29 January 2012


Friday afternoon I attended a parents' meeting for Gabriel's classroom, during the course of which we watched a video of the kids doing their daily activities: playing, singing, naptime, painting or drawing, stories, and puppets. It was a great glimpse into what the day is like for Gabriel, since he can't quite explain it to me himself, and he's clearly enjoying his time there. But watching the video, for the first time, I had a twinge of guilt for sending him to a Dutch-language daycare. It's one thing for him not to understand directions or instructions, because if the teacher sees he doesn't understand she will translate for him. But the poor darling wasn't able to participate in the many songs they sing and the hand motions and hand games that toddlers so enjoy--mostly because they're not the same songs we sing or games we play at home. He sat and listened and watched, but didn't join in. He laughed at the puppet show, but couldn't sing along or call out answers like the other children. And I felt so sad for him!

But. We're still confident we're doing the right thing. It's a great gift for him to be immersed in three languages at such an early age, when he will pick them up easily. Having him in daycare now means it will be that much easier when he starts school this fall, already knowing some Dutch. To address the participation issue, I thought that we can get some sort of CD (or watch YouTube videos?) to learn some of the Dutch kids' songs so that he will be able to join in.

And every day he learns more words; his teacher has told us that he has started to understand more and more. Lately he's been using a few of those words at home, which is pretty adorable. For a long time he's been saying "dag!" (with appropriate "gh" sound at the end) as well as "hello" and "hola," but now he's added "kijk!" to "look" (he says "ook" in English) and "mira" as well as "nee" for no and--this is a fun one--"mooi" for neat/nice (used to express approval of, say, a drawing). I didn't recognize the word, but the Mister did, and it's a sign that all too soon he will know more Dutch than me (because I really hardly know any). Oh, he also likes to say "komm!" oh-so imperiously, easily distinguished from the English because in English he says "mon" as in c'mon. ("Mon, Dada!" he'll say, enticing M. to leave the dinner table and go play--"Pay!") It's also interesting to me how he chooses to use his Dutch words--at a recent lunch with friends who have a young daughter, Gabriel said "nee" and "kijk" to her exclusively even though she's an English speaker. He just assumed that any kid he doesn't know speaks Dutch.

In general, I've been fascinated watching his language change and develop over the last months. He's certainly not as verbal as some other kids his age (especially girls), but in some ways the slow progress allows me to see those step-by-step changes more clearly, in both pronunciation and grammar. For example, he's recently added prepositions to his nouns, and the prepositions tend to change the formulation of the base word altogether, which I find very cool. Whereas before he called shoes "oof," now he says "shoes on" like "toot-on," and obviously "oof" is very different from "toot."

I think he has trouble pronouncing "s," so that many words lose the s altogether or transform it into "th" or "f." So sleeping is "leeping," snack is "nack," nose is "nofe," and oops is "oopth." (This is so cute that I wouldn't mind him retaining these pronunciations forever if it wouldn't put him at a disadvantage for, say, a job interview.) Come to think of it, though, consonant combinations are difficult in general; clean up becomes "lean up," and so forth.

Along with adding prepositions to nouns, he is adding other nouns to them to create possessives or adjectival nouns. "Mama 'at" and "Babe-il 'at" (Gabriel hat), he likes to say when we get our coats and hats on. Or, he gets very excited to identify mother and baby animal pairs in our books or puzzles: "mama moo" and "baby moo," "mama pig" and "baby pig," "mama wee-wee" and "baby wee-wee" (penguin). He says all of these quite fast so sometimes they get jumbled, the syllables of "mama" and "baby" intermingling.

One recent change I'm a bit sad about--for the longest time, he's said "Ah-nee" to mean "all done." It was one of his earliest phrases, appearing right when he started speaking. We're not quite sure how that pronunciation came about, but it was always so cute (and he said it often, whenever he was done eating/wanted to get down from somewhere/finished with a toy or object, etc.). Now, though, he suddenly says "ah dunn," much closer to an accurate pronunciation of the words. But then again, he now says things like "nee-no" for piano and "eh-pane" for airplane, so the cuteness is compensatory.

Meanwhile, on the Catalan side of things he often surprises us by pulling out a Catalan word for any of the above, especially when the Mister is around, and even more especially when we're in Barcelona. In general, his spoken English dominates, but he understands the Catalan just as easily as English, and uses it when he needs to. He usually asks for "bed" (bread), but today he asked M. for "pa," the Catalan word for bread. He pronounces the word for book, "llibre," astonishingly well, and uses it just as frequently as "book." And so forth.

As a language nerd, I love watching (well, listening to) all of this mix of language and acquisition of words, and I'm so proud of him! Writing down some of the complex soup of language development will hopefully help me remember it as it is now, because it changes so quickly and subtly day by day, and I don't want to forget any of it.

22 January 2012


Gabriel's superfun aunt and uncle left this morning, after a great visit. It rained basically the whole time they were here, but we still fit in a lot of walking around Brussels and Leuven, and managed to include the real essentials for any local tour: Belgian waffles, Belgian beer, Belgian platters of meat, and Belgian chocolate (although I personally could only indulge in two of the above). Plus lots of relaxed hanging out, dinners at home, and solid nephew-aunt-uncle time.

We abandoned them for a little while yesterday to attend the birthday party of a friend's four-year-old, pretty much a selfish move, because I was hoping to expand our circle of acquaintances here in town. And so it was: we met a bunch of really great people, many connected to the university, most with small children. In short order, I was invited to join a book club, and was asked to be part of a small poetry discussion group with two theology doctoral students, their side interest being modern and contemporary poetry. I am SO excited about both of these, as much for the getting-to-know people part as for the getting-to-talk about literature part. (Especially for the poetry discussion: I am very eager to get to do more in-depth study of some of my favorite poets. We're going to start with Celan, and move on to Akhmatova and maybe Dickinson, then Vallejo, then Rukeyser... You'd think a PhD would have made me tired of all this but I'm ridiculously happy to get back on board! There are still such gaps in my knowledge, and I always want to revisit favorites, so this is the perfect way to read broadly and deeply.)

Then today we were invited to lunch at the home of a colleague of the Mister's, whose wife is doing a postdoc and has already published her dissertation (she studies literature too). So she had some good advice for me and has warmly told me to come to her with questions about the whole process of post-PhD next steps, which I'm sure I will. They are a cross-cultural couple, too (Irish and Portuguese), and they have a little girl, and she's looking for an academic job in the area, so there is much common ground and it's nice to have spent some time with them.

Plus, Facebook has reconnected me with a host of people: Bloomington folks, especially my mom-friends there and a strong parenthood support network, as well as long-lost friends from middle school before we moved away from Pennsylvania. It's so much fun to feel a part of things and see what people are up to.

All in all, the last few days have been more social than the norm (my norm, I should say), which is encouraging and makes me happy. Peering ahead into the newborn-stage wilderness (it may be beautiful, but it's also wild and wooly), I know that it helps ever so much to be supported and surrounded by community, and we're slowly building that community here in this new place.

17 January 2012

Random endorsement

A week and three days after getting home from our long trip, I finally finished clearing out our suitcases and putting everything away. The last step of the process was to buy some plastic bins for bathroom storage and divide up the travel-sized or rarely-used items from the jumble of toiletries and makeup, and stash them along with the travel cases and extras.

This activity got me thinking about makeup, and travel, and my top product recommendation, for what it's worth coming from me. Because I'm not much of a makeup person, in that I don't wear a whole lot--usually just a sweep of blush, maybe some lip gloss or lipstick, and if I have an extra few seconds, some mascara. But I love makeup anyway, which I think has mostly to do with the petite size of the products: the cunning round pots or square palettes or oblong tubes, the tiny brushes, the glossy glints of metal, the hint of bright colors inside. Oh, and the satisfying snap of a compact, the sound a lipstick cap makes when you put it back on, the click of a shadow box, the way they lie smooth and weighty in the palm of your hand.

For this reason I love makeup samples, because they are even tinier, cuter versions of themselves, and also, since I don't wear much makeup, I can actually use them up (or not feel bad when they expire and I need to throw them away). I never buy full-sized mascara, for example, because I never can finish a tube before it's time to toss. Plus! Since I travel so much, they are the perfect size for taking up less of my precious carryon space.

Which brings me to my recommendation. It's not for makeup, but for a face cleanser, one that travels really well. I have always had rather dry, sensitive skin, prone to random pimples, although the latter has--thankfully!--all but disappeared since I had Gabriel. I try to wash my face consistently, but I hate putting harsh products on it, and although I need something scrubby, most exfoliating washes hurt too much.

Enter Lush's Angels on Bare Skin. I've been using this face cleanser for probably eight or nine years now, and if a day goes by that I don't use it, my skin feels simultaneously dryer and less clean. It's a bit hard to get used to: a clay-based paste, it has actual lavender buds in it and ground-up almonds for the scrubby bits. You break off a small piece of the paste, mix it with a little water in the palm of your hand, then use as a cleanser. The clay cleans and moisturizes, the almonds scrub all the dirt away, and the lavender freshens and restores. I'm a huge fan of Lush for its eco packaging, great scents, all natural ingredients, and sparing use of preservatives, but this is my favorite item ever (second and third favorites: Honey I Washed the Kids soap, and Each Peach massage bar). It's not very expensive either, as the small container lasts me for months.

The other great thing about this stuff is how well it travels. I take a knob of it and smoosh as much as I can fit into one of those clear little plastic pots, the kind that come in those travel container sets (mine is very small, not much bigger around than a dollar coin, and quite flat, no thicker than a chapstick). The beauty of it is that because you need so little for each wash, that tiny pot lasts for about three weeks of daily use. I brought two for my five-week trip this holiday (the second pot was even smaller and I didn't pack it quite full) and I ran out the day before we flew home. Plus, it's not a liquid, so you don't have to put it in the carryon plastic bag, but I just stick it in there anyway since it takes up so little room. There's no worry about leakage, either.

There, that's my big beauty recommendation, one product I really would endorse. Of course there are a number of more boring items I'm also loyal to, like Cetaphil face lotion, Dove deodorant, Body Shop body butter, and Clinique lipstick, but people probably already know about those. I'm very fickle when it comes to things like body wash and shampoos and makeup because I like trying different brands and colors and scents, but I can't wear drugstore lipstick (they have some ingredient I'm allergic to).

Writing this, I had a funny memory from a few years back of my little nephew, 3 or 4 years old at the time, dashing into the guest room where I was staying at my sister's house. He was carrying my little pot of cleanser and had opened it, and he said, breathlessly, "Robin, look what I found! It smells SO GOOD!" So I guess I'm not the only one who endorses it.

16 January 2012

Nerd dream

I've been having especially vivid dreams lately, a development directly attributable to pregnancy. Usually I don't remember much of my dreams, if at all, but recent mornings leave me feeling confused, like I've just dropped out of an important new part of my life. Some are stressful, some are pleasant, and almost all of them are richly detailed and complex.

Surprisingly, hardly any of the dreams are about the baby. A lot of them have been teaching related, where I either have a great teaching experience or have a panic-y dream of not being prepared for class. This week I had an elaborate mountain climbing dream, in which I was a team member on a serious expedition up a near-vertical mountain face. I also had a drawn-out dream about shopping, of all things, where I find this fantastic coat (that in the light of my awake brain I think supremely ugly) and have to go through all sorts of complications to get one in my size.

But my favorite dream so far is so deliciously geeky that I had to share it. I am my current self, but back at my undergraduate institution for some sort of general assembly of students and alumni. At the end of the assembly, the president announces that they have prepared a special overnight assignment for every person in the room: we are to report to our areas of study, and meet with a professor. We are to select a book, read it overnight, and write a paper on it the next day. 24 hours only.

I guess it says a lot about me that this was not a stress dream: it was a happy dream! When I get to the literature conference room after some delay (I think because I have to find someone to watch Gabriel?), sitting around the table are many of the professors who I had never gotten to take a class with but always wanted to--both from undergraduate and graduate school. Each of them has one book to promote, and I get to sit at the table and hear them talk about a wide selection of books, many of which are outside of my specific area. I end up selecting a medieval text, which (in my dream) I had heard this professor speak on once.

I don't remember how or when the dream ended, but I remember being eager to get home and have a completely sanctioned all-nighter for reading and writing. And I distinctly recall waking up and wishing the dream were real. I know specifically who some of the professors were, and even find myself wishing I could remember what the books were because they all sounded awesome. So. A book geek with her book-geek dream. If there's one sad part about achieving a PhD, it's that I probably will never again get to take literature classes in the same way that I did as an undergraduate and master's/doctoral student--indiscriminately exploring what interested me, having a legitimized excuse to read madly, widely, and deeply.

15 January 2012

A tremolo rises

A funny gift coincidence, this Christmas. For the longest time, a few years perhaps, I've had a volume of Tomas Tranströmer's poetry, The Great Enigma, languishing at the bottom of my Amazon wish list. I hadn't read much of his work, but what I'd read always made me want to explore more of the Swedish poet's writing. So when I came across that very book the day that I defended my thesis, as I wandered around town happily, I bought it without hesitation as a little "go Dr. me!" reward.

A couple of weeks later, opening gifts from my parents, what should I unwrap but the very same book! I had even been careful to delete it from my Amazon list after I bought it, but my mom had her shopping done early this year, and for whatever reason that was the one she chose to get. Accurately, it turns out, guessing that I really wanted it if it had been on the list for so long (she's very good at picking out good gifts)--too accurately in this case, as I never dreamed anyone would go for that one instead of the cookbooks or new novels also on my list.

In fact, I had been worried that I'd get a duplicate copy of Haruki Murakami's 1Q84, since the Mister gave me that as a present just before we left for the US when we had our little family Christmas. I've just started delving into it this week, with all the anticipation that a nice fat hardcover of a favorite writer brings, and I'm already loving it. All the hallmarks of Murakami's fantastic blend of real and surreal are there, even in the first pages, as one main character, whose odd name means "green peas," climbs down off a gridlocked freeway via an emergency ladder, and another is tapped to rewrite a young author's literary prize entry.

Anyway, back to Tranströmer. I realize it's been a very long time indeed since last I posted any poetry here, so I thought a selection from him today would be nice. It was below freezing but a bright sunny sky as we walked to church this morning, the kind of cold air that hits you hard but makes you somehow happy. I think Tranströmer captures that in this little winter poem, and surprises you in the end with a comparison to a summertime experience.

There Is Peace in the Surging Prow
~by Tomas Tranströmer

On a winter morning you feel how this earth
plunges ahead. Against the house walls
an air current smacks
out of hiding.

Surrounded by movement: the tent of calm.
And the secret helm in the migrating flock.
Out of the winter gloom
a tremolo rises

from hidden instruments. It is like standing
under summer's high lime tree with the din
of ten thousand
insect wings above your head.

14 January 2012

Miscellaneous Saturday edition

Regarding yesterday's post: for now I've decided not to make the link to this blog available on Facebook, for a number of reasons, mostly having to do with privacy for both me and the Mister, and general wariness. I do think most people know about it who are immediate family and friends, anyway. As a friend pointed out, I can always let people know individually if I want to.

In unrelated news, I signed up for this semester's Dutch class at the university (KU Leuven). Basic level one, but I'm very excited about it. The class ends on May 31, a week before my due date, so if the baby decides to come early, I might miss the exam, but oh well! If I do a later level someday, I can always take a placement test. But I'm nervous already about day one, for two reasons. First, because our plane from Barcelona arrives at 12:45 and the class begins at 2 (I would be horribly stressed to be late on the first day), and second, because if they make us go around the room and say our names and where we're from, etc., I will be at a total loss (it's what happened on the first day of my French class, but at least in French I could manage those basic phrases). Maybe I'll study the Mister's "Le néerlandais pour les nuls" (Dutch for Dummies). (It pleases me probably more than it should that each title is alliterative in own its language.)

Today we are taking it easy and enjoying being at home for a weekend by ourselves. We will shop the sales later this afternoon, trying to fill in our list of still-needed items for the house. It's time for Gabriel to get an actual bed instead of being on a mattress on the floor, and we urgently need a coffee table (for Christmas my brother gave us the thoughtful gift of some money towards this purchase), plus the guest room could use some bedside tables and lamps. Because we have guests coming this week! Another of my brothers and his wife will be arriving mid-week, and we can't wait! Gabriel will be overjoyed.

13 January 2012

On Facebook

So, I finally took the plunge and joined Facebook. I told myself I would do it after I finished the PhD, and now's the time. I am eager to finally feel like I'm in the loop--so many announcements and people assuming I knew things that I totally didn't know! (Mostly about pregnancies and babies born and so forth.) It'll be nice to be able to stay in touch more easily with distant family members and far-away friends. I would check the Mister's account every once in a while, but he wasn't friends with all of my friends/family, and their posts would often be buried under the avalanche of semi-acquaintances and political "friend"-ings and world news updates on his Facebook page. Now, hopefully, I can stay up to date, and people can keep tabs on me. I do hope that it's not too much of a time suck or a privacy complication (I've already configured my settings so that things tend towards the private, I hope).

One thing I'm not sure about, however, is whether to put this website on my Facebook page. Do I really want every person who friends me or whom I friend to read my blog (and its archives...)? I guess I've set myself up for this by having a public blog, but I don't know if I'm ready for ALL the people to read... Ugh, I guess I should just take the plunge. It's one thing to know that my immediate family and close friends are reading this blog, plus any other people who stumble on it but I don't know in real life, or online friends. It's another to realize that many of the people I know in real life, maybe some not that well, plus extended family--anyone who's my Facebook friend--can read about all the ups and downs of our experiences. Still, it's not like my blog is totally intimate or embarrassing, right? It's hard to judge because even detailing, as in the last post, the particulars of this pregnancy might come off as TMI for some. (I do realize I want it both ways: I want to put my thoughts out there, but I want to keep control over who sees those thoughts, probably impossible to reconcile...)

A related question. I've made a couple of friends here so far, moms my age who have young kids Gabriel's age, one through church and one through daycare, and I'm really excited about it. They're both American (although I'd also love to make some Belgian friends), one of them has two kids and is doing a lit PhD, like me (or like I *did*!) and the other is pregnant with her second, like me. Anyway. Should I tell them about the blog? On one hand, it might fast-forward the getting-to-know you stage, but on the other, the getting-to-know you would be completely one-sided. And maybe too much for the first steps of early friendship. Maybe a little awkward? Perhaps if they friend me on Facebook, and I do end up posting my blog there, they'll find it anyway. I guess we'll just see if it comes up naturally...

[Edited to add: There's one other major consideration I just thought of. Facebook uses my real name, and the Mister's, and has a lot of the information that I have tried to at least keep somewhat anonymous here. Would linking from Facebook to the blog compromise that semi-anonymity?]

12 January 2012

Round two

Once we got pregnant, I was eager to see how this pregnancy would compare to the last. I know that each pregnancy is unique, but it's still my same old body, so I imagined that I might respond similarly to all of these lovely hormones (even as I worried that I'd get crazy morning sickness, or something).

So far, I'm right: things have been very very similar. But it's still fascinating to me what *has* been different. Mostly different in good ways, thankfully!

The first trimester with Gabriel I did experience some morning sickness, early on, while my body adjusted to being pregnant. Even when that ended, I continued being quite uncomfortable with stomach digestion issues, and was often dizzy/faintly nauseous, but food didn't appeal to me normally: my rational brain would tell me "I like that food!" but my stomach said "ICK." Of course, the surefire way to cure the dizzy/nausea/I'm dying feeling was to eat, but I didn't want to eat. Good thing my mom was around most of those weeks to say: just EAT. Usually did the trick. 

This time, I only had a few scattered days of nausea, not really at the beginning (and not intense at all, just mild discomfort). I had the same familiar grumpy, gassy stomach, although to a lesser degree, and would get dizzy REALLY easily if I didn't eat all the time. Like, pushing Gabriel's stroller to daycare would nearly wipe me out--the shakes, actually about to faint--if I didn't carry crackers in my purse, even though I'd eaten breakfast an hour before. The lightheadedness this time around was probably exacerbated by the presence of a demanding toddler and lots of picking up and picking up after said toddler. Fortunately--and this is the BIG difference this time--I still loved all food! Yay food! So it was mostly no problem just to make sure I ate often enough. 

Rounding the bend into the second trimester meant, as before, returning to feeling entirely like myself again, with one notable exception: this time I've got a big belly. Last time, I could have almost fooled myself into thinking I wasn't pregnant, since there was very little belly poking out and I felt so darn normal. I barely showed until about 20 weeks. But this time, there's a basketball-sized reminder that, hoo boy, am I ever pregnant. I started showing (at least in my eyes) almost immediately and we've grown from there. Guess those muscles just let go, having been through this before!

Another big difference--this is a fun one--is feeling the baby kick. Last time, I didn't feel the baby at ALL until maybe 18 or 19 weeks (not sure, memory is fuzzy), and I was so impatient to feel him, especially when the books say you might start noticing movement at 15 or 16 weeks. My midwife told me the placenta was lying in front of the uterus, acting as a cushion against feeling those sensations. 

This time, at 14 weeks, on my flight to Indiana, I thought I felt something...and over the course of the following week I was sure of it. Baby! We have a kicker! I expected that feeling the baby earlier would result in those "fluttering" or "quickening" sensations the books talk about, but from the start it's been distinctly "thump"-like to me, albeit the tiniest tenderest thump there could be. By now, at 19 weeks, the thumps aren't quite so tender any more, as they are getting pretty insistent and distinctly elbow- and knee-like. Still, I've just loved feeling the baby move around--there's nothing like it in the world--and it's been a real reassurance during the time I was in the US and not having any checkups. Recently we've been trying to get the Mister to catch one of these earlier movements, but it's still hard; I've felt him/her from the outside myself only once or twice, although it seems so amazingly strong from the inside. In fact, our little Junebug is at this moment poking my lower abdomen quite confidently, as if to corroborate my writing of it. Thanks, buddy!

Aside from those details, the minor side effects of being pregnant seem to have remained pretty consistent. My usually-managed eczema is worse, and I'm getting overall itchy during the night. That happened last time too. For a while there while I was in Boston, I suffered from daily pressure headaches (did not happen last time, that I recall), which were mostly cured by drinking gallons of water. Which, of course, exacerbated that classic pregnancy symptom, the constant need to pee, making an appearance since about day one. But all in all these are minor things and I've felt great (both with Gabriel and now). I'm only just starting to feel the downward pressure that causes the pregnancy waddles, and I wonder if those big-belly third trimester symptoms will show up earlier this time around. With Gabriel I wrote that the ninth month was really when all the classic "oof"-iness of pregnancy came to a peak, and again, that may happen earlier for baby number 2. We shall see! If things seemed to fly by last time, I'm sure it will go even faster now, seeing as I have an external kid to distract me from the internal one. 

I know that, even though I suspected that the pregnancy itself might be similar, the whole scenario of labor and birth is still a complete wild card. They are the big question marks of having a baby: the when?! and the how!? Those experiences can differ radically from child to child, so I'm eager to see what will happen and praying that things will go as beautifully as they did with Gabriel. I never did post his birth story, did I? I wrote it down, but wasn't sure about sharing such an intimate thing--maybe I just wanted to keep it to savor. Now, I think, I could post it, although edited down. Plus, I have a lot to say about the experience of having a baby in Belgium (what I know so far), so that will come up one of these days, I'm sure. So, more to come, that's what I'm saying! It's so fun to be free to post again, and looking over the posts I wrote when pregnant with Gabriel has reinforced how precious it is to have that record of what I was feeling and thinking during that time. Pregnancy really is like nothing else, so crazy and normal and blissful and uncomfortable all at once. 
[PS: Not sure what's up with the spacing when I hit publish. I don't like the way the text gets all tight but I can't figure out how to fix it...]

11 January 2012

Chickens before the hatch

I did something this afternoon that maybe I shouldn't have done. I bought baby clothes, and not just any baby clothes--girl baby clothes. We won't even know for another month if this one is a boy or a girl (I'll be 20 weeks in a week but couldn't get an ultrasound appointment until February), but I was completely unable to resist the little wee blouses and dresses that I saw at my favorite kid's clothing store (not least because everything was 50 or 70 percent off). I justified the purchase by thinking that either I could return them if the baby is a boy, or (more likely) keep them to give to friends or family who have a girl baby, or (even more likely) keep them in case we have yet another baby and that one turns out to be a girl. I did buy a couple of gender-neutral items, too, but really the little girl clothes had all my attention.

As with Gabriel, I have no real intuition about whether this baby is of the boy or the girl variety, but it would sure be fun to have a girl. Well, it would sure be fun to dress her in the little summer dresses I bought, that's all I'm saying. But I'd be really pleased about another boy, too: for one, we already have a wardrobe for a boy, and for another, I am pretty fond of them, and of the idea of brothers. Plus, we'd add a sixth to our troop of boy cousins on my side!

The store where I was shopping, called Obaibi, is my absolute favorite--probably half of Gabriel's wardrobe comes from there. In fact I was just stopping in to get him a couple more basic turtlenecks. They have such adorable and well-made clothes at reasonable prices--the European style without the ridiculous European prices of, say, a Petit Bateau. And, they have sales all the time. Let's just say I'm a card-carrying client.

This little blouse is maybe the cutest thing I bought this morning, in a sweet blue/gray color with tiny little owls. Even if it's not my little girl who ends up wearing it, she's going to look adorable.

2011 in review, Part II

This is Part II of the 2011 meme/questionnaire. Part I here. I got a little verbose yesterday so broke the thing up into two sections.


13. What did you get really excited about?

Our new house/home town and exploring Leuven (back to the land of amazing beer! and fries and waffles and mussels). My new iPad (for the story, see below, question 22). Finally finishing the diss, of course. Getting pregnant! Getting Gabriel to sleep through the night! Finally getting Gabriel into daycare! A number of memorable meals at great restaurants, including a fish restaurant (Beluga) here in Leuven that serves only a chef's tasting menu based on the day's catch, Casa Calvet, where we went for our anniversary dinner in July, a PhD celebratory meal at Harvest in Cambridge with my family, and several great meals throughout the year at Restaurant Tallent in Bloomington. Our vacation in Cape Cod with my family, and an internetless week on the Costa Brava with just me and the Mister and the babe.

14. What song will always remind you of 2011?

This question has stumped me. I guess I don't have a theme song kind of life, although that's something to aspire to. Finding and listening to new music has kind of been on the back burner compared to other things. Plus, for the first time in a long time I haven't been part of a choir (I miss it so!), which usually forms the soundtrack to my days.

15. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?

I can't remember precisely how happy I was at the beginning of 2011 (and don't have any record of it in my blog), but I was probably pretty happy, having completed a great semester of teaching literature for the first time, enjoying Bloomington, and enjoying my almost-one-year-old--and because my normal state of being is happy. Although I'm reeeealllly very happy now, so I'll go with happier.

I'm fatter, due to the little baked-potato-sized person taking up room in my midsection (and who is also directing my hips and thighs and boobs and face to take on a bit more padding). Right now I'm wearing jeans that I bought a few months postpartum last time, thinking that my weight would go down no further. I was wrong, thankfully, since I lost so much weight while breastfeeding that I actually went down a pants size from before the pregnancy. So the jeans got stored. Turns out they're perfect for four months pregnant! When I left Leuven in early December they still hung on me and now that we're back I'm happy to see that they fit and to have another pair of pants to add to my scant number of maternity-appropriate bottoms.

Richer, since the Mister has an actual full-time, year-round job that doesn't rely on us cobbling together semesters' worth of teaching salaries.

16. What do you wish you'd done more of?

More poetry writing, more getting down on the floor and playing with Gabriel instead of fiddling around on the computer, more singing, more baking, more making out with the Mister.

17. What do you wish you'd done less of?

As usual, less worrying, less procrastination, less assuming that the Mister can read my mind (in my defense, a lot of the time he can) or expecting praise over stuff that's just part of my job as a wife or mom or, you know, citizen of humanity.

18. How did you spend Christmas?

An odd, sad day this year. Iaia died in the afternoon, Spanish time, so by 9am we were skyping with the family just after she passed. The rest of the family went to church, taking Gabriel with them, and M and I sat in the quiet at my sister's house and watched a few snowflakes fall, while we cried and processed what had happened. I fell asleep. When they got home, we all sat around and talked while the kids took naps, then went to my brother's house and ate leftovers.

19. What was your favorite TV program?

Most nights, M and I watch one episode of a TV show online or (more rarely) on DVD. This year, we watched Big Love, which we liked pretty well although the last few seasons got kind of annoying (and we didn't like how it ended). For his birthday, I gave the Mister the Derek Jacobi BBC miniseries I, Claudius, which we watched and enjoyed greatly for its crazy 1980s vision of ancient Rome. We've been devoted followers of The Good Wife, and we've lately discovered Downton Abbey, which I rather adore. We're thinking of trying Boardwalk Empire or Homeland next. Any recommendations?

20. What were your favorite books of the year?

I always wish that I'd kept a list of the novels I read over the year, so maybe this year I'll actually do it. It's hard to remember them all, so this list is likely to be skewed to more recent reads. One book that still stands out is David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which took a while to get into but left me bereft when it was over, because I so wanted to stay in that world of 18th-century Japan as lived by a Dutchman. I really liked Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and after the Mister read it, I read Freedom (Jonathan Franzen) and liked it better than The Corrections. Oh dear, I know I'm forgetting books. Let's see... A set of essays called The Art of Travel by Alain de Bottom. I read The Hunger Games trilogy the week Gabriel and I arrived in Belgium, the house empty of any furniture except an air mattress and a pack'n'play, so those books will always remind me of that time (I'm kind of looking forward to the movie(s) because they'll lend themselves so well to that medium). I think I read Room this year (maybe last, though?), and I adored it for many reasons--the gripping plot, the voice of the child, the portrait of the mother-child relationship. I still think about it often. Also might have been 2010, but I loved Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stone. Oh I know: another favorite definitely from this year was Ann Patchett's State of Wonder. It wasn't perfect, but the whole invented jungle world/tribe was pretty engrossing.

21. What were your favorite films of the year?

Harder to say. Unlike book-reading, which is only partially limited by this whole thing called being a parent, movie-watching is severely limited by it. We went to the theater only a handful of times, usually to see whichever least-objectionable movie happened to be playing the night we had child care. The rest of the movies I see in a year are mostly on plane trips or when at my parents'. Ones that stand out, although I hesitate to call them favorites...We saw Carnage in the theater in Barcelona. We saw The Descendants in the theater in Boston. (Thank you, grandparent babysitters!) I saw Another Earth on the plane. One weekend we rented Beginners on iTunes, which I liked but the Mister didn't. Of Rotten Tomato's list of 2011's top 100 movies, I saw only four. We've been wanting to see The Ides of March for a while, and hopefully will find a time to rent it soon.

22. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 33 this year, on Mother's Day. In retrospect, I can laugh about it but that day I was hoping for something extra special because of the conjunction and kind of got (childishly, unreasonably) crabby when it was super low key. We spent most of the day attending the bris of a friend's new baby, and M. didn't realize that the whole Mother's Day thing was so important to me, and he really didn't have time to prepare anything because he was flat-out busy at the end of the semester and was about to leave for Belgium and his new job. I do remember how beautifully sunny it was that day, though, and how nice it was to play with Gabriel in a park while M. took pictures. I made a chocolate cake.

But then! A couple of weeks later, while I was in Boston with my family, we had a small celebration for the May birthdays, and M. arranged for his gift of an iPad to be delivered. I was so bowled over/touched/surprised/excited/humbled that I started to cry when I unwrapped it, realized what it was, and, a few beats later, realized who it was from. I had not an iota of an idea that M. was planning to give me an iPad and hadn't even been angling for it (although of course I was secretly dying for one of my own). People, I don't think I've cried over a gift since I was six and got a Cabbage Patch Doll for Christmas. I guess, to put it in SAT terms, Cabbage Patch Doll : 6-year-old :: iPad : 33-year-old. But it wasn't just the gift itself--it was M's thoughtfulness, and his way of surprising me yet again, with yet another attentive gesture at a time when we were going through a big change in our lives (and yes, more than making up for that birthday/Mother's Day). I love the iPad to pieces. I've read so many books on that thing, and adore the experience of reading magazines on it, and finding recipes, and all around exploring different apps. Of course, Gabriel thinks it's his, and we have to keep it hidden most of the time he's awake, but that's another story for another blog entry.

23. What one thing could have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

You know, I can't think of a thing! I believe that's good. One thing that I really regret is not documenting Gabriel's first year by creating a photo book, or a video montage, or even keeping up a baby book, or writing enough in this blog. The one-year photo book has been on my to-do list since he turned one and is still not done. Argh. I worry that I will forget the many thousands of details of his incredibleness and sweetness as he's changed each month of his life.

24. Whose behavior merited celebration?

My mom, who came to the rescue so many times. She flew to Bloomington on a moment's notice when I hurt my knee (oh, I guess that was fall 2010--another unblogged story, in which I badly twisted my knee on a plane when we flew to Barcelona and proceeded to be on crutches for several weeks both in Barcelona and upon our return to Bloomington, no picking up baby allowed!) and she and dad came for Gabriel's birthday. Then, she deserves a medal in itself for being there in May to help me pack up the apartment, put on a yard sale, and drive out to Boston with me and an antsy kid in a car stuffed to the gills while M. was already in Belgium. Then, she came for a visit this fall in which she helped us get Gabriel to sleep through the night (!), and watched him while I furiously edited the thesis. And, I should note, she cooked SO MANY great meals for us throughout the year. Then, THEN (!), she (and my dad, who deserves his fair share of amazing-grandpa accolades too) took care of Gabriel for a week while I defended my thesis in Bloomington. She has already booked her tickets to be here and help watch Gabriel when this next baby is born. All of this, I should say, she does while being SO respectful of what M. and I want for Gabriel. She has raised FIVE kids, so you'd think she would bring up that small detail more often, and in fact she totally would get a pass for insisting on her experience and doing things her own way. Instead, she always defers to what we want and quietly offers her help and (invaluable) opinions when we ask. She knows just the right balance between offering ideas and setting back and letting us fumble around and learn parenting by doing--which is really the only way you can learn. Man, she's amazing.

And then there's the Mister. I could never say enough about how supportive he is, how much he does to make our little family a safe and secure one, how he does more than his share of housework, uncomplainingly. He treats me like a queen and pushes me when I need it. We're complementary in so many ways that I feel so lucky we found each other (complementary both in the sense of similarities and in the sense of making up for one another's weaknesses: for instance, he's better at long-term planning and I'm better at short-term planning; he's better at big-picture cleaning and I'm better at small-scale organizing; he knows more about politics and history and I know more about literature and science; he has an amazing memory for dates, but I remember where we keep things...and so on!). He's currently working a full time job AND writing his dissertation. And not least of all, he is such a fantastic dad--I just love watching him with Gabriel and seeing how much Gabriel adores his Dada.

And finally, Gabriel has been a total sweetheart. Apart from the whole sleeping challenge, he is such a good-natured, easygoing child, and I love hanging out with him. When he gives me a kiss and says, "I lub oo," I swoon every time. My darling, my big boy.

25. What kept you sane?

The Mister and our rascally, endearing, wide-eyed, charmer of a child. His piping little voice. Friends and family. Faith in God's provisions for our life. Good books, good food (the cooking and the eating of it), and good hard work.

26. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2011.

I blogged about this one before, but it's about letting go...not worrying so much because most of the time the things you worry about are not the things you end up struggling with. And when you do struggle, you make it, somehow, with the help of God and family and friends. As I say in that post, "You'll get what you get and you'll deal with it when you do."

Relatedly, motherhood has taught me that "this too shall pass"... Stages that are so frustrating go by more quickly than you imagine. When you're in the trenches, things seem to drag on forever but all too quickly you look back and realize that it was just a blip in the bigger picture.

The inverse is true, too. I'm sometimes sad to see how quickly Gabriel passes through stages of utter adorability...all too soon he no longer says "nigh nigh" in that new-speaker voice he had, and he says "moo" now instead of "moh," and he runs instead of toddles, and he lost his baby curls when he got his first haircut and so on and so forth. But then! There are things to look forward to: him talking in full sentences and telling me the wonderments in his head, teaching him to read, the wonders of school and a million things to learn, and it goes on from there. Every stage has its new frustrations and delights, and I suppose that will continue long into the future (until adolescence, maybe?!). There's a lot to look forward to, not just from Gabriel, but from our lives together. 2012 is just the first step, and I can't wait to see what it brings.

10 January 2012

2011 in review, Part I

I must have skipped last year, but I dug up my old internet meme post with all the year-in-review questions and thought I'd try it again, especially after a friend mentioned it recently. 2011 was a really amazing year, these last couple of months in particular. So much of it didn't get blogged, I'm realizing as I look over my archives, because I (deliberately) let the blog slide while I worked on the dissertation. It makes me worry that I'm forgetting important details of the year, and even before, because I see that I basically stopped blogging in October 2010! Maybe I can catch up on a few stories in this way, however, and remind myself of some of the more momentous experiences of the 2011. (This might get a little long, so hold on to your hats [actually, I've broken it into two parts so it's a little more digestible...part II to come tomorrow.])

1. What did you do in 2011 that you'd never done before?

Unfortunately, moving internationally was not a novel process for us. Although it seems as dauntingly new as it did the first time, I've now moved from Bloomington to Brussels, from Brussels to Barcelona, from Barcelona to Bloomington, and from Bloomington to Belgium (there are too many B-places in my life, methinks, and that list doesn't even include Boston or Burlington).
I weaned my son, definitely a novel process and an involved one.
I went to the MLA conference in LA. I wish I could say that I had some job interviews, but in the end it's better that we could head to Belgium without any conflicting job decisions to make.
I got one of my poems published in a book.
I finished my PhD!

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Ah, here's a happy story. I don't remember if I made resolutions, but I certainly made wishes. Last Christmas in Barcelona, the adults were lolling about after a huge meal and the kids were getting antsy. M's mom, creative as always, came up with a project for them that involved taking a stack of empty jewelry boxes from her soon-to-close boutique (she retired this year) and making "wish boxes" out of them for each one of us. The girls dressed up as Santa-fairies and delivered them with orders for us to write down our secret wishes for 2011 and seal them in the box with stickers.

Fast forward to last week. On New Year's Day, M's mother unearthed those boxes, and we opened our wish boxes to read out the scraps of paper (the girls hadn't left a lot of room for big wishes). I had written:

acabar la tesi (finish my thesis)
un germanet o una germaneta pel Gabriel (a little brother or sister for Gabriel)
feina pel M. i per la Robin (work for M and for Robin)

Not bad, eh? We're still baking up that little brother or sister, and of the two of us only M has work, but I'm still pretty happy with the outcome of this year's wishes.

As for the coming year, I haven't made any grand resolutions, but I do wish to do the following (in keeping with last year's "wishes"):

achieve basic proficiency in Dutch
rent or buy a bike and get used to riding around town with Gabriel
revise the dissertation and get it published (I first wrote "attempt to get it published" but one should be more assertive about one's wishes, right?)
publish an academic article and a poem or poems
get a postdoc, a teaching job, or something similar
find a prenatal yoga or exercise/movement class
blog more actively now that the diss is done
adjust to being a family of four (this one, I think, we will have to do in any case!)
(there are a whole category of wishes surrounding the birth and newborn months of this new baby, but I'm sort of thinking of that in its own separate category right now, so...I'll leave it at that)

Plus, there are a few more resolution-y type things that are only worth mentioning because it's always better to write them down: floss teeth every day, go to sleep earlier, and clean the house (especially the bathrooms) more often.

And! for Christmas, my mom gave me and my sister and sisters-in-law each a five-year diary, the kind where you jot down just a line or two each day but then get to review each year as you build the diary. I'd like to see if I can maintain that all the way through the year. I haven't kept a diary since high school, but this seems doable and I love the idea of thinking about where I was a year or two or five ago (once I manage to complete them, first!).

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

My friend Ashley had a baby just a couple of days before we left Bloomington. I'm so glad we were still there when her baby was born! [Edited to add: I forgot about my dear friend Sara, who had a little girl, her third baby!]

4. Did anyone close to you die?

M's grandmother passed away on Christmas day. We will miss her so much.

5. What countries did you visit?

Belgium doesn't count because it's home, and neither does Spain or America, because they're home too. So...Holland, I guess, is it! We visited a few towns across the border while my parents were here in November and had a rental car. We especially liked Maastricht and would love to go back.

6. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?

A job--an official, even if part-time or adjunct or temporary one. A bit more published material to put on my CV. A squishy little baby! A bike. A Belgian driver's license. Time to write more poetry.

7. What dates from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

December 9: the day I defended my dissertation. It was such a happy event, my committee so warm and encouraging and altogether palpably proud of me. I felt such a sense of achievement and completion even as I handed the set of signed papers in, somewhat anticlimactically, at the Graduate School. I wandered around town in a happy daze, just absorbing it all, and bought myself a book and earrings. Then I celebrated with my friends by eating cupcakes and going out for a fancy dinner, where I ran into my dissertation director, of all people, who then proceeded to say such kind and humbling things about me and my defense/work that I still get all fuzzy thinking about it.

Let's see...there aren't any other particular dates that stand out, except maybe February 15, the day my no-so-little babe turned one, and Christmas, the day iaia died. Everything else was a blur of our usual comings and goings, moving out and moving in, work and meals and walks, the daily trials and charms of life with a small child.

Ah yes, one more date: October 5, the evening it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn't gotten my period yet. I had discounted getting pregnant that month due to a previous pregnancy test a week or so prior, but I leapt out of bed anyway and fumbled open the second-to-last pregnancy test in my stash, eking out what little pee I could since I had already gone before getting into bed. A rapid, resolute plus sign: we were pregnant! M. was coming up the stairs after locking up the front door and I sort of jumped out at him and speechlessly showed him the test. I had imagined a romantic surprise reveal but in the event there was no other thought but: !!!! Then I proceeded to get worried because the test was technically expired, so I got out the very last test, a digital one, and had to look up on line how to use it, and of course found myself completely unable to pee. I had to glug water, and think of waterfalls, and there was a lot of jumping nervously back into bed and out of bed while I waited for the water to take effect, and then more waiting while the test turned its little digital cogs, and finally we got that unmistakable confirmation: PREGNANT.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Um, duh. Those three additional letters after my name stand for a lot of hard work and a long, long effort of perseverance (and amazing support from the Mister and our families).
After that, there's getting pregnant again, which didn't happen quite as quick as last time.
Weaning Gabriel ranks up there, too, because of how hard it was and how long it took.
Then, there was packing up a household and moving back to Europe, this time with toddler in tow for added excitement. M getting a new job wasn't my achievement, but it was a great day for us, a solid career step for him, and a big relief to end the uncertainty--which eats away at him even if I'm usually able to blithely focus on the day-today--of what we would be doing next.

9. What was your biggest failure?

There are many failures, I know. Laziness is always at the top of the list, as is procrastination and fretting about unnecessary things. Failure to listen fully to my husband. Failure to push myself out of my comfort zone, whether in making friends or follow-through on career-related possibilities. In terms of parenting, I feel a continual sense of failure to do "activities" with Gabriel...I always aspire to do crafts and come up with games or age-appropriate learning activities but most of the time I fail pretty badly to do so. And I completely and utterly failed to exercise, although I walk around an awful lot pushing a really heavy kid in a really heavy stroller.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Last winter, on the iciest day of the biggest snowstorm that blew through Indiana, I wondered whether it was safe to even walk outside for an appointment I had with Gabriel, especially considering I'd be holding him. So I stepped out onto the walkway leading to our front door to test the ice, and immediately slipped down the ice-coated step and crashed hard onto the cement, catching my weight with my left-hand wrist (thank heavens I hadn't attempted it with the baby!). My wrist was badly sprained, and I had to wear a brace for a long time. It took forever to heal, mostly because I still had to pick up/hold/nurse Gabriel.

As for illness, nothing major, except for an extremely unpleasant bout of achy-flu-ish cold coinciding with Gabriel's start of daycare, the beginning of my pregnancy (before I knew I was pregnant), and the final countdown for finishing my thesis. There was a day when, trying to get Gabriel to sleep in his stroller walking up and down the street in the sun, I could barely stand up or open my eyes in the bright light, and the kid just refused to sleep. I finally gave up after an hour of dogged pacing and went home, bursting into tears which Gabriel had never seen me do so he laughed and giggled. Which made me cry more. Which resulted in me calling the Mister and asking him to come home from work. Which of course, he did.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Plane tickets are always worth it, getting us back to our families. I think, judging from a few weeks' use, that our new camera was a great purchase. That really good knife. My mom and the Mister convinced me to buy a goose down winter coat at the end-of-season sales last year and I have been SO grateful for that coat.

12. Where did most of your money go?

Plane tickets and moving expenses, especially new furniture for our new home in Leuven (still slowly working on that to spread out the damage). Rent and mortgages. Food.


OK, OK, so this is getting ridiculously long. I'll publish in two parts, first one today and second tomorrow. I guess I have a lot of processing to do about the past year and a lot to write about.

08 January 2012

Holidays (and days...)

It's already well into the new year, and I have meant to write an update all throughout the holidays. We just got back to Leuven last night, at long last. It was a five-week journey for me and Gabriel and felt like even more, spanning several countries and several states and many celebrations. We've been all kinds of busy over the last weeks, happy busy and sad busy, travel busy and visit busy and organizing/cleaning/packing/renting busy.

First, we celebrated a fantastic "Christmas" day with my family on December 24th, after a fun get-together the night before to open our stockings. It's a joy to watch the five little cousins romp around and open presents and hold spontaneous Christmas-pajama dance parties (oh the stripes!). We had a delightful time over the course of several days talking and eating and dreaming (we're starting to talk about building a family vacation home in conjunction with my parents' move to Maine) and just enjoying one another's company. And did I mention the eating? As for gifts, the Mister and I gave "each other" a new camera (a Canon G12), which we've had fun trying out, and then he surprised me with a cool AirPlay speaker that we can use to play music/radio/movie or TV sound wirelessly from our computers, iPad, or iPod. I got a pair of slippers that are keeping my feet toasty right now, and some great books and travel-related items.

Christmas itself was a sad, quiet moment for us, because the Mister's beloved grandmother, our iaia, passed away that day. She had been sick for the past couple of months, at home with my in-laws, and in the hospital a few times, but the doctors couldn't find anything wrong. But just a little over a week prior to Christmas, they found a tumor in her intestines, and the end came quickly after that. We had really been hoping to see her one more time, especially knowing that on the 27th we were due to fly to Barcelona, but it didn't work out that way. We did make it in time for the funeral, literally hours after our arrival. She was a wonderful lady, with a lively appetite for life and listening and talking, and a gift for hospitality. She was my neighbor and friend during the years we lived between Barcelona and Belgium, showing me around the neighborhood and sharing countless memories of a long-ago Barcelona.

But I'll backtrack a moment. The day after Christmas, just before our departure, we had planned a no-kids lunch at a wonderful restaurant in Cambridge, which I thought was just that--a no-kids lunch. But it turned out to be a surprise celebration of my completion of the PhD! My family members prepared poems, both touching and humorous, in my honor, which moved me to laughter and tears in equal measure. They presented me with a beautiful necklace and I was so touched by their thoughtfulness. It was such a fun time together that we're already talking about doing it again next year. (Not the PhD part, obviously, but the nice-lunch-out-without-kids-after-Christmas part.)

Packing for the flight back to Europe was crazy as usual, given that we had accumulated gifts and purchases including lots and lots of books (as always) as well as bulky items like coats and shoes that are more reasonable to buy in the US. Not to mention a stack of baby clothes and cloth diapers that needed to get from Boston to Belgium now that there's a baby on the way. We managed to squeeze most of it in (and are thankful that my brother and sister-in-law are coming for a visit in a few weeks and are willing to bring another bag full of things). The flight itself went really well, with the tyke sitting in his own seat the whole way (the lovely Aer Lingus people managed to find us an extra one two days after Christmas!) and watching movies. We didn't sleep on the long flight, then all crashed in the Dublin airport and on the shorter flight to Barcelona. M. went straight to the funeral home and Gabriel and I slept for a couple of hours at home once we were there, then went to the funeral home for a moment in the viewing room and then the funeral. I was exhausted and emotional and confronted by a sea of faces, and as soon as I saw iaia's body--her but not her--it was incredibly hard. Death of a beloved family member, even someone 96 years old, is never easy.

We spent the next days in a blur of cleaning up the apartment, shopping for the upcoming Reis (Kings) holiday, visiting with friends and having people over for meals, not sleeping (toddler jet lag is the worst), and preparing the apartment for the renters who are taking it on for the next months. Plus! Organizing piles of baby clothes, both those that I had brought from the US, and those that were stored in our apartment. Deciding what needed to come first, on this trip, and what needed to be moved to an accessible place so we can bring them on later trips.

New Year's Eve we celebrated at my in-laws with them and some of their friends, mostly because all of our friends already had plans! But we had a delicious meal and a fun time ushering in 2012. Due to jet lag, Gabriel was ready to party, and hung out with us all the way through midnight, dancing to the music and getting passed around the table.

This past week we had another, more intimate remembrance of iaia when they interred her ashes at the cemetery. M's sister and her family had been away to their in-laws in Africa, so this was timed for their arrival. It was a windy, cold day, fitting somehow for the moment. Gabriel was overjoyed to see his cousins, and directly afterwards we headed to my in-laws for our last couple of days in Spain and the big celebration of the Reis holiday. More presents, more food (oh, so much food over the last weeks!), more time sitting around digesting food and chatting with family. This year, we had exchanged names among the adults for presents, and as I opened a small box I expected to see some jewelry, but I did not expect to see the gold necklace with a little cross and heart that iaia wore every day since I've known her. It turns out she had my name, and the family decided to give me this gift. One that saw me yet again bursting into tears. Oh! And M's parents, earlier in the week, gave me a gorgeous four-volume set of Catalan poetry as a PhD gift.

And then it was time to leave. One more packing session, two more airports, one more flight, one more round of goodbyes, and at long last we are home in Belgium. It feels very good to be here. Gabriel is enthusiastically pulling out all of his long-lost toys and new Christmas/Kings gifts, and we are sitting around enjoying a day of respite between travel and tomorrow's return to work/daycare/reality, eating dried pasta and tomato from a can because that's all we have in the house.

It's been an amazing trip: a PhD and ongoing celebrations of it, Christmas and New Years and Kings, plus a death and a funeral, Gabriel's first solo stay with his grandparents, all of this with a brand new year ahead of us. Meanwhile, my belly is growing bigger and the little one is kicking away pretty happily in there. I'm so, so thankful for how everything went on this long journey that I could barely contemplate for its intricacies ahead of time. I'm so thankful for a good-natured toddler, for a strong husband, and for a healthy pregnancy that has me feeling pretty darn good and able to travel, not to mention defend a PhD and chase after that toddler (but gives me a great excuse to eat lots and let other people carry the heaviest suitcases). I'm thankful for friends and family, and I'm thankful for the many places we call home.