The same but different

In the past few months, I have become very aware of how much I missed by being abroad for almost all of my 20s. I’ve been taking the metro more in Boston lately, and when I look at these young(er) people, I feel like they are living a life I will never know anything about. Then, I was at a conference last week near where my parents live so I saw some of my high school friends. When talking about first jobs or first dates, I realized I have nothing similar to share.
I think some of it is just missing that young single life I didn’t really have. Meeting your husband at 21 makes your 20s look a lot different than if you find him at 30. But it’s also the fact that I was never young in the states. I mean, I’m still young, but not the carefree young. There was a very short window of time, only a few months really, that I was working, single, and old enough to go to bars. And even that was tempered by knowing that I’d be leaving for France.
While I spent my early 20s broke like most, there was the added stress about staying in the country, and that makes you think about money in a very different way. The joys and frustrations of figuring out the complexities of French administration and immigration is not something you can bond with people over if they’ve never left the state.
It’s also a pop culture thing. It’s almost as if I wish I didn’t have this extra experience that makes it hard to connect.  I missed so much in terms of music, movies, televisions… I try to remind myself that traveling around Europe > watching the Bachelor, but it’s hard when trying to make new friends and I realize I have no idea what they’re talking about.
It’s funny because a year ago I felt like I belonged. It felt so right being here. And while I still love my job, and think this move was a great idea, the longer I’m here, the more different I start to feel again… sigh. I guess it’s true that there’s no real “going home” for an expat.

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.

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.

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!

The French family is visiting!

My husband’s mother and sister arrived last Friday for a two weeks visit. Bébé is super happy to have Mamie and Tata here, and I am more than happy to let someone else cook and play with bébé. I have managed to work out every single day since they got here, which has also been amazing.

I was very nervous about this visit because she has said in the past she never really wanted to visit the states. We all have places that just don’t hold any interest for us. Mine is Spain (which I know 90% of people find weird!). And while she would have preferred we didn’t leave France with her only grandchild, she also lived abroad for many years while her kids were young, so she couldn’t exactly tell us not to go. Still, I wanted her to be happy about our choice, and her liking the country/city we live in is very important to me.

And she definitely likes it so far! She finds all the brick in Boston quite charming, thinks our brand new apartment lovely, enjoys walking along the river, and is not totally disgusted by American food. We took her to Lexington, Walden Pond, Castle Island, the MFA, and some of our favorite restaurants. Next week we’re headed to Maine for a few days on the ocean eating lobster. We’ve never been to Maine, and I hadn’t been to the MFA properly, so it’s great to be able to explore new things during their visit.

I hope the second week goes as well as this first week has!

A visit to Salem in the summer

My husband passed a financial exam last Saturday, after studying for the past six months. What better way to celebrate than with a trip to Salem, also known as Witch City? (There’s really no link between the two things, other than I am super proud of him for passing it so I wanted to mention it!)

I read there was a maritime festival happening last weekend, and since bébé loves boats, I thought it’d be a fun reason to check out Salem. It was a quick drive up 95, and as usual when traveling with bébé, we got there before 9 and there was tons of parking (frugal tip: street parking is often free on Sundays, so arriving early is always good!). We walked around the deserted streets, enjoying the old houses and pedestrian city center before getting (our second) breakfast.

Empty center
Empty center

I’m not sure what I expected, but it felt more European than I thought it would. I’ve heard people say Boston is a very European American city, but so far I don’t really see it. Parts of it are definitely old, and I like it, but it’s not the same feel. Maybe it’s just not like the parts of Europe I’ve been to.

Salem felt more like something familiar. There was a pedestrian center with shops and cafes on a square where you can sit outside. There are lots of old buildings, some are brick, others are First Period houses, and the newer ones blend in pretty well I think. I am not a fan of old mixed with new, I like when cities try to be harmonious. Think Paris, not London. Florence, not Rome. So I liked Salem a lot.

Salem architecture
Salem architecture

I’m not sure if I’ll like it as much in the fall, when the witches come out… There was a little taste of spookiness, which is easy to handle in the sunshine.

Salem

The maritime festival started later than I thought it would, so we didn’t see much. But we did get to see the boats in the harbor (does everyone in Salem get a boat when they buy a house?) and the canon. Bébé behaved beautifully, so we’re crossing out fingers that a slightly easier period is upon us after the screaming fits that plagued us last month.

There were a bunch of these near the museum all painted differently
There were a bunch of these near the museum all painted differently
Much calmer than in Salem's 18th century maritime heyday
Much calmer than in Salem’s 18th century maritime heyday
Sadly, they did not actually shoot the cannon
Sadly, they did not actually shoot the cannon

This weekend I was supposed to take bébé to Providence to visit a friend, to give my husband a break after all that studying. She was sick so we rescheduled, but I tried to at least give him Saturday morning free. So I took bébé to the same farm we visited a few months ago (Drumlin Farm) that’s only 2 dollars per person with a library pass. He liked it last time, but absolutely loved it this time, since he’s now completely obsessed with farm animals. I might have to look into a Mass Audubon membership so we can go as much as we want for free (and all the other wildlife sanctuaries in the state, plus other nifty benefits like member-only access to CSAs and campsites).

I wish I didn’t just post weekend updates, but we really don’t do much during the week! We did call the babysitter to go out for drinks one night last week, and my husband freaked out because he forgot his wallet and was worried about not being able to drink. But then we didn’t get carded, so I guess we’re officially old!

July wrap up

Well that month went by fast! I’ll see if I can remember everything that happened…

My first conference

We were in DC the weekend after bébé’s birthday to visit family, eat more birthday related pastries, and so that I could attend my first professional conference! We all flew down Saturday morning and I stayed on through Thursday while the boys went back Monday morning. Of course bébé slept the whole plane ride home, making me very jealous until it turned out it was because he had an ear infection. He tried daycare but ended up staying home with daddy the next day. And then the daycare called to say hand, foot, mouth disease was making its rounds, which he definitely got in addition to the ear infection. So while I had a great week learning and networking and feeling like a super successful professional lady, it was not a super fun week for my boys. But my husband did an amazing job! I’m not in a role where I need to travel a lot (or even that often – this was pretty much the one time per year), but knowing things at home, including the hard stuff, can be handled just fine without me is reassuring. Though hopefully next time bébé will not be suffering from multiple maladies and it will be a bit easier for them both!

Sun, sand, and water

The weather has been great all month, so bébé has been to the pool every weekend, sometimes just with daddy, sometimes with both of us. We also went to the Revere Beach Sand Sculpting festival, and were pleased to discover the beach is equally agreeable to bébé as the pool is. More so, perhaps, since he has much more room to run around.

I will probably repeat this several times over the next few months, but I really really love that we’re less than 30 minutes from the ocean. For someone growing up a good three hours away from the beach, this seems quite luxurious. My husband asked if we could go to the beach every weekend. I said we could go every night after work if he really wanted. It’s probably less of a novelty for him, since he spent elementary school on the island of Mayotte where his mother taught, but we’re still both excited about how much beach time bébé will get in the coming years. Though we are not set on Revere beach as “our” beach, since we still have many more beaches to explore in the area.

Art fail

It seems like bébé decided “hey, I’m two, time to get learnin’!” and his growth in all areas has exploded exponentially this month. To encourage this period of ever increasing curiosity, I thought I’d take him to the Institute of Contemporary Art. Always trying to keep things cheap if possible, we went on one of their Saturday Play Dates, when it’s free for up to 2 adults accompanying children (who are always free). I even found street parking that was only 2 dollars instead of the 15 dollar lot. So while we only spent about 20 minutes in the museum, it wasn’t too expensive of an outing.

Besides the art we (very briefly) saw, the location on the water is really pretty and the building is cool. Bébé liked the area out back with steps to climb up and down, and the walkways along the water. I think he’s still a few years from appreciating art (and not trying to destroy it) but I think I’ll keep taking him to museums when I can (=when it’s free). Getting used to the space, the atmosphere, and having special time with me will hopefully make it something we keep doing as years go by. And there are tons of museums in Boston to discover together!

 

August will hopefully be a little calmer, but still with weekend adventures. And I’ll try to write it down as it happens, rather than attempting to remember it all during the last few hours on the 31st…

Boats around Boston

We live right by the train station, so bébé is naturally fascinated by the trains that pass by his window every hour or so (though thankfully not at night since it’s the commuter rail). However last weekend and this weekend we were around boats, so now we’ve added that to the list of things he loves.

My parents were visiting last weekend and the only thing they really wanted to see was the USS Constitution. We got there right as the museum opened and wandered around for a bit before we got in the line to explore the ship. Bébé liked the museum (they have a great kids area with games) but was just a bit too tired to wait in line to go on the “batoo” (bateau). My parents got in a bit later than planned Friday night and he was up much later than his regular bedtime so that we could go out to eat. So my husband took him home for a nap while my parents and I explored the ship.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was really cool. You can go down into it, and there are three lower levels you climb down little stairs to get to, so I felt very sailor-y. My husband didn’t realize it was free (as is the museum, though donations are suggested), so he definitely wants to go back with bébé another weekend and check it out. I think they’ll both love it.

This weekend we went to my colleague’s house on Cape Cod for the day, and he has a (much smaller) boat. There were motor troubles, so it was mostly sitting around on the water for an hour and a half, but it was such a sunny, beautiful day, nobody minded. (Except for my colleague, because he was obviously annoyed that his boat wasn’t working!) For the few minutes that the motor was working, bébé LOVED it. He was leaning over the edge looking at the waves, and giggling as the wind whipped through his hair. I made me think of Ariel in The Little Mermaid when she leans over the carriage to watch the horses legs move. (Bébé has also taken to looking under cars in the parking lot, so I think we may have a very mechanical child on our hands . . .)

Also like Ariel, bébé loves being in the water. He will run towards any large body of water at full speed, no matter the weather or what he’s wearing. We were at Pleasant Bay on Cape Cod, so very calm waters, and nothing scarier than a horseshoe crab. We’ll definitely be making another trip out there this summer, especially since I realized while driving down that there are no tolls! We packed a lunch and had breakfast at my colleague’s house, so we just paid for gas (which we didn’t even use that much of, as we happily discovered that our car gets amazing highway mileage.)

It’s been super sunny and nice lately, so I think we’ll be planning a cruise around Boston harbor to take advantage of the weather and encourage bébé’s love of all things boat and water related. Probably won’t be as cheap as the past few weekends, but his birthday is coming up, and how fun would a birthday boat cruise be?

Exploring Boston for free

We discussed getting out of town for Memorial Day weekend, but in the end, we decided on a staycation and explore Boston more. And as an added bonus, nearly everything was free!

Saturday we headed to Castle Island, to the south. Parking is free, but fills up fast. We ended up parking closer to the long path that curves around the bay (Google maps tells me it’s called the Head Island Causeway), rather than in the lot right at the park.

Castle Island 1

It turned into a hot day, but the morning walk along the water was really nice. I really love the sounds and smells of the sea, but I’m not a fan of sand. So while there were beaches around the bay, being on the island was nice, since it was grassy and you could be by the water without getting sandy.

The island is a great place for kids, with a big playground and lots of green space for kids to run around. The tours of Fort Independence are only in the afternoon, so we didn’t stick around to do it. We have learned it’s just best for everyone to not skip nap time.

Castle Island 2

We brought some food to snack on, but will definitely try out Sullivan’s on our next trip. We also skipped the toll roads, and got a great view of the Boston skyline when driving back along 93.

View of Boston

 

So overall cost for the day was just gas, which, at about 15 miles away, probably comes to about a dollar and a half. Not to bad for a little morning trip to the sea.

On the drive back, we passed a park with a spray deck. I have no idea if these exist in France, or even in other cities. Probably. Hopefully. Because they are awesome. It’s literally just a bunch of sprinklers and shoots of water on a flat area for kids to run around in. Since it got up in the 90s on Saturday afternoon, I thought this would be a fun thing for bébé to try. And he definitely loved it. There are a bunch around that I can’t wait to try out this summer.

Sunday we checked out the Arnold Arboretum, in Jamaica Plain. I feel like pictures really don’t do it justice. It’s like, a very pretty, manicured forest, with super wide paths. Bébé went crazy running all over the place, and laying in the grass, and smelling flowers. Arnold Arboretum

Parking is also free, and harder to find as the day goes on, so at least there’s one advantage to having a toddler who wakes up before 6 most days! Again, gas was probably less than two dollars, maybe even less than one, since it’s only about 10 miles away.

Sunday afternoon I headed to Cambridge to pick up a dining room table I found on Craigslist. It was a new area of Cambridge for me, so that was fun to drive around looking at everything.

I found some chairs on Craigslist as well, and picked them up this morning down the street from the Museum of Fine Arts, which was free today. So bébé and I checked it out while my husband took the chairs home, thus saving me the 25 dollars in parking (though paying tolls twice, so 5 dollars plus gas). The museum was not quite as fun as the island or the arboretum, since bébé could’t touch anything. Still, there were a few pieces you could interact with, and he seemed interested in a few paintings and stained glass windows. Mostly though, he liked climbing on the benches and stairs.

And finally, this afternoon I went to a movie for the first time since Christmas. It was in Lexington, a super cute (and historically important) town only 5 miles away that I’m sure we’ll go visit again and again. There’s a bike trail and ice cream shop and all sorts of stuff for kids this summer. I totally have a crush on this town.  Of course the houses start at like, 1.2 million dollars, so it will have to stay a crush, sigh.

Overall, it was a great weekend getting to know the area a little better. Our exploring actually started last weekend with a visit to Walden Pond (free parking with a library pass!), which will be another nice place for bébé to play in the water this summer. The walk around the pond got us thinking about longer hikes we might try, now that he’s slowly getting used to being in the baby carrier on our backs. A good system seems to be to let him run around for a good half hour before putting him in it, so that he’s tired and doesn’t mind being carried.

I didn’t set out to make this a “no-spend” weekend, but having bought the car a little earlier than planned, it’s interesting to see that it’s actually easier to get to cool free stuff than before. So to help offset the higher transportation costs, I like the idea of sticking to cheap and free family activities on the weekends. And honestly, with bébé’s attention span the way it is, there’s no sense in dropping tons of money on doing something he’ll like for about three minutes.

Right now, what he most seems to enjoy is being outside, running around, chatting up strangers, and if possible, getting wet. There are plenty of cool places to do that for free in the area, and I’m happy we got to visit a few this weekend. At work when people mention things, I can finally start to say “Oh yeah, we’ve been there!” and begin adding things to my list of recommendations for visitors. First up is my parents in a few weeks!

 

 

The importance of music

I was going to write a whole post about our awful experience buying a car. However, everyone I’ve spoken to has said it wasn’t fun for them either, so perhaps it’s just an accepted thing that car buying sucks. I did want to mention that this experience included the salesman showing me a video of his son while I was driving, and him asking me to (quite illegally) sign the title for my husband, presumably because he didn’t want to drive out to my husband’s office downtown.

Anyway, now we have the car, and while I wish I could feel excited rather than completely emotionally exhausted, I am looking forward to listening to more music. The importance of music in my identity has become very evident in the past few months. On my walks to/from work/daycare, I either listen to a French podcast on France Culture or to the radio using the iHeartRadio app on my phone. And there’s just something about walking down the street to a really good song that gives me all sorts of energy. This morning there was Weezer, Sublime, and the Bloodhound Gang all in a row. How is that not a super fun way start to your morning?

Music is so closely tied to memories and emotions, I think that’s why it was always hard for me to get into French music. Driving along, listening to it, I didn’t feel any particular attachment to the songs I heard. There were a few that came to mean something in the history of me and my husband, some great 80s classics that were fun to belt out at parties with everyone, and one or two artists I I fell in love with. But 90% of what was on the radio did nothing for me. Living close to the German border meant we heard a little more older American music, but I was never like “That’s my jam!” the way I have been pretty much every single time I turn on the radio here.

I’m waiting to bring this up with my husband, since I have a theory that because American music is played so much in France, that he may not feel quite as strongly that “his” music is missing from the radio here. But then maybe on our first trip back to France (sometime next year hopefully!) he’ll get excited to hear a song he hasn’t heard in ages, and the feeling of truly belonging somewhere will come over him. For me at least, it seems like the language the people around me speak doesn’t matter so much as the music they’re singing, to make me feel like I fit in.