29 August 2008

An Olympics Wrap-Up (To the Tune of "One Moment in Time" by Whitney Houston)

For the first time in our lives we watched the Olympics through a non-American broadcaster. It was a U.K., not Belgian, station (Eurosport UK). Some differences we noticed:
  • Not Ameri-centric (unsurprisingly). When another athlete outswam a favored American, the discussion was about the winner, not about the American who didn't win. It sounds so natural, and normal, but frankly, I kept thinking things like, "But -- Is Katie Hoff really disappointed? If I were in the States, I'd know right now. Show me her face!" NBC has me trained, I guess. When watching the men's marathon, it was especially frustrating because we barely got to see the U.S. runners. 
  • Not as British-centric as American coverage is American-centric, but I assume that's largely because there just aren't as many winning U.K. athletes. I did think the commentators seemed more enthusiastic about impressive victories by athletes other than their fellow countrymen and women than American announcers do, though.
  • Different turns of phrases. I heard no fewer than three references to the "delightfully informal" nature of the closing ceremonies.
  • Better commentary (more informative), and fewer "soft" pieces. But maybe this is because we recorded live events on an all-sports network rather than just watching NBC's prime time coverage?
  • No Bob Costas, who simultaneously annoys and amuses me.
  • "Zapping": At the end of the daily hour-long show "Beijing Express," which featured highlights of the day's events, came "Zapping," a 5-10 minute montage of clips basically making fun of both athletes and spectators. A handball player gets hit in the face with a ball, a gymnast loses his grip, someone gets kicked in the face in judo, a fan dances dorkily in the stands, wrestlers strike an awkward quasi-sexual position which is then set to some misogynistic rap music and replayed ten times. It was alternately funny, offensive, and inappropriate, and yielded much laughter and cringing in our home. It also made me feel, Wow, this is so not the spirit of the Olympics: Look at that athlete, how he or she has failed, so phenomenally, and with hardly any financial recompense, on the world's largest stage. Let's laugh at her expense! It was even worse when they'd show "bloopers" where someone could have gotten seriously hurt, like in equestrian events. Repetitive images of a horse falling to its knees and its rider being pitched forward, set to some death metal music  with lyrics about somebody "GOIN' DOWN" -- not funny, "Zapping" producers! (And as I said to Matthew and my dad, That would never be done in the U.S. because of Christopher Reeve.) The best part of the Olympics being over is not feeling ashamed of ourselves for getting some enjoyment from Zapping. The worst part is not hearing Lily and Soren randomly cheer, "Go U.S.A.!" throughout our days or watching Soren announce, "Ta-da!" and throw his hands in the air when a gymnast finished his or her routine.

26 August 2008

Nothin' says lovin' like somethin' from the oven

Spur of the moment on Saturday we packed everybody in the car,

drove two hours into France to the outlet store attached to the factory in Fresnoy-le-Grand where Le Creuset is made,

and I finally used some birthday money (almost half a year later) on some great deals on cast-iron cookware, the highlight of which was the big oval Dutch oven I've admired for years.

Living in the land where every road sign is in both Dutch and French, I enjoy the fact that the American website of Le Creuset refers to this being called either a French or a Dutch oven. To pacify the Belgians, I presume.

25 August 2008

Our other new baby

When Clara came home from the hospital, she had to share the backseat with another precious addition to the family.

Matthew picked up the new road bike he had ordered earlier in the week before he came to get us. The shop owner was going to be on holiday for the next few weeks, so this was the day to do it.

The expression on his face in this photo taken by my dad last week summarizes Matthew's emotions about his new bike.

Yes, my husband, who most days looks something like this:

has been reduced to this:

due to the joy of cycling.

Speaking of joy, my hope for you today is that viewing this photo brings you even a fraction of the amount of joy that I experienced while uploading it (which I did with his permission, I feel obliged to add).

24 August 2008

The First No Al

Clara got to meet her Grandpa Al!

My dad came for eight days. It was so nice to have him here. He cleaned up after a lot of meals, changed a lot of diapers, read a lot of books to the kids, and stacked a lot of blocks. He also watched a lot of Olympics, as has everyone in this house in the past two weeks.

We did let him out of the house some. While he was here, we went to Villers-la-Ville Abbey;

we showed him (and Clara) Brussels;

Lily only grew in her proud big-sister-ness;

we visited the Wittamer chocolate store (which is now vying with Pierre Marcolini as my favorite Belgian chocolate) and ate at the Wittamer cafe in the Sablon area of Brussels;

we saw millions (?) of begonias in the Flower Carpet, which is done every two years on the Grand Place;

we did not master posing for group photographs as a family of five;

the kids got a better view of the Flower Carpet;

we played at a park (photo taken shortly after Soren called, "All aboard, Grampa Al!" -- he's a conductor with a personal touch, identifying those people that he really wants on his train);

and Clara attended her first picnic.

Now, as to the subject of my post. When I was a wee lass, my dad told me that the Christmas carol, "The First Noel," was actually, "The First No Al," about him not being in attendance at the manger. He's a jokester, my dad. Matthew, he, and I spent a lot of his visit trying to make each other laugh.

But since he left, we have been mourning our "No Al" days here. Remember when I dumped the kids out of the double stroller after an early prenatal visit and joked about being ready for three? Turns out, I'm not! Hahaha! The days are sweet and full, and utterly lacking in predictability. We're still very much figuring out how to make life work, all the while enjoying Lily and Soren's antics and feeling googoo over Clara.

Look! Her eyes are open more now.

That photo is two weeks old already -- her cheeks are chubbier these days.

22 August 2008

Water, food, identity

Yesterday I spoke to my gynecologist (the one who I saw throughout my pregnancy but who was on holiday when Clara was born). Her first remark was, "You delivered in your bed!" (rather than on the delivery "table" or whatever they call it). Yes, Clara's speedy delivery will certainly be the most memorable part of her birth, but there are a few more things I want to remember about our hospital experience that I haven't written about yet.

1. After Clara was born and my doctor had arrived, the nurse asked if I was thirsty. "YES!" Like anytime in this country when you are brought water and haven't purchased it bottled, I got about two inches in a small glass. I didn't even get that much, however, as my doctor stopped me after a sip and told me she didn't want me to drink too much because it might upset my stomach. (?) Instead, she had me open my mouth and close my eyes, and then she sprayed my entire face, including my mouth, with a fine mist of water from a can. Actual refreshment experienced: Minimal.

2. I complained about the hospital food in my post the other day, but I failed to mention the amazing cafe the hospital had. We ate there one evening -- it was lovely! Cute setting (including a train in the floor under glass operated by an employee for the kids' enjoyment) and lovely healthy food -- it was not a hospital cafeteria at all but like a Belgian French Meadow (cute, healthy, organic, bakery-goods-heavy cafe in South Minneapolis). (Oh, HA! French Meadow, Belgium, hehe.)

3. On the 19th of August, we received this letter from the hospital, informing us that the last day to legally register Clara's birth was . . the 18th!

Matthew had already taken care of it, which was good, since no amount of underlining and highlighter could have gotten us there in time.

4. Here's the bracelet that Clara never wore in the hospital, but was given to us as a souvenir when they discharged us.

A souvenir of her not being switched at birth with another baby, despite her lack of identification! Hooray, Bébé Jacobs!

20 August 2008

Oh, all the NICENESS!

Lily and Soren got to sleep over at their buddies Nathan, Hannah, and Sarah's house when Clara was born. Here's a shot of them when we dropped them off (swimming pool fun soon ensued).

The next morning, their friends Quinn, Logan, and Avery were over, too, and my sweet friends (the moms of these six) Nicci and Erin had the kids made cards for Clara (before anyone knew Clara's gender or name):

These cards are awesome -- clockwise from upper left:
  1. Lily's, featuring a drawing of "Mommy with the Baby" and "Mommy's big tummy"
  2. Dora with a big red chicken
  3. Scribbles from the two under two
  4. Some cool looking fighters with message inside, "Dear Baby I hope you like this"
  5. Inside message revealing true identity of exterior drawing: "Dear Baby I drew Ninja Turtles for you" (these two last cards are giving me a sense of what having a five-year-old boy may look like)
  6. Bullet train with message, "Happy Birthday Baby! You will love Lily and Soren, Baby!"
I suspect Soren was busy playing with cars, as he did not participate.

I don't even know how to talk about how much this has blessed us, having friends here who have been so generous. I could, but then I'd start crying, and we'd all feel uncomfortable.

Look, here are two women who I did not even know at this time last year, loving on our Clara. That's Erin (from California) and Susanne (from Germany).

Matthew's colleague from Minneapolis, Sarah, was in Belgium over the time of Clara's birth.

Sarah has our deep gratitude for several reasons. She brought us Indian food our first week home, and she was Clara's and my only visitor in the hospital other than Matthew and the kids. AND, she cared for the kids for several hours the day after Clara was born so Matthew could pick up Clara and me (and another precious item which I will post about shortly). Yes, this Global Businesswoman (as a sweet young woman working in their office here referred to her as) played nanny rather than seeing some European sights on one of her few days off while here. Awesome generosity, or crazy corporate policy embedded in fine print of which she was unaware until forced to comply? Who are we to question. We just smile and say THANK YOU!

16 August 2008

Flemish v. French

Matthew forwarded me this interesting article that discusses the cultural divide in Belgium.

13 August 2008


August 4, 2008 New Yorker fiction:

11 August 2008

Will Shortz: The Godfather?

One of my most beloved hobbies is doing (trying to do) the New York Times crossword puzzle. Imagine my surprise when I did this one in mid-June and found what we then referred to as "our girl name" in the midst of it . . .


10 August 2008

Hygiene update

Concern has been expressed by more than one reader. Never fear, kind friends: I was told not to take a bath for one month, but I am free to shower. And shower freely I do.

And Clara has had multiple baths. This photo is from a week ago (she's three times as old now).

Lily helped give her first one at home last weekend. She is a champion loving big sister.

Note that Clara's umbilical cord clamp is still in place in the above photo; it was not removed before we left the hospital as Lily's and Soren's had been. It was awkward and seemed like it was hindering the belly button healing process. Also, it was gross. So, when it was really barely hanging on, Matthew took on the role of surgeon and cut it off. We kept the kids out of the room, concerned that the image of Daddy kneeling over Clara with a Swiss army knife and a bottle of rubbing alcohol might traumatize them.

07 August 2008

A Belgian birth

Despite the fact that I love telling all about my birth experiences, and I love hearing every detail of other moms' labors and deliveries, I do have the good sense to realize that is it possible that I am unusual in this respect, i.e., that it's not really that interesting to most people. So I won't do the play-by-play here, but some parts of the experience were decidedly "Belgian," and therefore worthy of inclusion on this blog. Here are some thoughts about my experience having a baby in Belgium:
  • Brussels is a beautiful green city. I don't think I've mentioned this. We spent a few hours walking around parks in the city after we dropped the kids off at friends' house and before we checked in to the hospital. It was lovely, although I felt so unstylish to be out in public in (gasp) shorts. So not chic.
  • The hospital parking ramp is crazy small. We actually parked on the street when I was in labor, but when Matthew came to pick me up, he had to do a three-point-turn in our van to get down the hospital parking ramp. You exit and enter on the same one-way ramp, waiting at lights, and then there are maybe 30 spots on each level. The couple times I parked there for monitoring or bloodwork I broke out into a sweat trying to maneuver. I am having an idea right now, a horror film called "Claustrophobia," and it's set in this ramp.
  • I was hoping to labor in "the nature room," a larger room with some handy laboring sort of items like an exercise ball, etc. When I inquired into this upon admission, it was occupied, so, no go.
  • My back-up plan was to labor in the tub as I had with Lily. Unfortunately, due to renovations, only cold water could be piped into the tub. Plan B, out the window.
  • I knew ahead of time that the hospital was not air conditioned, except for the labor rooms. It was the hottest day of the summer so far (I am not going to confirm this via weather.com but it's Matthew's and my best guess), in the upper 80s or low 90s on Thursday the 31st. When we checked in to the hospital, we noticed that the a/c device on the ceiling was idle. The nurse explained that because of the renovation work, it wasn't working. Just being in a labor room is starting to look even lamer than it already seemed, it being Plan C and all. No nature room. No tub. No a/c. At this point I was seriously wishing I were having a baby in Minnesota.
  • The labor room was so small. It was window-less. We had to keep the door open to try to get some air from the hallway windows. But, I got to have this view:

    And as you might imagine, picturing myself stomping grapes in Tuscany provided much relief from the pain of contractions.
  • We were at the hospital for over four hours before Clara was born, but things went really fast at the end. So fast that Matthew has a big old scratch on his leg from the aggressive bed rolling from the labor room to the delivery room that occurred. Just as the hospital parking ramp was a tight squeeze, so too was the hospital L & D area difficult to maneuver. Matthew said he was afraid at one point they were going to break my finger banging against a doorway as they tried to get into the delivery room in time. They did not break my finger, although I do not know that I would have noticed in that moment.
  • So much for the kine -- the backup to the backup to the backup (I think? I had a business card with three names on it, and the woman who showed up was not one of them) kine arrived in time to help push my bed down the hall, purse still over her shoulder. She introduced herself to me when Clara was lying on my chest. It wasn't the kine's fault that she got there so late -- Clara surprised us all with her speedy entrance.
  • And so much for the doctor -- Clara was too fast for her, too. My very kind nurse Florian caught Clara, and my doctor arrived five minutes after she was born.
  • So, just about everything that I wanted to have in place to have a good birth experience -- what I thought I needed for that to happen -- did not come to fruition. Not my doctor; not the kine I knew, and no kine in time; no nature room; no tub; no a/c. But I ended up having the birth experience I had hoped for, in that it was pain-med-free. There is a lot here for me to think about and most of it has to do with my idea of being in control and how wrong it is. 
  • The double room I stayed in ended up being fine, especially since I was only in it for thirty-six hours. However, one unexpected part of it was that Matthew couldn't stay with me. A couple hours after Clara was born, I was brought into my room, got settled, and Matthew asked the nurse whether there was a chair for him to rest in. "No," she said, and Matthew asked where he should be, then, and she said, "You go home now." As we've discussed this in the past few days, Matthew has said he was surprised I let that go so easily. I am too -- I guess I was tired. If it had been my first baby I would have flipped my lid I think.
  • I had a roommate only for the first twelve hours, a friendly Irish woman. It was actually quite nice to have someone to visit with. 
  • The food in the hospital was not good. They are really into bread and not really into fruit. I got a wrapped package of three slices of sandwich bread with most meals. Lunch was the heartiest meal, hot, and dinner was cold meat, cheese, and bread. Lunch included a "potage" (thin vegetable soup) both days. I couldn't get real excited about broccoli potage with the same meal that included a side of broccoli. The bright side of the food experience: yogurt with breakfast both days and two kiwis with lunch before I headed home. 
  • There was no shower in my room. It was a flashback to dorm life to pad down the hall to the showers.
  • Security on the maternity ward was very lax. Clara did not even have a wrist ID tag (much less the big old sensor Lily wore that would have set off an alarm off if she left the maternity wing). When I was getting ready to go shower my first day, I asked my roommate what we were supposed to do with our babies when we showered. "I just left him in here," she explained, and then sort of laughed about how maybe that was silly considering she had read a story recently about someone trying to walk off with a baby in another hospital in Belgium. HAHAHA! (I laughed sarcastically to myself.) But she explained that I also could bring Clara into the nursery while I showered. So, I did that, but still felt weird about it as she had absolutely no identification. I coped by flouting their recommendation that I shower twice a day while there. 
  • Leaving as early as I did was not the challenge I thought it might have been -- my doctor and the pediatrician were just fine with it and the nurses helped me get everything I needed to have done very pleasantly. I can't imagine staying in the hospital for four days. It seems lonely and boring. Also, enough with the eating in bed. Ugh. 
  • Matthew and I were laughing and elbowing each other as we saw the suitcase large enough for extended international travel that another new mother was wheeling out of the hospital. We really did have to bring a lot of stuff, but this seemed excessive.
  • The nurses told me not to take a bath for a month, and to bathe Clara every day. In the U.S. I was told to take a bath every day, and to bathe the baby once a week.
  • Another kine visited me the day after Clara was born and showed me some exercises. She spoke only French, so I learned that "souffle" means "breathe."
And so with a deep souffle of happiness I end this post. I adore these snuggly newborn days, and we are delighting in our Clara Irene.

She found her thumb, which has confirmed my suspicion that not only is she cute, she also is a genius.

02 August 2008


Clara Irene Jacobs

1 August 2008
2:33 a.m.
3.33 kg (7 lb 5 oz)
51 cm (20 in)

Clara means "bright," and Irene (precious to me as the middle name of both my grandmothers), means "peace." Our hope is that our Clara Irene will have a bright, peaceful spirit.

We are so glad she's here with us.