22nd

Today was the sixth anniversary of the 22 February earthquake.  The big event for the day was the unveiling of the new memorial wall, much discussed and debated over the last few years.  We needed a blog post for CEISMIC, so I offered to go to the ceremony and write up my impressions.  I won’t repeat what I wrote there, but, just because it’s pretty, here’s another photo from the ceremony that didn’t make it into the official blog:

And a sign I was amused by when I stopped to get lunch on my way back to work (do you think maybe someone was feeling a bit frustrated by the endless roadworks?):


I was quite glad to have the excuse to sit under a tree and just listen to speeches and music for a large chunk of today, because last night was my Toastmasters club’s speech competition, and somehow (for “somehow”, read “because I’m useless at saying no to people”) I got roped into being the contest chair.  Which was kind of stressful, because apparently our last competition (which I’d missed) was a complete shambles, so there was a lot of pressure to get everything right this time (especially as we had guests from other clubs present!).  Luckily, there’s a script to follow for a lot of the chairing (because things like how you introduce the contestants and explain the rules are all tightly regulated), but there was still a shaky moment when I almost forgot to allow the judges time between contestants to fill out their score cards (ok, I actually did forget, but luckily someone sitting in the front row realised what I was about to do, and managed to signal me in time).

Anyway, it all went pretty well in the end, but it was a long night, and I was feeling exhausted when I got home.  So it was nice to have a relatively quiet day today!


I’ve made a bit of progress on the flower garden quilt. It’s slow going though, having to stop so often to shift the heavy quilt around. It’s made me realise I need a more ergonomic setup for my sewing machine, because after a few hours of working on it at the weekend I was hurting in all sorts of places. I might have to look at getting a proper sewing table that’s at the right height, instead of just using the desk.

I haven’t taken a proper photo of progress so far, because that would involve moving furniture again so I could spread it out properly, but here’s a sneak peak of the folded-up version. I’ve pretty much just got the border area to quilt (you normally start in the centre and work gradually outwards when you’re quilting), which doesn’t seem much, but is actually a lot of surface area.

I’m getting impatient to get it finished, because I there’s so many other projects I want to start.  Not that having one project on the go has ever prevented me from starting another, but I’ve got the sewing machine set up to do free-motion quilting at the moment, so I don’t want to have to keep switching it back and forth between that and normal sewing (hmm, the solution here is obviously to have multiple sewing machines, each set up for a different function ;-))

In the meantime, as an outlet for my “I want to start something new!” frustration, I made another dishcloth, so that I’ll have a spare for when the first one needs washing.  I didn’t have enough of the multi-coloured wool to make a whole cloth, and I haven’t figured out yet how to change wools when crocheting, so I decided to knit it rather than crochet this time.

Knitting is definitely one of those skills that falls under the category of “technically I know how to do it, but I’m pretty rubbish at it in reality”, so it’s a bit all over the place in terms of tension (and definitely in terms of casting on, which I kind of forgot how to do so just made it up as I went along), but again, it’s a dishcloth. It’s going in the sink, so perfection is definitely not required.  So despite its many flaws, I’m counting it as a success :-)

Rain!

The good news is, it started raining yesterday (I’ve never heard so many people saying “Yay, it’s raining!” instead of “Ugh, it’s raining”). The bad news is, it’s the wrong sort of rain. It’s just been a light drizzle – not enough to put the fires out, but enough to hamper visibility so that the helicopters can’t fly. We really can’t get a break here in Christchurch, can we?  And now it’s looking like the fire service senior management might have made some critical mistakes early on, similar to the mistakes they made during the CTV building collapse in the 22 February 2011 earthquake, which means the lessons that should have been learnt were ignored.  I think there’s going to be some very tough questions asked after they finally get the fires out.

Since my last post…

In just the few hours since I posted, the fires have got worse.  They’re evacuating some of the hill suburbs, and the smoke is coming from a huge swath across the hills now – I was just at a function on the 6th floor of another campus building, which has an unimpeded view across the city to the hills (pity I didn’t think to take my camera up there), and everyone spent the whole time either standing at the windows just watching the massive clouds of smoke get bigger and bigger, or on their phones trying to get hold of friends and family in the area.  You could see how fast the fire is moving (we couldn’t see the actual flames, which were on the other side of the ridges, but you could tell where the front was from the smoke), and I can’t imagine how the fire service are going to get it under control. I feel so sorry for everyone in those suburbs who’ll be spending a very long night waiting to see if their houses have been saved (made even worse by the fact that many of them have only just rebuilt after the earthquakes, and some will still be dealing with their insurance companies).

Ok nature, you’ve thrown enough at Christchurch now.  How about giving us a break?

The hills are burning

A couple of days ago, two scrub fires broke out in the Port Hills.  Since then, despite the best efforts of fire fighters (and the death of a helicopter pilot who had been one of many dumping water from monsoon buckets) the fires have continued to spread, and the cloud of smoke over the hills has got bigger and bigger.  People are being evacuated from the area (it’s mostly rural in the areas where the fires are, but there’s a few pockets of houses), and at least one house has been destroyed.

Two days ago, Lucy-Jane took this photo from our office window of the plume of smoke. This is the photo I took just a few minutes ago:


Some of that is because the winds have shifted and are blowing more of the smoke towards the city, but it’s still a huge increase in the amount of smoke!

We’re a long way from the hills on this side of town (probably 15 km or so from where the fires are), but last night I could faintly smell smoke in the air, and while I can’t really smell it today, I can feel it in my throat and eyes.  I’d hate to think how bad it is over in the suburbs closer to the hills.

There’s been a constant stream of helicopters and small planes going overhead today (we’re between the airport and the fires), and every so often we see the little specks of helicopters silhouetted against the cloud of smoke.  It must take a lot of bravery to continue flying into those conditions when you know one of your colleagues has already died doing the same thing.

Normally when our Australian friends comment about how they don’t know how we can cope with New Zealand’s earthquakes, our response is to say at least we don’t have big bushfires like they do.  Yeah, guess we can’t say that any more…

Dishcloth and pokebox

I finished my crocheted dishcloth!  It actually went pretty quickly once I got the hang of it.  Now that I know what I’m doing, I might have to go and buy some more wool (or cotton, or cotton wool… you know what I mean) so I can make another one to have as a spare. But this time in a plain colour that’s a bit easier to see!

My super busy and social weekend continued yesterday with the Harvestbirds coming over for lunch.  I’d promised this to the mini-Harvestbirds a few weeks ago when Harvestbird dropped by to pick up the wee sewing machine (which she’s borrowing while deciding whether she wants to buy herself a machine), and they were most disappointed when they weren’t allowed to stay.  So I’d promised them that on my first free day they could come over.

It was a very nice lunch (with way too much food, as usual, but that’s what having friends over is all about!), followed by several complicated games involving various dolls that I kept getting the names wrong of, and which had particularly disturbing body types (especially the ones that were (apparently) human versions of My Little Ponies, and wore unfeasably large boots) – I never thought I’d look fondly on Barbie dolls as having presented a comparatively realistic body image!  Then the elder mini-HB declared it was time to play “that drawing game we played last time”, which I eventually worked out was the simplified version of Pictionary we’d came up with on a previous visit (probably about a year ago!).  So we arranged ourselves into teams (after much discussion of the fact that having kids vs adults probably wouldn’t work very well when one of the kids isn’t old enough to be able to read the cards yet…) and took turns drawing a word from the cards (generally selected by the adult on the teams to be the easiest for the children to ether draw or guess).

I love seeing how kids’ brains work as they play Pictionary or charades, or any of those games that rely so heavily on theory of mind.  It’s often not until the word is guessed before you can actually figure out what the picture was supposed to be, and how that relates in any way to the actual word – like when younger mini-HB was tasked with drawing a boat, so spent a very long time drawing water, but never actually got round to drawing the boat.  Or, best of all, when elder mini-HB had to draw a box, so drew a pokeball, and then something resembling a cat. We spent a long time guessing various pokemon creatures (assuming she’d got bored with the word on the card and decided to draw something else, because I knew my edition of the game long pre-dated pokemon!) before realising that the cat-thing was actually supposed to be a box with its top flaps open, and the pokeball wasn’t capturing it, but being put in the box.  The logic of the drawing was impeccable.  To a six-year-old.

Pineapples and ping pong

This has been turning out to be quite a busy week.  On Thursday evening I went to a craft meetup, one of the many things on my “when the thesis is finished” list.  It’s quite a cool group, pretty diverse in ages, if not genders, and a reasonable range of crafts, although of course heavily weighted towards the portable, like knitting and crochet.  They meet once a week, usually in a bar, and have a drink and a chat while working on their projects.  Last time I’d gone to the meetup had been in the middle of my thesis, when I wasn’t working on anything except the thesis, so I hadn’t taken a project, just sat and chatted and admired everyone else’s work.  But this time I was determined to take something I could work on.

As I couldn’t exactly lug my sewing machine and giant quilt along, I thought about taking a cross-stitch project, but it’s been so long since I worked on any of them it would have taken me all night just to figure out where I was up to, so I rummaged around in the study until I found a ball of wool (except it’s actually cotton) that Jenny had given me when she left, and found a crochet hook, and asked one of the crocheting women to refresh my memory on how to crochet (which I haven’t done since I was at high school, and wasn’t all that good at it then).

My aim is to make a dishcloth – I was given a crocheted dishcloth a couple of years ago (I think in a secret santa thing?), and after many washings it’s finally wearing out and developing big holes.  So I thought I’d have a go at making myself a new one, and with a bit of help (and a lot of “what on earth have you managed to do here?”, and “are you sure you’re right handed?”) from my instructor, I made what I think is good progress:

My technique is a long way from ideal (I’m sure I need at least two more hands!), and my tension is all over the place, but who cares – it’s going in the sink, it doesn’t have to be perfect :-)  And at least it’ll be the most colourful dishcloth ever, even if it isn’t the prettiest (actually, that multi-coloured wool is horrible to use – it’s so hard to see what you’re doing!  I just picked it out of the stash because I knew it was cotton, so would work for a dishcloth, and I thought the colours would be nice and bright – I didn’t think about the practicalities of being able to see where the stitches are…)

Then last night I met Lytteltonwitch after work and we went to the Noodle Markets in Hagley Park (after a very long walk around the park, because they had it in a different place to last year, and neither of us had thought to look up where exactly it was (and Hagley Park is HUGE – it’s about a kilometre across North Hagley alone)).  The market was much better organised than last year, and only a couple of the stalls had the ridiculously long queues of last year.  Most of the stalls were concentrating on just a couple of dishes and were just churning them out rather than making to order, which really sped things up, and there were no signs of any of them running out of food like they did last year.

We shared dishes from a few different stalls at random, wanting to try as many different dishes as possible.  Then we saw people walking around with barbequed meat on skewers that looked particularly tasty, so we followed the trail of people back to the source, which turned out to be one of the stalls with the longest queues.  So I volunteered to stand in that queue and get us some skewers, while Lytteltonwitch went in search of the other thing we’d seen people walking around with – drinks served in pineapples (yes, actual pineapples, hollowed out and with a straw and an umbrella stuck in them – we decided that it didn’t matter what the drink contained in them was, we wanted one!).

Although my queue was long, it moved relatively quickly (they had an amazing production line going on with the skewers, with a huge line of barbeques grilling the meat), and we were entertained as we waited by passing dragon dancers (and by a sudden shower of rain – luckily, I happened to have a small fold-up umbrella in my bag, so I and my queue neighbours were able to shelter under it).  When I finally got to the front of the queue and got some skewers, there was still no sign of Lytteltonwitch.  So I headed in the direction of the pineapple drink stand, and found her still in the queue, which was almost as long as the skewers one, but much slower moving.  I was able to pass a skewer over to her to give her sustenance while she waited, at least.  The drinks, once she finally got them, were really good – a kind of mango smoothie, with a tonne of fruit in them, and garnished with slices of pineapple and orange.  Definitely worth the wait, and seriously filling – we didn’t bother going to any more stalls after that!  Using pineapples for cups worked really well with the eco emphasis of the festival (all the plates and cutlery were compostable, to minimise waste), and they were great marketing for the stall – as we wandered around we were asked by several people where we’d got our drinks, and even though we told them how long the queue was, they all raced immediately over there.

Walking back to the bus exchange, we passed a new addition Gapfiller has made to Re:Start – three table tennis tables, with bats and balls that you can borrow for a game.  Neither of us had played table tennis since high school PE classes, but we decided to have a go anyway, and spent a very giggly half an hour occasionally playing but mostly chasing down rogue balls – we decided we really should rename the game “off-table tennis”. There’s signs on the tables saying you must stop play when a tram passes, and I can see why, considering the number of times we had to retrieve the ball from the tram tracks!  We couldn’t quite remember the scoring rules, so no idea who won, but we had a lot of fun :-)   A couple of young men stopped to watch (they were very polite and didn’t laugh too loudly), so after a while we surrendered the table to them so they could play a proper game.  Definitely a fun way to finish off the evening!

Then this morning I went to another meetup, this time with the Christchurch Bloggers group.  The group kind of fell apart a couple of years ago, when Miriam, one of the main organisers, moved to Australia.  But she’s back, and decided to reinstate the meetups, so we met for breakfast at C1 this morning.  It was great to catch up again with them, and the conversation ranged far and wide.  Hopefully this will be the start of more regular meetups again.

I’m turning into such a social butterfly lately!  (Though mostly just because I feel like I need to make up for lost time, after having pretty much ignored everyone for so long)

Normal

Back to work today (yesterday was Waitangi Day), to hundreds of emails, and struggling to get back up to speed with all the projects we’ve got on the go, but I’m sure by the end of the week it’ll feel like I was never away.  It did feel very good to be able to shut down my computer and go home at 5 pm, and know I didn’t have to squeeze in an hour or two of study in the evening!

To continue the theme of returning to normality, I went to my first Toastmasters meeting in forever this evening.  I even had a role, so I couldn’t ease back in to it gradually.  I was the Table Topics Master, which meant I had to come up with the topics for the impromptu speeches part of the evening.  I picked a nice easy theme (well, easy for me, anyway :-) ) – I printed out a whole load of random words on slips of paper, and the speakers had to pull three out of a hat (actually, it was a bag, but you get the idea) and use them to tell a story.  It worked really well, and everyone had lots of fun with it, so a good choice.

Thokk

No progress on (any of) the quilt(s), because I’ve been too busy the last couple of days being social and stuff.

Dad came up yesterday, because friends of his were hosting a mini music festival out at Whitecliffs (about 70 km from Christchurch) today.  He’d originally invited me to go out there with him today for the festival itself, but I already had other plans (see below), so plans were changed, and instead I went out there with him yesterday, supposedly to help with the setting up.  But when we got there, everything was pretty much done, except for putting up a couple of marquees that they’d decided to leave until morning in case the wind came up overnight.  So other than helping secure a few guy ropes, we pretty much just sat around chatting.  Which was fine, until I got stuck talking to some guy (a friend of a friend of Dad’s friends, I think) who just wanted to rant about the fact that Christchurch doesn’t have great facilities for campervans (yeah, we’ve had more important things to worry about for the past few years, actually).  I suddenly remembered I had my camera with me, and made an excuse about wanting to photograph the gardens (which were pretty spectacular, actually) so I could make my escape, and very shortly afterwards Dad similarly ran out of patience with boring ranty guy, and decided that I definitely needed a photographic assistant :-)

As there was no actual work that needed doing, and the rest of the afternoon was threatening to be dominated by boring ranty guy finding more things to complain about (or worse, he’d get onto politics, which I suspect we would strongly disagree on, and I was running out of things to rush off and photograph), so Dad (who hates sitting around doing nothing even more than I do) suggested we go back into town for dinner. I gladly agreed, so we said goodbye to Dad’s friends (and I promised that next year I’d stay for the concert), and we headed back to Christchurch.

I’d been telling Dad about the Friday night food trucks, and he wanted to know if any of them were open on a Saturday night (because last time he ate at anything resembling a food truck was back in the good old pie cart* days). I couldn’t think of any, but we did a tour round central Christchurch checking out the most likely spots to find them (the Commons, the Arts Centre, Re:Start, the Square…), but the only ones we found had already shut up for the night. So we ended up going to Mexico (the restaurant, not the country :-) ) instead, for Mexican tapas (yeah, I know, but fusion or something). Really good food, as it always is, but I didn’t read the menu closely enough when we ordered, so ended up eating lamb that had been infused with coffee, and which obviously still contained vast amounts of caffeine (or actually, possibly just a tiny amount, because I’m super-sensitive to caffeine), so I didn’t sleep for most of the night because my head was still buzzing.

* Sorry foreigners, that’s a bit of NZ culture it’s impossible to explain. But try and imagine the greasiest fried foods you’ve ever eaten, served from a caravan late at night after the pubs close, and patronised mainly by drunks, and you’d be getting close to what a pie cart was.

Dad headed back out to Whitecliffs this morning, and I tried to catch up on some sleep (unsuccessfully – I never manage to sleep during the day) before going over to the Gwilks in the afternoon to play Dungeons and Dragons.  They’ve had a game going for a while, and had invited me to join them, but I was too busy with my thesis previously, so today was my first chance to join the game.  I haven’t played since high school, so I was very rusty, and had to keep asking what dice I was supposed to roll when, but it was a lot of fun.  My character is Thokk, a half-orc barbarian, who communes with wolves, goes into a murderous rage whenever friends are threatened, and has a tendency to hit enemies over the head with a large hammer.  Not exactly playing to type :-) I decided it would be more interesting to just follow where the dice rolls led when creating my character, instead of picking and choosing to get a character I liked, and Thokk was the result.

I suspect this character is going to end up being a lot of fun to play, precisely because it’s so far from what I normally would choose :-)

One finished, one started

I finished binding the hedgehog quilt (which I think I should call Heidi Hedgehog, seeing as the original pattern I pinched the idea from was called Hazel Hedgehog)

I’m really pleased with how it turned out – free-motion quilting is definitely a lot easier since I got the sewing machine repaired and can actually control the speed properly, and the gloves and slip mat really help a lot too. I feel like every quilt I do, I learn a little bit more – there’s still plenty of things I could improve on (like don’t look too closely at the stitch lengths, which are still all over the place!), but I’m getting there.

And talking of learning, I started to quilt the big flower garden quilt, and that is definitely a learning experience! Just figuring out how to arrange that much fabric in a way that the weight of it doesn’t drag on the bit you’re working on, but so you can still move it around, takes a lot of trial and error. I started off with the bits I wasn’t working on rolled up (and kind of pegged into place, because I don’t have any of the fancy clips the pros use), but I gave up on that after a while, because it made the quilt too stiff and hard to move. Having the bit under the machine loosely rolled, and the rest just sort of pushed up around me so I was working in a kind of nest seemed to work a bit better (no photos of that version, because I was too tangled up in the quilt to reach over for my camera :-) )

It’s physically a lot harder work quilting a big quilt, having to constantly move all that weight around, so I don’t think this will be a sit down and get it done in a day sort of project. It’s more one to do an hour or so’s work on, then have a rest and come back to it later. So yeah, don’t hold your breath for it to be done in a hurry, but at least I started it.


I had a nicely social (and foodie) day yesterday. First I got a message from Harvestbird to say she was taking a long lunch break, so did I want to join her. As we had a bit more time than our usual rushed workday lunches, we went into the botanic gardens, and had lunch in the cafe there, which was really nice (despite the sandwich I got not resembling in any way the one I ordered – it was nice anyway, so I wasn’t too worried). Then, in the evening, I met up with Lytteltonwitch to go to the food trucks in the Square. They rotate the trucks that are there, so there’s always something new to try. I wasn’t impressed by my first pick of fajitas (which turned out to be half cold, pretty tasteless, and more stewed than grilled), so threw out most of the dish, but made up for it with some barbecued satay beef skewers, which were really good. We shared some zalabia (a kind of Egyptian donut) for desert, which were covered in a honey syrup, so incredibly sweet – I gave up after just a couple of them.

Crafts, being social, having time for a leisurely lunch – I feel like I’m slowly turning back into a normal human being again after all those months of being a hermit!

We’re gonna need a bigger boat

I basted the flower garden quilt yesterday.  Which is just a fancy way of saying I pinned the top, batting and back together so that it’s ready for quilting.  Which means you’ve got to spread out the fabrics somewhere you can lay them completely flat before you pin, otherwise you get wrinkles in the backing.  Except I made the quilt just a little bit too big for the biggest bit of floor space I have:

I think I need a bigger room. Or maybe I could just get rid of some furniture – I don’t really need a couch in my living room, do I?

I did manage to get it basted in the end, by leaving the edges until last and then moving it around a bit, but the thought of getting that massive quilt on my little sewing machine is a bit daunting!  (And as quilts go, it’s not actually that huge – it’s a bit less than queen size).

In the meantime, to get my FMQ muscles back in shape, I quilted the hedgehog.  I decided to try a spiky sort of quilting design, and I think it came out really well.

It even looks cool on the back. I used more of the orange fabric for the backing, and the spiky stitching on it came out looking like a cross between flames and an autumn leaf pile:

Just got to put the binding on, and it’ll be done (that’s the nice thing about mini quilts – they don’t take months (or years, in the case of the bird quilt!) to finish :-) )


I haven’t just been using my days off to sew (ok, mostly I’ve been using them to sew, but I have done some other stuff, honestly!).  Yesterday I met up with some old friends of Mum’s for afternoon tea.  They moved up to Christchurch a couple of years ago, and actually live in the next suburb over from me, but I hadn’t got round to getting in touch with them.  However, the other day I ran into them unexpectedly, so we made arrangements to meet up.  It was great catching up with them (I think I’ve seen them in person only a couple of times since I was at high school!), and they’re really lovely people – they kept insisting if I ever needed any help with anything to call on them, and they’ve promised to invite me to their next barbecue – you’d think it was me who’d newly moved into the area, not them! :-)

And yes, Mum, I passed on your news, and they’re totally thrilled for you (though they’ve already probably rung you to tell you that – I think P. was going to ring you as soon as he got home!)


In other news, I think it’s time for a rebranding around here.  This blog stopped being primarily about bookcrossing a long time ago, so it seems silly that the name and theme is so bookcrossing-focussed. So I need a new name, and a new decorating scheme.

Except for I don’t know what to call it!  Any thoughts?  I’d like to get FutureCat in the title somewhere, but I can’t think of anything that doesn’t sound cheesy.  Maybe I should just follow Yetzirah’s lead and just make the title my name?  Any ideas greatly appreciated!