that doesn’t seem right

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that doesn’t seem right

I’ve been aware lately of a few wonderful paradoxes, and I thought I’d share them here because it’s been a while. I’ve been doing nanowrimo (writing. A lot. That is all.) and now that’s done, so I’m back in the world of the living, just in time to put up the Christmas decorations.

Leo says,

What’s a paradox? some might ask. A seeming contradiction. Two things that don’t go together, but SO DO.

For instance: happily listening to an Adele song.

Now, that’s a bit mean. There is a happy song on her new album. The last track. I know this because I went out and bought it (so strange for me) and I’ve been listening to it on loop, obsessively (less strange). And very happily. So there you have it.

adele is awesome
Another example of paradox: you want something done, ask a busy person.

So you get it. Paradoxes everywhere actually. The one I’m most aware of at the moment is less pithy. It’s about being certain of uncertainty, about being happy but not entirely content. I’ve been looking for part time teaching work and, at the same time, looking at my writing – my nine complete manuscripts, a couple of which are pretty close to being finished, so far as I can tell – and where to take it next, how to publish and publish well.

writing and tea

In both cases, there are things I can do to improve my chances and then there’s just a tonne of stuff beyond my control. I’m impatient to be in the classroom again, and I’m impatient to be published, but at the same time, I’m loving writing, and I know what I need to be working on, and I’ve enjoyed relief teaching much more than I expected. In some ways relief is a good fit with writing. And if I do suddenly get a big break and have to do a world book tour, I won’t have to take time off and mess anyone around…

But seriously, that’s only slightly less likely than finding a teaching job in Christchurch.

Maybe. Hard to say for sure.

Louis started school a couple of weeks ago and he’s so happy there. Elena’s still loving kindy and they’re both becoming more independent.

starting school

They’re happy, healthy, adorable, and relatively low-maintenance kids. I’m not dreading the summer holidays the way I was dreading school hols earlier in the year. I’ll still be able to write and find some time by myself.

happy kids boating

What I’m saying is, life is good – it’s great. But I’m still wanting more, wanting things to change.

Here’s another paradox for you: holidays. Is it just me who’s always tired at the end of them? I really am so much better at work, in my routine. I can write in a quiet house, by myself, for hours and at the end feel energised and rested.


Maybe I’m weird.

Okay, definitely.

Here’s another one: if you want to do something really well, you have to make it a priority, focus… get going toward those 10k hours we supposedly need to put in if we want to be brilliant at a thing. Any thing. But, that said, if you reduce yourself to one thing, one defining interest, especially in the arts, then you can’t do it in a way that’s relevant to the world around you. I recently started playing basketball. Now, I’m no sportswoman. I mean, I have zero interest in sport-watching, and it’s fun to play, but I’m not very committed to winning. I won’t push myself so hard that I get injured or asthmatic. If I’m stuffed, I sub-off. If someone shoves me, I back-off. But I’ve been LOVING basketball. I did not see that coming. Now, if I’m not open to trying new things, then I’ll quickly run out of things to write about. If I limit my characters to my experiences and interests and point-of-view then my stories will be so narrow.

Plus, life is more fun if you try new things.

such fun

And the next one isn’t so much a paradox, as just an unfortunate truth that I’m grappling with: you can’t do everything. You have to choose what matters and what matters less and what doesn’t matter. But there are too many wonderful things, and too many important things. You can’t even do the majority of them, to be frank. If you try to do all the wonderful and important things then you’ll be miserable: there’s simply too much to do and not enough time. And so there are some hard decisions to be made. Finish writing on deadline or go to the climate march, for instance. Both are important, but doing both would be stressful and unnecessary. I think I might come back to this in a future blog: the saying ‘no’ to things subject. It’s a big one. Tricky and important.

Here’s a tricky paradox: missing a place and being glad to be somewhere else. Ah, Paris, how you mess me around. Paris is EVERYWHERE, can I just say? I mean even when it’s not being shot up by nut-jobs, it is everywhere. I’ve been supervising NCEA exams and we confiscated a pencil case so it was sitting up the front, and it’s got the Eiffel Tower on it – of course! Paris is a hard place to leave behind anyway but seriously enough with papering the world in Eiffel Towers.

And then there’s an awful act of terrorism, so you have my permission again (not that you need it), and these past few weeks people keep saying to me, ‘you must be glad not to be there’, and I am. We were there in January for all the Charlie Hebdo palaver, and I am glad to miss out on all that stress and chaos and merde.

me and invalides

(Elena took this photo on the day that the Charlie Hebdo situation was shut down. We had an appointment in Paris and arrived early. We were waiting and she was playing with my phone. That’s Invalides in the background. I think it captures how tired, stressed, and overwhelmed I was feeling.)

But I also really want to be there. I want to hug my friends so, SO tight. Especially, but not limited to, those who lost friends at the Bataclan. I’m heartsick for them. One friend, a poet, has been posting little details of her day on facebook – about getting her bag checked at every shop, and not minding, but thinking the cursory glance in her purse wouldn’t likely catch anything dangerous if it were hidden in among the flotsam; about saying bonjour and merci to the guards outside the mosque – people she walks past every day and has never spoken to before. This is the stuff that makes me want to be there, and also so glad to be here.

But Christmas is coming, and being here in the sun wins.

summer wins

I am glad to be home and for summer coming, and pohutakawa blossoming up the road.


Brandy snaps and pavlova and lots of bubbly and long evenings on the deck, with the barbecue and Adele crooning away in the background (probably just in my head because everyone else will be sick of her and her album will be banned in our house… it’s only a matter of time.)

in my head

Oh, I won’t.

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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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wrong side of midnight

We keep staying up far too late for people whose children like the wrong side of seven in the morning. I could blame the football but that would be reductionist and dishonest.

I’ve been writing a new novel, a first draft, a rip-roaring tale that has whipped me into a frenzy. Everything and everyone have been an eensy bit neglected because I’ve been doing this:

mad cap typing

I drop Louis at school then take Elena to the playground so that I can sit there with my journal and get down the next paragraph while she stands at the top of the slide and says ‘coucou’ to me and anyone else who looks at her.

words at the playground

When she’s done, we go home and play for a little while then I give her her lunch and I write. And then I put her down for her nap, and I write. I eat my lunch and click on things I mean to read later, but instead, I write.

typing like a crazy lady

I take Elena to halte garderie, and then I write until I have to pick Louis up from school. We eat afternoon tea at the park and talk about what he ate for lunch and which kids were mean and who he loves (his choice of words is perhaps a little influenced by his using french all day). And then I coax him into going to play with the other kids. I write a bit. I look around and can’t see Louis and panic for two seconds, and then he throws a stick up in the air, it gets stuck in a tree and needs my help throwing other sticks at it in order to get it down…

cafe dates with the wee man

The last few days he’s been asking if we can go to the cafe. Unfortunately, the closest cafe makes a lousy coffee, but they know how to do Louis’ not-hot chocolate and 4.30 isn’t too early for a glass of wine. Or ice cream. Louis will do drawings and eat his not-hot chocolate off his spoon… which takes forever.

In the evenings, if there’s a french or dutch or interesting football game on, then I tend to type up all those playground words and then type-on.

writing like a machine

Yeah, 50k in 2 weeks. That’s a first.

It’s a miracle we’re not half-buried in dirty laundry, basically. The weather has been good. I’m strangely on top of Laundry. In fact, not for the first time it strikes me that I’m am most productive words-wise when I am actually pretty busy. Creativity energizes me, and busyness kicks me in the bum a bit – any minute I get to write, I write. If there’s time to spare then… no, wait, that never happens.

So, I don’t know what the magic ingredient is. Maybe a strong story. No dull bits in this one, baby. Plenty of vitamin D doesn’t hurt. The knowledge that we’ll be here for another whole year. In fact, I even know what we’re doing after that. For the first time in a long time, I can see the future (sort of). Luuk is signing on to return to Christchurch FOR CERTAIN in August of next year. Not only do I know we’ll be in France for another year but I know where we will be after that. We have been sitting on uncertainty fence for so long I forgot it was kinda uncomfortable.

Plus, we’re going on holiday in six weeks, or so, and that works a bit like a deadline. There’s more than writing to do in the meantime. We got Louis and Elena all signed on for next year for school and halte garderie. We had Louis’ school end of year do last weekend. Sunday school finished up too.

sunday school certificates

Sunday school certificates!

Elena’s nursery doesn’t wrap up for another month, but some people go on holiday in July so they’re doing things like photos now:

Elena with teachers and friends


There were options. She wasn’t smiling in any of them. But her buddy on the bottom right has moved to another city, so I picked the one with him in it. He also does a fantastic photo-grump-face. Kudos Josua.

My french class finished already (Josua’s Dad is off to play for another rugby team, and our Tutor had to go to Brazil with a whole lot of other people for something or other.) I need to get organised to sign up for classes starting in September. Inscriptions have already been and gone for some things. It’s all a bit mad here at the moment, if I’m honest.

This weekend we’re off to the Netherlands for Luuk’s family reunion. If the kids are chilled and the roads are straight (they basically are if you don’t mind the tolls) then I might be writing on the road. Perhaps I’ll finish this draft in long-hand.

Better take an extra journal.

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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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slow start

Monday was another May holiday, here in grey France. Spring is being particularly dumb actually. Summer is just a couple of weeks away but it must be hiding around a corner. The weekend was ideal for… board games. So Luuk and I spent quite a lot of it battling over A Few Acres of Snow in our very own version of Canadian/American history.

Versailles with the fountains on

Versailles – the first time we’ve been while the fountains are going.

We visited Versailles while it was sunny on Saturday, and we popped out to church on Sunday evening, so we weren’t hiding inside the entire weekend. On Monday we might have stayed in our PJs but in a nice turn of events, got a call from a friend inviting us to an impromptu afternoon tea and play-date. So that got us out of the house for a few hours. And wore the kids out nicely.

louis and jerome's discordant duet

Louis and his buddy, making music at our impromptu play-date.

Of course, with a day off the week starts pretty slow, in a nice leisurely kind of way… so long as you don’t need to get anything done. I had grand plans to start rewriting my ‘rugby romance’ (not the title on the book jacket, I predict) but have adjusted my expectations. I will REREAD it this week, and take some notes, but the rewriting will start next week.

Starting can be frustratingly slow but sometimes it’s the best way. And there’s more to life than writing (gasp!) – I had a bunch of other mums with 2-3 year old boys over for coffee and cake this afternoon, which was lovely.

The kitchen’s a bomb-site and nowhere else is really and truly clean, but there’s more to life than cleanliness (nobody gasps when I say that, any more…) but I might read chapter three – or not. Elena’s awake. Better sort the kids’ dinners as Luuk might be late (what with rain and traffic and not getting in early this morning – it was a slow start all around).

Better go.

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our spot on the seine

canal boats and spring

We turned the wrong way at Bastille (which is on a roundabout of truly french proportions) and ended up walking along the short canal between there and the Seine, rather than finding our way to Canal Saint Martin…

but once again, getting turned about in Paris was great fun. It was gorgeous weather for a walk and we paused at a couple of play grounds along the side of the canal. Louis played, I read my kindle, Elena slept. It was lovely.

The canal we were aiming for would have been a huge hike and we were all wasted by the time we finished even our shorter variation. We got to the Seine and realised we’d gone the wrong way, but it had been such a nice walk no one minded. Plus we were hungry and it was Easter Monday, so sandwiches for lunch seemed more likely available in tourist-trap areas like Ile Saint Louis.

Armed with yummy sammies and a few other treats, we found a spot in the sun, on the seine, and ate, looking up at Notre Dame, and at the teenagers posing for photos, an artist painting the scene, american tourists on hired bikes, the occasional pair of arm-locked lovers… all very postcard of Paris  in fact.

But I bought old, used postcards instead of glossy new ones. They sell them at lots of the stalls, with old stamps and postmarks, someone’s scrawly handwriting and sepia-toned pictures of Paris – I suppose they picked them up from estate sales or something. People have been sending millions of postcards from Paris for a long time now, I guess.

I’m not going to send mine. I’m posting this on the internet instead. Tres modern!

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it’s a bird, it’s a plane

… nope, it’s a snowflake. It’s sunny and snowing. What is this?

We are all out of whack today. There’s no french class, but I’m feeling so lazy I don’t mind the lack of an excuse to go out.

But we went out anyway. The sun was so convincing at one point that I promised Louis we would go to the park after his nap. By the time we got out the door I’d glimpsed something and denied it could possibly be snow… but it was.

Fortunately it stopped snowing again. The sun shone, it was gorgeous. We even walked all the way to see the horses. We stopped at a second play ground. It was spring!

And then it started snowing again. What in the name of what-now? It’s sunny as I write this, not half an hour later.

yesterday, snow


The snow, day before yesterday. Thankfully the sky has been blue for two days now and most of that is gone. But not all.

It’s not just the weather that’s dysfunctional. I stopped my editing/revision/writing at a bad point yesterday and I haven’t quite gotten started again today. The problem? I stopped at a natural stopping point. I should know better!

I have a handful ideas of what will go next, in the gap, but they’re feeling very unformed. I might journal about them all this evening and hopefully spark something because tomorrow afternoon Louis goes to halte garderie for FOUR HOURS and that is GOLD WRITING TIME. He also has to nap earlier in the day, so I need to be ready to take advantage of ALL THAT WRITING TIME!

And then we have a visitor coming to stay for the weekend and I probably won’t do much writing at all till the middle of next week.

Confession: part of the reason I’m so useless is because I have become hooked to yet another pride and prejudice adaptation and the next episode is due out now and isn’t out yet and I’ve kinda been hanging out for it all day. Before I give you the name/link/etc. I should warn you all that there are 95 episodes of around 5 minutes each and if it happens to be your cup of tea then that is quite the time-suck.

Okay, here’s the essentials: it’s a modern, up to the minute in fact, interpretation via youtube clips, ‘video diaries’ in fact, of a mass communication student named ‘Lizzie Bennet’ who, would you believe, happens to have sisters named Jane and Lydia, a mother obsessed with grandbabies, and… you can guess the rest. Anyway, here’s that link I promised you: Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

My expectations were low, but I’m hooked. I do have some addictive tendencies when it comes to stories and television series are just the worst, with their long drawn out story arcs.

But this particular saga should wrap up soon. There is a canon for it to follow and at video 96 there aint much of the canon left.

While the weather is cold (which has been consistent despite the presence of both snow and sun) the best thing I can think of to do is to eat… mainly.

anniversary dinner


Our last minute anniversary dinner: steak and chips. But it was a really good steak.

Luuk and I have been trying to convince Louis of the fact and I’m happy to say we’re finally making progress! The wee man, at two and a bit, is in his ‘no’ stage, which is now his ‘no mercy’ stage. Because Luuk read a book about how French kids eat everything. I haven’t read it yet, so really shouldn’t comment, but Louis is trying new things for the first time in AGES.

What did we do? We started sitting up at the table, all together, to eat the same thing at the same time. Rocket science, I know. He gets offered a starter and main (not as flash as it sounds – the starter is usually just a little part of what would otherwise all be served together as a main course), and we encourage him to try something new but leave it up to him. If he doesn’t, no dessert, but either way no big deal.

He hasn’t had much dessert lately, but he has had some. And on the nights when baguette is part of the entrée or plat (mains), he’s not going to bed hungry. Other nights, he must be hungry, but he says, he’d rather go to bed than eat. And so he does.

Tonight I’m making…

baked potato with smoked salmon and lemon cream
(potato is leftovers, will toast in a little butter then serve with cold salmon and cream dollop)

mushroom soup with pesto pastry scrolls

cinn-fully good apple spice scones, hot, with ice cream
(or greek yogurt if I look at a calorie count between now and then…)

baking spiced apple scones

Louis, helping to bake the spiced apple scones, this morning.

Realistically, the wee man will eat a little of the potato (hopefully), and maybe some pastry. If he actually does, then I’ve no doubt he’ll get his chance to wolf down a whole scone. Easy.

It’s a challenge this whole toddler diet deal, but at least I know it’s totally normal. Just a stage.

One day Louis will eat most things (even meat), I will write the next chapter of my novel, and summer will arrive!

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Oh Marché!

On Saturday we went to the Marché aux puces de Saint Ouen. These markets are huge. They start at the périphérique and spread out north along streets, in the back alleys and buildings. It’s quite the sprawl and a real mix of wares.

le marché

I had Elena in the back pack and Luuk carried Louis much of the way. We browsed all sorts of antiques – furniture, art, jewelry, toys, clothes, and lots of junk! Made me wish I had a giant house, or a museum, or a workshop and art gallery with loads of space.

junk tins

Lots of stalls were selling pieces of old watches and clocks, and all sorts of stuff I couldn’t identify.

diamond in the roughLuuk had been along before, with my brother back in July, and pointed us down lots of easy-to-miss nooks and alleys. So we saw plenty of intriguing sights but we resisted buying this particular car. One of the vendors did give Louis a toy car, a tiny yellow fiat, and I browsed the other cars, fully intending to buy the well-loved pick-up (reminiscent of tow-mater in a favourite film of ours…) but the seller insisted I take that for free as well.

crazy chairsTempting as these chairs were, we were a little worried that Louis wouldn’t appreciate them… especially as he still won’t sit on the toilet. (Note the cool cut out in the background.)

checking out the elephantsThere were loads of statues and garden feature-things. This elephant is one of the few that would fit on our deck…

fine rooster you have thereI’m not sure where the rooster will end up… hard to imagine.

walking or notWe walked a lot and I paid heed to the ‘no photographs’ signs. Some of them even had ‘no drawing’ signs! I guess they were serious. But the entire left hand side of that alley behind Luuk was one long fashion boutique – high end and crazy cool.

pretty junk

There were certainly some strange things for sale and I was surprised to see the prices so high – though I guess the two are connected: weird to me means unique to someone else, and hard to get a hold of, which probably comes back to that economic theory about supply and demand.

But as I never took economics I’ll leave it at that.

In the end we got the two toy cars, a carved wooden hippo (talked the seller down from 25€ to 5€ – it’s amazing the price you can get when you don’t actually want something), a couple of books and comics in French (tin tin and asterix), and a poster (an old perfume ad from a magazine, but it looks like a girl writing – right up my alley).

We managed/juggled lunch at a café with the kids – bit cramped and the waiter kept running from the bar to the kitchen (very tempting to stick a leg out… but we resisted) but Louis ate his chips and Elena ate her baby food. Luuk and I feasted! I had enough roasted veal for a whole family, and courgette gratin on the side. Salad too! Luuk went for the entrecôte frite – he says he has to get a steak when he can (I don’t do beef often for dinner at home – not that he’s complaining… of course.)

No high chairs in Paris cafés generally, but Louis sits on a chair like a big kid and Elena was propped up in the backpack when we weren’t holding her. Louis played with his cars and only broke one glass.

good company

It was a bit of a relief to get home, having driven all the way around the périphérique (there are always alarming moments), found parking, and survived the markets un-pickpocketed and without a single tantrum. Success!

The kids were glad of some space to run around at leisure and a decent nap. Elena’s favourite playtime activity at the moment is a clapping game with her buddy in the mirror… so cute. And I had to print print print, and then dash to writer’s group.

Other weekend highlights: skyping both our parents, excellent french toast breakie on saturday (I should say ‘pain perdu’). I got some editing done today while Luuk took Louis out on the bike and joined thousands of others at Parc de Sceaux. Gorgeous weather for it too. Our apartment gets all honey-coloured and warm in the sun. Spring is coming! Hurrah!





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yummy love

Who’s idea was it to have valentines day after lent starts? Seriously. But I suppose, as I’m not giving up chocolate, I shouldn’t complain too much.

I’m giving up whatever I have to in order to read my bible every day. Other years I’ve given up meat or coffee (or both) and as helpful as the experience was I really want to get into a habit of reading my bible again, so this seemed as good a time as any. I could cut out a specific thing – reading trash, watching television, or some other wasteful time-suck, but I think I’m more likely to read my bible if I can then reward myself with a little trashy tv… hey, know thyself, right?

I’m also going to have a go at 40 Acts, which is all about being generous. I suppose the focus shifts from giving something up, to giving something up for someone else. And with my bible reading resolution, giving up something for something else.

And Valentines? Well I did think ahead and shopped the lingerie department during the last round of sales, but then yesterday I saw a recipe for red, heart shaped pancakes… So I’m thinking I’ll make the mixture this afternoon and then serve them up for breakfast. We don’t have moulds but I’m wondering if a round pancake with a frosting-heart would have a similar effect. And it all goes down the same way (apologies… common saying in our family – more disgusting than I realise, possibly.)

— dropping Louis at halte garderie —

Stopped in at the church on the way back, just to check on a detail for my story (several scenes of which take place in the church), and it was packed out… The priest up the front is making a mark on the forehead of another priest, then on an altar boy – oh! It’s Ash Wednesday. Took me long enough.

Dates like this, and Valentines for that matter, make me think back to other years.

Two years ago, valentines day, Luuk and I went to a restaurant which no longer exists, because a week later the hotel crashed down around it in a massive earthquake. The city jumped up and down, as well as side to side, at 2gs, and little survived. Since then much of the city (including that hotel) has been demolished.

christchurch remainsChristchurch Remains
(not my image, belongs to ChristchurchNZ group)

It is so strange to think of all the places, of all the memories I have of things happening in places, that simply no longer exist. I used to work in that big hotel in the foreground… but the theatre over the road, gone. The Starbucks where I’d get my frapuccino (I’d lasted another day cleaning hotel room filth! Well done me!) is still standing, though not operational, but the cathedral is gutted and half gone.

Depressing. Moving on…

I’ve never been to very traditional churches till this last year but two years ago I went along to an Ash Wednesday service for the first time. It was just after the earthquakes and the cathedral was a ruin (the one in the middle of the image above). The catholic basilica was also a mess and there’s nothing quite like a natural disaster to bring people together. The respective bishops and other church leaders of the city got together and had a joined Ash Wednesday service at a little Anglican church in the suburbs. Louis and I went along. After the quakes we were encouraged to stay home, to limit strain on the infrastructure, and with a four month old baby I wasn’t much help digging liquefaction silt off of people’s driveways, so I was home a lot. On that Wednesday, I wanted to be a part of things, to see the community joining together, working and celebrating and mourning together.

Now I’m a part of a very different community, and yet in some ways I’m not a part of it. I’m an expat, always a bit out of things, and then I speak middling French at best… This morning, Elena was ready for her nap, the church was full, it was half way through… I didn’t stay. Elena will have to wait till next year to get an ash cross on her forehead, but she does get blessed every other week at church, and by us every night before bed. She’ll be fine. It’s not a magic spell.

I’ve gone off on a tangent. I was going to write about showing love through food. Yesterday evening I made mince and cheese pies, not an entirely self-less act of love, but Luuk enjoyed them at least as much as I did.

They turned out awesome, despite my basically winging it with regards a recipe. So, for posterity or something, here’s what I did:

1. butter, shallots chopped fine and mushrooms chopped roughly, all fried up.

mushroom layer


2. I used the chinese food dishes from the previous night (reduce reuse recycle!), rinced them well and then lined them with pre-rolled flaky pastry. I put the mushrooms in first then…

3. Cooked up the beef mince.

4. Grated a potato, skin and all, and added this to browned beef.

5. A glass of red wine and a dissolved stock cube in less than a cup of water, added gradually… and herbs, seasoning, etc.

6. I put the beef/potato/gravy mix into the pie dishes on top of the mushrooms then grated plenty of (comte) cheese on top.

pies ready to cook

7. I managed to do this with just one sheet of pastry, but I had to wrestle the pie tops to fit. And then I poked holes and then baked at 200 for about 40 minutes.

mushroom, red wine, mince and cheese pies

8. Cause I’m a good girl, we also had a half head of broccoli each, steamed with a tiny bit of butter and the last dregs of that stock water.

I saw a picture of an old Georgie Pie meal deal on facebook yesterday and it made me crave pie… I haven’t had mince and cheese pies since we left New Zealand, and I’ve had some very good ones in my time (thank you Mountain View Bakery, Pirongia, to name one source in particular) but seriously, take that Georgie Pie!


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where’s wally progress?

Progress feels slow but it’s there… just. I submitted a short story to a Paris lit magazine today, and also received a rejection letter from a lit agency I queried… before Elena was born. I got the message about four months ago, thanks, but the email cleared up any confusion, yes.

Sorry, no more bitterness. Promise.

Progress on my novel also feels slow but I have been distracted a lot, by other, shorter projects (and by other things entirely… like scrabble on facebook… can’t be disciplined all the time.)

Louis had an accident again at halte garderie. Perhaps he’s too young for potty training completely – perhaps its just a communication issue. I’m not sure. But we’ll try for another week or so and see if things fall into place. Prior to this he’s always had a nappy on when he’s away from home, so it’s steep learning curve.

Elena is progressing toward crawling and she’s getting from one side of the room to the other without it. She’s full of energy and eats anything she can get her hands on, happily finishing Louis’ leftovers. Her progress is more obvious than anyone’s and a great joy.

play, the work of childhood

The little lady wants in on all the fun.

It’s a year since we left New Zealand and I’ll write a summary of sorts in the next day or so, but yesterday I read back over my first two blog posts after we arrived in France. There is a very strange time warp thing going on – the year is so short and so long. We’ve learned so much French in that time and yet most days it feels like no progress at all.

So I suppose the lesson here is that progress is invisible up close, but it’s happening nonetheless.

Time is certainly progressing, no doubt about that! Only one more day of the january writing challenge. Here are yesterday and today’s small stones…

a glass of wine

if sunshine were put on ice till
it turned liquid
then chilled a while longer, sweetening
softly with age till
I glug glug it into my glass
a celebratory salute for ticking
off that one big thing
at four in the afternoon.

And today’s, inspired by our walk in the last of the gorgeous late afternoon sun,

the steeple bright, as
if two photos, day and dusk
were stuck together 

It was like a taste of spring today – just lovely. Spring is an excellent example of slow, easy-to-miss progress. We’re leaving winter behind but some days it’s still an awful lot like winter. (I know it’s still January – definitely still winter – I’m getting ahead of myself but you should’ve seen the sun today!)

enjoying the winter sun