The Christchurch Bit

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The Christchurch Bit

We spent the first 12 days for our time in NZ staying with my parents in Christchurch. Here we recovered from jet lag.

elena falling asleep before dinnerElena kept nodding off in the high chair.

Luuk went to work the day after we arrived and for the whole following week… which meant our trip around the world didn’t gobble up ALL his annual leave.

Me, my parents, and the kids tried to keep busy, in order to resist four hour mid-afternoon naps. We did a supermarket trawl, for all the kiwi goodies we’d been going without for two years (pineapple lumps, gingernuts, raspberry licorice, rice crackers, yoyos, black forest chocolate, venison sausages…)

And then it was coffee time. A great NZ flat white was just spot-on. And so was the lolly cake.

lolly cake appreciation

 Elena agreed.

ducklings at northlands  And there were ducklings, in case the lolly cake wasn’t joy-giving enough.

On Saturday morning we visited the farmers’ market at Dean’s Bush. This place is just pumping now. It was always lovely, but I suppose there aren’t a whole lot of other places to go while so much is being rebuilt. We didn’t even get to the first stall before meeting more than one familiar face.

bumping into people at the riccarton market

Bumping into people at the Riccarton Market.

It took us probably an hour to get from one end to the other with all the impromptu catch-ups on the way. Luuk and I fortified ourselves with one of the best sausage rolls the world over, about half way along, and there were numerous other tastes and treats before we returned to the cars.

Next stop was the ‘encraftment’ market in the city center.

encraftment market, cathedral square, christchurch 2013

A friend of mine had a stall at this fantastic local craft market, so I was very excited to see her and browse her lovely wares. It was strange, however, to be back in the city center, which has been largely inaccessible to the public since the earthquakes. The cathedral will be demolished, but part of it remained and we had a good last look through the fences.

On Sunday we visited Ilam Baptist, where we used to go to church. It was wonderful to catch up with everyone (well, those who were there) and the kids enjoyed being around so many other kids. Having warned about two people of our arrival, we ended up lunching on our own, but actually it was quite nice to have a little time out.

fish'n chips after church

And some essential kiwi tucker – fish’n chips from Captain Ben’s.

Dad had the week off work, so the kids got lots of time with their grandparents. I took the opportunity to nap each afternoon, to do a little shopping on my own, and to see friends.

christmas cookies with gran

Louis making Christmas cookies with Gran.

christmas grotto, spreydon, 2013

Visiting the Christmas Grotto.

hagley park playground

Playing on the playground at Hagley Park
(after a lovely coffee and scone at the Curator’s House – things NZ does well…)

good ol' kiwis

Speaking of things NZ does well… kiwi fruit!

Elena spent much of the week climbing up and down my parents’ stair case, and didn’t tumble once (though she terrified us all plenty). The kids also enjoyed the piano, when they weren’t clonking their heads on it.

perks of gran's house

On the second saturday of our stay we resisted the market-pull and hosted an open-house kind of party, so that we could catch up with as many people as possible, in one day. It was fantasic, and exhausting, and probably fattening, but hey! it’s christmas.

the joy of stairs

There were lots of kids to play with and we probably neglected our own, talking the day away with friends from so many different circles.

In the evening there was BBQ, and so naturally it rained. Dad has stood in the rain for probably half of my birthdays, ever, cooking our meat. Once again, somehow, that was his lot. We ate our full, and then some, and then some hokey pokey and goodie goodie gum drops ice cream.

Somehow we’d managed to miss people at that one-big-get-together, so on our last night in Christchurch, Eva came over for dinner.

nose-bopping fun

Eva and Louis, nose-bopping.

We were in town long enough to see a few of our closest friends multiple times, to get past the bare-minimum catch-up stuff. Of course it wasn’t long enough, but one day we’ll be back. In the meantime, I haven’t any great certainty or insights into whether or not we want to move back to Christchurch in a hurry. We will most likely be back there sooner or later, but perhaps not forever. The city is changing all the time, and that could be an exciting rebirth to be a part of, or it might just be too difficult, going back. We can only wait and see.

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yummy love

Who’s idea was it to have valentines day after lent starts? Seriously. But I suppose, as I’m not giving up chocolate, I shouldn’t complain too much.

I’m giving up whatever I have to in order to read my bible every day. Other years I’ve given up meat or coffee (or both) and as helpful as the experience was I really want to get into a habit of reading my bible again, so this seemed as good a time as any. I could cut out a specific thing – reading trash, watching television, or some other wasteful time-suck, but I think I’m more likely to read my bible if I can then reward myself with a little trashy tv… hey, know thyself, right?

I’m also going to have a go at 40 Acts, which is all about being generous. I suppose the focus shifts from giving something up, to giving something up for someone else. And with my bible reading resolution, giving up something for something else.

And Valentines? Well I did think ahead and shopped the lingerie department during the last round of sales, but then yesterday I saw a recipe for red, heart shaped pancakes… So I’m thinking I’ll make the mixture this afternoon and then serve them up for breakfast. We don’t have moulds but I’m wondering if a round pancake with a frosting-heart would have a similar effect. And it all goes down the same way (apologies… common saying in our family – more disgusting than I realise, possibly.)

— dropping Louis at halte garderie —

Stopped in at the church on the way back, just to check on a detail for my story (several scenes of which take place in the church), and it was packed out… The priest up the front is making a mark on the forehead of another priest, then on an altar boy – oh! It’s Ash Wednesday. Took me long enough.

Dates like this, and Valentines for that matter, make me think back to other years.

Two years ago, valentines day, Luuk and I went to a restaurant which no longer exists, because a week later the hotel crashed down around it in a massive earthquake. The city jumped up and down, as well as side to side, at 2gs, and little survived. Since then much of the city (including that hotel) has been demolished.

christchurch remainsChristchurch Remains
(not my image, belongs to ChristchurchNZ group)

It is so strange to think of all the places, of all the memories I have of things happening in places, that simply no longer exist. I used to work in that big hotel in the foreground… but the theatre over the road, gone. The Starbucks where I’d get my frapuccino (I’d lasted another day cleaning hotel room filth! Well done me!) is still standing, though not operational, but the cathedral is gutted and half gone.

Depressing. Moving on…

I’ve never been to very traditional churches till this last year but two years ago I went along to an Ash Wednesday service for the first time. It was just after the earthquakes and the cathedral was a ruin (the one in the middle of the image above). The catholic basilica was also a mess and there’s nothing quite like a natural disaster to bring people together. The respective bishops and other church leaders of the city got together and had a joined Ash Wednesday service at a little Anglican church in the suburbs. Louis and I went along. After the quakes we were encouraged to stay home, to limit strain on the infrastructure, and with a four month old baby I wasn’t much help digging liquefaction silt off of people’s driveways, so I was home a lot. On that Wednesday, I wanted to be a part of things, to see the community joining together, working and celebrating and mourning together.

Now I’m a part of a very different community, and yet in some ways I’m not a part of it. I’m an expat, always a bit out of things, and then I speak middling French at best… This morning, Elena was ready for her nap, the church was full, it was half way through… I didn’t stay. Elena will have to wait till next year to get an ash cross on her forehead, but she does get blessed every other week at church, and by us every night before bed. She’ll be fine. It’s not a magic spell.

I’ve gone off on a tangent. I was going to write about showing love through food. Yesterday evening I made mince and cheese pies, not an entirely self-less act of love, but Luuk enjoyed them at least as much as I did.

They turned out awesome, despite my basically winging it with regards a recipe. So, for posterity or something, here’s what I did:

1. butter, shallots chopped fine and mushrooms chopped roughly, all fried up.

mushroom layer


2. I used the chinese food dishes from the previous night (reduce reuse recycle!), rinced them well and then lined them with pre-rolled flaky pastry. I put the mushrooms in first then…

3. Cooked up the beef mince.

4. Grated a potato, skin and all, and added this to browned beef.

5. A glass of red wine and a dissolved stock cube in less than a cup of water, added gradually… and herbs, seasoning, etc.

6. I put the beef/potato/gravy mix into the pie dishes on top of the mushrooms then grated plenty of (comte) cheese on top.

pies ready to cook

7. I managed to do this with just one sheet of pastry, but I had to wrestle the pie tops to fit. And then I poked holes and then baked at 200 for about 40 minutes.

mushroom, red wine, mince and cheese pies

8. Cause I’m a good girl, we also had a half head of broccoli each, steamed with a tiny bit of butter and the last dregs of that stock water.

I saw a picture of an old Georgie Pie meal deal on facebook yesterday and it made me crave pie… I haven’t had mince and cheese pies since we left New Zealand, and I’ve had some very good ones in my time (thank you Mountain View Bakery, Pirongia, to name one source in particular) but seriously, take that Georgie Pie!


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crash with friends

Luuk jetted off to Germany for work this past weekend, so the kids and I went to stay with our friends. They have kids and a big house for them to run around in. Louis relishes having lots of kids to play with and adore (and who adore him). Elena was her smiling usual self and enjoyed watching all the madness ensue from her increasingly steady vantage point – sitting up!

Marcelle and I had grand plans to work on her website but in the end there was other work which needed doing first. I also got a little editing and writing done. In the middle of last week I started on a new story and it has consumed me somewhat. (Between that story and staying elsewhere for the weekend is something of an explanation for my sudden lapse in every-other-day-regular blog posting.)

There’s some kind of magic when two families get together and spend a decent chunk of time together. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t, but when it does you kind of meld together into one big family for a while. You help with each other’s kids and everyone pitches in with food and housework and entertainments.

Obviously it was a good weekend. Just a shame Luuk had to be in Germany and miss it. (Though if he’d not gone we probably wouldn’t have been staying at the mates’ place to begin with…)

Saturday night I had a bath – first time in well over a year! I love baths and we don’t have the facilities in our little apartment. After the kids went to bed I had a lovely peaceful soak and then us grown-ups watched ‘Rock of Ages’ – a musical starring Tom Cruise… I know, way to sell it. It was hilarious but bad. So bad it was good… but probably only if you’re in the right mood.

Johnny spent the entire movie on the internet. I managed to figure out a transition in my story. The music was pretty awesome and we had popcorn to go along with it. And peanut slabs! It’s been such a long time.

Sunday morning we went along to the Hillsongs Church in Paris. It’s something of a night-club atmosphere on first arrival – black painted walls and floors, thumping music, loads of people, and a bit of a rabbit-warren in the lower levels where the kids program was.

But they’re well equipped, that’s for sure…


Headphones for the little ones. And they did the trick…


Elena slept on Johnny for the entire service. My arm would have fallen off but I suppose rugby comes in handy for something.


It was very different to the style at our little old-school Anglican church, but one of the very cool things about this place is that it’s all bi-lingual. Some bits are in French and translated to English, others are in English, translated to French. Très cool!

We came home (when I say home I don’t mean our place…) to a killer roast. Killer to the lamb!



Chops and veggies and awesome apricot sauce. Even garlic bread to go along with it. Well done Johnny.

Then there was cake. And while the kids napped we watched ‘Argo’ – a great improvement on the previous night’s film selection. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the end yet because we had to be home in time to get picked up for our church. Two in one day! I know, I know, but I was semi-involved in planning the service (something a bit more creative and out-there than usual) and I was also on reading (Deuteronomy 26 is a mouthful – all those parentheticals…) so we weren’t skipping it without real reason.

It was snowing but we bundled the kids up and got home in time. The creative service went off beautifully and the theme, love, was right on the mark after our lovely weekend. The sermon at Hillsongs was about the importance of family and it’s true, family is wonderful when it works, though that’s no great revelation.

The evening service theme was chosen with valentines day in mind, but we were invited to think more broadly of love – love for anyone and everyone (family, friends, strangers and everything in between) and of all the wide variety of ways we might show love to those people.

Like, for instance, inviting another family to come stay all weekend. Thanks guys! I’m feeling very loved – and lucky.

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all about food really

Sunday’s Christmas challenge thing was two kind of half-hearted things. I took Louis down to the ‘ateliers’ (workshops) in the square – a whole lot of craft activities for kids. Unfortunately only one was open to children under four.

But it was very festive and he got a helium balloon (though it being an ordinary balloon filled with helium, it is now on the floor like all the other balloons floating around our house, and dying faster than the rest.)

Louis and I made a sort of candle-cover thing which I suspect won’t be safe for candles, so I’ve put it over a light on the christmas tree:

Then in the evening, at church, the kids were decorating gingerbread houses and the little ones did gingerbread christmas trees – an activity which I organised, and made all the bits for, so I think it counts.

I didn’t have a cookie cutter, but trees, it turns out, tesselate rather easily, if not exactly, and so I cut them out with a steak knife.

I love the way food looks under the oven light – doesn’t it just sing of longing!

I thought it’d be great but Louis just ate all the sugar stars and baubles. A couple of them went onto his tree biscuit… after he’d licked them. Yeah, not a great success. The other preschoolers got the idea and did very well, but Louis is a bit younger.

And these are the gingerbread houses the older children decorated. Apparently the houses are readily available at IKEA. Next year!

On Monday I had great plans to go on a pine cone hunt. Pine cones are great as decorations in all manner of ways – painted or not, strung up, hung on the tree, piled in a bowl… whatever! But then a storm arrived just as Louis woke up from his nap. So I showed him lame (in my opinion, though he was happy) clips from christmas tv and movies on youtube.

Feeling like this was a bit of a cop-out, I hatched plan B: ‘rockin around the christmas tree’. In the evening we had a little christmas party. I mixed fizzy water and juice, put out some cheese-ball-like chips, and found some christmas tunes on youtube.

With the christmas lights on, and the other lights off, we boogied the evening away. I tried to take a video of our embarrassing dancing – I really did try – but the camera ran out of memory after three seconds.

I have a handful of ideas for later in the week, but require ingredients which we need to get with the groceries… so monday was ‘rocking around the christmas tree’ and hopefully today will play nice weatherwise for the pine cone hunt. (It hasn’t so far… but the rain has just stopped…)

I thought this post was going to be about how things don’t go to plan, but it is all rather food-focussed isn’t it. Should this tell me about my tendency to rely on food to fix problems?

Nevermind if it does. All day I’ve been resisting the pain au chocolat Luuk bought this morning. We had our final french lesson together. I’ve found these lessons quite difficult as Luuk and I learn differently, in style and speed. I go away feeling like the slow kid in the class. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my group french classes, which I leave feeling confident and positive about my progress with the language, however the old classes have suffered by comparison – or my attitude toward them has suffered.

Anyway, all classes are on break for christmas and the group ones pick up in January. It’s just a shame the last lesson left me feeling so rubbish when yesterday I was feeling encouraged.

Ah, the pain au chocolat is calling, and another coffee with it, before Louis wakes from his afternoon nap. If the weather doesn’t hold I’m wondering about painting holly with potato-stamps and berries with fingerprints.

Like this,

Not my image, click it to go to source.

We could cut them out carefully and stick them on the windows, since Luuk has decided that spray on snow is unnecessary. So I’m prepared, whatever the weather throws at us. As they say, Let it snow!

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the sunday sun and a wordy win

We have quite the habit of lovely lazy sundays. We lie about like cats in the sun and do very little for most of the day. I exert a smidgen of energy to make splendid platters of breakfast and hearty soups for lunch. Luuk broke the mold yesterday and went for a lengthy bike-ride, and then came home and lazed about.

But it was a gorgeous day yesterday, first in ages. We saw sun! Real, genuine sun. T’was very exciting. And we could not hide from its pull.

Luuk took the opportunity to bully Louis into trying his kick-bike but the wee man is reluctant and rather stubborn.

He got on it voluntarily after it was left on the ground and he was left alone for a while. But then he got off it again – prefers to walk, apparently.

Luuk wanted to demonstrate that it’s fun and there’s nothing to fear (rolling down a slight hill…)

Lovely lovely sun.

This lovely lady watched longingly – she will be an eager cyclist, I’m sure – but she did not want to be snug in her rug, little wriggly bug.

Louis was happy to play with the wheels of the bike…

and to go up and down the stairs of the Mairie numerous times.

While we wandered around the neighbourhood (with the bike in the buggy basket) I thought about my novel and looked at trees and houses and the bumpy pavement.

A wee bit jealous of these folks’ rooftop garden.

We visited a playground that Luuk bikes past when he takes Louis out on the weekends sometimes. It’s at the start of the ride, so they don’t usually stop, but it has a pirate ship and that was incentive enough.

Louis ran around the playground more than actually playing on it, but did the essentials…

And he discovered the slide just as we were leaving. Of course.

After all our meanderings we returned home for the kids to get a nap in before church. I wrote, and at about 4.30 Luuk said it was time to stop. And we were early to church. Miracle.

The kids are learning ‘Go tell it on the Mountain’ for the carol service and Louis, as yet unable to read the words, was given a maracca to play. His interest was less than steadfast, but he did get into the spirit of things toward the end of the rehearsal – he even had the rhythm right. Miracle.

After church and dinner, when the kids were in bed, we watched ‘Keeping the Faith’ which I’ve seen dozens and (embarrassingly accurate) dozens of times – but never before in French. I didn’t pay it much attention and kept on writing. After a while, lagging, I checked my word count, and what do you know? I’d crossed the 50k line. Didn’t even realise.

There’s still quite a bit of story to go. So, I have a new goal: finish the story in the next five days. Could be a bit of a push, but that’s what get’s me working. Pressure, pressure… and food.

these might help – hummingbird cupcakes – awesomely good.

Won’t be doing a huge amount of writing today, I suspect, as we have a french lesson this afternoon and then we are off to have dinner with some other expat kiwis – their youngest son goes along to the same halte garderie as Louis. And I’m pretty sure his dad used to play for the Crusaders. How cool is that? Ever-so-slightly star-struck. It’s times like these, perhaps, that it’s a good thing I don’t really follow sport. If I did I’d probably be even more star-struck and then it’s be weird and awkward.

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feet up… not really.

I was trying to relax today. Why does it have to be so difficult? Relaxing, by definition, should be easy.

But then there’s the to-do list, ever present, hovering nearby – in actual fact an app on my phone which sends me little clarinet-trills every time I’m “meant” to be doing something.

Today I did laundry

made coffee

revised a few pages of my novel

looked over the budget with Luuk

fed, played with and changed Elena

cuddled, changed and talked with Louis

tidied toys

walked to the bakery – bought bread and eclairs

did french homework

went to church – iced biscuits with the kids and then ate too many (gluttony at church… if only it were the first time)

named Louis’ clothes (as required by daycare) and sorted out the things that are now too small into two piles: for elena and not for elena.

ate three meals and too many snacks

read half a page of “Coastliners” by Joanne Harris, and then got distracted.

It wasn’t a bad day at all.

Lots of highlights: great conversations with Luuk, in the car on the way to church and back, several gorgeous moments with my gorgeous kids, fun icing biscuits and chatting with the kids at church, some delicious food (including a remarkable lemon eclair – tasted like Mum’s lemon pudding) and it’s always nice to tick things off the to-do list. I did a lot of that today. Not really relaxing, but productive, which is a different kind of relaxing – I don’t feel guilty for achieving nothing all day.

Is there something wrong with me? No – that shouldn’t be a question. There is definitely something wrong – with me or with culture/society/etc. But there is something wrong with feeling guilty for resting? For a lapse in productivity?

I really need a holiday. I’m not sure exactly what it will take to get me sitting still for a couple of hours together, but I’m guessing a really good book would help. Other people to help with the children and the housework would be good too. And I think getting out of town would be a flying leap in the right direction.

A week from now we’ll be doing just that. Hallelujah. Mum and Dad will be with us, and they’re helpful (though will also be holidaying so I must not take advantage too much). There will be a pool and I’m pretty sure there’s a good book somewhere on my Kindle. Or there will be by then. Maybe two or three in fact. Ooh! Just remembered Marian Keyes new book is out in the next few days. That’s my first book sorted. I’d read anything by that woman. Devoured “Mammy Walsh’s A-Z of the Walsh Family” last week. Hilarious. Hi-larious.

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We’re in!

Tonight at church we sang How Great Thou Art. The hymn book tells me this song is of Russian origin. This I did not know, though the song is very familiar. However, the words that pop into my head are the maori version…

We go to a tiny English speaking Anglican church south of Paris. I am very aware of how quickly we became a part of this congregation. We are missed when absent and included so willingly.

But I am also aware of being a very small part of the much bigger Church. Each week we read the Apostles Creed and one of the later lines in it says, “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”

I’ve always thought this was rather ambitious. The church is so divided. But affirming this every week reminds me that we have much in common and most aim to be united.

It is a thrill, a joy, to me, to remember that I am a tiny part of this much bigger thing. Sure, the church is more than problematic: responsible for so much that is overtly good (charity, generosity, community) and yet so much that I can never be proud of (discrimination, violence, hate). But what I’m thinking about tonight is belonging: how important, how great it is, to be a part of something greater than ourselves.

Currently, I am hyper-aware of being a New Zealander, what with being far away from NZ, my children just applied for Dutch passports… and to top it all of the Olympic games are on.

The Olympics remind us that we are all part of one world. The games bring all these nations together, even those at war. During the opening ceremony I think it feels like the whole world have got together to watch telly – doesn’t get much more family-like than that!

As a New Zealander, I feel like i am represented in London by a select bunch of athletes, even though I don’t really give two shakes about sport. In a strange way this sporting event seems to transcend sport.

As a member of a team, or a supporter of a team, we are in.

Belonging is so important. It motivates so much of what we do.

I just bought some new clothing – pants that fit! I am very aware that I’m dressing more and more like the French, like what i see here, in the streets, every day, than what would blend in back home.

I want to blend in – not to be dull and samey, but to be a part of my community, of my locality. I am foreign but I don’t want to look like a tourist. I want to be in.

Speaking of belonging…  I’ve been thinking of finding a writers’ group. This turns out to be rather difficult due to language and location. I have found a drop-in writers group that meets at the Shakespeare and Co. bookshop in Paris.

This historic location, and being an artist in Paris… very charming ideas, but have reservations. Getting feedback on my writing, critique and whatnot, from strangers could have pros and cons. I’m nervous about sharing my work, of course. I don’t have anything prepared especially, but I will. I think the opening paragraphs/chapter of one of my finished novels would be a good thing to rework anyway. This is the bait, after all, that catches the publisher or agent… with any luck.

Next Saturday evening this group meets. I will endeavour to go along. I also intend to go along to one or two coffee groups this week. The small group of other mums there have been the other group, other than our church, to which I’ve come to belong, since arriving in France nearly six months ago.

When I’m working and focused and trying to get Elena into a habit of sleeping on her own, in her bed, it’s tempting to stay home and keep things simple… but it’s good for my sanity to get out, and good for me in so many ways, to discover that I do belong, in some way, in this foreign place.

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I did it! I went out, by my self, for a whole hour.


It felt weird and wonderful, walking down the street with no babies in tow, no one but little old me.

Of course, when the opportunity arose for me to go out (Elena was asleep, a bottle of expressed milk in the fridge, and Louis was napping as well!) I was feeling totally lazy and didn’t really want to go anywhere.

But one of the great things about this blog is that when I say I’m going to do something I feel I have made a commitment to do it. I feel accountable to all you people who read it – and sometimes that’s just what I need!

If I hadn’t gone out I would have regretted it, and then all week I’d be feeling desperate to have some time alone. I might still feel that way later in the week, but at least I did what I could today. I walked up our gorgeous cobbled street and had a gawk in the back of the old church there. After a few minutes I went inside. There was a man sitting in a pew about half way up, praying I presume. As I sat down, in a rear pew on the far side, he crossed himself and stood. He left then and I was by myself.

I looked around at the ancient stone pillars, all worn and uneven, the cross-arched roof, the stained glass windows (and tried to guess who the people were meant to be)…   Then I thought it would be a good time to pray. But then, mind blank. So I recited, or rather prayed, the Lord’s prayer, in my head.

I used to think that praying a pre-written prayer, especially if it was written by someone a long time ago, in a way that I would never speak, was phony; that it could not possibly be genuine because it was not candid.

But nowdays I just lap up that stuff – prayers that are like poetry and liturgies that have been used for generations. So much thought and care has gone into words that my mind/heart/soul so often want/need to say (for words are powerful) – but I can’t always find the words.

Then I thought, ‘what next?’ It felt a bit like playing a game of ‘church’. I figured a Hail Mary was probably the next line in the script. Only I don’t know it beyond, ‘Hail Mary mother of God’.

Some other people came into the church and I soon left only to realise I’d got the Sister Act version of ‘Oh Maria’ in my head.

I walked a bit more, looking for an open cafe, humming ‘Salve Regina’. (I now realise that’s the actual name of the song.)

It being a Sunday afternoon, not a single cafe was open. I bought a snack from the bakery down the main street, then went and sat in Le Parc Bordeau d’Antony. I wrote in my journal, looked around me, ate my chocolate brownie, took some photos.

Chocolate brownie for company, a fountain babbling and bus engines humming a soundtrack, a fresh breeze…

A chateau, ornate lampposts, towering trees, meandering paths… nice park.

I hadn’t worn my coat and summer is a bit of a joke here at the moment (a not so funny one). Too cold to stick around comfortably, I wandered toward home again. I pass another park on the way home, one that I hoped would be more sheltered.

More lovely meandering paths and ornate lampposts.

I walked and took photos, but never found a seat I liked the look of. I was thinking I’d work on a scene of my novel, but all the park benches seemed like perfect places for bug bites, or they were right beside a playground full of children (and I get enough of that during every park visit, every week), or they were in the blustering wind.

And then I heard the church bell toll once – half past four. It was time to head home and get ready for church.

We go most Sunday evenings and this evening the theme was reverence. This seemed rather fitting with my thoughts of earlier in the afternoon – about spontaneous, but careless, prayers, compared with the more thoughtful variety. As a teenager I liked to think of God as a good buddy. He was someone I could be honest with, someone I didn’t need to put on nice clothes for, someone who required no effort on my part.

I suppose I still believe a version of that – that God accepts us as we are, warts and whatever else, and all that. But I think there is a place – an important place – for reverence and respect, not because God has an ego he needs us to stroke, but because he is God. We are not. Reverence is merely an acknowledgement of that, if that’s what you believe.

And I do. I don’t talk about faith much on my blog. I suppose it’s very personal, but it’s also something I find it hard to talk about without feeling super self-conscious. In person, in context, with tone-of-voice and expression to aid in understanding, I don’t mind talking about it, but black and white, words on a screen, are wide open to be misunderstood. And so I’m going to save this draft and check it over tomorrow.

I am trying to write the central character of my novel in a spiritually honest way –  she thinks about spiritual things, acknowledges and struggles with her beliefs and the way they fit, or don’t, with her life and experience.

It’s been a goal of mine for a while – to write a ‘spiritually honest character’, I wrote in a list at the start of the year. Easier said than done. The character is not much like me and so I can’t just put my thoughts/feelings into her internal monologue. I have to use my imagination, and yet stay real – believable, honest.

Picasso said “Art is the lie that tells the truth,” and I’d say that is the goal of good fiction. The story isn’t ‘real’, in that the characters, setting, events, etc. are all made up. But the story says something about human nature, human experience, our struggles and hopes and fears and all.

I managed to write both days this weekend – a rarity! – so here’s hoping for a good monday to top it off. I have a teething toddler who might be hoping for something else. The sun is out (it’s now Monday morning and I’ve done my editing) so perhaps a walk to the park, the bakery… a little vitamin D, a little baguette, a little fresh air. Sounds good to me.

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Three in a Week!

Being newbies to France we don’t know a lot of people, and those we do know we don’t know well. So it is a rare week when there is a social event on our calendar. And this week we have three!

On our way to the BBQ

A fourth of july barbecue.

One of the ways I’ve got to know a few people is through Message – an online community of english-speaking parents in Paris and the surrounding areas. I have made a few friends and enjoy going to coffee groups and play groups (essentially the same thing but there are a surprising number of non-coffee-drinkers).

Most of the mums are not french, though many have french partners, and several are American. One of my good American friends hosted a barbecue – apparently the quintessential way to commemorate Independence Day.

We were actually in Florida last 4th of July, and I’d say that this year’s BBQ was pretty French in comparison. We had a salad course first, and then the meat came out, a few pieces at a time.

Living in small apartments as opposed to large houses, the French are less likely to have gargantuan outdoor kitchens like shiny silver spaceships on every back porch. Barbecues here are smaller and so the pace at which dinner is cooked and eaten is completely different.

But the dessert was very american: chocolate brownie with peanut butter chunks, and Ben and Jerry’s ‘Oh My Apple Pie’ ice cream. The party was hosted at a house, with a yard, rather than an apartment, so the kids ran around and had a blast. The adults sat around and nibbled and talked, occasionally pushing a swing or feeding a child.

She didn't sleep the entire time.

It was a lovely evening (so good, in fact, that I forgot to take photos). The rain threatened, but stayed away. I hadn’t seen many people since Elena’s birth so I really enjoyed catching up with some of the mums I’d been getting to know beforehand. It feels really good to be ‘in’ with some people and less isolated than we were not so long ago.


A Star Trek themed surprise party.

We’ve been going along, most weeks, to an english-speaking Anglican church. It’s affiliated with a much larger church in Versailles. For a while now the vicar of our church has been responsible for both congregations: a full-on load! But she’s finished up her time at the larger church and will be back to her original role: the vicar of one church.

To thank her and her family, to bid them a tentative (hope we still see you occasionally) farewell, they organised a surprise party in her honour. Being a dedicated trekkie, the theme was set.

On board. (Serious faces = part of costume)

We all donned our primary-coloured shirts and black pants. A few even wore pointy ears. The church hall was all decked out in flashing lights and the food was re-named in sci-fi theme. I drank blue cool-aid for the first time ever, and ate far too much dessert… not the first time ever.

There was a sci-fi quiz (not limited to trekkie questions but my team still lost) and we walked away with quite a few of the prizes because Luuk was in the winning team and the prizes were toys Louis would enjoy – is enjoying. It was a fantastic night and a real testament to everyone involved, especially Elaine (our vicar).

I’m even considering giving Star Trek another chance.


Meeting up with other Euro-dwelling Kiwi friends in Paris.

Kiwis are always off on O.E.s. The Overseas Experience is like a rite of passage or something. Perhaps its because NZ is so far away from much of the world, we don’t just do a week or two holiday, we go for a year or three and work or study, travel, explore… and half the time end up staying away.

Loads of our friends have done this and are now spread around the world. Luuk and I were exceptions – we both traveled but not for more than a few months, and then returned home. Well, till now.

Some of our long-lost friends are in Europe and we’ve been looking forward to catching up with them over the summer. This weekend three of them were in Paris, and a couple of new additions – three babies and a girlfriend.

The usual suspects.

We did the top-billing sights of Paris and talked about babies too much, basically. Apologised for all the parent-talk, but kept falling back into it. Nasty habit, that.

Chasing toddlers beneath the Arc de Triomphe

Elena turned 1 month old yesterday. What a way to celebrate!

One Month Old!

We walked around Paris and then hid from the rain at a cafe. Realising it was after five we had some afternoon tea/dinner or sorts…

The kids coped pretty well with all this. Louis skipped his morning sleep at home (rascal) and then we were out all afternoon, so he had no nap at all yesterday. Come six o’clock he sat up at a table in a restaurant and ate apple pie without much fuss. Miracle. Towards the end he got down from his chair and played in the puddles, going so far as to dunk his baguette in the puddle. Luuk grabbed it but not till after Louis had put it in his mouth. Oops. Actually, Louis was a mess. We let him jump in a couple of puddles and then it was all he wanted to do. He brought home quite a lot of water.

Wrinkle Toes

He was happy. Soggy and exhausted, but happy.

We were exhausted too. A day in Paris always takes it out of me: all those stairs in all those subway stations…

So now we’re having a lazy sunday of the big breakfast, too much television, really-should-nap variety. The weather is lousy, but I don’t mind rain as long as we get a bit of thunder occasionally – lends some drama to the dreary outlook.

I definitely plan on writing a little novel today – or a lot of novel. It could happen. The next scene is an important one: the main characters mend their fences (figuratively) and discover something buried (literally) in the garden. Just thinking about it makes me want to start writing. Unfortunately my head is all blurry from being awake for a couple of hours in the middle of the night. I’ve already had two cups of coffee. Next stop: jus d’orange.

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Mother’s Day and a Jubilee too

Today was Mother’s Day. Scrambled eggs on fresh toasted brioche is an excellent way to celebrate these things. Roses are also pretty good.

But that was just the beginning of today’s treats and celebrations. It is a big weekend for many – Queen Elizabeth II’s 60th Jubilee means a holiday for many. Not us Frenchies, of course, but there are plenty of Britons around, and a few of them go to our church. There was a BBQ planned for today anyway, but the Jubilee inspired a theme. And so, off we went, in our red, white and blue garden party garb… (well, except for Luuk who wore a black ‘Dutch Brother’s Coffee’ tshirt from our trip to the USA last year.)

Louis was dressed appropriately and soon added a floral lay to his outfit – someone put it on Luuk and Luuk passed it on. Naturally.

Everyone got quite into it – costumes, flags, hats galore! There was even a brief sing song, and none of this predictable ‘God Save the Queen’, or heaven forbid, ‘Jerusalem’. No, we had some jingle about a golden carriage and the Queen’s heart of gold… And this was after only half a glass of wine.

I made cucumber sandwiches, in keeping with the theme, but much more impressively, Luuk made the delicious cheesecake in the foreground. The desserts were all round incredible, but I was quite full from all the cheese, which came after all the other food (amazing ribs!). Fortunately, Louis was happy to help finish off my cupcake.

Though it was me, not Louis, who ate the picture. Didn’t want him getting confused or warped… any more than is absolutely necessary.

It was a gorgeous afternoon. The weather wasn’t overly impressive – but it didn’t rain! And it wasn’t too cold to sit around outside, nibbling away at the splendid fare, and watching the kids play. Louis was grubby within about five minutes of arrival and got progressively worse.

But he didn’t go in the pond! It was a close one. One of the other kids did, unfortunately. They were playing this game – throwing balls and toy fish into the pond (which stunk – more and more noticeably as it was disturbed – but they were having fun) and the adults/older kids were fishing the items out with a net. Louis splashed happily at the side and got well-damp, covered in bits of mud and plant, but somehow managed to avoid immersion. Miracle.

Came home and did laundry… no surprises there. I am pretty proud, actually, of the way I have trained Louis to help with laundry. He lifts items from the basket and then shakes them out before handing them to the adult hanging them on the line. What an angel.

Had a lovely restful evening and if I wrap this up now we’ll manage an early night to kick off the week.

Very excited about my parents coming on Wednesday, and another visitor to see tomorrow – a friend from my student exchange to Wyoming in 2005!