Monthly Archives: June 2013

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false finish

Category : Art

You know at the end of the final Lord of the Rings film when you thought it had finished. And then it hadn’t. And then you thought it had finished. And then it kept going. Repeat times five. And at the end you’re actually relieved that the credits are rolling, but you’re not hanging about to find the name of that guy you knew in high school who works for WETA. And you certainly aren’t hoping for an extra scene hidden at the end of the credits.

Well that’s what it’s like writing the end of a novel. Even one without a false finish. I’ve been finishing for a couple of weeks now and yet I’m not done. To be fair, it’s a romance and the couple only just resolved their differences and confessed their (undying or otherwise) love this morning… That should have been my first clue that I wasn’t at the ending yet.

But I want it signed off. And so, rather than finding some significant parallel between this writing quandary and life in general, or a few cute pics of the kids, I’m going to get back to work.

I have ‘One day more’ from Les Miserables in my head…

Something tells me (it could be the kids chatting/squealing when they’re meant to be napping) that I won’t be signing off ‘The End’ till tomorrow. But here goes!

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all in my head

Wednesday’s are usually my most productive day, writing-wise. There are two chunks of time where I can work: while Louis is at halte garderie and Elena naps, then after lunch they both nap, ideally at the same time.

I spent my morning slot searching for (not finding) a rain coat, and fiddling around with my book cover for the day. I still wasn’t overly happy with the result, but there are plenty more chances for me to get it right. Then during lunch I got a call from a friend in crisis, and she came over for the afternoon.

And that’s that: the easy makings of a no-writing day. I mean, I snatched a sentence while neglecting the kids this evening, and then started making dinner. Then there was a thunderstorm which kept them entertained while I snatched another paragraph. It’s not high-literature, but I’m not sure I really believe in high-literature, so that’s okay.

Those few sentences, the skill of snatching, that’s what I’m getting really good at. The secret, I think, is getting my head into my writing before I’m able to sit down at the computer. Folding laundry, changing nappies, and pushing a train back and forth across the living room don’t exactly require my total mental capacity – thank god! So I push the train and think to myself, where am I up to? And if I can’t remember I infuriate the kids and go check my document – and now it’s open and ready to be written in whenever I manage to sit down.

I go back to the car-game and try to get in the head of the character, riff a little on what they are thinking about, how they’re feeling… (I do this riff silently, most of the time, just in case Louis tells stories, which he’s now capable of doing.) On the good days this multi-tasking can even make me less impatient with the sometimes (cough-often-cough) monotonous games of early early childhood.

I can draw a lot of buses while figuring out what Scott’s sister is going to say to goad him into admitting he’s split up with his girlfriend…

I suspect I might be doing a lot of this story-fantasizing today because there’s no halte garderie and I’m going to be looking after an extra kid – though perhaps he’ll be the magic ingredient that makes the kids happy to play without my constant assistance.

I’m tired and grumpy. I couldn’t sleep when I was supposed to and then got woken at six by the terrible-two who’s having a particularly whiny day. I’ve handed over the ipad and bought myself a few minutes peace before his buddy arrives.

Mind you, it could be worse, much worse. The visiting kid’s mum is in Labour. I’d rather be wrestling a scrappy toddler than pushing out a baby. That’s going to be my mantra today: at least I’m not in labour. And hopefully the angry person in my head will dissipate very soon.

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First Birthday

Category : food

My baby girl, my only girl, my second baby, turned one a week ago.

smiley elena

First birthdays, someone told me, are about wine and cake. Sounds good to me. But no one wanted wine. Still water was popular and everyone liked the peach/tomato/mozzarella combo on toasted baguette. The giraffe cake was a hit.

A First Birthday Giraffe Cake

I used Marian Keyes’ Victoria Sandwich recipe for the sponge cake, then cut out the sides/corner to get the shape. A cake-maker friend once told me her secret for icing cut cake: freeze it. So, I iced the frozen cake with lemon butter icing then did spots/mane with chocolate icing.

I wanted a furry-look so added chocolate hail (or the Dutch version: hagel slag) and grated white chocolate. The nostril is a reese’s piece. The eye is two pieces of candied fruit, cut to shape, and a reese’s piece atop… The horns are the wafer/cookie tube things you get commonly with ice cream here. In the packet they’re called ‘cigarettes’. The ears are orange creams.


I’ve never had much luck with fondant icing and much prefer the taste of the messy butter/sugar stuff. So there it is. A rival to the ganache-coated monkey cake Louis got for his first birthday.

We probably had as many guests as we did for Louis’ first birthday too, which is a nice testament to how well we’ve settled here. We’ve lived in France for less than 18 months and are blessed with lots of friends. The ratio of kids to adults is, however, steadily increasing. It was chaos. I didn’t organise a single game or activity but pass the parcel with kids under three is a bit of a farce, especially outside of a solid pass-the-parcel-playing culture.

We (over)ate, (under)drank, Elena slowly but surely unwrapped her presents (party dresses, a magna doodle and an aqua doodle – brilliant), we sang and coaxed her to blow out her candle (till the breeze did the job) and then we ate some more.

slowly but surely unwrappingthe slow ripper

magna-doodle yum

a pen that’s safe to eat…

cake and song

Elena enjoying her cake…
while Louis sings her endless refrains of ‘Happy Birthday to you.’

Her actual birthday was a week ago. We had cake then too, of the regular round (lemon-yoghurt) variety.

regular cake (lemon yoghurt)

Louis and I baked that in the morning and in the afternoon, we dropped Louis at halte garderie, then Mum and I took the birthday girl to Paris.

IMG_4112En route to halte garderie.

Elena dozed while we walked around Ile de Cité, through the old flower markets, and when she woke up we had lemonade and smoothies at a very Parisian cafe before completing our tour of the island.

flower markets, ile de citeThe flower markets

elena and me in parisWaiting for our long and cool drinks.

She got a few special presents from Gran (fantastic knitted clown, difficult elephant puzzle, excellent bedtime story book) on the actual day, and our online purchase arrived on time (whew) – a trolley for pushing about.

trolley to push (and build)

She’s turned eager-walker in the last ten days-ish, so that’s good timing. She’s still very wobbly, but keen and in fact wants me to take her for a lap around the house right now, so I’ll leave this here.



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meandering Marais and media mentions

Something I forgot to mention – I got interviewed last week. This was a first. For someone who taught ‘Media Studies’ I’m really very short on real-life media experience, so when a journalist from France24 wanted to interview me, about kids and childcare as an expat in France, I was keen.

We talked on the phone, while I sat on a tree-root in the garden behind Notre Dame (it was a sunny day and no shaded seats were empty) and Mum wheeled a sleeping Elena around in the pushchair. He asked all sorts and wrote this: Why do French women have more babies? So that was something a bit different. He very generously linked to my website, so now I’ve gone and returned the favour. I’d rate France24 as something like France’s equivalent of CNN, so I’d guess Joseph Bamat gets a whole lot more hits than I do.

The other thing I didn’t mention about last week: Elena turned One. But we’re having a get together on the weekend so I’ll save the birthday pics for a post on the subject after that. For now, a video of Louis mastering the essential music of the occasion:

Yesterday my lovely Mum looked after the kids and I went into Paris to meet a friend. Whenever we get together she takes the train out to our suburb so the kids sleep while we chat, but it was great to do things differently for once – I even got to see her new apartment!

But before we went there we wandered around the Marais, a gorgeous neighbourhood and no great secret by any means, but it was my first visit. I got the grand tour from the friend, who has lived in that quartier for most of the last 20 years. We popped our noses into galleries and bakeries and bookshops, and wandered for ages around a food market before deciding on Moroccan for lunch…

Then we caught the train out to Montreuil (pron. more like ‘mont-roy’) and climbed the six flights to my friends two room apartment, all light and colour, with a great view, though I think she gets a little cramped. We had coffee and talked away the afternoon.

I took three trains to get home again, somehow squashing my baguette au chocolat, one souvenir of the Marais. And I read my new book, A Tiny Bit Marvelous, a second souvenir of the Marais. It’s by Dawn French and terribly funny. You don’t see a whole lot of people laughing out loud at their reading material on the RER. I tried and failed to keep it under wraps.

Mum had the kids half-fed and nearly worn out, so we finished the job and then put them to bed. We ate our dinner and then I was terribly anti-social and worked on my book cover for the day until Luuk got home from drinks with his colleagues.

I didn’t write at all. For a whole day. Yikes. And I’m having a very slow day today, distracting myself on a far-too-regular basis… First I messed around with Klout and Google Analytics, then there was a Scrivener tutorial, today’s book cover, ideas for future book covers, pinterest (cough-is-the-devil-cough), buying cake tins large enough to make giraffe-shaped cakes, reading news articles that feature me… and of course the children.

Elena’s up now, but I can still get some writing done.





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Add it to the Mix

We’ve added Mum to the mix this week. She’s been stellar at helping out with the kids, the laundry, the dishes, the babysitting… she even ironed.

And then we added two of Luuk’s cousins to our house-party, and it got a little crazy; the brief and great fun type of crazy.

I’ve been to Paris too many days in a row… something I thought I’d never say.

On Thursday morning Mum and I took the kids to walk the Promenade Plantes, a disused railway viaduct, now a walkway planted with gardens, winding from Bastille all the way to Bois de Vincenne (ie. the eastern edge of Paris.)

Louis cycling Promenade PlantesLouis cycling along Promenade Plantes, with Mum, me and Elena in tow.

On Friday afternoon, after dropping Louis off at the halte garderie, we waited a long time for the train… and then went to explore Ile de Cite. Mum particularly wanted to visit the old flower markets. We cooled off with a pomme myrtle (apple blueberry) smoothie and Elena lapped up the citronnade maison (home made lemonade).

On Saturday we headed for the Centre Pompidou, a museum of modern art which Luuk’s cousins were keen to see. We’d never been before so we all went together, taking in all the wonderful wonders and the crazier crazies.

cool cave with the cousins, at centre pompidou

A cool cave-like artwork at Centre Pompidou, and Luuk’s cousins.

shadow art at centre pompidou

Shadow art!

Paris when it sizzles

After we’d had our fill, we meandered our way from the art gallery to Ile St Louis for an icecream, and then I went to writers’ group and the others returned home. Later in the evening, Luuk and his cousins returned to Paris and met up with the post writers’ group drinks crowd. We had Sushi for dinner at 10pm. It doesn’t get much more Parisian than that.

It’s been a great few days, but I’m tired of the train, and I’m tired of making the kids take the train, at least half an hour there and half an hour back again. They’re mostly very good but it’s not easy on their attention spans. It was lovely to stay home today, venturing only to the market for groceries.

This week the 100 Days Project began, a creative venture I’ve loved being a part of the last couple of years. So, here I go again. This year I’m doing book cover design: for books I have written, am writing, will write… books I might never write. But I will design a book cover every day, for 100 days. Three down, and plenty to go, and plenty of room for improvement.

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I’m posting daily, or that’s the idea, over at It Could be a Book.

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in the thick of it

I’m past half way in this rewrite. In fact, I’ve thrown myself into it rather passionately this past week. Hence the complete absence of new blog posts. But there hasn’t been a lot to tell. There were a few amusing/frustrating/interesting moments.

1. On Thursday morning I finally got organised with all the possible paperwork they might possibly require for enrolling Elena at halte garderie. The lady in the office, though she was in there and her door was ajar, assured me the office was closed on Wednesday and Thursday mornings. So off I went, about my business, and returned in the middle of the afternoon, when the office was open (and it was raining out…). The same lady then happily took my papers, sitting in the same seat at her desk, and promptly handed me back everything except the application form and a birth certificate. Typical. And typical!

2. Elena is crawling on her hands and knees, can play the xylophone, and throws herself down the slide, face first, given the chance. Good thing we’re fast.

3. Bob the Builder has become the new family theme song, and babysitter when I need to take a shower or ferry the recycling to the basement. If only I could get him to fix the shower wall… (’cause apparently he can.)

4. Another plumber came to have a look at the problem with the leaky shower and ‘humid’ wall. He is the first one to actually verify what the problem is by making a hole and looking in the cavity beneath the shower. It’s the dodgy old grouting, not the pipes, so perhaps we won’t need to move out while they fix it, though we might be begging a shower off our friends, or a local swimming pool…

5. I went to the ‘cafe des parents’ at Louis’ halte garderie, an information session about starting school (which he will do in September). The main thing I’m concerned about is whether it’d be best for Louis to do full days from the get-go, or start with just half days.

I know half-days seems an obvious starting point but he’ll miss out on the communal lunch and I think it’d be so great for him. His eating habits need all the help they can get and his French language will absolutely benefit from the social time and teacher-guided conversation about food. The kids all have a sleep in the early part of the afternoon, but they don’t finish till 4pm or later.

I didn’t find out a whole lot of specific info because there are lots of different schools with slightly different ways of doing things. But I did find out, from Louis’ teacher at the halte garderie, that Louis understands and communicates in French without difficulty and that the language won’t be problem (or a reason for him to do just half days) – so that’s fantastic! Go Louis.

We do have to get him properly potty trained though. No nappies. Not even during nap time. So he might be doing half days initially, I guess. He goes to halte garderie ‘sans couche’ (ie. in undies) and comes home in the same dry gear two out of three times a week, pretty much.

So that was the week. I wrote lots. And read a bit. Luuk and I have started watching Ballykissangel, an old favourite of mine. We had some friends for dinner one night and taught more people the Bean game (Bohnanza, officially). The weather was on and off and basically rubbish, but it’s looking up.

Mum arrived from NZ this morning and successfully traversed Paris, despite the crazy train strikes, and all on her own, brave woman. But time to dust off the français. Comes in handy in this town.