I’m a big girl now

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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.


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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And so it begins… It was Louis 2nd birthday on Saturday, and so, on friday, I started getting the cake organised.

I made my go-to lemon yogurt cake because I know Louis likes it and I’ve made it enough times that it feels pretty fail-safe.

I thought the butter and sugar looked pretty… but you’ll have to wait to see the cake in all it’s finished (clue: red) glory.

Other than a general clean and tidy, I just did the cake and one other sweetie on Friday – cut marshmallows sitting on dollops of melted dark chocolate… that were sort of meant to look like bus-driver’s hats. Why bus drivers? You’ll see.

Come Saturday there was lots to do. I had grand plans (thanks to pinterest) of making delectable but also healthy party food. Louis’ palate is rather underdeveloped but there could be a few favourites for him and plenty of deliciousness for everyone else as well… right?

One of my favourite discoveries this past summer was caprese salad: essentially tomatoes, mozzarella and basil with a little balsamic and plenty of salt and pepper on top.

Confession: I probably ate a good quarter of them.

Now, something for the big 2-year old. The good ol’ classic, fairy bread. Can’t go wrong there… unless he accidentally inhales at the wrong moment and chokes on some sprinkles.

White bread, buttered and then sprinkles on top. Cut or use cookie-cutters like we did. Nutritional value: zippo. Fun value: heaps. Flavour: butter and sugar.

Now for something a little more substantial. The party was from midday till three so this was to be everybody’s lunch. One of my favourite lunches is quiche, and I’m a pastry fan so I’m all for a high pastry:filling ratio (for parties, when calories don’t count). Voila: mini quiches, fresh from the oven.

And the last of them were still good for breakfast on Sunday! Perks.

More delicious food: salmon, avocado and cream cheese are a heavenly combo, and on fresh baguette: délecieux!

So here it all is, the buffet! Chippies and mini-cheeses, a feta cucumber thingamabob, cheese/ham/pineapple bites, carrot sticks with hummus, and there were meatballs and chicken nibbles in the oven. No one went hungry.

But it’s not all about the food (believe it or not). Games for a group of kids who are really young women as well as a couple of toddlers equals difficult. So we skipped the traditional games with prizes in favour of chaos and craft!

One of Louis’ favourite things is busses, so we collected a bunch of empty boxes and a variety of other bits and bobs from the recycling bin… and, here you go girls, fashion the birthday boy a bus!

He destroyed the steering wheel within seconds, but was fascinated by the toys/passengers and keeps looking inside the roof-bit. Well done, ladies!

We sang ‘the wheels on the bus’ and made his day.

Activity number two, which was probably unnecessary but I had lots of red icing left over… decorate biscuits to look like busses (noticing a theme?)

I gave the kids rectangular shortbread biscuits, red icing, cheerios (breakfast cereal) for the wheels and an assortment of sprinkles and glitter-icing-tube thingys. They decorated and then passed them around to the adults, who were very glad of the coffee to go with these sugar-hits. 

And then there was cake… which was very nearly too much (as cake usually is, after all the other party food, at any given birthday party, I suppose. The second cup of coffee helped.

Bus! Bus! Said Louis.
Yes! It’s recognizable. Thought Mummy.

Two puffs dealt to the candles (and only because they were at opposite ends of the bus.) We’ve come a long way, wee man.

And then Louis helped cut the cake.

And rather than eat it, he played with it. Then ate a choc-marshmallow bus driver hat (which somehow had no photos taken of them.)

Then there were presents! The unwrapping took a little coaxing at first, but he got a handle on ‘rip! rip! rip!’ much faster than last year.

Car! Said Louis
(you know it’s a good choice of present when the two year old can name it, and does so with enthusiasm.)

Louis’ very first remote control vehicle – a digger.
(Okay, so he’s a bit scared of it, but likes other people to play with it while he sits up on the couch, where it can’t get him, and watches from a safe distance.)

Getting into it now… what could it be?

Train set!

Forty eight hours later and I’m happy to report he has stopped bursting into tears every time there’s a derailment (which is why it’s not set up in a figure-8: the train needs a long straight after coming over the bridge, or else it topples).

Lucky last present: a doctor’s kit. He loves putting on the glasses and getting all the bits in and out of the doctor’s bag. But mainly playing with the glasses. Trop Mignon! (which means too cute – this is the most common phrase with which French people respond to Louis. What a charmer.)

So that was Louis’ second birthday party. It was full on, but we had a lovely lazy day afterwards and didn’t do the clean up till Sunday morning (which is perhaps why I dreamed about a mouse or rat that night… rodents would have had a feast if they’d discovered our apartment Saturday night).

Mum and Dad depart today, heading back to NZ, so we said goodbye last night and were all very restrained (no tears at all. Close, but no cigar.) Louis’ birthday was a lovely, festive send off. Gran and Grandpa will miss a few things, but they didn’t miss that.

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Moulin Mist

Yesterday we visited Paris: Mum and Dad, Me and the two wee ones, headed off on the trains (miraculously avoiding delays – we the lucky ones). This time our destination was Montmarte, the rough and tumble approximate neighbourhood of The Moulin Rouge and Amelie. And Sacre Coeur.

The view from Sacre Coeur, down over Montmarte and Paris, in the mist. We couldn’t see the Eiffel Tower, but I thought this was pretty cool.

 Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) is a Catholic Bascilica on the top of a hill in the northern part of Paris.

We walked through, admiring the domes and stained-glass windows, deciphering the bits of bible verses… and then raced through the last little bit because Louis discovered the acoustics.

We had to walk up said hill – pushing two bonny heffalumps in the push chair – but there were lots of interesting sights to see on the way.

Creepiest shop in the world – shame about the picture quality, but I couldn’t not share this. Look closely… or perhaps not at all. Very creepy.

 We found a place to have some lunch before doing the real climb (the bit with stairs) – the most colourful cafe in Paris? A contender, definitely.

I had these delicious vegetarian stuffed capsicums. I make these occasionally, and should do so more often. Delicious and healthy. These ones were stuffed with tofu and rice, full of flavour, and sitting in some yummy sauces.

I also indulged in some chocolate fondant – basically like a soft brownie, but the middle is gooey and runny – and it’s meant to be! So delectable. I fed all the cream to Louis (who had plain bread for lunch – silly kid) but ate the entire fondant myself. Yum. And then carried the pushchair up a lot of stairs. Now there’s the real secret to guilt-free chocolate!

After visiting the church we carried it back down again (Elena slept – hurrah!) and then did a little boot-shopping (without success) in Montmarte, until Elena woke.

Mum and Dad had tickets for going up the Eiffel Tower in the late afternoon, so I took the kids home and left them to it. We basically crashed and I suspect Mum and Dad could have done the same, but they powered through because they’re cutting their Paris trip short and wanted to squeeze in this one last expedition.

Why are they cutting their trip short? My grandma is not doing well. She’s in hospital and having tests. Unfortunately, it seems that something has been overlooked and things aren’t going very well. So, Mum and Dad are heading back to NZ on Monday… arriving Wednesday (ah, the date line).

We have Louis’ birthday party tomorrow, so fortunately they won’t miss that. Unfortunately, they won’t be here at christmas and will miss Elena’s dedication. But they have had a good long visit and enjoyed lots of time with their grandkids, as well as seeing about as much of Europe as they were up for in six months together.

Hopefully, of course, they’re going back unnecessarily, but whatever happens, everyone will be more at ease with them in Auckland, or a short flight away in Christchurch.

Mum just reminded me, we have a cake to make, so off I go. Tomorrow: party pictures!

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A night out or a night out.

We’ve had two very different types of “nights out” recently: a date night, sans babies, and a full night ‘out’ – as in asleep. Hallelujah!

Saturday night we celebrated Luuk’s birthday with a visit to a new Paris bar – Dernier bar avant la fin du Monde, a play on ‘The Restaurant at the End of the Universe’ from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and on the Mayan calendar, which ends later this year. There’s a countdown on the wall, and if that’s not the first thing you see when you walk in the door then you must be looking at the model Millennium Falcon (Han Solo’s ship in the Star Wars trilogy).

It’s a cocktail bar, really, with bright colourful drinks and not a long menu of things to go with them. Usually I’d think, hey fun drinks, at a description like that but I’m a big fan of long menus and I wouldn’t go far out of my way for a meal without one. (Organising a babysitter then figuring out the metro to a new place in Paris falls under ‘going out of my way’.) The appeal of this particular night spot is, of course, the theme, and with that the huge collection of board games! A whole wall of the main floor of the bar is dedicated to a bookshelf – half books (graphic novels and novels, sci-fi and fantasy… all the biggies and plenty of t’others) and half games (boxes and boxes and bags and tins…)

We ordered drinks (for me a Holy Grail, for Luuk a mint-packed mojito by another name, I forget exactly what) and then picked out a two player game and translated the rules enough to play three rounds. Then we had some food – a platter of delicious succulent beef, flavourful rice, salads and sauce, and another platter, less impressive, with bacon, something similar to bagel crisps, and a toothpaste tube of blue cheese dip. i suppose it was supposed to be space food. It was yummy, but strange.

We were both very tired and were home just the other side of ten.

The other ‘night out’ was last night. Now, this is going to get me in trouble with at least a few parenting-philosophy-fundamentalists (is that an appropriate description? Or is that description going to get me in even more trouble?)

Anyway, with Louis we tried this trick we heard about. Once a baby is three or four months old they can sleep through the night – as in, they don’t need food. Now, the world is far from in unanimous agreement about this, but then again the only thing they all do agree on is that babies are cute. The theory goes that babies get into a habit of waking at certain times, of getting fed at certain intervals, and that the habit can be broken in three nights. Just three. Three miserable little nights.

Theory says that if you don’t feed the baby for two nights in a row they’ll sleep through the third. Mean? Well, we’re not quite that cold. I smell like mum or milk, or a bit of both, so if I go to comfort Elena then I’ll end up feeding her.

So Luuk goes in, gives her a cuddle and some water to drink, her doudou (french for ‘cuddly’ or ‘blankie’ I suppose), her dummy (the french for which is ‘tétine’)…

With Louis, we had two miserable nights and he slept through the third. Now, that was over 18 months ago and they’re very different children. We did not expect Elena to catch on faster, easier… but she did! She woke twice the first night and grizzled for maybe forty minutes in total (not all in one go). The second night she woke once, around four thirty with a little help from the dummy went right back to bed and woke at six… which, since daylight savings just ended, may as well have been seven. Third night she did the same at three-something and then slept till after six.

It’s too soon to crack open the champagne, but so far so good. If she needed feeding during the night, if she weren’t ready for this, then she wouldn’t sleep through, she’d wake and demand food. And I’d give it to her. But if she doesn’t need it then we’re all a hell of a lot better off for a full night’s sleep.

And I’m so relieved that a consistent full night’s sleep is a possibility in the near future. I’m having fantasies about my brain functioning, about whole days without failed attempts at a nap… without even wanting a nap. I can hardly imagine it.

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Plots, Parties and Plateaus

I have a villain! I’ve never had a villain before. My characters usually battle disembodied evils like fear or loneliness or always being control. There are those things in this story too, and it’s possible my villain will just bring them to the fore, rather than himself being the great evil to overcome. But we’ll see. Have to save some decisions for November.

Which won’t be a problem because so far I have one major first scene, and a handful of possible things that will come out of that. I have a cast of characters with lives intertwined, history and angst, dreams and fears… all that is in a big mess of papers with Louis’s doodles added for good measure.

Last November was the first time I plotted out, scene by scene, a whole novel before writing. I found Nanowrimo really easy after that. So maybe this year will go really smoothly, even with an extra child to juggle now. But it won’t be an empty month. There is at least one party to plan and pull off… perhaps in our tiny little apartment.

Louis is nearly two. I have plans for the cake and a rough idea of a guest list, but we might have to rearrange furniture to all fit in the same room. And we won’t all get seats.

Today is Luuk’s birthday, and Dad’s is next week. Between all the celebrations and nanowrimo (ie. fuel and/or rewards for words might tend edible-ways) I am a little worried about my weight-loss continuing. Even more so since I have apparently plateaued – I am the same this saturday morning as I was last. Eek! I skipped counting calories a couple of days this week, in the wake of horrible nights, so maybe that’s where I went wrong, or maybe this is the normal plateau a couple of months into a new diet. We have been eating LOTS of soup, which is all good in theory, but it’s also been colder and I’ve been hiding out indoors, getting less exercise, so maybe that’s the problem.

Anyway, I’m not gaining, so actually there’s nothing to worry about. And I’m certainly not dieting today. Not every day is a birthday, is a good dieting mantra, but today IS a birthday!

Luuk and I are off to Le Dernier Bar this evening, for fun cocktails and board games and overpriced but hopefully themed food. It’s this really geeky spot in Paris, with all sorts of sci-fi/fantasy paraphernalia from films and television all over the walls. There are games to play while you sample the fare – all geeky themed. Should be hilarious. I’m just gutted I won’t get to see the men’s urinals – something I never though I’d say – but these ones are special: the guys get to “ski” and chase penguins… use your imagination. Or don’t. Up to you.