Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas presents!

Last year we hosted Christmas, and the kids all dove in to their presents after Christmas dinner. It was utter and total chaos, and we didn't get to see anyone open their gifts because it was such pandemonium. Benjamin was more than a little overwhelmed, and didn't really understand about opening presents, so we ended up saving some of his gifts for the next day.

This year, we spent Christmas all on our own, and Benjamin has figured out what presents are all about! He knows how to open them but happily for us, only opens the ones we give to him, not the other ones under the tree (we're still waiting to see our nephews and nieces).

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas tradition: the yule log

Every year for our Christmas dinner, Frederic makes a yule log. It's similar to a jelly roll but with chocolate instead of jelly. This year Benjamin "helped" him make it:

Licking the spoon
Yum, chocolate
Putting on the finishing touches

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Circus

Saturday we went to the circus; that was Air France's Christmas gift to employees with children. (They don't give anything to employees without children, which doesn't seem very fair.)

It took close to 2 hours to get there, because it was in Paris and traffic was as it always is in Paris.

Benjamin was terrified of the camels, but calmed down after they left the ring. We were up in the nosebleed section, as you may be able to tell from the photos.

Frederic and I decided this is probably our one and only trip to the circus as a family - somehow the performers didn't seem to notice that the arena was round, so only those seated straight in front of the circle got to see anything directly; several times we were left guessing what was happening since we could only see from the side. Also, the benches were far from comfortable, and there were just so many people. The longer we live out here in our sparsely populated village, the more I like it. I love not having to see thousands of people every day, or deal with traffic. People sometimes ask "how I do it" when they find out I work from home and don't leave the house very often - I wonder the same about them. How on earth do they manage to deal with seeing so many people on a daily basis and fighting the crowds in public transportation? Yuck.

Anyway... here are a few pictures.
Camels and horses
Alisa and Benjamin
Frederic and Benjamin
We actually ended up leaving before the end. The show didn't start until almost 6 pm, which is normally Benjamin's bedtime, and of course he didn't take a nap that day. So by the time we left, close to 8, he was exhausted and ready for bed.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Benjamin is 2 today!

Two years ago today, we were in the hospital meeting this little boy (whose head was so big his little newborn hat wouldn't stay on):

Today, he turned two! We celebrated his birthday last night with Frederic's coworker and his family. Benjamin enjoyed his presents but didn't want to eat any cake.

I'm not quite sure where the time has gone.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Village Santa Claus

We're not that "into" Santa Claus in our house, but our village has so many activities going on all the time that we thought we should probably participate from time to time. We thought this would be a good one to start with so we could get an idea of how many other children live in the village (I think about 20 showed up) and whether there were any others around his age (possibly 2 within about 6 months either way).

So we drove down to the municipal building yesterday. It's only about a 10 minute walk from our house, but it was cold out! We stood around like people who don't know anyone, since that is what we are, and waited. Once everyone had arrived, a few of the "comité des fêtes" (party committee, the people who organize all the village events) members read a story to the kids. Then they sang a Christmas song ("Petit Papa Noël", and by the way, this type of thing is sorely lacking in my French cultural education), and Santa Claus ("le Père Noël") showed up.

Benjamin was scared of Santa Claus - you can see him crying in the back of this picture:

But he was pretty excited about the big present he got!

So was Frederic, for that matter! Benjamin's gift was a "rescue set," complete with a helicopter that has lights & makes noise, a fire truck, a boat, an orca (to be rescued, I guess), a few little men and all sorts of little accessories that I'm sure will vanish rapidly to turn up later under the couches or in the VCR. We were pretty impressed with the quality of the presents they gave out (we learned at the end that our local taxes pay for it).

Benjamin will also have another present coming from Air France for Christmas, and next weekend we will go see the circus; also a gift from Air France.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I think he likes chocolate pudding.

What do you think?

We thought having him "drink" it might be less messy than using a spoon. We stand corrected.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I should mention

that Benjamin seems to be back to his normal self now. Granted, he's still almost 2 lbs lighter than he was before this chain of illnesses, so we're trying to fatten him up, but he's acting like a normal 2 year old now instead of a little sickie. Of course, this means that his favorite word is "no" - said "No, no no no no no no." We're working on "Yes." And he has occasional meltdowns for no apparent reason (and hasn't yet caught on that that gets him sent to bed). Fortunately for him, he's still cute enough most of the time that we haven't thrown him out yet.

For the cultural interest part, I should also mention that the 5 visits to the nurse for her to give him his injections cost us 12.24 € ($17.87). That sum will be entirely reimbursed by our insurance. We didn't pay the national healthcare part at all (presumably about 28.56 €, or $41.70), as the healthcare card allows that to be settled directly between the nurse and national healthcare. One more reason we can't fathom moving "home" at the moment; we love the healthcare system here and most especially its affordability.

The new bathroom vanity is installed now! And the correct pipe for the water softener! The water softener change is monumental. For the past year, the hose from it where the water empties when it purges has had to go into the bathroom sink. On more than one occasion we have forgotten to leave the hose in the sink, which causes massive flooding (80 L of water) on the bathroom & guest room floor around 4 am. So having the tube go into its own little pipe permanently will avoid the flooding problem, and also seems to have helped with the "eww stinky septic tank" smell we've had in the bathroom.

Next on the list:
1. Mudding bathroom walls and deciding what to do next (paint or wallpaper?)
2. Redoing my office (same paint & flooring as guest room)
3. Find dresser/wardrobe/something for new baby's room
4. Remove living room wall

The list is actually much longer than this, but I'll spare you the rest. These are the things we'd like to get done within the next few months. Keep in mind that we hope to live in this house for the next 29 years, give or take, so it will take a while to do everything we want to to it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Finally making some progress

We finally started working on the upstairs bedrooms today to make room for the new arrival, who will be here in just over 3 months. Back in July, only a week or two after we found out we were expecting, we found a too-good-to-pass-up deal on a crib in a second hand shop. Since we're in no hurry to get Benjamin out of his crib and into a twin bed, we decided to get it for the second baby. Today we set it up.

Baby #2's bed
We'll be on the lookout now for a dresser to at least sort of match, since we have a severe lack of closets in our house.

And while we were changing things around, we went ahead and put the twin bed in Benjamin's room. We don't plan on moving him to it any time soon, but this way he can get used to it being there, and I will have somewhere more comfortable to sit and read him his bedtime story than the 7 or 8 inch tall footstool from Ikea which is becoming quite uncomfortable.
Benjamin's bed

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Benjamin's first...

...ear infection. Oh joy. When Benjamin woke up this morning it was pretty obvious that is what he had, but I'll spare you the gory details.

Our regular family doctor is not in on Saturdays, so we called around and found a pediatrician in a town about 20 minutes away with open consultations on Saturday afternoons. Benjamin has to have antibiotic shots for 5 days. So after the doctor's office, we came home to call the house-call nurses who would come and give the shots -- although in our case, Frederic will take Benjamin to their office every evening instead; apparently they are pretty booked up. Then Frederic went out again to the pharmacy to pick up the shots and some baby Tylenol (called Doliprane here and apparently much less concentrated, given the dose he has to take).

We hope the infection will clear up quickly. We are pretty sure he has had it for at least part of this last week or two that he has been sick, so at least now we know why he's been so crabby lately.

Yesterday we put up our Christmas tree. I managed to put all the breakable ornaments high up on the tree before Benjamin could "help" me with them.
Benjamin helping with the Christmas tree
We had our first attempt at family Christmas pictures this evening, but they weren't a great success. We'll try again another day. These were the best of the bunch tonight:

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

no place like home

Benjamin watching airplanes
We managed to get a flight out of Chicago on Monday, and made it home yesterday morning. The flight is a little bit shorter coming towards France, which is nice, and we were able to fly business class AND there was enough room for Benjamin to have his own seat. He actually slept for a few hours (thank you, Benadryl!). Frederic and I did not really sleep, but it was much more relaxing than the flight on the way over since we didn't spend 7+ hours trying to keep Benjamin quiet.

The house was coooollld when we got home - we had left the heaters on "hors gel" which means it keeps the house from freezing but is still pretty darn cold. It's about back to normal temperature now that we have had the fire going for a couple of days.

Frederic doesn't have to go back to work until Dec 7th, so hopefully he will make some progress on the bathroom while he is off. And I plan to work as much as possible, since the dollar is at a terrible low and I didn't work much during our vacation.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

heading home

We weren't supposed to be going home until December 4th, but a combination of things including the fact that Benjamin is STILL sick, 2 weeks after we got here, have made us decide to cancel the last half of our trip and our plans to travel to Austin, TX and Searcy, AR, and head home as soon as we can figure out a good flight to go on. Frederic will be calling a friend at work today to get stats on the flights and see when will be the best time to go.

Benjamin has had a fever and been up screaming for hours many nights, and we didn't think that lack of sleep + driving long hours was a good combination.

We're not looking forward to the flight back, but do have some Benadryl .... we are not sure they will allow us to take it on the plane since it is more than 3 oz, though.

We took a grand total of 15 pictures since we have been here, as witness to how unenjoyable the trip has been - this is an all-time record low for us for the number of photos taken during a trip.

Here are two of Benjamin:
Benjamin playing with cars
Benjamin playing with cars at my parents' house

Sleeping baby
How we finally got Benjamin to sleep at camp... in MY bed

Thursday, November 15, 2007

the worst plane trip ever

We arrived in St Louis Saturday.

We did not get Benjamin his own seat this trip, because for one thing, he is not yet 2 and not required to have his own seat, but also because we were supposed to be flying business class and would have had plenty of room for all 3 of us with 2 seats.

Unfortunately, a lot of people with open-ended business class tickets showed up at the very last minute so we got bumped back to coach, also known as the cattle car. That meant that Benjamin not having his own seat was not a good thing at all, since an adult can barely fit in an airplane seat by him/herself these days, much less with an almost 2-year-old on his/her lap.

Benjamin does not sleep on airplanes. (Can you blame him?) We left the house at 9:45 am and arrived in Chicago at 3:30 pm local time, 10:30 pm French time. He had not slept the entire time. He did, however, scream for almost the entire time. He was the child you don't want to be next to on the plane. We didn't even want to be next to him, so I know no one else did!

Some people suggested Benadryl to us for the flight... we couldn't find the same product in France, but Frederic's sister (a pharmacist) suggested a cough syrup with the same effect. I was a little uncomfortable with the idea of drugging Benjamin for the trip, but as luck (or ill luck) would have it, he woke up coughing Saturday morning. So we dropped in at the pharmacy before we left and picked up the cough syrup.

But you know how the labels say that the medicine may cause drowsiness or excitability? Guess which one Benjamin got. Yup. NOT a great idea for us.

We finally made it to Chicago, though, and my mom picked us up there and drove us back to St Louis. Benjamin finally slept in the car, and now, almost a week later, we are all pretty much back on local time - other than the fact that we go to bed around 8 pm and wake up around 5-6 am.

We are going to Columbia, MO today, and Monday leave for our Thanksgiving trip including Tulsa, Madill, Austin, Searcy and possibly Memphis.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

PS, it's a...

BOY!! We had our second ultrasound on Monday and found out we are expecting a healthy baby boy!

D-2 until takeoff!

We are almost ready to go home! Well, "ready" might be an exaggeration since we have tons of things to do at the house that we're not going to get done before we leave. We did finally buy our plane tickets today and hope to also get around to packing our luggage.

We're looking forward to a vacation and seeing family & friends while we are in the U.S. Frederic is not looking forward to the 2000 miles we'll be driving while we are home!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Guest Bedroom: Before and After

We still lack:
- a light fixture
- new bedding
- curtains.
We will get to those when we get to them. No big rush at this point.

What we did:
- moved some walls and the door
- stripped the wallpaper
- painted the room a color called "linen" (off-white)
- gave the ceiling a fresh coat of white paint
- put laminate flooring down on top of the ugly tile
- got a new bed frame, nightstands, and lamps.

We intended for the spot where the wardrobe is to be a closet, but in the end decided the wardrobe looked nice there, so it is staying until further notice.

guest room - before
guest room - before

guest bedroom after
guest bedroom after
guest bedroom after
Next on the agenda: finishing the bathroom, but that will have to wait until after vacation!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Germany trip

We spent the past four days in Germany visiting some of our American friends who live there. They had been to visit us twice since last October, so it was our turn this time.

On Thursday they took us to Cochem, a typical European city with a castle.

Castle in Cochem

Friday, we visited Luxembourg City, which was only about 45 minutes from where they live.
la dent creuse in Luxembourg
Luxembourg City
cannon in the underground castle
Me, Frederic and Benjamin

Benjamin was a little bit scared of our friends' Great Dane because it was so much bigger than he was, but he didn't mind petting him as long as Mommy or Daddy was close enough to rescue him if he got too scared.

Now we have 2 weeks before our trip home - and a lot to get done between now and then!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sneak Preview

To finish the guest room, we now only lack a light fixture (yeah, we've been in this house for over a year now and haven't done that yet... French people take light fixtures and even light BULBS with them when they move, so we've had the bare-bulb decor going on for quite some time now) and the new furniture, which I don't know when we are going to have to time to buy.

So in the meantime, here's a sneak preview of the new laminate Frederic put down. We love it! I'll do before & after pictures once we are all done.

new laminate flooring

The downside is, of course, that the rest of our house now looks even worse in comparison. Whoops!

Next on the list is the bathroom. Since the marble top of the vanity broke off over a month ago, we finally ordered a new vanity which we hope to be able to pick up by 2 weeks from now. They don't tend to keep these things in stock here, apparently. And while we are waiting on that, Frederic can work on the bathroom walls, then we will attack the hallway and the other wall we have yet to remove.

And that is just the house - there is also the yard to contend with. Benjamin and Frederic removed the tomato plants a few days ago and all the hedges need to be trimmed.

I don't anticipate us getting very far on all of that before we go home for November since we're also going on a 4-day trip to Germany next week and need to have an ultrasound, see my OB, and Frederic needs to see his ENT all before we fly home.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Mission accomplished!

Well, almost. The walls are painted! It's most definitely more cream than taupe, but we are going to live with it. I still need to do the doorframe and door, and Frederic can work on the floor anytime now, and then finish the bathroom.

We had a lot of green tomatoes that weren't going to ripen since it's gotten too cold here, so we had fried green tomatoes for the very first time tonight, and Frederic is going to try a few other recipes (green tomato pie, green tomato cake, green tomato pickles maybe) so they don't go to waste.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Should I stay or should I go?

That's what the morning sickness has been singing lately. It went, but only for a couple of weeks, then it decided to creep around here again. Thanks a lot. It's not as bad as it was, but it's still there which is bad enough. I'm already tired of being pregnant which is too bad since I have about six more months to go.

In home improvement land, we bought paint for the guest room & office (color: "linen" which I'm afraid is going to be an off-white rather than a light taupe), and laminate flooring & baseboards for the guest room & office. Now if we just had time to paint... and then we might have to figure out closet doors before doing the floor since we're already working with 1 cm or so less than standard height rooms and adding the flooring will take away another 9 mm, which could make fitting the doors in problematic.

The issue? We haven't bought the doors yet.

First things first, we'll paint.

But at the moment Frederic is in the hospital having a nose job. Well, having a deviated septum fixed. He's doing this in the interest of marital harmony and in the hopes of not having to sleep outside for the next 50 years.

Benjamin's new favorite word is "apple". He was calling everything "apple", so Frederic finally bought some apples so he could at least be right some of the time. He even eats them, he doesn't just talk about them. He prefers to eat them (and everything else, including hard butter cookies) with a fork.

We got him a little table & chairs from Ikea when my mom was here, and every now & then he actually sits there & plays nicely in my office while I work.

Benjamin playing with crayons

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Cleaning the house

That's what we did this weekend. Yes, we did the inside, but we also did the outside with the powerwasher. My back is still killing me. But the side of the house looks much nicer and as an extra bonus, we discovered to our great surprise that what we thought was a gray cement strip along the side of the house is not gray at all, but more of a beige color like the house!

powerwashing the house
powerwashing the house
it's not gray cement!

While we were busy cleaning the dirt and grime off one side of the house, Benjamin occupied himself by adding more dirt and grime to the front patio. What a helpful little guy.

making new messes
Oh, by the way - the chimney sweep came on Monday, so we can now use our fireplace whenever we decide it's cold enough - and that day may not be far off given how we've taken to wearing thick sweaters inside already. Brr!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

How do you heat your house?

It's probably still feeling like the end of summer for a lot of you, but we haven't had much of a summer here and it's already getting colder.

When we moved to this house last year, we got to control our own home's heat for the first time ever. Our apartment and then condo both had collective heating. In the apartment all we could do was turn off the radiators and open the windows (but of course we paid regardless), and in the condo we couldn't even turn off the heat, we could only open the windows (and again, paid regardless).

So being able to manage our own heat is a luxury to us. Our house has electric radiators in every room. Each has a thermostat so they aren't just heating permanently, but each is set separately; there is no central thermostat. We also have a glass-fronted fireplace, and that is mainly what we use to heat the house in the wintertime.

This is the price of our luxury, though: cleaning the fireplace every morning. That means sweeping the soot into the grate holes so it goes down into the ash tray, which then has to be emptied (ideally without getting ashes all over the floor), and cleaning the glass windows on the front & side of the fireplace because they turn black in just a day's time, and what's the point of a pretty fire if you can't see it?

This year we ordered twice the amount of wood we ordered last year since we didn't have quite enough last year. Of course, last year we were just learning and we think that now we know how to burn the wood more efficiently this year so it lasts longer.

So this is our winter heat source:

It was delivered in August this year and the man who delivers it backs his trailer up and dumps it in the street in front of the house. So we had to plan delivery for a day we were home most of the day since it takes a few hours to stack it. This year Frederic got lucky and got to do it all by himself since I was too weak with morning sickness to help. (He says he didn't feel very lucky.)

Now all we need is our chimney swept. Every year the chimney sweep comes around and makes appointments but I think we will call this year instead of waiting for him to show up. It's already chilly so we may just need that fireplace soon!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

new baby

Here is the newest member of our family!

The ultrasound was on Monday; everything looks fine and today marks the beginning of the second trimester, 13 weeks. This gives us an estimated due date of March 19th although my "official" estimated due date will probably be around March 28th since the French seem to think pregnancy is longer than 40 weeks.

I'm trying to wean off the anti-vomiting/anti-nausea medication (which works better than I thought, based on the night I *didn't* take it earlier this week) since it knocks me out and that's not a great idea for someone trying to take care of a busy toddler and get some work done every now & then. I'm starting to feel a little better finally which is nice.