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
a.k.a. 
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.

Yay.

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...

Demolition

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.

Neighbors
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

School
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.

Fishing
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.

Food
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.

Ideas???

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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Monday, August 11, 2014

Our first week in France

An epic move overseas begs for an epic beginning. In our case, this meant our flight getting delayed...and delayed...and finally rescheduled for the next day. When we finally found this out, we were already at the airport with our mountain of luggage. We couldn't exactly go home--our new family was already moved in, plus we had no way to get anywhere--so we stayed in an airport hotel. Our journey took over 48 hours total from door to door.

Our four children were in remarkably good spirits considering the two long days and nights of travel and the jet lag. Their favorite part was the free hot chocolate at the Frankfurt airport during one of many long layovers. Oh, and Zari thought that having meals served on the overseas flight was awesome. She kept reminding me to wake her up so she wouldn't miss the breakfast at the end of the flight.

We left our house at 4 pm on Friday and arrived at our apartment close to 10 pm on Sunday...keep in mind I had never seen it in person. Initial impressions: dingy, lots of things to freshen up or fix, but more and more I'm loving how it fits our family and the possibilities it has.

On one of our very first shopping trips, we bought a hammer drill, basic tool set, measuring tape, and a large set of drill bits. I've already used them all several times.

When we arrived, our apartment had 2 beds, 1 futon mattress on the floors, 2 plates, 3 bowls, and  folding dining table & chairs. Oh, and a few miscellaneous kitchen items such as snail forks & picks, 2 corkscrews, and a brioche pan. I've fallen in love with Leboncoin--the French equivalent of Craigslist. We've been running all over Nice buying furniture, bedding, and household linens. We're having so much fun looking for furniture. We'll find things here for practically nothing that would be crazy expensive in North America.

Our kids are in heaven here--ocean, parks, playgrounds, trams, buses, always something to see or do or explore. Dio learned how to swim on his own right before we left for France, so he is thrilled to practice his new skills. He and Zari both have good snorkeling sets and have already gone with Eric several times. Inga is fearless with her arm floats, and Ivy loves her new baby float. Now our whole family can be in the water together.

We currently have Eric's brother and his family visiting, so there are 10 of us sharing 2 plates and 3 bowls. Fun times. Thankfully they don't mind "camping out" in our apartment.

Off to bed...it was a busy day today visiting the aquarium & old town in Monaco, plus swimming in the afternoon and lots of errands in the evening.

Bonne nuit!
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Saturday, August 02, 2014

We're off!

We only got as far as the airport yesterday. Storms across the eastern seaboard caused massive delays/cancellations. Our flights got rebooked for the next day, so we had to find a hotel at the airport. Today will be (another) long day traveling.

Oh...and until the day we left, we still didn't know if we'd have a place to stay once we arrived. The French bank has been moving at a glacial pace, and our original closing date of July 2nd kept getting pushed back and back....the notaire (real estate attorney) told us a few days ago that we might not be able to close until August 8th.  Eric pushed back and played every sympathy card possible (4 young children, nowhere to stay, etc.). Yesterday morning the good news arrived: we have an apartment!

We've also never had so much luggage before. Usually we have 2 checked bags and 2 carryons for our whole family. I have no idea how we are going to transport everything from the airport to our apartment. We live on a pedestrian-only street in a mainly pedestrian-only area of town....


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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

3 days until D-day

Our big departure for France happens in less than 72 hours!

We got back from a 2-week trip to California (Eric's family reunion and a visit to my sister) late Friday night. I feel paralyzed with how much we have to get done in the next 3 days.

Here's a sampling of what we've done since we came home from California:
  • Installed 3 storm windows that were being repaired
  • Scraped and repainted the brick moulding that holds the 4 French doors in our living room
  • Finished painting and trimming the French doors--we'll get them put back up tomorrow
  • Repaired a heavily rotted/damaged 6-pane window with Abatron WoodEpox. I need to sand it down tomorrow and then install the new glass and glazing. 
  • Mowed the lawn
  • Pulled endless weeds and took out lots of poison ivy. (Stink eye at our neighbor, who has an enormous poison ivy vine--more like sizable tree--growing up their sugar maple. I offered to take care of it for them, but they said no. So we get hundreds of poison ivy seedlings in our yard and gardens every year.)
  • Cleaned out and washed our fridge and freezer
  • Started washing our kitchen cupboards inside and out
  • Repainted 3 radiators in the kitchen and dining room
  • Painted the dining room window
  • Packed the kids' clothes (most of them, at least)
  • Packed my own clothes...still have shoes and accessories/toiletries left to pack
  • Mended several items of clothing since I won't have a sewing machine in France...unless of course I buy one secondhand :)
I also have 2 tenants to move out on Thursday and 3 new ones to move in before we leave.

I have so many things to take care of that I haven't been able to sleep well at night...maybe 4 hours a night. Then I lie in bed thinking of all the things I need to do.

I can't wait until we pull out of our driveway and head to the airport.

I'm starting to fall asleep at the computer. Bonne nuit!
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Friday, July 18, 2014

Nous sommes les freebirthers by Stéphanie St-Amant

I'm up at 3 am with either food poisoning or a stomach bug...nothing better to do than hop online and distract myself.

At Eric's family reunion 2 years ago, I remember the exact same thing happening...mysterious gastro-intestinal malady, middle-of-the-night websurfing, puke bowl next to me on the couch. And unbeknownst to me, I was also pregnant!

I don't think that's the case this time around, unless my Mirena IUD has failed me. This can happen, although it's rare. A friend of mine and mother of 8 has gotten pregnant once on birth control and TWICE on IUDs! Both times the IUD came out with the baby.

Anyway...

I came across a fantastic article by Stéphanie St-Amant: Nous sommes les freebirthers. Enfanter sans peur et sans reproche ("We are the freebirthers: Giving birth without fear and without reproach" published in Recherches féministes 27.1, 2014, p. 69-96). The link leads to a free PDF and requires a free registration to Acadamia.edu.

It's been over five years since I finished my dissertation on unassisted birth in North America. I've been immersed in birthing and raising small children, teaching at a small liberal arts college, remodeling homes, and managing rental apartments. It's fun to remember what I used to think and write about night and day.

Ivy's crying...must go...hope I don't puke on her :)
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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Family reunions x 2

Wow, it's been so long that I'm not even sure where to begin. Right after we finished painting the exterior of our house, we traveled to Minnesota & Wisconsin for a family reunion. Lots of fun at the lake, no phone/internet for much of the time, and cousins/grandparents/aunts/uncles galore.

May 2014

While I was visiting family, Eric traveled to France to teach a creative nonfiction with the Paris Writers' Workshop. He hopped down to Nice afterwards to enroll the kids in school, set up utilities, and take care of other paperwork in preparation for purchasing the apartment. We were supposed to close while Eric was in France, but the mortgage company was so backlogged that we  rescheduled for the end of July.

During these 2 weeks away, Ivy decided to stop sleeping and to become a barnacle. She clung to me all day long and had to be carried around nonstop. And at night she went from waking up 1-2 times to 4-6-8+ times. Nothing except nursing would settle her down. She's also started this new thing of crying so hard that she pukes within a few minutes, sometimes even less than a minute. She gets so worked up if I don't tend to her immediately. Normally I'd let her fuss, but all my kids were in the same room with me. Some nights we had multiple chain reactions of one child setting off all the others. No fun.

Plus with this puking thing, letting Ivy fuss simply isn't an option right now. I am so mystified by babies' sleep habits. She's also had a runny nose and intermittent low fevers. I am crossing my fingers that all of these pieces form a puzzle that equals "teething." I *think* I can feel all 4 molars starting to come through.

We got home last weekend and had to turn around almost immediately to the French consulate to apply for 1-year visas. We had a three-hours drive to the nearest consulate; we counted ourselves lucky, because some people live 15-18+ hours away). We arrived, only to find out that the appointment we had booked way in advance was only for Eric. Even though we are all applying together, we were supposed to book six separate appointments. I searched all over the consulate website and didn't find anything about that rule...until I looked again found some fine print on the "terms and conditions" page of the online booking system. Not exactly easy to find!

I had to stay outside with the kids while Eric spent several hours waiting in line, asking for an exception, waiting in line again, asking again. The next available appointments were a week out, when we would be gone to another family reunion in California. We would have to cancel our entire trip, forego our airline tickets, and make another trip to the consulate.

The third time at the counter, Eric almost unconsciously switched over to speaking French. He explained our time constraints and travel plans and asked again if we could all submit our applications. The visa officer--who'd been yelled at by a very disgruntled man in front of Eric--finally said, "okay, fine, I'll take your applications. Go get your family." Woohoo! The whole time the visa officer was swearing and muttering (in French of course). We were super polite and thanked him profusely at the end. He replied, "I didn't even get my break." (J'ai pas eu ma pause.) Translation: "you're welcome, I guess."

We've been home just a few days, and we are leaving almost immediately for California. While we're gone, our work crew is going to finish renovating our master bathroom. Just in time for us to leave the country!

Our house is turned upside-down as we are filling storage boxes and deciding which things to bring with us to France. At least we only have to clean out our closets and bathrooms. Everything else stays--kitchen dishes/appliances, furnishings, pictures, etc. We found an amazing family to rent our house that was looking for a fully furnished home. Win-win.


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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Exterior painting photos: before & after


Eric is finishing the last large attic gable on our 1900 Arts & Crafts home. It's been a multi-year project, starting when we bought the house 3 years ago on foreclosure. It was covered with vines, the roof was losing shingles, and the soffits were rotted out.





Once we had the roof & soffits rebuilt, we had to choose four paint colors and then repaint all the woodwork. The house is mostly brick (1st story) & cement-over-brick (2nd story), but there is still a huge amount of woodwork between the windows, soffits, porch ceiling, and 3rd story gables.


It's finally coming together, thanks especially to our friend who lent us his Condor manlift. (Why not womanlift? personlift?) Eric is the delegated scraper/painter, and he gives the lift two thumbs up. It took him 5 days to do the side gable (working some half days) and 3 1/2 days to do the front gable. He started on the back side today, so we should be done next week.


Before the lift arrived, Eric had finished painting the porch & 2nd story soffits with just an extension ladder. He was tired of hauling ladders around--and hauling himself and paint/tools/hoses/etc up and down. 

I've been busy getting our rental properties fixed up (a 3-plex and a 5-plex), taking a few former tenants to court for thousands of dollars of back rent & damages, and repairing the four exterior French doors on our house. All four doors were rotted out on the bottoms.


Thanks to products from the wood restoration company Abatron (LiquidWood + WoodEpox), I was able to completely restore the doors. 5 of the windows were broken, so I've been smashing them with a hammer (fun!) and reglazing almost all of the 40 windows.

We need a vacation from being on "vacation"!
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