The 100 Days Project

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The 100 Days Project

This year was the fourth year I’ve participated in the 100 Days Project. It is a creative exercise in which participants repeat the same artistic (little-a artistic, broad definition of art) process or task each day for 100 days. This is definitely of the quantity-over-quality-leads-to-quality school of thought.

I’ve done a variety of visual and written tasks in the past, and this year I combined the two in 100 lies we tell kids.

This year was the first year I’ve participated in the Day 100 Show. In fact, this year, there are three of these exhibitions. The Europe one was just for one day, in IJsselstein, in the Netherlands, but the Wellington show is on all week and the Auckland show is this coming weekend, so if you can get along, have a look at all the incredible collections people have put together over the past 100 days.

Day 100 show, Europe

The Day 100 Show, in Europe, at the IJsselstein Library, last Saturday.

100 lies we tell kids

My exhibit.

IJsselstein 100 day show

The ‘ninos’, the eyes, a few monkeys, and at the end the 5 year old twins’ ‘Hearts and Houses’ exhibit.

100 collages

100 collages.

100 eyes

100 eyes.

100 ninos

100 Ninos.

There were a dozen or so exhibitors and we managed to video chat, eventually, with Emma Rogan, the kiwi who started the whole project up a few years ago.

handy to have tech support on site.

In the foreground: Luuk, being tech support, and figuring out how to get around Emma’s hotel wifi restrictions… which did eventually work.

In the background: 100 octopuses!

My absolute favourite were the blind contour drawings, a style thing I’m definitely going to have to try.

blind contour drawings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This artist drew all sorts of things but the drawings themselves were all kinds of weird and wonderful.

pumpkins and giraffes

 

 

These giraffes were probably my favourite.

This the first time I’ve participated in an art exhibition and I absolutely loved it. Artistic community for the win, frankly, and going out for drinks and dinner and quadri-lingual conversation afterwards = all good. Bit tiring but GOOD.

The whole 100 days thing brings out some interesting stuff about artistic process and whatever it takes to call one’s self an artist. Some of the exhibitors displayed their work in day-by-day-order and I definitely noticed how the first half are kind of steady, good but perhaps a bit predictable, and then there’s a hitch in the middle, sometimes the quality isn’t so strong, motivation is low, perhaps a day or two get missed, but the second 50 days are really interesting. Things get a bit desperate, but creativity really comes into play. Those off-the-wall, bold ideas, which are hard to feel sure about at the time, come out, and often they’re the best bits of all. I’m very aware, as a writer, than when I’m working on a given scene I’m rarely certain of the quality of my work, and even if I’m certain, I’m not objective. I’m often wrong about the strength of my writing when I’m drafting it, but later I can see more clearly.

This project is a great way of gaining some confidence as an artist, to trust your own gut and try things, not expecting everything to work well, but knowing that good work comes out of LOTS OF WORK.

Luuk and I had the weekend on our own in the Netherlands. Mum arrived from NZ last Thursday and bravely babysat the kiddos for the weekend, despite jetlag. She’s staying for the holidays so we’ll be doing lots of Paris sights and perhaps Luuk and I will nab another couple of nights out with our handy live-in babysitter around. Louis is off school, though Elena’s nursery goes on as per usual, so Mum and I will have the kids with us most of the time – tomorrow, at the Louvre, and Thursday perhaps Montmartre.

As usual, I’m writing/editing in all the down-time – the kids are napping now, and whenever they’re busy playing I’ll snatch some words. I’m editing one project, though I got an editor’s report back on another this morning. A third is sitting in a couple of slush piles, and a fourth is probably a quarter of the way through draft 1 in my journal, perhaps ready to go for nanowrimo. Which may or may not happen, depending on my editing progress and the speed with which people get through their slush piles.

I have to say, it is rather good to have the 100 days project behind me. My photos and paintings and words from the project might, one day, boil down to make a fun coffee-table style book, but no mad rush there. It could make a good Christmas present, I suppose, but I just don’t see it happening in the next month or two. So if you want to read all the lies, have a scroll through my 100 days project page, here.


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wind-down

We’re usually the ones who take-off on holiday on the evening of the last day of work, or at crack of dawn, next morning, but this time we are taking an entire leisurely Saturday to pack and potter around. A much more relaxing start to a holiday.

We have three weeks and first stop is Switzerland. This time tomorrow, all going well, we’ll roll into Geneva, kids fresh from a very long nap. What shall we see? I guess I’ve got some reading to do. There’s a lake, definitely, and mountains, it being Switzerland. Fortunately, most of the five hours-or-so drive is within France, and I can hot-spot the 3G on my phone and use my ipad in the car to google things. Ah, the joys.

The next stop on our trip is properly in the Swiss Alps, and then we head down into Italy, where we will chill out by a lake for a few days. From there we will stop off at Milan, Padova and Venice before heading north to Salzburg.

I make no promises but there might be a blogpost from Salzburg. I’m glad we are going back to Italy; it was pretty awesome last summer. I suspect we’ll need warmer clothes this time, as we are basically lapping the alps – which gives a rough idea of our complete route.

Fewer days are set aside for dedicated lazing about, than last summer, but we will be seeing all sorts of stuff in five different countries. And we’re driving which gives us a bit of freedom – and I’m not gonna lie, air conditioning is nice. Public transport in Italy in August… steamy.

I’m glad we didn’t rush off first thing today. I’ve had the kids home with me all week. We’ve cleaned out the perishable foodstuffs and stayed on top of the laundry but packing didn’t happen till today.

What did we do? Well, there were three markedly different huts – not bad for our cozy wee living room.

inside the first hut

Inside the first hut, a picnic for the toys.

hut number three

The third hut, before the friends arrived. They had a real picnic lunch in there.

On discovering the ludotheque was closed for the week, we took advantage of good weather (which didn’t last, I’m sorry to say) and visited a different park to usual, at the other end of Antony.

exploring the distant playgrounds

The distant park – which still has sand!

the favourite playground

And we went back to our usual haunt – the kids’ favourite park in town.

working on the cycling skills

And when the rain came and went we dashed out to the closest park, and Elena biked!

We ate our breakfast one morning by the fish pond.

breakfast by the fishpond

Mmm, fresh pastry and ominous skies.

fishes!

But the fish were out and the weather waited a little while.

Another day, we stopped in at Louis’ favourite cafe, for hot chocolates.

chocolat tiede

Or rather, ‘chocolat tiede’, so that it’s cool enough to drink.

menu angst

And the kids had more fun with the menu than the tiny waffles.

There was a little down-time each day, while they napped. I’ve been trying to make all the broad-strokes edits to my manuscript, according to some horribly wonderfully insightful questions and suggestions from an editor. Meanwhile, Luuk has had a FULL ON week at work, and had left-over work to do every night. Needless to say, we were in no shape to pack and go first thing today.

And I finished my major-edits about an hour ago. Hurrah!

And margaritas! Had to use up the limes, of course.

Occurs to me now that there are clothes in the machine, clean and wet and not getting dry enough to pack. So much for being on top of the laundry.


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between trips

We had a lovely weekend in Dijon, while the kids stayed home and had a lovely weekend with Brendan and Erin.

Luuk, in Dijon, France

Luuk, wandering the streets of Dijon.

We ate multi-course meals at a leisurely pace, took our time in museums, slept in, and only stopped for nap time because we wanted to. It was our first night away from the kids together and it was great fun.

On Wednesday night we’ll pack up the car and head off to Bretagne for eight days of sight-seeing and seafood, and with any luck some family fun. The region is famously beautiful when it rains… and since it’s raining here too, we might as well go to where the rain is pretty.

I’ve been putting photos up on my facebook and twitter feed, and will continue to do so. I’m not going to write a whole travel-log post on either of these trips, probably. Just some long, chatty captions, perhaps.

In the meantime, Louis has two days of school, and Elena’s not having any halte garderie. She still hasn’t got visible chicken pox, but there’s a lengthy incubation period so it’s probably still coming. She’s staying home rather than spreading it around, and we are continuing with the potty training. Fun fun fun…

Five signs you’re in the home of a potty-trainer:

1. The floor is cleaner than you’ve ever seen it. (Don’t think about why.)

2. There are lots of towels on the line. And in the laundry pile. And possibly smack-bang in the middle of that vast, clean floor. (Too late, you thought about why.)

3. The toilet paper has been rolled up. As in, it was at some point unraveled and then re-rolled.

re-rolled loo paper

 

Dry and safe, but disconcerting, nonetheless.

4. Sticker chart(s) on the fridge.

5. Bare-bummed kids are a dead give-away. Otherwise, watch out for those brand new packets of tiny knickers, all ready to go (long before the kid is.)

What’s worse is that you’ll never need these five signs because we’re probably talking about potty training. Sorry.

Now, I’ve got laundry to do, and also a little bit of planning: got to get my head around a few little writing projects I can do during kids’ nap times, and possibly while we’re on the road, over the next couple of weeks.

 


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chocolate therapy

It’s true. Chocolate does not cure chicken pox. We are yet to ascertain whether or not it makes Elena immune. She is spot-free as yet, but not going to Halte Garderie because apparently she’ll be contagious before she’s spotty. Louis’ pox appeared after we’d already been staying with friends for a couple of nights, in Lille. Oops. Too late, they’d all been exposed. But only the baby hadn’t had it before. Good luck, JJ. Hope you sleep right through it, kid.

So, there was one day of our holiday in which we were all good and healthy, basically. And we went to Bruges, which is less than an hour from Lille, across a border you wouldn’t know was there (except your cell phone company texts to say they’re ‘with you’ and these are the roaming charges…).

belfry, bruges

The belfry tower in Bruges.

looking down a well, bruges

Louis and Luuk in a very old well. Let’s say they’re looking for chocolate.

virgin and child, bruges  I recently saw Monuments Men (good one. See it.) and in the film, one of the artworks threatened by the Nazis is Michelangelo’s Virgin and Child – in the middle of this photo. A bit of action takes place in this church, where the statue stood before the war and (spoiler alert) returned later. I was keen to see the place, and the statue, so I bullied everyone else into it.

our lady of bruges  Cool old church, undergoing refurbishments. On the plus side, entry was much cheaper than usual. In france churches are free to enter, but not so everywhere else. We’ve paid in england, italy and now belgium. But fair enough, must cost the earth to preserve stuff for so long.

refurbishments, our lady of bruges

I do like looking at old stuff. Call me a patina junkie.

more modern sculpture in our lady of bruges

Quite like the more modern art as well. Louis, inside this other Madonna and child statue.

So that was Friday. Saturday I woke up all head-coldy and Louis, covered in pox. So we took it pretty easy.

connect four, or five, or three

The kids, messing with a board game. Not playing it.

what I did Saturday morning...

I did manicures with a six year old… pas mal. And read.

After lunch, the dads took the kids to the park and us Mum’s relaxed, got the roast on, and hid the easter eggs. Sunday was meant to rain so we did the hunt early.

The kids had a restrained but appetite-destroying amount of chocolate. We grown-ups probably ate about the same amount, in all fairness, but that didn’t damper our enthusiasm for the leg of lamb. Not one bit. I do a mean roast potato. Marcelle’s gravy was gravy baby.

Sunday we went to an English church in Lille. Elena and I helped with some easter egg smashing, all very symbolic of Jesus of Nazareth, defeating death… and yummy. And possibly exposing quite a lot of people to chicken pox, though probably not, because she hasn’t visibly got them yet.

We were going to visit the market in Lille but parking proved a problem and so we had lunch at a family friendly (but painfully slow) restaurant, and then returned to chez Leo’o for a little lazy indigestion.

rocking and rolling

Some slept. Others did not.

And then, because lunch was so late, we had to work up an appetite…

backyard soccer, pros and toddlers all together

Just a little light backyard soccer. Nothing to see here.

backyard soccer

Hard work, facing a professional sportsman, but all those years playing goalie paid off. It wasn’t a total walkover until I joined in.

elena swinging happy

Elena found a safe spot, where she wouldn’t get trampled. Smart kid.

After the kids were in bed, we cracked out the easter treats for the grown ups. Hot chocolate spoons from Bruges, and some good old Whittaker’s peanut slab from NZ.

hot choc spoons from bruges, belgium

Monday we headed home… via (well, not strictly via) Dunkirque and Calais and the Baie de la Somme. First stop, Dunkirque. It was a bit early for lunch, so we wandered, and then settled on La Pataterie, a baked potato chain restaurant we’ve never tried before.

There was a play area, a high chair and a changing mat in the loos. Who cares what the food is like? But it wasn’t bad at all. Then there was the circus, right there, how convenient. We went to visit the caged animals… hopefully not supporting any horrific abuses in the process. I dread the thought. But the kids do love them horses.

And the tigers and elephants and baby goat, leaping over it’s mother gleefully. It’s hard to compete with tigers and elephants but the kid made a noble effort.

Louis approved.

The kids were asleep before we even got to the coast. But Luuk and I enjoyed the meander around the port and the breakwater.

lighthouses, dunkirk

Lighthouses aplenty!

driving around the harbour at dunkirk

Lots of cool lifty-uppy and swingy-roundy bridges.

lighthouses at dunkirk

And more light houses.

There was a road across the top of the breakwater, which we missed access to.

on the breakwater, dunkirk

So we stopped to have a look-see.

And then drove on to Calais. We woke the kids, because we’d promised them some beach. So we had afternoon tea on the sand, at Calais. And to build castles.

luuk and kids at calais

Apple compotes and old snickers bars from the car-stash. Gourmet, much.

pier at calais

We walked up the pier, Louis on his bike, scooting around all the many fishing poles.

watching the fishermen on the pier at calais

Watching the fishermen cast, in the shade of the lighthouse.

The kids didn’t want to sleep again, so the trip from there on was a little less peaceful. We stopped to take in the view, at one point.

elena looks out on baie de somme

Lovely misty sun. Lovely restless toddlers.

windmills in baie de somme

Windmills!

kids at baie de somme

Happy kids. And then we put them in the car.

And they were less happy kids… and then (thank heaven) sleeping kids. Bit of a late one. Direct drive from Lille to home is about three hours. The dunkirk-calais detour should have added an hour and a half, plus a meal time.

Two meal times in the end, and three hours of sight seeing. Long trip, in the end. But we probably won’t make it back up to that bit of France. For eight days in May we’ll drive around Brittany and a bit of Normandy, but not this far north. So it was good to see it while we were there. And it was great to catch up with the Leo’os, our good kiwi friends who are moving back to Christchurch within a month of us! How cool is that?


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the nether… regions

It’s been quite a week. That seems to happen a lot.

Luuk got back from Japan, and then three days later we went to the Netherlands for the weekend. How’s that for a succinct summary?

But wait, there’s more. There were other nether-lands. The nether-regions of my adolescence reared their heads (too many metaphors? too bad) – I went to a Backstreet Boys concert. Yes, ’tis true.

And ’twas awesome. I haven’t been to nearly enough concerts in my nearly 30 years.

backstreet boys, dancingThey did their wonderful dances, all in time and basically actions to match the lyrics. Corny? Yes, a tad. But awesomely so.

If you know and love ’em, you know what I mean. You’re smiling. You’re probably doing a quick youtube search to refresh your memory… If you don’t know what I mean then don’t look it up. It’s probably important to be introduced to this stuff when you’re going through puberty – to develop a taste at an early age. Like with marmite.

Anyway, Erin and I had a wonderful time dancing and singing along, occasionally screaming, and repeatedly saying, “I can’t believe I’m actually here!” They sang many of their old hits and a few of their new releases. Catchy tunes and sentimental lyrics, but I like one of their new ones a lot. They wrote it for their kids. They’re all grown up (the boys, not their kids).

The next couple of days, wow, I felt old. Luuk was recovering from jet lag and off work, so we took it easy. Thursday, Louis’ school had a special day – all the kids were to come dressed up for the ‘bal de la mer’ – an ocean-themed dance. They did a little parade, all in their costumes, for the parents.

dress ups at school

 

Louis (in civvies), parading with his teacher and classmates…

Unfortunately, Louis would not wear the awesome shark costume we borrowed from his friend. He wore it before and after school, but would not let us put it on him for the actual period in which all the kids were together and dressed-up.

shark in the car!

Shark in the car!

Luuk and I took advantage of both children being at school/nursery, and went to see The Grand Budapest Hotel at the movies. We were the only people in the theatre! Middle of the afternoon, at an english language showing, and we had the place to ourselves. And then we went for coffee. We called it our anniversary.

Next day, Louis skipped school, and we all bunked off to the Netherlands. We had bought Louis a new bike and it was much cheaper to have it shipped to a dutch address, so we were headed for Luuk’s aunt and uncle’s place near Nijmegen. But we had all day to get there so we drove via Reims.

cathedral at reimsThe Reims Cathedral

We had lunch and then wandered a bit around the town, but mostly looked at the Cathedral. The stained glass is incredible! So many different styles within one structure. And I found one by a favourite artist –

chagall window, reims cathedral

A window by Chagall.

We had to get a move-on, to be in the Netherlands in time for dinner.

The drive is over 5 hours, from home to Nijmegen. The shorter route is getting old now (we’ve done it a few times) so this other way was more interesting. Parts of it have dramatic scenery, but lots of northern france/belgium have a similar look about them… from the main highways, anyway.

driving north, in france

 

Driving north, from Paris to the Netherlands.

We stayed with Luuk’s uncle and aunt for the weekend, which was mostly very restful. Louis loved his new bike and Elena, not quite ready for his old one, enjoyed a little ride-on toy they had on-hand. They also had a swing (they have grandchildren of their own…) and lots of toys for the kids to spread around the house…the swing!

On Saturday we visited Nijmegen, a beautiful and OLD city.

de brocante, nijmegen

De Brocanterie, in Nijmegen – a great place to hide from the rain.

Luuk’s cousin came to visit and after a fortifying afternoon tea…

elena and oom pieter

… we went for a walk on the dijk. That’s right, they live on a dike. I’d never seen one till we visited them a few years back, so I’m going to show you around…

walking on the dijk

This is the road along the top. To the right is an area which floods. You can see the river in the distance. When the river is low, cattle graze this bit.

the house by the dijk

This is the left hand side, looking down toward the houses and farms which are lower than sea-level but, thanks to the dijks, don’t flood.

We walked down to the river, which is sort of part of the Rhine.

on the river waal

It was cold, but the rain held off and we threw a few stones in the water (this is one of the kids’ favourite pass-times). Unfortunately, some of these stones were horse poop. Probably. River-water-treated-stone-like-poop. Yum.

The kids were grizzly and miserable walking back… being carried, in fact. And they’re fat hobbits – yeesh! We worked up an appetite and boy, did we fill it. We did raclette for dinner!

Sunday morning, we headed off early, so as to avoid the eight pm crawl into Paris. But we had enough time to stop and see a bit of Antwerp. We went to a (Belgian – duh) waffle house for lunch and then walked around, stretched the legs, and stumbled upon the Rubenhuis – the house of Peter Paul Rubens. He was an artist, and he designed the building himself. The signs said it was noteworthy, so we went for a nosy.

rubens' house in antwerp

View from the garden, showing one wing of the Rubenshuis.
(The other wing is quite different.)

The kids were being rat-baggy, so there was no dilly-dallying, admiring paintings for lengthy periods. But, I’d recommend the place to anyone passing through Antwerp. Lots of art, but not enough to overload, and combined with interesting stories, cool architecture, and a garden… very well-balanced.

There is also a chocolate factory/shop just across the way, so if you need to recharge…

 

 


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where books meet girl power – London!

I spent last weekend in another land. Not a magical land, though I’m rather fond of all the magical stories to come out of it (finished reading Neil Gaiman’s latest one on the train, in fact). I went to England, for the second time in my life, and this time managed to get out of London.

Friday: The London Author Fair

It went fantastically, but it’ll make a dull tale and I took ZERO photos because I was so busy at workshops and seminars and chatting to a bunch of writers. But also a literary agent. I was a-buzz all through February, preparing my two manuscripts and pitch material for this weekend.

I did my pitch just after lunch. Hopefully I didn’t huff chicken curry all over the poor lady, but she was eating her own and it wasn’t exactly steamy. In fact, she wasn’t sure if it was the chicken or the vegetable… nope, not a good sign. Anyway, we got on well and the pitch was fine – not exactly as I rehearsed, but perhaps that’s inevitable when talking to a real person. She wanted to read my manuscripts, the contemporary one first, so I emailed it off between seminars in the afternoon. And that’s really all one can hope for from a pitch. Decisions come later, after reading whole manuscripts… as they should.

Highlights: Adele Parks took a workshop in the afternoon, and she’s lovely. And now I’ve read one of her novels, so I can confirm she’s also brilliant. The panels were fun: watching everyone try not to offend anyone on the other side of the whole traditional/indie publishing battle-in-denial thang. Hi-larious. But lots of people had interesting things to say. A guy from goodreads was there, and a bunch of literary agents, and a bunch of others on the indie side of things.

I wore out my voice at the evening drinks thing. Put a whole lot of writers on a time-limit in a small room together with booze… it was loud. So I escaped to the foyer at the end, and then Hannah showed up – my school friend who put me up for the weekend.

Next day, we headed off to the country… to Jane Austen’s home! Hannah is great at fangirling, so I didn’t feel like a total dweeb.

fangirling persuasion

 Me, fangirling. That is all you need to know.

Austen's Chawton home

That’s the house.

Austen's bedroom

The lady herself’s bedroom! (Bed is just a replica.)

ink and lavender

Making lavender pouches and practicing our penmanship, in the kitchen.

Cassandra tea rooms

We had Lunch at Cassandra’s Tea Rooms (named for Jane’s sister)

british foodCheck out the British vegetables.

We had a few hiccups, what with the train stopping a few stations too early, in another town, and something was wrong with the tracks, so we had to find an alternative… a pricey wee taxi. But we made it to Chawton, and on the way back the train was running. Whew.

We found some dinner in London’s something-like-china-town…

chinatown, londonand then rushed off to the Spice World sing-along at the Prince Charles cinema. If you live in London, or even just visit, this is definitely worth looking up. They put on loads of old titles and do marathons, quote-alongs, sing-alongs, even dance-alongs! I didn’t have any voice for singing or quoting, though I did try once or twice.

“The little gucci dress, the little gucci dress, or… the little gucci dress!”

A couple of Hannah’s friends joined us for the movie and then we went for pudding and cocktails. And then Hannah and I flaked out (yeah, it was mainly me) and took the train, home to bed.

taking the overgroundBig Ben in the eye.

Sunday morning, we took the train again…

perks of public transport

Perks of public transport: views!

off to the portrait gallery

We popped up in the middle of London – the actual middle, I’m told, and then made our way to the National Portrait Gallery. We visited a temporary exhibition of war portraits, watching particularly for some pastels a friend recommended – documenting some of the early cosmetic surgeries done on soldiers who’d suffered horrific shrapnel injuries. Visit the link for Fran’s photo. I didn’t dare snap one.

Hannah and I looked around a few rooms of the rest of the National Portrait Gallery. We found William Wilberforce (trade slave abolitionist) and loads of Tudors and Stuarts, the Brontes, a tiny Jane Austen and a giant Michael Kane. A recent Dame Maggie Smith and a very young Sir Ian McKellen.

And then Hannah whisked me over to the National Gallery. She’d seen it before and I was pretty tired, so I picked out a few favourites and, hunting them down, walked through nearly the entire thing.

After lunch we gave up on sight-seeing and went to a movie. I’ll get to the Tower of London next time.

off to the movies

This might sound like a waste of precious London time, but I so rarely see movies. There’s the babysitting to organize, sure, but it’s mostly because all the mainstream films are dubbed in French and the Version Originale screenings are few and far between. The non-mainstream films just don’t often get on my radar till it’s too late for a cinema viewing.

So Hannah and I agreed on ‘The Book Thief’ over the Slave film because we wanted something a little lighter… oops. But for all the sad bits, it was great. Weird thing with the narration (by death) – a bit jarring, but otherwise, loved it.

Last stop before departure, St Pancras station. Well, duh, but I didn’t just check-in early. I met up with a friend from school – from when I went to school in Hong Kong for seven months when I was twelve. Sixteen years ago! We reconnected on Facebook and she lives in London, so we caught up. It was seriously uncanny.

tea and scones at fortnum and masonShoko introduced me to Fortnum and Mason.
We had tea and scones with clotted cream.
Divine.

The perfect wrap-up to a very British, and also rather internationally book-ended, weekend. My first trip away on my own, since Louis’ birth over three years ago – a roaring success!

Except it left me voice-less and exhausted. This week has been a wash. And not in the laundry sense. I’m just starting to catch up today. Still, totally worth it.


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vivre libre ou mourir

Live free or die. That’s what it says, front and center, at the Paris Pantheon. Elena would agree. Our little lady has embarked on the terrible before the twos, and boy can that kid run.

writers tombs at the paris pantheon

All around the crypt of this incredible building, in fact. She teased her big brother and giggled inappropriately, careening past the tombs of Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, the Curies, and many more dead french men whose great achievements won them a place here. Marie Curie is, so far, the only woman. Luuk had a good look; her resting place does not glow.

The above-ground parts of the building were pretty cool too. The roof and dome are under construction, but we could still see all the artwork, much of it depicting the life of St Geneviéve

the pantheon, paris Luuk and Louis, out front.

inside the pantheon, paris

‘Vivre Libre ou Mourir’ is written beneath the central figure of that statue, center left.

pantheon facade, paris

The facade out front.

view of eiffel tower, from pantheon

The view from the steps, toward the Luxembourg gardens and a familiar tower beyond.

We found some lunch and then walked to the nearby gardens, enjoying this premature spring day.

Jardin de Luxembourg

We weren’t the only ones. The place was abuzz!

There weren’t many sailboats on the pond, but lots of ducks, and the kids had a ball throwing stones into the water.

sunny sunday at luxembourg gardens

“He ate my rock!” – Louis, talking about a duck.

We went into the big pay-to-enter playground for the first time. The kids are old enough to get our money’s worth now and the weather was perfect.

ready to climb the eiffel tower, at luxembourg gardens

Elena was keen to have a go on this Eiffel-tower-like climbing thing.

riding ambiguous creaturesShe was big enough to ride this though – dinosaur or Kea? Hard to say.

So we had a great day in Paris. Didn’t try to squeeze too much in, though it is tempting. We are on a deadline, realistically. Come the end of June, Luuk’s contract ends and we’re unlikely to be able to stay on in France. There are a couple of vaguely possible options in Europe, but they’re far from certain, and the most likely path is back to New Zealand.

The temptation, with only four more months in this location, is to jam-pack our weekends with sight-seeing. We’ve done lots but there’s plenty more. We could easily wear ourselves out, for the sake of ‘making the most’ and doing all the ‘essential’ things people say you have to do when you’re in Paris. Or further afield.

But four months is a long time to keep that up. We aren’t visitors. We have a life here. We have some tough choices to make.

Taking advantage of being in Europe, I am off to London on Friday morning for the London Author Fair. There, I will learn lots and meet people and – here’s the nervous-making bit – pitch to a real live literary agent! So I’ve been snatching time, whenever the kids nap in-sync, to polish up my written synopsis and cover letter and go over those first three chapters for the millionth time. And I’ve been talking to myself, more than usual, practicing talking about my book. It’s school holidays, so there hasn’t been much time this past week, but Elena’s back to halte garderie this week, so hopefully it’ll be a bit easier to get stuff done.

I’m excited – about the book, about the opportunity, and also about the weekend in London. I haven’t had a night off, away from the kids, since Louis was born – which sounds crazy. Perhaps it’s not true. But I really can’t think of a single night away. In three years and three months. On the Saturday my friend and I will probably visit Jane Austen’s home town. I’m going to snort inspiration till I overdose, methinks.

elena, ready to box

Bring it!


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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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a few of my favourites

We will soon be visiting New Zealand, going home for the first time since we moved to France over 18 months ago. We’ve also been talking/thinking about what we want do to when/if our time in Paris is up (in theory, next June).

I could be organised and make lists of pros and cons… but a lot of the things I’d list probably aren’t really game-changers.

Still, here are a few of my highs and lows of life in Paris, or in my case, the Banlieue (suburbs outside the 20 arrondisements)…

Coffee here is a definite LOW. Australia and NZ are spoiled for fantastic coffee. Italy beats Paris, in my experience, but neither float my boat, after years of caffeinated artistry, care of the baristas down under. When in France… drink wine. Or pressé. Pressé is fresh squeezed juice, usually orange or lemon. This comes served straight up, with water and sugar on the side. Mix as you like. A lovely, long, refreshing and healthy drink.

luuk and kids at parkLuuk and the kids at a popular park in La Rochelle.

Parks for the people. In Paris, it depends on which bit you’re in, but out here the parks are fantastic. The play grounds tend to be fenced in. Adults sit around the edge, barely involved, while the kids play. But whether you’re at the playground or not, the parks are so well-used. They’re full of people. School gets out at half past four and the parks are buzzing till six. Later in summer, and a little earlier when it’s dark by five in the winter months… but the atmosphere is great. All the kids play together, adults sit around and talk, read, relax. Students picnic and study and smooch. People walk dogs, work out, watch the world go by. Lunch time is similar, and most of the day on wednesdays (no school) and weekends. People live so much more of their lives in public, in their community, surrounded by strangers, acquaintances, friends.

Public transport was the bad back-up plan back home, or it was for me. I hope to approach it differently when we return. Here, I walk or take public transport nearly everywhere. Once a week (at most) we drive somewhere. I walk five kms in a normal day, just taking the kids to their things, picking them up, buying bread or running errands. Visiting friends often takes me further, but a trip to the park is barely a detour. Louis rides his kick-bike and can easily go faster than me. It can get a little chaotic in the market, on busy footpaths or in tiny shops, but that’s always going to be the case with two toddlers in tow. Unless they’re asleep.

Fresh bread is so readily available, at a good price. If you can’t eat wheat then France is difficult, but if you can, it’s heaven.

Several hundred types of cheese. Need I say more? (My previous post is a roquefort-rant if you want more on this…)

The markets, with their numerous fresh fruit and vegetable stalls, fromageries, traiteurs, poissoneries… I could go on and on. Just this once, I won’t.

friends and foodFriends and Food, the perks of everywhere!
(Me and my art historian and cellist friend, at a 4th July BBQ…
cooked up by her French chef husband… c’est la belle vie.)

It’s hard to get to know locals and perhaps more-so in France than in many places in the world. I’ve met a few at the playground and formed one actual friendship with someone I met while our toddlers fought over sand-pit toys. But most of my friends are expats. I’ve gotten to know a few locals through expat friends – spouses, friends, partners, etc. But expats attract expats and – man alive! – what a fascinating bunch. I have friends from so many different walks of life. The majority are English or American, with a few Aussies, Germans, South Africans and Fijians thrown in, but the diversity exceeds the list of nationalities. Dancers, musicians, travelers, art historians, an orchestra conductor, translators, theatre types, writers, rugby players, mums with such a wide variety of pre-mum work, and then there’s the variety of ways we’re all doing motherhood. Old, young, gay, straight, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, bit-of-everything, bit-of-barely-anything. All this difference is fascinating and enriching, challenging and liberating.

Picnic at Ostia AnticaPicnic at Ostia Antica, ruined city near Rome.

Access to Europe is a definite HIGH of being in France. The limit on our time here gives us plenty of motivation to visit places, to take advantage of every opportunity, but there is a LOW side to that: rest-guilt. It can be hard to just chill. And sometimes we need to chill. The other LOW is the cost of travel and it’s easy to feel guilty about that too. And then there’s a bit of guilt for dragging the kids around when they’d really rather be pushing each other off a slide. Still, they have a longer attention span for art galleries than many adults I know. It’s a helluva lot cheaper to visit Switzerland from here than from NZ. And we can watch tv/play board games/read The Luminaries any time we like, for the rest of our lives, in NZ. And so… a long weekend in Switzerland, in February? Without the kids?

C’est une bonne idée.

Language is both a HIGH and LOW. The kids are learning, Luuk’s nearly fluent and I’m making progress. It’s a wonderful thing, learning another language. But, ouff, it’s hard. And some days I really cannot be arsed dealing with it. That’s the ugly and honest truth.

Do I want to stay longer in France? Yeah, I think so. But not too long. There’s another Hobbit movie coming out and I’m about to be bombarded with poster-pictures of good ol’ kiwiland. I’m ready for a summery Christmas surrounded by English-speakers who I’ve known for years and years.

And roast lamb, gingernuts, jelly, venison sausages, flat whites, cheese scones, Chinese food (NZ styles), pineapple lumps, rice crackers, meat pies, pavlova, fish’n chips, mountains in the distance, eavesdropping, getting the jokes, fearless phone calls, endless oceans, empty beaches, bare feet, giant jaffas, pesto with cashew nuts crushed through it… I’m getting carried away.

east coast, nz, dawn

Le fin.