Thursday, January 22, 2015

We're at it again

So the reason for the radio silence over guessed it...the Freeze family once again has started major renovations and our house is turned upside-down and we have plaster dust and cement and sawdust all over the house.

Just as we were wrapping up the mezzanine & new shower in our bedroom, Eric decided to make a big push to get the other bathroom redone. That meant hiring someone to open up the wall between the bathroom and adjoining bedroom in order to get the new bathtub inside. (Remember that it was too big to fit through the bathroom door?)

Opening up a wall in a 500-600 year old building in France is different than opening up a wall in North America. I'm used to the simple logic of studs + drywall or, in an older house, studs + plaster & lath. Here, interior walls are composed of a complex sandwich of plaster, cement, random pieces of wood in no logical pattern, and earth. Yes, earth as in dirt. It's a mess when you start taking it apart.

So the new craziness began one week before we had guests arriving. We had to get the wall opened up, the old tile taken out, the plumbing redone, and the new tub installed--all in the week before our guests arrived.

To top it off, we had never met our guests before. I was really stressed trying to prepare the house for people I didn't know.

Why were we inviting virtual strangers into our house?

Because we discovered HelpX ( It's a work exchange service that connects hosts with people who are willing to work in exchange for food and lodging. Helpers might lend a hand with the wine harvest, help build a garage or a shed, repaint a house, serve meals at a B&B...really, it could be anything the host is looking for.

Thanks to HelpX, we connected with a lovely couple from Bretagne (Brittany) who were eager to come to Nice and help work on our projects. He (let's call him Jean) is recently retired and is highly skilled with anything related to home renovations. She (we'll call her Hala) a fantastic cook and seamstress, born in Tunisia and living in France since her teens.

We squeaked by and got the tub in and running the day they arrived. Here are some photos of the devastation--thanks to lots of help from two sets of Mormon missionaries. They had a blast wielding hammers and chisels and destroying stuff.

Here's the hole in the wall that has since become a doorway into the bedroom

This is where the sink & bathtub were

Once we saw the state of the old plumbing, we agreed that it needed to be redone. Off Eric went to the plumbing didn't take too long, except we discovered leaks in a few fittings that had to be replaced the next day.

Our guests arrived on Monday and stayed in the (mostly finished) master bedroom. I was up late on Sunday putting on the final coat of paint on the mezzanine, scrubbing plaster dust off the floors, and stripping paint off the door frame to get the door to close properly. I feel a bit sheepish that we didn't have a sink installed; we are all sharing the kitchen sink for toothbrushing. We pulled out one of our old pedestal sinks this evening and will hook it up temporarily in their bedroom until we find a new one.

Anyway, we are super impressed with HelpX and with our guests. We just hope they aren't too disturbed living amidst renovations and four energetic children! We've shared lots of delicious meals, showed each other pictures of our houses, talked politics and social policy, and of course worked together.

Eric says the guy knows his stuff. In just 3 1/2 days of working half-days, he and Eric have secured the new plumbing in place; cut channels in the walls and ceilings and rewired the bathroom to have a ceiling light, a ventilation fan, a heated towel rack, and a few extra outlets; hooked up the bathtub drain (it's where all the Freezes bathe and shower, so it has to be functional during all of the renovations!); applied plaster board to the two big walls that will be retiled, and plastered over all of the wiring. Tomorrow they lay the tile! It's amazing progress.

While Eric and Jean were working in the bathroom, Hala and I have been cooking and sewing. She's helping me sew a mountain of decorative cushions for our couch, daybed, and for most of the bedrooms.

We're lending our guests our car tomorrow afternoon and evening so they can visit friends in Cannes. Jean lived in Nice for 6 years in the 1990s and has friends and family in the area. They leave in one week from now, and I am excited to imagine all the things we'll get done in the next 6 days.

It's definitely been an adventure at our house. 
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Saturday, January 10, 2015

How the Freeze family goes skiing

Warning: lots of vomit ahead

We haven't lived near any good ski hills--or near any ski hills, really--for almost 15 years. Eric is a native of southern Alberta and lived an hour away from the majestic Canadian Rockies. He grew up skiing in the mountains near Waterton and Banff National Parks. My own ski history is less exotic; I learned how to ski on 300-foot tall bluffs overlooking the Mississippi river in Minnesota. I joke that I can ski on anything because I learned how to ski in the dark, in subzero temperatures, and on sheer ice. My parents always took us night skiing because it was less expensive. I don't think I ever skied during the day until I was around 16 and went to Alta in Utah.

Anyway, we've been gearing up for ski season here in France. We found secondhand equipment for Eric, Zari, and Dio. I'm going to wait until Inga and Ivy are a bit older before I try to go. We ended up buying a used car two days ago (very long story...more on this later) so we all drove up to Isola 2000 this morning.

The road to Isola is narrow and winding. An hour into the drive, Inga said she felt sick. I tossed her one of Ivy's diapers and told her to puke into it. Nothing happened. A few minutes later, Zari said abruptly, "I need a diaper--I'm going to puke!" By time I tossed her the other spare diaper, ALL FOUR KIDS had vomited all over our new car. All over.

We pulled over as soon as there was a shoulder to stop on and assessed the damage. I had no more diapers. I had no wipes, no paper towels, nothing. The kids were covered in puke, as were their seats, the sides of the car, and the floor.

So we kept on driving. Well, first I yelled at all of the kids. Then we kept on driving, all four kids crying, because what else could we do but drive? We didn't even pass a single gas station the rest of the way, although Eric found a tiny grocery store and bought a diapers and baby wipes. A few minutes before we arrived at the ski resort, we pulled over and cleaned everything up as best as possible with one package of baby wipes. 

The puke-o-rama set us back enough that we bought half-day passes and ate lunch before skiing. It was gorgeously warm. Being in the sun felt like sunbathing. What a novelty! I pulled Ivy and Inga around in a sled, and we cheered Zari and Dio on as they both learned how to ski. Within a few minutes, Zari had figured out how to turn and stop with no coaching at all. Dio took a bit longer but could ski all on his own by the end of the afternoon. Ivy and Inga ate loads of snow.

After about two hours on the slopes, I brought Ivy and Inga inside to dry off their feet and warm up their hands. Isola doesn't have a big ski lodge like I'm used to in the US and Canada. There's just a little ticket booth with restrooms. And of course, tons of condominiums with little shops on the bottom. We wandered around in the hallways between the shops and eventually sat down on the floor--there weren't benches or chairs anywhere!

I put on an Astérix movie on my laptop for Inga, and Ivy fell asleep nursing. I set her down on the floor for her nap. The sun was behind the mountains by time Ivy woke up, and it was getting chilly. (Okay, it was still 4 degrees Celsius when we left, so maybe I'm just getting wimpy!) Dio joined me at the end of the afternoon and scarfed down baguettes, goat cheese, and smoked ham. He wanted to go out skiing again, but Eric and Zari had gone to a different hill, so we didn't see them until the lifts were closing. We had a fun time at the end sliding down some little hills on our feet and on the sled. Dio would have stayed out all night.

We left Isola at 5:30 pm. I scavenged three cardboard food containers from the garbage to serve as makeshift puke buckets. We played "I spy" and rolled the windows down when anyone felt queasy. I gripped my door handle as Eric navigated the tortuous roads in the dark. Ivy threw up twice--in the container! after saying "puke"! hooray!--but everyone else made it home by 7:30 pm with their food still in their stomachs.

Dinner was hot chocolate, baguettes dipped in raclette (melted cheese, white wine, & cream), and broccoli. I put a big load of laundry on and bathed Ivy and Inga.

(Then, of course, there were home renovations to take care of after the kids were in bed. I sanded down the first layer of varnish on the mezzanine floor and applied the second coat. But that's another topic.)

That, my friends, is how the Freeze family goes skiing.

Next task: de-toxing our car.

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Thursday, January 08, 2015

A request and some interesting things to read

First off, a blog reader is looking for a home birth midwife in Cochabamba, Bolivia. If you have any suggestions, please comment or send me an email. She's 7 months pregnant, so she needs your help quickly!


 Now for your enjoyment:

1. School lunches around the world (in pictures...note the difference between France and the U.S.)

2. What Ruth Bader Ginsburg taught me about being a stay-at-home dad

3. Pregnant doctor finds intense pressure to have a cesarean
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Sunday, January 04, 2015

Ivy is 21 months old!

21 months, that's 1 3/4 years, which is almost 2. And that gets me started on the slippery slope to 3, and then 4, and then 8, and then...

Ivy is displaying her independence and wishes to try everything her older siblings do.

Ivy often speaks in 2-word combinations, often an adjective + noun.
mama's chaussures (shoes)
papa's apple
my socks
big ball

Sometimes she uses "my" as a substitute for "I"
my draw
my walk

My favorite thing she's said recently: "orca whale." She loves to sing the Orca Whale song.

Her favorite word: encore (more/again). Voila is also high on her list. Also "underwear," which she loves to put on. She speaks lots of French, almost as much as English.

The most startling thing out of her mouth happened today: she was standing up in her high chair saying what sounded like château blanc very emphatically. The blanc was drawn out a bit like bllllanc. I kept asking her questions trying to figure out what she wanted. No, she kept saying château blanc very insistently. We finally figured it out--she was asking to watch the movie Le Château Ambulant (Howl's Moving Castle) by Miyazaki!

She loves to draw. First thing in the morning, even before she eats, she says "Draw. My draw."

We're working on pottying. Peeing is going well, but she's started to hold her poop in, which makes her constipated and even more scared to poop. I have to force her into a squatting position over the toilet. She screams and fights me, but it helps her go. Poor girl. I've tried to sneak chewable magnesium sulfate tablets in various foods, but she has an uncanny radar for them. I've crushed them and stirred them into sorbet, put little fragments inside frozen raspberries, mixed the powder into fruit juice, etc. And the thing is, they taste good! The other kids beg to eat them.

Sleep: still waking 1-3 times a night. She is the trickiest of all our kids both getting to sleep and staying asleep.

She love to nurse. She also gets very upset if I tell her no. Sometimes I have when it's 50 degrees and windy and I don't want to open up my coat.

Ivy has a stubborn streak (nothing news-worthy, just typical of her age & development). I can't make her do something if she refuses; I can only distract her or wait until the tantrum is over.

ps--I spent New Year's Day sanding the wood beams that support the mezzanine in the master bedroom. Do you like my makeshift dust mask? 1 layer of fleece + 1 layer of linen.

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