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.