Tag Archives: Expat Life

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.

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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.

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.

Bienvenido a Monterrey

It’s quiet here this afternoon.* In a surprising twist on the day, my baby girl, who spent the morning dramatically crying every time I set her down or moved out of her eyesight, fell asleep ON HER OWN! I put her on her play mat so I could run to the bathroom. She put up a brief fuss, but was conked out by the time I returned two minutes later. Not only that, but she’s stayed asleep for almost 45 minutes!

This never happens. She sleeps on her own at night, but prefers to sleep snuggled up on mommy or daddy during the day. Either she is turning the corner on napping at the ripe old age of two months—or she’s just that tired from getting up at 6:30 this morning. Whatever the case, it’s letting me get some writing in!

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Mommy’s little helper asleep on the job!
We are spending the day in our bright, new apartment in Monterrey. The view from our home on the 5th floor is stunning. We stare out at the foothills of the Sierra Madres and are positioned such that we can see both sunrise and sunset!

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We arrived in Monterrey last Thursday after what was supposed to be a one-day trip turned into two days of travel. Our flights took us from Toulouse to Paris to Atlanta and then Monterrey. As is typical at Charles de Gaulle (at least in Matt’s and my experience), our flight leaving Paris was delayed making our short connection in Atlanta even tighter.

After clearing customs in Atlanta, we had to collect our luggage and send it back through security. It was there we noticed the car seat we gate checked was missing its booster cushion. So we stopped to put in a claim with the Delta baggage agents right away in case it was still on the plane or luggage cart. This delay, coupled with the long lines in customs and security, caused us to miss our connection to Monterrey.

Unfortunately that was the last flight out of Atlanta to Monterrey for the night. So we ended up having to stay the night in Atlanta. Thankfully the Delta agent in the Sky Lounge had us get a bag of toiletries from the showers there, because all we had was a backpack full of diapers and change of clothes for baby girl. Matt and I picked up t-shirts from one of the airport shops so we’d at least have something clean to wear the next day and, fortunately, the gift shop in the hotel sold women’s underwear.

The next morning we made our way back to the airport bright and early and picked up some Subway breakfast sandwiches. We quickly learned that you can’t take outside food into the Sky Lounge. Who knew?

Our flight out of Atlanta was delayed an hour due to a flat tire. We’d already boarded so it was interesting trying to keep baby girl happy while we sat at the gate. I was trying to time nursing her with takeoff to help with ear pressure, but that was a little difficult since we had no idea when we were taking off. Fortunately she was pretty happy just to sleep (which is what she mostly did on all three flights—she was an excellent flyer!).

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Yes, that’s a baby under my scarf.
We finally arrived to Monterrey close to 1:00 p.m. We made it through passport control smoothly, but when we got to baggage claim we discovered our baby crib never made it on the plane from Atlanta. That’s, you know, kind of important when you have nothing else for your baby to sleep in at your new apartment. It took us from Thursday until Sunday night to get our crib back. Fortunately our leasing office was able to borrow a crib for us in the meantime. Delta was disappointingly blasé about the whole thing.

After you collect your bags in Monterrey, you go through customs in the baggage claim area. There’s a button you have to push that determines if you need to go through further inspection. It’s completely random. If it lights up green, you are free to go (as long as you don’t raise any red flags). If it turns red, you have to open up all your bags and the police have to dig through them. After such a long trip, we were praying for green—and, when they saw we were with an infant, I’m pretty sure the police were rooting for green as well. Matt made me press the button. There was a collective intake of breath from everyone standing there waiting to see what we would get.

The light was green. We could go.

The next ordeal was trying to get all of our bags into our rental car. Even though the cars here are bigger than in Europe, it took us three tries to find one that could hold us and all of our stuff. Finally, though, we were on our way to our new home.

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So one week later, we are pretty much settled into our new apartment. We haven’t been out much yet (other than a run to WalMart and Matt going to work), but this weekend we plan to do a little exploring. So far, though very different from France, Mexico is pretty nice. I mean, how can you go wrong when every day is #TacoTuesday?

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*Admittedly this post took me a couple of days to finish. Baby girl ended up sleeping for 45 minutes, so I only got about halfway through the post. At least for this week, it was a fluke that she fell asleep on her own. In fairness, though, I think we are going through a “wonder week.”

And Baby Makes Three…

I’m back! As my regular readers might have learned (or guessed), our baby girl arrived at the beginning of July—on the 4th of July to be exact. Yes, our little firecracker is one of the five-percent of babies born on their actual due dates. She either decided to humor us in our amusement about potentially having an expat baby in France on Independence Day in the U.S.A.—or she likes to be on time.

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Enjoying one of the first days of my new “job.”

The past seven weeks have been wonderful, exhausting, exhilarating and full of the unexpected. I’ll write a separate post with my delivery story. However, starting from the moment I went into labor just hours after a dinner date with my husband at a local Indian restaurant (I only half believed the spicy food would kick-start anything more than my heartburn), we’ve truly learned the only thing we can completely plan on with a baby is for our plans to constantly change. Good thing we’ve been in training over the past year and a half through the unpredictability of Matt’s job.

One of my biggest lessons so far? I love being a mom. I always thought I’d enjoy motherhood, but I never imagined just how much I would adore this job more than any I’ve had in my life. Seeing my husband as a daddy is amazing. It’s made me fall even more in love with him to see how wonderful he is with our daughter and how much he adores her.

Admittedly, parenthood is not always easy. There were definitely times during the first month where I cried, felt helpless and spent more time in bed than I thought possible for someone not recovering from an illness, but my baby has thrived (she’s already up almost four pounds since birth) and my husband and I are once again getting time to connect after baby girl has gone to bed. I’m getting dressed (most days) and eating (many) meals at a table instead of in bed. I even survived four days of taking care of our five-week-old alone when Matt was sent on a last-minute trip to Mexico. Actually, I’d have to say I thrived—after all, I managed to shower each of those days (even if we did spend a lot of time in our PJs).

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At the scene of the first place we visited together in France. Things have changed a bit in the past three and a half years. 

One of the other things I’ve learned? It’s okay if you get to the end of the day and the only things you’ve accomplished are feeding, snuggling and changing your baby. The dishes can wait. The laundry can pile up. You can always send that email tomorrow. Your baby is growing and changing so fast that you’ll miss those tiny, perfect toes and fingers and the innocent joy of his or her first smiles if you don’t take the time to observe and soak it all in.

So now, just as we’ve started hitting our stride here balancing our new family life with Matt’s job and my writing, things are about to change again. Next week we move to Monterrey, Mexico! Not only will we be adjusting to a new country with a two-month-old, we’ll also be tackling an intimidating 19-hour travel day with our infant to get there.

So, stay tuned. Our family adventure is just getting started!

Cupcakes and Due Dates

Days. That’s where we are at with our baby countdown. Just days until Matt and I get to hold our sweet little girl. Days until my body performs the incredible feat of pushing something the size of a watermelon out of a place much smaller than that. Days until the incredible highs and lows of the past nine months culminate with what I’m sure will be one of the most amazing experiences of our lives. I am simultaneously excited, incredulous and, admittedly, a little nervous.

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39.3 weeks pregnant 

Matt and I frequently discuss how our lives will change and what our little girl will be like. Will she inherit her daddy’s corny humor? Will she be a planner like her mommy? Will she throw us for a complete loop and be wildly different from either of us? Our life is a constant stream of unknowns, but this, by far, is the biggest and scariest.

We had our final doctor’s appointment this past Wednesday and discussed our plans for induction. The doctor is trying to squeeze us in on the 4th of July (baby girl’s due date), but they already have four inductions scheduled that day. Unless he can convince one of the mothers to switch dates so the American’s can have their baby on their national holiday (I really think he’s even more amused by the date than we are), we’ll be going in on the 6th. That is If baby girl doesn’t decide to come on her own before then (come on my baby, you can do it!!!).

As mentioned in my last post, I’ve been doing what I can to help her out including walking at least 10,000 steps a day and bouncing like a maniac on my yoga ball. This week I stepped it up a notch by making these “labor-inducing” lemon cupcakes. Not that I really need an excuse to eat cupcakes, but if that’s what baby girl needs for encouragement, who am I to object? Her daddy has certainly been enjoying the little treats as well.

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I reduced the sugar in the cakes by half and skipped the buttercream frosting, but these babies are still pretty delicious. 

The good news is things seem to be progressing the way they should be. The doctor said baby girl is down low and it looks like labor could really start at any time. My body is in the joking mood it seems as it has been throwing false labor contractions my way since last Saturday. It even got to the point where Matt and I were timing them as we strolled around Toulouse Saturday afternoon, but once we got home and in the cooler air they stopped.

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Tuesday, baby girl decided to change up her usual routine (moving constantly all day). She was strangely quiet in the morning—even after I ate breakfast and we prodded my belly a bit (usually this is enough to at least get an annoyed punch back). We called the doctor and midwife and almost went in, but after trying some deep breathing (as suggested by the midwife), baby girl began moving around again.

She obviously wasn’t amused that we woke her from her slumber, though. That night, starting at 9:00 and lasting until about 3:00 in the morning she was moving, kicking and prodding so much that we had to sit up in bed and watch a movie because there was no way I was sleeping through that storm.

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The doctor did a scan and checked her heartbeat at our appointment the next day and she was doing just fine. She didn’t even try to punch the ultrasound wand this time. I guess she’s just trying to show mommy and daddy who’s really the boss before she arrives. Either that or she’s just so excited to come out and play she just can’t contain herself. She decided to stay up until 3:00 a.m. again last night.

This weekend, Matt and I are going to try to soak up our last few hours as just the two of us. We’re going to go for some walks, eat some spicy Indian food and maybe even take a nap or two. With any luck, this will be my last post for at least a couple of weeks. If so, happy 4th of July to all of my American readers!

38 Weeks: The Calm before the Storm

Just over a week—that’s about how much time we have before our baby girl is here, changing our duo into a party of three. I’m sure some of you are saying, “you’re a first-time mom. How can you be so sure she’s going to be here in that time frame? Most first-time moms are late.” You’re not wrong, but at our last appointment our doctor suggested we consider inducing on baby girl’s due date (July 4th) if she hasn’t made her appearance by then.

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38 Weeks and Five Days

Now I know inducing isn’t for everyone and I know many people even feel strongly against it, but with a healthy pregnancy and baby who has consistently measured ahead since our 12-week scan, our doctor recommended thinking about it. His opinion is that after 40 weeks, the risk of complications only goes up.

We’ve done a lot of reading about induction and weighed the pros and cons, including the fact that we’re slated to move again within two months of baby girl’s birth. That’s about eight weeks to recover, get her birth certificate and other paperwork and start her immunizations—if she comes by the 4th. Push her delivery back a week and we’re really going to be scrambling.

We make our final decision at our next appointment on Wednesday. Until then, I’m trying to encourage baby girl to get ready to exit on her own by walking at least 10,000 steps a day and eating six dates each morning. Will it help? Who knows, but I love the exercise and taste of dates, so it’s worth it.

Quick sidebar: we did a maternity photo shoot in Toulouse at 33 weeks pregnant with Kristin Palmer from Kristin Palmer Photography. If you’re in the area and looking for a maternity or newborn photographer, be sure to check her out. Here are the images we liked best. 

For this week’s update, I decided to take a cue from some of the other pregnancy blogs I’ve been reading and do Q&A. So here it is:

How far along? 38 weeks, 5 Days

How big is baby? At our last appointment (37 weeks) she was measuring about 7 pounds, 6 ounces. According to my Ovia app, she’s about the size of half a baking sheet of meringues.

Gender? Sweet little girl

Weight gain? 10 kilos (or 22 pounds) as of my last appointment (which was steady with the appointment before that).

Belly button in or out? Somewhere in between. It’s kind of flat—neither in nor out.

Sleep? It happens. I’ve kind of gotten used to lots of tossing and turning and getting up multiple times each night to use the bathroom, so I’m feeling fairly rested all things considered.

Workouts? Walking everywhere. I’ve been on a mission to get at least 10,000 steps a day for the last few weeks of pregnancy. I’ve heard it can help bring on natural labor and, if not, at least I’m staying healthy!

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Thanks, FitBit, for helping with my 10K step obsession!

Baby movement? Constant. My belly looks like I’m harboring an alien fugitive who just can’t get comfortable.

Food cravings? Not really. I’ve loved fruit (I mean ALL THE FRUIT) this entire pregnancy, but I can’t say I’ve had any consistent cravings. I did discover my favorite crepe since we moved to France at lunch with a friend this week; it was a plain crepe filled with peaches and fromage blanc (which is somewhere between a yogurt and sour cream). Yum!

Anything making you queasy or sick? I’m not the biggest fan of meat these days, especially chicken or turkey breast. It doesn’t make me nauseous like it did first trimester, but I’m much happier with a plate of veggies, some fruit or a chocolate cupcake.

Labor signs? A sore pelvis and increasingly strong Braxton Hicks contractions, but nothing worth running to the hospital over. In general, I feel great.

Wedding rings on or off? On for now, but summer has officially hit Toulouse, so we’ll see how it goes with the predicted 90-degree days later this week.

Miss anything? Getting out of bed without needing a forklift (or at least boost from my husband). A glass of chilled white wine on the patio. Running.

Emotions? Overall I’ve been in a good mood, though little things can annoy or set me off. Like being pushed and run into at the fruit and veg market. That drives me crazy on a good day, but at 38 weeks pregnant I’m ready to throw elbows. Stay away from my bump, people!

Best moment(s) this week? Having lunch with a friend who is due about four weeks after me and getting in as much “Matt and me” time as possible while we still can.

Looking forward to? Holding and seeing Matt’s and my baby girl, of course! Aside from that, we have a beautiful bottle of champagne from a small winery we visited in Champagne last summer chilling in the fridge until we bring our baby girl home. I’m pretty stoked about that.