Category Archives: Daily Life

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I’m a big girl now

Pull-ups, wow!

Just me? There was an ad, back in the day. Catchy tune. I’m singing it in my head.

Fine, out loud.

Oh look, there it is:

so that’s a tangent for a start. Gosh.

What was I going to say?

Right – I had a birthday. I’m now THIRTY-ONE.

To my ears, thirty is such a nice round number and when kids ask my age (they do… regularly. High schoolers try to wheedle it out, doing the math… so I just tell them) I say thirty without hesitation. Thirty-one, though, sounds like too much information. An over-share. Like, seriously, I didn’t need your whole life story.

Just me?

Maybe I should title this post ‘Just me?’

So, I’m another year older. Blah blah. My birthday present was going to see Dawn French a month ago. She was brilliant (of course) but that meant not much $$ left for celebrating on my actual birthday.

Two days before my actual birthday, Luuk and I went to a thing put on by the theatre program at Hagley – where I take an evening class. The school of cuisine fed us four courses between scenes. It was a whole do, and great fun, but not strictly birthday fun.

Mum and Dad, the legends they are, were determined to have a meal on my actual birthday, so we had teppanyaki. Delicious and a dinner with a show too because FIRE! Veritable pyrotechnics.

And… exciting news! I got a video camera. So… vlogs coming your way soon. And movies. And we’ll see about that web series I’ve been writing.

Now that I’m THIRTY-ONE, I suppose I am a grown-up. I’m writing this in PJs, naturally. But something very grown-up happened a week ago: I was elected CHAIR of the Canterbury branch of The New Zealand Society of Authors.

I’m a chair.

chair

Yep. I came home and said to Luuk, “You’re married to a chair.”

Not very grown up, after all, perhaps.

In fact, so long as I use the words ‘grown up’, I’m giving myself away, aren’t I?

What does being CHAIR mean? Well, not just running the meetings but that is a big part of it, and I’ve no qualms about running a room, putting on my teacher voice so everything sits down and gets on with it. Back to the agenda folks. Lovely tangent but save it…

So I’m all set for that bit of it. I am aware I don’t know the ins-and-outs of NZ publishing and I don’t know all the names. But I have the gumption to ask. Cold call or cold email (more likely) the top dogs and queen writer-bees of this fine land, asking for favours, tips, tricks…

Unfortunately, I had to take the kids along to the first meeting I chaired; it being school hols. And my lovely Mum being sequestered to do actual paid work… so no sitter. But the kids were pretty good with their lunch boxes and colouring books.

And after the meeting,  we got to see Ray‘s Harley!

harley baby

The kids were so scared by the NOISE that they didn’t want to sit on the back for a photo. So I gave Louis the camera and he took this.

One day, I want an actual ride. This’d be some step up from the farm bikes I’ve been on in the past.

So, ’tis school holidays. Which means no breather for me. Not much writing. Low expectations of productivity. The bare minimum I need to do in the next ten days is…

  • three submissions – a short story competition, a poetry thing, and two flash fiction pieces…
  • write a poem a day because NaPoWriMo is on and so far I’ve managed, and it’s too late to give up now.

How??? In short: we are doing a kind of Playground Tour of Christchurch, basically.

margaret mahy playground

The Margaret Mahy one in the city is brilliant, of course, but ends in soaked kids (and one day I’ll learn to pack a change of clothes…).

playground writing

This one at West Spreydon School is freakin’ awesome. Enormous ropes and screeds of massive tyres, a proper wooden fort and lots of slides. The kids love it so we’ll go back there.

The Cashmere Playground is, as always, excellent. We go there regularly so it’s not so special-occasion-y but close. And close to a decent coffee shop.

Win and win.

While the weather is good, we’re good.

I don’t get much done, just a few poems, a few minutes of nothing but my own thoughts for company, and when I run out of words, I can read.

I’m trying to get on top of one cleaning/tidying job each day. We did the kids’ art one afternoon. Another, I traded out my (design flawed) bedside table for a small bookshelf and tidied my side of the bed. Another day we cleared the lounge and – wait for it – vacuumed! I know. Miracle. Call me Domestic Goddess and be done with it.

Elena is, this moment, drawing me with a crown on.

We are going to make a movie today, so they’re drawing up plans. Yay for happy, busy kids.

 


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This is how I roll (off my rocker)

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Category : Daily Life

on getting a wedgie straddling the fence between doing too much and missing out on cool stuff…

 

This week got a bit mad. The calendar assures me it is only Wednesday but I do not actually believe it.

Sunday afternoon, my lovely Mum and Dad offered to take the kids for a few hours and dropped them off around tea time, so Luuk cooked enough chips and sausages for everyone. While the kids were in the bath, we put our feet up in the lounge with a glass of port, and marveled at the madness that is American elections… and heard a dripping.

It wasn’t the kids.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t our flat at all.

Upstairs was leaking.

And it continued to leak until a locksmith let us in so we could turn off the tap and mop up the worst of the mess. Oy vey.

Downstairs at our place, the lights were flickering, so the electricity mains had to go off. The kids were asleep, totally unaware – and blissfully dry because the leak was all in the other end of the flat. Our room was also un-dripped-on. Whew. So we went to bed.

Monday began with the kids SUPER excited because OH MY GOSH THE LIGHTS DON’T WORK. Luuk worked from home for the day so he could be there for any visitors of the fix-the-wet-walls variety. I managed to get the NZSA newsletter drafted, checked, and sent off – small miracle. Mum came over with a maHOOSIVE load of laundry – washed and dried! – because the leak had gone through half the linen cupboard before we noticed…

I wrote a few poems – because it’s National Poetry Writing Month and a poem is a nice bite-sized piece of writing so I felt up-to-it.

poem

Monday night I had my theatre studies class – which is going so well. Love it. Came home so energised, I did a whole ER episode-worth of exercycling.

Tuesday, I had my usual write-in (all welcome, by the way) at the South Library, all morning. I FINISHED a rewrite but it’s had so many rewrites now, I find it hard to celebrate finishing one. I find it hard to believe it’ll be the last one.

I was relief teaching in the afternoon. Sports studies.

Oy, quiet in the cheep seats. I was excellent.

Mum picked up the kids and hung out all afternoon – and all evening because I wanted to go to a poetry open mic and Luuk had a meeting. Bit hectic… well, yeah, but totally worth it. Somehow, I’ve been back in Christchurch for a year, poking my antennae every which way, looking for writing communities, and I missed Catalyst. They meet once a month at The Twisted Hop and remind me so much of the crazy crowd at Spoken Word Paris. I loved it. I read two poems. They sang to me! They sing to all the first-timers. There was also a sing-along of David Bowie songs to kick things off… because why not? All in all, a great evening.

Again, I came home, pumped and ready to cycle my way through a thrilling 40 minutes of ER, but I flaked out half way through. Had a second helping of dinner, and wine.

Today was the real clincher: I hiked down the hill to a doctors appointment, then hiked on from there and met a friend to go op-shopping. MaHOOSIVE haul of gorgeous goodies… and then quick! Off to lunch-meeting with a couple of NZSA folk, and then quick! Off home to pack a picnic afternoon tea, and collect the kids and race off to a catch-up with an old friend.

Damn! Forgot my phone. Quick! Dash home, up the stairs, find the phone, and the rest of afternoon tea, and lock the wide-open balcony door (oops), and trot back down to the car carrying too many things…

Now, you have to understand, our driveway is particularly steep. I mean, check-out-my-thighs steep. So I’m getting in the driver’s side door, trying to keep from smashing the bananas in my left hand or the phone in my right… and the door falls shut ON MY HEAD.

I was SO close to tears. Damn, it hurt. Caught the top of my ear. This is how those cauliflower ears the rugby players have begin. One good smack… and no ice.

While I’m breathing deep and ignoring the kids’ “Mummy, why aren’t we driving?”, my phone buzzes. So I check in with the friend I’m meeting, just to make sure she got my last message about when/where… and she’s sick. She can’t make it.

Afternoon tea is already packed. Coffee in a flask and everything. I’ve told the kids we’re going to a playground.

So we go anyway. To a closer playground.

They play, eat, play, hide (and freak me out because it’s every parent’s nightmare, losing a kid…) basically it’s a lovely afternoon. I realise I’ve double-booked myself for tomorrow, so I make a call and fix that. I realise I missed an important phone call earlier, and send a few texts, make a time, get it sorted…

I drink all the coffee even though I brought enough for two.

And then we go home.

Tomorrow, I’m relieving half a day, I have a meeting after that, then a gap before picking up the kids, then in the evening I’m going to the dress rehearsal for ‘Matthew, Mark, Luke and Joanne’ at The Court Theatre.

Friday, a flu jab and a play date.

Saturday a poetry writing class and in the evening a dinner-and-show thing the Hagley Theatre Company and Cuisine School are putting on.

It’s a rip-roaring week full of mostly good things (flu jabs and bruised cartilage aside)… but it might be too much.

I sat out on the balcony this evening, after I’d served up the kids’ dinner but before I was ready to eat, before Luuk had left work… I took my glass of wine out into the dusk, pulled up my socks against the cold, and watched the sky all pinky over the mountains. It wasn’t  silent: the wind and the trees, cars, neighbours, distant horns and sirens… but it was so peaceful.

stillness

I guess, those are the moments that make the madness manageable.

The occasional early night might help too.

Thing is… what I really want to do right now is pop in an episode of ER and sort out my wardrobe.

where would Corday go?

 


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an ordinary week (with a few sprinkles)

I am such a routine fiend. I love having a plan and (mostly) sticking to it. Just love it. Lap it up. I get SO MUCH DONE when my days basically go the same, one after another, for four or five days in a row.

Which supposedly looks something like this:

Monday

Morning pages, breakfast, make kids’ lunches, bribe them to dress and eat and put on shoes. Walk Louis to school, Elena to kindy, and then walk home (via The Sign of the Takahe, for a bit of a sweaty but healthy start… if I’m feeling up to it.)

walking home from kindy drop-off

Walking home from kindy drop-off, in the lovely morning sun, with the shiny ocean view.

Next: writing-prompt writing and maybe a poem draft… then emails and social media. And then REAL writing, which at the moment is editing an old manuscript.

editing a manuscript

Lunch, and more writing/rewriting/editing. If I’m on a roll, I’ll run off to kindy pick-up at the last moment. If I didn’t walk after drop-off then this is my other opportunity to leg-it up to Sign of the Takahe and trek down for a work-out-ish-thing before picking up Elena. Then we grab loopy Lou from school and… and then do whatever. If it’s sunny, we often go to the school pool.

Monday night I have my practical theatre studies course so early tea for me and the kids. Luuk has to come home a bit earlier than usual so I can handover the kids. After theatre studies I do the groceries, then head home. The kids are in bed and the newest episode of Madame Secretary is waiting for us.

 

Tuesday

The morning runs the same: writing, food, kids, walk, writing, web stuff, writing, food, writing, walk, kids…

Once a month there’s the Committee meeting for the NZSA Canterbury branch. I often go early to the library where the meeting is held. I almost always forget to return the library books. gr.

 

Wednesday

Ditto the morning.

Ditto the avo.

walking to school

Walking home from school and kindy.

Basketball in the evening, at 6:30 or 7:15 or 8pm… and after yesterday’s game I’m NEVER AGAIN eating dinner beforehand. So Wednesday afternoons will from now on include a mammoth afternoon tea. And preparation of reheatable dinner.

 

Thursday

Ditto the morning.

Ditto the avo.

Plus this is play-date day.

 

Friday

Ditto the morning.

Ditto the avo.

Luuk sometimes comes home earlier on Fridays… but not so much if he has to come home early for me to dash off to my class/basketball.

 

‘Tis the plan. It all goes out the window of course if I get called in to relief teach. But money… so, no complaints. Plus, I love being in the classroom. And I can usually still jam in a bit of writing at lunch time, or while the kids veg in front of a screen, or while dinner’s cooking…

more editing

Editing. And more editing.

Sprinkles

This week is the first week of theatre studies and basketball, so they feel like special glittery things, but on top of that, I’m going to a parenting seminar… which is basically a girls night out because I’m such an old lady. My lovely friend Kirsty got an extra ticket, and I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert in parenting, so sure, I’ll go along.

Also, sprinkles this morning: I took a tour around Ngaio Marsh’s house. We’re planning a writing workshop – make a note in your diaries, for 19th March – and we’re going to have it there. Such a lovely spot!

A portrait of Ngaio Marsh

A portrait of the lady herself, on display in the Long Room.

Ngaio Marsh's writing chair

Ngaio Marsh’s writing chair. She also wrote in green ink, the guide informs me.

ngaio marsh, self portrait

A photograph of her, and a self-portrait. She loved all things theatre.

So much lovely art! The workshop will be INSPIRING and not only because the brilliant Zana Bell is facilitating, sharing her wisdom on ‘World Building’. Seriously, pencil it in. 19 March, from 9-3. Discounted rate for NZSA members.

Tomorrow’s glittery thing is the New Families BBQ up at school, by the pool… so weather, please cooperate.

And on Sunday, for a bit of something else entirely, I’m playing Clarinet at church. I hardly ever play at all so… yay!


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Come on in…

Category : Daily Life

Well, this is a little embarrassing, but the kids are adorable, so voila, the video tour of our place…

Now that we’ve been living here for two months, have passed our three-month inspection (no idea why they did it early, but it was a great kick in the pants to clear up a few junky corners) and all the pictures are on the walls, it’s too late to have a house-warming. Meanwhile, we’re hosting a 3-year-old’s birthday tomorrow, and that’ll sate our appetite for parties for a while, I suspect.

In other news, said 3-year-old, Elena, starts Kindy on Monday, almost full-time, and so I’ll finally have some solid writing time – as well as enough time for a lunch break. Winter has set in. We’ve even set-up the dryer. We are rain-ready in the laundry department, and what-do-you-know? We’ve got fine weather. But not warm. Basically, it’s the perfect weather to cosy-up inside and read or write… or build a slide/trampoline out of mattresses and throw yourself at it.

 


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new digs

We’ve had three quakes in three days and so I think it’s fair to say that the country has stopped putting out the good china for us. We’re back to being ordinary kiwis again, except that we occasionally (all the time) yell at our kids in more than one language.

So, how are we settling in? I don’t know. My head is as all-over-the-show as the canterbury sky and let me tell you, that’s one damn interesting, constantly changing sky.

changing skies

I’ve finally got a little writing done, which makes things feel a bit normal. The kids are sleeping, concurrently, and I’ve pulled myself away from Sim City, which is fun but as dangerous as Candy Crush in this new iPad format. Great for a bit of down-time when chaos and boxes are piling up around you, but not great for feeling like you might be a little bit in control of your life.

Which I am.

I might be.

‘Tis possible.

We got back to Christchurch nearly four weeks ago and moved into this place exactly two weeks ago. We’re in a completely different neighbourhood than when we lived here before, on the hill in an otherwise pancake-like city. The feel of it is totally new to us, which is at the very least a good distraction from the complex combo of disappointment and confusion and coming-home feelings around returning, and at most a big help in that whole reverse culture shock thang.

helpful. So helpful.

A new kind of view.

So, two weeks in, we’ve been tapping away at the to-do lists. Louis will be starting Kindy in a couple of weeks, and we’ve found a play group, and maybe a fruit & veggie co-op, and we’ve joined Alliance Française. My 30th birthday party is in the works, so that will be a great big catch-up and I’ve been driving all over the city visiting old friends and colleagues. That stuff’s all great fun but not good for helping life to feel normal. There’s no real routine yet and oh how I need routine.

Kindy will impose something of a timetable. Come June, Elena will start Kindy too and then we’ll be in business, but in the meantime I’m going to have to be out and about and sociable or risk losing my mind, and my temper, at home with the wee ones all day, every day.

I know, I know, I’m an extrovert and doesn’t that mean I lap up the social stuff and… well, sometimes. Only when I’m spending a good chunk of the day, undisturbed, on my own, getting my writing done, not managing children’s activities and/or health & safety at the same time.

One of our weekly outings will probably be to the local library – all of 2kms away and containing both a playground and a cafe within its multi-purpose community centre-ish borders.

After the ‘how are you settling’ question, people usually ask, ‘are you missing France yet?”

Yes. The bread, obviously, and people: all my dear friends. And childcare. And the price of fresh mozzarella.

And the price of wine. We have a divine balcony and the sun is baking us just nicely, but I’m rationing the frosty drink that goes best with it.

That said, we have been enjoying the perks of NZ. The March weather has been fabulous, and we have a view which takes in a good portion of the southern alps and a sliver of the Pacific Ocean. Can’t complain. Also, we get four days off for Easter in NZ, and we went to the beach on Friday and Saturday. Two different beaches, in fact.

And they say there's no sun in sumner.

At Sumner, on Good Friday.

late afternoon on the beach, christchurch, nz

Same as ever… but not, in fact.

cliffs and containers

Containers, protecting the road in case earthquakes bring down any more of the cliffs. But a good half of the containers are also art now, so that’s cool.

Speaking of containers, our shipping is stuck in Singapore. Missed the boat and so we have to wait an extra week. So, basically, it’s going to arrive on ANZAC day, which is now a proper public holiday (if it lands on a weekend you get the Monday), but that means it’s going to be May, probably, before we see our couch and our washing machine and the kids’ beds. (They’re on mattresses on the floor in the meantime.)

I am looking forward to the arrival of that container so much, it verges on the ridiculous. Mum is being a laundry superhero in the meantime but still… we can’t settle yet. We unpacked all our storage in two or three days, in a mad rush, as if we could set up properly, but we can’t until the rest arrives and I must have realised that on day four, I’d guess, because I haven’t unpacked or organised anything in the house since then. Luuk’s done some building and buying and rearranging, but I’ve stalled.

I wonder if, having got a bit of solitary time and writing done today, I’ll start setting-up and rearranging the house again. It might feel less futile to sort out the space, now that I’ve done work in the space, and presumably will do more tomorrow, or the day after, or – hold the phone – both.

Wait for it…

Nope. No sudden hankering to put together the dvd shelves. Oh, but I could do an eclair citron.

 

Except I really couldn’t. Lemon mousse is more complicated than it looks.

But there’s a Tui and a couple of Fantails in our garden. So it’s a mixed bag this moving back thing. Pros and cons. Highs and lows. The kids are awake, but there’s a library just a short drive away. Maybe I can read a little more of my book.


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Deep breath, and…

wait. It’s too soon to actually pack. It’s too soon to get rid of furniture we actually use. There’s a bunch of phone calls and things to book and organise… but actually not much we can do to prepare for moving back to New Zealand.

We are, by the way, moving back home. In a month. A month, today, in fact. The urgent things are booking the shipping company and getting Elena her visa. Thank heaven her application is now off in the post and we can only… wait.

WHY does she need a visa? That’s always the next question. Well, she’s Dutch. She was born in France so the Dutch won’t allow her to have dual citizenship. She can be a New Zealander, because I am, but she’d lose her European citizenship, which she might want when she’s older… so we’ll get her New Zealand residency. Eventually, like Luuk, she’ll have Permanent Residence and will have every right of a NZ citizen, bar a passport… so that’s all fine, but in the meantime she has to have a visitor visa.

And hopefully, before we move out of our apartment, she’ll have one.

The other question I’m getting a lot is WHY do you suddenly have to move? The plan was for August and now it’s for February, and WHY?

French law says your landlord can only kick you out at the end of your lease (3yrs) if the owner is either selling or moving in. They have to give 6 months notice or else it rolls over for another three years. Our lease is up mid-February and our landlady gave us 6 months notice but we thought she’d be nice and let us stay for an extra few months if we promised to leave – signed something, even – in July. We asked… no answer. We didn’t chase it up fast because it seemed like a reasonable request, but eventually we asked again… no answer. Eventually, in November, she gave a definitive NO. So we tried to find a place nearby to move to, but come Christmas were having no luck and two moves in 6 months is unnecessarily stressful…

So one it is.

Back to Christchurch for the immediate future, but more aware than ever that the future is a tricky thing and who knows?

I suppose it’s fair to say I’ve been quite stressed. Quite sick too, but the doctor put me on powerful antibiotics so it’ll pass. Once I’m well, I’m sure I will feel less panicky about things, so long as no more idiots go on a murderous rampage just a couple of neighborhoods away… That’d be good.

Perhaps it was a bit reckless to go into Paris on Thursday, just the day after the Charlie Hedbo shootings, but as far as we knew the guys had gone north east. But I hadn’t been to a French class in over a month. So I went. Never mind that one of these nut jobs shot a couple of people in the southern part of the city, quite near Antony… because at that point no one realised he was one of the same guys who’d done the Charlie Hedbo lot.

On Friday I actually did have to go into the city, to take Elena to the ONE doctor in Paris who can do a medical certificate for NZ immigration. I had the beginnings of a horrible throat infection, and a grumpy 2 year old, and taking the train meant…

1. joining the morning rush on the RER B (no chairs and no way I can let Elena out of the pushchair, but she’ll try to get out anyway), and

2. changing trains at Denfert Rochereau, with about a million other people, and not breaking stride (which would cause AT LEAST ten people to collide) while lifting 15.5kgs of Elena plus whatever the pushchair weighs and carrying it down and up several double and at least one triple staircase.

So I get to the doctor and I have the wrong papers and the secretary seems like she’s going to help me out (print the right papers) and then she gets confused and thinks I have the right papers, so I go ahead with Elena to see the doctor (after waiting for a while in the lobby with a 2 year old and no toys and an annoying video ad playing on repeat for plastic surgery – think breasts spontaneously changing size and shape, bottoms defying gravity, the sort of thing you absolutely want your 2-year-old seeing ten times over). And then we figure out that no, indeed, I do have the wrong papers, but now the secretary is adamant that she can’t print documents for clients, and Elena is ready for her nap and throwing a bit of a tizzy and I’m feeling quite ill and I crack, ie. start crying, then pull myself together enough to make another appointment for Monday.

I leave and stand on the footpath and have a good cry – which gets you no comments, not even a sideways glance, in Paris. It’s kind of nice. I cried, confident that no passers-by would interrupt me with their concern. And then I went to the New Zealand Embassy to get certified copies of our passports. Oh, it was nice to speak English to people with NZ accents and who could actually do the thing that I was asking of them.

Elena was asleep by then, so I went back to Antony (all the train crap again – although I did get a seat for the last leg of the trip). It was nearly time for Elena to go to nursery so not worth going home. I needed to eat but the cafes were all packed. It wasn’t quite raining, but misting, so we found a damp bench under a tree and shared a sandwich.

I dropped her off at nursery then went home and discovered that just a couple of arrondisements away all hell was breaking loose. I was kind of a mess at this point, but I lay on the couch and watched TV until I had to pick up Louis from school. The watching TV probably didn’t help but lying still did. The hostage situations were all over by six pm. And I’d been looking forward to writers’ group; I’d read all their pages and they’d read mine, so off I went to the city again. Three times in two days.

Such a stressful trip. I mean the sieges were over at this point so it shouldn’t have been, but the train kept stopping between stations, and I could just see everyone trying not to worry. But then at St Michel some idiots were yelling on the platform and there was a bang and then a minute later two more bangs – I don’t know what was banging but it must have been nothing serious and the train left the station. Just some idiots… just freaking everyone out. All these slick Parisians with their expressionless faces. Except for the half dozen people who gave in to curiosity and craned their necks to see out the train windows. Anyway, I got to writers group safe and sound. Got a bit drunk, unfortunately, but perhaps that was inevitable.

What a week.

This week has been thankfully uneventful. My throat was horrific so I opted out of everything I could opt out of. I sorted Elena’s application and got myself to the doctors, and the antibiotics are kicking the throat infection’s arse.

Is that everything? I had a huge catch-up to write and I suppose I haven’t talked about Christmas and our trip to Belgium and all of that, but too bad. It snowed in Belgium. We won at cards (we played 500, so all credit to my Dad who taught me). Good chips. Excellent beer. A couple of stressful travel-related dreams. I read many books. That is all.


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What the fête is going on?

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Category : Daily Life

(and where the holly are my Christmas presents?)

We have to move. If we find a place soon we’ll be shifting flats within the same suburb and staying till July next year, as planned. Then we’ll move back to New Zealand. As planned.

If we can’t find an apartment in the next month then, come mid-February, when our lease ends, we will move back to New Zealand. Once again our plans are all up in the air.

Kind of like Luuk’s key was, in the elevator yesterday.

found key

Funny story. He must have dropped it and whoever found it decided to hang it from the dodgy wire that sticks out of the elevator light.

I saw it and thought ‘how wonderfully absurd’ and took a photo, not knowing it was Luuk’s key.

So that was the highlight of yesterday. I know, that sounds terrible, but the kids have been sick and the getting-better thing is making them grumpy little wretches. Even christmas baking was a bit of a downer because I overcooked the cookies. I should know – trust the clock, not the look.

Anyway, so moving. Maybe. Definitely, but not sure when. Or where. But it’s easy, especially this time of year, to get so wrapped up in day-to-day stuff that even an imminent (just 2 months away) and major change can fade into the background. It is probably making me look at my friends here with a bit of the expectation that I will have to say goodbye soon. And NZ being where it is, far far away, it might be years before we meet again.

One friend in particular is moving out of the city over the next two weeks (it’s a process) and we’ll probably visit them out in the wops before we jet off, but there will be no more grabbing a drink before we pick the kids up from halte garderie, no more 7-types-of-cheese-and-accompaniments picnic lunches between the kids’ morning and afternoon sessions.

In NZ christmas is always the time for finishing things, for saying goodbye to teachers or students and heading off for summer break, but it feels like that a little bit here, this year. School’s only off for 2 weeks, and halte garderie less than that. But I suppose, all my life, christmas parties were end-of-year send-offs.

pomme d'api christmas party

Elena’s christmas party was last week. They nursery she attends is so sweet. I feel very lucky in that regard and hope we can find such a good fit in NZ.

christmas party story time

The teachers read and acted out a lovely little winter story about a bunch of animals taking shelter in a giant mitten. And then the bear joins them and (spoiler alert) the mitten breaks. Elena’s teachers, most of the time, are the two on either side of the ‘stage’ and the woman with the book is the principal.

Louis’s school has christmas trees up in every room, and they took them to a movie about a snowman last week, but as far as I’m aware there’s no christmas party. Which is fine – one less thing. They’re doing lots of lovely christmas art, though, and they actually (at 4!) look at artists and copy their styles.

Louis' painting

I’m rather impressed. And he’s rather proud.

Speaking of art, I better get on and make some. I’m editing like crazy – what else is new? And I’ve only got an hour before I need to go get Elena.

PS. I ordered all my christmas presents online and they’re not here yet! So I’m going to be dragging out people’s christmases with late pressies, I suspect.


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finding pace

We’re back at it. Luuk’s at work, Elena’s at halte garderie (well, not this very minute. Right now she’s watching Monsters Inc. for the thousandth time), Louis is at school and I’m in the thick of revisions… again.

the kids and their friends

The kids are happy to be back in routine, and playing with all their buddies.

They’ve gone and changed up the school timetable, so Wednesday is now a school day – but a half day – and every other day wraps up at 4pm (used to be 4.30) which means everyone’s a bit confused… but three weeks in, it’s settling down.

I’ve found myself a french conversation group, and signed Louis up to stay after school on Thursdays so I can go. I’ve even got myself a little job – talking English with a kid for an hour a week. Yeah, it might cover the cost of printing all my drafts. But probably not.

lovely autumn

Lovely autumn

September is gorgeous in this bit of the world, if you can slow down enough to notice. They have a cheese and wine fair in Antony each year, which seems a wonderfully hedonistic way to celebrate.

cheese and wine fair

Foire au fromage et aux vins!

champagne at the antony foire au fromage et aux vins

My happy place: the champange tasting.

Last year it rained… but this year I think Luuk got a bit of sunburn. Needless to say, we are stocked up to our eyeballs. We will be eating a lot of cheese in the next few weeks. Wine, at least, lasts for a long time. But in our enthusiasm to taste it we have two bottles open right now – one has gone into a bowl with chicken (I’m gonna try coq au vin) and the other will be going into tonight’s risotto. (The chicken needs a day or two of swimming so we’ll eat it tomorrow.)

So we’re eating well. Surprised anyone?

There have been a few cool bits and bobs in the past couple of weeks:

– I met Margaret Atwood at the Festival America at Vincennes. And she signed a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale for me. I was not at all cool about it. Star struck silly, in fact.

handmaid's tale, signed by margaret atwood

– Elena is biking to school and garderie, so we’re inching toward the end of the pushchair.

elena on her bike

– There was writers’ group last week, and we tackled a whole novel. We’re all working away at novels and usually do a chapter from each, in a session. But for editing purposes, looking at a piece of work in its entirety can be hugely helpful, and it went very well.

photo (2)

 From beginning to end.

I also found it encouraging to read a complete manuscript, written by a member of our group, and next time we’re doing one of my whole manuscripts. There’s at least one other member with a finished one so perhaps we’ll tackle that (when said member gets back from hiking in Nepal…)

– There’s an election in NZ, in a couple of days in fact, and there have been lots of great conversations via social media. I’ve been particularly encouraged by how many of my former students are taking an interest and getting involved. One of my favourite units to teach was on government and democracy (link is to a great documentary) and five years later those kids are old enough to vote, and still give a damn. So, win!

– I’ve been reading ‘The Humans’ by Matt Haig – a downright brilliant book. Highly recommend. It’s not long or difficult, but wow, talk about tackling the big questions with humour and heart.

I feel like I’m forgetting something, but that might be it. Elena’s gone down for her nap so I’d better get back to my disgraced heroine and the unconventional earl she’s accidentally falling in love with. As you do.

 


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wind-down

We’re usually the ones who take-off on holiday on the evening of the last day of work, or at crack of dawn, next morning, but this time we are taking an entire leisurely Saturday to pack and potter around. A much more relaxing start to a holiday.

We have three weeks and first stop is Switzerland. This time tomorrow, all going well, we’ll roll into Geneva, kids fresh from a very long nap. What shall we see? I guess I’ve got some reading to do. There’s a lake, definitely, and mountains, it being Switzerland. Fortunately, most of the five hours-or-so drive is within France, and I can hot-spot the 3G on my phone and use my ipad in the car to google things. Ah, the joys.

The next stop on our trip is properly in the Swiss Alps, and then we head down into Italy, where we will chill out by a lake for a few days. From there we will stop off at Milan, Padova and Venice before heading north to Salzburg.

I make no promises but there might be a blogpost from Salzburg. I’m glad we are going back to Italy; it was pretty awesome last summer. I suspect we’ll need warmer clothes this time, as we are basically lapping the alps – which gives a rough idea of our complete route.

Fewer days are set aside for dedicated lazing about, than last summer, but we will be seeing all sorts of stuff in five different countries. And we’re driving which gives us a bit of freedom – and I’m not gonna lie, air conditioning is nice. Public transport in Italy in August… steamy.

I’m glad we didn’t rush off first thing today. I’ve had the kids home with me all week. We’ve cleaned out the perishable foodstuffs and stayed on top of the laundry but packing didn’t happen till today.

What did we do? Well, there were three markedly different huts – not bad for our cozy wee living room.

inside the first hut

Inside the first hut, a picnic for the toys.

hut number three

The third hut, before the friends arrived. They had a real picnic lunch in there.

On discovering the ludotheque was closed for the week, we took advantage of good weather (which didn’t last, I’m sorry to say) and visited a different park to usual, at the other end of Antony.

exploring the distant playgrounds

The distant park – which still has sand!

the favourite playground

And we went back to our usual haunt – the kids’ favourite park in town.

working on the cycling skills

And when the rain came and went we dashed out to the closest park, and Elena biked!

We ate our breakfast one morning by the fish pond.

breakfast by the fishpond

Mmm, fresh pastry and ominous skies.

fishes!

But the fish were out and the weather waited a little while.

Another day, we stopped in at Louis’ favourite cafe, for hot chocolates.

chocolat tiede

Or rather, ‘chocolat tiede’, so that it’s cool enough to drink.

menu angst

And the kids had more fun with the menu than the tiny waffles.

There was a little down-time each day, while they napped. I’ve been trying to make all the broad-strokes edits to my manuscript, according to some horribly wonderfully insightful questions and suggestions from an editor. Meanwhile, Luuk has had a FULL ON week at work, and had left-over work to do every night. Needless to say, we were in no shape to pack and go first thing today.

And I finished my major-edits about an hour ago. Hurrah!

And margaritas! Had to use up the limes, of course.

Occurs to me now that there are clothes in the machine, clean and wet and not getting dry enough to pack. So much for being on top of the laundry.


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busy somethings and busy nothings

We had a mad couple of weeks, and then things calmed down and the quiet is a different kind of mad.

First, the mad weeks – the busy doing something bit. A kiwi friend came to town and so I played tour guide, which I love. We walked our feet off. The first day we went to Versailles and (finally) saw the Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s wee (not actually tiny) village.

too early for the trianon

The Trianon doesn’t open till midday – consider yourselves warned – so we wandered around the lake and took in another angle on the palace and gardens before we went into the Trianon.

the grand trianonThe grand trianon was like a summer house, a cottage if you will. But giant.

the petit trianonAnd then there’s the petit trianon, which is small, I suppose, but set among vast gardens.

marie antoinette's farm

And beyond that is the village that Marie Antoinette had made, so that she could experience authentic french village life… yep.

exploring marie antoinette's village at versailles

Me and Elena at the little village.

The kids were exhausted long before we were done. That place is huge. It’s beside Versailles, so the very concept of huge is seriously warped.

music and fountains

Luuk took the kids home, after a fortifying ice cream, and my friend and I continued on to the palace. The fountains in the gardens were all going, and some even had music playing, so it was quite spectacular. Transporting, really. It is hard to imagine the opulence of life in this place when it was a palace.

On Monday, we went to Paris but our tired feet kept us from going far – just a lap around Notre Dame and a little of the little Ile St Louis. We stopped in at Shakespeare and Company and then had some lunch.

worn out in Paris

Elena slept through lunch.

And then we headed back to Antony in time to drop the little lady off at halte garderie.

Tuesday we were amped and organised and showed up at the Louvre just after it opened… except it didn’t open because it never does on Tuesdays. Quick change of plan, which was nervous-making given I’d forgotten my phone. Its handy-dandy maps of Paris and GPS functions are good at times like these. We winged it and found our way to Sacre Coeur, then the Amelie Cafe and the Moulin Rouge.

creme brulee at Les Deux Moulins

Creme Brulee at Les Deux Moulins

After all that traipsing about, I left my friend to find the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower by herself and took Elena to halte garderie. I took the afternoon off.

In the evening, we went to see La Belle et la Bete – Beauty and the Beast. It was brilliant. It was in French. But there’s not a lot of subtlety in musical theatre and we picked up most of the jokes.

la belle et la bete

The staging, the costumes, the music, was all brilliantly done – lavish and hilarious and even a little bit moving – when chip, the little boy who’s been trapped in a tea-cup, gets to be human again – aw. And the feast – ah! – the plates and napkins and cutlery all prancing about. The plates lit up. There were streamers shot into the audience. If you’re in Paris, and you can stretch for it – so worth seeing.

Wednesday, my friend went to the Louvre, and Louis and I hung out at the ludotheque while Elena was at halte garderie, so that was nice and chilled-out for the morning. On Thursday we stayed in Antony and went to the market. We met up with a friend of mine in the morning and another came over in the afternoon. The first was about to head off on holiday, the second was about to head off for good. It’s an expat thing, and it sucks, but it’s also very predictable. You make these friends knowing you’re only going to live in the same place for a few months or years. This particular friend is a writer and a great babysitter, so she will definitely be missed!

The next day our visitor left and the kids and I had a lazy day. Lazy was also the plan for Saturday, but it was gorgeous weather and while I’d got plenty of exercise, walking around Paris during the week, Luuk has a desk job – so it was bike ride time! We went up the hill to the coulee vert and discovered a new play ground. We came back to rest our tired muscles and then heard from Kiwi friends who used to live in Paris, but have been in Lille for a year now. They were in town, just for the night, and so we biked up the hill again to catch up with them.

Well after the kids’ bedtime, we biked back, and got home only to discover that Luuk had forgotten his back pack. So he did the hill three times on Saturday. Sunday, we felt quite a lot of sympathy for the tour de france cyclists. It was the final day of the tour and they came into Paris via a road that is only a short walk from our house.

ready for the tour de france

Waiting for the bikes.

So that was all the busy somethings. This week has been busy nothing. Halte Garderie is closed for the summer, and Elena and I are getting rather tired of each other. Louis still had the holiday program to go to, but I’ve not been well, just niggly things that mostly wear me out rather than make me feel sick. Getting out of the house and doing anything interesting with the kids has just seemed like a huge effort. Hopefully I’ll get better, get my energy back, because next week Louis isn’t going to the holiday program and I will have them both to myself, all day, every day.

To think, once upon a time I thought being a full-time mum and home-maker was right up my alley. Turns out, I have a very small capacity for playing with very small children. I run out of ideas, and patience, horribly fast. A few hours, a morning, is fine, but then I’m ready for some time to myself.

Two of them, together, can be great if they want to do the same thing, together, and happily. The playdoh colours are all mixed together, but hey, they’re happy. I can join in, then wander away and do some housework or a blog post, then peal the colours apart and put the playdoh away and organise lunch. It can be relaxed, but it tends to go that way for just a fraction of the day. And there tends to be rather too much television on.

‘George of the Jungle’ is the current favourite. I do an excellent jungle-man yell.