Weekly DIY

wafersWe are driving up to Boston tomorrow, and in preparation for the 9 hour drive (possibly more, if bébé is extra cranky), I am making vanilla wafers. This is the fifth recipe in my weekly DIY project since being back in the States.

I started this project almost accidentally, after looking for something to take to a Super Bowl party. At the supermarket picking up other groceries, I saw a Better Homes and Gardens DIY recipes magazine with homemade toaster pastries on the cover and the headline “Return to real ingredients”. Since being back, I’ve noticed a big difference in how we eat, though this is partially because of living with my parents, who have different habits than we do. But also, baby food is very different (I’ll probably do a whole post on this, as well as bébé’s adaptation to life here) and I was stressing a little about how much “non-food” he is eating. And there is seriously sugar in everything. I figured having a few more homemade recipes in my collection could help me feel a little less guilty about giving him so many snacks, since at least they’d be homemade snacks.

For the party, I made pretzels, and they were a big hit! The week before I had made a cake for my sister’s birthday using spelt flour since our nephew doesn’t eat gluten. I made cookies for church the next week, and crackers for our NYC trip with a recipe from the magazine the week after. I figured a once a week goal of making something other than regular food would be a good one to have, especially since I didn’t get a chance to do much special baking the last month in France. And hopefully once a week will turn into a few times a week, to help me fight against my American habit of eating things out of boxes and cans, that has returned alarmingly fast (again, probably because I’m at my parents’ house).

The magazine has recipes for things like making your own vanilla extract, ketchup, syrups, crackers, donuts, mozzarella sticks, marshmallows, nut butters, even cheese. There are also a few tips on canning and growing your own produce. All of these recipes and tips can be found elsewhere, but having them all in one place will make it a fun game to check off as many pages as I can throughout the year. And while some things will go quickly, like today’s vanilla wafers, other things like ketchup or nut butter will last a little longer and help balance out the (hopefully) occasional fast food and packaged meals we’re sure to be eating in the coming weeks as we get settled into a new routine.

Job hunting while abroad

First things first: I got a job! In Boston! Now, to explain in a very roundabout way how I got it . . .

We moved without jobs lined up, so we were hoping to find something before we left, or at least have a few good leads. I was honestly quite doubtful that we’d get on the plane with an offer to start as soon as we arrived, but I was very confident it wouldn’t take that long once we got here. Job hunting while abroad was still very stressful at times, mostly because we started a little too early and got discouraged by rejections, despite knowing perfectly well how ridiculous it was to apply in September when we knew we wouldn’t be there until January or February. We did get into contact with the HR people of our companies in the States, to let them know we’d be moving and we were open to different cities. We both had some good conversations, but in the end, nothing was opening up that fit our profiles, and they can’t create jobs just for us.

One positive thing about leaving without jobs was that we had the advantage of picking the city that we wanted to live in. We made a list of all the places that interested us and that would offer the best opportunities for both of us. While I can pretty much work anywhere in human resources, my husband is in a very specific branch of banking, so we had to stick to big cities. For the most part, we focused our job hunt on these areas, though my husband did have a tendency to apply for jobs at tiny banks in the middle of Wyoming, just because he liked the name (of the town, the bank, or both), saying he wanted to try a new field. And maybe we could have a ranch and he could ride a horse to the bank. (Hey, this is our “American dream” after all . . .)

Wyoming reveries aside, we mainly stuck to the East Coast, since my parents live in the DC suburbs and one of the big reasons for moving was to be closer to them. I went to college in New Jersey and have friends in all the major cities, so I knew wherever we ended up, we wouldn’t be totally alone. I had a sneaking suspicion that we’d be getting the most replies from places around DC, simply because we’d have a local address once we arrived. And while I wasn’t against staying in the area (having a baby changes your view on things like school systems and parks), I was worried it wouldn’t feel like much of an adventure if we just slipped back into the same life I’d had in high school, just with a kid and nicer clothes. I wanted something new for me too, so my husband wouldn’t be alone in his adaptation to a new life.

This was a chance for us to change directions a little bit if we wanted to, so I looked for things a little beyond what I currently do, in the direction I want to go. However, I also applied to a few entry level HR roles, thinking I’d maybe need a little time to learn the new laws and payroll systems. I looked for things that mentioned French, since I knew that’s one thing that could really set me apart from other candidates. Also, if friends mentioned their company was hiring, I would send them my resume if there was something I was interested in.

Once we bought our plane tickets and put an arrival date on our resumes, I thought things would pick up a little bit. But actually, all the calls/emails I got were from applications I made in the three or four weeks before we left. So it seems really silly now to think of how stressed out we were in October about not having found anything. I kept saying it was too early, but it’s so hard to not be actively doing something to look for a job. However, sending out so many applications probably helped get our cover letters into good shape, and after awhile, we started to get fed up with all the complicated online forms, so we only applied to things we really wanted or were sure we were qualified for. So in the end, it was maybe a good thing to start so early, in a way?

I had a few different interviews in the two weeks before we left, via Skype, email, and video, for jobs around DC, and one in Boston. It sounded like a great opportunity to keep doing what I know and enjoy but lots of new things as well (basically, exactly what you want when you’re looking for a new job). And there’d be opportunities to keep speaking French from time to time. I got an email the week we arrived, asking me to come up to Boston for an interview, which went extremely well and just confirmed what a good fit this was for me, since a week later, I got the offer! A pretty sweet offer too. Along with three other calls for interviews from companies I had applied to within the past few weeks, all in the DC area! When it rains, it pours, right? Added to that was the interview and offer my husband got last week as well, in Baltimore. A very busy week for us!

The choice was difficult but not really. Baltimore was not exactly on our “list of cities,” being so close to where I grew up and and not a financial center. Boston was at the top our our list. My husband actually had a call with a company there the week we arrived, so we know he’ll have lots of options there. And the job he was offered is moving to the Delaware office in a few years, which, no offense to “The First State,” did not sound even a little bit fun. So while part of me feels guilty for him having to turn down his offer and follow me yet again into the unknown, a bigger part of me knows this is the right choice. This is a big reason why we moved to the States, to have better career options, and I really think Boston is a place where we can both do that. Staying around DC would be okay for us, but not great.

And while I know one day is not like living there, I felt very comfortable driving around Boston, even downtown. It all seemed different in a good, familiar way, if that makes sense. Well, I did used to go there during college to see a boyfriend, but that was 10 years ago, and in one tiny area of the city, so it’ll all still be very new to me. We’re going up soon to look at apartments, and I’m hoping the trip will make my husband a little happier about our choice. I mean, he’s happy I got a job I’m sure I’ll love, but it was scary for him to say no to an offer, not knowing when another will come up. However, if the past few weeks are any indication, I really think he’ll find something quickly. But not too quickly, because finding daycare is my next challenge and is proving to be slightly impossible . . .

This was a bit long, so if you’ve made it this far, thank you! Here’s my summary of job hunting while abroad: pick good cities with lots of jobs, start very early, get depressed about all the rejections, start applying to only cool things, then apply to only things near your parents, move,  have everything good happen within the space of about two weeks, make a huge decision that will impact your child, your marriage, and your happiness, then cross your fingers it will all be fine.

First experience with banks and doctors in the States

Less than two weeks into our new life, and we’ve experienced a few new things. Banks and doctors in the States are, of course, very different than in France, but it’s still a bit jarring to realize that I don’t really know how either work, despite having spent the first two decades of my life here.

 

Banking

I had maintained the savings account that I’ve had since college to pay my student loans, but closed my checking after a few years in France to avoid paying the fees. I opened a new one this summer, and transferred all of our money into it a few weeks before moving, expecting to be able to use the card sent a few months ago to my parents’ house upon arrival . . . Except they forget the “safe place” where they were keeping it!

No big deal, we had our French cards, and we could always go into an actual bank to withdraw money. Also, I had wanted to set up free online checking with another bank once we arrived, so I went ahead and did that. You don’t need a bank card to transfer money into a new account, just the routing and account numbers, which I had. While waiting for the new fee-free check card, I found the other one while cleaning my old room. (For anyone who has taken on the task of cleaning out your room at your parents’ house, you know how simultaneously fun and sad this can be.)

So hurray, I now have two bank cards, two accounts, and two ways to pay for all the things we’ll be needing to buy soon. But my poor husband still had nothing, since he was waiting on his social security number. It has been surprising to me how many things need this, at least coming from France, since they mainly use ID cards to identify people. But it showed up Friday, less than two weeks after arriving, and I went online to add him to my account.

Except the social security number is so new, he couldn’t be added! He needed to call to verify his identity. Reassuring but also mildly frustrating. He handled it like a pro though, since his job at the bank involved talking on the phone with clients all day about banking things and verifying their identities! I’m not sure if this would be a problem for people going in person to set up an account, but it’s something to keep in mind with the current trend of banking moving towards all online and phone services.

 

Doctors

This is not the sexiest secret to share, but I’ve had my ear blocked by wax the past few months, and was managing it with drops the doctor in France gave me. I could have gotten her to do the removal procedure, but every time I went in, I was with bébé, who refuses to let me out of his clutches in the presence of the evil shot-giver. It wasn’t too bad, and in the days leading up to the flight, almost all better, so I figured it would be fine and left my drops in France, leaving precious packing room for more important, non-replacable things.

The first few days here were okay, but every morning it got harder and harder to get rid of the “sleep fuzz” as I call it, so I went and bought drops here, along with a little bulb syringe. It didn’t really help the way I needed, and messing around so much probably just made it worse. The travel health insurance we bought doesn’t cover preexisting conditions, and I wasn’t up for calling all the doctors in town to see who would take me without insurance.

When visiting a daycare here, they mentioned CVS minute clinic as a way to fill out the immunization paperwork, since we don’t have a pediatrician here yet. So when my ear became totally blocked Saturday morning and I could barely hear anymore, I decided to check them out. Of course the one I went to that opened at 9 was exceptionally closed until 11, but at least I was first in line! It took about 30 minutes once it opened to sign myself in on the computer, wait a few more minutes to be called, and get the procedure.

It cost 89 dollars, which would make most people in France gasp in horror, but if you’ve ever had a blocked ear, you know you’d gladly pay much more to be able to hear normally again! I feel silly for not finding the time to do it in France before I left, but at least this gave me an idea of the kind of medical care available here. I know one clinic is not indicative of everywhere, but for a consultation or vaccine or short procedure like “cerumen removal”, it’s good to know there’s something available 7 days a week that doesn’t cost hundreds of dollars. And if it is a sudden illness, the travel insurance does cover one doctor’s visit, so it might even be “free”.