Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ivy is 18 months!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Immigration & Integration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The snow is whiter...in Canada

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

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

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

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

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

Just another ordinary day

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

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

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

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

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

La lutte contre les poux

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

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

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

Inga had lice. Or rather, she had nits.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Total profit from the crib: 25 Euros.

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

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

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Monday, September 15, 2014

MIT Breast Pump Hackathon

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

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

Here's what I submitted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here we go again...


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Random Ivy cuteness

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Friday, September 05, 2014

First week of public school in France

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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