the opposite game

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the opposite game

Remember that game? It was popular with kids who also liked the phrase, “Stop hitting yourself.”

Well, calling the school holidays HOLIDAYS is kind of like that – the exact opposite, and sometimes painful.

But this time we had mum come to visit, ie. I did less housework but more sightseeing and it was mostly painful to our feet.

Luuk and I took advantage rather deftly and went away for the weekend the day after she arrived. Mum’s a trooper. In fact, within an hour of her arrival she was being schooled in French by Louis. The kids have a skill for giving adults books in languages they don’t speak. I just make up stories that match the pictures of the dutch ones.

Anyway, so Mum’s visited us in Paris a few times before, but this time we were both feeling a bit more determined to see some of the sights she’s missed in the past. Rather than hang around Antony with the kids. With the dregs of jet lag still doing their nasty thing, we started with something little: Saint Sulpice –

saint sulpice



The kids took a lot of photographs, which turns out is a great way to keep them entertained while we look at stained glass and frescoes. But we still didn’t stay long.

autumn on the seine

And then on Wednesday we upped our game and did the Louvre.

kids at the louvre

I’ve only been once before, and this time we covered a lot of ground. The Richelieu wing, which we didn’t even go in last time, was great. The kids respond really well to the sculptures… when they’re not running around and getting in trouble with the security guards.

Elena at the Louvre

After that we needed a lazy day, and Thursday is market day in Antony, so we did that too. The kids enjoyed having Gran around.

cricket in franceGran and Louis playing cricket.

morning tea with gran




Morning tea at the park.

On the weekend we drove out to Giverny, to visit Monet’s gardens.

elena at monet's gardensElena and the water lilies.

louis and gran and giverny Louis and Gran, talking about the flowers.

louis running around at monet's garden

Of course, the good thing about gardens is that the kids can run around. Not so much in the house, so we did a quick dash through that.

And then drove off to find a picnic spot. Luuk had done his research (of course) and found a chateau we could visit nearby – a proper ruined castle type thing rather than just a fancy house.

chateau gaillard

elena and the sheep, near Les Andeleys

No picnic spot is complete without some wandering sheep for the kids to watch.

elena at chateau gaillardElena climbing around the ruins of Chateau Gaillard.

We were all exhausted after that so stopped in Les Andeleys for a coffee before driving home.

Mum powered-on, the next day, and did Versailles, while the rest of us lazed about. I had writers’ group. The kids napped.

I got a babysitter for for the Monday, so that Mum and I could do some stuff in Paris without dragging the kids about. We started at Montmartre and went on a bit of a walking tour, of our own design, going past the cemetary, the moulin rouge and the moulin… ah, the other one… and then up to the art market. We walked down the steps from Sacre Coeur and then went to the fabric shops.

Holy cow, the fabric shops! Even I shopped up large, and I don’t even sew (but someone’s getting material for christmas).

We grabbed lunch and then found our way to the Marais and only got a little lost on our way to Victor Hugo’s house.

maison de victor hugo!That’s me, outside Victor Hugo’s house. The plaque is very faded but there it is!

We wandered around, looking for yummies for Luuk’s birthday and any cute shops we fancied. Stumbled across a couple of thrift stores that would make certain people I know salivate. Floors and floors of cramped motley messes of clothes and accessories… I tried to take photos but they all look awful. And we didn’t end up buying anything. I’ll have to go back another day, when I have more time and energy.

One last gem we found before we headed home – this old cloister.

art in a cloister, in the maraisWhich was hosting a random but cool art exhibition.

Mum packed in a few more Paris sights but me and the kids saved our energy for the Salon du Chocolat.

paris in chocolat

Elena, enjoying the Salon du Chocolat

It was chocolate tasting to the n’th. Holy cow. Mum quickly started saying no thanks. I held out a little longer. The kids didn’t say no at all, not once. My best efforts to get them to eat something-anything-else was a waffle.

Then Mum had to head back to NZ and that left only a day or two of holidays.

not-spider cookies

We made a meagre attempt at pirate costumes and spider cookies for halloween.

More chocolate? Well, yes, actually. We ate so much chocolate at the Salon du Chocolat that we didn’t feel like chocolate and seriously under-shopped! Who’d have thought?

So it wasn’t a HOLIDAY of the restful and rejuvenating kind, but it was great. Visitors give us a great injection of make-the-most-while-you’re-in-paris, that is just not maintainable most of the time.

That said, this weekend we’re going away to do something restful AND uniquely-french: staying at a country house in the Loire with some Brits!

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and then

So, I was going to write a blog post or two about our summer road trip, our 3,500 or so kilometers and 4 countries (and yes, the sound of music tour).

But then we got home and the rentrée has been BUSY, but also about a hundred times easier than the past two years. I was going to call that post ‘third time’s the charm’ because I finally feel like I’ve a clue what’s going on.

But then grandma died.

I knew this would probably happen while I was here, on the far side of the globe. Even when we first left NZ, two and a half years ago, I wondered, as you do when you’ve got grandparents in their late 80s and you move to the other side of the world.

Louis and his great grandparentsGrandma and Grandpa with Louis, just before we left NZ.

I’m 29 and a week ago I had 3 living grandparents. All in all, I’m incredibly lucky. I spent ten years of my life living just a few kms away from Mum’s parents, and school was a stone’s throw from their house. We spent a lot of time with them, until we moved to the south island, but even at that distance, we had skype, and often twice annual visits, and a foundation of knowing one another well enough that a bit of distance didn’t freeze us up. On seeing each other there was plenty to catch up on, plenty of connection.

grandma and baby LouisShe took a lot of good photos with Louis, turns out.

And now, I’m on the far side of the globe and everyone, even my sister who lives in Ohio, is coming together to mourn and celebrate and all that… but not me. We visited at Christmas. Things had deteriorated. I said goodbye and knew. I thought I knew and it turns out I did.

grandma and big Louislast wee cuddle, last January

Funny how fully expecting a thing to happen doesn’t actually make all that much difference to how you feel when it actually does.

Grandma was (past tense)
a great artist
mistaken for the queen
by six year olds
hostess of a hundred afternoon teas
taught me how to make beds with hospital corners, andailsa caradus
that cross-stitch should look the same on the back
that a thimble can be worth a lot of money
that jelly beans aren’t just for kids
that its worth crossing town for just the right frame
or cup of tea and sandwich.
Believed in quality.
Believed in a lot, in fact,
but not in hell
and not in drink
proud great grand daughter of temperance suffragist
stubborn and generous

Grandma is (present tense)
fondly remembered,
and a link between me
and so many wide-spread people,
a lot of whom believe she is (present tense)
still going strong on another plane.

party, grandmagood sport, Grandma

(proving to the great grandkids, that a party hat is nothing to be afraid of)

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the nether… regions

It’s been quite a week. That seems to happen a lot.

Luuk got back from Japan, and then three days later we went to the Netherlands for the weekend. How’s that for a succinct summary?

But wait, there’s more. There were other nether-lands. The nether-regions of my adolescence reared their heads (too many metaphors? too bad) – I went to a Backstreet Boys concert. Yes, ’tis true.

And ’twas awesome. I haven’t been to nearly enough concerts in my nearly 30 years.

backstreet boys, dancingThey did their wonderful dances, all in time and basically actions to match the lyrics. Corny? Yes, a tad. But awesomely so.

If you know and love ’em, you know what I mean. You’re smiling. You’re probably doing a quick youtube search to refresh your memory… If you don’t know what I mean then don’t look it up. It’s probably important to be introduced to this stuff when you’re going through puberty – to develop a taste at an early age. Like with marmite.

Anyway, Erin and I had a wonderful time dancing and singing along, occasionally screaming, and repeatedly saying, “I can’t believe I’m actually here!” They sang many of their old hits and a few of their new releases. Catchy tunes and sentimental lyrics, but I like one of their new ones a lot. They wrote it for their kids. They’re all grown up (the boys, not their kids).

The next couple of days, wow, I felt old. Luuk was recovering from jet lag and off work, so we took it easy. Thursday, Louis’ school had a special day – all the kids were to come dressed up for the ‘bal de la mer’ – an ocean-themed dance. They did a little parade, all in their costumes, for the parents.

dress ups at school


Louis (in civvies), parading with his teacher and classmates…

Unfortunately, Louis would not wear the awesome shark costume we borrowed from his friend. He wore it before and after school, but would not let us put it on him for the actual period in which all the kids were together and dressed-up.

shark in the car!

Shark in the car!

Luuk and I took advantage of both children being at school/nursery, and went to see The Grand Budapest Hotel at the movies. We were the only people in the theatre! Middle of the afternoon, at an english language showing, and we had the place to ourselves. And then we went for coffee. We called it our anniversary.

Next day, Louis skipped school, and we all bunked off to the Netherlands. We had bought Louis a new bike and it was much cheaper to have it shipped to a dutch address, so we were headed for Luuk’s aunt and uncle’s place near Nijmegen. But we had all day to get there so we drove via Reims.

cathedral at reimsThe Reims Cathedral

We had lunch and then wandered a bit around the town, but mostly looked at the Cathedral. The stained glass is incredible! So many different styles within one structure. And I found one by a favourite artist –

chagall window, reims cathedral

A window by Chagall.

We had to get a move-on, to be in the Netherlands in time for dinner.

The drive is over 5 hours, from home to Nijmegen. The shorter route is getting old now (we’ve done it a few times) so this other way was more interesting. Parts of it have dramatic scenery, but lots of northern france/belgium have a similar look about them… from the main highways, anyway.

driving north, in france


Driving north, from Paris to the Netherlands.

We stayed with Luuk’s uncle and aunt for the weekend, which was mostly very restful. Louis loved his new bike and Elena, not quite ready for his old one, enjoyed a little ride-on toy they had on-hand. They also had a swing (they have grandchildren of their own…) and lots of toys for the kids to spread around the house…the swing!

On Saturday we visited Nijmegen, a beautiful and OLD city.

de brocante, nijmegen

De Brocanterie, in Nijmegen – a great place to hide from the rain.

Luuk’s cousin came to visit and after a fortifying afternoon tea…

elena and oom pieter

… we went for a walk on the dijk. That’s right, they live on a dike. I’d never seen one till we visited them a few years back, so I’m going to show you around…

walking on the dijk

This is the road along the top. To the right is an area which floods. You can see the river in the distance. When the river is low, cattle graze this bit.

the house by the dijk

This is the left hand side, looking down toward the houses and farms which are lower than sea-level but, thanks to the dijks, don’t flood.

We walked down to the river, which is sort of part of the Rhine.

on the river waal

It was cold, but the rain held off and we threw a few stones in the water (this is one of the kids’ favourite pass-times). Unfortunately, some of these stones were horse poop. Probably. River-water-treated-stone-like-poop. Yum.

The kids were grizzly and miserable walking back… being carried, in fact. And they’re fat hobbits – yeesh! We worked up an appetite and boy, did we fill it. We did raclette for dinner!

Sunday morning, we headed off early, so as to avoid the eight pm crawl into Paris. But we had enough time to stop and see a bit of Antwerp. We went to a (Belgian – duh) waffle house for lunch and then walked around, stretched the legs, and stumbled upon the Rubenhuis – the house of Peter Paul Rubens. He was an artist, and he designed the building himself. The signs said it was noteworthy, so we went for a nosy.

rubens' house in antwerp

View from the garden, showing one wing of the Rubenshuis.
(The other wing is quite different.)

The kids were being rat-baggy, so there was no dilly-dallying, admiring paintings for lengthy periods. But, I’d recommend the place to anyone passing through Antwerp. Lots of art, but not enough to overload, and combined with interesting stories, cool architecture, and a garden… very well-balanced.

There is also a chocolate factory/shop just across the way, so if you need to recharge…



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think fast

There was this game I hated at intermediate school. Some mean kid would say, ‘think fast’ and on the ‘think’ they’d toss a basketball, hard, straight at your nose.

Good for your reflexes.

Or bad for your face.

I wouldn’t give this mild form of bullying much credit for my ability to adapt. But I do adapt pretty fast. Or I fake it well.

I had grand illusions that this week would be back-on-schedule and über productive. My health is almost in the clear, my kids are back in school/nursery and there’s french class and writer’s group for motivation… plus spring weather (ie. outside play, less stir-crazy kids, and happy me…

spring at rambouilletEnjoying the spring weather – at Rambouillet Forest yesterday.

I hadn’t decided which writing project I’d be working on for my two or four writing hours each day (while the kids nap/go to school), but I was determined this week would be productive.

And then Luuk got word that he’s off to Japan for a week. Yep, he leaves tomorrow. And maybe, as far as the day-time schedule goes it won’t make much difference to my week. He’s usually at work during my two or four hours of writing-time anyway.

It’s possible I will be more productive. I might spend another couple of hours in the evenings, pounding away at the keyboard, instead of watching television or playing a board game.

Or I might collapse on the couch and fall asleep with my ipad on my face, inadvertently turning pages of an e-book with each snorty breath.

The mornings will be rough. The kids are used to getting up with their dad anytime from 6am. I get another hour’s doze. I’m hopeful, of course, naive optimist that I am. I will try to wrangle it – sleeping in a kid’s bed perhaps. Or just plonking them in front of early-morning television. But no food till 7.30.

chilling in bedOne way to buy a little extra sleep.

There’s always the dream that this one week of pre-7am neglect will break them out of their pre-7am habit. About bloody time.

The evenings might be rough. At my antenatal class, they called it the witching hour. But it’s more like two hours. From 5 till 7pm, the kids might be in the tired sweet-spot: cool and calm and lazy. They might happily vegetate on the sofa while I make dinner.

witching hour, best case scenario

Happily vegetating, with the kids, on the sofa

want mumNot the tired sweet-spot.

But slightly more or less tired than that, and they want me, constantly, actively, and competitively. In which case, dinner burns or comes late (and possibly on a motorbike, in a box).

Luuk and I will be doing our wedding anniversary apart (a first – for our 7th) but he’ll be back in time to babysit… so that I can go to a Backstreet Boys concert (you read that right. Yep.)

Timing can’t be helped. He is the layer 3 support guy for a particular flavour of networking software, and when networks go down they need him ASAP. So he’s on a plane tomorrow.

Think fast!

reading, together, sort of


Y’never know, it might all be very civilized and easy.
It could happen.

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such love

In the spirit of St Valentines Day, here’s a poem –

Your Pulse

beneath my lips
dictating rhythm
to my unruly breath.

That open collar
pouting a space
between shirt and skin
where I might be – 
                             belong, long to be.

And onward with the photos from our time in New Zealand! Just looking through them makes me feel very lucky and loved. Don’t worry, they only feature family-friendly types of loving.

Just after Christmas, we were staying with Luuk’s family in the Waikato. We drove north from there, up to Auckland, along a very familiar route. My family took this road on the majority of our holidays, throughout my childhood.

huntly chimnies First up, a little nostalgic, homesick kind of loving: a much-loved view on the road between Hamilton and Auckland. The Huntly power station chimneys.

In Auckland, we visited my grandparents. Grandma has recently moved into the retirement home, though Grandpa remains in their independent home within the same complex. I grew up living near them in Auckland, and it’s been two years since I’ve seen them, so I was eager to catch up, and also to introduce them to Elena, their first great grand daughter!

Grandma and ElenaElena wasn’t eager to get her photo taken with her great grandparents. But eventually, very briefly, she sat just so…

grandma and LouisLouis was more willing to cuddle.

grandpa and louis

After lunch with Grandpa, we went to visit my old neighbours. Theirs is the sofa we usually crash on when in Auckland. The last time we visited was en route to Paris.

old toys, with old neighbours

 Train set and Disney castle, for the win.

In the midst of renovations, they weren’t up for overnight guests, but they rustled up some toys I remember loving as a kid, and Louis and Elena concurred. And the afternoon tea was pretty damn fine too. Berries and cake and many different cheeses. So good.

Me, the kids, the neighbours-of-old

There we are, all together, except Luuk (behind the camera) and Kat (who had to go early).

We had dinner at a De Grand, a delicious! Thai place on Great South Road, with Evans, a school friend of mine. We stayed at his place that night, and the kids had a wonderful time with his guinea pigs and rabbits, one of whom is named Louis; a definite highlight. And the next morning Evans took us out to brunch in Parnell, Auckland’s oldest suburb.

brunching in parnell

Louis and Evans perusing the menu.

We visited my grandparents a second time and then made a quick stop for picnic supplies at The Warehouse – something of a NZ institution.

Louis at the WarehouseLouis does The Warehouse.

And then, for a supremely Auckland experience – to Mission Bay!

louis and luuk at Mission Bay

The weather was as good as it gets, and the view of Rangitoto makes me delirious with sweet memories.

family at mission bay

Luuk and the kids, enjoying the sun & sand in their different ways.

shell mosaic at mission bay

Shell mosaic butterfly!

paddling at mission bay

Louis wouldn’t go near the water, but then again, it’s Auckland Harbour. Perhaps a wise move…

Last stop in Auckland was Ollies, an iconic ice cream parlour in Royal Oak. There we met a friend of mine and had a quick catch up over scoops of pineapple lump ice cream (well, that was my order.)

Hippie kids at Ollies, Royal Oak

Who are those hippie kids, hopped up on ice cream? Hm.

We returned to the Waikato to spend New Years with some friends who live just out of Hamilton. We were too busy playing board games, experimenting with frappuccino recipes, and watching old West Wing episodes to photograph much of anything.

best new years photo

Yep, that’s the best photo of new years.

But it gets better. On the 2nd of January we emerged and went to Raglan.

raglan new years day

See? Isn’t it lovely. Flax in the foreground, muddiest mess I’ve ever seen in the background, and a gorgeous estuary between. Nice swim. Got most of the mud off.

Then we went back to Luuk’s parents for a spa. Stayed one night then drove over the Kaimais to Tauranga. My folks were staying at Papamoa, so first stop was lunch with them.

irritating uncle Ian

The kids, winding up uncle Ian, after lunch.

I flaked out after that and had a great big nap. Mum and Luuk took the kids for a walk to the estuary.

ducks on estuary, papamoa

Elena and Gran and the ducks.

gran and kids, papamoa

Next up we went to my Aunt and Uncle’s place at Mount Maunganui and after a few wines on the balcony, removed to my other Aunt and Uncle’s restaurant, also at the Mount.

elena gon' ride

Elena, ready to go to dinner.

Elena at the rallies' restaurant

Mum making records of the grandkids, cause she’s about to say bye-bye.

We dined well and drank some more. My cousins are terrible influences and I love them dearly and I have only myself to blame. We left pretty late and the kids flaked out before we got to Luuk’s brother’s place, where we were staying the night.

kids asleep in car

Flake out, phrasal verb. to suddenly go to sleep or feel weak because you are extremely tired.
-Cambridge English Dictionary

The next day, after a leisurely morning with Luuk’s brother and his family, we went to lunch with another of my aunts and uncles and cousins. There are no photos, so we must have had a good time. It was a short catch-up (cousins had to go milk cows…) but sweet.

We returned to Luuk’s brothers place in the afternoon and hung out with them till some time the next day.

an angel at her bbq An angel at my BBQ… or rather, her BBQ. My lovely sister in law knows what she’s doing.

bbq good

See? She knew what she was doing. Nom nom…

bbq with the cousins

Nom. Hilarity at the kids table.

caged kids

Elena and her youngest cousin, happily caged.

make-overs with the cousinsLouis and Elena dolling themselves up (note the feathers in her hair).

Returning to the Waikato, we crossed the Kaimai range, which turned out in its traditional garb: fog and trucks…

rainy kaimais and moster trucksThat is, monster trucks, on the back of a truck.

Made it back to Luuk’s parents’ place safely. It sounds like a lot of travel but the longest road trip is around two and a half hours. The last ten days of our time away was pretty full-on, staying only a couple of nights in any one place, but it was wonderful to catch up with so many of our dear friends and family. We don’t know where we’ll be this time next year, or when we’ll see them all again.

And that concludes my tale of our time in New Zealand.

travelling with kids

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so much to do

Yikes, I’m getting rather far behind, telling the tale of our month long visit to New Zealand. I’ve been editing my heart out… which sounds violent, and it is. Cut cut cut those nasty adverbs and all those corny cliches. And whole pages of superfluous faff.

Anyway, I usually do a blog post or two each week, and still keep up with my writing, but just at the moment there is a fire under my bottom because in one month I’m off to London for an Author Fair, wherein I will have a chance to pitch a novel (or two…) to a real live literary agent.

So it might just be one blog post a week for the next little while. And lots of photos.

Starting as we mean to go on:


Rolling a ball, nice and gentle (ahem), with Oma.

We spent Christmas at Luuk’s parents’ place, in the Waikato. Luuk’s brother and his family were due to arrive Christmas day afternoon, which meant a long wait for presents.

computer kids

But fortunately there were plenty of toys. Mind you, who plays with toys when there are computers, stereos and handy dandy spare keyboards around.

all the pressies

Fortunately there were a few presents to do earlier in the day, with my parents and Nana, but not until after church.

waikato (weather)

The view from outside the church, of Mount Pirongia and waikato weather… in the summer…

Elena and great Nana

Elena reading with her Great Nana.

backyard cricketLouis got a cricket bat from my parents, which Uncle David obligingly demonstrated, as the kids haven’t ever seen cricket before…

santa's many helpers

And then the cousins arrived! And then the presents were fair game!

christmas dinner

Fern and I cooked up a feast of a dinner, and managed to wear near-matching dresses… almost like pros.

christmas dinner: roast veg

Golden Roast Vegetables, and chorizo for good measure.

christmas dinner: salad

A divine salad of courgette ribbons, baby spinach, cherry toms, goats’ cheese, and rawhe ham (we happily ate leftovers for days.)

three kinds of pie

Dessert. Three kinds of pie. That’s right. Chocolate, Banoffee and Lemon Meringue. Awesomeness is pie.

christmas dessert

The kids, eating the pie.

saying goodnight to the presents

Elena and her cousins, all ready for bed.

elena and her big cousinElena and Briar, cuddling by the tree.

The next day we hung around and ate slightly less. Walked a bit of it off, trecking down to the Kaniwhaniwha* (say that five times fast) stream and back.

walking off christmas dinner

Walking to the stream, on the road, which fortunately doesn’t get a lot of traffic.

Kaniwhaniwha streem

*Kaniwhaniwha, pronounced, ka-nee-fa-nee-fa.

elena and Mt PirongiaElena walked the last little bit, up the driveway to Opa’s house.

settling catan with Dave

We spent some time settling Catan with Luuk’s brother, who won a LOT.

Santa's hangout in a NZ mall

We spent a little Christmas money at The Base (it’s a mall) and admired this Kiwi version of the universal Santa’s grotto mall installation. (They’re Pukekos.)

the sandpit at the other cousins'

We went to my Aunt and Uncle’s house to catch up with my cousin and her kids, one of whom is in this photo – just. But there was a sand pit! It was like christmas.

rhinos at the hamilton zoo

We went to the Hamilton Zoo and the Rhinos were fantastic.

tuatara at the hamilton zoo

And the Tuatara was… alive. But we saw him!

chilling with opa

Back at Opa and Oma’s we chilled out.

cucumber on Louis' eyes

Who showed him that cucumber can go on your eyes? Fess up.

Elena was nightmarish with food (perhaps with reason, having been carted around the country and cutting several teeth…) but Louis tried a few new things. We have no idea where he learned this trick though.

Louis and me

Lovely chilled out days at in the rolling waikato hills.

Elena and me

I’m a human climbing frame. Also known as a parent. Any prone adult of whom my children aren’t afraid will do the trick.

Getting the belly raspberry revengeThe kids get their revenge: blowing raspberries on my stomach.

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home comings

Excuse me if I go backwards for a few posts. I’ve been slacking off (ie. tripping around the land of the long white cloud, visiting rallies and all sorts, being actually sociable – and virtually anti-social) for a whole month and so there’s some catching up to be done.

I am starting at the end, which I’m hoping will wend its way into a seamless summary of our New Zealand trip. Except now that I’ve told you about the hidden seam you’re bound to spot it.

paris, land of the criss-crossed skiesParis, land of the criss-crossed skies.

We’re home. Home in France. We arrived back a few days ago and are yet to have a proper night’s sleep, uninterrupted by hunger and ratty kids. We tried not-napping yesterday but were exhaustified rather early in the evening, despite having an impressive line-up of TV shows ready and waiting for us.

So the big question, having just returned from our first visit ‘home’ to NZ, is: did coming back to France feel like coming home?

And the answer: yes. We’ve been here for nearly 2 years and are well set-up, even if it might not be for a lot longer. We have friends, a happily cluttered apartment, a bakery we call ‘ours’. We know our way around, the kids have teachers and friends and schedules, we have work and commitments… all hallmarks of home.

It’s cold and often grey and often wet, but also beautiful. Louis and I walked up to get bread this morning. It was still dark, not raining but wet, and all the lights were shining on the pavement. Lovely.

And then there was fresh baguette. It always seems to come back to the bread. I did miss the bread. Om nom nomeny nom.

Anyway, mustn’t get carried away. Yes, it feels like coming home, coming back to Paris, to the suburb of Antony, to the cobbles and the fromages. But it also felt like going home when we flew into Christchurch.

familiar but different, christchurch

Driving around the city and suburbs, though they’ve changed with all the demolitions and rebuilds post-quakes, was eerily familiar.

There’s a map in my subconscious. I got in the car (first drive in 2 years went off without a hitch) and just wound my way around to where I was going. I got a little confused – came out on Riccarton road one road earlier or later than intended, that sort of thing – but still got to dinner on time.

Mum would give me a street name and I’d know just where she meant, but then couldn’t find it on my mental-map. Things have sunk a little deep into the subconscious, but I found my way around.

We spent 12 days in Christchurch (more about that in a later post) and then had Christmas with Luuk’s family in the North Island (another post on that too). Flying into Hamilton didn’t stir any home-coming-vibes in me but a couple of days later we drove into Te Awamutu and wham! I’ve never in lived there, but Nana has, for as long as I’ve been alive, and we would visit multiple times a year throughout my childhood.

Nana's house, Te Awamutu

Visiting Nana’s house itself is pretty powerful nostalgic stuff. Yeesh.

(I’m always tempted to switch on the ceiling fan in the spare room, turn it up to full-bore and then lie on the floor underneath, and freak myself out, but it wouldn’t be the same without my sister to giggle along with. That fan wiggles around like mad.)

Driving into Auckland, now that always feels like going home. I lived there till I was fifteen and whenever we visit we always pop in on one particular family, who were my neighbours for most of a decade. Their house is up there with Nana’s in how long I’ve known and loved it.

Oh, the games, the sleepovers… we were orphans with magical powers, more often than not. They’re renovating it for sale, sadly, but we enjoyed one long last gargantuan afternoon tea in the downstairs lounge while my children discovered the Disney castle toy (manual elevator included) and freaked out about the cat (Josephine rules the roost now that Napoleon has gone to the happy farm in the sky).

mission bay fountain, auckland

Mission Bay in Auckland, a beloved old haunt.
(Yes, we dipped our toes in the dodgy harbour water, burned our feet on the sand and then ran to the fountain, but of course.)

So those were my many homecomings of the past month. We had a wonderful, if busy time. We got a bit tan, and a bit more confused about what we want to do with the rest of our lives – or the rest of the year, for that matter. We really don’t know where we’ll be a year from now, but stay tuned!

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Underground sights from above

Canal Saint Martin was a gorgeous walk, peppered with interesting sights. We haven’t been in Paris so long that we can’t take visitors to places which are also new to us. This area has the added bonus of being away from the hustle and bustle of the more touristique sights in Paris.

Fountain at Republique

The fountain at République.

The canal goes underground from Bastille to République and we learned that lesson the hard way: last time we started at Bastille and went the wrong way. But this time we took the metro all the way to where the canal comes up above the pavement again, saving our legs for walking along the actual canal.

First stop, however, was a flea market. These dwell on the footpaths and clog the walk-ways with everything from expensive antiques to utter trash… But I picked up a chunky glass vase for one euro! Luuk’s cousins were scouting for a record player but the old ones were no good and the good ones weren’t very old…

Alors, on va au canal:

Lock on Canal St Martin, Paris

Just as we arrived, two boats were being lowered in a lock. We saw several more boats and locks, some times together, as we made our way.

Dutch boy, Dutch boat, French Canal

Louis walked some of it, but his wee bike wasn’t much use on the rough cobbles, so Luuk carried him a lot. I wrestled the push chair, not too bad on the cobbles but the paths can be far from accessible… Lots of breaks, curbs, obstacles. And then there are the metro stations, many of which have neither lift or escalator. So we get to do weights with our cardio… needless to say, we were worn out and in great need of an ice cream once we reached Paris Plage, nearly at the end of the canal.

Today, the kids have a lovely babysitter and I’m off to Paris on my own – well, to meet a friend. We will have lunch, explore a cemetery, and talk French. This particular cemetery is gargantuan and numerous famous people lie there.

Pere-Lachaise cemetary, Paris

I was pleasantly surprised in that it is beautifully shady, ideal for a hot day like today. We meandered among the old oaks and jumble of graves, some near new and others falling to pieces

grave with crank - Pere-Lachaise cemetary, Paris

Strange and haunting epitaphs line the paths. Beneath a wrought iron frame, this grave has its own crank. For raising the dead, or lowering them? Hm.

Pere-Lachaise cemetary, Paris

And then there are the celebs… Edith Piaf, Proust, Oscar Wilde, Chopin, Jim Morrison and many more.

here lies Oscar Wilde

Here lies Oscar Wilde, ou peut être, ici réside Oscar Wilde.

How’s that for a theme. The canal, and the graves, are predominantly underground, but I saw the bits above. And that’s enough for me.

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playing tourist in my own town

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

Twisted tourists, if you like.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picnic lunch on bikes Picnic lunch.

footy with grandpaLouis teaching grandpa his tricks.

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

So off we went.

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

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

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

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

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

tricolore in jet trails, 14 July 2013

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

fly over, 14 Juillet, 2013

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

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

apaches at invalides, notre dame in background

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

Seriously awesome.

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

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

Happily, I wilt.

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dinner on the deck and other nice things

Summer has settled in here, AT LAST! We’ve eaten dinner on the deck every night this week. The laundry has dried in time to put it away before tea – every day this week! Small victories.

Other victories…

– Elena has started walking.

– I like my novel again. I’ve been listening to my own recorded reading of it, as part of the editing process, and was feeling a bit miserable about the whole thing. And now I like it again. Whew. I might even have cover art for it: It Could be a Book.

– A friend and I have been talking about starting a small committed writers’ group, as opposed to a drop-in kind of deal. And we’ve finally got it organised. People are excited! (Not just me.) Our first meeting will probably the next week or two, before several of us disappear on summer holidays. But the ball will be rolling for September.

– My basil plant is still alive.

– I’m so onto it with the laundry this week that there isn’t even enough grubby stuff to put a load on. Je suis awesome.

– The lime juice stuff I put in my fizzy water has 0% of a RDI of sugar. Or anything else. Score.

– I submitted a poem and a short story for competitions (which close tomorrow) from the writing magazine Luuk bought me for my birthday. Money well spent.

Perhaps. Fingers crossed.

And did I mention it’s summer. It’s amazing what overdosing on vit-D does for the mood. I feel less and less like I’m going to lose it. Which is nice.