Poitiers and Bretagne

We were able to both explore and relax during our little vacation on the other side of the country. So often when we visit new places, we feel the need to do and see everything we can as quickly as possible. This time, we really took it slow, in part due to my physical limits (hello third trimester!) but also because we knew we both needed to chill out as much as possible. Visiting  Poitiers and Bretagne in the same trip was maybe slightly too ambitious, since it involved a lot of driving, but I’m glad we saw both, since they offered totally different experiences of France. (It also allowed me to check off two more regions for my goal to visit all of them!)

Poitiers has lots of great medieval architecture, and is easy to visit on foot. Our hotel was right next to the Préfecture and Hôtel de Ville, so we were well placed to explore. The weather was sunny, if a bit cool, so perfect for walking around.

Poitiers

 

We also visited the Futuroscope, a multimedia theme park, which is a short drive from the city. I couldn’t do everything, but my brother-in-law was with us, so he and my husband went off to do things while I enjoyed the sunshine and fairly reasonably priced snacks. And there were shows and films I could see, which were fun and interesting. The activities and films were pretty well timed I think to see everything in one day, but again, we weren’t trying to go at a crazy speed. Also, a lot of things were really more interesting for kids, in terms of theme and technology. So maybe in a few years we’ll go back when bébé is a little bigger!

After an Easter brunch in town, we spent Sunday with my husband’s uncle and his family, who he hadn’t seen in a very long time and I hadn’t met before. Even if they don’t celebrate the holiday, it was nice to spend Easter with family, chatting and eating and getting to know the little cousins. And since the previous day had involved lots of walking, it was definitely a good idea to just sit around all afternoon.

Then is was off to Bretagne! I say that like we visited the entire region, but we were only in a tiny part of the Côtes-d’Armor département. I kept calling it the “Côtes d’Amour” by accident, but I don’t think I’m the only one who makes that mistake . . . We stayed in Pléneuf-Val-André and visited the Côte de Granite Rose (Pink Granite Coast due to type of rock you find there). So this part of the trip was more about natural beauty than architecture, though there were a few megalithic structures to see as well. The weather was a little cooler and rainier, but still nice enough in general to enjoy being outside as much as possible.

Bretagne

 

Since we drove so much the previous days, and were looking at an eight hour drive home the next day, Wednesday we stayed in the hotel for most of the day. It was very rainy, so it wasn’t the best weather for exploring anyway. And as you can see in the top two pictures, our view was pretty great, so even if we were being lazy, at least it felt like we were being lazy somewhere special!

We drove home Thursday, which gave us another three days to relax at home, which we usually never have when coming back from a trip. It’s usually a Sunday return trip and then back to work Monday. Even coming back a Saturday is hard, because you have to try and cram grocery shopping and other things into one day. So this way, the easy pace continued through the end of my two-week break. I still feel like I got everything done I needed to, while not stressing myself out even more by trying to do everything in just a few days.

Now just 18 (!!) more days of work until my much longer, much more action-packed “break” . . .

Unexpected things about pregnancy

There are lots of things I expected to happen while pregnant. Even without reading baby books, you see in movies and on tv things like morning sickness, fatigue, moodiness, gas, weight gain, etc. Then you start to read the books and you learn about even more “fun” stuff to expect like acne and heartburn. Or, in my case, two books: “What to expect when you’re expecting” and a random French book that is no help at all except to help me keep my dates straight. Maybe not reading a lot of different books is why there were still a few unexpected things about pregnancy for me. The few friends who’ve been pregnant in the past few years added a bit to my knowledge, but unless you see or talk to someone every day, there are lots of things you’ll never hear about.

And I know everyone is different, and I’m sure there are more surprises to come as I enter my third trimester, but there are a few things that really didn’t even enter my mind as possibly happening during pregnancy.

Like belly size. It changes! At first, it’s all bloating, which is so hard to accept because you’re just excited that you’re pregnant and even a tiny little bump seems so cool. Then one day, it totally disappears and you freak out when you wake up with a flat stomach and wonder if you can call the hospital with the symptom of “no more belly” but then you google it and it turns out it’s perfectly normal because everything that you saw before was just bloat and not the baby because he was only the size of a chickpea. Phew!

But belly size also changes during the day. Just like pre-pregnancy, you wake up with a smaller belly than you end the day with, depending on what you eat and do during the day. And then there are days you look gigantic for no apparent reason, and others you put on a hoodie and you don’t even look pregnant at all.

This is probably all because the belly is squishy, not hard. I’m not sure why this was so unexpected, but I wasn’t around pregnant friends enough to make a great study of their bellies. Also, I’m not one of those people who feels the need to touch a pregnant belly (besides my own), so if you judge just by looking, they all look round and hard, right? Not at all! I feel like I hear “basket ball” or “bowling ball” or “beach ball” associated with pregnant bellies, but that’s not really what I see on a daily basis. It’s definitely getting “harder” as the baby gets bigger, but at first, it’s weird to feel so much give and elasticity, you wonder if there’s really anything in there besides all the extra tacos the baby “made” you eat.

I knew that my belly button popping out was a real possibility. But I didn’t expect it to be such a slow process, and, just like belly size, to vary by day. You hear “pop” and you think of popcorn, a sudden POP! But thankfully there’s no noise, just a gradual depth reduction that might be my least favorite thing about pregnancy (I know, weird choice, right? But I didn’t realize how much I liked my belly button until it started changing). Mine is still an innie (just barely!), but I don’t know for how much longer.

Besides the unexpected discovery of new and mysterious aspects of my belly, I also wasn’t expecting to be quite so limited in what I can do. I was very active before, and have continued to exercise, but it’s more the daily things that are unexpectedly hard. Like stairs! So many stairs! At the train station, at work, up two flights to my apartment . . . I can walk or swim for an hour, but after five steps I am done!

And putting together furniture, one of my favorite things, takes way longer than before. This was really frustrating for me, since I am used to control and used to knowing my body’s limits. To be suddenly incapable of so many things I enjoy was extremely hard, despite “knowing” that my body is changing and using lots of energy to grow a baby. But I’ve finally gotten used to taking breaks every 20-30 minutes and just accepting that it will take two days instead of two hours to put a room together, and leaving 10 minutes earlier for the train to account for multiple breaks on the stairs.

There are lots of things I expected but haven’t happened. People have been pretty good about keeping the unsolicited advice to themselves, but maybe I am lucky and just know chill people. Or maybe they are waiting until he’s born . . . No belly touchers, no comments about weight, no side eyes over what I eat. So I still feel like overall, this is a normal, boring pregnancy, thanks to everyone mostly treating me the same, or at least, like a competent adult who doesn’t need to be reminded to not eat sushi. The unexpected things are more on the physical end, and no one can really know for sure what your body will or won’t do!

My not-so-hard, ever-changing baby bump.
My not-so-hard, ever-changing baby bump.

Learning to relax

I am off work for the next two weeks and I’ve decided to treat it as preparation for my maternity leave. I like what I do and get a lot of satisfaction (=feel important) from doing it well.  Any stress at work really affects me and it’s definitely been stressful lately with tons of different projects. So it’s been really hard on me physically and mentally the past few weeks, and on top of that, the guilt/stress of knowing that soon I’ll be leaving for a few months which means more work for everyone else. But I’m learning to relax a little, let go of the stress, and trust that my colleagues are perfectly capable of doing things without me. (Though that didn’t stop me from leaving them my cell number, with instructions to call if they had even the tiniest question about something . . .)

So what does my “relaxing” schedule look like the next few weeks? My husband is off next week so we’re going on a little road trip to Poitiers, where his brother is doing an internship, and Bretagne, because I don’t care if it’s still a bit cold, I haven’t been on a beach in about 5 years and in June/July I will be too far along to go anywhere. But this week, I have a list a mile long of everything I want to get done.

It’s always like that, isn’t it? Even on weekends, you think “finally, I can relax,” but there are groceries to buy, errands to run, people to see, paperwork to fill out . . . And on vacation, you try to cram as much sightseeing in as possible, and end up even more tired than when you started your vacation! Whenever my husband has a few days off (he has tons, thanks to working in Luxembourg banking) I leave him a list of things to do. He did not leave a list for me, or rather, his list was “relax and sleep.” So I made my own list. Mostly to feel like I’m still “working” (why is it so hard to just be lazy??) but also because I do legitimately have a lot of things to get done.

Like start getting the nursery ready! We still haven’t bought a lot of things for bébé, but we’re turning the office into an office/nursery, which means a fair amount of reorganizing has to happen first. And I’ve decided it will happen this week! Besides, getting a space nice and neat and in order can be very relaxing in a way. Seeing stuff in its place just makes everything else easier.

Paperwork is another big thing this week. Papers for the doctor, papers for insurance, papers for France, papers for Luxembourg . . . Not to mention it’s that time of year when I need to start thinking about renewing my residency card in 2 months, which means getting together all the different papers for that. But this is also somehow relaxing, knowing that our (well, mostly my) papers are in order and I won’t have to worry about it later. This goal goes hand-in-hand with getting the office organized, since finding all the papers I need normally takes way longer than it really should . . .

I also hope to do lots of cooking and exercising. The pool is unfortunately closed this week, or I would have gone every day, so it will be lots of walking along the river, which should definitely be very relaxing. And cooking/baking has always been a super relaxing activity for me. Having the time to cook healthy stuff (and maybe some not-so-healthy goodies for the road trip) will be great.

There are a couple of slightly more stressful things on the schedule like doctors appointments and meeting with a few nannies. But since all of that will make what comes next easier, it’s a relief to have the time to do things properly, rather than trying to squeeze in everything after work and on weekends. So I think I should be okay this week, “relaxing” in a very personalized way.

What do you do when you’re off work to relax? To-do lists, total vegetation in from of the television, or somewhere in between?

Calling in a professional

We seem to have very bad luck with water. In our first apartment, a pipe in the hall closet burst. In our second apartment, there was a leak in the shower that shared a wall with the kitchen so the fridge was in a pool of semi-elecric water which was pretty scary.

We’ve been in our new apartment for just over 6 months. The hot water heater and dishwasher had to be fixed within a week of moving in. Then, our ground-floor neighbor knocked on our door a few weeks ago asking if we had a leak because there was water gushing from his ceiling. We’re two floors above, and it turned out it came from the person in between us whose hot water heater had fallen off the wall. Since we had a few little things that had been bugging us lately, we had the plumber come today to fix them before they got too bad. The toilet hasn’t flushed correctly since we moved in, but it was still useable until last Friday. And the kitchen faucet leaks. And the washing machine doesn’t seem to be taking in water right.

I am a pretty handy gal. Past problems with the washing machine and dishwasher I have managed to fix myself, I’ve repaired broken shutters, filled holes in walls, etc. So I feel like most of the stuff we needed fixing I probably could have done myself. Especially changing the flushing mechanism on the toilet; there are tons of videos and it’s literally just unscrew everything and screw in a new one. My handiness comes from experience (my parents had houses they fixed up and rented when I was young) but mostly because there is nothing I love more than taking stuff apart and putting stuff together. And taking apart a toilet seemed like all sorts of fun, and I could use lots of different tools. But the main problem in this apartment, in this whole town, is very very hard water. So calling in a professional on this occasion was a good idea, since all the calcification on the pipes and toilet made things a little trickier to fix (=more likely I would break something if I tried to do it myself).

As for the washing machine, we’ve ordered a new one as well as . . . a dryer!! It’s definitely something I’ve learned to live without the past 6 years, but apparently babies make lots of laundry. And while I’m sure we could go on just fine air-drying everything, and probably still will when the weather is warm, we’re hoping it’ll make the transition from 2 to 3 person household just a tiny bit easier to manage. (Also, fluffy towels!! So excited!!) Professionals will be coming to install both next week, since no matter how modern a woman I am, getting a washer and dryer up two flights of stairs is simply not one of my skills. Though maybe if I ask nicely they’ll let me attach some stuff, or at least plug it in.

Eating Paleo in France (and while pregnant)

If you’re unfamiliar with the paleo diet, Google can explain it better than I can. Though in general, I am more into the idea of a paleo template or lifestyle rather than “diet” and have totally adapted things to suit my needs, and to take into account what I can and can’t get in France.

So I can’t say that I’ve ever been 100% paleo, though I have gotten very close a few times in the past year, especially when I was running on a regular basis. It takes a fair amount of planning to get through a full week of work and evening activities (sports, friends, etc.) and I can only maintain that kind of attention for a few weeks at a time. Also, it can get a bit pricey!

 

Before . . .

Planning for breakfast is the hardest, because my husband spent years eating cookies every morning. (Eileen posted about eating habits in France, and it’s not just my husband who does this! ) So when I can, I make four or five hard-boiled eggs one night after dinner, or a batch of paleo muffins, to have ready for breakfast the next few days. Almond butter and apples are another go-to breakfast for me, though almond butter is not available in the large supermarkets here, and sometimes I make it myself. But usually I go to organic (biologique or just bio) stores like La Vie Claire. That’s also where I find coconut oil, coconut flour, and sometimes even coconut palm sugar.

Some organic products are relatively easy to find in the bigger supermarkets in France (eggs, butter, chicken, vegetables, fruit) though I’m still unsure as to what is considered “free range” here. Grass-fed would be “nourri à l’herbe” but I’ve never seen that written anywhere, so I assume most of the meat you get in the supermarket is grain-fed.  We go to the outdoor market on Saturdays sometimes, and I could ask the sellers, but for the moment, grass-fed meat is not high on my list of essentials.

What we mainly try to do is avoid processed food, and any treats we want, we make ourselves and it all seems to work out. Avocado chocolate pudding sounds kind of nasty, but is actually super delicious and tastes nothing like avocado, I promise. And it’s already fairly common to make sweets with almond flour in France, so it’s just a matter of adapting the recipes and replacing the sugar with something else (honey, maple syrup, molasses).

Rather than trying to put a name on it, in general, both me and my husband feel better when we’re able to eat less processed food and cook more for ourselves (duh). So I hesitated to even talk about paleo in this post, but that’s where the inspiration for our version of “clean eating” has come from. I am not saying this is the best choice for everyone, but it’s still one that’s totally possible in the land of bread and cheese. Meals with my in-laws are already full of fresh meat (wild boar is hunted in my husband’s hometown) and seasonal veggies, so it’s simply a matter of saying no to the baguette and skipping the cheese course. The apéro is trickier, but there are usually at least cherry tomatoes or olives in addition to chips and crackers.

 

Now . . .

During my pregnancy, I have been way less concerned about following any particular plan, other than trying to eat vegetables twice a day and starting January 1st I stopped drinking soft drinks. If I feel like eating bread, I will, and if another night salad and baked chicken sounds good, I’ll have that. Since I had cut out so much sugar months and months before even thinking about being pregnant (with an incredibly indulgent break during our last trip to the states in October), I wonder if that’s behind the reason for my relatively tame cravings. Though my other theory is that after getting used to not having all my American treats readily available to me in France, I’m already so used to ignoring cravings, I may not even notice I’m having one.

A dislike for sweets certainly makes trying to stay paleo easier, though in my second trimester I regained the taste for chocolate I had lost early in my pregnancy. I’ve been trying to stick with healthier alternatives most of the time, but without putting too much pressure on myself. If we have peppers, I’ll have those with dip instead of chips, but if all we have are chips, then that’s what I’m eating.

I’d say before we were aiming for 80% and now I’m at around 40-50%. My husband has been cooking a lot more recently, and the rule is that when he cooks, I eat whatever he makes, no complaining. And really I have no reason to complain, he can get quite creative in the kitchen! But if he decides to make pasta and canned tomato sauce, then that is what I eat. And the days when I have more energy, I’ll make a big crustless quiche with coconut milk and cut up enough veggies to last a few days.

 

The future . . .

So will our bébé be a little paleo caveman? I don’t know yet. I don’t think anyone would argue that more fruits and veggies and less sugary cereals isn’t a good idea for kids. As with most things involving pregnancy and babies, I have my hopes about how things will go but also try and stay open to adapting as needed. My big hope is that all the planning that goes into how we eat will help us stay organized the first few crazy months (years??). But as long as we try and set a good example by trying new things and not eating too much junk, I think it should be fine.

Local French politics

I am not at all interested in politics, which can sometimes be hard in France, where it’s often a favorite topic of discussion among friends and family. However, my interest and knowledge of local French politics has increased the past few weeks, in part due to the recent municipal elections being the only thing on the television and radio, but mostly because my mother-in-law was elected as a deputy mayor of her town.

This was not a big surprise or anything, since there has only been one party running in the town for decades, and she was on the list this year. Still, it was fun to see her officially take up her role this past Sunday, while the rest of the country was all in a tizzy about the results in various major cities.

The first order of business for the newly elected town council was actually to elect the mayor. Again, this was not a surprise, since there was one candidate and he’s been the mayor for a long time and everyone seems to agree he does a pretty good job. I personally have issues with the absence of the annual “roasting an entire pig on a spit” festival the past 4 years due to budget cuts, but no one else seems to share my feelings about this . . . It was actually kind of funny, all the council members had to go through the motions of putting slips in the ballot box, and then they counted them, calling out his name each time.

Then the new mayor presented his list of deputies. My MIL is actually one of 6 deputy mayors. Why 6? It’s because the mayor can choose up to 30% of the number of council members to be deputies. The number of council members is determined by the size of the town.

The council members then had to vote to accept the list, and the whole amusingly redundant ballot box procedure was repeated. Then the mayor called the deputies up in order, and they got their sash and gave a little speech. My MIL’s father had been a deputy mayor back in the day, so this was especially exciting for the family, to have one of his children “go into politics.”

Then, as befits any official occasion in France, there was an apéro. Though I couldn’t eat or drink most of it, it did not seem appropriate for the daughter-in-law of a newly appointed deputy to be grumpy about that fact, so I just stood there smiling with my orange juice staring longingly at the various meats and cheeses on display.

So I’ll probably be hearing a lot more about how a small town gets run over the next months and years (they’re elected for 6 years!), which should be pretty interesting. And as a deputy, in addition to marriages, she can perform civil baptisms. Which apparently we are doing now for the bébé, whether we had been planning on baptising him or not . . . ah, how quickly power goes to the head!