Deep breath, and…

  • -

Deep breath, and…

wait. It’s too soon to actually pack. It’s too soon to get rid of furniture we actually use. There’s a bunch of phone calls and things to book and organise… but actually not much we can do to prepare for moving back to New Zealand.

We are, by the way, moving back home. In a month. A month, today, in fact. The urgent things are booking the shipping company and getting Elena her visa. Thank heaven her application is now off in the post and we can only… wait.

WHY does she need a visa? That’s always the next question. Well, she’s Dutch. She was born in France so the Dutch won’t allow her to have dual citizenship. She can be a New Zealander, because I am, but she’d lose her European citizenship, which she might want when she’s older… so we’ll get her New Zealand residency. Eventually, like Luuk, she’ll have Permanent Residence and will have every right of a NZ citizen, bar a passport… so that’s all fine, but in the meantime she has to have a visitor visa.

And hopefully, before we move out of our apartment, she’ll have one.

The other question I’m getting a lot is WHY do you suddenly have to move? The plan was for August and now it’s for February, and WHY?

French law says your landlord can only kick you out at the end of your lease (3yrs) if the owner is either selling or moving in. They have to give 6 months notice or else it rolls over for another three years. Our lease is up mid-February and our landlady gave us 6 months notice but we thought she’d be nice and let us stay for an extra few months if we promised to leave – signed something, even – in July. We asked… no answer. We didn’t chase it up fast because it seemed like a reasonable request, but eventually we asked again… no answer. Eventually, in November, she gave a definitive NO. So we tried to find a place nearby to move to, but come Christmas were having no luck and two moves in 6 months is unnecessarily stressful…

So one it is.

Back to Christchurch for the immediate future, but more aware than ever that the future is a tricky thing and who knows?

I suppose it’s fair to say I’ve been quite stressed. Quite sick too, but the doctor put me on powerful antibiotics so it’ll pass. Once I’m well, I’m sure I will feel less panicky about things, so long as no more idiots go on a murderous rampage just a couple of neighborhoods away… That’d be good.

Perhaps it was a bit reckless to go into Paris on Thursday, just the day after the Charlie Hedbo shootings, but as far as we knew the guys had gone north east. But I hadn’t been to a French class in over a month. So I went. Never mind that one of these nut jobs shot a couple of people in the southern part of the city, quite near Antony… because at that point no one realised he was one of the same guys who’d done the Charlie Hedbo lot.

On Friday I actually did have to go into the city, to take Elena to the ONE doctor in Paris who can do a medical certificate for NZ immigration. I had the beginnings of a horrible throat infection, and a grumpy 2 year old, and taking the train meant…

1. joining the morning rush on the RER B (no chairs and no way I can let Elena out of the pushchair, but she’ll try to get out anyway), and

2. changing trains at Denfert Rochereau, with about a million other people, and not breaking stride (which would cause AT LEAST ten people to collide) while lifting 15.5kgs of Elena plus whatever the pushchair weighs and carrying it down and up several double and at least one triple staircase.

So I get to the doctor and I have the wrong papers and the secretary seems like she’s going to help me out (print the right papers) and then she gets confused and thinks I have the right papers, so I go ahead with Elena to see the doctor (after waiting for a while in the lobby with a 2 year old and no toys and an annoying video ad playing on repeat for plastic surgery – think breasts spontaneously changing size and shape, bottoms defying gravity, the sort of thing you absolutely want your 2-year-old seeing ten times over). And then we figure out that no, indeed, I do have the wrong papers, but now the secretary is adamant that she can’t print documents for clients, and Elena is ready for her nap and throwing a bit of a tizzy and I’m feeling quite ill and I crack, ie. start crying, then pull myself together enough to make another appointment for Monday.

I leave and stand on the footpath and have a good cry – which gets you no comments, not even a sideways glance, in Paris. It’s kind of nice. I cried, confident that no passers-by would interrupt me with their concern. And then I went to the New Zealand Embassy to get certified copies of our passports. Oh, it was nice to speak English to people with NZ accents and who could actually do the thing that I was asking of them.

Elena was asleep by then, so I went back to Antony (all the train crap again – although I did get a seat for the last leg of the trip). It was nearly time for Elena to go to nursery so not worth going home. I needed to eat but the cafes were all packed. It wasn’t quite raining, but misting, so we found a damp bench under a tree and shared a sandwich.

I dropped her off at nursery then went home and discovered that just a couple of arrondisements away all hell was breaking loose. I was kind of a mess at this point, but I lay on the couch and watched TV until I had to pick up Louis from school. The watching TV probably didn’t help but lying still did. The hostage situations were all over by six pm. And I’d been looking forward to writers’ group; I’d read all their pages and they’d read mine, so off I went to the city again. Three times in two days.

Such a stressful trip. I mean the sieges were over at this point so it shouldn’t have been, but the train kept stopping between stations, and I could just see everyone trying not to worry. But then at St Michel some idiots were yelling on the platform and there was a bang and then a minute later two more bangs – I don’t know what was banging but it must have been nothing serious and the train left the station. Just some idiots… just freaking everyone out. All these slick Parisians with their expressionless faces. Except for the half dozen people who gave in to curiosity and craned their necks to see out the train windows. Anyway, I got to writers group safe and sound. Got a bit drunk, unfortunately, but perhaps that was inevitable.

What a week.

This week has been thankfully uneventful. My throat was horrific so I opted out of everything I could opt out of. I sorted Elena’s application and got myself to the doctors, and the antibiotics are kicking the throat infection’s arse.

Is that everything? I had a huge catch-up to write and I suppose I haven’t talked about Christmas and our trip to Belgium and all of that, but too bad. It snowed in Belgium. We won at cards (we played 500, so all credit to my Dad who taught me). Good chips. Excellent beer. A couple of stressful travel-related dreams. I read many books. That is all.


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the plot thickens

… but it all comes out well in the end.

I have a whopper of a bruise on my leg. We visited the netherlands a couple of weekends back (goodness, has it been that long?) and while there, we went to a monkey-centric zoo. It was a fantastic afternoon for us all, but this place, Apenheul, is very well set-up for the kids. The playgrounds are modelled on the spaces designed for the monkeys to play in. I was always so jealous of the monkeys’ ropes and swings and climbing frames when I was a kid. There was this one rope swing and no one around, so I showed Louis and Elena how it worked.

 

I grabbed the rope, took a few steps back and leapt on. I wrapped legs around the rope, hooked my ankles and ouch. The knot, which is supposed to keep my bum from slipping off the bottom, dug right into my leg. Now surely I’ve done this a hundred times as a kid, and yes, I was always wondering where all my bruises came from, but what a shiner! I look like someone took a piece of 2×4 to my leg.

They didn’t. I was just being a monkey. We were up in the Netherlands for Luuk’s family reunion, which was so much fun I forgot to take any photos. We drove up on Saturday, went to see the monkeys.

at apenheul

The kids freaked out a little. Mainly because the monkeys were climbing on the pushchair. The next day we wandered around the palace grounds, in the town where we’d stayed.

wandering around the palace

Wore the kids out so they’d sleep before the family reunion.

The reunion was at a little hotel. We basically drank and ate all afternoon – ham rolls, apple tart, a buffet of quiches, soup, and finally a few chocolates for the road. The dutch were playing in the football, so a large proportion of the family gravitated to the tv. The hotel sent us packing at half time so some went to the food festival across the way, who had the match on, but we had tired kids, so we headed to our hotel. We listened to the commentary, in dutch, in the car. It was amazing how much I could pick up just from tone of voice.

The next day we had coffee with Luuk’s brother and his wife, and with Luuk’s uncle and aunt, and then lunch, and then we drove on to another city to visit Luuk’s grandmother.

pressies from oma
There were presents for the kids. And food. Everywhere we went. All we do in the Netherlands is eat. Yeah, because that’s so different from when we’re at home…

IMG5828

Photo I took day after we got back.

We returned for Louis’ last week of school. He is now on summer holidays, les grandes vacances. He is going to a holiday program three days a week, which is even longer days than school. I was nervous on Monday. I made sure he was at the same program as a friend. But he was ready to go off with the other kids before said friend even arrived. Monday evening he didn’t really want to leave. Yesterday he painted a castle.He’s off today, but looking forward to tomorrow.

I tend to dread school holidays. I used to be a teacher so this is quite the turn-around. But with Louis at the holiday program and Elena doing halte garderie as per normal, until the end of July, I’m able to go on as usual, or close to it.

I finished my mad-cap novel, the one I dashed out in under three weeks, and now I’m juggling two projects: edits of a contemporary novel that my writers’ group is helping me revise, and an adaptation of my other historical novel into a screenplay. I’m not sure it’s fantastic screenplay material, but I want to get all the way through the process of writing a screenplay. Writing one from scratch will be less daunting if I’ve done it before.

 

Meanwhile, Luuk and I have finally made some plans for our summer holiday. We have three weeks in which to rest and see some sights. We were initially dreaming of a couple of lazy weeks sandwiched between a little sight-seeing in Greece or Croatia, but the cost of flying there is a little daunting. If we drive, we can stop at sights along the way, but that’s a whopping great drive. We started looking at those ‘sights along the way’ and we’ve decided to skip Greece and Croatia, for now, and instead will dip into Switzerland, Northern Italy (things we didn’t see last summer), Austria and a little southern Germany.

Perhaps we’ll be more organised next year, snag us some early-bird cheep airfares, and gallop around (cough-laze-about-cough) the Adriatic next summer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dik_wnOE4dk

Tell him he’s dreamin’.


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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

Windmills!

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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self determination pep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

marmite, by the spoonful

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

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

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

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

My big boy.

Ready to go!

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

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

We can do it!

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


  • -

terrible two

These are they:

terrible twoThe rascals are driving me up the wall. I learned a useful phrase in French this week: j’en ai marre. That means, basically, I’m fed up. Needless to say, I won’t forget that one.

Need a break. Time to get a babysitter and escape for half a day before I lose it.

They’re not even particularly difficult kids. They sleep all night and nap every day. They play happily together on occasion. They make an unholy mess of the place, but usually that means they’re feeding themselves and eating a decent meal.

I’m glad I wasn’t born a hundred years earlier. I think, perhaps, I’m just not cut out for women’s work. Can’t hardly believe I just wrote that. But you know what I mean…

Not that I’m ever overly motivated to clean, but knowing it’ll get dirtied-up again tout suite is a quick way to rid myself of all shreds of that meagre motivation.

Luuk and I have taken the sabbath (well, not technically, I suppose, today’s Sunday) and made it unholy, cleaning the house. It remains far from immaculate. However, our storage space in the basement is full, and the kids room has toys in it. The lounge, hallelujah, has a lot fewer toys in it. Perhaps this will put off my onset-madness. The odd clean and clear surface could help build the illusion that I’m in control. Not that I need to be in actual control. But I am fond of the illusion, on occasion.

Luuk has a business trip to Milan next week and another in September, probably. I want to tag along on the second. How wonderful would that be? I’d have loads of time to myself while he was working, but still have someone to eat dinner with. Sounds idyllic. Doesn’t hurt that I’d be in Milan.

Doesn’t hurt that I wouldn’t be required to use my sturdy ‘No!’ a thousand times a day and have it interpreted as, ‘Keep on going; let’s see what happens.’

They’re darlings and I dearly love them. But I need a break. And in order for that to be in Milan, with Luuk, I need someone to look after the kids for three days and nights, possibly during the week, and probably while Louis is still getting into rhythm of going to Maternelle and Elena is still finding her feet at the halte garderie. But there must be a way!

We are all going on holiday together in August, and that will be fantastic: two weeks of sight seeing-variety holiday in Florence, Rome and Naples, and then eight days of sun in Ischia. Surely, even with kids to feed and wash and entertain, that will be relaxing.

But it’s not quite the same as being really alone, having no responsibility, just for a breather. And it’s been a long time since I had more than half a day of that. So I’m on the hunt. I seek ways and means and plans for solitude.

 


  • -

three countries, three days

We were away, this past weekend, for Luuk’s maternal family reunion in Beuningen, in the Netherlands. But we’re trying to see a bit of Europe while we’re living in France, so we took in a Belgium delight en route: neither chocolate nor waffle, but Gent, a city which offers both, as well as churches by the mile, and a fabulous castle…

castillo candes, Gent

The Count’s Castle, in Gent.

Elena, taking up arms

Elena, perched at the wall, ready for action.

a defensive position, in Gent's Count's castle

The view from the battlements.

the square opposite Gent's count's castle

The square opposite the castle: boasting an old money mint and a fish market.

view of Gent

The city of Gent

count's castle, gent, Belgium

The count’s castle was great to explore, though a little precarious in places with the kids: wonky spiral stair cases and high ledges without balustrades… Still, very imposing. The castle houses museum-like displays of armour, weaponry, and torture methods. Elena wanted to comfort the manequin on the rack.

We enjoyed walking around this scenic city and most of the rain fell while we were inside the St Bavo Cathedral, a very impressive church, which doesn’t like to have its photo taken.

bridge over the leie, GentOne of the bridges over, I believe, the Leie (river? canal? not sure)

exploring Gent

Louis wasn’t impressed by the weather.

end of an alley in GentBut there were cool views hiding at the ends of alley ways and that helped us rally something of the explorer spirit.

We drove on to the Netherlands on Saturday afternoon and on Sunday it was Perry Day! This is an annual family reunion that Luuk hasn’t been to in 8 years, and me never. Lots of new names and faces and some of them pretty challenging for my poor pronunciation skills (that dutch ‘G’ gets me good.) But there were a few familiar faces and the kids had a wonderful time with loads of their cousins.

cousins, and cousins Elena making friends with the only baby younger than her.

family reunion

The sun came out in time for beer-o’clock. Perfect.

music and cards

Music and cards, a real party.

trampolining with dadLouis and Luuk trampolining after all the big kids had gone home.

I was fighting (a losing battle) with a head cold all weekend but held it off with weak-sauce drugs for the party. It made travelling a bit miserable but the kids did well and we took a few liberal breaks for food and play on the way home, which nicely brought us into Paris late enough to avoid carnage on the périphérique… almost.

 


  • -

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.


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un peu fou

I’m a bit mad. In the nice way (I hope).

I’ve gotten a bit madder this week. There was a rough moment yesterday morning when, after I hung the second load of washing, the rack finally decided to make its feelings known.

too much laundry

It’s official. There is too much laundry.

I’m obviously mad because I embarked on painting with a toddler. On purpose. He’s two and would rather scoop paint into the water. Yum, soup. But we did these:

Louis' paintingBouncing Balls! By Louis

 up and down

Up and Down, by Amy
though Louis did help a little with the bottom third…

umbrella painting

And I added another layer to my umbrella/mushroom painting (which also serves as a curtain for the window in our living room door). It’s a long term project.

It felt very bold to do this… partly because I quite liked it the way it was, and others had said to leave it. But the original idea was more like this and, though it still needs a bit of work, I think the added colours and layers were a success. Hurrah for taking risks and hurrah for making good colours (that red was a bit of a masterpiece in itself, if I do say so…)

Red is the colour that’s meant to be poison isn’t it. Anyway, back to madness…

I was warned that my dermatologist would be a bit mad but today I met him, and he seemed alright. To be fair, he didn’t have my appointment marked in his schedule and so perhaps he put in a little extra effort to be nice, while making me another appointment and then shepherding me out the door.

If I was mad before this afternoon, I’m madder now (in which sense? Ah, take your pick.) We had a crazy day. I had my French lesson and had to leave ON TIME and tout de suite to get to my appointment. And because I was feeling a bit anxious about my first skin specialist appointment, with an allegedly mad french-speaking doctor, I walked super fast and arrived half an hour early. To the wrong address. Which is fortunately over the road from my friend’s kid’s school. And she had the magical ability to read my doctor’s handwriting, pointing me to the right address, and also helping carry my pushchair up the stairs. (Seriously, doctors of all people should have wheelchair/pushchair accessible premises!)

The kids and I waited for a full hour, Elena becoming increasingly un-cool about the whole thing, Louis becoming so hungry he in fact ate bread sticks (which he’d gone off of… till today, so there’s a perk!)

Louis was full of scary-manic energy and wanted to run home, but I’m getting ahead of myself. We waited and waited and then the doctor saw us simply because we were there for so long… only to break the bad news: I didn’t have an appointment. It’s probably my fault – in part – but his receptionist definitely told me the appointment was available, I repeated the date and time and said, “Je prende ca. Je prende cette rendez-vous.” Which might not be perfect grammar but is hard to misunderstand. I take that. I take this appointment. Come on people!

And then she tried to tell me something else in french, which I got completely confused by. And she spoke really fast, on the phone (harder than in person), despite my telling her that she was speaking too fast for me to understand. “Pardon Madam, vous parlez trop vite pour moi. Je ne comprende pas. Je suis desolé.” Etc. etc.

Anyway, I now have an appointment on a Saturday  when I won’t have to take the kids. And on the plus side my skin has calmed down which makes the dermatologist less of an emergency to keep me from going completely mad. I’m getting more sleep than I was.

Though you’d hardly know it from how tired I’ve been. My friends keep assuring me that when the kids are a little older I’ll get to sleep past 6am again.

Anyway, that’s enough ranting from me. I’m making us a lovely decadent dinner of fresh pasta and salmon steaks. And then I’ll put my feet up and relax. It’s nearly the weekend. Hurrah!

It hasn’t been all tough bickies this week. The kids are relating to each other better and better. They even feed one another, given the opportunity…

helping with breakfastOr they fight over the cheerios (cereal) but all in good fun. Elena’s learning to hold her own. Essential. Sooner the better.

 


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Excuse me while I freak out.

So there was a lump. Turns out it’s nothing – stress probably. Nothing to worry about. Spot of cream for a few days and it’ll go away.

Only the lump is on Louis. Just one little spot, and nothing anywhere else, and not anywhere dodgy (ie. near lymph nodes)… but nonetheless, it’s on the two year old and therefore I will quietly (because it might not actually be cancer) FREAK OUT.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past two days. And not telling anyone except Luuk because I don’t want anyone else freaking out… you know, unless it’s necessary. It’s remarkable how much effort it can take NOT to freak out, to NOT tell people what’s on your mind…

And if you know me, you know all about my natural talent for keeping my mouth shut.

The doctor pointed to Elena as the cause of Louis’ stress. She might be part of the equation but he seems so chilled out about her addition to the family. I’m thinking that the food dramas, potty training, new big-kid bed and the frustrations of increasing communication are probably all part of the problem. But how do you reduce the stress on a 2 year old? Consistency, I’m guessing. Giving him everything he wants whenever he wants won’t do it – because it’ll be so inconsistent, as well as NOT a long term solution.

Anyway, somehow I’ve managed to do quite a bit of my two main jobs this week: laundry and writing. I even did my French homework yesterday evening, in the waiting room for the doctor. I think I’m quite good at focussing my energy on one thing in order to keep from focussing it on another. But I certainly don’t want to perfect the art. Thank god he’s okay.

I have a French lesson this afternoon and I’m hoping to get lots of writing and editing done this morning, so that’s today’s plan. I’m adding scenes from the male protagonist’s perspective throughout my novel and it’s going really well – adding a lot to the story I think.

And just in case you’re curious, here’s the opening couple pages of my novel (having been tried and tested at my writers group so hopefully they spotted any glaring ickyness…)

Looming iron gates stood in the path of my trusty rusty car. Rain dripped down my collar, but that was nothing compared to my discomfort at even the memory of the last time I’d been here, for the reading of Gran’s will. No one understood why the old lady left her house and grounds – estate might be the more appropriate term – to her middle, and in nearly every way middling, grandchild.

Wrestling the gate latch, I couldn’t see the house at all – it was that far away, and ancient trees stood sentry, but the dark played some small part in its invisibility. I reached through wet cobwebs and see-sawed the latch till it gave way, pushing the reluctant gate open, and scraping up the gravel all the way to the post.

The radio was playing in the car – or not the radio; there’d been nothing but static for half an hour. ‘And so it goes, and so it goes, and so will you soon, I suppose,’ Billy Joel sang, in my warm, dry car, packed to the ceiling with all my stuff. That Billy, he had it right. I would go, and soon, I supposed. A holiday at Gran’s house, and then I’d get on with real life.

I pulled a wad of soggy paper from the letter box and got back in the car, bouncing along the driveway over potholes and puddles. I feared the place might be a little worse for wear, untouched and neglected for over three years. God, the garden would be a mess. Steeling myself against the cold, I summoned every positive thought:

For starters, I didn’t know anyone in Ashbury except Aunty Susan. I would have no commitments, no one’s expectations except my own – derived from memories of summers long past; expectations I knew must be wrong. But in the absence of real information I held them loosely and hoped not to be entirely disappointed. There must be some sunshine, on occasion. Surely. There must be a few people around my age, or with some other common ground.

I was starting fresh. I could entirely reinvent myself.

A very seductive idea.

And I was free. Freedom was the most seductive idea of all.

Billy Joel crooned on, ‘And so it goes, and so it goes, and you’re the only one who knows.’ I parked close and dashed to the door with only my purse. The key slipped in my fingers, fingers that had lost all dexterity.

“Work, damn it!”

I jammed the key into the lock as if punishing it for defiance.

I was soaked through; what difference would it make if I spent another ten minutes in the downpour before dripping on Grandma’s carpet? She’d hardly be there to tell me off. I swallowed a sob, but why was I crying? For Grandma, or Carl (there would be dozens of missed calls by now, or defeated silence) or all the uncertainty of my future, uncertainty which had thrilled me time and again in the past but scared me now.

Angry rather than impatient, I jammed the key in further, twisting, swearing, slamming my hand against the wooden panelling. Until the key broke in the lock. I held the stub up to the beam of the headlights, wondering at my own strength. The fight had gone out of me and all feeling with it. I was certain that Carl would be fine, that everything would be fine – fine by me, at least, because I was suddenly and utterly detached.

Beyond the car the town lights beckoned. I picked up my purse and walked down the driveway, towards the light. The Ashfield Arms was a block and a half away. The rain eased then stopped and the walk warmed me a little, my muscles appreciating the activity after being cramped up in the car for most of the day. The shops looked the same as ever. The Salvation Army Store displayed the best of a bad lot of used clothes on broken mannequins, and next door the liquor store advertised fluorescent green drinks and a job vacancy. I slowed – not for the job advertisement, but because I heard fighting voices.

A woman demanded, “You think I don’t feel guilty?”

“That was your choice.”

I stopped walking, unwilling to be seen, but I saw them. She had her back to me, and black-stockinged legs with only marginally more girth than her stilettos.

He turned as if to walk away, to go back into the pub, then stopped when she spoke, his curly hair springing towards the door once more after he stopped moving.

“That only makes it worse.” She leaned toward him, desperate to be understood, “It’s easy for you. You’ve done nothing wrong. You never did do anything wrong. You didn’t have any tough decisions. You got all the perks. As always.”

He turned to face her, flushed and wide-eyed. He was tall and broad. How could they have been a couple? He’d have crushed her.

“You have nothing,” her voice caught beneath the eaves and echoed back, “nothing to feel guilty about. You’re free. You have nothing to regret.”

“I regret everything.” Each word sunk, heavy from his lips.

I edged toward the building, into the shadow. They were silent for a moment.

And then she slapped him.

He stood utterly still.

She strode away, got in her car and tore off.

He lifted his hand but didn’t actually touch his face, only wiggled his jaw side to side and, shook his head, and slunk inside.

I waited, not wanting him to know I’d witnessed the entire thing. I could hear music – a little background classic rock. The chill was settling between my shoulder blades. The warm light in the windows and the smell of frying chips beckoned me in.

***

No one said anything. No one even made a face, but Kim’s hand print must have been clear as red paint on my cheek. I ordered a beer and then went to the loo. The mirror in the men’s was a little larger than a dinner plate but gave me the information I needed. I splashed water on my face and wondered how hard I’d have to hit myself on the other cheek to make it look like I was just flushed from too much drink, or getting really excited about the cricket.

No. The cricket wouldn’t do the trick this time. India were cleaning up. As much fun as it is to watch the Aussies get their arses kicked, that was hardly face-flushing excitement material. Where’s a good nail-biting game of sport when you need one?

No one even commented on Kim’s absence. When had everyone discovered good manners? And why was I disappointed? Surely this was what I preferred – to keep everything under wraps and ignore my humiliation until it went away. Only the humiliation didn’t bother me much at all. In other circumstances it would have, but I was far too angry. If I spoke at all I might bark. I could manage ordering a drink. I could even manage a thank you and something like a smile, and Kylie knew to pour the pint and take the money and leave me be. We’d been doing this for years.

She had Greg to talk to if she needed someone. And Greg had Kylie, or the cricket if he liked. I suppose Kylie could have watched the cricket too, between pouring drinks and polishing glassware, but she wasn’t an avid sports fan. She followed who was playing who and who was winning what, but that was just by default. An occupational hazard she’d probably say.

When I came out of the loo, one cheek pink and the other definitely red, Greg and Kylie were talking to someone new – and I mean someone actually new.

New people were noteworthy in Ashbury. We weren’t on the main road and lacked much in the way of a tourist trade. The locals knew there was plenty to love about the place, but it was hard to market empty beaches and rolling hills and a couple of good vineyards. The beaches were warmer further north, the rolling hills weren’t the ones where they filmed Hobbiton, and there were dozens more vineyards on bus tours up in Hawkes Bay.

The lack of tourists was, perhaps, part of Ashbury’s appeal, but this girl, in her Argyle and merino and brown leather jacket, didn’t look the type to appreciate the benefits of a small town.

My cheek smarted. The sting came and went. Another beer, surely, hopefully, would at least lengthen the bouts of painlessness. Another beer was a good idea regardless. There were voices in my head – Kim’s as well as a ghost or two, and my own gnarly conscience – that needed to be silenced.

This is Tommy.” Greg nodded at me.

Thomas.” I corrected, though hardly anyone calls me Thomas.

Hi.” She waved and looked silly, which made me like her more. Her clothes were water-marked and clingy, her hair a stringy mess. She wasn’t having a great evening either. Not as bad as mine, certainly, but I sympathised.

And then I turned back to the cricket.