Monthly Archives: February 2013

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un peu fou

I’m a bit mad. In the nice way (I hope).

I’ve gotten a bit madder this week. There was a rough moment yesterday morning when, after I hung the second load of washing, the rack finally decided to make its feelings known.

too much laundry

It’s official. There is too much laundry.

I’m obviously mad because I embarked on painting with a toddler. On purpose. He’s two and would rather scoop paint into the water. Yum, soup. But we did these:

Louis' paintingBouncing Balls! By Louis

 up and down

Up and Down, by Amy
though Louis did help a little with the bottom third…

umbrella painting

And I added another layer to my umbrella/mushroom painting (which also serves as a curtain for the window in our living room door). It’s a long term project.

It felt very bold to do this… partly because I quite liked it the way it was, and others had said to leave it. But the original idea was more like this and, though it still needs a bit of work, I think the added colours and layers were a success. Hurrah for taking risks and hurrah for making good colours (that red was a bit of a masterpiece in itself, if I do say so…)

Red is the colour that’s meant to be poison isn’t it. Anyway, back to madness…

I was warned that my dermatologist would be a bit mad but today I met him, and he seemed alright. To be fair, he didn’t have my appointment marked in his schedule and so perhaps he put in a little extra effort to be nice, while making me another appointment and then shepherding me out the door.

If I was mad before this afternoon, I’m madder now (in which sense? Ah, take your pick.) We had a crazy day. I had my French lesson and had to leave ON TIME and tout de suite to get to my appointment. And because I was feeling a bit anxious about my first skin specialist appointment, with an allegedly mad french-speaking doctor, I walked super fast and arrived half an hour early. To the wrong address. Which is fortunately over the road from my friend’s kid’s school. And she had the magical ability to read my doctor’s handwriting, pointing me to the right address, and also helping carry my pushchair up the stairs. (Seriously, doctors of all people should have wheelchair/pushchair accessible premises!)

The kids and I waited for a full hour, Elena becoming increasingly un-cool about the whole thing, Louis becoming so hungry he in fact ate bread sticks (which he’d gone off of… till today, so there’s a perk!)

Louis was full of scary-manic energy and wanted to run home, but I’m getting ahead of myself. We waited and waited and then the doctor saw us simply because we were there for so long… only to break the bad news: I didn’t have an appointment. It’s probably my fault – in part – but his receptionist definitely told me the appointment was available, I repeated the date and time and said, “Je prende ca. Je prende cette rendez-vous.” Which might not be perfect grammar but is hard to misunderstand. I take that. I take this appointment. Come on people!

And then she tried to tell me something else in french, which I got completely confused by. And she spoke really fast, on the phone (harder than in person), despite my telling her that she was speaking too fast for me to understand. “Pardon Madam, vous parlez trop vite pour moi. Je ne comprende pas. Je suis desolé.” Etc. etc.

Anyway, I now have an appointment on a Saturday  when I won’t have to take the kids. And on the plus side my skin has calmed down which makes the dermatologist less of an emergency to keep me from going completely mad. I’m getting more sleep than I was.

Though you’d hardly know it from how tired I’ve been. My friends keep assuring me that when the kids are a little older I’ll get to sleep past 6am again.

Anyway, that’s enough ranting from me. I’m making us a lovely decadent dinner of fresh pasta and salmon steaks. And then I’ll put my feet up and relax. It’s nearly the weekend. Hurrah!

It hasn’t been all tough bickies this week. The kids are relating to each other better and better. They even feed one another, given the opportunity…

helping with breakfastOr they fight over the cheerios (cereal) but all in good fun. Elena’s learning to hold her own. Essential. Sooner the better.


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different cow species

on a hiding

on a, in French, means ‘we have’… so I could say on a cacher which means, ‘we hide’, but I’ll get to that later.

I got another rejection letter – argh! – but this one was very (very!) encouraging and had helpful advice… so, if I’m keeping perspective, this is all very positive progress, after all I’ve only been writing every day, with this kind of dedication, for a year, and good things take time and all of that bollocks.

Which isn’t bollocks at all but for a day or two, inevitably, I’m going to feel like all this work is for nothing. That I am on a hiding to nothing.

Speaking of hiding, the weather has been icy and snowy and miserable. So we spent the weekend hiding… but boy did we find some fabulous places to do it.

1. Mysterland. The indoor playground, south of Paris, that I wish we’d discovered a year ago! This place was several steps up from the one we did discover, when the temperature was hanging around freezing point for about a month and our 1-year old needed a bit more room to roam than our tiny hotel room then slightly less-tiny apartment. Now he’s coming up two and a half, so he needs even more room… but he’s more cautious now than he was then. Refused to go in the ball pit at all, but he did enjoy riding around on a toy motorbike and building walls with giant lego. We met a bunch of other friends with their kids and so we all chatted, ate crêpes, drank coffee, and occasionally got up to attend children/put them on the carousel.

2. The ‘asiatique’ buffet (ie. seafood for asia!) across the parking lot. All you can eat, and then some, of the usual chinese buffet suspects, plus a sampling of sushi, fresh spring rolls, dumplings, and then the fresh wok stuff – where you put your raw ingredients (including delicacies like scallops) on a plate and they cook it up for you, just so, with your choice of sauces.

Awesome. And I over-ate to all-new-excess.

And then came home only to print and dash to writers group. But that was good too.RER dash

The dash to writers’ group: on the RER train.

3. Salon de l’agriculture at the Paris Expo centre… which is really centreS – plural. Holy cow it’s huge. And holy Cow, that’s a lot of cows. And we didn’t even go into the cow building. We just saw the overflow cows (which I’m happy to say were not overflowing in and of themselves) in the building with all the sheep and goats and pigs.

And now, pictures…

Elena wrapped up

Unfortunately we had to go outside to get to the show… so wrapped up snuggly, we took the RER, then a tram (a first for me, in Paris, and for Elena… anywhere)

scary donkey

First stop, the horses. We got there early, hoping to avoid the worst of the crowds, and thought we’d best tick off the most popular sights first, for the same reason. But Louis was too scared to go near the horses/donkeys, even though they’re like his favourite thing the rest of the time, and he sees them regularly at the local park… but logic be damned.

pat the horse

Other people enjoyed patting the horses. Luuk and I included.

fancy tails

Others enjoyed plaiting their tails. It’s a thing, I guess.

fishes and bubbles

Louis calmed down when we got to the smaller animals. And there was a bubble machine beside this fishing display. Elena liked the fish.

Louis finally patted an animal when we got to the bunny rabbits. There were also screeds of different hens and other poultry. They were conveniently beside the produce section: saussison sec, cheeses, chocolates, caramelized nuts and candies (fruit pate at an exorbitant rate… that they don’t tell you till after you agree to buy some).

We should have spent more time there, but nonetheless…

sheep and lambs

We came all the way from NZ for the sheep! Oh, wait. Just kidding. Though I suspect this is the same breed that our friends farm in Otago.

big sheep

And this one was rather large.

french marino

And they have Marino in France too, turns out.
Another thing I thought was special about NZ… so much for that.

cow bells

And then there were cows. The bells gave them away.

cool cows

I thought these two were a handsome pair.

different cow species

And these two won the prize for interesting hair dos. By my opinion. No idea about actual prizes. Be there isn’t one called ‘interesting hair do’. There should be, though.

Howdy Cows and Boys

Forgive my ignorance. I’m sure my farming family members would have appreciated a whole lot of the details that went way over my head, in fact I still haven’t quite figured out the bell thing – is it so farmers can find their stray herd-members? I have another theory – the cows don’t like the noise and so they don’t move so much when they’re wearing the bells??

Shot in the dark. Figuratively. Though, wearing a bell would make it easier to shoot a cow in the dark. But still unwise.

4. The fourth way we hid from the weather was yesterday: Inviting ourselves to friends’ houses. I had a bit of a gong-show Monday morning because Elena had been up every hour in the night and then it was snowing. The thing with Monday mornings is that Louis has to be at halte garderie at 9 but French lesson doesn’t start till 10 (and in reality often later). So I have this chunk of time to kill, and I often just walk around Antony or a park on the way to class, but the weather yesterday was not all that inviting.

Antony in the snow

Antony in the snow. (The mad drivers are just out of this shot, on the left.)

Then French lesson finishes (again, in theory) at 11.30 and I have to pick Louis up at 11.50… but getting from one to the other takes more than fifteen minutes and when the path is icy, longer. (It’s not icy enough for safe skating.)

My walk to French

The icy path. (But it’s a nice walk otherwise)

So it’s stressful. Yesterday, class didn’t start till nearly 11 (blame the trains and the snow-crazy drivers) and so my friend gave me a ride to pick up Louis. We left Elena at the lesson and dashed down, got Louis, and returned in time for banana scones (and to scribble down the last few notes on pronomial verbes pour le passe compose et futur proche). But then I was faced with the prospect of walking home, in the snow, with Louis also walking because the double buggy is a nightmare in snow/ice so I only had the single…

Anyway, long story short, we spent the afternoon at Marcelle and Johnny’s again.

the boys holding hands

Louis and his friend Sua, being awfully cute, watching The Wiggles and holding hands. They didn’t know we saw them…

self-crusting quiche

I made quiche for us all for lunch… self-crusting quiche. Awesome.

The kids slept, I cooked, Marcelle, Mel and I talked… about Marcelle’s new business start-up, about my novel, which they’re very helpful with due to real-life expertise in the field of rugby player romance… And then Johnny came home and the kids finished school. It was still snowing so we hid out, hoping it would stop, did some gymnastics… as you do. Turns out I can still do a cartwheel and a handstand (against a wall). Didn’t risk the back-bridge.

Johnny drove us home, good man, and if I can manage it we won’t be going out today. The snow is gone but it’s oppressively grey and we can live without bread, if necessary. Or maybe I can coerce a friend into bringing us some…

And on that note, better get some writing done (just in case I’m not on a hiding to nothing) before the friend shows up with the bread…


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hungry much?

I’ve been all about the writing today. I’m hungry for the next scene, the next twist, the next big reveal! I did nap this morning, but I wrote right up until napping became necessity and then wrote again as soon as I got the chance (must thank Louis when he gets home from halte garderie, my lovely boy, for being so conveniently distracted and happy).

I can thank Elena now.

What a happy baby!

I’ve made stacks of progress with editing, though I suspect I’m racing a bit and probably need to do another once-over of the bits I covered today, just to be sure…

I’ve been all about the food today, as well, if I’m honest. Yesterday was the same. My diet’s gone out the window. Elena was off her food this week, she was a bit sick, and has been relying on breast milk for nutrients more than usual, which is probably picking up my milk supply – which is all related to my sudden increase in appetite! Yesterday I ate all the leftover dolmades (they did need using up) for morning tea and then had a full sandwich for lunch as usual. At French class I ate about three times my share of afternoon tea and today… I kept sneaking into the kitchen for another peanut MnM this morning, and I just inhaled my second pastry for the day.

And then I wrote a poem about it.

if I were an apple
destined to be consumed
I’d like to be the one oozing
from between the layers of
un chausson aux pommes,
turned caramel crunchy where I made my escape
but just baby apples in the middle.


I do love these things: in English, a slipper of apples. Yeah, it’s an apple turnover, but a REALLY GOOD ONE.

Dinner is going to be full of veggies. And pasta. But mostly veggies. And then we’re going to have a lovely lazy evening (new episode of Modern Family, fingers crossed) and an early night. Stayed up way too late with our friends last night. Introduced them to Bohnanza, or ‘The Bean Game’ as it is generally referred to it by its numerous adoring (and English speaking) fans. It is great for groups, addictive, tactical and nearly everyone who plays it seems to then go out and buy it. So if you don’t want to buy games at the mo, you’d better stay away.

Hurrah, it’s Friday. I would take a video of Louis saying ‘bon weekend’ in his lovely French accented way, but he’s on the potty and you don’t want to see that. Plans for the weekend? A new bike seat needs picking up (the new bike comes next weekend), there’s an agricultural show in Paris, and our friends want to introduce us to a big indoor play land for kids – better than Acrochats, which isn’t saying a lot in itself, but it snowed today so indoor playgrounds are gaining appeal.

And one other thing to mention, two years today since the Christchurch earthquake. It wasn’t the first, but it was the killer. I watched a tribute video on youtube earlier (possibly unwise) and I had forgotten how bad it all was. But if you’re feeling unwise and/or curious…

The theme at the next Paris Spoken Word stand-up night is ‘hometown’. Christchurch is, in a way, my hometown, but I don’t really know what to say about all this. I’m tempted to say my town is gone, but it isn’t really. It has just changed.

It’s too hard to get along to the Spoken Word event anyway. But at the risk of being the millionth person to say it today, kia kaha Christchurch.

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Excuse me while I freak out.

So there was a lump. Turns out it’s nothing – stress probably. Nothing to worry about. Spot of cream for a few days and it’ll go away.

Only the lump is on Louis. Just one little spot, and nothing anywhere else, and not anywhere dodgy (ie. near lymph nodes)… but nonetheless, it’s on the two year old and therefore I will quietly (because it might not actually be cancer) FREAK OUT.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past two days. And not telling anyone except Luuk because I don’t want anyone else freaking out… you know, unless it’s necessary. It’s remarkable how much effort it can take NOT to freak out, to NOT tell people what’s on your mind…

And if you know me, you know all about my natural talent for keeping my mouth shut.

The doctor pointed to Elena as the cause of Louis’ stress. She might be part of the equation but he seems so chilled out about her addition to the family. I’m thinking that the food dramas, potty training, new big-kid bed and the frustrations of increasing communication are probably all part of the problem. But how do you reduce the stress on a 2 year old? Consistency, I’m guessing. Giving him everything he wants whenever he wants won’t do it – because it’ll be so inconsistent, as well as NOT a long term solution.

Anyway, somehow I’ve managed to do quite a bit of my two main jobs this week: laundry and writing. I even did my French homework yesterday evening, in the waiting room for the doctor. I think I’m quite good at focussing my energy on one thing in order to keep from focussing it on another. But I certainly don’t want to perfect the art. Thank god he’s okay.

I have a French lesson this afternoon and I’m hoping to get lots of writing and editing done this morning, so that’s today’s plan. I’m adding scenes from the male protagonist’s perspective throughout my novel and it’s going really well – adding a lot to the story I think.

And just in case you’re curious, here’s the opening couple pages of my novel (having been tried and tested at my writers group so hopefully they spotted any glaring ickyness…)

Looming iron gates stood in the path of my trusty rusty car. Rain dripped down my collar, but that was nothing compared to my discomfort at even the memory of the last time I’d been here, for the reading of Gran’s will. No one understood why the old lady left her house and grounds – estate might be the more appropriate term – to her middle, and in nearly every way middling, grandchild.

Wrestling the gate latch, I couldn’t see the house at all – it was that far away, and ancient trees stood sentry, but the dark played some small part in its invisibility. I reached through wet cobwebs and see-sawed the latch till it gave way, pushing the reluctant gate open, and scraping up the gravel all the way to the post.

The radio was playing in the car – or not the radio; there’d been nothing but static for half an hour. ‘And so it goes, and so it goes, and so will you soon, I suppose,’ Billy Joel sang, in my warm, dry car, packed to the ceiling with all my stuff. That Billy, he had it right. I would go, and soon, I supposed. A holiday at Gran’s house, and then I’d get on with real life.

I pulled a wad of soggy paper from the letter box and got back in the car, bouncing along the driveway over potholes and puddles. I feared the place might be a little worse for wear, untouched and neglected for over three years. God, the garden would be a mess. Steeling myself against the cold, I summoned every positive thought:

For starters, I didn’t know anyone in Ashbury except Aunty Susan. I would have no commitments, no one’s expectations except my own – derived from memories of summers long past; expectations I knew must be wrong. But in the absence of real information I held them loosely and hoped not to be entirely disappointed. There must be some sunshine, on occasion. Surely. There must be a few people around my age, or with some other common ground.

I was starting fresh. I could entirely reinvent myself.

A very seductive idea.

And I was free. Freedom was the most seductive idea of all.

Billy Joel crooned on, ‘And so it goes, and so it goes, and you’re the only one who knows.’ I parked close and dashed to the door with only my purse. The key slipped in my fingers, fingers that had lost all dexterity.

“Work, damn it!”

I jammed the key into the lock as if punishing it for defiance.

I was soaked through; what difference would it make if I spent another ten minutes in the downpour before dripping on Grandma’s carpet? She’d hardly be there to tell me off. I swallowed a sob, but why was I crying? For Grandma, or Carl (there would be dozens of missed calls by now, or defeated silence) or all the uncertainty of my future, uncertainty which had thrilled me time and again in the past but scared me now.

Angry rather than impatient, I jammed the key in further, twisting, swearing, slamming my hand against the wooden panelling. Until the key broke in the lock. I held the stub up to the beam of the headlights, wondering at my own strength. The fight had gone out of me and all feeling with it. I was certain that Carl would be fine, that everything would be fine – fine by me, at least, because I was suddenly and utterly detached.

Beyond the car the town lights beckoned. I picked up my purse and walked down the driveway, towards the light. The Ashfield Arms was a block and a half away. The rain eased then stopped and the walk warmed me a little, my muscles appreciating the activity after being cramped up in the car for most of the day. The shops looked the same as ever. The Salvation Army Store displayed the best of a bad lot of used clothes on broken mannequins, and next door the liquor store advertised fluorescent green drinks and a job vacancy. I slowed – not for the job advertisement, but because I heard fighting voices.

A woman demanded, “You think I don’t feel guilty?”

“That was your choice.”

I stopped walking, unwilling to be seen, but I saw them. She had her back to me, and black-stockinged legs with only marginally more girth than her stilettos.

He turned as if to walk away, to go back into the pub, then stopped when she spoke, his curly hair springing towards the door once more after he stopped moving.

“That only makes it worse.” She leaned toward him, desperate to be understood, “It’s easy for you. You’ve done nothing wrong. You never did do anything wrong. You didn’t have any tough decisions. You got all the perks. As always.”

He turned to face her, flushed and wide-eyed. He was tall and broad. How could they have been a couple? He’d have crushed her.

“You have nothing,” her voice caught beneath the eaves and echoed back, “nothing to feel guilty about. You’re free. You have nothing to regret.”

“I regret everything.” Each word sunk, heavy from his lips.

I edged toward the building, into the shadow. They were silent for a moment.

And then she slapped him.

He stood utterly still.

She strode away, got in her car and tore off.

He lifted his hand but didn’t actually touch his face, only wiggled his jaw side to side and, shook his head, and slunk inside.

I waited, not wanting him to know I’d witnessed the entire thing. I could hear music – a little background classic rock. The chill was settling between my shoulder blades. The warm light in the windows and the smell of frying chips beckoned me in.


No one said anything. No one even made a face, but Kim’s hand print must have been clear as red paint on my cheek. I ordered a beer and then went to the loo. The mirror in the men’s was a little larger than a dinner plate but gave me the information I needed. I splashed water on my face and wondered how hard I’d have to hit myself on the other cheek to make it look like I was just flushed from too much drink, or getting really excited about the cricket.

No. The cricket wouldn’t do the trick this time. India were cleaning up. As much fun as it is to watch the Aussies get their arses kicked, that was hardly face-flushing excitement material. Where’s a good nail-biting game of sport when you need one?

No one even commented on Kim’s absence. When had everyone discovered good manners? And why was I disappointed? Surely this was what I preferred – to keep everything under wraps and ignore my humiliation until it went away. Only the humiliation didn’t bother me much at all. In other circumstances it would have, but I was far too angry. If I spoke at all I might bark. I could manage ordering a drink. I could even manage a thank you and something like a smile, and Kylie knew to pour the pint and take the money and leave me be. We’d been doing this for years.

She had Greg to talk to if she needed someone. And Greg had Kylie, or the cricket if he liked. I suppose Kylie could have watched the cricket too, between pouring drinks and polishing glassware, but she wasn’t an avid sports fan. She followed who was playing who and who was winning what, but that was just by default. An occupational hazard she’d probably say.

When I came out of the loo, one cheek pink and the other definitely red, Greg and Kylie were talking to someone new – and I mean someone actually new.

New people were noteworthy in Ashbury. We weren’t on the main road and lacked much in the way of a tourist trade. The locals knew there was plenty to love about the place, but it was hard to market empty beaches and rolling hills and a couple of good vineyards. The beaches were warmer further north, the rolling hills weren’t the ones where they filmed Hobbiton, and there were dozens more vineyards on bus tours up in Hawkes Bay.

The lack of tourists was, perhaps, part of Ashbury’s appeal, but this girl, in her Argyle and merino and brown leather jacket, didn’t look the type to appreciate the benefits of a small town.

My cheek smarted. The sting came and went. Another beer, surely, hopefully, would at least lengthen the bouts of painlessness. Another beer was a good idea regardless. There were voices in my head – Kim’s as well as a ghost or two, and my own gnarly conscience – that needed to be silenced.

This is Tommy.” Greg nodded at me.

Thomas.” I corrected, though hardly anyone calls me Thomas.

Hi.” She waved and looked silly, which made me like her more. Her clothes were water-marked and clingy, her hair a stringy mess. She wasn’t having a great evening either. Not as bad as mine, certainly, but I sympathised.

And then I turned back to the cricket.

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Fug Mondays

Fug, n. A heavy, stale atmosphere, especially the musty air of an overcrowded or poorly ventilated room. Or so says the free dictionary dot com. There are other less socially sensitive definitions but this is the one I mean – it rather accurately describes the state of my head on a Monday. Not every Monday  but yesterday was a doosie.

It was an early start and then Elena sicked up – which is unusual for her – so I was a bit worried but had to get on… Louis had halte garderie from 9 and I had french lesson at 10 so I walked in between, hoping Elena would sleep in the push chair (she didn’t but I got a new diary, gorgeous pens, and new tights).

blue rose tightsAh, I love ’em. Simple pleasures eh? Speaking of pleasures, got spoiled rotten at french class. Mel was her usual brilliant hostess-self and had baby bircher mueslis for each of us, with strawberries and yogurt and fromage frais (of the caremlized apple variety!)… and then a few minutes later she brought out some brunch muffins!

bircher mueslibircher muesli, for the uninitiated, is oats soaked overnight in apple juice, and usually has some fresh/dried fruit mixed in, as well as nuts, coconut, or really anything you fancy. Fresh fruit and yoghurt on top are gorgeous – to the eyes as well as the palate!

brunch muffinsNothing gets the motivation rolling like fresh baking, eh? Well we were certainly more motivated after second breakfast but I’m not sure my brain stepped up to the plate… figuratively speaking. It was a hard lesson and then I had to dash off early to pick up Louis and felt like I’d learned nothing at all.

Which isn’t quite true. I learned that both, comment vous connaisez vous? AND comment vous vous connaisez? are correct.

Also, I learned that the reply, on se connait par l’intermédiaire de… means, we know each other through… (the new bit being the ‘through’, the ‘par l’intermédiaire’ bit.)

But, confession, I did have to check that before typing it just now. So I learned it, but I didn’t LEARN it. If you know what I mean.

Got my exercise though – an hour walking between halte-garderie and the french lesson, then a swift march to pick up Louis and then home. After all that brunch I had a salad for lunch and then put the kids to bed and tried for a nap myself (after the hand washing was done – stupid cashmere sweaters). Not a lot of sleep in the end but some is better than none. My head was heavy and when I get tired like this my whole body aches.

Finally sat down to write in the late afternoon but Elena wasn’t sleeping much and Louis was awake by then… and then Luuk let me know of a friend visiting town and we decided to invite him for dinner. My head was in no space to focus on editing but I managed to pull together something of a feast.

Really hoping to get some writing done today though. Had a few ideas while walking yesterday and revisited them in my journal this morning. But must order groceries online before getting to the novel. One day – one day! – I’ll get to focus solely on writing. But that is not this day.

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Oh Marché!

On Saturday we went to the Marché aux puces de Saint Ouen. These markets are huge. They start at the périphérique and spread out north along streets, in the back alleys and buildings. It’s quite the sprawl and a real mix of wares.

le marché

I had Elena in the back pack and Luuk carried Louis much of the way. We browsed all sorts of antiques – furniture, art, jewelry, toys, clothes, and lots of junk! Made me wish I had a giant house, or a museum, or a workshop and art gallery with loads of space.

junk tins

Lots of stalls were selling pieces of old watches and clocks, and all sorts of stuff I couldn’t identify.

diamond in the roughLuuk had been along before, with my brother back in July, and pointed us down lots of easy-to-miss nooks and alleys. So we saw plenty of intriguing sights but we resisted buying this particular car. One of the vendors did give Louis a toy car, a tiny yellow fiat, and I browsed the other cars, fully intending to buy the well-loved pick-up (reminiscent of tow-mater in a favourite film of ours…) but the seller insisted I take that for free as well.

crazy chairsTempting as these chairs were, we were a little worried that Louis wouldn’t appreciate them… especially as he still won’t sit on the toilet. (Note the cool cut out in the background.)

checking out the elephantsThere were loads of statues and garden feature-things. This elephant is one of the few that would fit on our deck…

fine rooster you have thereI’m not sure where the rooster will end up… hard to imagine.

walking or notWe walked a lot and I paid heed to the ‘no photographs’ signs. Some of them even had ‘no drawing’ signs! I guess they were serious. But the entire left hand side of that alley behind Luuk was one long fashion boutique – high end and crazy cool.

pretty junk

There were certainly some strange things for sale and I was surprised to see the prices so high – though I guess the two are connected: weird to me means unique to someone else, and hard to get a hold of, which probably comes back to that economic theory about supply and demand.

But as I never took economics I’ll leave it at that.

In the end we got the two toy cars, a carved wooden hippo (talked the seller down from 25€ to 5€ – it’s amazing the price you can get when you don’t actually want something), a couple of books and comics in French (tin tin and asterix), and a poster (an old perfume ad from a magazine, but it looks like a girl writing – right up my alley).

We managed/juggled lunch at a café with the kids – bit cramped and the waiter kept running from the bar to the kitchen (very tempting to stick a leg out… but we resisted) but Louis ate his chips and Elena ate her baby food. Luuk and I feasted! I had enough roasted veal for a whole family, and courgette gratin on the side. Salad too! Luuk went for the entrecôte frite – he says he has to get a steak when he can (I don’t do beef often for dinner at home – not that he’s complaining… of course.)

No high chairs in Paris cafés generally, but Louis sits on a chair like a big kid and Elena was propped up in the backpack when we weren’t holding her. Louis played with his cars and only broke one glass.

good company

It was a bit of a relief to get home, having driven all the way around the périphérique (there are always alarming moments), found parking, and survived the markets un-pickpocketed and without a single tantrum. Success!

The kids were glad of some space to run around at leisure and a decent nap. Elena’s favourite playtime activity at the moment is a clapping game with her buddy in the mirror… so cute. And I had to print print print, and then dash to writer’s group.

Other weekend highlights: skyping both our parents, excellent french toast breakie on saturday (I should say ‘pain perdu’). I got some editing done today while Luuk took Louis out on the bike and joined thousands of others at Parc de Sceaux. Gorgeous weather for it too. Our apartment gets all honey-coloured and warm in the sun. Spring is coming! Hurrah!





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the right drug

My bad skin and resulting poor sleep has been a black cloud this week. I’ve been too tired to focus well. We’ve all watched far too much television which I know just makes me less energetic, but I’m too tired to be smart about it.

I went to the doctor on monday and he managed to leave my magic eczema cream off the prescription by accident. I had no luck making an appointment with him since, or with the eczema specialist he’s referred me to.

Yesterday I managed to make the appointment with the specialist – for two weeks from now. I can’t wait two weeks for cream; I’ll have no skin left. It’s as bad as I ever remember it being. By some miracle I haven’t got a skin infection.

Luuk got prescribed some eczema cream as a ‘just in case’ measure, if something else doesn’t work. Last night, desperate times, I used a little of this on the worst bits of my skin.

And then slept! Hurrah! Happy Valentines day indeed.

I’m still exhausted but there’s hope – another few good nights rest and I’ll be better, no doubt. And this afternoon the doctor has a drop-in clinic so I’ll pop along there and get that prescription.

Goodness, when you get the right drug it’s magic. Makes all the difference. I haven’t scratched ALL DAY. Uncanny. Thank god for modern medicine.

And with any luck the eczema specialist will be as good as the doctor said. He warned me that the specialist is ‘fou’ – mad! But good. Mad but very good. So, here’s hoping. I’ve never seen a specialist in all the time I’ve had eczema, which seems ridiculous to me now. It’s been six years. Five years of seeing a variety of GPs in New Zealand and none of them ever sent me to a dermatologist. To be fair, I only asked once, and was assured they’d tell me the same thing as the GP.

In France they refer you at the drop of a hat. Too readily, perhaps, but for the virtues of NZ’s social healthcare system it baffles me why GPs are reluctant to refer patients to specialists who have YEARS more experience in a specific field. Is it ego? Is there some financial benefit, or do they just assume I’m a hypochondriac? I don’t understand.

Not that I expect a specialist to magically fix everything, but surely when dealing with a chronic illness it’s worth a try!

Okay, rant done. Time to turn of the TV and pay Louis some attention before he goes to halte garderie.

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yummy love

Who’s idea was it to have valentines day after lent starts? Seriously. But I suppose, as I’m not giving up chocolate, I shouldn’t complain too much.

I’m giving up whatever I have to in order to read my bible every day. Other years I’ve given up meat or coffee (or both) and as helpful as the experience was I really want to get into a habit of reading my bible again, so this seemed as good a time as any. I could cut out a specific thing – reading trash, watching television, or some other wasteful time-suck, but I think I’m more likely to read my bible if I can then reward myself with a little trashy tv… hey, know thyself, right?

I’m also going to have a go at 40 Acts, which is all about being generous. I suppose the focus shifts from giving something up, to giving something up for someone else. And with my bible reading resolution, giving up something for something else.

And Valentines? Well I did think ahead and shopped the lingerie department during the last round of sales, but then yesterday I saw a recipe for red, heart shaped pancakes… So I’m thinking I’ll make the mixture this afternoon and then serve them up for breakfast. We don’t have moulds but I’m wondering if a round pancake with a frosting-heart would have a similar effect. And it all goes down the same way (apologies… common saying in our family – more disgusting than I realise, possibly.)

— dropping Louis at halte garderie —

Stopped in at the church on the way back, just to check on a detail for my story (several scenes of which take place in the church), and it was packed out… The priest up the front is making a mark on the forehead of another priest, then on an altar boy – oh! It’s Ash Wednesday. Took me long enough.

Dates like this, and Valentines for that matter, make me think back to other years.

Two years ago, valentines day, Luuk and I went to a restaurant which no longer exists, because a week later the hotel crashed down around it in a massive earthquake. The city jumped up and down, as well as side to side, at 2gs, and little survived. Since then much of the city (including that hotel) has been demolished.

christchurch remainsChristchurch Remains
(not my image, belongs to ChristchurchNZ group)

It is so strange to think of all the places, of all the memories I have of things happening in places, that simply no longer exist. I used to work in that big hotel in the foreground… but the theatre over the road, gone. The Starbucks where I’d get my frapuccino (I’d lasted another day cleaning hotel room filth! Well done me!) is still standing, though not operational, but the cathedral is gutted and half gone.

Depressing. Moving on…

I’ve never been to very traditional churches till this last year but two years ago I went along to an Ash Wednesday service for the first time. It was just after the earthquakes and the cathedral was a ruin (the one in the middle of the image above). The catholic basilica was also a mess and there’s nothing quite like a natural disaster to bring people together. The respective bishops and other church leaders of the city got together and had a joined Ash Wednesday service at a little Anglican church in the suburbs. Louis and I went along. After the quakes we were encouraged to stay home, to limit strain on the infrastructure, and with a four month old baby I wasn’t much help digging liquefaction silt off of people’s driveways, so I was home a lot. On that Wednesday, I wanted to be a part of things, to see the community joining together, working and celebrating and mourning together.

Now I’m a part of a very different community, and yet in some ways I’m not a part of it. I’m an expat, always a bit out of things, and then I speak middling French at best… This morning, Elena was ready for her nap, the church was full, it was half way through… I didn’t stay. Elena will have to wait till next year to get an ash cross on her forehead, but she does get blessed every other week at church, and by us every night before bed. She’ll be fine. It’s not a magic spell.

I’ve gone off on a tangent. I was going to write about showing love through food. Yesterday evening I made mince and cheese pies, not an entirely self-less act of love, but Luuk enjoyed them at least as much as I did.

They turned out awesome, despite my basically winging it with regards a recipe. So, for posterity or something, here’s what I did:

1. butter, shallots chopped fine and mushrooms chopped roughly, all fried up.

mushroom layer


2. I used the chinese food dishes from the previous night (reduce reuse recycle!), rinced them well and then lined them with pre-rolled flaky pastry. I put the mushrooms in first then…

3. Cooked up the beef mince.

4. Grated a potato, skin and all, and added this to browned beef.

5. A glass of red wine and a dissolved stock cube in less than a cup of water, added gradually… and herbs, seasoning, etc.

6. I put the beef/potato/gravy mix into the pie dishes on top of the mushrooms then grated plenty of (comte) cheese on top.

pies ready to cook

7. I managed to do this with just one sheet of pastry, but I had to wrestle the pie tops to fit. And then I poked holes and then baked at 200 for about 40 minutes.

mushroom, red wine, mince and cheese pies

8. Cause I’m a good girl, we also had a half head of broccoli each, steamed with a tiny bit of butter and the last dregs of that stock water.

I saw a picture of an old Georgie Pie meal deal on facebook yesterday and it made me crave pie… I haven’t had mince and cheese pies since we left New Zealand, and I’ve had some very good ones in my time (thank you Mountain View Bakery, Pirongia, to name one source in particular) but seriously, take that Georgie Pie!


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crash with friends

Luuk jetted off to Germany for work this past weekend, so the kids and I went to stay with our friends. They have kids and a big house for them to run around in. Louis relishes having lots of kids to play with and adore (and who adore him). Elena was her smiling usual self and enjoyed watching all the madness ensue from her increasingly steady vantage point – sitting up!

Marcelle and I had grand plans to work on her website but in the end there was other work which needed doing first. I also got a little editing and writing done. In the middle of last week I started on a new story and it has consumed me somewhat. (Between that story and staying elsewhere for the weekend is something of an explanation for my sudden lapse in every-other-day-regular blog posting.)

There’s some kind of magic when two families get together and spend a decent chunk of time together. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t, but when it does you kind of meld together into one big family for a while. You help with each other’s kids and everyone pitches in with food and housework and entertainments.

Obviously it was a good weekend. Just a shame Luuk had to be in Germany and miss it. (Though if he’d not gone we probably wouldn’t have been staying at the mates’ place to begin with…)

Saturday night I had a bath – first time in well over a year! I love baths and we don’t have the facilities in our little apartment. After the kids went to bed I had a lovely peaceful soak and then us grown-ups watched ‘Rock of Ages’ – a musical starring Tom Cruise… I know, way to sell it. It was hilarious but bad. So bad it was good… but probably only if you’re in the right mood.

Johnny spent the entire movie on the internet. I managed to figure out a transition in my story. The music was pretty awesome and we had popcorn to go along with it. And peanut slabs! It’s been such a long time.

Sunday morning we went along to the Hillsongs Church in Paris. It’s something of a night-club atmosphere on first arrival – black painted walls and floors, thumping music, loads of people, and a bit of a rabbit-warren in the lower levels where the kids program was.

But they’re well equipped, that’s for sure…


Headphones for the little ones. And they did the trick…


Elena slept on Johnny for the entire service. My arm would have fallen off but I suppose rugby comes in handy for something.


It was very different to the style at our little old-school Anglican church, but one of the very cool things about this place is that it’s all bi-lingual. Some bits are in French and translated to English, others are in English, translated to French. Très cool!

We came home (when I say home I don’t mean our place…) to a killer roast. Killer to the lamb!



Chops and veggies and awesome apricot sauce. Even garlic bread to go along with it. Well done Johnny.

Then there was cake. And while the kids napped we watched ‘Argo’ – a great improvement on the previous night’s film selection. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the end yet because we had to be home in time to get picked up for our church. Two in one day! I know, I know, but I was semi-involved in planning the service (something a bit more creative and out-there than usual) and I was also on reading (Deuteronomy 26 is a mouthful – all those parentheticals…) so we weren’t skipping it without real reason.

It was snowing but we bundled the kids up and got home in time. The creative service went off beautifully and the theme, love, was right on the mark after our lovely weekend. The sermon at Hillsongs was about the importance of family and it’s true, family is wonderful when it works, though that’s no great revelation.

The evening service theme was chosen with valentines day in mind, but we were invited to think more broadly of love – love for anyone and everyone (family, friends, strangers and everything in between) and of all the wide variety of ways we might show love to those people.

Like, for instance, inviting another family to come stay all weekend. Thanks guys! I’m feeling very loved – and lucky.

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duck tenders in apricot and white wine sauce

making something good

Well after that last marathon of a post I’ve taken a few days breather and now for the catch up…

I’ve been on a bit of a high this week. My work was well received at writer’s group and I’m still buzzing, just a little. Having been encouraged about the beginning of my book I’ve made lots of progress in continuing to edit. It’s very exciting to discover, after working on something for a long time, that it’s actually good.

I also started another short story yesterday. It’s a novel idea but I’m going to try the opening as a short story. The advantage of short stories and poems is that they get finished faster! Or as I read earlier today, in a quote put up on twitter:

“I decided to write short stories because they got rejected quicker.” ~ Caroline B. Cooney

In other news, Louis (2) is sleeping in a bed, as opposed to a cot.

A wee man in a big bed.

Potty training has taken a little pause in progress, but he has cut two canine teeth and sleeps in his bed without a problem, so ups and downs. He’ll hardly eat a thing and we’re getting more tantrums than calories but this is the terrible twos, I suppose.

Elena (8 months today!) is so close to crawling and not a little frustrated. She’s sitting. She’s eating. She’s bouncing, giggling… lovely.  No teeth yet, just threats. Brilliant timing on the sleeps – she’ll be out to it most of the time Louis is awake and then she wakes up just when he goes to sleep. So no naps for me. But they both sleep right through the night, so I can’t really complain.

I am a bit tired though. Last night we had pizza delivered for dinner and did the grocery shop online. Brilliant and lazy and hurrah for that. And for the leftover slice for lunch today.

I’m hosting a coffee group/play group this morning so we’ve done tidying and laundry and baking… My variation on the Edmonds basic biscuits recipe:

Edmonds basic biscuit recipe with smarties and chunks of chocolate

Here’s the Edmonds recipe:

125g butter, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 tsp vanilla essence, 1 egg, 2 cups flour, 1 tsp baking powder…

And here’s my bit:

… and as much chocolate/candy as you fancy (to the point where there isn’t enough dough to hold it together)

Cream your butter & sugar then add vanilla and egg. Beat some more then add flour and baking powder. Mix till doughy and then add chocolate, etc.

Ball up, squash and bake at 190°C for 15 minutes or so (shorter if you make smaller biscuits, I suppose)


Actually I made up/adapted another recipe recently. Luuk occasionally gets adventurous in the meat department when he does the groceries and a couple of times now he’s bought home ‘aiguillettes de canard’ or duck tenders, if you’re thinking close chicken equivalents…

Anyway, I googled recipes for them and found that they’re often cooked with fruit. I had a jar of apricot conserves that has been using up space in the peanut butter shelf so I wanted to use that.

duck tenders in apricot and white wine sauce

And this is what I came up with:

Sautee lots of fine-chopped garlic and shallots in butter, then add sliced capsicum, seasonings and apricot compote (probably about a cup-full!)

Leave that to simmer and thicken and make the rice up with stock, or ‘bouillon rice’ as it’s known, apparently.

I sliced the courgettes and shook them up in a bag with oil, salt and pepper, and ‘persilade’ which is garlic salt and parsley, I think… so very haute cuisine, I know. They went under the grill and when I turned them over I added some cherry tomatoes and put it all back in.

I added a cup of white wine, or so, to the apricot sauce and did a little dish juggle (rice into a bowl, apricot sauce into the saucepan the rice had been in, and that freed up the fry pan for the duck… all to save dishes).

The duck only needs a gentle fry up or grill, not too much, but cooked through. Once it was near-done I poured the now-reduced apricot sauce over and plated up the rice and vegetables. The apricotty, garlicky, winey aiguillettes de canard went on last and were trés délécieux! If I do say so myself…

So there it is. If you can’t get duck at a reasonable price I’m sure chicken would be fine. I’ll definitely be making that one again!

I was meant to do french homework this morning but as the email never arrived (the one telling us what to do for homework) I’m hoping I get away with it. It’s time for another coffee and guests to arrive.