Baby’s First Zoo Trip

A few weeks ago, on our three-day Labor Day weekend, we were trying to figure out something fun and outdoorsy to do, and we decided to go to the zoo. Here in Chicago, the Lincoln Park Zoo actually has free admission, though parking is expensive if you drive there. (And drive we did — taking public transportation would have involved bus rides with a stroller, so the added convenience seemed worth it.)

Random photos from our zoo outing.

It was Lillian’s first zoo trip, and our curious little 10-month-old was definitely excited by all the sights and sounds and people, though I’m not sure how many animals she actually got to see. Even when they weren’t sleeping or hiding, Lillian seemed more interested in the small details of the zoo — like the strong dark metal bars that surrounded the animal enclosures:

Playing with the bars at the zoo.

Or the reflections in the glass window surrounding the otter exhibit, even when there were otters swimming around inside:

Lillian and her reflection in the otter display.

It seemed like the small animal house had lots of baby-friendly things to see in general, including this gazebo-ish walkway overlooking a pool of bright orange fishes:

Looking at some bright orange fish at the zoo.

At one point, Joe lifted Lillian up out of the stroller to see the red panda, which was up in a tree, but Lillian was more interested in grabbing his glasses off of his face and trying to eat them.

Lillian playing the “steal Daddy’s glasses” game.

Overall I think she had a great time though, and it was a fun little family outing. On the way out of the zoo, a friendly tourist was nice enough to capture this photo of all three of us:

Me, Joe, and Lillian at the zoo.

(Side note – since I don’t think it’s appeared on this blog, the above photo shows my new haircut, which is the shortest it’s been in a long while. Chosen mostly for the convenience I’ll admit, haha.)

Anyway, that’s the mostly-told-in-pictures story of our trip to the zoo! Another addition to the collection of firsts and milestones that have appeared here on this blog. Has anyone else been doing fun outdoorsy things as summer winds to a close? Or any interesting experiences with taking babies / toddlers / young children to the zoo? Feel free to share your stories in the comments!

Coffee Machine Perils

First, in case the title of this post has worried anyone, I should say that it has nothing to do with the hazardous combination of a newly mobile baby plus burning hot coffee (though it probably goes without saying not to let your baby near hot burny things in general). Instead, this post tells the tale of a coffee machine that we had for a little while, and the less than pleasant outcome for our kitchen.

Some background: Joe and I are “coffee people” who brew up a fresh pot every morning to drink with breakfast, so a good reliable coffee machine is a must. And in our modestly-sized kitchen, counter space is at a premium — you can see a floor plan here, but basically there are just two sections of countertop, one between the sink and the stove (which serves as the main food preparation area) and a smaller section between the sink and the refrigerator (which is where we cram various foodstuffs and appliances that need to be used on a daily basis, like the toaster and the sugar jar).

So when we received a Black & Decker Spacemaker coffee machine as a Christmas gift, it seemed like the perfect thing. It bolts to the bottom of your kitchen cabinets, freeing up the space beneath it and generally making things feel a bit more spacious. Here it is after we installed it in our kitchen:

The coffee machine mounted under our kitchen cabinet.

It did require some drilling through the bottom of the cabinet in order to install it, and included a handy template to show you how to space out the holes. The bolts were pretty unobtrusive, even if I did accidentally splinter the wood a little while drilling the holes. Here’s what the emptied-out cabinet looked like after installing the hanging coffee machine:

The bolts drilled through the bottom of the cabinet to hold up the coffee machine.

The mounted position worked really well for us, and it was a nice coffee machine — it had a timer and everything, so you could set it the night before and wake up to a hot pot of coffee with no groggy early-morning preparation required. For a few months, we enjoyed our lovely space-saving coffee machine.

But… little did we know that something sinister was happening with every pot we brewed. Hot coffee will naturally produce some steam, which resulted in a bit of condensation building up on the front of the cabinet. I noticed it in passing a few times, but figured it was no big deal… and by the time we realized that the steam was actually corroding the cabinet, the damage was already done:

Peeling finish on the cabinet.

The cabinet ended up with some discoloration and the finish completely peeling away to reveal bare wood. In case it’s hard to tell from the photo, the damaged spot is roughly aligned with the coffee pot handle in the first photo (and you can see how undamaged that section of cabinet was when we installed it).

I’m not sure if our particular machine had some kind of defect, or if we installed it slightly wrong, or if the finish on our cabinets was just so old and flaky that it was bound to happen… But in the end we went back to a traditional on-the-counter coffee machine since the mounted one didn’t seem to be working out.

Granted, our kitchen cabinets weren’t new or pristine by any stretch, and over the years they had developed some very obvious signs of wear in places. And while it would be nice to do a full kitchen remodel someday down the road, it’s hard to deny that the cabinets are still perfectly functional — though maybe this is a sign that we should start looking into repainting or refinishing the cabinets to spruce them up a little.

For anyone reading this, have you ever tried a mounted coffee machine? And if so, did it do anything weird to your cabinets?

Introducing Finger Foods, and Precursors to Toddling

Back when I was still floating in that “I’m gonna do all the bestest, trendiest parenting things” phase of new motherhood, I heard about this thing called baby led weaning where instead of spoon-feeding the baby pureed fruits and other mushy fare, you offer them bits of finger food that they can pick up and chew (gum?) at their own readyness and leisure. It seemed like an interesting idea, though we ended up taking the “mainstream” route like we have in pretty much every aspect of parenting so far, starting with baby oatmeal and purees at around four months as discussed in this post.

Still, I’ll admit to having passively tried the baby-led-weaning approach a time or two… with less than stellar results. Take for instance this time back at the beginning of June, when I offered Lillian a couple of (soft, gummable) peach pieces. Not only was she not the slightest bit interested in picking them up or trying to eat them, but she reacted with this indignant glare. Like the very idea was preposterous.

“What on earth do you expect me to do with these?” (June 2012)

It might have gone differently if we kept trying different foods, or kept pushing it in general, but the familiar tried-and-true purees were working out well enough for us and Lillian, and in the end we just stuck with those.

Then, about a week ago, we spotted these Baby Mum-Mum rice rusk snacks at Babies R Us. Unlike most pre-packaged snacks, which seem to be designed for (at youngest) toddlers who are already accustomed to eating solid foods, these are explicitly designed for babies Lillian’s age and turn to mush almost immediately upon entering one’s mouth.

So we figured they were worth a shot — and while Lillian seemed a little skeptical at first, she dove into gumming them up and crunching them into pieces with her two bottom teeth.

Lillian eating a Baby Mum-Mums rice rusk snack.

Sometimes she’ll take a bite and then sweetly offer me one, and giggle when I partake in the bland crunchy riceyness. But anyway, based on the success with these snacks it would look like it’s time to start introducing other finger foods, like soft fruits and well-cooked veggies.

In other news, Lillian has been making strides (pun intended) in the standing and walking department. If you recall the last baby update, she was only first beginning to pull up and stand. Now, she’s pulling up on everything, and even walking from one end of our sectional sofa to the other while using it for balance.

Lillian standing up (using the couch for balance).

She’s still leaning against the couch in the photo above, but I think it shows how she’s getting more confident about being on two feet.

I shot a couple of video clips of this fun phase — the first one shows her standing up using the couch, though it gets cut a little short since my phone happened to be within reach:

(Maybe I worry too much, but that phone is fragile and crotchety enough without being used as a baby rattle and/or chew toy.)

This next video shows how adventurous she’s getting about straying away from the couch — at one point she comes very close to standing completely on her own, though (spoiler alert) the viedo ends with her falling on her bottom and fussing a little because of it.

It may be a little early to call, but based on current progress it seems like she’ll be walking outright any week now.

Given her increased mobility these days, it’s getting harder and harder to shoot those quasi-monthly photos for the bunny series, since she immediately sits up to play with the bunny, or the blanket, or just to generally crawl around. The best I could seem to do this round was this slightly motion-blurred shot:

10.5 months old.

The backdrop this time is a blanket crocheted by my mom, and there’ll probably be just one more photo in the series… since next month we’ll be celebrating Lillian’s first birthday. Which is pretty much impossible to believe. Where did the time go? It seems like she was just born, and yet somehow we’re already on the verge of having a toddler on our hands!

Virtual House Tour: The Attic

Last summer, when we first moved into our house, I posted a “virtual house tour” of both the inside and the outside, with plans to eventually also do an installment for the attic and the basement. And now the suspense is finally over, at least on one of those things — today’s post will feature the long-overdue third installment of the virtual house tour, providing the first real glimpse of our attic on this blog so far.

Our attic is partly finished in the sense that there’s one weird little room up there, but there’s not much in the way of insulation, and no heating or cooling, so it gets to be about 150 degrees up there in the summer and it generally just isn’t liveable space. To give an idea of the layout, the following is a floorplan of the attic:

Attic Floor Plan

The floor plan of our attic, created using FloorPlanner.com.

My first reaction after taking all the measurements and making the floorplan was that I must have messed up somewhere, because the attic looked a lot more square than the floorplan for the rest of the house (which you can see at the beginning of this post). But the attic doesn’t extend over the mudroom or the tandem room, and it loses a few additional feet at the front and back because of the way the dormers are set up, so that really is the overall shape of it.

The other weird thing I noticed, only upon taking the measurements and making the floorplan, was that mysterious block of completely inaccessible space in the lower right corner. Due to the slant of the roof it would definitely be a “crawlspace” area, with no more than three or four feet clearance at the high end, but there doesn’t seem to be any kind of access panel or anything for getting in there. (It’s also worth mentioning that this inaccessible space just happens to be right above the kitchen, which has some ceiling-related mysteries of its own. Makes you wonder…)

Anyway, as you may remember from the inside portion of the virtual house tour, the stairs to the attic are located in the dining room, tucked away behind a door. The stairs themselves are fairly narrow and definitely have an unfinished, utilitarian look with just some dull gray paint:

The stairs leading up to our attic.

At the top of the stairs there’s an almost closet-like nook, though you can see on the floorplan how it doesn’t actually have a door or anything to make it a fully legit closet. From the top of the stairs, the unfinished portion of the attic is to the left and the pink room is on the right. The following is a view of the unfinished portion of the attic:

A view of the unfinished portion of our attic, as seen from the door.

As far as unfinished attics go, though, I know they can be a lot more unfinished than ours — we at least have solid floorboards spanning the whole thing, rough and splintery as they may be. At the house I grew up in, the attic had no floorboards at all. There was just the exposed insulation, which meant you couldn’t really walk around up there without balancing on the narrow joists (or else you’d likely fall straight through the drywall ceiling).

Above the unfinished part of the attic you’ll see just the exposed, slanty boards of the roof, with no drywall or insulation or anything. Here’s another photo from a slightly different angle that shows a better view:

Another view of the unfinished portion of our attic.

As for the pink room, I’m really not sure what the story is there. The color seems to suggest that maybe it was intended as a little girl’s room, except as I mentioned before the attic isn’t really livable due to its climate-related issues. Plus the previous owners had only two sons, neither of whom seemed to know what the deal was with the pink room, only that they used to play up there as kids. (Which suggests that the pink room has been around, more or less in its current state, since the 1960’s or earlier.)

Due to its small size (around 9 by 13 feet) and slanty ceilings, I had a hard time photographing the pink room, and the best I could seem to do was stitch several shots together into this (slightly distorted) panorama:

A view of the “pink room” in our attic.

So anyway, that’s the attic, it all its unfinished (and in some places perplexing) glory. I’ll confess that I’ve probably only been up there 4 or 5 times total since we bought the house — we don’t use it for storage, and there generally just isn’t much reason to venture up there at all. But the same unfinished-ness that has caused us to ignore and neglect the attic also means that it’s kind of a blank slate, with the potential to someday be transformed into whatever kind of layout we want.

What do you make of the pink room, or of the attic in general? And what kind of modifications or renovations would you make to this attic in a pipe dream universe where money was no object?