finding pace

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finding pace

We’re back at it. Luuk’s at work, Elena’s at halte garderie (well, not this very minute. Right now she’s watching Monsters Inc. for the thousandth time), Louis is at school and I’m in the thick of revisions… again.

the kids and their friends

The kids are happy to be back in routine, and playing with all their buddies.

They’ve gone and changed up the school timetable, so Wednesday is now a school day – but a half day – and every other day wraps up at 4pm (used to be 4.30) which means everyone’s a bit confused… but three weeks in, it’s settling down.

I’ve found myself a french conversation group, and signed Louis up to stay after school on Thursdays so I can go. I’ve even got myself a little job – talking English with a kid for an hour a week. Yeah, it might cover the cost of printing all my drafts. But probably not.

lovely autumn

Lovely autumn

September is gorgeous in this bit of the world, if you can slow down enough to notice. They have a cheese and wine fair in Antony each year, which seems a wonderfully hedonistic way to celebrate.

cheese and wine fair

Foire au fromage et aux vins!

champagne at the antony foire au fromage et aux vins

My happy place: the champange tasting.

Last year it rained… but this year I think Luuk got a bit of sunburn. Needless to say, we are stocked up to our eyeballs. We will be eating a lot of cheese in the next few weeks. Wine, at least, lasts for a long time. But in our enthusiasm to taste it we have two bottles open right now – one has gone into a bowl with chicken (I’m gonna try coq au vin) and the other will be going into tonight’s risotto. (The chicken needs a day or two of swimming so we’ll eat it tomorrow.)

So we’re eating well. Surprised anyone?

There have been a few cool bits and bobs in the past couple of weeks:

– I met Margaret Atwood at the Festival America at Vincennes. And she signed a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale for me. I was not at all cool about it. Star struck silly, in fact.

handmaid's tale, signed by margaret atwood

– Elena is biking to school and garderie, so we’re inching toward the end of the pushchair.

elena on her bike

– There was writers’ group last week, and we tackled a whole novel. We’re all working away at novels and usually do a chapter from each, in a session. But for editing purposes, looking at a piece of work in its entirety can be hugely helpful, and it went very well.

photo (2)

 From beginning to end.

I also found it encouraging to read a complete manuscript, written by a member of our group, and next time we’re doing one of my whole manuscripts. There’s at least one other member with a finished one so perhaps we’ll tackle that (when said member gets back from hiking in Nepal…)

– There’s an election in NZ, in a couple of days in fact, and there have been lots of great conversations via social media. I’ve been particularly encouraged by how many of my former students are taking an interest and getting involved. One of my favourite units to teach was on government and democracy (link is to a great documentary) and five years later those kids are old enough to vote, and still give a damn. So, win!

– I’ve been reading ‘The Humans’ by Matt Haig – a downright brilliant book. Highly recommend. It’s not long or difficult, but wow, talk about tackling the big questions with humour and heart.

I feel like I’m forgetting something, but that might be it. Elena’s gone down for her nap so I’d better get back to my disgraced heroine and the unconventional earl she’s accidentally falling in love with. As you do.

 


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(city of) art and light

Photos of Paris come in all shapes and sizes. There are the classic post card pics that a thousand people are taking at any one time up at trocadero…

the grey city of light

Comme ça.

And then there are the lesser-seen sides of things. Beneath trocadero there live a lot of fish. Because… it’s the Paris Aquarium.

fish in the darkLuuk and the kids, watching the fish.

kids and luuk and fish It was pretty great for the kids but also expensive. Perhaps aquariums are always a bit that way… expensive to maintain and therefore… well, anyway. Vancouver aquarium may have spoiled me for life. No beluga whales in Paris, and the sharks were kind of puny. Cool tropical fish and lobsters, though. Many nemos and many dorys.

Anyway, more Paris:

croques and crepesWe had classic Paris street food for lunch: a croque monsieur for the kids, a crêpe for me, a panini for luuk (ham and cheese makes it Parisian, right?) and for dessert, beignets! (Mini filled donuts, but the ones in Antony are better…)

This week the Christmas lights arrived… the official town lights are UP but not ON, which is strangely depressing. But the shops put them on while they’re still putting them up.

Christmas Pig-outIn the spirit of christmas, the season of pigging out, we have this picture of a family feast and candy ornaments everywhere. The gift shop on Rue de l’Eglise has since added a Santa parachuting beneath a lit-up umbrella.

I, for one, think the dry cleaners got it about right. Christmas is pressing. ‘Tis true.

christmas if pressing

I do love the whole bi-lingual homophone word-play thing. Gives me thrills every day. I mean, EVERY day.

Yesterday Elena and I went into Paris. I’m stocking up on Parisian bits and bobs to take back to NZ for our friends/family (get your requests in now), and so we spent some time in the mall at Les Halles and then ascended to ground level for Hema (Dutch chain, loved by the French, though they cannot pronounce the name… Loved by me for their 75 cent stuffed speculaas.)

christmas window

This is a christmas window. To be fair, it might have been misunderstood without the notice.

Shopped-out, the kid and I continued on to Le Lilas for lunch with a friend of mine.

street art in le lilas

Street art, on the way to the restaurant.

We did cous cous and tajines for lunch, and Elena ate only the honey chevre entrée. Silly girl. Then onward to my friend’s workplace: a gallery of mostly documentary/art films.

The first was footage from soviet youth day in 1987 (just before the fall of the soviet union) collated with audio (which I didn’t understand). The footage was subtitled in French so I could follow much of that, at least.

elena hiding in the 80sSpot the kid among the 80s Russians…

elena and the soviets

Elena and the Soviets.

The video was mostly like an olympic-opening-ceremony style performance, with a lot of people in colour-coordinated garb, making shapes and patterns in a large stadium… but later on there were soldiers and some of the audience shots were in slow-mo. Very ominous, really.

elena on screenThe end.

Elena was pretty cool about sitting in the dark, watching the young Russians dancing, and then we wandered around the light part of the gallery and she looked at everything.

the punk'd portraits

No one else was there, so that made it simpler with Elena. Galleries with kids isn’t impossible, but generally we shepherd them about, or strap them into the pushchair. Unless there are no other customers, and then it’s gloriously free reign (so long as she doesn’t touch the hot projectors…)

elena at Khiasma, paris

Wandering the exhibition spaces.

dancing soldiers and elena

This documentary was a collection of all the (many) clips of soldiers in Iraq… dancing. Which was both hilarious and interesting – the environments they’re in, the other people around them, reacting, the oppressive boredom that is a big part of war, it seems. Fascinating. But also quite a laugh, at times. Black comedy, of sorts.

Elena kept touching the walls, trying to reach into the films. One of the perks of going to galleries with a kid: you see things, to some degree, from their perspective as well as your own.

We returned to Antony (about an hour’s travel) and spent the remainder of the afternoon at a friend’s house – she’d collected Louis from school. The wee man has done a whole week of full days now. Go Louis! I was too tired to get us up and off home so we lingered, planning on Sushi for dinner. But Luuk got home early and cooked. Risotto! Brilliant husband, that one.


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preparing for battle

Some days feel like one fight after another. Getting breakfast into the kids, putting long pants, not shorts, on Louis, even getting up out of bed is a battle.

This morning’s mission was to make an appointment with a pediatrician, because our GP won’t give the kids their BCG vaccines. It’s not even super urgent that they get this particular vaccine, except that I have the box sitting in the fridge.

In France, when you want a vaccine, you get a prescription for it, then go to the pharmacy and pick up the vaccine, and then take it along to your next doctor’s appointment. My GP gave me the prescription, so now I have the vaccine, but I can’t get someone to inject it into my poor offspring.

I know all the French I need in order to have this conversation, so long as the receptionist doesn’t go off script. She did. I apologised, told her I didn’t understand,I’m still learning French. I asked her to speak more slowly, explained what I needed repeatedly… and then she hung up on me. I may have been a little over-tired but I promptly burst into tears. Then made myself a large coffee and put the appointment-making-palaver on tomorrow’s to-do list.

Which is a joke. Wednesdays are not for getting things done. Wednesdays I have both kids all day long.

And tomorrow afternoon, while both kids sleep at the same time (fingers crossed) I will be participating in a twitter pitch competition of sorts. A bunch of literary agents will be watching the hashtag #adpit and I’ve got two novels ready to pitch. I’ve spent the past few weeks fine-tuning and torturing my manuscripts and query letters, the first line of which has to be this brilliant sentence summing up the main conflict of the story.

For the twitter competition it has to fit in the 160 character limit. This is what I’ve got:

The new Earl of Belvedere will distract the London gossips from Lady Ailsa but he poses a greater danger than slander ever could. #adpit

and for the other,

Sun loathes rugby, with good reason. When she unwittingly falls for an AllBlack, he won’t let her go without a fight. Sexy NZ Romance #adpit

For the query letters there’s a bit more room for length but those agents are famous sticklers for the one sentence thing. And I suppose it’s a good way to make sure a writer really knows how to write. It takes focus and a careful use of language. A good story doesn’t hurt.

Of course, if the pitch (1 sentence) or the query letter do their jobs then I’ll be submitting several chapters or even the whole manuscript, so I’ve been fine-tuning for a while. I’m ready. Or, I hope I’m ready. I’ve thought I was ready in the past. I’ve even been asked for manuscripts, but in the end the agents didn’t bite. So my manuscripts probably weren’t ready.

Facing off with a nearly-3 year old at eight in the morning and submitting my carefully edited writing are two rather different battles, but the secret to both is in the prep. I’ve prepared my manuscripts over weeks and months. Getting shoes onto a wriggling target is a little more of-the-moment.

Right this minute he’s trying to use his drinking straw on a plate full of green curry sauce (very mild version) and rice. I think this is the stage of development when kids are independently capable of lots of things and don’t like all the things they’re NOT doing independently. So, basically, if I ask him to do something he immediately wants to do ANYTHING else, just to be sure he’s the boss of the moment.

Still, he’s rather cute, even with the attitude. Damn.

How do I prepare for every instance of that? Earlier nights and potent first-thing cups of coffee would help, sure. Reverse psychology and limited choices (“sit down or go to your bedroom,” for example) have their place.

Keeping my cool… well, that’s easier with the literary agents. With them it’s business. And they get one hit. If they say, ‘No,’ it’s over. Louis says ‘no’ and the fight is just beginning.

A receptionist hangs up on you and the fight is over, but also just beginning. I ran the whole conversation by my French teacher this afternoon. He said I’d been clear. He only corrected me when I said ‘une rendez-vous’. Turns out appointments are masculine.


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who’s there?

I have developed something of an anxiety about the telephone since we’ve been in France. There are a handful of english-speakers who call me, friends and family for the most part, and then there are the french callers. Most of these are sales-people and other spam-equivalents. Occasionally I assume it’s something important, but it’s hard to be sure because my earnest declarations of, ‘J’apprends encore le francais. C’est un peu trop vite. Repetez s’il vous plait…’ they just race right on. Usually it’s not worth the struggle and they give up. Hopefully it’s nothing important.

Increasingly it’s just friends. I’m guessing we’ve been crossed off one or two call-lists. And we have more friends than we used to.

Nice.

The kids know about phones. Louis used to play with any remote control or phone-shaped object as if it could communicate with Gran or Dad. Now he talks on the actual phone rather effectively. Elena is mastering stage 1:

But you can imagine how a phone conversation with a real person goes. Assuming she doesn’t accidentally hang up on them, it’s rather brief/confusing/frustrating. But that’s okay. The cell phone is probably bad for her baby-brain cells.

I had to phone a bookings line in Italy today. Luuk and I have been spending some of our evenings planning our trip – booking buses and trains and ferries, booking museums famed for atrociously long queues, reading up about where we’re going so that we don’t accidentally miss the best attractions.

And resigning ourselves to missing out on plenty. Rome is kinda a big deal, turns out.

So I put off the phone call, and then I had coffee group, people might arrive any moment. And then they did. And then there were people here. And then it was lunch time. And then it was Italian lunch time. And then I was making today’s book cover. And then I asked Luuk where the phone number was. And then I phoned them.

It was easy. And now it’s done. All that dread for nothing.

I do love ticking things off lists, but phone calls most of all. This week I’m not only ticking off the things I have done; I’m ticking off the things which, realistically, are just not going to happen. It is possible, if the kids sleep and/or play nicely together in their room, I might finish adding snippets of brilliant, transporting description into chapter one of my regency period novel. It is no longer likely that I will finish reading it aloud and recording it.

We will definitely finish up all the food in the fridge. We’re almost out already, so I’ve started on the freezer. No point buying fresh veggies when we’re out of here in two days (yikes!) so tonight we finish the green beans, and tomorrow, perhaps, the carrot puree. It could go in risotto, with stacks of garlic and onion. And the frozen seafood (it might be scallops, I’m not sure) on top. Lots of lemon, because they’re about to walk out.

And then we’ll walk out too, all jam-packed into one suitcase: four people, for three weeks, in one big fat bag. I see some tough decisions ahead. I think I’ve resolved not to take trousers. I’ll wear my long sun dress to the Vatican (where modesty is requisite) and put a scarf around my shoulders. Should I take anything with sleeves at all? Seems wise, but I suspect they won’t leave the suitcase.

Anyway, rather than deal with that, I’m going to escape into a glittering ballroom, and see if I can get away with describing it as a glittering ballroom.


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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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spot the difference

On the weekend I picked up a ‘Best of the Muppet Show’ DVD and as it’s a rainy miserable day (three days shy of summer, my eye) I thought this the ideal time to spend the afternoon with our colourful singing puppet friends.

And then I discovered it is in ‘Version Française’ – and ONLY version française. Okay, so it’s good for me (and the kids) to watch TV in French, and plus, it’s easier for me to block out if it’s playing in French while I’m in the room working on the computer… but it’s not quite the same.

I got a bunch of other familiar favourites with the particular intention of watching them in French, after last week’s rediscovery of ER (and the minor tear-fest that followed…) I certainly understand more of the language than I used to, but it’s hard to gauge how much progress I’m making.

My daughter Elena turns one next week and her progress is much more noticeable and exciting than my ready transition between the passé compose and imparfait tenses. Let’s just say, no one has a problem spotting the differences if they don’t see her for a couple of weeks.

She is proper-crawling now, on her hands and knees, and only needs a hand-hold to get up onto her feet. She won’t walk unless she’s holding both our hands but she’ll move a little – from one piece of furniture to another, or from side to side, to reach some toy-temptation. She says ‘mama’ and feeds herself given the opportunity, although hasn’t quite mastered the art of the spoon.

the art of the spoon

I might feed her breakfast for a little while longer yet.

She is certainly developing her own preferences and the will-power to make them reality.

elena adds something

 

Maybe she has an idea for the painting. It’s in need of another coat.

She’s playing by herself much more happily than before but definitely prefers the company of her brother.

on their bikes

 

And if Louis can do it, she wants to try. Unfortunately that little wooden bike is not very stable and  doesn’t respond well to the leaning-method of turning a corner…

teeth time

 

She recently cut her second tooth, which means teeth-time! Why stop at her own when Louis might need a hand?

She’s a busy little girl and all the learning and progress is delightful to witness, if a little (code: a lot) exhausting. But such is the nature of growth. It can be hard to spot the difference, but easy to feel the weight and wear of making it happen. I’m re-writing a romance novel I wrote a couple of years ago and it’s easy to spot the flaws now, but not that long ago I thought it was ready to publish. Hopefully, the new version will be a notable improvement, and maybe even pay off… in the form of publication. That’d be nice.

As to French, I spent yesterday afternoon with a French friend I haven’t seen in months. I was looking forward to seeing her but also dreading how much it would wear me out, just trying to listen and pick up all the vocabulary and tenses and crazy, confusing exceptions to every rule (reflexive verbs – gah!), and planning everything I want to say, and misunderstanding each other…

But it was much easier than expected! The sun was shining, we sat in her garden, drank our coffees, watched the kids play, and maintained a conversation entirely in French. Hurrah! I managed to tell her a bit about my novels, and our plans for the future, as well as give a basic outline of our recent holidays. I understood a bit about her work and her son’s progress, and we made plans for the weekend. Her partner is fluent in English but we won’t need to rely on that as much as we did last time. Go team!

 


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worn out

In an unlikely turn of events, my ironing board cover has worn out… talk about things I never expected to say. My freshly ironed clothes have criss-crosses in places, but they’re crinkle free, and I’m all up to date on ‘Once Upon a Time’. If I have to iron I might as well watch/listen to something and Luuk gave up on that particular show a whole season ago.

But the ironing pile, in this instance, outlasted the tv series and so I turned to the live feed – this afternoon’s offering of ‘ER’, or ‘Urgences’ en français. The imminent demise of Mark Green still gets me teary, even when it’s all in French.

urgences, en francais

I can follow a lot more of the dialogue than I could a year ago, but there’s definitely room for improvement. Sometimes I feel like my progress in the language is painfully slow.

I’m determined to find opportunities for more listening to French and perhaps this is it: familiar television. But I’m always out of time. Too much to do, that’s the problem really, but I can’t decide what to cut. Louis starts school in September (holy cow!) and Elena will have two or three half days at the halte garderie, so in a few months time I’ll have a few more hours a week in which I can write novels and study french. But there will still be laundry.

I don’t know if it’s the indefatigable pile of laundry, or this lousy grey spring, or what, but I’m feeling rather worn out. When I’m running low like this I tend to snack, and waste time, and get grumpy, impatient, reactive…

So what am I going to do about it? More sleep. Early nights. And I need to offload all the lollies in this place; there are too many chocolates lying around, murmuring ‘eat me’. And I need to keep the fruit bowl stacked.

But right now an apple compote will have to do, perhaps with a greek yoghurt  and then I’ll get on with re-reading my novel. I won’t be finishing today. Tomorrow evening Louis and Luuk are off to the circus (to watch, not to join… not yet) and it’s not baby-friendly, so Elena and I will stay home. Maybe tomorrow evening, while my dream baby dreams I can finish re-reading and then, come Monday, I’ll be ready to begin (again) re-writing!


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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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different cow species

on a hiding

on a, in French, means ‘we have’… so I could say on a cacher which means, ‘we hide’, but I’ll get to that later.

I got another rejection letter – argh! – but this one was very (very!) encouraging and had helpful advice… so, if I’m keeping perspective, this is all very positive progress, after all I’ve only been writing every day, with this kind of dedication, for a year, and good things take time and all of that bollocks.

Which isn’t bollocks at all but for a day or two, inevitably, I’m going to feel like all this work is for nothing. That I am on a hiding to nothing.

Speaking of hiding, the weather has been icy and snowy and miserable. So we spent the weekend hiding… but boy did we find some fabulous places to do it.

1. Mysterland. The indoor playground, south of Paris, that I wish we’d discovered a year ago! This place was several steps up from the one we did discover, when the temperature was hanging around freezing point for about a month and our 1-year old needed a bit more room to roam than our tiny hotel room then slightly less-tiny apartment. Now he’s coming up two and a half, so he needs even more room… but he’s more cautious now than he was then. Refused to go in the ball pit at all, but he did enjoy riding around on a toy motorbike and building walls with giant lego. We met a bunch of other friends with their kids and so we all chatted, ate crêpes, drank coffee, and occasionally got up to attend children/put them on the carousel.

2. The ‘asiatique’ buffet (ie. seafood for asia!) across the parking lot. All you can eat, and then some, of the usual chinese buffet suspects, plus a sampling of sushi, fresh spring rolls, dumplings, and then the fresh wok stuff – where you put your raw ingredients (including delicacies like scallops) on a plate and they cook it up for you, just so, with your choice of sauces.

Awesome. And I over-ate to all-new-excess.

And then came home only to print and dash to writers group. But that was good too.RER dash

The dash to writers’ group: on the RER train.

3. Salon de l’agriculture at the Paris Expo centre… which is really centreS – plural. Holy cow it’s huge. And holy Cow, that’s a lot of cows. And we didn’t even go into the cow building. We just saw the overflow cows (which I’m happy to say were not overflowing in and of themselves) in the building with all the sheep and goats and pigs.

And now, pictures…

Elena wrapped up

Unfortunately we had to go outside to get to the show… so wrapped up snuggly, we took the RER, then a tram (a first for me, in Paris, and for Elena… anywhere)

scary donkey

First stop, the horses. We got there early, hoping to avoid the worst of the crowds, and thought we’d best tick off the most popular sights first, for the same reason. But Louis was too scared to go near the horses/donkeys, even though they’re like his favourite thing the rest of the time, and he sees them regularly at the local park… but logic be damned.

pat the horse

Other people enjoyed patting the horses. Luuk and I included.

fancy tails

Others enjoyed plaiting their tails. It’s a thing, I guess.

fishes and bubbles

Louis calmed down when we got to the smaller animals. And there was a bubble machine beside this fishing display. Elena liked the fish.

Louis finally patted an animal when we got to the bunny rabbits. There were also screeds of different hens and other poultry. They were conveniently beside the produce section: saussison sec, cheeses, chocolates, caramelized nuts and candies (fruit pate at an exorbitant rate… that they don’t tell you till after you agree to buy some).

We should have spent more time there, but nonetheless…

sheep and lambs

We came all the way from NZ for the sheep! Oh, wait. Just kidding. Though I suspect this is the same breed that our friends farm in Otago.

big sheep

And this one was rather large.

french marino

And they have Marino in France too, turns out.
Another thing I thought was special about NZ… so much for that.

cow bells

And then there were cows. The bells gave them away.

cool cows

I thought these two were a handsome pair.

different cow species

And these two won the prize for interesting hair dos. By my opinion. No idea about actual prizes. Be there isn’t one called ‘interesting hair do’. There should be, though.

Howdy Cows and Boys

Forgive my ignorance. I’m sure my farming family members would have appreciated a whole lot of the details that went way over my head, in fact I still haven’t quite figured out the bell thing – is it so farmers can find their stray herd-members? I have another theory – the cows don’t like the noise and so they don’t move so much when they’re wearing the bells??

Shot in the dark. Figuratively. Though, wearing a bell would make it easier to shoot a cow in the dark. But still unwise.

4. The fourth way we hid from the weather was yesterday: Inviting ourselves to friends’ houses. I had a bit of a gong-show Monday morning because Elena had been up every hour in the night and then it was snowing. The thing with Monday mornings is that Louis has to be at halte garderie at 9 but French lesson doesn’t start till 10 (and in reality often later). So I have this chunk of time to kill, and I often just walk around Antony or a park on the way to class, but the weather yesterday was not all that inviting.

Antony in the snow

Antony in the snow. (The mad drivers are just out of this shot, on the left.)

Then French lesson finishes (again, in theory) at 11.30 and I have to pick Louis up at 11.50… but getting from one to the other takes more than fifteen minutes and when the path is icy, longer. (It’s not icy enough for safe skating.)

My walk to French

The icy path. (But it’s a nice walk otherwise)

So it’s stressful. Yesterday, class didn’t start till nearly 11 (blame the trains and the snow-crazy drivers) and so my friend gave me a ride to pick up Louis. We left Elena at the lesson and dashed down, got Louis, and returned in time for banana scones (and to scribble down the last few notes on pronomial verbes pour le passe compose et futur proche). But then I was faced with the prospect of walking home, in the snow, with Louis also walking because the double buggy is a nightmare in snow/ice so I only had the single…

Anyway, long story short, we spent the afternoon at Marcelle and Johnny’s again.

the boys holding hands

Louis and his friend Sua, being awfully cute, watching The Wiggles and holding hands. They didn’t know we saw them…

self-crusting quiche

I made quiche for us all for lunch… self-crusting quiche. Awesome.

The kids slept, I cooked, Marcelle, Mel and I talked… about Marcelle’s new business start-up, about my novel, which they’re very helpful with due to real-life expertise in the field of rugby player romance… And then Johnny came home and the kids finished school. It was still snowing so we hid out, hoping it would stop, did some gymnastics… as you do. Turns out I can still do a cartwheel and a handstand (against a wall). Didn’t risk the back-bridge.

Johnny drove us home, good man, and if I can manage it we won’t be going out today. The snow is gone but it’s oppressively grey and we can live without bread, if necessary. Or maybe I can coerce a friend into bringing us some…

And on that note, better get some writing done (just in case I’m not on a hiding to nothing) before the friend shows up with the bread…

 


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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.