Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Infinity Birthday!

Today will henceforth be known as my infinity birthday.

This isn't the top of the hill. I haven't peaked.  It's not just downhill from here.  To infinity and beyond!

Last year I quit my job and went with Dan to live in France for a few years.  We are organized, the kids are settled, and I'm in French classes.  I am at another point where I can make some decisions and do some awesome stuff.  But I need your help in putting together my infinity list!

So what should it be?  Should I travel?  Should I pursue more education?  Should I work?  Should I volunteer?  Should I visit cafes to drink coffee and wine?  Should I exercise?  Should I take more selfies?  Should I found a book club?

It would help if you also told me why you recommended the course of action you are suggesting.  Is it because you enjoy it?  Did it change your life?  Do you see it as something that I would pursue because of what you already know about my personality, interests, and motivation?

You may provide comments here or on Facebook.  But whatever you do, don't be prompted by Facebook to only post the text, "Happy Birthday!" because the computers told you to wish me a happy birthday.  Be interesting if you must post a birthday message and provide infinite advice.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Guest Room Ready!

We are prepared, we think, for guests at our apartment in France.  It has been a long project, but we think we are ready to host multiple people.  So, if you are ready to be a considerate guest, we welcome you!

We have two spaces for appx 4 sleeping adults and an additional place for a child.  The "spaces" are a guest room and the living room couch. Alex has a lower space under his bed with a fold out cushion. This can also be moved out to the living room for more soft floor sleeping space.  

Guest Room - We have a private room that we setup for guests. It has two beds that are 90x200cm.

Guest Room Bed 1

Guest Room - Hidden Bed 2 from underneath

 We also have a couch in the middle of everything. It is about 130x220cm. 

Sleep on the Couch!

Or the even bigger expanded couch!

And, to cover some useful information, we present our list of demands!  Well, demander means "ask" in French, so really they are just some things we are asking of and presenting to our guests.

* Emergency - If there is an emergency, you can call 112 from any European phone.  Our landline is located on a charging stand near our TV.  If it is not on the stand, it's in the remote box which is likely on one of the arms of the couch.  If you get an European sim card, you can also call from your mobile phone. (To do this, you need an unlocked phone, talk to Dan for details. I just know he loves explaining all of the sticky technical details.)

* Museums and Stuff - We are collecting memberships and residence passes so that we can accompany you to cool places.  We are preparing a list of activities and expected costs for these.

* We may not join you at the Stuff - Basically we are providing our apartment as a free sleep location for you.  While it is likely that because you are staying with us, we probably know you and want to spend time with you, there are other things going on while you are visiting.  The kids have school, Dan has work, Angela does #stuff.

* "Free Sleep Location" - Well, mostly free.  We expect that you might pick up the bill at a restaurant when we go out for dinner once during your stay.  We also will definitely ditch you at our apartment during an evening while we go out without the kids.  Yes, we are trading "free sleep location" for "free babysitting."

* Supplies and Amenities - Lots of USB chargers and American/European/British plug adapters.  We have a washer and dryer.  We invite you to do laundry while you visit.  Hopefully this will allow you to pack a little lighter.  We will have laundry detergent on hand, of course.  We have a shower room and a bath room, along with two toilet rooms.  It should be pretty easy to coordinate schedules.  We will make toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel available.  If you need any other liquids, we can acquire them. The goal for your packing should be to only bring one carry-on  suitcase and maybe a backpack. You will have a much easier time and a more enjoyable vacation if you do this. And we can pick you up from the airport because you and your luggage will fit in our car. 

* Towels and Robes - We are also providing towels and robes for you during your stay. For those of you in the guest room, this means you will have something to wear from the shower to the guest room. Because it is not very possible to get dressed in the small shower room. Plus, someone else will probably want to use it. For those of you who are staying in the living room, you can change in the kids room, coordinate with the people lucky enough to land the guest room, or use our bedroom. 

* Not Included - We don't have air conditioning.  We don't know how that will affect our summer visitors.  We seem to have various weather here.  Wind, rain, sun, heat, humidity.  I'm sure the internet can elaborate during your specific visit time about the weather. 

* Food - We will initially stock the following at our house:  assorted fruits, charcuterie, cheese, bread, wine, salmon/trout, rice, sandwich meat, cheese, sandwich bread, chips, chicken wrapped prosciutto, eggs, breakfast bread, nutella, various jams/confiture, coffee, tea, cereal, milk, pasta, bolognaise sauce, burrito/fajita ingredients if you are here on a Taco Tuesday, hamburgers and hotdogs, chicken curry, rice, packaged crepes, pizza ingredients and pre-made crust, wine, cereal bars.

* Food Shopping - We will take you to the super giant supermarket to acquire foods to your liking and perhaps help us restock some of ours.  Dan will also train you in the legendary French art of baguette retrieval.

* Help out - After dinner, help with the dishes or clearing the table or sweeping the floor.  After showering, our drain is weird, wipe it down.  After being here a week, see if you can help out with some cleaning tasks.  The kids take care of a lot of basics, like trash and putting dishes away, but there are always ways to help out.

* Travel around Toulouse and further - Unfortunately, due to our car insurance arrangement, we are unable to lend our car out.  However, getting around Toulouse is super easy.  You can walk most places.  You can use a share bike for a low cost.  You can metro and bus everywhere.  For further out adventures, we recommend getting a rental car.  Check your credit card to see if they cover supplemental rental car insurance in Europe.  Also brush up on your manual transmission driving.

* Jet Lag - Jet lag can be terrible.  Fortunately we have some awesome black out shutters in all of our rooms.  If you absolutely need to sleep during the day, you can black out all light.  Usually the trick is to stay up as late as you can the first day, maybe go out for some delicious food.  But, if you can't, we will have snacks available and let you go to sleep as early as you need to.  Our schedule is to put the kids in bed at 8:30pm and they wake up around 6:00am.  Dan wakes up early to ride his bike on the trainer on the balcony some mornings.  If you would like to go for an early morning bike ride or a run, I'm sure he can help you satisfy that aspiration. I can't guarantee he won't try to leave you in the dust though. 
We grab some breakfast and get out the door for school around 7:30am.  We will try to be quiet if you are still sleeping.  And, if you happen to wake up in the middle of the night, please try to be quiet for us.  We can also give you a list of bakeries that open early (early means 7am) if you want to go for a walk after you wake in the early morning.  Many places are open in the evening if you want to go somewhere after the kids get into bed. I also recommend an evening walk or bike ride around the downtown of Toulouse. 

Relaxing evening walk to the Capitole

* Potential Departure - We will have a handy list of reasonable, nearby hotels available for you in case you are not happy with the accommodations.  We have a medium-sized apartment.  In the close quarters, someone may get cranky (it will probably be Will, but we can't send him to a hotel).  You might not like our strange square pillows.  It might be unbearably hot in our apartment during the summer. You might decide that you can't live without a hairdryer and need the one available at most hotels.  Weird stuff happens.  It's no one's fault.  We just want to be prepared if it happens.  I'm sure we can all just get along.

* You may bring us something from the US - If you feel like it, we sometimes need a thing from the US.  The boys miss bagels.  Tricky to pack, but if you can acquire some yummy bagels, feel free to bring them.  The boys prefer Costco bagels in raisin and plain flavors.  Dan really needs some Kind Strong bars.  Most of the exercise food here is high-carb cereal based, not enough protein.  We also would not mind having some Starbucks coffee, espresso ground (beans do us no good, we don't have a grinder, espresso ground is required for our dosette brewer, we can go french press ground for our "piston brewer").  However, there is good coffee here, so probably don't bring Starbucks.  Also, don't ever bring us chocolates.  Seriously.  We are not far from Belgium.  Even French chocolates are better than See's.  Don't do it.  Also don't bring us wine.  Really.  That would be weird.  We are now wine snobs (not super fancy wine snobs, more like value wine snobs).  When we were in the United States last month, I sent back a glass of wine for the first time ever.  It was terrible.  Don't bring wine.

* We can host up to 10 total people for dinner since we have 6 inside chairs in our dining room and another 4 outside spaces on our balcony.  However, we highly recommend many different restaurants within walking distance.  If you did not come to Toulouse to experience the food, you should reconsider experiencing the food.

* Be a polite person, not a rude American.  There are two simple tricks for this.  First, for any direct encounter with someone, greet them properly, Bonjour!  Bonsoir!  Then, after interaction, say goodbye and thank you.  Merci! Au Revoir!  This includes any shops you go into.  Bonjour! on entry and Merci! Au Revoir! on exit, even if you didn't buy anything.  This includes when you go up to a cashier at a store.  After they have finished their interaction with the customer in front of you, Bonjour!  And after you have completed your transaction, Merci! Au Revoir! Bonne Journee!
The second trick is to speak to people who are next to you as if they were next to you.  That is, your voice should only travel about a meter.  If you need to yell at someone you should refrain unless it is Alex and he is trying to hurt himself.  

* Other Phrases - You should probably learn how to say (accent marks are not correct, you will have to look these up):

  • I'm Sorry or Excuse Me. - Desole.  Or Je suis desole.  Pardon.  Pardon Moi.  Excusez-Moi.
  • I do not understand.  - Je ne comprende pas.
  • I don't speak French.  - Je ne parle pas francais.
  • I speak English. - Je parle anglais.
  • Do you speak English?  - Parlez-vous anglais?
* French Cramming - If you want to cram a little and learn some useful French words that will stick with you, I recommend "French by Association."  It uses mnemonics to help you remember things.  We did this with "Italian by Association" before we went to Italy the first time and it was helpful.  Otherwise, load google translate on your phone.  

* Bikes - It seems that some of you would like to do some serious cycling here.  Or maybe just watch some serious cycling.  We are in the process of getting a bike rack arranged for our car.  And we can find somewhere in our apartment to keep your bike if you happen to travel with one.  I hear there is much better cycling vacation advice listed here:  https://pvcycling.wordpress.com/2016/05/16/ready-freddie/

Despite all of these "demands," it would also be fine if you came to hang out with us, ate all of our food, and left without any performing any cleaning tasks. Seriously. We are happy to host without conditions. Ok, except for the babysitting one. You must stay at home once while we go somewhere without the children.  Non negotiable. 

Let us know if you would like to visit.  We already have about 9 weeks of guests scheduled.  France is pretty awesome, come check it out!

Saturday, May 07, 2016

My One American Demand!

I hope to not come off as one of those annoying Americans who think that their existence in France must be exactly the same as their existence in the United States.

In spite of this, I have One American Demand!

Giant Bed.

When Dan and I got married, we got a queen-sized bed, 152cm x 203cm.  When we moved to California four years later, we got a king-sized bed, 192cm x 203cm.  This is the most amazing thing.  Space to sleep is quite important.  Especially since Dan's muscles seem to think that he is running-biking-swimming when he goes to sleep.

Giant beds aren't really a France thing.  The largest bed you can find in most stores is 180cm x 200cm.  The boys have beds that are 90cm x 200cm.  Even if you find a bed, there are no sheets sold in large sizes.  And there are no headboards in that size.  

I am happy to report that we found a 200cm x 200cm mattress.  It was available at Alinea.  They delivered!

It's taller than me!

Of couse, there were no sheets in that size and no bed frame or base or headboard either.  

Mattress!  Now what?

Fortunately the internet and amazon exist.  amazon.fr managed to carry some 200x200 sheets.  For a while, we enjoyed sleeping on our giant mattress on the floor.

Duvet... just... big enough... to cover the mattress

The next phase of the project was to find a suitable and large enough base and headboard.  Dan turned down my brilliant option to buy from this awesome custom bed design site:

Many Euros can provide you with this lovely set-up for your giant bed

So instead, we opted to build our own IKEA hack bed.  First, we started with two 90x200 FLAXA bed frames.  Cool thing about this option is that we get extra storage.  With two bed frames, we end up with a total of four large drawers, two on each side of our bed configuration.    
Single Person Bed or Base of Giant Bed?!

The hack?  We couldn't just put two of these beds together and put the mattress on top.  The actual mattress in the picture above is recessed somewhat.  If we put our mattress on the two beds, it would be elevated in the center and have an uncomfortable bump.  So, we needed to go to the Home Depot of France, one of which is called Castorama.  On one of the Wednesdays when the kids didn't have school, the three of us bravely drove our rental car to Castorama and entered into the zone of finding stuff in a giant home improvement store.  First stop... lumber.  Typically we go to the lumber aisle with a lumber cart and pick the inexpensive pine boards.  There were no pine boards.  Other stuff made out of pine, but the boards...  "La choix facile"  Alledgedly the choice was easy.  

5 types of boards listed and three alternate materials

Ultimately we determined that the boards were organized by quality/price and went with the cheap ones on the end.  Which were "sapin du nord" or fir of the north.  

Next issue?  In order to use our fir of the north, we needed to be able to cut them slightly shorter.  Ok, we can do this.  What is French for "hand saw?"  And no, google translate is not helpful.  It's kind of literal.  So I wasn't going to go up to a Castorama employee and ask for a saw of hands.  Instead, I got a Castorama employee, brought him over to my cart of sapin du nord, and made motions of cutting while saying, "hand saw."  He showed me to the right place.  The children looked at me like I was crazy.  

Finally, we needed screws to connect our sapin to the bed frame.  I google translated "wood" so that I could get the right kind and found some on my own. 

Screws for "bois"

We managed to get the boards in our small rental car without causing too much damage.  We brought them home and added them to our bedframes.  You can see them under the slats, perpendicular.  

No more raised center part

The mattress fits!

Nearly completed bed

So now the bed was only missing a headboard.  Why?  Because if you notice, the drawers go nearly all the way to the wall.  We couldn't put nightstands there without blocking the drawer.  So we needed a headboard to move the bed away from the wall to allow for nightstands.  That way, we could have somewhere to leave our charging phones during the night.

Much like the approach with the base of the bed, we opted to get two twin-sized headboards and put them together.  We were able to find these at the Alinea (the IKEA of France.  Oddly IKEA is not the IKEA of France.)  

One headboard

Then assembly of two of these...

Headboard Added!

Viola!  Short, but effective headboard added.  Places to leavwe our phones charging overnight and we even added clip on reading lights.  The giant summer-weight duvet is on its way and finally the bed will be complete.  Onward to preparing guest beds!