August 21, 2014

We Are Not Dead

An entire month of inactivity.  This state of blog neglect is unprecedented.

Even though I haven't posted in ages, the PJ5 are alive and well!  We've been enjoying the summer holidays and I have tried to spend every possible minute soaking up this precious time with all three girlies at home.  

Over the next few days I plan to knock out a bunch of posts about everything we've been up to in the last month.  Check back every so often and eventually the list below will be a list of links.  

I've got titles, people.  This is happening.  

EuroTour in Belgium, Germany, and France

Let's Get Physical: Swinging, Swimming, and Field Hockey

A Bunch of Bobs

Matilda the Musical

August 17, 2014

EAP — Ten Months

Our sweet Elena Anne is ten months old.  She reached double digits while we were in Germany, and this time we actually noted the date thanks to all our friends who asked "how old is Annie now?"  Ten months.  Ten months.  How is my baby ten months old?!

I think the time passes faster during the summer.  This month was a complete blur of fun-filled, sun-soaked days.  I may stink at baby books (all three of my kids have baby books...all three are completely blank), but I rock the "my first year" calendar.  Thanks to this little gem hanging on the wall next to the changing table, I manage to jot down what's new in Annie's life.  This jogs my memory while I'm writing every monthly blog post, and on month ten I've decided to let the calendar speak for itself.

July 9:  Annie returns from a week in Croatia (country #7).
July 10:  Annie waves bye-bye.
July 16-18:  Annie goes to the beach in Cornwall.
July 22:  Annie calls for "dada" when she wakes up in the morning.  (Nick has gone in to greet Teensers first thing in the morning for 287 consecutive days, and she had repaid him my calling insistently for mama for the past four months.  On this day a switch flipped and she called for her Daddo.  In 11+ years of marriage, I've never seen Nick jump out of bed so quickly or so joyously.)
July 30:  Annie has her first babysitter put her to bed.  (According to Helen, Annie was "very cross" that we left her and went to Stratford, but she fell asleep at 7:30pm on the dot.)
August 1:  Annie says "mii mii" repeatedly just before bedtime.  She was requesting milk.
August 4:  Third tooth — top front left.
August 5:  Fourth tooth — top front right.
August 6:  Crosses the English Channel and visits Brugge, Belgium (country #8).
August 7:  Arrives in Wiesbaden, Germany (country #9).

The calendar prompts for this month are as follows.
Sleeping patterns:  7pm to 7am, may or may not take a morning nap (45 min) and/or afternoon nap (2 hours).  Very flexible and happy with minimal daytime sleep.
Feeding schedule:  Nurse first thing in the morning, breakfast, nurse if morning nap, lunch, nurse if afternoon nap, dinner, nurse at bedtime.
Sounds and motions:  Mama and Dada (can distinguish between the two), haaaa (hi), bye-bye, beep-beeps nose, meows for Thusie.  Dances, waves, claps, stands while leaning.
This month you especially like climbing stairs, being with Mama,, grinning when told no, holding an item (any item) in right hand, singing "Itsy Bitsy Spider."
This month your dislikes are being apart from Mama, being told no.
Your favorite toys and games are peek-a-boo, shape sorter, container play, sisters, Mattie.
By the end of the month you are learning to stand independently, put shapes in shape sorter, communicate a few basic needs (bite, milk, etc).
*This month Annie began falling asleep on her own very easily.  No fuss.

That's what the calendar says, folks.  My camera insists upon throwing in its two cents.

Standing while leaning wearing a cheeky grin showing all four teeth.
Major milestones in one sweet little pic!

She's all about the Lego.

She wasn't exactly cooperative on the full-body shot this month.
This was our best pic by far.
Reminds me of one month old when we could not prize those paws off her chest for love or money.

Completely over the photo shoot.
Unhappy Teense is preciously pitiful.

Ten months of pure joy.
Man alive, I love this baby girl!

August 13, 2014

EuroTour: Teensers Goes to Paris

A couple of weeks before our trip, Nick suggested that we drive home via Paris.  I actually laughed at him.  I love love love Paris, but it is three hours out of our way and we've been there three times in the past four years.  It seemed unnecessary.  Then Nick looked at me with his big blue eyes and said, "But Annie has never been to Paris."

And that is the story of how we decided to go back to Paris.

Here we are. In Paris.
We did it all for our teensy 10-month-old.
My husband has the best ideas EVER.

View of the Gare du Nord from the balcony of our hotel.
The Metro was just a few steps from the front door.

We decided to keep it super simple and set only two goals. 1) We wanted to have an amazing meal.  2)  We wanted Annie to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle.  With an agenda that basic, we couldn't miss.

Let's start with that meal.  We were looking for restaurants on a Sunday in August.  If you know anything about Paris, you know that's a difficult task.  Fortunately I had read recently about a bistro near the Eiffel Tower that the Obamas visited on their last visit to Paris.  It just so happens that this lovely little place is open on Sundays, and we felt it was meant to be.

Let me tell you, there is no recommendation quite like that of the President of the United States of America.  The relatively small menu was full of typical bistro fare, so we ordered daily specials: gazpacho with avocado and lobster followed by poached salmon on sautéed spinach with lemon burre blanc for me, prosciutto and melon followed by roasted cod on herb mash for Nick.  All four dishes were exceptional.  Simple French cooking is my all-time favorite.  Quality ingredients, elegant preparation, and balanced flavors.  

And just so you know, Ella, Kate, and Anne enjoyed every bite of their roast chicken and frites.  :)

Enjoying dinner in the 7th Arr.
If it's good enough for the Obamas, it's good enough for us!

Objective numero deux was, if possible, even more successful.  We had no idea that this year is the 125th anniversary of the opening of the Eiffel Tower!  In order to celebrate the Grande Dame of Paris, there are special stalls set up all along the bank of the Seine.  We took photos on the Champ du Mars and then enjoyed an hour shopping at the stalls, eating crepes, and riding the carousel while we waited for showtime.

Precious Bitzy.
So happy to be back for her third trip to Paris.

My three little loves.  In Paris.

Snuggling our littlest lady.

Merci Gustave makes the best Eiffel Tower souvenirs ever.
I bought this one while Ella made a mess of her Nutella crepe.  :)

Carousel rides at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

Kate was so happy to ride the lion again!

Full moon!

Mission accomplished.
The Eiffel Tower sparkles every hour on the hour.

It was 10pm and this girl was exhausted!
But she simply could not tear her eyes away from the Eiffel Tower.
Love the reflection in her pupil.

I have never EVER had a baby so tired that she slept through a diaper change.
Annie loved her day in Paris.

The next morning we got up early and had pastry and coffee before driving home.  It was a very short visit, but it was exactly what we needed it to be.  So happy to have made another trip to Paris!

It was worth going three hours out of our way just to add this guy to our souvenir collection.
It's L'Originale in Vitamine.  Merci Gustave!

August 12, 2014

EuroTour: Zurück Deutschland

Two years and nine months ago we moved away from Germany.  I remember very clearly thinking that I wouldn't want to return for at least a decade.  Wow, was I wrong.  

A few months ago I started wanting to go back.  I wanted to see the places that provided the backdrop for three entire years of my life.  It probably sounds more than a little crazy, but I had a small hope that being in that physical location would let me relive those wonderful years we spent as the Petty Four.  

Our tangible goals for this trip were threefold: 1) to visit our friends, 2) to revisit familiar places, 3) to experience Wiesbaden's Winefest.  We decided to only spend three days in town, so we knew we would be busy trying to cram as much fun as possible into a very short span.  It was indeed a fun-filled three days!

Seeing our friends was the highlight of the trip for all of us.  Ella, Kate, and Anne got to spend time with Hazel and Anders; meanwhile Nick and I got to enjoy the company of Matt and Ashley.  You know how occasionally you meet a family who you really click with on pretty much every level?  It just makes me wish we could live in the same area for more than a few months at a time.  :) 

A huge thanks to Matt and Ashley for making us feel so very comfortable in their home.  We are many and are therefore difficult to accommodate.  I think Hazel put it best when she exclaimed, "Wow!  Mom!  They have a LOT of kids!"  We appreciate your willingness to take us on — three kids, a serious agenda, 2am arrival times and all!

Drei deutsche Mädchen

Spending time with Hazel and Anders was the highlight of Ella's and Kate's trip.

There were more awesome photo opportunities than you could shake a stick at.

Kids climb aboard Lightning McQueen in the Food Court.

We wanted to revisit as many of our favorite places as time would allow.  But when we started compiling a list of places we wanted to revisit, our list was humorous.  Where did we spend virtually all of our down time when we lived in Germany?  Our house (obviously), Ramba Zamba, the chicken-with-sauce place, the toy store, the grocery store, the chapel, the library, the fitness center, and various parks and schwimmbaden and fasanerien.  Basically we lived a completely American- and child-centric existence.  Some things never change!

First stop was Ramba Zamba!

Kate is STILL terrified of the alligator.

We still love to stage crazy family photos.

Five year old Kate jumps much higher than two year old Kate did.

Last time we went to RZ Annie wasn't even alive!
She loved this place just as much as her big sisters before her.

Nick shows off some sweet jumps.

Ella is a chip off the old block.

Annie was plumb tuckered out from all the fun.

As I said earlier, I had a strange feeling that going back to a physical space would help me recall my mental and emotional state during those three years.  I didn't take photos when we went to see our house because it was simply too much for me.  I'm not going to explain this well, but I feel that I have to try.  Here goes.

When we first lived in Germany, I was overwhelmed and understimulated.  I had two babies: infant Kate and Ella the high-needs toddler.  I thrive when I have girlfriends in my life, yet there was no one who spoke my language in a five mile radius.  Our house was my comfort zone because I knew I could cope with whatever came my way in that space, but it was also a prison because everything around it was so foreign that I could not participate in any real or meaningful way.  Every time we drove up Mergenthaler Weg, I breathed a huge sigh.  Part relief at returning to my safe space, and part despair at returning to my isolated fortress.  

As we approached our old house, all those emotions — and then some — came flooding back.  It was fresh, undiluted, and surprisingly physical.  

I was outnumbered and isolated inside that house, but I also experienced unparalleled joy inside its walls.  While I lived there, I grew and stretched and became the woman I am today.  That house belongs to me...but I don't live there any more.

I didn't take pictures.  It was too weird.

[Awkward silence while I compose myself and move on...]

When we were feeling culturally inclined, we used to drive into Wiesbaden on Saturday mornings to go to the market.  We did just that with our friends and they introduced us to the best bratwurst joint ever: The Curry Manufaktur.  (If you want to experience a little taste of Deutschland, just click on that link.  I dare you.)  After giant brats all round, we paid a visit to Beren-Treff (aka the gummy store).  I was so sad that my favorite home shop, Das Depot, has closed.  I had planned on making up for lost time in there.  

That is Nick's bratwurst face.

Gummy treats!

Kate learned how to swing at the crazy German graffiti park.

The most important Wiesbaden experience we wanted to enjoy was Winefest.  I posted about this momentous occasion every year we lived in Germany (2009, 2010, 2011) because it was THAT awesome.  If you don't want to read those posts, let me sum them up for you here.  In 2009 Ella was 1 year old, Kate was 2 months old, and I was breastfeeding nonstop.  In 2010 I was just emerging from the fog of two babies and we had never left our girls with a babysitter.  In 2011 Kate was about to have surgery to repair a heart defect and Nick and I were sick with worry.  We always had super high hopes for Winefest, but we never got to experience it to the max.

This year we went in on opening night prepared to make the most of it.  But after about 8pm it started to get weird.  Hoards of people, broken glass, public drunkenness (which is frowned upon in German culture) was not our scene at all.  Very disappointed, we left feeling that Winefest was not all it was cracked up to be.  We seriously spent three years thinking wouldn't it be awesome if we lived in Wiesbaden and could drink wine at Winefest every night?!  But Winefest at night is crap.  We were lucky to avoid it all along!

On Saturday we went back at noon to do what we did every year.  We bought some berries at the market and headed to the Barth tent to enjoy a glass of sekt.  No crowds, friendly people all around, plus blue skies and wine that tastes like sunshine.  Heaven. On. Earth.  

Turns out we were doing it right all along.  

Annie, Kate, Hazel, and Ella at Winesfest.

Enjoying the Barth tent on Saturday.
A kindly German took our photo.

Annie went straight for the good stuff: MILK. 

Ahhhhh.  That's what I remember.

My stunning bigs.

PJ girls in Germany.

August 7, 2014

EuroTour: Will Brake for Belgian Waffles

Ever since we left Germany almost three years ago Ella and Kate have been begging to go back.  At first I totally scoffed at them (who would actually want to go to Germany?!) but as the time passed I started to get a bit nostalgic myself.  

So we decided to drive to Deutschland via the Chunnel.  I've wanted to do this ever since Nick transported Mattie to England back in 2011, so it was exciting.  In theory, at least.  In reality it was an hour of check-in, immigration, and sitting in our car.  Even so, it is still the very best way to cross the English Channel.  We've flown and ferried more times than I can count, but the Chunnel is the hands-down winner.

Driving our car onto a train to travel under the English Channel.

Our view inside the train.
Ella and Kate were a bit disappointed that you couldn't see "fish and stuff" through the windows.
Our alarmingly inarticulate children thought it would be like an aquarium!

Anne gives the Chunnel the once-over.

When we went through immigration in Croatia last month, the kindly officer teased Ella about having a passport for her beloved Fluffy.  Ella made the decision then and there to create a passport for Fluffy based on Mattie's actual Pet Passport. When we handed over our legitimate passports to the immigration officer at the Chunnel, Ella absolutely insisted that we submit Fluffy's completely illegal handmade passport as well.  

You can imagine my discomfort as I broke about a dozen international laws and handed a forged passport to an actual officer of the law.  I gave my best scared-out-of-my-mind grin to the gentleman inside the booth and said, "I'm so sorry.  My daughter really wanted you to see this."  You could have knocked me over with a feather when the guy smiled from ear to ear and pounded the dang thing with his magical entry stamp!

How many of your kid's toys have real stamps in their passports?

So back to Germany.  Our goal was to see friends, revisit our favorite places (our old house, Taco Bell, Ramba Zamba), and enjoy Wine Fest.  Since it's a 10+ hour drive, we wanted to make a stop along the way.  So we stopped in Brugge, site of Baby Kate's first ever international adventure.  

There are worse places to make a pit stop than Brugge.

Kate, Barney, Ella, and passport-stamped Fluffy outside of Brugge's version of the Bridge of Sighs.

My three girls on the Burg square.

All of Nick's dreams come true: a pit stop that involves beer in an ancient cellar.

Getting them started early on Trappist beer.  ;)

A truly great place to enjoy a beer...and a ton of salami, cheese, and olives!

After our delicious salty dinner, we walked back to the square.

And enjoyed ginormous Belgian waffles.

All of Aubrey's dreams come true: a pit stop that involves waffles with chocolate and strawberries.

Teense goes to Belgium!

Swinging in a Belgian courtyard.
Gotta stretch our legs (and arms!) before starting that 5 hour drive to Deutschland.

It's impossible to explain how much more pleasant Kate-mo was on this trip than the last one.  :)

And that marks our second — and probably final — trip to Brugge.  It was even better than I remembered, which is exactly how all second visits should be.

Next stop: Germany!  Wiesbaden Wine Fest, here we come!!