Tag Archives: Mommy Blogger

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!

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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!

Expecting Expat: Pregnant in France

I feel I should start this post with a bit of a disclaimer. I am making observations as a first-time mother living temporarily in France. Comparisons I make between the U.S. and France are merely based on my observations and personal experiences, as well as from anecdotes from friends, family and those ever-addicting pregnancy message boards.

Matt and I are living in what I believe is a fairly unique situation. For the next few years, we’ll be moving several times a year to different cities around the world. We live in small, hotel apartments and are allocated three suitcases per person for each move (we’ll get three more for the baby—but not until after he or she is born). Perhaps not the typical growing family scenario, but we make it work—and we love the fact that we’ll be able to expose our baby to so many cultures and languages early on.

I don’t plan to focus every post from here on out about my pregnancy and our growing family, but expecting a baby has added a new dynamic to our experience that I’m excited to share.

The Discovery
The day I decided to take a pregnancy test, I was pretty sure we weren’t pregnant. October had turned out to be a fairly stressful month and, besides, I felt I was displaying symptoms that Aunt Flow was about to rear her ugly head.

We had just returned from a short trip to Hamburg, Germany and were sleeping in just a bit before Matt went in to cover the late shift. I woke up thinking I should take a test just to be sure, but didn’t want to say anything to him so he wouldn’t get his hopes up.

The drugstores in Toulouse have a variety of pregnancy tests, including brands popular in the U.S., such as Clearblue. The only hitch—directions and results are all in French. Anticipating (and hoping) we’d have need of a pregnancy test soon, I’d picked up a few to have on hand (and made sure to translate the instructions so I’d be ready when the time came).

I snuck out of our bedroom and closed the door, trying to be as quiet and inconspicuous as possible (luckily Matt seemed to be pretty passed out). I took the test and waited the “eternity” for the results to show, telling myself not to get too excited. Suddenly, there it was: “Enciente.” I was pregnant.


My mind raced a million miles per minute. Should I try to do a creative announcement for Matt? It would be fun, but he wouldn’t get home from work until really late at night. I didn’t think I could hold it in that long.

So I casually made breakfast and set the table, positioning the positive test where he’d see it. After rousing him, I brought Matt out to the table and asked him how he’d like “eggs…with a side of baby.”

It took him a minute to register what I said and stare at the pregnancy test, but soon we were both jumping up and down and hugging. I’m sure the people in the room below us were thrilled with us that morning.

The Medical Experience
As with many other pregnant women, I called my doctor the day I found out I was pregnant to see when he wanted me to come in. We’d discovered our English-speaking, German doctor earlier that summer through a friend who gave birth earlier that summer. He’s no-nonsense, but very good.

He booked me for what I calculated would put me about six weeks along to confirm the pregnancy. He did an ultrasound at this initial appointment (which may a bit earlier than what is typically done in the U.S.) and then gave me a prescription for a blood test to check for all sorts of things, including my immunizations (or lack thereof) and protein and sugar levels.

In France (at least in my experiences thus far), the doctor does not have a nurse who comes in and does all the vitals. Each time I have to get bloodwork done, I’m sent to a Laboratoire d’Analyses with a prescription. They conduct the test and send the results back to the doctor for us to go over at my next appointment.

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My homework these days.

 
We went to the doctor every two to three weeks during my first trimester and each time we had an ultrasound. It was amazing to watch the baby transform from a little blob to a gummy bear and finally into a tiny little baby.

Ultrasounds (and in fact all the medical expenses we’ve had thus far) are much cheaper in France than in the U.S. Were we citizens of France, all of these exams would be subsidized by the country’s national healthcare. We have private insurance, so don’t qualify for the same benefits as French citizens, but the ultrasounds still only run us between $28-$50 per appointment (depending on the complexity). Oh, and we pay the doctor directly in cash. In the U.S. that might sound shady, but here it seems to be the norm.

The Announcement
Living overseas made it pretty easy to hide my pregnancy from most of our family and friends (aside from those living here with us) until the end of the first trimester. Without anyone around to see what I was (or wasn’t) drinking and eating, nor anyone to notice my slowly expanding waist, the hardest part of hiding my pregnancy was not calling my mom immediately after every ultrasound to tell her what we saw.

We decided to delay announcing to our family and friends in the States until Christmas. Not only did we think it would be a nice holiday surprise (especially for my parents who had a tough year and were hinting about wanting grandkids), but we would be at nearly 13 weeks and almost into the second trimester.

We were sad we wouldn’t be able to share the news in person (with everything going on at Matt’s job, we couldn’t plan a home trip), so brainstormed ways to creatively share the news. In the end, we sent little gifts to both my parents and Matt’s family announcing our coming addition. We Skyped with both families Christmas Eve and watched their reactions as they opened the gifts and realized what they meant. Everyone was happy and surprised, though both of our mothers had their suspicions (Matt’s mom had even already crocheted a cute, little baby blanket).

Next up we’ll get to announce our baby’s gender. Luckily this we’ll get to do in-person with my parents when we visit them in a few weeks.

There’s so much more to write about, but I realize I’m getting a bit long-winded, so I’ll wrap this post up for now. As always, feel free to leave any expat parent tips (especially those for the best baby products for travelers—with limited room, we’ll have to be very deliberate in what we stock up on).

2016-The Year of the Baby!

Happy New Year! I hope all of you had wonderful holidays and got to spend plenty of quality time with family and friends.

We were blessed to be able to celebrate Christmas in Paris.

Christmas Eve, Matt and I attended Midnight Mass at a heavily guarded Notre Dame. Temporary fences provided a wide perimeter around the church and we had to go through multiple coat and bag checks, but the feeling at the cathedral was nothing but peaceful.

We went early for the carols and it was standing room only. Luckily there was a small exodus of people right before mass started, so we were able to get a seat for the rest of the service.

Christmas Day, our good friend, Ray (who lives in Poland), joined us for dinner. Being in France, our meal was a little different than we’re used to. As much sliced ham as there is in France, we weren’t able to find a big chunk to roast. We ended up with a delicious pork roast cooked with dried prunes, dried apricots and fresh apples. We also had little breaded balls of cheesy, mashed potatoes, as well as haricots verts, sliced ham (courtesy of Ray) and the obligatory baguette.

Pork roast covered in sliced ham and other Christmas delicacies.

Dessert was this delicious, chocolatey cake.

After dinner, we went out to stare at the Eiffel Tower sparkling. We stared at is thinking how much has changed for us in a year and how lucky we were to be getting this experience. As much as we missed spending Christmas with family and many of the traditions that go along with it, we felt lucky to be together in Paris on a beautiful Christmas night.

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The day after Christmas, we met Matt’s mom at the airport. She flew out from the States Christmas Day to spend the next week and a half with us. We had a lovely time touring around Paris for a couple of days.

The Christmas markets were still up. We visited a small one near the Eiffel Tower, but sadly only had time to ride by the massive market along the Champs-Élysées.

We even took a dinner cruise on the Seine.

Back in Toulouse, we took Matt’s mom around the city and visited many of the markets and major shopping area. We even managed to squeeze in trips to Albi and Carcassone (which I begged out of due to a nasty cold I was fighting all week). It was a nice visit and we enjoyed having family in town. She was actually our first visitor from home since we’ve arrived here!

2016 is shaping up to be another wild year. In addition to our travels, I’ll be adding a new skill to my repertoire: mommy blogger! Yes, Matt and I are expecting our first child in July. Funnily enough, the baby’s due date is the 4th of July!

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Yes, the ride is about to get a bit bumpier and we couldn’t be more thrilled. To any of you expat parents out there, we’d love any advice or words of wisdom you have. Feel free to share them in the comments below.

Here’s to a wonderful 2016 for us all!