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!