A year today!

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A year today!

I never did quite get to doing a christmas letter last year… no grand surprise. Instead, we put together a variation on the 12 days of christmas, highlighting bits of our life, especially around christmas time…

so here it is! A christmas not-letter… in february. Voila.

As to an actual update and summary of the past year… I’ll get to work on that. I had grand plans to do it yesterday evening but, in a lovely turn of events, we spent the evening at our kiwi friends’ place.

Louis and his buddy Iosua… gon’ride!

The kids ran about like mad things and us grown-ups enjoyed a sushi feast and a cool new-to-us board game called ‘Dixit‘. It won the Spiel de Jahres (top notch german board game award) in 2010 and fair enough – great for a group, easy to learn, adaptable to a variety of ages and personalities (a software engineer, an inventor-sewing-entrepreneur/primary-teacher, a rugby player, and a writer/secondary-teacher… in this instance) and I won! So obviously it’s a good ‘un.

Between french homework and lesson, socialising, and doing my head in wrestling with video and slideshow software (linux and windows do not play nice… or is it just me?) I got no writing at all done yesterday. I thought about a small stone but, confession: I’m just writing it now. My last one for the January Mindful Writing Challenge…

suddenly in sync
kids without intent, a game 
invented – the joy! 

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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

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new waistline


In france and breadless? Shut the front door.

Well, yes. In the interest of keeping the door shut, keeping us inside and warm for as much of the day as possible, I am not going out to get bread today. The bread here is amazing when fresh and better used as weaponry when it’s stale, so we never stock up. And it’s Thursday so our closest baker is shut anyway.

sick kids cuddling

Between the cold weather and the cold virus, the couch is the best place to be.

I have Louis, feverish and teething, on the sofa, watching Veggietales, and Elena squealing at her banana happily, making a mess and lots of adorable facial expressions, and I am quite happy to stay home… if a little hungry. Yesterday’s soup is reheating in the microwave.

Creamy mushroom mmm.

Since I haven’t gone anywhere in days there isn’t much to talk about – except food. It’s been a baking week. And Louis won’t eat any of it. Visitors are my only hope, or there goes the newly discovered waistline.

new waistline

Therein lies the newly discovered waistline (not a new jacket though… I’m waiting for the third wave of price cuts in the sales – 80% off some stuff!)

toddler helps cook cupcakes

Lots of helpers for the chocolate cream cheese cupcakes.

On the plus side, I’ve been making soup nearly every day. But soup without bread..? It’s a hard knock life.

This happens rather regularly – a day when I’m out of bread and don’t want to go out to get some – and I’ve noticed a few things:

– bread attracts bad company. Principally: cheese. Not that cheese is bad but, oh alright, if you’re counting calories it is bad.

– bread jumps the queue. If I have bread, ready and waiting to be toasted or turned into a sandwich, then I use it. I don’t even consider other breakfast or lunch options.

– bread is filling, but not for long. I need to have some protein or loads of veggies with it in order to stay full all afternoon.

So, in theory, going without bread for a day or two occasionally is probably an excellent idea. But in practise, the kitchen is a mess and I’m living on apple, yogurt and coffee rather than cleaning a space to make something substantial.

Fortunately someone else is cooking tonight. We are going to friends’ place for dinner! This has happened maybe thrice in the last year, hence the exclamation point. Hopefully the kids eat and then sleep (we’re taking our handy dandy porta-cots for this very purpose). Louis seems better than he was earlier and his temperature has gone down. Fingers crossed they’ll sleep through my French lesson this afternoon as well!

ps. Louis did both. And Elena neither, but she slept while we were getting ready to go out. It was go-go-go, but on the train I managed to do the day’s ‘small stone’ on a memo on my phone:

The RER B train rattling south of a Thursday evening is cozy rather than busy – warmer and lighter inside than beyond its scratched windows. People read or talk or watch the half light racing past, the street lamps and unshuttered windows, silhouetted offices and shadowy station platforms. A woman, with fur hood thrown back and giant white headphones crowning tight braids, glares at her cellphone. A baby dwarfed by snowsuit studies the stripy scarfed man reading ‘le parisien’.

We had a lovely evening with our friends – a delicious peruvian meal and great conversation! And Luuk drove directly from work so he drove us all home. Much as the train surprised me with its very civilized and almost library-like atmosphere, the car suited the sleeping babies and dozy-me even better.

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word wars

So far, we’re having a wordy week. Yesterday’s small stone:

the words don’t flow, they tumble and tustle, clattering from my fingers, occasionally slowing their stumble in the vicinity of my brain, giving me a chance to catch them, tame them, but they’re too quick for me.

Hopefully that will happen again – very soon.

A writerly day, that’s what I’d like. Louis is feverish, probably teething – so he’s sleeping away the morning rather than braving the halte garderie. Elena is having a good long sleep as well. So it’s been a good start on the writing front.

And I discovered scrabble on facebook, so in theory the writing could have progressed quite a lot more. But there were word-foes to vanquish. And I did. Narrowly.

I could probably claim that scrabble is writer-training, but who am I trying to fool. This is not an expense claim form. I’m not trying to get a tax rebate on vaguely business-related costs. But it was fun. I was multi tasking – writing while my opponent had her turn – and no doubt both my game and my writing suffered, but it was fun.

And now I’ve stopped playing scrabble to make the most of this writerly-opportunity. But while I’m here, today’s small stone:

My toes, ankles and upper arms, that’s where I feel the cold. There’s a shiver between my shoulder blades and a tingle beneath the balls of my feet. I cross my legs and apply myself, tangled and intent. There is a blanket, a whole half-a-room away.

Naturally, the kids will wake soon, so I’d better find me some socks, a hot drink, another cardigan and something to read while I breastfeed. Being all ready for them to wake up usually delays it a while – not sure why, but that’s how it usually goes.

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worth bothering

My weeks are feeling rather full. I have two french lessons, at least one playgroup, Louis goes to Halte Garderie three times, and then the gaps fill up with other friends, visitors and errands… It feels managable, and then all of a sudden it doesn’t. Or that’s the way it usually goes:

under control, under control, under control, YIKES!

Yikes comes along faster as soon as I get sick or can’t sleep. Fortunately, this week, I’m on the improve. The weather is miserable (picturesque but miserable) and at least one, possibly both, of the kids are teething, and not particularly well along with it.

We did venture out today – to take Louis to halte garderie. It’s not a long walk but a bit of a workout with the double stroller. We were first to arrive, except for the teachers, but we were also first to leave. I was phoned in the middle of french lesson and had to go pick up Louis, who had a fever… oops.

The plan for the week now: lots of naps and movies and avoiding going out in the snow.

Sometimes I feel like I’m mad, trying to write novels as well as everything else. This morning I read a blog post by someone else who does something similar, which made me feel less uniquely bonkers.

Laura Joyce Davis, writing on Megan Ward’s ‘Writerland‘ blog:

“But being a writer makes me a better mother, because even when the words come like weeds from the ground, writing nourishes me for the rest of life. It gives me the grace to allow my son to find a voice of his own.

“Most days, I manage to make time for the whisper of words on the page. I say no to a lot that other moms embrace: play dates, timely returned emails, a vibrant social life. (Yiyun Li once said you only need one friend; she is a writer and mother, too.) I’ve banished the goal of the woman who has it all together. There isn’t time for her anymore. But that’s just as well…”

’tis. The woman who has it all together has left the building, if indeed she ever was here, and the woman who is editing two novels at once is left behind. I am, in theory, editing ONE manuscript at the moment, but I took along the first chapter of another to writers’ group on Saturday evening and all the critique is fresh in my head, so rather than being distracted (and distressed, if I’m honest) by all that was said, I’ve decided to get on and make the revisions to chapter one of that book. And then, tomorrow, I’ll get back to ‘grandma’s house’ – which definitely needs a better working title.

But titles are one of those things publishers mess with and I don’t want to waste a bunch of time on that at the moment. A decent title will certainly help to get interest in the book – from agents or publishers – so it is important, but for now I’m editing.

Editing editing editing.


I read another blog post this morning, on just how difficult editing can be.

Behler Blog‘s advice on editing:

“Do this slowly. Reason being, you need to make sure that your “now” voice blends in with the “you” who wrote this story ages ago. It’s a strange thing, but I’ve seen a number of cases where the writer has evolved, and the rewrites stand out from the old work.”

I suppose that’s a good problem to have, but it’s a problem all the same. I’ve written a whole nother novel since I finished the one I’m editing now. My writing has changed (improved, fingers crossed) and so editing, if I do it as best I can, might in fact turn out to be a full rewrite.

And some days it feels like an overwhelmingly huge job and I wonder why I bother.

But, on the whole, I’m glad I do.

To finish: today’s small stone.

A glorious crunch, gives this stolen chip, from my kid’s bowl, full of calories that don’t count unless he catches me thieving, and then there’s trouble. We go to the bag, top shelf in the kitchen, hidden and pegged shut, and retrieve ONE for a replacement. Fair is fair.

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Snowy Solace

We are living in a winter wonderland. Paris in the snow! I’ve seen very little of it but I did go in to the city for writers’ group yesterday evening. The group met, not at Shakespeare and Co (who are stocktaking – no one is jealous) but at an apartment near Bastille. I tried and failed to get a photo of the monument in the snow – but you’re not missing much. It was all rather bleak.

Instead, here’s our pretty street:

 Walking home along Rue de l’Eglise.

 And that’s the Eglise (church) behind my lovely husband and miserable son.

Louis is not fond of the snow but he is fond of kicking a ball and won’t walk in the stuff unless induced in such a way.

We have a friend from New Zealand staying with us and the kids are loving getting to know her. I suspect she’s enjoying renewing the acquaintance with our cuties as well.

 Jenny went with Luuk and Louis to buy pastries for breakfast.

We went down to the market this morning, braving the snow, but the market itself was undercover and amongst the vegetables and cheeses there were other wares. Jenny resisted this marvel of a hat, but we were tempted.

Picture perfect snow flakes. (Shame about the picture quality.)

On the subject of snow, yesterday’s small stone:

curb, branch and eave
underline that – just in case you missed it – 
it snowed!

And today’s:

How many times watched, how many hearts captured, by this pair and their reluctant, inevitable affection? How many hours absorbed by this film, by the book on which it’s based? How perfect the weather for (another) five hours sedentary pleasure. “… how ardently I admire and love…”

That’s right, we are watching a rather familiar BBC miniseries this fine snow-blanketed day. Wickham is spreading his terrible lies and I’m nursing cup of coffee while Luuk gets the market cheeses and some fresh baguette ready for afternoon tea. Lazy sunday, ’tis.

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all done list

The snow remains in patches, like only the most generous dustings of icing sugar on a too-warm cake. (Except for the warm bit.)

That’s today’s small stone. It’s been snowing on and off all day but such tiny flakes. I felt I was being gently salted on the way to the halte garderie. Louis loved it though. Shame about the temperature – not up to zero all day. I was very glad when Luuk happily agreed to pick up Louis, allowing Elena and I to stay in the warm and nurse our runny noses.

I’ve barely got anything done – but research always feels that way. I’ve been learning all about gardening and root systems. I also wrote a couple of possible prologue scenes, but now I think they won’t be in the book, unless as memories. I needed to write them, for myself, to clarify exactly what happened… they may or may not make the cut for the actual story.

I didn’t even hang out the laundry today. Oops. But I’ve assembled the cannelloni for dinner – it just needs to go in the oven. And I had a big long phone call – an ideas session really but the two of us cannot seem to figure out a way to get together in person during the week. Thank god for technology eh? Then I wrote a mammoth email which may or may not have made a lot of sense…

So it turns out I did plenty today. Screw to do lists. Want to feel productive? Write all-done lists at the end of the day. Woop-e-dee-doo!

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shallots for the eyes

The snow has frozen solid but it’s a clear day. Staying in until french lesson this avo – which will be a lovely catch up as well as, you know, a useful language to learn if you live in france…

Small stone, aujourd’hui:

Nothing clears a tear duct like fresh cut shallots. In the unlikely event this fails, use them to make soup and there’s some solace.

Having soup for the second day in a row. Love winter, and eating sensibly, and deliciously, and fitting into jeans several sizes smaller than I did just six months ago. Also quite fond of soup, in case that was less than clear. Last night it was cream of mushroom (with a tablespoon each of greek yoghurt and cream cheese for the ‘cream’ bit, then pureed all together and fresh baguette on the side) and today it’s cream of courgette done pretty much the same way. Three courgettes and two little taties, instead of a dozen mushrooms, and voila!

Anyway, must keep working on this rewrite. Am reading over outline and notes and writing more notes of all my ideas, questions, etc. At some point in the near future I’ll need to make sense of all this. Yikes. With any luck I can get this to sing, you know, emotionally. Perhaps will elicit tears with something other than shallots.

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hiding in the shadows

To begin, today’s small stone:

From the glowing white shadows of rose gold buildings, I step out.

That might be my smallest stone yet. Funny how something that began as purely observational comes quickly to the point of revealing my state of mind. Perhaps the revelation is less than clear – it is this: I am feeling utterly daunted by the enormity of the task before me; that of reworking my novel. It seems a huge job, and yet more than 60 thousand words of it are on paper so perhaps (I hope) it is not so half-baked as I suspect.

Not that I’m making significant progress today. I don’t have hayfever. The sneezes misled me. I have a cold; a horrible achey breaky leaky cold. I just want to go back to bed. But I have two children and if I go to bed they might notice.

I’m tempted to try and find out.

Or I could cozy up on the couch with a(nother) cup of coffee and tackle my outline while Louis watches Veggie Tales. I just need to start – to look at the thing as a whole and make some notes, weigh up the possibilities, make a few tough calls…

As someone once said/wrote, “It’s a dangerous business… going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

The question, I suppose, is whether or not ‘keeping my feet’ is vital to pulling a half-decent novel together. It’s possible I’m exploring a less than helpful metaphor rather than doing my work. So I’ll stop now.



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just another something

Today’s small stone is on the grand and vital subject of Jaffas.

I was always too greedy to throw you down the cinema aisles, little orange choc drops, each a miniature mars (planet not chocolate) in their autumn red shells, clickety-clicking their memorable riff, shaken to bits in the box.

They were a bit shaken to bits too – a little worse for wear having flown around the world (though not in their own power – just to be clear – Jaffas are lollies). These were a gift from our far flung homeland – which I am missing badly because everyone insists on posting gorgeous beachy photographs and complaints about the temperature on facebook. I know, full well, I did the same in September. I have it coming.

Gosh darn it.

It’s funny though, Jaffas don’t make me feel all that homesick. Snifters might have done it. Jaffas mainly make me think of the ol’ abbreviation – the oh-so-kind nickname for Aucklanders. Auckland, being the biggest city in NZ, has a love-hate relationship with the rest of the country. Aucklanders love the rest of the country while the rest love to hate Auckland. And I was a JAFFA – or JAFA, I suppose: Just Another F**.. Aucklander.

It’s funny the things that pop into my mind. The last two sundays at church we’ve sung ‘We Three Kings’ and every time (EVERY TIME!) I have to resist the urge to sing,

We three kings of orient are
one in a tractor, one in a car
one on a scooter, tooting his hooter
following yonder star.

Which, in case you are wondering, are not the traditional words of the hymn. Not quite.

Here’s a video rendition of the version we weren’t meant to sing, just to reinforce some terribly inaccurate stereotypes…

Apologies, today’s post is a rambler. I’ve been swamped with sneeze-after-sneeze all afternoon. I ran out of my hayfever meds four days ago and only restocked yesterday, after visiting a different doctor to our usual, because our usual is closed till the end of the month… which was what she said last month. So we might be changing doctors.

I’m also a bit out of it today because I finished reading ‘Me Before You’ by Jojo Moyes and can’t stop thinking about this brilliant book – though the ending is kind of awful. But perfect. But sad.

Anyway, if you don’t mind light books with heavy subjects and bitter-sweet endings, read it. Very well done. But, I should warn, it’ll leave you feeling the same you did after the Downton Abbey Christmas Special. Is that a spoiler? Sorry.

What was I saying? Oh, nothing. Probably. Mushroom soup for dinner tonight, maybe. Maybe take-aways. Will go down to bakery by myself either way, once Luuk gets in. Must get out of the house before my head explodes. It’s the hayfever sure, but I do get a bit of cabin fever some days. And it’s been snowing, on and off, not enough to play in, so taking the kids out without good reason just defies good sense.