One Year of Blogging

In addition to Lillian turning seven months old, another little milestone has hit: as of last Tuesday, it’s been exactly one year since my first post on this blog.

In some ways, I’m almost a little surprised that I’ve had the time and motivation to keep it going for this long, especially with everything going on. Not that I’m the most active blogger in the world, and some months I’ve updated less frequently than others, but overall, I’ve somehow managed to write an average of 1.6 posts per week over the past year. Not too shabby.

So for today, I thought it would be entertaining to put together a little recap post from my first year of blogging — just some basic benchmark stats type stuff, which I figure will be fun to look back on another year down the road (since I currently expect to keep the blog going for at least that long). To start it off, here are the overall stats for the blog as of the morning of the 22nd, the official one-year anniversary:

  • 87 posts published
  • 404 images uploaded
  • 473 comments received
  • 2,190 spam comments received
  • 32,968 page views

It’s probably no surprise that this blog has gotten almost five times as many spam comments as real comments — that is the sad reality of the internet, unfortunately — but I’ve been using a spam blocking plugin that does a pretty good job of filtering out the garbage. More surprising, to me at least, was that page view count. Granted, I know there are blogs out there that get hits up in the millions, but for a small-fry backwoods blog like mine? It seems like a lot.

So where do all those hits come from? In addition to visits from regular readers, including family and friends, you may be surprised to learn that this blog actually gets a fair amount of search engine traffic. According to Google Analytics, the majority of searches seem to be for phrases relating to boy vs. girl ultrasounds and nursery decorating ideas, although there have also been a surprising number of hits from people searching for info on whale watching during pregnancy and the medical costs of having a baby.

But there was a pretty wide range of different search queries, and over 5,000 unique phrases, including some where people probably didn’t find what they were looking for. The following is a list of some of the more off-the-wall or amusing search phrases that have actually led people to this blog:

  • family spaceship floorplan
  • uhaul filled with liquor
  • happy hour bassinet
  • squirrel in the shower drain

Make of those what you will, haha.

Anyway, the idea of reaching a wider audience of readers almost makes me want to write more useful, informative articles in addition to the more personal / anecdotal stuff I’ve mainly focused on so far. What do you think? Would you like to see more substance, or do you just come for the baby pictures? Feel free to share any suggestions in the comments!

Seven Months Old

Lillian is seven months old today! It’s crazy how fast time has been flying by and how fast she’s growing and developing. I’m worried that I haven’t been taking enough pictures, which may be a little irrational since I have about five gigabytes of photos sitting on my desktop right now.

A random smiling baby shot.

One big development that’s happened over past month is rolling over. Lillian can reliably roll over from back to front now, although she still seems to have a little trouble doing the reverse. Sometimes during the night, she’ll roll over onto her tummy and then start crying due to being stuck, so it’ll be nice once she can do both directions more easily.

Mother’s Day — my first one as a mom — came and went the weekend before last, and we had a little family barbecue for the occasion. The weather was lovely, and we ate burgers and hot dogs and potato salad while sitting out on the patio. Lillian seemed to enjoy the time outside:

Me and Lillian on our first Mother's Day.

Aside from that, not too much has changed since the six month baby update. Teething hasn’t started yet, and she’s still not quite crawling, although she can push up on her hands really far now. Lots of times, she’ll roll over onto her tummy and then push up into a position like this:

Lillian happily doing baby push ups.

And she still hates banana — we even mashed up a fresh one to see if there was any difference from the pre-made store-bought purees, and she made the most disgusted face, like we were trying to feed her a lemon or a grapefruit or something… hehe. It’ll be interesting to see if she eventually develops a taste for banana, or if this is the start of a lasting preference.

Upgrading to a Larger Car Seat

One of the perils of being tall parents — I’m 5’9″ and Joe is 6’2″ — is that we have ourselves one very, very tall baby. When we got the exact measurement at her 6-month checkup, we were a little startled to realize that she was only half an inch away from outgrowing her infant car seat, which was rated for a maximum height of 30 inches. Not that we hadn’t noticed it was getting a little tight:

A baby in a carrier car seat that is getting to be too small.

Lillian in her old car seat, right before we left to go shopping for a new one.

I think the above photo really illustrates how her legs were already overlapping the edge of it, and how her head was nearly reaching the top, but I guess it took the doctor’s measurement to really give us the wake-up call that it was time to upgrade.

So last weekend, we headed out to Babies R Us in search of a bigger car seat. We knew that the replacement wouldn’t be the carrying kind, which is just as well — at almost 20 pounds, using a car seat as a baby carrier was getting to be a little impractical anyway. But aside from that, we didn’t really have an exact idea which brand or model we were looking for.

I think I’ve written before about the multitude of baby products available and how overwhelming it can feel while trying to sift through them all, and car seats are certainly no exception. The Babies R Us location by our house has no less than three aisles of car seats, ranging from the small rear-facing kind for newborns all the way up to booster seats for older kids.

An aisle of car seats in a Babies R Us store.

One section of car seats at Babies R Us.

So our strategy was to stumble into the store on a Sunday afternoon, look at the various car seats in person, compare prices, and read online reviews of any we liked right there thanks to the magic of smartphones. Once in the store, we were drawn to the S1 by Safety 1st Alpha Elite 65 Convertible Car Seat, since it offered functionality as a rear-facing car seat, a forward-facing car seat, and a booster seat for kids up to 100 pounds. It wasn’t the cheapest car seat in the store, but it seemed like it would be nice to pick one that wouldn’t just have to be replaced again in another six months.

This particular model of car seat came in two colors: black and pink. I thought the black one had kind of a boyish look, while the flowery pink one was obviously designed for a baby girl:

Flowery pink car seat in the store.

The pink version (left) and the black version (cut off on the right).

I’ll admit it, I thought the pink one was really cute. And while the black one would be easier to re-use for any future child(ren) regardless of gender, I have my doubts about whether we can realistically expect any baby product to last that long. What with the recalls and the planned expiration, not to mention all the trials and tribulations a baby, toddler, or child will naturally put it through.

Anyway, we read the reviews in the store, and it had good ratings — the biggest customer complaint seemed to be that it was difficult to install — so we went ahead and got it. And… oh man, those reviewers weren’t kidding. The instructions were garbage, and we spent over two hours struggling to get this thing in the car, during which time Joe repeatedly suggested that we just return it and get a different one.

Most frustrating, the car seat is supposed to be reclined at a certain angle for smaller babies, except in some vehicles it can’t reach that angle unless you roll up some towels and cram them underneath. (It actually directs you to do this in the manual, so I guess it must be safe.) In our case it took four layers of towels, carefully rolled into a log, to do the trick. But the end result was every bit as solid and stable as you’d expect, and Lillian seems to approve of how it turned out:

A baby girl in a rear-facing car seat.

Lillian enjoying the new car seat.

The padding in the car seat is just the right size and shape for her to lean her head against, and she settled in and took a really long nap the first time we went out shopping. So, it seems like it should be good and comfy whenever it comes time to take our next road trip!

The Brick Work and Tuckpointing, Before and After

Well, I originally intended today’s post to be about those landscaping improvements I mentioned briefly at the end of the six month baby update… But as I was looking at the before and after photos, I realized just how big and obvious-looking a change had happened to the outside of our house, and yet had somehow never made it to the blog. So to get caught up, let’s turn the time machine back to last year, before we had the tuckpointing done.

Three views of worn, cracked and crumbling bricks in need of maintenance.

Views of the bricks on the front of the house (left), side of the house (upper right) and above the basement window (bottom right). Taken during the home inspection.

Our house has two different kinds of brick — the fancy red, which is on the front of the house, and the drab dull brown, which is on the sides and back of the house. (This seems to be pretty common among Chicago bungalows, which are typically placed close enough together that the sides aren’t easily visible from the street.) The photos above show what the brick on various parts of the house looked like before we moved in, complete with worn-out mortar, damaged bricks, and cracks so wide that the bricks looked like they would fall out. All in all, it wasn’t pretty.

Especially due to the cracks, we considered the brick work one of the top maintenance priorities when we bought the house. It wasn’t bad enough yet to be irreparable, or to cause any serious structural damage, but we knew that the longer we waited the worse it would get. (Granted, this was before the electrical problems came up, and in retrospect the wiring was probably a bigger priority, but you know what they say about hindsight.)

So we got started on the tuckpointing last fall. (And by “we,” I mean we brought in a contractor to do it — this sort of thing goes way too far beyond our skill level to be a DIY project.) And even though it seems like one of those “boring” things that wouldn’t make for very interesting before and after photos, in our case the result was pretty dramatic.

A view of a red brick house before and after repointing the brick.

Bricks on the front of our house before the tuckpointing (left) and after the tuckpointing (right).

The above photos show a section of the front of the house before and after the tuckpointing — not super different when looking at it from a distance, but definitely noticeable. They used the same red mortar that the house originally had, although it was deeper in the cracks and generally less obvious prior to the tuckpointing.

But moving on to the more serious issues, some of the bricks in the worst shape were in the arch above our basement window. The mortar was completely cracked around them, and the bricks were actually starting to come loose, although thankfully it hadn’t gotten so bad that it couldn’t be fixed:

The bricks above our basement window before repair (top) and after (bottom).

The end result is so smooth and seamless that it’s hard to tell anything was ever amiss, especially considering how crooked and scary-looking it had gotten.

But I think one of the most dramatic changes took place along the side of the house, where the chimney extends from the wall a little. When we bought the house, this section was in particularly bad shape, and it had gotten to the point that the bricks were actually starting to erode away in places. As the photos below demonstrate, some of the ones toward the top had to be replaced entirely:

The brick exterior of a house before and after repointing and repair work.

The chimney before the tuckpointing (left) and after (right).

The funny thing is, despite walking past this section of wall every day (it’s right by our front door) I don’t think I really noticed how big a change had happened here until I looked at these two photos side by side. Compared to the crumbling “before” shot, the wall in the “after” picture looks smooth and solid and practically as good as new.

So that’s the belated story of another big maintenance project we’ve tackled on the house, and hopefully the last one I’ll have occasion to write about on this blog for a while, especially considering that we just had the whole-house rewiring done. And I’ve gotta say, it’s a nice feeling knowing that the house (probably) won’t fall down or burn down anytime soon thanks to these two improvements!

The 6-Month Baby Update

A little over a week ago, Lillian sailed past her six-month birthday, and since she had her routine six-month checkup on Tuesday, it seems like a baby update is in order! So to start it off, here is the next photo in her photo series with the stuffed bunny:

Lillian's six month baby photo with the stuffed bunny.

Gone are the days when you could just prop up the bunny next to her and shoot away — now she wants to grab it and play with it and stuff it in her mouth, as this latest photo demonstrates. For the background, I just used the new play mat we got recently, which is made up of colorful interlocking squares covered in letters and numbers.

As for the technical stuff, her latest stats are 19 lbs 13 oz and 29.5 inches. Aside from the mind-blowing reality that she’s more than doubled in weight since she was born (wow!) this is also significant because her car seat is rated for up to 30 lbs and up to 30 inches — and while she’s nowhere near the limit for weight, she’s on the brink of outgrowing it height-wise. So we’ll probably try to start shopping for a bigger one this weekend.

In the 5-month baby update, I posted a video showing how much progress she was making pushing up onto her hands and the possible precursors to crawling, but she hasn’t quite figured out the mechanics of that just yet. She can sit up pretty much unassisted though, even if she is still a bit wobbly at times, and if you lay her on her back she can spin around in a circle so that her feet point in the opposite direction.

We’ve also been expanding her diet. She’s up to two solid meals per day instead of just the one we were doing at first, and we’ve been adding more pureed fruit and veggie based baby foods instead of just the oatmeal. But the best part is seeing her develop preferences — growing into an opinionated little person with actual likes and dislikes. I made the following table to illustrate Lily’s current food tastes:

Likes:

• Apples.

• Pears. (Goes crazy for pears.)

Dislikes:

• Oatmeal mixed with fruit flavors.

• Banana. (And things mixed with banana.)

It’s a pity that she’s not that interested in banana, since it seems like at least half of the pre-made store-bought baby foods include it in some form. But on the plus side, we haven’t observed any food allergies or intolerances of any kind yet, aside from “I don’t care for this banana and refuse to open my mouth.”

Moving on: I think the thing I’ve been most excited about over the last week or so is that she’s started making sounds that sound suspiciously like “mama.” It’s hard to say whether this is just a coincidence, since babies make lots of random babbling noises at this age, or whether she’s consciously trying to repeat after all the times I’ve said, “Can you say mama? M-m-m-m-ma-ma?” But either way, it’s impossible not to be ridiculously tickled pink every time I hear it.

She was saying it so much yesterday that I actually got out the camera to try to record it… only then she got quiet and would only glance suspiciously at the camera while playing with her feet. I ended up with a bunch of video clips that look like this:

Maybe this is a sign that I should shoot more video so she won’t be so distracted by the camera. Although she doesn’t seem to even notice my other camera — the huge DSLR that only shoots still pictures. Probably because I’ve had it glued to my face from the minute she was born, haha.

With the weather turning nicer, we’ve had some great opportunities to go do stuff in the great outdoors. In preparation for some gardening and yard improvements, we packed up the umbrella stroller and went on a little excursion to our local landscape and garden supply shop. Lillian seemed to enjoy looking at the bright colorful flowers, and got a huge smile whenever we pushed the stroller over the bumpy gravel areas.

Lillian looking at a flower while shopping at a local garden and landscape center.

Anyway, that about concludes the 6-month baby update — stay tuned for the next bloggy installment, which should involve all the flowery details about the transformation that’s taken place in our front yard over the past couple weeks!