Pre-Winter House and Yard Maintenance

December has arrived, but weather-wise, it’s been pretty mild around here, with temperatures as high as seventy degrees on Monday. Doesn’t that seem crazy? Seventy degrees in Chicago in December. During my lunch break from work, I just felt disoriented and kept wondering, where am I? What month is this? What’s going on?

Though I’m happy to announce that as of this writing, temperatures have fallen to a much more December-appropriate thirty and forty degrees, and I think I heard something on TV about snow flurries in the forecast. So all is right with the world.

Backtracking a week or two though, we decided it would be a good idea to clean out the gutters before winter. Especially since most websites seem to recommend doing it twice a year, and we hadn’t cleaned them them at all since we bought the house. Yikes!

We have quite a few tall trees in the neighborhood, including the moderately-sized one right out front, so it seemed possible for them to be completely packed with leaves and gunk… but happily, upon getting on the ladder, that turned out not to be the case. This phone photo was snapped before cleaning anything, and it shows how empty long stretches of the gutters were:

(Because apparently taking pictures is what I like to do while standing up on ladders.)

The leaves that were in there were easy enough to remove, and oddly it turned out to be the back of the house that had the most leaves despite being furthest from any trees.

But in conclusion, the gutters are pristine now, and it was a happy ending to a long period of neglecting them.

Speaking of neglecting things, we kind of let the yard go this past summer, which is too bad — it seemed like we were off to such a good start early on in the year when we pulled out the weeds and grass around the front bushes to create a simple flower bed. But then I started a new job, and there was all the chaos after Dad unexpectedly passed away, and all of a sudden it was late November and we had a backyard full of dead weeds.

Mostly it was the areas against the house, garage, and fence that had gotten badly overgrown, and rather than leaving it all there all winter, I figured I’d try to pull out as much of the unauthorized plant matter as possible. I ended up filling up seven big paper yard waste bags, which seems like an awful lot, and crazy as it may sound that wasn’t even all of it. But, at least things will (hopefully) be that much better off come spring, and then we’ll get a chance to try again at the whole “having a nice yard” thing.

Anyway, that’s the scoop on some of the boring but responsible and necessary work that’s come with the package of homeownership — thank goodness that’s over! The next post will be all about Christmas decorating and other fun happy extracurricular activities!

Toddlers And Christmas Trees: Helping Them Get Along?

Random elegant Christmas tree photo.
Image from here.

Last year on the weekend after Thanksgiving, we went and picked out our first real live Christmas tree, with the hopes of making it a family tradition at the start of the holiday season each year. Thanksgiving weekend is here now — but unlike last time around, when Lillian was a sleepy helpless little infant with pretty much zero interest in Christmas trees, we now have an inquisitive and increasingly mobile one-year-old on our hands. Which naturally leads one to wonder — might this combination be a recipe for disaster? Is a Christmas tree even a good idea this year?

To shed some light on this question, I thought I’d search around the internet for any tips, advice, and strategies people may have found useful for ensuring the healthy coexistence of their babies or toddlers and Christmas trees. There’s quite a lot out there, and much of the advice seems to go something like this:

  • Get a smaller tree and put it up on a shelf or table
  • Block the tree off using furniture or a child gate
  • Keep the tree in another room closed off from the baby / toddler

But these kinds of tips, while being probably the most fool-proof, don’t seem to be quite what we’re looking for — ideally we would like to have a standard-size Christmas tree in the living room by the fireplace like we did last year, and having to block it off with gates or furniture seems like it would dampen the atmosphere and eat up a lot of the remaining space in the already modestly-sized room.

Upon searching further, I came upon this article which has a number of discussion replies on this subject — some a bit off-the-wall, like this little gem:

“My husband made my daughter terrified to touch the tree! She thought it would eat her. He would stick his hand in the tree and then scream like it was hurting him! It worked, she never touched it!”

I’ll admit, I laughed out loud when I first read that — but as amusing as the strategy sounds, I think I’d be worried about giving our child some kind of long-lasting irrational fear of Christmas trees.

For some more serious and possibly helpful suggestions, the AAP has an article here with holiday safety tips, some tree-related. And there’s a good article on WikiHow about cat-proofing your Christmas tree which has a lot of tips that could just as easily apply to babies and toddlers.

One more interesting suggestion comes from this post by a blogger with three kids under age three, and it seems like a really simple and clever idea:

“My favorite and best trick of all is to line the whole bottom of your tree with jingle bells!!! On every branch around the bottom of my tree I have put small silver bells that jingle every time someone touches the tree. They are baby safe and when the tree moves or someone is touching it I hear it immediately!”

So after going through all of these tips and ideas, here is our current plan for this year’s Christmas tree:

  • Weigh down the stand to reduce the risk of the tree tipping over
  • Use only non-breakable ornaments, and nothing small enough to be a choking hazard
  • Securely fasten ornaments to branches using strings or ribbons instead of hooks
  • Select a fresh tree, keep it watered, and sweep / vacuum regularly to minimize stray needles
  • Try the jingle bell trick to create a built-in baby alarm

These measures seem like they should be pretty effective for preventing most of the problems that could potentially arise — and worst case scenario, we can always have the backup plan of moving the tree down to the basement, or getting rid of it entirely, if things don’t seem to be working out.

What do you think? Have you ever had a Christmas tree with a mobile baby or young toddler in the house? How did things turn out? I’d love to hear any stories or advice on this matter!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday yesterday, full of reflection and family togetherness and eating too much turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. This year we had our traditional family Thanksgiving meal at my aunts’ house, involving a big delicious turkey dinner eaten around a table with all the fancy table setting stuff.

We brought the high chair along so Lillian could join us at the Thanksgiving table for the first time. (Longtime readers may recall how last year she was only a month old and slept in her bassinet while we enjoyed our meal.) I imagine it must have been interesting and exciting for her, this different kind of meal in a different house with different people than usual.

We thought she might even partake in some mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes and stuffing, since it’s soft enough and not a choking hazard and whatnot… But she didn’t seem very interested in any of it. The first bite, she made a face and let it all dribble out of her mouth, and then clammed her lips shut and kept squirming away from the spoon when we offered her more.

In the end, Lillian ended up dining on some Gerber mashed peas — much better than Thanksgiving dinner by baby standards, I guess! Though perhaps this is a sign that we need to work harder to offer her a more diverse range of foods lest we end up with a picky eater.

Anyway, those are the highlights from our Thanksgiving. It was a wonderful relaxing day with family, and we have so much to be thankful for.

How was your Thanksgiving? Anyone doing Black Friday shopping today? It’s hard to believe Thanksgiving is over already — I suppose it’s time to start thinking about Christmas shopping and holiday decorating and all that fun stuff!

Lillian’s Photo Project: One Year Of Baby Pictures

Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote this post about starting up a baby photo project to document Lillian’s first year. After experimenting with a couple different ideas, the one I liked best involved taking her picture every month(ish) with the same stuffed bunny against a colorful backdrop, which for the first photo was a quilt she received as a gift:

The first photo in the project.

And somehow a year flew by, and we’ve celebrated Lillian’s first birthday, and I found myself shooting the one year photo, which will be the last one in the series. While the backdrop has cycled through various quilts, blankets, rugs, and playmats during the course of the project, for the last photo, I went back to the quilt from the first one:

The last photo in the series.

The increasing difficulty in shooting these pictures is a big reason why it dosen’t really make sense to try to continue it beyond the one year mark. She’s already looking vaguely annoyed in the motion-blurred process of rolling over — and this was the best of about twenty shots! Unlike the easy first photo where she was happy to “pose” for as long as needed, these days Lillian has no interest in laying still, which is a big pitfall of choosing a laying-flat-on-the-back pose. Lessons learned for hypothetical future baby #2!

Anyway, just for fun, I put together this little labeled grid of all the photos in the series:

One Year Baby Photo Project (Documenting Baby's Growth)

The full series of baby photos, from newborn to one year old.

During the project I intentionally spaced the timing out so as to end up with exactly nine, though that resulted in some little quirks like the 10-month one being taken at 10.5 months, etc., which is kind of glossed over by the labels in the grid above.

Still in all, it’s really fun to look back on these pics and see how much Lillian has grown and changed over the past year. She’s already on the brink of walking and talking and generalized toddlerhood, and thinking back on her newborn days, it’s a little hard to believe she was ever that tiny.

Living Room Upgrade: The Ceiling Fan

When we got our whole-house rewiring done earlier this year, I mentioned that we added a few not-strictly-necessary lighting upgrades — things that would be nice to do eventually, but that we probably would have waited on if we hadn’t had the electrical work done. (To read about the serious electrical problems that prompted the rewiring, check out this post, and I’ve also written about the finished rewiring process here and the damage it meant for our walls here.) So in the interest of catching up on the backlog of house-related things that have gotten done around here but haven’t made it to the blog, today’s post features the ceiling fan we added to the living room.

When we first moved into our house, the living room ceiling hinted that it may have once had some kind of ceiling fan or light fixture, since there was this weird little plastic nipple thing smack in the middle of the ceiling:

The living room ceiling as seen before installing the ceiling fan.

We’d talked about adding a light fixture in general, since our living room had no built-in lights at all when we moved in, and a ceiling fan specifically since our house has no central air conditioning system. Admittedly ceiling fans don’t seem to be the “in” thing to have these days if you read any of the home decorating blogs, but in this case the functionality was more important to us than any style-related considerations.

Although speaking of which, I think the fan we ended up picking is more visually interesting than most ceiling fans I’ve seen:

The new and not-so-traditional looking living room ceiling fan.

Rather than traditional straight blades, it has these organic leafy-shaped ones — and given the somewhat hasty and unscheduled nature of this upgrade, and that we didn’t spend a lot of time shopping around and whatnot, I’d like to think things turned out pretty well. Having a ceiling fan was a godsend over the summer, and the light it adds to the room has been a much needed thing.

That being said, the light is probably my least favorite part of it — in addition to the bland appearance, it also requires the smaller candelabra base light bulbs which are kind of a pain to buy for just this one light fixture. But on the plus side, the light kit is removable, so in theory we could switch it out for a nicer and more standard one down the road.

Browsing around online, it’s crazy how many different ceiling fan light kit styles there are. Here are a few at random that I thought looked interesting, with links to the sources where they can be purchased below:

  1. Stained Glass Style Light Kit – A fancy stained glass style light kit, of which there seem to be many different varieties. This particular example, involving a clean and simple geometric pattern, seems to be less common than the more traditional stained glass patterns (based on my brief search at least).
  2. “Tea-Stained Glass Elegance” Light Kit – There seem to be quite a variety of lights involving ornate leafy-looking patterns like this one, though I wonder if it would get to be a bit much considering the style of the fan itself.
  3. Drum Style Light Kit – This style looks almost like a lampshade on the ceiling fan for a non-traditional and contemporary look. Interestingly, over on the blog Thrifty Decor Chick there’s a post about adding a normal lamp shade to a ceiling fan to create a similar look for a fraction of the price.
  4. Disco Ball Light Kit – Not really a fit for our living room, but I think it’s awesome that this exists.

What do you think — do any of these in particular would work well with our style of ceiling fan? Have you happened to see a light kit style elsewhere on the internet that might be a better fit? Any thoughts on ceiling fans in general? As always feel free to share in the comments.