Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Le pere Noël

We spent the Christmas holiday in the Alps with C's brothers & sisters and their families, and I actually ended up being a bit disappointed in how un-Christmas-like it was.  They weren't into my holiday music or Christmas movies, there were few decorations besides the tree and we didn't have an all-out Christmas dinner like most French families do.  My Christmas cookies were poo-poo'ed (though they did end up liking them in the end). The whole thing just seemed more like any-old weekend than the festive holiday get-together that I was hoping for.   But I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, my in-laws are all very non-traditional and not at all into commercial celebrations.  I just thought that things would be a bit different now that there are young kids in the family...

This was our first Christmas celebrating with C's family though, and I love finding *the* perfect gift for people, so I put a lot of thought and effort into present shopping, especially for the kids.  After opening the gifts, one of our nieces was playing with a gift we gave her, and I started telling her mother where I found it and why, and she interrupted me and said "You mean where SANTA found it".  And I was like - "No, this was a present from us".  And she said "No, you mean from Santa" a little more forcefully. 

I was confused, so once the little one had left the room, I asked what that was all about, and she explained that the kids thought all of the presents had come from Santa.  I couldn't really understand why Santa had to bring every single gift - but her rational was that the kids wouldn't believe in Santa anymore if some gifts came from other people.   But it went as far that even gifts from the neighbors or from the grandparents a few days after Christmas were also from Santa, with the explanation that "Santa made a mistake and dropped them off at our house for you".  I tried to explain that made the whole Santa theory even less credible, because come on - the guy's been delivering presents for millions of kids around the world for years, and he's still making delivery errors??  But she wasn't having it.

I guess my whole problem with this theory is - why it would be so bad for the kids to thank whoever gave them the gift? Growing up, in my family, we had a few presents from Santa and the rest from family members, and we had to go around and say thank you to each person and give them a hug.  And that seems like it would be much more in line with the French obsession with politeness.  Kids are taught to do the "bise" before they can even talk, and "hello, goodbye, please and thank you" are drilled into them once they do start talking, so what's wrong with showing gratitude for a gift? 

We had a NYE party at our place last night, and one of my French friends confirmed it was the same in her family, and said again "But they wouldn't believe in Santa if we didn't do that".  So I'm curious how things are done in other French families and if it is a French tradition I just haven't come across yet?  I guess there are still things for me to learn about French culture even after 12 years here!  I'd also be curious to hear how things are done in other countries that celebrate Christmas (or other bi-cultural families in France), so please leave a comment below.

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A year in review

*knock knock*  Is this thing on?

It's been so long, I've almost forgotten how to blog.  Plus I've noticed fewer and fewer feeds in my blog reader...I wonder if blogging is dying a slow death while other social medias take over, or maybe 2014 has just been a busy year for everyone?

I was thinking though about all 2014 has brought, as one tends to do at the end of the year, and man, what a crazy year it has been.  Mostly positive - becoming homeowners, lots of travel and some personal growth in there as well.  But also some stress - mainly work-related, but also some due to me trying to be a supportive wife for C's top-secret project.  Trying to balance the fear of financial risk (especially after you just signed a 15yr mortgage) with encouraging a spouse's dream is a tricky thing.  But more on that some other time...

I was able to visit some pretty amazing places over the past 12 months- I had to actually flip through the calendar in order to remember them all:
  • France - too many trips to count
  • Germany
  • Hungary
  • Japan
  • Morocco - two trips
  • Taiwan - three trips
  • Thailand 
  • US - four trips
  • UK - three trips
Plus we managed to sneak a few fun trips in there - I spent a week in Bali with my bff, and C and I took two trips to the Alps, plus romantic weekends in Lisbon and Strasbourg. 

2015 isn't looking to be any slower for me work-wise.  I was in the US the week before Christmas, and a lot of our time was spent visiting Very Important People in the Dept of State and International Trade Offices.  Our quest for global domination continues, one chicken at a time (though I guess that is only funny for those who understand what I do).

My goals for 2015 include maintaining my healthy/fitness as a priority and practicing daily gratitude. Some of the places I travel to remind me on a regular basis of how lucky I am to have been born in the US and to have had the opportunities I've had, and I have been trying to make the effort to be actively grateful for it.  For example, I was able to get home 4 times last year - not many expats get to do that, and while the trips are tiring when they're coming after a multitude of other trips, it also means I got in some very precious family time (including being able to attend my brother's wedding).

Speaking of work, we've been going through some pretty intense training sessions that have had me thinking a lot about my approach to life and my interactions with people.  I'm a pretty blunt person and I'm slowly starting to realize how abrasive that can be at times, so I would like to work on finding the balance between being honest and delivering the message in a non-hurtful way.

My other work goal is to attempt to not always assume the worst, ie to try to give people the benefit of the doubt.  For example, if a co-worker is rude or hasn't delivered on a project, I would like to be able to take a step back and say "Ok, hold on, they've maybe got X,Y, or Z going on in their personal life and are just having a bad day" instead of getting worked up or taking it personally.  I don't think it will be easy for me, but I do think (hope) it is a skill that can be learned over time, ie you can't control other people's reactions, but you can control how you react to them. 

I also hope to be able to disconnect a bit more from the Internets when I am home - C and I have much less time together than your average couple, so focusing on quality time instead of quantity time becomes all that more important.

So hopefully 2015 will be the year of being intentional - of focusing on the positive, really thinking about how I spend my time, and working on personal growth.  It sounds really cheesy when I put it down on paper, but it's where I'm at right now.  I wish all of you an equally productive 2015 (and hopefully you've all got some tasty champagne chilling in the fridge now to toast in the New Year).

*Tchin*!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

One for the ladies

Because of some of the places I've been traveling to lately, I've been a bit leery about purse theft and have been on the look-out for a cross-body travel bag.  I wanted a bag that was large enough to carry everything I need for plane/train travel (wallet, phones + chargers, tablet, bottle of water, umbrella and a sweater/scarf), but yet not one that was too big = heavy.  It also had to be durable and fairly stylish.

I did a lot of googling and read a lot of reviews, and finally settled on the Travelon Anti-theft Signature Crossbody:
It's a bit larger than the purse I normally carry, but still smaller than a messenger bag.  What I love most about it so far though is the amazing number of pockets.  You see, I have been carrying the same raggedy purse around for years now (and even bought the same purse used off of Le Bon Coin) because I love how many pockets it has.  It lets me keep my purse super organized, and you'll never see me digging around the bottom of my purse for my keys/lipstick/etc.

And this bag is the same - as you can see in the photo above, it's got a small travel pocket on the front flap for easy access to things like boarding documents.  There is also a large pocket on the back of the purse.  And inside there is a padded pocket for a tablet, a middle zippered pocket (great for make-up), a large pocket for your wallet, water bottle etc, and then the 2 standard phone pockets.
As an added bonus, one of the phone pockets is also RFID-protected, so it's great for storing your passport & credit cards.  (Read more about RFID protection here).  You'll also notice on the left of the picture that there is a small clip that you can attach to the main zipper when it is closed, preventing thieving little hands from reaching in and stealing your phone or passport. And the last safety feature it has is the main strap is slash-proof, and also has a carabiner that you can undo in order to secure your purse to your chair or table.

I purchased mine in grey, but it also comes in black or purple. It's available on Amazon, but I ended up buying mine from e-bags.com because they had it on sale for $45 (vs Amazon's $79).

**Note - this is not a sponsored post, and I purchased the bag myself.  I just think it's a really good quality, practical product and thought other frequent travelers might be interested in it too. :)

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Se faire belle

My SIL and her children stayed with us for a very hectic five days (the amount of noise and mess two small kids can produce is really quite incredible).  My niece is at the age though where everything princess rules.  Pink dresses, tutus, crowns, wands - you name it, she loves it. 

Her mother and grandmother are very earthy and don't really bother with external appearances at all, so whenever she comes to see us, she is always extremely interested in my make-up products, nail polish, etc.  She would sit quietly with me every morning while I got ready, just watching me, and sometimes asking questions about what I was doing or using.

Her main question though was Why?  Why are you putting on makeup? Why are you doing your hair?  Why do you paint your nails?  My immediate answer was "pour me faire belle", or to make myself beautiful, but then I thought - what on Earth kind of message is that sending to a young girl?  I certainly didn't want her to think that a woman needed to put on makeup in order to be beautiful, but then how do you explain to a 3-4 year old that you can put on makeup to feel better for yourself, and not just for others?  Or trying to delicately answer that I used mascara to darken my eyelashes without making it seem like it was bad if you didn't do that, especially since her mother doesn't.  But it still didn't stop her from asking "Can I wear makeup?  Can you do my hair? Can you paint my nails pink?"

The whole time she was here, I kept thinking back to an article I read some time ago that brought up the different vocabulary used with boys and girls.  Boys are often told they are strong and smart while girls are told they are pretty or good.  And it's something I've been very conscious about ever since.  I mean, it's true - it must be so much more difficult to motivate girls to excel in academics or sports if they are mainly lauded for their looks or how they act.  Even as an adult, I'm not really anything special but still most of the compliments I get tend to be more looks-related and not accomplishment-related. But luckily I have some pretty great girlfriends and blog readers who also recognize how hard I've worked. ;)

Anyways, I know a lot of you out there currently have or have raised girls, so I'd be really curious to hear your thoughts on this and how you dealt or have dealt with these sorts of questions.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Bastille Day 2014

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you know that yesterday was Bastille Day (said no French person ever), or as it is more commonly known "le quatorze juillet".  It's my favorite French holiday, and this year in particular I have especially been looking forward to it because of our view.

I love me some good fireworks, and long before we found our apartment, I often dreamed of us watching the fireworks from chez nous, like I used to be able to do from my shoebox.   So that was my immediate thought the minute I stepped out on the balcony during our first visit here. I could literally already see us popping a bottle of champagne and enjoying the view.... which is exactly what we did last night. And it was magical.
I actually got a little teary during the middle of the show.  I'd been dreaming of this night for so long, and here it was. I could feel my happiness building along with the crescendo of the music, like the culmination of all of our hard work over the past few years that had brought us to this exact moment.
And it was perfect.
Thank you Universe.

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Hello Paris

So I survived my six week traveling spree, and now have a glorious 8 days at home before leaving on another 2 week trip (1 week in France, 1 week in Russia).  I'm so relieved to be back home and sleeping in my own bed that even the grey skies can't keep me down.

A lot of positive stuff came out of my travels, namely some changes in my job functions that will likely mean even more travel abroad and less direct employee supervision, which should take care of most of my late-night meetings.  Having to supervise people who are working in the US and with a 7hr time difference has definitely been one of my biggest headaches over the past few years, so it's a welcome change.

Here are a few pictures to sum up my various trips - what a strange few weeks it has been, going from the "bigger is better" American culture to the middle of nowhere Morocco to discovering Taiwan and Bali.




Also, as a side note, this was my first big long-term challenge of staying fit while on the road since losing all that weight.  Before I left, I was feeling pretty nervous about it, as it meant a month and a half of eating 3 meals a day in hotels and restaurants.  It's still a work in progress, but in the end though, I'm fairly proud of how I did. C & I recently started doing TRX classes at our gym, and I soon realized it was also a workout I could do in my hotel room when no gym was available, so I purchased an inexpensive set of bands to keep in my suitcase.  Between that, 10 min abs, and a few other YouTube workout videos, I managed to maintain my weight for 5 of the 6 weeks.

Things kind of fell to crap the last week in Bali though despite my daily workouts because there was just so much fried food and rice everywhere.  I don't even really like fried food at all, but I was wary of eating some of the fresher stuff/street food due to the fear of spending my week in paradise cooped up in the hotel room with Bali Belly.  I also may have indulged in a few cocktails... So I gained about 1.5kg in the 7 days I was there, but now it's back to the grindstone and the extra weight should fall of quickly.  I guess that's really the moral of the story, isn't it?   Ie. staying on top of it and not letting small setbacks get you down.

PS. I was also nervous about being mega sleep-deprived after traveling through all of those time zones, so I purchased a new travel pillow to help me sleep on the plane.  I did a lot of research on frequent flier travel forums and finally found one that seemed to fit the bill. I didn't want one of those C shaped ones since I feel like they keep my head too far from the seat and don't stop me from falling forward.  The squarer foam ones looked more comfortable but would also take up a good chunk of my carry-on space.  So I settled for this pillow.  It looks a bit silly, but when it's blown up, it's sort of like sleeping on someone's shoulder, and it was nice to be able to wrap my arms around something too.  It honestly helped me get the most sleep I've ever had on any long-haul flights, and as an added bonus, it's easy to pack and even fit in my purse. Something to think about if you fly a lot or have trouble sleeping on planes...

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Saturday, June 7, 2014

Carb Cycling review

Disclaimer - if you aren't interested in diet or nutrition, you may want to skip this post. :)

I'm leaving for the US tomorrow, kicking off a 6 week traveling spree around the world. My bags are packed, and I'm all prepared for my work presentations, but what has been keeping me up at night is this - in a few days, I will have to be in a swimsuit in front of my co-workers and a few important customers.

Duh duh duh....

Oh yes, swimsuit season is upon us again.  I've never been a big fan of swimming - lakes in MN often have strange creepy crawlies and too much time in pools leaves my hair tinged green.  So I usually avoided swimsuit-wearing, preferring to stay in the boat and let others do the tubing, water-skiing, etc.  But this time, due to the corporate activities we have planned, it is unavoidable, and it's left me a bit stressed out.

Even if I'm satisfied with where my weight is at, I'm pretty sure like most of you ladies out there, I wish my legs were a little leaner.  I've been doing squats, lunges and leg-lifts to my heart's content, but it hasn't changed a damn thing.  The other odd thing is that for the past few weeks, I've also had really intense cravings for processed sugar, specifically for gummy bears and cereal. It was getting to be a bit extreme, to where C would find me in the kitchen eating cereal straight out of the box. Granted it was Special K, but still.  I really wanted to try to lose some fat before my trip and get my carb cravings under control, so I decided to try something that body-builders have been doing for years now pre-competition :  carb cycling.

The basic idea of carb cycling that you eat 5 meals a day and vary your carb intake in order to control insulin levels and to force your body to burn more fat on certain days (but not long enough to go into ketosis like you do with Atkins).  As you all know, I'm not really a fan of any fad diet really since I don't think they are sustainable for the long term, but I decided to give it a try out of curiosity, especially since I knew it would only be for 7 days.

After doing some research, I decided to go with 3 low-carb days, 1 high-carb day, 2 low-carb days and 1 high carb day (knowing this would be my flight day). Then came the question of what to eat?  I was shooting for around 1200 kcal on the low-carb days and 1400-1500 kcals on the high carb days.  I've never seen it, but apparently the trainer on the Extreme Weight Loss Makeover show also has his participants follow this diet, and he's come out with a few books on Amazon explaining how to do it.  As I said, since I wasn't planning on doing it long-term, I didn't want to spend 24€ on it, so I cobbled together a week's menu from carb cycling diet plans I found online.

Here's what a typical low-carb day was like for me:

Breakfast: 2 breakfast sausage egg muffins + mix together and heat: 1 TBSP nut butter, 1/3c unsweetened almond milk, 1/3c oatmeal with a sprinkle of cinnamon, 1/2c water (beverage: 1 c of tea w/1 tbsp almond milk)

AM Snack: 2 Ham rolls made with 2 slices deli ham + 2 laughing cow wedges + 1/4c diced cucumbers (plus a sprinkle of garlic powder, salt and pepper).

Lunch: 4oz chicken with 1tsp mustard and a sprinkle of parmesan and then pan-fried, 2c spinach, 1/3c pepper, 1 tbsp red onion, 6 radishes, 1 tsp balsamic vinaigrette

PM Snack: Blend together 1 scoop of low-carb chocolate protein powder + ice cubes + cinnamon

Dinner: 150g cod filet with 1 med zucchini noodles + 1/4c skinny alfredo sauce

Water - drink at least 12 glasses of water throughout the day

And a high carb day:

Breakfast: 2 breakfast sausage egg muffins + 1/2c avocado (plus tea w/1 tbsp almond milk)

AM Snack: Mix together - 1 yogurt, 1 scoop chocolate protein powder, 1/2 banana

Lunch: 1/2c hummus with unlimited cucumbers and celery

PM Snack: 1 small apple cut up and heated with 1/3c oatmeal, 1/2c water and a sprinkle of cinnamon

Dinner: 4 oz chicken, 5 oz sweet potato hash (4 oz sweet potato diced and cooked with 1tsp red onion, 1 tsp garlic, and 1 c wilted spinach)

Water - drink at least 12 glasses of water throughout the day


So what's the verdict?  

I was most nervous about getting headaches and/or feeling tired on the low-carb days, but I am happy to say that didn't happen at all.  I was also nervous about feeling light-headed during the high-intensity cardio workouts, but it was also not an issue, and the massive carb cravings I'd been having basically disappeared.  I didn't really notice any changes in my energy levels either.  One of the most surprising things to me though was how full I felt all week long, despite consuming roughly the same amount of calories I normally do.  There was likely more bulk with all of the veggies, and of course protein takes longer to digest than carbs - and I'm sure the 5 meals a day helped too.

C was actually really nervous about me trying this diet, likely because he knows how I get when I'm "hangry", but he ended up raving about all of our meals.  He told me he would happily eat like this every day (FYI - he added some kind of grain to every meal since he doesn't need to lose weight/fat).  

Practically speaking, I lost 2.2 kg (4.8 lbs) and 2% body fat.  So that's actually quite a bit for one week (maybe a lot of it was water weight??), but either way, I definitely feel a bit better about having to show up to work in my swimsuit. :)

However, despite all of that, it's not like an experience I will repeat because 1) it required tons of prep work for all of the meals, which isn't very practical for most weeks, 2) it would be almost impossible for me to eat like this while traveling for work, 3) having to drink tons of water meant I woke up pretty much every night to pee and then couldn't fall back asleep for ages and 4) all of that protein (protein powder, chicken, sausage, tuna, salmon and cod) was pretty pricey.  We don't normally eat that much meat, and thus ended up spending twice as much as we normally spend on food for the week.

I will however likely incorporate some of the snack and salad ideas I came across into our regular diet since they were super tasty and filling, and I need to eat more protein anyways.  Et voila - likely more than you ever wanted to know about carb cycling.

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