Sunday, January 31, 2021

French renovations, Day 41: Tête de Chien hike

12,669 steps

In the early afternoon we met up with two other families to hike the Tête de Chien, starting in Cap d'Ail and doing a circuit around the cliffs overlooking Monaco. 

It was one of those idyllic winter days on the Riviera, with full sun, no wind, and a high of 58° F (14° C). The kids wished they'd worn shorts on the way up, as we were in the full sun. But the way down was mostly in the shade and pleasantly crisp.

We did this same hike 4 years ago. Look how teeny everyone was! 

Zari took LOTs of closeup photos....I had to narrow it down to just four for this post.

Tomorrow Eric and I want to plan out the mezzanine in the back room and make a list of materials we need to purchase.
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Saturday, January 30, 2021

French renovations, Day 40: Welcome to The Freeze Depot

9,289 steps

I slept until 8 am! Ahhhhh. When I got up, the kids had just started playing a card game with Eric (Skull King). I got dressed in my usual renovating outfit--so stylish!--and headed downstairs to clean and organize. Eric came next and, one by one, the rest of the kids showed up. It's like we are magnets and they just can't resist being away from us!

We spent about 3 hours sweeping, organizing, sweeping, pulling nails, and sweeping. Just with the leftover bits of plaster and wood and dust, we filled over 14 bags! 

Now we have our own personal lumberyard, with everything stacked by type and length.

After a shower and lunch, I video conferenced with my dad about some engineering ideas in the back room. He can build just about anything, but he was stumped when it came to my questions because the construction methods are so different over here. For example, how do you properly anchor something into a thin interior wall (cloison) that is less than 4" or 10 cm thick, given that there are no interior structural elements, just plaster and earth and whatever else was added into the mortar, with a few random pieces of wood here and there?

In the US, our walls are built with wood framing (ossature bois), covered either by plaster and lath (in old houses) or drywall (in houses dating from the mid-20th century and newer). There are almost always structural 2x4s, spaced in predicable widths, to which you can attach things securely. Some houses might have solid exterior walls (an older brick house, for example). But we have nothing comparable to these interior walls that are mostly just...earthy-y mortar covered by a thin layer of plaster. I'm not even sure what they are made out of.

Eric, Zari, and Dio went to an activity in the afternoon, taking their bikes. It was a good ride: 3 km each way but very hilly. Inga and Ivy did coloring pages. I couldn't convince them to go outside and I was feeling too tired to herd them out the door.

Finally, with less than a half hour left before curfew, Inga wanted to go out. We hauled 14 bags of trash to the garbage depot and then went for a fun walk in the rain. She was hoping to find some money but we didn't luck out this evening.

We finished the first season of Blown Away. We would watch one episode, and the kids would say, "Just one more...please?" We ended up watching four!
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Friday, January 29, 2021

French renovations, Day 39: Lose 4 tons in 3 hours!

15,398 steps

Want to lose 4 tons in 3 hours? Just follow these 3 easy steps to a lighter life!
#1: Smash down all the walls & ceilings in your apartment
#2: Put all of the rubble into bags
#3: Carry it all down 2 flights of stairs.

Yeah, that's what we did today. We had so much that we had to fill the dump truck TWICE. The first load weighed 3 metric tons (6,600 lbs)!!!!!! The 2nd load was probably 1 ton, give or take. 

Fortunately, this time we had a big group of helpers--13 people including us. We had people from all over the world: US (me), Canada (Eric), France, Italy, Argentina, Peru, Turkey, Spain, Belgium, and at least one other country. We couldn't have done it without them, and I mean that in full sincerity. It was an enormous job.

After the first truck was filled, we took a break for snacks and drinks. Then everyone left and Eric and I did the second load ourselves. It wasn't too bad as all of the bags were already down by the front door. We just had to get them in the truck and emptied out. Then, of course, carry all the wood down.

Once Comrade drove away with the 2nd truckload, our work wasn't done! Nope! We had to clean up inside and out. We swept down the entire staircase and entry hall and all around in the street. Then we washed everything down by hand to get rid of the dust.

Tomorrow we'll clean and organize the front room.

I am tired. I'll probably have some sore muscles tomorrow.

After cleanup and lunch and showers, I baked 4 loaves of sourdough bread and went on a short walk while the bread was baking. Eric went to the park again, so I took care of dinner too.

I think I'd like to lie down and read a book. Except I'd fall asleep...that would be bad since it's not bedtime yet.
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Thursday, January 28, 2021

French renovations, Day 38: immigration

8,867 steps

Do you ever have days that seem so packed, you wonder how you fit everything in? Yeah, it was one of those days. Yesterday was even busier, though!

We met with an immigration specialist to go over our visa application. It was super helpful to hear all of the things that you're supposed to do, in particular everything that is unwritten but basically required. We have a few translations that we're waiting on, and then we can mail it off!

Apparently in Paris visa applications are taking a matter of weeks to process, but here at the Alpes-Maritime prefecture, they are taking a year or more, and 3+ years for citizenship applications. Our local prefecture has also become increasingly strict and selective (due to local politics). The counselor told us that our application would pass for sure in Paris or Lyon or Marseille, but who knows here in the Alpes-Maritimes?

Zari and I bought treats and drinks for tomorrow's crew who will be helping with the debris removal. Then I had to go to the store again to get a few more ingredients, hurrying to make it before the 6 pm curfew.

I made dark chocolate mint cookies (for the work crew), sourdough bread, and persimmon fruit leather. And threw dinner in the oven, but I'll be honest, all I did was *literally* put cassoulet in the oven. It was Eric's night to cook but he was playing with the kids at the park (which I highly approve of so we're all good).

I also edited more videos for the Breech Without Borders grant application.

It's 10 pm. Time to NOT work and do something fun before bedtime!

And tomorrow...dump truck round #2!!

Pictures from today: Dolly and Indy doing situps. "Owww, my abs!"

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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

French renovations, Day 37: Braces & soccer

10,633 steps

I had a good work morning (video editing). The afternoon was fast-faced. Eric took Inga and Ivy to soccer right after lunch, while I brought Zari and Dio to the orthodontist. This was our first visit, just a quick visual exam and a few photos.

Zari definitely needs braces, including some palate expansion. Dio is mostly fine, just some "petits défauts" so we won't do anything for the moment and we'll see how things are in a few years. Orthodontia is less expensive over here than in the States, but not as significantly different as I had hoped. Sigh...

Our carte vitale will cover a small amount (once it arrives) and if we manage to get a French mutuelle (additional health insurance) then that would reimburse a modest amount as well.

Zari ran off to soccer practice as soon as we were done, while Dio went to a friend's house. We're trying to find ways to let the kids socialize while not being I agreed that he could go if he wore a mask. Plus they had their windows open, which is probably even more important than masking.

It's hard to know where the proper boundaries are. I take covid-19 very seriously. I'm definitely not flippant or dismissive of it. Yet we all live in the real world, which is messy. For example, our kids go to school all is it unreasonable to let them play with one friend after school if they continue wearing masks indoors? I don't know...

Anyway, I dropped Dio off, then turned around and hopped on the tram to pick up Ivy from soccer. We did a quick grocery run at Aldi on the way home. I was SO hungry at that point as it was 2:45 pm and I hadn't eaten all day. Back home for a quick lunch, then Dio came home, changed, and we walked him up to soccer at the chateau. Ivy and I had an "adventure" and a nice walk around the chateau hill.

Dinner (green vegetable puree and tomates farcies), then 2 episodes of Blown Away, then bedtime for the littles. That was our day!

Oh, a friend of mine found this old photo from our first year in France (2014-15). Ivy and Dio are in the foreground and Inga is in the background.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

French renovations, Day 36: Darth Vader & daughter demolish the hallway ceiling

Zari didn't have class this morning, due to teachers' strikes. Vive la France! She helped me take down the hallway ceiling, which was composed of: a thin layer of plaster, 1" thick wooden boards, a medium layer of plaster, and a super thick layer of plaster. At least this all came loose easily!

The only thing remaining to demolish is the separating wall in the middle of the hallway. It's 3" of solid concrete and has plumbing embedded inside. Our main water shutoff is rusted shut, so now we have to replace the shutoff valve before we can destroy that wall. I doubt we can jackhammer the concrete without bursting a pipe!

Comrade is coming back on Friday with his dump truck. We have well over 400 bags of debris and another load of wood. Then...we start on the back room. We'll move all the tools & bikes into the front room once we clean up all the dust.

After that fun morning working with Zari, Eric and I went to the beach to read in the sun. I'm still working my way through Obama's recent memoir; I read about 1 chapter of his book and then 4-5 other books in between.

We all went to the park right after school. Dio didn't want to go. I had to literally force him out the door--toss his shoes into the hallway, nudge him out, and lock the door behind me. He was crying, "I just want to stay home!" He moped for a few minutes, then next I saw him, he was running around with siblings and enjoying himself. Sigh...
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Monday, January 25, 2021

French renovations, Day 35: Fun with power tools!

6,629 steps

After a productive morning of work (the "sitting in front of a computer" kind), Eric and I got out the power tools. This little wall was a HUGE job but we got it done.

The wall was around 12" (30 cm) thick in most places and composed of multiple layers: 1" of plaster, around 3" of lime mortar (we're guessing?), another layer of plaster, then a super thick layer of something very hard, like concrete.

First, I scored a line with a diamond-blade multitool. Then Eric got out the SDS+ rotary hammer. I helped as much as I could bagging debris, but much of the time I stood by and offered "quality control" since I didn't want to have chunks of plaster or concrete falling on my head.

We cleaned up until we ran out of bags.

Tomorrow we will tear down the ceiling in the hallway (it's about 3/4 of the way up) and the little dividing wall in the middle of the hallway.

What else? Piano lessons after school, then dinner, then some family fun watching "Blown Away," a reality show about glassblowing. The format is so canned and predictable, but it's really fun to watch the artists work.
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Sunday, January 24, 2021

French renovations, Day 34: Outdoor picnic in the sun

8,396 steps

Wow--sun again! The kids joined me on a walk from Cimiez down to our apartment. Then we hurried and made spicy crab sushi and chocolate chip cookies for a picnic at our friend's house (the ones who live up in the mountains about 20 km outside Nice).

Zari brought her telescope, which we still haven't used since Christmas. The rainy weather and 6 pm curfew keep getting in the way! So we figured out how to set it up and looked at distant mountains in lieu of the moon.

Zari also helped our friends pick kakis (persimmons). These aren't the small, bland American persimmons. They're as big as apples and have a brighter flavor. Our friends made a huge batch of persimmon habanero jam. Yum!

We brought some home to make fruit leather. I hope it turns out better this time. The batch I made in the States was still way too bland, even after adding lemon juice.

Then back home for a light dinner, piano practicing, talking to family members on the computer, and last-minute homework.

Zari drew Ivy today.

Ivy showed off her muscles again.

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Saturday, January 23, 2021

French renovations, Day 33: Lots of work, little progress!

8,401 steps

I suppose a better title is "Some work, little progress" but that's not very dramatic. Eric and I ended up having a lot of (non-renovation) work this morning. However, we were able to give away the old mezzanine staircase!

After lunch we took advantage of the sunshine and went to the park. Ivy met up with her usual group of friends. Inga broke her soccer juggling record: 63! She was on fire.

Zari and I took a walk around to the port and enjoyed watching the waves crash against the rocks. The ocean was stained brownish-green from the sediment washing down the Paillon river. This happens after heavy rainfall.

I still wanted to get something done on the communist apartment, so I started on the little wall above the hallway. Ivy and Inga geared up to help, but unfortunately there wasn't much work for them. We could only have one at a time on the scaffolding.

That wall was a beast! It is at least 8" (20 cm) thick concrete/plaster/lime and gives way millimeter by grudging millimeter. I worked for an hour and a half and made frustratingly slow progress. 

Dinner was Thai larb salad. Eric made crêpes for dessert. Some kids had "banana split" crêpes with bananas, nutella, & whipped cream. I stuck with 85% dark chocolate and whipped cream.

Ivy showing off her muscles.

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Friday, January 22, 2021

French renovations, Day 32: Middle-of-the-night meetings make you TIRED!

4,063 steps

Eric had a 2 am virtual book reading...meaning neither of us slept much last night! But he enjoyed the reading.

I was busy working on breech projects all day, except for a short nap in the afternoon. We thought about doing some renovation work, but settled for doing it tomorrow. The kids are excited to help.

To answer the quiz questions about my ER visit:
1. The entire visit took 1 hour
2. The final bill (ER fee + x-ray) was 48 Euros, around $58 USD. I was anticipating about twice that amount based on Ivy's ER visit last winter in Chamonix.

When I was paying the bill, I saw this price sheet taped to the checkout counter. I asked the woman if I could take a picture, and she said, "Sure, go ahead!"

To those of you who live in France or other countries with a single-payer healthcare system, this might not be remarkable. But for those of us in the US, it's unimaginable.

When we seek medical care in the US, we usually have no idea of what it will cost us beforehand. The hospital usually cannot tell us, even though they are the ones creating the bill! We go in and hope that we can afford it, and then we wait a month or two or more and get a bill that is usually shockingly high.

Case in point: Zari had to get a rabies shot when she was 4 years old. We had to get it at the local hospital as it wasn't stocked in our pharmacies. The final cost? $7,000! Even with our insurance, we had to pay $1,500 out of pocket. It's outrageous, and we patients are hostages to a system that lacks transparency or accountability.
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Thursday, January 21, 2021

French renovations, Day 31: Goodbye debris!

The debris isn't gone, but it's all hiding away in bags now. I estimate we have about 400 bags in the room. All of which have to be carried down and disposed of...but I'm not thinking about that tonight! I'm celebrating the conquest of Debris Mountain.

I woke up at 5 am this morning and couldn't sleep, so I read in bed for a while. I had just fallen back asleep when the 7 am alarm rang. I asked Eric to take care of the kids and I went back to bed!

We both worked in the morning ("real" work, not renovating) and headed down to the communist apartment after lunch.

After dinner I went to a grant planning meeting. I now have deadlines for a rough draft of our grant application. Yay? Writing grants is a necessary evil.

ps, Eric is doing a reading today (5 pm PST, 8 pm EST). You're all invited!
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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

French renovations, Day 30: Cleanup and ER visit

I slept terribly last night, thanks to my zombie finger. I finally decided to have it looked at this morning. Why? A) I'm a violinist and this finger is VERY important, B) I'm left-handed and I like being able to write and type with my dominant hand, and C) it really really hurt.

I had to remind myself that it's okay to see a doctor and even--gasp--go to the hospital. We're in France and even without insurance, healthcare is incredibly affordable. So off I went to the emergency room at the large university hospital.

(Why the ER? My family doctor didn't have any openings until next week, plus she doesn't have an x-ray machine in her office.)

So...just for fun, let's play a guessing game called "Rixa at the ER"

Question #1: How long did Rixa's ER visit take, from walking in the doors to walking back out? Some of the things Rixa did while in the ER:
  • checked in at the front desk and took a number
  • waited for her number to be called
  • checked in at the nurse's desk and filled out all of the necessary paperwork and explained what happened
  • walked to the trauma department and waited to be shown into a room
  • was examined by a resident ("interne") and a medical student (they both looked like they were in HIGH SCHOOL!! Well, okay, maybe undergraduate...but still...)
  • sent to the radiology department for x-rays
  • went back to the exam room and waited for the x-ray results
  • discussed the x-ray results (good news: no fractures!)
  • had a supervising doctor poke holes into her fingernail to drain the blood
  • got bandaged up
  • went to the checkout desk for pain medication prescriptions (which Rixa doesn't need) and paid the bill
Question #2: What did the ER visit cost? (Remember, we are paying out of pocket at the moment as we still haven't received our medical insurance cards).

While I was having my ER adventure, Eric, Ivy, and Inga played a round of Skull King and then bagged rubble. They worked through about 1/3 of the remaining pile. I think we'll get everything bagged by this weekend. Then we have to haul everything down and out again!


This afternoon was filled with soccer pickups and dropoffs. I love that we can easily hop on the tram to get the girls to Cavigal, and Dio's is just up at the chateau.

During dinner we watched the US presidential inauguration. My favorite part was the poet laureate Amanda Gorman (Zari says "Yes, me too!") It's so refreshing to see values that matter to me laid out from the very start: compassion, diversity, inclusion, respect, empathy, environmentalism. And it wasn't just in Biden's words--it showed in every aspect of the inauguration ceremonies, from yesterday's Covid-19 memorial to the diversity of prayers/poems/speakers/presenters/artists.

My finger still hurts, but not nearly as much as it did before my hospital visit. I tried draining more blood when I got home, but the holes had already dried up. I don't have the guts to poke through my own fingernail.

Oh, during my hospital visit, the supervising doctor said, "I'm going to poke two holes into your nail." He explained to the intern and student why two holes worked better (one hole to let the blood out, the other to let air in, much like having two holes in a milk carton helps the liquid empty better). But then he proceeded to poke not 2, not 3, not 4, but FIVE holes in my fingernail! Aie!
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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

French renovations, Day 29: Goodbye, mezzanine!

9,105 steps

We suffered our first renovation casualty today: my finger. Aieee!!! I was prying some plaster loose with a hammer and somehow my finger got in the way. I predict that my fingernail will fall off soon as it's already crooked.

I called it a day after my injury. Still bleeding slowly many hours later...Zari calls it a zombie finger.

But, at least the mezzanine is all down!


Okay, those of you who are doctors or otherwise qualified to give medical advice: is there anything I should do for my poor finger besides wait until it heals?

Good news: Eric got his carte vitale (French health insurance)! Well, he got his final carte vitale *number*, which means the card itself will be coming soon. I'm still waiting for mine. The kids' application, which we sent back in July, got lost so I have to mail a new one in tomorrow.
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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'électricite" 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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