Samedi a Paris (Day 5)

[our last day in Paris, May 2014 trip]

That’s Saturday in Paris for you, Mike.

Kids 1 and 2, you already know! In fact, you know more than just the days of the week. You’re already singing songs that Mary and Juliette have taught you. Today the Alouette song was on repeat. Kid-1, your lack of volume control perpetually betrays our American heritage. 

We took this opportunity to have a very special, incredibly perfect morning just us three girls.

Thomas SaboFirst, when we woke up, I gave Kid-1 a present commemorate our biggest adventures so far. It’s a silver Thomas Sabo charm bracelet with four charms. The first, the Statue of Liberty, is for our New York adventures on land (museums, carrousel, markets, too many really to recount), on sea (ferry to Brooklyn and Statute of Liberty!) and in the air (the Intrepid). The second is a plane representing the Boeing 747 that transported, you, Kid-2 and me to meet Daddy and begin our new life as Britons. The third is a double decker bus, which we took our very first day visiting London. And finally there is a silver Eiffel Tower with gold heart, to remember this trip to Paris and how much I dearly love you.

Kid-2, you woke up first today and delighted in playing with Kid-1 in the big bed. Then we went to the lounge for breakfast and prepared ourselves for a grand jour ahead!

is this amazing or what?!

is this amazing or what?!

We headed to the Jardin D’Acclimitation with Mary and Juliette, which is a beautiful amusement park and garden for children. There were fun fair attractions, carousels, a pony ride and those crazy amusement park swings! You enjoyed everything. Kid-2 loved walking around and particularly enjoyed the silly carnival mirrors. 

Afterwards we returned to our hotel for lunch on the terrace. But after a week of pâté, escargots, mussels, charcuterie and lots of baguette, you just wanted chicken nuggets. Which, even at €36 a plate, were the very same nuggets we get from Ocado! Imagine that!

Birds Eye in Paris

Birds Eye in Paris

Kid-2, I hope you remain as snuggly forever as you are today. You are simply the sweetest girl I have ever encountered. At lunch, you feed me your food, including the food that has already been in your mouth. You give kisses without request, and you babble “dada” “mama” all the time. Plus, your faces are hilarious. Recently you’re doing the Scarlet Johansson, with puckered lips and a scowl. You also do the same scrunched nose face that I did as a child – I have no idea how you picked this up since I dropped it years ago! You make me wish that I could freeze each moment and live in it forever. 

IMG_3622Now you both are resting in the suite, and tonight we will have another picnic at the Eiffel Tower, followed by one or thirteen carousel rides. I cannot wait.

xoMommie

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Friday in Paris (Day 4)

Kids 1 and 2,

Merci pour ce jour parfait, les filles.

Kid-1, you adore Paris. I know this because you have adopted a “Paris dress,” a sleeveless smocked frock with air balloons and a big bow in the back. I wash it every night.

can you see the gargoyles?

can you see the gargoyles?

After a particularly messy breakfast of pain chocolats and yogurt, we proceeded with Mary and Juliette to the Île St. Louis, one of two natural islands on the River Seine. The other, larger island is the Île de la Cite, which houses the Cathédrale Notre Dame. We took a quick visit there to admire the gargoyles (more than 5,000!) that look like mixtures of people and animals. Some are frightening! But they serve a good purpose: they’re actually drain pipes! 

Our main attraction of the day was less historic. Île St. Louis is known for one thing: ice cream. And we were on a mission to devour it!

the Paris dress! And some ice cream . . .

the Paris dress! And some ice cream . . .

Like a good French establishment (eh hem . . . le Louvre two days ago), the famed shop was closed. But lucky for us, a new, larger Berthillon was just down the road. There were so many choices! Caramel with nougat, caramel de sel, strawberry, black sesame. In the end, Kid-2 chose banana, Mary picked the caramel de sel, Juliette enjoyed the apricot sorbet and I could not resist the darkest dark chocolate.

Kid-2, I think there's something on your chin (and give me back my chocolate ice cream!)

Kid-2, I think there’s something on your chin (and give me back my chocolate ice cream!)

Kid-1, you enjoyed your plain chocolate scoop so much that you ate the napkin too!

overlooking the River Seine

overlooking the River Seine

Then we were off to take a walk back across the bridges! 

Friday is date night for Daddy and me, so we made it a Mommie, Kid-1 and Kid-2 date night at our favourite place . . . the Eiffel Tower.

Kid-1, you are my carousel connoisseur. You know the history of carousels, the fact that they turn counter-clockwise in the US but clockwise in the UK (so that the horses can be properly mounted on the left). You’ve been on all the carousels in Manhattan (the Chelsea one run by Fernando has the best music), Jane’s in Brooklyn (good on a rainy day but a touch slow for your taste), the one beneath the London Eye (the fastest by far!), and now BOTH carousels by the Eiffel Tower. 

the good carrousel

the good carousel

In Paris, our preferred carousel by far is the one located closest to the Tower. The one across the bridge to the North is run by generally cranky people. It has become the “bad” carousel in our lingo. We avoid it except in a pinch when the “good” carousel snack vendor runs out of chocolate ice cream (values be damned when dessert is at stake!)

After four good rides, and a nice play in the Champs de Mars park, we bought Kid-1 a purple sparkly Eiffel Tower from a vendor whom I am sure was not authorised to be selling anywhere, and headed to Rue Cler to find dinner.  An appropriately-named restaurant had seats for us: Tribeca. Then it was back to the hotel for a bath and bedtime.

What a day, what a night! I love you two so much.

xoMommie

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Thursday in Paris (Paris Day 3)

Kids 1 and 2,

Today we toured Montmartre and the Eiffel Tower. Now we are sticky and stinky after a long day of art, music, architecture, butter and cheese. Totally worth it! 

But despite our . . . pungency . . . the most salient thought now is, Kid-2, your incredibly athletic gustatory capacity.

Breakfast: pain chocolat, smoked salmon, eggs and a banana, plus cherries at the Montmartre fruit vendor.

Did you know that my Mommy took me to Paris when I was a girl too? I was 12 then, 9 years older than you are, Kid-1. I recall every day vividly, and have tried to recreate some of that wonder on this trip for you two so that when you are a parent one day you can do the same. 

Sacre Coeur, in all its beauty

Sacre Coeur, in all its beauty

climbing the steps to Montmartre

climbing the steps to Montmartre

One of my favourite memories from my trip is Montmartre, a former artists colony on the hill beneath the Sacre Coeur. The Montmartre magic started about 200 years ago when the area, which was technically outside of Paris’ high tax district, allowed nuns to make cheap wine. Who doesn’t love cheap wine?! Artists and revellers flocked, and the area later played host to geniuses like Camille Pissaro, Henri Matisse (whose paintings you have seen at the MOMA in NYC!) and Salvatore Dali. 

Well fuelled from breakfast, we walked each step to the Sacre Coeur, a 100 year-old church (which looks much older!) at the top Montmartre. Phew! 

DSC09457

Mommie with Kid-2, overlooking Paris

Transportation is often a key highlight of our adventures. You love ferries (Statue of Liberty), trains (Eurostar!), busses (London, NYC) and subways (everywhere). Montmartre provides two new transportation adventures: the Petit Train de Montmartre, which we rode first, and later the funicular. Snack: chicken and cheese sandwich while modelling for a charcoal portrait by a local artist. 

Having finished our history and art tour, and visited the the Mur D’Amour (Wall of Love – “I love you” written in every language), we smartly avoided the 300 steps and too the funicular down the mountain for lunch at Le Relais de la Butte. Hands down, the most beautiful views of Montmartre (plus delicious food). 

Lunch: half of my charcuterie plate, including all the pate and half of the sausage, plus three pickled onions, 5 pieces of buttered baguette and a tomato and mozzarella plate. Waiters love you here. C’est bizarre!, they say. 

perfect strawberries

perfect strawberries

Hearts full with excitement and bellies full on baguette, we headed back to the hotel for a quick bath and rest, then on to Rue Cler, near the Eiffel Tower, in search of the most delicious foods for our picnic. I have no words for the beauty of the produce.

can you smell it??

can you smell it??

And while photos may adequately convey visual beauty, they cannot do justice to the sweet pungent smell of cheese at this fromagerie.

Happiness makes us hungry, and we managed to carve out enough stomach space for fresh tomatoes, avocado, baguette, one goat cheese, one Camembert, and a second French cows milk cheese, and a rotisserie chicken. Oh, plus venison salami (I was very hungry). Kid-2, you drank all our water after sucking down nearly the entire plate of venison! 

the good carrousel

the good carrousel

How could I forget — the Carrousel Rides!! Seven in total. I’m exhausted just recalling it. I promise, we will return tomorrow and I will explain then all about the “good” and “bad” carrousel and the chocolate ice cream conundrum. 

xoMommie

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What’s More French Than a Strike at the Louvre?! (Paris Day 2)

[our early summer adventure, and the daily emailing, continues . . . ]

Kids 1 and 2,

Well that was authentic! 

DSC09369After moving hotels, we ventured to the Louvre for some real culture and a peek at that pyramid we have been talking so much about!

But in an authentically French twist, we arrived to find the Louvre “était fermé,” or closed, apparently because of an “assemblée.” Juliette pushed the unsuspecting guard for more information, and he let slip the word “grève.” A strike at the Louvre. Now what’s more French than that?!

Are you wondering who Juliette is? Do you recall Marie? I suppose that depends on when I give you girls access to your gmail accounts. 

Juliette and Marie are our two incredible French babysitters, who are now best friends and who are teaching you French. When I asked them, together, whether one would consider joining me on this little adventure with you, they decided it would be best for us all to go . . . tout ensemble! So it’s one big Party of Five here, and it couldn’t be any better.

Pop Quiz: What to do when France deals you a strike at the Louvre (which the guard insisted was the very first ever, a fact whose veracity was overthrown by the very quickest search on the Google machine)?

DSC09399

collecting pebbles outside the Louvre

Play in the park! For you two, this at least equals the fun of touring masterpieces while Marie and I tell you stories of artists who cut their ears off or who did whacky things like use bright colours instead of greys.

And then we returned to our new hotel to regroup. This place trumps the old not only for its decidedly toned down decor (no S&M here, nope). It also gives us access to a lounge, which remains near empty during your critical witching hours of 2-3pm and 6-7pm, and an unlimited supply of pain chocolat and “springling” water. If there is something better in life, you two have never seen it.

Play time, books, dinner WAAY past your London bedtime (with escargots!). A quick choking fiasco followed by ice cream signalled the end of our evening.  

It rained. We all got soaked. Thankfully the hotel is close. 

That’s it. Trying to get you girls to sleep now. Tomorrow is Montmartre followed by an Eiffel Tower picnic dinner.

A demain.

xoxoMommie

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The Box is Great. But Not For Kids.

[I write Kids 1 and 2 emails detailing all our greatest adventures. Here is their note from our first day in Paris this May, when our hotel surprised us with a burlesque suite.]

burlesque dancer

Lamentably, your first exposure to Paris was a bit more . . . um, exposed than I would have wanted. Here was the hotel suite that greeted us on our arrival from London. 

In case you’re not reading the date on this email, yes, you Kid-1 are 3 and yes, Kid-2 still sleeps in a crib.

Also, you are quite correct. That IS a naked lady with a big X over her bum.

Oh, and here’s the mirrored heart cut-out entry to the bathroom. And the Moulin Rouge wallpaper.

romance, Moulin Rouge style

romance, Moulin Rouge style

I thought Paris would be more . . . subtle

I thought Paris would be more . . . subtle

When I said “art and culture,” I was aiming more for Claude Monet than cabaret. 

Mercifully we found alternative accommodations starting tomorrow night. (Seriously, what was AmEx thinking when they recommended this place for families??)

But not before we were “upgraded” to this gem of a suite, which is apparently the only other place we can stay tonight since it’s too late now to relocate hotels entirely.

[Read more...]

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You know what’s ugly?

no wonder this gem is "out of stock"

no wonder this gem is “out of stock”

Stop kidding yourself. Kids melamine plates are ugly. Most are loud. Maybe you pretend to love the designs, but seriously? They match only the tackiest of decors. None is microwave safe. 

In my melamine heyday, these marvellous unbreakable culinary apparatuses (yes, I marvelled) were rather expensive novelty items. I rarely purchased or was gifted more than two at a time. As a result, I once owned 11 plates of various sizes, each with a different number of food compartments, with different motifs and some accompanied by their own, unsightly, cutlery. 

I mean . . . is this even a serious item for purchase?

I mean . . . is this even a serious item for purchase?

is this a rhino? I rest my case.

is this a rhino? I rest my case.

Parents will sympathise with my nightmares about the Kids Plate drawer closing . . . or not. After all, novelty plates know no standardised sizing. 

Two things made my position in Plate Purgatory teeter towards the underworld: (1) children (mainly mine) bickering over particular plates; and (2) melamine burns in microwaves.

Our family deserved better, more beautiful, children’s plates. And, marvel of all marvels, elegant, durable, microwave-safe dishes are actually available. I tossed every single melamine item in our kitchen, and I bought these tempered glass beauties from Mighty Nest, yet another well-curated Midwestern e-commerce site.

the French think of everything

the French think of everything

Doesn’t look like kids decor does it?

There is no new magic here. The French company Duralex first made tempered glass in 1945. But 60 years later, the company came under new management, and since then Duralex has become more widely available (at least in the States). 

Here’s Why Duralex Plates Are SmartStuff:

  1. Microwave & Dishwasher Safe.
  2. Tempered glass is unlikely to break when dropped.
  3. Identical items eliminate bickering over a favoured plate.

Note on Durability: For over a year, none of the set broke. Recently, two items have broken on our new London tile kitchen floor. I contacted Mighty Nest and learned that while Duralex is not entirely unbreakable (as melamine appears to be), if broken on tile floors or from extremely rough use, it shatters to small pieces and is less likely to hurt your wee ones.

France, Duralex, Mighty Nest, thanks for the Smart Stuff of the week.

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Should I Be Making More British Friends? (or, “where are the Brits?”)

Before we moved to London, my friends took bets on how long it would take before I returned home sounding like Madonna. Not a chance, I challenged. Already set in my dialectic ways, I doubted I would acquire the new accents and turns of phrase of my soon-to-be neighbors.

“You’ll pick up more than you think.” 

I remained skeptical.

After a few months in London I’m fairly certain that my accent and locution will not be altered by this new linguistic landscape. But not because, at thirty-two, I’m too old to let the gravitational forces of British voices remove my “r”s and enunciate the “t”s.

No, I will likely return to the States in a year or ten sounding just as I do now because there are no Brits here. 

[Read more...]

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Apple iKid

Dear Apple:

Rumor has it, the iPhone 6 (whoops, the Air) debuts this fall. Your Next Great Things are always irresistible, and I have already inured myself to the reality of a big purchase when the weather changes.

The wide screen doesn’t interest me . What I REALLY want from the new model is this:

A kidPHONE-zone.

<– This is my problemiKid

I want to EASILY disable email, phone, text, social media and photo editing while enabling kid-friendly applications like Monkey Math and photo perusing.

You see, three year-old Kid-1 has already figured out how to use the phone and YouTube, take and email photos, text and tweet. Try explaining to your boss why he received a FaceTime request at 6AM. Awkward.

This evening, while I was pouring myself a glass of wine, Kid-2 grabbed my phone and managed to try to block Joanna Goddard from Twitter. I mean, seriously?!

And then there is the messaging. Even my amateur attempts to curtail Kid-1′s prolific texting are outmatched by her uncanny ability to retrieve the Settings app from whatever dark hole or corner I have stashed it in and un-airplane-mode my phone.

This was bad with one child, but now Kid-2, still just one, has learned my iPhone lock passcode.

Truly, I am one step away from having a photo of my knees or sleeping sweats messaged out to the world. Who knows, maybe some 5 year-old was responsible for the infamous Anthony Weiner penis tweet. And the 37 salacious emails that followed. Kids are sneaky like that.

Apple, I beg you, give me a quick way to stealthily and completely safeguard my email, my photos, my phone, my life. How about multiple user logins? Maybe a Parent Panic button on the back. Anything. I am desperate over here.

And now I have just tweeted “sdfnbkdfjwdfkjsdjdjdjndsfkjsdfhjkdsf.” Try hash-tagging that.

Yours,

Susan

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My Job: Professional Adventurer. My Goal: You will Join Me

I was not always a Professional Adventurer. I used to be a lawyer.

available at http://www.wildandfreedesigns.com/

available at http://www.wildandfreedesigns.com/

The most active five months of my life were those immediately following Kid-2′s birth. Here’s why: my maternity leave was generous but limited. Perhaps betraying an underlying FOMO, I set out to explore the greatest hits of New York City, with both girls. Of course, as a second-time parent, I had no qualms about feeding and napping Kid-2 as we donned our adventurer hats.  

The best decision I have ever made was to ignore all excuses and just go. Go everywhere. Go exploring modern art, ancient relics, temples (Dendur), carousels, outdoor skating rinks, parks, more carousels, zoos, gardens, and the best gelato shops. We went. 

In a twist of fate, shortly after I returned to my legal career, my husband was offered a position in London. We took it. Goodbye New York, goodbye easy adventures to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (and our favorite room . . . the Arms and Armor Court!). 

Our family finds itself now in that precarious situation known by all expats: we live here; we are not of here, and we may leave here oh, you know, tomorrow or never. 

And I have become a Professional Adventurer. 

I have committed myself to principles: (1) build a life as if this is our permanent home; and (2) adventure like we depart next week.

Here begins a series of SIMPLE adventures with children. I have done them all, and I am still alive. To date, no museum has ever thrown us out (although the guards at Windsor Castle were not thrilled with the girls jumped the fence onto the pristine grass).

Why put forth so much effort with the younger set who may not remember all our exploits? Maybe I’m just lazy: I would rather get out than build yet another Lego tower. But actually, I think they will recall, they will learn, their curiosity will be inspired.

The series starts today. I hope my adventures encourage your own.

Susan

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Tegu: The Smartest Block on the Street

TeguToday’s Smart Stuff: Tegu Blocks

A block is a block is a block, right? Not when it’s a Tegu.

I discovered these gems while driving to my parent’s house in the suburbs of NYC. A Connecticut company, Tegu parked its delivery truck about a mile from my childhood house. 

What’s a Tegu? Tegus are magnetic wooden blocks. They “click” and hitch themselves together, facilitating easy, clever engineering by your tiny architects. 

Curious, I bought a small set. Two weeks later I got a bigger one because Kid-1’s friends, then just over 2, enjoyed them so much. 

Tegus inspire budding builders, and also aspiring environmentalists. Made of (sustainable) wood in Honduras by talented workers earning a living wage, these toys are not just about your child. And that lesson is as good as any engineering one.

The sticker price may look steep, but trust me here. Over years of play — and yes, there will be years —Tegus amortize to cents on the afternoon. 

Nearly two years (and two continents) since we first purchased these, Tegus are still family favorites. Challenge your child’s creativity. 

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