Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Little Miss E

This post is way overdue- my poor little Miss Baby E is already over two months old.  I guess that's the sort of thing you have to get used to when you're #4.  But, I want to get her story recorded before it gets too buried in my memory.

Little Miss E's due date was May 11.  All my other babies have come at 38 weeks.  Here in Luxembourg they are very cautious and (almost overly) careful in their prenatal care.  At every one of my doctor appointments in the third trimester I had an ultrasound, a cervical exam, and a 40 minute fetal  heart monitoring session.  It sure felt like a lot of hassle compared to my other experiences, but I kept assuring myself that it was all for the best, and thankfully, everything appeared to be completely normal.  At every appointment, though, my doctor kept telling me that this baby was in no hurry and he would be surprised if she came early.  I was having tons of Braxton Hicks contractions the last few months, some of them getting uncomfortable, but they just weren't doing much.  So, by the time I got to my 39 week appointment, I felt like I was getting close to my limit.  I know it sounds ridiculous- she still wasn't even due for at least a week, but I had never made it to 39 weeks before.  Also, by my 38 and 39 week appointments, the ultrasound was starting to show some abnormal calcifications in the placenta, which concerned me, but I tried to be calm about it.  Maybe these calcifications have happened in all my pregnancies, I've just never been monitored so closely.  Anyway, my dr. told me he didn't want me to go past my due date, so if baby hadn't shown up in the next week, we'd have to get serious about getting her here.  I really didn't want to be induced, so I left the office that day determined to find a way to get this baby moving.

My last pregnant photo- taken about a day and a half before she was born.

That weekend, I did some house cleaning, cleaned out the garage, mowed the lawn, and went on a couple long, hard walks.  By the time I went to bed Sunday night I was starting to feel some pretty strong contractions.  I'd had the same thing happen a few other nights, then they died down and nothing happened.  So, I was trying not to get my hopes up.  After laying in bed for about an hour, I decided to get up and see if anything changed.  I got in the bathtub to see if they would die down, but they didn't.  After about two hours of consistent contractions in the bathtub, the intensity was really picking up.  We started to get nervous because Miss H's delivery was so fast.  (Labor only lasted about 3 hours, I got to the hospital fully dilated, and delivered in triage)  K decided it was time to go to the hospital so that we didn't risk having this baby somewhere other than the hospital.  We called our friend, Christy, who came right over to stay with the kids.  She was such a good sport to rush to our house so quickly at 2:30 in the morning!

We rushed off to the hospital and found our way in to the labor and delivery area, which was no easy task.  It was not clearly marked and there was no one around to ask.  It was about 3:30 by the time we got there.  Contractions were still coming, but were definitely a little less regular and less intense than they had been.  After getting checked in at the hospital, I was disappointed to find out I was only at 3 cm.  I told my nurse that I was hoping to labor in water for awhile (which I had never done before).  She suggested I get up and walk for awhile first since they prefer women only stay in the water for about two hours.  We figured I still had quite a bit of time left.  The nurse (who is actually a midwife) was really wonderful.  Her English was pretty good.  We were able to communicate well, though there were a few times that I turned to K after she had left to see if he had understood what she'd said cause I sure hadn't.  I have to admit I'm glad that I didn't have this type of experience until we'd been here almost a year because now it doesn't bother me so much to not really know what's being said around me.  Earlier in this expat experience it might have bothered me a lot more to not be quite so in control of the situation.  Thankfully, though, a few weeks earlier, I'd had a registration appointment with another midwife at the hospital who had created a file for me that included all my wishes concerning my labor and delivery.  This hospital was very natural birth friendly.  Most of the things I've had to make serious requests for in the U.S. were just standard practice here, so I wasn't too worried.  Ok- back to the story- She left the room and things started to pick up pretty quickly after that.  Ultimately, due to some complications with the placenta, I wasn't able to get up and walk or get in the tub.  But, she was calling the doctor within about an hour.  He showed up to check on the situation.  He let me know it was okay to start pushing whenever I felt like I needed to.  I felt the need pretty quickly after that.  It was a unique experience for me to be delivering a baby while the nurse and doctor were chattering away in Luxembourgish.  I decided that it was probably good I didn't understand everything they were saying.  I think I was able to be more focused on my job and not so worried about trying to hear everything they were saying.

Our baby girl came at 5:25 am  on Monday, May 6, 2013 and weighed 3480 grams (which translates to 7 lbs. 10 oz) and was 54 cm long (21.5 inches).  

Here we are just a couple minutes after she was born.  Hospital gowns are only worn by sick patients- and childbirth is not an illness.  All the clothes I wore in the hospital were my own (or K's big t-shirts!)

I just think this little face is so cute!  Being born has got to be a pretty rude awakening!

We spent about two hours in the delivery room before being moved upstairs to our mother/baby room.  Here's a funny hormonal/annoying European story I'm willing to share- When we first moved to Europe, I struggled some with the food.  Most of it's fine, but I'm not very into the pastries, especially for breakfast.  I try to eat some protein and whole grains for breakfast most days.  Of course, I have since learned how divine the pastries can be, but that's beside the point :)  Anyway, so by the time we were moved to our room upstairs the breakfast trays had already been served.  Well I was starving, of course!  All I had been saying the last two hours was how hungry I was.  In the elevator on the way upstairs I had said to K that they better not try to serve me a European breakfast.  A nurse brought me in a tray of food that she had found, I got settled in, and K tried to take a little nap on the chair.  I lifted the lid to find a piece of white bread with butter, a croissant, and some coffee.  As I looked at the tray, the tears started coming.  I knew it was silly- and that it was the hormones crying- but I just couldn't stop.  I was so hungry at that point.  A few minutes later K opened his eyes, saw what was going on, and jumped up to go find some more food.  The cafeteria wasn't open yet so he came back with an apple and yogurt from a vending machine and a promise to find something better later.   I got over it quickly and actually really enjoyed the food during the rest of my stay.

That afternoon, when the kids got out of school, K brought everyone over to hospital to meet the new baby.

This was Mr. L's reaction the first time Little Miss E started crying at the hospital.  Don't worry- he's gotten over that pretty quickly!

We stayed at the hospital from early Monday morning until Thursday at lunchtime.  That's the longest I've ever stayed at the hospital, but it was a pretty short stay by Luxembourgish standards.  Everyone kept reminding me that this was my time to rest because it would be a lot harder once I went home.   My hospital experience was so different here because they were much more "hands off".  The nurses would come in at about 7 pm to check on us and ask if we needed anything, then they'd say, "Good night, see you in the morning!" and that was it.  I actually got to sleep pretty well there.  And nobody made me fill out any charts about how many minutes I spent nursing and how many diapers I changed, etc.  It was a really nice experience overall.  And you would have thought I was a celebrity in that hospital once everyone found out this was our fourth baby.  That many kids is pretty uncommon here.  A few days later, we were ready to go home- at least we hoped we were ready!

Everyone was very excited for our arrival home!  All the kids wanted to hold our sweet baby as much as possible.  Miss H still thinks that every time she holds the baby I'm supposed to take her picture.  Let's just say I have a lot of pictures that look something like the one above.

And now, two and a half months later, it's hard to believe how much Little Miss E has grown.  K's mom came to visit us when she was just a week old.  And then my parents came to visit when she was three weeks old.  She started really smiling at about 6 weeks and it still melts my heart every time she does it.

Since she was born, we have travelled to France, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden.  She is one well traveled kid!  And next month, she gets to make her debut in the good old US of A!  Good thing she got her passport paperwork going when she was just 8 days old.  The man at the shop where I went to have her photo taken thought I was crazy for trying to get a passport photo for an 8 day old baby.  He just shook his head and said, "Well, I guess it's never too early!".  Let's just say, we're ALL prepared for our visit home next month.

Little Miss E is a great eater, entertains everyone with smiles, coos, squeals, and an occasional laugh.  She sleeps all night and is such a happy baby, which makes for a VERY happy mommy :)  I think she's going to fit in just fine around here!!!  And I hope that someday she'll forgive me for taking two and a half months to write a blog post announcing her birth......

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Our Big European Road Trip (Part 2)

So after spending a couple of fun filled days in Amsterdam, we packed everything up and began the 8 hour drive up to Billund Denmark.  If you've never heard of Billund, don't worry we hadn't either until we decided we wanted to take the kiddos to Legoland.  Although Billund is a small town, it is the world headquarters for Lego.

We started the day off early and got to Legoland right before it opened at 10am.  One of the most frustrating parts of Denmark was definitely the currency and the taxes.  When we arrived we pulled out of an ATM what we felt was a reasonable amount of Danish Krones to get us through our time in Denmark, and we went along our merry way.  The only problem was, at the end of the first day we only had a third left of what we had originally pulled out.  One of the main reasons that things are so expensive is the VAT (Valued Added Tax).  Its basically a national sales tax and here in Denmark it is equal to 25% of the total price of any good purchased.  So essentially we had a 25% markup on everything that we were purchasing.  Yuck...

Cost of stuff aside, we had a really fun time.  The kids were absolutely wired and couldn't wait until we could get inside to see all the stuff.  They were pleasantly surprised when the parking lot had some lego people that were just their size.

We really like Ms. H's hair in this picture.  Needless to say
its windy in Denmark.

Once we got into Legoland Mr. L saw the Lego train and of course it was the very first thing that we had to do. We got on the train and took a ride around all of Legoland, it is very impressive to see all the sculptures and statues that they have created out of Legos.

Once we got off the train, the kids found park maps and took some time trying to figure out the best route to take in order to maximize their time at Legoland.  Needless to say in the end they just said that they wanted to do everything and that there was nothing that they wanted to miss.

So here are some of the pictures we took while we were doing all that we possibly could during the day.

Ms. H felt the need while driving the boat to wave at all the onlookers.
Such a diva.

The next three pictures definitely show off K in an interesting light.  Keep in mind that E is holding our nice camera trying to get some pictures of the kids on the pirate squirt boat.  K sees E and decides that the camera is not as important as showing off his manly squirt gun skills and begins to drench E while she is trying to be a good mom/wife and get some pictures.  His face in the first one cracks us up...

There were a lot of rides that we did, and Ms. A was tall enough, just barely, to do her first big kid roller coasters.  K and her made a special trip over to the roller coasters while Ms. H & Mr. L played in Duplo land with E.  Ms. A came back absolutely pumped and way excited about the fact that she was scared, but not too scared.

After a long day at LegoLand we of course had to buy the kids a set of Legos from the place where they're made, and then we headed off back to the tent.  E had the idea to make tie-dye shirts for all the kids before we left so that we could easily identify them whenever they ran off.  It worked out really well, and the kids loved the fact that they all matched.

Once we got back to our camp site, the kids were still high on life, and wanted to play with their newly bought legos.  So instead of fighting them in going to bed, we cracked open the boxes and had some fun for an hour or so, just playing and enjoying being together as a family.

After finally settling down and getting a decent night's sleep, we headed out the next day to explore the rest of Denmark.  We wanted to try and head out to find some beaches along the Baltic Sea, so we headed that direction.  Along the way we found a few fjords (we had to think way back to geology class to remember what the heck a fjord was...), and finally we found a decent beach for everyone to play on.

Ms. H was not cooperating with the fjord family foto (what alliteration!)

Overall the west-side of Denmark was very beautiful and picturesque.  After playing on the beach for awhile we decided we should find some food and we ended up in a town called Fredericia.  It was a very pretty town and had a ton of stores and restaurants.  In the middle of the streets were these little streams that the local kids were playing in, so we let our kids play in them as well.

The only problem arose when Mr. L didn't see a broken glass bottle in the middle of the stream and proceeded to cut open his big and little toe.  There was blood everywhere, if sharks lived in the stream they would have been eating Mr. L alive.  K ran and grabbed L from the water and was instantly covered in blood.  Everyone around us was just staring and then suddenly people started to throw bandaid, wet wipes, and anything that could help at us.  It was very helpful and such a nice gesture that you normally wouldn't see from the typical person in Europe.  Usually they'd be looking at you like, "Idiot why did you let your kid play in the stream that is meant for kids to play in...".  After some minor first aid, we were able to get everything band aided up and we were off again.

After exploring western Denmark for the day, we headed back to our campsite and slept in a tent for one last night.  The next morning we packed everything up AGAIN, and headed off to see Copenhagen and Sweden.

We were amazed at the number and length of the bridges in Denmark.  The two main bridges that we used, took us over 10 minutes to cross completely and were huge.  It was definitely cool to see the engineering brainpower that must have gone into creating such major expanses.

We didn't spend a lot of time in Sweden, mainly because we wanted to check out Copenhagen, but we did drive over the bridge from Copenhagen to Malmö Sweden and checked out that town for about an hour.  We also found an Ikea that is actually located in Sweden, imagine that!

Once we got into Copenhagen, we checked into our hotel, and began to explore the city.  We have to say that it was just ok.  At least the parts that we saw were mainly shopping areas, and once again EVERYTHING was extremely expensive.  We walked around and looked at a lot of things, had a good dinner, and ultimately just had a very chill evening together as a family.

The good thing is that where ever you are in the world, there is always ice cream to help end a long day, and we found just that in Copenhagen, some good old ice cream for dessert.

The kids insisted on sleeping in these teeny chairs in our hotel room. We were talking about how there is no way an adult would be able to accomplish such a contortionist feat, at least not without paying for it over the next month...

The next morning we got up, checked out of our hotel, and made a quick stop over to check out the statue The Little Mermaid.  This statue is quite the controversial statue.  Check out Wikipedia and you will see what we mean.  She is celebrating her 100 year anniversary this year, and was made by a man to memorialize the Hans Christian Andersen story, "The Little Mermaid".  There were hundreds of people all around taking pictures and climbing all over her, so we just looked, took a couple of distant photos and ran away.

Overall, the trip was a huge success.  We got to spend such a great amount of time together talking, playing around, and just being a family.  We're grateful for the opportunity that we have to be here in Europe and to be able to see such an amazing amount of things together with our kids.  Our hope is that in 10 years they can look back and read this blog and see just how much we enjoyed spending time with them.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Umm, where have we been?

So we've obviously not been the most diligent bloggers in the past few months. We've had so many things going on that unfortunately we just let the blog slip. BUT, we have committed to catch up the blog and we wanted to start with a few posts about the trip we just finished.  So without further ado...

Our Big European Road Trip (part 1)

A map of our 2,400 kilometer journey.

So a few months ago we decided that we wanted to take a trip in July to see some other sights within Europe.  E has always wanted to see Amsterdam/Holland and we wanted to do something fun with the kids, so we decided on doing a few days in the Netherlands and few days in Denmark at Legoland and a day in Copenhagen & Sweden.  The only problem was that all these destinations were so far apart. Ultimately after driving over 2,400 kilometers or around 1,5000 miles in a week we had a trip that we will not soon forget (for good reasons, not bad).

Our trusty "Dory" who took us on the journey.
We finally understand the need for a rooftop carrier...

General Motors believes that 7 people can fit in this car, we can definitely fit 7 small bodies in this car, but whether they can move is another question.  But we're grateful for the car and for the opportunity it gives us to travel around.

After researching like only he can, K created a trip that would take 8 days and 7 nights, and that would allow us to do this for a reasonable price.  The only issue... we would have to camp everywhere.  While E was not thrilled at first at the idea, we finally figured everything out and made all the plans.  We left last Sunday and headed-up after church to Amsterdam.

Amsterdam / Holland

We stayed at this campsite in Amsterdam called Gasper Camping, it was a very nice campsite and within walking distance of the subway.  It was awesome.  Our opinion of camping was definitely changed during this trip, at least european camping.  We had nice hot showers everyday, toilets were within a minute of our tent, and the kids loved sleeping in a tent.  The one interesting element that camping so far up north presented was the fact that it wouldn't get dark until around 11pm and then around 4am it was already light again. We thought that we would have big issues with getting the kids to sleep given the light, but we just ran them around until they were so tired they crashed at night.

Outside of the campsite in Amsterdam.  
At night the site was completely locked and access was limited.

Our home away from home for the week.  
We've decided we need a bigger tent!

We had some friends from church join us for the first part of our trip in Amsterdam. It was great for Ms. A & Mr. L to have some other kids to play with and they all really enjoyed doing the trip together.

At the subway station waiting for the subway to come.  
These were bags made out of cement.  The kids loved them.

On our first day in Amsterdam we rented a boat and drove around the canals looking at all the buildings and architecture that Amsterdam has to offer.  It was a very fun experience.  We did learn though that to the locals a 10-15 minute walk in Amsterdam is not a 10-15 walk anywhere else.  Numerous people told us that the dock for our boat was only a few minutes away from the train station...  An hour and 15 minutes later we finally found it.  Luckily the kids loved it, and it was a great way to see Amsterdam.  It kept the kids occupied "driving" the boat for the whole day.

The family in front of the main channel in Amsterdam city.

One of the fun things about using a boat is that you can stop along the way 
and look at sites.  Unfortunately our stops were mainly focused on going 
potty.  We got to know the location of the neighborhood McDonalds very well.

We ate at the Chinese restaurant that is behind Ms. A.  It was really fun.

Mr. L was quite disappointed that we didn't have a 
speedboat, but just a slow touring boat.

One of the more surprising things that we found in Amsterdam was the biking population.  It seriously appeared as if everyone in the city had a bike and used it as their car.  Check out the pictures below of the bike racks at the train station.

Yes, these are all bikes and there is a whole sea of them.  
We have no idea how people figure out which bike is theirs.

We saw a lot of fun things in Amsterdam and really enjoyed the city.  Here are just a few more random pictures of us out on the town.

There is a life size replica of an old Dutch East-India ship from the 18th century.
We floated by it a couple times as the kids liked to look at all the different parts
of the ship.

The Rest of Holland

The next day of our trip was spent in a town called Zaanse Schans.  This town was a very fun town.  It is basically the remnants of the old industrial town that used to occupy this area.  The town still has a lot of the elements and industries that it had back 100-200 years ago, but now it is for everyone to come and watch how things used to be.

This was by far our favorite part of our time in Holland.  On a side note, we asked some local people here about what to call The Netherlands, is it The Netherlands, or is it Holland. Ultimately, they all said, it depends as there are 12 provinces with 2 of the being called Holland, these two provinces are the most populated out of the country so that's why a lot of people call The Netherlands, Holland.  But either one is fine.  The official name is The Netherlands, but a lot of local people call it Holland first, because it is easier to say, second, because they most likely live in the actual Holland provinces, and most importantly because it is easier than the phrase "Netherlands" to chant during soccer games.

Anyways back to our experience in Zaanse Schans.  We arrived at the town and started to walk around.  It is a very cozy town with a lot of old buildings and a lot of windmills (although far less than the 1,700 that were once all located here!) . We stopped by the clog maker first and the kids loved playing in the big clogs that were made by the clog makers.

This is after Ms. H threw the temper tantrum of the century.
As she was throwing it and K was trying to calm her down
a crowd of about 10 asian school girls who were on a school
trip began to gather around K and Ms. H, and watched the
spectacle.  Tantrums can draw attentions, but this was our
first crowd gathering experience...

It was very interesting to learn about the reasons for the use of wooden clogs.  Ultimately they were/are a cheap and effective way to make a very safe and durable shoe.  The clogs are generally stronger than steel toed shoes and are still used by some people today in their daily work.

We also learned about some old traditions associated with the clogs, the one that was the most impressive related to wedding clogs.  When a man proposed to a woman, he would create a very intricate pair of clogs to demonstrate his love/dedication to her and their relationship.  Emphasis on intricate.  Take a look at the example below, it was crazy to see how detailed the clogs were.  The clogs were worn once the couple was officially engaged.  The tradition really isn't followed anymore, but it is very impressive!

We found a pair of wooden clogs that we liked, they were hand painted and small, but we were ok with that.  A lot of the clogs were huge and we would have had no place to display them.

After taking some time to visit the clog maker, we headed down to the cheese shop to check it out.  The cheese shop was very cool.  Gouda cheese is actually from The Netherlands, and man do they know how to make some good cheese.  For lunch we bought some baby gouda, some smoked cheese and some baguettes and just ate cheese sandwiches.  It was the best meal of the entire trip.

E with our friend C after the cheese fest.
After the cheese shop we wandered over to the chocolate shop and the girls took a class in how to make chocolate.  It was really interesting to learn about how many things are actually made or were created in The Netherlands.  For example, did you know that Oreos are actually made of cocoa that is only produced in The Netherlands?  The reason is that a man perfected the chocolate "Dutching" technique in The Netherlands, and as Oreos rely upon this technique for their unique flavor, all cocoa used to make Oreos comes straight from The Netherlands.  So next time you use Dutch Cocoa, you know why it is called Dutch cocoa...

Ms. A loved the chocolate class, and she was actually able to make chocolate from start to finish from cocoa beans (well with the help of a wonderful teacher who did a lot of the manual labor).

Ms. A grinding the cocoa beans on the warming 
stone to get them as fine as possible.

After the Chocolate shop, we headed over to the Windmills and took a tour of the oil mill.  Peanut allergy people be aware we're going to talk about peanuts!  For whatever reason we never really put together the name Wind-Mill.  Wind mills were actually used to mill various items back in the day.  For example, paint, wood, oil, clothing, etc...  It was very interesting to see a few of them actually in operation and to actually see how ingenious the Dutch people were in creating the mills to do all their work.

Here are 4 of the windmills at Zaanse Schans.  There were
a few more, but you get the idea.

Here was the oil mill that we visited.  They put large amounts
of peanuts on the milling stone and extract peanut oil for 
various uses. 

Here is a picture of the gears that are driven by the windmill.  All the
cogs and inner workings are made of wood.  It was very impressive.

We all climbed up the ladder to get on top of the mill
it was very steep and definitely would not exist in the
USA given the fairly dangerous climb.  But we're glad
we got the opportunity to stand on one and see the
blades so close up.

Overall, we really enjoyed The Netherlands and all that it had to offer.  We only spent two days there as we needed to take a whole day to drive further up north to Denmark, but we wish we could have stayed a couple more days, because honestly there was so much to see and learn.  Who knows we may just take a few more days to go exploring!

Stay tuned for the part II of our trip where we explore Denmark...