Friday, February 20, 2009

the god squad

before our "spruitje" was born, adam and i had several lengthy conversations about the values we would like to give our children, and very practical and concrete ways of introducing these values to them. things like having an open mind, the desire to help other people, curiosity, getting a good education, etc. but the thing that topped our list, the one thing that we really want most for our children, is to have a sense of wonder, to be touched by the beauty and magnificence of the universe, and to have a connection with a higher power. in other words, we want our children to have a sense of spirituality and sacredness.

we both really like the idea of having godparents, someone who can guide our children in their journeys towards and with God. and the whole baptism ritual feels very, very beautiful and sacred. but we did not want to baptize gracie into a religion, any religion, that she might not ultimately identify with. we want her to choose her own path, rather than choosing it for her.

so we did our own thing: we created a "god squad" for gracie!

gracie's god squad consists of five people, all from various religious/spiritual backgrounds, and all of them very close and loving friends of both adam and me.

there is teresa, my "homegirl," whom i have known since our college days. teresa was raised in a catholic household, attended a private catholic school growing up, and even went to a catholic college with me (that's how we met). but teresa is no longer catholic. her spirituality definitely draws on the deep and beautiful traditions of her catholic upbringing, but teresa has forged her own unique relationship with God. i see her living out her spirituality in many ways: cooking healthy and exquisite meals (ideally to share with good friends); spending ample time outdoors (usually picking berries and apples to can and preserve in order to sustain her through long midwestern winters); through singing (she has an incredible voice! did you know that she sang at the G8 summit in japan over the summer?!); and by speaking truth to power (she is one of the most politically engaged people i know).

we had a ritual with teresa with i was home in minnesota over the summer. it was quiet, just the three of us plus gracie, and we sat along the edge of my aunt and uncle's pool. we dipped our feet in the cool water, and teresa read a reflection to gracie which she had written herself, and which ended with psalm 23:6 -- "surely goodness and kindness will follow you all the days of your life, and you will dwell in the house of the lord forever." it was so beautiful, and appropriately simple -- teresa is very much an earth-goddess, so it was natural that we all sat quietly together by the still waters, singing songs and holding hands, and blessing mary grace with our intentions; that is normally what teresa and i do when we're together anyway. it was also very fitting for teresa, who felt she had travelled full circle, because her own baptism as an infant was at her godparents' pool in arizona. adam and i had no idea of this when we planned this ritual -- what a serendipity!

there is also elizabeth, another good friend from our college days. (teresa and elizabeth were actually roommates for a while both during and after college too... in fact, i know elizabeth because i am friends with teresa.) elizabeth is currently in her 4th year at starr king school for the ministry , and upon graduation in one more year will become a unitarian universalist minister. though i don't know much about elizabeth's past spiritual experiences, i can at least see what her future spiritual path will likely be. elizabeth hopes to be a minister of a congregation, and to put that good english major of hers to use by writing moving sermons which call us to action. but just as importantly, i see in her a desire to comfort others by offering a listening ear, a discerning mind, and open arms. elizabeth is very good at listening with her whole heart, and she is not quick to make a decision -- in fact, she is one of the deepest thinkers i know. she really takes her time with you, with an experience, and with a decision, because she wants to experience it fully. and i deeply respect and admire those qualities in her.

the ritual that we had with elizabeth was actually the first ritual that we had for gracie's god squad. it took place on a beach in greece, when adam, gracie, elizabeth, and i were all on holiday together last june. elizabeth wrote out a beautiful reflection, true to her UU calling, which talked about being open and honest with gracie, supporting her in her journey no matter where that journey may take her, and not being judgemental about the spiritual path that gracie ultimately decides upon. she was crying, i was crying, the waves were crashing, the sun was shining... it was beautiful. she even created a little altar by our beach chairs to help hold the sacred space for us all. it was so lovely.

there is matthew, a very dear and old friend of mine from high school. matthew and i, incidentally, have the same birthday. (only he is one year older than me. i was born in the morning, and he was born in the afternoon, and so for a brief couple of hours on our birthday we are the same age, and we like to think about how cool that is, and then we sing "happy birthday" to each other and it's all very sweet and funny, and i really love matthew.) matthew first introduced me to buddhism, when he told me about this group of people who met in the conference room of some computer-something-or-another business in rhinelander, WI (where we were living). computers were still kinda newfangled and whatnot, so i didn't get it and i don't really know what they were selling. something about frogs. i don't know. but that's not the point. the point is that matthew introduced me to this buddhist group which met once a week, and it was so out there because i had never in my life been talking about things like this before. i was raised in a small midwestern town where everyone was assumed to be christian, and people with other religions lived in places like saudi arabia, china, and israel. or maybe new york city. but buddhists in my town! now, that was really interesting to me! matthew was one of the first people to open my eyes to the religious diversity of my neighbors, and to help me start thinking critically about the tradition in which i had been raised. just because it was the religion of my parents, didn't mean it was the "right" religion for me. it was absolutely earthshattering for me, especially at the critical age of 16 when i was just discovering for myself what it really meant to be an independent and free thinking individual in the world. matthew has since cultivated spirituality, and has devoted himself to the study of buddhism. he has lived with buddhist monks and learned from them, and is on a path to someday become a monk himself. matthew used to have really long, beautiful, thick, wavy, gorgeous hair in high school, but he has since shaved it all off to reflect his spiritual path. and honestly, i think he looks more like himself this way. it's just Who He Is.

we met up with matthew when we were all in rhinelander over the summer. matthew made the drive down from marquette, MI (where he lives with his wife and their new baby daughter), just to meet his goddaughter and to be a part of the blessing ceremony we hoped to have with him. it was a gorgeous, warm, sunny day, and we all sat out on the edge of a dock on a private pond, surrounded by tamaracks and cattails. my parents and sisters had just arrived, too, because we were about to say goodbye to them and begin our road trip back to colorado, so we invited them to witness our ceremony and they happily accepted. we chanted an invocation to kwan yin, the bodhissatva (like an angel sort of) of compassion. this is what matthew wrote about the chant that we sang:

The chant was Na Mo Kuan Shih Yin Pu Sa. The first term, namo, is an invocation, like "hail" or something. Kuan Shih Yin is just a longer version of her name--the Shih is an abbreviation of the Chinese form of Shakyamuni, the Buddha's name, same as in my Dharma name, Shih Yung Yin, so it's like a family name. And Pusa is Chinese for Bodhissatva, so it just means something like "hail Kuan Yin Bodhissatva," and the purpose is simply to invite her blessings. Kuan Yin's name in Sanskrit is Avalokiteshvara, "the one who hears the cries of the world." Her blessing is a compassionate heart for the suffering of all beings.

isn't that beautiful? then matthew gave gracie a necklace with a buddha hidden inside it and a prism from a trip he took to ireland many years ago. what a good man he is.

the other man in gracie's god squad is our friend rob. adam and i met rob shortly after we moved to colorado in 2002, and we found him to be really intelligent, funny, and just plain weird. we liked him immediately. rob's dad was raised in a very fundamentalist household, which now reflects in rob because of rob's suspicion of most organized religions and the dogmas they adhere to. rob makes up his own path, which seems to draw on history, politics, nature, and the sacred feminine. he finds spiritual messages in political essays and he connects to a higher power through classical music (he is an excellent pianist), camping and hiking in great expanses of wilderness, and political actions/social justice issues. he says that if he believes in anything, though, it's the "divine sacredness of life." he is someone who finds spiritual significance in literature and learning, and is moved by the beauty we humans represent because, in his words, "we are all manifestations of the most mysterious miracle: Life." and because not everyone identifies with this idea of "God," adam and i both felt it was important to represent that different type of spirituality as well. because even if gracie, like rob, doesn't necessarily believe in "God," she should still believe in something. maybe the goodness of humanity. maybe the strength of her spirit. maybe the sacred beauty of nature. something. and we both think that rob will do a good job modelling this for our daughter.

along with rob, there is shelby. we know shelby through rob, and i swear that the two of us must have been separated at birth because we are virtually the same person. like me, she is a massage therapist. like me, she has an altar to the goddess in her home. (in fact, shelby has an entire sanctuary room in her house, filled with amulets, statues, prisms, and gems that she has gathered during her spiritual quests.) and like me, she connects with the Universe through nature, lighting candles, watching the moon, and learning about the sacred feminine. we both have a profound connection to mary -- but for me it is the virgin mary, and for shelby it is mary magdalene. shelby even went on a mary magdalene pilgrimage to the south of france a couple of summers ago, and came back with the most amazing stories and reflections. and i think that a woman who spends a significant amount of her time and money on a journey like that is just the type of woman who should be involved in gracie's spiritual upbringing!

we had a very simple and meaningful ceremony with both rob and shelby when we were in colorado over the summer. rob and shelby were living together at that time, in a house near regis university in denver. (and although shelby and rob have decided that their paths have taken a new direction, they continue to honor their path of being in gracie's life and being supportive friends with each other in order to do that. we are proud of their mindfulness and maturity!) regis is a catholic school with a beautiful chapel on its campus, which is open during the daytime. we all walked over there together on a hot sunny morning, and entered the quiet and cool sanctuary of the church. rob sat down in front of the piano, and shelby brought her guitar. they both spoke to us about how much they love us as friends, and how honored they both felt to be invited into this circle of godparents. shelby gifted gracie with a very beautiful mary magdalene icon that she collected on her spiritual quest in france, for gracie to hang up above her own altar someday. it was extremely generous and kind of her. then they sang to us joni mitchell's song "the circle game," while i danced with gracie in my arms.

and the seasons, they go round and round.
and the painted ponies go up and down.
we're captive on the carousel of time.
we can't return, we can only look behind from where we came
and go round and round and round in the circle game.

little did they know that i sing that song to gracie as a lullabye. it was just perfect. and more proof that we made the right decision when we invited them to be a part of gracie's god squad.

then we all had a picnic underneath a colorado blue spruce, in a grotto with a statue of the virgin mary.

we have asked these people to be a part of mary grace's journey, not as a hobby for them to pick up when it is most convenient to their lives, and not only temporarily, but forever and always for as long as they live. this is a responsibility that they have accepted with open hearts and open minds, and we trust that in the decades to come, gracie will be inspired by them and will learn from them. whatever form that takes: maybe it's taking gracie camping in the grand canyon to be inspired by nature; maybe it's sending gracie a book that might speak to her; maybe it's designing a ritual for gracie at different stages in her life, to honor the wisdom and changes in her body and mind; maybe it's introducing her to a church or taking her on a spiritual retreat when she is old enough. whatever form it takes, we just ask these people to be active and engaged and involved in our daughter's spiritual journey.

we understand that gracie's decisions are hers to make, and she may not choose to believe in God, or to go to church, or to pray or light candles to ask for guidance or blessings. but we hope that by instilling in our daughter a sense of the sacred and divine, that she will discover on her own which path towards enlightenment is right for her.

Monday, February 09, 2009

eerste verjaardagsfeestje

zij is jarig!

how old are you, gracie? are you one?

i can hardly believe it's been a year since gracie was born. where did the time go? you all told me it was going to fly by, but between all the diaper changes, feedings, boo-boos, and bottles, not to mention the endless pile of laundry and dishes, i honestly haven't had a moment to reflect on what you really meant when you said that! now her first year has passed, and she's no longer a baby! she's really a little girl, close to walking, feeding herself, and sleeping through the night. she hardly needs me anymore!

but still, despite my pining for the "good old days" of spit-up and sleepless nights, i am proud of our little girl. and soooo happy to see the person she is becoming, to watch her personality evolve every day. let's have a party to celebrate!

the day started off beautifully, with tons of sunshine (just like on the day she was born!). we all had breakfast together (like we do practically every morning), and then opened some presents from oma and opa. afterwards adam ran out to do some grocery shopping while i got dressed. we decided to let gracie stay in her jammies until it was party time, because a) it's always fun to hang out in your jammies, b) it was her birthday so therefore she is allowed to have more fun than usual, and c) there was no sense in getting her dressed before the party cuz odds are she'd be sticky and messy by the time the party started and we'd have to change her again anyway. so, stay in your jammies, gracie! it's your day, after all!

i finally got tired of seeing her hair in her beautiful gray-green eyes all the time, so i dug out my scissors and plopped her in her high chair for her very first haircut. up until now it hasn't been necessary, because i've been able to put her hair into super cute pigtails or ponytails, with little barettes and clips and bows and stuff. adorable, really! but in the last few weeks, she's discovered the top of her head. and so if there's something there, she will naturally pull it out and examine it. which means her bangs have been falling in her face, and even when she's clean she still tends to look like a little ragamuffin. so, no more piggies or ponies for a while. it's time for baby's first haircut! (and ps, it wasn't as hard as i thought it would be. i just put her in her high chair, gave her a toy to examine, and cut away. the hardest part was her bangs, of course, because she couldn't see when my hands were in her face. but we took our time and it actually looks pretty good! i might have found my next career -- baby haircutter!)

after an early lunch and an early nap, adam and i finished cleaning the house. i mopped while he did the dishes and put away groceries, and we hung up some balloons and a streamer thingy that said "hoera ik ben jarig" (hooray it's my birthday!). when gracie woke up and came downstairs and saw that thing hanging on the wall, along with all the balloons laying around, she let out a VERY happy scream! adam also took the time during nap to make gracie a doodlebugmonster. adam has this great creative art project he does for my birthday every year, where he makes me a ridiculous birthday hat out of whatever he can find in the recycling bin. so this year, he wanted to make something for gracie too. but because she doesn't "do" hats, he wanted to make her a toy. i should have taken a picture of the final product, but you can just imagine where he was going with such a crazy start like this...

after she woke up, i got her all dressed up in her very special fairy princess outfit that gracie and i had picked out together earlier in the week. ("gracie, do you like THIS tutu, or THIS one?" "gracie, which tiara do you like better?" "gracie, do you think these wings are cute enough?") we came downstairs and waited for our special guests to arrive: robin and tygo from gracie's baby yoga class, along with their mamas, were the second ones to get here -- valerie had arrived by train during mg's nap and helped us set up before everyone else got here. immediately after tygo and robin showed up, aimee (who celebrated thanksgiving with us and works with adam) and federica (also from adam's work) got here too! the whole gang! the only ones missing were petra and eva (petra is adam's colleague, and eva is her daughter), but they arrived just in time to eat some cake so they didn't miss anything important!

gracie opened several small little gifts that some of her friends brought for her -- she got a tea set, some bubbles, a beautiful little ladybug ring that she can wear when she gets a bit older, a chocolate nijntje which i think mama and daddy will have to confiscate and inspect more carefully with some ice cream, and a really wonderful cd that valerie made for her: every song has either "mary" or "grace" in the title, and there are about a half-dozen different versions of "amazing grace" on it too. how special! thanks for the thoughtful gifts, everyone!

before we served the cake -- or CAKES, i mean -- we sang happy birthday to gracie. first in dutch, then in english:

then i made a little toast in dutch, which was really not good, but everyone understood it (or at least were polite enough to nod their heads in agreement like they understood what i was saying), and then we dished up! lekker, hoor!

i made gracie a sugar-free cake out of bananas, applesauce (i cooked apples and ground them up so that even the applesauce would be sugar-free), whole wheat flour, and wheat germ. it weighed a ton and tasted like hippie dippie vegan crap. but gracie really liked it, and that is what is most important. it was perfect for a baby, because it was heavy and chewy, so the kids could gum on it all they wanted, and it was healthy too. the frosting was cream cheese mixed with real maple syrup (not common out here, so i had to track it down at a health-foods store). and i decorated it with raisins and love. awwww.

thank goodness federica made another grown-up friendly cake. it was a homemade orange cake, dusted with powdered sugar. i really should have taken a picture of it cuz it was soooo cute. and tastydeliciousyummers too. thanks, fede! you saved the day!

then we all played with blocks, balloons, bubbles, and bells. it was a pile of people in our house, all crouched down on the floor eating cake and playing with babies. too fun!

after dinner that night (we had boerenkool, which is one of gracie's FAVORITESTEST EVER) we all walked over to the ice cream shop next door. we can see it from our front window. we looked pretty ridiculous leaving the house in the state we were in: adam in his polar bear jammiepants, me in an oversized hoodie, and gracie in her tutu. thank goodness valerie was looking presentable or they might have thrown us out of the place! i ordered strawberry ice cream and shared it with gracie, who was VERY tired, but still excited for the adventures we were on.

what a good girl she is! all day long, she shared her toys, talked to our guests, played with her friends, and was in a good mood. we are so proud of her! she could not have been a more perfect child that day. absolutely incredible!

i know that every birthday in the future will almost certainly be celebrated in the usa, and that we may not have very many opportunities to see our dutch friends once we move to texas. but this day was very special, and it is one that i will never forget. i am grateful that we were able to celebrate our daughter's birth in the same house in which she was born, surrounded by people who love and adore gracie almost as much as we do. what a happy day it was for all of us!

Sunday, February 08, 2009


hooray! more videos!

here's a good view of our market square during the final moments of a christmas market:

gracie got a bunch of instruments for christmas, and here we are playing them with her. she sure loves to dance! our "guest musicians" in this video are teresa and nick, who were out here visiting us for the holidays.

here is another shorter video of the same hootinanny:

it was new year's day, and on the way back from belgium with teresa and nick we were on a very crowded train with a french-speaking brass band. they got on our train at rotterdam, with their trombones and tubas and trumpets, and a whole shopping cart full of percussion instruments, flutes, and bells. adam, mg, and i all had a seat on the train for the entire trip, but towards the end we needed to get up and get moving towards our bags and stroller (it always takes a long time to get situated as we're getting off the train)and gracie was starting to get fussy. so i began to sing a song to her, and the band broke in and started singing an entirely new song, complete with 4-part harmony and background melodies. it was too cool. needless to say, gracie was entertained the rest of the trip!

gracie has this neat little green collapsable baby cot that i picked up ages ago, but for a long time it pretty much served as a receptacle for everything in the living room that we didn't want her to touch (like our guitars, some magazines, etc.). well, that was hardly a good use of that space! so i moved it, unzipped the side of it so she could crawl in and out, and let her go crazy. she LOVED it! in and out, in and out, up and down, in and out. it's her new favorite thing.

now her "fort" lives in a corner by daddy's desk, so she can crawl in there and have some quiet time if she wants. there are books, stuffed animals, a blanket, and her "binky" (a pacifier), so whenever she needs some down time she's got a place to go to.

gracie and daddy are BEST friends. seriously. daddy loves to play with gracie, and gracie loves to fly through the air! super baby up up and away!

gracie is learning how to walk. and she's getting really good at it too! as i type this, she is at the stage now where she can take up to 5 steps in a row before she gives up and crawls the rest of the way, cuz it's WAY faster that way. she's getting braver every day with the distance she's willing to walk, and i know it's just a matter of time before she's RUNNING. but everything comes in stages, and none of us are able to do anything exceptionally well without much practice and perseverance. here is a good example of that: gracie is pushing her toy bar around the living room and totally cruising. we're so proud of our amazing grace!

there isn't a lot of green space in the heart of hengelo, so we've got all these little play areas set up around town. they're quite small, just a little climbing structure, usually with a slide and some stairs, and a mini climbing wall with steps that look like frog airplanes. on nice days (which are rare) and when gracie is good (which is often), we stop for a while to let her climb and play. unfortunately, she's still too little to do a lot of the stuff at that play gym, but she has figured out a way to enjoy herself anyway! watch her try to climb up the slide, and slide back down, and screeeeam!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

baby yoga

i have been meaning for MONTHS to blog about this. funny how time seems to slip away from me now that i'm the mother of a very-mobile child.


when bob and rae were out here last march, to meet gracie for the first time, we were all out shopping one day when i saw a flyer at a baby store, advertising "mama en baby yoga." how cool, i thought! i should remember to call that lady up and find out more details.

which i did. and after getting all the information about time, place, cost, and what to bring, gracie and i became regulars in georgette's friday-morning baby yoga class.

we started attending in april, when gracie was only 2 1/2 months old. there were two other babies there, tygo and robin, and both of them are about 3 months older than gracie is. tygo is very active and is always rolling around (eventually, as the classes went on for several months, he began to crawl and walk). robin is more passive, but is extremely happy and curious -- she loves to watch us all goof off, and she likes to be involved, but doesn't necessarily need to be the ringleader (unlike tygo and gracie). robin, interestingly enough, never learned to crawl but instead would scoot around on her butt to get from place to place. too cute!

anyway, it was just the three of us mamas, and the three babies, and georgette who was our teacher. we'd all meet at this little gym close to my house -- it was a gym only for women, like a curves sort of, but it wasn't curves, and they were only open at really random times. huh. but we'd all meet on friday mornings, and as we gathered outside of the beautiful aerobics room, all the ladies coming out of pilates would swoon over our little ones. this usually took an exorbitant amount of time, and class usually began late as a result. but i never minded -- i love getting compliments about my daughter!

what would usually happen at the beginning of class is that we'd set up tygo, robin, and gracie on a mat or a blanket in the center of the room, with some toys to keep them occupied. and then the three moms and georgette would set up our mats in a circle, and do some good breathing exercises. which sounds easy enough, but when you've carried a person inside your body for 9 or 10 months, you actually FORGET how to breathe correctly! i was shocked that i had to relearn this, especially because in my massage practice i am constantly teaching and reminding people how to use their breath properly!

once the babies would get squirmy or bored, we'd move on to exercises that involved them more directly. this usually meant stretching so that our faces were close to their bodies, doing downward facing dog or cat/cow to play a sort of peek-a-boo with them, or somehow placing our babies on our bodies (legs, torso, maybe our arms), and doing sit-ups or lunges or something.

often, especially at the beginning when our babies were all still so small and this routine of weekly yoga classes was still so new to them, we would dance to african music to keep them happy. we'd put our babies in our various baby carriers, tie bells to our ankles, and dance around for the rest of class. i would work up quite a sweat doing this! jumping up and down for half an hour with 10 or 15 pounds strapped to your chest is a real workout! (gracie would of course fall right to sleep whenever we did this. slacker!) it was such a good workout, in fact, that i would try to do the same activity once or twice more in the week at home -- i'd squat in time to the music, or step up and down on the first two stairs in the hallway, or march in place. here's a video to give you a better idea:

i LOVED my yoga class. even if we didn't even do that much yoga it was still really nice to get out of the house, move my body, and talk with grown ups. sometimes, if tygo and robin couldn't come, it would just be me, gracie, and georgette -- and sometimes, that would be the only english-speaking conversation i would have outside my house all week. so it was really nice.

our last class was way back in october, and i totally miss it. but i know now that gracie, robin, and tygo are all so mobile, there'd be no way we could have a yoga class anymore -- we'd be too busy chasing them around and keeping them from eating the candles or throwing the singing bowl.

but we still continue to get together, the three of us mamas and our babies. we had a playdate at tygo's house not too long ago, tygo and robin came over for our intocht party in november, and on friday gracie will have her FIRST BIRTHDAY PARTY and of course her little yoga buddies are invited. so we still see each other (not as often as we all would like, but that's always the case when you are the parent of small children i guess).

i really hope that when mary grace gets a bit bigger, we can find a children's yoga class to attend together. i think it's a great way to bond, to help her appreciate and rejoice in her body, and to build positive habits. i miss our yoga mornings together, but it has inspired me to look for something like this when we move to texas this summer!