Sunday, December 28, 2008

Who is Gracie?

She looked up at me with dark watery eyes that often lost focus and wandered. It was the first time I met Gracie and from that moment I have been wondering who she is. I have also been wondering who I am. What is it like to be a father? I keep forgetting that there are no ready-made scripts for the new roles that life hands us. I just assumed that my dad already knew how to be a dad from the beginning. But that’s not the way it works. Life is a confused, complex tapestry. The task isn’t just to carry out an assignment but to figure out what the assignment is, what it means—in short, to figure out who you are and what you must do. Life is a Bildungsroman. And now part of my task was to help this little squirming shivering girl find her way. For thirty-one years I had been like her eyes – occasionally focused but mostly drifting. And now I had to play the part of a shepherd, a leader who knows how to navigate through selfishness, confusion, temptation, and self-doubt and emerge as a mature, virtuous person. What had I gotten myself into?

If I was to be up to the task, I needed to know who she is. But in so many ways she is not-yet. When asking who she is, I am asking what it is like to be her. What are her likes and dislikes, her ambitions, her fears. But so much of that was yet to be decided. It would depend on her experiences. And I am responsible in many ways for the kinds of experiences she is going to have. I am in the business of shaping another human soul even though my own soul is in need of its own discipline. Yet in making her, I find that I am also molding myself – forming myself into someone with a wider arc of sentiments and a more resolute sense of purpose.

But as I was holding Gracie, I knew that she was not a blank slate. She had in place the structures, the powers, and the capacities that form the mystery of human nature – the collective story that makes us all equal and places us in the order of being somewhere between beast and angel. From that first exhausted and exhilarated embrace there was a human being there. But not just a generic human being (whatever that might be). She was a unique, individual person making movements of her own doing, squiggling her arms around in an off-beat jive and scrunching her face into strange contortions.

But what was she thinking? Was she thinking anything? I wanted to know what she was like. Well, that meant: what was it like to be her? What was that interiority like, that first-person experiential standpoint that we call thought or consciousness? I experience only my own consciousness, so that’s all I had to work with in terms of material for trying to piece together what she was like. The problem was that when I think about my own thinking, it is so thoroughly mediated by language. Gracie had a mind built for language. She was primed to go through processes in which she would pick out the phonemes specific to the language spoken by her mom and dad, identify individual words, speak those words, and then string them together in new and creative ways. But she could not yet do this. If my thoughts occur in language and Gracie does not yet have language, then does she have thoughts? Does language express thoughts that were already there, or does it give us thoughts…does it make us into thinking beings?

It is a philosophical question, but it is also an empirical one. According to an excellent book by Charles Fernyhough (The Baby in the Mirror), development psychologists are making some headway on this question. Recent studies are suggesting that infants have several basic building blocks of thought in place. Infants can reason about objects, actions, and spatial relations. Complex cognition involves combining these basic “core knowledge systems” together. It is not totally hard-wired, though, as experience plays a major role in how these systems will interact and develop. According to these studies, language is the highway that connects these basic blocks together. So, there is pre-linguistic thought, but it if we could experience it, it would be something more compartmentalized, choppy, and rudimentary. There was something it was like to be that little newborn in my arms. But I am not sure I could quite fathom it.

Innate “core knowledge systems” sounds a lot like “nature” takes precedence over “nurture.” But another insight from developmental psychology is that human thought develops to a large degree out of social processes. We learn to think by first doing it together. This happens when infants and toddlers struggle together with their parents to solve a puzzle. Then we see them talking out loud to themselves as this social thought makes a transitional move toward interiority until finally we do all of our thinking quietly in our heads. Or, not all of our thinking exactly…adults still talk to themselves out loud when facing a particularly tough challenge. So, Gracie has the structures in place, but she will need my help to get them warmed up and to figure out how they work. I just hope that this basic process of enculturation comes naturally!

Gracie is now nearly eleven months old and just recently we have seen something new bubbling up to the surface. She is constantly pointing to the things around her (especially the glowing Christmas tree) and proclaiming “Bah!” If we ask her where the Christmas tree is, she will turn and point to it and say “Bah!” It seems she has become infected with that human urge to name things – to cut nature at its joints and give each part an ephemeral token of sound that can stand in for the thing itself. The word will help the thing live in memory. It will transform and improve on the thing in imagination. This must be revolutionizing her consciousness, even though she remains that same girl riddled with joy, dispensing spontaneous laughter and eager smiles. Could there be a core personality that will ride out this typhoon of language that is just now beginning to swell on the horizon? I find myself hoping so. She has such a melodious soul, a sing-songy existence that is rooted in a basic enjoyment, a deep satisfaction with the rush of sensations that constitutes life.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

sinterklaas 2008

the big man out here in holland isn't santa claus (or the kerstman as he's known to the dutch), but sinterklaas.

sinterklaas arrives by boat from spain a few weeks before his feast day, which is 5 december. his arrival is always greeted by a parade and parties, a festival known across the country as intocht. during his time in holland, you can go to visit sinterklaas at his "house", and ask him for the many gifts that you'd like to receive while he's in town. children are allowed to set their shoes out by the fireplace (similar to our tradition in the USA of hanging stockings for santa), and in the weeks prior to 5 december, sinterklaas will come to your home now and then and bring you a little cadeautje, or gift. and on 5 december, families across the netherlands gather together to give little presents to each other, read little made-up poems that they wrote about each other, and eat sweet treats like amandelstof (pastry bread with almond paste in the center) or pepernoten (little spiced cookies, like gingersnaps but slightly different).

this being our last year in holland, and because we have a baby who is totally amazing and wonderful, we decided we had better get our butts over to see sinterklaas at his house, which was quite conveniently located right next door. his house here is the little rectory house which is attached to our beautiful cathedral. we really had no excuse not to go!

we stood in line for about an hour, and were kept entertained by the numerous zwartepieten who were there, dancing, handing out balloons and cookies, and playing with the children. there was also a very kind woman, about our age, who was from the area and liked to give us all sorts of advice about where to go shopping or what to expect at the market now that it is the holiday season. she was sweet.

sinterklaas' house is actually the same room where gracie's creche is on sunday mornings, when we go to church. it was neat to see how they had transformed it into a cozy little house, complete with a bed, a living room area, and of course a computer and a ledger so he can keep track of who has been naughty and who has been nice over the year.

once it was gracie's turn, we handed her over to sint himself, and he quietly studied her and let her examine his beard, which was the most mysterious and interesting thing that she has ever seen in her whole life. (gracie, by the way, seems to be fascinated by facial hair. both of her grandpas have hair on their faces, and she loves to play with that!) she didn't cry at all, and was very brave while she sat on his lap and we told sint what a good girl she has been the whole year.

before we left, zwartepiet gave gracie a little gift to take home, and when we got back we set her present by her shoes (which are wooden clogs that we just bought at the gardening store down the street. naturally!). she opened her gift the next morning and found the clogs to be more interesting than the present itself. :-)

a few weeks later, we were in leiden. adam's parents were just here for a nice visit, and we spent a few days travelling through leiden and maastricht before we came back here to hengelo to enjoy the rest of their vacation. bob had mentioned more than once how intruiged he was by this sinterklaas character, and he was hoping that he would have a chance to meet him while he was here. since bob and rae were arriving on 5 december, it was the perfect day to go introduce them to sint. and really, our last chance to do so: by 6 december all the stores are decked out for christmas (like the day after thanksgiving for us in the states -- there's no messing around!), and sinterklaas will have left for spain again already.

i got online before they came out, and discovered that sinterklaas has another house in leiden. of course. because he needs to see all the children of holland before he leaves for the year, so it makes perfect sense that he'd have a house in hengelo AND in leiden! we checked into our hotel, grabbed our coats, and headed out to find the house of sint. we didn't have to look very hard for it, because there was even an advertisement for it on the main street in leiden!

sint's house in leiden is much different than the one here. whereas you stand in line to see sinterklaas in hengelo, in leiden his whole house is one big activity center. it was so much fun! sinterklaas himself greeted us at the door and welcomed us inside, while zwartepieten were running around and playing with the children. there were all sorts of crafts and games set up inside, and if you completed an activity at each station you could get a sticker to put on your little passport that they gave you at the door; complete every activity, and present your stamped passport to piet, and you can get a diploma which makes you an honorary zwartepiet! how fun!

i sure hope we can continue this tradition when we move home to the states. it's a very cozy and fun holiday that the dutch have, and one that i have enjoyed every year that we've been here!


we recently upgraded our internet speed, so that's why i'm all of a sudden able to upload all these videos onto youtube. here's a bunch more of our little doodlebug!

11-15-2008: gracie is chasing her daddy as he holds the camera. the squeaking sound in the background is of the jewelry store downstairs opening their security gate at the beginning of the business day.

11-20-2008: gracie opening a present from sinterklaas. the day before, we had gone to visit sinterklaas at his house here in town. and before we left, zwartepiet gave gracie a little cadeautje. we came home and put her gift by her shoes, which were sitting by the fireplace (like our tradition of hanging the stockings), and the next morning she got to open it up!

11-20-2008: gracie is learning how to walk by pushing our chair across the smooth floors we have in the living room. joan baez is playing in the background. we sure have nice days out here!

11-21-2008: gracie is pooping at breakfast. are we terrible parents for posting it here? she's just so darn cute!

11-22-2008: the poopshiver! we finally caught it on tape! now you all know what i'm talking about when i say that she does this little shiver after she poos! it's so funny!

11-25-2008: adam is working out and gracie is exercising with him. what a very social girl she is!

11-28-2008: gracie and daddy are dancing. gracie likes to sing when she dances with her dad, too. poor adam, he had to leave for a job interview in the USA this very night, and didn't come home until nearly a week later. what a sweet way for gracie to send him off!

Saturday, December 13, 2008


i hope you have a nice cup of tea and are sitting comfortably! here's the latest installment of gracie videos! it's amazing to watch these in order and see how quickly she has gotten so big!

9-15-2008: gracie learning how to crawl. she doesn't quite know how to go forward quite yet, but she's definitely scooching!

9-21-2008: here she is finally up on her hands and knees. it's only a matter of time now before she's off and running!

10-2-2008: okay she's TOTALLY crawling now. but only when she feels like it. so i came in from making dinner in the kitchen and put down something on the floor to entice her to come closer. unfortunately, it was a glass of wine -- i'm a terrible mother! (i just thought that if it was something that she hasn't really seen before, she might be curious and come closer. but it didn't work, which is probably all the better cuz i don't want her drinking alcohol quite yet!)

10-7-2008 here's a video of gracie jumping in her johnny jump-up in the morning. she loves her johnny jump-up! i really should have used it more with her cuz whenever she was in it, she always had a good time. but now she's too big and heavy, so i can't use it anymore. sad! maybe for the next baby, whenever that might be...

10-7-2008: later the same morning: the weather was very mild this autumn, and i was able to have the door open to the garden on nicer mornings like the one in this video. this was about the time when gracie was just learning how to pull herself up onto ledges, etc., and so for a long time her favorite activity was to stand at the door and pick the flowers growing in the cracks by the doorway. she's such a sweet girl!

10-10-2008: gracie is seriously SCREAMlaughing at her daddy! she gets all goofy after dinner, and here she's practically hyperventilating with laughter! listen to how FRANTIC she is! HAAHAAAAHA! i bet you can't watch this video without laughing too! (my cheeks hurt from smiling so much!)

10-18-2008: playing in the window with daddy. here she is doing her "cowgirl" when she's bouncing up and down on her knees!

10-18-2008: gracie helping with the dishes! she LOOOOVES to unload the dishwasher, even if all the dishes are still dirty. she's such a good helper!

10-26-2008: another first! -- it's her first day clapping her hands! SOOOO FUN!!! (i think she's cheering for barack obama, cuz we're watching meet the press and colin powell was endorsing mr. obama for president! yay!)

10-28-2008: gracie knows how to climb up the stairs now. she's so big! this is the first day that she learned how to do it! we were at an aquarium in scheveningen, near the hague.

10-31-2008 gracie is a little grumpy after dinner. normally she's really goofy and playful, but tonight she's just a little sleepy and not really into it.

10-31-2008: gracie has naked butt time before she goes to bed. it's like her favorite time of day EVER! look how she keeps looking behind the mirror for the other baby, and how she has to stop to clap her hands -- but she'll only do it once because she's just too busy moving about to stop to clap!

11-1-2008: in the tubbers singing a song with mama

11-5-2008: when gracie was busy chasing her daddy across the living room. i love how even though she's crawling, she still manages to find a way to STOMP!

11-8-2008: there is a carousel that is usually at the market on saturdays. if gracie is a good girl (which she IS like, ALL the time), then we like to take her for a spin on it before we come home.

11-13-2008: this is one of my favorite videos! gracie learned to climb the stairs and now it's her favorite thing to do. i love her "i'm so proud of me" laugh that she does several times during this video. she also learned to say "hidad" when she's excited, and she says this a couple of times too! the one thing i DON'T like about this video is that she's constantly grinding her teeth -- aargh!

12-2-2008: gracie likes to share! she's feeding me her apples and broccoli from lunch. what a sweetheart!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

intocht 2008

everything is SOOOO much more fun with a baby!

the last two years, adam and i have been privileged enough to witness the annual "intocht" -- the day that sinterklaas arrives from spain, along with all of his helpers (zwartepieten) to give gifts and treats to all the good little boys and girls.

our first year, we went mostly out of curiosity because in the united states, we don't have this tradition of saint nicholas -- only of santa claus (who is one and the same in the USA -- but here they are two different people. there is sinterklaas/saint nicholas AND santa claus, who is better known as the kerstman, or "christmas man"). then our second year i went with a couple of girlfriends, mostly for the camp factor of it all, but also because i was preggers and was just excited to get out of the house and see all the little kids. now, our third year, we went because we thought gracie would have a good time. (and, honestly, cuz i think it's super cute and gezellig.)

many of the kids in holland will dress up like zwartepiet because he is their favorite: piet is the one who goes up and down the chimney to bring the goodies to all the children. so nearly every child dresses up in a piet costume, and practically every store out here sells several sizes and styles of zwartepiet attire. so of course, we had to get one for gracie. and NATURALLY it had to be in pink! adam and i also wore hats: i wore a piet hat similar to gracie's, and adam wore a miter (is that the word?) like what sinteklaas wears. it was funny to see the little kids on the street, the littlest ones in particular, because i think adam was confusing them with his hat. they recognized the hat, and it was on a grown man, so maybe it was sinterklaas? of course, he didn't have the beard. or the horse. or the zwartepieten surrounding him. but still, it was a man in a sint hat! could it be him? it was funny.

we also went with a couple of gracie's friends. for several months, the two of us had been going to a mom-and-baby yoga class on friday mornings. and there were two other babies there that gracie always loved to play with. a boy named tygo and a girl named robin, both about 3 months older than gracie. every friday morning gracie would watch in amazement as these "big kids" would roll and tumble around the room while she was stuck on my lap cuz she was too little to move yet. imagine how thrilled she was once she finally was able to keep up with them! yoga class ended a few months ago, but we've all kept in touch since then. and anyway, gracie, tygo, and robin are all good buds, so we moms thought it would be a nice outing if we all went to intocht together so our kids could play with each other again.

poor robin wasn't feeling well that day, but she was in a good (if somewhat lethargic) mood. tygo seemed absolutely enthralled by all the activity. and gracie, true to form, mostly took it all in and studied carefully the faces of the zwartepieten, and the reactions of the children as they skipped down the street and yelled for piet to give them cookies. she smiled a lot, but didn't really go crazy with it -- mostly she likes to study and watch things first, and react to them later.

just like previous years, there was a parade with a marching band, probably close to 200 pieten giving candy and pepernoten cookies to the kids, and somewhere in the middle was sinterklaas himself. what i love about hengelo's intocht is the down-home, rural, small-town feel to our parade: the traditional story says that sinterklaas arrives by boat from spain, but since hengelo isn't near a large body of water, sint comes by train here. ha! but also, i love the floats in the parade -- they are all homemade, and pulled by tractors, instead of fancy cars or horses or just powered by themselves. tractors! i love it! because of course we are in a farming region of the country, so pulling it by tractor makes the most sense.

after the parade, the whole group of us went back to our place for cookies and coffee, and to allow our children more time to play with each other. poor robin, who wasn't feeling very well, kinda just sat on the floor and watched gracie and tygo climb all over each other. eventually she just fell asleep in her dad's lap while the rest of us visited. tygo's mom (nicolet) and robin's mom (ingrid) know about as much english as i know dutch. this afternoon, we mostly spoke in english. (but a few weeks later, when gracie and i were at nicolet's house for a playdate, we spoke mostly in dutch. it's good for me to practice!)

it was such a sweet afternoon, and one that i will cherish for many years. i know gracie is too little to remember this, but i hope that by writing this down and taking all these pictures and videos she will have a better sense of where she came from, and the interesting cultural experiences we are trying to expose her to. i hope that when we move back to the states someday we will be able to continue this tradition of sinterklaas!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

i love...

i love so much about my little girl. allow me to boast for a few moments.

i love that EVERYTHING she does makes her happy. i love that she can play with an empty plastic bottle for an hour as if it's the most fascinating, joyous toy in all the universe. i love that she likes to shred magazines because she's SO excited about reading something that she rips the pages out and eats them. i love that her mouth is constantly open in a big drooly smile and that her eyes are perpetually lit up. i love that i can FEEL her whole body smile, even when i can't see that she's doing it. i can't explain it. but when i'm holding her, i can feel it when she smiles, even without looking at her face.

i love that she knows how to clap her hands. i love that she has to move her entire body to clap her hands. and i love that when we clap our hands along with her, it makes her smile and laugh. i love that she learned how to clap her hands about 2 weeks ago and hasn't stopped clapping since then.

i love her laugh! i love that sometimes her laugh sounds like she's coughing, or screaming, and that her laugh often comes from deep in her belly and makes her throat rattle. no matter how she's doing it, i think it's the most wonderful, magnificent sound in the world. i love that after dinner, she gets all goofy, and i love that adam makes silly faces at her until she's laughing so hard she's almost crying. i love how much she loves her daddy, and i love how much her daddy loves her.

i love that she LISTENS! i love that i can tell her no, and she will stop what she's doing. i love that when she's playing in the laundry room, i can say to her, "gracie, you know you are not supposed to be in that room without an adult. come here now, please." and that she LISTENS to that and turns around and comes out. i love that she knows how to listen to me, even though she's only nine months old.

i love that she likes to help me in the kitchen. i love that she likes to stand in front of the pantry and take everything off the bottom shelf. i love that she likes to work with the dishwasher, taking out all of the dirty silverware and putting it on the floor. i love that she likes to take all the tupperware out of the drawer and crawl over her big messy pile. and i love that i'm a cool enough mom to encourage my daughter to make a mess in the kitchen -- because i know she's not doing it to make a mess, but that she's doing it because she wants to spend time with me, and she is helping and working. so what that she doesn't know how to LOAD the dishes? she only knows how to unload them right now -- but we'll get there. i'm so proud of her for wanting to help with the chores! what a good girl!

i love that even though she's only crawling, she still manages to find a way to stomp when she's doing it. i love that i can hear her little hands slapping down hard on our bare floors, and that her breath gets all excited when she moves -- she sounds like a tiny little freight train chugging across the room.

i love that when she eats, she has to first feed herself with her finger foods for about ten minutes. like, a long time. and only after i sneak in her first spoonful of whatever it is she's having at that meal, only then will she open her mouth for more food. as if she thinks whatever is in the bowl and on the spoon is something she won't like, but if i can convince her to take just one bite she realizes that it's actually pretty good. and she'll get into this groove where she'll eat really well for another 5 or 10 minutes or so, and then she'll come out of her food-trance and won't be able to eat any more until she has a toy in her hands. because if her hands are busy, then her mouth can open. and then she can finish her food. usually in the moment, i find this really annoying and frustrating, because i just want her to EAT. but mostly, i think it's adorable that my little girl has quirks and preferences already. and i love that about her.

i love that no matter what she's eating (fruit, yogurt, a shoelace, fingerpaints), she always says, "mmmm..." this is especially helpful when she's just around the corner from me, and i can't see her. and then i hear "mmmm...." and i know i need to go get her and take whatever it is out of her mouth because she shouldn't be eating things off the floor. i love that no matter how much i vacuum or mop, she still finds things on the floor that she shouldn't eat -- i love that her vision is so good and that her fine-motor skills are so developed.

i love that she is learning how to ask for things. i love that when she needs a diaper or a nap or some food, she will cling to one of us, trying to pull herself up on our legs, and fuss a little bit, and act desperate, until we are able to fulfill her needs. i love that she is learning to trust us, and learning how to use her voice, and learning also that it is okay to ask for things. i love that she can communicate with us already, even without speaking words!

i love that when she poops, she pushes so hard that she clenches her little fists and her face gets all purple and red. and that when she's done pooping, she does this little poop shiver. and then adam and i mimic her and do a little poop shiver too, and that makes her laugh. i love that.

i love that she loves books. she LOVES books. especially good night, gorilla and brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? i love that i can recite brown bear from memory because we read it so much. i love that when we get to the page in good night, gorilla, where the page is all black except for two little white open cartoon eyes, she automatically starts turning the pages backwards in the book again, even though the book isn't done yet. i love that she does that every time. i love that she likes to turn the pages, forward, backward, close the book, open the book, close the book, open the book, go backwards again... i love that she is exploring how to read. i love that when i sit down on the floor with her to read a book, she leans the back of her head against my chest and puts her hands on my legs in between turning the pages.

i love that she loves to stand in front of the living room window and wave to the people on the street as they pass by. and i love how she SCREAMS with laughter when they actually wave back.

i love that she will sit on her knees and bounce up and down with her arms out to her side. we call that her "cowgirl." "honey, come quick! she's doing her cowgirl again!" i love that when we put on music, she will jump up and down a little bit, like she's already learning how to dance. and then she claps her hands, which takes up all of her body movement, so she has to stop bouncing because she can't do both things at the same time.

i love how much she talks and babbles. she always has something to say.

i love how when she nurses, she plays with my long hair. she strokes my hair and gently pulls it between her fingers. even when her eyes are closed, her hands are still working. only when i hold her little hand in mine to help her become still, is she able to completely relax and quiet her body and fall asleep.

i love that when she's trying to fall asleep, she has to bury her face into something soft -- her teddy bear, her satiny blanket, my bosom. she grabs her teddy and pushes her face into it as hard as she can, and rubs her face back and forth just to make sure she's completely buried in it. it's adorable and so pathetic and i love it.

i love gracie. she's amazing.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


that's what i heard all day long on wednesday.

people who didn't even know if i was an obama supporter or not, but who only knew that i was an american (and therefore i must certainly be an obama supporter, right?) were wishing me congratulations all day long.

the international response to president-elect obama (nice ring to it, eh?) has been profound. even as far back as the primaries -- people here LOVE him. i tell my american friends that barack obama has done more to improve the american image abroad than any foreign policy or relief mission that we've had in the last eight years. before, i used to not want to draw attention to the fact that i was an american, especially when i was travelling abroad. i would never deny that i was an american, but i wouldn't dare to wear anything like an american flag shirt or even one of the countless usahockey hats, scarves, or jackets that we have -- i didn't want the negative attention that that would bring. but for months now, i have PROUDLY displayed my "obama '08" button and plastered his "change" sign in our front window. in fact, several months ago, adam and gracie and i were in brussels, and as the weather was fine that day, adam was walking around in only a t-shirt and khakis. i didn't even realize what his shirt said until a waiter on the street ran over to adam to shake his hand. it was then that i noticed adam was wearing an obama t-shirt. the waiter excitedly told us how much he loved obama, and wanted to know why we weren't supporting hillary clinton instead. this man actually wanted to be talking to us americans because of barack obama! he wanted to be our friend, and congratulated us that a man such as obama would possibly be the next president of the united states! how remarkable!

fast foward to november -- for days and days before the election, the dutch newspapers and radio stations (and maybe tv stations too, but we don't have a tv so i can't verify this) all reported on the presidential race as their lead story. front page news! even when obama's grandmother passed away, even that was a top story here! and so, when on november 5 barack obama was elected to be the next president of the united states, EVERYONE and their brother and their brother's neighbor and their brother's neighbor's dog INSISTED on congratulating me and adam on obama's victory!

we had a party (of course) the night after the election, and honest to goodness, adam and i were the only americans there. an italian woman, a woman from canada, another woman from the netherlands, a norwegian couple, and a man from hong kong all came over to celebrate with us -- and they were just as happy about obama's victory as adam and i were. when i pointed out this fact, the dutch woman summed up everyone's sentiment the best, i thought -- she said that over the last 8 years, people around the world have come to understand just how much the american president can affect the lives of people outside of the united states. and so she gets how this election has GLOBAL consequences. and being a fan of barack obama and his policies, she was naturally thrilled and relieved to see that we americans finally came out of our eight-year stupidity coma to elect the RIGHT candidate this time.

at our party, we watched the president-elect's victory speech on youtube, and we all of us got teary eyed. the italian woman was even reciting the speech along with obama, line by line, because she had watched it a couple of times already. even the dentist that i saw that morning couldn't stop talking about how excited he was and how moving that speech was. the egg man at the market was just as giddy as i was. and my dutch friend valerie attended a democrats-abroad election night party in amsterdam and partied until 7:00 in the morning, sending me text messages during the night to tell me about the results as they came in. (which was fine with me cuz i was so excited and nervous that i couldn't sleep anyway. we ended up waking up at 5:00 a.m. -- 11:00 pm nyc time -- to watch the returns and tuned in just in time to see senator john mccain concede the race in a very gracious speech. a beautiful thing to wake up to!)

so that day, besides hearing a lot of congratulations, i heard over and over and over about how he is the first black president. and i'm all, yeah? so? but it seems to be a REALLY big deal to my foreign friends. to me, the biggest deal is the fact that he's barack freaking obama. i voted for him because of who he IS, not because of what he looks like. he just happens to be african american. but i hear this a lot over here, about how exciting it is that he's black and the next president. like, even the girls at the check-out counter at the grocery store, when they see my obama button on my purse have to tell me how excited they are that obama could be the next black president. is that a big deal? am i not appreciating that fact enough? cuz i don't really get it, i guess. but, i've come to accept it: if that's what the rest of the world needs to hold on to in order to think that the united states isn't such a bad place after all, then i'll embrace it. run with it, guys! if that's what it takes for you to think we're cool, then fine.

anyway, i'm excited. in case you couldn't tell already. and EVERYONE i know out here -- american, european, asian... we are ALL elated. the global response has been incredible. this man has united us all, no matter what our nationality. no longer will the face of america be some bumbling cowboy idiot out there clearing brush or bombing countries, but rather an elegant, intelligent, and patient man who actually speaks in entire sentences and not truncated bumper sticker slogans! god bless the united states of america!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

pocket surprise

so the weather here has suddenly gotten VERY cold and wintery -- frost on the ground in the morning, the smell of snow in the air in the afternoon... good weather for making a big pot of authentic dutch boerenkool and snuggling by the fireplace and wearing slippers.

so two days ago, i finally broke down and put on my winter coat to brave the chilly weather. i hadn't worn this coat of mine since i was 9 1/2 months pregnant with gracie last february.

and i stick my hands in my pockets, just to see what was in them, and you know what i found?

(no, not five dollars. though that would be funny.)

i found a candybar! ha!

i HAD to laugh to myself, because i remember those days so clearly -- just being HUNGRY all the time, and too lazy to make something to eat, so i just carried around candy bars and granola bars and pieces of fruit in my purse and all my pockets so that i'd always have something to nibble on to keep my energy up. i even had a little basket of granola bars on my night stand in my bedroom, so i wouldn't have to get out of bed in the middle of the night if i suddenly got the munchies!

so yeah. that was funny. i found a candy bar in my pocket from when i was preggers. ha!

lambertuskermis, year three

every september we get the excitement of having a carnival literally right outside our window. our first year here we were not yet moved into our place where we're living now, so we didn't get to attend or enjoy much of the kermis that year. but i did happen upon it unexpectedly one day when i was in hengelo running some errands, and was sure to take some pictures and look around at all the unexpected color and sound. then our second year we were expecting it, but we didn't go on any of the rides cuz i was like 5 or 6 months pregnant i think. so THIS year we were REALLY excited for it, because we have a BABY to enjoy it with! aaaand, because it's probably our last year here, we REALLY wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to live at the fair for a week. how fun would that be?!

we tried to get out to enjoy the kermis a little bit every day, which wasn't hard given that as soon as we walked out the door we were in the thick of it. our street was home to two games, a fortune teller, a kiddie ferris wheel, and a trampoliny-bungee-jumpy-thingy for the kids. this picture was taken on our street -- our window is the one directly to the left of the ferris wheel in this photo. how neat! on the corner by the HEMA store, not on our street but we could still see it from our window, was a kiddie roller coaster (it was there last year too) with big butterflies and ladybugs and mushrooms as decorations. gracie loved it when we stopped there and watched the "big kids" ride on the roller coaster, and listen to the sound of the screams and the music, and see the flashing lights and moving cars. she sure enjoyed that!

the market square held most of the biggest rides: bumper cars, a kiddie carousel that gracie got to ride on with her daddy (she was mostly interested in ringing the big silver bell on the pony next to the one she was sitting on), a slide, a ferris wheel, and lots of whiplash-inducing puke-drenched rides.

the square in front of the train station held the biggest roller coaster.

the street where the subway restaurant is at had the scariest ride of all: this tall thing with one car on opposite ends of it, and it was probably 8 stories high, and it would just go in circles, so that you'd be flying upside down 100 feet in the air. mwaaaah! we did NOT go on that one. the street in front of the church had several games and "boobytrap hotel", a totally annoying fun house that the teenagers seemed to enjoy, that every minute or so it would shout "THISISBOOBYTRAPHOTEL" and then play some loud music, and then for some reason or another it would play dr. king's voice saying "i have a dream." weird.

then if you continued down that street towards the city hall, there would be a few more kiddy rides, a man selling balloons (we got a ladybug one for gracie, of course), and then in the parking lot for the city hall there was this very cool, very scary ride that i had to go on: it was the swings that go around really fast in a circle, but it was 10 stories high, so could see the entire city of hengelo. it was SOOOO SCAAAWWWY! I LOVED IT!

and then the street that went from the church back to the market had several food stands: churros, oliebollen, cotton candy (suikerspin), chocolate dipped fruit, sausages with french fries, and of course, smoked eel (paling).

anyway, we were able to get out for a walkabout nearly every day, since it was literally outside our window. we'd go to the bakery, and as long as we were out in the market square anyway, we'd watch the children playing games at the ring toss, or stop and watch some ride with the lights spin everyone around and around. the next day, if we went to the grocery store, we'd listen to the little travelling glockenspiel organ thingy and watch them make cotton candy. one day, though, adam decided to "work from home" so in the afternoon after mg's nap, we got all packed up and we went out to actually go on some of the rides! we all three went on the carousel, and got a GREAT view of the city as we gently rose and fell above the market square. we could see our house, the train station, and got to admire the church from up above. how pretty! our carny looked like a pirate, too, so that was cool. (and like, he wasn't dressed up as a pirate. that's just how he looks in normal life.)

i took gracie on a fun slide ride -- it's maybe 3 stories high and you walk up the stairs and sit on a special mat, and then slide down. it takes probably 8 seconds to ride to the bottom, and then that's the ride, so gracie and i tried to get our money's worth by hanging out at the top for a while to see all the rides twirling and whirling about in the square. there's a video here of all the fun rides we took her on, actually. it's kind of jerky and disjointed for the first minute or so, as adam is trying to record us as we walk up the stairs of the slide, while simultaneously moving the stroller with one hand. but it gets better -- just wait it out. :-) and then of course we went on the ferris wheel, and she went on the carousel with her daddy -- but i already told you about that stuff.

on the last day, we went out for a drink or two at a cafe. (that's kind of become our sunday tradition -- we have brunch at home, sometimes go to mass next door, and then after lunch and afternoon nap, we go out for a beer somewhere before we come home and make dinner. it's nice.) we found a table RIGHT NEXT TO a kiddy ride, where the children ride in boats. gracie LOVED it! we gave her a snack of plums and cereal, and adam and i ordered a couple of amazing beers, and we all sat there watching the lights and the children, and enjoyed the beautiful afternoon. i mean, LOOK at how bright her eyes are here! she's just having a GREAT time watching all of this! AND having a snack at the same time? i mean -- what could be greater in all the world?!

oh, it's so wonderful to see the world through the eyes of a child! gracie makes everything more fun!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


one of the nicknames adam has bestowed upon his favorite daughter is "busybee." why, you may ask? well, watch this video to fully understand.

THIS is why i never have time to blog anymore, and why it takes me weeks at a time before i finally get around to uploading videos and pictures to send to you all. AND probably the number two reason i've lost all the baby weight.

it's three minutes of exhaustion. seriously! i bet you feel tired after watching this!

she's SOOOO much fun!

Sunday, October 19, 2008


loyal followers of this blog will know that i've been fortunate enough to sample the various teahouses in the lovely twente countryside. my dear friends, jolanda and mariska, whom i know from my time working at that sucky callcenter, have joined me on each occasion. and, on each occasion, we have had a marvelous time, just talking, drinking tea, and eating WAY too many sweet things.

we have been to two other teahouses in the area -- the first one was incredible, the second one rather disappointing, and this third one was absolutely delightful. it was this beautiful, twente-style farmhouse with a thatched roof and a lovely garden. the property bordered a pasture where cows lazed in the hazy, misty sunshine, and the autumn trees were just beginning to change. it was like god sneezed a little color on them -- just the slightest tinge of yellows and reds on the tips of the leaves. so pretty!

jolanda picked me up near my house and we drove about 40 minutes west along the speedway. (on the way home, we took the scenic route so we could enjoy the fall colors as we rambled through the cutest little dutch villages.) there we met mariska, who is 6 months pregnant with twins (a boy AND a girl! what a blessing!). we all laughed because at the last two teahouses i've been pregnant, and now this time she is the one who is pregnant! will jolanda be next?

because the day was BEAUTIFUL and sunny and just a little crisp, we were happy to sit outside in the garden. the hoestinkhof, as this place is called, also had a little pension there, and i took some time to explore the grounds and take some pictures of the flowers and clogs and trees. there were numerous original sculptures there, scattered throughout the gardens, resting under trees and accenting blooming bushes, and they were all for sale too. it would have been a nice souvenir to take home with me to remember this outing, but i decided that a couple of hundred euros was a little too much for me, and chose to purchase a bag of loose-leaf tea at their teashop instead. (i picked out this delectable black tea with caramel -- omg i love it!)

we all agreed that this place was by far the prettiest teahouse we had been to -- the scenery was truly pastoral and the garden was well-maintained with lots of little surprises in every corner. AND the tea and the food were delicious. but we think the food at the first teahouse we went to was just a little better (we're STILL talking about the sandwiches they served at that first place, and it's nearly a year later!!), and i think that the tea selection at the first teahouse was more extensive, too. however, i would definitely go back to the hoestinkhof again -- the service was friendly, the food was great, and the scenery both inside and out was a pleasure.

it was such a treat to get out of the house for a couple of hours and to hang out with my girlfriends on a sunny saturday afternoon. thank you to adam for making it possible, and thank you also to mary grace who is SUCH a good girl that i can feel comfortable leaving her for such a long time. and a great big thank you to mariska and jolanda for being such good company and going to all these girly teahouses with me! yay!

Thursday, October 16, 2008


i hope you have some time, cuz here's a whole mess of gracie videos, all the way back from the summer.

(ps the reason we're unable to post these more frequently is because of the time-consuming technology we have. first we make the video, then we have to download each video separately onto our computer, then we have to upload them onto youtube -- which takes FOREVER -- and then we put links here on the blog. not as easy as just uploading a few pictures. but at least it's worth your time, cuz we usually post a bunch of videos all together, so that's fun...)

okay, get yourself a cup of tea and settle in for a while. here we go!

gracie and her friend james had a playdate this summer and here is the video to go along with the blog entry that i wrote over the summer. a brief video, mostly of mary grace and james laying on the floor and playing with toys separately from each other. i think that "other-awareness" must have come later, cuz if she was in the same situation now she'd be MUCH more interested in the other baby next to her, instead of the toys in her face.

gracie is constantly learning new sounds -- by now she is babbling and singing a little bit, but earlier in the summer she learned how to snort. here she is in her swing, exploring her new sounds!

one of gracie's favoritest games is to play "scarfie" with daddy. she especially loved this game when she was still immobile and could only play with objects directly near her -- so to have someone throw something up in the air, down over her face, and back up again while talking to her and smiling at her, well, that was just the best thing EVER for her! i think we have a few videos of gracie playing scarfie with daddy, so here's yet another from the summer.

it's very important to the both of us that gracie grows up to appreciate music. that's why i sang during my pregnancy and why we are always playing music in the house (mostly bluegrass cuz i kinda have this fantasy of us someday being like the judds -- i'll play the guitar and sing harmony, and she can play the fiddle and sing the melody. is that totally dumb? i hope not!) anyway, oma and opa have this old keyboard in their house, and someone brought it up from the basement one day, and gracie loved playing it whenever she could get her hands on it. here she is making pretty music with momma on a peaceful summer afternoon.

during the summer we spent a little time in minnesota, seeing my side of the family and introducing gracie to her 2nd cousins, her aunts and uncles, and her great-gramma. we stayed with my uncle steve and aunt rachael, who have a pool in their backyard. it was pretty chilly to swim in because they had just filled it up a few days before we arrived, but that didn't stop us from enjoying it anyway! here's a short video of gracie and daddy floating in the pool.

you know from previous videos that gracie really likes her bathtime. here in this clip we are playing in the tub after a day of splashing in the pool. her mema and auntie teresa are there with us too. the game we're playing here is squirting some water in her face with her little bathtime toys -- her favorite is the purple walrus buddy. most kids i would think would not like water squirted in her face, but it's kinda' extreme, so of course gracie likes it. (strangely enough, though, she doesn't like the bucket of water poured over her head to rinse her hair. that's not so much fun for her. but a little squirted into her eyes is UBER fun!)

i found gracie a saucer at a garage sale this summer, and she really liked to work in it whenever she could. it gave her a new perspective on the world to be able to stand straight up while she was playing with her books and toys and teething rings and pretty much anything she could get her hands on. here's one video, and here's another video that show her having a good time in her saucer!

our little adventurer didn't sit still for long -- as soon as she figured out how to roll over and sit up, that's all she wanted to do. so of course, crawling wasn't far behind. in this video she is working on getting up onto her knees, which means it was only a matter of time before she was cruising around on all fours. (which she's totally doing now, by the way. but that's another video to be posted later...)

and lastly, here's a video of our doodlebug hanging out at home here in hengelo. i had just gone to ikea a few days before to get her an area rug on which to play (our floors are all hardwood, and we didn't think that would be very cozy to play on all the time). anyway, she is really scooching around in this clip -- not crawling forward quite yet, but moving backwards and sideways pretty well. especially on the slippery floors that we have! it's like sliding on your socks, but way more fun cuz it's your whole body. but anyway, this is gracie and her daddy playing together, scooching around on the floor, and having some nice one-on-one time.

so, enjoy! we're going to try to post another batch of clips very soon -- hopefully next week, so stay tuned! (and if you're interested, you can always just subscribe to our "channel" on youtube -- we are adbriggle. there should be a way for you to subscribe to our channel, so that when new videos are uploaded you can see them there first instead of waiting for us to do it on our blog. does that make sense? give it a try and let us know what you think!)

love you!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

you never know what's going to happen...

... when you leave the house.

a couple of weeks ago, gracie and i were on our way home from the grocery store when i heard some music on the street. good thing i had my camera, so i could capture this bicycling band as they rode past us!

too cool!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

how does she travel?

considering gracie has vacationed in greece, taken the train all over northern europe, flown across the atlantic ocean, and roadtripped halfway across the united states, we tend to get that question a lot.

and our answer? always "piece of cake!"

when we were pregnant, adam and i talked often about how much we still wanted to travel after our little spruitje arrived. we knew that travelling would be different somehow, that maybe we couldn't do it all and see it all in one trip, or that it would take us longer to see the places we wanted to see, but we still wanted to be able to get out into the big, wide world to experience it. we didn't want a baby to hold us back!

so i think because gracie has been travelling ever since she was a newborn (her first roadtrip was to zutphen, when she was about a month old), it's kind of the only thing she knows. we never really got into the routine of naptime at a specific time in a specific place (though we do make sure she has two good naps a day), so because she didn't always have to sleep in her crib at say 10:30 every day, she learned to be adaptable. want to see the acropolis, but she's a little sleepy? throw her in the sling and go! it's time for her to eat but you're still at the beach? good thing she's still breastfeeding! poopy diaper? no problem, we'll just stop in at this cute pub for a drink and change her in there!

of course, this is all made much easier by the fact that until recently, she's been pretty immobile. she's only been crawling for a few weeks, so we've been able to keep her confined and stationary for long periods of time fairly easily. this is i'm sure going to change as she learns to walk and wants to do everything herself. then i suppose we'll take fewer trips, or stay closer to home for those few years, or maybe we might be lucky enough to have oma and opa babysit for a long weekend so we can have some grown-up time.

anyway, she did just fine in her car seat all summer long. one of us would sit back there with her during our longer trips, so she'd always have someone to play with. we'd stop at rest stops along the way (nebraska has surprisingly lovely rest areas, iowa has nice ones but there are fewer of them, and minnesota doesn't seem to have any at all swear to god). occasionally we'd have to pull over in some ghost town to change a diaper, but mostly we were lucky and could make it several hundred miles before we'd have to stop. our stops took longer, of course -- we'd really make them worthwhile, with a picnic and lots of play time for gracie to kick and squirm.

she OF COURSE loves the trains, and likes to look out the windows and make friends with the other passengers (who can't NOT play with her!). fortunately for her, we don't have a car out here, so we're constantly on the trains and buses to our various destinations. she's getting to be such a big girl now that she sometimes will need a seat all for herself, and doesn't want to sit on our laps all the time. watch this video to see for yourself just how happy she is looking out the window! (and keep in mind that this video was taken on the train ride back from our huge international flight this summer -- we had been travelling already for about 20 hours i think, and she's still just as happy as can be!) and here's another clip of her on the train home from amsterdam last weekend, making goofy sounds and playing. she's so much fun!

and as for the flight across the pond this summer, she did AMAZING. she sat on our laps the whole way over there (but she was only 4 1/2 months old so it wasn't hard). and honest to goodness she was not even jet lagged the next day -- she had a little less energy than usual, but her day was pretty much right on schedule! same story on the way back here, actually. she would wake up and want to play in the night, but we'd lay her in bed with us and within an hour or so she'd fall right back to sleep. and on the way home from colorado this summer, we upgraded our seats to sit behind the bulkhead (the best $180 we ever spent!) and gracie got her very own bassinette, which just BARELY fit her. another week and she would have been too big. but she was such a big, brave girl -- she slept peacefully for probably 6 hours out of a 9 hour flight, and then took a little nap on a couch in a pub in london while we waited for our next flight to amsterdam.

getting around town is obviously a lot easier than hopping across europe on a train, or flying over an ocean at 35,000 feet. usually when we have an errand to run here in hengelo, we take the stroller. but sometimes, just for fun (and when i have a lot of groceries to get), we take my bike. she's got a little seat in front, with a windshield to keep the cold dutch wind from blowing in her little face, and she just loves it! she loves to play with my bike bell, and try to catch the streamers on my handlebars when i ride really fast. i finally got her a helmet after searching three different stores -- i have yet to see an adult out here wear a helmet, and come to think of it, i don't think i've ever seen a child wear one either. and certainly not a baby (even though i think they probably need one the most). fortunately gracie has inherited the large dryden cranium that i share with my dad, so she's now the proud owner of an ages-2-years-and-up helmet that is just slightly too big for her but which i'm sure will fit her perfectly in a couple of months. it's better than nothing, i suppose!

it's so much fun to have a little buddy who we can take everywhere with us! yay, gracie, for being so adaptable and easygoing! we have such a good time with you!