Monday, July 31, 2023

Spencer Family Reunion, Day 3: Emerald Bay

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Sunday, July 30, 2023

Spencer family reunion, day 2: Sugar Pine Point

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Spencer Family Reunion, Day 1

Today was great--we started with an early morning hike to Ellis Peak, a short 2-mile hike. There was so much snow last winter that there are still drifts left along the hike!

I drove Zari's hair halfway around the lake to the nearest FedEx store. (Okay, that's an exaggeration--it was probably only 1/3 way around but it took an hour one-way!). I drove past Emerald Bay and had a thrilling drive along a spine and steep switch-backs.

I met everyone at Meeks Bay for the afternoon. The water was cool but refreshing. We swam, paddleboarded, built sandcastles, buried cousins, and enjoyed an idyllic time. Eric went treasure hunting and came back with a nice pair of googles (and full-body shivers).

Inga finally got her haircut that she's been asking about ever since Zari cut hers. I'll take a picture tomorrow when there's better light.

I managed to sneak in a breech live session during dinner, outside on the front porch. I was interrupted a few times by little nieces and nephews, but that's life during family reunions.

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Friday, July 28, 2023

Travel day

Today was a long travel day, from 4:30 am Mountain time to 7 pm Pacific time. We drove from Lethbridge to Calgary, flew from Calgary to San Francisco, and then drove to Lake Tahoe. It was traffic jams nearly all the way from San Francisco to Sacramento. Eric was frustrated and kept asking, "Why do people live here?!?" He is not impressed with the San Francisco area.

We did get to drive over the Bay Bridge. We saw Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge to our left.

We hadn't had a meal all day, so we stopped mid-afternoon at In-N-Out and got everyone a Double Double burger and an order of fries with fry sauce.

Dio gave San Francisco a 2/10. In-N-Out Burger, however, got a very high rating from everyone.

As soon as we hit the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, the drive went from boring to beautiful. I was excited to drive past Donner Pass--I grew up hearing about the ill-fated party that turned to cannibalism to survive.

We made a quick stop for groceries at Truckee and were very happy to arrive in the evening right after sunset. We're staying in a rustic A-frame cabin, hand-built by the owners in the 1950s from a Sears kit. There are 12-14 here (depending on the night) and the rest in two other cabins or houses nearby.

When we arrived, my brother greeted us by saying, "If anyone touches me, I will probably punch them in the face." (He had just broken his back the day before in a mountain biking accident, fracturing one of his vertebra.) We didn't know this until we arrived! He was wearing a brace and was in a lot of pain. He drove all the way here from Oregon with his dog and now has to sit out almost all of the activities, since he can't bend, lift, or twist.

He's a physician himself, so when the accident happened, he knew right away that he'd probably fractured a vertebra. However, he was all by himself so it wasn't as simple as calling 911 (if he'd done so, they would have left his bike, his car, and his dog). So he hobbled himself back to his car and drove himself to the nearest emergency room. He explained his situation to a nurse, and she let him park his car in the ambulance bay to keep his dog cool.

So that was our travel day.
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Thursday, July 27, 2023

Freeze family mini reunion, days 1 & 2

Wednesday, July 26 and Thursday, July 27, 2023

We've had a relaxing two days at Eric's parents house. Yesterday we took a walk over to Canadian Tire. Ivy was convinced she would fine the perfect water bottle (just like grandma's) but their selection wasn't great.

Then we went to several stores to find some Canadian paraphernalia. Each kid had a budget of about $5. Most came back with socks, hats, gloves, and/or pens. Dio didn't find anything in 3 stores and came home glum and teary. We reassured him that we'd find him something.

We went to a matinee of the new Barbie movie. It was fun but I think it's been a bit over-hyped.

After dinner yesterday (with a group of cousins from Eric's sister, who lives nearby), we went to a nearby lake for playgrounds and skateboard parks. I got to ride my MIL's electric-assist bike around the lake.

Today I had a meeting with Zari and Dio's school counselor to figure out transfer credits and class schedules. Zari went first, and then she and Eric went with Eric's mom for a doctor's visit. Zari got some more driving practice in during the visit.

We spent the afternoon at a local pool with great water slides and the same cousins.

Eric was hoping to play pickup soccer this evening, but the group cancelled due to low attendance. That's fine--we had lots of packing to do in advance of our early morning departure. Next up: my family reunion!

Here's a lineup of our family...we parents are shrinking!!

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Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Freeze Family Reunion day 6: A windy night, morning goodbyes, a blown tire, and Bernie to the rescue

Last night was CRAZY! Late in the evening, the wind started. Waterton National Park is known for its wind, and I guess we had gotten lucky the rest of our vacation. The wind was blowing so intensely that our tent collapsed at least 10 times (I stopped counting eventually). Our tent door, which was already broken and was being held by nothing but a few pieces of Velcro, kept blowing wide open.

After I don't know how many tent collapses, I finally went outside and took off the rain fly, which seemed to be catching the wind and exacerbating the problem. After the rain fly was off, the tent *only* would collapse on one corner, instead of the whole half of the tent.

The wind was so loud that I was sure the trees above us would fall over. Between the noise of the wind itself, the noise of the branches rustling, the noise of the tent flapping and vibrating, and of course the tent collapsing every 20-30 minutes throughout the night, I didn't get much sleep.

And then...once I took the rain fly started to rain! At least it was just a gentle sprinkle. But we could definitely feel it sprinkling right onto us.

In the middle of the night, after putting the tent back into place yet again, I was DONE. The reunion was ending in the morning, but we had planned on going on a long hike the next day with one of Eric's siblings, and I decided: NO. I was DONE and we were going back to a real bed and a real house and resting. Not hiking. (Now, if you know me, hiking is my favorite thing so it has to be very serious to deter me from hiking).

As we were all packing up in the morning, we learned that several other families had similar issues with their tents collapsing. What a crazy way to end the reunion! We had some debate about hiking or not, but of the two families, only a few people actually wanted to go. So we ended up deciding just to head home and have an easy day. I was feeling pulled in two directions because I do love hiking. But I just couldn't see how I'd find the energy to do a big day-long hike.

So we drove back home to Eric's parents. About 30 minutes out, we passed one of Eric's sisters on the side of the road, with her trailer looking skewed to one side. We braked and backed up to see what was going on.

Her trailer wheel had compeltely disintegrated. The smell of burned rubber permeated the area, despite the brisk wind.

Eric's parents passed us a little while later and joined in the fun. Wait, not fun! It's never fun to break down. We hunted around in the various cars for a jack and other needed tools. All we could find was one really small jack, but the trailer was so low that we coudlnl't get the jack in. Plus we were missing the tools to open up the spare tire case.

This trailer is very old and the design made it nearly impossible to see the tire--the side of the trailer covered most of the wheel. (Why would you design a trailer like that??? Maybe back then, people thought it looked streamlined?)

About that time, a man in a truck saw us and pulled over. He was an older farmer who lived nearby. Let's call him "Bernie." He came to take a look and decided we needed better tools. I'll be back in a few minutes, he told us, I live just a mile away.

He came back with a GIANT car jack and managed to get the trailer up after lots of different angles and various pieces of wood propped in several places. But then we discovered one issue after another and he had to go back to his farm two more times to get more tools.

He was talking with Eric's parents, and it turns out that Bernie and Eric's mom have a lot of mutual friends. Southern Alberta is a small world.

Anyway, after a good hour or more of working to jack up the trailer, get the tire off, get the new one one, pressureize the spare tire, they finally got it all working...only to discover that the trailer's axle was bent and the trailer was unuseable.

Fortuantely, Bernie had a friend in the nearest town who was a mechanic, and he was called to come tow the trailer all the way to Eric's sister's house (almost an hour away).

After this whole adventure, our kids declared, "Canadians are so nice!" I have to agree.

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Monday, July 24, 2023

Freeze Family Reunion, day 5: Cameron Lake

We had a fun half day at Cameron Lake, from about 10 am – 2 pm. It’s a huge lake nestled between mountain peaks, glacier-fed, and the far end of the lake is actually in Montana, across the US-Canada border! One intrepid group canoed all the way to Montana and back today.

We were expecting ice-cold water but the lake was not quite as cold as Upper Waterton Lake. Still cold but not numbingly so. I swam for about 5 minutes. I’m definitely not used to freshwater swimming—being in salt water gives you much more buoyancy.

We had a big inflatable raft and a paddle board. I went out with Zari and Ivy on the paddleboard. I also hung out with the younger girl cousins on the raft. Then I became their meal delivery service, shuttling their lunches to them in plastic bags.

Eric went with a few other people to go fishing and snorkeling. He saw lots of trout. They caught four but only brought one home because the rest were too small.

It’s the last day of the heat wave (33 C) so we spent the afternoon at the community center, playing games and talking. I caught both Eric and his dad involuntarily napping at the same time. Like father like son.

Dinner was all of the week’s leftovers. We packed lunches for those who are staying to do another hike tomorrow (us and one of Eric’s brothers). More family games in the evening and then cleanup at the community center. A Freeze family favorite is the "quiet game," where everyone lies down with their eyes closed, makes no noise, and raises their hand when they think one minute has elapsed. No peeking.

Eric is off fishing with Ivy and Inga. The sun has just set behind the mountains and we have a good hour and a half of twilight, then another hour before it’s fully dark and the stars come out.
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Sunday, July 23, 2023

Freeze Family Reunion day 4: A much-needed day of rest

We were all exhausted after yesterday's hike. I slept in (which, when I'm camping, means I don't wake up at 4:30 am! I just wake up at a normal time like 7:30 or 8 am). Today was low-key, thankfully. We had a morning devotional with the whole group, where Eric's parents shared some words of advice and fun memories of their family.

The afternoon was unscheduled. I took a much-needed nap until the sun hit the tent and turned it into an oven. Eric and Dio and several other cousins went fishing and snorkeling near the Prince of Wales hotel. I took the girls plus several cousins swimming near our campground. I went in again--not for very long--and felt very refreshed. We're having a heat wave here, with peak temperatures around 33 C (91.5 F). For the Canadian Rockies, that is SUPER hot! Tomorrow is the last day of the heat wave, and then we're back to a high of around 26 C (79 F).

We originally were going to go camping in Banff after this reunion ends on Tuesday with a few of Eric's siblings. However, after weighing the driving time((10 hours there and back) vs. how much time we'd actually be in Banff (one evening plus one full day), we decided not to go. It would have been amazing to go back--that's where we went on our honeymoon almost 25 years ago--but not worth it for such a short stay.

Instead, we'll do another day of hiking on Tuesday, then have two full days with Eric's parents before we fly out early Friday morning. We'll do some very important things from Eric's childhood, such as get Slurpees at 7-11. Maybe more driving time with Zari.

I don't have any pictures from today, except one of a scrape on the back of Zari's leg, from yesterday's hike.

We're having a family movie night for the younger kids (Tangled). The older kids are running around playing some sort of game, and the adult siblings are having a planning meeting.
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Saturday, July 22, 2023

Freeze Family Reunion day 3: Mt Blakiston hike

A big group of us left at 7:30 am to hike the tallest mountain in the national park. Eric has a cousin who has hiked most of the mountains in this park and knows the trail well.

The first two miles were great--steady upward climb through fields of fire flowers, Saskatoon berries, and thimbleberries. A huge forest fire decimated much of this park in 2017, but we were lucky to hike a long stretch through a face that had escaped the fires.

Then the hard part started, going more or less straight up the face of the mountain. It became progressively steeper and more slippery, with loose shale everywhere making our footing unstable.

We reached a massive wall of cliffs, where you had to wind your way through little ledges and breaks. All the while slipping on shale and sending rocks tumbling hundreds of feet below. Because we had a large group, we had to be very careful not to dislodge rocks. If we did, we had to shout "Rock!" and everyone below would hunker under the nearest cliff wall or overhang to avoid being smashed.

Near the end of this massive cliff face, multiple children had breakdowns, including several of ours. I have to admit, even I was spooked at this point.

We were still 400 meters below the summit but I sensed that it was time to turn around. Two-thirds of the group headed back down, and the rest decided to complete the hike.

Going back down was arduous and slow. We were only going 1/10 our normal speed due to having to avoid sending rocks down and also due to some hikers being extremely cautious.

We finally made it back to the trailhead. Over 9 hours of hiking, 7.5 miles, and 1000 meters of elevation gain (for us--the summit was 1400 meters). We are exhausted!

Oh, and when we got back to camp, our tent had collapsed. The main tent pole had snapped in half. Yay us. With the only camping supply store closed until tomorrow, we're going to have to rig up something temporary with duct tape and anything else we can scrounge up to reinforce the pole.

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Friday, July 21, 2023

Freeze Family Reunion day 2: Bears and foxes and deer, oh my!

We've had our fill of wildlife today:
  • a black bear rambling right next to our car, and then picking up a tasty morsel of roadkill gopher right behind us
  • a red fox in our campground running at top speed...
  • ...and the fox was being chased by a deer!
We spent the morning at Red Rock Canyon, just like it sounds: a canyon of these deep wine-red rocks with a cold, clear stream at the bottom. As you climb upstream, hopping over rocks and splashing through pools, the canyon narrows and deepens. 

We mostly avoided getting soaked on the way up...but on the way down, we took all the slides and jumped in all the pools! The water is icy cold and quite refreshing. I don't have any videos because I didn't want to drop my phone in the water!

We had a picnic lunch at Red Rock. On the way back to the campground, we came across the bear. It's the closest any of us have ever been to a bear, ever, despite Eric growing up here and visiting this national park often.

We had several hours free, so we swam in the lake. The view is surreal--it's so beautiful it feels like something on a movie set. But unlike warm Mediterranean water we're using to swimming in, this was glacial. But we all swam! Some of us not for very long, but still, we did it.

We had family pictures at the lake before dinner. 30 of the 32 grandkids plus aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Each family in color-coordinated shirts.

We're currently wrapping up a 50th anniversary program. Each family put on a skit or presentation to represent a different phase in Eric's parents' lives.
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Thursday, July 20, 2023

First haircut and Freeze Family Reunion day 1

Zari had an epic haircut today...36" gone, 3 hours from start to finish. It's her very first "real" haircut, and her extra hair is being sold for a pretty penny. She's putting it towards her college fund.

She's been thinking of cutting her hair for a good 2 years. We finally listed it less than two weeks ago and were overwhelmed with inquiries. We found a good match, ensured nothing sketchy was going on (sadly, that does happen), and accepted their offer.

She loves having shorter hair!

We also started our first day of the Freeze family reunion up in the Canadian Rockies. Fortunately the community center where we are preparing and eating our meals has wifi, so I can sneak in some time to catch up.

Our family was in charge of dinner tonight. I had to figure out how to light an enormous commercial gas range. Not an easy task with several valves to turn on, multiple burners to light, then a grill to light, then two ovens to light. We got it going and everyone got fed. I think we are 46 people total (there are a few cousins and their spouses missing that would otherwise bring us up to 50).

It's cousin paradise with 32 first cousins running in hordes. That's what happens when you come from a family with 7 kids and all of them have lots of kids!

I should probably find where all of my children are!

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Wednesday, July 19, 2023

First time driving on a real street!

5,946 steps

When kids are little, there are so many firsts: first smile, first laugh, first crawl, first steps...

Then those firsts start to space out...first lost tooth, first time swimming solo, first time riding a bike...

Zari hit a BIG first today: she drove a car on a real street! (She had driven a car once before in a parking first gear only). It took some convincing and one slightly scary false start. But then it went great!

Fortunately, she was in Eric's hometown, which has ridiculously wide streets and almost no traffic at all. Best place to learn how to drive. And she got to drive an automatic (her grandma's car) instead of a stick shift, which we have at home.

Eric and I woke up too early (7 am) after getting to bed after 2 am. The kids slept another for another hour.

We took it easy this morning and just enjoyed being with grandparents. Eric walked to Canadian Tire to get a few camping supplies, passing a Tim Horton's on the way. So Canadian.

After lunch, we drove 20 minutes to the town where Eric grew up in to see some cousins and swim in the community pool, which has a few small water slides. The air is dry here, and it's definitely cooler than France (high of maybe 24 C). This means that we're feeling cold a lot, compared to what we're used to! Zari and I were shivering in their air-conditioned apartment (set at 76F / 24.5 C), while one of Eric's sisters walked in and declared, "It's so HOT in here!"

Seriously, I HATE being too cold in the summer. I shouldn't need to put on any extra layers if I'm indoors with air conditioning. There's something really messed up about that. I finally put on long pants and a t-shirt with sleeves because I was just too cold.

Anyway, after swimming was Zari's first drive, then dinner, then playing games and pool with cousins. We are exhausted and ready for an early bedtime.
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After 29 hours of traveling--1 tram ride, 3 flights, 4 airports in 4 different countries, 3 security checks, and 1 long drive--we made it to southern Alberta! We are having a family reunion up in the Canadian Rockies and will be having a glorious week of camping and hiking.

I have slept maybe 8 hours in the past 3 nights combined. I am SO glad Eric was able to sleep more than me on the airplance because we had a 2.5 hour drive last night after all of the flights. I would have crashed the car within 10 minutes, I was so tired!
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Sunday, July 16, 2023

French apartment renovations, Day 697: T minus 29

Just 29 hours left until we will be locking up our apartment door and heading on a long voyage home. First top: family reunion in Canada. Next stop: family reunion in Nevada. Finally: back home, 2 days before school starts!

We did some deep-cleaning in the afternoon (fridge, pantry, kitchen drawers), watched two episodes of The Good Place, and met with some friends for a short swim. Dio, Inga, and I went a ways out. The water was extremely clear today.

As we came back to shore, we saw everyone standing on the beach, looking at the water but not going in. "We saw a jellyfish!" Ivy said. "It's light pink and hard to see." I was a bit skeptical at first, but soon after we saw two of them! An intrepid couple next to us took a plastic bag and caught both of them.

Inga didn't see anything while we were swimming so maybe we just had back luck to have two right in a row exactly where we were stationed.

Ivy has a friend sleeping over tonight. We're going to be suuuper tired on our departure day so what's a bit more sleep lost, right? We all watched a movie about some red water monster. What's it called?...oh yeah, The Sea Beast.

I was getting to know the controls on my camera today and snapped a quick picture of Dio as I was working on the settings. Il est beau, mon fils!

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Saturday, July 15, 2023

French apartment renovations, Day 696: Pont de la Cerise

I don't think we've gone on family hike/excursion yet (short of skiing) this year! We've done some with grandparents and a few kids, but not all together. We decided to remedy that, so we returned to Pont de la Cerise, a 30 minute hike down a canyon to a beautiful river and natural water slides/chutes. There's an old medieval bridge spanning one of the narrow gorges.

Here are a few pictures from today. The kids found some clay depsoits along the riverbank and enjoyed adorning themselves.

It's really late so the video will have to wait until tomorrow. But it was an idyllic day...well, at least until the hike back up, when we ran out of water and I had to help a very tired/grumpy/thirsty Ivy make it back up. We had lots of bickering in the car, which miraculously ended once we found a public water fountain and refilled all of our water bottles (about 15-20 minutes into the drive home).

A friend who we babysat for yesterday treated us out to ice cream tonight! She offered to pay the kids for their help, but I suggested paying them in ice cream instead. Zari said, "This is defintiely better than getting paid in money!" I had cacao sorbet and peach sorbet. I haven't gone out for ice cream in...years. I'm too frugal, to be honest, since one ice cream cone costs the same as a container of ice cream bought in a store (of course, they're not comparable!).

Eric mentioned that in our upcoming family reunion in Canada, the kids are going to be part of a huge group of cousins. He called it a "gang" and the kids thought it was awesome. So Inga drew Ivy a "cousin gang" tattoo.

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Friday, July 14, 2023

French apartment renovations, Day 695: Revisiting The Bad Place for nothing

The house still looks like a tornado went through it because the more we pack and clean, the messier it gets...until suddenly it looks great. We're definitely not at the "looking great" part yet.

All of us went running today--me before everyone else woke up, and the rest of the pack a bit later in the morning. Dio is now faster than Eric--and that's no small feat! Dio has an effortless stride that is insanely fast. I think he'd be amazing at cross country if he ever wanted to switch sports.

I am ashamed to admit it, but I had a convocation at the Prefecture so I went there today to pick up my own visa. When I go there on a surprisingly uncrowded tram, a man came up to me and asked when the Prefrecture would be open. I told him it's normally at 1 pm. And then...I had this sinking's Bastille Day. Of course! They are closed closed, not "lunchtime" closed.

(To my credit, I wasn't the only one who'd made the same mistake. The man I talked to had even looked up the hours on the website and it didn't say anything about being closed today.)

So back home I went. Gah.

We packed and cleaned and then watched A Quite Place. Eric had already seen it, so he went swimming.

I gave a Grand Rounds presentation to Aurora Sinai Medical Center in Milwaukee. Eric took the kids out, plus another kid we were babysitting, so I could have a quiet house for 2 hours.

Dinner was escargot (snails), broccoli, and what we call "breakfast burritos" (scramble an egg, throw a tortilla, wrap, or flat bread on top before it's cooked, flip over and put whatever other yummy things you like inside or on top).

We made the 3 youngest kids go back upstairs tonight to sleep. They've been down here for 2 nights, but that means very late bedtimes.
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Thursday, July 13, 2023

French apartment renovations, Day 694: The Bad Place

Imagine this...

You and your four children are "convoqués" (summoned) to go to La Préfecture, aka The Place Hopes and Dreams Go To Die, aka the regional administrative center that takes care of everything from visas to driver's licenses to immigration. This summons to pick up DCEM cards that allow the children to re-enter France if they leave the country.

On the way there, the tram stops en route. You hear an announcement that there has been an accident and that the tram will be delayed. This is repeated several times. Each time the announcement comes back on, more people get off. One of the announcements says that there was an accident with a scooter (probably an electric scooter) and that EMS is on the way.

You consider walking the rest of the way, but it's still 40 minutes on foot on a non-pedestrian-friendly route.

Finally the tram starts again.

You arrive at the Préfecture and there is a massive line--nothing new, but still depressing every time. Your children are tired and bored and bonus, they also feel sick and a bit nauseated! Yay!

After an hour and a half of shuffling up to the front of the line, you finally reach the guichet. You hand all of the required papers over to the woman on the other side of the bulletproof glass. You've carefully triple-checked that you have everything on the convocation (appointment papers). You do.

The woman asks, "Where are the old DCEM cards?"

"I didn't bring them because they expired several years ago and it didn't say to bring them. It says right here on the list what to bring and that wasn't on the list."

"But you should have known that you have to bring the old ones."

(Note: unlike your convocation for renewing your own visa, which DOES clearly state to bring the old ones, the kids' convocation never states that anywhere.)

You realize it's fruitless to keep pointing this out because after all, Guichet Lady has all the power. But the problem is that you must pick up these papers today because it's the last day they can be picked up before you leave.

She tells you that you can come back this afternoon with the required documents. of course, this means that you have to cancel at least one, maybe two, medical apppointments that your children have.

You leave the clerk's window and agree to let your children pick a few treats from the vending machines. You put in the coins, choose the number, and the spiral things untwist...and then get stuck. Your snack is stuck hanging over the edge but not quite falling down. You try rattling the machine. You try insering more money and choosing the same snack to nudge it down...but the machine now says "out of order." You try another snack: "out of order." You manage to get some other snacks and drinks but punch in the wrong number for one of the drinks and your oldest child is disappointed.

You ride the tram all the way back home--of course there are no seats available when you get on, even though it's the first stop on the line.

You eat a quick lunch, manage to sneak in one of the kid's medical appointments where you hear about all of the side effects of a proposed medication: dry skin, dry eyes, fragile skin, joint pain, cholesterol problems, depression, suicidal ideation. You and your child nope out on that medication.

You drive all the way back to the Préfecture (yes, you take the car this time becuase you'd rather spend 1 Euro on parking than 12 Euros on tram tickets). You get the darn cards--which ironically are just printed pieces of paper now that you can download and print from your government WHY are we going all the way there to pick them up in person?

You and your children agree: This is definitely The Bad Place.

(A photo from when we thought we were still in The Medium Place)


Fortunately, we escaped The Bad Place ended once we got back home a second time. Everyone but Zari went swimming. The wind and waves picked up just as we arrived, so the kids were loving it. Also no jellyfish.

Eric and I had another consultation with a different immigration lawyer who told us 100% opposite of what the first one said. Now we are doubly confused because aren't these supposed to be the experts? But they are saying contradicting things.

Zari had another MRI of her knee, just local this time instead of in Monaco.

Bastille Day fireworks went off tonight--since the terrorist attack, they have been held on the 13th instead of the 14th. Eric and Zari hopped out to see them once they had started. The rest of us saw a teeny bit by leaning our heads outside the window and looking over the rooftops.

(Also a photo of the 3 kids who are now sleeping in the living room)

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Wednesday, July 12, 2023

French apartment renovations, Day 693: Plum tart

A grand pleasure of the summer is when plums come ripe and we can make plum tarts.

It's very simple--take your crust of choice, put about 2 Tbsp of corn starch on the bottom, then lay out plums (halved and pitted, flesh side up) on the tart. Sprinkle with a few Tbsp of raw sugar and bake at 200 C / 400 F for about 40 minutes. You can sprinkle a bit more raw sugar on afterwards to taste. We all like it very tart with just a hint of crunchy raw sugar.

Eric and I had a few errands to run in the morning: first, pay the piano refinisher a deposit; next, find a new latch mechanism for Le Chateau because the one we had was sticking; third, buy groceries. We told the kids to exercise while we were gone.

After lunch I worked on putting up the wood plaques that will go behind the light fixtures. We also did some more packing and organizing.

Zari came down with a fever this afternoon and spent hours sleeping on the couch.

It's super hot up in the attic bedroom. Close to 11 pm, the kids all came down and said they were all too hot to sleep. I mean, I don't blame them--it's probably over 32 C (90 F) in their bedroom!

We brought down pillows and sheets and mattresses so they could sleep in the living room. Inga is on the day bed, Dio is on a twin mattress on the floor, and Ivy is on the sleeper sofa. I think we might have to use this arrangement for the rest of our stay.

Zari's room is on the main level so it's not quite as hot as the attic bedroom.
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Tuesday, July 11, 2023

French apartment renovations, Day 692: A refreshing 26.5 C!

Another morning waking up at 6 am. It would be ok if I were going to bed at 10 pm...but I'm not! I took advantage of the early wakeup to head to the tramway ticket office. There's only one physical office in all of Nice, and they've just changed their rules and pricing, which means that lines are very long. We now all have tram cards with our names and photos.

We went the kids out again in the morning. They went to the coulee verte and did some soccer juggling but also did a lot of sitting and talking.

I did lots of putzy stuff in Le Chateau: installed the toe kicks under the kitchen cabinets, drilled the holes in all 12 of the wood plaques that will go behind the light fixtures, mounted a few of the plaques onto the electrical boxes. Ivy and Inga were my "helpers" in the afternoon.

Zari and Dio helped Eric clean more of the walls and do lots of paint touch-ups.

Eric and I had a quick swim late in the afternoon. Ahhh...I'm going to miss being able to walk to the beach.

Our AC guy finally came and got 1 of the 4 units working, the one in our living room. We are at a very comfortable 26.5 C (80 F) instead of 30-32 C! Even that little bit makes an immense difference, I have to admit. During dinner, Zari said, "I'm too cold! Turn the temperature up a little!"
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Monday, July 10, 2023

French apartment renovations, Day 691: Too tired, too hot

15,295 steps

I've been sleeping poorly, waking up between 4am-6am this past week. I don't know if it's the heat or the noise or something else. But it's annoying.

I made myself stay in bed until 8 am and then I stumbled out and forced myself to go running. This was not a day that I particularly enjoyed it--sooooo hot--but at least I got myself moving. I jumped into the sea at the end of the run and had fun watching a man and his dog throwing a small ball far out onto the water and then both swimming after it.

I miss having a dog. Every day of their existince is sheer joy at simple things. Maybe if we settle in one place, we could get one. But for now, we simply can't.

Another heat wave today, high of 32 C. I ddin't get to cool off in the late afternoon like I usually do. I don't like too much air conditioning and I hate being cold in the summer...but I have to admit, just a touch would be heavenly right now!

We sent the kids out in the morning to play soccer or do whatevery else they wanted outside. Eric went for a run and then for a swim. I had several household items to buy at Carrefour TNL.

We did more deep cleaning in the afternoon, scrubbing down walls with Magic Erasers. We watched several more episodes of The Good Place.

Eric went spearfishing in the afternoon and came home with a giant dorade!
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Sunday, July 09, 2023

French apartment renovations, Day 690: Jellyfish bonanza

What would we do without our late afternoon swims? It gives us a short relief from the heat. Once we're back home, the sun is low enough that we can open our shutters and start ventilating the house again. When it's over 30 C, we have to close up the house in the morning. It's just too hot to keep the windows open all day.

Eric took Ivy and Inga out on a swim with fins, masks, and snorkels. They spotted several jellyfish, which spooked Ivy enough that she didn't want to be far out any more. I had the foresight to bring a net, so Ivy and I looked for jellyfish close to shore. No luck.

Eric and Inga came back to borrow the net, and they came home with a load full!

I had a 2-hour webinar this evening, translated into Italian, about breech birth. It was really fun and I hope it leads to more breech re-skilling in Italy.
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Saturday, July 08, 2023

French apartment renovations, Day 698: Canicule (heat wave)

It's HOT!! A high of 91.4 F today (33 C). It doesn't cool off that much at night, either, especially in an apartment without cross-ventilation. It's almost 11 pm and it's still 29 C! Our two front windows are the only ones that open directly to the exterior. All of the bedroom and bathroom windows open into stairwells that are open-air in some form but are 5-6 stories tall with the open part at the very top.

We sent the girls outside this morning with instructions not to come back until lunchtime. Eric and I tackled the two storage closets in the common area of our apartment building. Over the years, they had become filled with all sorts of stuff, much of which doesn't currently belong to anyone living her! So we cleaned it all out, asked our neighbor what was theirs, and got rid of the rest. We decluttered by about 75% (including a recently dead rat, ugh).

We had a lovely jellyfish-free swim this afternoon with everyone but Dio. He was gone all day at a friend's birthday party, and he got hours of swimming in.

I made a "what is in the cupboard?" meal--risotto with onions, zucchini, ground pork, parmesan, and sushi rice instead of arborio rice. It worked well.

We have a renter for Le Chateau--she just moved in today! She's doing an internship in Moncao and might stay for just a few months, but the option is open for her to stay until we come back in December. I did a few little things for the apartment (putting up a curtain rod and a towel hook, getting her AC temporarily running until the AC technician comes back on Tuesday).
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Friday, July 07, 2023

French apartment renovations, Day 697: Deep cleaning, jellyfish stinging, school ending

Eric is finally done with the writer's retreat! He helped one of the attendees get onto the tram this morning but otherwise his duties finished last night. He found a really cool pair of sunglasses a few days ago (at the bottom of the sea, of course) and gave them to one of the attendees. They were very bold and looked amazing on her. And they retail for something like $150!

He went for a morning swim and got the worst jellyfish sting of his life. He saw a lot of them while swimming and thought he could avoid them all...but no!

The kids helped me deep clean our bedroom. The reward was more episodes of The Good Place.

Ivy had her last day of school. Now it's "vuh-cation," as she pronounces it.

I finished painting these wood plaques that will go behind most of our light fixtures. I needed some sort of interface because they are all old enough that they don't fit onto modern electrical boxes.

The wood ones are going to be for underneath the piano legs. I'm not a fan of the pine look, so I think I will paint them black to match the piano.

Zari took a big step today--she listed her hair for sale! She has at least 36" (92 cm) of hair plus enough left over to still put into a ponytail. I think it's an excellent idea to turn her dead protein into a college fund!
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Thursday, July 06, 2023

French apartment renovations, Day 696: Clean teeth

Four of us got our teeth checked at the dentist. Inga had a "micro cavity" that was just starting on one of the smooth surfaces of her teeth--an unusual thing because they usually form in cracks. She got it filled to prevent it from enlarging. Otherwise all is good. Dio won't need braces. Ivy will for sure in a few more years. Inga...maybe. Eric was gone all day helping with the James Baldwin writer's group. He gave a presentation in Le Chateau with the group of writers, then they spent the day in St. Paul de Vence. They even got a brief tour of the property where James Baldwin used to live (now a luxury apartment complex...sad).

While Ivy was at school, I had the other kids deep clean Zari's room and bathroom. Then they got to watch a few episodes of The Good Place.

I took everyone but Dio to the beach after school. I saw a jellyfish when I was a way off shore, and the girls saw one near the shore right as they were getting out. A few minutes later, a little girl who had been playing nearby started shrieking. We were already up on the Promenade des Anglais and it was LOUD!!! Poor girl. Getting stung is no fun. The ones here aren't dangerous; they just hurt a lot. I've only been stung once and it's a cross between an electric shock and a really bad burn that hits all at once.

Dinner was spicy crab sushi.

I worked on sanding, priming, and painting wood plaques that will go behind most of our light fixtures, plus 3 plaques that will be stained and varnished to go underneath the piano legs.

Good news--my visa was renewed and is ready to pick up. And the kid's DCEM cards (necessary for re-entering the country) are also ready to pick up. The original pickup date for the kids' cards was July 27, which is 9 days after we leave! I wrote to the Prefecture asking for an earlier date and explaining our situation (we are leaving for a family reunion to Canada, etc) and they actually did something nice and accommodated our request!
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Wednesday, July 05, 2023

French apartment renovations, Day 695: Sleepover, more friends, writer's conference

Inga had a friend sleep over last night. They wanted pancakes for breakfast, but Eric and I had to return the air compressor and it turned into a long trip by time we made the trip there and back, dropped off some things at the dechetterie, and gassed up the car. So we made pancakes for lunch!

Right when Inga's friend was leaving, another of her friends came to play for the afternoon. They brought Ivy with them up to the chateau, then played card games once htey came back home.

Zari, Dio, and I took a trip to two different bookstores to buy her a new journal. After much deliberation, she chose a Gustav Klimt journal.

I did lots of breech video editing--a new version of our Spanish breech course.

Eric was busy most of the afternoon and evening, helping out with a writer's conference sponsored by La Maison Baldwin, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the work and honoring the life of James Baldwin. We're hosting a few of the writers in Le Chateau.

After dinner, we all (minus Eric) watched "The Good Place." The kids are really enjoying it so far--we had time to watch 3 episodes since they are very short. Years back, Eric and I watched the first season or two and then stopped.

I'm currently reading several books simultaneously. I'm nearly finished with Spare and am working my way through When The Body Says No by Gabor Mate and Prey: Immigration, Islam, and the Erosion of Women's Rights by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I don't usually read multiple books at once but somehow I ended up with several in process.
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Tuesday, July 04, 2023

French apartment renovations, Day 694: Gabarit de perçage (boo), piano (yay)

I spent so many hours with so many various technicians and customer serve representatives, trying to track down a missing gabarit de perçage (template) for our washing machine. It's meant to have a cupboard door mounted on the front to hide the washing machine (called "encastrable"). They do this a lot over here becuase I guess they don't like seeing kitchen appliances in their kitchens?

Anyway every other encastrable applicance we've bought has always come with a template for where to drill the holes for the hinges and other hardware. This one was supposed to have a template--the installation instructions even refer to it multiple times--but it was not included.

I spent so many hours trying to figure out how I could get this missing many people, none of them knew what to do or kept telling me that the template would be sold with the cupboard door (no--because you can attach any door to this--the template is specific to the appliance!). I got shuttled back and forth between the manufacturer and the store I bought it at.

Hours later I had a product number for buying a new template.

I went onto the manufacturer's website, found the template, and added it to my cart. I hit checkout....and got a message that they were out of stock!

So I called the manufacturer back and explained the whole situation again and that it was not showing up as out of stock. She searched high and low and couldn't find any way to buy it anywhere, not even to download it. "But your company makes it! Why can't you figure out a way to make the template accessible? Otherwise I can't use my washing machine as it was sold to be used!" She agreed that it didn't make sense but that she couldn't do anything else.

I found one third-party company selling the template (for more money, of course) and bought it.

Then I got an email after the puchase was confirmed: "We're sorry; this product is out of stock and may be delayed."


Inga has a friend over for a sleepover. They watched I Am Legend (dubbed in French, which was very bizarre, because Will Smith had a voice that didn't fit at all).

Ivy had a friend over after school, and she ended up eating dinner with us. We had to remove many of the food items that she doesn't eat: cheese, tomatoes, olives...For our own kids, they just get whatever we make and that's it. They aren't forced to eat anything--although it's rare they don't--but we also don't offer them anything different.

Eric and I had a consult with an immigration attorney about both our own situation and about Zari, since she has to have her own visa etc as soon as she is 18. It's looking like we will probably have to hire an attorney. In theory, you should be able to do it youself...but in reality, there are so many unwritten rules and processes unknown to the general public that the likelihood of succeeding without legal repreosentation goes down. And that's so frustrating because it means that people with money and privilege have a greater chance within the immigration than people without means. We can find the funds if we need to (especially considering that the long-term costs will equal out due to not having to pay lots of money every year just for renewal fees)...but what about all those who can't? I hate systems that are rigged to favor those with money.

Today was piano moving day from the previous owners to the refinishing place. Eric went along to meet both the moving company and the refinishing person. He said that the piano transfer was an emotional experience for the seller--her mother, who was a pianist, bought it when the seller was a child so it is something that has been part of her life for over half a century. The couple selling the piano want to go out to dinner with us and see the piano once it's refinished and installed in the apartment. Such a sweet, poignant story and we are glad to be the custodians of something that was so important to the last family.
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Monday, July 03, 2023

French apartment renovations, Day 693: Slow going in Le Chateau

I worked on fiddly things that took way too much time, in particular the facade doors for the dishwasher and the washing machine. I had to redo the dishwasher door mount 3 times--so frustrating. And we're missing the hole template for the washing machine so we couldn't get that done.

We put up the crown molding on top of the cabinets. A nice finishing touch.

I rewired a few of the antique light fixtures. I was going to pull new wires, but I couldn't get them to move and didn't want to risk only getting them halfway in or halfway out. So I just changed the bulb sockets.

Quick swim in the late afternoon with Ivy, one of her friends, and Inga. Eric went treasure hunting and came back with loads of water shoes, snorkel masks, and fins.

Dinner was chicken noodle soup made from leftover chicken and bone broth. And, gasp!, a cake mix that our friend gave us. I don't think I've ever even bought a cake mix in my entire life! I do have fond memories of making cake mixes when I was a child, though. This cake mix was one step above the dry boxed mixes--all you do is open the pouch and pour the batter into a pan. (Shaking my head.) But the cake was decent and not overly sweet like American cakes.

We watched a movie tonight and let the younger girls stay up a bit too late...but school is almost done!
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Sunday, July 02, 2023

French apartment renovations, Day 692: Pizza & swim in Menton

We were invited to a friend's house for pizza and swimming in Menton. We usually go there at least once a year. They live in a steep valley a few blocks away from the old town, and the view is unparalleled.

We came home and watched a movie (Nimona). It was ok but felt cliche and predictable.

Also a video of yesterday in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. The last bit is Eric following an octopus as it changes color and texture at least 4 times.

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Saturday, July 01, 2023

French apartment renovations, Day 691: Secluded beach, Cavigal party, end of Stranger Things

Finally, we had a free Saturday where we could go somewhere as a family. We went to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and hiked around the cap to a secluded beach. Not secluded enough to be totally alone...but that's hard to find where we live!

We spent a few hours there before we had to head home to get ready for an end-of-year party at Cavigal. They played several friendly matches with parents and siblings included, then had some snacks. Since Zari and Dio are both injured, we stayed and watched for about 15 minutes, then the three of us went home, picking up a big load of groceries on the way.

To finish our day off, we watched the last episode of Season 4 of Stranger Things, not realizing it was 2 1/2 hours long! Oops. Late bedtime for the kids.

I'll edit videos tomorrow. Bonne nuit!
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