Sunday, January 24, 2016

Alex's Transformation - California Boy to French Garcon

Alex has always been particular about his clothing.  In California, he only wore shorts and t-shirts.  Even when he was at school, he took advantage of the allowance for navy or tan colored shorts as an acceptable uniform.

We now reside in a land of weather.  Every day, the kids talk about the existence of variations in temperature and precipitation.  I try to explain that they lived in the magical land of Southern California where the weather is always nice.  It was a unique situation.  They just don't understand. In a few months, they will finally be able to experience the joy that is the first day of spring where you can exit your front door without a coat on.  New experiences! Broadening horizons!  Appreciating things you used to take for granted!

The kids' new school does not require uniforms.  This means that the kids have to own actual outfits that they can wear.  I don't get to be lazy and order from a set menu of items.  When we arrived, we started out with a small selection of polo shirts.  We made the boys wear polos and fleeces to the first day of school on January 4th.

Too much pressure to take an actual first day of school photo, this one has to do.

Also in our clothing collection are a ton of t-shirts.  Now that they have settled in, that's basically what they wear.  Occasionally we have them switch back to the polo shirts for church.  I have also expanded their wardrobe to include some long-sleeved turtleneck shirts, but they are not fans... yet.  I'm trying to convince them that if it is nice out, they don't have to wear a coat if they wear a long-sleeved shirt.

Back to Alex.  Typically you might see him in this type of outfit in Southern California.  Well, without the coat.

Bright Orange Shorts

And now?  Now he has bright orange, fitted French pants.  Oh yeah!

LA t-shirt... transformation still occurring

So where did all of the shorts go?  Well, now that we have seasons, we also have storage of summer clothes.  

Shorts are hidden in here

Friday, January 22, 2016

French Challenge - Water Meter Reading

When living in a foreign country, simple tasks present new challenges.  

Notices are posted at our apartment fairly frequently.  These include things like, "Please register your door remotes" and "I am having a birthday party but will try to limit the noise."  Recently this notice was posted on our exterior door.  

Bright Yellow might mean important

The basic gist was that there was a water meter, the water meter reader needed passage into all of the apartments and that this would all go down on January 19th.  One of my options was to stay at home all day on the 19th and wait for the meter reader, then awkwardly try to talk to them in French.  It looked like the note said that if I wasn't going to be home, I had the option to email the meter reading to them.  Not sure.

But then, another option revealed itself!  My neighbors started posting papers on their doors.  I saw this one first:

Two numbers separated by a comma.  Apartment number written on top.  Good, I can do this.  So I searched for my water meter.  Fortunately it was in an accessible cabinet inside one of our toilet rooms.  We also have two locked doors that have hot water heaters or some other utility related thing inside.  But I am not sure since they are locked!

Accessible Cabinet with what appears to be a meter

Something is being metered

The meter itself was a little difficult to read.  But manageable.  So I needed to put two numbers on the paper and tape it to my door.  Yes!  I can do this.  My neighbor's paper had a four digit number and a five digit number.  So that must be the slowly moving numbers in the middle top (four numbers) and the red dials on the bottom (five numbers).

But then, my other neighbor posted this:

What?! It also listed two numbers, but they were an 8 digit number and a four digit number.  So what numbers needed to be communicated?!  If the people who can read the French notice are not being consistent, what am I to do?

To cover all bases, I posted a picture of the meter itself with the difficult to read numbers written above them in pen. (Because while I have no furniture, at least I have a wireless printer.)

All the numbers!

There were no complaints on my answering machine or nasty notes on my door.  In fact, my meter picture had a check tally on it when I returned home later that day.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Routine in Retirement

While it is true that I am doing some dabbling in consulting, effectively I am not working right now. Rather than say that I am unemployed, I explained to the kids that this is my first retirement.  Why retirement?  It's not like I was laid off or fired.  I chose to leave my job and my home to move somewhere where I can provide support to Dan as he has a chance to help change the world.

It's actually not too different from the situation in Redondo Beach except for the fact that I don't have a job to attend each day.  Since September, I had been working about 30-34 hours per week.  Prior to that, I was booking 24-30 hours per week.  I dropped the kids off at school and picked them up every day.  I could easily take time off if they were sick and stay home.  Dan and I split the household chores of shopping, cooking, cleaning, and child maintenance based on what we were good at.

Retirement is a choice to stop working.  So here I am in my First Retirement.  I've been reading some material on how to make this kind of transition.  The first book that I picked up was Tess Vigeland's "Leap."

For me, it was interesting to read about defining your identity, but not basing it on what you do for a living.  The first question anyone asks when you meet them is, "What do you do?"  While you can't prevent other people from asking that, you can ask people you meet different questions.  Tess suggests "What's your favorite thing to do in this city?" "What kind of travel do you enjoy?  When's the last time you did that and where did you go?" "What's your favorite part of the weekend?"  I tried this at a data analysis conference that I attended.  Since I knew that pretty much everyone there was an auditor anyway, finding out what someone does wasn't too hard or original.  So I asked one of the attendees who was from Sacramento what she liked to do for fun there.  This led to us commiserating about how our husbands spend lots of time cycling and acquiring cycling gear.

Tess' book brought a blog by a guy named Carl Seidman into my consciousness.  He may have coined the phrase "The First Retirement."   His blog is based on the idea that you don't need to work excessively, accumulate massive amounts of savings, then retire at 65 to do whatever you have planned for your entire life.  Perhaps there is a way to take a few small retirements over the course of your lifetime.  You don't have to kill yourself working, you don't have to stress out about how to spend those 2 weeks per year that you vacation.  Make the whole of your life enriching instead of looking forward to someday when you can stop working and relax.  

So where does that leave me?  Still in a state of not working.  But still wanting to accomplish something in the next two years.  As I start out, I have found myself during the last two weeks simply running around trying to set up our apartment and make it livable.  But, as things settle down, I'm working to establish a routine.  I work best with one, much like my 9-year-old son, Will.  Unlike Will, my productivity is fueled by coffee.

American Coffee clearly labeled as such
and then there's the Toast (French Toast?)

Here is the best I can come up with for now:


8:30 - Take the kids to school and drive back home
  • Study French
  • Write, Blog, Email - Computer time along with breakfast
  • Consulting work check-in, Plan for the week on Monday, progress on tasks the rest of the week
  • Household organization and cleaning
11:30 - Lunch
  • Read Something (blog, educational, book)
  • Address To Do List
  • Shopping - Household or Groceries
4:30 - Pick the kids up from school and return them to home
  • Consulting work check-in with people in the US who are now awake
  • Kids' Homework (French, English Spelling, Programming, Writing/Blogging)
  • Household organization and cleaning (kids' chore time too)

6:00 - All of the evening activities (dinner, kids' baths, bedtime, dishes, laundry)


As part of my efforts to stay organized and not forget anything, I have acquired one whiteboard.  My vision is to acquire multiple whiteboards and create a mosaic on the wall of our office/bike/sports/laundry drying room.  

We may not have furniture, but I have a whiteboard

The working schedule above should help me to get to the next phase.  What is the next phase?  Long term goals.  There is just so much set-up to do still.  I anticipate more trips to IKEA, the kids really need warmer coats, and the house will not be functional until we have an easy to use charging station to keep track of all of the miscellaneous electronics that are everywhere!  And a couch, a couch would be nice too.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Welcome to France!

We have successfully traveled to France!

Ever since the kids finished the school term on the 18th of December, we have been sorting, packing, donating, trashing, giving away, and boxing up for storage ALL of our stuff.  This occurred between the 19th and when we left on the 30th.  A few other things did occur during that time, including...

We had pancakes and went to see Star Wars afterwards (thanks Darren!)

Most delicious TIE Fighter in the galaxy

We went to the beach after Dan's birthday breakfast on the 24th.  Then we took Will to urgent care on Christmas Day for a rash probably resulting from the itchy beach sand.  Oddly enough, Will asked, with concern, while we were at the beach, if it had rained lately.  We told him it had rained two days prior.  He explained that because of runoff, we probably shouldn't be in the water until three days had passed.  He was nice enough not to say, "I told you so" after breaking out in the rash.

California Boys

We organized everything so that the awesome movers could pack things up.  This pallet is the one that is coming to France.  Everything else was donated, given away to friends, or sent to storage.  

All of the stuff we are moving to France
We posed for a picture in front of the house.

We have moved ourselves out of the house too!

Coincidentally, the moving truck that came to take our stuff to storage ended up hitting the magnolia tree in front of our house.  This also occurred 9 years ago when the moving truck helping us to relocate from Virginia also hit the same tree.

Poor Magnolia Tree may recover after about 9 years

Our overall strategy during the time between the 18th and 30th was to help the kids cope with this gigantic life change through distraction, excitement, activities, connecting with friends for last get-togethers, and a lot of video games.  I suppose mentioning video games is a bit redundant since I listed distraction already... 

As all of our stuff was either in the process of being packed or was packed, we spent three nights at a hotel near the LA airport.  We selected it as part of our distraction strategy.  It had an indoor pool.  

We swim in California

We finally pulled ourselves together enough to be nearly ready to leave.  All we had to do was finish organizing stuff in the morning at the hotel before heading over to the airport for an afternoon flight.  However, due to all of the craziness, I ended up getting a terrible cold that had migrated to my throat and ears.  The illness also included a touch of laryngitis.  So, rather than arriving in a foreign country with most doctors closed for New Year's or the weekend, I took myself to urgent care the morning of our departure.  The two and a half hours would have been better spent getting organized at the hotel instead of me texting Dan about how to organize stuff.  Better except for the fact that the doctor I saw was very helpful and prescribed antibiotics just in case my infection progressed.  I grabbed them from the pharmacy and made it back to the hotel as soon as I could.  We ultimately made it to the airport in a reasonable manner with all of our stuff.  We checked 7 suitcases, 2 rubbermaid bins, Alex's booster car seat, and Dan's road bike in a box.  We carried on 4 pieces of luggage and 4 personal items.  

Alex: Excited by the nifty seats, but somewhat tentative
Will: Do I seriously need to be here?

The flight from LA to Paris was 11 hours long.  Alex kind of slept for a bit of it.  Will was awake the whole time.  In protest, he hadn't taken the gummy melatonin.  He kind of dozed maybe for an hour.  By the time he got to Paris, he was oddly still holding it together.  We did all of the walking and taking of the train to get across the airport.  We made it through security and passport control without losing anything.  We even had time once we got to our Toulouse gate for a snack.

Croissants, of course

Will finally fell asleep on the Toulouse flight, but it was a short one.  At airport arrival, we had to split up to handle all of the luggage.  

Basically all of the luggage you see here is ours
And yes, that is Alex in a fleece and shorts

First, Dan went to get the rental car.  It was a silver Hyundai hatchback.  We manged to fit about 3/4 of the luggage, including the bike box, inside.  Alas, there was no room for passengers at that point.  So, the boys and I set off with the rest of our stuff to grab a taxi to the hotel.  Dan drove the rental car to our apartment and unloaded it by himself.  He had already stayed at the apartment for a couple of nights back during his early December trip, so had all of the keys and stuff to get in.  Then he joined us at the hotel.  Why hotel?  For sleeping arrangements, only a single folding cushion was available at the apartment, additional set-up was still required.  

While we left Los Angeles on the 30th, we arrived in Toulouse on the 31st.  We briefly considered staying awake until midnight for French New Year.  Then Will fell asleep at about 4pm.  We tried to wake him up to go to dinner, but he was completely nonfunctional.  Dan, Alex, and I went to one of the Lebanese places near the hotel, got some fries, pita bread pizza, rice, and kebabs.  We returned to the hotel where Will was still completely asleep.  We used the table in the boys' room and tried to eat loudly with engaging conversation, but he just wasn't conscious.  So we stuck his food in the fridge and went to sleep ourselves.  Will woke up at about midnight and hung out on his own, letting us sleep until we decided to wake up a bit later.  Then, when it was breakfast time, we finally got to feed him at the hotel breakfast.  

Hotel Breakfast a la Will
Lemon and Egg

Ultimately we made it to France without too much trouble.  The boys did great with the jet lag.  I, unfortunately, did not, and ended up nauseous.  The anti-nausea medication ended up being one of those things that just did not get organized into the right place on travel day morning.  There is much set-up and settling yet to be done, but we are here!