Green cleaning

Recently I’ve been trying to stick to green cleaning methods around the apartment. In part due to my pregnant sensitivity to strong chemical smells, but also because all of a sudden I realized that baby hands touch everything then go straight into their mouths. And while of course I and everyone else I know grew up just fine crawling around on Mr. Clean floors, there’s also the lower cost and a healthier planet to consider. (Notice the selfish reasons came first! Ah well, as long as the end result is the same, who cares why I’m doing it?)

And honestly, vinegar and baking soda clean just as well as the stuff you can buy, even better sometimes, like for the hard water problems we have. Whenever the faucet starts to get a bit blocked, a vinegar soak is just the trick to clear it up! I do admit that the smell can get a little strong, since I don’t use essential oils because of our cat, but it’s already replaced the smell of chemicals in my mind as representing “clean.”

My husband is the big cleaner in the couple and he needs that chemical smell to feel like he’s done cleaning a room. Since I knew I’d have a bit more time on maternity leave, I told him I’d take over the cleaning, so I get to choose the products. And over the past few weeks, he seems to have opened up to my green cleaning ways. (The baby hands touching everything argument has also been quite effective . . .) While he still needs to wipe down the toilet with antibacterial wipes every other day, he doesn’t use them to dust anymore; he can see that a microfiber cloth works perfectly well.

Pinterest is of course great for things like this, and I wanted to share here a few sites I’ve pinned and go back to a lot. I haven’t quite gotten to the stage of creating my own mixes of green cleaners, but I have a feeling I will as time goes on. Getting a hold of castile soap, borax, rubbing alcohol, and hydrogen peroxide in large quantities in my area of France is a bit difficult, so I’ve been sticking to recipes without all that for now and have been just fine. (Though if anyone knows a good source for those things, please let me know!)

25 DIY green cleaning recipes for the whole house (number 5 totally saved us from throwing out a perfectly good pot that had gotten burnt!)

27 non-toxic recipes for DIY cleaning (this reminded me I should probably be cleaning the fridge and microwave more often . . .)

Homemade hardwoord floor cleaner recipes (ah the joys of 100+ year old buildings)

Clean Mama (so many printables! I need a printable on how to organize my printables . . .)

 

There aren’t eight million ways to clean a house, but I always love new ideas and links, so feel free to share if you have them!

I made a baby quilt!

In addition to my handyman skills, I am a relatively crafty person. I made our wedding invitations and lots of the decorations. I made my prom dress junior and senior year of high school. I knit, though not a lot currently; I tend to go through knitting phases and my last one was maybe two years ago. I like having things around the house that I can say I made besides Ikea furniture (though I’ve been known to paint and personalize that too!). Though like many crafters, I do have a problem with finishing projects. So with the impending arrival of bébé, I figured a baby quilt would be a good thing to try to make, since there is a definite deadline to deal with. I also made (and finished!) some burp cloths before starting the quilt, to get used to the sewing machine I bought a few months ago.

Deciding on a design
Deciding on a design
babyquilt2
Piecing it together

I remember going to a quilting event for church with my mom when I was little, but besides that, I’ve never attempted a quilt before. I think it’s the actual quilting part that scared me, since just cutting and sewing pieces of fabric together is not that hard. And it turns out once you’ve done that, you can actually send it out to be professionally quilted! I guess some people prefer the artistic aspect of putting it together rather than the longer process of actually quilting. Plus there are special machines that make it way easier to do than with a regular sewing machine.

babyquilt3
Adding a border (it looks like polka dots, but it’s stars!)
babyquilt4
Putting the layers together – the super thick batting made it hard to get smooth!

But since it was my first, I did everything myself. I mainly followed this tutorial, though my sizes were different because of the type of fabric squares you can find in France and my inability to cut a straight line even with a rotary cutter. Also, I am terrified of the ladies at the fabric store here. I get so frustrated that I can never find the names for fabrics and I always look like an idiot. Since quilting isn’t really a big thing in France, I was worried they wouldn’t understand what I wanted, or that it doesn’t exist. So I ordered batting (“entoilage”) online, and it was thicker than I was expecting, which made quilting harder, and the end result is puffy and puckered, despite my best efforts to make things tight and smooth.

babyquilt5
Quilting!
Adding the binding.
Adding the binding.

But really, I don’t care that it doesn’t look like it’s “supposed to” because OMG I made a baby quilt!! And bébé certainly won’t care that none of the seams are straight or that the binding isn’t even. All that matters is that it’s soft, it’s warm, and I made it for him.

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All finished!
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The back is striped, so with the star border, it’s “stars and stripes” without being too obvious.

I started in early March, and spent three or four hours at a time working on it during three different Sundays (one day cutting, one day piecing, one day cutting and sewing the border). Then last week I realized that since he could come any day now, it needed to get done, so I kicked it up a notch and spent most of this week working on it nearly every day for a few hours. The quilting part I split into two days of three hours, then there was the binding to make/pin/sew, and finishing the binding by hand took another three hours. So in theory, I could have started it a few weeks ago and still gotten it done “on time,” but I liked having it there waiting for me in my sewing area over the past few months, as a visual reminder of things to come.

babyquilt9
It certainly adds a bit of color to the nursery. He won’t actually sleep with it until he’s much older, but this keeps it away from the cat!

So in addition to all the physical and admin stuff that’s ready to go, now he can definitely show up whenever he wants, since his quilt is finished!

The end is near – 36 weeks pregnant

At 36 weeks pregnant, I have about a month left until my due date and according to the doctor and midwife, bébé could show up any day now. Not that there are any particular signs pointing it happening like, tomorrow, but I thought I’d do one more big update on how the pregnancy has been going, just in case . . .

Weekly bump photos 2

(compare to the first 20 weeks)

I’ve still been fairly active, though obviously as I get bigger, certain things are hurting more. Sudden shooting pain in my hips and pelvis is all sorts of fun. So swimming has been great, even though in my grey swimsuit I definitely feel a bit like an elephant/whale! My weight gain has accelerated a bit. It’s still within the normal range, but at the higher end of the range, so my doctor wants me to stay away from the sweets (not that he was encouraging them before), especially since I’m walking less because of the hip pain. Heartburn is a frequent problem, though thankfully never at the same time as the hip pain.

Things have gotten more “real” since 20 weeks, maybe because of how much he moves around, or because I’ve had more time to think about it, or because now we know it’s a boy and have a name picked out and everything. I really really wanted a girl, so I was dealing with some strong feelings of gender disappointment for awhile. And still am a little bit, since we are (almost) totally sure we only want one kid (and even if we wanted more, it doesn’t mean the second is automatically a girl as pretty much everyone likes to tell me! Apparently Mendel is unknown in France, lol). Basically, you picture your life one way, and then it takes some time to adjust when turns out to be totally different that what you expected . . . But expats are used to lots of lingering “what ifs” while still loving the life they have. I definitely would have been slightly less nervous about a girl, since I’d know what to expect a little better, but my husband is so excited about all the things he wants to do and share with our little garçon, his enthusiasm has been rubbing off. Plus, French boys just adore their moms!

Preparations are well under way: we have a crib, a changing table, a stroller, and a car seat! And lots and lots of clothes . . . There are still other things I want to get, but if he comes tomorrow, he’ll have a place to sleep and something to wear, which is the important stuff. I’m pretty sure he won’t care if the rug on the floor matches his sheets, but I’d still like to have as much in place as possible before, since we definitely won’t have time after.

Preparing our cat has been a long process. Since he’s used to sleeping in our room, we started closing the door every other night a few months ago. Now it’s every night, and he still doesn’t seem to get it, and meows a lot. He’s a very affectionate cat, and I also stopped him sleeping on my lap a while ago. It’s hard to see him “ignored” but I know it’ll be easier for him later if he can get used to it now. Having the baby stuff around is supposed to help too, and so far he doesn’t seem the least bit interested in it, which is a relief. I’d much rather have him ignore the baby than fight with him to sleep in the rocker . . . He’s much more interested in the boxes the stuff comes in, so if keeping him happy means having empty boxes all over the apartment for a few weeks, I can live with that. I’ve also read that bringing something from the hospital with baby’s scent will help, so we’ll definitely try that.

For my own preparations, I’ve had 7 birthing classes over the past three weeks, from a practice of freelance midwives who are close to my apartment, rather than at the hospital which is 30 minutes away (or 20 if you drive really fast like I think my husband probably will do on the big day!). These are the same ladies who will come over once I’m home from the hospital to help us with any questions we may have, and who will do my pelvic floor muscle rehabilitation therapy. While it’s reimbursed here, I don’t think they do this in the states, and I had never heard of it before, so I get very embarrassed talking about it and will probably never mention it again!

In the classes, it was just three of us with due dates in the same week, but I never learned more about them. Maybe we were all just shy, but I feel like in the states you’d be gabbing away, sharing advice or asking about the nursery decoration. The five minutes before class started were always so awkward, just sitting there staring into space. At least I avoided any crazy “mompetition” like “Oh, I’ve only gained three pounds so far” or “The doctor said he’s the strongest baby he’s ever seen” . . . We had classes on when to leave for the hospital, how to breathe, how to push, one with the fathers to practice breathing/pushing together, one on breastfeeding, one on what to expect once we get home, and we visited the hospital. The only official thing left to do is complete my file with the hospital and meet with the anaesthesiologist, both of which I’m doing this week. Then he’s allowed to show up whenever he wants, since I’ll be “ready”!

Like I’ve mentioned several times before, overall this really has been a normal, boring pregnancy. And I’m very happy about that! Notice I don’t say it’s been “easy” because sleepless nights and heartburn and needing to rest every three steps is not exactly my idea of a good time. But it all falls into the normal range of things to expect. Physically everything is as it should be, administratively as well, so I’m crossing my fingers for a delivery that goes just as smoothly!

Going to a concert at 35 weeks pregnant

During our little road trip in Western France, we would alternate who chose the music, and the following conversation happened in the car:

Husband: What band is this?

Me: Flogging Molly. I’ve never played them for you before?

Husband: No. But I like it. It’s good bar fightin’ music.

Me: They were one of my favorite bands in high school. I went to see them whenever they were in town. It’s been like, 8 or 10 years at least since I last saw them. I wonder if they’re still touring . . .

(a few seconds of googling)

Me: Oh wow they’re coming to Luxembourg in June! Do you want to go?

Husband: Sure, but won’t you be like, super pregnant?

Me: I’ll ask the doctor.

 

When I first asked him in April, he didn’t say yes or no, rather he wanted to wait until the date was closer and we saw what condition I was in. My totally boring and normal pregnancy has continued to be boring and normal, so when I saw him the day before the concert, he said it would be fine, as long as I didn’t get too dehydrated or tired (it’s been in the upper 20s C / low 80s F here the past few days and super humid). He didn’t say anything about it being too loud, and from what I read on my own, one or two concerts in 40 weeks will not cause any hearing damage (things like working every day on a construction site might). If he’d had even the slightest hesitation or worry, even if I felt okay, I would not have gone.

The evening was already a little cooler than it has been lately, with a nice breeze, so things were off to a good start. I met my husband in Luxembourg after work for dinner, then we walked over to the venue, Den Atelier, which is very close to the train station. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there’s no smoking allowed inside, since you can still smoke in bars in Luxembourg. And though of course the one person who ignored this rule happened to be right next to me, he only smoked one cigarette and then came over and apologized at the end, saying he didn’t see that I was pregnant! (Understandable since it was dark and I was in a dark tank top.) After dealing throughout my pregnancy with people smoking next to me at bus stops and train stations and never being brave enough to say anything, it kind of made my month.

There’s a balcony level, with wide benches against the wall for sitting/standing, so it was perfect for me. I could stand up and dance (well, sway my belly from side to side) when I wanted and didn’t have to sit down on the floor when I got tired. There’s also a small bar on the balcony level, which was very convenient. The venue is small, around 1000 people I think, and since most people like to be downstairs, upstairs there was plenty of room and you still had a really good view of the stage.

They’re an awesome group to see live, and watching the crowd below dance like crazy was almost as much fun as when I was younger and would be in the middle of it. The energy was really great, and something I’ve missed at other concerts we’ve been to. If it had been any other group, I don’t think I would have bothered, but I knew it would be well worth an extra bit of tiredness and achy feet. I’m so happy the timing worked out, and the doctor okayed it. We got to have a last late night out just us two, and I got to share some of my favorite music with my husband and bébé. We’ll have to wait and see if the experience means he’ll only fall asleep to “bar fightin’ music”!

Flogging Molly concert at 35 weeks
Flogging Molly concert at 35 weeks

Comparing maternity leave in France and Luxembourg

One difficult thing about going on maternity leave was how little flexibility I had in the dates. However, this would not have been the case if I were working in France. So I thought I’d do a little comparison of maternity leave in France and Luxembourg, to show how different it can be. This is just the basic legal stuff; collective labor agreements, like for banks or childcare workers, can often give even more time. (For example, my husband gets 3 days off for the birth rather than the standard 2.)

[table] , France, Luxembourg
Length of standard leave, 16 weeks, 16 weeks
Length of standard prenatal leave, 6 weeks, 8 weeks
Flexibility in prenatal leave, 3 weeks (added to postnatal leave), none
Length of standard postnatal leave, 10 weeks, 8 weeks
Extra leave for breastfeeding, none, 4 weeks postnatal
Extra leave for multiples, 34 to 46 weeks total, 4 weeks postnatal (not sure if this is in addition to the 4 weeks for breastfeeding or not)
Extra leave when not first child, 26 weeks total if third+ child, none
Full salary paid by government, yes (up to a limit of about 2500 a month), yes (up to a limit of about 9600 a month)
Leave for the father following birth, 11 consecutive days during the first 4 months, 2 days [/table]

So while overall, my leave is a little bit longer because I work in Luxembourg, things are much different in France for multiples, fathers, and people who have more than one child already. I think having the option to use most of the leave after the birth is a very good idea, though I suppose it compensates in a way for the lack of specific “breastfeeding” leave in France.

There is also the choice in France to shorten the leave to 8 weeks (2 before, 6 after), though I have no idea if many women choose this option. And 8 weeks is the minimum if you want to be paid for the leave. So what happens if you just keep working? Does your employer not have to pay you? Can they refuse to let you work? I have a feeling these are not really situations that happen very often, since you’re paid your full salary, but since my issue is with flexibility, these are questions I wonder about.

 

Parental leave is slightly more complicated, and the law in France will change this year starting July 1st. I don’t think it’s to be more like Luxembourg specifically (I have a feeling the rest of the country is not quite as aware of Luxembourg as we are in Lorraine), but they’re trying to encourage more men to take time off. Right now in France about 3% of fathers take parental leave, and they’re hoping it’ll go up to 20% in the next few years. Luxembourg is already at about 24%. Since the laws in France are (always) complex, there are obviously some additional points I don’t cover here, like multiples, single parent families, and crèches. Again, this is just to give an idea of the differences between the two countries.

[table] , France (new 2014 law), Luxembourg
Amount of leave first child, 12 months (6 months each parent full- or part-time 50-80%), 12-24 months (6 months full-time or 12 months part-time 50% each parent)
When leave is taken, anytime after end of maternity leave, one parent must take their leave immediately following the maternity leave or the other parent loses their leave
Both parents take leave at the same time, yes (part-time), yes (part-time and only if alternating schedules so child is always with one parent and not daycare/nanny)
Amount of leave more than one child, 3 years maximum IF second parent takes 6 months (otherwise only 2.5 years), same as for 1 child
Leave can be taken until child is . . ., 3 years old, 5 years old
Compensation from government, a few hundred a month (depends on income and if part- or full-time), around 900 part-time and 1800 full-time (fixed amounts independent of income)[/table]

 

We’re definitely happier with the way parental leave is set up in Luxembourg, since for us, that’s more important than the maternity leave. You’re only pregnant 9 months, but then there’s a baby to take care of . . . forever!! (The panic has started as my due date approaches!) We talked about both doing part-time at the same time, but the scheduling was a little too complicated.

While nothing was stopping men from taking the time in France, most don’t because they make more money and there are cultural stereotypes that factor in as well. So I’m not sure that just offering 6 months to the second parent will really change anything, and people aren’t particularly happy with the new limit of 2.5 years if the second parent doesn’t take the 6 months.

While the limits in Luxembourg seem to encourage men to take time, it’s still not a 50/50 split, and it’s definitely a question of money/culture as well. The compensation probably seems quite generous compared to France, but it’s basically the minimum wage in Luxembourg, so financially it’s not always possible for both parents to take the time off. It’s still better than in France though; the system is so complicated for figuring out how much you’d get per month, and once you make over a certain amount you don’t get anything, so after a certain point in your career it would be difficult to take the time without changing your lifestyle (like a baby doesn’t do that already?).

Part-time is generally a better option in both countries, since you’d have half your pay from your employer (or even up to 80% in France) and compensation from the government as well, so financially there might be less of a loss. It’s the same math future parents around the world have to do, even in countries like Denmark that have 52 weeks of paid maternity/parental leave, since individual situations vary and governments do impose limits to compensation. I don’t think any country gives you 100% of your normal salary for months and months of leave. (Nor should they, in my opinion, if part of the purpose is to make sure women have the same career opportunities as men.)

I should mention that for both maternity and parental leave in France and Luxembourg, there are conditions like having worked for a while (in general for maternity leave and at the company specifically for parental leave) and paid into the health care/social security system for a certain amount of time, which makes sense. Parental leave is always optional, so not everyone takes advantage of it, but I personally just love having options. So hopefully these comparisons help show the options parents have when choosing between working in France or Luxembourg!

Why I keep every paper ever

I got a letter from my complementary health insurance asking for an updated certificate from the national health insurance (the CPAM for me). I thought it might have to do with the pregnancy, since certain things are reimbursed at 100%, it means less for the complementary insurance to pay. (They already don’t pay very much to begin with: because of specific local laws for those living in Alsace-Moselle, the CPAM pays 90% for most things, rather than just 70% like the rest of France.)

However, it turns out the last certificate they had was from my student days, in 2011! Apparently I have not been getting reimbursed for everything I could have for the past three years. I go to the doctor maybe twice a year, so I didn’t really notice the missing 3 euros, but still, a nice surprise. I just have to give them the papers that the CPAM sends me with the details of what they paid.

I have an online account, but there’s only the past 6 months of payments, and the complementary insurance will back pay up to two years. Which is why I’m glad I keep every paper I ever get and file things in various large folders with labels like “Bank stuff” “Health stuff” and “Tax stuff” (all with a semi-chronological organization). I definitely try to keep track of paperwork very well here, just in case my residency card depends on showing a payslip from 2008 or a bank statement from 2010 for some reason. However, my recent renewal was one of the easiest ever actually, and I came home without needing half the papers I brought “just in case.”

In the end, I’ll probably only get about 15 euros, but that’s enough for yet another cute baby outfit! And when you combine paperwork organization and nesting, you get yet another folder full of receipts for baby clothes, just in case he comes out gigantic and half the things I bought don’t even fit . . .