Monthly Archives: December 2012

  • -

De Ja Versailles, &c.

It’s been a busy week – all around the world, no doubt. It’s not just us.

We have had my sister and her husband staying with us over christmas and they just left today. They saw a lot of Paris for their little visit and we did a bit of it with them – which was fab! if a little tiring.

So, to begin with, Christmas!

Due to Louis and Elena’s ignorance about Christmas traditions (namely ripping open presents ASAP at the crack of christmas dawn) we managed to delay presents entirely until we got on skype with my parents. After breakfast.

Half the fun, at least, is in the unwrapping.

Louis got a farm from my folks and it was a hit, right off the bat, despite the absence of horses.

It was a relaxing morning, a leisurely two-course breakfast (documented on another post, of course) and lots of catching up, all around.

 Louis showed Elena how to play with the toy he gave her – yet another giraffe for our collection.

Lots of new books!

Elena possibly had more fun bouncing/dancing than opening presents.

… or perhaps Aunty Hannah was the best christmas present.

On boxing day, which isn’t a public holiday in France, we went to visit Versailles. It was top on Hannah and Will’s Paris to-do list. Good choice, I say. We’d seen the palace before but we went along to see the grounds.

It’ll be fantastic in spring. At the moment all the gardens are pretty much empty, the statues are covered up and the fountains are off. The grandeur and the evergreens remain, and the statues that are usually fountains, they’re still visible!

Louis particularly liked the horses. Imagine that.

Louis walked and walked all afternoon, jumped in puddles and fell over in the mud just once. He threw a lot of stones in a lot of fountains, little rebel, and never once went in himself. Success.

 On Hannah and Will’s last day in Paris we did a bit of Montmarte – Sacre Coeur, the cafe from Amelie, and the Moulin Rouge! But there are far too many photos to squeeze into this post.

Instead, here are a couple from Christmas eve…

Me and my sister (also Elena, hidden from sight)

Check out the view Lou! (Hannah has taken to calling Louis ‘lou’ or even ‘Loulou’…)


We walked down beneath the Eiffel Tower and then all the way up to the Arc de Triomphe.

Louis walked most of the way, but he was carried occasionally… very occasionally.

I’m sure Hannah is telling him all about the Eternal Flame and the history of the Arc de Triomphe. Sure.

That’s not the whole of our time with Hannah and Will, but enough pics for now eh? Tomorrow is new years eve and – oh wait, today is new years eve. So much for getting an early night in anticipation of the fact. Luuk bought me a board game for Christmas and we’ve been neglecting all else for playing it. Oops. Anyway, happy New Year everyone. xx

  • -

feasting and more

We’ve eaten too damn well this week. Christmas eve we staggered home from Paris (because of the tiredness, not the mulled wine) and then pulled together this marvel:

vino verde poached salmon, cauliflower gratin, lemon butter new potatoes and haricots vert

 If I hadn’t had it all planned it never would have happened. We had figs stuffed with chevre, wrapped in prosciutto for a starter – which I’d prepared earlier in the day. I felt committed so, hang the lethargy, we continued with the plan.

After that feast dessert seemed unnecessary but there’s a tradition we were hoping to have a go at: the thirteen desserts of Noël. One of which is truffles.

I made the mixture in the morning, hoping to have time to involve Louis in the making – balling up spoonfuls and coating them in something… but Louis was in bed by this time (and hallelujah.)

Making the truffles

We were too full to eat so making the dessert was a good way to delay eating it… I know there’s something wrong with that sentence.

Luuk went shopping for liqueur to put in the truffles at about the time I made the mixture. He brought home several options and we didn’t have time to add them. But we concocted a plan to inject the truffles with a little something something. Luuk had the vital job of choosing a liqueur.

Hannah, lacing the truffles with poire william and/or cognac.


My recipe was a total made-up-as-you-go jobby: a packet or two of biscuits bashed up in a bag, added to about 125g of butter, a couple of tablespoons of cream fraiche, some icing sugar…

For the lemon I added rind and juice of one lemon.

For the chocolate I used chocolate biscuits to begin with, and then added chocolate chips, cocoa, and vanilla essence.

I balled it up in plastic bags (glad wrap would do but reusing a plastic bag is vaguely environmentally more friendly) and refrigerated it – making it easier to ball up without having a big sticky mess.

We dipped the finished truffles in icing sugar, cocoa, desiccated coconut, chocolate sprinkles and/or a few star sprinkles.

All thirteen desserts, from the top:

  • Calissons (almondy biscuits that everyone loved except for me… too sweet)
  • Pistachios (not one of the traditional ones but we skipped walnuts)
  • Nougat (we only did one kind but traditionally there might be two)
  • Orange segments
  • Raisins
  • Bread (couldn’t find a ‘fougasse’ which is the one we’re ‘meant’ to have…)
  • quince ‘cheese’… jam.
  • cashews and almonds (only almonds is on the traditional list)
  • chocolate truffles (and lemon too because I wanted to try them)
  • casse-dents (or something like it – a biscotti sort of bickie)
  • slices of pear

We skipped the apple and winter melon in favour of more nuts and truffles… can you blame us?

Delicious but of course far far too much. Tradition dictates that it is all meant to sit out to be nibbled at till January. Most of it is gone or packed away for the sake of food safety and space on the dining table to have other meals…

We were all rather surprised to be hungry come christmas morning. I made choc chip banana pancakes – Luuk’s request – and then Hannah made bacon and hash browns because I couldn’t be bothered – or perhaps I was on skype… anyway, pictures of christmas and presents will be on a later blog post. Today it’s all food food food…

We did christmas dinner late in the afternoon, almost at dinner time. That’s how long it took to get an appetite again…

The table, all set, ready to go!

The marshmallow santas we made last week, a few tea candles, a few glittery stars… trés simple.

Escargot was up first – our amuse-bouche. We got them pre-prepared with garlic and pesto.

Luuk and I have had them before but this was a first for Hannah and Will. Hannah didn’t like the texture and Will found some nicer than others. The sauce was an all-around winner, sopped up with bread if not liked on the snails. Myself, I like them.

A little apertif: kir royale. Champagne and cassis. Voila.

Fresh baguette with everything, we are in France after all, and the bakery is open christmas morning! Can’t go without this stuff for a whole day.

Luuk picked out a 1/4 ham thinking we’d have it with the main course… but it was a dry cured… ie. not to be cooked up for christmas. This type of ham is for slicing and putting on sandwiches. So we sliced off hunks and tasted it between courses.

The entree was prunes and pears wrapped in prosciutto. Not overly classy but yummy and little – very important.

For mains we did an old school roast: potatoes, kumara (probably more a sweet potato technically) and stuffing, a big fat chicken, and cranberry sauce (of sorts).

For vegetables I wanted to make a dish I’d done before. This one was fiddly but delicious – only I didn’t have the recipe in my folder, and couldn’t find it online. It didn’t turn out quite right (too much egg, and so it was too filling) but still yummy.

Courgette’s rolled up with eggy nut mixture, and baked in a capsicum relish.

We were all, of course, overloaded at this point. The next course on the traditional french christmas menu, according to my sources, is the ‘green lettuce intermittence’ which actually had some appeal. And while we nibbled on lettuce we skyped with Luuk’s sister. Then, a good while later, we dished up the cheese…

Five types, count ’em… from the front, brie de meaux, neufchâtel, comté, bleu d’ambert and morbier.

To finish: champagne and the Bûche de Noël.

We had this with fresh raspberries and coulis. The buche has a biscuitty chocolate base and is mostly made of dark chocolate mousse. The middle was ‘crémeux de framboise’ which was surprisingly juicy and a perfect compliment to the rich mousse. The topping is more raspberry something or other. It was fantastic!

I got Louis this, mainly because it looks so cool. I think all he ate was the holly leaves… but perhaps that’s for the best. It is an eclair, on a chocolate ‘sleigh’. Santa is hollow and probably made of white chocolate. But very pretty.

We watched Ratatouille, a kids movie set in Paris, and the DVD was christmas present, while we ate dessert at a very leisurely pace. And that was our christmas meals.

What a feast!



  • -

marcher le marché

Category : Uncategorized

I had a terrible idea on Saturday morning, to brave the wind and rain and go into Paris with the children…

Why? Because there are famous Christmas markets – the marché du noël – on the champs élysée. Because there are only a few days till christmas. Because I need another christmassy thing we can do with the kids.

So we went, and when we popped up out of the metro at the arc de triomphe it was pouring with rain, gusting our umbrellas about and generally making us miserable.

Whose idea was this?

Eventually Luuk talked me into stopping in MacDo for a little early lunch and warming-up-session. This turned out to be a very good idea. The food was not particularly bad and we all felt much better afterward. The weather had even improved a bit.

We continued our walk down the champs élysée and eventually got to the marché du noël. We weren’t in need of presents or anything but perused the selection and picked out a couple of treats for christmas: candy canes and nougat!

This particular nougat stall had loads of these ginormous rounds of nougat. I picked the cranberry pistachio variety – seemed christmassy. And it’s delicious. I wasn’t a fan but nougat is on the list for the 13 traditional desserts to have on christmas eve (a tradition perhaps only in the south of france, but we can try). My expectations weren’t great but this stuff is amazing.

Louis walked a lot – little trouper! – and splashed in most of the puddles on the champs elysee. Luuk and I stopped for a little vin chaud – mulled wine. Perfect in the cold and rain.

At the bottom of the champs elysee, right outside the metro station: a merry go round! Perfect finish.

Louis rode a horse, round and round, and it was free! The city of Paris’ christmas present to us all.

And this was the view, standing by the carousel. Melancholic and beautiful eh?

So Saturday’s Christmassy thing was the christmas market. Sunday’s was a carol service.

Hannah (my sister) and Will (her husband) arrived from Ohio on Sunday morning and so we were busy catching up with them. We took them down to the market in Antony and picked up the last of the ingredients (and cheeses!) for christmas eve and christmas dinner.

And then Elena’s dedication was in the evening. Louis got loads of lovely play time with his doting aunt and uncle but not a lot of attention from me.

Not a flying success of a christmas challenge day, but a great day nonetheless…


On Monday, Christmas Eve, it was Hannah and Will’s first chance to see Paris. And the weather was great. So off we went…

We started at Trocadero, for a grand view of the Eiffel tower, and then walked down to the monument itself, through the christmas village/market thingamie-bob… we had lunch which was spread thoroughly with raclette cheese and then walked it off – all the way (less than 3 ks) to the arc du triomphe.

On the way to the champs elysee: this monument, flamme de la liberté, is a to-scale replica of the one on New York’s Statue of Liberty, and it has become a memorial to Princess Diana because it lies above the tunnel in which she was killed.

Aunty Hannah, Elena and Me

We stopped for coffee and cuddles, a bit of a reprieve from the pushchair for Elena, and a sit down for Louis, who had pretty much walked the entire way so far. And then we continued on, walking up the busy busy champs élysée to meet some friends (kiwis, travelling in Europe) at the arc du triomphe.

All together, we then walked down the champs élysée (again) and this time we got to see the lights!

It was very busy, but beautiful and festive.

So that was the christmas challenge thing for the 24th – the lights of paris. And boy! do they put on a show. Before we headed home Louis had a ride on a Christmassy train-thing and the grown ups partook of a little vin chaud and talked… Not that we hadn’t been talking all the way walking down, but it was difficult with all the crowds.

At home it was time for a special christmas eve supper… but that will be another post. Possibly tomorrow. Oh the food!


  • 1

embracing messiness

We’ve gone baking mad the last couple of days. My sister-in-law reminded me that this christmas challenge thing is all about doing things with the kids… whether we get gorgeous works of art – edible or otherwise – or not. Nonetheless, Louis and I have embarked on some projects which were perhaps a little out of his league. The stick tree was the worst as he could hardly do a thing. Yesterday we tried for a salt-dough nativity scene. It started really well: Louis loves to bake. He poured in all of the ingredients (from cup measure to bowl) and only a tiny bit went on the floor – but you’d be surprised how well salt spreads out. Anyway, it’s a very forgiving recipe: 2 cups flour, 1 cup salt, 1 cup warm water, and some recipes said to add 2 tbsp oil… but I didn’t. I put a bit of extra flour in but it’s possible we’d spilt some rather than that the recipe requires it. Making the figures was a team effort. Louis helped make the bits: balls for faces, big flat shapes for cloaks and for baby Jesus’ blanket, little balls for feet… His favourite bit was slapping the dough to flatten it – not overly surprisingly.

All the figures, ready to bake!

I rested the manger on the edge of a loaf tin so that it would have a curve: a little creative problem solving. Well done, me. I tried to get Louis to help paint and he did a little white on the sheep before he got bored. I finished them today while Louis was having his sleep. We collected some more sticks en route to the halte garderie so we’ll fashion them a stable this evening. Obviously the nativity making turned out to be a bit adult-centric. Louis had his moments but I thought today we could do better… by simply focussing on the side of things he loves: the baking!

First, selecting a recipe. There was no clear winner.

One of the choices was gingerbread reindeer. I used Mum’s christmas biscuit recipe. No idea where she got it but it’s fabulous, as long as you put everything in in the right order, and very low on dishes.

Here it is:

Melt 50 grams of butter in a large saucepan with 1 Cup of honey and 3/4 Cup of Brown Sugar.

When the sugar is no longer grainy, remove from the heat and add, in the following order, mixing…

Squeezing the lemon. Like a boss.

– 1 tbsp lemon juice
-1 tbsp lemon rind
– 2 tbsp cinnamon
– 1tsp ground cloves
– 1tsp nutmeg
– 1tsp all spice
– 1/2 tsp baking soda (or more, turns out, oops!)
– 3 cups of flour

Mix till smooth-ish.

The recipe says, roll out till 3-5mm thick. Cut shapes using cookie-cutters.

But today, for something different (for someone without cookie cutters):

Ball up teaspoon-fulls and squash into circles.

Balling up the dough.

For the reindeer variation: press pretzels into the top, as shown below…

Bake at 160°C for 15 minutes. Then cool and decorate. 

Bit of a snack.

All finished baking, and very soft, untill they cool. You were warned.

Couldn’t decide what colour eyes reindeer should have.

Now, what shall we do with all the leftover smarties??? First world problems, I know, but nevertheless…

Snowmen! If I’m honest this was probably Louis’ favourite from the pictures but he was being very contrary…

The ‘recipe’ online says to coat the marshmallows in ‘candy coating’. A bit of research revealed that this is something a lot like melted chocolate buttons. Too sweet for me. I went with the lemon icing and embraced the messiness. Louis helped with a couple of smarties and put the marshmallows on the sticks. And then ate a lot of smarties. Hm.

There was quite a lot of dough leftover but we’d done two whole trays of reindeer so I decided to get artistic, while Louis napped, and made a giant cookie:

Santa sleigh spiced biscuit.

And then I decorated it.

As you can tell, I got into it today. At one point there was icing, paint water and dishes from three different meals all on the kitchen bench… oh wait, there still is.

It’s the last day of work/school/halte garderie before the Christmas break. I ordered the ‘buche’ for christmas day, and delivered our christmas present to the Gardienne (our building caretaker). The house is a shambles but I’m feeling rather onto it. Always a nice delusion 🙂

  • 2

stick it to the plan

Pinecones are rather hard to come by, it turns out, especially in the dark.

Hurrah for the backup plan: sticks. I had seen this on pinterest:

Not my picture – obviously. Click the pic to go to the source.

We had a nice late-afternoon walk. It got dark just minutes after we got out of the house, basically, but we could collect sticks thanks to the lights in the park.

Louis had a blast splashing in the puddles and found a lot of joy in picking up soggy sticks. They’re still in the buggy, drying (I hope) and we’ll have a go at turning them into something like the above later this afternoon…

Later this afternoon:

I arranged the sticks, just trying to get my head around what I would do – and how I would do it with Louis.

I was starting to get a bit worried – it was more fiddly and complicated than it looked. So I tied most of it together while Louis was asleep. He helped with the string when he was up from his nap and took great delight in the transformation of five sticks into a star!

 Louis also enjoyed playing with the scissors and throwing the ball of string around the house. It is now unravelled almost entirely. Gr.

Unravelled string and ornaments.

The last step was to tie on some christmas decorations. I picked up a little box of white and silver balls at the supermarket and Louis helped arrange them on the tree – though he did want to put all of them on the star and I insisted we spread them out a bit more.

The other christmassy thing we did was post the christmas cards… to the other side of the world. They should arrive around valentines day. The packages, I hate to think when they’ll arrive.

I also got Luuk something (shhh, it’s a secret) and a card for Louis, cause he helped make the ones I’m giving everyone else – so it seemed silly to give him one of those. His card sings! He’ll love it. The rest of us will, quickly, feel otherwise, I imagine.

I also got Elena a snow suit. I don’t know what else to call it, but all the babies wear them here, snow or no snow, in the winter.

I got the 9 month size so it should last her all winter.

She was happier in it than she’s ever been in her puffy jacket. Plus, this has polka dots – totally cute. Also, it has legs. Very useful.

Luuk is doing THE CHRISTMAS GROCERIES today, so we’ll see him later in the evening, weighed down by poultry and disillusionment. We sorted out the menu and all our possible/definite plans for the weekend, christmas eve and christmas day.

My sister and her husband arrive on Sunday, just in time for Elena’s dedication on Sunday evening. If the jetlag isn’t devastating we might go to the Antony market together on Sunday morning, pick out the cheeses for christmas day, and restock on produce for christmas eve/day.

Monday, christmas eve, will be a manic day to go into Paris but we’ll probably have a go at it anyway. There will be four adults and two kids so at least we’ll have a higher ratio than usual. Plus, there are those lights on the champs elysee that I still haven’t seen. And the christmas markets are there too! Can’t believe we’re a week shy of the big day and I haven’t got there yet.

Nice to have so much to look forward to in the next few days. Hopefully won’t feel too pressurized by all my expectations.

  • -

all about food really

Sunday’s Christmas challenge thing was two kind of half-hearted things. I took Louis down to the ‘ateliers’ (workshops) in the square – a whole lot of craft activities for kids. Unfortunately only one was open to children under four.

But it was very festive and he got a helium balloon (though it being an ordinary balloon filled with helium, it is now on the floor like all the other balloons floating around our house, and dying faster than the rest.)

Louis and I made a sort of candle-cover thing which I suspect won’t be safe for candles, so I’ve put it over a light on the christmas tree:

Then in the evening, at church, the kids were decorating gingerbread houses and the little ones did gingerbread christmas trees – an activity which I organised, and made all the bits for, so I think it counts.

I didn’t have a cookie cutter, but trees, it turns out, tesselate rather easily, if not exactly, and so I cut them out with a steak knife.

I love the way food looks under the oven light – doesn’t it just sing of longing!

I thought it’d be great but Louis just ate all the sugar stars and baubles. A couple of them went onto his tree biscuit… after he’d licked them. Yeah, not a great success. The other preschoolers got the idea and did very well, but Louis is a bit younger.

And these are the gingerbread houses the older children decorated. Apparently the houses are readily available at IKEA. Next year!

On Monday I had great plans to go on a pine cone hunt. Pine cones are great as decorations in all manner of ways – painted or not, strung up, hung on the tree, piled in a bowl… whatever! But then a storm arrived just as Louis woke up from his nap. So I showed him lame (in my opinion, though he was happy) clips from christmas tv and movies on youtube.

Feeling like this was a bit of a cop-out, I hatched plan B: ‘rockin around the christmas tree’. In the evening we had a little christmas party. I mixed fizzy water and juice, put out some cheese-ball-like chips, and found some christmas tunes on youtube.

With the christmas lights on, and the other lights off, we boogied the evening away. I tried to take a video of our embarrassing dancing – I really did try – but the camera ran out of memory after three seconds.

I have a handful of ideas for later in the week, but require ingredients which we need to get with the groceries… so monday was ‘rocking around the christmas tree’ and hopefully today will play nice weatherwise for the pine cone hunt. (It hasn’t so far… but the rain has just stopped…)

I thought this post was going to be about how things don’t go to plan, but it is all rather food-focussed isn’t it. Should this tell me about my tendency to rely on food to fix problems?

Nevermind if it does. All day I’ve been resisting the pain au chocolat Luuk bought this morning. We had our final french lesson together. I’ve found these lessons quite difficult as Luuk and I learn differently, in style and speed. I go away feeling like the slow kid in the class. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my group french classes, which I leave feeling confident and positive about my progress with the language, however the old classes have suffered by comparison – or my attitude toward them has suffered.

Anyway, all classes are on break for christmas and the group ones pick up in January. It’s just a shame the last lesson left me feeling so rubbish when yesterday I was feeling encouraged.

Ah, the pain au chocolat is calling, and another coffee with it, before Louis wakes from his afternoon nap. If the weather doesn’t hold I’m wondering about painting holly with potato-stamps and berries with fingerprints.

Like this,

Not my image, click it to go to source.

We could cut them out carefully and stick them on the windows, since Luuk has decided that spray on snow is unnecessary. So I’m prepared, whatever the weather throws at us. As they say, Let it snow!

  • -

Overdoing It

Friday afternoon is usually a nice wind down for the week. Louis goes to nursery for nearly four hours and I can tidy up the house and have a little down time (if Elena is good enough to nap for ages). But this week, when I showed up to drop Louis off at nurser, the place looked deserted. The shutters were closed, lights off, and no one else was there to drop off their kids. And then one guy showed up and looked as confused as me…

Waiting in the rain… for nothing.

So I called my english-speaking friend whose kid goes to the same class at the same time. She’s all busy getting ready for the party, which starts at 2.30, somewhere else.


How did I miss that?

Well, probably because the notice was in french, if I got one, and it was handed to me at the same time as Louis jumped in my arms, along with his artwork (generally a lot of stickers stuck, or not, onto a picture of something seasonal).

Oops. Am I meant to bring anything? And where is it? I asked, frantically.

It’s okay, it starts in half an hour, only a couple hundred meters away, conveniently opposite the supermarket. So I bought my plate of food to share, including a festive paper plate to put it on, and a few other groceries, then went to the party.

It was great! It was also a bit difficult. I had to lock up the buggy outside (good thing I now carry a bike lock in the buggy at all times), put the rain cover on, and carry the kids and groceries upstairs to the party. Thank god for my friends who helped with the kids, and hallelujah for Louis being a placid child, standing among all the adults in the coat room, easily lost among all the people and scarves, waiting for me to find a coat hanger… it was chaos.

But then we found seats and Louis went up with all the little kids to sit on the mat. Elena and I sat at the back and watched the show: a shadow play! They used some of the kids’ doudous (cuddlies, or favourite toy companions they take with them to kindy) as the characters in the play. Elmo was one of the stars!

C’est Elmo!

All the doudous.

After the show the directrice told us what was happening next. I didn’t really follow. But I followed the crowd and got in the way just a little.

Then we had a fantastic spread of afternoon tea and Louis ate quite a few mandarins and mini kinder-surprise eggs (the ones that are too small to have a surprise in them).

Can I have another one?
Finish that one first, darling…

So it was a fabulous afternoon, but a bit of a surprise, and we got home around four, exhausted. We were having friends over for dinner that evening so I was juggling kids and dinner prep. Luuk, fortunately, came home early, and our friends arrived late – whew! But it all turned out lovely.

On Saturday I had three things on. There was the plan to shop Paris with my french friend, then my usual writers’ group and after that a Girls Night Out, which doubled as a farewell to one of the American expats I’ve gotten to know since we’ve been living in Paris.

I skipped writers group and still wore myself out.

Shopping Paris was in actual fact: having lunch at an arty restaurant in the 3rd arrondisement and then browsing the windows and displays at Galeries Lafayette.

The window displays at Galeries Lafayette: mechanical beasts and marionettes. Spectacular!

We were very self-controlled on the shopping front. I bought one christmas ornament and one present for Elena from the fabulous toy department.

Inside Galeries Lafayette, a six-storey christmas tree. Très brillant!

Up the top of the galleries there is a ‘panorama’ – which pretty much means the same thing in english and french from what I can tell, though I probably spelled it wrong in one or the other language. Anyway, lovely view of paris and lovely cup of coffee in the brisk breeze.
(The arrow is pointing to the arc de triomphe. I didn’t feel the need to point out any other landmarks.)

At breakfast I had been worrying how I’d get a christmassy thing in with the kids, for all my mad running about. Luuk was looking exhausted and far from enthusiastic about a day alone with the kiddies. But in the end the kids got two christmassy things!

Luuk took the kids to the mall and they saw Santa. In fact it sounds like they stalked him around the shops because unlike all the mall santas I’ve ever seen, he wasn’t sitting on his throne having children ushered onto his knee by an elf/photographer. This santa was wandering around the shop and if you caught him near his throne then he said something along the lines of, “Want a photo? Do you have a camera?”

So Luuk took the photos of the kids on Santa’s knee and it cost nothing. Not bad eh?
Though perhaps an elf/photographer might have had them looking at the camera &/or smiling…

They also did a little christmas shopping: the kids picked out presents for each other (or that’s how Luuk tells it, and given that someone is getting ANOTHER giraffe, I believe him).

I walked the scenic route home, so as to grab some bread, and I passed some kind of excitement going on in the square – lots of kids with lights and whatnot. So when I got home we bustled the kids out the door to see what was going on… and we ended up participating in a bit of a christmas parade. It would have been better had it not been raining, but the music was cool and someone was on stilts. So no complaints.

It ended at a park with a colossal downpour…

Pennies from heaven? Good thing we live nearby…

We left before the fireworks and got home drenched, and with no regrets about missing the fireworks at all. Crazy, crazy rain.

In the evening I went to my girls night out and had a lovely, not-too-late night.

Au Revoir, ma cherie!

Seafood pizza at Le Berny, Antony

live music in the background, good friends in the foreground (who even let me take photos – cheers!)

Lots of fun! I’m quite tired now though. With just over a week to Christmas I’m sure we’re not the only people overdoing it… but hopefully will be able to put our feet up and wrap presents or something for the next few evenings.

  • -

making decorations (and excuses)

Yesterday was a bit of a bit of a flop in the christmas challenge. I read Louis and Elena (or sang rather) the Kiwi version of the 12 days of Christmas. And then I thought we could write our own version, with all our favourite things… which was where things went wrong. I may be slightly overestimating my 2 year old son’s interest in writing songs and taking photographs. (And the song is unfinished. I’ll keep you posted. I’ve decided it is the answer to my creative-and-brief-family-christmas-letter-conundrum.) (I do like dashes.)

Today is miserable outside – perfect weather for a DVD. My sister bought Louis a Thomas the Tank Engine one last year – ‘Thomas’ Snowy Surprise!’

(Not my image but I’ve paid my dues by linking to their website. Merchandise much?)

After watching all the stories we played the ‘sing a long’ and then the games, one of which was ‘Match the Snowflake’.

Louis was rather taken with the pretty snowflakes, which made me think of another christmas craft we could do: snow flake making! And as watching a dvd, even a dvd with games, feels like a bit of a cop out, I thought we’d double up today and do both…- and it’s all to do with christmas, or rather ‘the holiday season’.

I had saved this image on pinterest a while ago – it’s not mine, therefore, and it will link you to the website of the woman to whom it belongs.

This was the simplest of the three and worked out beautifully.

If I’m honest, and I generally am, I drew, cut and even opened the snowflakes, but they gave the kids so much joy I don’t care if I technically did everything. Louis threw them around the room and made them fly, Elena had a good scrunch and munch, so I’m labelling this particular christmas craft a success! Might even try to hang them up in the windows.

As to christmas challenges earlier in the week, monday was the mad day (ie. the day off), tuesday was catch-up: present wrapping and clove-in-orange-candle-holders, and wednesday… rats, I’ve forgotten. Oh, right, letter from santa! Easy to forget, that.

Here’s what I mean by clove-in-orange-candle-holders. Cloves pressed into oranges makes the most divine smell – inherently christmassy. Don’t ask me why. Don’t argue with me. It’s just my opinion, but I love them.

step 1: make a whole in the orange skin with a toothpick

step 2: select your clove (one that isn’t broken)

step 3: jam the clove in the hole (if you can find it)

Turning it into a candle-holder (especially a safe one) is a bit tricky. You must ensure the orange is going to sit flat and stay that way: so you stick a bunch of cloves around the base till it sits right. Then you cut a cross in the top, after removing the green bit (sure, I could look up what it’s called but then you’d have to look up what it meant… probably). I cut out the center bit and then pulled back the peal just far enough to get the candle in.

Note: I did cut off bits of the candle so that the bottom was kind of pointy. Or pointier. (‘Pointier’ is an actual word folks. There you go; learn something every day, and today it’s not the name of a bit of an orange.)

If you have a ton of oranges, an artistic streak and a bit of courage, you might want to attempt something more ambitious:

Again, not my image. Flogged from via, you guessed it, pinterest. I was going to give this a go, but I suspect my attitude toward Louis’ involvement might have changed for the worse.

It occurs to me now that a load of people and cultures might take offence at making decorations out of food – food we don’t intend to eat but could have, had we not messed with it. What can I say? I’m the product of a very wasteful culture, it’s true, but on the other hand these are christmas decorations that are entirely biodegradable and aren’t made by impoverished children, losing their eyesight, in a fire-trap of a factory for eighteen hours a day… It’s impossible to please everyone.

  • 1

mail and post

Here in France mail means email and post means snail mail. Ah, the confusion, but by whichever name…

Tis the season of mail, isn’t it though? I have a little pile of presents to post, sitting on the dining table, and every night Luuk gets home and asks if any packages have arrived (I’m on strict orders not to open them if/when they do… which suits me just fine!)

Louis sent (e)mail to Santa (with a little bit of help from his dad) and yesterday received a reply in the post! So that was a nice and easy christmassy thing for us to do together: open and read Santa’s letter.

We arrived home from halte jeux to find something exciting in the letter box!

But lunch is tough competition so the letter had to wait till the pain au lait had been dealt to.

Santy! Said Louis.

This is the letter – blurry and in french… but Santa basically says that he’s got your letter and his elves are busy preparing and wrapping the presents. Christmas is coming soon and there’s lots to do, and while you wait for all the fun and festivities, turn over this letter to find…

… a maze. This should keep you busy till Christmas. Needless to say, Louis cast the letter aside and went to play with actual toys and other interesting things.

But Elena quite enjoyed scrunching it in her fingers and attempting to get the whole thing in her mouth.

Speaking of mail, our christmas cards are still un-written and un-posted, so they’ll probably get to New Zealand sometime in the middle of next year… sorry folks.

But I have been sending some other mail – of the email variety. I sent queries, synopses, and first-three-chapters to an agent and an editor this week. In itself this is not so very rare or exciting – it is usually followed, after months of waiting, by a form rejection letter without any useful comments at all. But this time it’s different (or so I keep telling myself) because the agent/editor actually requested my stuff.

I put up the basic premise of my story on twitter with the hashtag #pitchmas. Now if you don’t know how twitter and hashtags work, here’s the deal:

When you write something on twitter you have 140 characters in which to write your message or ‘tweet’. A hashtag is any word or series of words that follow a hash, eg. #amwriting or #christmas. You can search a hashtag and should find all the tweets on that topic, using that hashtag.

The #pitchmas hashtag was for novel pitches and I guess the idea was that editors and publishers could follow this hashtag and make some poor desperate writer’s christmas wish come true… like perhaps mine! It would be overstatement for me to claim poverty or desperation, but nevertheless, I followed the hashtag for a while and saw that some agents/editors were responding to people’s pitches.

I figured I had nothing to lose and put up mine:

And, as you can see, I got some responses! So I sent off what they requested, and now I wait.

While I wait… I will write, and write. Yesterday I started a christmassy short story which I hope to finish drafting today. But more importantly, I have those christmas cards! I was also concocting plans for some creative, possibly poetic, alternative to the traditional family christmas letter (ie. a whole year’s worth of news edited down to one and a half pages, with too many pictures, shrunk to the point of being incomprehensible so that they all fit… yeah, that’s what I did last year.)

But at least we don’t need to go out until this afternoon – for my group French lesson. I have cancelled Elena’s last session with the kinésithérapeute because she’s barely coughed at all in the last couple of days. No reason to torture the girl. And hurrah! She’s getting better. I’m so glad that we (usually) have such healthy kids. We’ve very lucky.

Happy Elena (and less than decent Louis… apologies) with the keys. Much better!


  • -

christmas challenge: days 7-11

these last few days have been the most difficult in a while. Elena has the beginnings of (potentially, probably) bronchitis and the doctor has sent us to ‘kinésithérapie’ sessions, where the physio basically squishes the coughs out of her, bringing up lots of the bad stuff, so that ideally she does not need antibiotics in order to get better.

It’s horrible. Elena screams and cries, and we have to go every day. Today, for the fifth session, I will also have Louis in tow… but hopefully I can leave him strapped into the pushchair with some toys and books, because I really don’t want him in the room with they physio and Elena (I did, he was fine). And I don’t want to leave Elena on her own – the treatment is traumatic enough.

We’ve been staying home in the warm as much as possible, but managed a couple of outings, and some rather simple christmassy things at home…

Day 7: christmas market

Antony, our ‘ville’, has a lovely little ‘marché du noël’ each year. It starts friday evening and with all the lights in the square this seemed a good time to go, even if it was a bit cold. We took turns staying home with Elena, since our house is only a hundred meters or so from the square. Louis raided the macaron tasting platter and admired the wooden snake toys. I bought a bunch of christmas presents and some delicious clementines, one of which Louis is enjoying while I write this.

8: la poste a letter to santa

I stole this idea from Fern but as we can’t take advantage of lovely New Zealand Post, and their not so lovely uniform letter-from-santa replies, I googled the french equivalent. ‘La Poste’ have a letter to santa thing on their website, which I can’t tell you much about because Luuk went through it with Louis while I was at writers’ group.

But they did print out a paper doll santa – with two outfits: one of the Louis 16th persuasion (ie. fleurs-de-lis on his jacket) and another of the “cro-magnon” persuasion (ie. fred flinstone-ish).

9: hanukkah!

Not strictly Christmas, but this works for me! I’d never been to a hanukkah party before, but I had tried latkes, so I knew there was plenty to look forward to. The latkes were delicious – even Louis ate some. The kids played, Elena had a little sleep and didn’t cough too much, we managed brief conversations in broken french with the frenchies present, and then got tired/lazy and just spoke to our english-speaking friends, and the kids, who are disarmingly bi-lingual.

The second night of hanukkah, therefore the central lighting candle and two others. These are left till they burn out. And then we turn the lights back on and have dessert!

Luuk, Elena, and Jerome in motion (as usual).

Luuk, Elena, Louis, Eric (Jerome’s little bro) and their Dad. Ah, parties with children…

Louis discovered a rocking horse – he’s been wanting a horse since we tried to explain sinterklaas coming on one… I suspect the wee man is a little confused, but surely he’s used to being confused by now; a virtually perpetual state for toddlers, I imagine.

He won’t be getting a rocking horse unless Santa pulls out a serious christmas miracle (and a bigger apartment to put it in) but he might have a toy horse in his present from Gran and Grandpa, a little birdie (who sounds remarkably like my mum) told me.

Despite the bronchitis-y-thing Elena pulled out the charm and enjoyed a bit of ‘coo coo’, which is the most common french response to a cute baby.
And that’s what Jerome looks like when he’s standing still.

10: life as a farce, or mission impossible

I didn’t even think about the christmas challenge until after 8.30 last night and that thought followed another that went something along the lines of, ‘did I put my pjs in the wash or under my pillow?’ I was so stuffed, I was trying to figure out the shortest walking distance to bed, taking in all the little stops I needed to make en route. Unfortunately, Louis was still awake and I needed to feed Elena again, so it was nearly an hour later that my head hit the pillow, and I didn’t do a single christmas-related thing at all.

I did have two french lessons, a sick husband, a baby-torture-session of ‘kinésithérapie’, made soup, bought groceries and christmas presents – no, that doesn’t count. Louis had fun running around the supermarket, once we let him out of the trolley. Though I did find myself apologising to a lot of slightly alarmed-looking strangers. We picked out treats for his teachers, and our teachers (french tutors), and stocked up on coffee (after having to serve decaf at our french lesson!)

After we got home from shopping, Louis played with his new penguin, Madagascar merchandise in actual fact, but free if you spend a lot of money at Cora.

Yesterday was such a bust I didn’t even write. Not a thing except vaguely grumpy text messages to Luuk arranging where to pick up Elena and I after kinésithérapie, before shopping. That’s all. It was a farce. A gong show.

Mais, c’est finit.

11: Today we’ll play catch up.

Other than taking Elena down to the physio we are at home, keeping snug, so lots of time to…

– rock around the christmas tree (ie. dance and sing along to some christmas tunes)

– wrap presents

– write the christmas cards (this one I’ll be doing while the babies nap, probably)

– raid Fern’s blog for other ideas… christmas cookies, peut-être? Louis does like baking, but then we have all the macarons left over from the christmas market so maybe we’ll save baking for next week.