Phew! Just in time!

MrPloppy is going to take it in to town to the framers tomorrow, and hopefully they’ll be able to get it all stretched and framed by the end of next week. He’s in a bit of a panic because I’ve left the final decisions on the mat colour and frame up to him (I can’t get into town during the week, and will be away in Waimate all weekend, so I won’t be able to choose them myself), but one of the reasons I like using that particular framer is because the staff are really good at advising on colours and things, so I’m sure it will be fine.

Backstitching for rarsberry

Rarsberry asked me what backstitching is.

Cross-stitch differs from other forms of embroidery in that there’s only a few basic stitches. Most forms of embroidery use lots of different stitches, with the different textures of them forming the design. Cross-stitch, on the other hand, really only has three different stitches (there are others that are sometimes used, but not often), and the design relies on using lots of different colours (sometimes as many as 40 different colours of cotton go into one picture).

Cross-stitch is the basic stitch that makes up most of the picture, and as its name implies, the stitch forms a cross – you stitch two diagonal stitches crossing each other to form a cross which (if you’ve got the right combination of thread thickness and stitch size) fills a square so that you don’t see the background fabric. Hundreds (or thousands!) of these tiny squares (and triangles – you can stitch what are called “fractionals”, half or quarter of a cross-stitch which only fill part of the square – they’re useful for making edges less blocky) make up the main part of the picture.

Backstitch is usually added after all the cross-stitch is finished. It’s a narrow line of stitching used for outlining shapes to make them stand out more, and for adding fine detail. It’s called backstitch because you push the needle through (from underneath) one stitch ahead of the line of stitching and stitch back towards the bit you’ve already sewn. This technique gives you a smooth line with no gaps. I always like doing the backstitch part of a cross-stitch design, because it’s usually what really brings the picture to life.

The final main stitch used is the French Knot. Through a complicated process (which I’m not even going to attempt to describe!) you knot the thread on the surface of the fabric to form tiny round balls of thread. They’re mainly used for things like eyes, dotting i’s in writing, flower stamens – anything where you need a little dot rather than a whole cross-stitch square.

Bet you wish you’d never asked now! :-)

Anyway, here’s some backstitch I did last night:


Everything’s all white outside, and there are beautiful dew-bedecked spiderwebs covering all the bushes (I don’t want to think about how many spiders that adds up to!) – I think Autumn must be here.

The big news for this week is that I had my last ESOL-HT class! Well, technically it’s the second last, because there’s another session in 5 weeks, but finished for now at least. And the big excitement of the evening was that we got assigned our learners!

The instructors had been a bit vague about how the process of matching tutor and learner worked, other than to say we would have some choice, but it turned out to be pretty straightforward. The instructors had already done some of the matching process, picking out two or three learners who might suit us (based on the area of town we lived in and the information we’d given in our interviews in January about things like what times of day we were available), so on Tuesday night each of us were given the files of those learners to look through. We then had to take out any that we absolutely didn’t want to work with and return them to the front desk, and then rank the rest in order of preference (or, if you’d rejected all your potential learners, you could go through the files others had left on the desk and see if any of them suited you better). The instructors made it clear that we were allowed to use any criteria we wanted to reject or select a learner, whether something practical (like they lived too far away), or something like age or gender – they wouldn’t ask us why we’d selected or rejected the learner, so we could just go with gut feeling if we liked, but the important thing was that we feel comfortable with who we’d chosen, as we’d be having to go into their home.

Because of privacy issues, there’s not really a lot I can tell you about the three learners whose files I was given. They all lived within a few minutes’ walk of my house (The instructors must have done a lot of map-checking to achieve that! I had told them at the interview that I didn’t have a car, but I didn’t expect they’d be able to find me anyone so close), were all female, and had very different backgrounds and English abilities. Each would have presented me with very different challenges, but each of those challenges sounded equally exciting to me, so it was incredibly hard to choose between them. In the end, as I would be happy to work with any of them, I decided to just rank them in order of how close they lived to me (although the difference was only a couple of hundred metres at most).

Once we’d made our choices, we filled in a form listing our order of preference and saying when we’d be available for a preliminary meeting with our learner, and returned the files to the instructors, who over the next few days would contact the learners (through an interpreter or an English-speaking family member if the learner’s English wasn’t good enough), check they still needed a tutor and that they hadn’t moved to the other side of town or something, and arrange the meeting.

So on Thursday night I got a phone call from one of the instructors. She’d called my first choice, and discovered that the learner was attending English classes full time through a language school, so didn’t need a tutor any more. Then she’d called my second choice, and been told that the learner’s circumstances had changed and she now really only wanted a tutor who could come during the day (and I of course am only available in the evenings, because of work). Finally she called my third choice, this time with success! The learner was still in desperate need of a tutor, hadn’t moved, and was happy to have evening lessons. The instructor was very apologetic to me that she’d had to resort to my third choice, but I reassured her that my ranking was pretty arbitrary and I honestly would have been happy with any of them.

So I now have a learner! And today at lunchtime I’m going over there to meet her!!! For this first meeting I go with the instructor (and possibly with an interpreter), who’ll introduce us, carry out some language tests to evaluate her level of English (speaking, listening, reading and writing), and establish what the learner’s goals are (e.g. wants to get a job, or to be able to communicate with her children’s teachers, or to pass the language requirement to get permanent residency), which will guide me in planning lessons. My role for most of this meeting is basically just to observe.

Then we’ll establish a time for our lessons (which will be one hour a week), and after that I’m on my own! Well, not entirely on my own – I can call the instructors any time for advice, and there’s a huge resource library at the ESOL-HT office I can use, and at the final class in 5 weeks we’ll be discussing our progress with our learners so far and helping each other with ideas – but as far as the lessons themselves go, it’ll just be me and my learner. Scary thought, but I’m also really looking forward to it.

Recent Catches

  • An anonymous finder from the Lantern Festival: Hawk in a Blue Sky by Charlotte Lamb
  • A book that was caught last April in Dunedin, which the catcher (I assume it’s the same people, anyway, although they’ve used a different screen-name) has finally read, and wasn’t impressed by, although they’re still keen on the idea of bookcrossing: The Iceberg Hermit by Arthur Roth
  • One of the books I released round the University during the first week of term: Moviola by Garson Kanin
  • An anonymous catch from one of the books we labelled in the Wellington YHA, which was actually caught in an Auckland YHA, and returned to Wellington again! Wings of Fire by Dale Brown

Currently reading: Sociolinguistic Theory by JK Chambers (I’ve got my first test on Thursday – eek! Guess what I’m going to be spending most of this weekend doing?), and The Wise Woman by Philippa Gregory (unless I get distracted again by something better)

Currently listening to: Tennyson’s Gift by Lynne Truss (yes, that Lynne Truss, and I can tell you her non-fiction writing is a LOT better than her fiction!)

I have a learner!

Or should that be, I have learners?

I met the instructor outside the learner’s house, as arranged, and we went in together. We met D, the learner, a Romanian woman of about my age, and then she introduced us to her husband, G and her cousin (or possibly he was her husband’s cousin? I wasn’t quite clear on that), whose name I forgot to write down and now realise I’ve forgotten. D’s English seemed quite good, so I was a bit surprised when the two men sat down with us at the table, but assumed that she just wasn’t confident about talking to us on her own so had asked them to sit with us.

The instructor was trying to have a conversation with D, to establish her English ability, but the cousin, whose English was much better than D’s, kept answering for her and was dominating the conversation (though I don’t think he was doing it on purpose – I think he was genuinely trying to be helpful). If it had been a proper lesson I would have asked him nicely to leave (we’d discussed exactly this sort of situation in class), but as it was just an introductory meeting the instructor didn’t say anything, but tried to encourage D to answer questions herself, and when the cousin occasionally paused for breath she did eventually say enough that I was able to get a reasonable idea of her English ability, which was surprisingly good considering she’d only been in NZ for 7 months (and had only had three months of English lessons before leaving Romania). She said she had previously learnt Italian and French, so obviously the experience of learning those languages gave her a good grounding when it came to learning another one.

After a while I noticed that whenever the instructor asked D a question about what she found difficult in English, the cousin would start talking about his own difficulties. So I was already starting to have suspicions about what was going on when he confirmed them by asking if he could have lessons too. And then it turned out all three of them wanted lessons! We had been warned that you often end up with another family member sitting in on the lessons, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise, but three learners at once seemed a bit excessive to me. The instructor obviously thought so to, because she said that wouldn’t work, but that she was happy to put the two men down on the waiting list for their own tutors, and maybe if I agreed then G could sit in on his wife’s lessons in the meantime. She explained to the cousin that his English was so much better than D’s that it would be too difficult for me to tutor him at the same time (G’s English was at a similar level to D’s), and he agreed to wait until he could get a tutor of his own – which was a huge relief to me, because I could just imagine what the lessons would be like with him sitting in: he’d have done all the talking, and D wouldn’t have learnt a thing! We agreed that I’d have a go at teaching D and G together, but if it wasn’t working then I’d ask G to leave and just teach D.

The next complication was trying to set a day and time for the lessons. All three of them are working incredibly long hours (as is all too common with non-English speaking immigrants, they are being terribly exploited by employers who know they’re desperate for work so won’t complain), and D doesn’t have a set rota, so is working shifts at all hours. She’s working nights this week, so we couldn’t find a time when we were both free, so in the end we decided that she’d wait until she gets her rota for the next week and then she’ll ring me to arrange a time. She thought she should be able to arrange to keep one evening a week free, but it’s all very up in the air at the moment.

So I don’t know exactly when I’ll be tutoring, and I’m not entirely sure whether I’ll have one or two (or even three!) learners, but who cares – I’m really looking forward to this! They seem like lovely people, and I think we’re going to enjoy working together.

And now I’ve got a week to start putting together some lesson plans! The instructor has promised to send me some resources (because I can’t get into the office easily during the day), but I need to come up with some strategies to shut the cousin up if he decides to join us! :-)

(Please keep comments to this and any future entries about my learners private. Although I’ve tried to keep my learners’ identities anonymous, it’s inevitable that I will sometimes let identifying information slip, and I want to respect their privacy, so I’ll be keeping all entries about them friends-only.)

Making progress

(Yeah, I know, I don’t update my diary for a week, and then make three entries in one day. Such is life.)

I’ve almost finished the cross-stitch part of my secret project!

Just a few more stitches to go to fill in that wee gap down in the bottom left there, and then it’s just the backstitch. “Just” being a relative term, of course, because there’s a LOT of backstitch.

And getting to this stage means I can’t put off the dreaded backstitch colour choice for any longer. You may think that black would be the obvious choice, but pure black tends to look too stark for backstitch, especially when you’re stitching against blank canvas, as I will be. Normally I like to do backstitch in very dark brown, but that just wouldn’t work against the shade of grey the fabric is, so I had in mind a nice dark grey, of the same purple-grey tone as the fabric, but a lot darker. All very good in theory, but finding such a colour was a lot more difficult in practice, so I’ve spent the last 20 minutes or so going through all my embroidery cotton, but every grey I pulled out was too blue, or too brown, or too green, or too pale, or… But eventually I did manage to find one that I think I’m happy with (of course, I may well change my mind once I’ve actually started stitching it…) It may seem a lot of effort for something that will just look black when it’s stitched anyway (and probably looks black in the photo, so you’ve got no idea what I’m going on about!), but it really will make a difference – backstitch in a colour that’s even subtly wrong could totally ruin the whole effect.


Early yesterday morning the phone rang. It was lytteltonwitch with some shocking news: she’d just heard that otakuu‘s husband had died. I raced to LiveJournal, and there was a post from otakuu telling her friends that her Beloved was gone. And if I needed further confirmation, the media was already reporting the death, as The Beloved (as otakuu always referred to him in her blog) was a senior member of Ngai Tahu.

My first reaction was utter disbelief. Only a few days ago she’d been planning a 60th birthday party for him for this weekend. I knew he’d been ill recently, but had no idea it was so serious.

My next reaction was “what can I do to help?” And obviously that was the same reaction her Bookcrossing and LiveJournal friends from all over the world were having, because a thread popped up asking how to send flowers from the US to NZ. I suggested that (to save wasting a fortune on Interflora) I could organise some flowers and they could pay me back, and suddenly there were more and more people asking if they could chip in for the flowers too. In the end, so many people were wanting to contribute that I suggested I buy one nice bunch of flowers and sign the card from everyone, and that the rest of the money people were offering be collected up and used to help otakuu in a more practical way – perhaps with groceries or help towards funeral costs. The response was amazing – I’d expected maybe we’d get $100, but by the end of the day I had nearly NZ$600 in pledges. Otakuu is such a generous and loving person herself, and has made so many friends around the world, that everyone just wanted to repay that generosity in her time of need. Never let it be said that a virtual community can’t be just as close as a “real” one.

[The rest of this entry is copied and pasted from an entry I wrote on LiveJournal describing the tangi for all those friends who’d so wished they could be there themselves]

All day yesterday, lytteltonwitch and I were debating whether we should go down to Waimate and visit otakuu. We wanted to, of course, because you automatically want to be with a friend when they are in pain, but we knew she’d be on the marae, and neither of us had been to a marae before, let alone to a tangi, and had no idea what the protocol was. In the end, we came to the conclusion that we just couldn’t face sitting up here all weekend without at least trying to see her, so decided to go down to Waimate, find the marae, and see what happened. If we were able to see her, that was fine, if not we could at least leave the flowers and a card with someone so she’d know we’d been thinking of her.

So this morning we set off down south. We only made it as far as Rolleston when my phone rang – it was awhina, who’d just got the message I’d sent her telling her about The Beloved and that we were on our way to try and visit otakuu. She wanted to come too, so we backtracked to Templeton to pick her up.

At Timaru we stopped for lunch and found a florist. We still didn’t know if it was appropriate to take flowers onto the marae (protocol differs from marae to marae, so nobody I’d asked in Christchurch was able to tell me), but we thought if we weren’t able to then we could at least drop them off at otakuu’s house on our way back. Being a Saturday, the florist didn’t have a huge selection of flowers available, but she did have some roses which we liked, and she suggested a few other flowers to add, making a really nice arrangement.

(Sorry about the unconventional background to the photo – just before arriving at the marae I realised I should have taken a photo to show all the livejournallers who had contributed for the flowers, so we ended up lying them on the grass at the side of the road to take the photo)

After a false start when a road that looked ok on the map turned out not to really exist we finally found our way to the marae. We knew that we wouldn’t just be able to walk up and knock on the door (you have to be properly welcomed when you go onto a marae), so weren’t sure what we’d do when we got there, but to our relief we saw people standing outside waiting to enter, so we asked them what we should do. They said we could join their group when they entered, and that way we could just copy what they did and not have to worry about not knowing all the protocols (awhina and I had both been to plenty of powhiri (welcomes) before, both having worked in education, but just attending a powhiri is very different from turning up at a marae by yourself!). It wasn’t until we’d been chatting with them for a while that we realised who these people were: some of the top management of Ngai Tahu!

They were waiting for the rest of their group to arrive, so we stood around outside the marae for an hour or so (one of the cars had got lost). In the Pakeha world, we would probably have just gone ahead without the lost people, as after all they were over an hour late. But Maori have a different approach to timekeeping (a lot friendlier one, really!), so even though these were all high-powered leaders of a multi-million dollar corporation, and the missing people were just a couple of their staff, we patiently waited for them, standing around chatting and enjoying the sunshine.

Finally the missing people turned up, and the group assembled at the gates of the marae, with the women at the front and the men behind us (note for any NZers reading this: you’re probably going to be utterly bored by this description, because you’ll know most of this stuff, but I thought the non-NZers would probably appreciate a full description). One of the women of the marae called to us in Maori inviting us to advance, and one of the women of our group replied, the two women calling to each other back and forth as we slowly walked across the lawn towards the meeting house (you’re probably envisioning one of those elaborately carved traditional meeting houses now, but actually it was just an ordinary wooden building like any small town community hall). We took off our shoes at the door and entered. In front of us, at the back of the hall, was the open coffin, with a feather cloak draped over it. Beside him sat otakuu, surrounded by the rest of his immediate family. We stopped in front of the coffin, and the women keened, then we moved to our seats on one side of the meeting house, the men at the front this time and the women behind. (At this point awhina totally broke with protocol by going up and giving the flowers to otakuu (she really should have waited until after we were formally welcomed). Nobody seemed to mind though – it was obvious she just hadn’t realised, and wasn’t intentionally being rude.)

On the other side of the meeting house were the tangata whenua, the people of the marae we were visiting. Two of the men from the tangata whenua stood up and gave speeches (one totally in Maori and the other half in Maori and half in English) addressing a lot of the speech towards The Beloved. The speaker who spoke partly in English was obviously making the most of having a captive audience of all these Ngai Tahu bigwigs, because his speech was very political, and was quite pointedly making reference to the recent in-fighting in Ngai Tahu. He kept emphasising the importance of unity and respect for different views. After each speech a waiata was sung, sometimes led by a woman and sometimes by one of the men. Then it was the visitors’ turn to speak, and two of the Ngai Tahu men made speeches, again followed by waiata. Their speeches (both used a mixture of Maori and English) were much less political – they mostly just talked about what a great loss The Beloved’s death was.

After the speeches we all stood up and filed past the family, either pressing noses or kissing each person. The line moved very slowly as people stopped to talk to or hug someone in particular, but again there was no pressure to get on with things – everyone could take as long as they wanted. As each person passed the coffin they again stopped and paid their respects to The Beloved, pressing noses with him or kissing him (I’m afraid I was the ignorant pakeha here – I didn’t feel comfortable about kissing a dead person, so I just touched my hand to his cheek, but again nobody seemed to mind).

When I got to otakuu I stopped for a while to hug her and pass on the messages of love and sympathy from all her bookcrossing and livejournal friends. We hugged and cried together for a while, and then I gave her the card I’d signed on behalf of everyone, and told her about the money that was pouring in from all over the world. She was astounded to hear how many of her friends had sent their love, and was so grateful for our support, and told me she’d need it more than ever over the next while. I gave her a little branch from my lemon tree – as I’d left the house this morning I’d walked past the lemon tree and remembered that the last time I’d seen The Beloved he’d been picking lemons from that tree and eating them whole (skin and all!), so I just had to take a branch down to the tangi. (Sorry, I’m starting to cry again here just remembering talking to her and how utterly distraught she was :-( ) Finally I moved on to let lytteltonwitch take my place and continued on down the line of family and the rest of the tangata whenua.

Back outside, we waited until everyone else had made their way down the line, and then we went into another part of the building for some food (you always eat at the end of a powhiri). There was a long long table (it must have been big enough to seat about 40, I reckon) with a proper place setting in front of each chair (this is only notable because anywhere else I’ve been where that many people needed to be fed there would have just been a big pile of plates and cutlery and you’d have probably ended up having to ear standing up) and large bowls of food down the centre. After a short grace was said we sat down to eat, and then it was just like any family dinner, with food dishes being passed back and forth along the table, and jokes and talk flying through the air, only on an enormous scale.

And in the kitchen even more food was being prepared, because as we ate we could hear another group being called in from the gate. Someone told us there’d be groups arriving almost constantly for the next few days until the actual burial, and many of the people would stay on the marae for the whole tangi. Each visitor gives a koha (a gift of money to help pay for the food etc) to the marae, but the sheer organisation needed to feed so many people was what really impressed me.

Otakuu and the rest of the immediate family didn’t come out to eat with us, of course. They’ll stay inside the meeting house at The Beloved’s side until he is taken to be buried (I think that is going to be on Tuesday). We wouldn’t get to talk to her again, either, so once we’d had our meal and said hello to the children (who don’t take part in the formal stuff – sensibly, they’re allowed to run around outside letting off steam while the adults listen to speeches!) we decided to head back home.

It may seem like a lot of bother to have travelled all that way and then had to wait so long and go through all that ceremony just to spend a couple of minutes with otakuu, but I’m so glad we did. It obviously meant so much to her that we were there, and it made me feel better that I was able to let her know that we’re all here for her.


^ ^

Pretty lights and colours

On Saturday night lytteltonwitch and I went to the Chinese Lantern Festival in Victoria Square. I’d never been to the festival before (other than unexpectedly coming across the unlit lanterns during the day once), so I had no idea how popular it was.

I arrived at Victoria Square just after 5pm, and already there were crowds of people wandering around the stalls (which were selling everything imaginable, from food to clothes to toys to traditional Chinese New Year gifts) and looking at the unlit lanterns. While I was waiting for lytteltonwitch to arrive I released a book (The Luberon Garden by Alex Dingwall-Main) on the wall of the raised garden bed opposite where I was sitting, and it was picked up almost immediately.

When lytteltonwitch arrived we wandered around the lantern displays. Some of them were the same ones I’d seen two years ago, but there were lots of new ones as well (the goldfish in the river had been joined by some ducks and a container ship, for example), and then tried to get some food. The queues at all the food stalls were huge, but I did manage to accost the two women wandering around selling corn on the cob, though I had to chase them for a while before they noticed I was waving money at them! It was impossible to see what any of the food stalls were selling because of the crowds around them, so eventually we decided to just pick a queue at random and buy whatever food we found at the other end of it, and that seemed to work quite well :-)

We of course released a few books while we were wandering around. Lytteltonwitch had been all organised and brought suitably themed books, but I’d run out of time and ended up just grabbing some random books from my To Be Released box: The Seer of Kintail by Elizabeth Sutherland, Forbidden Garden by Diane Guest, The Moon Spinners by Mary Stewart, The Killer Mine by Hammond Innes, Hwak in a Blue Sky by Charlotte Lamb, and Mr Starlight by Laurie Graham

When the cultural displays started on the stage we found what we thought was a good spot to watch them from. As usual at these sorts of things, the acts were of a widely varying standard, everything from international acts touring from China to cultural groups from local schools. It all made for an entertaining and colourful evening, though, even if most of the entertainment value some of the acts provided was in the way of unintended humour at how bad they were!

One highlight of the evening was Red Poppies, an all-female percussion group from China who not only sounded amazing but were great to watch too, as their drumming was more like a dance, with loads of flourishes and energy. A photo can’t really do them justice (particularly as it was taken from so far back, with people getting in my way!), but here it is anyway:

Another highlight was an acrobat/gymnast who was doing all sorts of incredibly painful looking things with her body, including wrapping her legs round her neck, lying on her shoulders and then bending her legs over so she was sitting on her own head (!!!), and lifting her leg up behind her so it lay flat along her back. And while she was doing all this she was also twirling small carpets with her feet to keep them in the air.

In today’s cynical, been there done that, seen it all world, you don’t often hear a crowd of people oohing and ahhing over something, but some of the contortions this woman got into really did elicit a huge synchronised gasp from the entire crowd. Then later in the evening she repeated her contortions, but this time while balancing lit candelabras on her head and feet!

As the evening progressed our good spot turned out to be not so good, because as the crowd got bigger people in front of us kept standing up so they could see better, which of course made other people also stand up and shift around so they could see past the standing people, until eventually us poor short people at the back couldn’t see the stage at all :-(

It didn’t take us long to find a better spot though, on the other side of the river. We were a lot further from the stage, and had to put up with competing music from another stage in the food stall area (though they did turn the volume down on that after a while – I think someone must have said something), but at least we had a nice unobstructed view, and it was very pleasant sitting on the river bank watching the punts go past (and taking bets on how long before a child fell in the river!)

Once it got dark they had the official lantern-lighting ceremony, mostly consisting of long and tedious speeches by various dignitaries, then set off a HUGE string of firecrackers (which you can see in the previous photo – that big pole thing next to the stage has them hanging from it) and the lanterns were lit.

The lanterns all looked wonderful lit up (even the really tacky ones!), and the overall effect in the square was quite magical. It made me wish (yet again) for a decent tripod for my camera so I could take proper time-exposure pictures of it. I did have my mini-tripod with me, but because it was so crowded I couldn’t find a convenient wall or tree to set it up on, so just had to use it on the ground, which meant I couldn’t really see what I was taking photos of. Most of the photos I took turned out predictably badly, but there were a few I was reasonably happy with:

By 10 pm the entertainment was down to the last few terrible singers, and we were getting cold and stiff from sitting on the ground for so long, so we decided it was time to leave. Lytteltonwitch offered me a lift home as a safer alternative than waiting at the bus exchange (which is always a bit scary on a Saturday night). Of course, this meant walking back to her place to get the car, which considering some of the areas you have to walk through didn’t actually strike me as that much safer than the bus exchange! It does amaze me that she walks home on her own late at night all the time – I wasn’t feeling all that worried because there were two of us, but I wouldn’t have felt the same if I was alone!

Moorhouse Ave was entertaining – as we walked along it we noticed strange groups of people lining the road, obviously waiting for something. One group even had a couch set up on top of their car! There were a lot of souped-up cars around, so we suspect the boy racers had a drag race planned or something. I’m surprised there were no police around, because it’s not like they were being subtle about it or anything! The people seemed friendly enough, anyway, although having to cross Moorhouse Ave was a bit nerve-wracking – I kept wondering what would happen if the race started while we were half-way across! (Especially as some of the cars lined up at the lights were revving their engines as we were crossing!)

You’ll be glad to know though that we made it safely across the road and back to lytteltonwitch’s house, and she took a suitable detour to avoid Moorhouse Ave on the way to my place.

An interesting night!

And still busy

As you can probably guess by the frequency of updates to my diary, things haven’t really quietened down yet. Work is still busy, I’ve got huge amounts of work to do study-wise, and the ESOL classes on Tuesday nights aren’t helping, because I have to go straight there from work to get there in time, which means I don’t have time to eat beforehand, which means I’m having dinner at 9.30 or so when I finally get home, which means I’m not getting to sleep until very late, all of which means I’m tired for the rest of the week. And that means in the free time I do have I’m generally feeling too tired to want to sit at the computer writing long diary entries.

Oh well, only two more weeks of ESOL training (eep!), and after that I’ll hopefully be able to arrange my schedule of tutoring to suit me a bit better than the classes have, so that should improve things. In the meantime you’ll just have to put up with these occasional summaries.

MrPloppy and I had dinner at awhina‘s on Monday night so I could use Ken and meerkitten as subjects (sorry, “participants” – “subjects” isn’t PC any more, apparently) for my sociolinguistics field study. I was supposed to survey one male and one female of different generations, both born in NZ, and when I’d suggested this to awhina she volunteered to invite her parents round as well so I had yet another generation to choose from. In the end I couldn’t decide which combination of two people would be most interesting, so I surveyed the entire family, which turned out to be really useful when I took my results along to the tutorial, because not everyone in the tutorial group had done the fieldwork, so my extra data came in handy when we combined all our data.

I got three more catches from the Wellington trip this week: Hot Six by Janet Evanovich was caught by an anonymous finder who’s taking it to Canada, Special Relations by Tim Sebastian has migrated from the book exchange shelf at the YHA to a book exchange shelf in a Nelson holiday cottage, and The World Upside Down by Felix Donnelly was caught by a geocacher (unsurprisingly, seeing as I released it while lytteltonwitch and Wombles were searching for a geocache nearby!) who’s taken it home to Austria!

One sign that I’m too busy at the moment is that my reading rate has dropped off dramatically. I normally average 12-15 books per month, but last month I only read five, and so far in March I’ve only read two books (and one of those was an audiobook!), despite being a third of the way through the month already. I don’t particularly obsess about the number of books I read, but it has been interesting keeping track over the last couple of years, and seeing patterns begin to emerge.

And Mount TBR has grown a bit higher over the last few days, too – on Friday there was a parcel in my letterbox from libertine101, a surprise RABK of The Cat Who Smelled a Rat by Lilian Jackson Braun, and then yesterday a bookring book arrived that I’d completely forgotten about signing up for, Stir-Fry by Emma Donoghue.

I seriously need to start making more time to read!

Currently reading: The Last Girls by Lee Smith, Sociolinguistic Theory by JK Chambers, and The Wise Woman by Philippa Gregory (well, technically I’m still reading it, in that it’s lying beside the bed with a bookmark in it, but in reality I haven’t picked it up in over a month because it was irritating me)

Secret project report

I haven’t posted pictures for a long time of the cross-stitch I’ve been doing for awhina‘s wedding, but I’ve been quietly working away at it:

It’s looking pretty good, but my two big worries now are that I’m rapidly running out of time (the wedding’s on 7 April, and I’ve got to leave enough time to have it framed), and I’m also running out of the variegated cotton – I went to Hands last weekend to get some more, and they were sold out! They’re ordering some more in for me, but who knows if it will arrive in time.

Busy, busy, busy

I knew going to a convention in late February was going to be a bad idea. I feel like I haven’t had a chance to breathe since coming back from Wellington, let alone do things like update my diary. It’s one of our busiest times of year at work, of course (and although I don’t talk about the specifics of work in my diary, I will say that this year has been particularly chaotic), plus I’ve started studying again (and after only one week of lectures, we’ve already been given our first assignment!), plus of course my ESOLHT training, and somewhere among all this I’m supposed to be putting together our bid for the 2009 convention (if I ever find time to write up the rest of the Wellington weekend that will be explained), and suddenly it’s March which means I’ve only got a few weeks to finish off my other secret project (more details to follow in a friends-only post), and…

Anyway, what I’ve been up to since I last found time to post (which I’ve just noticed was over a week ago!):

We spent a very pleasant evening at the Gwilks’ last Friday playing board games. I had to wimp out and go home just before midnight, though, because I was in serious danger of falling asleep at the table.

Then on Saturday we were out again, this time having dinner with awhina, fiancĂ©, and kids, her bridesmaid’s husband, and lytteltonwitch. Again, a very enjoyable evening, but another late night.

On Monday term started, and it was full-on into study. I’m taking a sociolinguistics paper this semester (sociolinguistics is the study of how language varies and changes according to non-linguistic factors, like age, gender, social class, education… even just social context e.g. many people have a “telephone voice”, very different from their normal speaking voice), and it looks like there’s going to be a lot of practical work. Our first assignment (due next week) is to do a mini field study sampling the way NZers speak. Should be an interesting course, anyway.

Tuesday night was my ESOLHT class, where we did a fascinating exercise. They had a guest speaker who said she was going to teach us another language, so that we could get a feel for the challenges our learners face. Then for the next hour she didn’t speak English, just this new language (which she told us later was Marathi, from Maharashtra state in India). At first we were all completely confused and had no idea what she was saying (of course!), but by using gestures and a lot of repetition she gradually taught us to say “hello”, “my name is…”, “what is your name?”, “how are you?” and “I’m fine”. It was incredibly hard work, because you were not only having to try and remember the new words, and pronounce them properly, but you were also having to try and work out what she wanted us to do, because all the instructions were in Marathi too – it took a massive amount of concentration. In the debriefing afterwards everyone was saying how utterly exhausted they felt by the end of the lesson. As part of the debriefing we were asked how much we thought we’d remember by our next class, and most of us realised we’d already forgotten half the words! The only one I can remember now is “hello”, which sounded something like “Namascar” (no idea how it is actually spelt!).

It was fascinating to see just how you can (with a lot of patience and hard work!) teach someone a language without knowing theirs. I’ve always wondered how ESOL teachers manage unless they’re bilingual themselves, so it was really interesting to see the beginnings of the process. Most of our learners will have already had some basic English lessons, but some may be absolutely starting from scratch like that, so it was also reassuring to see that it’s not impossible!

I’ve been trying to release a book somewhere around the university every day this week, to catch a few of the new students:

Friday: Demon of the Air by Simon Levack
Monday: The Eye of the Tiger by Wilbur Smith
Tuesday: Grail Quest: Voyage of Terror by JH Brennan
Wednesday: Hot as a Pistol by Gene Curry and The Goodbye Summer by Patricia Gaffney
Friday: Moviola by Garson Kanin

The strategy has been reasonably successful, because I’ve had two catches so far: The Eye of the Tiger was caught by an anonymous finder, and Grail Quest was caught by celeritas2, who’s been a member for a while, but was inspired by catching my book to finally start releasing a few of her own, and is going to try and come along to meetups!

I’ve been releasing a few books in other places as well: in the fish and chip shop while buying our “Friday night junk food” tea (Daddy’s Little Girl by Mary Higgins Clark and Charlotte’s Secrets by Charlotte Dawson) and in a cafe in town last weekend (The Black House by Paul Theroux).

I was in town again today, at an ESOLHT workshop (it was really aimed at people who are already tutoring, but our instructor said we were welcome to come along anyway, and I was glad I did, not so much for the content of the workshop as for the chance to talk to some experienced tutors and find out how their reality matches up with what we are being taught), so I took the opportunity to release a few more books: Eva Luna by Isabel Allende in the ESOLHT offices (I thought an Isabel Allende book might be a good match for a group of people interested in other cultures, and it seems I was right, because I had a look when I was leaving and it had already been picked up by someone!); The Hearth and the Eagle by Anya Seton in the cafe where I had lunch, and Birds of a Feather by Leigh Roberts in a phone booth.

Tomorrow I fully intend to have a very quiet and lazy day. Well, apart from having some reading to do for both sociolinguistics and ESOL, and I have to start on my field study, and I really should get to work on our convention bid presentation… Roll on Christmas!