Monday, January 26, 2009

baby's first christmas

it's the most wonderful thing: baby's first christmas!

we were very blessed to have bob and rae here for the holidays... or, at least, here AROUND the holidays. they both came out for about 10 days in early december, and we travelled around a lot to various places in holland and in germany, but the second half of their trip out here was spent mostly relaxing in our lovely home in hengelo.

we were also extremely touched by teresa and nick's visit over the christmas holiday. teresa is my homegirl and we go way back -- she was my maid of honor when adam and i got married, and i will be an attendant in her wedding as well this upcoming august. in other words, we're tight. and nick is her fiance', and like me and adam, teresa and nick are another bennie/johnny couple. (there is this phenomenon at our alma maters -- teresa and i went to the college of st. benedict -- "the girls' school" -- and adam and nick both attended st. john's university -- "the boys' school". and apparently there's this phenomenon which is not necessarily scientifically proven but absolutely true in that if you are a "bennie" or a "johnny" then you're pretty much certain that you'll end up marrying someone from the other school. adam and i are one of those johnny/bennie hookups. teresa and nick are another. jen and john are another. there's also joe and jj, and steve and sarah, and dominic and angela, and daman and kiyoko... i could go on. you get the point.)

that was a tangent.

anyway, we had a lot of visitors over baby's first christmas. and it was nice.

bob and adam picked up a christmas tree at a greenhouse near campus, and rode back on their bicycles with this tree strapped to the back of adam's bike. apparently it fell off "only" once, but it still needed some... shall we say... readjustments in its pot, so that it wouldn't look so crooked in our window once we decorated it.

we took several family photos, and tried to get some of gracie sitting still and pretty in her new christmas dress. but asking gracie to sit still is like asking obama to not be so awesome. it can't be done. obama's naturally awesome; gracie is naturally in motion. here are a series of pictures of her. finally we put her in a box and tried getting some photos that way, but she was too interested in the blanket and the presents that we "decorated" her with, so none of them really turned out the way i had envisioned them to turn out. what a goofball.

on christmas eve, we hosted a nice dinner here for a ton of our friends. many of our friends here are expats and were away from their homes and their families for the holidays. we thought that since our house was so big, and that since we had a family of our own, we would open our doors to our lonely wandering friends, and share our food, our family, and our fireplace with them all. we had 9 people for dinner (2 of whom just kinda' showed up! -- but it wouldn't be christmas without unexpected guests!) -- two canadians, 5 americans (including us), a dutch woman (valerie), and two people from hong kong. what a party!

we handed out some gifts, lit the fire, and drank wine and listened to christmas music. we did a little gift exchange by rolling a dice and if you got a certain number then you got to pick a present, or steal someone else's present. we did the same sort of thing for an ornament exchange. that way everyone got to go home with a little something, instead of only a few people opening presents and others leaving empty-handed. that's no fun!

here i am, enjoying my goodie bag of american stuff: a giant bottle of conditioner, boxes of american crackers (so much good cheese in this country, and not a single decent cracker to put it on!), and a (very much appreciated) bottle of REAL maple syrup! thanks, teresa and nick!

around 10:30, people started cleaning up and heading out to go to midnight mass with adam. since i got to go last year and the year before, i was okay staying home with gracie and hanging out in my jammie pants. it was so nice, relaxing by the fire with some gluhwein and reflecting on a full day of friends and food. we are so blessed!

the next morning was christmas, and there were stockings for everyone, hung by the chimney with care of course. valerie spent the night, just like last year, and brought her stocking from her dad and stepmom with her. she also brought several gifts that her mom gave her, so she had all sorts of goodies to unwrap on christmas morning. santa had heard that teresa and nick were going to be here, so he made sure to give them a stocking filled with belgian beer, chocolate, and dutch stroopwaffels (lekker!).

we ate brunch, opened gifts, and relaxed in our jammies all day. in fact, there were SO MANY presents for gracie (thank you, everyone!) that we actually began opening presents about a week before christmas. we didn't want to overwhelm her with too much activity or too many new toys all at once, so every day for about a week we would open just two or three gifts, and then stop for the night so she could enjoy the new things that she got from all of you. it was really fun, but i'm afraid we might have spoiled her a little bit. you all are too generous! thank you!

enjoy this video of christmas morning. isn't it so cozy?

12-25-2008 gracie's first christmas from amber briggle on Vimeo.

my dear friend, valerie, came out for christmas eve and spent the night, just like how she did last year too. she left on christmas day around lunchtime so teresa and i could spend the rest of the holiday together (t had only gotten here two days before -- and christmas eve was filled with guests, so we hadn't gotten a chance to really Be Together).

for dinner, we made homemade pierogies (a tradition in my family) while adam and nick assembled some christmas ornaments out of beads and wire. it was a fun, crafty activity for them to do together while we womenfolk were busy in the kitchen.

it was such a wonderful holiday, and we feel incredibly blessed to be surrounded by so many friends and family, even while we're living abroad. ESPECIALLY while we're living abroad. i know we will look back fondly on these christmases that we experienced out here, away from home. and i hope we will appreciate the traditions we have created together and the memories we have made. but at the same time, i'm also REALLY excited to celebrate christmas next year with my extended families, with the pile of shoes by the door and the potluck dinner and the white elephant gift exchange (i wonder who will go home with the moose antler next year?).

munster christmas market

i know it's been a while since these events happened, but i still want to write about them -- i don't want to forget about all the fun things we did when bob and rae were here in early december! better late than never...

every year, my book club has a holiday event which our partners and families are invited to. and this year, the book club wanted to go to the christmas market in muenster, germany. since it happened to coincide with bob and rae's visit, we thought it would be the perfect opportunity for us to see a bit of germany and to experience the weihnachtsmarkten that we've heard so much about!

my friend sabrina, who lives in munster, met us at a starbucks in the downtown area. (we ALL wanted to go to starbucks because they are very difficult to find here in holland -- there are two in the WHOLE COUNTRY, and they are BOTH at the airport in amsterdam!) so we all went and got some warm things to drink, since the weather was VERY cold. she then escorted us to several of the different christmas markets that were set up in various places throughout the city. apparently muenster has many christmas markets, not just one big one, so it was fun to explore the different markets and to see how each one was a little different.

the first one we went to was in the shadow of the saint lambert cathedral. that was very cool, because the church in our town is also the st. lambert cathedral. st. lambert was apparently some bishop in maastricht ages and ages ago, and obviously must have performed some miracle of some sort to be a saint now. i am somewhat familiar with this church in munster, because every year adam's department hosts some sort of field trip for the philosophy faculty and families, and one year it was in muenster and we learned about the various sculptures throughout the city. our tour guide that day told us about the history of the cathedral there, which is quite gory and really lives up to the stereotypical middle-ages protestants vs. catholics nightmarish stories. if you click here, you can read about it. (note: it's towards the end of that blog post.)

there were a few other markets that we saw, and it was fun to go to some of the "less crowded" ones (i shudder to think about what the "crowded" ones were like! we were pretty jam packed together everywhere we went!). we drank TONS of gluhwein and kept our mugs for souvenirs. and i bought a new fancy santa hat with feathers instead of fur. nice.

we stopped to eat some pflammekuchen (sp?) and listened to some street performers. i think gracie liked those guys a lot because there was a dude playing a wooden box as a drum, which is TOTALLY her style.

before we finished for the day, adam and i both took turns on the carousel with mary grace. she was such a good girl! she totally deserved to go on a ride, after being pushed around germany all afternoon and not getting a chance to crawl and climb and play. then we stopped at starbucks AGAIN for more hot things to drink, and caught the train home once more. i think we were home by like 7:00 in the evening? it's just so great that we live here, that we can go to a christmas market in germany and still be home in time for dinner. it's like, "what did you do today?" and we're all, "oh, not much -- we just went to germany to see the christmas markets, eat some pflammenkuchen and drink some hot spiced wine. how about you?" ha! i love it!

Sunday, January 18, 2009


i think it's the prettiest town in all of the netherlands. and dude, i've been EVERYWHERE in the netherlands. it's hands-down the prettiest town.

most of the places i've been to in this country are very, very pretty. and quaint. and gezellig. but once i leave the city center, i find that the rest of the city is pretty much like every other dutch city. it's just modern houses, streets, a few parks, etc.

but maastricht is different. it's completely historic. everywhere we walked, everything that we explored, it was all ancient looking and pretty and authentic. we loved it.

we got to experience maastricht with bob and rae, who were here visiting us in early december. we spent a few days in leiden at the beginning of their trip, and then trekked across the entire country, about as far as you could go without ending up in either belgium or germany, and got off the train in maastricht.

our hotel was located right in the center of town, and it took us FOREVER to get there because it was a koopzondag in maastricht -- meaning that all the stores were open on a sunday. and given how infrequently that happens, and that it was also the holiday season, everyone for about 100 km had converged simultaneously in the center of town to do their shopping. and then here were the briggles, all five of us, with suitcases, backpacks, a stroller, and a baby, trying to maneuver our way through the throngs of shoppers. it was exhausting!

we just kept walking and walking and walking, and we thought that by the time we got to our hotel, we would have missed out on all the action of the city, because it seemed like an awfully long time since we left the train station.

and then, right there before our eyes, was a GIANT ferris wheel, set up in a square with oliebollen stands, waffle stands, gluhwein stands, bratwurst stands, and an ice skating rink. it was a christmas market! and RIGHT NEXT DOOR was our hotel! oh! we didn't miss a thing! in fact, we're in the middle of it all!

after checking in and running to the grocery store for snacks and things for breakfast the next few days, we pretty much took it easy the rest of the day. we ate at a steakhouse which was adjacent to our hotel, and after dinner and putting gracie to bed, adam and went to the christmas market to explore it on our own. and of course, one of the first songs i heard over the loudspeaker was "amazing grace," which made me REALLY miss gracie, and i wanted to run back to the hotel and wake her up, and bring her with me to the christmas market cuz i KNEW she'd love it!

adam and i got something to drink at the gluhwein stand, and i decided to keep my mug cuz it was SOOOO cute: a little stocking, with the maastricht winter market painted onto it! i felt a little guilty "stealing" it (basically, i just didn't return it to get my 2 euro deposit back), but then later a friend of mine who is more familiar with the christmas markets told me that that's totally normal behavior, and that a LOT of people keep their mugs. whew! i didn't want to end up on santa's "naughty" list! we also ate a couple of chocolate waffles. of course.

the next two days we wandered the city. i can't even remember what we did in which order, but i know that we did spend a lot of time trying to locate a new baby monitor, since ours broke the first night we were there. but it allowed us a good opportunity to explore the city, and we saw numerous churches, including this one called "onze lieve vrouwen" which means "our lady". it was a mary church, and i think adam told me it was the oldest church in the netherlands. i believe it, cuz that thing was ANCIENT. i lit a candle at the mary altar, like i do at most churches i visit, asking for a job for adam who was still at that time interviewing pretty hard core for a job in the united states. (his contract here is going to expire this autumn, and at the time we didn't know where we were heading next. or if he'd even be offered a job at all. but the prayer must have worked, because just a few days later he was offered a position at the university of north texas! so we're moving to texas in july! woohoo!, i mean, yeehaw!)

we also saw a wall of the city that was about 1,000 years old. there were houses right next to this wall, where people actually LIVED, and we even saw one house that was built right into the wall itself! how cool would that be, to live in an ancient wall!

i'm not sure what this building is -- some watchtower of some sort. it sure was beautiful, and even though the weather was wet and cold and dreary, it kind of made this tower look even more authentically old. it kind of lent a certain poetry to the whole scene, to have this drizzle and dreariness in the air.

we spent a lot of time wandering around, getting warm things to drink, looking at the beautiful, old buildings, and riding the carousel. like ALL the time. on our last night, we took gracie to the christmas market (even though it was WAY past her bedtime), and let her ride on it several times in a row.

here are the videos to prove it. in this one, she's riding with me

this next video is even MORE fun, though. you can hear mary grace SCREAMING with delight over the sound of the carousel! i really wish i would have gotten a video of the three german ladies watching gracie as she went for a ride -- they were laughing soooo hard at her!

afterwards, we were singing a song to gracie. her nickname is "doodlebug," which is a really easy word to put into any song. so pretty much all the songs we sing to her are "doodlebug, doodlebug, doodle doodle doodlebug." here's a good example:

adam had been nagging me for YEARS to get to maastricht, and now i understand why. it's a picture-perfect town, very easy to get around, relatively inexpensive, and beautiful. i'm so glad we finally got a chance to see it!

Saturday, January 10, 2009


we have been extremely blessed lately with so many visitors: dan and andy over thanksgiving (i gave them a fabulous hollywood nickname while they were here: "dandy"), teresa and nick over christmas (haven't thought of a hollywood nickname for them yet -- any suggestions?), and in between it all was a lovely visit by adam's parents, bob and rae! (or, as gracie knows them, opa and oma.)

we last saw bob and rae over the summer when we spent a couple of months at their beautiful home in colorado springs. before we left to come back here to hengelo, we had all discussed our next visit and agreed it would be fun to see them over here in april, when the tulips are blooming. we were sad that it was going to be nearly a year before we saw each other again, but we anticipated our next reunion and started daydreaming about the things we would do and the places we would go.

well, we had hardly been home a month when we got an email from rae, saying how much she missed us already, and how waiting until april seemed like an awfully long time to go before she could see her granddaughter again, and would it be okay if they possibly came out sometime around the holidays to see us? and OF COURSE we were like YES! well the very next day, we got an email from bob and rae with their travel itinerary! that didn't take long! they must have been thinking about it for a while and found their tickets already, but wanted to make sure we were okay with it before they bought them. ha! it was a great surprise, and we were really happy to know that they would be coming out again to see us all.

our thanksgiving guests left, adam flew to the USA for a job interview, and got back just one day before bob and rae landed in the netherlands. this was actually their third time to holland: they came once when we had just moved here from the states and hadn't even moved into this house yet (we were still living on campus in a dumpy apartment with a tiny fridge and a hotplate to cook on). then they came in march 2008 after gracie was born. and now this time, they totally knew their way around the country. their dutch was better, their confidence was better, and we all kinda knew what to expect from each other this time around. it was really nice.

so the big day finally arrived -- 5 december, which just happens to be st. nick's day here in holland. bob had mentioned more than once how he was really interested in meeting this sinterklaas fellow that he's heard so much about, so i dutifully researched on the internet how in the heck we could possibly see him that day. (because as of 6 december it's officially the christmas season, and sint goes back to spain where he lives the rest of the year, and there's no chance that we'd get a glimpse of him after that.) as it turns out, sinterklaas has a house in leiden, which is where we were planning on spending a couple of days anyway! what luck!

after gracie and i arrived in leiden (we met up with everyone later because their flight was so early that gracie and i were still in our jammies drinking juice), we met up with adam and walked back to our hotel. hugs and kisses all around, a quick diaper change and a little bite to eat, and then we were off to see this famous sinterklaas. we were armed with a map, a camera, and an address, and did our best to see what we could find.

after about a half hour of walking past windmills, canals, and a cute shopping district, we finally made it to the "huis van sint," which was housed in what i assume was the old "waag" building. (the waag is a place that was, as i understand it, used to weigh goods coming in off the docks. i've seen the waag in amsterdam and in gouda, and they're usually recognizable by the clearly-etched mural on the front of the building.) sint himself was there to greet us at the door, and welcomed us into his "home" in a very gentle manner. while santa claus is jolly and loud, sint is very peaceful and exudes this aura of holiness somehow -- probably because he's a saint, so he is just more gentle and quiet by nature.

sint's house in leiden is WAAAAY cool. sint has a house in every dutch town, because he has to meet all the boys and girls so that they can tell him what they'd like on pakjesavond (the night when gifts are exchanged here), so we saw his house here in hengelo, and also now in leiden. in hengelo, we all waited in a line and were entertained by numerous zwartepieten, who would dance and sing and give us all little cookies and pieces of candy to keep us happy. then we'd enter sint's house and one by one, the children would sit on his lap and tell him how good they've been, and what they'd like to receive on pakjesavond. but in leiden, the whole thing is much different: we entered this ginormous room with lots of activities set up all around. sint was walking around, mingling with his houseguests, and the zwartepieten were all playing with the kids and goofing off. there was this piece of paper that you could get from one of the zwartepieten which was like this diploma: if you went to all of the activity stations and completed everything, then you could give your diploma to zwartepiet and he would stamp it for you and then you would become an honorary zwartepiet yourself! how cool!

i think that was about our biggest activity in leiden; the rest of the time we just wandered around, peeking into shops, stopping for a drink in a cute pub, or eating pancakes at one of the many pannekoeken restaurants. our good friend, valerie, came over for a couple of hours one day, just to see rae and bob whom she had met before. that was cool to see her and for them to reconnect again.

we did spend a nice afternoon at the market in leiden. it was HUGE! i couldn't believe it! the market was spread along both sides of a canal right downtown, and went for blocks and blocks and blocks and BLOCKS. it just went forever. so i take it back, i think the market was our biggest activity. it was really well organized, with all the clothing/fabric stalls next to each other, then the random things like toner for your printer and spare bike parts and toothpaste and junk, then nuts/olives/tapas, then fruit and veggies, then fish, then cheese, then flowers, etc. i bought myself a couple of pairs of socks cuz my feet were cold, and bob and rae got some lekker stroopwafels, which are probably the most delicious cookie in the world.

we also opened up a few presents on pakjesavond which i think was more fun for us grown-ups than it was for gracie. but she got some much-needed pajamas, a fun santa hat, and of course a couple of books (that was her first word, after all). adam got a new toothbrush. i got a cool new bag. and bob and rae got a cheese slicer. nice.