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!