Category Archives: Education

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On bagging teachers

I work as a relief teacher. At seven in the morning, or if I’m lucky, at eight in the evening, the night before, I get a call from a surprisingly calm sounding woman who coordinates the relief teachers at one of the high schools nearby, and she asks me if I’m available to teach, and I usually say, ‘Yes, I’d love to. What time do you need me?’

So I show up at school (after all the regular teachers do) in time for period one, and find my instructions, left by whoever I’m stepping in for (because of illness, or sometimes a class trip, or professional development…). Then I find my class and introduce myself and they invariably try to swap names or convince me they’re ‘usually allowed to listen to music in class’, but we plod on with their work and at the end of it they go to the next class, and so do I.

At interval, I sit in a staff room and watch and listen, and damn it people, why do we, as a society, bag teachers? Why is it that we just assume the problems with education (and therefore with all of society…) can be traced back to rubbish teachers? Because honestly, I can remember one or two less-than-stellar teachers from my entire schooling career, but most of them were creative, articulate, could think on their feet, deliver inspirational speeches at the drop of a hat, make us do way more than we thought we were capable of… These people work ridiculous hours and pour their hearts and souls into helping kids through school, preparing them for life beyond, propping them up when they’re struggling, just generally, frankly, being everyday HEROES.

I get it, teachers are a convenient target for government and media when they want to point the finger, but the more time I spend around schools, the more fed up I am with the lazy rhetoric, the scapegoating.

There’s a thing we do – all of us – we assume we work harder than other people. We can’t step into their shoes and live their life, can’t see most of what they do, the hard parts of their jobs, the complexity. We see the rewards perhaps, we see the pay-off, we see the appearance of order and meaning, and it is so easy to imagine they have it just slightly (or a lot) easier than we do.

With teachers it’s too easy. We see school holidays and nine a.m. to three p.m.. We see them as glorified babysitters, perhaps. We imagine it’s not that hard to give lectures and detentions to a room full of smelly, disorganised, apathetic teenagers with smartphones under their desks. We think you’d have to be an idiot to sign up for that shit in the first place. We think they put on a movie any time they’re not feeling up to it.

And then our own kids (or our friends’ kids) come home, tired and hormonal, and talk smack about how rubbish their teachers are, how out of control their classes, how they outsmarted the fool in charge. Do we believe them? Do we accept the job-appraisal offered by a fifteen year old who would rather be mine-crafting than wrapping his head around the causes of World War II? The teacher took his phone off him and gave him homework, and we take his word on how competent she is at her job?

Seriously?

And the shit teachers have to deal with some days, the cruel fragile-ego-driven shit teenagers deal out (it’s a phase, perhaps, not to excuse it, but we can probably all remember being less than lovely to a teacher or two). Teachers take that stuff, laugh it off, and put on their armour and go back to work, because they’ve got a job to do. These kids need to learn this stuff, pass this test, gain this credit…

The money’s not crash hot. The holidays are mythical. And nine to three… hah!

You want to improve education? Pay them better, give them smaller classes and bigger budgets and support staff to do all the non-teaching stuff. Start with the assumption that teachers are in it for the kids (because why the hell else would they be in it?) Start with the admission that if they’re not the best teacher ever, that puts education on par with every other profession, full of every-day-heroes who aren’t the best-ever at their job, but do pretty damn well in the circumstances, given the resources at hand. And most teachers are great learners – comes with the territory – they’re upping their game constantly. In fact, it’s required for keeping your teaching registration.

There are those who tick the boxes, disparage students, do the bare minimum – I’m sure there are, somewhere. I assume so because there must be, right? In any profession.

But I go into schools, I watch, I listen, and I’ve not yet seen ONE.

What I have seen are so many dedicated, creative, generous souls, giving up their lunch hours to help a struggling kid, doing research on their phone while eating a soggy sandwich, looking up a more engaging way to introduce a seemingly-dull but important topic, or finding course information for a kid who’s ready to quit school, or shoulder-tapping another teacher to compare notes on a kid who is often upset and is there something going on at home?

Unfortunately we have people in government, even those in charge of education portfolios, who’ve hardly spent any time in schools at all. Being in real schools with real teachers would soon put an end to all the teacher-blaming, and then we could start to talk about how to actually improve education in this country.

Okay, rant done. This guy does it better, and it’s possible you haven’t seen this because it’s a few years old now…


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Launched

Category : Art , Education

The gorgeous book was gorgeously launched! The Laboratory, Lincoln’s very own brew bar, was packed to the rafters with writerly types. Good beer, good poetry, and lots of “I can’t believe how many people are here! I thought no one liked poetry!”

The place was buzzing. A real party. With TWO mayors. (A week later, I can only remember the name one of them.)

christchurch mayor at the launch

There she is, the lovely Lianne Dalziel. She said poets can say things mayors aren’t allowed to. I like her.

So the book is ‘Leaving the Red Zone’. The editors are Jo Preston and Jim Norcliffe, veritable pillars of the writing community in these parts. I’d met Jim before but Jo was new, and a total dream of an M.C. – tearing up with all the feels one moment, making dirty jokes the next. I think we might one day be best friends, basically.

There are 148 poems in this baby, from 87 different poets, and I knew that before I got to the bar. I’d had a pretty lousy day, to be honest. It started horribly early – but on theme, if nothing else – with a couple of earthquakes. And then, from dawn to dusk, I was plagued with all those awful things our brains tell us on pivotal days.

Examples:

  • I bet they took every poem. I’m not special.
  • I’m in it, therefore the standard can’t be very high.
  • I’m not a poet. I’m a novelist.
  • It’ll be a rubbish self-pub-looking pamphlet

And then I got to The Laboratory, bought a pint, found a friend, and man alive! The place was packed out. The book is gorgeous. Seriously, it’s just a nice-looking, nice-feeling book. And enormous – no pamplet. And it turns out, the editors received 10 times as many submissions as they put in the book.

me and the book

One highlight: the honorary mention of the one poem that they wanted to, but didn’t dare, publish: something about Gerry Brownlee that might have been actionable. I still wonder why that poem wasn’t read at the launch. That’d be covered by freedom of speech. Sure. Come on. Inquiring minds want to know. (Inquiring minds are never fond of Brownlee, after all.)

Sometimes

There it is, the first two stanzas of my baby. It’s official: I’m published.

What’s weirder is that I’m a poet.

So here’s the ugly truth: I’m kind of disappointed that for all the hours and hours, all the dollars and euros and pounds, all the tears and sleepless nights and long blocked-but-writing-anyway days, I’ve spent on my novels, it’s a poem I wrote on a train, en route to a writer’s group, and then reworked eighteen months later and submitted because why-the-hell-not? that finds an audience.

But it’s a start. A step in the right direction. And it’s a cool poem. Something to be proud of, regardless of its size.

I’ve been writing more poetry. Next stop, submissions. I’m not giving up on the novels, no way, they’ll get there. But there’s more than one way to do this thang. I guess this is the way I’m doing it.

And while I’m at it, I’m taking two online film courses: one on screenwriting and one on the whole film making process and all the dirty dirty logistics. Money. Time. Heaps of equipment I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO USE. OR WHAT IT’S FOR.

Meanwhile, at my theatre studies class, we’re acting. Yikes. Trying new things. Scary. Actually, the hard thing is doing this stuff without getting scared about looking like a fool. Embrace the looking-like-a-fool. And never rehearse in front of a mirror. Advice straight from Kate Winslett, right there. (Via bafta guru, a website which will make you feel so tiny and insignificant, or perhaps inspire you. Maybe.)

I feel like this post has wandered, so I’m going to grab a coffee and then do-over another poem.

leaving the red zone

‘Leaving the Red Zone’ is available at Scorpio Books or by order from Clerestory Press – clerestory@xtra.co.nz


  • 3

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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that doesn’t seem right

I’ve been aware lately of a few wonderful paradoxes, and I thought I’d share them here because it’s been a while. I’ve been doing nanowrimo (writing. A lot. That is all.) and now that’s done, so I’m back in the world of the living, just in time to put up the Christmas decorations.

Leo says,

What’s a paradox? some might ask. A seeming contradiction. Two things that don’t go together, but SO DO.

For instance: happily listening to an Adele song.

Now, that’s a bit mean. There is a happy song on her new album. The last track. I know this because I went out and bought it (so strange for me) and I’ve been listening to it on loop, obsessively (less strange). And very happily. So there you have it.

adele is awesome
Another example of paradox: you want something done, ask a busy person.

So you get it. Paradoxes everywhere actually. The one I’m most aware of at the moment is less pithy. It’s about being certain of uncertainty, about being happy but not entirely content. I’ve been looking for part time teaching work and, at the same time, looking at my writing – my nine complete manuscripts, a couple of which are pretty close to being finished, so far as I can tell – and where to take it next, how to publish and publish well.

writing and tea

In both cases, there are things I can do to improve my chances and then there’s just a tonne of stuff beyond my control. I’m impatient to be in the classroom again, and I’m impatient to be published, but at the same time, I’m loving writing, and I know what I need to be working on, and I’ve enjoyed relief teaching much more than I expected. In some ways relief is a good fit with writing. And if I do suddenly get a big break and have to do a world book tour, I won’t have to take time off and mess anyone around…

But seriously, that’s only slightly less likely than finding a teaching job in Christchurch.

Maybe. Hard to say for sure.

Louis started school a couple of weeks ago and he’s so happy there. Elena’s still loving kindy and they’re both becoming more independent.

starting school

They’re happy, healthy, adorable, and relatively low-maintenance kids. I’m not dreading the summer holidays the way I was dreading school hols earlier in the year. I’ll still be able to write and find some time by myself.

happy kids boating

What I’m saying is, life is good – it’s great. But I’m still wanting more, wanting things to change.

Here’s another paradox for you: holidays. Is it just me who’s always tired at the end of them? I really am so much better at work, in my routine. I can write in a quiet house, by myself, for hours and at the end feel energised and rested.

nanowrimoing

Maybe I’m weird.

Okay, definitely.

Here’s another one: if you want to do something really well, you have to make it a priority, focus… get going toward those 10k hours we supposedly need to put in if we want to be brilliant at a thing. Any thing. But, that said, if you reduce yourself to one thing, one defining interest, especially in the arts, then you can’t do it in a way that’s relevant to the world around you. I recently started playing basketball. Now, I’m no sportswoman. I mean, I have zero interest in sport-watching, and it’s fun to play, but I’m not very committed to winning. I won’t push myself so hard that I get injured or asthmatic. If I’m stuffed, I sub-off. If someone shoves me, I back-off. But I’ve been LOVING basketball. I did not see that coming. Now, if I’m not open to trying new things, then I’ll quickly run out of things to write about. If I limit my characters to my experiences and interests and point-of-view then my stories will be so narrow.

Plus, life is more fun if you try new things.

such fun

And the next one isn’t so much a paradox, as just an unfortunate truth that I’m grappling with: you can’t do everything. You have to choose what matters and what matters less and what doesn’t matter. But there are too many wonderful things, and too many important things. You can’t even do the majority of them, to be frank. If you try to do all the wonderful and important things then you’ll be miserable: there’s simply too much to do and not enough time. And so there are some hard decisions to be made. Finish writing on deadline or go to the climate march, for instance. Both are important, but doing both would be stressful and unnecessary. I think I might come back to this in a future blog: the saying ‘no’ to things subject. It’s a big one. Tricky and important.

Here’s a tricky paradox: missing a place and being glad to be somewhere else. Ah, Paris, how you mess me around. Paris is EVERYWHERE, can I just say? I mean even when it’s not being shot up by nut-jobs, it is everywhere. I’ve been supervising NCEA exams and we confiscated a pencil case so it was sitting up the front, and it’s got the Eiffel Tower on it – of course! Paris is a hard place to leave behind anyway but seriously enough with papering the world in Eiffel Towers.

And then there’s an awful act of terrorism, so you have my permission again (not that you need it), and these past few weeks people keep saying to me, ‘you must be glad not to be there’, and I am. We were there in January for all the Charlie Hebdo palaver, and I am glad to miss out on all that stress and chaos and merde.

me and invalides

(Elena took this photo on the day that the Charlie Hebdo situation was shut down. We had an appointment in Paris and arrived early. We were waiting and she was playing with my phone. That’s Invalides in the background. I think it captures how tired, stressed, and overwhelmed I was feeling.)

But I also really want to be there. I want to hug my friends so, SO tight. Especially, but not limited to, those who lost friends at the Bataclan. I’m heartsick for them. One friend, a poet, has been posting little details of her day on facebook – about getting her bag checked at every shop, and not minding, but thinking the cursory glance in her purse wouldn’t likely catch anything dangerous if it were hidden in among the flotsam; about saying bonjour and merci to the guards outside the mosque – people she walks past every day and has never spoken to before. This is the stuff that makes me want to be there, and also so glad to be here.

But Christmas is coming, and being here in the sun wins.

summer wins

I am glad to be home and for summer coming, and pohutakawa blossoming up the road.

pohutakawa

Brandy snaps and pavlova and lots of bubbly and long evenings on the deck, with the barbecue and Adele crooning away in the background (probably just in my head because everyone else will be sick of her and her album will be banned in our house… it’s only a matter of time.)

in my head

Oh, I won’t.


  • -

credit where credit’s due

I have a pretty good life. It would be easy to sit back and say, ‘look how well I’ve done.’ No one would like me any more and things would go downhill a little from there, but it would be easy to think that way.

It would be easy to jump from that train of thought to another which says that people who are doing it rough have done that to themselves.

I want to be honest – give credit where it’s due. I can take a tiny percentage of the blame for how good my life is. TINY.

I have done some good things, yes, but through no virtue of my own…

– I was born to a stable home, never went hungry, was not abused, did not even witness addiction until well into adulthood.

– I was always expected to get an education. People believed I was capable of learning, of looking after myself, of becoming a contributing member of society.

– I was taught how to save and spend money wisely. I was taught how to cook healthy and cheap meals. I was taught how to read and write and think for myself, to question authority. To not be a sucker. To not go into debt on a car.

– I went to excellent state schools. I had friends from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, boys and girls, and several with severe disabilities.

– The personalities in my family meant that there were lots of engaged (cough-enraged) discussions and debates over the dinner table.

– I lived overseas. I saw that whole societies operated differently to the way I thought was ‘normal’. I realised ‘normal’ was a myth.

This was all before puberty. I was given a damn good start in life. And through no virtue of my own, I do not struggle with anxiety, depression, addiction or severe health problems.

Wouldn’t it be IGNORANT and ARROGANT to assume that other people should be able to have a life as sweet and comfy as mine, if they just set their minds to it? If they just believed in themselves, and got to work, and quit making stupid decisions?

Someone whose home life was unstable, who was not infused with security and confidence from the word ‘go’.

Someone who was emotionally and/or physically abused by the very people meant to care for and love them.

Someone surrounded by addiction.

Someone who was not taught how to spend money wisely. Who doesn’t understand that a pair of sneakers or a car are never an ‘investment’. That $10 can buy one take-away meal or a whole day’s worth of groceries.

Someone who never learned how to cook healthy, yummy food.

Someone not confident in their ability to read and understand, to communicate effectively.

Someone who was punished for questioning authority, or who only ever saw adults believing every bit of spin going. Every advertisement promising to peel 30 years off your age. And perhaps they live in a neighbourhood with a bunch of loan sharks.

Someone who only ever had friends who looked and talked and lived the same way they do.

I could go on.

Well, I just got lucky, didn’t I? Some would say ‘blessed’. Whoever gets credit, it’s not really me, is it? My parents get some credit, but they can’t take all the credit for their nice lives either. So, my grandparents get some credit, and indeed some of them came from some pretty dire situations.

I think it’s time to stop the blame game. Be thankful, and humble, and treat others with compassion and grace.

Some people need a lot more help than I do. That’s not because I am better than them. NOT AT ALL. I do not DESERVE a happier, healthier existence. I am not entitled to more.

We will probably go on disagreeing (we being society) about just how to best lift people out of the cycle of poverty, but can we please discuss THAT rather than all the eye rolling, finger-pointing, ‘not my problem’ B.S.?

*deep breath*

That said, let’s actually have these discussions. Let’s get involved and speak up. Let’s tell the politicians that we do care and we expect them to do something about it. We’re stuck with them for the next god-knows-how-long. AND THEY’RE STUCK WITH US.

 


  • -

preparing for battle

Some days feel like one fight after another. Getting breakfast into the kids, putting long pants, not shorts, on Louis, even getting up out of bed is a battle.

This morning’s mission was to make an appointment with a pediatrician, because our GP won’t give the kids their BCG vaccines. It’s not even super urgent that they get this particular vaccine, except that I have the box sitting in the fridge.

In France, when you want a vaccine, you get a prescription for it, then go to the pharmacy and pick up the vaccine, and then take it along to your next doctor’s appointment. My GP gave me the prescription, so now I have the vaccine, but I can’t get someone to inject it into my poor offspring.

I know all the French I need in order to have this conversation, so long as the receptionist doesn’t go off script. She did. I apologised, told her I didn’t understand,I’m still learning French. I asked her to speak more slowly, explained what I needed repeatedly… and then she hung up on me. I may have been a little over-tired but I promptly burst into tears. Then made myself a large coffee and put the appointment-making-palaver on tomorrow’s to-do list.

Which is a joke. Wednesdays are not for getting things done. Wednesdays I have both kids all day long.

And tomorrow afternoon, while both kids sleep at the same time (fingers crossed) I will be participating in a twitter pitch competition of sorts. A bunch of literary agents will be watching the hashtag #adpit and I’ve got two novels ready to pitch. I’ve spent the past few weeks fine-tuning and torturing my manuscripts and query letters, the first line of which has to be this brilliant sentence summing up the main conflict of the story.

For the twitter competition it has to fit in the 160 character limit. This is what I’ve got:

The new Earl of Belvedere will distract the London gossips from Lady Ailsa but he poses a greater danger than slander ever could. #adpit

and for the other,

Sun loathes rugby, with good reason. When she unwittingly falls for an AllBlack, he won’t let her go without a fight. Sexy NZ Romance #adpit

For the query letters there’s a bit more room for length but those agents are famous sticklers for the one sentence thing. And I suppose it’s a good way to make sure a writer really knows how to write. It takes focus and a careful use of language. A good story doesn’t hurt.

Of course, if the pitch (1 sentence) or the query letter do their jobs then I’ll be submitting several chapters or even the whole manuscript, so I’ve been fine-tuning for a while. I’m ready. Or, I hope I’m ready. I’ve thought I was ready in the past. I’ve even been asked for manuscripts, but in the end the agents didn’t bite. So my manuscripts probably weren’t ready.

Facing off with a nearly-3 year old at eight in the morning and submitting my carefully edited writing are two rather different battles, but the secret to both is in the prep. I’ve prepared my manuscripts over weeks and months. Getting shoes onto a wriggling target is a little more of-the-moment.

Right this minute he’s trying to use his drinking straw on a plate full of green curry sauce (very mild version) and rice. I think this is the stage of development when kids are independently capable of lots of things and don’t like all the things they’re NOT doing independently. So, basically, if I ask him to do something he immediately wants to do ANYTHING else, just to be sure he’s the boss of the moment.

Still, he’s rather cute, even with the attitude. Damn.

How do I prepare for every instance of that? Earlier nights and potent first-thing cups of coffee would help, sure. Reverse psychology and limited choices (“sit down or go to your bedroom,” for example) have their place.

Keeping my cool… well, that’s easier with the literary agents. With them it’s business. And they get one hit. If they say, ‘No,’ it’s over. Louis says ‘no’ and the fight is just beginning.

A receptionist hangs up on you and the fight is over, but also just beginning. I ran the whole conversation by my French teacher this afternoon. He said I’d been clear. He only corrected me when I said ‘une rendez-vous’. Turns out appointments are masculine.


  • -

playing tourist in my own town

Okay, so Paris is hardly my town, but we’ve been here 18 months and we still play the tourist bit on occasion. We are tourists with a twist.

Twisted tourists, if you like.

On Friday I met my friend Liz in Paris for our weekly french conversation lesson. We met at Chatelet-Les Halles, a metro station which, I read somewhere, is the largest in the world. It is two metro stations, technically, and a pain in the butt to traverse. But fortunately I didn’t have to do that.

Once we found each other (hiding from the sun in two different air-conditioned shops and with my phone not cooperating with the cell towers…) we went for a walk.

Liz lived in this part of Paris for twenty years and is great at showing me all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies. We conversed in French, occasionally falling back on English, and did a little intensive with a historical info sign about one particular building’s architecture and art. Trés intéressant.

Then we continued to the gardens at the Palais Royal, and from there to ice cream (more hiding from the sun, but I did have Elena in the pushchair, getting a months worth of vitamin-D… we weren’t just being wimps.)

Pétanque, Jardins de Palais Royale Pétanque, at Palais-Royal. How very Paris.

sunbathing around a fountain, palais royale Speaking of very Paris, reading and sunbathing around a fountain. C’est ça. They’re all sun-addicts. And where better than the city-provided chairs in all the parks, feet up on the edge of a fountain? Quel Parisien.

Opera, ParisThat’s Opéra hiding in the background. Closest I’ve been yet. Plenty more to see in this city.

Post-häagen-dazs, we continued to a foot-bridge over the Seine, and there we sat on a bench, and I wrote down a few new/forgotten words/phrases I’d come across in our conversations.

Last stop, with a sleep-reluctant bub, was a scarf stall – all silk and 5 euro a pop! Incroyable!

I didn’t take many photos, very un-touristic of me… incroyable, vraiment.

Dad visited us for the weekend. He was in Europe for business anyway and why not eh? But we were all a bit wiped out and didn’t make headway till after lunch on Saturday. We biked up to a park for a picnic lunch, and back via another park (boasting a ‘farm’ and a carousel).

Picnic lunch on bikes Picnic lunch.

footy with grandpaLouis teaching grandpa his tricks.

Sunday we joined the hordes (many of them tourists) on the Champs Elysée for the annual 14 Juillet parade – Bastille day, but no one seems to call it that. The French military, or those not busy fighting, etc., parade from the Arc de Triomphe down to Concorde. We went last year, actually, and the crowds were mad. And Elena was a month old. I was reluctant this year but knew it would be right up Dad’s tree.

So off we went.

Me, the kids and dad, 14 Juillet, Paris Dad, me and the kids, waiting for it all to begin.

Dad and Elena Dad, adoring his granddaughter. Bien-sûr.

Louis watching the parade Louis had a great view of the parade.

Elena, on grandpa's shoulders Elena was just in it for the ride.

tricolore in jet trails, over the champs elysee And here come the planes!

tricolore in jet trails, 14 July 2013

I’m no great fan of things-military in general, but it’s hard not to love this bit.

fly over, 14 Juillet, 2013

And I do like planes. I am my father’s daughter.

Watching the paradeElena and I went and sat in a cafe after the flyover and a few troops had gone by. From our seats we could see the tops of the really big trucks and tanks. But the boys had a blast, and afterward, on our search for a functioning Metro station, we witnessed a whole lot more helicopter action.

apaches at invalides, notre dame in background

Two choppers landed on the lawn at Invalides, catching us in the dust storm (we saw it coming and covered our eyes, missing the actual landing moment…). Troops in full camouflage clambered out and did a bunch of formation-y things. It was seriously cool. An Apache was hovering above, the whole time, and the towers of Notre Dame were in view beyond.

Seriously awesome.

So that was our holiday weekend. Dad had to take off on Sunday afternoon and we all flaked out in the sun, me especially.

Please note: I’m not actually complaining about the heat. It’s fabulous. But I wilt.

Happily, I wilt.


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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.


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spot the difference

On the weekend I picked up a ‘Best of the Muppet Show’ DVD and as it’s a rainy miserable day (three days shy of summer, my eye) I thought this the ideal time to spend the afternoon with our colourful singing puppet friends.

And then I discovered it is in ‘Version Française’ – and ONLY version française. Okay, so it’s good for me (and the kids) to watch TV in French, and plus, it’s easier for me to block out if it’s playing in French while I’m in the room working on the computer… but it’s not quite the same.

I got a bunch of other familiar favourites with the particular intention of watching them in French, after last week’s rediscovery of ER (and the minor tear-fest that followed…) I certainly understand more of the language than I used to, but it’s hard to gauge how much progress I’m making.

My daughter Elena turns one next week and her progress is much more noticeable and exciting than my ready transition between the passé compose and imparfait tenses. Let’s just say, no one has a problem spotting the differences if they don’t see her for a couple of weeks.

She is proper-crawling now, on her hands and knees, and only needs a hand-hold to get up onto her feet. She won’t walk unless she’s holding both our hands but she’ll move a little – from one piece of furniture to another, or from side to side, to reach some toy-temptation. She says ‘mama’ and feeds herself given the opportunity, although hasn’t quite mastered the art of the spoon.

the art of the spoon

I might feed her breakfast for a little while longer yet.

She is certainly developing her own preferences and the will-power to make them reality.

elena adds something

 

Maybe she has an idea for the painting. It’s in need of another coat.

She’s playing by herself much more happily than before but definitely prefers the company of her brother.

on their bikes

 

And if Louis can do it, she wants to try. Unfortunately that little wooden bike is not very stable and  doesn’t respond well to the leaning-method of turning a corner…

teeth time

 

She recently cut her second tooth, which means teeth-time! Why stop at her own when Louis might need a hand?

She’s a busy little girl and all the learning and progress is delightful to witness, if a little (code: a lot) exhausting. But such is the nature of growth. It can be hard to spot the difference, but easy to feel the weight and wear of making it happen. I’m re-writing a romance novel I wrote a couple of years ago and it’s easy to spot the flaws now, but not that long ago I thought it was ready to publish. Hopefully, the new version will be a notable improvement, and maybe even pay off… in the form of publication. That’d be nice.

As to French, I spent yesterday afternoon with a French friend I haven’t seen in months. I was looking forward to seeing her but also dreading how much it would wear me out, just trying to listen and pick up all the vocabulary and tenses and crazy, confusing exceptions to every rule (reflexive verbs – gah!), and planning everything I want to say, and misunderstanding each other…

But it was much easier than expected! The sun was shining, we sat in her garden, drank our coffees, watched the kids play, and maintained a conversation entirely in French. Hurrah! I managed to tell her a bit about my novels, and our plans for the future, as well as give a basic outline of our recent holidays. I understood a bit about her work and her son’s progress, and we made plans for the weekend. Her partner is fluent in English but we won’t need to rely on that as much as we did last time. Go team!

 


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worn out

In an unlikely turn of events, my ironing board cover has worn out… talk about things I never expected to say. My freshly ironed clothes have criss-crosses in places, but they’re crinkle free, and I’m all up to date on ‘Once Upon a Time’. If I have to iron I might as well watch/listen to something and Luuk gave up on that particular show a whole season ago.

But the ironing pile, in this instance, outlasted the tv series and so I turned to the live feed – this afternoon’s offering of ‘ER’, or ‘Urgences’ en français. The imminent demise of Mark Green still gets me teary, even when it’s all in French.

urgences, en francais

I can follow a lot more of the dialogue than I could a year ago, but there’s definitely room for improvement. Sometimes I feel like my progress in the language is painfully slow.

I’m determined to find opportunities for more listening to French and perhaps this is it: familiar television. But I’m always out of time. Too much to do, that’s the problem really, but I can’t decide what to cut. Louis starts school in September (holy cow!) and Elena will have two or three half days at the halte garderie, so in a few months time I’ll have a few more hours a week in which I can write novels and study french. But there will still be laundry.

I don’t know if it’s the indefatigable pile of laundry, or this lousy grey spring, or what, but I’m feeling rather worn out. When I’m running low like this I tend to snack, and waste time, and get grumpy, impatient, reactive…

So what am I going to do about it? More sleep. Early nights. And I need to offload all the lollies in this place; there are too many chocolates lying around, murmuring ‘eat me’. And I need to keep the fruit bowl stacked.

But right now an apple compote will have to do, perhaps with a greek yoghurt  and then I’ll get on with re-reading my novel. I won’t be finishing today. Tomorrow evening Louis and Luuk are off to the circus (to watch, not to join… not yet) and it’s not baby-friendly, so Elena and I will stay home. Maybe tomorrow evening, while my dream baby dreams I can finish re-reading and then, come Monday, I’ll be ready to begin (again) re-writing!