Tag Archives: Travel

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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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!

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.

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!

Babymoon in Paradise

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. I can practically hear the clock ticking as I write. Every minute, every day, each passing week we get a little closer to the arrival of our baby girl. On Monday, I officially begin the ninth month of pregnancy. I’ve read the last month can often drag, but so far the third trimester has been flying by.

It’s simultaneously exciting and scary how quickly my pregnancy apps are ticking off days. The apps are really good at reminding you how soon you’ll be trading your pink Michael Kors purse for a diaper bag—as well as providing a daily dose of hormonally charged drama from the women on the message boards. Seriously, it’s better than Keeping up with the Kardashians.

Patience, especially in the face of the unknown, is not one of my strong suits. Yet, I’m feeling pretty calm about these final few weeks. Perhaps the stresses of the past year have done some good, or maybe my busy schedule is blocking most anxieties about the delivery. Either way, I almost feel I’m a bit too Zen for approaching the birth of our first child. Does this mean I’m really unprepared? Am I in for a brutal awakening? Will I be able to handle the pain of childbirth and the pressures of motherhood? Oh there’s my little friend anxiety. I was starting to worry you left me!

Aside from doctors’ appointments and birth prep classes, my daily French class has been keeping me very occupied. I just started my second month (of which I’m only taking two weeks) and this time there are five—count them—five pregnant women in the class. It’s quite possible there’s something in the French water—or perhaps the constant barrage of aphrodisiacs, like chocolate, wine and oysters, encourage une vie d’amour.

Matt suggested we pregnant women should team up and request the class be centered around pregnancy terms—after all, we pretty much outnumber the non-pregnant students in the room. That’s one of the reasons I love that man—always thinking practically.

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Speaking of une vie d’amour, this past weekend Matt and I fled the hustle and bustle of Toulouse for a long weekend at the Côte d’Azur, a.k.a the French Riviera, a.k.a. paradise! Friday after my French class, we ate a quick lunch and then jumped in the car for an almost five-hour drive to Saint-Aygulf–a cute, little town tucked along the Mediterranean Coast almost halfway between its much more renown neighbors, Cannes and Saint-Tropez.

We booked four nights at Cap Riviera, a small, privately owned hotel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Since it was a late birthday/”babymoon” trip, we splurged a bit and upgraded to the suite, which included a private terrace and garden tub with jets. We could sit on lounge chairs on our deck and just stare at the beautiful, blue waters. There was also a small beach right across the street that seemed to be mostly used by locals and guests of the hotel.

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View from our balcony

The owners of Cap Riviera are a husband and wife team, who are French and Italian respectively. They were wonderful hosts and treated all of the guests more like family than a paycheck. In the mornings, we could enjoy a petite dejeuner (baguette, croissant, pain au chocolate, coffee and orange juice) on the hotel balcony and in the evening we had the option of dining on a delicious range of dishes prepared by the owners while watching the sun set from the same balcony.

Our original plan was to do nothing more than sit on the beach for three days—and on Saturday we achieved that goal. We sat on the small beach, watched the waves crash and listened to music under the cover of a borrowed beach umbrella. It was pretty amazing.

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Velella Velella (or “by-the-wind-sailors”) decorated the shoreline on the small beach.

Sunday, however, the weather dawned on dark and stormy and it wasn’t supposed to let up until 2:00 that afternoon. So, rather than spending the day squirreled away in our room watching French television, we decided to take a drive up to Cannes.

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Instead of taking the highway, we took the scenic route through the mountains lining the coast. Though rainy, the drive was beautiful. The road wound up and around heavily forested hills while steep drops at the edge of the road offered breathtaking views of the valley below.

Eventually we made our way back to civilization and soon found ourselves in the heavily commercialized (think Florida beach town) outskirts of Cannes. As we drove closer to the old city, the chain restaurants and shops gave way to an expansive coastline and turquoise water as far as the eye could see.

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We parked near the port and made our way to a restaurant to grab a bite and wait out the rest of the storm. Sure enough, at 2:00 the clouds cleared and the sun began shining like a spotlight on the town famous for its international film festival. We quickly finished our meal and began walking further into town, admiring the many beautiful yachts and sailboats docked in the port along the way.

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Close to the docks, we discovered a park where locals were coming out of the woodwork to play or watch games of Pétanque (the French version of bocce). We stopped to watch for a moment as I caught my breath from a Braxton Hicks contraction. Some of the guys practicing looked like they were pretty serious. There’s even a small grandstand at one of the courts where fans can watch the games.

Once the contraction stopped, we made our way to the Cannes tourism office, which is tucked neatly near the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès. This is the main venue for the Cannes International Film Festival. On the sidewalk outside the building, you can find squares with imprints of celebrity hands in the concrete.

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Main venue for the Cannes International Film Festival.

There were numerous options for things to do in the town, but we opted for a “train ride” which took us through the main streets of the town and up Le Suquet Hill to the Château de la Castre. The views from the hill of the city and surrounding beaches and mountains were stunning. Cannes is quite picturesque, though I’m sure it can be almost a nightmare to visit during the festival or high season.

After the tour, we grabbed some chairs on the boardwalk along the beach and sat for a while watching the waves and passersby. I really wanted ice cream (it seemed like everyone was walking by us with frozen treats), but Matt made me wait until after dinner. Lucky for him we found a little shop called Niva that served absolutely delicious gelato. He lived to see another day.

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Monday dawned on much sunnier, but the winds were whipping. We decided to try our luck with another short road trip—this time to Saint-Tropez. About 45 minutes west of our hotel, we once again took the scenic route along the coast and were able to admire the many beautiful, though perhaps lesser-known, beach towns (like Sainte-Maxime) on the way to Saint-Tropez.

We weren’t sure what to expect in Saint-Tropez, but discovered a cute, little medieval town featuring a plentitude of high-end, designer shops and enough yachts in the port to transport a small army. The beauty of the mountains and water in this area make it easy to see why the French Riviera is a vacationer’s paradise—and why the rich and famous flock to its coasts.

We decided to start our day with a harbor cruise which took us out in the bay and past the homes of many celebrities who built homes here. Though extremely windy, the boat ride was surprisingly smooth and quite enjoyable.

Following the cruise, we grabbed a quick bite in town and headed towards Pampelonne Beach, which is supposed to be “the spot” to go if you are in Saint-Tropez. Club 55, a restaurant at one end of the beach, is frequented by celebrities, but there are many public areas where, at least at this time of the year, it is easy to thrown down a blanket and claim a spot for the afternoon.

Unfortunately the wind was whipping and sending blasts of sand in our face every few minutes and the water was still too cold to take a dip in (though the gem-like color of it begged me to). While I appreciated the thought of a free microdermabrasion, it eventually got a bit much and we decided to head back to our hotel where we spent the rest of the afternoon listening to music and watching the water from our private deck.

As with all good things, eventually they must come to an end. Tuesday morning we packed up early and headed back to Toulouse. We were sad to say goodbye to the Côte d’Azur, but we have some exciting times coming up. The break was a perfect way to bid adieu to our party of two and prepare for sleepless, but rewarding nights ahead.