Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Toddler nursing & yoga session

Ivy loves to nurse. Especially while doing yoga.

Downward facing dog is easiest.

Sometimes she adds a leg lift

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Eric's newest baby: book #2

Eric's second book, Hemingway on a Bike, was released last week by University of Nebraska Press. It's a collection of creative nonfiction--essays about raising children, fixing houses, living in France, and playing odd sports. And lots more.

Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins and The Financial Lives of the Poets, wrote this about Eric's book:

A wonderful book of essays, wry and wise, in which Eric Freeze considers what it is to be a twenty-first-century literary man’s man in all his house-remodeling, sweet-parenting, foosball-playing glory.

I love this bit of praise from Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of Once Upon a River and American Salvage:

Eric Freeze is the kind of thoughtful writer and parent who will help us save the world.

One of my favorite essays is "Supergirl." It's about Eric telling stories to Zari about her superhero-alternative-universe-self who gets zapped by a radioactive jellyfish and gains supersonic flying powers. It's about a little girl's longing to be the hero, to defy gravity, to fly. It's about how being a parent means pouring your heart into silly stories that make your children giggle and stand a little taller at the end of the day.

Other things you'll read about in this book...

  • Our crash-and-burn TV interview in London about Zari's "freebirth"
  • Hemingway riding on a bike (obviously!)
  • Matisse coming to Nice and being captivated by its light and colors
  • Vulcans and all things Star Trek
  • Toddler Zari running her heart out across a parking lot and nearly getting herself run over
  • Mormons and their weird obsessions with beards

And so much more! You'll laugh! You'll cry! You won't regret it!

And even better...if you buy the book from the publisher before the end of October, you get 30% off the list price (and less than Amazon's current price).

To learn more about Eric, check out his new website

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Thursday, October 09, 2014

Irish midwife Philomena Canning

This week over 200 mothers, midwives, and other supporters marched to protest the suspension of Irish midwife Philomena Canning's indemnity insurance. Below is a guest post by Susannah Sweetman explaining more about the insurance issue and the status of home birth in Ireland.

Photo from Independent.ie

I am a PhD candidate in the School of Nursing and Midwifery, Trinity College Dublin. My area of research focuses on women's beliefs about birth, and examines the multiple forces that shape contemporary femininity in birth.

I am also a mother of three children, and I am 32 weeks pregnant with my fourth child. My first child was born in hospital, and my second and third children were born at home, with the support of my midwife, Philomena Canning. As of the 12th of September, the Health Service Executive has suspended Philomena's insurance, which has in effect shut down her practice, and has left 25 women without a midwife, 6 or 8 of whom, myself included, are due to give birth before Christmas.

No charges have been brought against her. The cases that are supposedly the catalyst of this suspension involve two women who were transferred to hospital following the births of their babies for precautionary reasons: all were discharged again within hours, and the mothers and babies are well. No complaint has even been made against Philomena in 31 years of practice; the women whose cases are being used against her reject any suggestion that her actions were anything less than entirely professional. Her record is exemplary: in 2012 she was awarded Midwife of the Year in Ireland, which she refused to accept on the grounds that it was sponsored by a formula company.

Only 0.2% of births in Ireland are home births, largely because there is such a lack of support at policy level. All of the international research findings around planned home birth support the view that it is associated with significantly reduced interventions, and no increased risk for perinatal outcomes. In areas where maternity care policy supports home birth provision (parts of the UK, Holland) rates are as high as 30%. The demand amongst women for home births in Ireland is evident in the over-subscription to the small number of home birth services; the continued resistance of the Health Service Executive and Department of Health and Children to support and expand these services in line with the available evidence further illustrates what a recent national report (HIQA, 2013) into the death of Savita Halappanavar described as "an inability to learn from service users' and patients' negative experiences".

There has been a series of scandals within the maternity care services in Ireland over the past number of years, including the Scans Misdiagnosis Scandal, infant deaths in Port Laoise Hospital, the Symphysiotomy Report, and a number of maternal deaths including Savita Halappanavar, Dhara Kivlehan, Bimbo Onanuga, and Tania McCabe. None of the health care providers who have been implicated in these cases have been prevented from continuing to work. On the same day that the High Court application for the reinstatement of Philomena Canning's insurance was refused, the inquest into the death of Dhara Kivlehan concluded that her death was as a result of medical misadventure.

Throughout all of these inquests and investigations into the workings of the HSE and the maternity services it has been found that the underpinning culture is one that does not support accountability, transparency, or communication. Above all, the HSE and successive Ministers for Health have displayed an utter disregard for women and babies by their continuing failure to implement evidence-based care models.

Please sign this petition, it will help to put pressure on the Minister for Health Leo Varadkar, and the HSE to reinstate Philomena's insurance and put her back in practice.

Twitter #isupportphilomenacanning

Thank you!

Susannah Sweetman

PhD Candidate
School of Nursing and Midwifery
Trinity College
Dublin 2
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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Zari's letter to the circus

We had planned on going to the circus last weekend. Our downstairs neighbors gave us vouchers for free tickets, which they received because they are business owners. They went the day before and invited Inga along, only to discover that all the free tickets had been taken. They ended up buying tickets because they were already there with the kids. They warned us to go first thing in the morning to pick up tickets before they were all gone.

Eric got there within a few minutes of the ticket counter opening, waited in line for an hour, and finally got to the ticket agent. Guess what? All the free tickets were gone. Everyone else in the line was there for the same reason, and they were ticked off. One woman made such a scene that she had to be removed by security.

Apparently the circus does this on purpose, knowing that most people who have the vouchers will be forced to buy tickets when they arrive.

When Eric came home with the bad news that we weren't going to the circus, Zari was devastated. We explained that the circus does this on purpose. She was shocked at the dishonesty--on the same level as when her scooter was stolen.

She wrote the following letter to the circus. It's going into the mail today.

A letter for the circus

But, this note is for the behavior of the circus

Dear Circus,

It is not nice to trick people. I even cried because you tricked me. My papa said if the circus said people pay, we would not go to the circus. So I would love if you would actually tell the truth about the slip of paper that said if some body brought that slip of paper you wouldn't have to buy the real ticket.


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Friday, October 03, 2014

Life without a car


It's the word I come back to whenever I describe what it feels like to not have a car.

Being car-free is better for the environment, better for my wallet, better for my health, and better for my social life. 

We live in old Nice, and it feels more like we're living in a village than in a big city. We have all the amenities we need within easy walking distance: grocery stores, butchers, bakers, concert halls, churches (well...not our particular denomination...but lots of Catholic ones!), post office, markets, banks, and schools. We can walk to the beach and to several different parks. If we need to go farther out, we catch the tram or bus. I can get almost anywhere in metropolitan Nice via public transportation. Some places are trickier than others, but we've gone all over the entire city to pick up items, from skis to spearguns to pots & pants to comforters and pillows. I've even taken crib mattresses and large mirrors home on the city buses.

Life here in vieux Nice is set up to get around without cars. Most of the streets in old Nice are navigable only by foot because they are so narrow. You'll see the occasional delivery vehicle creeping down our street, but pedestrians rule our part of town.

Not having a car forces us to go on walks more often. I have to carry all my groceries home, so I go shopping more frequently. I use the stroller to carry the groceries home, with Ivy strapped on my back. Running errands means built-in exercise, so it feels like less of a chore than when I'm stuck in a car going from place A to B to C.

Take today, for example: after we dropped the kids off at school (on foot, like 99% of the other parents--the other 1% ride motorcycles), I wanted to look at some showers and bathroom tiles at a home improvement store. I put Ivy in an Ergo carrier and walked the 3.2 kms roundtrip. We picked the kids up for lunch, dropped them off again, and picked them up at the end of the school day. In the afternoon Eric went spearfishing at the far side of the port...running there and back because why not run? It's a built-in 5k! (He speared a saupe today...dinner tomorrow!) After dinner, we took a short walk to the Promenade du Paillon. Apparently the kids had lots of leftover energy because they ran almost the entire time. Inga especially.

An added benefit of dropping kids off at school on foot is you get to meet other parents four times a day. It's the complete opposite of school back home, where 99% of kids rode in cars or school buses, and less than 1% walked or biked.

I'd like to get a bike for some of the longer errands that we run. I could put Ivy in the Ergo and take her far down the Promenade des Anglais when we have our morning time together. Or Eric could take it when he goes spearfishing to speed up his commuting time.

French cities aren't as well set up for bicycling as Amsterdam, but they're still a vast improvement over American cities. I've seen several dedicated bike lanes around town. If you don't own a bike, or if you need one when you're out running errands, you can use Vélo Bleu, a bike sharing service where you pick up or drop off bikes at stations all around town.

Side note: read this interesting analysis of why fewer US women ride bikes compared to Dutch women in the Guardian. The author argues:

Dutch women can use bikes to get around because they are less pressed for time than American women, in three fundamental ways. First, thanks to family-friendly labour policies like flexitime and paternity leave, Dutch families divide childcare responsibilities much more evenly than American families. Second, work weeks in the Netherlands are shorter. One in three Dutch men and most Dutch women work part-time, and workers of either gender work fewer hours than Americans.

Lastly, Dutch parents do much less chauffeuring of children and elderly family members than American parents. Neighbourhood schools and high-quality bike infrastructure in the Netherlands make it easy for Dutch kids to walk or bike to school, unlike their counterparts in America, where rates of bicycling and walking to school have been declining for decades. Dutch elderly are also much more independently mobile than their American counterparts.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ivy is 18 months!

We've been busy this week with Eric's parents visiting. Even though they have close to 30 grandchildren, they are very young (60 and 64, I think) and have lots of energy. We've gone swimming, snorkeling, spearfishing, hiking, and of course walking all around Nice.

Ivy loves watching us and copying everything we do. I seized the opportunity and brought her into the bathroom when one of us was going pee. Ever since she's been dry most of the day because she wants to pee on the potty whenever anyone else does!

She loves to draw, to put together puzzles, to play with her stacking cups, and to read books.

She has two molars on the top that are still working their way out.

She wakes up 2-3 times a night to nurse. She's also the first one awake in the mornings and refuses to cuddle in bed. She wants out!!

Although her night waking hasn't changed for a while, we have made one dramatic improvement: I can now settle her down to sleep without nursing her. I only do this the first time she wakes up, if it's before I've gone to bed. The first time I tried it, she went ballistic and shrieked for a good 45+ minutes. I held her in my arms and when she became too frantic or wiggly, I set her in her crib. Repeat repeat repeat. Finally she collapsed in my arms and started snoring. Now when I pick her up and cuddle her in my arms, she calms down quickly. I have to hold her for a long time to be sure she's in a deep enough sleep.

Ivy still has a hair-trigger puke reflex. Sometimes she pukes just from nursing too much and lying in her crib at the wrong angle. Sometimes she pukes if she wakes up at night and I don't get to her within a minute or two. It's really annoying.
She got her first haircut from our downstairs neighbor. Her baby mullet is gone and replaced with a bob at the nape of her neck. 

She is saying more words every day, although they're hard for many people to interpret. She also babbles in long sentences. I have no idea what she's saying, but it's said with much feeling and inflection. I wonder what goes on inside her head...I can tell she's whip-smart and aware of so much around her.

Ivy loves to climb the ladder into the attic bedroom and wake up her siblings with hugs and kisses. Sometimes Inga refuses to come down unless Ivy wakes her up.

School continues to go well for Zari, Dio, and Inga. We've adjusted to Inga taking naps again--meaning she has a hard time falling asleep until around 9pm. Oh well... sometimes she is so tired out from her busy days that she falls asleep in random locations in our apartment, like the bathroom floor.

I haven't been taking pictures much...I'll have to get some from Eric's parents and post them soon.
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Monday, September 22, 2014

Immigration & Integration

We had our visa appointment today at the Office Français d'Immigration et d'Intégration, or OFII (pronounced "oh-fee"). We applied for a long-stay visitor's visa, or visa de long sejour (VLS). The application process starts several months prior to arriving in France at your home country's French consulate and ends with your visit to the local OFII office.

La Cantine
It was a long bus ride to the outreaches of Nice, meaning we were gone for much of the day. The school-age kids ate lunch at the cantine for the first time, and our neighbor picked them up from school. All three of them loved the cantine and wanted to eat there again. It's a sit-down 4-course meal, and everyone is served the same thing. Dio and Inga, who both eat at the maternelle's cantine, were a bit hazy on what they ate...something involving fish, rice, cheese, and plums. Zari remembered eating melon, fish, spinach, yogurt, and a madeleine in roughly that order.

French bureaucracy isn't always that bad
Our visit to OFII was pleasant. The employees were professional, accommodating, and friendly. We spent much of the time waiting in line, of course, but that's the nature of immigration offices. Our visit consisted of several steps:
  • Nurse's exam/interview, including height, weight, and a vision check
  • Chest X-rays to rule out tuberculosis
  • Physician's exam (blood pressure, pulse, lymph nodes, listen to lungs w/ stethoscope) and interview (general state of health, medications, vaccinations, operations, number of children, etc)
  • Final interview with a visa officer to get our temporary visa upgraded to a permanent one

Eric was very conscious of our class & race privilege. As when he applied for a permanent resident card in the US, he noticed the French immigration officers immediately being very friendly and warm when they saw an educated, white, French-speaking couple (and an uber-cute baby!).

I'm not saying that I saw any of the employees being rude or unhelpful to the other people...but we definitely got a chummy, friendly vibe when they sat down with us--different from their usual brisk, businesslike demeanor.

When the nurse saw me nursing Ivy, she found us an office and brought in chairs so we'd have a quieter place for her to eat. The last visa officer even broke a little rule for us. We had one copy of our justificative de domicile, or proof of address, and apparently she needed one copy for each of us, not one for our household. She mumbled to herself for a few moments, than said, "eh, whatever, I'll just make another copy and call it good."

One of the physicians said something borderline racist to Eric...when she was discussing the X-ray results with him, she said, "Yours look great, but of course I would have expected that given where you're from. Not like some of the other people who come in here."

The snow is whiter...in Canada

The visa officer expressed her great love for Canada: "It's such a beautiful country, and the people are so nice." She's never been there, but she's convinced it's so much better than France.

"Oh, but it's so beautiful here in Nice, with the ocean and the mountains and the warm climate," I said.

"Yes, sure, the weather is nice but there are just so many buildings everywhere! But in Canada it's so beautiful. The food is good here, though."

I agreed with her about the food and warned that Canadian winters can be horrible (affreux). I concluded, "We always want what we don't have." (On veut ce qu'on n'as pas.)

Idealizing another country is not just for us Americans and Canadians.
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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Just another ordinary day

It's funny how quickly you get used to your surroundings. We're in the heart of vieux Nice, living in a building dating back to the 1600s. We walk through narrow pedestrian streets that lead to vibrant marchés and public courtyards filled with people eating outdoors. Street performers and live music at the Irish pub on the corner give us nightly concerts. And it becomes so ordinary that you forget, sometimes, that you're living in a place where others come for the express purpose of taking pictures and buying souvenirs and exploring a place so unlike their own.

Today was ordinary--ordinary for us now. In the morning, Eric got a ride with a fellow Canadian to an Ultimate Frisbee league in Antibes. I took the kids on a walk through the Promenade du Paillon up to the Nice Etoile shopping center to buy some sheets via Leboncoin. We stopped by the mist fountains on the way home, bought a flowering plant at the flower market in the Cours Saléya, and picked up a baguette from a local bakery.

Lunch was leftovers from several past dinners: French onion soup, creamy herbed rice, this amazing lamb dish over couscous (I stewed the lamb instead of grilling it), and Provençal fish soup.

We went swimming and snorkeling after Ivy's nap. The water was crystal clear today. Eric tried catching mulet by hand and even got a big one...but it was too slippery to hold on to for long. He's going to buy a diving knife and try stabbing one--he can get that close and they don't see him when he approaches from above. We swam at the very end of Castel Plage, right where the beach runs into the rocky cliffs. The kids played on the rocks, piled up pebbles, and collected sticks until the sky clouded over and threatened to rain.

We all took baths/showers and are waiting to eat downstairs with our neighbors. Ivy is sitting on my lap and drawing--her new favorite activity--and shushing Dio. Dio's singing some random made-up song and is completely naked. I'm trying to type and Ivy keeps pulling my hands away from the computer. I'm really excited for dinner tonight, since he's a professional chef! Mmmmmm....
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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

La lutte contre les poux

The Battle Against Lice
How Dumpster Diving Helped Finance De-Lousing Inga

We had a parents' meetings last Friday for Inga's and Zari's classes. Inga's teacher alerted us that her class already had a lice problem.

I checked Inga's head Monday morning and saw something crawling on her head. I squished it before I could identify it, but after that I was on high alert. When the kids came home from school, I called my downstairs neighbor (did I mention she is a hairdresser? how fortunate!) to check our hair. I've never dealt with lice before, so I don't know what to look for.

Inga had lice. Or rather, she had nits.


So far no one else has anything, but now I keep imagining that I feel little creepy crawly things on my head.

Here's our plan of attack:
  • Wash all sheets and pillowcases and anything the kids were wearing that day
  • Apply Duo LP-Pro on everyone's heads as a precaution. This non-insecticidal product is supposed to be 100% effective against both lice and nits. (Of course there are lots of products claiming to eliminate lice that don't...so we'll see.) You leave this on overnight and wash it out the next day. 
  • Apply a special blue dye to Inga's hair that makes nits easier to spot
  • Remove all nits from Inga's hair and check everyone else's
  • Repeat the last step indefinitely 

My younger sister, who has 4 kids, has dealt with multiple rounds of lice picked up at school. She says the Nit Free Terminator comb is the only one that is effective. She's tried just about everything out there.

I'm trying to locate this comb or the French equivalent Assy 2000 locally, but so far no pharmacies in the area carry it. The plastic comb in the Duo LP-Pro kit was worthless. I picked out all the nits by hand.

So now let's talk about how awesome dumpster diving is. I was walking home by our garbage station and saw a disassembled wooden crib sitting by the dumpsters. I picked it up right away. It turned out to be an IKEA Sniglar. It was missing a few of the bolts and one dowel was cracked. But otherwise in fine shape. A quick trip to the hardware store for bolts, plus some wood glue, wood putty, and sandpaper...and it was ready to go!

I was tempted to keep it for Ivy and put away her cheap pack & play, but Eric convinced me to sell it. I listed it on Leboncoin.fr for 30 Euros and sold it within 2 days.

Total profit from the crib: 25 Euros.

Total cost of de-lousing supplies: 13 Euros for Duo LP-Pro + 18 Euros for the blue dye and a specially formulated mix (to be dropped in a shampoo bottle) of essential oils that supposedly repel lice

...And I still need to buy the darn comb.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

MIT Breast Pump Hackathon

I'm super excited about MIT's upcoming "Make the Breast Pump Not Suck" Hackathon. It's a collaboration of 150 experts--from parents to engineers--working to improve/hack/reinvent the breast pump.

If you have suggestions for improving breast pumps, MIT is actively soliciting input. Please participate!

Here's what I submitted:

Mom of 4 breastfed babies...I never pumped for them, but I did pump and donate to other moms.

I'm sure you've already received lots of comments about the noise, about how the pump flanges have to be held just so to get the suction right, making replacement parts cheap and easily available, making pumps simple and easy to clean (the Ameda Purely Yours has been the simplest design out there from the pumps I've tried) about how it's awkward having these flanges and collection bottles sticking out...

The the biggest thing I'd like to see is something that actually replicates the *feel and motion* of a baby's mouth. Breast pumps work by suction to pull the milk out of the breast. But a nursing baby has entirely different mechanics. The baby's mouth creates suction, but what actually expresses the milk out of the breast is the rolling motion of the baby's tongue on the underside of the breast (relative to the baby's mouth)--NOT suction. That is the biggest flaw in all breast pumps. They don't replicate a baby's mouth, and hands-down a baby is more effective than a machine in triggering let-down and in expressing milk.

A breastpump needs not only adjustable suction levels, but also adjustable pump cycles. When a baby nurses, it starts with fast, short sucks until the milk starts to let down. Then the baby moves to long, deep, slower sucks. This cycle repeats several times while the baby nurses.

I've used several pumps, including a Medela double electric, an Ameda Purely Yours, a Hygeia EnJoye, and more. Some had adjustable cycle speeds, but even those often wouldn't go fast enough for my preferences. I found that I need at least 78 cycles/minute for optimal letdown, maybe even faster for triggering letdown. Many pumps max out at 36-60 cycles/minute, which is way too slow for me.

Another essential design element: a sealed system. The Ameda and Hygeia have sealed systems, which means that bacteria/mold/viruses can't enter the motor housing via the pump tubes and then reinfect the milk. Ameda's design used a simple silicone diaphragm. The Medela does not have a sealed system.
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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Here we go again...


I thought moving overseas might give us a respite from big home renovations...but nope! The shower in our room has been leaking ever since we moved in. The grout and caulk were covered in mold, and we were also smelling sewer gas constantly. Time for demolition!

Once we began taking down tiles and opening things up, we started groaning and grumbling. Whoever installed the shower did not do it right. The walls were set back so far that the edge of the tile was outside the shower pan. The tiles were mortared directly onto plywood, which meant that the plywood was constantly moist. Moisture + wood =  mold and rot everywhere. We're sleeping on the guest bed in Ivy's room tonight, since our bed is standing up against the wall, and mold/rotted wood/plaster dust is everywhere.

We got the little wall and shower pan taken down and most of the tiles removed. I was going strong when Eric stopped me at 9 pm. Too noisy for nighttime.

We met our downstairs neighbors on the first day of school. They have a son Inga's age--he's even in the same class! She thought we were just here on vacation, so she was hesitant to introduce herself at first. She was pleasantly surprised when we showed up at school! Soon we started running into each other every day at school, around town, and in the building. Her son loves playing with our kids (and the feeling is mutual). He especially loves Inga and always asks to go upstairs and play with his copine.

They are super friendly and have already lent us baby gear and offered to babysit so Eric and I can go on dates. They own a restaurant down the street that serves traditional French food and is always packed. You have to reserve about 2 weeks in advance. I think that will be our first place to eat out!

Thief in the night
Last week we got robbed. Yes, now we are really living the dream in France. Someone broke into our building and stole 2 scooters and a skateboard. Zari and Dio were heartbroken. "But why would someone steal our scooters? Why?"

But what's even creepier is that I witnessed suspicious activities firsthand. Around 2 or 3 am, I started hearing male voices in our staircase and common areas. There are only 3 families in the entire building including ourselves, so I knew right away that they didn't belong. And our downstairs neighbor had told us that people often kick the door in at night to hang out and smoke in the hallways. These people kept turning the hall lights on and even woke Ivy up at one point.

Finally around 4 am I was wondering what was going on--I kept hearing people going up and down the stairs, doors slamming, and lights coming on and off. I opened our door suuuuuper quietly and peeked down the staircase. I saw a strange man exiting the abandoned apartment below us and locking the door behind him with a set of keys (it's been empty for at least 10 years...windows are all painted over...neighbors are certain that no one lives there). Then this strange man went downstairs, left the building, and started chatting with a scummy-looking group of men sitting near our front door. He went back inside our building with a set of keys, and back out again. (I opened our front shutters quietly and peeked down to see the street.) I watched him walk away, looking furtively over his shoulder.

We're all really concerned that someone has a set of keys to our building and to the abandoned apartment. When we came downstairs in the morning, the scooters and skateboard were missing...

The next day we filed a police report (called a "procès-verbal") and spoke with our neighbors, who then contacted the syndic (organization that oversees apartment buildings). We are waiting for an estimate on getting the locks changed and our door secured.

Random Ivy cuteness

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Friday, September 05, 2014

First week of public school in France

Life changed dramatically for us this week. Zari, Dio, and Inga all started full-time public school on Tuesday. I love the school hours (8:30-11:30 am and 1:30-3:45 pm) and the 2-hour lunch break. We live a 2-minute walk away from the school, which is about halfway up a large hill & cliff overlooking Nice. The school playgrounds have breathtaking panoramic views of the city and ocean.

Inga did magnificently the first day. She walked in, sat down at one of the tables, and started playing with toys without giving me another glance. The only crying this week came when a classmate took her shoes :)

One thing we learned is that they give the 3-year-olds naps in the afternoon. Naps = trouble for Inga. If she naps, she will not go to bed at night until 9 or 10 pm (her usual bedtime is 7:30 pm). This means she keeps Zari and Dio up late as well, since all three of them share a room.

I want to talk to her teacher to see if they can give her quiet activities during naptime, because her wakefullness is so disruptive to our family at night. But I also don't know if this would be considered rude or out of place to ask?? I suppose the other option would be to have her go to school only in the mornings. But I like having her go full-day; she gets more French interaction, and it gives me a nice stretch of quiet time in the afternoon while Ivy is napping. I even got to take a nap today--amazing!

When I picked the kids up for lunch the first day, Dio didn't want to leave school. His teacher says he's quiet and is slower to make friends because of the language difference, but otherwise is doing well.

Zari has gone back and forth this past month between being apprehensive and excited. Right before school started, I reminded her that she had been in an accelerated program during kindergarten and first grade. During kindergarden they did both K & 1st grade, and the next year they did 2nd-grade work. She had no idea she was in an accelerated program! As soon as I told her that, all of her fears about school here vanished. "I've already done 2nd grade! It's going to be so easy!"

Zari had a few small meltdown moments this week, which I attribute to adjusting from vacation back to school schedule. She complained that "school in France is not very interesting!" and remarked that "the work is easy peasy--except for it being in French." But mostly she's enjoying herself and keeping busy learning French handwriting. School children start out right away learning a beautiful cursive and don't ever use block letters. Zari loves drawing, so she's more than happy working on her cursive skills.

I hope we can make some (adult) friends among the parents we see at dropoff and pickup. There's a delightful fixture of cultures, languages, and appearances. The overall impression is more bohemian than the average people you see on the streets in Nice. And lots of babies coming along in their carriers and strollers :)
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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday evening walk

Many evenings we go on a walk before bedtime.

Today we wandered through vieux Nice to the Promenade du Paillon, stopping at the big fountain at the Place Masséna. We played in the mist fountains, then headed towards the Promenade des Anglais. This last promenade is a large sidewalk and bike/running path--as wide as a 2-lane street--along the ocean from vieux Nice to the airport 7 miles west. It's fantastic for little children on scooters, since there are no cars to worry about. We're probably most hazardous thing on the promenade with our 3 scooters!

Heading out...

Racing down the Rue Rosetti

Place Masséna

Mist fountains

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Four weeks in France

These first four weeks have flown by...our "vacation" is winding down and everyone is getting ready for la rentrée (first day of school) next Tuesday.

The French government recently changed the school hours, shortening the school day and eliminating Saturday morning classes. Now school goes from 8:30-11:30 am, then 2 hours off for lunch, then resumes from 1:30-3:45 pm. School is still just a half day on Wednesdays to allow for extramural activities.

We live a 2-minute walk away from the elementary school, so we'll have lunch at home most days. I hope to send the kids to the school cantine once a week, so they have the opportunity to eat a delicious lunch and learn first-hand about French food culture.

We are enrolling Zari and Dio in a soccer club that meets every Wednesday afternoon. I was hesitant because of the cost--not that it's exorbitant, but we are on less than half salary this year and I'm stressed about making ends meet. However it will be a great opportunity for them to improve both their soccer skills and their French. Eric is hoping to be an assistant coach for one of their teams.

Dumpster Diving
I have no shame and will gladly repurpose other people's trash. There's a small garbage & recycling station around the corner, with a corner turned into an informal Freecycle area. You can leave stuff and take anything that's left there. I've already left more than I've taken, but some good finds include: a set of 8 forks and 8 knives (literally the day after I said, "we really need to find some forks!"), shelving that will fit a few of our cupboards, and wooden wine crates.

Eric and the older kids have been fishing regularly and slowly learning how and where to catch saupe and dorade royale and sar and mulet. We ate a small saupe for dinner tonight.  Eric would like to learn how to spearfish, since he sees large fish everywhere when he snorkels in the same area. But is it worth the cost of the equipment and the license?

Luthier in Vieux Nice
I just discovered that we live around the corner (okay, maybe about 3 short corners) from one of the oldest luthier workshops in southern France! I brought my bow in yesterday to Denis Declerck to be rehaired. When I picked it up this morning, a French family was helping their teenage daughter choose a violin. She was testing several different instruments...but she was obviously a beginner and was painfully out of tune.

I offered to play the violins while she listened, so she could more easily determine which one she liked best. We went through 5 or 6, then narrowed it down to the top 2 choices. I played scales, arpeggios, and a few short excerpts from Bach to Barber. I enjoyed helping them out and discussing the merits of the different instruments.

I also asked Mr Declerck if he knew of any orchestras or small ensembles looking for a violinist. I'd love to join something while I'm here this year. He's going to see what he can find and get in touch.

I added up how much we've spent on groceries this past month, and it came to about $1,000 (€760). We haven't eaten out, not even any ice cream cones or other treats. I was hoping to keep our food expenses lower, but maybe this is a reasonable amount for a family of six? (We spent around $600/month back home.) If there are any French blog readers, let me know what you think. I don't want to worry about every centime spent on food, but I also have a finite amount of money to spend this year...

But besides the cost, the food is wonderful. We have salads every day, often for both lunch and dinner. Lunch is often a fresh baguette with meat (saucisson sec or jambon cru or smoked salmon), cheese (over 200 varieties to choose from!), greens, and tomatoes...We often eat milk and cereal for breakfast, but we've also done waffles, hot chocolate + leftover baguettes + butter + jam, and pancakes & scrambled eggs.

Eric made mussels in a white wine / shallot / Roquefort sauce the other day. Yum! One of my recent favorites was zucchini gratin: sautée zucchinis and onions and garlic, pour in eggs beaten with crème fraîche, and top with grated Emmental cheese. Nothing fancy, but very tasty. The key is to extract the maximum flavor by caramelizing the onions and zucchini.

Ivy napping today

Zari absorbed in The Books of Elsewhere Vol I
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Monday, August 25, 2014

Ivy is 17 months old!

I missed the last few months' updates, so I am determined not to miss this one!

Ivy is so complex for such a little person. She is a jokester. She is well-mannered almost all the time, affectionate, cuddly, gives great hugs and snuggles. She can also throw terrific, epic tantrums with a deep, gravely, growly cry and I can do nothing to console her. She is very much aware of things going on around her, often to my surprise. She remembers things for hours and days and weeks, so if, for example, I bought her a banana from the little grocery store across the street, she will expect a banana the next time we pass it.

Ivy loves to do silly things with her siblings, especially if it involves climbing and tumbling around:

She loves to stack objects. She can spend hours putting things in containers and taking them out again. She especially likes holding onto water bottles--one is good, two is even better. Sometimes she tries to carry so many toys that she keeps dropping them, and then this catalyzes a tantrum.

Ivy loves shoes--putting them on, organizing them, getting her siblings' and bringing them to the right owner, placing them back in the shoe organizer. She loves dogs, cats, birds, fish, trains, and airplanes. She is our strongest signer and can communicate very effectively. She loves to "read" books and has just started babbling along as she reads. Like this:

Ivy does not sleep well. Clarification: she still wakes up 3+ times a night to nurse. She's a tricky one. Zari also woke up frequently at the same age, but that was only because she was still co-sleeping. As soon as we put Zari in her own room around 20 months of age, she started sleeping through the night. Inga and Dio both slept through the night, or very close to it, by this age. They also went to sleep often without having to nurse all the way down. Ivy, though, must nurse every time I put her down, and if she's even slightly awake when I try to set her in her crib, she freaks out.

I can't think of anything else to do at night but nurse her immediately. If I try to comfort her without nursing, she goes ballistic. If Eric tries, she she goes ballistic. If I let her cry, she gets so agitated that she makes herself vomit within a matter of minutes, sometimes even less than that. (This started happening maybe 2 months ago...really annoying.)

I've never had a child who was so particular about sleeping and waking at night. So for the moment, I am getting up 3x/night to nurse her back to sleep...which is just like having a newborn. Except when I have a newborn, all I have to do is roll over. Here, I have to trek down the hall, open her door, close the door, nurse her, and then reverse the whole process.


Ivy has had a rough few months between waking more frequently than she used to, getting a few different stomach bugs that went through our whole family, and finally teething her first set of molars. I felt the first one poke through this week, and the other three aren't far behind. During this rough patch, she mostly stopped eating solid foods. I'm so glad I was still nursing her; what would I have done if breastfeeding weren't there to pick up the slack? She started eating again with great enthusiasm this past week. Whew.

In California at a Freeze family reunion

Because everything is more fun upside-down

California family reunion

Zari's idea (and hands) when she saw a beautiful California sunset
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Friday, August 22, 2014

What we did on a Friday

A fun, full day...

While Eric wrote in the morning, I got the kids dressed and ready, hung out my daily load of laundry and took down yesterday's, vacuumed, and washed dishes.

Yesterday I bought a Bosch kitchen machine (blender/food processor/mixer/citrus juicer), a waffle/panini/croque monsieur iron, and a steam cooker on Leboncoin. So we had to try them out! For breakfast we made waffles.

We bought scooters for the 3 oldest kids, so now they are terrorizing the streets and sidewalks of Nice. We make quite the procession with 3 scooters, 1 stroller, 4 blonde, blue-eyed children, and of course one mama keeping them all in line.

Our first stop this morning was the post office to mail our visa paperwork to the local immigration office. We walked past the fruit & vegetable marché at the Cours Saléya, then bought groceries at Marché U. It's a discount store-brand grocery store similar to Aldi, Dia, Lidl, and Ed. We also bought a baguette from one of our favorite bakeries. I let Ivy hold it, and she had gnawed off the top by time we got home.

Lunch was croque monsieurs (grilled cheese sandwiches, basically) and ripe pears and mini ice cream bars.

I put Ivy down for a nap and took the tram to the north end of Nice to buy a miter saw via Leboncoin. I enjoyed the time by myself. I listened to podcasts and enjoyed walking without having to keep an eye on little ones.

When I got back, I started sautéeing lardons (similar to bacon, only less fatty), leeks, and onions. Dinner was salad, quiche lorraine, quiche aux poireaux, and tarte aux prunes. Eric took Zari and Dio fishing for most of the evening, so Inga and Ivy ate dinner with me.

The three of us ended the evening by going to a playground on the Promenade du Paillon, a large green space created in the last 2 years and only about 2 minutes' walk from our house. Ivy is crazy; she will climb up things that even Dio would hesitate to try, and I have to be ready to catch her when she falls.

(These pictures at the Promenade du Paillon, also called the coulé verte, are from a week or two ago)

When Eric and crew got home from fishing (no luck, but lots of nibbles), Dio refused to touch anything I'd made. This is a regular occurrence at dinner time, and it doesn't really matter what it is. He just wants to refuse. He finally relented after he'd been put to bed, because our rule was he had to eat some dinner if he wanted to go fishing tomorrow morning. Life would be so much easier if he'd just eat dinner right away! But no, he has to complain and moan about it. Then eventually he'll eat it. And often he'll say, at the end of the process, "oh, I actually like this!"
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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Breastfeeding history moment: Mormon artist CCA Christensen

Around the turn of the 20th century, Danish artist C.C.A. Christensen painted scenes of early Mormon history and Book of Mormon events. I highlighted another of his breastfeeding scenes in this post about the Mormon handcart pioneers.

This painting, Father Lehi Blesses His Children, shows a mother nursing her baby. She is in the center of the gathering, her shirt opened and her breast bared.

Here's a closeup:

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Conversation at a playground

We're mostly settled into our new apartment and new life here, so Eric started his normal writing/work schedule this week. He writes in the mornings and sometimes into the early afternoon hours while I take the kids out. Then from mid-afternoon on, it's family time.

This morning I took the three youngest to the playground at the top of the big hill overlooking vieux Nice and the port. We call it "the chateau" since there are ruins of an old fortress/castle on the top. Zari opted to stay home and read a book; she's still recovering from a stomach bug that has been making its way around our family.

I was sitting next to an Algerian woman--Muslim, I presume, from her headscarf and long robe--when Ivy got upset about something. I tried all my tricks, but nothing worked to stop the tantrum. The woman asked if I had a pacifier or a bottle to offer Ivy. I said no to both. Then she asked, "elle prend le sein?" When I said yes, she smiled broadly and waxed eloquent about the beauty and benefits of breastfeeding.

I got Ivy calmed down--nursing finally did the trick--and we started chatting.

She teaches French in Algiers at the secondary level. She comes to Nice every summer to watch her two grandchildren until school & daycare start up again in the fall. To her regret, her two grandchildren weren't breastfed very long since her daughter-in-law works full-time. We talked about nursing my four children, about being a mother, about family size, about difficult sleep with little ones, about balancing work and family.

I love these encounters...and it made me grateful that I've been able to mother my children (mostly) full-time, that I've been able to nurse all my children until they were ready to be done, and to keep an academic/professional life without feeling stretched too thin.
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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Finding furniture in France

We are having way too much fun finding furniture here in Nice!

I am addicted to Leboncoin (French equivalent of Craigslist)....We've also been visiting local consignment (dépôt-vente) & antique shops. There's a big dépôt-vente called Open Troc on the fringes of town that's supposed to be really good. We'll probably take a trip up there next week.

Prices vary wildly here. You can pay top dollar for antiques, but you can also find others for next to nothing. I've found the best deals on Leboncoin.

Our main criteria are that our furnishings are:
  • aesthetically pleasing
  • well-made
  • old/antique when possible
  • most importantly, inexpensive
Here's what we've found so far.

I don't even know what you'd call this? We use it for putting on shoes. It's from a church and has carvings of a dove, a sun, a person holding the 10 commandments (complete with tiny carved Hebrew lettering) and another person holding a book with Latin writing. It's random and awesome. Price: 80 Euros at the Marché aux Puces (literally "flea market," but more like antique/consignment shops) near the port.

Little Moroccan side table. Some of the veneer work is missing on the top. Price: 20 Euros at the Marché aux Puces.

Leather sofa sleeper couch & chair. The sofa bed is really comfortable. I love the sleek, 1930s-era look. It's simple without being too modern. I'm not a fan of the hyper-modern look so popular in Europe. Price: 200 Euros.

The bookcase below dates from around the late 19th/early 20th century, judging on the crackling in the shellac. The previous owner put some gold wax on the doors. We broke one of the windows carrying it up the stairs. Better glass than wood! The whole thing was solid wood: no plywood, no veneers, and obviously no particleboard. Price: 140 Euros.

The large wool rug was free. We hired a mover to help us transport the items and carry them up the stairs. He gave us this rug that he'd been using for moving furniture. It was really dirty, but that's why we have vacuums! The wool is super dense and closely woven, and it cleaned up nicely.

Pair of antique Chinese cabinets. One has lots of drawers and cubbyholes, the other just has 2 doors. Price: 150 Euros at the Marché aux Puces.

The wood steamer trunk was thrown in for free from the person who sold us the elephant armoire (below) and bookcase.

The little silk rug was thrown in for free from the antique dealer at the Marché aux Puces, since it has a 6" long rip on one side.

Breton armoire. I love it. It's so over-the-top with carving on every possible surface. It has a faded red fabric on the inside, original from the looks of it, that I might replace some day. We use it as a pantry in our kitchen/dining room. Price: 200 Euros.

Copper cook pots from a dépôt-vente. Utilitarian and decorative at the same time! Price: 23 Euros for the 3.

In the back bedroom, an Indonesian elephant armoire made of pallisandre (rosewood). This is a newer piece of furniture, but built as well as the antiques. It's solid wood front, side, and back and was a challenge to get up the stairs. Price: 180 Euros.

We're still looking for an armoire for our bedroom and a dining table & chairs. Down the road we'll replace the existing beds, since the frames are falling apart and the mattresses aren't very comfortable. I'd also like to find better light fixtures; fortunately there's no shortage of amazing antique chandeliers.

This makes we want to change professions and become an antique dealer!
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