30 June 2008

My kine

I attended my first prenatal class given by a kinésithérapeute ("kine" for short, pronounced "kee-nay") last week. It was wonderful. The kine does prenatal classes, attends to women while in labor (like a doula), and visits them in hospital daily during their stay. A prenatal class seemed sort of silly for a third pregnancy, but my doctor recommended her, and then two other American women sung her praises, so I have been intending to go for weeks but kept having to cancel with conflicts. Last week I finally made it, I loved it, I will try to get a couple more sessions in before Sprout arrives, and I am so delighted that we will have this kine (or her associate, if she's otherwise engaged) with us in the hospital.

The kine is probably in her mid-50s, trim and petite with very short gray hair. She wore yoga pants and a T-shirt with espadrilles and seemed very fit as she demonstrated moves and helped us with positions.

I felt like in the U.S. people who work in L&D (doctors, doulas, etc.) were on one extreme or the other about pain meds in labor. Our hospital prenatal class's presentation of pain coping techniques was basically all about the inevitability of getting an epidural and how awesome it is; I read some natural childbirth books that treated the epidural with utter loathing. I have come to find both extremes discouraging.

My kine, on the other hand, both has a wealth of information for helping the baby descend naturally and coping with pain, but considers the epidural a wonderful medical advancement for those who need it. How refreshingly balanced.

We (only one other pregnant woman and I in this English-language class) spent an hour doing yoga-esque moves, hanging from bars on the wall, squatting on exercise balls, lying on mats, relaxing, and not stretching (according to her), because the moves are about letting one's body do what is natural and not getting in the way of it. "Un-exercises," the kine called them.

Before un-exercising, we met with her individually. She took notes as I gave her the details about my previous deliveries. Then she abruptly said, "Now you remove your trousers and I rub your legs." Oui, madame!

It was a precious hour for me. Beyond the physical things I learned, I felt like I finally had space to be intentional about this new little one -- to mentally prepare for labor a bit, but mostly to focus on the fact that we really do have a fifth person joining our family in about a month. I am delighted by this reality, but I also feel like I haven't grasped it fully. I suppose I can't, truly, until I'm holding Sprout, but this time helped get my heart more ready.

29 June 2008

Minnesota nice + Minnesota driving + Minnesota state bird (har har)

Boarding the plane bound for MSP in Amsterdam was when I first began to notice Minnesota nice again. Strangers speaking to each other with no real purpose! Cashiers making small talk and smiling broadly! People are not rude here in Belgium, they are just more private and keep to themselves. I do enjoy random midwestern friendliness.

I did not enjoy how slow people drive. What on earth? In Belgium, it's not that the left lane is for passing, but that the right lane is for not-passing. Get to the right -- no, not the middle lane, all the way over to the right -- unless you're flying. Driving on 62 and 35W into Minneapolis behind people going 58 in the left lane felt painful. Matthew noticed the crawling traffic too. I am not a big speed demon so was surprised to find this annoying.

Here are some more images of our time in Minnesota. Exploring the backyard with Grandma Edy:


Ring around the rosy with Nora:


[Remember Matthew joking about being rendered obsolete by me taking photos? The above shot demonstrates there is no need to fear -- all my photos from that morning are overexposed or whatever the term is.]

Rassling with Grandpa Al and Grandma Julie (Great-Grandparents Millie and Warren stayed out of the fray):


Soaking in the scent of peonies:


If you look very closely in that last photo, you can see my mother's hand behind Soren. Unfortunately, that's about it for images of her, Bill, and my sister, in whose home we stayed the entire time. We did enjoy time with them too.

While you're looking closely, please notice Soren's most Minnesotan of souvenirs: mosquito bites.

27 June 2008

Good ol' U.S. of A. (where A = Amputation and Addiction)

The very kind Belgian driver who took us to the airport learned we were flying to the U.S. "Have you ever been to the U.S.?" Matthew asked.

"No, no, no, never, never, never. I don't like it. I don't like it," he responded. A moment later he asked, "Are you American or British?" HA! We fessed up, then inquired into why he didn't like the U.S.

First reason: "Racist conflict -- black and white" (hitting his fists together).

"Well, yes, I suppose," I acknowledged, but considering the negative comments I've heard white Brussels residents make about north Africans and Middle Easterners in the city, I gently inquired, "Isn't that here too?" And then I pointed out to him that one of our nominees for president is black.

Then he elaborated on his distaste for America: "I know that twenty percent of Americans are crippled from the war [and here he made chopping motions on his upper arm and leg], and that another twenty percent are addicted to drugs."

I was a bit less gentle with this, widening my eyes and shaking my head: "Oh, no. No."

I think we were able to convince him that 1/5 of our country's population is not missing a limb. We didn't have the statistics to back it up, but we do have years of observation.

25 June 2008

Hot legs

How did international travel go for this eight-month pregnant woman?

Why, quite elegantly, thank you!

The day before we flew home, I had an appointment with my gynecologist (a term Matthew thinks is slightly obscene, but which, in the interest of accuracy and also because I think that's a bit silly, I will continue to use). She raised an eyebrow when I told her we were flying to the U.S. the next day ("With the children, too?") but gave me the go-ahead, and then directed me to a store to purchase compression stockings to reduce leg swelling while in the air.

They were out of the color nude so I purchased an open-toe, knee-high pair of black stockings, which sounds like something a dorky character in a family reunion movie wears, perhaps, until you see the box they came in:



So, no! They were ELEGANT!

And to see the little Vienna sausages masquerading as my toes when we landed, and imagine what my calves could have looked like . . . I suppose on the scale of elegance, I was farther away from absolute inelegance than I might have been without the stockings.

24 June 2008

Spontaneous consumption

Driving from the MSP airport, I realized it was the longest I had been away from Minnesota since January, 1983 when we moved there from Florida. It was strange to be back in Minnesota, kind of. It was strange in that it was not that strange to be there. I just felt like we lived there again. Then it was strange that it didn't feel strange to leave and come back here. Perhaps what is, in fact, strange, is my constant expectation of strangeness. I felt fine to be home, and fine to return to Belgium, and that emotional even-keeledness is simply not a marker of my life, so while I am enjoying it, I also am somewhat mystified by it.

We couldn't see everyone we love in Minnesota during the week, but we did see a lot of people. The kids saw all six of their grandparents, and I got to see all four of mine -- my North Dakota grandparents drove down. Several aunts and uncles, all our sibs, and some dear friends . . . we're so thankful for people who made time to see us last minute. I was just talking to my dad about it and saying that, as someone who is becoming more introverted as the years go by, it was great to see as many people as we did, but I wish it could have been spread over a month rather than a week.

Outside of our family and friend reconnecting time, I feel like my role in Minnesota was "consumer of goods." I shop so very rarely in Belgium. Groceries, market, bakery -- yes, I food shop often. But the most Target-esque store here, Carrefour (it's blaspheming Target to compare it to Carrefour, which I find very unpleasant), I have been to all of twice. In 9+ months! How many times have you, U.S. resident, been to Target since last September? And shopping for anything else -- just not happening. So I was excited to feel the ease of shopping in the U.S. I hit Southdale, Super Target (twice), a shoe store, a book store . . . it was nice.

Also, I ate a lot of food. In fact, I am sort of disgusted by all the food I ate, and dreading my weigh-in at the gynecologist this week. Groceries I especially enjoyed were Welch's grape juice, skim milk, and plain yellow-box Cheerios (the British store here sells Multigrain as if they are the original Cheerios, those tricksters). Not too bad, right? But now I will appall you by recounting the Minnesota dining establishments I patronized and the dishes which I so dearly desired to consume. A list made doubly shocking when you consider that I had lots of lovely food made by my mother and sister, and at Matthew's aunt and uncle's house. I can't really do the math to figure how there were enough meals for me to eat this much.

Without further ado, my undoing:
  • Culver's: This was not a must-have but a quick grab -- and our first drive-thru experience since last summer.
  • Starbucks (twice) (chai): To-go hot bevs are just not done here.
  • Wagner's Drive-In (mushroom cheddar burger, hot fudge shake, onion rings): My most wished-for Minnesota dining experience.
  • Bruegger's (twice): I enjoy bacon scallion cream cheese quite a bit. I tried to make it myself here once. It paled in comparison.
  • Punch Pizza (Toto pizza, Punch salad): Matthew's must-have meal.
  • Yum! (half a Patti Cake to go): Not just for me, I swear.
  • Thanh Do (cranberry chicken curry, Vietnamese Basil Supreme, spring rolls): We have found a good Thai restaurant here but Thanh Do will always hold the keys to my Asian dining heart (leaving the misplaced modifier there for your enjoyment).
  • Original Pancake House (sourdough pancakes)
  • Jamba Juice (Peanut Butter Moo'd): The least healthy item on its menu. But I got it when the rest of the family was having Ben & Jerry's, so I was a health nut in comparison.
Beyond shocking you with my caloric intake for a week, where we ate does speak to what we miss, food-wise, from the U.S.: convenience to-go foods like smoothies and hot bevs; breakfast out, a rare treat in the U.S. too, but something, with the exception of when traveling, we've done zero times since living here; real cake -- there are lots of beautiful desserts here, tarts and custard topped with fruit, but no real CAKE; and BEEF. I've had a thin little sirloin or something at a restaurant here but they don't seem to do the big juicy slabs (and to me, an 8 oz. filet is a big juicy slab), and no good burgers. Had we been home longer I could have really really gone for a steak, probably my fave food. Also, my iron is a little low, so really, I NEED steak (or spinach, I guess).

I have a few other thoughts about being back in the States I'll write about later in the week, but I'll wrap this up by posting some photos of the kids enjoying some non food-related activities.

Soren got to read a train book with Pops:


Lily reunited with her good buddy Isaac:


And the kids rode on loaner bikes from a neighbor of my mom's:

21 June 2008

Gems

We traveled to Minnesota unexpectedly to celebrate Matthew's Grandpa Ben, who passed away last week. He was a dear, dear man, and we are lucky to have known him. It seems a rare gift to know one's grandparents as an adult -- Matthew and I have been abundantly blessed in that area. We are so thankful that I could still travel (pregnancy-wise) so that we all were able to be there.

Here's a photo of him from January 2007.


I like this photo of him for a couple reasons. First, he's writing. He was an avid letter writer -- we received over two dozen from him just since we lived here! The letters are newsy and often included a newspaper clipping about Matthew's company, or a photo for the kids to enjoy. He always kept up on what we were up to (and not via the blog, but actual oral communication) and was interested in our travels.

Second, he's playing -- he's got a toy of Lily's on his lap there. I got such a kick out of his willingness to play group games well into his eighties. How many octogenarians do you know who are game for a round of Guesstures? We will miss our Grandpa Ben.

"Bittersweet" is the word I keep using to describe the time, because not only did we say goodbye to a precious grandfather, but we said hello to our first, one and only, dear, three-month-old niece, Ruby!


We really enjoyed this little lady. We soaked up as much Ruby-ness as we could in a few days.


We tried to make her laugh!


We held her in a dangerously casual fashion!


We swam with her! Who's watching our children in the pool? We don't know! But look! We have a CUUUUUTE NIIIIECE!!


Ruby also has parents that we loved seeing.


And we loved seeing them love their girl so much. We returned to Belgium with full hearts yesterday.

10 June 2008

¡Hola! and Guten Tag!


I should have issued this disclaimer with the fashion faux pas in the previous post: Daddy made her do it. Lily is wearing socks with her sandals because of some bad blisters. Matthew had extreme parental sympathy, remarking to me a few times one day, "I hope her feet don't hurt too much." As he said this, I was watching her run in the zero depth entry pool barefoot, smiling broadly. "I think it hurts you more than her," I remarked. "Yes, but, did you see it? They were BLEEDING yesterday!" What a tender heart.


And then, also: Mommy made him do it. I ordered that Elmer Fudd-esque hat for Soren, which obscured our view of his sweet face, but provided such rocking sun protection that today you wouldn't even know that he had spent a week at the beach. Thank you Lands' End! We got those great swim shirts, Lily's suit, and their sandals from there, too. I love its kids' clothing.


We had a lovely, restful time. Lily's frequent pre-vacation exclamation of, "I can't wait to go to the BEACH!" has been replaced with, "I am so sad to say goodbye to the beach." We all felt that a bit. It was lower than average temperatures for Mallorca, but still in the mid-70s. It was sunny and clear most of the time. The Mediterranean was absolutely gorgeous -- perfectly clear water that looked like every beautiful shade of blue imaginable from above as we walked down.





Both the kids enjoyed playing in the sand, but Soren didn't go for the water as much as Lily did. Also, he was not quite himself, thanks to a new molar, I presume -- quite clingy (I spent a decent amount of time at the beach just holding him) and cranky. Lily splashed in the water quiet a bit, and she and I had great fun one day riding the waves a bit. It wasn't hanging ten, exactly: I held her by the arms and lifted her as a wave came in, then we screamed with glee. So although Daddy was the only one of the family who totally submerged, I too enjoyed water play time -- although you wouldn't know it from the photo selection, as my only position at the beach seems to have been seated on a towel.




Lily's legs are a bit brown, Matthew and I each have a few more freckles, but really -- I was so pleased with how little color we got, considering how much we were outside. What a different perspective I have now than I did on our spring break trip my senior year of high school, when four girlfriends and I went to Fort Myers, Florida. We were walking along the beach one of our first days there and someone yelled at us from up in a hotel room: "GET A TAN!" And boy, we set to it. I remember the blisters on my chest, and one friend, who shall remain nameless but has been known to read this blog, had a sunburn on her entire face except her nose, where she had cautiously applied sunscreen (the reverse Rudolph effect).


The blisters on my chest back then were outside the borders of my bikini top, of course, which would not have been the case for some of the ladies in Mallorca. I saw women in their fifties frolicking in the surf sans tops, overweight women hugging their boyfriends topless as they waded, several female bathers reclining nude from the waist up. And lots of naked kiddies -- I was a smidge concerned about possible horrible sunburns on little you-know-whatsies. Do you think our children stood out as outsiders with their full body coverage? I'm OK with that.


Speaking of being OK with things, European women seem more OK with their bodies than American gals in general. You go, continental sister friends! Bikinis were the attire of choice for all age groups -- tankinis seem to not have caught on over here, and one pieces I guess are too much? I remarked to Matthew that probably 10% of the women had what I would consider bikini appropriate bodies, and bless his heart, he said, "I think it's good -- they just don't care as much." Well, yes, now that you mention it, good for them.


In our "aparthotel" (two adjoining rooms) there was a day bed with a trundle, and we envisioned the kids sleeping there nicely, but the first night they were silly for way too long, then Soren was ready to sleep but Lily was still kooky, so that Soren was saying, "SHHH, Lily. SHHH, Lily." Forget that. Thankfully the resort had a pack and play, but before we got that, Soren spent one night in bed with us. A night in which we awoke to the sound of him throwing up all over -- the sheets, my pajamas, his lambie blankie . . . Oh boy. He had a few more bouts of it over the next hour, but we breathed a huge sigh of relief when he was eating breakfast normally the next day, and none of the rest of us had any stomach issues. I was imagining a week-long Jacobs family barf-o-rama -- sitting inside, gazing longingly at the beautiful ocean below, but unable to muster the strength to enjoy it. I have a vivid imagination, friends, and this did not come to fruition.


Instead, we played at the beach or at the pool, all week long. We did not leave the resort once. This was quite a change from our sightseeing extravaganzas of the fall and winter, and it was perfect for us right now. We had a couple rainy or chilly afternoons where we watched some of the French Open (and I had to repeatedly try to pronounce Russian or Eastern European last names for Lily), took a walk, or Matthew took Lily exploring while Soren napped and I rested too.





The last day or two of our trip it became apparent that Matthew's and my favorite spot was the beach, and the kids' was the pool. We got into a pattern of heading to the beach in the morning, returning for lunch, and then hitting one of the pools in the afternoon. But the last day, the kids were really resisting this. "No beach. POOL!" Soren objected. We assured them we would go the pool in the afternoon, but they were both perturbed. The sad postscript is that unfortunately, the afternoon was chilly so we didn't get to the pool again. Moral of the story being, you cannot trust your parents.


Mallorca has its own language, Mallorquin, which is a dialect of Catalan, which is itself a dialect of Spanish. Matthew and I studied Spanish, so we were ready to function a bit in that language. But Germans dominate the island as tourists -- totally -- we did not hear any other Americans or British all week. It was so disconcerting for the Mallorcan employees of the resort to greet us in German. But then, my Spanish is all confused now from French anyhow -- a friend had warned me that if you learn a third language, your second really goes. So, "Oui -- si!" I would say, although I am still in my French lessons correcting myself in mid-"Si" to "Oui." Ja, it was confusing.

Not for Soren. He grabbed onto "Hola" and ran that bad boy into the ground. He has enjoyed using "Bonjour," especially when my French teacher comes over (in fact, he refers to her as "Bonjour" in conversation from time to time), but he was really enchanted with "Hola." He practically accosted servers in the dining room with his not-to-be-ignored "Hola"s -- he expected reciprocity.


08 June 2008

Greetings from Mallorca!


We had a beach vacation, y'all! Back in the next day or so with photos and stories.