Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Two Very Extra Special Visits

We had two very special visits the week before the moving truck pulled in. I could not have been happier or more grateful to see my dear grandma Madeline, who at 93-years-old made the trip from Atlanta; and my beautiful sister, Mollie, and her 15-month old daughter, Evelyn, who came in from Boulder. With Andi, Kyle and Ben all moved in, and naturally, my dad and Ning living in Milwaukee like us, it was a true family reunion! We only wished that Mollie's husband, Kenny, could have joined us too.
The Madelines!
Mollie and Evie!
The time together was a gift. During the day, we went to playgrounds with the babies, took a boat ride on Lake Michigan, and spent time together relaxing at each others houses. In the evenings, we always had dinner together. And at night, when the kids (and my grandma) were in bed, my sisters would come over to my house with Starbucks and help me comb through years worth of stuff in preparation for the packers.
I think Mimi's getting excited to be a big sister!
One sunny morning, we hired a photographer friend of mine to take pictures of us at Klode Beach, near our house. I will treasure these shots forever. (I'll try to post them as soon we download the disk).

One of my favorite evenings -- not just from that week, but in general -- was an impromptu alfresco pizza party we had in the park near Andi's apartment. Everyone kicked off their shoes (little John kicked off his underwear too, to many park-goer's surprise) and just played like we were all kids. It was fabulous. My sisters gave the kids airplane rides, and there were running races, cartwheel competitions, spin-until-your-dizzy contests. Even Charlie-the-Dog, who has since gone to heaven, was there to enjoy.
Another highlight was Jazz in the Park in downtown Milwaukee's Cathedral Park. This became a hard-and-fast Thursday night tradition all summer long during the two years we lived in Milwaukee.
What a memorable visit!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Lux-Themed Party! (We Tell the Kids...)

We were crazy excited to tell the kids about the move...but naturally a little nervous too. Madeline and Charlie are old enough to have developed some special friendships. So I decided to plan a little Luxembourg party to share the news of our family's new adventure!
Wearing their "I heart Luxembourg" t-shirts!
Rob took the kids out for donuts while I decorated with the Luxembourg flag, balloons and a few special gifts, including their wrapped passports (which we told them was like a ticket to anwhere in the world), jelly beans and lollypops in the country colors, a stuffed dog with a Lux-themed collar, iron-on patches, and the book that Papa sent the kids.

We explained that our family was moving to beautiful place in Europe that wasn't far from the Eiffel Tower. That we would all be together, and that it was going to be a really cool adventure for our family. The boys were immediately excited, but Madeline is older and understood right away that moving to Luxembourg meant leaving Whitefish Bay. She said matter-of-factly that she wasn't coming -- it was a very heartfelt reaction, and we were prepared for mixed emotions. I told her I was really looking forward to our life in Luxembourg, but that I was also very sad to leave our home, our friends, and our family. I told her that we can feel two ways at once. Slowly, she began asking questions about Luxembourg and showing interest. It only took her 10 or 15 minutes to "come around." These kids continue to absolutely amaze me with their resilience and adaptability.

We continued the celebration by taking them to the Cheesecake Factory for lunch (which they think is the greatest place in the world). We told Madeline and Charlie privately that they would be coming with us to help pick out our house in Luxembourg and see their school (we already had a sense that John might stay back with Rob's mom, who is a saint. It was incredibly difficult for me to leave him behind; in fact, I wept the entire way to the airport. He, however, was happy as a clam. Prince John for a week!).

Rob and I sighed with relief that the entire family was finally in on the plan. At last, we could talk openly in our home, at school and with friends. The stretch of time that Caterpillar asked us to keep the transfer quiet -- though understandable for business reasons -- was emotionally taxing, and there was no one we wanted to tell more than sweet Madeline, Charlie and John John! No matter where we are in the world, if we have each other, we'll always have fun! Go Team Vlach!

Summer Fun in Whitefish Bay!!!

In the midst of our move preparations, it was so important to me that the kids have as relaxed and fun a summer as possible. And I really think they did! We brainstormed a Summer Fun List, and did almost everything! But we had a lot of help from friends and family, who swooped in to help us while we managed the unbelievable workload of our transfer. Here are the highlights:
Our Summer Fun List, which we hung on the fridge!
For the second year, Madeline and Charlie took two weeks of tennis clinics with all their little friends and Coach Phil. I chatted with my girlfriends and John threw stray balls while we watched.
Charlie played on a relaxed tee-ball team, and it was ADORABLE....the time our family spent together watching Charlie in his little uniform was truly a highlight of being a parent. I know...big statement. But I really enjoyed watching him run around and smack at balls.

Papa rode his bike to watch the game!
Madeline loved her a Fairy Enchantment Camp. She chose it by reading the Rec Guide all by herself, and she loved hanging out with her best friend, Elle, every afternoon. Sandie and the kids went strawberry and pea pod picking, Papa and Ning took the kids to Discovery World several times! And dear friends picked up Madeline and Charlie several times a week to take them swimming, to petting zoos, the Children's Museum and just for lazy, good old-fashioned popsicle play dates.

We also drank Sprecher root beer floats while the kids played in the Bayshore fountains, and in the Slip 'n Slide!
Andi and Kyle's awesome birthday gift to John!
And what a fabulous 4th of July! It had very special meaning this year since we knew we were leaving the States for awhile. We went to my dad and Ning's high rise party to watch the downtown fireworks on the 3rd, and then joined in the Whitefish Bay festivities on the fourth -- gathering candy in the parade, and following the band (as tradition holds) all the way to the lakefront Klode Park, where the food, bands and kids activities are hosted. That night, we watched the fireworks with our dear friends, the Reddens.

The fireworks blew John's mind -- he'd never seen any before!
 We had family picnics, climbed trees, visited with Rob's family and said good-bye to dear friends (his parents threw a Bon Voyage party!), and ate lots and lots of ice cream! It was a great summer in Whitefish Bay!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Moving to Luxembourg!

At the tail-end of April, we received the exciting news that Caterpillar is transferring our family to Luxembourg! With Rob's new role beginning August 1st, our summer went into warp speed almost instantly. The next 12 weeks were a flurry. We expedited passports, applied for immigration visas and Rob's work papers, took two-day cultural training, and began the involved process of applying Madeline and Charlie to the International School of Luxembourg. Then we scheduled a house hunting trip, put our Whitefish Bay house on the market (such an innocent-sounding phrase for a shocking amount of work), and set off for Lux the first week in June to find our new home and have the kids' required face-to-face interviews at the school (we were relieved to learn a week later that they were accepted....there were only two spots left in Charlie's grade!).

Ready for their interview!
Luxembourg City just blew us away. It reminded us of a miniature, squeaky-clean Paris. My French is rusty (I sound like 3-year-old John did a year ago), but it was really fun to break it out after all these years. We were fortunate enough to have dinner twice with our friends, the Currans, who were preparing for their own move to Nashville after their five years in Lux with their four kids. And we ended up choosing a fantastic house, set just slightly outside of downtown Luxembourg City, with a bedroom for each of the children, as well as a playroom, a guest area, and a great back yard. Madeline is most excited by the path running behind the house that's lined with apple, pear and cherry trees. Even though it was a working trip, we really treated it like a fabulous vacation, and we wanted the kids to leave with wonderful memories that made them excited to come back (which meant lots of gelato and playground time!).

Back on the home front, the house sold quickly, but then came the 65-page inspection report and the challenging updates requested by our buyers... Sometimes there were as many as eight skilled laborers through the house in a single afternoon; quite stressful in the swirl of an international move (especially when you throw in three kids, a dog, a six-months-pregnant moi, and a traveling husband). But we made it through. Sandie came up to help for several days, and friends came out of the woodwork to take the kids on fun adventures while the house was pulled apart.

In preparation for the move, we sorted our every belonging by sea shipment, air shipment, storage, and donation. We sent truckloads to Salvation Army and Goodwill. Even the moving crew took a couch off our hands. At last, we hosted a relaxed going-away party, and we're so touched by the people who came to see us off. The next morning, the packers arrived, and the real frenzy took hold, ending three days later when the sea container pulled out. I didn't even realize I was leaving our happy home for the final time as drove the kids to our hotel. Those details hit later, when the dust has settled. Like the fact that John's beloved blankee was boxed up on the truck and on its way to port, to be seen many weeks from now...
And then the goodbyes. I had to emotionally separate the excitement I feel about the adventure ahead from the absolute heartbreak of leaving our families, friends, and Maple-dog, who is now happily living with Rob's parents and joins them for work each day at Sunshine Lighting. It was crushing to leave Andi and Kyle just three weeks after they moved to Milwaukee for his radiology fellowship. And I was crestfallen when I realized I'd be leaving the support of family -- my dad, Ning and Rob's folks, Andi and Kyle -- when we bring the new baby home from the hospital in November. But we are also have built the deep friendships that we did in two short years, to have so many helpful visits already on the calendar between now and December, and to have fully enjoyed every minute of our time with Andi and Kyle, as well as an extra special visit from Mollie, Evie and my grandma Madeline (more on that soon).

So here I am. Pecking at my iPad in a hotel room in Luxembourg City. We're here; we made it! Jet lagged and travel-weary, but hopeful and excited!!