Monday, January 18, 2021

French renovations, Day 28: More wall demolition

6,287 steps 

I spent the entire morning getting paperwork ready for our visa renewal. I'm not done but at least I'm much closer than before. 

After lunch Eric and I did a "little" demolition & cleanup, just 2 hours. We stopped because we ran out of bags. At this point all of the dividing wall is down, except for the part holding up the mezzanine. We're going to bag all of the debris and then tackle the rest of the mezzanine. 

I wish we could skip the cleanup stage of demolition. 

Piano lessons and dinner took up the rest of our day. Now kids are finishing homework, reading, and playing their 15-minutes-per-day of Minecraft.
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Sunday, January 17, 2021

French renovations, Day 27: Vitamin D therapy

3,846 steps

The sun was out, so we spent the afternoon at the beach, basking like lizards.

This Christmas and 6 years ago, the kids' Canadian grandparents sent us Canada hoodies. We re-created a photo from 6 years ago, complete with the same stuffed animal that Inga was holding.

Zari and Eric napped and read books--I love this photo of the two of them!

Inga and Ivy built a fort out of materials washed up by the last storm. 

Dinner was Savoy cabbage sautéed with bacon, garlic, & duck fat and pan-fried cod fillets with sourdough breadcrumbs. It might sound fancy but it was another "what is in the fridge?" meal.
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Saturday, January 16, 2021

French renovations, Day 26: Sledding!

12,000+ steps, all walking up or down a mountain 

We had a fantastic day sledding at La Colmiane, a small ski resort 80 km from Nice. I'm so exhausted and sore (in a good way) that all I'm going to do tonight is lie in bed and snuggle with my hot water bottle. And my human heater too 🙂 

We got home just in time for a live session for Breech Without Borders' online breech courses. 

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Friday, January 15, 2021

French renovations, Day 25: Wall demolition!

14,714 steps 

I was surprised to wake up with sore legs today--I was expecting sore arms! I've been hobbling around all day. 

We used the morning to work (Eric) and run errands (me). I mailed a letter and visited two thrift stores to look for snow gear. I found a pair of snowboots that will fit Ivy next year. 

 After lunch, we decided to break some stuff. Despite being tired and working more slowly than usual, we got half of the big dividing wall torn down. It was really hard to break apart! The other side of the wall had a thick layer of concrete. It was also less dusty than the first wall we tore down.


We filled around 50 trash bags and then called it a day. Plenty of work left for another day. But not tomorrow! Tomorrow is a play day. We're going sledding up at a small ski resort. The sledding is free as long as you bring your own sleds. We'll need to rent a few but they're only 6 Euros each. 

Inga decided she wants to do "exercises." She did upper body weightlifting today and will do abs/legs tomorrow. She is currently drawing out an exercise chart for the next 4 weeks. Dio gave her some weightlifting tips as he's now the expert after working out with Eric :)
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Thursday, January 14, 2021

French renovations, Day 24: Saved by the dump truck!

18,869 steps

Uff da! I am tired out from today's adventure. Comrade came by as promised this morning with his dump truck. He managed to back it into our pedestrian street with just enough space for people to pass by on one side.

Then the work began: carrying down 300 bags (give or take) of plaster/concrete, one or two at a time. Down 2 flights of stairs, down the hallway, out the door, and into the truck. Then we had to empty each bag out, since plastic isn't allowed to be mixed with the "gravat" (a catch-all term for plaster/concrete/cement debris).

Then back up 2 flights of stairs for the next round...over and over again. One of our friends came to help--thank you so much!! Next time we need to use the dump truck, we'll assemble a bigger team as it took far longer than I had expected (about 3 hours) to carry everything down.

After all of the gravat was in the truck, Comrade and Eric drove it to the dump while my friend and I cleaned up the hundreds of ripped trash bags. We carried almost the entire load of wood down by ourselves before the men came back. We then loaded up the wood--which went so much faster than the heavy debris!--and Comrade took off to the dump again. 

The debris was all gone...but our work wasn't done yet! We had about an hour of cleaning in the common areas (staircase and hallway) and in the street. We swept, washed, & mopped until everything was sparkling. We also apologized in advance to our neighbors for the dust. They were very understanding.

Unfortunately, we also had an incident that we had to smooth out. Apparently while we were upstairs fetching bags of debris, the shopkeeper across the street asked Comrade to move his truck a little. And apparently he said some rude things back to her. We didn't know this, but the shopkeeper told her boss, who also lives across the street and is someone who's a good acquaintance of ours.

She and her husband came over to tell us what had happened. Initially they were very upset because we thought we knew what had happened and had condoned his rude behavior. Nope! We had no idea. So we apologized profusely and also made sure to visit the shopkeeper once she was back in. I think we've smoothed all the ruffled feathers now.

We also racked up some "good neighbor" points this afternoon. Our upstairs neighbor on the 4th floor (5th floor in the States) had ordered a huge custom piece of furniture from an artist friend. It's a combination staircase/cupboard. Anyway, it was the size of 3 large armoires, and we helped her carry everything upstairs.

So a bit of drama, a bit of goodwill, and a LOT of exercise today!

Dinner was leftovers plus "what's in our fridge that we can use up?"

I pulled all of our winter gear out of the attic. We're going sledding on Saturday. We all tried on our snow boots, snow pants, coats, & gloves to be sure they fit. We'll make it work, even though some kids' boots are too big or too small. I'll pop by the thrift store tomorrow to see if I can find some of the correct sizes.
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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

French renovations, Day 23: Prefecture & soccer

9,014 steps

We spent the morning at the prefecture, the administrative building that does immigration, driver's licenses, car registration, and other bureaucratic things. I swear, it's set up to torture & stress people to the maximum!

We had an appointment to pick up the kids' visas (DCEM). Despite having ALL the correct paperwork, including a printed confirmation of our appointment at exactly 9:11 am, one of the security guards wouldn't let us in. "Every person needs to have a separate appointment confirmation. This is only good for one of the children." However, the computer system only allowed one RDV per family since our kids were all in the same application!

After waiting in the cold for about a half-hour, I was able to get me and Dio inside. We waited at another line and finally got to the woman at the counter. She was super friendly (whew!) and said, "Of course you need everyone here! Tell them to come in."

I called Eric and relayed the message. The security guard didn't believe Eric. The guard finally got on the phone himself and I told him the same thing, with the woman at the counter right next to me. He STILL didn't believe me and insisted on talking to the woman. But the woman said, "Sorry, I'm not authorized to take your phone."

Finally, Mr. Grumpy Security Guard came into the building, walked down the long hallway, and personally confirmed that our family was allowed in. Which we'd been telling him all along!

Meanwhile our kids were freezing--literally freezing, not just Freezing. They'd been outside for about an hour and were only dressed in hoodies, not winter coats.

We had soccer in the afternoon: the 3 girls at Cavigal at various times and Dio at the chateau. I ferried the girls in the middle of the afternoon and made a quick trip to Aldi on the way home. Then I dropped Dio off at the chateau.

Ivy talked me into having an "adventure" instead of going straight home, so we wandered around the chateau grounds and took all the little paths that we hadn't explored before.

I made spicy crab sushi for dinner. We're currently playing the card game Skull King and I'm still super cold.
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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

French renovations, Day 22: Waiting

3,018 steps

We met with Comrade this morning. He seemed excited to see what we've done with the apartment since we bought it.

We asked him about our big load-bearing beams and whether we could knock down the big dividing wall. One beam isn't even touching the wall, so that one shouldn't be an issue. The other was still touching the plaster.

He suggested chiseling out just a little bit underneath the beam, and then placing something underneath. If the beam is truly using the wall as a support, then it will settle fairly rapidly. So I did that this morning. I put a shim underneath and marked how much I could move it (about 1/2" to the right).

I'm still trying to get in touch with the structural engineering company but they have never responded! This is a place where a friend-of-a-friend works, so I would expect a response as that friend-of-a-friend said he'd pass our message along to his boss.

Anyway, Comrade offered to measure our windows and get an estimate for us at a wholesale supplier. Oh...and he's definitely bringing his dumpster truck on Thursday morning!

The rest of today felt like a holding pattern. I didn't have any big projects to work on, and most of the things on my list were checked off. I was also really cold and spent much of the day huddled next to our living room heater.

I had a bit of a panic this afternoon when Dio didn't come home after school. I waited...waited...and an hour later, I started to get worried. I first called the school to see if he had something come up, but they confirmed that he'd left on time. Then I called Dio's friend one street over (they often do homework or go to the park together). He didn't answer. Then Zari came home and said she hadn't seen him.

Finally I called Eric, who had been at the park with Ivy ever since school got out. It turns out Dio had asked permission to play with a friend--but Eric didn't think to tell me!

Inga went rollerblading with two friends after school.

Dinner was potato leek soup (store-bought, I admit) with croutons and saucisses de Toulouse. For dessert we had dark chocolate pudding that I had made with an Instant Pot.

I am currently huddled on the couch with a hot water bottle and felted wool sweater blanket. I'm wearing a long-sleeve shirt and a cashmere sweater on top. Still can't stay warm...

Oh, Eric's books finally arrived today! The best place to buy a copy is Bookshop (if you're in the US). Bookshop directly supports independent bookstores and also gives authors far more of the share of sales than Amazon. Go to

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Monday, January 11, 2021

French renovations, Day 21: Checklists

10,124 steps

We're in a holding pattern waiting to arrange for the dumpster. Comrade is coming over tomorrow morning to take a look at how much construction waste we have.

Without anything to work on in the communist apartment, I decided to make today a "check things off my list" day. It's amazing how much time we have to devote to the minutiae of life.

I ran errands, made phone calls, paid bills, wrote emails, filed health insurance claims, and did "les démarches administratives." This is a catch-all term for anything involving paperwork & bureaucracy in France. It might be paying a tax bill, going to your local social security administration, getting a driver's license renewed...

I walked to the carte vitale (health insurance) office but they've stopped doing walk-ins. So instead I called someone and managed to get through after only about 10 minutes on hold. Our files have both been received (we submitted them back in July) and are "in process." Now we wait, anywhere from around 6-18 months.

We signed up for a "formation d'Ă©lectricite" with Jean Marc of EducElec. You get an entire course on electricity, complete schemas of your installation, personal guidance all the way from start to finish, and supervision to make sure everything meets code. So excited to get started !

The sun was playing hide-and-seek all day. Eric brought Inga and Ivy to the park during their lunch break for a quick training session. After lunch, we went to the beach to read but ended up with only a few fleeting minutes of sunshine. And then a few construction workers started up some heavy drilling equipment. Time to go back home.

I'm still working my way through Obama's new memoir. I only read a chapter or two today. I'll read a few chapters of his book in between my "brain candy" books that are sheer fun.

The kids were so noisy and energetic this evening, I was about ready to do something drastic. DRASTIC!! I don't know what but it would have been emphatic and dramatic. With a 6 pm curfew, we can't get them outside to burn off excess energy after dinner.

What else happened today? Piano lessons after school. Dio has become my YouTube content manager & analyst and gives me daily updates on my performance. Oh yeah, my home country is going crazy too. It nearly turned from a democracy into a banana republic thanks to Lord Cheeto and minions.

So yeah, just another ordinary checklist day.
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Sunday, January 10, 2021

French renovations, Day 20: Rest!

9,090 steps 

It’s so nice to have a day off from renovating. I slept in (for a half-hour) and read in bed for another hour. I made sourdough bread, tarte au chocolat, and sausages & fennel roasted with mustard, thyme, & red wine. I went on a walk with just Eric. I even got some breech work done. 

This evening I videochatted with a colleague (breech workshop attendee)-turned-friend who, like me, is going through a faith transition. It’s so refreshing to have someone to talk with who understands what it’s like. 

The kids did homework, read books, played card games, made random things out of cereal boxes, and did origami. 

We talked with both sets of grandparents. My parents are very keen on the renovation details. They were hoping to come help us renovate this winter...until Covid interfered. They’re planning on coming as soon as they are able to travel here. 

We spoke to the Communist apartment guy—let’s call him Comrade. He’s going to get in touch tomorrow about bringing his dumpster truck. He gave us useful hints on how to store the plaster/concrete debris (against the load-bearing walls, not in the middle of the floor) and how to bag it (get the reusable construction waste bags). He’s not going to charge us anything for the truck; we just have to pay for the disposal fees. Thank you, Comrade! 

For your enjoyment, here’s a picture of me in my usual work attire. Respirator, bandana, and gloves are mandatory. Safety goggles and earplugs when indicated.

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Saturday, January 09, 2021

French renovations, Day 19: Cleanup!

I actually wrote another update and it got lost when I tried to post it. 

Yesterday I was NOT loving the cleanup. We've been doing it every day this week and I am starting to feel like Sisyphus. We bagged yet another 100 sacks of debris and now have at least 250 heavy bags that we have to deal with. 


I made several inquiries to debris removal companies. And then I also emailed the Communist Party person who sold us the apartment (the one who gave us a deal because he wanted the place to go to a family, not an investor). He said, "I have a dumpster truck and would be happy to help you!" He's going to call us today. We have to get authorization to park the dumpster on our street. 

 Inga had a wrestling lesson with her friend. Afterwards, she showed off her moves to Dio and Ivy.

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Friday, January 08, 2021

French renovations, day 18: Cleanup, then goodbye ceiling!

12,548 steps 

I am exhausted. We cleaned up in the morning, filling 100 trash bags with plaster debris. Then I stayed and demolished the rest of the ceiling (off-camera). The ceiling is now GONE! 

I'm already sick of clearing debris, but we have probably another 100 bags to fill tomorrow after this afternoon's demolition. Then, when the big dividing wall comes down, that will be many hundreds of bags. We're looking into trash removal companies as it's super slow to haul the bags away by hand, one by one. 

I finished after 3 pm. I haven't sat down yet; if I do, I worry that I'll fall asleep right away. My grip is also shot. I had to ask Eric to open the new mayonnaise jar. He laughed at me because apparently it was really easy to open, but I couldn't do it. 

I am so ready to sleep in tomorrow. We might go sledding up in the mountains. Inga's friend invited her to do wrestling because she needs another girl to practice with; the regulations don't allow girls and boys to wrestle together. 

We're trying to decide between wrestling and sledding. What a terrible dilemma 🙂
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Thursday, January 07, 2021

French renovations, day 17: Wall & ceiling demolition!

And the walls came tumbling down... 

So much dust everywhere. 

First order of business: knocking down the small interior wall (cloison). It is made of 4" thick plaster (10 cm). I'm imagining all the work it took to build the walls: all the bags of plaster, all of the mixing and mudding. And we smashed it to pieces in about 30 minutes! 

We had to bag part of the mound of debris to clear space for the scaffolding. Then we finished the top half of the wall. 

Eric went upstairs to get lunch on for Zari and Dio. I stayed and demolished almost half of the ceiling. 

We have an enormous pile of debris to clean up...and we haven't even taken down the big dividing wall yet! But that will be next week or later, once we have a structural engineer come and look at the beams. (I think they're fine: the ends aren't rotted, and the wall was not load-bearing when it was built in the 1960s. You can even see a gap between one of the beams and the top of the wall.) 

Even though we had the door closed, there was a small crack above one of the windows that opens into the staircase. Eric said there were plumes of dust blowing into the staircase. So after I finished, Eric and I swept and washed down the stairs and railings. I'm going to cover any cracks with plastic or tape so we don't have to do that again tomorrow! 

We had about 1 1/2 hours of glorious peace and quiet before the kids came home. We snuck in a little power nap 🙂 

Dinner was salad (mâche, hardboiled eggs, tomatoes) and "tuna truc," a pasta salad with tuna, corn, red bell peppers in a creamy mustard sauce. 

Tomorrow will be cleaning & bagging the debris, then hopefully the rest of the ceiling demolition.
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Wednesday, January 06, 2021

French renovations, day 16: More ceiling demolition!

14,165 steps

It's 9pm and I think it's the first time I've sat still all day! I got started on demolition right away. Eric helped me move the piles of wood paneling out of the way, then it was just me, a hammer, and a pry bar having fun for the next several hours.

The entire side is now done! Now we have to go to the other side of the room (partitioned off by a wall) and do the same thing all over again.


The girls all had soccer at Cavigal today. Dio went to a friend's house in the afternoon, so I got 2 walks in today after all of my manual labor.

After soccer, Eric did cleanup for about 2 hours. Almost all of the plaster debris is now bagged up. Tomorrow we'll move the scaffolding to the other side. One of us will tear down the ceiling while the other person does cleanup and bagging. We have to cut all of the wood into small pieces and bag it as well.

Remember how Dio really REALLY did not want to do soccer? Well, today he said to me, "I'm really sad that soccer was changed to only once per week. I really want to play soccer more." (The new 6 pm curfew has caused many activities to be shortened.)

Yeah, that is the reason why I don't take his complaining too seriously.

Dinner was cauliflower, tortellini with pesto, and homemade Galette des Rois. Inga found the fève.
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Tuesday, January 05, 2021

French renovations, day 15: Scaffolding & more ceiling demolition

11,666 steps
Double thumbs up for today.

First thing in the morning, Zari and I went to a pharmacy for a rapid Covid antigen test. She tested negative, so she went back to school just an hour late. She's feeling fine today except for a slightly runny nose.

Next, I set up the scaffolding. It's more stable than I expected side-to-side but a bit wobbly on the end-to-end. I don't expect that it will collapse, but we'll need to be careful and not treat it like a jungle gym.

Then...the real fun! Demolition. I tore down the next 1/3 of the room, ending at the next large ceiling beam. I discovered that the plaster was originally painted in multiple colors and patterns. In some places the paint would flake off in large sections, revealing the stripes of color on the plaster. I saw purple, tan, brown, and what seemed like dark red.

As I was hammering on the plaster and pulling down beams, I had a sudden realization: "I am deeply and profoundly happy." It's crazy because I was covered in plaster dust and dirt, my muscles were aching, and I was suited up in goggles, respirator, ear plugs, and a bandana. Not exactly what we imagine when we think of happiness. But I am most content when I'm making or doing something tangible.

After 2 hours of demolition, it was 2:30 pm and time for a break. Plus I hadn't eaten anything all day. I showered and had a delicious lunch of random things left in our fridge. 

Right after school got out, I headed off to the Riquier district to pick up a floor lamp (we need more light in the communist apartment, since our electricity is still down). I found one with 5 flexible arms for only 7 Euros. Carrying it home was a good workout for my arms and shoulders.

Ivy went to the park with friends and slipped on the baleine (whale). She came home with a big goose egg. Our friend brought her to the pharmacy and sent her home with a tube of arnica gel & homeopathic tablets.

Eric met with the director of the Grotte du Lazaret, an archeological site of a prehistoric cave where humans used to live. They're featuring writers inside the cave (including Eric), putting together a sound & light show, and hosting readings and creative writing workshops. Eric is going to be involved in many of these events. Pretty cool!

Dio wants to remind all of you that he has a YouTube channel that needs subscribers! 
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Monday, January 04, 2021

French renovations, day 14

13,741 steps

Our 7 am wakeup was rough. I powered through the morning and went running after I dropped the kids off at school. It was now or never, as we had rain forecast all day.

I drew up new floor plans for the front half of the apartment, incorporating some unconventional ways for partitioning and opening up spaces. I think we're close to the finished version.

I baked another double batch of sourdough, which in theory should last us a week but in reality more like 4 days. Sigh...

Zari came home at lunch looking awful. "My whole body aches and I'm tired and I feel feverish." She collapsed on the couch for the rest of the day. She perked up enough in the evening to eat and do homework. Poor thing. She had a running/stuff nose 2 days ago and it has morphed into who-knows-what.

Eric and I had an afternoon date at Leroy Merlin, the big box home improvement store (like Home Depot, Lowes, or Menards). There's really only one such store in all of Nice. Sure, there are smaller hardware stores scattered through the city, some independent, some part of larger chains, but only one really big store for the public. So it is SUPER crowded all the time. It's like Black Friday there, every day. The parking lot is always completely full, lines everywhere, people in every aisle.

It also takes 30-45 minutes to get to, depending on traffic. So going to Leroy Merlin is a half-day outing, even though it's in the same city! We bought scaffolding, a dehumidifier, and polystyrene boards (to cover the interior windows that open into the staircase--trying to reduce the noise in the common areas). We'll be back soon, I'm sure.

We met a super friendly salesperson, Jeremy, in the tool aisle. H gave us the details on many of the tools we're looking at buying. He said we didn't really need an SDS-max. We should be fine with an SDS+ (which is great--they're half the price). We also asked him questions about sandblasting (his opinion: go for it--it's easy and way less expensive than hiring someone) and got confirmation that our technique for installing joist hanger plates was correct.

We were out of groceries, so we stopped at Lidl on the way home. It's the first time I've bought groceries with a car since we've been here. The scaffolding barely fit in the car; I think we had a centimeter left over. The groceries got piled all around it.

Piano lessons after school took the rest of our afternoon and evening. Dinner was chicken & mushrooms in cream sauce with basmati rice and pains au chocolat for dessert. Whoops, forgot to make vegetables tonight!

Tomorrow: more ceiling demolition!
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Sunday, January 03, 2021

French renovations, day 13

6,262 steps
Trash total: 56 bags, 16 hand loads

School starts again tomorrow. I hope we can get up on time! We've been spoiled the last two weeks with no alarm clocks.

I need to braid everyone's hair tonight. I'm thinking double French braids for Inga and Ivy as they will stay in for a few days.

Today was a Lego day. We brought the box of Legos to the kitchen table and built robots, airplanes, houses, and who knows what else. I organized our receipts and paperwork, getting ready to do taxes.

It rained most of the day, but there was a break in the afternoon when the sun peeked out. We went up to the chateau before the next rainstorm hit.

Dinner was green vegetable purée topped with crème fraîche and "what's in the fridge?" risotto (caramelized onions, Toulouse sausages, white wine, & Grana Padano). Not bad at all!
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Saturday, January 02, 2021

French renovations, day 12

6,279 steps 

No renovating this weekend. We decided to wait until a weekday. And it rained all day--again. We couldn't convince the kids to come out with us, so we went on a walk by ourselves. 

Zari worked on homework much of the day. She's been stressing about it. She's meticulous and perhaps overly perfectionistic (hmmm, who on earth does THAT sound like??) and it slows her down. 

Inga and I made dark chocolate mint cookies. 

Dinner was cassoulet and peach ice cream floats. 

The kids stuffed Christmas bulbs in their shirts and delighted in how wide their shoulders looked. 

Not much else to report...
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Friday, January 01, 2021

French renovations, day 11

9,474 steps 

I woke up around 6 am to a thunderstorm with a few flashes of lightning. No one else heard it. Then I couldn't get back to sleep, so I read in bed for a long time. 

Today was a cleanup day. This 1-minute video took me around 2 hours. It looks so easy and fast when it's sped up! 

We were thinking of taking down one of the dividing walls, but Eric had several things he needed to work on. Tomorrow, possibly, depending if our neighbors are home. Demolition makes a lot of noise and we're hoping to avoid noise on the weekends. 

It rained all day. We have laundry drying all around the house: on the backs of chairs, over the towel heaters, and on our room heaters. We all went out for a walk in the afternoon, just a quick trip to the beach, then up through Old Nice and back home. 

Dio helped me make salmon fennel chowder. He's been asking to make it for the past week. He chopped everything but the onions. 

Salmon & Fennel Chowder (serves 4; I double the recipe for my family) 
2 Tbsp butter 
1 onion, chopped 
1 leek, chopped 
1 fennel bulb, chopped 
3 Tbsp flour 
1 3/4 quarts fish or chicken bouillon 
2 large potatoes, cut into 1/2" cubes 
1 pound boneless, skinless salmon, cut into 3/4" cubes 
3/4 c milk 
1/2 c cream 
Tarragon (my mom uses dill, but I prefer tarragon) 
salt and freshly ground black pepper 

Melt butter. Add onion, leek, and chopped fennel and cook over medium heat until soft and golden, stirring from time to time. Stir in flour. Lower heat to low and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Add bouillon and potatoes. Season with salt, pepper, and tarragon and bring to boil. Lower heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. 

Add milk and salmon and simmer 3-5 minutes until it is just cooked through. 

Stir in cream but do not boil. Serve immediately to avoid overcooking the salmon.
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Thursday, December 31, 2020

French renovations, day 10

7,627 steps
Trash total: 30 bags, 16 hand loads

Wow! What a day. The kids all helped in the morning pulling nails and stacking boards. We are now DONE with all of the wood paneling and the rough lumber that was holding the paneling in place. Stacked, organized, and easily accessible by size.

Then the super awesome part: taking down the plaster ceiling in the front room! Eric was freaking out a bit, wondering if we were going to make the structural beams fall down on us. We took off a small area and looked inside with a headlamp. I assured him that we were fine--we were clearly pulling down a false ceiling, nothing structural.

The fast-motion video doesn't convey the physicality of ripping a ceiling down: pounding with all your might with a hammer, ripping the boards down, cracking 40-lb chunks of plaster off. It's immensely satisfying. We have loads of cleanup just from the portion above the mezzanine.


I was SO happy with what we saw underneath the plaster: original wood load-bearing beams (poutres) and cross-beams (solives) that have never been painted (hooray!). The white stuff isn't mold; it's bits of plaster that got splattered when it was applied decades ago.

I'm imagining a beautiful exposed wood ceiling like these ones, once we sandblast it to cleaner, lighter wood.

After all this work, we went to the park for an hour. We were hoping to get the telescope out this evening, but it was overcast. And we only have one more day before 6 pm curfew.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

French renovations, day 9

11,023 steps
Trash total: 27 bags, 16 hand loads

I had a long work day yesterday, but instead of falling asleep I was wired. I lay in bed for a long time thinking about home renovations, books I was reading, random stuff.

I woke up a bit after 8 am and decided to pretend I was still sleeping. So I stayed in bed and read until 10. Then finally I had to face reality. I showered and dressed and headed down to the communist apartment for several hours of work. Today was dedicated to pulling nails, stacking boards, and cleanup (off-camera).

I popped back into our apartments a few times to bake sourdough and finally called it a day at 1:45 pm. Time for a quick late lunch. Ivy and Inga played "restaurant" and asked me to film.

Zari and Eric went to her soccer practice at Cavigal, and I finally got the other kids outside. We first had to pick up a package (safety googles, yay!). Then we took a walk around to the port. It's funny how you get used to the extraordinary beauty here. Dio kept saying, "I'm so bored. I want to go home." Watch the video and tell me if he looks bored. Nope. I don't think so.

Only two more days before the 6 pm curfew starts. I'm so not happy about that because we usually go on a walk after dinner. Now I don't know when we'll fit it in. Zari still hasn't been able to try out her telescope. I hope tomorrow night will be clear enough to see the moon.

Dinner tonight: larb, sushi, & pain au chocolat.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

French renovations, day 8

5,070 steps
lots more trash hauled away...can't remember how many but I wrote it down somewhere!

Well, we're headed back into a stricter lockdown starting Jan 2. I don't know many details except they're making the curfew 6 pm instead of 8 pm (which, frankly, is ridiculous...what difference will that make?).

I tore down the rest of the wood paneling today and cleaned up 2 big piles of wood. I have about 3x more left to either get rid of or pull nails out of.

I also capped and tucked away all exposed wires. But in the process, as I was testing a former light switch by the front door, I tripped the main circuit breaker. When I turned the breaker back on, we no longer had power. The breaker stays on the "on" position--it's not tripping back to "off." But no power at all.

So I had to work most of the morning with a headlamp.

I need to figure out what's going on. Is there another breaker closer to or on the meter, for example? Why is the breaker resetting but not working? I wish I knew French electric systems better. Plus the wiring in the communist apartment likely dates to the late 1950s or early 1960s. I am sure much of it is no longer up to code.

So yeah, I'm feeling a bit down about renovations's frustrating to hit a snag. We'll figure it out, I'm sure. We have a few electrician friends and of course we can always hire someone.

In the afternoon we met up with several friends for a bike/scooter/rollerblade ride on the Promenade des Anglais. Eric took Zari and Inga all the way to the airport and back, while I stayed with the main group. We walked slooooooowly (one friend had a puppy, another had a baby in a stroller) a bit past the Negresco, then turned around. It was sunny and windy, with a dramatic, stormy ocean.

At one point I was towing the two girls on rollerblades behind my bike. They were holding onto the back rack, one on each side, and raising their other hands in a victory salute.

Eric recorded a conference presentation this evening about writing for video games. We had to stay quiet; I put on a series called Dragon Prince on low volume. The kids are enjoying it, 8 episodes so far (not all today of course!).

Eric made duck breast with honey & balsamic, a classic recipe. Yum! I think it's the first time we've cooked magret de canard. I'm not sure why? We eat it at restaurants but just don't think of cooking it at home.
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Monday, December 28, 2020

French renovations, day 7

A whole lot of steps
Trash total: 22 bags, 11 hand loads

I spent the morning cleaning and organizing the back room. I like a nice tidy workspace, even though it will get dirty again. I sorted through all of the ceiling beams and kept the best ones. The rest went into the trash--they had way too many nails to be worth keeping.

I then had to carry everything to the garbage station: 4 bags of debris and dust and 9 armfuls of beams. It is so satisfying to work with my hands and not just with my brain.

Zari took all the kids out to the park while I was working. Thank you to all the kids for letting me work! Zari filmed a sibling dance competition, which I haven't had time to see yet.

During one of my trips up to the garbage station (literally "up" as it's uphill on the rue Rosetti), I ran into the owner of the Café Simone. We cross each other all the time but never really talked until now. He thought we were Dutch, which happens a lot. We chatted about what brought both of us to Nice.

We're in the middle of some drama with the owner of the other part of the basement. Prior to the 1960s, they were affiliated with the Communist Party but eventually ended up changing names and splitting ownership of the various parts of the building. This group owns the first floor (called the "rez-de-chaussez" here) plus one of the "caves" or cellars in the basement. (There are 2 cellars, a big one and a small one; we own the small one. They don't have labels on them, but they are partitioned with 3-foot-thick load-bearing stone walls that have obviously not been moved since the building was built 5 or 6 centuries ago.) This group thought they owned the whole basement and have been using it exclusively for the past several decades--and they are the only ones with the keys.

However, the legal paperwork shows otherwise: the Communist Party owned the smaller "cave" in the basement. However, they had forgotten about it over the years until they got the papers together to sell the apartment.

So what is the drama? The owner of the other cellar doesn't want to give the small cellar up! We met with the owner twice in the spring and thought we had worked everything out. We looked at the cellars and agreed on which one was ours (the much smaller one), and he said he'd give us the keys. But when I wrote him an email yesterday letting him know that we had signed the papers and asking if we could get a set of keys to the basement, he called back very angry and said he was contesting our ownership of the small cellar.

He's been sent all of the legal paperwork, contacted by the notary, but he still insists that we should at best only have a small portion of one of the cellars. He won't accept anything without a drawing of the exact square footage of what is ours (which doesn't exist in any of the governmental records--our notary checked).

So we have to try to mediate this with him...and worst case, go through a legal process to have them declared as squatters. The representative from the Communist Party is really frustrated on our behalf and said, "Don't worry, we always have Plan B: I call my lawyer!" I told him I hope it wouldn't come to that.

After a shower & lunch, Zari and Ivy helped me and Eric in the front half. We took down most of the wood paneling. Zari and Ivy were our nail pullers. It's slow work. Eric wants to throw all of the paneling away, but I think it would make a great ceiling for the bottom of the mezzanines (painted a nice glossy white). Bead board is a classic look and it would be free. So for now, I'm going to pull all of the nails and stack it away in case we end up using it.

We stopped at the underside of the mezzanine. There was too much dust and we weren't masked up.


I also rescued three very nice duvet covers from the garbage. I have no shame! I threw them in the wash and they are good as new! I don't need any immediately, but it's nice to have extras in case of spills...or perhaps we'll use them once the apartment downstairs is finished. I might even use one of them as a drop cloth. I usually throw things away more than I accumulate, but renovating makes me take a creative look at reusing things. Our budget for this project is "spend as little as possible, make it as nice as possible."

Zari helped me make dinner: Thai coconut chicken soup. SO GOOD! I don't know why I haven't made this for so long.

Here's the recipe (serves 4, so of course I made double). I didn't have parsley on hand. 
  • 3 1/2 c. coconut milk (2 cans)
  • 1 c water or chicken broth
  • 1 lb. chicken, cut in 1" cubes
  • 1/2 lb. mushrooms
  • 1 oz. fresh ginger, grated or finely shredded
  • 1 oz. fresh lemongrass (finely mince the tender inner part, and throw the hard outer stalks in the pot after bruising them a few times)
  • 3 jalapenos, sliced (leave seeds in if you like it really hot)
  • 1/3 c. lime juice
  • 3 Tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. parsley, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. sweet chili sauce
Bring coconut milk and 1 cup water to a boil. Add ginger, jalapenos, lemongrass, and cook at medium heat for a few minutes. add chicken, salt, fish sauce, sugar, parsley, and lime juice. Cook until chicken is done. Throw mushrooms in, cook 1-2 more minutes, and serve. Add sweet chili sauce to taste. Serves 4.
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Sunday, December 27, 2020

French renovations, day 6

6,748 steps 

We didn't do much at all today...stayed inside, played games, read books, made YouTube videos. Eric and I did get outside for a walk in the evening. 

I like that all the kids have their own hot water bottles. No more asking to take mine! 

My goals for tomorrow: 
  • send the kids outside to play
  • clean up the mess from yesterday's demolition
  • start taking down part of the ceiling in the front half to see what is underneath
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Saturday, December 26, 2020

French renovations, day 5

6,379 steps and tons of fun 
18 bags of trash + 2 hand loads 

We had a nice slow morning. Eric did some writing, the kids played with toys, and I read a fun sci-fi YA novel. Then around 11 am, Eric and I suited up for more demolition. We took down all of the false ceiling beams except the great big one in the middle. 

I would have separated the beams with a sawzall, but Eric just started smashing the beams with a hammer. It was very fast and effective. We started hauling the debris to the garbage station, but the bins were full. So we called it a day and washed up. 

We sent the kids to the park while we were working...and they came home with tons of fun videos of them playing on the ice. The hailstorm from yesterday froze into a nice layer of pebbly ice. 

During lunch I checked my messages, and our friends up in the mountains (the ones with the Batcave driveway) had invited us for a hike. Would we like to go? Of course! We explored one of the waterfalls in my wild swimming book. It got thumbs up from everyone--we'll definitely go back in the summer for some refreshing swimming! It's only a few kilometers away from our friends' house. 

We had planned on just the afternoon hike, but then they asked if we'd like to stay for dinner. The dad is a professional chef so it didn't take too much convincing. "I'll just throw something together" means something entirely different when a chef says it! We had to hurry home as curfew is at 8 pm. We made it home 20 minutes late...oops!

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Friday, December 25, 2020

French renovations, day 4 (Christmas!)

Dio went into the living room at 6:30 am and turned the lights on. What part about "not waking us up until 7:45 am" did he miss?? Our bedroom windows look over the living room so that was it for me. And I slept terribly last night...I haven't had Christmas insomnia for a long time! Reminds me of being a kid :) 

The kids got presents from the grandparents (Canada hoodies from the Freeze side and medical tools from the Spencer side), from people at church (craft/robotic kits), from one of their siblings, and from us (hot water bottles & bikes). 

We watched YouTube videos on how to use our medical diagnostic tools. Thanks Dad for the great idea! And I have a MD brother I can call if we need more help. 

Sibling presents: Ivy gave Dio a watch Inga gave Zari a telescope (super nice used one...way more bang for the buck this way!) Dio gave Inga a really nice set of sketchbooks Zari made Ivy a burgundy velvet cloak (with some sewing help from me!) 

It's funny--after we opened everything but the bikes, the kids assumed we were done. I had a little moment of parental pride because they were totally happy with just a hot water bottle from us, and it didn't occur that there might be anything more! 

We said, "wait, there's one more thing..." We sent them on a treasure hunt that ended in the communist apartment. 

We went on bike ride in the late morning and early afternoon. We saw rain in the forecast so we didn't want to miss our window of opportunity. You can see ominous gray clouds building up in the hills behind Nice. 

During dinner, we had a glorious hailstorm with thunder and lightning. Zari said, "I guess it's a white Christmas after all." 

I made Beef Wellington for the first time (with crĂŞpes inside the puff pastry, just in case) and it was amazing. The kids were moaning with delight. Along with the main dish, we ate browned butter mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, & tiramisu. My goal tomorrow is to eat only leftovers. No cooking!

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Thursday, December 24, 2020

French renovations, day 3

16,893 steps 

No renovations today or's Christmas! 

I had a nice run in the morning, followed by both of us grocery shopping in different locations. Our food bill is going to be so high this month, I don't even want to think about it! Eric went all-out on seafood and I bought a filet de boeuf for the Beef Wellington. 

We took the kids out for a walk around town after lunch. The we put on a cheesy Christmas movie for the kids (Jingle Jangle) while we prepared dinner. Eric made tonight's meal and I got the Beef Wellington ready for tomorrow. 

Dinner was: - salad with tiny savory sandwiches from a local bakery - langoustines - spider crab - gambas (giant prawns), 1 per person - baguette with ComtĂ© and truffle cheeses - bĂ»che de NoĂ«l - RĂ©veillon chocolates 

We went out for another walk after dinner to see the light shows. We thought of going to midnight mass (held at 8 pm this year) but instead decided to get the kids to bed. Everything is ready for tomorrow, including 2 treasure hunts for some of the presents. 

The kids are under strict instructions not to wake us up before 7:45 am. 

Ivy: "What about 7:44?" 

Me: "No." 

Here's a movie from today's adventures, with music by me & my bassoonist friend. Merry Christmas everyone!

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Wednesday, December 23, 2020

French renovations, day 2

9,243 steps 

I was all eager to get to work on dismantling the large ceiling beams...but Eric was tied up all day and the job definitely needed two adults.

I settled for reconnecting the two fluorescent light fixtures that got knocked loose. The first one I put up out of the way on a wall, and the second one on the large beam. We don't have circuit breakers, just one large box that turns the whole apartment on or off. So I shut off the power, put on a headlamp, and went to work! 

The first light fixture doesn't turn on and I don't want to spend the energy to fix it--it's just a placeholder anyway. It's weird because it's still sending power to the second fixture. 

We inherited a halogen construction light with a broken bulb. I put a new one in...didn't work. I then took the whole light apart, checking every wire and every connection. Everything looked good. Next I took the plug apart (someone had put on a replacement plug). The neutral wire was disconnected. I put it back together...still didn't work! At that point I gave up. The light will go into the giveaway area on our street. Someone else can give it a go. 

Tonight I found a nice used floor lamp for 3 Euros with both "up" and "down" arms. This will be our new construction light. And I even have both sizes of LED light bulbs! 

What else from today? Zari had another practice at Cavigal and played really well. The girls welcomed her in, including one girl who, several years ago, used to tease her mercilessly and call her "cochon." 

Dinner was steamed broccoli & sourdough pancakes...because why not? I will be cooking a lot the next two days and didn't want to do anything too involved. Zari helped me make a tiramisu for tomorrow's dinner.
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Tuesday, December 22, 2020

French renovations, day 1:

12,315 steps 
16 bags of trash + 1 armful

So...I am calling my updates by a new title since our life for the next 18 months will be dominated by renovations. 

We tore down the false ceiling in the back half of the apartment. It was filthy. Imagine 60+ years of dirt and debris falling down on your head.


Inga and Ivy had so much fun helping. They took down the pieces of trim that held up the ceiling panels.

Then we adults tore the panels down. In the process, we dislodged the fluorescent lightbulb and broke the remainder of the morning we were in a very dark room with just one small lightbulb up in the corner.

Then it was cleanup time. We hauled away 16 trash bags of debris plus one armful of larger items. 

Inga was a total machine at snapping the ceiling panels into small pieces. She was breaking them faster than I could bag them! 

We finished in time for a late lunch. But first--we all had to shower! I washed myself several times with soap and still didn't get everything off. My eyes still look like they have eyeliner, but it's sticky black dust.  

Bodies clean, clothes in the wash, and bellies full, we went to the park to play with friends. I stayed behind to switch the electricity into our name, then Zari and I braved the crowds at the big Carrefour to buy new lightbulbs and a few other supplies. Ugh, I HATE shopping there!
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Monday, December 21, 2020

French quarantine 2.0, day 31

??? forgot my fitness tracker on my run today

Today was eventful: we are officially the owners of the communist offices downstairs! This process started back in 2014, when we had just moved into our building. We noticed that the floor underneath us was vacant and wondered who owned it.

I remember some young men in their 20s going into the apartment around 4 am one night...I was a bit freaked out thinking they were breaking in. But in retrospect, they probably were part of the Jeunes Communistes as they had keys to the door.

Anyway Eric did "les démarches administratives" to figure out who owned the apartment, going to various city offices until he found the Cadastre, which records property owners in Nice. He found out it belonged to les Jeune Communistes, affiliated with the Communist Party of Nice.

So about twice a year, Eric would stop by the CP office and ask about the status of the apartment. It had been vacant for at least 10-15 years back when we moved here. The woman at the desk kept saying, "Yes, we're trying to sell it, but we're working on getting all the papers together."

Eric probably went by more than 10-12 times in the past 6 years. Depending on who he talked to at the office, some people told him that it was impossible (so typically French!). It's impossible, totally unthinkable, never going to happen...until it isn't.

Anyway, out of the blue we got a call 10 months ago from the person in charge of all the CP properties. He said, "We're selling the apartment. Do you want to make an offer?"


An investor had already made an offer, but the CP representative wanted to sell it to a family, not to someone who was just there to make money. So he said, "I'll tell you what: make me an offer at X price (which was much lower than the investor's!) and I'll sell it to you. And I'll tell the investor sorry but it's taken." The rest is history. This is also typically French: if you know the right person, then miracles can happen.

So what else did we do today? We spent most of the day outside at the coulée verte. Our friends held a "goûter de Noël" and we all brought some kind of treats to share. One of them even made a piñata! Eric invented a new game that I call "volleyfoot."

Ivy had a hard day. At lunch, she ate a few slices of ham and soon after started vomiting. We suspect the ham was bad as Eric and Zari both had a little and they either thought it tasted off or felt a bit icky.

Dinner was sausages and fennel roasted in red good. It's a recipe from Mimi Thorrison's cookbook. Here's what I did:

12 saucisses de Toulouse (or other good pork sausages, around 1.5 kg)
2 Tbsp dijon mustard (we use the "fine et forte" kind...very powerful!)
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 large fennel bulb, sliced
1 cup red wine
2 Tbsp butter

Mix together the olive oil & mustard. The recipe said to roast the sausages for 20 minutes before adding the vegetables, but I think it's best to put the veggies in along with the sausages. Put the onions & fennel on the bottom of a large baking dish, drizzle with some of the oil/mustard sauce and stir a bit to make sure it's evenly coated. Sprinkle on some salt. Then put the rest of the mustard sauce on the sausages and place them on top of the vegetables.

Roast for at least 40 minutes at 200C, until the vegetables are nicely done. You want them to be very tender and starting to caramelize.

Add red wine & butter to the dish and roast for about 10 more minutes.
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Sunday, December 20, 2020

French quarantine 2.0, day 30

7,007 steps More rain! My laundry out on the line has now been washed...many times. 

A bassoonist friend and I played a few Christmas songs with Eric on piano. No rehearsals except playing through everything once right before, because covid. 

An American friend gave us a plate of Christmas cookies. We tested each of the 3 varieties and the kids declared it a 3-way tie. "We need to get the recipes!" Zari declared. 

We played Cover Your Assets after lunch. It's a fun card game for the whole family. Since one of the kids was always on my computer playing their 15-minutes-per-day of Minecraft, we played musical chairs and swapped players every 15 minutes. 

By the late afternoon, the kids were getting a bit stir-crazy. Eric kept saying, "C'est trop de bruit, les enfants! Trop de bruit!" Finally he took Ivy and Inga out to the park. 

Zari, Dio, and I watched several episodes of Les JĂ©rĂ´mes. They are two friends/business partners who are restoring an old chateau, doing all the work themselves. They also are big into ecological living, gardening, apiculture, and more. It's a really fun channel to watch if you speak French. I get tired watching how much work they do! 

I learned some new vocabulary yesterday: "rĂ©aliser une saignĂ©e dans un mur en bĂ©ton/brique avec une rainureuse." Most walls here are built of stone, brick, or cement blocks (for newer construction). To cut channels for electricity or plumbing, you need the right tool. But I didn't know what the tool was, or what the channel was even called. 

I was imagining taking a jackhammer to the wall. But with some Googling, I figured it out. It turns out there's a specialized tool with diamond-tipped blades that cuts a channel as wide and as deep as you want it. Then you have to chisel out the bit in the middle by hand or with a small hammer tool. I have another tool I need to add to my wishlist: a rainureuse! 

A picture from our evening walk: the Monument des Morts.

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Saturday, December 19, 2020

French quarantine 2.0, day 29

8,359 steps 

Rain all day. I had 2 loads of laundry already on the lines; they came inside and got draped over chairs, couches, and radiators to dry. I washed 2 more loads anyway and put one load on the towel heaters and the other outside. It will dry...eventually! 

Zari had a zoom cooking making get-together this morning. The cookies were good but I think the recipe had way too much levure chimique; I could taste it fairly strongly after baking. 

Eric took everyone but Zari to a Christmas party. Zari stayed home to take a shower. I spent a few hours watching "how to do your own electricity" videos (in French of course). I'm fairly confident with American electrical installations but less so over here. So time to educate myself. 

The two of us also watched some episodes of "Amazing Interiors" together. She really liked the boat (episode 1), the History House (episode 2), and the Russian couple who painted every surface of their home (episode 6). 

For Christmas dinner this year I want to try a real Beef Wellington: beef tenderloin wrapped in mushroom duxelle and prosciutto and covered in puff pastry. I watched two different how-to videos. My question is: to crĂŞpe or not to crĂŞpe?
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Friday, December 18, 2020

French quarantine 2.0, day 28

2,480 steps 

I didn't get out much today and oops! I missed our evening walk. We have an 8 pm curfew and sometimes it sneaks up on us. 

I was busy all day filming and editing a new breech movie: Breech Birth Basics. It's a short overview of breech birth, using a Sophie and Her Mum simulator to demonstrate. Just normal breech births, no trapped arms or maneuvers. 

Zari had her first practice at Cavigal. So far she's allowed to keep coming. I don't know exactly how their selection process will work. 

Eric went spearfishing and brought home a sar and a mulet. Dinner tomorrow! 

We're now on holiday for 2 weeks. I don't have any plans other than to sleep in past 7 am, make lots of delicious food, go on hikes, and see friends outdoors.
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Thursday, December 17, 2020

French quarantine 2.0, day 27

16,472 steps 

A very typical French day in terms of my physical activity: I went running in the morning, ran errands around town (thrift store), took a quick trip to the park, and went on a walk in the evening. 

We found Dio another soccer option: a team that practices right at the chateau hill. There's a little "terrain de foot" upon the chateau next to the police station. Eric knows the coach--very nice guy. He invited Dio to come practice twice a week with them. The boys on the team are all 1 year older and quite skilled. Dio has even played with them a few times in the past. 

Guess what Dio's reaction was when we told him about this option? Total freak out, crying, sobbing, begging not to go. Eric was ready to give up. I said no--not this time. He. will. at. least. try. 

All the way up there, Dio was crying. He arrived looking downcast. And then...the coach welcomed him in, the boys were really nice, and he had one boy who took him under his wing. He came home quite happy about this option, even more than "le fun foot." (Fine with us--"fun foot" is fairly far away by car, whereas this is literally out our door. And it's free!) 

Dinner was zucchini fritters and pirate chicken (Mimi Thorrison's recipe). 

We also had a Teenage Moment with Zari last night. Both she and Dio wanted me to snuggle them, but it was Dio's turn. Zari said, "But I asked first!" I said sorry, but to be fair I'm going to snuggle Dio. Her protests got louder but I still said no. 

"Ask papa--he'll snuggle you." 

No, only mama would do! She stormed off and slammed her door (waking up Inga). 

Teenagers confuse me. 

Also, why are papa snuggles not as good?
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Wednesday, December 16, 2020

French quarantine 2.0, day 26:

8,963 steps 

Ivy and Inga had their first soccer training at Cavigal, and it went great. They both love their coaches. Ivy got a gift bag, including a huge chocolate Santa. Inga had to try out, and she was so excited that she made it in! Eric knows many of the trainers there, since he coached for Cavigal our first few years here.

Zari went to Villefranche this afternoon and is going to try out at Cavigal on Friday. The Cavigal team her age is really, really in, she might not make it in. On the other hand, the Villefranche team is not very good at all. She has fun, but a good number of the girls aren't strong players. But at least we have options. 

The girls played at the coulee verte after dinner. I met them as I was going to pick up sparkling water at the Miroir d'Eau. Ivy and Inga weren't ready to come home, so we went to fill up our bottles and look at the Christmas lights. Note how everyone else is in puffy winter parkas, while our girls are in short sleeves!   

Inga worked on a magic trick with a floating pen. 

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Monday, December 14, 2020

French quarantine 2.0, day 24

15,290 steps

Zari had a stressful exit this morning. She was already tired from staying up last night working on homework. Then she couldn't find one of her school books. We tore the house apart looking for it, but finally she had to leave minus her book. (She later found it at school!)

I walked all over Nice and found Ivy's Christmas present from Zari. I purchased it, knowing it would likely get Zari's approval...and it did! (I can't say any more until after Christmas, but Zari declared it absolutely perfect.)

Eric did a short lunchtime soccer training with Ivy, Inga, and Dio. His goal is to do one every day they don't have soccer practice, either at lunch or right after school.

Dio's afternoon classes were cancelled, so he was forced to come to the beach with us and bask in the sun. He kept informing us how many minutes had passed and how he was very bored. But he did film a movie. We'll see if it turns into anything interesting.

I read Obama's new memoir A Promised Land. I'm also simultaneously reading The Immortality Key by Brian C. Muraresku. Both books are best read in small doses. I first heard of Muraresku's book on a Psychedelics Today podcast.

Piano lessons after school took up the rest of our afternoon and evening.
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Sunday, December 13, 2020

French quarantine 2.0, day 23

7,143 steps 

I woke up at 6 am--ding! I'm awake! Then by 8 am I was super tired, so I lay down on the couch and ignored the household as everyone woke up and got ready for the morning. I crawled back into bed eventually and slept until nearly 11 am. What is going on with me? 

We spent an idyllic afternoon at the beach, basking in the sun and talking to a new friend. We met her just as we were arriving: she called out to me and asked if I was with "Marc," a boy who goes to Inga's school and who is often mistaken for Inga. They both have gorgeous waist-length blond hair and similar physiques. (I have mistaken him for Inga a number of times!) 

I said, no, I wasn't with Marc but that he and Inga often get confused. And this set off a round of introductions and a 3-hour long conversation and now we have new friends! Inga and Ivy played with her son, swimming together in the ocean (brrrrrr) and chasing each other around the beach. 

She was an interesting person--works for the UN, has lived all over the world, multi-lingual, committed to a minimalist lifestyle, a free-range parent. Basically a perfect fit for bohemian Old Nice. 

It was Zari's night to help with making tian, but she was busy with homework. I sliced all of the vegetables and Inga helped arrange them in the baking dish. 

I'm currently helping Zari with her French homework. Here's to hoping I don't make things worse! 

Oh, when Eric got his phone back from the kids yesterday, we found that Zari had created an entire reality TV show! It's pretty clever and includes many of the staples of reality TV: the dramatic narration, the personal interviews of the contestants, the staged drama. So enjoy!

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Saturday, December 12, 2020

French quarantine 2.0, day 22

7,276 steps 

This morning we went sibling Christmas present shopping. Each child gets around 25 Euros to spend on one of their siblings (picked by pulling names out of a box). We didn't find anything today but came home with lots of fun ideas. I can't list them here in case my kids are reading this! 

We spent the afternoon at a friend's house out in the "arrière pays," the mountainous back country behind Nice. They used to live around the corner in Old Nice and Ivy is best friends with their daughter. They're enjoying country life with a big house, huge plot of land (both needing loads of work to restore...but that's half the fun) and a gorgeous view. 

The dad was distilling grappa when we drove up. I had fun watching how it's made and seeing the color change towards the end of the batch. They made it from grapes they picked on their property. 

They have a brand new Staffordshire Terrier puppy, plus two cats. The puppy got tons of love and then took a nap inside Eric's coat. 

They also picked olives from their 11 olive trees and had them pressed into olive oil in a neighboring town. We got to test it out with some baguette slices. The oil was a gorgeous cloudy green-yellow with a deep flavor and spicy bite. 

We picked a few kakis (persimmons) from their tree. I'm used to the teeny American persimmons, but the ones here are a different variety and are as big as apples. They also have a stronger, brighter flavor. 

The approach to their property is dramatic. You turn into this impossibly narrow lane, squeeze through a Batman tunnel, and then go up a crazy steep hairpin curve. We filmed it coming back down.

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Friday, December 11, 2020

French quarantine 2.0, day 21

3 weeks in...France's covid-19 numbers are on the decline, but not as good as hoped for at this date. I think the next point of reevaluation is early January. Since we rarely go out to restaurants and large concerts and never to bars, life doesn't feel much different for us. And I hate shopping anyway so it's not like I missed out when non-essential stores were closed. 

Ski resorts are still closed for the foreseeable future, which I'm sure is decimating all of the local economies in those areas. We're hoping to be able to go skiing over the February holidays...but we just don't know if it will be possible. When we go skiing, we literally go outside and ski, eat a packed lunch outdoors or in the car, then go home and eat dinner in our apartment. We don't ever eat out at restaurants so I don't think it would be very risky in terms of infections. I hear that if the resorts reopen, the chairlifts will be open but the gondolas may be closed. 

I met with a friend this morning to catch up on life. It was cold and overcast...and after 2 hours outside I was an icicle. I couldn't get warm back home, even with Zari's down ski jacket, a hat, a scarf, and a hot water bottle. I stood right next to the heater. No difference. I finally took a long hot shower. It's not *that* cold here in Nice but I learned that I need to keep moving! 

Dio finally made it to soccer practice. He had option to play on a regular team or to play in "le fun foot," which is more relaxed and is just practice, no games. Dio took one look at the regular team's coach and said "NO." He had this coach a previous year and even Eric agreed, no hesitation, that the coach was terrible: mean, negative, critical, tearing the kids down for every little thing. So for now Dio is quite happy to do "le fun foot" and we'll see what happens. 

A photo from last night's walk at the Place Massena. And Dio constructed a work space for Dolly and Indy, complete with chairs, keyboards, and computer monitors.

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Thursday, December 10, 2020

French quarantine 2.0, day 20

16,337 steps 

We're feeling more optimistic today. Both of us went running in the morning--helps with just about anything. Then we met with our banker about refinancing our loan, bringing the rate from ~3.5% down to 1.3%. Yeah! 

Eric talked to the girl's coach at Cavigal (someone he worked with for a few years back when he was coaching there), and he said they could take Inga and Ivy. Zari is thinking of trying out there as well. It's easier to get to: 13 minutes on the tram, versus driving or taking the bus to the neighboring city of Villefranche. 

Ivy said lunch was great today--she took seconds of the vegetable and main dish. I looked up the menus for the two days they ate at school this week: 

  • CĂ©leri rĂ©moulade (celery root remoulade) 
  • Escalope de dinde au jus corsĂ© (turkey escalope with aromatic concentrated gravy) 
  • Petits pois au beurre (green peas with butter) 
  • Baguette 
  • Brie 
  • Gaufre au sucre glace (waffle with powdered sugar) 
  • Concombre et dĂ©s de fĂ©ta (cucumber & feta salad) 
  • Boulettes de soja sauce orientale (soy "meatballs" with oriental sauce) 
  • Baguette 
  • Semoule bio (organic semolina) 
  • Yaourt bio aromatisĂ© Ă  la framboise (organic raspberry-flavored yogurt) 
Okay, I want to eat lunch at their school! I love that they sit down and eat one course at a time, with real plates and utensils.
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Wednesday, December 09, 2020

French quarantine 2.0, day 19

9,928 steps 

Ugh, today was a "journĂ©e ratĂ©." It was supposed to be Dio's first day of soccer practice. When he found out, he started crying and wouldn't stop because he didn't want to go. 

Eric finally lost patience and said, "Fine, then you won't play soccer. You're done." Then I got upset because I wasn't okay with just letting Dio give up on something (because he does this with almost everything, whether it's school or soccer or piano lessons). 

I brought Zari and Dio to our RDV spot (still not having resolved the issue of whether or not he'd play) and our ride didn't show up. We waited...and waited...finally I texted him and it turns out they'd changed the practice time to a half-hour earlier! 

So we went back home and went on a walk instead. I don't have their coaches' numbers yet so I couldn't call and say why we didn't show up. 

 Meanwhile Inga and Ivy were at their practice at OGC Nice. They'd originally been told they could join, no problem, as they'd played for OGC Nice already for 2 years. But then Inga's coach said she'd need to try out, twice. 

Tonight was Inga's 2nd tryout. Eric said she was clearly better than many of the other girls--I'll take his word on that, since he coaches soccer. But at the end of the evening, they said they couldn't take Inga because there were too many girls already. (Which makes we wonder: why did they have her try out if they weren't going to add to the team?) 

Inga came home sobbing, Eric came home frustrated, and we still haven't sorted out what to do with Dio. Comments
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Tuesday, December 08, 2020

French quarantine 2.0, day 18

6,223 steps 

aka my shitty day & eating bugs 

You want to hear all about my day? Fine! I'll get the boring stuff over with first. I sewed five infant scale slings, photographed them, and put them on our website. 

We made lebkuchen during lunch & dinner. I don't even know how many because by time I took pictures, we'd eaten or given away several dozen. 

So now let's get to the fun part, in which I stick my arm into poo. Because that's what you do when it needs to be done. 

So...this morning I noticed that the toilet was plugged. (Disclaimer: it wasn't me. Thank you to whoever did it.) So I unplugged the toilet, only it didn't work. I plunged and flushed and plunged and plunged with no success. 

So I got out my logical reasoning skills: 
#1: Something is really stuck and it's likely not just the poop. 
#2: Hmmm...I notice that the little plastic thing that clips inside the toilet (you know, the thing that cleans/deodorizes the toilet) is missing. 
#3: Oh great, I bet it's that plastic thing that someone knocked into the toilet, and then they went to the bathroom and it got wedged waaaaaay down in the toilet trap and is blocking the poop. 

So I announce my diagnosis to the world. Well, to whoever was home (Eric, Zari, and Dio). "It's probably that plastic thing. We're going to have to fish it out."  

Eric: "I'm not sticking my hand in there." 

Zari & Dio: (eating lunch, no response because obviously this is an adult matter and they don't have to worry about it) 

Meanwhile I really need to pee. So I grab an old towel, take off my sweater, roll up my sleeves, and--without thinking too much about what I'm about to do--plunge my whole arm deep into the toilet. I reach past the poo and yes, there it is! I was right--it was the plastic thing. 

Sometimes you just have to get things done and it's best not to overthink. 

I then washed up as thoroughly as if I were scrubbing in for a surgery. Good to go! 

Okay, but what about eating bugs? 

So tonight we had radicchio risotto. Our arborio rice had a wee pantry moth infestation. (Zari is reading this right now and said, "No, what?! No, no, no.") I could have thrown the rice away. But it was perfectly good rice, aside from some bugs. So I washed the rice several times until there were no more bugs. Problem solved! 

So to be really technical, we didn't eat *any* bugs. But we could have.
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