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


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.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Songs and Sounds

Joris has been enjoying participating in a few songs with movements. "Itsy Bitsy Spider" is the one he sings with his dad; making the rain fall down and the sun come up at the right times in the song and definitely practicing his spider crawling with his hands (although it still mostly looks like him rubbing his fists together).

The rest of the interactive songs are Dutch. "In de Maneschijn" (In the moonlight) has 13 different hand/arm movements of which Joris does 6 on his own. It's cute, because he will anticipate them about a line before they actually happen.
"Visje, Visje" (Fishie) is a song he has been practicing for a while - in fact, it's the song that he picked up the sign for fish for, back when he was around 12 months or so.

His current favorite participatory song is "De Krokodil" (the Crocodile). Translated, the lyrics go something like this:
The crocodile lies in the water
The crocodile lies absolutely still
The crocodile comes closer and closer
HAP! And bites you in the butt

By the time we get to the "absolutely still" part, Joris will start saying "Hab! Hab!" and then ask to sing it again.

He is also starting to sound out some words. They pretty much sound the same, so you have to know what he means by context, but he now will excitedly bounce up and down when he sees a bus, pointing and exclaiming "Buh, buh, buh, buh!!"
Bath is "Baah", water is "wa-wa" and when waving bye-bye he will now say "Bu" as in "buh-bye!".

New signs he has recently picked up or developed:
Music (dances to ask to listen to music)

This morning we were reading an animal book and when we got to the picture of the elephants, Joris pointed and said "Mama". For a few seconds I thought that he was thinking I look like an elephant, or worse, that I'm a republican, but then he pointed to the small elephant and made sign for baby. He had remembered that it was a mama and baby elephant!

Sunday, September 14, 2008


After a week of refusing Daddy's comfort at bedtime or when waking up in the middle of the night, last night Joris actually let Jacob put him to bed. And comfort him back to sleep the second time he woke up. Definite progress from my point of view!

Sleeping has been hard lately. Joris has been waking up multiple times a night on some nights and, except for the slight summer cold he's had the last day or so, we can't really figure out why it is. Although my method of dangling the boy upside down to get him to laugh so I can take a peek at his molars is by no means scientific, I don't think the second set is coming in yet - at least not visibly.

I'm starting to get a bit worried about traveling with him. We'll be going to visit Joris' great-grandma and great-grandpa in Sanborn, New York (close to Niagra Falls) at the end of the month. I'm definitely looking forward to being there and introducing Joris to Jacob's grandparents and, of course, seeing the falls, but entertaining a (quite likely) cranky tot for four flights isn't at the top of my list. I'm sure it will work out ok though, even if it will take two weeks to get back on schedule with everything...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bloody Murder

Jacob took Joris to bed on Monday night, as he always does on days that I have spent a full day with the lad. After reading the same library book approximately 12 times, he turned off the lights and started singing a song. Joris went from a whimpery protest to screaming bloody murder within a few minutes. Unable to console our sad little gnome, I went in and was able to coax him to sleep after 20 minutes or so. Then he woke up at 10:45pm. And at 11:30pm; each time screaming like someone was stabbing him. Each time refusing to be comforted by his daddy.

We still don't know what the issue was; The next set of molars coming in? His nasty diaper rash bothering him? Nightmares about Sarah Palin? Gas? We changed his diaper and, around midnight, tylenol-ed him, after which he slept for almost 5 hours, waking up around 5:00am again. He did get back to sleep until 7:00am, which is like sleeping in for him.

Then yesterday, the day after that night, he was unable to go down for a nap at his regular time and Jacob described several hours of screaming, which I'm glad I wasn't around for, but feel bad they happened - for both of them. Eventually - and this is one of the saddest things I've ever heard - Joris fell asleep in his highchair, between one bite of lunch and the next.

Last night was better. He did wake up at 5:00 again, but went back to sleep pretty easily and slept in 'till 7:00am again, which made us have to scramble to get ready for work and has me walking around with greasy hair because of the lack of time to take a shower. Which is fine, since I'm in toddler land today anyway. I'm pretty sure the other moms at the playground won't care.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Back to School

Oranjeschool started again today! It's the Dutch language school for kids of parents who are Dutch, speak Dutch, speak a little Dutch, have at some point spoken Dutch and would like to speak Dutch again someday. It's on Saturday mornings out in Mercer Island.

We enrolled Joris in the playgroup last year, at the impressionable age of 5 months, knowing that it mostly was a way for Mama to hang out with some cool Dutch folks. Most of the kids were between 1.5 and 3 years old at the time, which is a big age difference when you're five months. When the other kids would do art projects, I'd play with Joris since otherwise he'd insist on sampling the crayons, glue, markers and paint. At the beginning of the year, when the other kids would have their snack, we'd sneak out to the other room to breastfeed (he was on solids fairly soon after starting school, so at that point we'd join in with some oatmeal cereal or something). Joris' teacher, classmates and their parents witnessed all his milestones that year; from being able to sit, crawl stand and walk to making his first signs.

This year, Joris no longer is the baby of the class. There are many new kids, including a boy of exactly Joris' age, two boys of just a year and a little five month old girl, as well as some familiar faces from last year.
Today, Joris participated in the coloring project and seemed excited to hear the songs we sang. He also played very nicely with a couple of the other boys. When we had first come in, he clung to my leg for a minute, then let go, crossed the room and started playing, so I think he recognized the place at some level. I think we both are excited for the new school year!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Obama signs

We never planned to teach Joris sign language beyond "more" and "all done", but, as I mentioned earlier, it just kind of evolved. The signs often are approximations of the real signs, like toddler speech is often an approximation of the words they're trying to communicate.

Just the last week or so, Joris has become increasingly creative in making up signs and communicating with more than one sign and/or sound.

Today, when I got home from work I discovered he now has a sign for motor cycle. He throws his clenched fists out in front of him in kind of a frantic move while saying something close to "vroom". It really is hilarious.

The other day, we were watching Barack Obama's acceptance speech at the convention and Joris was still up because he had experienced nap failure that afternoon and ended up taking a very late nap. He'd point at Barack and we'd tell him "Obama!". He has actually been able to identify Obama in magazine pictures for months - a leftover from when we were trying to get "Obama" to be his first word. So, this past Thursday, after pointing at Obama for a while, he starts putting both his hands on the side of his face, similar to his "Oh, my!" sign, but definitely distinct. We think it was in imitation of the Time front page picture of Obama holding his head in his hand. "What?" we asked him. He points at Obama. "Obama?" He repeats the sign. I have to say it was a proud moment for all of us.

This morning we had the following conversation;
Joris hands me the remote control and makes the sign for cat.
"I'm sorry sweetie, the cheetah DVD went back to the library. No cats."
He puts his hands up in the air questioningly [gone?].
"Yes, the cheetah's are gone. We can watch penguins or whales, though."
"You want to see Obama?"
"Ja" Points at tv.
"We can see if we can find Obama. Let's take a look."

It's six o'clock in the morning and Obama is not on any of our 5 channels. The traffic report is, though.

"Yup, there's a truck."
[Car. Truck.]
"Lots of cars and trucks. People are going to work."

I turn the TV off.

[Cat. Gone.]
"No cats"
[Obama. Gone.]
"No Obama"
"Yes, we saw trucks on TV".
"And cars, too."