Monthly Archives: January 2013

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where’s wally progress?

Progress feels slow but it’s there… just. I submitted a short story to a Paris lit magazine today, and also received a rejection letter from a lit agency I queried… before Elena was born. I got the message about four months ago, thanks, but the email cleared up any confusion, yes.

Sorry, no more bitterness. Promise.

Progress on my novel also feels slow but I have been distracted a lot, by other, shorter projects (and by other things entirely… like scrabble on facebook… can’t be disciplined all the time.)

Louis had an accident again at halte garderie. Perhaps he’s too young for potty training completely – perhaps its just a communication issue. I’m not sure. But we’ll try for another week or so and see if things fall into place. Prior to this he’s always had a nappy on when he’s away from home, so it’s steep learning curve.

Elena is progressing toward crawling and she’s getting from one side of the room to the other without it. She’s full of energy and eats anything she can get her hands on, happily finishing Louis’ leftovers. Her progress is more obvious than anyone’s and a great joy.

play, the work of childhood

The little lady wants in on all the fun.

It’s a year since we left New Zealand and I’ll write a summary of sorts in the next day or so, but yesterday I read back over my first two blog posts after we arrived in France. There is a very strange time warp thing going on – the year is so short and so long. We’ve learned so much French in that time and yet most days it feels like no progress at all.

So I suppose the lesson here is that progress is invisible up close, but it’s happening nonetheless.

Time is certainly progressing, no doubt about that! Only one more day of the january writing challenge. Here are yesterday and today’s small stones…

a glass of wine

if sunshine were put on ice till
it turned liquid
then chilled a while longer, sweetening
softly with age till
I glug glug it into my glass
a celebratory salute for ticking
off that one big thing
at four in the afternoon.

And today’s, inspired by our walk in the last of the gorgeous late afternoon sun,

the steeple bright, as
if two photos, day and dusk
were stuck together 

It was like a taste of spring today – just lovely. Spring is an excellent example of slow, easy-to-miss progress. We’re leaving winter behind but some days it’s still an awful lot like winter. (I know it’s still January – definitely still winter – I’m getting ahead of myself but you should’ve seen the sun today!)

enjoying the winter sun

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teachable moments

I’m a teacher at heart, so of course I try to grab the teachable moments when they come but Luuk has a real talent for it. He will have a job he wants to do and he includes Louis beautifully. They wash the dishes together most mornings, and if a toy needs fixing then here come team Paulussen.

Luuk and Louis fixing the red toy car.

Louis refused to put on a nappy yesterday morning and so, for the first, time, he went to halte garderie in undies. I tried to explain to his teacher (in french) that he would probably say ‘poopoo’ or ‘potty’ when he felt the urge, rather than the french ‘pipi’ or ‘caca’. Perhaps he was busy and didn’t speak up, or perhaps he was misunderstood, but he came home in his extra change of clothes…

And then wet them through on the walk home.

So I’ve learned some things: Mondays, take the double pushchair and pick up the bread before french lesson so that I’m not late to pick up Louis, and so that we can go directly home (do not pass the boulangerie, do not create more dirty laundry…)

And from now on Louis will be in undies unless he’s sleeping. It is on.

Yesterday morning at french lesson I conjugated ‘decider’, to decide, in four different tenses. And I have decided – to commit to this potty training buisness.

J’ai decidé!

I also conjugated ‘devoir’ which means ‘to must’ or ‘to have to’, ie. I must do my homework. Confusingly, the word for homework is also ‘devoir’ – because you must do it.

Je dois faire mes devoirs.

Forgive me for educating. I used to do it for a job. At teachers college they talked about ‘teachable moments’ – perfect opportunities to teach someone something, often in an unexpected way.

Yesterday Elena got taught about playing roll/pass the ball. Unfortunately she got a few headers in. Fortunately the ball wasn’t going too fast. We sat on the rug for a happy half hour, Elena between my legs and Louis at the far end, and passed the ball (several of them actually) back and forth.

Which brings me to yesterday’s small stone:

bouncy orb of air
giving disproportionate
joy just by rolling 

And then there are the non-teachable moments. This morning Louis and I baked shortbread. He hates trying new foods but I though butter and sugar mixture a sure thing – I mean who doesn’t love butter and sugar??

So I forced it into his mouth.

And I was wrong: this was not a teachable moment. I’d be surprised if he eats one of the biscuits this afternoon at play group, but we’ll see (he didn’t, just picked off the lemon icing). I’m hosting, which is good because the weather is rubbish. But then again, rubbish weather might keep everyone home and it’ll be a long afternoon with too many bickies if no one shows up. (Loads of people came and there are just enough bickies left for dessert.)

lemon iced shortbread cookies

Speaking of Louis and stories and teachable moments – and in honour of yesterday being the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice:

And just to keep things even, here’s a gorgeous video of Elena getting to know her mirror-self.

She’s really moving and screeching now!

With or without the teachable moments the kids are constantly learning and growing. Which takes the pressure off because I do miss the teachable moments sometimes. 

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stoning the should-monster

Category : Uncategorized

I have that feeling that I’m behind. There are emails that need replies and probably phone calls as well, chores and projects and people I’m neglecting.

I know, I could stop writing my blog and go do these things (in fact I already did – that line break took about twenty minutes) but ticking a couple of things off the list doesn’t remove the guilty feeling that I should be doing something arduous (or not arduous, but for whatever reason undesirable).

I call this the should-monster. The should-monster haunts mums (but not just mums) the world over and makes them miserable with all the little alternatives to the way they do things.

I choose to write, but I should be doing the laundry, tidying the kitchen, paying the kids more attention, writing something more important, getting some exercise, sorting out the filing…

There’s always something.

Now that I’ve identified the should-monster (about three years ago I was made aware of his presence) I am better at shunning his miserable-making but he still rears his ugly head on a far too regular basis.

Sometimes the best way to get rid of him is to do what he says, but that’s just like feeding the seagulls. They go away for a minute and then moments later thousands gather around, pecking at your fish and chip newspaper.

In the interest of clean socks tomorrow, I’ll do the laundry. But that’s all.

And here come the gulls.

I have two ‘small stones’ to share – yesterday’s and today’s – and the purpose of writing these little observations is to be entirely present in the moment, appreciating the thoughts and senses and experience of the now – as opposed to thinking of other times, places and the ever-present to-do list.

So I’m throwing these two small stones at the should-monster gulls.

I am purple girl
two times purple pants, cardi
gloves and a jacket.

Succulent circle steak
mushroom gorgonzola sauce
chips for wiping up


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the great divide

We are torn – we probably always will be – between people and places the world over. It is one of the pros and cons of post (post?) modern life. We can travel, relocate, see cultures and places as far away from home as we can get without space travel…

And I suppose, if really dedicated, space travel is not entirely off the cards.

Scrolling through my facebook feed this morning I saw, side by side, a friend complaining that she’s run out of after-sun gel, having gotten burned today, and the next post was a splendid snow angel (like a work of art really).

I have second cousins, friends I haven’t seen in 20 years, friends I have actually kept up with for 20 years (okay, maybe just one of those – but I’m only 27), in-laws and in-law-in-laws, siblings and their friends, people I only know online (blogs, twitter, etc), people I used to fancy myself in love with, people (probably… possibly) who fancied me, one grandfather (kudos, Grandpa, mastering technology at 87 and counting!) and one parent, teachers, etc. Not to tout the joys of facebook – hey, if you get along without it more power to you – but we have become international and there is a freedom in that: we can live anywhere and still keep in contact, in some form, with most people.

But there is also a sadness – we will never be near all the people we love.

The novel I’m writing is about a restless traveller finding a community, a home, a place to put down roots. The characters thrash out the virtues of staying in one place over visiting and living in several (or numerous) places in the world. Of course we don’t have to choose between adventure and meaningful community (especially in NZ with all those mountains to ski off of), but in order to understand another culture (especially one with a different language) you really have to live in a place for a while. Obviously this is an quandary close to my heart. We are coming up to a year in France and the language is just starting to make sense, the culture is still well beyond our comprehension and we certainly haven’t tried all the different types of cheese.

And yet I miss home. I don’t want to leave France. I just want to be in two places at once. Is that so much to ask?

Actually I would quite like to be in Vancouver, Columbus, Boca Raton, Auckland, Christchurch, Tauranga, Hamilton (odd, isn’t it?), Paris, London and Hong Kong… all at the same time. And now to get realistic: I want to be an hour’s affordable public transportation from all those places.

But I have this bad feeling about the teleport technology. Damn it.

So I’ll write out my issues, to the best of my ability, in a novel which may never be published. I tried to write a tag line for it yesterday – the hook, the one sentence sales pitch…

This is what I came up with, and trying to be objective I thought, wow-dull:

Restless D inherits her grandmother’s mysterious estate and ditches her job and boyfriend to live in a small town for a while – but putting down roots starts to tempt her.

maybe if I add this on the end:

…putting down roots starts to tempt her, almost as much as Tom the tortured music teacher.

Better, no? Okay, so I just need to keep working on it. Fortunately, the hook doesn’t need to be ready till the novel is. Unfortunately, that’s a while away.

But it’s a snowy saturday and now’s as good a time as any. I’m polishing chapter one. This is edit #3.  Yikes. Better get on.

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new waistline


In france and breadless? Shut the front door.

Well, yes. In the interest of keeping the door shut, keeping us inside and warm for as much of the day as possible, I am not going out to get bread today. The bread here is amazing when fresh and better used as weaponry when it’s stale, so we never stock up. And it’s Thursday so our closest baker is shut anyway.

sick kids cuddling

Between the cold weather and the cold virus, the couch is the best place to be.

I have Louis, feverish and teething, on the sofa, watching Veggietales, and Elena squealing at her banana happily, making a mess and lots of adorable facial expressions, and I am quite happy to stay home… if a little hungry. Yesterday’s soup is reheating in the microwave.

Creamy mushroom mmm.

Since I haven’t gone anywhere in days there isn’t much to talk about – except food. It’s been a baking week. And Louis won’t eat any of it. Visitors are my only hope, or there goes the newly discovered waistline.

new waistline

Therein lies the newly discovered waistline (not a new jacket though… I’m waiting for the third wave of price cuts in the sales – 80% off some stuff!)

toddler helps cook cupcakes

Lots of helpers for the chocolate cream cheese cupcakes.

On the plus side, I’ve been making soup nearly every day. But soup without bread..? It’s a hard knock life.

This happens rather regularly – a day when I’m out of bread and don’t want to go out to get some – and I’ve noticed a few things:

– bread attracts bad company. Principally: cheese. Not that cheese is bad but, oh alright, if you’re counting calories it is bad.

– bread jumps the queue. If I have bread, ready and waiting to be toasted or turned into a sandwich, then I use it. I don’t even consider other breakfast or lunch options.

– bread is filling, but not for long. I need to have some protein or loads of veggies with it in order to stay full all afternoon.

So, in theory, going without bread for a day or two occasionally is probably an excellent idea. But in practise, the kitchen is a mess and I’m living on apple, yogurt and coffee rather than cleaning a space to make something substantial.

Fortunately someone else is cooking tonight. We are going to friends’ place for dinner! This has happened maybe thrice in the last year, hence the exclamation point. Hopefully the kids eat and then sleep (we’re taking our handy dandy porta-cots for this very purpose). Louis seems better than he was earlier and his temperature has gone down. Fingers crossed they’ll sleep through my French lesson this afternoon as well!

ps. Louis did both. And Elena neither, but she slept while we were getting ready to go out. It was go-go-go, but on the train I managed to do the day’s ‘small stone’ on a memo on my phone:

The RER B train rattling south of a Thursday evening is cozy rather than busy – warmer and lighter inside than beyond its scratched windows. People read or talk or watch the half light racing past, the street lamps and unshuttered windows, silhouetted offices and shadowy station platforms. A woman, with fur hood thrown back and giant white headphones crowning tight braids, glares at her cellphone. A baby dwarfed by snowsuit studies the stripy scarfed man reading ‘le parisien’.

We had a lovely evening with our friends – a delicious peruvian meal and great conversation! And Luuk drove directly from work so he drove us all home. Much as the train surprised me with its very civilized and almost library-like atmosphere, the car suited the sleeping babies and dozy-me even better.

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word wars

So far, we’re having a wordy week. Yesterday’s small stone:

the words don’t flow, they tumble and tustle, clattering from my fingers, occasionally slowing their stumble in the vicinity of my brain, giving me a chance to catch them, tame them, but they’re too quick for me.

Hopefully that will happen again – very soon.

A writerly day, that’s what I’d like. Louis is feverish, probably teething – so he’s sleeping away the morning rather than braving the halte garderie. Elena is having a good long sleep as well. So it’s been a good start on the writing front.

And I discovered scrabble on facebook, so in theory the writing could have progressed quite a lot more. But there were word-foes to vanquish. And I did. Narrowly.

I could probably claim that scrabble is writer-training, but who am I trying to fool. This is not an expense claim form. I’m not trying to get a tax rebate on vaguely business-related costs. But it was fun. I was multi tasking – writing while my opponent had her turn – and no doubt both my game and my writing suffered, but it was fun.

And now I’ve stopped playing scrabble to make the most of this writerly-opportunity. But while I’m here, today’s small stone:

My toes, ankles and upper arms, that’s where I feel the cold. There’s a shiver between my shoulder blades and a tingle beneath the balls of my feet. I cross my legs and apply myself, tangled and intent. There is a blanket, a whole half-a-room away.

Naturally, the kids will wake soon, so I’d better find me some socks, a hot drink, another cardigan and something to read while I breastfeed. Being all ready for them to wake up usually delays it a while – not sure why, but that’s how it usually goes.

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worth bothering

My weeks are feeling rather full. I have two french lessons, at least one playgroup, Louis goes to Halte Garderie three times, and then the gaps fill up with other friends, visitors and errands… It feels managable, and then all of a sudden it doesn’t. Or that’s the way it usually goes:

under control, under control, under control, YIKES!

Yikes comes along faster as soon as I get sick or can’t sleep. Fortunately, this week, I’m on the improve. The weather is miserable (picturesque but miserable) and at least one, possibly both, of the kids are teething, and not particularly well along with it.

We did venture out today – to take Louis to halte garderie. It’s not a long walk but a bit of a workout with the double stroller. We were first to arrive, except for the teachers, but we were also first to leave. I was phoned in the middle of french lesson and had to go pick up Louis, who had a fever… oops.

The plan for the week now: lots of naps and movies and avoiding going out in the snow.

Sometimes I feel like I’m mad, trying to write novels as well as everything else. This morning I read a blog post by someone else who does something similar, which made me feel less uniquely bonkers.

Laura Joyce Davis, writing on Megan Ward’s ‘Writerland‘ blog:

“But being a writer makes me a better mother, because even when the words come like weeds from the ground, writing nourishes me for the rest of life. It gives me the grace to allow my son to find a voice of his own.

“Most days, I manage to make time for the whisper of words on the page. I say no to a lot that other moms embrace: play dates, timely returned emails, a vibrant social life. (Yiyun Li once said you only need one friend; she is a writer and mother, too.) I’ve banished the goal of the woman who has it all together. There isn’t time for her anymore. But that’s just as well…”

’tis. The woman who has it all together has left the building, if indeed she ever was here, and the woman who is editing two novels at once is left behind. I am, in theory, editing ONE manuscript at the moment, but I took along the first chapter of another to writers’ group on Saturday evening and all the critique is fresh in my head, so rather than being distracted (and distressed, if I’m honest) by all that was said, I’ve decided to get on and make the revisions to chapter one of that book. And then, tomorrow, I’ll get back to ‘grandma’s house’ – which definitely needs a better working title.

But titles are one of those things publishers mess with and I don’t want to waste a bunch of time on that at the moment. A decent title will certainly help to get interest in the book – from agents or publishers – so it is important, but for now I’m editing.

Editing editing editing.


I read another blog post this morning, on just how difficult editing can be.

Behler Blog‘s advice on editing:

“Do this slowly. Reason being, you need to make sure that your “now” voice blends in with the “you” who wrote this story ages ago. It’s a strange thing, but I’ve seen a number of cases where the writer has evolved, and the rewrites stand out from the old work.”

I suppose that’s a good problem to have, but it’s a problem all the same. I’ve written a whole nother novel since I finished the one I’m editing now. My writing has changed (improved, fingers crossed) and so editing, if I do it as best I can, might in fact turn out to be a full rewrite.

And some days it feels like an overwhelmingly huge job and I wonder why I bother.

But, on the whole, I’m glad I do.

To finish: today’s small stone.

A glorious crunch, gives this stolen chip, from my kid’s bowl, full of calories that don’t count unless he catches me thieving, and then there’s trouble. We go to the bag, top shelf in the kitchen, hidden and pegged shut, and retrieve ONE for a replacement. Fair is fair.

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Snowy Solace

We are living in a winter wonderland. Paris in the snow! I’ve seen very little of it but I did go in to the city for writers’ group yesterday evening. The group met, not at Shakespeare and Co (who are stocktaking – no one is jealous) but at an apartment near Bastille. I tried and failed to get a photo of the monument in the snow – but you’re not missing much. It was all rather bleak.

Instead, here’s our pretty street:

 Walking home along Rue de l’Eglise.

 And that’s the Eglise (church) behind my lovely husband and miserable son.

Louis is not fond of the snow but he is fond of kicking a ball and won’t walk in the stuff unless induced in such a way.

We have a friend from New Zealand staying with us and the kids are loving getting to know her. I suspect she’s enjoying renewing the acquaintance with our cuties as well.

 Jenny went with Luuk and Louis to buy pastries for breakfast.

We went down to the market this morning, braving the snow, but the market itself was undercover and amongst the vegetables and cheeses there were other wares. Jenny resisted this marvel of a hat, but we were tempted.

Picture perfect snow flakes. (Shame about the picture quality.)

On the subject of snow, yesterday’s small stone:

curb, branch and eave
underline that – just in case you missed it – 
it snowed!

And today’s:

How many times watched, how many hearts captured, by this pair and their reluctant, inevitable affection? How many hours absorbed by this film, by the book on which it’s based? How perfect the weather for (another) five hours sedentary pleasure. “… how ardently I admire and love…”

That’s right, we are watching a rather familiar BBC miniseries this fine snow-blanketed day. Wickham is spreading his terrible lies and I’m nursing cup of coffee while Luuk gets the market cheeses and some fresh baguette ready for afternoon tea. Lazy sunday, ’tis.

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all done list

The snow remains in patches, like only the most generous dustings of icing sugar on a too-warm cake. (Except for the warm bit.)

That’s today’s small stone. It’s been snowing on and off all day but such tiny flakes. I felt I was being gently salted on the way to the halte garderie. Louis loved it though. Shame about the temperature – not up to zero all day. I was very glad when Luuk happily agreed to pick up Louis, allowing Elena and I to stay in the warm and nurse our runny noses.

I’ve barely got anything done – but research always feels that way. I’ve been learning all about gardening and root systems. I also wrote a couple of possible prologue scenes, but now I think they won’t be in the book, unless as memories. I needed to write them, for myself, to clarify exactly what happened… they may or may not make the cut for the actual story.

I didn’t even hang out the laundry today. Oops. But I’ve assembled the cannelloni for dinner – it just needs to go in the oven. And I had a big long phone call – an ideas session really but the two of us cannot seem to figure out a way to get together in person during the week. Thank god for technology eh? Then I wrote a mammoth email which may or may not have made a lot of sense…

So it turns out I did plenty today. Screw to do lists. Want to feel productive? Write all-done lists at the end of the day. Woop-e-dee-doo!

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shallots for the eyes

The snow has frozen solid but it’s a clear day. Staying in until french lesson this avo – which will be a lovely catch up as well as, you know, a useful language to learn if you live in france…

Small stone, aujourd’hui:

Nothing clears a tear duct like fresh cut shallots. In the unlikely event this fails, use them to make soup and there’s some solace.

Having soup for the second day in a row. Love winter, and eating sensibly, and deliciously, and fitting into jeans several sizes smaller than I did just six months ago. Also quite fond of soup, in case that was less than clear. Last night it was cream of mushroom (with a tablespoon each of greek yoghurt and cream cheese for the ‘cream’ bit, then pureed all together and fresh baguette on the side) and today it’s cream of courgette done pretty much the same way. Three courgettes and two little taties, instead of a dozen mushrooms, and voila!

Anyway, must keep working on this rewrite. Am reading over outline and notes and writing more notes of all my ideas, questions, etc. At some point in the near future I’ll need to make sense of all this. Yikes. With any luck I can get this to sing, you know, emotionally. Perhaps will elicit tears with something other than shallots.