Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ivy's epic story

On Zari's birthday, Ivy started telling a story. It was epic. She included dramatic gestures, earnest facial expressions, and carefully timed pauses. It lasted at least 20 minutes. I caught a few minutes on film.

If only we knew what she was saying.
Read more ...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Calling all breech mamas

I am passing along a message from a researcher, Karol Petrovska, collecting responses from mothers who planned vaginal breech births (regardless of outcome). Here's an excerpt from the survey:

This study aims to explore experiences of women who have been diagnosed with a breech presentation late in pregnancy and plan for a vaginal breech birth.

This survey is aimed at women who have planned a vaginal breech birth at or close to full term in the past 7 years. We are interested in your experiences regardless of whether the final outcome was a vaginal breech birth or a caesarean section. Sharing your experience with us is greatly valued and your views will contribute to improving care provided to pregnant women with a breech baby.

This survey is requesting information about your decision making process for planning a vaginal breech birth. It should take approximately 20 minutes of your time to complete.

Karol is working with Professor Caroline Homer and Associate Professor Andrew Bisits from the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. If you qualify, please take a few minutes to add your experience!

Read more ...

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Zari's baptism

Zari was baptized today.

It was one of Those Days where everything goes awry and you somehow pull through. We spent much of yesterday baking cookies and cakes to share afterward. I finished sewing the sash for her baptismal dress last night at 10 pm. And of course, I *had* to come down with fever, chills, sore throat, stuffy nose, and achy body. Great timing. And Ivy decided to wake up 4-5 times.

Also our printer broke so I had to borrow our downstairs neighbor's printer last night to print the program and the violin-piano duet that my mom and I played. This meant that we weren't able to practice the music until today during church.

The biggest craziness today was a major plumbing problem at the church: the hot water ran out after just a few minutes, so the water in the baptismal font was cooooold. Several men formed a bucket brigade and were heating pots of water on the stovetop and pouring them into the font. It turned the water from ice-cold to just kind-of-cold. Zari was a trooper, though, and didn't fuss despite the cold dunking! "It wasn't quite as cold as the ocean!" I warmed her up afterwards with a hair dryer.

In the end, it was a lovely day for our family. My mom and I both gave short sermons (mine was en français, bien sûr!) before our duet. We sang my all-time favorite hymn "Souviens-toi, mon enfant." And we feasted on Lebkuchen cookies (my German grandma's recipe) and brown butter pumpkin cake (sugar cut in half for the cake batter).

Because I am a birth nerd, I worked in some stuff about birth. Baptism is, after all, a symbol of re-birth...emerging from the water and from darkness into the air and light. It's not every day that you get to talk about amniotic sacs at church! Haha!

[Sermon text below]

Je suis très fière de toi, Zari. D’être baptisé est une décision très sérieuse parce que c’est le début d’un long voyage. C’est le début d’etre discple de Jésus. C’est le début de ta nouvelle famille quand tu prend sur toi le nom de Christ.

Après ton baptême, tu va toujours faire partie de notre famille Freeze, mais tu vas aussi faire partie de la famille de Christ. C’est à dire que tu fais partie de tous ce qui habitent dans cette terre.

Tu sais que nous sommes tous les frères et les soeurs, même si on a les parents différents, parce que nous avons les mêmes parents Célestes. C’est pour ca que Jésus nous a dit que les 2 grands commandements sont d’aimer Dieu et d’aimer ton prochain.

Je sais que tu as beaucoup étudié, tu as beaucoup pensé, et tu as beaucoup prié pour savoir si le baptême était une bonne décision pour toi. J’espère que tu a les mêmes désirs d’aider et d’aimer les un des autres que le peuple dans Mosiah chapitre 18, versés 8-11 :

8 Et il arriva que [Alma] leur dit...puisque vous désirez entrer dans la bergerie de Dieu et être appelés son peuple, et êtes disposés à porter les fardeaux les uns des autres, afin qu’ils soient légers;
9 oui, et êtes disposés à pleurer avec ceux qui pleurent, oui, et à consoler ceux qui ont besoin de consolation, et à être les témoins de Dieu en tout temps, et en toutes choses, et dans tous les lieux où vous serez, jusqu’à la mort, afin d’être rachetés par Dieu et d’être comptés avec ceux de la première résurrection, afin que vous ayez la vie éternelle —
10 Or, je vous le dis, si c’est là le désir de votre cœur, qu’avez-vous qui vous empêche d’être baptisés au nom du Seigneur, en témoignage devant lui que vous avez conclu avec lui l’alliance de le servir et de garder ses commandements, afin qu’il déverse plus abondamment son Esprit sur vous?
11 Et alors, lorsque le peuple eut entendu ces paroles, il battit des mains de joie, et s’exclama: C’est là le désir de notre cœur.

Maintenant je vais parler un peu du symbole du baptême. Qu’est-ce que c’est qu’un symbole ? C’est quelque chose qui nous rappelle de quelque chose d’autre.

Le baptême est un symbole de 3 choses à la même fois. Premièrement, le baptême est un symbole de la naissance. Comment ?

Zari, quand tu était un bébé dans mon ventre, tu grandis dans un sac d’eau. Quant tu était née, tu est sortie de l’eau et tu t’est trouvée dans l’air. Aussi, tu est sortie de l’obscurité et tu t’est trouvée dans la lumière. C’est la même avec le baptême—tu sors de l’eau et tu entres dans l’air est dans la lumière.

Le baptême est aussi un symbole de la mort—mais pas seulement de la mort. C’est un symbole de la mort et de la résurrection. Quand on est mort, notre corps est atterri dans la terre—dans l’obscurité. Nous croyons, nous espérons que, à la résurrection, nous serons ressuscité. C’est à dire, nous croyons que nous allons avoir un nouveau corps, que nous allons sortir de l’obscurité et rentrer dans la lumière.

Donc le baptême est un symbole de la naissance, de la mort, est de la résurrection. C’est un symbole de l’espoir que notre vie n’arrête pas a la mort mais que nous allons continuer a vivre après cette vie sur la terre.

Pour finir, je veux te dire, Zari, que je trouve le symbole du bapteme extremement émouvant et précieux, parce que c’est un symbole d’un acte essentiellement féminin. C’est seulement les femmes qui peuvent donner la vie aux autres.

Quand Jésus a choisi ce symbole, il a montré qu’il apprécie les femmes autant que les hommes. Souviens-toi qu’après sa mort et sa résurrection, Jésus est apparu premièrement à une femme, Marie, et que Jésus a enseigné les femmes dans un temps quand c’était interdit. Après avoir eu des enfants et devenue mère, j’ai gagné une nouvelle compréhension du symbole du baptême.
Read more ...

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Last week in pictures

Most of these come from my mom's camera. I'm usually the one behind the lens, so I love having pictures of our whole family together.

Heading out on a walk

Face painting before soccer practice on Wednesday

Trip to Monaco on Thursday

Beach pictures from Friday


The port in Nice

Birthday cake!

After church we visited the Franciscan monastery & gardens in Cimiez.

My favorite part is the sunken herb garden at the far end

Read more ...

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Happy 8th birthday Zari!

We've spent the past two days celebrating Zari's 8th birthday. Yesterday--her "real" birthday--started with eating pain au chocolat and homemade waffles and opening presents. She got lots of artistic/crafty things: face paints, origami kits, nice markers, and a grown-up coloring book.

For lunch Zari and I went out to eat at a restaurant of her choice. She chose our downstairs neighbor's restaurant, Chez Palmyre, which is right down the street. Zari was giggly and giddy. She had soupe du jour (pureed pumpkin & potato), linguini in in a red pistou sauce, and pot au chocolate with coffee-infused whipped cream on top. I had beef carpaccio (thinly sliced raw beef) with an anchoïade sauce, morue (cod) with a tomato vinaigrette, and tiramisu. Everything was delicious.

A little plug for Chez Palmyre: it's a small restaurant that seats about 24 people. It's decorated to feel like your French grandma's kitchen. You have to reserve 4-6 weeks in advance for dinner and 1-2 weeks in advance for lunch. It serves traditional French food, more rustic than fancy-schmancy. And you get a 3-course meal for 17 Euros. Amazing. It's open M-F for lunch and dinner.

We took some pictures of each other at the restaurant

Then we made funny faces

The whole family, including my mom, spent the afternoon at a small, secluded beach on the far side of the port. The ocean was calm and glassy and almost unnaturally clear. No wind, no clouds, no waves. I can't believe we're still swimming at the end of October! Eric went spearfishing and found a huge school of dorade royale. But sadly a group of scuba divers scared them away.

We had a small family party after dinner with a raspberry & cream cake. We read her birth story (actually Eric's version because it was shorter), looked at pictures (1 day old, 2 days old, 3 days old), and watched movies of her as a newborn. can she already be so old?

Today the celebrations continued... in the morning we baked little cakes, made frosting, and gathered supplies for her party in the afternoon. Zari had invited everyone from her school class, but sadly only one person came. (It doesn't help that we're on a school holiday right now...but still it was disappointing). But a few other friends and their families came and saved the day. We did face painting, let the kids frost and decorate their own cakes, and let everyone run loose and eat lots of treats that usually aren't found at our house.

Read more ...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ivy is 19 months old!

The city of Nice is celebrating the Promenade du Paillon turning 1 year old. This greenbelt or coulé verte runs through the heart of the old part of town along the old riverbed (the river is now underground). We explored various workshops (bees, honey tasting, and beeswax candle crafting), went to a Guignol puppet show, had our picture taken with various props, and attended the evening spectacle featuring aerial dancers suspended by giant transparent balloons. Before we headed home, the kids held an impromptu dance party along the promenade.

A fun day for Ivy to turn 19 months old.

Sleep is still not great. Ivy normally wakes 3-4 times per night. I try to put her down without nursing the first time she wakes up (usually around 11 pm). Sometimes it fails spectacularly. I just won't dwell on how my other kids were sleeping the entire night by this age...

Last night Ivy woke up at 2 am and 5 am and it felt amazing to have so much sleep. I actually woke up at 1:30 wondering why she hadn't woken up yet. And then I couldn't get back to sleep, so I crept into her room to make sure she was breathing. The crazy things you do when you're a parent.

She loves to nurse (picture taken by Zari). 

Pottying is fantastic. Ivy's diaper is dry most days and she goes pee every time I ask her to.

Ivy understands and says lots of words in both French and English. She's good at saying back words I throw at her. If they're too complex, she babbles out something passable and makes her siblings laugh.

There's an iron cannonball mounted on the corner of our street, a remnant from an invading Turkish fleet besieging Nice in 1543. Ivy looks for it every time we're headed in or out. It's a useful distraction technique if she happens to be throwing a temper tantrum on the way home.

Sibling pictures

Other odds and ends

Dumpster diving finds this week: a teddy bear and a pair of sport sandals for Inga.

I borrowed a sewing machine from someone at church and am finishing a dress for Zari. She's getting baptized in a few weeks and needed something for the occasion. After that it will become either a dress (maybe I'll dye it a fun color) or a nightgown. I made it out of an antique linen sheet that I bought for 7 Euros.

Eric caught a large octopus last week. We made a cold marinated salad out of it. It tasted good but was quite rubbery. Our chef neighbor downstairs gave us some hints on how to prepare it properly. You either have to whack it as hard as possible several times to break down the tissue, or you freeze it for a day or two before cooking it. And Eric probably undercooked it given how large it was. Maybe he'll catch another one and we can try it again.

I made these coconut cookies and this coconut cake. Both are excellent! I only baked the cookies for 15-17 minutes, until they were golden brown. Be sure to use unsweetened coconut for both recipes.

The kids are on fall break this week and next.

My mom arrives on Monday for a 2-week visit! 
Read more ...

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

Read more ...

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

Read more ...

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

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
Read more ...

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.


Read more ...

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.

Read more ...

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.
Read more ...

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 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.
Read more ...

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....
Read more ...

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' 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 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.

Read more ...

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.
Read more ...

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 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

Read more ...

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 :)
Read more ...

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

Read more ...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...