Going to a concert at 35 weeks pregnant

During our little road trip in Western France, we would alternate who chose the music, and the following conversation happened in the car:

Husband: What band is this?

Me: Flogging Molly. I’ve never played them for you before?

Husband: No. But I like it. It’s good bar fightin’ music.

Me: They were one of my favorite bands in high school. I went to see them whenever they were in town. It’s been like, 8 or 10 years at least since I last saw them. I wonder if they’re still touring . . .

(a few seconds of googling)

Me: Oh wow they’re coming to Luxembourg in June! Do you want to go?

Husband: Sure, but won’t you be like, super pregnant?

Me: I’ll ask the doctor.

 

When I first asked him in April, he didn’t say yes or no, rather he wanted to wait until the date was closer and we saw what condition I was in. My totally boring and normal pregnancy has continued to be boring and normal, so when I saw him the day before the concert, he said it would be fine, as long as I didn’t get too dehydrated or tired (it’s been in the upper 20s C / low 80s F here the past few days and super humid). He didn’t say anything about it being too loud, and from what I read on my own, one or two concerts in 40 weeks will not cause any hearing damage (things like working every day on a construction site might). If he’d had even the slightest hesitation or worry, even if I felt okay, I would not have gone.

The evening was already a little cooler than it has been lately, with a nice breeze, so things were off to a good start. I met my husband in Luxembourg after work for dinner, then we walked over to the venue, Den Atelier, which is very close to the train station. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there’s no smoking allowed inside, since you can still smoke in bars in Luxembourg. And though of course the one person who ignored this rule happened to be right next to me, he only smoked one cigarette and then came over and apologized at the end, saying he didn’t see that I was pregnant! (Understandable since it was dark and I was in a dark tank top.) After dealing throughout my pregnancy with people smoking next to me at bus stops and train stations and never being brave enough to say anything, it kind of made my month.

There’s a balcony level, with wide benches against the wall for sitting/standing, so it was perfect for me. I could stand up and dance (well, sway my belly from side to side) when I wanted and didn’t have to sit down on the floor when I got tired. There’s also a small bar on the balcony level, which was very convenient. The venue is small, around 1000 people I think, and since most people like to be downstairs, upstairs there was plenty of room and you still had a really good view of the stage.

They’re an awesome group to see live, and watching the crowd below dance like crazy was almost as much fun as when I was younger and would be in the middle of it. The energy was really great, and something I’ve missed at other concerts we’ve been to. If it had been any other group, I don’t think I would have bothered, but I knew it would be well worth an extra bit of tiredness and achy feet. I’m so happy the timing worked out, and the doctor okayed it. We got to have a last late night out just us two, and I got to share some of my favorite music with my husband and bébé. We’ll have to wait and see if the experience means he’ll only fall asleep to “bar fightin’ music”!

Flogging Molly concert at 35 weeks
Flogging Molly concert at 35 weeks

Why I keep every paper ever

I got a letter from my complementary health insurance asking for an updated certificate from the national health insurance (the CPAM for me). I thought it might have to do with the pregnancy, since certain things are reimbursed at 100%, it means less for the complementary insurance to pay. (They already don’t pay very much to begin with: because of specific local laws for those living in Alsace-Moselle, the CPAM pays 90% for most things, rather than just 70% like the rest of France.)

However, it turns out the last certificate they had was from my student days, in 2011! Apparently I have not been getting reimbursed for everything I could have for the past three years. I go to the doctor maybe twice a year, so I didn’t really notice the missing 3 euros, but still, a nice surprise. I just have to give them the papers that the CPAM sends me with the details of what they paid.

I have an online account, but there’s only the past 6 months of payments, and the complementary insurance will back pay up to two years. Which is why I’m glad I keep every paper I ever get and file things in various large folders with labels like “Bank stuff” “Health stuff” and “Tax stuff” (all with a semi-chronological organization). I definitely try to keep track of paperwork very well here, just in case my residency card depends on showing a payslip from 2008 or a bank statement from 2010 for some reason. However, my recent renewal was one of the easiest ever actually, and I came home without needing half the papers I brought “just in case.”

In the end, I’ll probably only get about 15 euros, but that’s enough for yet another cute baby outfit! And when you combine paperwork organization and nesting, you get yet another folder full of receipts for baby clothes, just in case he comes out gigantic and half the things I bought don’t even fit . . .

Bank card limits in France

My nesting instinct hasn’t quite kicked in yet (the freezer remains mostly empty and the closets horribly disorganized) but my shopping definitely seems to have picked up a bit this month. So I’ve been having lots of fun, but in the back of my head, I have to keep in mind the spending limits on my bank card.

Since I moved to France right after college, I’m not sure how different things are here, but I know my dad was upset recently that his free checking accounting was no longer free. I’ve been paying a few euros a month since the very first month for my account here, so I couldn’t really sympathize with him. I do know that what I pay is because I have a debit card; the joint account with my husband only has a checkbook so we don’t pay anything for it.

In addition to the monthly fee, there are limits on how much I can withdraw each week, and how much I can spend in a month using the card (there are no limits to withdrawing at the bank, other than the amount actually in the account!). When I first arrived in France, these limits were pretty low, which wasn’t a big deal, since I didn’t make that much. And it’s nice to know that if my card gets stolen and someone tries to buy or withdraw a lot, they won’t be able to. Recently I asked my banker to increase the limits, since my work situation is stable, but I still need to keep that number in my mind when buying big ticket items over the next few weeks.

Both my husband and I are at Société Générale now, but before he was at Crédit Mutuel, and I’m not sure if he had the same limits. I remember the first time we tried to buy plane tickets with his new card, and we couldn’t, because he was close to the monthly limit, and he swore he’d never had one at his old bank. It could just be that he had never reached his limit before, so never knew what it was.

One nice thing is that there re no fees when withdrawing from an ATM at another bank, with, of course, a weekly limit. This is something I loved when I first got here, since there was nothing more annoying to me in the states than paying an extra 2 dollars when I didn’t use my bank’s ATM. 2 dollars is a lot to a college student on minimum wage! That’s like, enough for an essential studying snack or bus fare to the mall.

I’ve been looking into purely online banking for a while, but I’ve been at the same bank since I first got here, and with the same banker for over 4 years. He knows us, knows our goals, and gives good advice. We also manage to get enough “new” services every year that we help him meet his sales quota without him having to call and badger us every few months. So if we called him and asked to up the limit so we can buy a crib, he’d do it, no problem. I don’t feel like I can’t spend my own money how I want to, it just takes a bit more planning. Which, when dealing with budgets, is probably not such a bad thing.

I’ve gotten used to my bank card limits in France just like I’ve gotten used to everything being closed on Sundays and after 7pm. Sure, a part of me feels like this is somehow denying me my freedom of choice, but at the same time, it’s made me more organized and conscious of how I spend my money (and time).

Holiday birthdays

My husband’s birthday was this week, and I felt bad that I wasn’t in the best shape to fête it like we usually do. He was still on vacation most of this week, but went back to work on his birthday, which confused me, since if you have the choice, who wants to work on their birthday? But I don’t really know how people feel about “normal” birthdays, since I have a holiday birthday.

I was born on Christmas, which was a great present for my parents but has not always been easy for me. There are good things, like never having to work, and the food is always yummy, and people are in a festive mood. There are the bad things, like less presents, but as an adult you’re not really allowed to say that because by now you’re supposed to understand that Christmas is about more than just presents, right?

Growing up, my parents always said they would make me whatever I wanted if I didn’t want to eat the turkey with everyone else (though I rarely took them up on it; turkey and mashed potatoes is fine by me any night!) And I was very particular about my cakes (purple strawberry, cupcake cocktails). In France, since we don’t host the dinner ourselves, I have no say in terms of menu and dessert and even cake choices, which has been hard. But again, as an adult, you’re not supposed to make a big deal about things like this. It shouldn’t matter what you eat, Christmas is about being with family and celebrating other things besides whiny little you.

Despite not really knowing exactly when the bébé will come, he could theoretically be born on either July 4th or 14th. At first it seems like this would be pretty cool. But then I really think about it, and there would definitely be drawbacks. Yes he would have fireworks and we wouldn’t have to work, but unless we hosted a party, friends and family would probably already have other stuff planned that day. Or they’d all be on vacation (though this is a problem with all summer birthdays). And any party would pretty much have to be a barbecue. And if we didn’t throw a party, it would be hard to find a restaurant open that day if we wanted to go out. And eventually he would realize that all the celebrations and parades have nothing to do with him.

It seems like little, stupid things to care about, but if your birthday is supposed to be a special day just for you, holiday birthdays are hard because you’re automatically sharing it with everyone else. And it does seem like people try to avoid them as much as possible (though that might have more to do with hospital staffing than the mother’s choice):

(The chart and interactive table are just for the states; I would love if someone did something like this for France!)

In the end, birthdays are something you have very little control over, other than how you choose to celebrate. And holiday birthdays come with lots of built-in celebrations and traditions that you may or may not like.

But for my husband and his “normal” birthday, celebrations this year involved inviting his family over today and cooking for them, followed by a leisurely walk in the sun along the river. And really, when I think about it, that’s the same thing we do for mine: eating, talking, and spending time with loved ones. So no matter what birthday bébé ends up with, we’ll always try and do the same! (And if it is a holiday, and he doesn’t want barbecue, I’ll make him whatever else he wants to eat).

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.

Busy weekend

Sometimes we spend weekends doing nothing. And some weekends it seems like we do everything all at once to make up for the lazy ones. This was definitely a very busy weekend for us. So busy, I am only now getting around to writing about it! Also, last week was crazy at work, so that just added to the sense of packing a lot into a few days.

To start, we bought a new car! A new new car, not just a “new to us” car. It’s a Chevrolet, the same one we rented in the states in October that my husband just fell in love with it. So he went about setting up a test drive a few months ago and getting the information together to order one this summer. But then they called him to say that since Chevrolet is stopping their business in France, they were getting rid of a lot of their display models with big discounts, and if instead he ordered the exact one he wanted it wouldn’t be ready until September. So we decided to get it now, even if it doesn’t have 100% of the fancy features like a touch screen control panel, since it was about 6000€ cheaper.

We went to pick it up Saturday, and it actually took a while for the salesman to explain all the different features. He was kind of the perfect car salesman: loud check jacket, shiny shoes, overpowering cologne. I don’t know if that’s the stereotype here, but I loved that he matched the idea I had in my head when my husband talked about him.

The rest of the day was spent getting ready for Sunday, which was our gender reveal party! I’ll try to do a longer recap post about it, since there were a few projects I’m particularly pleased with. The short version is, the French don’t really do baby showers (here’s a hilarious examination of why not) but my hormones I decided, gosh darn it, I wanted to eat cake and drink punch and talk about my baby. So, as I usually try to do when introducing my crazy American traditions to my in-laws, I tried to find a good compromise. I would have felt super awkward about throwing a shower for myself and explaining that people should bring presents, but I never feel awkward about asking people over to eat cake. And once everyone understood what was so special about this cake, they seemed pretty into it.

We decided to find out at the same time as everyone else, so until yesterday, only the midwife who did the sonogram and the cake lady knew what we’re having!

Gender Reveal

 

And the cake revealed . . . it’s a boy!

(This news will also get it’s own post probably, since I have all sorts of feelings about it!)

The cake was also insanely delicious, minus the sugary fondant, but does anyone actually like that part of the cake? I mean, it was well done, I just don’t like it that much. This is now the third American-style baker we’ve tried, the first for the wedding and the second for my birthday in December, and everyone agreed this is the best so far. Super light cake, creamy  filling, all sorts of yumminess. So if you’re in Northeastern France and need a cake, Les Délices de Lisa is the way to go!

Writing it all out, it actually doesn’t seem like we really did that much this weekend besides buy something and eat cake. But both required a lot of preparation and we took the time to enjoy both as much as we could, so the past two days just flew by! And next weekend is shaping up to be just as busy, but sadly, no cake. Unless I can think of a reason in the next few days for another one . . .

Wanting to impress my mother-in-law

I think in any culture, relationships with the in-laws can be tricky. I’ve never had an American mother-in-law, so I can’t really compare my experience here to anything, besides what friends tell me and what I see on TV.  However, I do think I managed to get pretty lucky. I’m not saying she’s perfect or that we agree on everything, but my mother-in-law has treated me like a perfectly capable adult from the very beginning (my husband, of course, will remain her little boy for the rest of his life). She’s friendly without being overbearing, interested in art and travelling, always sends us home with food, and she even seems to have gotten used to some of my more unusual language and cultural quirks. And besides the one, big, obligatory blow-out during wedding planning (which, after the wedding, she totally admitted I was right about), she’s never tried to force her opinions or advice on me. Sometimes she even asks mine on things like museums to visit during her travels. Overall, we accept and like each other a good deal, while acknowledging that we are very different people who will never be BFFs, but that’s totally okay for both of us.

That being said, I do still feel the need to impress my mother-in-law as often as I can. Maybe to show her that she got lucky too (I bake, I sew, I build Ikea furniture, I’m every mother’s dream for her son!). Or maybe because of my middle child syndrome, I need all the motherly attention I can get. Probably a little of both.

This weekend we celebrated the birthdays of both my brother- and sister-in-law. My MIL had ordered something for her daughter that hadn’t arrived yet and called me Saturday morning to see if I would have time to go into town so there’d be at least a little something to open the next day. She told me to get a t-shirt “kind of flashy, maybe for our trip to la Reunion this summer, and not like 100€ or anything.”

This was a whole new level in our MIL/DIL relationship. She doesn’t tend to involve me in “family drama” (not that this was at all dramatic), which I have always interpreted as her treating me like an adult with my own life, not as her not considering me part of the family. The biggest favor she’s asked me in the past was to make cheesecakes for a dinner she hosted for out-of-town guests. Liking my cheesecake is one thing, but trusting my taste in fashion is pretty serious. And it’s really not even my taste, it’s my interpretation of her taste for her daughter, with fairly vague instructions. So to say I spent quite some time looking in a few different stores trying to find the right thing is a bit of an understatement.

I’m not sure why this was so much more stressful than the cheesecakes. Maybe because you can always blame cooking failures on the equipment or the ingredients or the weather. But if she didn’t like the t-shirt, I couldn’t exactly blame the store for having ugly stuff. In the end, it was my choice and mine alone.

Presents were opened before we ate, so I didn’t have to sit through the entire 3-hour French Sunday lunch worrying about it. And . . . both the MIL and SIL were very happy with what I picked! Hurray!

So while my baking skills have been established for awhile, it seems I have now impressed her with my eye for fashion as well. It’s natural that our relationship changes as the years go by, and I’m happy that it’s still developing in a positive way. It puts me at ease for the big change coming this summer, and the new little family member that will change our relationship in all sorts of ways!

New Phone

I have to start this by saying I am insanely picky about cell phones. With the plan I have, I can buy a new phone relatively cheaply every two years, which is not really a problem for me, since it takes me approximately two years to choose one. I read all the reviews, look at videos, compare things like battery life and camera quality. I go to the store a few times, hold the phones, see what feels best. It’s quite a long process.

My husband gets a bit impatient with me, since he usually just pays full price for the newest cool phone he takes a fancy to every year or so. But it’s an important decision I think, given how central cell phones have become in daily life. If I’m going to be using something on a regular basis, I want to be sure it fits my needs as best as possible. I’m pretty sure we picked an apartment quicker than I picked my new phone, but there was a time crunch involved. When I have time to choose, I take all the time I possibly can.

Last week was the big day and going against all my original feelings on the subject, I got a new, gigantic, fully tactile HTC smarty smart phone. I don’t like tactile keyboards, and I wanted something small. Blackberry was the only one available right now that had real buttons to push and wasn’t too big, but I wasn’t sure I’d actually be able to use it the way I want to, since there don’t seem to be all the applications I’m used to.

I took a quick photo to compare this new monstrosity with my perfect little old Sony Ericsson with sliding keyboard (the pen is to show the size).

New phone

 

I definitely miss the keyboard, since despite predictive text in both French and English on my new phone, I still manage to send texts like “I’m running a big late” which makes me crazy, even if I know that people know what I mean. And I’m not used to the size, nor are my purses, which all have tiny little side pockets for tiny little phones.

However, the bigger screen is definitely all sorts of awesome, for videos and photos, which is a big reason I chose it. I’m sure I’ll be taking plenty of both come summer, so I wanted something that would make it as easy as possible to share all things bébé with loved ones near and far. (For now, I mostly have pictures of our cat, roughly a 50:1 cat to husband ratio, which was the case with my old phone too.)

One cool thing I am definitely using a lot is the remote control function. I didn’t know about it when I bought it, but you can program the phone to act as a remote for TV and cable. This only makes me lazier really, since it means I can just pick up my phone, which is usually within arm’s reach, rather than hunt around for the remotes. People who have been controlling stuff with their ipads or phones for years are probably rolling their eyes at me (actually, most of you probably are at this point anyway, since I have dedicated an entire blog post to my ambiguous feelings for my new phone, for heaven’s sake). But this is about as interconnected as I have ever been and I am just fascinated and love it. If I ever get a car that has one of those unlock/lock apps, I can tell I will be totally into it.

I originally wanted something to help optimize my commute time by answering emails and things like that. I have ended up with a very small camera that can also turn on my TV.

Does anyone else spend this much time/effort when buying a new phone? Or is it just me?

Grown-up talk

Remember when you were little, and listening to what the grown-ups were talking about after dinner was soooo boring?

Or remember in college when you would be around older siblings/cousins/TAs/whatever, and you were like “I’m so glad I’m still young and can have fun and don’t need to worry about things like IRAs and mortgages and babies?”

Last night we went out for a friend’s birthday, and while there was talk of upcoming concerts, and TV, and football (both American and soccer), there was definitely a lot of grown-up talk as well. People buying houses, changing jobs, looking for a good crèche.

And actually, I didn’t mind so much or find it boring. I must be a grown-up! When did that happen??

I gave lessons to a woman my first few years in France, and she was about 6-8 years older than me I think. I never asked her exact age, but she made reference to her 30th birthday when I was 23. I don’t remember if we were reading an article or discussing an expression like “mutton dressed as lamb” (still looking for a good French translation for that one) but she said she never felt the need to act or dress younger. She was totally fine with her age and was happy being an adult, being taken seriously at work, being able to do and have the things she wanted.

I, in my early twenties, smiled on the outside, and rolled my eyes on the inside thinking “yeah right, you’re just telling yourself that because it actually sucks getting older and you’re trying to reassure yourself.” (Well, I was thinking something similar to that, but less mean that it seems to have come out here.)

But now that I have reached my late twenties, I kind of understand what she meant. I wouldn’t say my “youth” is entirely over yet, but I don’t feel any much fear or regret about getting older. I enjoyed a certain kind of fun a few years ago, now I enjoy a different kind. One that involves sleeping a lot more, but also staying in actual hotels when we travel and ordering drinks without worrying if we’ll have enough for dinner as well. Our conversation topics have changed a bit, but our friends have changed right along with us, so it’s not like we’re alone in this. And I think that’s what scares you when you’re younger, is that you see older people individually, and you think of your individual life compared to theirs. But by the time you’re that age, everyone you know is the same age too, and it’s not so scary. Everyone’s life is kind of the same. Yes, there is a moment of panic when that first friend buys a house/gets married/has a baby (which is an even bigger moment if you are the first!) but it all evens out after a few years.

It’s not comparing our lives to our friends’ lives really, more like, finding ourselves in similar situations. Just like in middle school, everyone had pimples and braces at some point. If you were the first, everyone noticed more, but then it was over sooner for you, and you could pass on your sage advice to your friends.

So as “boring” as a younger me would have found it, last night was a perfectly nice evening out with friends, talking about the things that interest us and what’s going on in our lives, just like we’ve always done.