The Past Week

So hey, turns out maternity leave is really boring. Everyone else is at work all day so there’s not really anyone to bug, and I’m uncomfortable doing a lot of things that involve excessive walking or standing. But I’m sleeping so erratically that I am really grateful for the extra sleep in the mornings.

There’ve been a few final preparations for the baby as well as the last couple midwife classes. I have to say I’m pretty disappointed with what’s on offer in France in terms of bras for breast-feeding. I’m not a totally exceptional size but shops do not seem to have space for women with small rib cages, and maternity bras also seem to be sold mostly in places where you can’t try them on. WTF? So I’ve bought one at Auchan (not the best size) and I ordered another online… and I’m waiting for the second to come before deciding whether to return the first. Also did I mention they’re not very pretty? And lingerie stores don’t sell them? I think the idea of the French being good at lingerie is a big old myth.

Otherwise we put together the bouncer (finally learned what a bouncer is) that J’s family gave us and it’s sitting in the living room next to the couch just waiting for him.


So enough about the baby, here’s what I’ve been reading to stave off the boredom:

Let’s Stop Posting These Kinds of Travel Instagram Pics Now

Hillary Clinton Was Every Woman During the Debate

Throw Your Top Sheet in the Trash: I have never used a top sheet with a duvet, but I only started using a duvet in France. So is the top-sheet-less thing European?

Obama Reassures Foreign Tourists: “No Other American Man is This Horrible”

The Weirdest Friendships You Find Yourself in When You Hit 30: I skimmed this because it’s pretty long and these didn’t all seem familiar to me, but some of them were pretty interesting.

What Is Up with Trump’s Ill-Fitting Suits? A World-Famous London Bespoke Tailor Explains: Seriously how can a man so rich look so terribly dressed.

Linguistics Explains Why Trump Sounds Racist When He Says “the” African Americans

When Your Old Life Becomes Someone Else’s Internet Sensation:  Fascinating, though it did not make me want to live in a yurt.



A Baby Shower (in France)

Baby showers are not a thing in France, though like everything American, I did discover they are becoming a little bit trendy among trendier crowds than mine. Who knows if they will soon be ubiquitous like wedding photo booths, or if they’ll go the way of Halloween.

In fact the French are mostly superstitious that it’s a bad idea to give a gift before the baby arrives, though lots of people don’t really believe that. It’s a common enough attitude though that I wasn’t counting on having a baby shower. But my friend Maggie almost immediately raised the question when she learned I was having a baby, and so we set out to make it happen.

The guest list was a mix of people who already knew what baby showers were (=Americans or people familiar with American culture) and people who had no clue but thought it sounded fun (the other French people).

I hesitated on whether to say no gifts or not, because I was inviting people to whom I hadn’t given anything when their babies were born—either because I didn’t know them very well yet or because I was just that dumb person who doesn’t get that it’s really nice to give a gift when a baby is born. (Kind of like how I didn’t realize till my own wedding that you can give a wedding gift even if you can’t make it to the wedding.)

In the end we left the question of gifts wide open and I let Maggie field questions about gifts, since both our e-mail addresses were on the invite. I did order real invitations which was fun and festive, including little “You’re invited!” stickers (in English) for the envelopes.

The shower was pretty low-key as far as showers go because there were no expectations since most people didn’t know what it was. We planned four activities:

  1. Decorate cupcakes
  2. Couple and baby trivia quiz
  3. Match the baby photo to the guest (I got them ALL RIGHT)
  4. Measure the belly

We had the shower at 2 pm at my place, which meant no one was hungry and the cupcakes were plenty as far as food went. We made a last-minute punch with vanilla ice cream which some of the French guests found very strange, but I had other Americans present to explain the concept of an ice cream float.

We decorated a little bit, putting down paper table cloths and blue table runners, buying pretty paper plates, but didn’t go all out by any means, and it was a uni-generational and small party so nothing needed to be very formal. Almost everyone did bring a gift and some of them were handmade which was really touching. I didn’t buy a special dress or anything though I did wear lipstick. We made little favors of candy bags for the guests and gave out condoms as prizes. I actually didn’t take any pictures except of the cupcakes!

So you’ll just have to believe me that the rest of it was fun and cute. I’m really glad we did it—everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and it was nice to see everyone again, especially some people I don’t see very often, before baby arrives in about a month (theoretically).

Daily Routine

Inspired by the a Day in the Life series on (discovered thanks to a tweet from CRose), I decided to try to write a post about my daily routine in Poitiers.

This week I’m unfortunately sick, and stayed home today, and yesterday I exceptionally got the afternoon off to go to a birth class (though I’m supposed to make up the hour I missed), so I’m not going to take a day from this week but just rather any old day from the beginning of this school year.

6:45 Get out of bed. This is on days that I have class at 8:15—sometimes it’s later and oh is it wonderful when it is. Shower, eat breakfast (toasted brioche with nutella or granola-like cereal with yogurt depending on how hungry I am and how long my morning will be). In non-pregnant times I have a cup of Italian espresso from our espresso machine (I haven’t been drinking much coffee during my pregnancy and before you get the idea that I’m making inhuman sacrifices, it’s so I can continue drinking diet coke).

J gets up around 7 and never, ever opens the shutters (I don’t get it, he must like to sit in the dark), so I always open them when I get up, even if it’s pitch dark out. It takes me about fifty minutes to be ready to leave. When baby comes I’m sure it’ll all be up in the air and take me ten times longer.

7:30 Get in the car for work. I have about a ten-minute drive, maybe a little longer. I’m spoiled. Come mid-October this drive happens in the dark, until February.

7:45 Arrive in the teachers’ lounge. Check my box, maybe my e-mail, give my lesson plans a quick look because chances are I wrote it all into my teacher’s planner at least three days ago. Make sure I have all my photocopies made and in my bag.

8:15 Classes start. On Thursdays this year I don’t start till 10:15 so this all gets pushed back. I try to arrive at work around 9:15 on those days. The morning is some combination of classes + break periods where I try to get work done in the teachers’ work room.

11:55 Break for lunch. Some days I have class till 12:45. The cafeteria food at my school is copious but gross (also 6€ a pop which definitely adds up) so I try to take my own lunch as often as possible. That’s either leftovers if I’m lucky, or a sandwich on a baguette viennoise (I can’t stand the French”American”-style sandwich bread). I eat with my colleagues in the cafeteria unless I finish at 12:45, in which case I eat in the teachers lounge. Classes pick up again at 1:35 though this year I always have two periods to eat (which will come in handy come breast pumping time). Our classrooms are in a different building from our work room and cafeteria so, though I don’t need two full periods to eat, it definitely cuts down on the feeling that I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off.

4 or 5 pm Classes end for the day and I head home. There are traffic jams at around 5:45 leaving school so if I can I try to book it out of there earlier than that, or give up and stay later. If I have the energy I’ll stop to buy bread (the best bakery is the one inside the tiny, sad supermarket building—honestly we think it’s the only thing keeping that supermarket in business) but usually I don’t. During certain weeks of the year we have meetings till 6:30 or 7 (or later) so I get home quite a bit later (but again, I don’t always start at 8).

On a non-training day, J may be home when I get home and we watch TV/read the internet on the couch, or go grocery shopping, or have appointments for other things.

Sometime between 7 and 9 J gets home from rock-climbing on the days he trains. When he gets back at 9 I’ve usually at least started making my own dinner if not eaten already. Otherwise he makes dinner and we eat anywhere between 7 and 8:30. I also make my lunch for the next day.

10 Bedtime for me, on the days before class at 8. I turn off the light at 10:30. On other days I go to bed later. I pick out my clothes for the next day and leave them in the bathroom. I have clothes I reserve exclusively for work, though what with being pregnant I’ve had to give up on that.

Week-ends consist of errands (grocery shopping), cleaning and laundry, maintaining the yard, visiting family, or various rock-climbing engagements (competitions, volunteering…). Sometimes I have a gig or a rehearsal with the band. Sometimes we go out for dinner or manage to meet up with friends. Sometimes we leave town together.

Rereading this it doesn’t seem particularly French at all. And it’ll probably be funny/sad to read back through it once the baby is here and I’ve gone back to work in February. Tomorrow is my last day before maternity leave, and I’m ready, but I think I’m probably leaving this routine behind and that’s a little bittersweet.

What about you? Does your routine seem particularly “French” or “American” to you or does it all just seem normal by this point?

The Past Week

In this penultimate week before my maternity leave, I’ve been getting home and mostly thinking about when I can go to bed. But things are going well, and I’m still enjoying being at work and having a hard time imagining everyone being there without me. Colleagues are very supportive and interested and in turn I try to ask them about their pregnancy and newborn experiences (if relevant) so that it’s not ALL ABOUT ME ALL THE TIME.

We received a package in the mail from my mom this week that got hit hard with ridiculous French customs taxes. In short, they tax the value of the package (without adjusting for the exchange rate, as far as I can tell) PLUS the value of the shipping which is of course very expensive. Then they add 15 euros of “frais de dédouanement” for good measure—a tax just for it having had to go through customs. Next time we will have to be sneakier. But it was really nice unpacking things from the States that I knew my mom had picked out by hand.

In other news, I didn’t watch the presidential debates because 1) it was the middle of the night and 2) I actually hate the presidential debates. I think they’re important to have but I don’t enjoy watching them or all the media frenzy that builds up to them.

Some reading for this week:

These Are the Best American Foods, According to a French Person

The Making of an American Girl: About Addy, and it’s fascinating

Hating Trump Isn’t Enough: We need to talk about why Clinton rules


Ten Years

Ten years ago today I hugged my parents goodbye, got on a plane, and left for France.

What was supposed to be a seven-month once-in-a-lifetime experience turned into a life.

When I think about that trip over it’s really pretty astonishing I stayed, since I was actually really sad and nervous to go. Weather was bad in Texas that day, but I had been spending the month at my mom’s condo in San Antonio and had gotten very comfortable there—not to mention there were poodle puppies. My flights got rerouted twice and I eventually was on a tight connection through Chicago and London, arriving four hours later than I was supposed to in Paris. Here’s that story told in a jet-lagged state from the lycée computer room.

I magically still managed to meet up in the Gare de l’Est with Zandra, who was identifiable only by her sparkling smile and the orange ribbon on her suitcase. I called my responsable at the school from a pay phone with an international calling card to warn her I was on a later train. She picked me up at the little train station in Bar le Duc, took me to her house to send an e-mail home, and then dropped me off at the internat to sleep. I woke up in the night and cried, wondering what craziness had taken over me to go so far away from home to sleep in such a cold, hospital-like bedroom.

It is not one of my best memories. Somehow in the following weeks things turned around and I fell in love with this country and this language. Sometimes I take a step back from the day to day and marvel at how I somehow live a normal life in France after all this time.


Why would you move to France when you could live with these faces?


Ten years means:

  1. Boris and Otto are no longer puppies but progressing practically into thoroughbred old age.
  2. Ten years since my mom dropped everything and changed careers (sort of), moved to a new city, and introduced us to San Antonio.
  3. Three different French cities
  4. Four different French teaching jobs
  5. Six different French housing situations
  6. Extensive travel both near and far on my own and with new friends, family, and a partner
  7. Eight cartes de séjour (in 2006 the year-long visa and the OFII didn’t exist yet) and a new nationality
  8. Four absentee ballots (not counting the 2016 primaries)
  9. A huge stack of bulletins de salaire that I’ll keep till I die—and a ton of other files in hard copy
  10. Numerous expat friends who’ve come and gone, or stayed when I’ve gotten lucky

And of course a thousand other things, but ten seems like a nice, round number, doesn’t it?

Pregnancy Misc, French Admin Version

The heat finally broke this week. Hurray! I’m now feeling pretty confident I’ll be able to keep working till October 8th so I called my doc Monday for an extension to push back my leave.

There are a couple of maternity leave related things people have told me over the past few weeks in conversation that appear to not be true:

  1. the congé parental pays well*
  2. you can get extra maternity leave for breast-feeding

It’s nice the dreams people feel like selling you on when they aren’t up to date on any current info. But I’ve been doing so much reading about this stuff over the past few months that as soon as they said these things I was pretty sure they weren’t true. Like the things people say to expats, be wary of anything that sounds too good to be true!

(*Congé parental or parental leave is something you can take after your maternity leave, or the dad can take it, but you aren’t paid a salary, just an “indemnity” of a few hundred euros a month. Needless to say that is NOT enough for us to live on.)

It’s been interesting realizing how fast pregnancy and leave laws change in France. Even as recently as two years ago, parents got a “prime de naissance” from the governement during the 7th month of pregnancy (or before an adoption) to help defray the costs of preparing for the baby’s arrival. Guess when it arrives now? Two months AFTER the birth. So… who exactly does that help? Only people who have the money in the first place. (Though I certainly won’t be complaining when it finally arrives.)

Then there are the people who ask questions that I have trouble making sense of. Like J’s mom, who as recently as last weekend asked me if I’d looked into the allocations. Umm, yes? I did that about seven months ago and there was no real reason to because for your first child you get a grand total of 2€50 per month. Woohoo.

At the beginning of the pregnancy I felt like I was totally uninformed about paperwork and health-related things, and as time has gone on I’ve realized that I (and probably all other pregnant women) am actually way more informed than all the non-pregnant people I talk to. Which, I guess… duh.

What IS interesting to talk to people about is the more human side of things, like other women’s experiences with pregnancy (no labor stories kthx), or things they remember from when their babies were very little. But the admin stuff is just sort of a waste of time, unless they had a baby in the past year or are actually a midwife or doctor.

The Past Week

This past week J was in Angers for work, but we spent yesterday in Paris at the World Rock-Climbing Championships at the arena in Bercy. J got free tickets since he is a regional elected official in the escalade world, but we only accepted them for yesterday since I wasn’t sure what physical shape I would be in. We were right to, it turns out, because those seats gave me some serious back pain by the end of the day.

But it was a pretty great show. Sunday we saw the women’s bouldering final, the handi-escalade amputee (leg) category final, the women’s speed climbing final, and the men’s lead (=wall) climbing final.

The most physically spectacular was of course the amputee category. Showing different handi-escalade finals in the middle of the other finals (it was all in the same arena) was an important improvement from four years ago when the handi-escalade competition wasn’t even open to public viewing!

There are a few pictures on the Equipe website here. Rock-climbing has been officially selected for the Tokyo olympics in 2020 for the first time, and everyone is buzzing with talk about the effect that will have on the sport, not the least because the olympic committee decided to have one “combined” category rather than have bouldering, speed, and lead climbing. Speed climbing is a very new discipline and hardly anyone who does bouldering or lead climbing practices it seriously. So in the next few years everyone who wants to compete at the olympics will have to start speed climbing. (IMO Speed climbing is cool the first time you watch—they go SO fast—but gets boring fast. And you can’t start out rock-climbing by doing speed climbing since the route is actually pretty difficult just to get up.)

We took advantage of the trip to go to the newly opened Five Guys in Bercy Village. The walk there allowed us to discover the very pretty park at Bercy. As a former Five Guys employee there were a lot of things that I saw going wrong in the restaurant but I still got my perfected burger out of it (little bacon cheeseburger: hot sauce, pickle relish, ketch-up, grilled onions, lettuce). The hot dog and milkshake will have to be for next time.

Nothing else really going on, except that I’m blowing through The Americans.