The life of unicorns 

I haven’t had much time to blog lately. Most of my waking hours are split between running around after a nine-and-a-half month old and learning Mandarin. The good news is I can now say “I am a woman” and “that is an apple” in Mandarin. I’m also getting a pretty good daily workout with all the chasing, scooping and picking up.

It’s a good thing, too, that Baby Girl is keeping me on my toes–especially on days like today when I was supposed to go with a friend to Mommycise class but forgot to get the car seat out of Matt’s and my car. I was so disappointed we couldn’t go on our outing that I had to drown my sorrows in something utterly American.

Yes, I succumbed to the hype and walked Baby Girl to Starbucks for the limited-time Unicorn Frappuccino. Search the internet for news on the drink and there are all sorts of reactions, ranging those casting shade on those (like me) buying into the hype and those who are stoked to try the whimsical creation.

It may be a bit silly for a mom in her mid-thirties to add a reminder to her calendar  go in hunt of such a childlike beverage, but on a dreary day in South Florida and in uncertain times maybe a little bit of sugar fun and magic is what we all need. 🦄

P.S. I really enjoyed the drink. Normally I’m not one for sugary beverages, but the cream and sour syrup and sprinkles tempered the sweetness. It was like a liquid sweeTART. Perfect aperitif for happy hour later!

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The Monarchs of Mexico

I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man? (Zhuangzi)

As I sit here watching my little girl on our baby monitor all cocooned up in her sleep sack, I’m reminiscing about our trip to Mexico City this past December. Since we traveled there to celebrate our anniversary, Matt and I surprised each other with special experiences in or around the city. I took him on a walking street food tour. He booked the excursion of a lifetime: visiting one of the winter stomping grounds for the migrating Monarch butterflies. The food tour was awesome, but I think Matt won this round.

Our tour was privately booked with Mexcity Tours, so we were picked up early in the morning from our hotel. Our original driver, Leo (the company owner), threw his back out, so he sent one of his other guides instead. Our guide, Luis, was a sweet and funny guy and we immediately knew we’d enjoy spending the day with him.

He drove us out of the city, beating most of the morning rush hour traffic, and up to Toluca. Toluca is the state capital of the State of Mexico (the state in which Mexico City is located). It’s also the highest city in Mexico and has one of the fastest-growing populations in the country.

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Toluca’s nickname is “La Bella” (the beautiful) and it has some gorgeous 19th century colonial architecture downtown. We didn’t have long to explore, but we were able to take a stroll through the Cosmovitral Botanical Garden.

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Gorgeous stained glass windows cover the ceiling and wrap around the building, lending a surreal feeling to the football field-sized greenhouse. Though just one long room, the more than 500 plant species growing there are arranged in delightful little gardens that showcase many of the native plants in Mexico.

After a leisurely stroll through the gardens, we hopped back in the car and continued on our journey up to the Piedra Herrada Sanctuary. Unfortunately our guide got a bit lost on the way, so we ended up taking a little detour through the Pueblo Magico of Valle de Bravo. Tucked away in lush, green mountains, this picturesque little town looks is the perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. It perches above Lake Avándaro and would have been a lovely place to enjoy for a day or two if we weren’t on a mission to see the butterflies.

Eventually we got back on track and arrived at the sanctuary. Pulling up, we were greeted by a green pasture climbing up a hill to the edges of a thick forest. A barn with horses that are available to help you make the climb up the mountain sits at the foot of the hill. A little further up was a cluster of food stands selling traditional food. The smell of the cook fires dancing in the air was mouthwatering (and it didn’t help that we were extremely hungry by this point).

We opted to fuel up with a quick bite before beginning the hike up to see the butterflies on foot.

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Nopal and cheese quesadilla

Since we had baby girl with us, riding horseback was not an option. So, she hitched a ride in her carrier on mommy’s chest and pretty much slept the whole way up.

The butterflies nest in trees at the top of the mountain, so the approximately 4km hike is pretty much straight up. You should definitely be in decent shape if you decide to make the trip on foot. We were pretty much drenched in sweat by the time we reached the top, but the climb was worth it.

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The face of a man lugging a camera bag and diaper bag up the side of a mountain.

The butterflies nesting here have traveled nearly 2000 miles from the Eastern U.S. and Southern Canada. They arrive in November and stay through March. How they actually make it to Mexico is a mystery because those that leave the country in the spring are at least three generations removed from the ones that will come back in the fall.

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The yellowish-gold clusters on the trees are all butterflies!

The butterfly area was quiet and peaceful. We were instructed to talk only in hushed tones and to be as quiet as possible. Though a bit early in the season and later in the day, there were still a lot of butterflies floating through the air. The sound of their wings flapping was like a soft whisper of wind. We stood quietly in awe watching the majestic insects flutter around. Even baby girl woke up and was able to see some of the butterflies that landed on leaves near us.

Though they certainly don’t do justice to the experience, I’m going to let some of my pictures do the talking for a moment.

The experience of so much peace and beauty in the middle of the forest felt akin to taking a hot soak in a tub or drinking a great glass of wine; a moment of pure Zen in a crazy world. If you ever get a chance to visit one of the Monarch sanctuaries in Mexico, don’t pass it up.

Quick travel note: If you do go, be sure to tip your guide and food servers generously. There are about 75 guides that work at the sanctuary and they are paid about 100 pesos (or about 5 USD) per round-trip. If they are lucky, they will get in two round-trips in a day—so they work hard for the tips.

We tipped both our guide and the woman who served our food. The woman who served our food couldn’t believe we had given her a tip and told us she wished we could come every day. She and the others working at the food stands operate as a co-op, so they split any money that comes in each day. On the day we were there, it was us and one other couple, so you know they weren’t making much that day.

I don’t know what had us counting our blessings more that day; seeing one of the great wonders of nature or knowing we made the day of a hardworking woman at the sanctuary.

Welcome to the Sunshine State!

It’s official—we are back in the United States. Our move to Fort Lauderdale, Florida was our sixth relocation in just under two years. That’s right—we’ve moved six times in the course of 677 days. Five of those moves were between different countries. Two were between different continents and two were with a child less than one-year-old. Whew!

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Sunrise in the front of our apartment building.

We’re getting pretty good at packing and eliminating excess. With each move it gets a little easier to leave behind what isn’t absolutely necessary and buy pretty much just what we need at our next location. We really lucked out in Florida because our corporate apartment came well-stocked with the essentials—like coffee cups and wine glasses. We even have an egg slicer, cheese shaver and several bottle openers. Strangely enough, though, we don’t have a spatula.

It feels weird to be back in the U.S. after nearly two years, but it is nice to have more freedom to get around. Because of where we lived in Monterrey and the fact that I didn’t drive in Mexico, Baby Girl and I were fairly confined to our little neighborhood when Matt was working. Here, however, Matt carpools to work so I have a car several days each week. Plus there’s a lot more for us to do in Florida—even on days we don’t have the car. Baby Girl is taking swim classes, I found a gym called Mommycise that caters to moms and babies and there’s a beach and state park within a five minute walk from our apartment. I keep joking with Matt that it feels like we are on a bit of a vacation because it’s so much easier to get around and communicate with people out and about.

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Strolling the beach with Baby Girl.

That said, we’ll be excited to get back out into the international scene. Traveling—and racking up passport stamps—is pretty addicting. Still, we are taking full advantage of being back in the States for a few months.

On our first weekend in town, we took a water taxi down the Intracoastal Waterway, which operates like a hop-on, hop-off bus. It took us past the waterfront homes of the rich and famous and offered stops for various attractions along the route, including the 15th Street Fisheries and Las Olas Boulevard. We took the water taxi to Las Olas Boulevard and got off to admire the stretch of cute little restaurants and shops that is so quintessentially American. There was an art festival going on, so after stopping for some wine, beer and a light lunch, we strolled past the booths and talked about the types of pieces we’d want for our future home.

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Fort Lauderdale from the water taxi.

That Sunday we planned to go to the beach, but the wind was blowing so hard, we decided to just go for a walk instead. Even just walking along the sidewalk near the beach we were blasted with bits of sand and spray from the crashing waves. Baby girl was tucked safely away in her stroller, but Matt had to hold on tight because the wind kept trying to blow her ride off course. As we walked, we were amused at, but had to admire, the spring breakers who weren’t going to let large waves and chilly wind gusts kill their vibe.

This past weekend we attended the annual Fort Lauderdale St. Patrick’s Day Festival and Parade. The main festivities were at Huizenga Plaza, which sits on the waterfront downtown. Booths hawking Irish-themed food, clothing and, of course, drinks decked the perimeter of the park and a large stage in the center was the focal point of the entertainment. We got there shortly before the parade started, so we grabbed a quick lunch of Irish bangers, cupcakes and beer.

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The parade started at noon and lasted well over an hour. We watched for a while and Baby Girl humored us because she had cold peaches to enjoy, but eventually we all had enough of the sun and went in search of shade and refreshment. We ended up strolling down along the riverfront and admiring all of the boats sailing up and down it.

Sunday we finally made it out to the beach. The weather threatened rain, but it thankfully held off. We were able to try out our new beach tent and relax to the sound of the crashing waves.

Living in Florida, it almost feels like we picked right back up where we left off in Atlanta—except this time we have a baby. As was typical of our former stateside life, our weekend are quickly booking up. Starting in May, pretty much every weekend is booked up until August when we’ll be getting ready for our next adventure. I’ll give you two hints where we are headed: we are studying Mandarin and practicing with chopsticks whenever we get a chance.

Stay tuned for more Florida adventures. If you have any tips for fun, family-friendly things to do here, please leave them in the comments!

Our Next Destination is….Venice!

*Note: Photo above is actually from Destin, Florida but I don’t have any images from Ft. Lauderdale yet. 

Well, the Venice of the U.S. that is…Ft. Lauderdale! Yes, next week we will be trading in tacos and salsa for Target (woohoo!) and beaches. This will be our first time living in the U.S. for almost two years and Baby Girl’s first time living in the States—ever.

We weren’t thrilled when we found out we were being sent to Florida for Matt’s next assignment. After all, we gave up quite a bit to see the world—and the state below our home state doesn’t count! However, we should only be there until August and it’ll give us a chance to see some family and friends and get some things done before we are back on the other side of the pond again. After Florida, we are reportedly heading to Asia.

So, we’re going to make the most of the next few months. I’m going to get my Target fix and I know Matt’s looking forward to some good, craft beer. We’ve signed Baby Girl up for swim classes and we’re planning a cruise in May. The next few months will be pretty busy and, before you know it, we’ll be back to our expat life. Come to think of it, we may feel like expats in our own country after having lived out of it for a while.

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I still have some adventures from Mexico to write about (including a trip to Cancun this coming weekend), so stay tuned for those. I promise I won’t just spend the next six months writing about bumming it on the beach and daily weekly trips to Target.

Let the adventure continue!

8 Fabulous Finds at Our Mexican Grocery Store

*The image above is just a small portion of the Mexican salsas section at the grocery store. 

Grocery shopping in different countries is hands down one of my favorite things to do. I find it so telling about a country and its people to see what products are popular. I also love discovering products I’ve never seen before in the stores I’ve shopped at in the U.S. or other countries. So I’d be remiss if I didn’t share my favorite grocery store finds here in Mexico.

Chicozapote (a.k.a Sapodilla)
This little, round fruit may have a bland outer appearance, but its flesh packs such a sweet punch, you’ll almost feel guilty eating it. This fruit comes from an evergreen tree native to southern Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. It softens up like a juicy peach when ripe, but the texture of the flesh is more reminiscent of a pear. The taste is like sugared pear or caramel. It literally melts in the mouth! I really hope we have access to these wherever we eventually settle down, because it’s a rich dessert in itself without a ton of calories.

Mamey (pronounced ma-may—as in “Ma, may I have another!”)
On first glance, mamey looks like a slightly larger and rougher-skinned version of the chicozapote (or even a mango covered in sandpaper). It, too, is native to Mexico, as well as other parts of Central America. The flesh is a dark salmon color and has a texture somewhere between a ripe cantaloupe and baked sweet potato. It doesn’t taste like melon, however; more like pumpkin and sweet potato casserole. It’s great to eat alone or even blended up in a smoothie or milkshake (the combination of mamey and chocolate chips is pretty amazing).

Jamaica Flowers (Dried hibiscus flowers)
I’m sure you can find these in the states, but they aren’t something I’ve ever looked for (or, I guess, noticed if they were in fact at the stores where I shopped). We’ve been working our way through our Eat Mexico cookbook and one of the recipes in it is for a Jamaica flower iced tea. When brewed, the flowers give off a tart, fruity taste similar to a cranberry. Mix the tea with a little honey or agave nectar and lime and you have an amazingly refreshing drink.

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Crema
Crema is like the Mexican version of crème fraiche. It’s runnier and milder than an American sour cream and can be put in or on everything from tacos and soups to cakes and fresh fruit. It’s perfect for balancing out the heat of a spicy meal or kicking up the creaminess of a roasted poblano soup.

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Poblano Peppers
Speaking of poblano soup, poblano peppers have become a new obsession of Matt’s and mine. They can be a bit spicy and have much more flavor than a simple green pepper. Traditionally they are charred and the skins rubbed off (giving them a hint of smokiness), but we really like the skin and often just slice them up and cook them with onions for our version of rajas.

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Queso Panela
This soft, crumbly cheese reminds me of halloumi. It’s a mild and salty cow’s milk cheese that can be eaten as is, crumbled on tacos or (and this is one of my favorite ways to prepare it) grilled. It gets a little creamier when grilled, but still holds its texture (like halloumi).

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Queso Oaxaca 
I like to refer to this as the Mexican version of string cheese. It has a taste similar to mozzarella and is just as stringy as those pre-packaged snacks. It comes in a ball, often coiled around itself just begging to be unwound and devoured. Oaxaca melts well, making it ideal for treats like quesadillas.

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Nopal
Nopal is one of my new favorite vegetables. In the U.S. it’s more commonly known as prickly pear cactus. Here, you can buy both the paddles (without the prickles) and the fruit. The paddles are often used in tacos, burritos, quesadillas and other savory dishes, while the fruit can be baked up like an apple with raisins, cinnamon and sugar (just don’t eat it raw—it is EXTREMELY sour).

There are other fun and interesting things I find at the grocery store, but those are the foods we’ve grown particularly fond of and buy on a regular basis. Have you been to grocery stores in other countries? Let me know in the comments what your favorite finds were.

Armpit Tacos to Ant Mole: Eating Our Way through Mexico City

Mexico City, like much of the country, is a place of great contrasts: lavish wealth and devastating poverty; clear-day mountain views and thick, obscuring smog; inexpensive and hearty street food and pricey, avant-garde fare.

It was the contrast in food we were after on one of the days we spent in Mexico City in December—December 12 to be exact. Matt’s and my second wedding anniversary.

As a surprise to Matt, I booked us a street food tour with Eat Mexico. We’ve done food tours in several different cities, including Barcelona and San Sebastian, and find them a great way to see the city and learn more about the local culture. After all, food is one of the best windows into a country and its people.

The Eat Mexico tour didn’t disappoint. I have to give a shout out to them for great customer service. Since we were traveling with our five-month-old, I needed to find a tour that was baby and stroller friendly. Christine at Eat Mexico contacted me personally to help me make my decision and sent several follow ups to make sure we were all set before it started. I opted to purchase the Eat Mexico cookbook (by Lesley Tellez. Check out my Instagram feed for the recipes we’ve already tried) cookbook and we absolutely love it! Christine had it delivered to our hotel so we could pick it up on arrival.

The morning of our tour, we met our guide Ubish Yaren, near the iconic Angel of Independence. Ubish is a chef and expert on Mexico City. As luck would have it, we were the only ones who booked the street food experience that day, so we got a personalized tour.

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We started at a tamale stand near the U.S. embassy, but it had been a busy morning, so the tamales were unfortunately already sold out. Though a bit disappointing, we forged on and made our way to the Mercado Cuauhtémoc, where we tried fresh-pressed tortillas and chicharrón (pork skins), as well as admired the beautiful piñatas and the yellow, marigold-fed chicken.


Our next stop were stalls serving fresh juice and tlacoyos and quesadillas (which are totally different from the quesadillas typically served in the U.S.). We tried our tlacoyo (a thicker tortilla stuffed with beans and other toppings) with nopal and cheese. Our quesadilla we had filled with cheese and chicken. We washed those down with smoothie-like juices.


Next up were tacos de canasta (or “sweaty tacos”). These pre-made tacos are kept warm in large baskets where they pretty much steam themselves until they are served. They were soft, savory and delicious!

It was a good thing we ate a really light breakfast, because we continued our journey to a stall selling pork carnitas. Here you can pick your own cuts of pig (everything from the belly and intestines to ear and snout) and the vendor chops it up on a rounded, wooden block and plops it into a double-layered tortilla. From there you can top it with a variety of salsas, onions, limes and pickled jalapenos and carrots. We tried several cuts, including belly, shoulder and ear. The ear was not for the faint of stomach; the cartilage was crunchy and a few pieces had bits of pig hair sticking out. Still, the carnitas were quite delicious.


Next up, we cleansed our palates with chopped fruit sprinkled with chili and lime. In Mexico, chili is a topping for nearly everything. Though we aren’t used to adding chili to fruit, the contrast of the spicy and sweet was surprisingly pleasant.

Though we probably should have been getting pretty full at this point, we were still hanging in there. As food tour veterans, we know the secret to lasting is a pair of comfortable shoes and starting with an empty stomach.

Our tour continued at a burrito stand where we shared a large tortilla stuffed with squash blossom flowers and cheese and (here’s the best part) sealed with grilled cheese. I don’t think I can ever eat a burrito again without it being sealed with cheese. I seriously don’t know how this hasn’t caught on in the U.S. yet (though I suppose it’s a little like the “new” raclette craze in the States).

Admittedly, the burrito was pretty close to topping us off, but we still had a few stops to go. We followed the burrito up with coffee and churros, then made our way to a stand selling shrimp and avocado tostadas. I only managed a couple bites of the tostada, though it was pretty good.

Finally, we wrapped up the tour at a store selling traditional, Mexican sweets. The candies in Mexico are pretty different from what we were used to eating in the U.S. and Europe. Many of these were made with sugared fruit and even vegetable pastes (such as sweet potato). We picked out two candies and decided to save them for later because we had finally hit our food limit.

After saying farewell to Ubish, we took a long stroll back to our hotel hoping to digest our food before a special anniversary dinner at Limosneros. This highly rated restaurant serves creative twists on traditional Mexican dishes in a hip and romantic atmosphere.

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Dim lighting bouncing off of stone walls set the scene for our anniversary dinner. We opted for a tasting menu and wine paring, though there were plenty of dishes offered à la carte.

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Our first course was an ant egg tortilla stuffed with mushrooms and swimming in an ant mole. This is the first time I’ve knowingly eaten insects, so was surprised how much I enjoyed the tortilla, mole and even the crispy bits of ant garnishing the plate.

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The tortilla was followed by an incredible shrimp pozole. Squash blossom flowers floated in a delightfully savory shrimp broth.

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Next, we enjoyed steamed sea bass with a green bean mole. The fish was light and tender and was perfectly complemented by the small green salad on the side.

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Cuts of wagyu beef with a potato terrine and amaranth “pico de gallo” were served next. Matt’s beef was a little overcooked, but mine was perfect.

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Our fourth course was a lamb T-bone crusted in pasilla chili and paired with prickly pear salad and guacamole.

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Finally, we ended our meal with pears and apples and, because I was really craving chocolate, we ordered a second dessert—a chocolate financier complemented with cardamom and cocoa ice cream.

Luckily, because we were operating on our baby’s schedule, our dinner was early enough that we had time to digest all of that food before going to bed. Admittedly, we ended our day sharing glasses of champagne on the bathroom floor after Baby Girl was tucked in for the night. We reminisced about another incredible year of marriage and the wonderful day we had experiencing the variety and contrast of food in Mexico City. Provecho!

Farewell to 2016: A Year Well-Traveled

2017 came to Monterrey with a bang. Well lots of bangs, actually. Since about December 12 (the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and arguably the beginning of holiday celebrations in Mexico), the sound of fireworks has filled the air all day long. Yep, even in the blazing sun, the telltale bang and corresponding puff of smoke has served as a reminder that it’s CHRISTMAS!!!

It’s not surprising, then, that the grand finale of this nearly month long display, so to speak, was New Year’s Eve. All day and through the night, the sound of explosions reverberated off the mountains surrounding Monterrey. At midnight, we were able to enjoy a free show looking out our windows because every direction in which we looked, we could see blasts of color fill the skies. This continued well into the wee-hours of the morning as each time zone celebrated the ringing in of the New Year.

So here we are in a fresh new year with lots of unknowns. How many times will we move? What countries will we live in? What new languages will we learn? When will Baby Girl learn to nap?

Before looking forward, however, I thought I’d take a look back at 2016. The other night, Matt and I scrolled through our pictures and were amazed at just how much we’ve experienced. So here’s a little glimpse into our past year.

The Moves
We started the year living in Toulouse, France before getting a last-minute directive to move to Frankfurt, Germany. We lived there for about two and a half months before moving back to France. We stayed there until the last day of August when we packed up and moved to Monterrey, Mexico. Whew!

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Frankfurt, Germany
The Life Changes
When we rang in 2016, I was about 13 weeks pregnant. Fast forward to July 4th and we became parents of the most amazing baby girl. Life is certainly different, but we’re enjoying every moment (yes, even those 3 a.m. moments when we’re trying to get a wide-awake little girl back to sleep—at least we are sneaking in some extra snuggles). We can’t wait to witness all the things Baby Girl is going to learn this year—and all the things she is going to teach us as well.

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New parents and a baby girl in Marseilles, France.
Six months later!!

The Heartbreaks
2016 certainly sent us on a roller coaster of emotions. We experienced the incredible high of welcoming our baby girl into the world as well as the heartbreak of losing my dad to cancer. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him and wonder what kind of grandpa he would have been to our little girl. I try to take comfort in knowing that we’ve got an extra lobbyist in Heaven keeping things organized and making sure God is watching out for us.

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Pat Biggs-1950-2016
The Travels
We were so lucky to be able to visit so many incredible places over the past year. From two of the smallest countries in the world (Luxembourg and Lichtenstein) to the largest waterfall in Europe, the Rhine Falls. We also went to Zurich (Switzerland) Cologne (Germany), Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta (Mexico) and a number of places in France, including Paris, Bordeaux, Cannes, Saint-Tropez, Marseilles, Provence and the Loire Valley.

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Overlooking the port in Cannes, France
The Experiences
From staying in a chateau in the Loire Valley and tasting wine in Bordeaux to eating Fondue in Switzerland and ant mole in Mexico City (story to come), we’ve been blessed to have so many cool experiences over the past year. Hiking down into the caverns of the Gouffre de Padirac and winding our way along the city walls in Luxembourg are two highlights early in the year. The end of the year is marked by a visit to the Monarch butterfly sanctuary north of Mexico City (stay tuned for pics and tales from that adventure!) and working our way from food stand to food stand in Mexico City.

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Gouffre de Padirac
2016 was full of its ups and downs, joys and challenges, but we were blessed to see and experience so much. We’re excited to see what the New Year will bring. Happy 2017 everyone! Wishing you all much joy, love and health in the New Year.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas…in Mexico City

The last few years we’ve been fortunate enough to see how several other countries celebrate Christmas. Our international holiday tour began in the Dominican Republic on our honeymoon in 2014 and continued last year in France, Austria and Germany. This year we are enjoying festivities in Mexico! 

Yesterday we arrived in the city after a quick and smooth flight. 

We dropped our luggage at the Hilton Reforma where we are staying and immediately headed out for a bite at Cantina Corona per our bellhop’s recommendation.


Then we headed out on the Touribus to see a bit of the city. Here are a couple photos from the tour.


Today we head out to see the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Aztec pyramids. So stay tuned for more Mexico City fun!

Five Tips for Staying Sane While Flying with a Baby

Just like that, it’s December! 2016 really flew by, especially after the birth of Baby Girl. It’s hard to believe that she is now five months old. Tomorrow we go on our first, long, family vacation. We’ll be spending four days in Mexico City and then heading to Puerto Vallarta for a week and a half. That means three more flights for our little flyer (bringing the count to 12—but who’s counting?).

We’re kind of getting to be pros at flying with a baby. Baby Girl has flown every month of her life except the month she was born (that month we just made a seven-hour road trip to Paris). She’s not only crossed the Atlantic, she’s flown back and forth between Mexico and the U.S. twice already. She even has her own SkyMiles account and Global Entry to the U.S.

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Baby Girl is a great flyer, but it can still be stressful to walk onto a full plane with an infant in your arms. That’s why I thought I’d compile a few tips for any of you facing a mile-high journey with your little one.

Consider your ticket options. When your baby is really little, most airlines will let you fly with him or her as an infant in arms. You will still pay a small percentage of the full ticket, but it’s much cheaper than a full fare. If you have a short flight and/or plan to nurse or bottle feed your baby during takeoff or landing, this option makes sense. Some carriers (particularly the international ones like Air France) even offer a special attachment that connects to your seatbelt so that your child is also buckled in. Just remember, you won’t have a baggage allowance for an infant-in-arms, so pack accordingly.

Give yourself extra time. The last thing you want when you arrive at the airport with a baby is to feel rushed. Just when you are racing for the plane, your sweet little cherub will have a diaper blowout or decide she needs to eat NOW (trust me, getting on the plane with a screaming baby isn’t the best way to make friends with your fellow passengers). So plan at least an extra 45 minutes on top of the hour or more ahead you would normally get to the airport. At the very least, you’ll be able to enjoy a glass of wine latte from Starbucks while you gloat over your stellar planning.

Pick your seats carefully. Flying with a baby means you can’t book exit row seats, so if you want some extra room, you’ll need to pay (or try to get upgraded) for economy comfort or penny up for business or first class seats. On flights that are relatively empty, a kind flight attendant may move you to business class or at least economy comfort (this has happened for us a couple of times), but it’s not something you can count on. We were fortunate enough to be able to fly business class on our move to Monterrey. We had bulkhead seats with the bassinet attachment, giving us some room to move around and the ability to change Baby Girl in the bassinet which was so much easier than doing it in the tiny bathroom.

If you can’t fly business for a long flight, you might want to consider paying for a separate seat for the baby—but still request the bulkhead seats. That way you have the option of putting your baby in her car seat or using the bassinet to give your arms a break. For shorter flights, we typically fly in economy class.

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After trying both infant-in-arms or buying an extra seat, we prefer to buy the extra seat. Not only can you keep your car seat with you the entire time (making it less likely to get damaged by the baggage handlers or in transit), it’s safer and more comfortable for you and the baby. You can buckle her in on takeoff and landing, during rough air or anytime you need a glass of wine break. I now typically feed Baby Girl right before takeoff, tuck her into her car seat, give her a pacifier and she’s sleeping by the time we reach cruising altitude.

Pack a spare set of clothes for the baby…and for you. When we moved from France to Monterrey, we ended up missing our connection in Atlanta. It was the last flight of the day to Monterrey, so we had to spend the night. Fortunately, we had a backup set of clothes for Baby Girl in case she had a diaper blowout or messy burp. Unfortunately, Matt and I didn’t think to pack an extra set of clothes for us. We ended up buying t-shirts in one of the Airport gift shops and, miraculously, Matt found clean underwear for sale in the hotel convenience store. Now, even for short flights, we know to keep at least a clean shirt for each of us.

Wrap up those baby items. Part of the reason we missed our connection in Atlanta to Monterrey was because the airline we were flying lost the booster cushion in our baby car seat. We noticed when we picked up our bags in Atlanta to run them back through security. Hoping the cushion might still be on the plane, we immediately filed a claim with the baggage clerks. That cost us extra time, though, so between that and the long lines in customs, we didn’t make our next flight. The lesson here is to make sure you securely wrap or bag ALL items you check—even those you drop off at the gate. Maybe that should be obvious, but in the flustered frenzy of catching our first flight with our then eight-week-old baby, the car seat was the last thing on our mind. We’ve since bought a special, travel bag for our Peg-Perego car seat. Even if you don’t have a special bag, though, you can ask at the check-in counter for a big plastic bag to put your car seat and any other individual baby items you have.

There are many other little things you can do to help make your flight easier, such as chug a large glass of wine nurse or feed your baby on takeoff and landing, pack a large scarf to double as a cover up, and remembering that alcoholic beverages are normally free on international flights.

Have your own tips? Share them in the comments below.

La Vida en Monterrey

It’s been almost two months since my last post. No, I haven’t succumbed to a taco coma. I may still be learning to eat them in moderation, but my taco tolerance grows greater each day.


Unbelievably, my sweet baby girl is four-months-old today! Where is time going (besides to the taco stands)? She is a fun-loving little girl who hates to nap because there’s too much to do and see. Needless to say, she keeps me pretty busy. I love it, though. Sure, life is different from before, but it’s so fulfilling (even when Baby Girl gets up at 4:45 in the morning and refuses to go back to sleep until 6:00, so Mommy is now up while she snoozes).

We spend our days playing, singing, changing diapers and, twice a week, doing yoga. Baby Girl has really taken to the class—especially when she gets to do superman or show off how she is able to balance on her two legs (with support from Mommy, of course). Twice a week, after Baby Girl and Matt are in bed (he has to get up at 4:45 for work these days), I take Spanish. Somehow I also squeeze in paid writing work for my clients.


So, it’s been pretty busy, but I’ve had time to really settle into life in Mexico before writing this post. It’s no surprise that life here is very different than it was in France. It’s a lot more similar to the U.S. (at least here in Monterrey where we are about 100 miles from the borders), but it is still obvious we aren’t in Atlanta anymore. I thought I’d share some of the interesting parts of living in Mexico.

Food
I’m going to skip over the obvious—the amazing tacos, burritos, enchiladas, etc. We definitely indulge in our fair share of tacos, like these that we found at a little stand in San Pedro.

Tortillas are staples and the stores stock shelves and shelves of them. Surprisingly, though, tortilla chips aren’t quite as popular—at least in Monterrey. Instead of chips and salsa, restaurants here tend to serve pork rinds or crackers and salsa. You can find some bags of tortilla chips in the store, but definitely not as many as I thought I’d see.


In Mexico, you can (and should) put chili on everything. Little packets of chili-lime seasoning are tucked into everything from bags of baby carrots to chopped pineapple. Our taste buds have had to learn how to handle spiciness again after more than a year of rich but mild food in Europe.


While tortillas reign, the bread here isn’t great (in fairness, though, it’s hard to compete with French baguettes). Traditional pastries, such as Pan de Muerto, are quite enjoyable. So are these little gems from Mérida, Yucatán.


I don’t really eat mayonnaise, but here lime-flavored mayonnaise reigns (just as Dijon mayonnaise was popular in France). I’m game for trying most foods once, so we picked up a little jar. I found the lime flavor very mild.


I can’t speak for all Mexican cities, but so far we haven’t found a place to get fruits and vegetables as fresh as we had access to in France. That’s a disappointment, but we are making up for what we lack by enjoying the foods Mexico does best.

Drinks
One of the first cultural things we learned when we got here is that it’s customary to have a flavored drink with meals. Most people don’t drink water while eating. So, at least while we are dining out, we’ve started drinking limonada mineral (lemonade with sparkling water).

When we were in France, Matt complained about the lack of good beer. Maybe it’s because we are so close to the border, but Monterrey has quite the craft brewery scene. We’ve found dozens of great brews at our local Beer for Us store.


The wine is also surprisingly good. We brought a few bottles of French wine with us because I thought it’d be a while before we had access to good wine again, but we’ve really enjoyed the wines from Casa Madero—especially their 3V red and 2V white.


When we aren’t enjoying the great wine or beer, we drink a lot of bottled water. The tap water in Monterrey is treated and we use it for our coffee, ice cubes and to brush our teeth, but giant jugs of water are so cheap that we play it safe and hydrate with them.

Language
Obviously the main language here is Spanish. I studied two years in high school, but was surprised to struggle when I got here. Unlike French and German which came back to me pretty quickly, my brain struggled to make the transition to Spanish (it kept thinking in French). I’ve since started taking Spanish classes twice a week and that is definitely helping.

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In France and Germany, most people in the bigger cities (especially the younger generations) had some understanding and ability to speak English. Here there seem to be far fewer people who are bilingual in Spanish and English, which makes it a fun (and sometimes stressful) challenge. It helps to pick back up a language quicker, but can be hard when you need to do things like schedule doctors’ appointments or mail packages.

Even with the language barrier, I’ve found people much more patient and willing to try to understand my poor Spanish with my funny French/American accent (yes, I pronounce some words—especially those close to the same word in French—with a weird Americanized French accent). My sweet yoga instructor, who speaks only a couple words of English, seems to have no trouble understanding me even when I stumble over pronunciations and use bad conjugations.

Culture
People in Monterrey are warm and welcoming. They are also very hardworking. You really don’t see people begging on the side of the road. Instead, most people who don’t have a full- or part-time paid job seem to work for tips. For example, the baggers in stores aren’t paid employees—they work hard for tips from customers. We’ve seen people walking the store parking lots and helping people find spaces and load groceries in their trunks for a few pesos. There are also plenty of people selling everything from flowers to freshly made tamales on the side of the road.

As in the U.S., there’s a constant assault of commercialism. Giant billboards litter the roads and the stores are stocked with holiday products months before the big day. In France, we got accustomed to subtle commercialism; small billboards in the cities and nothing on the highways and a more limited season for holiday products. In Monterrey, one holiday isn’t over before the next one is advertised.

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The peso (which means “weight” in Spanish) is the Mexican currency. That’s been one of the hardest things to get used to here. Currently the peso to U.S. dollar is about 20-to-one, so we divide all the prices by two and drop a zero. The dollar sign is used here, so seeing “all you can eat shrimp” advertised at Red Lobster for $250 and racking up regular grocery bills over $1,000 is pretty amusing. Even though most things are much cheaper here, it still requires math when we go shopping or out to eat, but it is pretty fun taking money out of the ATM.

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One thing that is consistent across cultures is the love of babies. Here, as in France and the U.S., people coo over Baby Girl and stop us to ask about her or give her a blessing. It’s little things like this that serve as a reminder that, no matter where you go in the world, people really are the same.

Climate and Geography
One of the things I love most about Monterrey is the view of the stunning mountains. We live in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range. Some of the peaks are covered in lush, green foliage while others feature sharp, rocky peaks.


The weather here is sunny and hot. Even now at the beginning of November, we’re strolling around in shorts and t-shirts, swimming in our apartment pool and running our air conditioners 24-7. The leaves are still green and we feel like we are in a long, never-ending summer. The only hints that we’re approaching Christmas are the lampposts decorated like candy canes and the billboards promoting holiday sales. There’s part of me that is sad to not be wearing my fall boots yet, but the part of me that hates being cold loves it.

Overall, living in Monterrey is an enjoyable experience. We fell in love with France and, after living there for about a year and a half, miss it. Still, we can’t complain about getting to experience another culture and give our daughter exposure to yet another language at such a young age.

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