The Five Month Baby Update

As of this past Saturday, Lillian is officially five months old! I kind of skipped making a four-month update — instead, there were the milestone posts about playing with toys and introducing solid foods — so today, I bring you this full and proper baby update. To start it off, here is the next installment of her photo series with the stuffed bunny:

Lillian's springtime-themed baby photo.

Technically this photo was taken at 4.5 months, and unlike the previous photos in the series which were kind of random, I deliberately went for a springtimey theme with this one. (All of them so far can be seen here.) The green backdrop is the back of another baby quilt, and this time she’s wearing a skirt-ish outfit instead of a simple onesie. I really like the way this one turned out, although I think that has more to do with her overwhelming smiling cuteness than anything I did taking the photo, haha.

In other news, there’s one thing that’s kind of a big deal, and that I don’t think I’ve talked about too much on this blog yet: Lillian is sleeping through the night. And by that, I mean all the way through — she goes down at 8:00 at night, and wakes up around 7:00 in the morning, with nary a peep in between.

This actually started somewhere around the three-month mark. She’s been a good sleeper from the start, as I mentioned in this post from way back when, but like all newborns she’d have to wake up to eat every few hours in the beginning. As time went by, it condensed into just one feeding in the middle of the night, and that one feeding occurred later and later until, to our happy surprise, she stopped needing it at all.

Getting a full eight hours of glorious uninterrupted sleep every single night is a lot more than I thought we could’ve hoped for at this stage, even if we do usually squander some of it by staying up until midnight or later. This impossibly good night sleeping probably won’t continue once she starts teething, though — I hear that that makes babies all cranky and restless.

But for now, she’s very content. She doesn’t even cry when she finally wakes up in the mornings; we just go into her room to find her awake and wiggling around, and when she sees you, she gives you this huge smile than just melts your heart.

She still takes naps during the day, although not many or for very long — it’s usually one in the morning for an hour or so, and another slightly longer one in the afternoon. The rest of the time she’s awake and alert, fiddling with her toys, babbling, and making airplane noises.

A baby girl fallen asleep in a playpen, surrounded by toys.

It's hard work being a baby.

One other big development, which just started in the past week or so, is her ability to push herself up into a semi-crawling position. (For the longest time, she seemed to regard tummy time as a good opportunity to put her head down and take a nap.) I actually made a video of this phenomenon, which I’ll try to include below, although the Vimeo link is here in case it doesn’t work:

This video was taken at my aunts’ house, and at one point Aunt Jan gets down on the floor to try to help Lily make a crawling motion with her legs. I didn’t think it was working at first — she kind of just flops over onto the soft monkey-patterned padding — but by the end it looks almost like she’s trying to repeat the motion on her own. I bet she’ll be crawling outright any day now!

Anyway, that about concludes the five-month baby update. And in other news, the electrical work is under way this week to fix those major problems I wrote about, so stay tuned for various exciting bloggings about choosing an electrician, replacing some of the light fixtures, how badly our walls are getting ripped open in the process, and so forth.

Inexpensive Spring Lawn Care

It’s official: spring is here! And spring brings the possibility of all kinds of outdoorsy house things, like planting flowers, gardening, and lawn care. Good old lawn care.

I’ll admit to being a complete newbie when it comes to proper lawn care. Growing up, it was just “cut the grass whenever it gets too long,” and who cares about the details? As long as the weeds are mowed nice and short, we’re good. That was our attitude last summer, too — with all the baby preparations and everything going on, it was all we could do just to keep the lawn mowed and sometimes watered.

But this year, energized by the possibility that things could be different, I started reading about what to do in spring to optimize your lawn for the summer season. I found some detailed articles here and here which give a lot of tips and suggestions, but the main things seem to be as follows:

  • Fertilizing – Only lightly in the spring, though; apparently fertilizing too much early on makes it harder for the grass to stay healthy through the hotter summer months.
  • Seeding – To fill in bare spots and build up a thicker lawn. Some sources seem to say this is better done in fall, and recommend frequent watering to help any new grasslings survive the summer.
  • Weed control – Using herbicides (or the organic equivalent) to stop the weeds and dandelions early on, although this seems to be a bad idea if you’re planning on also seeding.
  • Raking – To control the “thatch,” the layer of dead grass and other organic matter that can build up; while some seems to be okay, too much can lead to problems. More info on that can be found here.

I gravitated toward that last one. Since we’ll need to watch the budget for a while due to the major and expensive electrical work we need to have done on the house — that’ll actually be starting next week if all goes well — it seems outright wasteful to go around spending money on things like fertilizer. But raking is practically free! So so far, our entire spring lawn care expenditures have looked something like this:

  • Big paper yard waste bags to collect leaves and grass: $2.54 for a 5-pack
  • Rake: free (ours came with the house)

So I set to work on the raking on Sunday afternoon while Joe tended to Lily. Just looking at it, it didn’t seem like there was that much “stuff” to rake up, but once I actually started all these big piles of leaves and grass just started coming out of nowhere:

The partially-raked front lawn with leaves and grass in the sidewalk.

And over by the bushes… well, lots of leaves had built up. We admittedly didn’t do any raking at all last fall (we were kind of busy at the time) so all these dead brown leaves had been sitting there all winter.

Piles of dead leaves in the front yard.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but raking just the front yard filled up two entire bags, and left my muscles aching for days. And the front yard of our narrow city lot is small — I don’t know how people manage with larger suburban lawns.

Two large paper bags filled with dead leaves and grass clippings.

Two paper bags, partially filled. (More got crammed in after taking this picture.)

One nice thing was that after removing all those leaves from around the bushes, you could see those tulip bulbs we planted last year starting to come up. I think they look a little bedraggled, probably from being buried in dead leaves for so long, but they’re definitely growing:

Tulip plants starting to grow, surrounded by grass and leaves.

The tulips starting to grow in the front yard.

But that wasn’t all that was revealed. When the raking was finished, it became obvious that there were some pretty large bare spots on the lawn:

Overview of the lawn, with bare patches visible.

I’m not sure if these were hard to notice before, back when two giant bags of leaves and debris were scattered over the lawn, or if the raking made them bigger, or if I just wasn’t paying enough attention. (Looking at the sort-of-before photo at the top of this post, it seems like you can see at least one of the bigger patches toward the bottom left.) Here’s a closer view of these bare dirt patches:

A lawn with bare patches of dirt in the grass.

A closer view of the bare patches in the lawn.

So I guess that may require some seeding, unless the rest of the grass magically grows in to fill up those bare spots or something.

Anyway, that’s the state of the lawn this spring — stay tuned for more hapless attempts at lawn care as the season continues! And in the meantime, have you guys been outside doing any lawn care, gardening, or landscaping this spring? Any tips that you’ve found really helpful for keeping a lawn from turning into a dead and/or weed-filled wasteland? Feel free to share in the comments!

Major Electrical Problems

Well, I suppose we knew this was coming. Our lovely little Chicago bungalow was built in the 1920’s, and we knew before we bought it that lots of its innards were old. There’d been some deferred maintenance, no question about that — the tuckpointing was overdue, and the plumbing and wiring were probably about as old as the house.

But none of those things seemed particularly urgent, you know? Based on the home inspection, and living here since last summer. All systems were functional, and since there was nothing caving in or leaking out or burning down, we figured we could take it slow, save up money, and tackle one Big Thing at a time over the next few years.

Or at least that seemed to be the case until this past Thursday, when we woke up to find that the power had gone off in part of the house — mainly the bedrooms and bathroom, though some of the kitchen and basement lights also appeared to be affected. These all turned out to be on the same circuit, which had been tripped at some point during the night.

A circuit breaker box illuminated by a flashlight.

Resetting the circuit breaker by flashlight. (Dramatization.)

We reset it, the power came back on, and we went about our morning routine as usual, ready to write it off as just some kind of fluke.

But then Joe noticed a faint, erratic buzzing that seemed to be coming from the light fixture on the bathroom ceiling. By that evening, it seemed to have gotten louder, and while I was in there right before bed, it started making sounds so loud and alarming that I almost feared it would start shooting sparks at me. It was as though someone had installed a bug zapper in there.

The next morning, we found that the circuit breaker had gotten tripped again, and this time instead of resetting it, we called an electrician.

The verdict wasn’t that unpredictable: the insulation on our 1920’s wiring was brittle and disintegrating, causing the exposed wires to short out. The electrician was able to take apart the fixture and patch it up somewhat, leaving an ugly temporary fixture in the bathroom:

A single light bulb dangling from some wires above a shower curtain.

Temporary light fixture dangling from the bathroom ceiling.

However, the worst of the buzzing seems to be coming from up in the ceiling somewhere, and fixing it will require some rewiring. And apparently grafting new wiring onto brittle 1920’s wiring is neither easy nor a very good idea.

So the logical thing seems to be to upgrade the house to all modern, up-to-code wiring. Even if it’s only the one section in the bathroom that’s noticably shorting out right now, we know that the rest of the wiring is just as ancient, and it’d be nice to not have to worry about these kind of electrical problems in the future.

The only downside is that rewiring an entire house is kind of expensive. (And by “kind of,” I mean the quotes we’ve gotten have ranged as high as $10,000, though we’re doing some intensive comparison shopping to find the best price.) With any luck, we’ll be able to pick a well-recommended, reasonably-priced electrician and get started on the rewiring project within the next few weeks.

A light fixture with visible scorch marks from short-circuiting wires.

The underside of the former bathroom light fixture. It was actually charred black in places.

In the meantime, since we’ve been informed in no uncertain terms that this is a safety hazard, we’re just keeping the circuit breaker turned off in that part of the house. That means no light at all in our bedroom or the bathroom, and no overhead light in the kitchen, although we still have the ones over the sink and stove. There’s also one outlet in Lily’s nursery, so we can still have her lamp and soothing sound machine turned on during the night.

Anyway, that’s the story of why we’ll have camping lanterns scattered around our house for a little while. What about you guys? Have you ever had major electrical work done on short notice, or experience with electrical problems in general? Feel free to share your thoughts, stories, or links in the comments.

DIY Baby Headband: Saint Patrick’s Day Shamrock Edition

Well, this was a fun experiment! After that post last week all about cute Saint Patrick’s Day crafts from Pinterest, I wanted to try making one, and I wondered: would it be possible to make a baby headband loosely based on that last shamrock ribbon pin? To reduce the suspense, I’ll skip ahead to a preview of how the whole thing turned out:

Lillian wearing the finished headband.

I’d like to think it looks pretty passable for a first attempt, and it was inexpensive and surprisingly easy to make. For the method, I originally found this interesting eHow article on how to make nylon baby headbands from repurposed tights or pantyhose, and it seemed like a good starting point. After making a general game plan, it was time to pick up some supplies.

Some of the ingredients needed for the headband.

A detailed supply list is as follows, including prices where possible:

  • Nylon Stocking (white) – The lightweight and inexpensive kind that comes in one of those clear plastic gumball bubbles — this one was found for $.33 at Wal-Mart. (Unlike the eHow article, this was only a knee-high, but it turned out to be exactly the right length.)
  • 1″ Metallic Stretch Elastic (green) – The kind pictured above was $2.97 for a four-foot roll, but any kind of green lace or trim could probably be substituted in. (Although it might be harder if it isn’t stretchy.)
  • Green Ribbon – We already some of this on hand from Christmas, but I think it would have been about two dollars.
  • A small green button – I don’t think it’s possible to buy just one of these, so I was forced to pick up an entire package of buttons for $.97.
  • Other basic supplies: Scissors, needle & thread.

The first step was to sew the ends of the nylon stocking together to form a loop. Before I go any further, I should probably make a confession: I don’t know how to sew. Not by any stretch. If I had to write a step-by-step guide to sewing, it would go something like this:

  1. Thread needle
  2. Stab needle haphazardly through fabric
  3. Tie random knots to keep everything from unraveling

So this is what it looked like after using the stabbing method to transform the nylon tube into a headband-esque form:

Nylon stocking as seen normally (left) and after being sewn into a loop (right).

It turned out a bit lumpy at the section where the two ends meet, but I think that becomes less visible once the green trim goes over it, and more so if it’s positioned in the back of the headband. (This sort of thing could probably be prevented by sewing a proper seam and/or doing the other fancy mysterious things that sewing people do.)

There aren’t any in-progress images of attaching the trim or making the little green shamrocky bow, but those parts were fairly straightforward — it just took some stabbing and knot-tying every inch or so to attach the trim, and there’s a good tutorial here on how to loop the ribbon into a shamrock shape. Instead of a pin, I just used the button in the center of the shamrock, and the end result was as follows:

A closeup of the headband (side view).

Other notes and ideas for improvement:

  • Make the base out of green nylon instead of white, and the trim might not even be necessary.
  • See what it would look like with multiple shamrock ribbons instead of one.
  • Make a larger shamrock, sort of like one of these headbands that seem to be pretty popular. (I admittedly tried making it with a larger shamrock ribbon at first, but it didn’t seem to be working out.)

And finally, I’m happy to be finishing this up by the self-imposed deadline of Wednesday that I mentioned in the inspiration post! I may update this post later with links to some of the other crafty DIY projects submitted for the “Pinterest Challenge.”

Introducing Solid Foods: Another Four-Month Baby Milestone

About two weeks ago, we took Lillian to the pediatrician’s office for her four-month well baby checkup, where we learned that she’d grown to 16 lbs 11.5 oz and 26.25 inches in height. (According to this calculator, that puts her above the 97th percentile for weight and height!) In addition to getting a clean bill of health, and getting up to date on all of her vaccinations, Lillian got the go-ahead from the pediatrician to start trying out some solid foods.

So what kind of solid foods are the best to introduce first? The pediatrician gave us the freedom to experiment with pretty much any kind we wanted, with two exceptions:

  • No choking hazards. This one is pretty obvious — Since babies Lily’s age aren’t exactly good at chewing things, any solid foods should be pureed or mashed to a fine non-lumpy consistency.
  • No honey. I hadn’t heard this before, but apparently eating honey before age one is a big risk factor for infant botulism, which can cause paralysis and possibly death. More info on that can be found here, or in the Wikipedia article.

The doctor did recommend starting with a whole grain baby food instead of rice cereal, though, which seems to be an increasing trend amond pediatricians. There’s an article here about one doctor claiming that rice cereal causes childhood obesity, and while that may be a premature conclusion to draw without more studies, it’s probably safe to assume that the whole grain foods have more nutrients and such.

Anyway, based on that recommendation, we ended up picking up a box of Earth’s Best orgainic whole grain oatmeal cereal from Babies R Us the same day as the doctor’s visit.

Earth's Best Organic Whole Grain Oatmeal Cereal

The baby oatmeal box.

When we got home, I prepared the oatmeal according to the instructions on the box, which read as follows:

For Baby’s First Feeding
Mix 1 tablespoon of dry cereal with 3-4 tablespoons of breast milk or formula. Increase liquid to reach desired consistency. Gradually increase serving amount over feedings.

But the first feeding didn’t go so well. Following these instructions produced a really watery, runny mixture, and only a small amount would fit on the baby spoon at a time, and half of that would dribble out of Lillian’s mouth before she could swallow it. By about the third (attempted) bite, she was crying out of frustration, and I ended up giving up on the feeding attempt and just giving her a bottle.

Was she not ready for solids yet, or was the mixture just too runny? The next day I tried again, but this time mixed up a thicker batch. (Since this would turn it into neither honey nor a choking hazard, I figured it would be okay even though it ignored the instructions on the box.) It took a little experimenting, but I found that a ratio of two parts oatmeal to three parts formula produced a result that looked like this:

The thicker oatmeal, as seen on a spoon.

This thicker formulation gave her something more substantial to sink her teeth gums into, and she gobbled it up like it was made of candy, polishing off the entire bowl. She learned right away to open her mouth when she sees the spoon, and sometimes she even tries to help by lunging forward at it — although she’s still pretty clumsy at this, and more often than not it ends with oatmeal smeared all over her cheeks.

As for the mechanics of feeding, we have one of those high chairs that fits onto a regular chair, though we haven’t really used it yet — so far, I’ve found it easiest to put her in her Bumbo seat and sit next to her on the living room floor, which works really well since the Bumbo has a tray sort of like a high chair.

"Hey, why are you taking pictures instead of feeding me my oatmeal?"

"Nevermind, I'll just munch on this delicious bib instead"

Currently we’re doing only one (or sometimes two) oatmeal feedings per day, and the rest bottles, with plans to gradually increase the solid feedings over time. And so far it’s just been the oatmeal, although pretty soon we’ll probably start introducing some new food varieties like pureed fruits and vegetables — which should be fun, since I hear babies make great dramatic faces when trying new foods for the first time and trying to decide whether they like them or not.

Speaking of dramatic reactions to new foods, I can’t help being reminded of this amusing animated clip I found while surfing Reddit a while ago:

Baby tastes yucky food, then makes a face and falls over. (Animated.)

Baby's first grapefruit. Image from here.

Have you seen any hilarious baby-related videos lately? Or if you’ve had experience feeding babies, have you had any dramatic reactions to a new food? Did it take some experimentation to find the right things to introduce in the first place? Feel free to share any links or stories in the comments!