Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Garbage woes

The last time our garbage was picked up was on December 11th. We then had a snow storm, Christmas and snow, several unsuccessful make-up pick-up days, and our regular pick-up this coming Thursday has been postponed until Friday due to Thursday being New Years Day.

The other day, our neighbor, who we refer to as "Chinese grandpa" (I know, not very PC) spent the better part of an hour condensing his recycling so that as much as possible would fit in the bin. Now, he does have more family member than we do, but his house is also about triple the size of ours, which a huge garage to stash stuff, if necessary. With the holidays; presents and hosting several dinners, we had trash and recycling stacked up into our pantry/laundry room, which made a seemingly simple task of, say, retrieving a can of beans, a treacherous operation.

Today, Jacob took all of the extra bags that did not fit in the containers anymore outside because, with everybody else having created an actual mountain of garbage bags around the recycling bins, our few bags were not going to make matters much worse anyway. I'm very happy to have the laundry room space back! Sadly, it's starting to look like the world in Wall-E on our street, though.

When we lived in the Marshall Islands, we discovered that waste management, like plumbing, running water and ready access to information, is a luxury. There is no garbage pick-up, let alone recycling and with all the imported junk, stuff ends up in the lagoon. Waste management means burning stuff in a hole, which is great for your inner pyromaniac, but not all that practical and it causes a variety of health concerns.

Seattle, of course, has a very well developed garbage and recycling system. They even collect our food and yard waste separately and this coming March, we will be able to recycle just about everything, from meat and dairy to Styrofoam take-out containers. When we lived in Indiana, we would save up all of our recycling in the water heater room, then load up the car and actually drive it to the recycling center because our apartment complex did not subscribe to the recycling program.

All this is to say that I will be very happy when our garbage will be picked up this Friday. In fact, there are several times a day when I calculate how many more days it will be before this joyous occasion and I imagine the relief and gratitude I will feel when the unsightly mountain of trash (not to mention all of the containers that have been left outside for a while now) be gone.

The trash collectors union should totally negotiate for a pay raise.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Church

Christine and Jack invited me to join them at their church yesterday on Christmas Eve - Eve for some Christmas carol singing and short scripture readings. Because the service was mostly songs, only an hour long, and Joris had responded so delightedly to the carol singing at Greenlake, we took him along.

Getting there and back was an adventure in and of itself. The roads are still covered with inches thick of compacted ice, and I was happy that a) I wasn't driving, and b) we had snow chains on.

The church had nice, wide, comfortable pews and the band that was playing was quite good. One guy played a soprano sax, which you don't hear often, but is an instrument I enjoy.

Joris behaved as if he was a veteran of many a rock concert, but was unfamiliar with church etiquette. He clapped enthusiastically after each songs while loudly yelling "Yaaaaay!" and bouncing up and down. He and Coco did some throw your arms in the air, head banging sort of moves and, of course, he tried talking in his loudest, clearest voice whenever a scripture was being read.

Towards the end though, he sort of caught on to whispering and he'd whisper back when I'd remind him that we listen quietly to the story.

He alternated between sitting with Chris and Jack, using me as a somewhat inconvenient climbing object situated between them.

He explored all of the pockets of the diaper bag and managed to find the pair of toddler sunglasses that we were unable to locate when we were in Costa Rica. He proceeded to wear said sunglasses for the rest of the service, taking them on and off and pushing them to the bottom of his chin whenever he was unabashedly flirting with the cute 2 year old girl sitting in the pew in front us.

But, he made it through the whole service and I had a great time singing along to the carols. I am not much of a church person (more on this in a different post I'm working on), but I do love Christmas; the sense of excited expectation that has nothing to do with presents under a tree, the sense of community and goodwill. The snow helps, too. Although I'll be kind of glad when that's gone. A week of being house-bound is more than enough.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Thumb hole

For a few days now, Joris has started imitating words and sounds a lot as well as babbling incomprehensible toddler talk. Maybe half of the words he imitates (which are usually either the key word or the last word of a sentence we say) stick around and he will use on his own, at which point I count it as him speaking a word.

In the last couple of days these words, among others that I already can't remember, have been added to his vocabulary:

ice
kaas (cheese)
klei (clay)
oatmeal
now
go
up
thumb hole

I don't even know if thumb hole is an actual word - or the right word for what we use it for... Whenever Jacob puts Joris' mittens on (which are a bit too big for him, still) he'll say something like "Let's make sure your thumb goes in the thumb hole" and so we ended up walking around the block yesterday with Joris exclaiming "tum hole, tum hole!" for most of the way.

He is also getting more outgoing with people on the street, especially if those people happen to be walking their dog, which recently at least seems to be the main reason people are out on the street at all. He'll say hi and bye and "bwa-bwa (dog) mwa (kiss)". He is still very much into kissing everything.

Which reminds me -- the last time we were at Avery's house I took their pictures under the Christmas tree. They are both such hams, they actually perform for the camera, so I asked them to kiss. I think there is one picture that turned out really cute where give each other a big smooch, right under the sign in the tree that says "love".

This evening Joris put three words plus one sign together, which I believe is a record. Jacob had gone to check if the mail had come (apparently it was too snowy, even for our reliable mail man to make it out today) and threw a snowball at the window. When he came back in, Joris told him "Daddy, ball, hone (snow)" and made the sign for throwing, then repeated the words in various different orders.

Last night added a few more inches of snow to our already impressive blanket and the UW library, where Jacob works, actually closed for today, which is rare. Two metro buses got stranded this morning just around the corner from our house and I think they discontinued the northern part of that route since then. Tomorrow doesn't promise to be much better, although I'm pretty sure Jacob will have to report for work, which will leave Joris and I to go on an adventure to the grocery store for Christmas dinner ingredients. It looks like my family from Portland will not be able to make it up to Seattle on Thursday, so we'll have to adjust our plans a little bit.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Snow week


Seattle (as well as much of the Northwest) has been hit with an unusual amount of snow and freezing temperatures this last week, which means that the snow (and ice) has been sticking around instead of melting into a snow slushy hours after falling.

Joris is still somewhat apprehensive about the snow, but has been warming up to it a little since earlier this week. He likes playing with the big football and will sometimes ask "hone, biii" meaning "snow, big" or "let's go play with the big football in the snow".

Last night it dumped about 5 inches of snow, topped off by a quarter inch of freezing rain, so that walking in the snow feels like stepping on a giant creme brulee.

Here are some pictures from our week of snow:







Retrieving the big football from its snowy hide-out:



Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hat hair

Just after his first birthday, I took Joris to our local hairdresser to get his first haircut. I had been getting comments from strangers on what a cute little girl I had, so it really was time. I don't think I did an adequate job preparing Joris for what was to come and I think the hairdresser was not used to small children, either. He screamed and his hair ended up looking barely adequate.

We then decided to buy a buzzer and do it ourselves. His haircuts now looked significantly less than adequate, but at least we weren't paying any money for them and, best of all, it was not a screaming affair anymore. After getting some practice in, I was starting to feel like I was getting better at it and was actually pretty pleased with the last time I cut his hair. The last time before this actual last time, I mean.


We tried cutting his hair the weekend after coming back from Costa Rica. He had a meltdown mid-buzz and we had to abort the project, unfinished. He walked around with big bites out of the back of his hair for a full week.

On Saturday night, when Joris, Jacob, auntie Chris and I were enjoying listening to carolers at the Greenlake luminary walk, it started snowing. On Sunday morning, after breakfast, we suited Joris up in his snow pants, wool jacket, hat, hood and gloves and took him outside to play in the snow - or so was our plan. It turned out he was intrigued, but seemingly terrified of this "hone" as he kept calling it. He would only be carried by Jacob and any attempt to put his feet on the ground resulted in anguished pleads of "No-no. No. NOOO!!!"

This expression about sums it up:




He did, however have the most magnificent hat hair when we came back inside:


Which convinced me that it really was time to try to finish the job. He did a little better, although it still was a teary affair. And he squirmed and wiggled, which is always good when buzz cutters are involved.

The result is that, well, his hair is shorter. Mostly. There are still random strands of long hair in odd places, but whenever he catches me trying to sneak up with scissors he shakes his head vigorously and says "NO!". There also is a big chunk missing in the back...





Visual evidence of why I will never be a hairdresser. My consolation is that it will grow back and thankfully we took the pictures for our Christmas card before this!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Uh-oh, Daddy!

This afternoon, Joris and I drove home by ourselves, without picking Jacob up at his work first (it was going to be faster for him to take the bus).

When we got home, we had the following conversation:

Joris: "Home."

Me: "Yes, we are home!"

"Uh-oh, Daddy!...UH-OH, DADDY!!"

"We didn't forget Daddy, sweetie. Daddy will come on the bus."

"Bu-bu"

"Yes, on the bus."

"Baba. Ami."

"Grandma and grandpa?"

"Mm-ma!"

"You want to give kisses to grandma and grandpa?"

"Ja."

"Joris, do you remember where grandma and grandpa put all their hugs and kisses for you?"

"Coco!"

At which point my jaw dropped because I did not expect him to remember that. When grandpa gave Coco to Joris he told him that he and grandma had put all their hugs and kisses for Joris into Coco, the stuffed tiger that has become like a sixth family member already. Coco plays ball with Joris, Coco reads him books and, of course, Coco is needed at nap and bedtime. I do sometimes wonder if Coco holds such a revered place because he is the bearer of hugs and kisses from Baba and Ami.

It's after moments like these that it becomes more frustrating to have to listen to an endless caveman chorus of "uh, uh, uh, UH, UH!" when he wants something, when he is clearly capable of more sophisticated communication. Although I'm sure we'll miss the caveman, when he finally evolves...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Why Auntie Chris is better than Santa

Auntie Chris has always had a special relationship with Joris. She was there when he was born and ever since, through a combination of her ever-present excitement and obvious love for him whenever he sees her and the frequent visits, she has become one of the most important people in his life.

Whenever the phone rings he'll say "ngkh-ngkh".
Whenever we hang up the phone, he'll say "ngkh-ngkh".
At random moments during the day, he brings up her name.

Ngkh-ngkh holds great power, because it seems like there isn't anything Joris won't do to be in auntie Chris' good graces. Invoking her name means instant cooperation. Which is why I abuse the power whenever I can.

"Joris, we need to put your pants on."

"No. No. NO. NO. NO!"

"Do you want to go visit Auntie Chris?"

"Ja!"

"Then we have to put your pants on. Auntie Chris does not like little boys without pants."

Or:

"AAAAAHHHHHHH!!!"

"That is very loud."

"AAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!"

"Joris, can you please stop yelling?"

"AAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!"

"You know, auntie Chris does not like it when you yell."

"Ngkh Ngkh!"


So, rather than having the one month a year when parents can manipulate their kids into cooperation by suggesting that Santa might not be pleased with their behavior - I have a year-round auntie Chris to help make my toddler behave - or at least distract him momentarily.

Also, auntie Chris is way less scary than the guy in the red suit and a whole lot cuddlier. And when we hang out with her she is both entertainment for Joris and provides great adult conversation for me - and when is the last time you ever had a pleasant cup of coffee with Saint Nick?

Which is why auntie Chris is much, much better than Santa.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Home

Our last days in Costa Rica, like the rest of the trip, were very enjoyable. Paul, a friend of Don and Claudia who moved to Playa Hermosa permanently, took us for a walk on the rocks by the ocean during low tide. It was fun to see the crabs scuttle around and check out all of the critters in the tide pools, but the best part was the wind, which was blowing insanely hard that day. Once we got around a corner, out of the lull, we were hit full-blast by the wind - I was actually knocked over (lost my footing) quite a few times. We decided that it felt like a massage, it made you feel all tingly and alive.

On our last day, Don and Claudia took us for a little day trip to the towns of Nicoya and Santa Cruz. It was interesting to see the juxtaposition of these small cities where Costa Ricans live and work to the resort like feel of the Gold Coast towns, where it kind of feels like the Costa Ricans only happen to be there to be employed by the wealthy Westerners who built mega-mansions on their land. Nicoya has a lovely old church that we visited and we enjoyed a terrific lunch in Santa Cruz.

Saying goodbye and leaving was hard. I got a bit teary; for being thrown back into the regular, old day to day routine and for Joris, who will not see his beloved Ahmee and Baba until after he will have turned two.

Grandpa had bought a small stuffed tiger puppet for Joris, who immediately loved the little guy. We named him Coco, since Joris already was able to say Coco and there wouldn't be much use for the beach town name after we got home. Coco helped make the flights and waiting much easier; Joris would have Coco look out of the window, feed him, throw him like a ball and have us make him dance and talk.

We had kept Joris up to take his nap on the first flight, which left at 2:15pm. He was so tired by that time that he fell asleep while we were still parked on the tarmac. Unfortunately there was a diaper leaking incident and the little man woke up after only an hour of sleep (he needed 2 or 3 at least!). He was cranky and hard to keep distracted for the remainder of the 4 hour flight. I think everybody in the airplane was very happy when we finally landed.

We had a two hour layover in Atlanta, which gave us just enough time to go through immigrations, re-check the bags, go through security and pick up something for dinner. We got to board early, which was nice because we were planning to get Joris to eat his dinner, then have him fall asleep when taking off. For unknown reasons however, we taxied for over 45 minutes before finally taking off and at the end of that time poor, tired Joris protested - loudly - until he could finally fall asleep right after take off. God bless white noise.

Joris ended up staying asleep through the whole flight, the transfer into the stroller, baggage check, the drive home and being transferred to his bed. He slept until 5:30am, which I thought was pretty good.

Ever since, he has been sleeping like a champ. Well, there was the 3:45am waking the night before last, but he eventually made it back to sleep and we actually had to wake him up to get to Dutch school. This morning he woke up at 7:30am, after 11.5 hours of sleep! I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will stay this way, but I'm guessing that when he is done making up for his significant sleep deficit from Costa Rica (on average, he slept a total of 2 hours less each day) he will return to his more regular 10 hour nights.

For those of you who are interested in seeing some pictures, I just finished uploading them all to my google/picasaweb account. If you want, you can order prints or download any of the pictures to your own computer. Instructions follow:
http://picasaweb.google.com/carine.hutchison/CostaRica#

To order prints: click on the prints tab and follow instructions.

To download: click on the picture you wish to download so it gets bigger. Then click on the download tab. You can then save it to your own computer and make your own print-outs or use your own print service.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Costa Rica Word List

As I mentioned before, Joris's vocabulary has greatly increased in the last couple of weeks. Below is the list. It includes some words that he definitely would not have gained had we not traveled to Costa Rica, and will be of limited usage back home (Cactus, for example). English is definitely dominating the list:

Dutch

Bij (Bee - Joris uses it for every bug he sees, and there are many here)
Mier (Ant)


English

Bye
I know
Home
Pineapple
Big
More
Animal(s)
Cactus
Nice

Either (same in either language or undetermined still)

Obaba (Obama)
Appel/apple
Baby
Milk / melk (muh)
Coco (the name of a nearby beach)
Hacko (clock, watch)
Fish (Ha-psh)

Sounds:
wind
ocean
birds

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Chocolate Meltdown

Joris had his first taste of candy today; grandpa offered him some M&M's as part of a trail mix and as soon as he had popped the first one in his mouth (after eyeballing it suspiciously for a little while) his eyes lit up and he kept asking for more. The peanuts, raisins and almonds that he usually enjoys, just were not good enough anymore.

Now, I have nothing against candy and have, in fact, encouraged Joris to eat chocolate and other goodies on occasion as part of my well-a-calorie-is-a-calorie approach, so I had no problem with him eating some as a snack (and grandpa did ask if it was O.K.). In fact, I was kind of pleased that he found something else that he liked. Earlier today, we had been trying to get Joris to eat some apple pie, which I'm pretty sure he would gobble up, if only he would actually ever take a bite. Which he did not despite our "You like apples, Joris - these are apples only better, with sugar! Mmmm, apples! Do you want to try a bite? See, mama eats apple pie, daddy eats apple pie,.. Joris eat some apple pie, too?" encouragement.

In the afternoon he accepted my "that's enough M&M's, you can have some raisins now" strategy, but as I was fixing his dinner tonight, he spotted the bag of trail mix and demanded them for dinner. I told him that trail mix was not an acceptable dinner, but if he ate either his sandwich or his pasta, he could have some for desert. This however would not do. He started screaming, pointing a quivering finger to the trail mix, getting redder and redder and actually producing tears in his eyes. He worked himself up into such a frenzy that the only thing to do was remove him as far as possible from the evil that is trail mix in order to calm him down. He was so tense and intent and pissed off at our refusal of immediately fixing him what he wanted - it was a beautiful meltdown.

Of course there were people over for Don and Claudia's ceremony (which at that point, thank God, had already happened) so they got to hear the entire tirade. For which I'm actually a little glad, because everyone always comments on how nice, how well-behaved, mellow and easy Joris is, which he is, especially around company. But, man, can he be a regular pain in the butt toddler sometimes!

Tico Tales

Our time in Costa Rica is steadily moving along and we will have to face our journey home in less than four days. Everybody, including Jacob, has been very generous with spending time with Joris, which has enabled me to often just watch him play with others and getting some much needed rest. Strangely though, the more I rest, the more sleep and rest I seem to need. I have no idea how I am going to face full days of child wrangling, let alone be able to get groceries or - horrors! - prepare dinner when we get home. I imagine myself collapsing into a puddle of exhaustion at the end of the day, which is what I also do here, after a day of absolutely accomplishing nothing at all...

We have made several short visits to the beach here in Playa Hermosa. As the name implies, it is a beautiful beach, with dark gray sand and little boats anchored out in the bay. Joris has been very cautious around the water. The first time we went to the beach, he was rushed into the surf a little bit by a well-intentioned oma at which point he wigged out a little. After subsequent visits we did manage to get him to enjoy getting his feet wet and splashing in the surf while holding on to both of our hands, but most of the time he wants to be held when we are anywhere near the water.

Similarly, he has enjoyed going into the big pool at the house a couple of times, but only while being held by daddy or grandma. He seems convinced that all the fancy floaty toys are pure evil and refuses to go near them. (Actually, I do have a picture of him in one of the floats in which he actually smiles. I was lucky to have the camera handy because it lasted all of 10 seconds before he demanded to be taken out.)

On Wednesday, we went on a tour with my parents and Don and Linda, friends of Jacob's folks who are also visiting, to Palo Verde, a national park not too far from here. Joris got to come along this time because we were going to do a very nice boat tour on a river to see animals. I'm happy we brought him along because he was so interested in looking at the birds, crocodiles and lizards we were lucky enough to see. Just the last 10 minutes of the two hour ride it became clear that he needed to go do something else. We saw a few huge iguanas - nothing like any of the lizards I have ever seen in captivity. They were easily 30 pounds or more and many of them were getting ready for mating season so they were all pretty and rusty orange colored. The variety of birds was wonderful, too. We saw many egrets, herons, and even a spoonbill as well as a ton of smaller birds.

We had lunch at a great Costa Rican restaurant that served the best food we've had here. After which we went for a short visit to Guatil, a small inland town that makes really nice pottery in the tradition of the Chorotega Indians that most people who live there are descendants of. Jacob and Joris played soccer on the field in the middle of the town with a couple of Guatil girls, which convinced me that soccer is indeed an international language. The rest of us watched a pottery making demonstration which was very interesting.

Prices in Costa Rica, or at least in this part of Costa Rica, have increased enormously since we were here five years ago. I think the prices of the pottery in Guatil were twice, possibly three times, as much as when we first visited. Tourist prices are high now for everything, which really only seems fair for the way that westerners have kind of adopted this country for both vacation and retirement.

My parents left on Thursday and Joris now says "Moma, Boepa - home", which makes me think that he has some sort of concept of places now and does not merely think that since the last time he saw them they got in a car they are driving around for the entire time until he sees them again.

Joris' vocabulary has greatly increased as well. I'm keeping a list that I'll publish at the end of our stay. I can't decide if this language explosion is due to a language development spurt or the fact that he is actually getting more interaction here than when he's stuck with just me at home. Possibly both.

On Friday we went to visit an animal rescue center close to Tamarindo. We got a tour from a slightly peculiar, but very nice man named Gary, who Jacob very accurately described as an escaped character from a Carl Hiaasen book. Hearing stories of animal abuse, negligence or people's stupidity regarding animals always makes me feel sad, although fortunately most of the animals there had a somewhat happy ending.

I have always felt bad for birds in cages, but especially after seeing so many birds fly around here, it is nearly impossible for me to not to wish that those birds could experience flying around in the beautiful forests here. We often see and hear small flocks of parrots and parakeets fly by from the house, which is just enforces that feeling.

Last night, Don and Claudia's friends, George and Jodi, who have built a house right next door, offered to babysit Joris so that the four of us could go out for dinner together without having to worry about entertaining him. It was the first time that we left him with people he has not known for a considerate amount of time. Thanks to especially Jodi's magic ways with him, he did great. No crying or tantrums at all! When we came back from a superb dinner (tapas at Ginger) we found Joris cuddling with Jodi in the rocking chair, watching cartoons (which he seemed to enjoy very much).

Today, we will be celebrating Don and Claudia's re-commitment ceremony (is that the right word? It kind of implies that they were not committed for a while, which, as far as I know, is not the case) here at the house. I'm going to try to rest for a few minutes before I'll be expected to stage manage and photograph the event. :o)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Arenal

Sunday morning we (my parents, Jacob and I) left on an overnight trip to Arenal, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Ever since its 1968 eruption it has been spewing smaller amounts of lava on a daily basis with every now and then a bigger eruption thrown in. When the weather is good, you can see the lava flows glow orange at night. If you are very lucky, you can actually see the eruptions.

Unfortunately, we experienced neither good weather, nor luck and the most we got to see of the volcano was about 1/3 of the way up by day. We did see the gray lava flows, but by the time the sun set, clouds had come down further down the volcano and we could not even see one single meter up the mountain.

But, it did not matter much, because we had a wonderful time anyway. On the drive over, it was really interesting to see the ecosystem change from the tropical dry forest of Guanacaste to the lush rain forest at Arenal. On the drive either to or from the canopy tour we encountered a flock (!) of toucans, a family of coati (the southern, long nosed, totally adorable cousin of the raccoon) and a howler monkey.

In the afternoon when we arrived we decided to do a canopy tour. Canopy tours in Costa Rica are like riding a bicycle in Holland, eating goulash in Hungary or climbing the Eiffel tower in Paris - only way more fun. Basically, you fly on zip lines tied between platforms in the tree tops trying really hard to keep your mind from visualizing, in great detail, what would happen if the harness you are in would disintegrate, the zip line broke or the carabiner was attached wrong.

We did a canopy tour when we were here five years ago with Jacob's parents and Christine. I remember having several small panic attacks (the most severe when the tour guide suggested flying across with just being attached to his harness, not holding onto anything - arms out like a bird) but also loving the thrill of it. The zip lines went only as high as the trees and we could always see the ground.

At Arenal, according to our guide and driver, Bernal, the zip lines were the mother of all canopy tours. These ones went over great distances (one line was 2300 feet long) and at great heights (300 or so meters (900 feet!), overlooking the beautiful rain forest and Lake Arenal.

After gearing up, we got to ride in a ski-lift gondola type thing all the way to the top of the hill. It was pouring rain, but it fortunately cleared up considerably once we reached the platform. The first two lines were short and low - for practice - but right after those there were two long and high ones. I was happy to discover that the feeling of butterflies in your stomach, the kind you get on carnival rides, was not present. I started screaming from the excitement and joy of actually being able to enjoy the ride, but then noticed that the grease that was flying off the pulley and the line because of the rain, was now spraying right in my open mouth. After the first long zip line we all looked like coal miners - our faces entirely blackened by the streams of grease. This should have been a put-down, but I think we all experienced it as a badge of courage.

I'm very proud of both my parents, but especially my mom, for being up for the activity and not peeing in their pants or breaking down and crying. Because at 60 and 65 years old, I'm not so sure if I would be up for the adventure, let alone be able to complete it without a major melt-down.

After the canopy tour we found a hotel, enjoyed the volcanic hot springs pool, which was surprisingly luke-warm, ate at the over-priced but enjoyable restaurant and went to bed under our musty-smelling sheets.

We got up early the next morning and enjoyed a nice breakfast before taking off for a walk through the rain forest. It had been raining non-stop pretty much all night. But thinking that rain just puts the rain in rain forest, we decided to go ahead with the hike anyway and I'm really glad we did. I think the rain even added a special dimension to it. We saw lots of pretty birds and some small tropical squirrels, but the best part was looking at all the lush vegetation and beautiful view points. Although, as enjoyable as it was, I think we all were quite done with hanging out in the rain.

We had lunch in la Fortuna town, then started the 4 hour drive back to Playa Hermosa.

We stopped at the animal refuge center that Jacob and I visited 5 years ago. It was nice to see that it had changed quite a bit. More animals had bigger cages and along with charging an entry fee now, they provided the visitors with stories of some of the animals; how they ended up at the shelter, what challenges their species are facing, etc. It was very nicely done.

The biggest and most impressive animals at the refuge are a pair of jaguars in separate cages. They were pacing up and down and somehow seemed really interested in our presence (we were the only visitors there at the time). One of the jaguars, Tiggy, kept following us along the fence, purring, growling and drooling. First we thought he was starved for some company, but then it became clear that he was just awaiting his dinner. We had come right at feeding time and were able to witness the jaguars munch down some big chunks of meat. The crunching of the bones was an eerie reminder that we were thankful we did not encounter any hungry jaguars along our hikes.

We've been back here for a few days and my parents left this morning. There is more to write about, but it is Thanksgiving today and I promised to whip up an order of butter rum sweet potatoes, so the writing will have to wait for a bit again. Also, the little guy just woke up..

Monday, November 24, 2008

Obaba

This afternoon we returned from a very nice overnight trip to Arenal, a volcano in the rain forest part of Costa Rica. More about that at some later time. We were on the way back from dinner (my parents treated everyone to dinner out, which was nice) in the car when Claudia mentioned that Joris had been saying Obama. To illustrate she said:

"Joris, who is the president?"

"Ooooh-baba"

Everyone in the car applauded and praised him excitedly to which he responded, of course, by continually saying "Obaba" all the way home.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Costa Rica

We are here in Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica and it is beautiful and nice and warm without being too hot. When we were here last, we went during the dry season when all the grasses were yellow and ground seemed parched. Now, it is the tail end of wet season and everything still is a luscious green, so it almost looks like a different country to us.

Travel is exhausting and traveling with a toddler doesn't help. Joris ended up sleeping in chunks: 1.5 hours at the Seattle airport, 2 hours on the first flight and four hours on the second flight. He was awake in the Atlanta airport for the full 3 hours we were there. I slept for a little over two hours, combined and Jacob a little longer. Needless to say, we were all very tired.

Joris has been having a hard time falling asleep at night here and has developed at least four new stalling techniques. The first night, he did not fall asleep until 10:30pm, then was up again at 5:00am. Going to sleep now is a jolly mixture of screaming, jumping in the pack 'n play and asking for food, water and milk.

"Muh, muh!"

"You want milk?"

"Ja"

"Here it is."

"No... no...no. NO. NO. NONONONONONO!"
Wa-wa, wa-wa"

"You want to drink some water?"

"Ja"

"Here is your cup with water."

"No... no...no. NO. NO. NONONONONONONONO!!!"

On the plus side, Joris is really enjoying spending time with all of his grandparents. He asks for each one at different times and does not seem to have a particular preference for any of them. They all adore him and obey his every demand, so who can argue with that? It is really nice to see him interact with them.

Yesterday, Joris stayed home with grandma and grandpa while the rest of us went for a hike at a national park. We did not walk for a great many miles, but it was 2.5 hours of climbing up and down rock paths, over tree roots and crossing rivers. We saw some beautiful butterflies, leaf cutter ants and once a coati (raccoon like creature) crossed the path. We had a late lunch in Liberia and watched some folk dances in the town square (it was festival celebrating volunteers who help other people, according to Bernal, our driver). When we came home, we found a happy little boy, who had been a delight all day and apparently went down for his nap without any trouble.

Tomorrow we are supposed to go on an overnight trip to Arenal, an active volcano in the rain forest, a four hour drive from here. We are planning on leaving Joris with the grandparents again.

Getting a break from being with Joris all day, every day has been really nice. I did miss him yesterday when we were gone and worried, of course. (The big pool is always looming, although Joris has been really cautious around it.) When we are all hanging out at the house, I find myself having very little desire to get up and entertain the lad or deal with feeding or changing him. I am perfectly content to sit and watch him have a good time with everybody else. Over which, of course, I feel completely guilty. What mom doesn't want to play with her little guy in such a nice place?

Maybe it will return. Maybe I still need some time to recover from my two nights of practically no sleep. But, it seems like Joris, too, is happy to have someone other than myself to interact with. When I ask him if he wants to swing with me, or sit with me or do something else with me, he usually responds with "baba", "boopa" or "moma" (strangely enough, grandma no longer is "emma" - he is back to pointing and grunting at her although Jacob says he is trying to make the "gra" sound now).

Right now, Joris is playing with opa (boopa). Jacob and his dad are golfing and the grandmothers are walking on the beach. I'm trying to feel better and am functioning as the backup for when opa needs help. Last night I came down with a fever. All evening I thought I had gotten sunburned, but it turned out it was the chills. I had Jacob pile on sheets and sweaters on top of me, I was so cold! The fever broke after a few hours and it has not come back. My first thought was the flu, since Joris and I have still not been able to go get our shots (Joris has been having the never ending cold for 4 weeks and you're not supposed to get the vaccination if you're under the weather). With it being 3 days since we flew, I was afraid that I might have gotten it on the plane. But, although I don't feel a hundred percent yet, I'm pretty sure it's not the flu.

I should probably go check in on the boys now. There is wi-fi internet here, so I will probably be able to update some more. I'll use this as my travel journal of sorts, so feel free to skip reading since other people's vacations are not that interesting to hear about!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Travel Jitters

We are leaving for Costa Rica tonight. We've been talking to Joris about it and he knows we are going to see opa, oma, grandma and grandpa and that an airplane and monkeys are involved.

My inlaws live in Playa Hermosa, on Costa Rica's Pacific Coast for big chunks out of the year and after visiting them four (five?) years ago, we have always meant to go again. They now have their own house down there. My parents will be there as well. In fact, they are arriving right about now. My brother and I got them tickets to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary, my mom's 65th and dad's 60th birthday. Jacob's dad will be turning 60 as well when we are there, so there is a lot of celebrating to do.

I'm nervous about our travel times. Since our tickets are booked on airmiles there weren't many times available to chose from and, in fact, we should count our lucky stars that we were able to get tickets in the first place. Anyway, we leave at 9:55pm tonight. Then we will spent 4.5 glorious hours in the Atlanta airport before taking the second flight to Liberia and arriving there at 1:00pm. On the way back, all I know is that we are arriving back in Seattle at midnight. Fun!

So, of course, it was of vital importance that we got a good night sleep last night. Which, naturally did not happen. Jacob had a hard time falling asleep and was turning around for a while. I fell asleep 3 times before waking up just before midnight with the most excruciating heart burn I have ever experienced. It was most unpleasant. I think I wolfed down half a container of anti-acids to make it stop. (It surely was caused by a combination of having eaten greasy birthday food and cake and being anxious about traveling.) Then Joris woke up around 2:00, right after we had finally fallen asleep. He woke up for the day at 5:30.

So - I'd better get back to packing and getting as much done while Joris is taking his nap.

I am convinced that we will have a great time once we are there, but I wish that more advancements had been made on the teleporting front...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Word List

I've been feeling pretty pleased with the increase of Joris' spoken words. And because I like making lists, I started one that list all of his words.

As it turns out, most of his words are either proper nouns or sounds. There are very few actual, well... words. And most of the words and names are not their proper pronunciations or a are missing the ending letters.

But, it doesn't matter. Progress is progress, right? And Joris is very good at communicating what he wants, sees or is thinking about - words or no words.

He has been very into recounting what just happened, or what happened earlier in the day. This morning he kept saying "Emmy [sticks out tongue and tips his head forward] bah", meaning, very clearly, that Avery just threw up. Which she did.

Here's the list. Dutch is ahead for the time being! Hurray!


Dutch:
Aap (monkey)
Pauw (peacock)
Mooi (pretty)
Ja (yes)
Ei (egg)
Daar (there)
Bal (ball)
Bah (yucky)


English
Moon
Bye-bye (well, ba-ba still)
Owl
No
Ball

People
Mama
Daddy (upgraded from Dada)
Boopa (opa)
Moma (oma)
Ngkh Ngkh (auntie Chris)
Emma (grandma)
Baba (grandpa)
Emmy (Avery / Madeline)
Ngkh (Koos)

Sounds:
Baa (sheep)
Boo (cow)
Puf Puf (train)
Poof (see previous post)
Mauw (cat)
Bwa Bwa (dog)
Essss (snake / the letter S)
Hap! (bite)
A-voom! (motorcycle)
oo-oo (monkey)
uh-oh
pooo (fart)
a-hoo (wolf howling)
hoo-hoo (owl hooting)

There might be more. I'll add them if I think of them.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Poof!

On the plane ride back to Seattle last month, we played a little game with Joris to keep him occupied during his waking hours. Jacob (with Joris on his lap) would say "one, two three...poof!" and point his finger at me, as if he were using a wand. I would then close my eyes, slump my head and make snoring noises. When Joris would say the magic word, "ja" I'd wake up. It entertained him for quite a while.

The other day, Jacob and Joris were playing in the front yard and Joris found a stick. He started waving it around and saying "poof!". Our cat Oskar was in the yard as well and Jacob waisted no time to encourage Joris to poof Oskar. He did, and with each of Joris' poofs, Jacob would say something like "Now Oskar is a rat!"

"Poof!"

"Now he's a crocodile!"

"Poof!"

"Oh no, Oskar is a hippopotamus! Run!"

Joris thought it was hilarious.

Lately, he has been poofing pretty much everybody. It's been a favorite dinner table activity. Last night we were having dinner at Chris and Jack's apartment and Joris would poof all of us in a row, so he'd wave and point his right hand to poof auntie Chris, immediately followed by his left hand to poof uncle Jack and so forth. It was pretty cute and a great way to make dinner last a while.

Then there was the incident of the screaming monkey. Monkey's are Joris's favorite stuffed animals and when he spotted the small monkey that you can catapult with its long, elastic arms and that screams when it hits the floor, he had to examine it. We have an identical monkey at home and since the one time we made it scream when Joris was less than a year old, Joris was inconsolable for about half an hour and the monkey has been residing on the top shelf of the linen closet.

So we told him that this is a screaming monkey who makes very loud noises.

"Would you like to hear the monkey scream?"

"Ja"

Auntie Chris told him to cover his ears and did an excellent job making it into a fun game. The monkey landed a little ways from Joris and he gave an uncertain little smile when it was done screaming.
Then, of course, it had to be flung another time. This time it landed closer to Joris and he started crying, although he was consoled very quickly.

"Where is the monkey?"

(points)

"That's right. Do you want to play with it?"

"No no. No no" (shakes head)

"Do you want to pet the monkey?"

"No. No."

"Shall we make the monkey fly again?"

"NO-NO. no."

We kept asking him periodically throughout dinner and he steadfastly maintained that he wanted nothing to do with the monkey anymore.

So far, this has not translated into a dislike of George and Oo-Oo yet.

A few days ago I found a really nice, wool fall coat for Joris on super sale at a store where I had to return something. It is a dark brown, long, wool coat with a hood and it has those cool toggle buttons. Of course I spent my store credit to get it. It still is a little big on him, but adorable. On the front there is a little fake coat of arms sort of decoration, which totally makes it seem like something worn at Hogwarts. So now we have a Harry Potter coat wearing little man who poofs everything and everyone in sight.

It must really suck to have such dorky parents.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama!

Every time I hear or read the words "president-elect Barack Obama" I smile.

I missed the networks call the election last night because I was taking Joris to bed, but it had been clear before that anyway. Obama was up with 202 electoral college votes and knowing that California, Oregon and Washington would surely deliver over 70 more, it really didn't matter if we got Florida, too.

Besides the joy, pride, and hope I felt when I walked into the living room in the middle of McCain's concession speech, I was also a bit taken aback at the speed with which it seemed to be settled. With the uncertainty during the previous two elections, I had sort of come to expect a long, drawn out process.

I feel happy that Obama got elected for many reasons, the most important of which is knowing that Joris will grow up during the Obama presidency. And, of course, that he isn't stuck with a useless sign language sign.

This one is for auntie Chris

Just after dinner tonight, Joris was standing over by the toy chest.

He farts loudly.

He looks at us, grins and then says "poooo".

We laugh. (This obviously was not the correct reaction and I'm afraid we'll have to pay for it with many years of fart jokes to come.)

Joris then points to his butt.

We laugh harder.

Halloween

For Halloween, Joris dressed up in his cowboy outfit, given to him by his Ome Dirk. We added a hat and a horse and I have to say that it turned out quite adorable. Joris had practiced riding the hobby horse and galloped around saying "hiiiii".

In the afternoon we went to a nice little halloween party at Colleen and Pedro's house. In addition to Joris the cowboy, there was Pedro the lion, Luna the butterfly and Adam the triceratops.

We all went trick or treating at the University Village, which is a collection of stores close to the U. There were hundreds of kids and their parents there. Joris really enjoyed getting candy in his pumpkin bucket and each time he would locate the new candy, take it out and examine it. When he was offered to pick from a bucket of candy he alternately would try to take the whole bowl, sit down, or really intently stare at the different goodies offered, as if he was weighing the importance of his choice between a tootsie roll or a lollipop.





Portland trip

Two weekends ago we took Joris on the Amtrak train for a visit with his grandparents, aunt Melina, cousins Delia and Livia, uncle Dirk and Melanie and opa and oma.

It is hard to describe the excitement on Joris' face when he saw the train tracks at King Street Station when we walked over the overpass. He kept pointing, signing for train and shrieking. He fell asleep mere seconds before arriving at the Tukwila station (the first stop after leaving Seattle) and as the train stopped, his eyes popped open and he signed "more". It then took two hours before he fell asleep again.

On the way back, he fell asleep the moment the train pulled out of the station.

Overall, it went very well and we'd definitely consider taking him on the train again.

We had a lovely visit with our families. It was nice to see everyone and we were lucky to have the most beautiful fall weather you could imagine.

Here is a video of Joris showing off his kicking skills:




Here are some pictures:












Friday, October 31, 2008

Hugs and kisses

Joris's kissing skills have evolved from him first presenting his head when asked for a kiss, to a slack-jawed touching of his face against ours, to him now pursing his lips together and saying "mmm-ma!"

After the first kiss, he used to turn our heads, so he could kiss the other cheek as well and when he'd given me a kiss he, very equitably, would turn to anyone else in the room and present them with a smooch as well.

In the past few weeks he has discovered that anything can be kissed and can give kisses. It started with his stuffed animals, who will be kissed by him, then give him kisses and then insist on being kissed by us as well, after which they may kiss each other. He has since moved on to kissing plastic toys, toy cars, the cats and, yesterday, the freshly carved pumpkin.

I'm considering it a step up from the eating phase - one time he was playing with a sheep and dog figure in the car. He started touching them together and saying "Hap! Hap!" (bite), followed by "mmmmmm". The carnivorous sheep has now switched to kissing.

Avery, the little girl we watch twice a week, has been practicing "smoochy kisses" where she will purse her lips and plant a big, wet kiss whenever you ask. She is also an expert hugger. Until recently she'd come up to Joris to give him a hug and he would just stand there kind of awkwardly or try to back up, and shrug her off.

But on Tuesday when I told Joris "Tomorrow we are going to play with Avery", he said "mmm-ma!"

"You want to kiss Avery?"

"Ja"

And sure enough, on Wednesday, as soon as he saw her he went over to give her a big kiss.

Later that day, I had put them both in Avery's crib for a few minutes because they like hanging out there and I needed to go to the bathroom without worrying about them climbing up the stairs. When I got back into the room they were exchanging hugs and kisses; first Avery would lean in and give Joris a kiss, immediately followed by a hug, which he now seemed to enjoy and even accommodate. Then, Joris would do the same to her. It was super adorable.

Besides kisses, his trucks and stuffed animals also get hugs where he'll hold them over his shoulder and pat them on the back, like burping a baby. Curious George and Oe-Oe (another monkey) were also treated to bites of his pumpkin butter sandwich this afternoon. The great part was that when I made them talk and tell him "Eat your sandwich" he actually obliged.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Voice

A good friend just sent me a get out the vote video that features celebrities urging everyone to vote. One of the people (I don't actually know who he is) says:

"I'm voting because I want a voice."

In Dutch, the word stem means both 'vote' and 'voice' and stemmen means 'to vote' and 'voices'.

I had never thought about that before, but I really like it. Voting is equivalent to your voice. Vote and your voice will be heard.

I am so excited to be voting in this election. Not only because after living here for thirteen years it is the first time that I will be able to make my voice heard in the presidential election, but also because I am genuinely excited about Barack Obama and the positive changes he will bring to the office of the president, the country and the world's view of the U.S.

So, please, if you haven't already, send in your ballot or go to an early voting poll or plan your visit for Tuesday.

Jacob, Joris and I will be canvassing our neighborhood with the Obama campaign on Tuesday, reminding our neighbors to vote and helping them to the polls, if needed. I'm hoping to have a celebratory drink while watching the results come in that evening (if you want to join us, let me know)!

The polls are looking good for our candidate right now, but unless we actually send in our ballots and go to the polling stations and remind our friends and family to do the same, those polls will not mean anything.

So, go. STEM!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Oo-ah to the power of cute

Joris has been trying to say uh-oh, only he appears to be slightly sound dyslexic and it comes out as oo-ah.

"oo-ah"

"What's wrong?"

(point to floor)

"Uh-oh, you dropped your grape."

"oo-ah"


He has really been imitating sounds and trying to sound out words. He added "moooh" (more) and "doooooh!" (doel - goal!) just in the last day.

There have also been a lot of unrecognizable sounds lately, which he says in a very conversational way, like he totally knows what he is talking about. I guess that's called babbling, which most babies do from an early age. However, our boy has been more of the strong and silent type, so it's rather novel for us.

The following is a conversation I've had with Joris at least five or six times today:

"Mama loves you"

"Dada"

"Daddy loves you, too"

"Boopa"

"Opa loves you, too"

[signs for uncle Dirk]

"Ome Dirk loves you, too"

Sometimes he throws in "gngh gngh" (auntie Chris) or points to our upstairs room, which we guess means grandma since that is where she appears from in the morning when she stays with us.

He also is chatting himself to sleep now occasionally.

"Dada. Boopa. Dada. Boopa. Dada. Gumgle Mmmaga blap blap moognl plp."

Oo-ah cracks me up every time, though. I hope he won't correct himself any time soon!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Laid off - updated

In the middle of the afternoon yesterday at my VoiceBox job the whole language team (there are 11 of us, representing 6 languages) received an email saying the "leadership team is re-evaluating the company's language needs" and we should not come in to work for the next two weeks. We should hear at some point if our services are needed at all anymore.

Which means that the economy's woes have, indeed, caught up with the voice recognition software industry as well and that the company is trying to cut costs any way they can.

Which is all well and good and somewhat anticipated; the product, after all, is somewhat, if not very, superfluous. (When faced with the choice of being able to voice control the air-conditioning in your car or spend that money on, say, a vacation, home improvements or gasoline, I'm betting most people will choose to press the air-conditioning button with their fingers.)

What really bothers me is the way that they went about handling the situation. First of all, there was no warning, no "we're going to have a meeting about costs and your department might need to scale back". Give us a few days to get used to the idea, maybe.

Secondly, it was done over email.
Our supervisor sat in an office a few steps away and could not be bothered to come into the language lounge to tell us to our face.

Third, after having sent said email the supervisor was unavailable for questions and it appeared he had fled the office altogether.

Fourth, our department head, Ralph, was still on vacation and it seems that this decision was completely made behind his back. He has always been the MLL analysts' voice and has stood up for us and I'm imagining he'll be quite upset when he comes back to an empty office today.

Finally, there were five of us at work yesterday when the email was sent. We got the instructions that WE were responsible for calling the rest of our coworkers and getting everybody's timesheets together. Which we did. Because we're nice.

I wish I had the courage and the luxury of telling them off. "How can you treat people like this? Do you honestly expect us to sit by the phone for the next few weeks, waiting for your call to hear if we are allowed back or not? Don't you realize that you are losing so much more than a bit of money by treating us this way? Do you really expect any loyalty after this? Most of us come from Europe where it is ILLEGAL to fire people, even for a crappy, part-time job, without 15 days notice and several months of severance pay. That's right, you'd go to jail. Or pay a crap load of money. Good luck when you realize next month that you need us, but we've moved on and you need to find and train a whole new group of people, which will take weeks if not months to get them to function as well as we do!"

But I won't. Because the sad reality is that, although I'll try to find something else to do, I most likely will have to take the job if they ask me to come back. (My guess is that they'll either eliminate all languages except for French and Spanish or scale back the department to 1 part-time employee per language.)

It was sad to have to tell my colleagues this over the phone. It was even sadder to leave. We were all shocked and more than a bit upset. Maybe we'll unionize, who knows...

So, I'll be trolling the part-time, full time and the nannying ads on Craigslist but it's looking pretty bleak.

I'm trying to think of it as a blessing in disguise. Maybe now I can find something I really enjoy. Something in my field even. Although, again, the sad reality is that my field is hit equally hard by the economic downturn and no theatre in town appears to be hiring for anything I'm qualified to do.

Then there is the whole childcare issue, too. If I find something full-time, what will we do with Joris?

I think my best option is to find another nannying gig and get back on food stamps. This will also give Jacob more time to write. Sure, it won't make me feel like I'm utilizing any of the skills I so carefully cultivated in my 20s, but I'll enjoy spending the time with my favorite little guy. I will feel that, once again, my own ambitions have been put on hold but I can hang on to the thought that Jacob will finish that dissertation soon and get a fabulously paying job, which will enable me to throw myself back into the non-profit world without having to worry about being able to pay the bills.

Any advice from my handful of readers?

_____________________________________________________
UPDATE (Wednesday night)
_____________________________________________________
Apparently there was a company meeting this afternoon at VoiceBox. Over half of all employees got laid off, effective immediately, no severance pay.

I suspected I would not be going back when earlier today I tried to check my VB email from home and found out it was shut down.

Still, except for our team leader, Ralph, nobody has received any official word from anyone (HR or other). I guess it doesn't matter.

I thought that maybe it would make me feel better, knowing we weren't the only ones having a hard time, but I keep thinking of all my colleagues whose whole family income, their health insurance and everything depended on their employment. The guy whose wife just gave birth to their second child. The people here on H1B work visas who will face deportation if not employed, everyone who did not expect to have to worry about their next mortgage payment...

I just told Jacob, I'm not used to being fired - I am the one who leaves employers who then write cards, give farewell parties and ask me to come back. Not actually being told you're fired, but knowing it sucks. It makes me feel like the hours I put in were nothing important - my contribution and therefor me meant nothing to this company.

Anyway - enough. I'm going to watch yesterday's Daily Show and then go to bed.

Monday, October 20, 2008

First verb

Seemingly out of nowhere, Joris uttered his first verb today.

My friend Paola and her little girl Luna were over playing at Avery's house in the afternoon and all three tots were interested in the little ball track that Avery has. Joris likes to hoard the balls - he'll walk around with three of them in his hands - and so I asked him to share with the girls.

He shook his head.

"Joris, can you roll the ball in the track?"

"Roll"

"Yeah, roll. Wait - did he just say roll?"

"Roll"

When I asked him to repeat the word to his dad at the dinner table tonight, he smiled mischievously before saying it again. He then asked "more", which meant that he wanted us to keep asking him "can you say roll?". Naturally, we obliged. He was so excited and obviously pleased with himself for saying the new sound!

I don't want to draw any hasty conclusions, but I think this is a sign that English will (naturally) be his dominant language. Which is to be expected, although I sometimes secretly hope that for the first little while - a year or two maybe - his Dutch will be more prominent.

"Owl" has definitely become the English pronunciation now, as has "no" (it was, and occasionally still is nuh-nuh). The other words are either names (mama, dada, boopa, doo-ta (Joris), gngh-gngh (auntie Chris) and demonic sounding mama (grandma)) or words that are the same in either language (ba(ll), bu(s)) or are unfinished (ba meaning bath in either Dutch or English) and thus not belonging to one language or the other.

Grandma, on more than one occasion, has made the remark that she'd better start learning Dutch in order to be able to communicate with her grandson, but that fear will prove, in all likeliness, to be unfounded. The majority language (the language spoken in the community) will always have the advantage over the minority language (the language spoken by a handful of relatives) and so it's up to me to try to stuff at much Dutch in his little noggin before he will decide to reject the language altogether...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Grandma

Grandma is visiting and Joris was practicing saying grandma last night. He knew it sounded like mama, only harsher in some way. So he'd use his angelic little toddler voice to say mama, meaning me, and said mama in a grunty, loud, Darth Vader sort of way, meaning grandma. We all had tears of laughter rolling down our faces.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hand-me-down magazine psychology

For as long as I can remember my mom has been a subscriber to the magazine Libelle (Dragonfly). It's been around for generations and their target audience is women of any age. I'm sure I looked at the pictures before I could read, I remember first reading the comic strip on the back and later the short letters sent in by readers and, later still, the articles and interviews.

The Libelle subscription crossed the Atlantic with my mom when we moved to Oregon and ever since I moved out of the house, my parents have been saving the magazines and present me with a stack almost every time we see each other.

It's nice to read some Dutch once in a while and whenever I get a stack, I try to pace myself, so I don't read them all at once. Occasionally, I will respond in Dutch if Jacob happens to ask me a question while reading.

The other day, I was happy to dig up an extra edition I had not yet read, that had fallen behind the shoe rack. It had a relaxation theme, with articles on the importance of taking time for yourself (Who has time for that? I thought as I flipped through it) and tips to increase your happiness.

One article "How to raise happy kids" caught my attention, 'cause really, who doesn't wonder and worry about their kids' happiness? It gave some obvious advice, like setting boundaries, giving kids responsibilities, allowing them to make mistakes, etc. but one, rather off-hand remark really got to me. It said "...want 'stel je niet aan' zeggen kan echt niet meer". Roughly translated, it means: because saying "don't overreact / act like a baby" really is not acceptable anymore.

"Stel je niet aan" has been somewhat of a slogan during my childhood. Not only me, but also my brother, classmates and probably much of our generation (and quite possibly generations before us) had this Dutch national mantra flung to our heads whenever we'd object too much, were convinced we'd been wronged, acted silly, pleaded or begged for something, dramatized anything or just plain wanted attention.

Reading the Libelle's opinion that the phrase should be scratched from the modern parenting vernacular made me realize what it has meant to me all these years. Just reading it, it immediately caught my attention and made me cringe. Why? Because amongst all the times it was tossed about when I was annoying or seriously silly, there were the times when I needed someone to listen. Whatever little, insignificant issue it was I was having, it was not insignificant to me a the time. "Stel je niet aan" rejects the idea that a child has an opinion, or rather, is experiencing an emotion worth acknowledging.

So, possibly for generations, Dutch kids have heard "stel je niet aan" when they objected because they thought their sibling was being favored, or when they threw a tantrum on the play ground because another kid took their toy, or when they cried when they did not want their mother to leave them at grandma and grandpa's house. And we've turned out ok - more or less, right?

We're a cynical, aloof, stubborn, suspicious, yet generous and equitable folk.
What will happen now?

According to the Libelle, we should listen to our children and, most importantly, acknowledge, instead of dismiss their feelings. This does not mean that you have to give in to the tantrums and whining, but you should acknowledge their frustration and express an interest in their problem. (I understand you are angry that girl took your toy. How do you think you can get it back?)

I'm trying to imagine a Holland with a generation of kids not having heard "stel je niet aan". Will they turn out to be confident, caring, well-adjusted adults? Probably. But maybe, 30 years from now, the Libelle will publish some contradictory advice like "Acknowledging kids' emotions turns them into over-confident, rude adults, so it's better to dismiss their problems now."

And so, I'm resigned to the fact that even if Joris will never hear "stel je niet aan", we're sure to mess him up in some other way.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

No nap soccer reading poop

Earlier this weekend I thought "I have to make sure to mention this on my blog, it's so cute/funny/amazing". Of course, I now have forgotten what it was. I'd like my entries to have some sort of topic, or overall thought to them, but I have a feeling I often will end up writing messy, unorganized, general updates combined with random thoughts. It will be so today, at least.

First of all, I totally jinxed the good sleep we'd been getting by Joris going to sleep easily by writing about it. We have now enjoyed several days of seemingly endless nap and bedtime routines, songs, wiggling, crying, screaming and just playing in the crib and being laughed at when we'd tell him "It's time to go to sleep now". On Saturday, after an hour and a half or so of the nap circus, it looked like it would be another no-nap-at-all day. He did end up falling asleep in the car on the way to Jacob's soccer game for about 10 minutes, then again on the way home, which was close enough to bedtime. He still needed to eat and be changed when we got home, but he woke up so cranky and after a few bites basically begged us to put him to bed.

Even though it's hard to get him to sleep, at least he does stay asleep for about 10 hours when he finally gives in. (Crossing my fingers to not be jinxing this again.)

So, at the soccer game on Saturday, Joris got a hold of a regular sized soccer ball and ran around kicking it pretty much the entire time. I had to almost bribe him to go check out the small playground and swing for a while. He is getting really good at kicking the ball and can keep it going without tripping over it for quite a while. It's funny to see a little boy kicking a ball about a third his size around.

Joris is starting to recognize letters. It started with the letter S. On his ABC puzzle, when you lift off the S, it shows a picture of a snake and Jacob taught him that the snake says sssssss . After a while he started pointing out s's written in books, on magazine covers, cereal boxes, etc. and saying esss.

Then one day he pointed to an A and I told him it is the letter A. Ever since, we can point out an A and ask him what letter it is and he'll say Ah (the Dutch pronunciation).

He has also recently added H, M and O, although they're less consistent.

And yesterday, he apparently pointed at the Obama-Biden Magnet on the fridge as well as the yard sign and signed Obama, but I'm chalking that one up to the Obama campaigns effective use of color and logo. Also, I changed his ABC puzzle so it now has pictures corresponding to Dutch words instead of English and the O is for Obama (of course) - so he probably is just responding to the O - the same way he signs bird or baby for the letter B and lion for the the letter L.

I have been thinking about not mentioning this interest in letters, because, really, there is no way for me to not sound like an obnoxious, bragging mom who spends all day drilling her toddler. And although I am proud and excited about it, I'd like to think it would be no different than if, for example, he'd be able to speak in 2 or 3 word sentences, paint a circle or eat with a fork instead.

I guess we'll see how long the interest lasts before he is on to the next best thing.

I just spent over an hour trying to get both Avery and Joris down for a nap. They both have little drippy-nose colds and had a hard time giving in to sleep. I'm off to find some answers about how much poop is too much. For the last few days Joris has had 4 or 5 poopy diapers a day. And I'm not talking about little smears - they really are loaded. He does eat at least one of two decent meals a day, but it looks like the output far exceeds the input. I'm fairly certain he does not have any secret stashes of food, although it would explain a lot.

Sorry 'bout the poop talk.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sleep progress

It is only fair to report on sleep improvement instead of only complaining about the hard times. The last few nights, Joris has been sleeping a solid 11 hours straight again, one time even 12 hours! It is amazing how big the difference between 5:45am and 7:00am is.

Jacob has been working some kind of magic when putting Joris to bed. I'm not sure what the exact magic formula is, but it has something to do with Jacob telling him that he is a big boy and will go to sleep by himself, but that daddy will stay and sing him a song while he's falling asleep. Apparently, Joris agrees to this scenario and has been going to sleep easily and without crying. Ok, it's only been a few times now, but it's definitely progress.

Last night, Jacob either left before Joris was fully asleep (it's hard to know because the room is totally dark) or he just woke up after a few minutes, but we heard him calmly, though a little sadly saying "Yep....yep...yep" which also is the sound he now makes when he wakes up and wants us to come get him. It was pretty cute.

I am really hoping the sleep improvements stay.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Overnight

We left Joris overnight for the first time this weekend. Jacob and I celebrated our 10 year date-averary; it's hard to believe it has been ten years since that first, somewhat awkward date.

Jacob's folks came up to take care of Joris for the 22.5 hours we were gone. Fortunately, they had been in town for a couple of days already before we left, so Joris had already remembered how much fun they are to hang out with. We left on Saturday after Joris had gotten up from his nap and returned today just before nap time.

We had reservations at a bed and breakfast on Bainbridge Island, which is just a half hour ferry ride from Seattle. Our B&B was out in the middle of a forested area and the drive up the 1/2 mile long, narrow, unpaved, windy road was quite entertaining. For one, leaves, twigs and small branches were falling everywhere because of some heavy winds that had just arrived, making it a rather adventurous drive. Secondly, we passed signs, buildings and people that made it very obvious that the foresty community was mostly comprised of (wealthy) hippies. "Sacred Grove" was the most intriguing of the buildings and I imagined it to be the destination of the long gray-haired lady in flowy robes that we had passed.

We turned out to be the only guests for the night and the B&B looked very comfortable. We chatted with the owner for a bit and were outfitted with a map of the island and we spent the rest of the afternoon wine tasting, getting blown away on a beach and enjoying some warm beverages in Winslow town. We had an early dinner at the waterfront pub and were looking forward to going back to the B&B to watch a movie before sleeping for at least 12 hours straight.

Unfortunately, upon our return we discovered that a branch or tree had taken out a power line and the place was without electricity with no idea if or when it would return. Rather than kind of reliving our time in the Marshall Islands, we decided to find a place where we'd be able to shower and hang out for a while. One phone call home and, thanks to my father in law and the power of priceline, we got a very nice room at a downtown Seattle hotel.

Joris had a good time with grandpa and grandma, although he did ask for us a few times (Mama, Daddy, car). I think I might have missed him more than he did me. Grandma needed a nap when we got back, so I'm afraid our little guy kept her rather busy.

It was nice to get away for a little bit and the solid 11 hours of sleep are sure to be fondly remembered in the weeks and months to come.

I'm glad that we have successfully completed our first night separation. We now know that we can all survive a night away and enjoy the change of pace.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bathroom bliss

While we were enjoying our time at Niagara Falls, my dad remodeled our bathroom. He had offered to do so when it was still part of a whole house remodel & add-on, but even though we got rejected for the loan for that project we decided to do the bath anyway, because it really needed the make-over.

We bought nice porcelain tiles to replace the nasty, yellowed plastic, glued on bath surround, a new vanity, faucets, a cabinet, base boards for the floor and to put around the window and a bath-tub refinishing kit. My dad had some left-over flooring from a bathroom project at their own house, which was just enough for our small space. A matching paint color was the finishing touch.

When we came home on Sunday we were able to walk into an entirely new, classy looking bathroom. I can only imagine the mess it must have been to replace and install everything and I am immensely thankful that I didn't have to be around to witness it!

Here are the before and after pictures (we'll still have to get matching towels sometime...) :o)
















Monday, September 29, 2008

Trip Rewards

On Sunday we returned from a five day (well, two travel days and three days there) trip to the Niagara Falls area. Jacob's grandparents live in an unincorporated area between Buffalo and Niagara Falls. We stayed at their 1850s farmhouse, which truly is a real estate agent's worst nightmare. It is located on a busy country road, has a train running - literally - through the back yard, is across from a run down bar frequented by gruff looking motorcyclists and has the most amazingly warped floors I have ever seen.
Van Niagara Falls


We arrived in the early evening after two smooth, on-time flights, retrieved luggage and a hassle free car rental experience. We ended up driving the biggest SUV ever, which Jacob said felt like driving a U-haul truck. They were out of the car size we'd requested and so 'upgraded' us to size ginormous. It guzzled a good bit of gas, but we enjoyed the view from up high and I have to admit that it was super easy getting Joris in and out of his car seat without having to bend down. But we were glad to get rid of the beast again at the end of the trip and decided we won't be SUV owners any time soon.

Joris did great on all of the flights. On the way there he ended up falling asleep an hour before landing and napped through the descend, all of the announcements, everyone leaving the plane and me carrying him into the terminal. Except for some very minimal fussing he was easily entertained and distracted and we feel like we could not have wished for better traveling behavior.

Grandma and Grandpa were thrilled to meet their great-grandson. They were also very good about letting Joris come to them and not trying to rush him into interactions. Joris was pretty apprehensive of them until the last day. Especially grandpa, who has a loud, scratchy voice and who'd bend down and half-yell "Well how ya doin' big guy!", was a tad bit intimidating, I'm afraid. It also didn't help that Joris came down with a fever for a day and a half which made him not irritable, but a bit clingy and definitely not his cheerful self.

Van Niagara Falls


We made it to Niagra Falls twice. The first time we walked around Goat Island and admired the American Falls and enjoyed a picnic lunch under a tree.
Van Niagara Falls
We then drove over to Canada and did a little driving tour of the wine region just across the border. The second time we walked across the Rainbow Bridge to admire the falls from the Canadian side, which has a much better view of them. Joris was duly impressed and kept pointing and making his sign/sound for water.
Van Niagara Falls


On Saturday, our last day there, Grandpa had suggested going to the wildlife festival that the local electrical company puts on annually. Apparently they can gauge local electric rates as long as they spend a certain amount of money on community activities... The wildlife festival had booths, games and demonstrations from wildlife preservations groups, boy scouts, SPCA, wildlife rehab places, etc. but also of the Niagra Trappers Society, taxidermists and hunting and rifle associations. It was weird to see the booth of the SPCA which showcased a tiny screech owl and another small bird of prey across from a table with hunting trophies.

Joris got to pet a border collie named Gracie and throw a stick to her, which she'd retrieve.
Van Niagara Falls
Then we went to watch what was supposed to be a dog obedience and agility demonstration but which ended up being a showcase of how trained dogs sometimes just don't want to listen and obey. It was pretty funny. After a bit Joris waved bye-bye dogs and kept saying "owl". So we went back to look at the little screech owl. I asked the lady there if there were any other non-taxidermic animals around and she kindly pointed us to a building. Inside there was a fun stage show where they showed different animals to a large audience of kids. We got to see a lemur. But the most fun was at the table to the side that was run by a hawk rescue/rehab place. They had a great horned owl named Yoda, that Joris was very interested in. Yoda even hooted at us and ever since, Joris makes this great hooting sound whenever we talk about owls. He also found a very nice stuffed animal toy owl that we adopted because Joris would not let go of it.
Van Niagara Falls

Van Niagara Falls


We treated Grandpa to some festival food and did a good amount of people watching and we all agreed that it had been an excellent outing. Joris fell asleep in the car on the way home and we were unsuccessful in transferring to his bed after we got home, so he only had a 15 minute nap that day.

That evening, we heard a train approach and Jacob rushed Joris outside to watch it. We'd been lucky enough to catch a fair number of trains and most of them were passenger trains or shorter freight trains, but this one was very nice and long and took a good 6 or 7 minutes to pass. When they came back inside Joris was signing "more train" over and over. I tried to explain that we don't control the trains and the train was all gone. His eyes got teary, he made the saddest face and started stomping his feet in protest. He was very tired and just wanted more trains.

We enjoyed three days of grandma's cooking and delightful company. She got Joris a big lion puppet, which he loves to talk to now. I think he realized that Jacob or I make it talk because he'll ask us if he can talk to the lion. I believe that grandma and grandpa were equally entertained by watching Joris interact with the lion. Grandpa gave Joris some very cool antique children's books (which he won't be allowed to touch for a while). One of them is printed on linnen paper, which most likely is the reason it has survived the almost 100 years.

Here you can find some more trip pictures.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable trip and we are excited about how well everything worked out. We're less worried about traveling with Joris to Costa Rica in November now and we are so happy that we got to visit with our family. It was hard leaving them, not knowing when, if ever, we'd be able to return to see them again, but we're thankful for the time we enjoyed with them on this trip.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Impostor

I love living in Seattle. At first I was apprehensive to be moving to such a large city; the biggest town I had ever lived before was Eugene, Oregon, which has around 137,000 inhabitants. Seattle has almost 600,000. But living in Seattle does not feel like you're in a big city. In fact, with its absence of sidewalks, our Pinehurst neighborhood almost appears to be more of a rural, unincorporated area. Except that we're close to everything that city living offers; we can walk to two different grocery stores, a few coffee places, a slew of good restaurants, the public library, three different parks, the mall, the post office, banking facilities, reliable auto repair places, gas stations, a farmers market and of course the kids clothes, toys and gear consignment store. We're on a fabulous bus line which can get you downtown in 20 minutes, traffic permitting.

Our neighborhood is pretty eclectic; we have old and young neighbors; families, professionals and retirees; people in million dollar homes and apartment dwellers and just our direct neighbors are Ethiopian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Caucasian.

Joris and I spend two days a week in the Ravenna neighborhood and it's been a bit of a schizophrenic experience. Ravenna is an older, more established neighborhood compared to Pinehurst. It has sidewalks, is a few miles closer to downtown and is populated by mostly white, well-off families and professionals. The software company crowd. The well-educated, socially conscious, environmentally aware, politically left leaning folks. In short, people I tend to get along with easily.

Every time I take Joris and Avery down to the playground I run into at least one cool, interesting mom (also some snooty ones, but they're really kind of the exception). Moms who use cloth diapers because it's better for the environment, who purchase BPA free bottles and sippy cups for their offspring, who don't believe in letting toddlers watch T.V. and who teach their kids to share and take turns. But also, moms who obsess about getting their kid into the "right" preschool and who participate, maybe unwittingly, in "the right gear" contest. Imported $900+ strollers, organic cotton clothes, $45 a pair toddler shoes, European made toys, just to name a few things.

And here is where the schizophrenic part comes in; as much as I would love to be able to buy the same well-made, well-designed, environmentally conscious gear, these things always seem to come with a much bigger price tag than their made in China counterparts. So, I always feel a bit like an impostor on the Ravenna playgrounds; I can participate in conversations, have read much of the same literature these other moms consult, but when it comes to spending money, I usually end up choosing to buy 2 pounds of non-organic cheese instead of the similarly priced 8oz local, organic kind and scouring Craigslist and the consignment store for toys and gear.

The other day we met an acquaintance at the playground who had brought her son's tricycle. Joris was very interested in it and the other little boy graciously let both Joris and Avery try it out. They both loved it. It came with a foot board so that they can just sit on it without pedaling and a push bar for the parents. It had sturdy air-filled tires. "You should get one." the mom advised, "it's been great". "I just might", I replied and at home I looked up the brand of the tricycle. It costs $220 for a new one - not including the accessories. They go for about $80 - $120 used on Craigslist.

I'm pretty sure I'm not doing my son a disservice by not buying him the best available gear, but the food situation is more painful. I seem not to be able to go to the grocery store anymore without ending up feeling awful. It's the constant compromise between quality and price; I feel bad spending the money if I buy the good stuff and I feel the same if I get the cheaper product. As of last week we're back on WIC checks, which gives us 5 gallons of organic milk each month, as well as some juice, cheese, eggs and beans, which definitely helps ease the cringing at the check-out stand.

We had a great day at the playground today. We met up with a friend and her little boy and ran into several other cool moms that I've talked to before. I don't think they would care about my inability to outfit my little guy in the latest eco-designer gear or send him to the private neighborhood preschool. They don't care and I don't care. But it still makes me feel like I don't quite belong.