new digs

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new digs

We’ve had three quakes in three days and so I think it’s fair to say that the country has stopped putting out the good china for us. We’re back to being ordinary kiwis again, except that we occasionally (all the time) yell at our kids in more than one language.

So, how are we settling in? I don’t know. My head is as all-over-the-show as the canterbury sky and let me tell you, that’s one damn interesting, constantly changing sky.

changing skies

I’ve finally got a little writing done, which makes things feel a bit normal. The kids are sleeping, concurrently, and I’ve pulled myself away from Sim City, which is fun but as dangerous as Candy Crush in this new iPad format. Great for a bit of down-time when chaos and boxes are piling up around you, but not great for feeling like you might be a little bit in control of your life.

Which I am.

I might be.

‘Tis possible.

We got back to Christchurch nearly four weeks ago and moved into this place exactly two weeks ago. We’re in a completely different neighbourhood than when we lived here before, on the hill in an otherwise pancake-like city. The feel of it is totally new to us, which is at the very least a good distraction from the complex combo of disappointment and confusion and coming-home feelings around returning, and at most a big help in that whole reverse culture shock thang.

helpful. So helpful.

A new kind of view.

So, two weeks in, we’ve been tapping away at the to-do lists. Louis will be starting Kindy in a couple of weeks, and we’ve found a play group, and maybe a fruit & veggie co-op, and we’ve joined Alliance Française. My 30th birthday party is in the works, so that will be a great big catch-up and I’ve been driving all over the city visiting old friends and colleagues. That stuff’s all great fun but not good for helping life to feel normal. There’s no real routine yet and oh how I need routine.

Kindy will impose something of a timetable. Come June, Elena will start Kindy too and then we’ll be in business, but in the meantime I’m going to have to be out and about and sociable or risk losing my mind, and my temper, at home with the wee ones all day, every day.

I know, I know, I’m an extrovert and doesn’t that mean I lap up the social stuff and… well, sometimes. Only when I’m spending a good chunk of the day, undisturbed, on my own, getting my writing done, not managing children’s activities and/or health & safety at the same time.

One of our weekly outings will probably be to the local library – all of 2kms away and containing both a playground and a cafe within its multi-purpose community centre-ish borders.

After the ‘how are you settling’ question, people usually ask, ‘are you missing France yet?”

Yes. The bread, obviously, and people: all my dear friends. And childcare. And the price of fresh mozzarella.

And the price of wine. We have a divine balcony and the sun is baking us just nicely, but I’m rationing the frosty drink that goes best with it.

That said, we have been enjoying the perks of NZ. The March weather has been fabulous, and we have a view which takes in a good portion of the southern alps and a sliver of the Pacific Ocean. Can’t complain. Also, we get four days off for Easter in NZ, and we went to the beach on Friday and Saturday. Two different beaches, in fact.

And they say there's no sun in sumner.

At Sumner, on Good Friday.

late afternoon on the beach, christchurch, nz

Same as ever… but not, in fact.

cliffs and containers

Containers, protecting the road in case earthquakes bring down any more of the cliffs. But a good half of the containers are also art now, so that’s cool.

Speaking of containers, our shipping is stuck in Singapore. Missed the boat and so we have to wait an extra week. So, basically, it’s going to arrive on ANZAC day, which is now a proper public holiday (if it lands on a weekend you get the Monday), but that means it’s going to be May, probably, before we see our couch and our washing machine and the kids’ beds. (They’re on mattresses on the floor in the meantime.)

I am looking forward to the arrival of that container so much, it verges on the ridiculous. Mum is being a laundry superhero in the meantime but still… we can’t settle yet. We unpacked all our storage in two or three days, in a mad rush, as if we could set up properly, but we can’t until the rest arrives and I must have realised that on day four, I’d guess, because I haven’t unpacked or organised anything in the house since then. Luuk’s done some building and buying and rearranging, but I’ve stalled.

I wonder if, having got a bit of solitary time and writing done today, I’ll start setting-up and rearranging the house again. It might feel less futile to sort out the space, now that I’ve done work in the space, and presumably will do more tomorrow, or the day after, or – hold the phone – both.

Wait for it…

Nope. No sudden hankering to put together the dvd shelves. Oh, but I could do an eclair citron.

 

Except I really couldn’t. Lemon mousse is more complicated than it looks.

But there’s a Tui and a couple of Fantails in our garden. So it’s a mixed bag this moving back thing. Pros and cons. Highs and lows. The kids are awake, but there’s a library just a short drive away. Maybe I can read a little more of my book.


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signing off

I started this blog after we’d already been in France for a few months but for most of the time we’ve lived here, it’s been a sort of travel-meets-expat blog, with forays into parenting and politics and writing and all sorts. However, we are leaving France in less than two weeks and so things will change.

I will write a little something, I’m sure, about re-adjusting to New Zealand, about going back, reverse culture shock and all that jazz.

And I’ll still be writing books. One day, some of them will be published, so this website will remain my home base online. The flavour and frequency of blog-posts will change, but this feels a little like goodbye.

Mind you, everything feels a little like goodbye this week. I went to my final writers’ group get-together last Friday night. I hosted my final Friday morning prayer thing (which never got a name but will continue without me and might yet…). I’ve been to my final french class and tomorrow I teach my final English lesson.

writers' group

This is the kids’ last week at school and halte garderie. The thank-you pressies and cards are sitting on the bookshelf will all the other things I must remember to give or give back to people.

Several large pieces of furniture have been dismantled. The basement storage space is empty. Our house is full of boxes and lists and my next job is to go through all the lists and pull it all together into one big list of all the things going in the container. I have an episode of ‘Call the Midwife’ all lined up, ready to keep me company while I do that scintillating job. (Hopefully it won’t have me in rivers of tears like the last one did. Wonderful catharsis though it is…)

So here’s the plan:

Monday 16 Feb – moving out of our flat

We’re staying in a hotel in the vicinity of Paris and taking advantage of things like Disneyland, sometime in here…

Sunday 22 – flying out of France

Tuesday 24 – arriving in NZ (the length of the flight is having a similar effect as ‘Call the Midwife’)

We’ll stay with Luuk’s folks in the Waikato for a couple of weeks and we will spend a couple of days in Auckland, and maybe in Tauranga too.

Then we’ll drive down to Christchurch… exact dates yet to be confirmed. We really must get onto that – ferry tickets and whatnot.

Right, on with the packing then. (Have I suddenly started sounding like something out of 1950s London?)


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so very many

When we moved from NZ to France, we thought it was an 18 month stint. We shipped over a few things: baby and maternity clothes, our top five kitchen utensils, a few toys, and some linen. There were no furnished apartments and so Luuk’s company helped set us up with a bit of furniture. A few months later we forked out for a desk, a bookshelf, chairs… Not two and a half years later, we have got quite a collection of stuff.

We brought towels with us, but before we arrived, Luuk’s company bought us some towels. So, we’ve got far too many towels.

Until there’s a baby throwing up in her bed. Again and again and again. Turns out, we’ve got just enough towels.

And far too much laundry. That was Friday night. The little lady is fine now. The laundry pile is still astounding, but c’est la vie.

We didn’t even bring over all our towels. Some are still in storage in NZ. If we take all the towels we have here back to NZ, then we really will have too many towels.

Oh, so big news… a decision has been made: we will be moving back to NZ. Done. Decided. And now I can breathe.

Har de har har har. Why did I think it’d be easier once the decision had been made? There are still another gazillion decisions and plans to make and yet right now, this week, I can do zilch. Nada. Except have weird dreams in which I panic that we shouldn’t buy our Easter chocolate in France because it’ll get crushed in transit.

Whaaat? We will absolutely be in France for Easter. I am (subconsciously and not) worrying about our things getting damaged in transit, and what we should take back to NZ, and feeling rushed… and we’re not actually packing up anything till July.

Even that date is not firmly fixed. But most likely, come the end of July, we will ship a bunch of things back to NZ and then spend a month or so travelling in Europe before we jet back to NZ. Arriving September, or so.

We will have stuff to get rid of here. I’ve never messed with France’s answer to TradeMe/Ebay – Le Bon Coin. I am (not so) secretly hoping I just happen to have friends who’d like to buy our oven, washing machine, fridge and microwave.

I think the kids are picking up on the stress of all these coming shifts. Louis, especially, is very fragile. Very happy, happy, happy, and FREAK OUT! CANNOT CALM DOWN. RIDICULOUS AND IRRATIONAL. I am exhausted. Partly because of the (multiple times) daily freak outs.

Luuk’s away on business again this week. He leaves tomorrow for Romania, and gets back on Friday, so it’s just four nights, not a full week like last time. Fortunately, the kids haven’t quite shaken the daylight savings time shift and are waking up after 7am most mornings. Long may it last. At least a week or I’ll be a write-off.

Speaking of writing, I am editing. Rewriting is more accurate. But it’s going well, when it’s going at all. Daily? Yes. Probably. But not as much as I’d like. I’m reworking the end of a novel. Rather than hearing all about the exciting climax of the subplot, the heroine is going to get in there and (attempt to) save the day. A much better way to round it all off. Action! Confusion! High stakes! True love!

Anyway, we’ll see. Might be a bit far-fetched. Only one way to find out. I do love a good story. Went to see Monuments Men today, with a couple of friends. It was stellar. Fantastic. Excellent. Loved it (clearly). Just the kind of flick that makes me want to write properly great stories.

On that note, back to work.

ps. Sorry, no pictures. Next time there’ll be too many. Maybe.

 


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such love

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

Your Pulse

beneath my lips
dictating rhythm
to my unruly breath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

grandma and LouisLouis was more willing to cuddle.

grandpa and louis

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

old toys, with old neighbours

 Train set and Disney castle, for the win.

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

Me, the kids, the neighbours-of-old

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

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

brunching in parnell

Louis and Evans perusing the menu.

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

Louis at the WarehouseLouis does The Warehouse.

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

louis and luuk at Mission Bay

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

family at mission bay

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

shell mosaic at mission bay

Shell mosaic butterfly!

paddling at mission bay

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

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

Hippie kids at Ollies, Royal Oak

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

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

best new years photo

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

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

raglan new years day

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

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

irritating uncle Ian

The kids, winding up uncle Ian, after lunch.

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

ducks on estuary, papamoa

Elena and Gran and the ducks.

gran and kids, papamoa

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

elena gon' ride

Elena, ready to go to dinner.

Elena at the rallies' restaurant

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

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

kids asleep in car

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

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

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

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

bbq good

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

bbq with the cousins

Nom. Hilarity at the kids table.

caged kids

Elena and her youngest cousin, happily caged.

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

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

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

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

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

travelling with kids


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so much to do

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

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

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

Starting as we mean to go on:

IMG4384

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

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

computer kids

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

all the pressies

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

waikato (weather)

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

Elena and great Nana

Elena reading with her Great Nana.

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

santa's many helpers

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

christmas dinner

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

christmas dinner: roast veg

Golden Roast Vegetables, and chorizo for good measure.

christmas dinner: salad

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

three kinds of pie

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

christmas dessert

The kids, eating the pie.

saying goodnight to the presents

Elena and her cousins, all ready for bed.

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

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

walking off christmas dinner

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

Kaniwhaniwha streem

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

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

settling catan with Dave

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

Santa's hangout in a NZ mall

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

the sandpit at the other cousins'

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

rhinos at the hamilton zoo

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

tuatara at the hamilton zoo

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

chilling with opa

Back at Opa and Oma’s we chilled out.

cucumber on Louis' eyes

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

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

Louis and me

Lovely chilled out days at in the rolling waikato hills.

Elena and me

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

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


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The Christchurch Bit

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

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

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

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

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

lolly cake appreciation

 Elena agreed.

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

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

bumping into people at the riccarton market

Bumping into people at the Riccarton Market.

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

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

encraftment market, cathedral square, christchurch 2013

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

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

fish'n chips after church

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

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

christmas cookies with gran

Louis making Christmas cookies with Gran.

christmas grotto, spreydon, 2013

Visiting the Christmas Grotto.

hagley park playground

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

good ol' kiwis

Speaking of things NZ does well… kiwi fruit!

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

perks of gran's house

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

the joy of stairs

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

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

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

nose-bopping fun

Eva and Louis, nose-bopping.

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


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home comings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

familiar but different, christchurch

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

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

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

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

Nana's house, Te Awamutu

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

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

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

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

mission bay fountain, auckland

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

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


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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.