Happy New Year

It’a a few weeks late, but happy New Year! (Or, in keeping with the French tradition, it’s still January so it’s still ok to say it).

This time last year we were living with my mother-in-law, sending out dozens of CVs every week, closing accounts, and packing up whatever we couldn’t sell. I wish I could say this year has been much calmer, but it’s been busy in a different way. Work has been very busy for both of us, then we both caught a stomach bug, Monkey changed daycares last week, and we’re once again gearing up for a move (only within a ten-mile radius however). Both the daycare and apartment change are for practical and economic reasons. The hope is that there will be absolutely no moving anywhere in 2018 so that in 2019 we can make the big move of buying a house before Monkey starts school. Of course, knowing me, ask me again this time next year and who knows!

With things being so crazy, while I have been reading everyone’s blogs, I just have no time to comment. So to all the new moms posting about the insane first months/year of motherhood, I have wanted to comment on every single post to offer my advice or experience or just to say “yes it’s hard, but it doesn’t last forever,” or “don’t listen to what anyone else says, you’re doing fine.” One goal this year (that I am already sort of failing at) is to comment more, and respond quicker to comments on this blog.

Other goals are mainly financial, because of the 2019 plan mentioned above. We’re in a semi-spending freeze for January, but the move to a cheaper apartment in a few months will make things a little easier. There’s a trip to France in the spring, maybe Seattle in the fall, and hopefully a few local trips around Massachusetts and New England.

After last year of moving and settling in, I do feel like the next few years should be a bit calmer, and we can just continue with the regular daily life of a family of 3. We’re still slowly meeting people and figuring out how to make friends as adults, in a new city, with a toddler, but Monkey is also getting to a fun age so going out just us 3 is very entertaining as well.

It seems odd to not have some huge major goal this year (well, I have a secret one that I hope to share in a few months), but life is already pretty full and good, so I’m learning if it ain’t broke, just enjoy it!

First Christmas in the states

As expected, I have some conflicting feelings about our first Christmas in the states. I’m so happy to be figuring out the traditions our little family will create over the years, but so sad to be away from the traditions I’ve known for the past 8 years.

Even though I always loved the huge Christmas with my in-laws in France, it was nice to have a quieter celebration this year with just us and my parents. Having just 4 people (well, 5 counting Monkey when he wasn’t running around!) at the table instead of 25+ definitely sets a very different tone for the evening. Cleanup was certainly easier! And we were in bed by 10, instead of 2am, which allowed us to avoid the usual Christmas day bleariness.

Still, we tried to keep things as French as possible. Well, French/Italian. We did the big dinner Christmas eve, including foie gras and a bûche de noël. Christmas day was very chill, eating leftovers and broth with cappelletti. I spent the weekend before Christmas making them by hand, the way my husband’s mother, aunt and grandmother make them. They were a little bigger than their experienced hands manage, and I didn’t use veal, but my husband declared them to taste exactly the same, which was nice to hear.

Cappelletti
Homemade cappelletti
Christmas table
Moroccan tablecloth, great-grandparents’ china, and Ikea plates from college.
Christmas tree
Our tiny tree

A few Boston/our little family traditions seem to be emerging. My parents brought their grandparents’ china that we’d use when I was growing up. We have a little fake white tree that we’ve used the past few years, and I made sure to ship over from France. While my husband was finishing up some meal prep Christmas Eve, I took my parents and Monkey to see a nearby park all lit up, then we got donuts.

Christmas Eve lights
Lights in the park

My husband and I went to a movie for my birthday on Christmas day. We went last year to see Star Wars, so we did again this year, and it looks like we’ll be able to next year as well! The day after Christmas my parents took me to lunch in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.

Boston Common
Boston Common
Beacon Hill
Beacon Hill

We managed to Skype with everyone both Christmas eve and Christmas day. As important as I know it was for Monkey and my husband to see the family in France, I almost wonder if it didn’t make things harder. Seeing everyone, and how big the little cousins have gotten, I missed them and the craziness so much, so I can only imagine how hard it was for my husband. Though he did seem to appreciate a much calmer and quieter holiday. And travelling internationally at Christmas will hopefully be easier when Monkey is a bit older.

Like anyone raising a multicultural kid, we want him to grow up with a mix of American and French experiences. Our goal is to alternate France visits in spring/summer and winter, and we already have a trip in April 2017 planned, so we’ll hopefully make it to France for Christmas 2018. It seems so long to wait, but time is just flying by (it’s already been 11 months since we moved!) so we’ll be feasting with family before we know it.

My first Whole30

Two days before Thanksgiving, I finished my first Whole30. If you’re not sure what it is, a simple Google search will yield plenty of information. Briefly, it’s 30 days of eating very clean: no added sugar, no grains, no legumes, no alcohol, and no dairy. The reasons to do it and results vary by individual, so I wanted to share my experience, in case anyone was considering it.

To start, I have been paleo at different periods over the past 10 years, so this was not a huge new thing for me. I didn’t have a lot of the typical withdrawal symptoms in the early days because we didn’t go from bread 3 times a day to none. We actually don’t really eat much pasta and bread in general (except Monkey, who lives on Mac and Cheese right now), but we aren’t as good about eating vegetables. Rice and chicken is a pretty standard weeknight menu.

My eating habits were good but not the best, and I knew I could do better. I knew I ate way too much sugar (lots of colleagues with birthdays this summer didn’t help!). I had the typical after lunch slump and constant snacking that is familiar to so many. Working out regularly wasn’t getting me the results I was looking for. So after seeing a friend on Facebook post her meals every day, I looked into the Whole30 and it seemed like a good thing to try.

I didn’t post my journey on social media the way that so many find helpful, though I did talk about it at work. A lot. Initially because I wanted to be sure they wouldn’t count on me eating half of the weekly baked goods as usual, so they could adjust the portions appropriately! I run with a few colleagues at lunch, and it was natural to talk about it as part of our usual fitness conversations.

With Thanksgiving just two days after I ended, I had planned on reintroducing gluten grains like wheat, since the rest of Thanksgiving would be pretty compliant – turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans. But that first night, being able to just order a pizza when we were exhausted from packing up the car for the ride down to my sister’s was just too tempting. And while I didn’t feel awesome, I didn’t have any serious reactions. So I decided to just eat normally.

Unsurprisingly, after almost three weeks of eating “normally” however, I do feel pretty gross. And sugar headaches/hangovers are a very real and painful thing! So I’m slowly going back to a cleaner version of my normal food. Mostly making sure breakfast is as clean as possible (eggs & spinach, chicken sausage & avocado, almond butter & apples), hoping that a good start to my day will keep me on the right track. But with all the holiday treats floating around, I think I’ll be at a 50/50 good/bad ratio until the New Year when I’ll try for 80/20.

My Whole 30 experience

Benefits:

  • Not needing tea in the morning (more energy). This was a big one for me. I don’t drink coffee, so my cup of black tea in the morning is pretty important. Since it’s not supposed to be the first think you consume in the morning on the plan, I would put it off until work. But after a week, I found I didn’t need it.
  • Weight loss. Like many, this was not my main goal. But take away added sugar and bread, and you’re going to lose weight. I also had the 5k and my regular workout routine, so about 7 pounds disappeared by the end of the month. I’m pretty much at my pre baby weight, which is nice, since I was getting very close to needing new, bigger clothes. For me, spending more on good food > spending more on clothes. (I’ve gained 2 back in the past 2 weeks of “regular” eating)
  • A better relationship with food. We all know we eat when we’re bored/stressed/sad, so pinpointing the situations where it comes up is very helpful. There were definitely moments that I wanted chocolate and had tea instead, but those got fewer as the month went on. Making food about nourishment and fuel, instead of a comfort or reassurance, is key to separating emotions and food.
  • Not feeling stuffed after eating. This took some getting used to, but it was nice to not feel super bloated/full after a meal. When I got hungry, I was HUNGRY, but after the first two weeks, I knew how much I needed to keep me going until the next meal. Feeling satisfied, not stuffed, was nice.

Difficulties:

  • Work functions. I forgot about a few, so I had to sit there watching people eat lovely catered food while I had my reheated chicken and sweet potatoes. But by the end of the month, when the ice cream social came around, I could watch people stuff their faces without feeling jealous. (Though I might have saved some in the freezer for later…)
  • Budget. I didn’t go organic on the meat, and it was still pretty pricey. I usually compromised by getting sausages/hot dogs without added sugar, which are almost always the organic brand. My splurge tends to be cage-free/free-range eggs, even before this experiment.
  • Not eating all the little bits and pieces of Monkey’s food. I didn’t realize how automatic it was to take bites off his plate until I couldn’t anymore! And while I’m sure it was good for him to see me eating healthy things, he wasn’t interested in tasting anything.
  • Thinking about food all the time. It got a little tiresome to be constantly thinking “is this enough protein? Enough fat? Am I hungry or just tired? Should I eat a sweet potato before my workout or a banana?”. And it made me worry that I wouldn’t be able to just enjoy food once it was over.

Things I expected to happen that didn’t:

  • Better sleep. However, with a toddler, this will be bad no matter what you eat. I did feel like I had more energy than normal the nights I got even less sleep than usual, so that was a nice bonus.
  • Better skin. After 30+ years, I may just need to accept I will never have a beautiful complexion, no matter what I eat or how many Korean beauty products I try.
  • Better gums. I have some mild to serious gum health issues, and while they didn’t get worse, they didn’t really get better.

I’m thinking the gum and skin might actually get better if I do a whole60 (or just watch my sugar intake!)

 

For anyone who’s thinking of trying it after the holidays, it’s not the easiest of months, but it’s also not the worst either. Figuring out why you’re doing it is key to maintaining motivation. But getting to the end, knowing you were able to say “no” to so many things, really helps with other choices, both food and non-food related.

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!