Sunday, December 30, 2007

christmas 2007

this christmas was very quiet, once again. similar to last year's christmas, we spent the holidays here at home. our friend, valerie, came out to spend christmas eve and christmas day with us. a lot of her family lives in the usa, even though she is dutch, and since she's not planning on going stateside until february, we all agreed it would be fun for her to spend the holidays with us instead of being alone those days. she came out on christmas eve at about lunchtime, and the three of us hung out all day long. she left for amsterdam (where she lives) on christmas night, so we got her for almost two whole days! imagine that: we actually hosted a dutch person for a holiday, instead of the other way around! my, how far we've come!

for dinner we made my family's traditional christmas meal of homemade pierogis, which are these delicious mashed-potato-stuffed giant raviolis, boiled, and then fried in butter. my mom usually makes them with just potatoes and velveeta, but since we don't have velveeta out here (we have AWESOME dutch cheese instead), we filled our pierogis with mashed potatoes, a heap of shredded gouda, and some onions fried in butter. and then a splash of buttermilk, just to make it even creamier. omg, they were incredible. i showed valerie how to roll out the dough really thin and then we would have a contest to see who could shove the most filling in there while still being able to seal up the pierogi nice and tight. adam helped with peeling the potatoes, mashing them, and then cleaning up the mess afterwards. and valerie also peeled potatoes, helped me roll and stuff, and when i needed to make a bit more dough, she was the one that stood by the stove and cooked everything up! yay for teamwork!

also, here's an archived picture of me at my mom's house a few years ago, making pierogis with her and my youngest brother, victor.

after dinner, valerie and i sat by the fire and crocheted our blankets while adam cleaned up our awful mess in the kitchen. at about 10:30 that night, valerie and i walked over to the church next door for their christmas eve kerstzang, or christmas caroling (adam stayed at home). it seemed that most of the people there were just there early to get a good seat for the midnight mass which began at 11:00 pm and weren't really interested in the caroling thingy, but valerie and i sang as loud and as joyfully as we could. some of the songs were in english (i sang those), and some were traditional dutch song (i didn't sing those), and some were tunes i recognized but with dutch words instead (i sang those ones, and valerie said that my dutch pronunciation when i was singing was actually pretty good. nice to hear from a native! thanks!). and then mass began at 11:00 and we decided to stick around for it since we were already there, even though we were both exhausted already. it was a really nice service with a youth choir and several young women who did most of the readings that night. then home a little past midnight and straight to bed so that santa could come and stuff our stockings!

the next morning was christmas, and we all woke to the sounds of the bells singing from st. lambertus church. somehow valerie beat us downstairs, but only by a few minutes. after adam got up, we all had a little breakfast (which included leftover pierogis) and then opened our stockings! adam and i (er, i mean, santa) picked up a stocking for valerie a couple days beforehand, because we weren't sure if she had one of her own (she being dutch and all). but she ended up bringing her own stocking filled with gifts that her dad and stepmom brought out for her when they visited in november. (her dad and stepmom live in colorado -- he is dutch, she is american.) so that was really nice that she had presents from home to open, too. she even brought out presents for adam, me, and spruitje too! how thoughtful! and then after the stockings we had another breakfast, with homemade poppyseed muffins (thanks for bringing those, valerie!) and hot-out-of-the-oven croissants.

we all sat around in our jammers all day and watched a movie and ate more leftover pierogis. i called home and listened over the phone as my family opened up the few presents that we sent their way, and then around 6:30 valerie hopped the train back to amsterdam. we were so sad to have to put on shoes and pants and go outside after lounging all day, but we were even more sad to see her leave us! noooo!

after adam and i got back from the train station, we turned on the webcam and had another computer-mediated christmas with his family . the technology was much better this year, making it possible for us to chat jetsons-style with bob, rae, and matt for over an hour completely uninterrupted and free from frozen cameras and bad sound and dropped phone calls. hooray! we sat in front of our christmas tree with the laptop in front of us and the webcam propped on top of it, and the three of them all sat in the home office in colorado, in front of a little tree and some christmas lights that they strung up for "ambiance" too. we all opened gifts together for about an hour or so, and then we all wished each other a merry christmas and logged off. it was really sweet, and we're so grateful for the family gathering, even if it was virtual.

and then it was tweede kerst, or second christmas day. in america, we celebrate christmas eve and christmas day. but here they celebrate christmas day and then second christmas day. which is why they all say "merry christmases" (fijne feestdagen) instead of just the one "merry christmas" that we have in english. the shops were all still closed, and downtown was like a ghost town. it was realllly quiet and peaceful, and adam and i spent the morning opening the few presents that we didn't get to the night before (mostly gifts that we got for each other, but also a few late-arrival baby shower presents too). and ate more leftover pierogis.

Friday, December 28, 2007

'tis the season

tis the season to be jolly...

i love love love the holidays in holland. everything here is just so small and cute and cozy. extreem gezellig! it seems like december has just flown by, thanks in part to all the parties and festivities and activities we've been a part of.

here is a sampling of pictures from our past month:

there was a kerstmarkt, or christmas market, the two sundays before christmas. we only made it to one of the kerstmarkten because i ended up taking a 2-hour nap on one of those days and missed all the activities! sad! but the one that we made it to was soooo cute, and the weather was better that day anyway so it's all good.

there were all these little campfires set up in the market square, giving the air a nice, wintry smell to it. and the smoke rising from the fires was especially noticeable because the sun was actually shining that day. it was cooooold outside, so we sat by the largest fire in the square, which was burning near some stand that was sponsored by someone sort of like the boyscouts, but not the boyscouts. someone else kinda like that. they were selling hot cocoa, gluhwein (hot spiced red wine) and slices of raisin bread. so we got ourselves a little treat and sat by the fire to enjoy the day. then a random marching band wandered by and played rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, and santa slid by in his sleigh-on-wheels (we don't have any snow). there were high school students playing their instruments as quietly as they could up on a stage, and they seemed genuinely shocked when adam and i clapped for them when they finished playing god rest ye merry gentlemen. and everywhere people were selling little homemade things for christmas: little wreaths, candles, necklaces and bracelets, hand-knitted scarves and mittens, etc.

there was also adam's office christmas party. last year it was held in utrecht because that's where the head of the department was living. he has since retired, and adam's direct boss was promoted to the new head of the department (which here is a very enviable position and everyone wants it, not like in the usa where it's a rotating position that people groan about having to fill on their required year...). so since the new head lives in enschede, the party was at his house. it was really nice to see so many familiar faces there, a lot of folks i hadn't seen since the company outing to muenster. the food was great, the drinks were plentiful, and the ambiance was cozy. last year i felt like i was just going around introducing myself to everyone, trying to figure out their role in the department. but this year i was actually among friends. it was so nice.

meanwhile, the ijsbaan has been going on the market square. for about one month, a temporary ice skating rink is set up, with music, skate rentals, and the most impressive warming house you've ever seen: coffee, an inflatable santa, beer, wine, coasters.... the whole bit! it seems to be really popular every day, and we will often see school groups coming and going to enjoy it as well. one night there was a marching band playing fun music to entice people to come over and check it out. and there is a beautiful tree set up in the middle of the market square, and lights on the building that houses our bank, and lights streaming from just about anything you could string lights up on. it was so pretty.

on the saturday before christmas, the market (which is normally in town on saturdays and wednesdays) was especially busy and full of festivities. after purchasing all of our groceries (cheese, eggs, fresh produce, sometimes we might get some fresh fish or a chicken to roast), we had our usual lunch of gebakkende vis (a big piece of deep-fried fish, which we share). normally we also get a big serving of french fries at the stand next door to the fish place, but this saturday we noticed that someone on the market was selling chocolate covered waffles, so we got one of those instead! i especially liked the marching band that played in the "food court" area, but my favorite again this year was the stable that was set up on our street. the little restaurant across the street from us teamed up with a stand from the market (we call that stand "fresh nuts" because their sign says "verse noten," which means fresh nuts in english, and they sell all sorts of assorted nuts) and sponsored a whole manger scene, complete with a live camel, a couple of donkeys, and servers dressed up as magi and shepherds, giving out free glasses of gluhwein. yay!

(our house is the one directly in the middle of this photograph; right above the head of the magi guy. the two big windows below are our living room, and the balcony and two large windows above are our bedroom. this is what we mean when we say our place is ridiculously huge and that you should all come and visit us!)

it's been a really fun and full holiday season for us, and we're glad we were able to celebrate it in so many different ways!


... a time of waiting.

here we are, beginning the 37th week of this amazing journey. i can hardly believe how far we've come, how quickly the time has passed. if spruitje came today, i would look in disbelief at adam and ask, "is it time already?" i feel like i've been pregnant forever, and at the same time, i've only just discovered this new life growing within me.

the holidays seemed like just another distraction this year -- normally i count down the days until christmas and shake all my boxes of gifts, trying to guess what's inside, just like when i was a little kid. but guessing what lies inside me is such a better surprise -- boy or girl? will she look like adam or me? is sprouty happy and healthy? what kinds of sounds will she like to hear? talk about the ultimate present! i don't even know what day she will get here -- but i know it is soon! yay for surprises!!! it's understandable, then, that this year i felt like christmas was just another day to mark the progression of the pregnancy: december 25 is just exactly one month before my due date. it's the time when i can say, "i'm 8 months along now," instead of "happy hoidays."

we have both progressed from feeling nervous and uncertain and scared of all of this, to now feeling excited and hopeful and thrilled to pieces about welcoming spruitje into the world. adam says he can't wait for the baby to be born so they can play together. i can't wait for the baby to be born so i can hold him or her and smell his baby skin and wrap his little fingers around mine. we've been waiting, in our own season of advent, quietly and patiently for his arrival, and the time has almost come!

we've been very blessed over the past 8 months with an extremely easy and healthy pregnancy. i can still touch my toes (though for some reason, putting on socks is difficult -- go figure), i can still go on fairly long walks, i do my yoga a few times a week, and my massage business is still going strong. i've been noticeably more tired and STARVING in the last few weeks, and i'm starting to incorporate a nap into my schedule most days. i've also been having more and more warm-up contractions. in dutch, those braxton-hicks contractions are called "oefenweeen." yes, that's right: THREE e's in a row. uh huh. the contractions have been a lot more intense in the past few weeks, and last night i had one so strong that by the time it was over i looked over at adam and his eyes were about as big as the moon. but really, i feel awesome. i sincerely have no complaints. even the three-times-a-night peeing schedule and feeling hot ALL THE TIME is nothing to be sad about. if this is the worst it gets, i've been lucky.

i have been praying more and more for an easy and fast delivery. and mary seems to be answering my prayers by blessing us with a slightly-smaller-than-average baby. we've had to go to the hospital a few times (until now we've seen only the midwives here and they're all incredibly awesome and skilled and amazing) to get some ultrasounds, to make sure that spruitje is small just because that's how he's made, and not because my placenta is detaching or because i have preeclampsia or anything. and so far, everything seems totally normal. he's just smaller than the average baby, which is totally fine with me -- i'd rather push out a 7 pound baby than an 8.5 pound one. (and besides, spruitje is definitely going to be smaller than the average DUTCH baby! these people are giants out here!)

if spruitje can wait one more week, we'll be able to deliver at home, like we've been hoping for. i've put up thicker curtains in the bedroom, decorated my altar, and starting tomorrow i'll be buying fresh flowers from the market every week to keep them by my bedside. i've already put plastic sheets down under the fitted sheet to protect the mattress should my water break in the night. we're all ready to go, now we just wait. it's our season of advent.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

baby shower!


this past weekend i had my baby shower! hooray! it was mostly a surprise, because you all know how much i loooooove surprises, but i kinda sorta figured it out eventually -- because i knew that i was going to have a baby shower, and we were starting to run out of weekends before christmas, and then it was january and the baby could come any day at that point.

but also, i definitely knew last thursday: my friend, valerie, had been helping out a TON to plan this shower with adam, and was a major factor in getting all the games planned and getting a cake and sending out invitations, etc. she was planning on coming out, all the way from amsterdam, to be here to play with us and be the hostess. but then, sadly, her opa died and she had to fly back unexpectedly to the US for the funeral so she couldn't be here. so on thursday, the day before she flew out, she drove alllll the way out here to see me, and to bring me her presents and the cake that she ordered. and she pulled up in her car, and was all, "umm.... surprise?" it was soooo sweet. so obviously i knew by then what was up. it was at that point that adam called my friend, kelly (from the book club and who also came to my intocht party), to see if she would be willing to step in at the last minute to fill valerie's role as hostess and MC. and kelly, predictably (cuz she's just that sweet), went on and on and on about how honored she was to help out, and would love to support us in any way that she could, and ohmygoodness what can i do for you guys, and let me make sure that i get a crown for amber to wear since she's queen that day etc etc etc. it was sooo sooo sweet.

(and, as long as i'm giving props here, i need to also say a big thank you to adam, who was a major planner in this event, and built us a fire in the fireplace, and cleaned the whole house including the nursery so people could tour it, and went shopping, and also sent out invitations, and even got spruitje some presents to open at the party, and he did all of this and he didn't even get to come to the shower! what a sweet, supportive partner! and thank you also to sabrina who did awesome note-taking so that i'd have a very clear list of who got me which gift, so that my pregnancy-brain wouldn't forget which present was from which person, so that i could write my thank you notes and so that later i could still remember who the fun clothes and toys were from, and who also took a ton of pictures so i could just sit and relax and enjoy myself. and also thank you to everyone at the party who helped themselves to cake and food and drinks, and didn't expect me to get things for them, because it made my life a lot easier and it saved me a lot of energy because i didn't have to get up and down all the time! you girls are great!)

the party started at around 2:00 on saturday, and everyone was given 4 clothespins to clip on. and for the rest of the party, you couldn't say either "baby" or "spruitje," because if you did, and the other person caught you, you'd have to give one of your pins to the other person. the person with the most clothespins at the end of the shower won a prize: jolanda and eva were both tied at 9 pins each. i, of course, lost badly.

another game that we played was called "pin the binky on the baby." just like "pin the tail on the donkey" (or, as it's called here, ezelpinnen), only with a baby and paper binkies. kelly made it extra challenging by telling us that we couldn't feel around for either the poster or the binkies that were put on before... we had to just stick the binky to the first thing that we felt, even if it was a wall. so kelly would put the mask on us, turn us around (sometimes stopping us facing the opposite direction!), and then wish us luck. i lost this game horribly, too. i got my binky the FURTHEST away, farther than anyone else at the party. (that's mine alllll the way over there on the far right-hand side. yep. doesn't bode well for the mama-to-be, i don't think.)

we also played a game which i am calling "guess the girth." we gave everyone a ball of yarn and asked them to cut a length which they think is about the size of my belly. then i would walk around and people would place the yarn around my waist to see how close they got. i would cut the extra length off, and the person with the shortest string leftover wins. mariska won this game, guessing only about 3 inches too large. after the party, i pulled a length of string to see how i would have done, and my string was about 4 inches too short. again, i totally lost this game. i'm no good at this stuff!

two other games: we asked people to bring baby pictures of themselves, and tried to guess who was who (it was really hard!), and we also had people write "S-P-R-U-I-T-J-E" on a piece of paper, and then begin a piece of advice for the mother-to-be, and the first letter of the advice had to begin with the corresponding letter in "spruitje." two of my favorites, for the hardest letters, were "U: uhhh....?" (because i think that there are always going to be times when i just don't know what to do or say, and i'm going to have to wing it, and do my best, and there are not always answers to every problem but if i approach it with humor and openness everything will work out okay), and "J: jelly fingers! be sure to bring wet wipes with you everywhere!" yes! practical advice i can use!

and then on to the best part: presents! i was totally amazed at all the gifts that everyone brought for sprouty. we are so spoiled! we mostly got a lot of really soft, really warm clothes, with little footies at the bottom, and things with hoods and bear ears on top, and a fuzzy bathtowel with a hood on it too. (the character on this towel is "nijntje," who i think goes by the name of "miffy" in the united states. he's really popular out here, and is designed by a dutch author/illustrator.) i was so embarassed when i saw all these pictures during present time, though, because i was totally NOT sitting like a lady. it's hard to sit with your legs crossed -- or even together, for that matter -- at 8 months pregnant. i should have thought of that before i decided to wear a DRESS that day! (i edited nearly every one of these pictures so that you couldn't see my crotch. it's really disturbing and sad.) i did leave one particularly bad picture alone, though, so you could laugh at me/with me/in spite of me and how i was sitting. oh, goodness. i'm so embarassed. it's funny now, but i sure do feel bad for april and alice, who were sitting directly across from me the entire party! sorry, girls!

the party wrapped up by about 5:30, and then i had a few hours to rest and eat and clean up before bob and rae called me to wish me a happy shower and watch us open presents on the webcam, and then about an hour after that my mom called me from minnesota. she was at my uncle doug and aunt nancy's house in minneapolis, and everyone was having their annual family christmas party. so they turned on the webcam and showed me some MORE shower gifts that my mom is going to bring out when she comes to visit next month, and i got to talk to i think almost everyone there, and it made me totally homesick and grateful for such an amazing and fun family.

it was such a wonderful day. really. even though baby showers are totally not dutch (they all come to visit AFTER the baby is born, and bring gifts at that time instead), and very few people there had ever been to a baby shower before (myself included!) we all still knew how to celebrate sprouty's upcoming arrival. i feel so loved, so spoiled, and so honored that so many people from so many areas of my life were there to support me that day. it's incredibly touching to feel so loved and appreciated by this new community of girlfriends. thank you all so much!