Sunday, July 25, 2010

It just gets better and better

Aaaaaaah. Every time we take a carload of boxes over to the new place, I love it more and more. It has so much potential and it's going to be a pleasure to make it ours.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, everything is falling apart. I guess you could say that Reason 11 that I can't wait to leave this apartment is the electricity problems. I've never been able to run two major appliances at the same time (making laundry, already a much longer chore than it should be, even longer) and I can't even set the iron at the hottest settings because it shorts out the electricity. It has gotten progressively worse and worse upstairs until a couple of days ago the electricity started shorting out with just the washer or dryer running and when Stéphane unplugged them from the wall, the outlet was radiating heat. So, no more laundry until we've moved. We don't have an automat here in Tiny Town but there is a laundry service so if I get really desperate I may have to pay someone to wash my clothes.

Also, the Big Green Monster in our living room, a.k.a. the ancient futon couch, has finally given up the ghost. Not only is the cover all ripped up (which started right after I took it to be washed, of course) but the folding mechanism is broken and doesn't sit right on the base. It wasn't in the budget but I think we're going to take the money we were planning on using to go camping for a few days after the move and replace the couch instead. As much as it would be nice to take a mini-break after all the stress of buying and moving, I think I'd rather keep my butt off the floor and it's time for this poor old clic-clac to be put out of its misery.

Everything else seems to be going smoothly (I've just jinxed myself, haven't I?). We're taking a break from packing today to go to a horse show (hopefully photos will be taken!) and tomorrow we'll run to Troyes to buy more boxes. One more week and we're outta here!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Vivi becomes a homeowner

Well, it's done. The papers are signed, we have the keys. Last Friday, we jumped off off the seemingly never-ending rent cycle and into the world of home-ownership. It was an emotional moment for both us: for Stéphane, because his parents never owned their own home, for me because I've passed another milestone I can't share with my parents.

Of course, all this warm fuzziness quickly fizzled when we went to the apartment alone for the first time and as Stéphane attempted to open the water main, the faucet came off in his hand (worry not, it is blocked shut, which is much better than the alternative!). So we've added 'Call the Plumber' to the very long To Do list. We have two weeks before we move, and we've decided to start moving things over already, specifically on the days that we don't have anything else planned. About half of our books have made it over and are piled up in front of windows (in order to conserve boxes we're unloading as we go).

On our last trip we met our upstairs neighbor. I'm extremely happy to report that she is very kind and chatty and in five minutes spoke to us more than the majority of our neighbors in our current lane have in the last five years. She also assured us that it's calm and quiet, which is great news as our present neighbors are getting worse as time goes on.

Of course, in the middle of all this action, I have to go and catch a summer cold. I am officially in hell - it's hot again, I've got a head cold, and we have a metric ton of stuff to do and every day we're not doing sometime towards the move I feel like we're falling behind. Even so, I'm glad we managed to get away yesterday to the lake, just before my cold really bloomed, as Fry had an amazing time playing on the "beach" (the Floridian in me shudders to call it a beach but I digress) and loved playing with our friends' kids and swimming with Papa. Now I just need to find a balance between resting and packing as we have less than two weeks to blow this pop stand!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Surviving the heat

As we're on the brink of another heatwave I thought I'd write about what we do to try to stay cool. I've had quite a few comments by stunned friends and family about why we don't see air conditioning in France, as if we were some poor third world country. The simple truth that some people don't want to hear is that up until about ten years ago it only very rarely reached temperatures over 80°F in Northern France! Yes, climate change is real my friends, I am living it! Even when the temps did get over 80°, many French houses are built to withstand the heat, but not all of us are so lucky to have a heat-resistant house. So why aren't people people rushing to add a/c to their homes? Probably because it's awfully hard to run vents through concrete walls. Wooden houses are extremely rare, considered a new-fangled "green" construction method.

I'm sure I'm going to miss a few things but if you live without air conditioning and have some tips for keeping cool, please do share them in the comments!

  • Shutter control. Opening the windows and shutters after the sun sets lets the cooler air in, and closing the shutters and windows when the sunlight falls directly on them help keeps the air cool inside. We have minimum success with this for two reasons: we live in a townhouse and the second floor is directly under the roof and has no insulation, and all of our windows are on the side of the house that faces due west, so we get full sun hitting our windows from 3pm until 7pm, and we have to close all of our windows, trapping in the hot air. We still do the shutter thing, it just doesn't help as much as in traditional stone houses or houses with windows on more than one side.
  • Summer menu. This is the time of year to make all your favorite cold summer dishes! Pasta salads, rice salads, fresh veggies and dip, cold cuts and charcuterie, fruits and seafood, and don't forget the ice, popsicles and ice cream!
  • Cook early. The only problem with the pasta and rice salads is that you have to turn on the stove to prepare them! This is a challenge for us and our open plan kitchen/living room. When I have a salad planned, I cook the pasta, rice, chicken, and whatever else needs doing as early as possible while it's still a bit cooler. Even with getting Fry his breakfast and settled for the morning I can manage to get things cooked by 9am. Plus this way I'm sure that it will have cooled down and ready to eat by lunch!
  • Cook outside. Obviously this is the best way to cook in the summer but we don't have this option, unfortunately! Of course it's barbecue time so if you have the means, fire up the grill! What a great way to keep the heat out of the house!
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Do everything you can to keep the fluids going! I've gotten lazy about drinking water myself and have suffered with horrible headaches. We take extra care with Fry to offer him water at every opportunity as he often doesn't realize he's thirsty and is still too young to ask. When it's really hot, we make sure to throw drinks in the fridge, and the best tip I've gotten from a good friend was to sweeten and chill drinks with some frozen fruit!
  • Take a shower. When you just can't stand the heat, jump in the shower for a nice break. Some say that a hot shower is the way to beat the heat, but for me, there's nothing better during a heatwave than a nice cold shower for temporary relief!
  • Get out of the house! When the house starts trapping hot air (usually three or four days into a heatwave) it can be truly miserable at our place in the afternoons. Very often we find relief by getting out of the house and finding a shady spot outside! Whether it's a short walk by the river or a visit to the park, we very often are grateful for the fresh air and the excuse to get out of the house until the sun starts to set.

Unfortunately, even with all these tips, our house was still miserable last week, with the upstairs reaching temperatures of 35°C (95°F) and staying there through the night, forcing us to set up Fry's pack-n-play downstairs where it is a little cooler. The good news is that we at least have a closing date for the new apartment and should be in the new place for August! Until then, we're doing the best we can!

Friday, July 02, 2010

twenty months

Oh, my big boy is getting older! I am very happy to announce we finally have a first word (after mama and papa) and to be honest I'm surprised that it is "merci!" The truth is, I always say "thank you" when I give him something and maybe half the time follow up with a "merci," Stéphane isn't really good about saying it consistently, but given the choice "merci" is certainly easier to say! He doesn't say it every time, and it comes out more like "uh-ci," but this is common for French babies anyway.

Fry continues to be at the top of the height and weight charts and is very often as tall as or taller than boys that are six months to a year older than he is. He still loves music more than anything and will literally stop in his tracks when he hears it, and now will often dance along. Last week he went swimming for the first time (finally!!) and he totally loved it! We can't wait to do it again.

For the most part, Fry still eats everything we give him, except lettuce (a bit confused by the leaves, I think!) and is starting to turn his nose up at veggies, but we keep plugging along. Nothing makes him happier than a little bit of time with Old School Sesame Street and really starting to interact with the show.

Lest you think my sweet boy is perfect, we're definitely starting to see the beginnings of "terrible twos" with plenty of tantrums and purposefully doing things he knows are off limits. The testing will continue and we'll try to cut him off at the pass as much as we can!

Thursday, July 01, 2010

an update and a recipe

So things are slowly moving along with the apartment. The papers for the loan and been sent back and we have an appointment with an electrician next Thursday evening at the apartment. It is looking very likely that we won't get the electricity done before we move in, but luckily it's not dangerous and simply needs to be updated. My MIL recently had her electricity updated (she's lived in the same apartment for 30 years!) and it was just a few days on inconvenience, so we'll hope for the same.

In the meantime, I'll be taking photos and measurements while the menfolk talk electricity. I also would have liked to have had a new kitchen before we move in, but that's not looking too good either. The good news is that I've convinced Stéphane to take a day trip to IKEA after so many excellent recommendations on their kitchens, so we'll do that one day after I have the necessary measurements in hand. We still don't have a closing date but hopefully we'll know in the next few days.

It has been insanely hot here in the Land That Air Conditioning Forgot and that's making us even more anxious to move. If we close in the next couple of weeks we may even take the opportunity to move straight away since we won't be able to get any work done before the beginning of August anyway. Last night Fry's room hit 90°F and we ended up setting up the pack-n-play downstairs, where it is a bit cooler. Of course, we'd been planing to move at the beginning of August so of course nothing's been done; I'll be starting the sorting as early as Saturday, as tomorrow is Stéphane's last day of school.

I plan on doing another post about surviving the heat very soon, but first I'd like to post this recipe for homemade Catalina salad dressing. One of the ways we keep cool is to eat plenty of pasta and rice salads and keep the cooking to a minimum and as early as possible. Catalina dressing can't be found here and while I find it too tangy for a regular salad, I love it on my taco pasta salad. Here's a recipe you can make at home that is really simple and leaves out that extra HFCS.

Homemade Catalina Dressing

1/8 cup vinegar
1/4 cup catsup
1/2 onion, chopped
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup salad oil (I use Colza)
salt & pepper to taste

Combine ingredients and blend with a hand mixer. Makes half a pint. Store in the fridge and add to your favorite salads!