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 crêpes 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 Comté and truffle cheeses - bûche de Noël - Réveillon 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 Jérômes. 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: "réaliser une saignée dans un mur en béton/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 crêpe or not to crêpe?
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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: 

  • Céleri rémoulade (celery root remoulade) 
  • Escalope de dinde au jus corsé (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 dés de féta (cucumber & feta salad) 
  • Boulettes de soja sauce orientale (soy "meatballs" with oriental sauce) 
  • Baguette 
  • Semoule bio (organic semolina) 
  • Yaourt bio aromatisé à 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 "journée raté." 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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Monday, December 07, 2020

French quarantine 2.0, day 17

18,717 steps 

I haven't sat still today until now! I went running in the morning (brrr...a chilly 5 C when I started out...and of course my Minnesotan self is laughing hilariously that I just called that cold). Then I walked to Lidl and hauled 100 Euros of groceries home. Workout #2! 

During lunch the kids helped me mix the ingredients for lebkuchen, a traditional German spice cookie. The dough is sitting in the fridge ready to roll out. This recipe involves 2 lbs of honey, 1 lb of butter, and loads of spices. Mmmm.... 

Once the kids were back in school, I went into the communist apartment and did some floor sleuthing. There was a spot where the old terra cotta tiles were gone and there was loose earth/dirt. We've been digging away the layers of earth to see what's underneath and how deep it goes. Finally about 5" down I hit some old wooden beams. I suspect they are the cross-beams that sit on top of the large beams that span the length of the apartment. 

The kids had piano lessons with my mom right after school. We had a staggered dinner (more Thai larb salad because I had the ingredients on hand) with whoever wasn't having a lesson. We got out the huge stepladder and hung up our one strand of Christmas lights (left by a previous renter). 

I have lots of fabric left over from sewing masks, so I decided to turn the rest into infant scale slings. I cut, hemmed, ironed, folded, and tacked all five into place. They're ready to finish tomorrow. I'm going to offer these as Breech Without Borders donation perks for people in Europe & the UK. 

In the background you can see my Bernina. She dates back to the 1940s or 50s. I was super excited when I found her a few years back in a sewing machine repair shop. Unlike most sewing machines, this one has a knee pedal rather than a foot pedal. 

While I was sewing, I heard Zari ask Dio, "Can you eat fermented spider eyes?"

"Yeah, I think so. Give them a try."

(They were playing Minecraft.)

Oh, and Eric got his final grades submitted! The semester is officially DONE! 

So that was my day! I'm ready to snuggle up with a hot water bottle and read some brain candy now.
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Sunday, December 06, 2020

French quarantine 2.0, day 16

14,223 steps 

It's feeling festive in our apartment. Our miniature Christmas tree is up (all of 2 feet high, left from a previous renter). Paper snowflakes are hanging on the windows and doorways. That's the extent of our Christmas decorations; there's no space for anything else! 

We went to the chateau after lunch and ran into several friends and acquaintances--as usual. Inga and Eric stayed the longest and ended up getting invited to a birthday party. They also played pickup soccer with a group of boys, and Inga schooled them all. 

We did meal planning this evening, and every child had to plan a menu that they will cook. 
  • Ivy: radicchio risotto, lebkuchen 
  • Inga: pirate chicken, galette des Rois 
  • Dio: tortellini with pesto, tiramisu 
  • Zari: tian, tarte au citron 
  • Rixa: ricotta & spinach tart 
  • Eric: salmon mussel quiche, peach ice cream floats 
And a few pictures: 
Ivy climbing a tree while Zari basks in the sun 

Ivy's French braids (which over here are called "African braids") 

And goofy Ivy

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Saturday, December 05, 2020

French quarantine 2.0, day 15

1,940 steps 

Yes, I hardly walked at all today...blame it on the rain! I did, however, bike a good distance in the rain (long story). We stayed in today and did rainy Saturday things, like origami and board games and watching a Miyazaki film. I even did some mending. We got all of our tools out from the far recesses of the attic and put them into the communist apartment. 

Dinner last night was homemade sushi: spicy crab or cucumber-smoked salmon-bell pepper-egg-avocado. We ate the leftovers for lunch. 

Dinner tonight was Thai larb salad and the last of the lemon cheesecake. So good! 

Zari had a long crying spell this evening when she discovered that she didn't do well on her last French assignment (slightly higher than the class average...but that didn't help her feel any better). I tried to cheer her up but it was mostly ineffectual. 

But she did laugh when I gave her a dramatic rendition of my great devastation upon receiving my very first A- in college, thus ruining my perfect 4.0 GPA and setting me on the road to failure and financial ruin. (Not really--it just turned my GPA into 3.99 which was HORRIBLE at the time.)
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Friday, December 04, 2020

French quarantine 2.0, day 14

Rain all day! 

I didn't end up falling asleep last night until Eric's reading finished at 3 am. We were both kaput today. I made myself stay awake except for a 10-minute nap after lunch. 

I've been working on breech workshop planning all day. Covid-19 permitting, we're teaching workshops all over the US spring & summer (Dr. Hayes) and in Europe (me) and then heading to New Zealand and Australia for November & December. It's hard to know what will be happening a year from now, but we're going to make plans and then adjust if needed. 

If it's raining tomorrow, we'll start working on our apartment building's staircase. The walls in the staircase and entry hall are in rough shape, and one of our neighbors has started re-plastering and painting. We're going to help her as it's a big job. 

Our building hired this project out about 10-15 years ago, and it was poorly done. We'd rather redo it ourselves than pay a company thousands of Euros. (We're just 3 families in the entire building, plus a nonprofit association on the bottom floor.)
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Thursday, December 03, 2020

French quarantine 2.0, day 13

9,650 steps 

I was determined to reset my clock. I made myself get out of bed at 7 am and stay awake all day. No napping, nada. I hope it works. 

Ivy and Inga had cantine (school lunch) today so we had a long work day. Zari and Dio still come home for lunch since the middle school lunch isn't as interesting. In our elementary school, kids get a 4-course sit-down lunch every day. Real dishes & utensils, one course served at a time. We do that twice a week for Ivy and Inga. 

Today was one of those good days where the kids got along, helped each other out with homework, made up little games, played their hearts out at the park, wrote in their journals after dinner. Just a good day all around. 

In the afternoon, after a Vitamin D bath at the beach, we installed metal brackets to hold our electronic piano. The stand it came on kept collapsing. Now our piano is all set up and virtual lessons restart next Monday with my mom! 

Don't forget--Eric has his virtual book reading tonight at 6 pm MST (7 pm CST/8 pm EST). Come join him! I will be in bed as it will be 2 am 🙂 

If that link doesn't work, go here and follow the registration link:
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Wednesday, December 02, 2020

French quarantine 2.0, day 12

9,859 steps 

Theme of the day: soccer! Or "le foot," as it's called over here. Ivy and Inga had practice at OGC Nice, while I brought Zari to her practice at Villefranche. Normally Dio would also have practice in Villefranche but he doesn't start until Friday this week. 

Dio doesn't want to do soccer. This is a common theme, whether it's starting soccer or school or whatever. He gets really down and doesn't want to do The Thing. He cries and grumbles. We force him to do The Thing and he ends up liking it. 

I know something that would REALLY cheer Dio up! Would you help me out? Please PLEASE subscribe to his YouTube channel (or have your kids subscribe, if they're into things like Minecraft). Even better, watch and comment on his videos! 

I was feeling unwell yesterday. General malaise with no symptoms. Anyway, this morning I dragged myself out of bed to wake kids up for school, then dragged myself back into bed until 9:30 am. If you know me, that is so out of character. But I feel so much better today after that long sleep. 

 We were playing at the coulée verte after lunch, and Zari did a magnificent but unintentional slide tackle. It looked like grass but was slippery mud. She was so wet and dirty that she had to go back home and change. 

Inga spent a long time during lunch peeling and arranging shrimp. When you buy shrimp over here, they are fully intact with heads, antennas, legs, & shells. Then she made a commercial. 

I mixed up a double batch of sourdough and need to shape the boules before bed tonight. This will make 4 large loaves or 6 medium loaves. We also made lemon cheesecake. So good! 

Yesterday's dinner: mussels & fries in Roquefort cream sauce, shrimp, Mozart chocolates 

Day before yesterday was a "green" dinner: green vegetable puree topped with crème fraîche, pasta with pesto, and cucumbers with cream cheese.
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Tuesday, December 01, 2020

French quarantine 2.0, day 11

15,560 steps 

What are you doing this Thursday evening around 6 pm MST / 8 pm EST? If you don't have plans, please come to Eric's virtual book reading with The King's English Bookstore. 

Register here (it's free!): 

Did I mention--Eric has a new book!? It was just released a few days ago. It's called French Dive: Living More With Less in the South of France. It's all about our first year in France, moving into a small apartment with 4 little kids and not much to live on. 

During that year, Ivy was waking up 4-5 times a night and only nursing would do. If Eric came, she'd scream so hard she puked. If it took me more than 30 seconds to get to her, she'd puke. 

I remember so many nights curled up on one little corner of the bed in Ivy's room, nearly falling off as I nursed her because the bathtub was taking up the rest of the bed...I can say "good times" only because it's many years in the past. Our first year was great overall, but it was a killer for mothering. 

So we invite you to come to Eric's reading! Even better, buy the book and support a writer and his awesome family :) 

Where to buy: 

ps--yes, you did the math right, Eric is doing the reading at 2 am French time! 😲
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