Sunday, November 15, 2009

gracie's words

december 28, 2009: i have been working on this blog entry for nearly 2 months and it's still not done! mostly because every day i see gracie do another amazing thing, or hear her say another totally complicated word or sentence, and so i have to add it to this entry and basically it's just not getting completed... so even though i would love to edit this more to make it flow better, and make it absolutely comprehsive, i know i just have to move on. what i envision for the future of this blog, now that we're back from europe and not having any more fabulous adventures, is to dedicate this space to gracie and her funny stories, and her developmental milestones and accomplishments. so, apologies in advance for the incoherency of this post, cuz i'm just posting it and letting it go... and please start checking back more often because there are so many great stories to tell you about mary grace!


i have been meaning to write this post since mg was less than a year old... it's been fascinating to see/hear her communicate, to be a witness to the inner workings of her mind, to have conversations and tell JOKES with her. watching another human being evolve is truly mindblowing and inspiring... and this whole "learning how to talk" phase is probably my favorite so far... fewer bruised noggins than learning how to walk, no sticky messes to clean up like when she's learning how to feed herself, and definitely more fun than potty training, which is a hit-or-miss (usually a miss) for her. gross!

we started out when she was only a few months old, with baby sign language. there have been countless studies on this subject, none of which i have read or know much about. but i remember that when i used to work in a daycare back in boulder, we used baby sign language in the infant room and it had great success. so we thought, why not try it with gracie?

i can't remember when exactly she signed her first sign, but it was well before her 1st birthday. maybe as young as 10 months old i think??? and, of course, it was the sign for "all done." all done with her diaper change, all done with putting on her shoes, all done with her dinner, all done with riding on the train, all done all done all done! i think if we would have taught her the sign for "no" she probably would have signed that one first...

she quickly picked up on other signs: eat, drink, diaper, sleep, more/i want, hat... we even made up signs of our own: we made up one for pacifier, street sweeper, and even gracie designed her own sign for the word "butterfly." (waving her arms back and forth, but not up and down -- more like her hands would come in towards her heart, and then out again at shoulder level -- not like a bird's wings, but like doing the breast stroke sort of.) don't ask me how she came up with it, or even how we knew what she was saying, but for some reason we were still able to communicate. we totally understood her the very first time she signed it!

her very first spoken word was mama, of course. even when she was an infant, when she would cry, she would go, "aaaah, ma ma ma maaaa, mama, ma ma..." but we both kinda knew that she was just babbling. (though it broke my heart to hear her crying and saying "mama" at the same time!) but one day, sometime around 6 or 7 months old, she figured it out. suddenly "mama" took on new meaning. though she still said it mostly when she was crying, there was something about the insistence of her voice that made me really feel that she was calling out for her mama. she was forceful and intentional about it, like she was asking for me. don't ask me how i knew she was saying "mama" and not just babbling anymore, but i knew. the sound of her voice was different.

her next word was "book." but it came out like "ba." but again, there was something about the insistence of her voice, and the context she was in -- i handed her a book at 10 months old, and she said "ba". she quickly learned to say "ba" for a whole mess of things after that, but for a few good days, she would only say "ba" if she saw a book. so i know she was saying it, even if after that EVERYTHING became "ba."

(i think it's kind of like when a child learns what a doggie is, and will say "doggie", but then pretty soon afterwards ALL fuzzy animals become doggies. cats are doggies, cows are doggies, mice are doggies... i think that's what happened with mg -- "ba" was book, but then "ba" was pretty much any inanimate object she could hold.)

her language skills were still slow for a while, learning a new word every week or so. her list was pretty short until around 18 months -- her primary ones were "light" (la la la la...), "shoes" (sees!), "steps" (baps), and the dutch word for bike ("fiets" but she said it more like "seets"). she would say "pedals" (peh-nos), since the pedals of the bikes really interested her a lot, and soon after that she would also say "wheel" (wee-o). basically, if it was on a bike she was interested in it and wanted to know/say the word for it.

(she still says "fiets" a lot when she's talking about a bike. and if someone is riding on a bike, she will correctly call that person a "fietser". she doesn't have very many dutch words, but that one she has held onto pretty well.)

her comprehension was amazing, too. at 11 months, we could ask her to point to nearly any body part and she'd do it -- nose (that one was hard cuz it was somewhere in front of her face but she could never see it), ears, head, hair, belly, hands. ask her to do something, like clap her hands or wave to daddy, and she'd know exactly what was just requested of her and then she'd just do it! (soooo glad we taught her sign language so she could communicate back to us! she understood so much already but just didn't have the physiological make-up to be able to tell us what she wanted! hence, signing with the hands instead of crying to get what she wanted...)

something happened around the time she turned a year and a half, and all of a sudden her language just took off! i don't know if it's because something happens to ALL children at that age (does it? i don't know...), or if it was the fact that we were now living in the united states, and she wasn't hearing two languages all day long. even though we spoke primarily english at home (occasionally we'd speak dutch to gracie or to each other), whenever we left the house we'd be speaking in dutch. nearly everything in the home was in one language, and nearly everything outside the home was in another language. i wondered if this bilingual environment might have stalled her language skills? not stunted her skills -- since at 21 months she clearly has a commanding grasp of this whole communication thing. but stalled, perhaps? maybe she didn't know the correct word for "blue" or for "cup", since she's heard it from me and adam and everyone else in her world two different ways?

or maybe she just didn't have a million zillion words yet cuz she just didn't hit that developmental milestone yet... regardless of the reason, by the time she turned 18 months (and at which point we moved back to the usa), her words all caught up to her. at her year-and-a-half checkup with her pediatrician, he asked me if she was speaking and how many words she knew. off the top of my head, i guessed about 30 words, not including ALLLL of her animal sounds. (she learned her animal sounds right away! like, maybe at only 14 months, she knew them ALL -- doggie, cow, bird, horsie, cat, fishie -- that one was her first -- monkey, elephant, dinosaur...) once i got home, and started making a list, i realized she knew over SIXTY words (not including her animal sounds, which she would say instead of the name of the animal. for example, if she saw a dog, she wouldn't say "doggie" but she would instead start barking or panting or something, while pointing at the dog. does that count as a word? cuz she's totally getting her point across.)

anyway, after we moved, her language skills just totally exploded and expanded exponentially. she suddenly learned one, two, three different words a day! she can say it all! we can't even count how many words anymore... let's just say it numbers in the HUNDREDS. she's even able to combine words to make simple sentences. some of her favorites:

"gwacie do self" (this is her favorite. she says it ALLL the time)

"daddy some too"

"mama coming" (when she wants me to come too. not as in, mama is coming, but "mama, are you coming? come with, mama!")

"moh-ee appo-doocy puh-lees!" (more apple juice please)

"too munch wah-mee." (too warm.)

"ov-ooh? ov-ooh?" (can you move over there?)

"how bout ov-ooh he-uw" (how about over here?)

and one she just learned over the christmas break: "nice to meet you." said perfectly. she's amazing!

she seems to have a hard time saying her "r" sound -- so "bear" sounds like "bay-uw", and "gracie" comes out like "gwacie." the one that's hardest for other people to understand is the way she says "more" ("moh-ee"). she says "more" pretty much all the time, but it's the MOST hilarious when we give her a little treat like a cookie or something, and AS SOON AS IT'S POPPED IN HER MOUTH she starts asking for "mow-ee", with crumbs flying out of her mouth and cheeks stuffed full of sweet cookie goodness. a mouth full of cookie, not even swallowed yet, asking for "mow-ee". too cute!

so the biggest reason i wanted to write this post is because i wanted to document some of our favorite words (and some of gracie's too). on the left is the word she's trying to say, and the the one on the right is how it sounds coming out of her mouth (as if that wasn't already obvious to you reading this)...

so here we go:

alligator -- ah-goo-goo (also said as a farewell -- as in "see you later alligator." but she'll just say ah-goo-goo!)

steps -- baps (don't know why, it's always been this way. i know she can say the word "steps" but for some reason she chooses to say "baps" instead.)

her special blanket -- biss (i'll write a story about this on a future blog, cuz it's cute)

binky (pacifier) -- bee

snuggle -- suh-go (but snuggle can also apparently be a solo activity for her -- as in, "i want some down time by myself." it's so funny to hear her say "suh-go selfie" -- snuggle by myself. whatever, gracie! we know what you want, even if you aren't able to say it right quite yet!)

banana -- bilah-bilee (what?? that was weird and cute. now she says it properly, but for months there they were bilah-bilees.)

spatula -- pah-too-lu-la

hamburger -- ham-oh-goo-gee (her word for helicopter sounds a lot like this too)

all done -- ah dah-ee (though now it sounds more like ah-dun. she's getting better!)

thank you -- dayt doo

excuse me -- kee me

shower -- shao-ee

if she wants you to move out of the way, she'll say "beep beep way!"

music -- mickies

star -- how i (as in "how i wonder what you are" -- the first words she could sing,)

santa claus -- sahn-tah baby (she heard that eartha kitt song a while back and now she's hooked. so santa claus has been replaced by santa baby. in fact, she knows most of the words to that song already, and she and i sing it together every day!)

juice -- doos (or doosie)

love you -- lufoo (my favorite of course)

noodles -- noo-nahs

water -- lah-low (sounded exactly the same as "yellow" for several weeks there. now she says wah-doo, but it wasn't always that way!)

oatmeal/malt-o-meal -- mah-poh-no-nee

yogurt -- loo-koo (strange since she can say the word "yoga" just fine. but yogurt seems to be more difficult for her.)

mine -- MAI-NT!!!

onion -- uh-nee

dishes -- dissies

nijntje -- nai-shee (nijntje is a dutch storybook character, and gracie has lots of nijntje books)

blanket -- bin-kins

napkin -- mah-kee! (or, when i try to correct her, and i say "nuh nuh nuh nuh NNNapkin", then mg will say "nuh nuh nuh nuh MAHKEE!" ha! rae thinks it's because she could say the word "map" when she was still quite little, and when she unfolds a napkin it unfolds similar to a map.)

pepperoni -- pah-poo-no-nee

chocolate milk -- tahk-ee mahk

goodnight -- ga-light

circle -- soo-koo

L M N O P -- umma numma numma numma PEEE!

she can, of course, say lots of words perfectly. and lots of words close enough. it's just a few words where we seem to have our own language with her -- baps, loo-koo, biss, etc. and naturally she still says lots of dutch words (fiets, dadel, klompen, slaapzak, etc.). she doesn't seem to understand dutch now as well as she did when we lived in hengelo, but that's our fault from not exposing her to enough of it. we do still speak dutch to her occasionally, and if we keep doing it then she'll learn it once again.

when she farts (or if one of us do, of course i NEVER do, but let's just say hypothetically...), she will not only tell us what she did, but how it sounded. so, she'll tell us it was a "thunder fart" (fun-noo faht!). this makes us laugh EVERY time she says it. maybe we shouldn't encourage such "vile" behavior, but we can't help it. hearing a little girl yell "fun-oo faht" as fast as she can. sure is a riot! adam is trying to teach her the phrase "monkey feces" (why in the world he wants to teach her that i have no idea) -- but she says "monkey faces" instead. good girl!

if another child is crying, she will start whining and pretend to cry too, to emulate compassion and sympathy for her upset friend. then she'll just stop what she's doing, look at a grown-up, and with a totally serious face will say "cwy-ning!" then go back to pretend-crying again. it was cute at first, but now it's starting to get not so fun because... well, let's face it, it's kind of a not-so-nice noise to hear. so we've started to ask her what laughing sounds like, since she knows what crying already sounds like. and she'll start laughing. what about surprise, gracie? what about excited, gracie? trying to redirect her. so far it seems to be working, let's hope it stays that way!

along with that, she basically loves narrating what's going on. thunder fart, for example. crying, for example. if she hears a loud noise, she'll be sure to stop what she's doing to tell us it's noisy. if she hears a lawnmower or leaf blower (which is often here in texas), she'll tell us someone's working by saying "lawn!". if there is an airplane, she'll yell "ah-pain!" and then make airplane sounds, and tell us "clouds" and "bye-bye". she loves to tell us stories about her day: the fire ants that bite you when you step on them, the truck that aiden stole from her at school, her cousin who slept in her room over thanksgiving, her mema who lives in minnesota and made ghosties with her... i could go on and on and on and on and... she pretty much is always telling us what's going on, what she sees, or what she wants to be doing. it's constant. (and, isn't it nice that my daughter wants us to know what's going on in her head? wait about 10 years or so and i'll be desperate to know what she's thinking...)

even with her made-up words, and mispronunciation of other words, we completely understand her, and most people get what she's trying to say. we are always so proud of her, naturally, of her accomplishments and her curiosity, and are pleased to see how clever and bright she is. but mostly, we love how HAPPY she is, and how everything she does/experiences/sees brings her so much JOY. this is evident not only in her sunny personality, but her eagerness to learn and understand everything around her. everything EVERYTHING fascinates her, and she wants desperately to tell us what she's seeing, and how she's feeling, and what's going on in her world.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

i'm a lumberjack and i'm okay...

so how's this for ironic?

we weren't scheduled to close on our house until september 15, but jennifer smith (our loan lady who totally kicks butt) was able to get us in nearly a week ahead of schedule!

so we close on our house on a thursday. adam picks up the keys that evening. on friday we spend our very first night in our new place -- it worked out just perfectly since the things that we shipped from hengelo showed up at our house that very same day, so adam and i had a bed and most of our kitchen stuff, which is really all you need on your first day anyway. and on saturday morning at about 6:30 a.m. we woke up to a HUGE CRASHING SOUND right outside our window!

so we jump out of bed, and freak out, and turn on all the lights in order to look for the burglar who undoubtedly has broken into our home to steal our precious mary grace. (i should mention too that not only was it our first night in a new house, but it was the first night in over two months that we were sleeping in a different room than gracie.) of course, no one had broken down the door (even though it sure sounded like it), and since it was already morning anyway we decided just to make some coffee and get started unpacking before gracie woke up.

at 8:00 a.m. the cable guy showed up. he was scoping around the outside of the house to look for a good place to put up the satellite dish. then he comes back into our house and says "y'all have a big tree that broke by the garage." ugh. how's that for an auspicious start to our new beginning? had we closed on our originally scheduled date, this would be someone else's problem. but now it was ours -- i HAD to be impatient and move in sooner, didn't i? sigh...

so we head outside and sure enough there is a GINORMOUS tree branch that had broken off of our tree and crashed onto the neighbor's new fence. to make matters worse, i hadn't even met the new neighbors yet. how embarassing!

well, i'm a first-time homeowner, so my instinct is to get on the phone and call the landlord. only now, THAT'S ME! okay, okay, okay... stay calm... what do i do? what do i do? um... call the insurance guy! yeah, that's it! oh... insurance guy isn't there. um... um... um...

well, i finally get ahold of my insurance company, and i'm standing in the rain, in my pajamas, not quite sure what's going on, i hadn't had any breakfast yet, gracie's waking up soon, and the cable guy needs my input on something. and THEN my new neighbor steps out of her door to get in her car to go to the store. only thing is, the tree is blocking her. and i'm standing there looking like a doofus.

now, to make matters even MORE complicated... see that car parked in the driveway? yeah. that's a RENTAL.

well my new neighbor, nancy, is an absolute saint. she invites me in, even though i just ruined her new fence. i've got my insurance company in one ear on the phone, and nancy in my other ear, trying to introduce herself. i hang up on the insurance people, greet nancy, and apologize profusely. "hi, my name is amber and i'm your new neighbor," i blushed.

nancy insisted i come in out of the rain, even though i'm in my pajamas. oh, and did i mention i ruined her new fence? and nearly trashed her rental car? yeah. nancy's just that awesome. we sat at her kitchen table getting to know each other a little better when her husband, ed, shuffles out in his jammies too. i felt just terrible about everything, but they were so understanding and kind. in fact, THEY were the ones apologizing to ME! they just kept saying how awful they felt for us, being new to town, buying our new home, and now this happening! i left feeling a little better, even though we still had quite a mess on our hands! (but at least our neighbors turned out to be cool...)

well, as it turns out, getting a tree cleaned up in our town is easier than you'd think. turns out everyone in our neighborhood was excited to get out their chainsaws, axes, and leaf blowers to clean up our mess! after it finally stopped raining (like a WEEK later -- i'm NOT exaggerating, we got FIFTEEN INCHES [38 centimeters!] of rain that week. GROSS!)... after it finally stopped raining, most of our neighborhood came over to our place to help us clean it all up. in fact, the very same day that the tree fell down, everyone on the street came over to have a little conference in our driveway, to talk about whose son was the strongest and who had the best power tools for the job, because why pay a tree service to clean up this mess when we all want to pitch in and do it ourselves?

seriously amazing.

so we bought the beer, and two of our neighbors brought their chainsaws (in fact, i had just met one of my chainsaw-wielding neighbors that very day -- his wife was out on a walk with their son, i introduced myself to her, and when she heard about our plight she went home, WOKE HER HUSBAND UP FROM HIS NAP and sent him over to help! how's that for awesome?). another neighbor i had just met earlier that morning when gracie and i were on a walk to the grocery store -- he brought one of his sons over to lend a hand. ed and nancy, whose fence we ruined, even got out their brooms after they got home from church so that they could help sweep up the debris. whether people were there for the whole afternoon, or whether they were there for 20 minutes, EVERYONE chipped in.

so what started out as a terrible morning, turned into an amazing experience for us. we really saw the true colors of all our neighbors. this tree was no one's problem but ours, and yet everyone EVERYONE in our neighborhood came over on a sunday afternoon to chip in and welcome us home. oh, and now we have like three winter's worth of firewood too. bonus!

epilogue: the offending silver maple unfortunately had to be cut down. SAD SAD SAD i know. but after having three different tree companies come out and look at it, it became pretty obvious that it was dying and was 100% definitely going to do this again. given the high-traffic area it was in (looming over two houses, two driveways, and two backyards) we just couldn't risk having this tree come crashing down again. we were really REALLY lucky that it didn't kill anyone (gracie rides her bike in the driveway all the time, and ed and nancy's bedroom window was only a few feet from where the branch landed). we actually feel lucky that it happened when it did, so that we would find out sooner that the tree was diseased -- rather than playing, parking, and sleeping under these dangerous limbs.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

the day we bought a house

oh, i'm soooo sorry!

it's been AGES since i posted anything on this blog! i hope you haven't forgotten about us!

we've been busy... buying a house and all. moving, unpacking, cleaning things out, cutting down trees (more on that later), making friends, fixing the roof, trying to not float away with all the damn rain we've had in the last 2 months... but finally, things are almost normal around here. so i have a couple of moments to get you caught up. there are so many stories to tell, though, that i'll just have to go one at a time.

let's see... i guess i should start at the beginning: what it was like to buy our first house!

we got here in the early part of august, and stayed at a friend's house in a nearby suburb. it was really nice to have a huge, furnished house all to ourselves -- plus a pool! -- but it really wasn't our style, and we were anxious to move into a place of our own. luckily, we found a house we loved only a few days after we moved down here, and the owners accepted our offer within hours of us making it! we felt comfortable making an offer on this place, because i had been doing a ton of research on denton for several months, asking our realtor to send us links to places that fit our criteria. plus, i had been in contact with lots of people from around here, asking which neighborhoods to avoid and which ones to focus on. by the time we arrived, i felt like i already knew this town and what it had to offer.

we only spent a day househunting, but we saw 8 houses in that time, so we got a good feel for what was out there and which places were reasonably priced. and we both knew, the moment we walked in to this house, that it was going to be ours. in fact, a few days after our offer was accepted, i drove gracie past here so she could see it for the first time -- she looked out the car window and said "home!". i think she approved. it sent goosebumps down my arms and legs... it's like, she KNEW, and she thought it was a good fit too. amazing. we owed a HUGE thanks to our realtor, judy howard at remax/dfw, who totally TOTALLY bent over backwards and worked crazy hours to get us this house -- including helping us get our offer in in time (there was another offer that was only hours away from being accepted, and she totally trumped them!woohoo!).

anyway, next came all the paperwork -- who knew that owning property in this country was such a big deal?! i mean, when i got married, i signed one, maybe two pieces of paper, then got a new social security card, and that was about it. when i got pregnant, i didn't have to sign anything at all -- and when gracie was born i think all we had to do was register her at the gemeentehuis in hengelo, which adam tells me took all of 10 minutes. i think he signed one piece of paper to make it official. but that's it.

buying a house, however, requires countless signatures on a stack of papers three inches thick. and that's just with the lender, to find out if we even qualify for a loan in the amount we're asking for! once that was all squared away (which at the time seemed like a huge deal, but in retrospect really went rather smoothly), we just kind of had to sit and wait for all the money to get lined up so we could get the keys. we were actually able to close a week ahead of schedule, too! a big shout out to jennifer smith at 1st national bank! she was awesome!

finally it was closing day: we sat in that title company for nearly an hour and a half, and all we did was sign our names on the dotted lines. it was kind of a big deal! we take property ownership really seriously in this capitalistic society of ours! it was almost bigger than easter sunday mass, swear to god... all the ritual and order and seriousness to explain to us what a HUGE deal this was. i was exhausted at the end of it! gracie was an angel, as usual, and the title company sure did what they could to make us feel welcome, putting our names on a sign and making us cookies :-) . both judy and jennifer were there, too, to answer questions and congratulate us. they were wonderful from beginning to end!

so. we signed all these papers, but then we STILL didn't get the keys. we had to wait for the previous owners to come in and sign their house over to us. which took a couple of hours. so in the meantime, we went out for lunch at a restaurant/bar called MG's, which is only about a half mile from our new house! of COURSE we had to go there -- we call mary grace "mg" all the time, so it's "her" restaurant! it was a cute little burger place with pool tables and cheap food, and we've actually been there a couple of times since then cuz we love it so much. and because it's named after our daughter, so there's that too.

adam had to go back to work that day, i took mg back to our friend's house for a nap, and on adam's way home he swung by the title company to get the keys! hooray! it was ours, all ours! we were now homeowners! i could hardly sleep that night i was so freaking excited!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

new digs!

howdy, y'all!

as i type this, i am sitting on my couch in my NEW HOME, drinking coffee and listening to the rain pitter patter on the back patio. we just spent our first night here in our new house, and i am energized and excited!

a lot of you have been asking for pictures of our house, so i wanted to give you a "virtual tour" of the place. rather than clutter up your inbox with a bunch of pictures, i thought i'd make a blog entry instead.

i am not posting a picture of the front of our house, for obvious internet-stalker security reasons. but if you want to see the outside of it, you can either A) email me and i can email you back a picture, or B) come and visit!

i will, however, describe to you the house: it's this adorable little ranch-style, brick, 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom brick home, on a very quiet and wooded street. it is hard to find mature trees like this in the suburbs of dallas, because so much of this area has been built up only in the last 20 or 30 years. our house was built in the 1960's, and everyone out here seems to think that it's rather old for a house. lol! i suppose comparatively speaking, that is true!

our street is very quiet, and the only people who seem to know where our street is are the people who actually live here. there isn't much of anything back in our neighborhood, which is nice because it means there is less traffic. however, less than a kilometer/4-5 blocks away there is a nice park for gracie to play in, and about 1 kilometer/.5 miles away there is a huge supermarket. there is TONS of shopping, restaurants, cafes, and even a movie theater within a short walking distance. so we are very close to a lot of important things, but our neighborhood is BEHIND all of this stuff, so no one drives down our street!

we are also only about 3 kilometers/1.5 miles away from both adam's work and gracie's preschool! as soon as we get our bikes we will be biking everywhere, just like back in hengelo!

if you were to look at the front of our house, you would see a bunch of beautiful windows. the ones on the far left, shaped like diamonds, actually go into the garage. the next couple of big, beautiful windows look into the formal dining room. the dining room, however, will be used for adam's office and for a sort of formal sitting room/parlour (oh, my house is so nice i can have a parlour in it!). that's what you see in this picture. (ps, all of these pictures were taken before adam and i got to move in. so there is still quite a bit of furniture, etc. in the pictures, which does not belong to us.) as you can see in this photo, it has carpet, so i don't imagine we will be eating in there at all, but it makes for a perfect area for adam to do his work and to have people over for meetings. there is a cute little chandelier in this room, and lots of big closets for storage. there is also a little bar area that is built in to the wall! and, GET THIS!... there is an INDOOR flower bed in this room! that's right! i can plant flowers INSIDE my house! there is a drain that goes all the way down to the ground, so i can put some potting soil in there and plant whatever i want! maybe an indoor herb garden? fun!

when you walk in the front door, immediately in front of you, you will see the living room with a big, pretty stone fireplace, which you can see in this picture. (the fireplace has the same type of stone that matches the pillars in the front.) when you walk in, to your left is the parlour/adam's office. to the right you is a hallway with two bedrooms and a bathroom.

now back to the living room. here is another picture to show you the full view. there is a cute desk that is built in to the wall. and there is a little window in the kitchen which opens up into the living room -- so even when i am making dinner or cleaning up, i can still spend time with my family! yay!

the next picture is of the kitchen: it is taken from the center of the house -- so the last picture i just showed you, of the living room, was taken from this very same spot (but obviously looking in a different direction.) the kitchen doesn't have a lot of counter space to work/cook on, but there is a TON of storage space in the cabinets. i even have a little pantry built in! (normally i have to put my things on a bookshelf near the kitchen! this is wonderful!) what i love most about my kitchen is the fun old-west style saloon-type doors! those open up into the parlour room.

the kitchen extends to the back of the house, which is where we will put our table. it will be so nice to sit here, looking out our gorgeous windows into our backyard -- just like in hengelo!

there is another bedroom just off of the kitchen, which is the largest of the three rooms. this will be my massage office when i finally get started up again. there is a bathroom attached to this bedroom, which is not accessible to the rest of the house. and the bedroom which will be my office has a separate entrance in the backyard -- so when my clients come for their appointments, they will park in the driveway, walk through the back gate, follow the steps to the patio, and walk right in. they won't bother the rest of the house at all, and we won't bother them! how wonderful!

our bedrooms are on the other end of the house. gracie's faces the front yard, and ours faces the back. there is a bathroom adjacent to our room, and the bathroom is directly across the hall from mg's room, so we'll share it together. this bathroom actually has a bathtub in it, whereas the other bathroom (the one in the massage room) has only a shower (and toilet and sink of course). what i don't like about our bathroom is that it's carpeted (yuck!), and there is only one sink. but in our bedroom there is a little sitting area with a sink there, so i've claimed that as mine. adam calls it my "froo-froo space." whatever he wants to call it is fine by me. as long as it's mine!

something i love most of all about our house is our beautiful back yard. it's very shaded, but has a sunny patch where i'll be planting pumpkins, tomatoes, and jalapenos next summer. our patio is huge and wonderful, and i'd like to line it with terra cotta planters filled with basil and peppers and fragrant flowers and chives and cherry tomatoes and and and... one side of the backyard is almost always in the shade, so we'd like to put gracie's swingset there (whenever we find the money to get her a swingset, then that's where it will go). the other side, where my eventual garden will be planted, now has a huge, ugly, metal toolshed there. i'm thinking about posting it on craigslist and telling people they can have it for free if they can haul it out of here for me! it's GOT to go!

so there you go. that's our new home. we love it here, and i've already got some great stories to tell you about our first few moments here... but that will have to wait for another blog at another time.

y'all come on down for a visit any ol' time you want! we'll be waiting!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

teaching gracie about democracy

there is an important issue facing our new hometown of denton, TX: the proposed drilling of gas wells within the city limits. not only is it putting our groundwater and the foundation of our homes in danger, but the proposed site is EXTREMELY upsetting: directly across the street from a park, dozens and dozens of homes, a hospital, and a hospice center. are you kidding me? who thought up this brilliant plan?!

so last night we went to a protest. yours truly ended up on the front page of the denton record chronicle newspaper. and miss mary grace briggle also got her picture taken by another newspaper.

Protest at City Hall from NTDaily on Vimeo.

it wasn't hard to teach her how to say "no no no" to these proposed wells. she's pretty good at saying "no" already (and she's not even two years old yet!). what WAS hard was teaching her how to hold the sign properly since it was about twice as big as she was. oh, well. practice makes perfect. i hear that we're holding another rally in two weeks, so she can try it again then...


Sunday, August 30, 2009

i forgot to tell you we went to barcelona!

well, as you know, a LOT has happened over the summer. and we've hardly had a moment to catch our breath, let alone find the time to blog about it all... i'm so busy with gracie during the daytime that sitting down to my computer for any longer than 5 minutes to check my facebook account just isn't possible. and in the evenings, adam and i usually cozy up around my laptop to watch some internet tv (god bless!), which means i can't be blogging at the same time. so i've fallen behind on the updates.

so, before any more time passes, i feel like i should at least mention that we went to barcelona in june. it was our last family vacation abroad before moving here to texas. it's crazy to think that it was only two months ago when we were there -- by now it almost feels like someone else's life, something that we might have read about in a magazine but something that we surely didn't experience for ourselves! time sure has a funny way of playing tricks on your memory!

anyway, here's what happened: as is typical of the briggle family, when adam gets invited to a fun european city, gracie and i inevitably tag along. (think salzburg, hamburg, athens, brussels, milan, etc... you get the point!) this time, it was in sunny and sexy barcelona. sign me up!!!

the timing for this trip was really strange: it was right after our friend shelby came out to visit, and right before our move -- basically, shelby came, a few days later we left for barcelona, and then by the time we got back we had just a little over a week to wrap it up and say goodbye. so in a way the timing was AWFUL, but in another way it was perfect -- with all of the stress of packing, bureaucratic paperwork, and going away parties, we NEEDED a holiday! and better yet, the apartment we rented for the week didn't have internet access so we were offline for eight solid days! nice!

we rented a flat, only 30 meters from the beach. and, a useful travel tip to you all: whenever going to a new city, especially if you're going to be there for more than just a couple of days, SERIOUSLY consider getting an apartment! we were looking at hotels along the beaches in barcelona, and everything was at least 180 euros a night and very small looking. but we got ourselves an apartment, very close to the beach, for 100 euros a night -- nice! we had our own kitchen to make breakfast in, a fridge for gracie's milk bottles, a washer/dryer combo, and no noisy drunk tourists running up and down the hallways. it was perfect! it was TINY, but perfect.

our apartment was on a tiny little street, not as nice as this one, but comparable. it was in one of those typical tenement buildings that you think of when you think of big european cities. we loved it! tons of grocery stores all just minutes away by foot, and as i said, REALLY close to the beach.

so this would be a typical day in barcelona: adam would wake up early, get ready for his conference, and leave before gracie and i would roll out of bed. we'd eventually wake up around 8:30 or so, sometimes as late as 9:00 (!!! -- I LOVE HAVING A GOOD SLEEPER! what a good girl!!!), and make some breakfast: usually some yummy roll or chocolatey pastry that we picked up at a bakery the day before, some fruit, and maybe some cheese or chorizo. then while she was watching dora the explorer in spanish (ever wonder what dora teaches if the show is in spanish? she teaches english -- naturally!), i would get us packed up for the beach.

i'd pack up a bag of the necessities: sunscreen, lots of water (had to buy it in giant bottles at the grocery stores in the area as the local water was NOT good), snackies, books, sand toys, towels, a blanket, camera, and a beach umbrella that was left for us by a previous renter. then we'd hit the streets!

before gracie and i got to the beach, we'd usually stop at another bakery, produce stand, or supermarket for snacks, waters, and stuff for lunch. one time we found a covered market where we got some lekker stuff for that evening's dinner. then we'd make our way to the beachfront. (and as soon as we turned the corner so she could see the beach, she would instantly scream and squeal and go "ooooh!" and point, in case i missed it and maybe forgot that she would want to go get a better look.)

we'd hang out for several hours -- i'd get us all set up in the sand, while gracie dug nicely in the shade provided by our beach umbrella. and she'd just dig! and dig, and dig, and dig. what a good girl! i'd lay next to her, reading a book (i plowed through "the kite runner" in about 4 days flat!), and then we'd get up and jump in the water. i tried to be aware of our stuff, since barcelona's beaches are notorious for pickpockets, but since gracie and i usually went to the beach in the morning, it wasn't as crowded. besides, i left my purse and most of my money back at the flat, and the only thing they could possibly steal would be the camera -- it would suck to lose our pictures, but it wouldn't ruin our vacation. so i was willing to risk it.

after several hours at the beach, usually around 1:00 or 1:30, we'd head back to our flat for a late lunch. i can't remember what i fed gracie -- it was probably something we normally would eat at home (like a hotdog and some veggies). since we had a kitchen of our own it wasn't hard to find something decent and inexpensive to feed her. while she was eating, i would be cleaning up and sweeping up all the sand, pouring it out of her beach shoes and out of our bags, and getting her crib ready for naptime. this usually took at least half an hour or more, and by the time she was ready to nap i was ready for one myself!

she was usually exhausted at this point in the day, with all the sun and sand and fresh air, so she'd fall asleep right away. then i'd get out my book, pour myself a cerveza frio and eat some chorizo and bread until she woke up.

funny story: one day gracie and i explored a different area of barceloneta beach. i kept noticing that there was this area way down along the spit that seemed much less crowded than the rest of the beach -- i didn't know why this was, i thought maybe it was just less crowded because there weren't any cafes or bars down there. so one morning she and i checked it out. and i walked almost all the way to the end, and down the sand dunes, with gracie and all of our stuff in the hot catalan sunshine... got us alllll set up, and i look around... and everyone's NAKED. like, not just topless (which is common on any public beach in barcelona), but full monty naked. they were kind of giving me looks like "what are you doing here?" and i didn't know if it was because i was a tourist, or because i had a child with me, or if it was because i was still wearing my swimsuit. but omg, i was so exhausted from the long walk that there was no way i getting us packed up again to head down to the other end of the beach. so i thought, when in rome (or in this case, barcelona), do as the romans (or the catalans) do. so i stripped down and gracie and i went skinny dipping all morning with the cute gay couples (this was also the gay beach apparently) and old hairy men. it was strange at first, but i got over my american modesty pretty quick.

the afternoons were always different: sometimes gracie and i would go find an old church to explore, or sometimes we'd find a street band to dance to. one time we took a bike ride to the gothic quarter and found our way to some famous cathedral, the name of which i forget now. the first time i wanted to go there, i was way underdressed (a common complaint by the catalans of the tourists), and the "bouncer" wouldn't let me in. this time i brought a shawl with me to drape around my shoulders, and they allowed me access.

this particular church had a pretty courtyard area with ducks and swans walking around, and a beautiful well which was said to have healing properties -- you were invited to drink from it and pour the water on the areas of your body which needed healing.

i lit a few candles before we left.

one afternoon we found a street band ("el tumbao de juana" -- they are awesome! check out their myspace page here!) which gracie LOVED LOVED LOVED. my favorite part was the handsome gentleman dressed in white, whose sole job it was was to get the beautiful ladies up and dancing to the tunes. oh, and he sold a couple of cd's as well. (we bought one!)

(trying to embed a youtube video of gracie dancing to the tunes -- if it doesn't load on your computer then follow this link to see gracie's video)

sometimes we'd just go sit at a sidewalk cafe and watch people walk by. i'd order a mojito or something fabulous like that, and gracie would sit in her chair drinking her juice, and we'd watch all the doggies and bikes and little kids run around. people watching sure is fun, isn't it gracie?!

eventually it'd be time to eat. usually we'd eat out at a restaurant, or order something to bring back to the flat. our favorite was to order the little pizzas at a cafe located on barceloneta beach. it was cheap, filling, and gracie liked to pick the sausages off her pieces, so apparently it was entertaining too.

we didn't spend all our time alone, though. there were a few days in there when adam was able to duck out early from the conference, and we did stay for a couple of extra days just so that we'd have time to explore barcelona as a family. one day we went to the picasso museum, which was really fascinating, but not necessarily the best activity to do with a toddler. :-)

here's another story: the day that we went to the picasso museum, we decided to try to get lost along the way to explore more of the city. we came across a church called iglesia santa maria del mare or something like that -- st. mary of the sea. and anything dedicated to mary is something i want to see! so we ducked in to explore this gothic beauty... anyway, we're walking around and we realize that gracie is insisting on some word -- "may mi. mi mi! mi mi! may may!" and pointing. sure enough, she was pointing to the beautiful statue of MARY up at the altar! she was saying mary! without any prompting or guidance from us! isn't that amazing?! it must be because when we lived in hengelo, we would always go to the big catholic church to light candles at the mary altar, so i guess she recognized mary, even though she looked different here in this particular church.

(and now, as i type this, i have an asterisk to add to this story: gracie will say "mary" for just about anything remotely religious: a cross, a church -- or a building that looks like a church -- any statue or big porcelain doll, any oval-shaped pendant on a necklace -- i wear a mary necklace frequently and she knows her from there as well! but i'll take it! i think it's awesome that she knows this word and knows mary!)

adam also got some beach time with us. (he kept asking me, "aren't you beached out? you guys go EVERY day." my reply? "NO! let's go hit the beach!") we were able to go in the morning once or twice with him during the week, but we made the mistake of going in the evenings a couple of times, and the beaches are CRAZY crowded after about 3:00 pm. but if you're prepared for it, it's okay. the beaches, i have to say, are not the cleanest ones around, but they're actually not bad. of course, we're not beach snobs or anything, and there was something festive and fun about having thousands of people, from all around the world, half naked there in the sunshine with us. there were vendors walking around selling "cold" beer (their words -- not mine -- i'd say "lukewarm" or maybe even "not quite chilled" if i was being generous), and lots of women selling massages... i almost signed up for one, cuz they're cheap and lord knows my feet were killing me after all the walking we'd been doing that week, but i wisely realized that these women NEVER wash their hands. no way did i want a part of that. imagine all the bodies they touched throughout the day, all the germs they picked up, all the sweat and alcohol and grime that they'd been collecting -- then PAY them to touch me with the same hands? no thank you! grody! but i digress -- my point is that even though the beaches were crowded, it was FUN! there were other little kids for gracie to play with, there were different languages all around us, there were beautiful people from every corner of the globe, and there was the mediterranean, blue and expansive and gentle. it didn't matter that we couldn't find a quiet patch of sand to spread out in -- it was one giant beach party and we were just happy to be invited!

(youtube still not synching up with my blogger account -- so follow this link to watch another video of gracie, this time she's on the beach with daddy!)

eventually it was time to go. back to our lives in hengelo, and back to the chaos of moving. it was a real treat to be on vacation in barcelona, without internet (yes, i somehow survived, and i REALLY loved it!), in the sun and waves, all sandy and sunkissed with gracie, seeing the sights with adam, painting my daughter's toes, eating chocolate covered churros... it was just what we needed, one final time.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

aer doofus

this is a message i posted on facebook, telling my girlfriends back in holland all about our "less-than-perfect" trip back to the states. i realize now in retrospect how much i was really complaining about something that had a happy ending after all... i guess i just don't like transatlantic flights, especially ones where i'm MOVING WITH A TODDLER! it all worked out just fine in the end, but getting here sure wasn't much fun... read on:

first off, you all know the story of my tickets, right? that i ordered them in april, but didn't get them until june, and only after a week of constant phone calls and nagging them. and then they were PAPER tickets, not e-tickets, and they'd only send them to an american address even though my trip was STARTING in amsterdam. so fortunately my in-laws sent me the tickets in the mail, but what a pain in the butt!

so then we get to amsterdam airport and it is a ZOO! note to you all: NEVER begin a trip during the summer holiday season! go either before or after because EVERYONE is at the airport at the same time! argh!

and then i finally get up to the kiosk to print up my tickets. and we go through the WHOLE process and then we are told by the machine that it couldn't process our request. so we get stuck in the "misfits" line and wait and wait and wait forever to go talk to someone about our tickets.

so then we're in the line, we finally talk to someone, but our seats are all messed up. we paid extra to get these special seats on the airplane so that we'd have more room for gracie to move around and play, but they ended up just sticking us wherever, in the middle of the middle section on the plane, and we didn't have those special seats! so i told the lady that i either wanted a reassignment or my money back for that extra we paid for those special seats.

well she can't process it at that moment because aer lingus (who i am now officially calling aer doofus) needed to reassign seats to the people who were sitting in our special seats. so we can only get our tickets as far as dublin for that first leg, even though we're supposed to fly from amsterdam to dublin to chicago to denver. so we only get our first tickets, and our bags for some reason are only checked as far as chicago. don't know why, but whatever. we had to run to catch our plane at this point anyway so i didn't push it. and i figured we had a 4-hour layover in dublin to get it all sorted out.

but wait, there's more! while we are getting our bags checked in, the lady puts a sticker around the handle (you know, the one with the scanning code on it to know where to send the bags during the journey). well, one bag is almost onto the main conveyor belt when the woman NEXT to the woman helping me, all non-chalantly reaches behind her, rips the sticker off, and throws it on the ground. like it was a joke. so now one of my bags doesn't have a sticker on it, so there's no way to know where it's going! so i'm screaming, "WAIT, WAIT, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?" cuz it's NOT a funny joke, dude. oh my god!!! so the woman checking me in (not the one who ripped off the sticker), picks up the sticker, puts it back on my bag, looks at the lady next to her (the one who ripped the sticker off) and smiles at her, then smiles at me apologetically and then continues to check me in. no one says anything more about it. and i'm thinking, dude, if that's a joke, you need to find something funnier. cuz that's NOT cool.

(ps, that bag did show up in denver finally, but my big pink bag with all of MY clothes in it did NOT show up! fortunately it was on the next flight, so we waited an hour for it and got it before we got home anyway. but by then gracie was SO TIRED that i felt really bad for asking her to stay longer to wait for my stuff.) okay, so now we get to our gate. nowhere to sit. the plane is delayed. the gate is changed. we finally get on the plane. then we wait and wait and wait, cuz someone left a bag at the security check at our gate. finally brings the bag onboard and someone claims it. it was a FLUTE. we had to wait for a stupid FLUTE. so we take off like an hour and a half late. so much for our 4-hour layover in dublin to get our new tickets!

the flight is fine, mg takes a nap, we get to dublin. then we get off, find our way to the new tickets desk, and wait. and wait. and i'm supposed to be next, but some douchebag from chicago budges ahead of EVERYONE and demands to see a manager to get his lost bags or something. argh!

so now i get my turn, and i'm talking to the lady (the one who just got yelled at by chicago douchebag), and i tell her the situation, and she says that we can't get our tickets at her desk but that we're going to have to go through security, back to the main check in desk, and then get our tickets there. i'm close to tears, and i say something like "i understand", and then i compliment her on her bracelet or something like that. then she miraculously realizes that she CAN print up my tickets after all. which she does. but we still don't have our tickets for our last leg from chicago to denver, because apparently that's a totally different airline (even though i bought ALL my tickets from aer doofus over the phone).

we make it to our gate, get on the plane which is on time, and this is the best part of our trip: no only do we have the seats we originally signed up for, but we have a WHOLE ROW to ourselves! the plane is in one of those 2-4-2 seat configurations, and we got the 4 seats in the middle right behind the bulkhead, so we could all spread out and play and lay down and relax together. the plane was only like 75% full and all the flght attendants were all really awesome. i watched a movie, ate decently, and gracie napped well. it was a really smooth, GOOD flight. thank god for something easy! we needed it!

now we land in chicago, go through customs, get our bags, and have to go to the transfer desk to get our final tickets and re-check our bags. we JUST make it in time, we get our tickets, but there are no seat assignments yet. strange, but whatever. we go through security again, rush to our gate, and see that our flight is DELAYED and there's like 35 people on the standby list. FORTUNATELY, we weren't on that list, but i did have to wait in a crazy long line to get our seat assignment.

so i get to the desk, get our seat assignment, and we board. and here's another good thing: we actually bought an extra seat for gracie for the whole length of our trip, but we didn't need it for this last leg because she was probably just going to sleep the whole time anyway. so we "give up" her seat so that someone on the standby list could get home that night, PLUS i get a free round-trip voucher for a flight anywhere in the lower-48 states. (SWEET since this was only a one-way ticket, and now i get a roundtrip ticket!).

gracie sleeps the whole 2-hours to denver, we land mostly on time even though we took off late, but then like i said my bag never showed. so we grabbed some food and came back and sure enough my bag was on the next flight so i did indeed get it before we drove home.

but then it was a 2-hour drive home. by the time we got here, it was midnight (8:00 in the morning in hengelo) so we were EXHAUSTED! gracie woke up at like 5:00 this morning, but we all took a nice morning nap and this afternoon i'll lay her down for another short one. then we'll be back on schedule.

wow. what a trip! but we're here, safe and sound with all our stuff, and it's hot and sunny and i'm about to run some errands and grill out tonight. it's good to be home!

thank you for seeing me off in style at the train station. you girls are the best. if i wasn't so damn tired i would have been bawling. but trust me, i have shed plenty of tears over this move.

i think this message is probably long enough so i'm going outside to play with mg and do some shopping. love you all and write back!