving parts, I guess they must have looked pretty boring.

So in conclusion, Lily’s toy-playing development appears to be right on track, and all is well! (At this point, I should probably take a moment to emphasize that babies mature and develop at different rates, and I do realize that it’s silly to get worried just because something doesn’t happen exactly when the BabyCenter email says. There’s a more detailed baby milestone chart here for anyone wondering.)

Although there’s one slightly alarming footnote to this story: apparently some house and car keys have been found to contain unsafe levels of lead? I was surprised to read this, and I seem to be having trouble finding many detailed articles on the subject, but I guess it’s just as well that Lily’s playing with my keys was a one-time thing. We’ve upgraded to the rainbow plastic version anyway:

Toy keys vs. real keys. Looks about the same, right?

It kind of makes you wonder what other seemingly harmless things we hypochondriac new parents are supposed to by worrying about, though. Have you guys heard anything about this whole lead-in-keys business? What do you think?

Our Living Room Window Blinds, and Why I Hate Them

I’ve never been a big fan of blinds myself. I think part of it is that in my experience, they never seem to let in quite enough light when you just tilt the slats, and then they go wonky and crooked when you try to actually raise them up. But the other part is just an aesthetic thing. Somehow blinds just feel kind of stiff and businesslike to me, great for an office but a little out of place in the home.

That being said, I can understand the appeal of them. Like how they can be dusted and wiped clean instead of taken down and washed, and how you can adjust the amount of light they let in rather than the binary “open or closed” choice you get with curtains or shades. I can even see myself getting to like the right kind of blinds in the right kind of space.

But not the blinds we currently have in our living room. They are absolutely awful in every possible way, and don’t have any redeeming qualities at all.

That last sentence must sound like some kind of ridiculous whiny exaggeration, so I’ll try my best to illustrate why I feel this way. To start with, here’s an overview of what we’re working with:

The wall of windows in our living room.

The above photo is a straight-on view of the living room windows, taken just before we moved in. (Sorry it’s so distorted — this is actually a panorama stitched together from four separate photos, since it’s impossible to fit the whole wall in a single frame with my camera.) As you can see, the previous owners had these old off-white blinds with wide aluminum slats.

They don’t look too bad from a distance, but as you get closer, you can start to see that they have some problems. They’re difficult to open and close, for instance, and usually end up looking crooked like this at the bottoms:

A closeup of the (slightly crooked) living room blinds.

And speaking of crooked, one of them is broken enough that the slats hang crooked all the way up the window:

One window's blinds are very slanty.

If you look closely at the photos I posted of our Valentine’s Day window decorations, you can see that the slanty blinds are even visible from the outside, which isn’t the best look, I don’t think. And as for the broken-ness, the previous owners apparently attempted to remedy this with a clothespin:

A clothespin holding the blinds together.

While I admire the resourceful attempt at jury-rigging, I’m not sure the clothespin actually does anything… although to be honest, I’m a little reluctant to mess with it for fear of making things worse.

But the worst part, the part that really makes me hate these things with a passion, is the way they’re attached to the windows. How it’s supposed to work is that these square metal brackets are screwed into the woodwork, the top of the blinds slide in from the front, and then another metal piece snaps on to hold everything in place. Here’s a closeup of the side of one of those brackets:

Side view of the bracket holding the blinds up.

As you might guess from the tape in the above photo, these are kind of broken too — the front pieces just don’t stay on the way they should anymore — and the result is that, if you’re not careful, the blinds will actually fall down as you’re trying to open them.

If I haven’t already mentioned, these aren’t your modern, lightweight plastic blinds. They’re heavy, old-fashioned aluminum with sharpish metal edges. As I write this, I even have a long angry red scratch on my wrist from when one of them fell on me the other day and I wasn’t quick enough about moving out of the way.

So in conclusion, our living room blinds are ugly, barely functional, and hazardous to the physical safety of anyone who touches them. And that last part is especially serious now that we have a baby — she actually turns exactly four months old today (can’t believe how time flies!) and before long, I’m sure she’ll be getting into everything.

But the good news is that after months of sitting around and looking nervously at our budget, we’ve finally gotten started on replacing these monstrosities, so stay tuned for an upcoming post about the living room windows’ fancy new look!

In the meantime, what do you think of blinds in general? Love them? Hate them? Anyone been attacked by their window treatments lately? Feel free to share your thoughts and stories in the comments.

Valentine’s Day Window Decorations

When it comes to Valentine’s Day, I know a lot of people can be pretty cynical: it’s just a commercialized holiday invented by the greeting card companies, and all that. It’s admittedly hard to argue with the logic of those arguments, but somehow, I just can’t bring myself to share in the anti-Valentine’s Day sentiment.

For one thing, Joe and I actually started dating around this time of year, and Valentine’s Day is close enough to the anniversary of our first date that we’ve tended to round it off to February 14th just for simplicity’s sake. Plus, I really feel like the long, dark, dreary stretch of winter after Christmas needs some kind of holiday to lighten it up, and seeing happy pink and red Valentine’s Day hearts around the neighborhood fills that void pretty well.

Anyway, my mom has always been into doing crafty things, and the other day while she was at our house with Lillian, she took it upon herself to whip up some cheerful Valentine’s Day decorations for our front windows:

Valentine's Day decorations in our front windows.

They’re red paper hearts, though they look kind of pinkish in the photos taken from the outside of the house — still fitting Valentine’s Day colors, but the reflections from the windows seem to be making them look lighter, so I guess that’s something to keep in mind for future window decorating. Here’s another pic showing a closer view of one of the windows:

A closer view of the hearts decorating our front windows.

Each heart is cut from a single piece of red construction paper, and my mom made them symmetrical by folding the paper in half and cutting out half a heart shape — a good summary of that technique can be found in this article on WikiHow. To hang them in the windows, she simply punched a small hole towards the top of each one, and then looped a piece of red ribbon through it and around the window latch.

A closeup of the paper heart hanging in our window.

I’m not sure how visible it is in the photos, but to make them more durable and slightly glossy, she also coated them in clear contact paper. I’m told this was the hardest part — apparently it’s tricky preventing it from forming unsightly bubbles and such — but on the plus side, that’s a “finishing touch” type step that you can probably skip if you just want to whip up some quick, charming, inexpensive Valentine’s Day decorations.

In conclusion, Happy Valentine’s Day! And out of curiosity, what do you think of it? In your eyes, is Valentine’s Day a sweet celebration-worthy love-fest, or just a profit-driven commercial scam?

The Mystery of the Kitchen Ceiling

Like most houses, our nearly century-old Chicago bungalow has its share of quirks: I’ve mentioned the stained glass windows that are visible from the outside but not the inside, and the old milkman’s delivery box that was turned into a pantry. (In case you missed it, check out the virtual house tour for more info on both of those things.) So, just to add to the quirks collection, today’s post features a weird little detail involving the kitchen ceiling.

It’s another one of those things that’s not super obvious, but once you notice it, you wonder how you could have overlooked it in the first place. Sort of like the fireplace was, although unlike that happy discovery, this one is just pointless and strange.

Anyway, the quirk is this: our kitchen ceiling is nearly a foot lower than the ceilings in the rest of the house. We actually got out the tape measure to check that we weren’t imagining things, and it’s true: the kitchen ceiling is exactly 8′ high, while the ceilings in every other room are 8′ 10.5″ high. Here’s a photo to try to illustrate the difference:

The doorway between the kitchen and the dining room, as seen
from the dining room side (left) and the kitchen side (right).

I’m not sure how obvious it is in the above photo, but there’s a notable difference in the amount of wall above the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room, depending on which side you’re standing on. (The wood trim around the doorway is twice as wide on the dining room side, probably because of the extra space.)

It’s not a huge deal, although considering that the kitchen is on the small side to begin with, it could probably benefit from the more open, expansive atmosphere a higher ceiling might provide. And the real question is, why does the kitchen ceiling need to be this much lower in the first place? Here are a couple of explanations we’ve considered:

  • Something to do with ducts, pipes, or wiring? This seems unlikely because we have a boiler rather than forced air heating, and no central A/C system. And there’s definitely no plumbing in the attic. There’s the range hood over the stove, and the one little hanging light fixture, but neither of these seem like the kinds of things that should require a whole ceiling’s worth of hidden wires or ducts.
  • Something structural? Though we can’t say for sure, this also seems unlikely because it’s just the kitchen — the bedroom adjacent to the kitchen has ceilings the same height as the rest of the house. There’s no noticeable difference in the attic floor above, either.

A third explanation is that it could just be some kind of cosmetic thing. And not necessarily in the sense that the previous owners just woke up one day and said to themselves, “this room needs to feel smaller and more claustrophobic” — for instance, if the kitchen used to have a suspended tile ceiling back in the day (which would have hung at least 6 inches lower than a regular ceiling according to this article) maybe when it came time to replace it, they just put in the new ceiling at the same height as the old one because they were already used to it, or because the cabinets were designed to work with that height, or whatever.

Something along those lines seems more likely to me than the two structural or functional explanations given above, so that’s my main theory. Joe’s main theory is that there’s a body hidden up there.

What mysteries do you hold, kitchen ceiling?

Maybe there’s some other more plausible explanation that we’re overlooking, though. Can you think of any reason the ceiling in a kitchen might be this much lower than the ceilings in the rest of the house? For that matter, have you ever encountered any ceiling-related oddities in your home, height-related or otherwise? Feel free to share your thoughts or stories in the comments.