busy somethings and busy nothings

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busy somethings and busy nothings

We had a mad couple of weeks, and then things calmed down and the quiet is a different kind of mad.

First, the mad weeks – the busy doing something bit. A kiwi friend came to town and so I played tour guide, which I love. We walked our feet off. The first day we went to Versailles and (finally) saw the Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s wee (not actually tiny) village.

too early for the trianon

The Trianon doesn’t open till midday – consider yourselves warned – so we wandered around the lake and took in another angle on the palace and gardens before we went into the Trianon.

the grand trianonThe grand trianon was like a summer house, a cottage if you will. But giant.

the petit trianonAnd then there’s the petit trianon, which is small, I suppose, but set among vast gardens.

marie antoinette's farm

And beyond that is the village that Marie Antoinette had made, so that she could experience authentic french village life… yep.

exploring marie antoinette's village at versailles

Me and Elena at the little village.

The kids were exhausted long before we were done. That place is huge. It’s beside Versailles, so the very concept of huge is seriously warped.

music and fountains

Luuk took the kids home, after a fortifying ice cream, and my friend and I continued on to the palace. The fountains in the gardens were all going, and some even had music playing, so it was quite spectacular. Transporting, really. It is hard to imagine the opulence of life in this place when it was a palace.

On Monday, we went to Paris but our tired feet kept us from going far – just a lap around Notre Dame and a little of the little Ile St Louis. We stopped in at Shakespeare and Company and then had some lunch.

worn out in Paris

Elena slept through lunch.

And then we headed back to Antony in time to drop the little lady off at halte garderie.

Tuesday we were amped and organised and showed up at the Louvre just after it opened… except it didn’t open because it never does on Tuesdays. Quick change of plan, which was nervous-making given I’d forgotten my phone. Its handy-dandy maps of Paris and GPS functions are good at times like these. We winged it and found our way to Sacre Coeur, then the Amelie Cafe and the Moulin Rouge.

creme brulee at Les Deux Moulins

Creme Brulee at Les Deux Moulins

After all that traipsing about, I left my friend to find the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower by herself and took Elena to halte garderie. I took the afternoon off.

In the evening, we went to see La Belle et la Bete – Beauty and the Beast. It was brilliant. It was in French. But there’s not a lot of subtlety in musical theatre and we picked up most of the jokes.

la belle et la bete

The staging, the costumes, the music, was all brilliantly done – lavish and hilarious and even a little bit moving – when chip, the little boy who’s been trapped in a tea-cup, gets to be human again – aw. And the feast – ah! – the plates and napkins and cutlery all prancing about. The plates lit up. There were streamers shot into the audience. If you’re in Paris, and you can stretch for it – so worth seeing.

Wednesday, my friend went to the Louvre, and Louis and I hung out at the ludotheque while Elena was at halte garderie, so that was nice and chilled-out for the morning. On Thursday we stayed in Antony and went to the market. We met up with a friend of mine in the morning and another came over in the afternoon. The first was about to head off on holiday, the second was about to head off for good. It’s an expat thing, and it sucks, but it’s also very predictable. You make these friends knowing you’re only going to live in the same place for a few months or years. This particular friend is a writer and a great babysitter, so she will definitely be missed!

The next day our visitor left and the kids and I had a lazy day. Lazy was also the plan for Saturday, but it was gorgeous weather and while I’d got plenty of exercise, walking around Paris during the week, Luuk has a desk job – so it was bike ride time! We went up the hill to the coulee vert and discovered a new play ground. We came back to rest our tired muscles and then heard from Kiwi friends who used to live in Paris, but have been in Lille for a year now. They were in town, just for the night, and so we biked up the hill again to catch up with them.

Well after the kids’ bedtime, we biked back, and got home only to discover that Luuk had forgotten his back pack. So he did the hill three times on Saturday. Sunday, we felt quite a lot of sympathy for the tour de france cyclists. It was the final day of the tour and they came into Paris via a road that is only a short walk from our house.

ready for the tour de france

Waiting for the bikes.

So that was all the busy somethings. This week has been busy nothing. Halte Garderie is closed for the summer, and Elena and I are getting rather tired of each other. Louis still had the holiday program to go to, but I’ve not been well, just niggly things that mostly wear me out rather than make me feel sick. Getting out of the house and doing anything interesting with the kids has just seemed like a huge effort. Hopefully I’ll get better, get my energy back, because next week Louis isn’t going to the holiday program and I will have them both to myself, all day, every day.

To think, once upon a time I thought being a full-time mum and home-maker was right up my alley. Turns out, I have a very small capacity for playing with very small children. I run out of ideas, and patience, horribly fast. A few hours, a morning, is fine, but then I’m ready for some time to myself.

Two of them, together, can be great if they want to do the same thing, together, and happily. The playdoh colours are all mixed together, but hey, they’re happy. I can join in, then wander away and do some housework or a blog post, then peal the colours apart and put the playdoh away and organise lunch. It can be relaxed, but it tends to go that way for just a fraction of the day. And there tends to be rather too much television on.

‘George of the Jungle’ is the current favourite. I do an excellent jungle-man yell.

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chocolate therapy

It’s true. Chocolate does not cure chicken pox. We are yet to ascertain whether or not it makes Elena immune. She is spot-free as yet, but not going to Halte Garderie because apparently she’ll be contagious before she’s spotty. Louis’ pox appeared after we’d already been staying with friends for a couple of nights, in Lille. Oops. Too late, they’d all been exposed. But only the baby hadn’t had it before. Good luck, JJ. Hope you sleep right through it, kid.

So, there was one day of our holiday in which we were all good and healthy, basically. And we went to Bruges, which is less than an hour from Lille, across a border you wouldn’t know was there (except your cell phone company texts to say they’re ‘with you’ and these are the roaming charges…).

belfry, bruges

The belfry tower in Bruges.

looking down a well, bruges

Louis and Luuk in a very old well. Let’s say they’re looking for chocolate.

virgin and child, bruges  I recently saw Monuments Men (good one. See it.) and in the film, one of the artworks threatened by the Nazis is Michelangelo’s Virgin and Child – in the middle of this photo. A bit of action takes place in this church, where the statue stood before the war and (spoiler alert) returned later. I was keen to see the place, and the statue, so I bullied everyone else into it.

our lady of bruges  Cool old church, undergoing refurbishments. On the plus side, entry was much cheaper than usual. In france churches are free to enter, but not so everywhere else. We’ve paid in england, italy and now belgium. But fair enough, must cost the earth to preserve stuff for so long.

refurbishments, our lady of bruges

I do like looking at old stuff. Call me a patina junkie.

more modern sculpture in our lady of bruges

Quite like the more modern art as well. Louis, inside this other Madonna and child statue.

So that was Friday. Saturday I woke up all head-coldy and Louis, covered in pox. So we took it pretty easy.

connect four, or five, or three

The kids, messing with a board game. Not playing it.

what I did Saturday morning...

I did manicures with a six year old… pas mal. And read.

After lunch, the dads took the kids to the park and us Mum’s relaxed, got the roast on, and hid the easter eggs. Sunday was meant to rain so we did the hunt early.

The kids had a restrained but appetite-destroying amount of chocolate. We grown-ups probably ate about the same amount, in all fairness, but that didn’t damper our enthusiasm for the leg of lamb. Not one bit. I do a mean roast potato. Marcelle’s gravy was gravy baby.

Sunday we went to an English church in Lille. Elena and I helped with some easter egg smashing, all very symbolic of Jesus of Nazareth, defeating death… and yummy. And possibly exposing quite a lot of people to chicken pox, though probably not, because she hasn’t visibly got them yet.

We were going to visit the market in Lille but parking proved a problem and so we had lunch at a family friendly (but painfully slow) restaurant, and then returned to chez Leo’o for a little lazy indigestion.

rocking and rolling

Some slept. Others did not.

And then, because lunch was so late, we had to work up an appetite…

backyard soccer, pros and toddlers all together

Just a little light backyard soccer. Nothing to see here.

backyard soccer

Hard work, facing a professional sportsman, but all those years playing goalie paid off. It wasn’t a total walkover until I joined in.

elena swinging happy

Elena found a safe spot, where she wouldn’t get trampled. Smart kid.

After the kids were in bed, we cracked out the easter treats for the grown ups. Hot chocolate spoons from Bruges, and some good old Whittaker’s peanut slab from NZ.

hot choc spoons from bruges, belgium

Monday we headed home… via (well, not strictly via) Dunkirque and Calais and the Baie de la Somme. First stop, Dunkirque. It was a bit early for lunch, so we wandered, and then settled on La Pataterie, a baked potato chain restaurant we’ve never tried before.

There was a play area, a high chair and a changing mat in the loos. Who cares what the food is like? But it wasn’t bad at all. Then there was the circus, right there, how convenient. We went to visit the caged animals… hopefully not supporting any horrific abuses in the process. I dread the thought. But the kids do love them horses.

And the tigers and elephants and baby goat, leaping over it’s mother gleefully. It’s hard to compete with tigers and elephants but the kid made a noble effort.

Louis approved.

The kids were asleep before we even got to the coast. But Luuk and I enjoyed the meander around the port and the breakwater.

lighthouses, dunkirk

Lighthouses aplenty!

driving around the harbour at dunkirk

Lots of cool lifty-uppy and swingy-roundy bridges.

lighthouses at dunkirk

And more light houses.

There was a road across the top of the breakwater, which we missed access to.

on the breakwater, dunkirk

So we stopped to have a look-see.

And then drove on to Calais. We woke the kids, because we’d promised them some beach. So we had afternoon tea on the sand, at Calais. And to build castles.

luuk and kids at calais

Apple compotes and old snickers bars from the car-stash. Gourmet, much.

pier at calais

We walked up the pier, Louis on his bike, scooting around all the many fishing poles.

watching the fishermen on the pier at calais

Watching the fishermen cast, in the shade of the lighthouse.

The kids didn’t want to sleep again, so the trip from there on was a little less peaceful. We stopped to take in the view, at one point.

elena looks out on baie de somme

Lovely misty sun. Lovely restless toddlers.

windmills in baie de somme


kids at baie de somme

Happy kids. And then we put them in the car.

And they were less happy kids… and then (thank heaven) sleeping kids. Bit of a late one. Direct drive from Lille to home is about three hours. The dunkirk-calais detour should have added an hour and a half, plus a meal time.

Two meal times in the end, and three hours of sight seeing. Long trip, in the end. But we probably won’t make it back up to that bit of France. For eight days in May we’ll drive around Brittany and a bit of Normandy, but not this far north. So it was good to see it while we were there. And it was great to catch up with the Leo’os, our good kiwi friends who are moving back to Christchurch within a month of us! How cool is that?

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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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this side of the season

Tomorrow we are off! We have nearly a month in NZ and will be sure to enjoy all the perks of a summery christmas break, but for the past couple of weeks we’ve been doing the silly season Paris-style… or Euro-style. Or just northern hemispherish

fourth night of hanukkahThe 4th night of Hanukkah, once again with the Russakoffs.

I’d never done Hanukkah in NZ, but it’s not particularly French either. It’s just that expats flock together a bit, and so here on the other side of the globe we have close friends who celebrate Hanukkah, and aside from anything else, who says ‘no’ to latkes?

last french class of the year

Last day of French class (and Ina’s farewell.)

The whole grande finalé bit actually reminded me of NZ, given that it’s the start of summer holidays and everything is wrapping up, farewells aren’t unusual. But this is a rather international crowd, and a french class too. We sent Ina off with a basket of all things français, and a mustache for good measure.

elena spins her dredle

More hanukkah. Several days later, between savory and sweet courses of crêpes, care of our friend the chef, look what Elena found on the table.

leaves beat the playground

Playing in the leaves at the park after school. So very cold. Bring on summer!

clocks and kids at galeries lafayette

The marvelous window displays at Galeries Lafayette.

kids at galeries lafayette

They have mechanised marrionettes and music…

galeries lafayette windows

… and little bridges for the kids to stand on.

iphone pressies

Christmas markets in Paris… and a few shops too. If I had an iphone I think mine would be chocolate coated.

santa aint charming

Louis is unimpressed by Père Noël.

bells and sleighs

Elena is more impressed in the bell than the man.

last day of school

Last day of school for 2013! (And the school Christmas tree – just plain humongous.)

We’re half packed and the house is half-tidy (but actually pretty clean – incredibly) so we won’t have too late a night tonight. Tomorrow, to Singapore!

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a few of my favourites

We will soon be visiting New Zealand, going home for the first time since we moved to France over 18 months ago. We’ve also been talking/thinking about what we want do to when/if our time in Paris is up (in theory, next June).

I could be organised and make lists of pros and cons… but a lot of the things I’d list probably aren’t really game-changers.

Still, here are a few of my highs and lows of life in Paris, or in my case, the Banlieue (suburbs outside the 20 arrondisements)…

Coffee here is a definite LOW. Australia and NZ are spoiled for fantastic coffee. Italy beats Paris, in my experience, but neither float my boat, after years of caffeinated artistry, care of the baristas down under. When in France… drink wine. Or pressé. Pressé is fresh squeezed juice, usually orange or lemon. This comes served straight up, with water and sugar on the side. Mix as you like. A lovely, long, refreshing and healthy drink.

luuk and kids at parkLuuk and the kids at a popular park in La Rochelle.

Parks for the people. In Paris, it depends on which bit you’re in, but out here the parks are fantastic. The play grounds tend to be fenced in. Adults sit around the edge, barely involved, while the kids play. But whether you’re at the playground or not, the parks are so well-used. They’re full of people. School gets out at half past four and the parks are buzzing till six. Later in summer, and a little earlier when it’s dark by five in the winter months… but the atmosphere is great. All the kids play together, adults sit around and talk, read, relax. Students picnic and study and smooch. People walk dogs, work out, watch the world go by. Lunch time is similar, and most of the day on wednesdays (no school) and weekends. People live so much more of their lives in public, in their community, surrounded by strangers, acquaintances, friends.

Public transport was the bad back-up plan back home, or it was for me. I hope to approach it differently when we return. Here, I walk or take public transport nearly everywhere. Once a week (at most) we drive somewhere. I walk five kms in a normal day, just taking the kids to their things, picking them up, buying bread or running errands. Visiting friends often takes me further, but a trip to the park is barely a detour. Louis rides his kick-bike and can easily go faster than me. It can get a little chaotic in the market, on busy footpaths or in tiny shops, but that’s always going to be the case with two toddlers in tow. Unless they’re asleep.

Fresh bread is so readily available, at a good price. If you can’t eat wheat then France is difficult, but if you can, it’s heaven.

Several hundred types of cheese. Need I say more? (My previous post is a roquefort-rant if you want more on this…)

The markets, with their numerous fresh fruit and vegetable stalls, fromageries, traiteurs, poissoneries… I could go on and on. Just this once, I won’t.

friends and foodFriends and Food, the perks of everywhere!
(Me and my art historian and cellist friend, at a 4th July BBQ…
cooked up by her French chef husband… c’est la belle vie.)

It’s hard to get to know locals and perhaps more-so in France than in many places in the world. I’ve met a few at the playground and formed one actual friendship with someone I met while our toddlers fought over sand-pit toys. But most of my friends are expats. I’ve gotten to know a few locals through expat friends – spouses, friends, partners, etc. But expats attract expats and – man alive! – what a fascinating bunch. I have friends from so many different walks of life. The majority are English or American, with a few Aussies, Germans, South Africans and Fijians thrown in, but the diversity exceeds the list of nationalities. Dancers, musicians, travelers, art historians, an orchestra conductor, translators, theatre types, writers, rugby players, mums with such a wide variety of pre-mum work, and then there’s the variety of ways we’re all doing motherhood. Old, young, gay, straight, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, bit-of-everything, bit-of-barely-anything. All this difference is fascinating and enriching, challenging and liberating.

Picnic at Ostia AnticaPicnic at Ostia Antica, ruined city near Rome.

Access to Europe is a definite HIGH of being in France. The limit on our time here gives us plenty of motivation to visit places, to take advantage of every opportunity, but there is a LOW side to that: rest-guilt. It can be hard to just chill. And sometimes we need to chill. The other LOW is the cost of travel and it’s easy to feel guilty about that too. And then there’s a bit of guilt for dragging the kids around when they’d really rather be pushing each other off a slide. Still, they have a longer attention span for art galleries than many adults I know. It’s a helluva lot cheaper to visit Switzerland from here than from NZ. And we can watch tv/play board games/read The Luminaries any time we like, for the rest of our lives, in NZ. And so… a long weekend in Switzerland, in February? Without the kids?

C’est une bonne idée.

Language is both a HIGH and LOW. The kids are learning, Luuk’s nearly fluent and I’m making progress. It’s a wonderful thing, learning another language. But, ouff, it’s hard. And some days I really cannot be arsed dealing with it. That’s the ugly and honest truth.

Do I want to stay longer in France? Yeah, I think so. But not too long. There’s another Hobbit movie coming out and I’m about to be bombarded with poster-pictures of good ol’ kiwiland. I’m ready for a summery Christmas surrounded by English-speakers who I’ve known for years and years.

And roast lamb, gingernuts, jelly, venison sausages, flat whites, cheese scones, Chinese food (NZ styles), pineapple lumps, rice crackers, meat pies, pavlova, fish’n chips, mountains in the distance, eavesdropping, getting the jokes, fearless phone calls, endless oceans, empty beaches, bare feet, giant jaffas, pesto with cashew nuts crushed through it… I’m getting carried away.

east coast, nz, dawn

Le fin.

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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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all in my head

Wednesday’s are usually my most productive day, writing-wise. There are two chunks of time where I can work: while Louis is at halte garderie and Elena naps, then after lunch they both nap, ideally at the same time.

I spent my morning slot searching for (not finding) a rain coat, and fiddling around with my book cover for the day. I still wasn’t overly happy with the result, but there are plenty more chances for me to get it right. Then during lunch I got a call from a friend in crisis, and she came over for the afternoon.

And that’s that: the easy makings of a no-writing day. I mean, I snatched a sentence while neglecting the kids this evening, and then started making dinner. Then there was a thunderstorm which kept them entertained while I snatched another paragraph. It’s not high-literature, but I’m not sure I really believe in high-literature, so that’s okay.

Those few sentences, the skill of snatching, that’s what I’m getting really good at. The secret, I think, is getting my head into my writing before I’m able to sit down at the computer. Folding laundry, changing nappies, and pushing a train back and forth across the living room don’t exactly require my total mental capacity – thank god! So I push the train and think to myself, where am I up to? And if I can’t remember I infuriate the kids and go check my document – and now it’s open and ready to be written in whenever I manage to sit down.

I go back to the car-game and try to get in the head of the character, riff a little on what they are thinking about, how they’re feeling… (I do this riff silently, most of the time, just in case Louis tells stories, which he’s now capable of doing.) On the good days this multi-tasking can even make me less impatient with the sometimes (cough-often-cough) monotonous games of early early childhood.

I can draw a lot of buses while figuring out what Scott’s sister is going to say to goad him into admitting he’s split up with his girlfriend…

I suspect I might be doing a lot of this story-fantasizing today because there’s no halte garderie and I’m going to be looking after an extra kid – though perhaps he’ll be the magic ingredient that makes the kids happy to play without my constant assistance.

I’m tired and grumpy. I couldn’t sleep when I was supposed to and then got woken at six by the terrible-two who’s having a particularly whiny day. I’ve handed over the ipad and bought myself a few minutes peace before his buddy arrives.

Mind you, it could be worse, much worse. The visiting kid’s mum is in Labour. I’d rather be wrestling a scrappy toddler than pushing out a baby. That’s going to be my mantra today: at least I’m not in labour. And hopefully the angry person in my head will dissipate very soon.

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a london tan

Monday in London was a bank holiday so we took the opportunity to spend the day with Michelle and Adam (who would’ve otherwise been working). On their recommendation we spent the day at Greenwich. Louis and Elena on the Thames Ferry

Louis and Elena on the Thames Ferry.

View from the Thames Ferry

Nice view from the boat.

The Old Royal Naval College

The Old Naval College, which I’m told was also the birthplace of King Henry VIII, and where they filmed some of the new Les Miserables film (which I still haven’t seen…)

Painted Hall, Greenwich

Inside the painted hall, with Adam, Michelle, Luuk and the kids.

The painter of the Painted Hall, Greenwich

The guy on the right is the painter. He wasn’t paid for his labours and so added himself to the picture, with his open and empty hands a reminder.

We went to the maritime museum, which was well set up for keeping kids interested.

in a boat at the Maritime Museum

Louis played in the boat while we took lots of indulgent photos…

strange collection of figureheads

And here’s one of them: a strange collection of figureheads.

champion waterman

A champion waterman! Oh, the places you’ll go!


The HMS Implacable. Brilliant.


Louis crossing the Atlantic on his submarine.

After the museum we went for lunch and on to see Cutty Sark, an old ship that used to deliver tea, amongst other things, all the way around the world.

inside cutty sark

Michelle, learning about the Tea Trade.

inside cutty sark

Luuk and Louis look out a port hole.

what's that smell?

Look closely (what’s that smell?)

louis drives the ship

Louis trying his hand at steering a ship.

luuk and louis on cutty sark

Luuk and Louis, up top.

cutty sark rigging

The rigging – and the brilliant blue London sky!

cutty sark

A proper view of Cutty Sark.

We walked up to the observatory, through a gorgeous park, and crossed the Greenwich meridian line (though not inside the observatory because they make you pay for that bit… and we spent our pennies on ice cream instead.)


The view from up by the observatory.

IMG_2373Relaxing after our long walk.

Eventually we decided on where to go for dinner and then sat by the pier and nibbled on a couple of classic english sweets (kendal’s mint cake and cream toffees) till the boat arrived.

elena, waiting for the boatElena, waiting for the boat.

On Tuesday everyone had to go back to work, and we had sights to see! First things first, the changing of the guard at Buckingham palace (Christopher Robin went down with Alice – gah! I can’t help it. Just slips out.) It doesn’t start till 11.30, so we went via Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey

Unfortunately the price put us off. 18£ each… ouch. Free if you go to a service, and I know these buildings have horrendous upkeep costs, but ouch. We wandered around the outside instead.

Saints at Westminster

We particularly liked the statues of the saints over this door. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were among this group of modern martyrs, for want of a better title.

On we walked, in the direction of Buckingham Palace, and while we waited for Louis to catch up I checked online for the best places to stand for viewing the changing of the guard… and basically we’d missed any chance of getting a good view, arriving so close to the starting time.

Nonetheless, we took a few minutes to play pooh-sticks on the bridge over the stream in St James Park, on our way through. Not that there’s any reason for me to assume Pooh and Christopher Robin played this game on this bridge, but it seemed an A.A. Milne themed day, and so we did…

playing pooh-sticks at St James ParkAnd Louis won. Yay for our very own tigger. Piglet was asleep in the pushchair at this point. Which makes me Pooh, and Luuk must be Eyeore… or the wise owl perhaps.

On to the palace!

Look! A palace!

There it is, the round-a-bout in all the pictures. Oh, and a palace. Flag up, Queen’s home, and some cobbers on horses for good measure.

Louis and Luuk getting sun in London

Luuk and Louis, waiting for the show to start, enjoying the sunshine. There was a bit of a wait, but we were right by the railing and had our handy-dandy london bus toy for Louis to play with – a gift mum and dad brought back last year. We also had our sun block, having learned our lesson the day before (I have tan-lines on my feet!)

spring at Buckingham Palace

Gorgeous gardens in full spring colour, right opposite the palace. If you have to look out on a roundabout, at least it’s a pretty one, eh, your majesty.

And then the guards came marching (not two by two but I say ‘hurrah’ nonetheless.)

guards, with a police escort

Oddly, each group of guards and band were escorted by mounted police. Surely the palace guard don’t need a police escort. But I suppose if some idiot cycles thorough while they’re blocking the path for the guard’s approach, it’s better a cop deals with them than the guards break form… NO! I wanna see those guards in action. (And yes, someone did try to cycle through. They were thwarted.)

here come the guards

A well-armed, uniform, but (let’s be frank) odd looking bunch.

the mounted guard approach Buckingham Palace

The mounted guards, all shiny and ready to go.

Elena and I, watching for the Queen

Elena woke up just in time to see the last group march through the gates.

The second group of guards approach the palace

Here they come!

about turn!

Fresh guards, on duty.

If girls could be guards...If only girls could be guards! Though the chin strap seems to baffle her as much as it does me (and everyone, right? Right?)

We found lunch nearby and wrapped up with a little tea and scones. I opted for iced tea because London was warm – I mean, seriously, the bad reputation was taking a long weekend elsewhere. The weather was amazing. And the scones were pretty darn good too.

tea and scones

Me with my tea and scone.

grabbing a playground

We took a train to the south bank and went in search of the Globe Theatre. En route, Louis found himself a play ground, which I’m guessing is actually a sculpture, but no one seemed to mind.

walking on the south bank

Searching for the Globe (via the borough market)

Shakespeare's Globe (or not)

Hey! Found it. Nice. Unfortunately we couldn’t see inside because they have matinees most afternoons. We put it on the agenda for the next day and had a look around, in search of some other site to see. We weren’t disappointed:

Millennium Bridge and St Paul's

Across the Millennium bridge we went, and up to St Paul’s.

St Paul's

St Paul’s Cathedral.

inside St Paul's

I was told, shortly after taking this photo, that we weren’t to take pictures inside. I missed the numerous signs at the entrance because we took the wheelchair/pushchair entrance… what can I say? Oops. And there’s the forbidden picture.

on the steps of St Paul's

Luuk and Louis went climbing up to the whispering gallery and then up up up to the top of the dome. Meanwhile, I wandered around the sanctuary and down to the crypt. Evensong began at 5, so everything shut and I didn’t get a chance to see upstairs, while Luuk and Louis missed the crypt (wherein lies the Duke of Wellington as well as Nelson… or was it Napier… or both. I always get those two mixed up.)

We met up again on the steps outside and found a little afternoon tea at ‘Paul’, a totally french franchise, but familiarity… you know…

above St Paul's eastern door

The eastern-facing entrance to St Paul’s Cathedral.

in search of a bank

Then we went in search of a bank that would let us withdraw pounds from our French (euro) account… and after about an hour of near-panic and frustration, standing on busy footpaths in rush-hour, with a sleeping Louis and grizzly Elena, Luuk on the phone either on hold, worrying about his battery, or arguing in French, we got the helpful advice to try my card.

The bank, turns out, has some silly policy whereby there’s a limit on how much cash we can withdraw in a given week. Luuk’s card was basically useless. There was nothing they could do, though he told them that he was in London with his wife, two kids, and just twenty pounds… So very helpful. Fortunately, my card dished out the dosh, and then we were off to Nando’s to meet a few London-based friends for dinner.

hanging with Ayley, by the thamesWalking along the Thames, back to the tube station, with Ayley, after dinner.

We got to see the lights of London, which was lovely, and had a great catch up with a rather random selection of Luuk’s old work-mates, a cousin of mine, and a few others.

Which brings me to the end of day 3. Two more to go, but now I must get back to working on my play! Or I could take a nap…

  • -

out of gas

I hit the wall this week. I over did it, I suppose, and got sick. Walking the kilometre or so to take Louis to halte garderie made me feel like I’d been running (and I’m no runner). Getting up off the couch seemed impossible, though of course it wasn’t. It never is. (I once got out of a bath during the transition stage of labour. Therefore, it is always possible to get up off the couch. But it doesn’t always feel that way, am I right?)

Oddly, I could still write and edit. It may have helped my motivation that I was up to one of the steamier chapters of my book, but nonetheless, sitting at the computer was fine during the late morning, which is my best time of day. Late afternoon was horrible.

Anyway, I improved, gradually. But it did make me realise that here, far away from my family, we are a little short on back-up plans. If I’m sick but still technically able to look after the kids, Luuk is in a tricky spot. He can’t just take a sick day like in NZ. He has to provide a doctor’s certificate – even for a half day! Here in super-employee-friendly and self-labelled-socialist france, he can’t take a sick day without evidence it’s for real. Not even one. He can take a day without pay, sure, but unless he himself is sick, and can provide proof, it’s complicated. And costly.

If I’m the one who’s sick, too bad. Back in NZ there’d be a handful of people I could call on to help, but almost all my friends here have children of their own and I couldn’t bear passing along a cold/flu to them or their kids. Most of the time I don’t feel at all isolated here. I’ve got friends in writers group and french class and church. My diary is often cluttered with things. But I suppose this week I realised we’re a long way from home.

Nonetheless, I pulled through, and hopefully recover completely soon. We did go to a rugby came last night and froze our butts off (not quite literally but those cold seats tried their best). We got the tickets from one of the players and they were very good seats, nearly on the half way line and only twenty something rows back. It was by far the biggest stadium I’ve ever been to and we were supporting the home team which made for a great atmosphere.

Racing Metro vs Toulouse, in Paris

Unfortunately we didn’t win but it was nail-bitingly close. The Toulousians won by one point after the 80 minutes was up, converting a try they’d scored in the last seconds of the game. So close.

I will of course be drawing on the experience when I go back to editing my rugby player romance, ‘Icing on the Cake’ after I finish this draft of my newer novel.


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feasts and fiets

It will surprise absolutely NO ONE that we’ve been eating really very well. This weekend was book-ended by feasts. On Thursday I bought way too much food from the Greek Traitteur and so I impromptu-invited our friends to come share it. They brought their half-prepared dinner along and we extended our dining table, for the first time, for a fantastic fusion meal of beef stir fry, Bulgar wheat, aubergines, peppers, carrots, meat balls, Greek salad, pastries and baguette.

Walking home

Louis and his friend walking home from Halte Garderie… The friend whose family came for the evening. Love impromptu get-togethers.

But that was just the beginning. We had made plans earlier in the week to do friday night dinner (with the same friends in fact) of Raclette. This is when you set up a hot-plate of sorts in the center of the table, and do your meats and seasoned veggies on top, and then grill the raclette cheese beneath, for pouring over everything. Nomnomnom… and so very very over-indulgent. My powers of self-control were tested and found wanting. (Wanting more cheese.)

And last night we went to a feast in a much more traditional sense. The Seder is eaten the first night of Passover and begins with several readings and symbolic foods, in remembrance of the suffering and slavery of the Jewish people in Egypt, and other times in history, but also keeping in mind the ongoing and continual suffering and slavery of many people groups in the world today.

We had a great night and tried some new foods. Louis’ meal consisted of Matzah bread and chocolate cake (unleavened). Elena, on the other hand, ate everything, including most of my portion of Liver… I just can’t hack that stuff. I know, I’m in the wrong country. The French are very cosy with innards but I baulk. Highlights of the meal were, for me, the soup with matzah balls (sort of like a dumpling) and the apple cinnamon mix, which is not a part of the most traditional seders but complimented the horseradish well. Its significance is to remind us that while things are sweet, we must remember the troubled times (horseradish – bitterness) and while things are going badly, we must keep hope and remember the good things.

And then there were four glasses of wine. It was a great evening!

In between all our feasting we went on two family bike rides. Fiets is the dutch word for bike – see what I did there with the title? On Saturday we took a very casual, leisurely playground-hop through Parc Heller – mainly because I had a headache and wasn’t feeling very energetic. And on Sunday we went as far as Parc de Sceaux (pron. ‘so’) for a slightly more challenging ride, and also to take a family photo with a vaguely Parisian backdrop.

Family Photo, attempt 1


First attempt… getting there.

Best of an average lot


This was the best, in the end. Not bad considering the kids’ ages, the camera on a tri-pod, perched on a bike satchel, and that we’d been cycling…

You see, we have been meaning to get a family photo for a while but had a special request from Luuk’s sister-in-law because she’s setting up a family tree mural on her kids’ bedroom wall. And then she went and had a new baby so we were driven to act at last. Welcome to the world Maurice Paulussen!

We had some fun at the park before biking home but the weather was a bit grey.

Soccer Mum


Kicked a ball (and cuddled a baby, all at the same time… for a while)

Bike ride to Parc de Sceaux

Nice spot to sit and rest. (Check out the size of the yachts on the pond!)

I’ve been deep in my novel recently and making lots of progress… and neglecting, ever so slightly, other things (blog, husband, diet) so hopefully the balancing act goes better this week.