Friday, February 20, 2015

Charlie Turns Six!!

We kicked off Charlie's birthday celebrations with a special visit to his classroom! Charlie shared cake with his classmates, and introduced his baby sister -- the very best kind of show-and-tell there is. He felt very important! It happened to be "dress up like a fairytale character day," so the morning was extra festive – Charlie was a knight, Bitsy and I were matching Little Red Riding Hoods, John was the Big Bad Wolf, and Rob even snuck out of the office to celebrate our little guy. The class performed a Sleeping Beauty song for us -- Charlie was Prince Charming and his friend Charlottte was the princess!

Charlie's real birthday was during Carnival vacation from school. He woke up to balloons in his bedroom and birthday toast (peanut butter and jelly with sprinkles and a candle on top). We had a blast opening the generous gifts, cards and emails that Charlie received in the mail, then we went to Zigzag, an indoor playground, as soon as the doors opened. That afternoon I took Charlie to the grocery store and let him pick out whatever he wanted… sushi, pizza and juice boxes for dinner. We baked the cake that Poppa and Ning sent in the mail and had a fun celebration for dessert.
Birthday toast with sprinkles!
And at last, we had Charlie's birthday party with his friends here at the house as soon as school resumed. Charlie chose a police Lego theme! Seventeen kids, a fabulous Lego cake (thanks to a friend who just started a business), dangling donuts and....a marching band! Our doorbell rang mid-party and there was literally a uniformed, fundraising band playing Luxembourgish tunes, so we handed them 10 Euros and invited them right into the living room to play for the kids.
A band dropped by to play for the birthday boy!
Everyone decorated a Lego picture, and the kids built creations from a Lego grab bag. Then we rolled a giant disposable tablecloth out in the floor and whipped hot dogs out to the kids. The kids were from all over the world -- Madeline, Charlie and John are having a remarkably international experience through their school. Our Italian neighbors, Emma and Alberto, came to help us wrangle the kids.
Dangling donuts!
And then, all was quiet. Our five year old was six. Sweet Charlie, who burst onto the scene fist-first like a real-life Superman, saving the world, fighting the bad guys and brimming with contagious enthusiasm. He is endlessly affectionate and generous. He let his John unwrap some of his birthday presents. I will never forget last summer as we were leaving tennis lessons -- I was corraling everyone to the car, and I looked back over my shoulder to see Charlie pushing the bike of a little girl he had never met, who was struggling in rough gravel, and animatedly chatting her up as they walked.

Charlie, kid, you make life fun. We ALL love you so much!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Valentine's Day in the City of Love

We're just home from our first vacation as a family of six, and it was truly manifique!

We piled in the car and drove to Paris on Friday morning, pulling in a little more than four hours later, and checked into our beautiful three-bedroom apartment at 12 Avenue Rapp, just two blocks from the Tour Eiffel in the 7th arrondissement. Minutes after dumping our bags, we walked over to the Eiffel Tower and watched the kids' reactions as the structure came into view. The awe and delight of those first few minutes would have made the entire trip worthwhile! We rode on the classic carousel across the street and ate crepe sucre while we ambled over to a fabulous brasserie for dinner. They were doing repair work on a window with a power drill -- the sound was deafening, so we felt right at home.
Ready to go in our stylish apartment!
The kids were SO EXCITED to be in Paris!
Riding the carousel at the base of la Tour Eiffel
The next morning was Valentine's Day! The kids were up hours before the sun, and my wonderful husband had the big three kids out the door on an adventure before 6am. He came home with tulips, a bowl full of fruit and....a giant Starbucks! Nothing says love quite like that first sip of a Venti sugar-free vanilla latte after six long months.
My beautiful Valentine's Day gift from Rob
We added an Eiffel Tower charm to Mimi's Valentine bracelet
It was raining -- actually quite hard -- but we were determined not to let it stop us. So we bundled up and walked 12 km. The kids were jumping in puddles a mere minutes into the adventure, and then were stuck with wet feet for the next two hours, as we strolled along the Seine to the Place Concord. I loved walking past the macaron and chocolate shops, flooded with Parisians buying gifts for their sweethearts.
Crowds of Parisians were in line at Laduree for heart-shaped macaron
We bought ours when we were back in Lux
Just when John was about to lose his stuff, we turned the corner and found a cozy little creperie. The kids peeled off their socks and tights under the table; then we suited back up and caught a nice warm taxi back home. Later that afternoon, we wandered over to the Parc du Champ de Mars, in front of the Eiffel Tower, where all the Paris families were enjoying their Saturday afternoon. The kids loved the playgrounds we found, but nothing delighted them -- or us! -- more than the 100 year old hand-crank carousel that we happened upon. On our walk home, we had a fabulous Italian meal, where we chatted with some fellow Midwesterners. After John was tucked in, I walked Madeline and Charlie back to the Eiffel Tower for the five-minute light show that begins at the top of the hour.
Can you tell I'm carrying Bitsy in the front carrier?
Crepes lunch after a long, soggy walk
This hand-crank carousel was 100 years old
Madeline, Charlie and I snuck out to see the light show! FABULOUS!
 On Sunday, we had the City to ourselves for hours. We were out the door early, fueled up with a pastry breakfast, and hopped in a cab to Notre Dame, just in time to catch the beginning of a mass. The bells were so beautiful. We walked to Jardin du Luxembourg, with a Starbucks pitstop on the way, and were lucky enough to actually see a few model sailboats in the pond. We told the kids about Louis XIV, the five-year-old Sun King. We taxied back over to the Eiffel Tower, where we skipped to the front of the line with our tickets, zipped up in an elevator and had the most amazing three-course meal on the first floor! As if the day couldn't get any better, the sun came out just in time for a relaxed boat tour up and down the Seine.
The bells were ringing
Jardin du Luxembourg. Next time we come, we're renting sailboats!
Looking down through a glass floor on the Eiffel Tower
Riding the elevator up

We enjoyed a gorgeous lunch!
Eiffel Tower family selfie -- our best shot
Seine riverboat tour
And finally, on our last morning, we got in line at the Louvre before the doors opened and beelined back to the Mona Lisa. I was amazed by how interested the children were in the art! They asked so many questions! Naturally, they were captivated in all the "bums and peepees" on the many nude sculptures and paintings -- what can you expect from a 7, 5 and 3 year old? We kept our museum visit to 90 minutes. In a hectic moment that Rob and I were trying to hail cabs (our family needs two cabs now that we have four kids), we completely lost Madeline and Charlie. That was sort of a frantic moment for all of us -- apparently, they kept walking when we stopped and for five paralyzing minutes, we had no idea where they were. With that excitement behind us, we got a lift to the Arc de Triomphe, and walked along the Champs Elysees to get home. We finished our amazing four-day vacation with one last perfect lunch at the restaurant next door to our apartment. How perfect that it was decorated with famous Louvre paintings!
The Mona Lisa! John literally picked his nose.
Wow! What a trip. We have our traveling sea legs now. I wore Elizabeth in the Baby Bjorn the entire four days -- she was a dream. The best part is...we didn't even notice Charlie's suitcase didn't make the car until the second day. Since he begs me to wear his "sports clothes" every day (a hand-me-down Puma tracksuit from a neighbor friend in Whitefish Bay), he was in high heaven. I made a Paris Checklist that was so fun to reference during our visit -- it included things like "Say Bonjour to a stranger" and "Eat macarons in our favorite colors!" Rob came up with really fun license plate games for the car ride. We ate lots of croissants and really really bonded as a family. We also fell in love with Paris. As we drove back home, John said, "Mommy! I want to go back to Paris and live there!"