Category Archives: Positivity

  • -

On being a great loser

For starters, never begin a game of Risk. No good can come of it. Fun, fun, fun, rising blood pressure, glee, despair, fury, philosophical levels of doubt about your value and place in the universe because if you were worth anything you’d surely roll something above a two!

I’ve never been great at losing. Some people are cool, calm, untouchable. Not me. When it’s board games, I’m getting better. Sometimes I still want to cry. I remember, one time, my husband and I once spent two days straight playing chess and late on the second day I won a game. I might have won two, total. It was long ago, before we had kids, and there was this great vibe about it: I’d decided I was allowed to lose, to begin with, at least, because I’d never really played before. This was learning to play chess and we kept playing until I had a fighting chance.

Losing without a fighting chance is the losing that sucks. So Risk is out because it’s a little tact and a lot of luck. Games that are a lot of luck drive me crazy. It doesn’t help that my husband is insanely lucky. No lottery winnings as yet but seriously, if a game is luck-reliant, he’s in. Lucky Luuk, we call him.

Okay, it’s just me who calls him that.

I’m much better than I used to be at losing at board games, anyway. The trick is playing lots and losing lots, I suppose. And winning often enough to not feel totally useless helps.

But boardgames are the baby pool, aren’t they. Stakes are low. Hours of your life (more or less) wasted unless you CONQUER, but no real stakes. No money, career, livelihood, DREAM on the line.

On the other hand, when I’m talking about my writing… ouch.

I have been sending out a heap of writing submissions: query letters to lit agents, to publishers, manuscripts, partials, short stories and flash fiction, poetry too, for competitions and journals. I’ve been doing this for years now, actually, and most of that time it was silence or rejection. Polite, impersonal form rejection.

But every now and then I’d get feedback. Notes on my work, not general niceties, but constructive criticism. It was a good sign. My work was worth the time and energy of saying something about it: that something being the reason it wasn’t right for whatever I’d submitted it for.

A step in the right direction, however painful.

I figured out that I wanted to get those notes before sending it out to be rejected. I needed criticism during the writing process, or rather, during the rewriting process (but that is part of the writing process, really.)

I had this AMAZING writer’s group in Paris. They gave brilliant notes. They didn’t hold back and yet none of it was cruel. It wasn’t me and my work versus the critique group; it was me and the critique group versus my work. It wasn’t personal, though my writing often was and is.

I lap up criticism. But once upon a time, it was personal, even if it came from a lovely, warm, collaborative place. I didn’t know how to separate myself and my worth, from the work and its worth.

I don’t lap up rejection, of course not, but I’m pretty good at taking the hit and getting up and getting on with more submissions or more rewrites or something else entirely.

But once upon a time it was THE END OF THE WORLD. My one almost-novel wasn’t good enough (and, in truth, it was not, and thank you lucky stars it didn’t go anywhere because embarrassing) and therefore I was not good enough. Rejecting that one manuscript was rejecting my entire body of work.

No one gets to do that anymore. No one sees my entire body of work. It’s more than a million words now and oy vey, right? That’s a lot of words.

When I get a rejection now, it’s one of MANY, rejecting one of MANY stories, poems, novels… Compared to that baby writer, a decade ago, a rejection now is a blip on the radar. It hurts, but it doesn’t take me out. I still write that day. I don’t chuck the lot. I don’t even chuck that story.

 

I’m sure different people have different processes and experiences, but for me it’s like learning patience: the only way to do it is to wait. For ages. It sucks. But you can’t learn to be patient without being impatient for, oh, hours.

Learning how to take rejection is the same: take lots of it, one way or the other, and you’ll get better. Which, I know, and I’m sorry, is NOT what anyone wants to hear, unless they’re well into years of getting rejection, and there’s the hope that it’ll start to pay off.

And one day, it won’t be rejection. It’ll be constructive criticism.

And then it might well be a few more rejections. Or years.

And one day it will be a yes.


  • -

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.

 


  • -

self determination pep

The concept of self-determination first impressed me at university, in a fascinating 400-level history course. I’m sure I had social studies and history teachers who touched on the subject at school, but my brain engaged a little later…

Self-determination comes up in NZ history particularly because of the conflicts surrounding the Maori and English texts of the Treaty of Waitangi. Self determination, to quote wikipedia,

“…states that nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no external compulsion or interference which can be traced back to the Atlantic Charter…”

And to make a long story short, the Maori people of New Zealand didn’t mean to cede the highest sovereignty of the islands to the British crown, but woops, the British thought they did.

freedom camping east coast, new zealandFreedom camping on the east coast of the North Island.
(Perhaps similar to what the Maori chiefs meant to let the Brits do…)

And why am I rabbiting on about it on a cold Tuesday morning in France some hundred and fifty years later? The Treaty of Waitangi was, until the 1970s, largely ignored. A movement for ‘self determination’ rose up and while there are still huge inequalities and problems in NZ, I for one am rather proud of how the Maori language has been saved, how Maori culture is celebrated and respected by people throughout the country (and the world, in fact).

At several points in history, people predicted that the entire race would die out, the language was certainly expected to become extinct. The culture was at risk of being reduced to dolls in headbands and ‘grass’ skirts, green plastic tiki necklaces and Goldie paintings in museums. But people stepped up and said ‘No. This is worth saving.’ And they kept it alive. And now it’s a vibrant, living, growing, changing thing, not a relic.

pania by the seaPania by the sea, for all her charms, a relic.

I love this progress. Call me a sappy romantic, a naive optimist, but I think the story applies widely. What we are, what we were, is not the end but a chapter in the ongoing narrative. It’s easy to feel stuck, to think the path is set and perhaps not going anywhere great.

I got a rejection letter yesterday, from an agent who was actually interested in one of my novels. Ouch. She says it’s a great story, she sees potential but she’s not willing to sign me on. It needs work, and she goes on to tell me how.

Helpful, but still sore. I’m not jumping into more rewrites and edits just yet, but probably soon. (Hopefully, with the aid and advice of a literary agent who sees the potential and believes in me/the book enough to get on board.)

What my manuscript is, in its current form, is unfinished. Novels, unlike cultures, do get finished eventually. They get published and all the little errors are set in stone unless there’s a second, third, forth edition. But until it’s published that first time, it can still change and grow. Which is exciting and scary.

I could give up, self-publish it as is, say it’ll do. Perhaps it would. Or I can be patient, work hard, keep hope. Either path, to be fair, might be an example of self-determination.

Kids are constantly changing and growing. They are a great reminder of individual self-determination. Just when they get into a habit of doing things one way, a week later they want to try it differently. They question why we act in certain ways. They want to try marmite by the spoonful, and playing chess, and doing vacuuming… ready or not, here we come.

marmite, by the spoonful

Louis would not let me put on his second glove this morning. He managed the first but the second (using the first-gloved hand) was just plain difficult. He was determined to do it himself. Elena insists on feeding herself, even if that means pesto and pasta and orange juice all over the kid, the chair, the floor… laundry, laundry, laundry.

Louis has been doing half-days at school, coming home for lunch and napping at home in the afternoons. He did full days for the first two weeks of term and it was too much, too stressful. He wasn’t eating and he was getting upset every morning. But half-days weren’t a problem. He was happy and engaged, speaking french, playing and excited and all that jazz.

Last week he told me he wanted to stay for lunch. In fact, he threw a fit on the way home, determined to stay at school for the afternoon. Yesterday we tried it: he ate the fish, the potatoes, the lettuce. He slept on the mezzanine with all the other kids and didn’t wet the bed.

I was so damn excited when the teacher told me, “Il mange bien, il dort bien, c’est très bien!” This morning he was reluctant and a little teary, but bravely marched on and cuddled the teacher on arrival… and it’s rice on the menu, so I think he’ll be fine. He wasn’t ready two months ago, but perhaps he’s ready now. We’ll see. It’s probably to do with whether or not he wants to be ready, believes he’s ready.

My big boy.

Ready to go!

My whole life I’ve felt like my health and fitness were out of my control. At some point, just after Elena was born, I felt ready, and believed I could take control, and I did. I don’t know what the formula is, but from that point on I’ve been able to manage losing weight, keeping it off, eating healthy, exercising regularly.

This is all vaguely related to the concept of self-determination, see? I can’t bite off too many things at once. Louis couldn’t hack school and lunch and nap time all in one go, but just morning class was fine. When I learned to drive I used Mum’s easy automatic car. A couple of years later I mastered a manual gear shift and it was relatively easy because I’d already figured out mirrors and the give-way rules, indicating and parallel parking… One thing at a time, but determined, and taking responsibility for self.

We can do it!

And pep talk finished. In my next installment, at least one pretty pic of Paris. Promise.


  • -

it’s a bird, it’s a plane

… nope, it’s a snowflake. It’s sunny and snowing. What is this?

We are all out of whack today. There’s no french class, but I’m feeling so lazy I don’t mind the lack of an excuse to go out.

But we went out anyway. The sun was so convincing at one point that I promised Louis we would go to the park after his nap. By the time we got out the door I’d glimpsed something and denied it could possibly be snow… but it was.

Fortunately it stopped snowing again. The sun shone, it was gorgeous. We even walked all the way to see the horses. We stopped at a second play ground. It was spring!

And then it started snowing again. What in the name of what-now? It’s sunny as I write this, not half an hour later.

yesterday, snow

 

The snow, day before yesterday. Thankfully the sky has been blue for two days now and most of that is gone. But not all.

It’s not just the weather that’s dysfunctional. I stopped my editing/revision/writing at a bad point yesterday and I haven’t quite gotten started again today. The problem? I stopped at a natural stopping point. I should know better!

I have a handful ideas of what will go next, in the gap, but they’re feeling very unformed. I might journal about them all this evening and hopefully spark something because tomorrow afternoon Louis goes to halte garderie for FOUR HOURS and that is GOLD WRITING TIME. He also has to nap earlier in the day, so I need to be ready to take advantage of ALL THAT WRITING TIME!

And then we have a visitor coming to stay for the weekend and I probably won’t do much writing at all till the middle of next week.

Confession: part of the reason I’m so useless is because I have become hooked to yet another pride and prejudice adaptation and the next episode is due out now and isn’t out yet and I’ve kinda been hanging out for it all day. Before I give you the name/link/etc. I should warn you all that there are 95 episodes of around 5 minutes each and if it happens to be your cup of tea then that is quite the time-suck.

Okay, here’s the essentials: it’s a modern, up to the minute in fact, interpretation via youtube clips, ‘video diaries’ in fact, of a mass communication student named ‘Lizzie Bennet’ who, would you believe, happens to have sisters named Jane and Lydia, a mother obsessed with grandbabies, and… you can guess the rest. Anyway, here’s that link I promised you: Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

My expectations were low, but I’m hooked. I do have some addictive tendencies when it comes to stories and television series are just the worst, with their long drawn out story arcs.

But this particular saga should wrap up soon. There is a canon for it to follow and at video 96 there aint much of the canon left.

While the weather is cold (which has been consistent despite the presence of both snow and sun) the best thing I can think of to do is to eat… mainly.

anniversary dinner

 

Our last minute anniversary dinner: steak and chips. But it was a really good steak.

Luuk and I have been trying to convince Louis of the fact and I’m happy to say we’re finally making progress! The wee man, at two and a bit, is in his ‘no’ stage, which is now his ‘no mercy’ stage. Because Luuk read a book about how French kids eat everything. I haven’t read it yet, so really shouldn’t comment, but Louis is trying new things for the first time in AGES.

What did we do? We started sitting up at the table, all together, to eat the same thing at the same time. Rocket science, I know. He gets offered a starter and main (not as flash as it sounds – the starter is usually just a little part of what would otherwise all be served together as a main course), and we encourage him to try something new but leave it up to him. If he doesn’t, no dessert, but either way no big deal.

He hasn’t had much dessert lately, but he has had some. And on the nights when baguette is part of the entrée or plat (mains), he’s not going to bed hungry. Other nights, he must be hungry, but he says, he’d rather go to bed than eat. And so he does.

Tonight I’m making…

entrée
baked potato with smoked salmon and lemon cream
(potato is leftovers, will toast in a little butter then serve with cold salmon and cream dollop)

plat
mushroom soup with pesto pastry scrolls

dessert
cinn-fully good apple spice scones, hot, with ice cream
(or greek yogurt if I look at a calorie count between now and then…)

baking spiced apple scones

Louis, helping to bake the spiced apple scones, this morning.

Realistically, the wee man will eat a little of the potato (hopefully), and maybe some pastry. If he actually does, then I’ve no doubt he’ll get his chance to wolf down a whole scone. Easy.

It’s a challenge this whole toddler diet deal, but at least I know it’s totally normal. Just a stage.

One day Louis will eat most things (even meat), I will write the next chapter of my novel, and summer will arrive!


  • -

all done list

The snow remains in patches, like only the most generous dustings of icing sugar on a too-warm cake. (Except for the warm bit.)

That’s today’s small stone. It’s been snowing on and off all day but such tiny flakes. I felt I was being gently salted on the way to the halte garderie. Louis loved it though. Shame about the temperature – not up to zero all day. I was very glad when Luuk happily agreed to pick up Louis, allowing Elena and I to stay in the warm and nurse our runny noses.

I’ve barely got anything done – but research always feels that way. I’ve been learning all about gardening and root systems. I also wrote a couple of possible prologue scenes, but now I think they won’t be in the book, unless as memories. I needed to write them, for myself, to clarify exactly what happened… they may or may not make the cut for the actual story.

I didn’t even hang out the laundry today. Oops. But I’ve assembled the cannelloni for dinner – it just needs to go in the oven. And I had a big long phone call – an ideas session really but the two of us cannot seem to figure out a way to get together in person during the week. Thank god for technology eh? Then I wrote a mammoth email which may or may not have made a lot of sense…

So it turns out I did plenty today. Screw to do lists. Want to feel productive? Write all-done lists at the end of the day. Woop-e-dee-doo!


  • 2

step up, step up!

my sister in law embarked on a christmas challenge last year and she has just recommitted, to do the same crazy thing again: something christmassy with her kids each day from the 1st till the 25th of december.

It’s about making time and being intentional about doing stuff with your kids, and of course, it’s about christmas! And I thought – yeah, let’s do it too. So tomorrow we will begin, probably with something a bit weak-sauce like a christmas story, but great creativity and barrels (or perhaps mangers-full) of fun will ensue.

Promise. Probably.

The lights are still off in Antony, but fingers crossed that will be remedied soon. Or else we might have to go to the Champs Elysee toute suite!

My theme today is stepping up and so there’s the first thing: stepping up to a challenge of creativity, and I also like the intentionality of spending time with the kids, doing creative and new things.

Number two: stepping up by submitting my writing… eek. I want to be a writer but it seems that I will also have to hone my sales skills and market both myself and my writing. Which is much more scary and a bit less fun than creating characters who are doomed to fall in love and be miserable for a while before they get themselves together. (How’s that for a basic romance plot outline, eh?)

So I’ve been submitting to agents, and possibly the wrong ones because despite their promises to respond, even if it’s with a brief, stock rejection, within a few months, I’ve heard zip. Since June. I know that puts me well within my rights to chase them up but I think I’ll take it as a less than gracious refusal and say it might not be the best use of my time to chase them up for a slightly more gracious one.

The novel I’m shopping is a genre romance, mills&boon style, and so I’ve decided to submit direct to a romance publisher. From what I’ve read elsewhere, getting published is more difficult, and less lucrative, without an agent, but there’s a sort of evil catch 22 about the whole thing:

agents want published writers; publishers want agented writers.

Gah! So, here’s hoping I can get this wee novel published and even if the deal isn’t crash hot it might lead to a brighter future for my other novels.

Of which there are now five. (And then there were five!) Nanowrimo finishes today and so do I.

I’m well on my way to 60 thousand and this afternoon while Louis is at halte garderie I’m going to finish this b****.

Number three: stepping up to make friends. Ah, it’s a scary world and there are all sorts of people, and the chances of bumping into those with loads in common,who speak the same language and live in the same town, who you actually like, and who actually like you, seems not all that likely.

But what do you know? I bumped into a fellow kiwi at Louis’ halte garderie and we went to their place for dinner on Monday night and then later she invited me to a group french lesson. At the french lesson yesterday I met a load of other english speakers and I feel like I’ve stumbled onto a gold mine of kindred spirits – expats with a slowly-increasing grasp of the french language, with young kids and family far away, who all appear to love food (if the general response to the carrot cup cakes, served at the lesson, is anything to go by) and creative stuff… they’re all wives/partners of rugby players and I am a bit clueless about sport, but there you go: friends and french lessons in one!

There’s that awkward moment after you meet where one suggests getting together some time and the other responds enthusiastically, and perhaps it’s all just good manners and obligation and faff like that, but hurrah! for the click, the connect, the moments when you realise there’s loads you have in common and you could talk for hours and hours, and your kids will entertain one another, and so will your husbands…

So, here’s little miss positivity (that’s me, the slightly-annoying one) saying step up! It’s a bit risky: you might fail utterly, get rejected and have no friends. But that doesn’t seem likely. If you read all the way till the end of this blog post then you have at least one important quality: staying-power!


  • 2

upside down not-yet-christmas

The christmas lights are up all around town – but they haven’t switched them on yet. And that’s how I’m feeling about Christmas year. I presume they flick the switch December 1st but I can only hope I catch up with the season some time soon after.

I read a blog post yesterday by someone in the states who was railing at the heat, “while the rest of the world is wrapping up warm”… and I thought REST OF THE WORLD! WHY DOESN’T THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE COUNT?

And then I remembered I’d not had enough sleep and might just possibly be overreacting.

Shorts and Tee and the Christmas Tree (2011)

Much less than half the world’s population live below the equator, but those that do have summer for christmas, and for all but two christmases of my life that’s where I’ve been. Sure, there have been some pretty lousy excuses for summer days on the 25th, and having a big roast dinner when it’s cooking outside can be a bit odd, but summer christmas is normal for loads of people.

With summer, of course, comes the summer break, the big holiday, les grande vacances! School starts winding down in November when the older students go on study leave and then by the second week of December everything is wrapped up – reports are written, christmas parties have been and gone, the chairs are stacked on the desks in the middle of the classrooms and everyone has caught up on their roll books (I used to be a teacher)…

All this winding down for the holidays often coincides with a lot of winding up for christmas. As a result Christmas feels like a bigger deal. I know they play christmas music and put up decorations the moment the halloween stuff comes down in the USA, and possibly in the UK, and in some shops in France too, but work and school keep going until just a day or two before santa arrives and the day after new years, if not before, everyone is back to it.

In NZ, on the other hand, half the country is loading the car with boogie boards and citronella candles, debating which route to take to avoid the traffic, and which music will play in the car, and whether to stop at pokeno for pies or to eat cheese and marmite sammies in the car so they can get to the beach sooner.

It’s a very different time of year. I suspect christmas might come as a bit of a surprise here, without all that build-up we’re used to. But I suppose we have a few more weeks to get into the spirit of things.

I’m not ready for the music yet, but the decorations do give me a little thrill, and Luuk sent me some links about french christmas dinner traditions, which got my mouth watering and my foodie-fingers keen to try some new recipes.

Though it will be hard not to make our usual christmas desserts – the lemon and cream layered pavlova stack with all the berries, the choc log with ice cream and cherries inside…

The pav. It just won’t be christmas without pavlova.

All our decorations are in storage in Christchurch, so we have the special treat (which I’m not certain is entirely a good thing) of starting from scratch.

That angel with the pasta-letters that I made at primary school – that’s in storage in Christchurch.

Even the christmas stockings are in storage. Our poor deprived children!

Louis’ first Christmas (2010)
We did bring this hat all the way to France. Perhaps Elena will fit it.

We’ve decided to get a decent tree and put it on the ground in the living room – more fun for the kids, if a little more dangerous/messy while we’re at it. And we’ll put up something in the windows because we live on a corner and lots of people will see and appreciate it.

I’m thinking that, as much as possible, I’ll try to buy things that look christmassy when all put together, but on their own are just red place mats and white fairy lights and a big stripey plate. Then we can use these things all year around. Next year, even if we stay on in France, we’re possibly going to visit NZ at christmas, so I don’t want to overdo it. This year, at least, we’ll be having rather understated christmas decor.

Thanks to all the movies and tv, I suspect that if/when it snows I’ll be totally overwhelmed by christmassy feelings, even though I have never had a white christmas in my life, and probably prefer to spend the day in shorts, lying on a trampoline in the sun, with evidence-of-bbq on my tshirt.

But, go on Paris, you festive city you, with your famous christmas markets and magical lights, win me over!


  • 1

Grand thing, grandparents.

I’m one of the lucky ones. At twenty-seven years old, I have three living grandparents, out of a possible four. My husband has one from five, second marriages included, and he has lived on the other side of the world from all of them since he was five years old. I lived a long two hour drive from Nana and Grandad – we were useless at road trips as kids – and maybe fifteen minutes drive from Grandma and Grandpa, if Mt Eden Rd was backed up, which it often was (is).

Louis (the grumpy-face) and his Great Grandparents, my Grandma and Grandpa, January 2012.

Grandad (of whom I have no digital photos) died of cancer when I was five but the others have gone on relatively well with only a handful of health issues and pretty much independent ever since.

Yep, there’s an ‘until’ coming. Grandma fell and broke a bone in her back a little while ago. Her treatment was unfortunately (and unnecessarily) delayed but she is pretty much recovered from that (ie. can still walk)… only she’s struggling in other ways now. Things seemed to be getting worse fast and the doctors did not seem to be responding overly decisively. Without much information, on this far side of the world, we’ve all been inclined to speculate about all the possibilities – undoubtedly an unhelpful pasttime but perhaps inevitable.

Mum and Dad have been travelling around Europe and popping in to visit us (in France) between adventures elsewhere. They came for the grandchildren and stayed for the culture… or perhaps it was the other way around. Or perhaps the grandchildren have more to answer for. One way or t’other, they’ve been in Europe since June and with all that’s been going on back home (not just with Grandma, but that was the deciding factor) they decided to cut their trip short and head home earlier than planned.

Grandma, Luuk’s mum and Louis
having lunch together at Auckland airport before our plane departed to bring us to Paris (January 2012)

It’s been a full six months of travel for them and it’s been wonderful for all of us. Most grandparents, I suppose, have to survive with skype-chat when their errant children drag their grandchildren across the globe. Luuk’s parents haven’t made it over yet and a visit might still be a ways off. We skype with Oma and Opa so they get a bit of grandkid-time, but it’s not the same as cuddles of course. (Though Oma does send very cuddly knitted jerseys that are sort of like hugs.)

We said our goodbyes to my folks on Sunday night and they were off on Monday morning, before I got Louis to halte garderie. They took a train and a plane and then another plane and over twenty-four hours later arrived in Auckland… which is why we don’t plan on visiting home very very often. It’s a ways.

So, no more handy-dandy grandparents (Louis and Elena’s grandparents I mean) helping out around the house and babysitting whenever it worked out, reading to and playing with the kids while I cooked or wrote or popped to the shops. Actually, I think the best of it was that one of them could stay home with Elena while I took Louis to and from the halte garderie in the mornings. The timing of these particular outings never seems to work well with her schedule. Poor kid, always getting hauled out of bed and carted around in the cold.

But she seems to be sleeping till seven most mornings now and if I can stretch that till 7.30 then she can stay awake till I have to take Louis. If that works out then she’ll be exhausted when we get back and sleep for most of the time he’s at halte garderie… which means a decent chunk of time, two mornings a week, when I can write (or get housework done, sure… maybe).

It’s a nice plan. Almost pulled it off today. The problem with making plans around kids sleep habits is they only stick to a habit just long enough to lull you into a sense of security, and then BAM they change up on you. And when I say they change ‘up’ I don’t mean to imply that things improve. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t and sometimes they just make you so crazy!

Anyway, not much news on Grandma, except more of the same: she’s not doing great, but things are not desperate; tests are being done, but their results may not lead to any perfect treatment… basically, it’s a waiting game.

I’m trying to keep on with life, and occasionally think/pray for these things happening far far away. The distance can be an odd thing – sometimes I think I feel things all the more for it, and other times I am numbed by it. I have a sense of impending sadness – even if things improve dramatically, at some point I suspect I will start to really miss home, at some point something will happen and I’ll really want to go back. Summer is beginning there and winter has arrived here, whipping all the leaves from the trees (and making our street very slippery when wet). As much as I love scarves and jackets and boots, I’d rather have sunshine and barbecues and long evenings.

Best not to think about lovely summery NZ perhaps. Best to skype lots and then get on with life, remembering that even when we lived in the same country we didn’t tend to see most of our family, most of the time. There is no one place in this world where we could live and be near all the people we love. Perhaps if there was we would live there.

Anyway, back to my point: hooray for grandparents! They will, I know, miss us terribly, even if we manage to get on with life and distract ourselves from missing them.


  • -

lousy or not, here I come

I was all ready this morning: all ready for a lousy Monday. I bought a pain au chocolat on Sunday when I got our bread for lunch. I was prepared.

And somehow, that sweet little pastry delight is still whole, untouched, in it’s wee paper bag in the bread basket in the kitchen.

I was up twice in the night to feed the baby and it took me ages to get to sleep – I kept thinking of story ideas, and twists for stories I’m already writing, and scenes for stories I’ve been planning for ages. I was inspired, and in the morning, sleep deprived.

But I was also decisive. I got up and had a shower before feeding Elena. I even ate breakfast – ordinary, non pain-au-chocolat breakfast. It was all-go till I dropped Louis at daycare. Louis cried and held his arms out for me when I left – ouch! “C’est dificile,” as the teacher aptly put it.

I took Elena for a walk, and did a little shopping – ingredients for soup, for dinner, and some mittens for Elena. Once she was asleep, I sat in a cafe, wrote my journal, drank my coffee and didn’t order a pastry because I knew there was one waiting at home. Back home, I fed Elena and then, while she slept, I did housework.

It’s raining on and off – and it was on when I went to pick Louis up, so no detours. No bakery stop. No bread for lunch. I had two bowls of carrot soup instead of one, with a generous dollop of cream cheese to make it more satisfying.

So, to sum up:

it’s a monday, I was up twice in the night, I didn’t get much sleep even when the babies were asleep, it’s raining, Louis was sad to go to nursery, I have no bread, and I haven’t done my French homework for our lesson this afternoon.

Sounds like a pretty lousy start to the week.

But oddly, I’m feeling good. I have lots of story ideas and I got most of them down while I was sitting in the cafe. It’s rainy, but that makes it nice and cozy inside. The house is relatively clean and tidy. Louis’s teacher told me he did better today – so even though he was upset when I left and a little teary when I picked him up, I guess he was happy in-between. Sans bread my calorie count is low today – and I did exercise too! The babies are both soundly asleep. I still have half an hour till our french lesson, so if I stop writing now I can do a lousy rush-job of chapitre 7.

And there’s still that pain au chocolat waiting for me in the kitchen. Excellent.

I feel like I started the week at a run, but it’s working out okay. I’m not bubbling over with energy, but I’ve found my pace, my stride, like runners do – I’m told.

Now I just have to keep it up – pastry, homework, lesson, look after kids, do groceries (or not?), make dinner, do some writing, look after kids, eat dinner, watch downton abbey, and then get ready for bed.

Left right left right left…


  • 1

up and down… or just a normal pulse

Louis’s nursery teacher waved her hand up and down in a zig zag graph kind of gesture to indicate how things had gone on Friday afternoon. Up and Down, in other words. He was fine, happy as larry, and at other times he wasn’t – like when I arrived and he burst into tears again, running toward me, clutching Elmo. I passed Elena to the teacher, as she held her arms out in anticipation, then I gave Louis a big hug and he was fine again.

It has been his first ‘normal’ week at the halte garderie and there have been a few tears each day, but he’s always excited about going, when he sees his backpack in the pushchair, and happy to be there when I take him in. So it’s an adjustment, something he’ll grow into. On Wednesday he actually fell asleep while he was there – in a room full of playing children and all the associated noise… my little boy slept. I suspect tiredness accounts for most, if not all, of his tears. Perhaps I should have encouraged him to have just one sleep a day before now.

But that’s life isn’t it. We don’t start new things because we’re ready for them. They make us ready, eventually. Something new is beyond us. It stretches us, we grow and learn. It hurts a bit at first, but that’s just the way it goes.

I’m taking comfort from this thought, writing this blog post while copies of the first chapter of my young adults novel are spewing from the printer. I’m taking them to writers’ group this evening, if all goes to plan. I’ll read them aloud and brace myself for all the questions and concerns and critique… though they’re all very nice and will probably be full of praise. Helpful and specific praise, hopefully.

Maybe sharing writing will always feel a bit uncomfortable. The writing itself might get easier, I suppose, but then that’s not necessarily a good thing. If I am stretching myself, improving my craft, taking on more complex characters and challenging themes, then maybe (hopefully?) writing will always be a bit uncomfortable. But still fun. Like an extreme sport.

But not. (Though I do risk my neck and shoulders, and if I’m not careful, my wrists and hands.)

Louis will get used to halte jeux and in a couple of weeks he’ll stay for the full four hours on Friday afternoons, and a couple of weeks later he won’t be tired or upset. And next September, if we’re still here, he’ll start Maternelle, which is like kindergarten, but at school. That’ll be new and hard and in between there’ll be loads of other difficult things to learn – toilet training comes to mind, and enunciating the consonants on the end of words.

Every day looks a bit like this, doesn’t it. Rather than the highs being ‘good’, I’m going to label them as ‘easy’, and the lows are not ‘bad’ so much as they are ‘difficult’. I can order my selection at the bakery in french without a moment’s forethought, but today we’re going to lunch at a french friends’ place and I will absolutely have to plan out what I want to say in french. I’ll struggle, forget things, get it wrong and confuse everyone. Sure. But in a year it won’t be so bad.

When things have been easy for a while they stop being such big highs. Sitting in a cafe with Elena sleeping in the buggy, my coffee steaming beside kindle – that’s a high at the moment. But one day it’ll be ordinary and easy to read and drink my coffee in a cafe by myself. For now, it’s a thrill. I’ll always enjoy it, probably, but it will (oh, I really hope it will) one day be less exciting.

And something else will be a challenge. And something else will be newly-easy, a great thrill, progress made! Hurrah!