August adventures

While we had originally thought about going to the states this summer, we weren’t sure if we’d both be able to get off work at the same time. We knew the nanny was taking three weeks (though technically we could have decided the dates for her, since we’re her only employer, but we’re cool like that) and my mother-in-law was leaving for two of those same weeks, so I asked for those weeks months ago. My husband recently changed teams, and only found out about a month ago that he’d be able to take a week. With just a week together and less than a month to plan, a visit to the states wasn’t looking likely.

It turned out really well though, and we managed to get in two trips, including one without bébé! MIL took him overnight for the first time ever while we went to the north of Luxembourg. Other than a major bath time freak out, bébé did great and we are excited to be able to roam a little freer on the weekends now. We still woke up at 6 out of habit, but then we got to go back to sleep until 8! It was amazing!

View of Vianden
View of Vianden

Before leaving, people at work told me “bonnes vacances, repose toi bien!” (have a nice vacation, rest up!), and I was like, uhhh, parents don’t get real vacations. But the weekend in Luxembourg really felt like one, thanks to all the unscheduled time we had. When people say having a kid means no time for yourself, I think what they really mean is, deciding freely what to do with your time is over. A few hours here and there every week is always possible, but 36 hours all at once is something different. We went to a few different castles, saw a photo exhibit, took a nice long apéro without having to say or do anything other than sit there and drink and people watch. It was the break we needed to get ready for the rest of the week.

The chairlift up to Vianden Castle
The chairlift up to Vianden Castle
Vianden Castle
Vianden Castle

And the rest of the week was spent in Annecy, where my husband’s uncle lives. While he goes pretty frequently, I’ve only been twice back in 2009. In the winter to go skiing and in the spring to do the half marathon around the lake with a friend. We didn’t have much planned, just hanging out with family and walking around town. Though they all kept telling me I was going paragliding, since my husband loved it so much when he did it a few years ago.

Lac d'Annecy
Lac d’Annecy
View from the balcony
View from the balcony

Unfortunately, the weather turned stormy right before I was supposed to head up the hill. But that morning, we had done a tandem bungee jump with a rolling sled, so we still got our thrills in. My parents always told me I could do crazy stuff like that (parachuting, bungee jumping, etc.) once I had given them grandchildren, thinking I would of course not want to do anything dangerous once I had a baby. And while normally their tactic would have worked, the jump had so many cables involved, it was probably safer than a paddleboat on the lake.

The jump
The jump
The weather an hour before I was supposed to go paragliding
The weather an hour before I was supposed to go paragliding
The weather during when I should have been paragliding
The weather during when I should have been paragliding

Bébé stayed at home for our jump, since we didn’t want to give him any ideas! This was different from past trips with him, since we could leave him with family and go out on our own to explore.

We did lots of fun stuff with him too, like going to the outdoor pool with a view of the lake. We also visited a few different playgrounds, definitely not your typical travel hotspot! But it was nice to explore areas we wouldn’t normally see, and as he gets more mobile (his first few steps were taken in Annecy!) I can see how our travelling will adapt in the future, and I’m pretty cool with how it looks. If we want to take a trip that’s really relaxing, then it’s best to leave him with mamie. And if we want to explore a new city, we can definitely take him, but it will be on his schedule, not ours.

We’ve used up our travel budget for the moment, so no more travelling for awhile, but we’re looking forward to more of both family and parents-only vacations in the years to come!

Blois and Bordeaux

Exactly a year ago my husband and I went to Poitiers and Bretagne, for a relaxing break before a busy summer welcoming bébé. This year’s trip was actually pretty similar in spirit, despite having bébé along with us to visit Blois and Bordeaux. We took things slow, had a “no car” day, and even got in some time at the hotel’s pool and spa in Blois. Sure, we slept (much) less than during last year’s vacation, but we came back on a Thursday again (well, technically very early Friday morning), giving us a few more days to chill at home.

We had originally intended to go abroad, to see how bébé does on a short plane ride. But my husband has been wanting to go to Bordeaux for ages and since last year wasn’t really ideal for lots of wine tasting, we decided to go for bébé’s first road trip instead. Since he’s also never visited any of the châteaux in the Loire valley, we broke up driving the first day to stop in Blois. I figured if bébé got grumpy and we couldn’t visit anywhere else, Blois has a château so we could at least see one.

Château de Chenonceau
Château de Chenonceau

We ended up being able to see another in Chenonceau (which I’m pretty sure I visited in high school – FIFTEEN years ago, what?!) because bébé is turning out to be a pretty good traveller. He’s just so into anything new, and the weather was so nice, he was in a great mood almost the entire trip. We tried to plan our outings so he could take his morning nap in the car/carrier, and get back to the hotel for his afternoon nap. He never slept much in the mornings, but longer afternoon naps made up for it, and it meant we could have some much needed downtime at the hotel as well.

Bordeaux
Bordeaux

 

 

Plus it was very hot in the afternoons, so it worked out well that we mostly visited things in the mornings. We’re all up between 6 and 7, which meant we visited Bordeaux and the Dune du Pilat with zero crowds. An unexpected upside to travelling with a baby!

Dune du Pilat
Dune du Pilat

Our last day in Saint-Émilion was maybe the hardest, since it was the one rainy day, and bébé was pretty grumpy. My husband got to taste and buy lots of wine, and I got to visit some really old stuff, so it was still a pretty good day. Bébé was in a better mood by lunch, and charmed the pants off everyone in the restaurant. He kept looking around at everyone, like he was following their conversations, and even laughing when they laughed. Just adorable.

Saint-Émilion
Saint-Émilion

Unfortunately, adorable only lasted so long, and he threw a pretty big fit about having to go to bed in the car, since we wanted to drive the 8 hours home without stopping. But all things considered, he did really well, and we seem to have worked out a good routine while travelling with him. No other trips planned for the moment, but with more and more sunny days ahead, hopefully we’ll be able to explore close to home this Spring and Summer.

 

Already February!

Hey look at that, it’s already February!

January was pretty awful (husband’s grandmother passed, nanny quit, work situation has gotten even more stressful) and I didn’t really feel like documenting any of it in detail. I’m glad this month is over and am looking forward to a “new start” in February. And even if turns out to be just as hard the past month, at least it’s shorter, so I won’t have to deal with it for long . . .

However, there were some good things this month, that I’ll use to inspire me for February:

–  While I didn’t get my monthly “me” time, my husband and I did manage to go out on our monthly date night. It was his brother’s first time “babysitting,” though I don’t know if you can really call it that since bébé slept the entire time . . . We went to a restaurant only a few blocks away, though, just in case. We spent a lot of time talking about bébé, so my goal for next month’s date is to talk a little bit more about other things.

– I worked out a lot. Not as much as I originally intended, but more than I expected, considering my mood/energy was pretty low most nights after work. It did seem to help lift both a little, so  I’ll try to do just as much, if not more, in February.

Hmm, I thought I had more, but I can’t think of anything else. Well, there were lots of good moments with bébé, of course, and some nice chats and emails with friends around the world, all of which helped make things seem a little less dismal. But overall, this crappy first month of 2015 made me realize what I need to do during the next 11 months to get to a happier place overall by 2016.

Thanksgiving in France

This past week was my 8th Thanksgiving in France. While the first few years I tried to participate in or host a big meal with friends and/or family, the past few years I’ve gone to the restaurant dinner organized by the Lorraine Etats-Unis group I belong to. It’s very French (three separate courses, small portions, not a cranberry or pie in sight), but it’s in a beautiful building, it means no cooking or cleanup for me, and I get to see my friends from the group.

This year I assumed it’d be the same, but because there was the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Metz during World War II, there was a group of veterans in town (and their wives, children, grandchildren, etc.) So the traditional dinner was in an even bigger, fancier restaurant, with enough space for everyone. I was sitting next to a 90-year-old veteran, and we talked about all sorts of things. Mostly about cranberries, but there were a few war stories too. It was such a special evening, celebrating Thanksgiving while also thanking these men for what they did all those years ago. They all looked so much younger than 90, so while they all laughed nervously when there was talk of the 75th anniversary, I feel like they’ll all be back in five years for sure.

Me and my husband had a little mini-feast on Thursday, with stuffing, which we’ve done the past few years as well. His grandmother’s birthday is at the end of November, and this year his mom hosted it. What I expected to be a small lunch was actually a huge family gathering with all the cousins and uncles, etc, and bébé got to meet a few cousins he hadn’t seen yet. It all felt very Thanksgiving-y, sitting at a long table with family, talking over each other, telling jokes, little kids yelling and running around. It even started in the early afternoon, and continued into the evening, like the Thanksgivings I had in the states.

I was actually kind of sad thinking about bébé’s first Thanksgiving and how it would just be another Thursday. However, he’s still so little, I know he won’t remember his “first” Thanksgiving (or Christmas) anyway. I was thinking that next year, I want to start doing the dinner myself, so bébé can have a tradition similar to what I grew up with. But I managed to celebrate it three different ways this year, so maybe we’ll just make our Thanksgiving in France tradition to celebrate it as many times as possible during the last week of November!

Going back to work after baby

I’m going back to work this Wednesday, and I’m having the typical mixed feelings a new mother can expect. I’m excited to go back to doing something I enjoy, but nervous about how pumping will fit into my schedule. I’m also very nervous about not being able to pump enough, since I don’t have a big freezer stock. I’m not too worried about bébé being with the nanny, since he’s been there a few times already, but I still don’t know how he’ll react to his daddy being the one to drop him off and pick him up. I don’t know how either of us will handle not seeing each other for over 11 hours.

I did or will do all the things the different books and blogs suggest. I’ve been pumping for awhile, so I’m used to my pump. I got a haircut. I’ll get my nails and eyebrows done tomorrow. I have some new clothes to wear the first week back. I’ve been to visit the office, and I’ve been sending emails regularly to stay in touch.

I’m not sure how to spend these last few days. My husband needs to learn the daily routine, so should I stay out of his way and do my own thing? Or should I spend as much time as possible with bébé? If I had gone back a month ago, I think I would have been fine doing my own thing. The first weeks I really felt like a glorified milk bottle, and with all the nap issues he had, I really looked forward to my husband getting home so I could finally have a few minutes to myself. But now bébé is so much more interactive, and the smiles and giggles come so easily. It feels like he’ll notice more when I’m not there.

However, I am looking forward to an entire day without the same mobile songs playing over and over and over . . . And eating lunch at a normal speed. And reading more than three pages of my book in one sitting. And wearing somethings besides leggings.

But then I think about how I’ll see him awake for less than two hours during the week, and my heart gets tight, and those annoying mobile songs don’t sound so bad anymore.

So yeah, like I said, normal mixed feelings! We’ll see how I feel next weekend!

Pinterest win

My husband’s brother and grandmother came over this week for a few hours, and it was awesome to have someone hold the bébé for awhile so I could get some important stuff done. Like make Oreo cheesecake cupcakes, a total Pinterest win!

 

Amazing recipe!

It was a super easy recipe, though in my oven they needed almost an hour to be done. I also didn’t make the ganache, because I didn’t have enough time, but they were still delicious without. So delicious, we ate them all before I got a good picture!

To make them, I finally got to use the KitchenAid mixer my husband surprised me with a few weeks ago. He knows how much I love to bake, and it’s pretty high on the list of things I miss doing right now. My brother-in-law said I should go for a walk while they looked after the bébé, but the weather was nasty, and baking is just as relaxing for me. Having people bring food and using up what I stocked the freezer with are both good things, but there’s nothing like whipping up a fresh batch of cookies or fixing (and eating!) a delicious dinner to chill out after a long day.

I have a feeling that what I really miss right now is control, and with cooking you control (almost) everything. So it’s no wonder just thirty minutes in the kitchen did just as much good as a walk or a bath. And there’s the extra joy of a Pinterest win. Chocolate + ego boost + a break for my arms from rocking the bébé = happy new momma.

Born on the 4th

Bébé has arrived ! Born on the 4th of July like a real little American!

(Fair warning: I talk about the birth, but not in greater detail than what you’ve probably already seen in a Hollywood movie).

Though I had mixed feelings about him having a holiday birthday, I knew I couldn’t really control when he showed up. However, that didn’t stop me from trying a few “tricks” to see if it would help him make an appearance a bit earlier than scheduled.

So Thursday the 3rd, I ate an entire pineapple. And bounced on an exercise ball. Not violently, just a bit while sending some emails. Better for my back anyway! I walked up and down the stairs a few times. At best, I figured it would mean the fireworks on his birthday would compensate a little for the fact he can never be president of the USA. (Fun fact: Malia Obama is born on the 4th of July. So was Calvin Coolidge). At worst, I got a little workout and some vitamin C.

My husband came home that night to find me crying, upset it hadn’t worked, and on top of that, I had been super bored all week, so I was in a pretty rotten mood. I had this big to do list at the beginning of my maternity leave, and nearly everything was checked off. The nursery was set up. The freezer was stocked. My bag was packed. I had watched so much TV my brain was just refusing any more. I could still drive, but tried not to, since his squirming could sometimes distract me quite a bit, and my hips still hurt, so I was in the apartment all the time. But I prepared myself for another few weeks of the same, trying to think of a big project to keep me occupied a little longer. Maybe I would ask my brother-in-law to drive me somewhere the next day, or make a really involved, long recipe like macarons.

Despite all the pineapple and hoping, I was still a little surprised to wake up at 5am on the 4th with contractions 20 minutes apart. I figured we had a few hours ahead of us at home, waiting for things to either get started or stop completely. So I got out the exercise ball and started making breakfast. However, by 7am the contractions were already at 3 minutes apart and incredibly intense, so off to the hospital we went. It took another two and a half hours to get a room and an epidural, which I had neither wanted nor not wanted originally, preferring to wait and see how things happened the day of. The suddenness and intensity of the contractions, and the fact that I was laboring mostly in my back so I had very little relief between contractions, meant I ended up really wanting one. A few normal but unexpected things (vomiting and legs literally trembling from the pain) really drained my energy very quickly as well. I used the breathing I learned in class, which doesn’t actually help with the pain, but none of the positions we practiced, because of my legs just not supporting me. I mostly just lay curled up on my side. So I don’t regret getting an epidural at all, since I could barely speak those first few hours of labor! My husband had worried the past few weeks that my competitive spirit or American pride would keep me from asking for one, but I assured him I would if the pain meant I couldn’t focus on the actual business of getting him out. I knew being relaxed and focused is key, no matter how you achieve it. I had pictured being able to achieve it with the things I learned in class, but I never ruled out other options. I had an anti-plan birth plan: this way would be cool, but let’s just see what happens and we’ll go from there!

After they broke my water (fun fact: despite what Hollywood would have you believe, only like 15% of women have their water break naturally), things happened very quickly. Bébé was getting a little stressed out, so they called my doctor and he ended up coming in to deliver him by ventouse. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but in France, just a midwife delivers, unless there’s a medical intervention like a cesarian, forceps, or ventouse. I’m glad that at least my doctor was available and it wasn’t the one on call who I didn’t know. Also, I’m glad I had a super nice male midwife who spoke in the calmest voice ever. I pushed for about 20 minutes (still uncomfortable, even with an epidural), then my husband had to leave during the few minutes they used the ventouse (though it might have been a bit longer, I was not really looking at the clock at this point!), then he came back in to cut the cord. He said it was very strange to leave the room with me pushing, then come back to see a baby on my chest!

It took about 8 hours total, from that first contraction to the moment he was in my arms, which, for a first baby, is apparently pretty fast. While my ideas about labor very open, on a practical level I had still prepared more for a longer, natural process (or at least without needing the doctor). But I suppose quick and intense is not the worst way to give birth. There were no scary complications and we both came out of it 100% healthy. While my husband wasn’t there for the exact moment of birth, he was there within minutes and, after a half hour or so of cuddling, was the one who carried him out to go do the different tests.

So now we’re all at home, slowly adapting to a rhythm of living that is controlled by this tiny person rather than our own whims. Though we did manage a spontaneous walk around the park the other evening, the rest of our day is planned based on how much he decides to sleep between feedings (I’m breastfeeding). I’m hoping to catch up on blogs and everything next week! Though if it’s another two or three or more, I won’t stress too much. Just know I’m still reading everything, though probably at 2am and I don’t have an extra hand to type out a comment!

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” . . .

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!

Secrets of French restaurants

The French love food, but it reaches a whole different level when someone you know works in food. My husband’s cousin went to a “lycée hôtelerie” which is a specialized high school to go into the hospitality industry. He studied cooking, and the whole family looks forward to his menus every year for Christmas eve, and we take every opportunity to ask him our food and wine questions. Recently, during a birthday party, he was telling us some of the behind-the-scenes secrets of French restaurants (and maybe restaurants around the world, but he’s only ever worked here).

For example, a lot of places get “potato pulp” delivered, which is just potatoes already peeled and mashed a bit. People were a bit scandalized, but he said it’s still a fresh product, and the chef still has to flavor it and present it correctly. It’s just this way, the restaurant doesn’t have to hire one person to sit there peeling potatoes all day.

Since we were eating cake, he told us that a lot of pâtisseries order the genoise and other parts of the cake and put it together themselves. So this was probably why my MIL had trouble getting the cake she wanted before noon. If it’s a cake they make entirely by themselves (a lot of the things with cream), it takes longer. This revelation caused even more scandal, because things like genoise and ladyfingers are so easy to make yourself, why don’t they? But again, it’s a question of time and manpower. If you want to be able to offer people twenty different kinds of cake on a daily basis, either you don’t sleep, or you do some culinary cut and paste.

However, it’s not like they buy their potato pulp or genoise from the local grocery store. There are specialized companies that make things that you can’t buy unless you’re a restaurant. So the quality is still there, even if the process has been mechanized.

My MIL gave me gift certificates for cooking classes at the cafe run by one of this cousin’s old teachers. This weekend I did a macaron class. And there were even more secrets revealed!

I already knew that Ladurée is all machine made, but I didn’t know that most macarons you get almost anywhere have probably been frozen. In part due to the same time/manpower issue, but also because unless you like really crunchy macarons, freezing and letting them come back up to room temperature makes them softer.

I found it interesting to hear that egg whites are sold to professionals in a more ready-to-use form. This has the advantage of making them more sanitary, and keeping the quality regular, since you can get exactly 100g of egg whites each time. Though I’ve never noticed a big difference in baking with large versus extra large eggs, on a professional scale, being able to control things like that makes sure everything comes out the same way for everyone.

For me, knowing all of this does not making anything less delicious. But some people were quite upset to learn that things aren’t made 100% from scratch. Does any of this surprise you? Will you be asking if your next gâteau is “fait maison”? (I’m not even sure they legally have to tell you, and if they put it together themselves, technically they still “made” it.)