Sunday, September 30, 2007

Gregorian Chant

In St. Plechelmus Basilica in the old Hanseatic city of Oldenzaal under the aspectless autumn sky there was a Gregorian chant concert. Four choral groups under the 12th century round Romanesque arches taking turns in the ancient plainchant of darker ages. Smoothed wooden benches infused with years of incense from waving brass thuribles and the stations of the cross. We sat next to Jesus’ second fall. The greysmooth stones radiated cold, a religious cellar, with high-up lights only dimly penetrating the density and in corners here and there reliquaries of old st. bones shone like campfires. We entered and left quickly as we could find no bathroom for Amber’s punching-bag bladder. We returned from a nearby snackshop and sat behind a massive pillar unable to see the source of chants that seemed anyway to not have a source but rather to be like the hum of wings surrounding.

Dark earth, cold soil, a subterranean pull, the monophone notes of a language scraped to its bones. Old Latin, the tongue of bearded father gods now sung in baritone ohms and oooms, a worship above nodding gray heads soon to be bones. Domini….audi nos. Heer onze God…The carnival lights one town over now a world away. Places for the sacred and profane, how we truck nimbly from each to each. Remembrances of gray snow Minnesota the sirens of Canadian geese gleaning whiteyellow fields of corn stubble. Old monks in brown robes working out the human condition with pitiful, raw hands.

At one point a solo-voice spiraled upward, audible incense, faintly Arabic, a scimitar thrust into gray clouds. We are essentially religious animals...that thought lasting only as long as the chant. It is too much energy, after all, to be forever enthralled.

And then the massive organ from high and behind begassing deranged mineral tonics, buzzing from squint-lipped pipes, crawling with buzzylegs across the stonegray stones. Nearly non-musical in its reverberations. The church, a pair of fossil lungs breathing an objectless regret, a nostalgia, a sorrow for murdered gods. A pair of fossil lungs heaving under a stony chest (the pigeons outside must have taken flight) now the epicenter of every deed. Every thought in a single tone. Where did it all go wrong?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

so i woke up one morning and saw...

... a carnival outside my window!

once a year, there is a kermis that comes to town. so when i say that the carnival is in town, i mean, quite literally, that the carnival is in town. directly outside our window there were four rides: a ferris wheel, a camel-race game, a fun house labyrinth thing (the rainforest), and a kiddie roller coaster. in the market, which as you know is practically our front yard, were all the big rides like bumper cars, a carosel, and lots and lots of scary, upside-down, twisting, whiplash-inducing rides. over by the train station there was a big roller coaster, and on the street where the subway restaurant is at there was this terrifying ride that was probably 6 or 7 stories high that would swing upside down and sideways and just did not look healthy at all. but maybe i'm just old.


the kermis would open most days around noon, and would wrap up by midnight or 12:30 at the latest. fortunately for us, we were mostly in the kiddie section, so most things on our street would finish up by 11:00 so our sleep schedules weren't too interrupted. it started up on wednesday, though they started setting up for all of this on monday morning. it ran until sunday evening, and then that's when the REAL noise started up, when they started to tear it all down that night. all night long, clanging poles and dropping tools and yelling... by monday morning everything was gone and the street sweeper had already come so it looked like there was never a carnival at all, and that we had just imagined the whole thing.


fun to see a fish stand at our carnival. just across the border, in germany, which is really only about 15 km away, you would not see this at all!





and you know it never really bothered us terribly that the kermis was here. it was really kind of fun and entertaining to live in the middle of the carnival for a week. it was neat to watch families wander through our street with cotton candy and stuffed animals, and to watch the camel race game. it was this game where you had to roll these balls up into holes, like skeeball, and the more points you got or the faster you were able to roll, the further your camel went along the track. first one to the end wins. when there was a big group playing against each other, the owner of the game would get out his microphone and start announcing the race. "een, twee, en rollen!" (one, two, and roll!) and then he'd yell out, "number 8 taking the lead!" and "number 12 up the stretch!" it was pretty cool!


adam seemed really touched by the carneys. like van gogh and his peasants, the people stuck in these booths really broke adam's heart. i think it must be something with being a philosopher (i've met other philosophers with this sentiment), where the image of someone doing something faceless, invisible, but necessary, really brings the humanity of the circumstance to the occasion. how does the floor of the train station stay so clean? who ever sees the man mopping that floor? what is his life like? is he lonely, or desperate, or just humble and grateful for a job? the kiddie ferris wheel seemed to break adam's heart the most, because it was such a small, simple ride that brought joy to so many children, but it was never busy. and adam would be so sad when the camel race guy didn't have any business. it was all he could do not to just grab all his spare change, throw on his shoes, and go out there to play the game in order just to make the carney feel better. i hope adam has a chance to write more about this experience, because i think it's quite sentimental and sweet, and i'm just not expressing it the right way. but it was touching to see.


the kermis left town about a week ago and it's been quiet on our street ever since. i'm already looking forward to next year when we can take spruitje out and look at all the flashing lights and see all the fast moving rides. of course he'll be too small to ride on anything but i think he might enjoy being out in the crowds too. i know we sure did!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

kiddootje

remember that blog i wrote about the fashion show? yeah, you know the one... how, at the end of the show, the four preggo ladies saw me in the window and we all compared our baby bumps? yeah, that one...

well, i finally made it to that store the other day, in hopes of picking up a sweater i saw modelled in the show. it's a really cute little shop, mostly with small gifts like clocks, finger puppets, wooden toys, etc. very cute stuff, and good quality too. but in the corner of the store there's a small section of very nice secondhand maternity clothes, which i was really pleased to find. especially because the maternity jeans i've been wearing lately are just about too small for me, and i was not looking forward to buying a brand new pair which i'd only wear for a few months. new maternity jeans were going to cost me close to 45 euros, whereas the pair i had been able to wear up until now i had picked up at target back in the usa for only $6. i was hoping for another deal like that and was thinking maybe i could find something in ireland when we go there soon... but behold! kiddootje! i found a pair for 8,50! rejoice!

anyway, i introduced myself to the lady there, and she laughed when she found out that it was ME who was in the store! because she was one of the models from the fashion show who remembered showing off the babybumps! i didn't recognize her, though, because her bump was gone. as it turns out, none of the women in the show were pregnant, but they all had these prosthetic bellies or something. which would explain why their bumps and their chests all looked just perfect... tiny hips, tiny butts, tiny chests, only a big, beautiful bump sticking out. nothing like the voluptuous, plump figure i've developed. i was a little jealous of them when i saw them, but now i get it. :-) anyway, the lady (tania) told me that she and her sister and her girlfriends (all the models in the show) laughed about that encounter for the rest of the day, just like me, so it was funny and sweet to make that connection.

so, i found some great jeans, a cozy sweatshirt, a great pair of jammy pants, a very nice black t-shirt which really shows off my bump, and this little thing that's like a tube top but you wear it around your waist for when your shirts are getting too short or your pants are getting too low... it just looks like you've layered another t-shirt underneath. sweet. i wish i had a million of them because they're really handy.

hooray for new friends and new discoveries!

pleasantly plump

well, i'm nearing the end of my 2nd trimester, and before i know it the baby will be here. i just wanted to post a quick update about how we are all doing out here, as a way to stay connected to everyone back home. it's challenging enough to be a first time parent, i think, but to do it virtually alone in a foreign country can sometimes be a little overwhelming. thank goodness for the blog and for your emails/phone calls, because it makes me feel not so lonesome out here sometimes.

as you can see by my pictures, my belly keeps getting bigger and bigger every day. i am now over 5 months pregnant and the baby continues to grow and kick and punch me often. i LOVE it! it's so precious! lately he's discovered his arms i think, because i tend to feel his punches more than his kicks. how do i know they're punches? well, i don't know for sure, but the punches seem to be lower in my abdomen and are fainter. whereas his kicks are higher, closer to my ribcage, and are MUCH stronger. he hasn't been kicking as much lately, more punching though. i think he's probably kicking too, but i can't feel it because i think there might be more room for him to squirm in that area without bumping into anything. occasionally i can feel his head or his hips squirm around, too. and usually once a day i'm able to palpate my abdomen to find an arm, a leg, or his backside. it's so sweet! one time i really think i could feel his hand -- it was small, about the size of one of my finger pads, and it felt like it was this little ball filled with tiny crunchy things, which i assume are his finger bones. it made me cry it was so precious. i love that.

adam is able to feel spruitje's kicks and punches too, and if i lift up my shirt he can even see my belly move with the contact. none of this hurts (yet), but he's starting to get strong enough that occasionally i will have to catch my breath if he gets me in the diaphragm just right. i really enjoy it, actually. it reminds me of what's in store, and reassures me that he's still in there.

i've been craving orange things: sweet potatoes, squash, oranges, carrot juice, etc. i never ate oranges before i got pregnant but now suddenly they look amazingly delicious. and sweet potatoes and squash are a little difficult to find in my city, but i know where to look now. (the albert heijn grocery store usually has tiny organic pumpkins, and there's one stand at the market with a really sweet old lady who is very patient and proper and lovely, and she sells sweet potatoes. occasionally the asian market in town will have them too.) carrot juice is also difficult to find, but there is a "natuurwinkel" (a health food store) that carries various vegetable juices, including tomato juice which apparently is supposed to help minimize leg cramps. it must be working because i have yet to get a charley horse (knock on wood).

and also, all of a sudden, i can't STAND lemons! it's the strangest thing, because earlier in my pregnancy i couldn't drink enough lemonade! i loved it! but now, all of a sudden, i hate lemons and lemon-scented things. i squeezed a lemon into my water over the weekend and almost threw up when i took my first sip. it was like drinking cleaning solution, like lysol or mop-n-glo or something. horrible!

mostly, i continue to feel really healthy and strong and peaceful. baby is active, adam is involved, and my body is comfortable (mostly). i'm soooo grateful for this experience. i hope this pregnancy continues to be as pleasant as it has been so far!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

the nursery

a definite plus (for renters, but maybe not for the owners) of living in the netherlands is that you can remodel a room, even if you're just renting an apartment or a house from somebody. which was GREAT because the room that we've designated as the nursery was a total mess when we moved in. moldy, peeling wallpaper, cracks in the walls, an ugly pattern... it just wasn't nice at all. but since we never used that room other than to store our bills and files and stuff in, we never bothered to change it.


until we got pregnant. we always knew that that room would eventually be the baby room, and when it was time for us to redo it, we already had a few ideas.


first of all, the wallpaper HAD to go. then we had to patch up the holes and crumbling corners with plaster. and finally we would have to paint it a very bright yellow color. the room has the nicest view in the whole house, with an entire wall that is just double-paned windows, and it faces east so it gets a lot of really lovely morning sunlight in there.


(and, even if we knew if the baby was going to be a boy or a girl, i'd still want the room to be yellow because it's a happy color. and since we don't know spruitje's gender, i guess it's even more appropriate.)

so we started by peeling off the wallpaper, thanks to the use of a wallpaper steamer that my friend, debbie, let us borrow. (debbie bought herself an old fixer-upper house in germany and so has tons of home-repair stuff at her place, and she was really nice and let us steal her steamer for a couple of weeks. it worked like a dream!) but the steamer was kind of small, and the room was kind of small, and the fumes from the melting glue were a little too much for me, so basically i left adam to do all the work. i really don't think he minded at all, though, because i'm blessed to have a partner who is completely and utterly involved with this pregnancy, and he's always looking for ways to help out. i think he thinks that because i have to grow a person and am tired and awkward because of it, he feels he should be doing the heavy lifting (literally and figuratively) around the house... getting groceries, going up and down stairs to fetch things for me, painting a nursery, etc. i think it made him feel good to be doing something helpful, that directly affects the baby. and it made me feel good to see my partner happily working away.


so, after i gave up on him, which didn't take long, he basically spent about 2 weeks to peel and paint. though, i was very helpful when i went to the hardware store to pick up plaster, paint tape, and plastic sheets to protect the carpet. i spent a couple of hours in there patching up holes (there were a lot! now i know why they just put up wallpaper instead!) and straightening out crumbling corners -- we don't want pieces of wall to crumble down onto the floor and then have the baby put them in his mouth! i also helped to put up a little bit of tape along the floorboards and laid out the plastic linings, but adam did all the up-high stuff of taping the doorframes and ceiling.


and finally, the paint goes on! we had gotten several selections of paint cards from the hardware store, with about 20 different shades of yellow on there. so one day i called adam up to the nursery and asked him to help me pick out which shade he liked best. he kept picking out these really really bright shades of yellow, which were pretty, but not for an entire room. maybe for one accent wall or something. and then he'd pick out another color, equally as obnoxious as the last one, and i kept saying no, and then finally he said, "you know, i don't know why you even asked me to come up here because you know as well as i do that we're going to get the color that you like." and we both laughed because we knew he was right. why does he put up with me sometimes? it was funny.



so "we" picked out this color that i felt was going to be really warm and buttery and sweet, but when he put it up on the wall it turned out to be more of a bright, lemon yellow. so it turns out he got his way after all. and you know what? i actually like it. it is definitely yellow, no doubt about that. it's perfect for a baby's room because it's bright and happy and cheerful. and i'm so, so proud of all the hard work he's done in there... it actually looks BIGGER now that the walls are clean and uniform and beautiful. the carpet is a dark green, and the trim is a creamy white, and it's going to look just lovely.



off of the nursery there is a really nice balcony, about 7 feet by 11 feet. right now it is only covered with tar paper or whatever it is that they put on top of roofs, so if you're out there in bare feet your feet get all black at the bottom. so i want to pick up some of that green fake grass carpet stuff like they use on outdoor patios, so that the three of us can go out there in the mornings and play. and i want to line the balcony railing with bamboo or something so that spruitje can't throw his toys over the edge, cuz that would get really old really fast i think. anyway, it's still a work in progress, but i wanted to show you what adam has been working hard on the past month or so. he's so great!

furniture!

two nights ago i was laying awake in bed, fretting about all the things we need to do for the baby's arrival, and keeping adam up in the process. how are we going to get furniture for the baby if A) we don't have money, and B) we don't have a car? where do we even GO for this stuff? the thought of riding my bike all the way out to ikea just seemed exhausting and overwhelming -- sitting on my bike for more than 10 minutes at a stretch really does a number on my overly-pliable sacrum, and messes up my hips for days afterwards. it's just not comfortable. ebay charges an arm and a leg to deliver internationally, and the dutch version of ebay (marktplaats.nl) is helpful, but again, we're stuck with trying to figure out how to ship this stuff here or hire a car to transport it across the country... and here i am, nearing the end of my 2nd trimester, with a feeling that our baby is going to be early (too early i worry sometimes) and all we have is a painted room (which looks GREAT thanks to adam).

so what does adam, my hero, do? he gets on the phone the next day to call second hand stores in the area to see if they have any rocking chairs. for weeks now i have been searching the internet for nice, sturdy, old rocking chairs, something creaky and broken in to soothe the baby back to sleep. as it turns out, there is this HUGE thrift store not more than a 2 minute walk from our house, which happens to have just one rocking chair there. (how did i miss this place? i guess because it's off in a corner behind a store that i rarely shop in anyway...) well, adam wanted to surprise me with this chair for our 10-year a&a day (which is tomorrow, the 10th anniversary of the day we met), but knowing me, he said he wanted me to come look at it first because if it wasn't "just right" i might not like it.

so, we get to the store, and sure enough, the chair wasn't "just right." it leaned too far back, and i felt like i was going to fall backwards every time i rocked in it. not a very soothing feeling for mom OR baby, so we decided not to get it. (he's glad he had me look at it first after all!) but as long as we were there, we took a long look around to see all the great furniture they had available. (i wish i would have known about this place a year ago when we moved and needed furniture!) AND we found a great old entertainment center that would have been used for a record player, but is just the perfect size for a changing table AND we found a really sturdy crib that is made out of wood and is really quite pretty. PLUS the guy delivers! so he's going to drop this stuff off on tuesday, and adam already recruited a friend from work to come over that day to help carry it all up to the nursery!

my hero!

i just gazed at him for the rest of the day with this pathetic, puppy-dog, "i'm so impressed" look on my face. seriously. he TOTALLY saved the day. what a good boy!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Ultrasound

Last Tuesday we went again to the midwife – riding our bikes slowly through the morning air, Amber winding down like a clock with low batteries. Each morning, more aches, a further testament to the dictates of whole over part, of species over mere member. But we made it and this time had a typically tall, strong, rectangular woman for our midwife – verloskundingen – and she was noticeably in a hurry through all of our questions but smiled and answered them all. Amber persisted where I, even in this scenario, was withering – we can, after all, ask these questions later…don’t want to be a bother…We heard the baby’s heartbeat again and this time it was noticeably stronger than before, less a faint whoosh-whooshing like an organ on a far off corner of the seafloor and more a tympanic pock-pocking, something a bit less aquatic, more terrestrial, drum-like, and airy. Later that day we rode bikes out to campus for a dentist appointment in the little temporary trailer behind the Bastille. All checked out, the doctor’s shaved cranium looked like a gently lobed bagpipe or a pinkpale kidney hovering over the open mouth of Amber, radiating a smooth, clean, doctorly light…amazing how little spaces of comfort open up in situations wholly unfamiliar only minutes before. Amber’s back hurt afterward.

Then Thursday I rode my bike from the office at 2:15 to catch a 2:40 train at Drienerlo, met Amber on board. She had bought my ticket at Hengelo. We then walked to the hospital for our 20 week echo appointment. Brandweer trucks went weee-wooooing by us, their sirens wheezy, irritated lungs. We checked in at one building to get Amber a card and then had to walk ten minutes through a bridge over to the other building. We were still half an hour early and sat in a little open area next to a cafeteria, gift shop, and hair cutting joint. A table of old people sat next to us, one of them in a wheelchair. Hospital smells and my usual thoughts about the sick and dying, about germs, about healing, about the acceleration of technology…one day no one will die.

We walked around the corner and checked in at room 65. Both of us nervous about the state of our baby, until now invisible. At most only muted, spasmodic force – unpredictable flutters and jabs in Amber’s belly…and also the pock-pocking or whooshing of a heartbeat. Technological mediation, making the inaudible audible. Now it would make the invisible visible. But it of course is different than the unaided look or listen of the human sensorium. Would she have all the parts, would she be human, would she be sick – have Down’s Syndrome or Spina Bifida? The technique was looming – the threat of knowledge. How knowledge can haunt us. Why would we want to know? But we kept walking forward, as if on a conveyor belt.

We were escorted into the room by our technician. It was not large, but it seemed cavernous as it was only sparsely populated with a medical bed, a couple of chairs, a televison monitor hanging from the ceiling, and the technician’s station – a flatscreen monitor sitting atop a futuristic console of orange glowing, raised buttons of various sizes with indecipherable ciphers on them.
She was not in a hurry but it moved fast. No talking at all, just the usual switch from Dutch to English, our request not to know the sex of the baby. But even before this was over, she had Amber’s pants rolled down a bit and was squirting huge gobs of cold silvery jelly on her stomach. Amber winced and giggled with the cold. We both looked up at the monitor on the ceiling as she applied a hand-held scanner hooked through a cord to her console. The screen suddenly flashed to life and there was instantly a sense of the organic, of the deep and aquatic. It is as if we were transported on a submarine. I felt sick, warm, overwhelmed. The screen seemed to loom larger. And then immediately recognizable not just a human, and not just a baby, but my baby, so personal so intimate (I had not expected that) there was a white-jellied head, a ghostly human form and then phosphorescent ovals in a perfectly curving row – “the ribs” she said in a sweet but matter-of fact tour-guide voice.

She was already seeing so much more than us…already diagnosing, but then again, we were seeing our whole world, and she was seeing just another patient. We toured back and forth across the body several times. I had not expected the omniscient gaze of the machine – on the screen we saw not just head to toe but skin through insides through again to the other side. We traveled not just up and down our baby, but through her – longitudinally, horizontally. There was the heart, an epicenter of activity and rhythm – we could pause like a crow perched just on its roof and then move in like a worm and see from the inside four chambers beating – the atria firing and rippling just before the ventricles, a four-chambered blackness pulsing with thin, wavering walls. And then suddenly colors, a magnetic blue and sharp red, were overlaid on the scene – “we can see how the blood is flowing” the voice came again from by the machine in my right ear. The baby was now squirming quite a bit so the red sometimes faded out into all blue or the red took over. It was like paint spatters or a fireworks display in shimmering, almost metallic light. The colors were piercing after so much absorption in the black and white-jellied baby. We saw also the incandescent femur, the glowing tibia and fibula and even the bright white specks of toes and fingers…a thumb stuck out at a different angle from all the rest. Our vision floated up and away as if we were pure mind, Godlike removal in a hot air balloon up past the wriggling toe bones until two dark velvet curtains of flesh, flushed with folded fingerlike villi, closed in from either side. And then back in, effortlessly.

Suddenly the background fidgeting stopped and we were looking at a frozen image of a skull. A watery, fuzzy container. The pointer, a little white clean-edged arrow, clicked on one edge and traced a line across to the other side. Then it traced a line the other way making an X across the head for a brief moment before pulling the second line out in an oval to measure the circumference. A brief moment of movement and frozen again on the belly to measure its dimensions, which seemed about the same size as the head. The voice, “a good size.” In retrospect, I thought about how this technique subjects the baby to a thorough diagnostic gaze of counting and quantification. The baby is thingified, a checklist and a collection of properties and pieces. Our gaze, intrusive and invasive. But at the same time she is untamable, a home already of a radical freedom and uniqueness, defying through fidgety movements of leg and forearm any technological rationalization. And defying too, through his unique face…maybe it is a he, he has a nose like mine. The eyes; bulging potentials of thought, memory, love at first sight. It was celebratory, a dark ritual in a living church. What was I to make of this technology? It gave me good news. The voice, “everything looks good.” That voice, that message, lifting away a burden. So, I am in love with it. The way we inhabit our technologies and they inhabit us. I thought back to the little babies borne aloft in massive jet aircraft, wrapped in compassionate metal, protected from vacuous nature. And now, how this technical vision was wrapped inside of our little baby. How thoroughly we are technical.

But also how natural. Life is a thing to be prized, not praised. We are not its makers, we are not responsible in the way an engineer is responsible. Caretakers, not managers. We do not orchestrate the embryogenesis, the differentiation of cells, their migrations, the folding of the neural tube, the branching limb buds, the folding organs, the vagus nerve and its traffic of acetylcholine. To see the baby is to know of a power that is in me, of me, but not my doing. It is to know that nature has taken hold. Affirmed my belonging to this species. But also set me on decline. To see the baby is to see again my own childhood – those bitter regrets and heavy longings. That time under the stars, lovesick, riven, torn at the joints and flooded. The universe of white stars in the dark sky above the darker form of mountains and now a constellation of shiny bones in the dark waters. A September leaf, gold and brown. The great wheel is turning me under.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

modespektakel

for a long time, hengelo was able to boast the longest catwalk in all of europe. that title now goes to arnhem, whose catwalk is 1 km in length. poor hengelo, ours is only 1/2 km, and our city isn't big enough to expand it. but it's still pretty cool.

for several years, hengelo has hosted a modespektakel, or fashion show, every autumn to showcase its plethora of boutiques and clothing stores. at first i thought this was going to be a really stupid thing, mostly because the men setting up the catwalk the evening before kept me up half the night with their clanking and yelling and noise, and then when i woke up expecting a quiet(er) sunday, i saw giant loudspeakers right at the same level as my living room window. um, not happy.


but once it got started, i thought it was actually pretty neat! apparently many of the stores in hengelo pull together to sponsor this thing. and each store has a small group of models, sometimes only four, sometimes i think i saw up to almost 10. each model is wearing something specific to that particular store, the styles that they have in stock currently. and so these models will walk along as a group, wearing the clothes from the stores they are representing (i think even the firefighters were showing off their new threads too), and they'll all share the catwalk. there's spaces in between the models so that you can tell which store they are with, and you know which store they are with because each group will carry a shopping bag with the store's name on it. anyway, there's an announcer telling you about the stores and the styles and where to go for the warmest winter coats and finest suits and biggest selection of wedding dresses, etc. it's actually a brilliant marketing tool because they did it on a sunday, when there's NOTHING to do in town, so everyone came out to see the show. and the stores were open that day too, which never happens, so if you get inspired by something you see you can already run off to that store to pick it up.


but the BEST part is that at the very end, there were these four girls modelling for a store called "kiddotje." (which is a funny play on words, because "cadeautje" in dutch means "little present", but they use "kiddo" instead. cute.) kiddotje is a pregnancy/baby store, obviously with maternity clothes or they wouldn't be in the modespektakel. so these four ladies were all about as far along as me, and they're modelling these clothes. well, when you're on the catwalk, you don't look down at the people watching you, but instead you look up. and when you look up, you look directly into our living room window. so i'm standing there, watching this fashion show from my window, when one of the ladies spots me looking down at them. she notices my babybump and nudges the girl next to her. and then she says something and all 4 of the girls are now looking up at me -- so i turn to the side and show them my babybump, and then they all turn to the side too and show me their bumps, and we're all comparing babybumps at the same time and pointing and laughing at each other! lol! then one of the girls held up her bag from her store to show me where i should go to shop for maternity clothes (doing her job, of course!) and then sauntered (as best a pregnant woman can) along the catwalk to finish up the show. it was hilarious!


only in holland can i watch a fashion show from my living room window. how funny is that?!

Monday, September 10, 2007

muenster

every year adam's department has a field trip that they all go on together, as a way to bond and hang out and just enjoy each others' company outside of the office setting. you may remember from a blog adam wrote last year, titled twente biking tour, in which everyone from his philosophy department rented bikes in nearby oldenzaal and rode through the countryside for a day. i wasn't able to make it to that excursion last year so i was really looking forward to this year's adventure.

this year we all took the train to muenster, germany, to spend a day looking at their modern art sculptures. apparently once every 10 years muenster will invite a few curators to facilitate a sculpture project in the city. these curators then invite a selection of artists from around the world to come and create sculptures somewhere in the city -- in a park, outside a building, in a public square, etc. the artists create their art on-site (rather than creating it in a studio and then shipping it in), and once the art festival is officially ended, the art all stays right where it was so that everyone can enjoy it for years to come. it's technically a free exhibit, but we hired a tour guide to show us around to give us a bit more background information on these pieces.

we met in enschede and took the train together (it's maybe less than 90 minutes to muenster -- not really that far, but the train stops in every single little town along the way so it takes a little while). once there, we all went out to lunch, compliments of the department (thanks!). and after lunch we walked around the corner to the art museum to hire our tour guide, a very sweet but extremely soft-spoken german girl who i think was named anita. (but she talked so quietly i couldn't really hear if that was it or not.)



anita showed us several structures, including a very practical project which involved the use of the public toilets. the restrooms were understandably in very bad shape after years of use, so one of the artists (bless his heart) redid the bathrooms using some really fancyschmancy porcelain and colorful chandeliers and pretty music and some large prints of beautiful wildflowers. they've even hired someone to work down there (common in europe to have a hired bathroom attendant, but not necessarily for free toilets) to answer questions by visitors and keep the "exhibit" tidy. after the toilets, we walked through the old city center, surrounded by 16th-century buildings (all rebuilt/restored after WWII), looking at several other structures/sculptures.



this sculpture is outside the treasury building. it is a commentary on "art for the masses." you know those fiberglass cows that you see all up and down the 16th street mall in denver? you know the ones -- they're all the same cows, but they're all painted differently. so you don't really see the art, you see the homogenaity of art. or, at least, that's what this artist thinks. he doesn't like those all-the-same art projects. so he got himself a trash compactor and bought up a few of these structures from several cities around the world, crushed them all together, and put them outside for all to contemplate...



this sculpture is in honor of paul wulf, a man who spoke out loudly against the nazi movement before and during the second world war. he was also a big anti-nuclear activist. he lived in muenster for a long time apparently, and was a local hero of sorts. so this sculpture is to honor him. and pasted on this sculpture are announcements about different activist groups in the area, or the history of the anti-nuclear movement, or other such things. i think it changes weekly or monthly or something. but i wonder if people will continue to use this public work of art to post public events/protests/announcements. it seemed like a good use of space to me.










and this sculpture was just something weird, that would talk to us. just nonsensical stuff, like "my dog is a banana." or "the temperature is 19 degrees and the baby needs a window. more spaghetti thank you." stuff like that.






after a while we just ended up walking and walking and walking, i think our end point was going to be a park or something. but i just couldn't make it. though the group wasn't walking extremely fast, i just can't even walk at a normal human speed these days. i really tend to mosey. anything faster is just impossible. or painful. and we just kept walking and walking and walking, without stopping for me to rest, and after a while i just couldn't do it anymore. it quite literally hurt my abdomen to keep going. so adam made me sit and rest on a bus stop bench, and we watched the rest of the group just keep going in the same direction. i felt so bad to have to leave the group, since it was after all a group event we were on that day, but i couldn't do it. and fortunately everyone completely understood when we explained to them why we stopped, so hopefully i didn't offend anyone by ducking out early.







adam and i had about an hour and a half to ourselves, before we were meant to meet up with the rest of the group at the train station. so we walked slowly along a beautiful greenway back to the center of the old city. we went back to the area near the public bathroom exhibit, because i was curious about the little farmers' market that was going on that day. as it turns out, it was an organic farmers' market! fun! so we made our way over to the bratwurst stand (i was hungry again -- imagine that!) and ate an organic bratwurst with some really tasty potatoes, served to us on a real plate with real silverware, all for only 5 euros! what a treat!






after our second lunch (i'm getting to be like a hobbit with my second breakfasts and elevensies and afternoon teas and such) we decided it would be best to start back towards the train station so as not to be late (since, as i said, i don't move very fast anymore). along the way we saw a starbucks (aaah!!!) so we OF COURSE had to stop. now, in the US, i don't often go to starbucks -- there are too many great, independent coffee shops back home that i'd rather give my money to instead. however, in holland we don't have many coffee drinks. i mean, we have great coffee out here, but no coffee drinks. like lattes, mochas, etc. can't find them very easily. lots of coffee, a few cappucinos (good luck getting it decaf or with soymilk though), but no coffee drinks. so we HAD to go to the starbucks so i could get a treat. "haben sie soymilk?" i asked them excitedly. "oh, JA!" they smiled back at me. rejoice! i ordered myself a giant decaf soy vanilla latte and licked the foam out of the glass when i was done. it was perfect.







adam would want me to tell you all this, so i will: this building is where the treaty of westphalia was signed. it in essence created the modern nation state and ended several wars going on in europe at the time, including the 80 years' war between the dutch and the spanish. he thought that was pretty significant, so i mention it here.







something else i want to mention too is these three cages you see hanging from the tower of this church. there was an exhibit we saw on our tour that used replicas of these cages. back in the day there were three anabaptists who rebelled against the catholic church. so the church, not surprisingly, captured these three "heretics," tortured them to death, and then hung their dead bodies in these cages for all to see. i'm not sure if they ever used the cages for anything else besides that one instance, but i wouldn't be surprised if several people met their deaths by being imprisoned in these cages. it makes me shudder to think about...


but after all of that, we made the train ride home to enschede. we finished off the evening with johnnie and linn, our really fun norwegian friends, at our favorite beer pub in enschede, de geus. a fun end to a fun day!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

half baked

well, our little bun is half baked. i'm 21 weeks now, just over halfway done. only 139 more days until our due date of 25 january.


i've been feeling great lately. really, throughout the whole pregnancy. i've just felt amazing, so filled with gratitude and love and peace. maybe it's the pregnancy hormones, or maybe it's all the ripe and colorful food this time of year, but something is making me giddy and i am really enjoying it.


i have lots of energy (well, not LOTS of energy, but a lot more than i did my first trimester that's for sure), my body feels comfortable most days, and my skin is glowing. i can't remember the last time i had a pimple. really, i feel so amazing. i feel like an incarnation of the fertility goddess, taking on the shape and form of every mother in history, and it's a really miraculous thing to see myself in the mirror sometimes, because i don't see "me", but instead i see all women throughout all time. does that sound weird? it totally does. but this pregnancy feels like a very natural thing -- it's like one day i wasn't pregnant, and then the next day i was, and it's just all so very normal and easy. my body is not fighting this at all, none of this feels forced, i feel just so calm and lovely all over. (what's going on??? i'm usually filled with gratitude, but this is really over the top! i'm in love with everything these days! yay!)


about two weeks ago, spruitje went through a very quiet period, and it really concerned me. so to wake him up, i went out and bought these giant headphones to put on my belly so he could listen to music and dance around. (this is us listening to music and doing a crossword puzzle together.) though he remained pretty quiet even during our daily musical interludes, i could tell that there were certain sounds that would make him squirm: french horns and violins got to him the most. it must be those high-pitched instruments. he seems to like bach the most, because there's more movement in both the music and in my belly. he also likes vivaldi (again, lots of movement in the music), but isn't such a big fan of african music (a disappointment to me because i LOVE the stuff coming out of mali especially). kind of a surprise i thought, because of all the drums and syncopated guitars. good to move to, but he's not feeling it i guess.



but anyway, he's definitely woken up now and i've felt him jump around for the past week or so, and i love it. in fact, he's such a little dancing entertainer now that i keep referring to him as "sprouty spice." he's most active first thing in the morning when i'm laying quiet in bed and breathing deeply. in fact, this morning i laid in bed for an extra 10 minutes feeling him kick me. adam put his hand on my belly and he could feel spruitje too -- baby's footprint feels about the size of my thumb pad, maybe a little bigger. and there are times when he's nestled up against the edge of my uterus when i can palpate around and feel his limbs (i can't usually tell if it's an arm or a leg yet, but it's definitely a limb) or his head, or sometimes an elbow or a knee. even adam is able to feel it too with a little guidance. oh, it's so fun!

we have our ultrasound scheduled for thursday afternoon, at which point the technicians will be able to tell us if spruitje is growing at a good pace and if everything looks healthy and normal. i'm really nervous about it to find out the status of our half-baked bun, but there's nothing i can do about it either way. i just need to have faith and stay hopeful and optimistic. but please pray for a good outcome. we'll let you know next week what we find out. (and no, we're not going to get a sneak peak "down there" during the ultrasound! we loooove surprises and want to keep the gender a secret! so don't even ask, because we don't know either!)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

zwangerschapcursus

last night we had our first "zwangerschapcursus," or child birth class. we tried to find one in the area that was in english and would be in a group setting, but as there are very few english-only speakers in this area, and fewer still english-only-and-pregnant ladies, suffice it to say that there were no english courses to be found out here. if we wanted an english childbirth class in a group setting, we'd have to take the train out to amsterdam, the hague, or rotterdam. and each of those would take at least 2 hours one way... it would only be more and more difficult to make it to these classes as time went on and my belly got bigger. the other option would be to take the courses out here in dutch, which would be a good opportunity to also learn a bit more of this language while we're at it. but given that it's our first baby, we both really want to make sure that we absolutely understand every bit of information given to us -- which means lessons in english.

we did finally convince a lady out here to give us private lessons in english. not ideal necessarily because we're not meeting other parents-to-be in our area, but still the best option for us given our circumstances. and after meeting her last night i feel that it was a good decision. our instructor, janine, met us at a gym up by the ikea, which was about a 25 minute bike ride from our house (given that it was against the wind and uphill the whole way!). we had the first of three lessons, each of which lasts about 2 hours.

janine is our age, just a bit younger, and works as a fysiotherapist (similar to a physical therapist back home). this was a great arrangement because it meant that as a younger dutch person, her english was incredible. and as a fysiotherapist, she knew a lot of the latin terminology for hormones, joints, and muscles, just like me. so if she couldn't find the english word for something, she'd say the latin term for it, and i'd understand exactly what area she was talking about. so it was good.

we spent last night's lesson talking about pelvic instability, what causes it, and doing exercises to minimize it. the thing that i most took home from last night's lesson was the full effect of relaxin, the hormone that softens the joints of a woman during pregnancy, so as to allow for more movement in the hips for the baby to pass through during birth. well, relaxin is not necessarily exclusive as to where it works in the body. my body is surging with this stuff right now, and it's in all my joints and all my connective tissues, not just in my hips (that part i knew, but i didn't know how effective this stuff really is!). well, relaxin explains the "dropsies" i've been having lately, where i think i'll have a good grip on something and then end up on my hands and knees cleaning up the latest glass of spilled water, or broken plate, or scattered loose change. it's annoying, but now i understand why. relaxin makes my body send inaccurate signals back to my brain about how much something weighs, or how tightly i'm holding onto it. and those signals have not always been right lately. and plus, my joints are just more relaxed, with relaxin (how ironic). so that makes sense.

the other thing, the big thing that i feel most validated about, is my lack of speed these days. seriously. it's not like i feel exhausted or anything (though i am more tired than i was before i got knocked up), but for some reason i have just been physically unable to go any faster. i try to move faster, i really really do, but i just for some reason cannot get going at a faster pace. and i thought maybe i was just being lazy, or maybe i was more tired than i thought i was, or whatever... i couldn't figure it out. well, apparently this relaxin stuff affects my muscles and makes me more pokey somehow. like, i can't remember if it makes my muscles less toned, or if it has to do with the connective tissues (like my tendons specifically) not reacting to my muscles as quickly, so my limbs can't move as fast as they used to, or something... but i remember that that pesky relaxin had something to do with it. and now i feel not so bad about being so damn slow, because it's not really me. it's my silly hormones. aha! that makes sense now!

so there's that. and then we (janine, myself, AND adam!) all got down on some gym mats and did some exercises to strengthen the core and pelvic floor muscles, and i learned how important that was, and that was all very good too. oh yeah, and another thing -- it is quite common for the rectus abdominus muscle to create a tear in the linea alba during pregnancy. (the rectus abdominus muscle is the one that gives people their six packs -- the most superficial ab. and the linea alba is a line of connective tissue that runs right down the middle of it, to seal the muscle together. so two halves of the muscle become one solid muscle.) this tear happens because the muscle is already so stretched out during pregnancy that occasionally the attempted contraction of this muscle (sitting up, lifting something, sneezing, etc.) can cause just enough pressure for this muscle to begin to tear down the middle. it's quite common, and many of my postpartum massage clients have this in their bodies as well. anwyway, janine wanted to test me to see if i had this tear too. which apparently i do! right up at the top of the rectus abdominus, at the bottom of my sternum, is a tear about half the size of an egg. i had no idea that i had it, but i had noticed this little bulge that would ache in that area when i walked around for a while. nothing painful, but definitely noticeable. so anyway, i have this tear now, which is common and can heal itself given time and exercise (and the birth of the baby of course). well, poor adam looked like he was going to be sick. he was soooo worried about me. his face turned white and he got all anxious, like he was afraid my internal organs were going to spill out onto the street because there was a tear in my abdominal muscle. janine and i had to spend the next several minutes calming him down and convincing him that nothing bad was going to happen to me, that this thing happens all the time, and that i really wasn't in pain at all. how sweet.

anyway, we rode home in about 15 minutes (downhill and no wind this time!) and went straight to bed. it was a good lesson. our next one probably won't be until late november, and then another one in mid-december. then spruitje comes at the end of january! it seems so fast! how can it be that we're already halfway done with this pregnancy?! yikes!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

oops

so for the past several weeks, our veggie vendor at the market, the one we always go to, has been very generous with us with his prices. we'll get several kilos of peppers, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, etc. every week, and every week he just says "that'll be 3 euros please." it doesn't matter how big the order, it's always "3 euros please."

well, this week i wanted to repay the favor, quite literally. i wanted to give him a couple extra euros to make up for all the discounts he's been giving us lately. so when we were checking out, and he said, "3 euros please," adam and i handed him a ten and started to run off.

at which point he shouts out at us, waving our change in the air, "you forgot your change! don't you want it?"

now, i guess we should have just stayed there and quietly explained to him that we wanted to pay him back in a way, but we were halfway to the next stand, and i didn't want to yell out at him what we were doing. i was afraid, with his coworkers there, that he'd get in trouble for hooking us up lately. so i was all, "uh... we're good." and hurried off.

adam and i immediately regretted this because it not only made us look like idiots, but i'm afraid it might have been embarrassing for our veggieboy, who was left standing there with all this money in his hands that he felt didn't really belong to him. especially given that in this culture, you just don't tip. not even your waiter. or, if you do tip your waiter, it's really only the spare change that you have from your order (the extra 20 eurocents from a 3,80 euro tab for example -- and that's not expected and is seen as a very kind gesture).

and now i just feel like a jerk, who made a big cultural faux pas, embarrassed my new friend, and possibly jeapordized my relationship with this nice man. i went back later and explained to him, and apologized, but i had a hard time reading him because he was so busy. so now i feel even more stupid for going back to talk to him when he's busy working. grrrr. crazy pregnancy hormones making me feel dumb, i guess.

but even adam feels dumb too. i guess we just have to chalk this one up to weird cultural differences, and not thinking about the dutch way vs. the american way. we've learned from this, to be sure, but i still am left feeling pretty silly about the whole thing.

hopefully he'll be there next week so i can pretend like this never happened.