Tuesday, April 22, 2008

tiptoeing through the tulips

almost exactly one year ago, adam and i went to see the keukenhof, which is this amazingly beautiful tulip garden near leiden, in the west of holland. we went on the busiest day of the year last year so we could also see the bloemencorso, a parade where all the floats are made of flowers. even though it took us nearly 4 hours to get out there due to the crowds, and even though the walkways were teeming with tourists from just about every corner of the globe, we were already counting down the days until we could get out there to see it again.

fast forward one year, and now we're taking our daughter with us. who would have ever imagined such a thing?

we recently needed to bring mary grace to amsterdam, so that she could register herself at the american consulate in order to receive an american birth certificate, social security number, and passport. since amsterdam was a good two hours away by train, and the consulate another 20 minutes by tram, we chose to make it into an overnight trip so that we could do some sightseeing in the west. we arrived on a thursday, ran a few errands and did some touristy things like dining at a canalside cafe and riding on a tour boat, and then on friday we had her appointment at the consulate. since we were finished with that by lunchtime, and since the weather was fine, i called up my friend valerie and invited her to tag along for a day of tiptoeing through the tulips with the three of us!

we took the train to the airport and then hopped on the direct bus to the keukenhof. last year we stood in line for about an hour and a half just to get our bus ticket, and then waited in line for another half hour before we could even STAND on the bus. but this year we just purchased our tickets right away, walked straight onto the bus, and had a choice of any seat. gracie chose to sit on her daddy's lap of course.

we drove through daffodil and hyacinth fields to reach the keukenhof about 30 minutes later. it was so beautiful to see all the gorgeous blooms as we cruised by, and we could even SMELL the hyacinths from inside the bus! we were all reaclly excited to get there so that we could see everything from up close!

once there, the four of us found a place near a pond and had a picnic of, what else, wine, chocolate, bread, and cheese. the typical picnic fare for us, huh? gracie sat on my lap and looked out at the glittering fountain in the pond, and swear to god everyone who walked by us would stop looking at the tulips and would focus on mg instead. one kind old woman spoke to us in german (i could understand but had difficulty talking, since my dutch has corrupted my german language skills), and told us about how her grandchildren are such joys in her life, but that they have grown up quickly already and so we should enjoy it when she's small because she won't be that size forever. that seems to be the advice that everyone gives to us, and we definitely try to take it to heart. and yet, she's nearly 3 months old and i already can't remember where the time has gone. all of a sudden it's bedtime again, and i want to scream, "wait! i haven't finished enjoying her today! just 5 more minutes before she falls asleep!"

we spent the rest of the day strolling through the most magnificently groomed gardens i have ever seen. i was glad for the warm weather and few visitors at the park that day, because it gave us more of an opportunity to see more of the keukenhof. we discovered areas that i didn't know existed, because last year the crowds were so thick we were only able to walk along at a very slow pace. we just kind of followed the flow of the people last year, and went with the traffic. but this year we had the place almost all to ourselves and definitely took advantage of the wide walkways and hidden coves. adam snapped a lot of pictures of the various sculptures in the garden, some of which were actually for sale. meanwhile, valerie and i pushed a snoozing mary grace under the blooms of the glorious magnolia trees. eventually we made it to the back of the park, where we found a windmill! the crazy thing about it is that it is the very same windmill that was in the background of our 2007 christmas card picture. last year's photo was taken in a field of red tulips, but when we saw the field this year it was planted with bright yellow daffodils instead. adam climbed to the top of the windmill and admired the view from up high, while the sails were turning in the wind. there is a fence up at the top of the windmill so that you can't walk to the front where the rotating blades are at, because if you got hit by one of them i'm sure it would mortally wound you! those things are huge, and they were turning pretty fast too.

anyway, when he came down from there, we got another picture in front of the windmill (maybe this can be our christmas card for this year!), and we tried getting a couple of photos of gracie in a wooden clog. she had just woken up from a nap and didn't like the idea of being crammed into this shoe with all these strangers looking at her, so she started crying. it was soooo cute! and everyone was all, "oh, look at the crying baby in the clog! awwww!" i know, i'm a horrible mother. it was still adorable, though.

towards the end of our visit, we all checked out the inside of a greenhouse, so we could all sit down and have something cold to drink. i gave gracie a little something to eat, and valerie happily burped her while adam took pictures of the amazing bulbs inside. gracie LOVED the greenhouse, because it was warm and bright, and all the flowers were blooming and were packed in close to each other, offering a wide variety of visual stimulation in a small area. it was perfect for her!

i wasn't sure if gracie would notice all these flowers around her, and i assumed that because she was so small she would just be happy laying quietly in her stroller. but this was definitely not the case. and it's getting increasingly more difficult to keep her happy in her stroller, because she ALWAYS wants to look out at the world! we all three took turns carrying her, and basically just used the stroller to throw our bags in and push around like one of those little carts you can rent at the airport. gracie definitely wanted to SEE and ABSORB and INTERACT with her world, and who can blame her? the bright blooms and the glittering fountains were gorgeous, and i'm glad that mg got to enjoy them too even though she's "just a baby."

we headed back home sooner than we would have liked, but it was 30 minutes back to the airport, and then we'd have to wait for a train that takes 2 hours to get us back home. gracie needed her sleep after such an exhausting couple of days! (even adam and i were tired, so we could only imagine how worn out she must have been feeling!) she was in such a good mood from her day, she was giggling and making funny faces at me on the bus ride back. thank goodness for digital cameras so i could capture every one of those silly looks she gave me!

we caught a 7:00 pm train home and gracie slept like the dead for the entire trip back. it's like once that train started rolling, she realized that she was tired and just literally FELL asleep. one moment she was talking and cooing, and the next minute, she was out like a light! too cute! we were home i think by about 9:15, so we were able to put her to bed only about an hour later than usual. thank goodness she slept through the night because i really wanted to sleep after all that activity,and i wasn't looking forward to a midnight feeding that night!

i can't WAIT to do it again next year!

a first!

every parent hopes to be present for his or her child's first milestones. first steps, first solid foods, first words. adam and i are both grateful that we were here for gracie's first laugh!

she has been cooing, giggling, and smiling at us for some time now. she giggles more often for adam than for me (probably because i spend so much time changing and feeding her, that when she's in a good mood i usually put her down so that i can change and feed myself -- therefore she gets to PLAY more often with her daddy than with me), so it's no surprise that her first real LAUGH -- a hearty, bubbly, jolly sound from deep in her belly -- was for her daddy. adam just walked over to her chair and stood over her making goofy faces, and out of the depths of her roly-poly tummy came the most hearty sound i have ever heard!

here is what adam wrote about it in an email to his dad:

You should have heard it yesterday - Gracie laughed for the first time...that is, more than just a quick "ha" as she has been doing for a while, but an actual extended giggle like a squeeling motor boat. It was infectious! It is so amazing to watch the development of a person- it was as if this was a new stage in her coming to self-consciousness, because it was not just the laugh, but her eyes behind the laugh betrayed an almost panicked but overjoyed sense of experience - of coming into awareness of the richness of the world. It seemed as though the laugh had taken hold of her and she was out of control - that the laughter was lifting her up as if on a bubble to a higher level of experience. It strikes me that our expressions of experience (e.g., laughter, speech, and other interactive gestures) are not just reactions to the world but that they simultaneously create the world...that is, that the world was not that funny until she laughed. I can't wait for you to see and hear her laugh - it is transformative.

what a happy little girl we have! we are so blessed!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

gracie's first overnight adventure

when adam went to the gemeentehuis here in hengelo to register gracie as a resident of the village and to get her dutch birth certificate, the officials there told him that he also needed to take her to the american consulate in amsterdam within 90 days, to get her the appropriate paperwork she needs in order to be an official american citizen. (i heard a story once of an american couple who, like us, lived temporarily in a foreign country. while they were there, they had a baby. since both parents were american, they assumed that their child was american as well. years later, their child was starting kindergarten, and when the school asked for all the appropriate paperwork -- SSN, birth certificate, whatever else -- the parents had no record of any of this. and as it turns out, their child was technically an illegal immigrant! so they had to do the whole naturalization process with him, paying all the fees and filling out all the paperwork, to make their "honorary american" son into an "official american" instead. we can avoid all of that by registering her birth abroad at the consulate, which is inconvenient now but will obviously save us a lot of time and hassle in the near future.) and since we're planning on flying to to greece in june, we also needed a passport for her before then anyway. so, off to amsterdam!

it would take about 2.5 hours door-to-door between our house in the east of the netherlands to the american consulate in amsterdam. and because our appointment was set for 11:00 a.m. on friday, we decided it would probably be much easier on all of us if we went out there the day before and spent the night somewhere in the city. it would also be way more fun, because i haven't gotten to go anywhere fabulous since our trip to ireland in october. and besides, amsterdam is a rad city, and our awesome friend valerie lives there!

so off we went, on our first overnight adventure with a 2-month-old!

we took two trains to get to amsterdam, and when we got to the station there we stashed our bag in a locker and headed out to see the sights. but first thing, we had to get mary grace her first passport picture taken! this was quite an ordeal because these passport pictures have to be PERFECT. she has to be looking straight at the camera, with her face perfectly in alignment, with her eyes open. and since she's only 2 months old she obviously can't sit up on her own yet. so i had to prop her up on my knee and hold her in the front to support her body and in the back to support her neck and head. but i can't have my arms or hands in the picture either -- it has to be all baby, and nothing else. gracie was interested in the flashing lights and all the strange new things to look at, and didn't really want to look at the camera. and i'm trying to hold her steady, with her big head bobbing around and her little body wiggling from side to side, all without trying to get my hands in the picture. i realized that she was wearing a dress, so finally i just put my hand inside her dress and held her that way, nice and steady, but so that you couldn't see my hand. she was crying and fidgeting, of course, but we finally got a good picture. and omg, it looks SO GOOFY! because it's on a white background, so you can see that her dark hair is just standing straight up and going in every direction. and she's got this chubby, resigned look on her face, with her eyes all glazed over cuz she's so tired and confused. but since we were in amsterdam, there were a lot of glazed looks from a lot of different people anyway, so she fit right in. :-)

after the pictures, which "weren't that difficult" according to the photographer, who does this sort of thing a lot, the three of us headed out back in the direction of centraal station. we strolled along the prinsengracht (princes canal), which is one of the prettiest and most famous canals in amsterdam. we took our time, enjoying the beautiful weather and the pretty row houses lining both sides of the street. we admired the westerkerk as we walked, and took several pictures from many different angles along the way. the westerkerk is directly across the street from the anne frank house, and though anne was unable to see the church, she could hear the bells ringing throughout the two years during which she was in hiding:

It’s half past two. As I enter the sitting room, the neighbouring Westerkirk begins to play. (Aug.3, 1943)

along the way, we stopped at a cute little cafe which sits at the intersection of two canals. in fact, it is the same cafe which i brought camille to when she came out to visit last spring. (after you click on that link, scroll down a ways on that page and you will see pictures of us at this same cafe! cool!) they serve really lekker organic food, and you can sit right along the canal on a fairly quiet street. i breastfed gracie in the sunshine while adam ate his lunch, and then afterwards he held her and waved at the passing tour boats while i ate my organic carrot/orange/ginger soup. oh! is there anything finer in the world than sitting at a canalside cafe in holland, breastfeeding my daughter in the sunshine, with the wonderful company of my hot husband? seriously. i am so blessed!

then after our late lunch we continue the rest of the way to centraal station, but this time along the kaizersgracht (emperor's canal). we can see the other side of the westerkerk now and stop to admire how beautiful the building is. we finally arrive at centraal station at about 5:30 pm, about 30 minutes before valerie was arriving back home from her day at work.

since we had some time to spare, we hurriedly caught the next tour boat which was leaving in just a few minutes from the front of the station. at first gracie wasn't sure what to think of it all -- she had never been on a boat, after all, and the first few minutes of the tour were spent crossing underneath bridges. that part was dark and noisy, and her eyes got about as big as saucers and her arms splayed out spread-eagle style, and she got really nervous. but, to her credit, she doesn't really pass judgement on something immediately -- she will patiently try it out for a few moments before she decides if she likes it or not. like on the tram that day: it was her first time on a tram, and if you've ever been on a tram in amsterdam you know that they are crowded, noisy, and make really jerky, fast, and sharp turns along the narrow little streets. well, when she first got on the tram and it took off that day, she got the same sort of nervous look on her face. but she waited, she waited, she waited, and then she was all, "oh, okay, i think i can handle this," and calmed down. instead of instantly SCREAMING which is what a lot of other babies would do, i think. she's just suuuuper chill, way easy going and laid back. a VERY easy travel companion! and so she did the same sort of thing on this boat: it took off, and within a minute we were crossing under these really big bridges, which of course made it dark and made the sound of the boat a lot louder -- and she got this nervous look on her face and waited, and waited, and waited, and then was all, "oh no, i DON'T like this at all!" and started to cry. but she at least THOUGHT about it before she passed judgement! anyway, after the boat got to the other side of the bridges, and the light came out again and she got her bearings, she actually had a good time. she enjoyed sitting on adam's lap and watching the gabled rooftops float by against the bright blue sky. a tourist from japan asked if he could take a picture, and we were both all, "sure! no problem!" well, i started to lean in close to gracie's face and smile at the camera, because that's what i'm used to doing -- but then i stopped partway there because i realized he didn't want to take MY picture -- he wanted to take gracie's picture! no one cares about the mom! only the baby! duh! these are the types of things i have to get used to now that i'm a parent. um, it's not about me anymore, is it? i'm glad i stopped myself before i embarassed myself further. of course, now that i'm telling this story i suppose it's just as embarassing, but i think it's funny looking back on it.

okay after that part was over, it was already 6:45 and we definitely needed to get over to valerie's house for dinner and bedtime! we had a big day planned tomorrow, and we've done so much already! the way to valerie's house is pretty cool: behind centraal station there are a couple of ferry boats that cross this ginormous canal. we got on one of the ferries, along with all the commuters who were getting off of work, and off it went. the commuters were almost all on bikes or scooters, and didn't even bother to get off of them since the trip across the canal was so quick. at first we were standing kind of in the middle of all of this, but when we realized what was going to happen when we crossed to the other side, we started to step back and out of the way. basically, everyone rides onto this big ferry, rides through this enclosed hallway to the other side, and then just waits to dock. when that happens, the front of the boat opens up and everyone rides off. it was pretty cool. adam took way too many pictures of this process because he loves boats AND bikes, but i picked out just a couple to share with you here.

valerie met us at the dock and walked us the 10 minutes back to her beautiful house. i started to get gracie ready for bed, and she went out for pizza! yay! poor gracie had just about had enough at this point -- she had already been travelling since 11:00 a.m. and had been on two trains, a boat, a tram, and a ferry. and she was ready to go home. it was really challenging to get her to relax enough to eat, and she was so wired and confused that she had a really hard time falling asleep. poor girl. we'd already put her through so much that day, and were expecting so much of her in the morning. and, since she was born in our bedroom, this really was quite literally the very first night she ever had away from home. where were her bright yellow walls and nightlight? what was she doing in this big bed with red walls and a blanket that didn't smell like mommy and daddy? it was really strange for her, poor thing. i basically had to sleep on my side all night, holding her close to me so that she could relax into something familiar. but really, considering how much activity she had that day, and the fact that she was sleeping in a totally strange bed, she did awesome. adam and i were so proud of her!

it was now friday morning, the day of our appointment. after a nice breakfast of bagels with cream cheese and decaf soymilk cappuccinos (oh! am i in america again?! oh no wait, i'm at valerie's house...), the three of us head out to the consulate, which is located just off of the museumplein. we get there pretty early and have time to do a little bit of grocery shopping for our picnic later that day, and we also stopped by the museum gift store to pick up a print for gracie's room. finally it's time for our appointment, so we head over to the consulate and go through the super crazy heavy security check. there is an elderly dutch couple lingering outside the consulate gates and we talked to them about gracie and how cute she is. for some reason, that same dutch couple is there when we leave too, and adam and i were wondering if they were like the 'welcome wagon', there to sort of welcome people back to holland after technically leaving it for american soil for a brief moment. :-) anyway, it all went very smoothly as we had all of our paperwork filled out correctly and were able to pay our fees right away. while we were there, gracie had her first american poop, and we both thought that was pretty funny.

anyway, after we left, we met valerie back at the station and decided to head out to the keukenhof, which is the same tulip garden we visited last spring. which is, of course, our next blog post. which i will have to write later because her grace has just awoken and needs a new diaper and some lunch! tot ziens!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


it's time for the latest installment of gracieTV!

here is a 1-minute video of some tummy time with gracie. she and i had been playing on the floor for several minutes before this, so by the time i thought of pulling out the camera she was pretty much done with it all. it's been my experience that kids don't really enjoy tummy time all that much cuz they can't move or see as easily. but still, i think it's a good exercise to do to build up those neck and arm muscles. anyway, it's short, but still cute.

turn up the sound for this video of gracie sleeping. she's snoring! how adorable! later in the same video is a clip of her and daddy playing together. i think the cutest thing in THAT clip is how sweet adam's voice is when he's talking to her.

and this video is a clip of gracie and adam reading a book together. (thanks to the donaldsons for providing the book that they're reading here!) it's one of my favorites: "guess how much i love you" by sam mcbratney.

happy viewing, everyone!

Friday, April 04, 2008

a day in the life (8 weeks)

darkness. quiet. sleep. out of the silence of the night, we hear a whimper from another room. it's 2:30 a.m. and gracie is waking up for her "midnight feeding". adam gets out of bed first, heads to her room, and begins the gentle process of waking her up, placing her on the changing table, and replacing her soggy, wet diaper with a fresh one. meanwhile i am slowly making my way to her room, shuffling my slippered feet across the carpet and messing with the belt on my robe. it's time to get up.

i wake up quickly with only one glance at my baby girl: she is face up on the changing table, laughing and kicking her legs happily with all the attention she is now getting from her daddy. she coos and giggles and does this little hyperventilation thing that makes her sound like an excited puppy. it's adorable.

i take a seat in the rocking chair and arrange the pillows and burp rags so that she can have a little something to eat. adam sets her in my arms, i plant a big sloppy kiss right on her mouth, and place her on my breast. she slurps and sucks noisily, and between gulps of milk she lets out little sighs that melt my heart.

adam, out of solidarity and kindness, spends the next 45 minutes or so doing random chores around the house. he often takes this time to unload the dishwasher, hang up the wet laundry (we don't have a dryer), or even scrub a toilet. he says he wants to do these things because these midnight feedings won't last forever, and he wants to get the most out of them while they last. i appreciate all of his hard work because it makes my job a lot easier in the morning, to have a clean kitchen in which to eat breakfast, and to have dry diapers and clean onesies for mary grace. he is so wonderful!

after an hour or so, she is done eating and has drifted off again, so we head to our room and go back to sleep. sometimes she is still awake when we lay her down, but she is drowsy enough that she can often get to sleep all by herself. occasionally she has difficulty so we bring her to our bed, but most of the time she's a big girl and goes to sleep all on her own!

several hours later, we hear sneezing and cooing coming from her nursery again. it's now 7:30 and the sky is light. this time it's my turn to get out of bed first, and i do my usual sleepwalk to her room. i open the curtains, unplug the nightlight, and look at our daughter: she is smiling at me, and waving her arms excitedly. immediately i am awake again, happy to be able to hold my girl after so many hours apart. rather than change her diaper right away (she usually takes a little while first thing in the morning to fill it up, as it were), i take her over to the rocking chair and begin to nurse her again. usually she is quite hungry, but some mornings (like today) she is in a playful mood and wants to look around and sing songs. after some time i get up and change her diaper and give her her vitamins (which she loves!). in the meantime, adam has gotten up too and comes in her room to visit with us while we all three take our time waking up.

about an hour after she wakes up we go downstairs. adam usually begins working on one of his projects and then gets ready to go in to the office, and i place gracie in her bouncy chair with her activity center. she looooves this! she does her excited puppy breathing again and bats at her rattles that hang from the bar above her. this usually buys me enough time to eat some breakfast and maybe check a few emails. after about 30 minutes of this she is bored and tired again, and so one of us cuddles with her until she dozes off. she takes a little catnap for about half an hour, which is usually enough time for me to take a shower and get dressed.

soon it is around 11:00 and it's time to feed her again. depending on the day, i might nurse her on the couch and let her sleep downstairs in the living room. sometimes i nurse her in her bedroom and lay her down in her crib (though she usually doesn't nap for very long in her crib -- we think she gets lonely up there and wants to be down here with all the noise and company!), and some days i get her dressed in a jacket and shoes and we go for a walk while she sleeps in her stroller. i go to the grocery store for yogurt and juice, the market for fresh peppers, the bakery for gorgeous rolls and hearty loaves of bread. i stop by the drugstore for more vitamins, shampoo, and dish soap. i go to the natural foods store for tea and flax seeds. i go to the church to light candles in gratitude for our healthy and happy daughter. sometimes she is still asleep when we get home, so i just place her, jacket and all, in her bouncy chair and let her wake up on her own.

at about 4:00 adam starts to come home from work, and on his way he rings his bicycle bell underneath our living room window. gracie and i hurry over to wave to him as he rides by. daddy's home now, and it's time for fun! he gives her her afternoon bottle and then they read books and play while i get dinner ready and have some time to myself.

we take turns eating dinner, because by 6:00 she's pretty cranky. it's been a long day for her, full of activity and dirty diapers, and she wants to go to bed. but if we put her to sleep now, she'll be awake at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, and that's too early for all of us! so we take turns walking the floor with her, bouncing her on our knees, or persuading her to suck on her binky. meanwhile the other person is eating dinner as we all sit on the couch together and hang out.

finally it's 8:00 p.m. and time for bed. i usually take her upstairs and put her in her jammies and start to feed her. in the meantime, adam is downstairs locking doors, blowing out candles, and putting dinner away. by 8:30 gracie is nursing happily and adam is able to come upstairs to keep me company while we wait for her to drift off. soon she is asleep and we swaddle her tightly and tuck her in. adam plugs in her nightlight and makes sure that her hot water bottle is positioned correctly so that she will stay nice and warm throughout the night. we get ready for bed and spend the next half an hour or so just talking and spending time together, as spouses and friends, rather than as parents.

and then it is 2:30 and time to begin again...