New holiday traditions

Growing up, Thanksgiving meant spending the whole day with my aunt, cousins, and, when we did it as her house, her big dog. We alternated houses for Christmas and Thanksgiving, and I always looked forward to the years she did Thanksgiving, since it meant we could sit around watching the parade in the morning instead of peeling potatoes. Besides that, there was nothing really amazing about the holidays that made them spectacular. But you get used to little traditions like playing the same games with your cousins, the same arguments between uncles, even the same ancient beaters mixing the whipped cream.

None of that happened this year, since we weren’t at my aunt’s house, but at my sister’s. And with two new babies in addition to an energetic toddler, to say things were a little crazy is an understatement. When we got there around 10 and saw the turkey still sitting on the counter, I wondered how we were ever going to eat at 2, as we always had growing up. But my sister had planned on eating at normal dinner time.

I wasn’t going to argue with a sleep-deprived new mother, but it got me thinking about the new holiday traditions we’re in the process of creating for our kids. Having been gone for nearly a decade means I didn’t create any new, adult traditions with my family. I am stuck a bit in my nostalgia for the holidays of my youth, and stressing about making sure my husband and son have the same memories. Which I realize is impossible, but it doesn’t stop me from worrying about it! While Thanksgiving is purely American and my husband has no particular notion of what it is “supposed” to be, I know that Christmas is a much bigger deal for him and as it’s his first Christmas away from his family, I am putting extra pressure on myself to make it special.

I keep reminding myself that Monkey is still too young to know one way or another what happens. He didn’t care that Thanksgiving was at 6 instead of 2. He won’t notice is we do an advent calendar this year and not next year. He certainly doesn’t care if I spend hours knitting him a Christmas stocking (though I hope he appreciates it in the future). But I’ve somehow convinced myself I need to figure it out by next year, when he might maybe start to remember things…

Holidays, family, nostalgia, youth. All sorts of emotions involved. I know the best thing to do is not to stress at all and just enjoy it, and they will too. Neither my husband nor my son will hate me if there’s not a picture of us with Santa Clause this year, or if we don’t see any Christmas trees other than our own. But their feelings about a grumpy and grinchy mother/wife will probably not be very positive and will have a much bigger impact on their memories of our holidays together.

 

First races in the states

The last race my husband and I ran was a half marathon in Luxembourg last September. We were both eager to keep running a part of our new life in the states, but it took awhile to get back into the groove. Out first Boston summer was much hotter than we’re used to, making evening runs hard. And while we managed morning runs for awhile, once bébé Monkey starting sleeping “late” (past 6:30), we did too.

We finally decided on November races, which gave us plenty of time to prepare. I did a 5k at the beginning of the month, in an effort to work on speed before tackling a longer distance again. My husband has his sights set on a full marathon soon, so he did a half marathon this weekend at Red Apple Farm, about an hour away.

My 5k was at the local Y, so it was basically like a regular Saturday morning: Monkey and papa stayed at home while I went out for an hour or two. The half marathon got us all out of the house exploring. It started at 8, which meant getting up before 6 on a Saturday (much harder to do when you’ve only been able to sleep past 6 for the last few months!). The farm was having a harvest festival, so there was plenty for Monkey to see and do.

Blacksmith

Farm Animals

As much as we want to keep exploring New England, I think we’re getting to the point where we just want to chill out on weekends. Yesterday was probably the last of the warm weather (at least 60 degrees for the race). Winter weather has finally appeared and we’re going into hibernation like most people do. So it was nice to have a motivating event like the race to get us to visit somewhere we wouldn’t normally go. And now that we’ve been there, I think we’ll definitely try to get out there again next year!

BearRed Apple Farm
Farms are great places for toddlers, and we’ve already been to a few in the area. This one had everything though – cows, chickens (running free!), pigs, donkeys, sheep, goats, and huge bunnies. The store was absolutely adorable, and the outdoor grill was both entertaining for Monkey and delicious for us. I was the only one who found the blacksmith entertaining, but I grew up next door to one and have always loved it. For the festival there was music and additional booths with all sorts of fun holiday stuff. I think we’ll try to go during apple picking season next year to take full advantage of everything they offer.

Store2 Store1

Even if we didn’t pick them ourselves, we brought some apples home with us that  I can’t wait to bake into a pie for Thursday!

A different country

Like everyone else, yesterday’s election has left me with lots of thoughts and feelings. Despite my many years of blogging, I’m not very good at expressing myself about very complicated and emotionally-charged things like this.

So I’ll use someone else’s words. It was one of the first songs I heard on the radio this morning, and for some reason it really helped. (It’s also a way to answer the question I’ve been asked countless times today: “Does this mean you’re moving back to France?”)

I Won’t Give Up – Jason Mraz

I won’t give up on us, even if the skies get rough
I’m giving you all my love, I’m still looking up
‘Cause even the stars they burn
Some even fall to the earth
We’ve got a lot to learn
God knows we’re worth it
No, I won’t give up
I don’t wanna be someone who walks away so easily
I’m here to stay and make the difference that I can make
Our differences they do a lot to teach us how to use
The tools and gifts we got yeah, we got a lot at stake
And in the end, you’re still my friend at least we did intend
For us to work we didn’t break, we didn’t burn
We had to learn how to bend without the world caving in
I had to learn what I’ve got, and what I’m not and who I am
I won’t give up on us, even if the skies get rough
I’m giving you all my love
I’m still looking up, still looking up.
I won’t give up on us (no I’m not giving up)
God knows I’m tough enough (I am tough, I am loved)
We’ve got a lot to learn (we’re alive, we are loved)
God knows we’re worth it (and we’re worth it)
I won’t give up on us, even if the skies get rough
I’m giving you all my love, I’m still looking up

 

I don’t think this blog has more than a dozen or so readers, but maybe this might help you work through your own thoughts and feelings.

More French visitors

My husband’s uncle and aunt were on vacation in New York for la Toussaint school holidays, and they took a bus up to Boston for the weekend. It was also open house weekend at the International School of Boston, and since they’re both  school inspectors (“inspecteur pédagogique”) we thought they’d enjoy checking out a French school in the states.

That’s not all we did, of course, but it was nice to have their opinion on the school, since it’s their job and they thought to ask the questions we never would have. We haven’t decided if we want bébé* to start there next year or not. He’s had so many changes in the past year, and we’ll probably be moving to a cheaper apartment in the spring, so I kind of want him to have at least one constant in his life. Everyone loves him at daycare, he has friends there, and even the teachers at the French school said that if we’re speaking French at home, starting a year later won’t really make a big difference with his language skills. So we’ll see.

Lexington
Lexington

Since vacation shouldn’t involve too much work, my husband took them out on the Freedom Trail, which is his favorite thing to do with visitors. We also went to his other favorite, Lexington, and walked further along the path than we ever had in the past. Not all the way to Concord, but enough for bébé to tire himself out running so he’d nap well. I made his Halloween costume while he napped, but he unfortunately refuses to put it on, so I can only picture how cute it’d be.

spider costume

For reasons too complicated to explain here, my husband is a Seahawks fan, which is not an easy thing to be in Boston. There’s a bar on Boylston street where all the Seahawks fans go to watch the game, and he’d been talking about going for weeks. He finally went with his uncle this weekend, though I don’t think it was the jolly, animated afternoon he thought it’d be (they lost).

We also ate, drank, talked, and all the things that are great to do with family that my husband is really starting to miss a lot. Our recent explorations as a trio have been fun (see below), but I know he really needs that big, rowdy family atmosphere from time to time. We just bought tickets to visit in the spring, so there’s something to look forward to. And while we’re waiting, hopefully Thanksgiving at my sister’s (which will include her new baby twins and her mother-in-law visiting from Central Asia) will help fill that “rowdy family” void.

Fall colors in New England
Fall colors in New England
Shelburne Farm
Shelburne Farm
Middlesex Fells Reservation
Middlesex Fells Reservation

*I think I need to start calling him something else besides bébé, since he is definitely not a baby anymore! “Monkey” would be appropriate given how much he likes to climb everything lately – furniture, people, fences, whatever!

Living cable-free

Last night was the premiere of the Walking Dead (no spoilers, I promise!) and we absolutely wanted to watch it live. However, due in part to how bad/confusing the customer service for the internet was, we’ve decided to go without cable for awhile longer. We bought a digital antenna for 30 dollars that gets all the main networks, so that my husband can watch American Football. And we already had Hulu and Netflix, so it seemed like that would be enough for our entertainment needs.

Until October rolled around and we started freaking out about waiting to download TWD from iTunes in case people at work/on Facebook decided to spoil it. So when I saw that Playstation Vue offers a week free trial, it seemed like a good solution.

Except it took us over two hours to watch it, because it kept slowing down, buffering, and stopping completely. I assume it’s because so many people were trying to watch it at the same time. The other channels we tested while AMC was buffering were working fine. We ended up restarting at least five times, which took some of the suspense out of it. But we saw it! Live(ish)!

It was included in our cable package in France, just 24 hours after it aired in the states. Watching premieres was always a little stressful, since we had to avoid the internet until we could see it. It was pretty cool to watch it at (almost) the same time as everyone else.

We cancelled the free trial on Playstation Vue as soon as we were finally done with the episode. For the rest of the season we’ll just watch on iTunes the next day. There’s nothing else we really need to see live, so I don’t think we’d want something like Sling TV. Besides, having a small child does not really give you a lot of time for vegging out in front of the TV! With a newborn, TV vegging is essential. You’re tired, they just want to eat and sleep, and they don’t care what you’re looking at while they do either. It’s bing-watching heaven. A two-year old who can’t be near a screen without screaming for Elsa is not quite the same. So it stays off as much as possible. And in the hour or two between his bedtime and our bedtime, we can either do absolutely nothing while watching a few episodes of “The Office,” or we can try to have a life outside of parenting and work.

I’d definitely say that for now, we’re doing pretty well without cable. I encourage anyone thinking of “cutting the cord” to give it a try. Just not with Playstation Vue!

Sick and tired

With fall weather comes fall colds! The past few weeks have been rough on everyone, bébé especially, who had bronchitis, along with the regular sniffles thanks to the changing seasons.

Things were better last week, so bébé and I headed to Springfield with a friend who came up from New York. This was to give my husband a little break, since he took care of (sick!) bébé for almost an entire week while I was at a conference in July. We know it will never be a 50/50 split between the time we both spend with him, but we do try to give each other breaks like this when we can. And we both need lots of breaks these days, as bébé is getting more and more . . . opinionated (=insanely frustrating). He even won a raffle at work for Red Sox playoff tickets, so he had a perfect sports/video games weekend all set.

The weekend with my friend was pretty nice too, eating and drinking, exploring a part of the “revitalized rust belt,” and making plans to move there once we saw at how cheap the beautiful old houses are. (These plans were abandoned, however, upon researching the quality of the schools system.) It was nice to not make any particular plans, but just go by what we felt like and how bébé was acting. That’s one thing I’ve gotten much better at the past two years. I used to plan trips down to the second, not wanting to miss anything a new city has to offer.

But this weekend was a good example of my new “non-plan plan” of writing down a few parks and family-friendly restaurants and seeing what the day brings. Day one it brought us to a corn maze with ice cream, the Dr. Seuss Memorial Sculpture Garden, the public library, and some excellent barbecue. Day two it rained, but we got in a quick walk in Forest Park, before heading north to check out a big Yankee Candle store (that sells way more than candles!). It was a very different pace for both of us, used to bigger cities, that I think we’re getting to the age/life stage to really start to crave. Definitely a bummer the schools aren’t better. So we’ll just have to keep exploring the small cities between Boston and New York to find that perfect one to live out our next-door neighbor dreams.

I wish I could say the sick and tiredness was cured by a weekend away, but as often is the case, coming back from a break means you’re even more tired than when you left. Both my office and daycare were closed today for Columbus day, so at least there wasn’t the usual morning craziness to deal with. But I decided I needed to cook all the fall things today (butternut squash soup! pumpkin spice cake!) and bébé has been coughing all day, so we’re both not in tip top shape. At least I won’t have to worry about cooking the next few days while we’re all sitting around sniffling!

Au revoir Mamie

We dropped off my husband’s mother and sister at the airport Saturday afternoon, after a great week spent at the beach and hanging around Boston. To have bébé spend so much time with them was really great, and it gave us a nice little break too. We even managed to get to a Red Sox game while Mamie babysat.  Seeing their bond grow was super special, and she got to see firsthand that we’re really dedicated to making sure he speaks French and can have a strong relationship with his family in France, even if we live far away.

Everything you read about raising bilingual children says that visiting the country or having visitors helps immensely. Even in this very early stage of his bilingualism, I could see it. At the end of two weeks he’s now making three word sentences in French, and has added a bunch of more casual words/phrases like “ça va?” (which he said so much one day at daycare they asked me what it meant) “à tout de suite” (which comes out most of the time like “à tweet tweet”) and “y’en a plus!” (which is part of a whole monologue he does that goes “Y’en a plus! Tout mangé! Gourmand!” – There’s no more! Ate everything! Big eater! – Yeah, we ate A LOT during this visit…)

The first week he was switching up the syllables in his aunt’s name, I think by accident the first time, but since we laughed so much, he kept doing it on purpose. He could say “Tata” (auntie) and “Maddie” (not her real name) but when you told him to say “Tata Maddie” he would say “Tata Damie”. Everyone has a story of doing something like this as a kid, and it’s just insanely cute to see it happening. Even if by the end of the second week, he said it correctly, hopefully it’ll hang around as a nickname.

One very cool thing he started doing this week with a little prompting was saying things like “In English, cow, en français, vache.” I’ve been telling him for a few months now during the ride to/from daycare if he says something in one language that “in English we say X, en français on dit X.” Or when he asks for a song in English that we also sing in French, I ask him what language he wants it in (“Do you want itsy bitsy spider or la petite araignée?”). And apparently it’s starting to make sense to him! He won’t understand what a language “is” for another year or two, but it’s just more reinforcement that he is making all the connections he should be. We joked to Mamie that for her next visit, he could be her little walking dictionary!

She actually did really well in English whenever she was on her own. I think having me and her son around made her more nervous about using the little English she has, so it was good for her to do a few things solo to build a bit of confidence. My mom (a math teacher) is taking French classes as her continuing education requirement, so it’s nice that bébé has been a motivator for these women who wouldn’t have otherwise made an effort to learn another language at their age.

Overall, it was a great visit, and now we can’t wait to plan our visit to see the whole family in France next year!

The French family is visiting!

My husband’s mother and sister arrived last Friday for a two weeks visit. Bébé is super happy to have Mamie and Tata here, and I am more than happy to let someone else cook and play with bébé. I have managed to work out every single day since they got here, which has also been amazing.

I was very nervous about this visit because she has said in the past she never really wanted to visit the states. We all have places that just don’t hold any interest for us. Mine is Spain (which I know 90% of people find weird!). And while she would have preferred we didn’t leave France with her only grandchild, she also lived abroad for many years while her kids were young, so she couldn’t exactly tell us not to go. Still, I wanted her to be happy about our choice, and her liking the country/city we live in is very important to me.

And she definitely likes it so far! She finds all the brick in Boston quite charming, thinks our brand new apartment lovely, enjoys walking along the river, and is not totally disgusted by American food. We took her to Lexington, Walden Pond, Castle Island, the MFA, and some of our favorite restaurants. Next week we’re headed to Maine for a few days on the ocean eating lobster. We’ve never been to Maine, and I hadn’t been to the MFA properly, so it’s great to be able to explore new things during their visit.

I hope the second week goes as well as this first week has!

Becoming my American self

If you work in HR, you’ve probably taken at least one personality test at some point in your career. And by “some point” I mean at least once a month, because seriously, we love that stuff.

Everyone has their favorites, and it’s usually the one that gives you the answer you like best. I’m a big fan of the Meyers-Briggs because I think INTJ is exactly me and it sounds awesome.

The other day, an OCEAN vs MBTI discussion led to me retaking a MBTI-ish test (the “real” ones are quite costly) and it gave me ENTJ. E!! As in Extrovert! Me, who has for so long known I am introverted, fully identified as an introvert, and revealed in my introverted status.

So it got me thinking. I took the test in France, where I was, no doubt about it, quite introverted. Has moving back to the states changed me so much that I’ve become an extrovert? Or was I always one and France was just not letting it come out? (As a hilarious side note, this chart has INTJ as Ayn Rand and ENTJ as Napoleon. So in America I’m more like Napoleon, ha)

Bilingual/binational/expats/etc often talk about the effect of language and culture on your personality. Felling like “yourself” in another language is a huge step. I know for my husband, being able to tell jokes in English is a big deal, since he loves making jokes in French.

I was never the funny one in France, and yet here, I am constantly cracking up (and with) my colleagues. I did kind of luck out with a boss that so totally gets me, we’re borderline telepathic. And the atmosphere of a non profit is very different than an audit and tax firm. But I know it wasn’t my French skills that were holding me back, since I spend lots of time laughing with my francophone colleague here.

One thing to note is that the MBTI personality types are not really accurate so I shouldn’t be that surprised that it changed (though anytime I took it while living in France, it was always INTJ or INFJ). And not only are the terms extrovert and introvert generally misunderstood and misapplied, almost everyone falls somewhere towards the middle of the extroversion-introversion spectrum. Very few people are extreme/pure introverts or extroverts.

So really, it’s about balance, and that’s something we’re achieving here. In both work/life and personality, I’m a lot more balanced here. While it was my initial reaction to do so, I don’t want to think of this as a France vs. USA thing, because so much depends on where you are in the countries, and what your work/personal situation is. However, at the same time, I can’t pretend the cultures are the same and that the way I act/feel isn’t influenced by where I’m living. It’s going to be very interesting to see how bébé’s personality develops, and to see if there’s a shift depending on what language/country he’s in.

Anyway, just wondering if this makes sense to anyone else. Or if you’ve taken a personality test and had it change over the course of your life, and had it totally freak you out the way it did to me!

A visit to Salem in the summer

My husband passed a financial exam last Saturday, after studying for the past six months. What better way to celebrate than with a trip to Salem, also known as Witch City? (There’s really no link between the two things, other than I am super proud of him for passing it so I wanted to mention it!)

I read there was a maritime festival happening last weekend, and since bébé loves boats, I thought it’d be a fun reason to check out Salem. It was a quick drive up 95, and as usual when traveling with bébé, we got there before 9 and there was tons of parking (frugal tip: street parking is often free on Sundays, so arriving early is always good!). We walked around the deserted streets, enjoying the old houses and pedestrian city center before getting (our second) breakfast.

Empty center
Empty center

I’m not sure what I expected, but it felt more European than I thought it would. I’ve heard people say Boston is a very European American city, but so far I don’t really see it. Parts of it are definitely old, and I like it, but it’s not the same feel. Maybe it’s just not like the parts of Europe I’ve been to.

Salem felt more like something familiar. There was a pedestrian center with shops and cafes on a square where you can sit outside. There are lots of old buildings, some are brick, others are First Period houses, and the newer ones blend in pretty well I think. I am not a fan of old mixed with new, I like when cities try to be harmonious. Think Paris, not London. Florence, not Rome. So I liked Salem a lot.

Salem architecture
Salem architecture

I’m not sure if I’ll like it as much in the fall, when the witches come out… There was a little taste of spookiness, which is easy to handle in the sunshine.

Salem

The maritime festival started later than I thought it would, so we didn’t see much. But we did get to see the boats in the harbor (does everyone in Salem get a boat when they buy a house?) and the canon. Bébé behaved beautifully, so we’re crossing out fingers that a slightly easier period is upon us after the screaming fits that plagued us last month.

There were a bunch of these near the museum all painted differently
There were a bunch of these near the museum all painted differently
Much calmer than in Salem's 18th century maritime heyday
Much calmer than in Salem’s 18th century maritime heyday
Sadly, they did not actually shoot the cannon
Sadly, they did not actually shoot the cannon

This weekend I was supposed to take bébé to Providence to visit a friend, to give my husband a break after all that studying. She was sick so we rescheduled, but I tried to at least give him Saturday morning free. So I took bébé to the same farm we visited a few months ago (Drumlin Farm) that’s only 2 dollars per person with a library pass. He liked it last time, but absolutely loved it this time, since he’s now completely obsessed with farm animals. I might have to look into a Mass Audubon membership so we can go as much as we want for free (and all the other wildlife sanctuaries in the state, plus other nifty benefits like member-only access to CSAs and campsites).

I wish I didn’t just post weekend updates, but we really don’t do much during the week! We did call the babysitter to go out for drinks one night last week, and my husband freaked out because he forgot his wallet and was worried about not being able to drink. But then we didn’t get carded, so I guess we’re officially old!