Monthly Archives: February 2014

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vivre libre ou mourir

Live free or die. That’s what it says, front and center, at the Paris Pantheon. Elena would agree. Our little lady has embarked on the terrible before the twos, and boy can that kid run.

writers tombs at the paris pantheon

All around the crypt of this incredible building, in fact. She teased her big brother and giggled inappropriately, careening past the tombs of Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, the Curies, and many more dead french men whose great achievements won them a place here. Marie Curie is, so far, the only woman. Luuk had a good look; her resting place does not glow.

The above-ground parts of the building were pretty cool too. The roof and dome are under construction, but we could still see all the artwork, much of it depicting the life of St Geneviéve

the pantheon, paris Luuk and Louis, out front.

inside the pantheon, paris

‘Vivre Libre ou Mourir’ is written beneath the central figure of that statue, center left.

pantheon facade, paris

The facade out front.

view of eiffel tower, from pantheon

The view from the steps, toward the Luxembourg gardens and a familiar tower beyond.

We found some lunch and then walked to the nearby gardens, enjoying this premature spring day.

Jardin de Luxembourg

We weren’t the only ones. The place was abuzz!

There weren’t many sailboats on the pond, but lots of ducks, and the kids had a ball throwing stones into the water.

sunny sunday at luxembourg gardens

“He ate my rock!” – Louis, talking about a duck.

We went into the big pay-to-enter playground for the first time. The kids are old enough to get our money’s worth now and the weather was perfect.

ready to climb the eiffel tower, at luxembourg gardens

Elena was keen to have a go on this Eiffel-tower-like climbing thing.

riding ambiguous creaturesShe was big enough to ride this though – dinosaur or Kea? Hard to say.

So we had a great day in Paris. Didn’t try to squeeze too much in, though it is tempting. We are on a deadline, realistically. Come the end of June, Luuk’s contract ends and we’re unlikely to be able to stay on in France. There are a couple of vaguely possible options in Europe, but they’re far from certain, and the most likely path is back to New Zealand.

The temptation, with only four more months in this location, is to jam-pack our weekends with sight-seeing. We’ve done lots but there’s plenty more. We could easily wear ourselves out, for the sake of ‘making the most’ and doing all the ‘essential’ things people say you have to do when you’re in Paris. Or further afield.

But four months is a long time to keep that up. We aren’t visitors. We have a life here. We have some tough choices to make.

Taking advantage of being in Europe, I am off to London on Friday morning for the London Author Fair. There, I will learn lots and meet people and – here’s the nervous-making bit – pitch to a real live literary agent! So I’ve been snatching time, whenever the kids nap in-sync, to polish up my written synopsis and cover letter and go over those first three chapters for the millionth time. And I’ve been talking to myself, more than usual, practicing talking about my book. It’s school holidays, so there hasn’t been much time this past week, but Elena’s back to halte garderie this week, so hopefully it’ll be a bit easier to get stuff done.

I’m excited – about the book, about the opportunity, and also about the weekend in London. I haven’t had a night off, away from the kids, since Louis was born – which sounds crazy. Perhaps it’s not true. But I really can’t think of a single night away. In three years and three months. On the Saturday my friend and I will probably visit Jane Austen’s home town. I’m going to snort inspiration till I overdose, methinks.

elena, ready to box

Bring it!

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such love

In the spirit of St Valentines Day, here’s a poem –

Your Pulse

beneath my lips
dictating rhythm
to my unruly breath.

That open collar
pouting a space
between shirt and skin
where I might be – 
                             belong, long to be.

And onward with the photos from our time in New Zealand! Just looking through them makes me feel very lucky and loved. Don’t worry, they only feature family-friendly types of loving.

Just after Christmas, we were staying with Luuk’s family in the Waikato. We drove north from there, up to Auckland, along a very familiar route. My family took this road on the majority of our holidays, throughout my childhood.

huntly chimnies First up, a little nostalgic, homesick kind of loving: a much-loved view on the road between Hamilton and Auckland. The Huntly power station chimneys.

In Auckland, we visited my grandparents. Grandma has recently moved into the retirement home, though Grandpa remains in their independent home within the same complex. I grew up living near them in Auckland, and it’s been two years since I’ve seen them, so I was eager to catch up, and also to introduce them to Elena, their first great grand daughter!

Grandma and ElenaElena wasn’t eager to get her photo taken with her great grandparents. But eventually, very briefly, she sat just so…

grandma and LouisLouis was more willing to cuddle.

grandpa and louis

After lunch with Grandpa, we went to visit my old neighbours. Theirs is the sofa we usually crash on when in Auckland. The last time we visited was en route to Paris.

old toys, with old neighbours

 Train set and Disney castle, for the win.

In the midst of renovations, they weren’t up for overnight guests, but they rustled up some toys I remember loving as a kid, and Louis and Elena concurred. And the afternoon tea was pretty damn fine too. Berries and cake and many different cheeses. So good.

Me, the kids, the neighbours-of-old

There we are, all together, except Luuk (behind the camera) and Kat (who had to go early).

We had dinner at a De Grand, a delicious! Thai place on Great South Road, with Evans, a school friend of mine. We stayed at his place that night, and the kids had a wonderful time with his guinea pigs and rabbits, one of whom is named Louis; a definite highlight. And the next morning Evans took us out to brunch in Parnell, Auckland’s oldest suburb.

brunching in parnell

Louis and Evans perusing the menu.

We visited my grandparents a second time and then made a quick stop for picnic supplies at The Warehouse – something of a NZ institution.

Louis at the WarehouseLouis does The Warehouse.

And then, for a supremely Auckland experience – to Mission Bay!

louis and luuk at Mission Bay

The weather was as good as it gets, and the view of Rangitoto makes me delirious with sweet memories.

family at mission bay

Luuk and the kids, enjoying the sun & sand in their different ways.

shell mosaic at mission bay

Shell mosaic butterfly!

paddling at mission bay

Louis wouldn’t go near the water, but then again, it’s Auckland Harbour. Perhaps a wise move…

Last stop in Auckland was Ollies, an iconic ice cream parlour in Royal Oak. There we met a friend of mine and had a quick catch up over scoops of pineapple lump ice cream (well, that was my order.)

Hippie kids at Ollies, Royal Oak

Who are those hippie kids, hopped up on ice cream? Hm.

We returned to the Waikato to spend New Years with some friends who live just out of Hamilton. We were too busy playing board games, experimenting with frappuccino recipes, and watching old West Wing episodes to photograph much of anything.

best new years photo

Yep, that’s the best photo of new years.

But it gets better. On the 2nd of January we emerged and went to Raglan.

raglan new years day

See? Isn’t it lovely. Flax in the foreground, muddiest mess I’ve ever seen in the background, and a gorgeous estuary between. Nice swim. Got most of the mud off.

Then we went back to Luuk’s parents for a spa. Stayed one night then drove over the Kaimais to Tauranga. My folks were staying at Papamoa, so first stop was lunch with them.

irritating uncle Ian

The kids, winding up uncle Ian, after lunch.

I flaked out after that and had a great big nap. Mum and Luuk took the kids for a walk to the estuary.

ducks on estuary, papamoa

Elena and Gran and the ducks.

gran and kids, papamoa

Next up we went to my Aunt and Uncle’s place at Mount Maunganui and after a few wines on the balcony, removed to my other Aunt and Uncle’s restaurant, also at the Mount.

elena gon' ride

Elena, ready to go to dinner.

Elena at the rallies' restaurant

Mum making records of the grandkids, cause she’s about to say bye-bye.

We dined well and drank some more. My cousins are terrible influences and I love them dearly and I have only myself to blame. We left pretty late and the kids flaked out before we got to Luuk’s brother’s place, where we were staying the night.

kids asleep in car

Flake out, phrasal verb. to suddenly go to sleep or feel weak because you are extremely tired.
-Cambridge English Dictionary

The next day, after a leisurely morning with Luuk’s brother and his family, we went to lunch with another of my aunts and uncles and cousins. There are no photos, so we must have had a good time. It was a short catch-up (cousins had to go milk cows…) but sweet.

We returned to Luuk’s brothers place in the afternoon and hung out with them till some time the next day.

an angel at her bbq An angel at my BBQ… or rather, her BBQ. My lovely sister in law knows what she’s doing.

bbq good

See? She knew what she was doing. Nom nom…

bbq with the cousins

Nom. Hilarity at the kids table.

caged kids

Elena and her youngest cousin, happily caged.

make-overs with the cousinsLouis and Elena dolling themselves up (note the feathers in her hair).

Returning to the Waikato, we crossed the Kaimai range, which turned out in its traditional garb: fog and trucks…

rainy kaimais and moster trucksThat is, monster trucks, on the back of a truck.

Made it back to Luuk’s parents’ place safely. It sounds like a lot of travel but the longest road trip is around two and a half hours. The last ten days of our time away was pretty full-on, staying only a couple of nights in any one place, but it was wonderful to catch up with so many of our dear friends and family. We don’t know where we’ll be this time next year, or when we’ll see them all again.

And that concludes my tale of our time in New Zealand.

travelling with kids

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to the circus and back again

Tags :

Category : Daily Life , food

There’s another post about our NZ trip coming, but I thought I’d catch up on what we’ve been doing since our return to France, a month ago now. It being winter (though not of the polar vortex variety), the temptation is to hide indoors with food and board games and multiple series of television shows…

But! We’ve broken that up a little. We went to the Festival International du cirque de Massy last weekend: three hours of the top circus acts in the world. This included the guy who walked the high wire at the london olympics closing ceremony!

le semaphore des etoilesImage not mine.
I didn’t take any decent photos. That’s how good the show was.

See that bicycle? Yep, he rode it along the metal pole. That contraption looks insane, but the light bulb shaped bit turns around so that they start and finish horizontal. In the middle though, yeesh! Freaky.

There were other acrobatics, including a pair who dangle from a ‘rocket’ which was on a cable and flying around in circles above our heads.

Acrobaties Aériennes

All this took place inside a tent and seemed tiny to begin with. There was an orchestra up above the entrance way and one of the clowns performed out in among the audience, but all the rest was contained in the center.

For the kids, the highlight was the animals. No lions, but there were tigers and bears. And horses and baboons and dogs and monkeys…

bear on a ballThis one rode a motorbike at one point. And then the other bear jumped on the back.

Given the level of international acclaim, I would expect the animals are treated really well. I’d hope so. There seemed a nice camaraderie but I guess most adults see this sort of thing and hesitate. I’ve read ‘Water for Elephants’. I’ve heard the horror stories. The dogs and monkeys don’t concern us so much, perhaps because they’re more commonly domesticated and smaller, less dangerous and therefore less restricted. The entire ring was enclosed in a mesh cage for the tiger act but the bears wore muzzles and the humans performing with them seemed a lot less wary of danger.

So that was the circus festival that descends annually on Massy, a suburb just south of us. If we’re still here next year, it’d be hard to resist.

This weekend just gone was more placid. We had plans but most fell by the wayside because the kids were sick and we were all exhausted. My fault, the exhaustion.

On Friday night I had writers’ group in Paris. We ate and talked and caught up, and then the four of us read our work and discussion/critique followed… all good. All good. And then, magically, it was twenty to midnight. It takes me about an hour to get back, two metros and then the RER train. And the last RER trains to Antony leave Chatelet Les Halles after midnight, but still, I marched through the metro stations like my tail was on fire. The platform at Chatelet was busy, the train was arriving. I got a seat, breathed a sigh of relief and settled in to read.

And then, some twenty minutes later, I realised I’d taken the train to Robinson. The line forks south of the city and I was on the wrong fork! On the last train! Stranded, in the burbs, at one in the morning… not so smart. I probably could have taken a taxi, but I didn’t think of that till after Luuk and the kids were on their way to pick me up.

I was wired, the kids weren’t well and didn’t want to go back to sleep, and none of us got many winks before three am. Needless to say, Saturday was all but a right-off. Louis’ school had open day in the morning, so we went to his classroom, saw his artwork and talked to his teacher. Then we popped down to the ludotheque to return a game and borrow another, but didn’t linger long. We were concerned that the kids might have Hand, Foot and Mouth disease. It seems to have come to nothing (either it wasn’t that, or it was a very mild case) but we were careful.

Sunday, the grand plan had been visitors for lunch. I’d bought a giant pumpkin at the market, while with my friend Claudia. And she sent me a recipe for fondue-stuffed pumpkin, so I insisted they join us to try it. But her kids were just recovering from the dreaded H,F&M, so they stayed away and we had the pumpkin to ourselves.

cheese fondue stuffed pumpkin


Cut off the top of the pumpkin and scrape out all the seeds, etc. Bake some (old) bread in the oven while it’s heating up. Then make the cream mixture:

1 1/2 cups cream
1 cup stock
salt and pepper and nutmeg

Grate 400 grams of swiss cheese. The recipe said to use half emmental and half gruyere, but I just used gruyere.

stuff the pumpkin with layers of bread, cream, cheese, bread, cream, cheese… and then put the lid on. Paint the outside of the onion with a little oil and then bake for an hour or so.

To serve, make sure you scoop out the pumpkin from the sides and not just the cheese and bread in the middle…

Et voilà!