Back to the birds

Hey, remember this quilt?

Yep, that one I started ages ago (ok, I just checked, and the quilt-along started in January 2015, so pretty close to three years ago!), which I finished the top for, and then never got round to quilting, because semester started and I was too busy, and then Tartankiwi released three extra birds, which I wanted to incorporate into the back but couldn’t decide how, and then I thought I should probably get a bit better at free-motion quilting before I attempted it, and I couldn’t decide how I wanted to quilt it anyway, and then I was just totally intimidated by its size and by how long it had been sitting there waiting so I felt like when I did quilt it, it would have to be perfect, and then I kept getting distracted by shiny new projects (ok, so that’s been happening pretty much all the way through all the other stages as well), and finally yesterday I told myself it was time to bite the bullet and get it done.

So I spent the afternoon yesterday sewing the backing together, and ironing the top (because apparently if you leave a quilt top folded up in the bottom of your half-finished projects pile for a year or two, it gets a bit wrinkly – who knew?), and then this morning, after I’d scrubbed the kitchen table (and the kitchen floor, because have you seen the size of that quilt?  There was no way I was going to be able to baste it without some of it falling onto the floor at some point.), I finally got it basted, and started the quilting!

Did I mention this is a very large quilt?  And incredibly heavy?  I am going to have very well developed shoulder muscles by the time it’s finished – moving it around on the machine is a real workout (I am so thankful for my nice new sewing table – quilting it on my old setup would have been impossible).  But I’m pleased with how the quilting is turning out so far – it’s definitely not perfect (the other problem with it being so hard to move is that it’s difficult to keep the motion nice and smooth, so some of my swirls (the swirly patterns are supposed to be air currents or something – it makes sense to me, anyway) are pretty wobbly in places), but hopefully the effect as a whole will make up for the occasional oddity.

Don’t hold your breath for this to be finished soon though – there’s a lot of quilt to cover, and many many hours of work still to be done (and also, much as I enjoy quilting, I don’t really want to spend my entire break in my sewing room, when the sun is shining outside (well, it was earlier – it’s clouded over again now…)).

A lot to catch up on

A belated Merry Christmas (or celebration of your choice) to everyone – sorry I didn’t post sooner, but it’s been a busy (and very social) week.

With the university being closed from the 22nd, which effectively made the 21st the deadline for all those PBRF-eligible projects, the last week of work was a lot more frantic than I’m used to the normally-lazy last week being.  But despite a few last-minute hitches (one of which kept us working until nearly 4pm on the last day, when most people had sloped off around lunchtime), and the fact that everyone else was in pre-holiday mode, so we all kept getting distracted by invitations to morning teas, and people just dropping in for a chat, we somehow managed to get all the projects finished and live just in time.

The one I’m most proud of (and not just because I’m listed as an editor in the official citation listing :-) ) is the Canterbury Roll Digital Edition.  We’ve been working on it for well over a year, and it’s taken up a huge amount of my time, as well as that of others of my team, plus various students we’ve had working in the Lab as interns or research assistants.  I’d hate to think how many person hours in total have gone into it, but I think the end product is worth it.

The Canterbury Roll is a 15th century manuscript held by the university, which gives a genealogy of the Kings of England, starting with Noah (yep, that Noah – they took their genealogy very seriously in the 15th century!) and ending with Edward IV.  It’s an amazing document, but it’s on 5 metres of rolled up parchment, and is kept locked away in the library’s rare books room, so it isn’t exactly easy to view.  Which is why we, in conjunction with the History Department, and a few other collaborators at other universities, decided to digitise it.  So now anyone can go online and view a high-quality digital facsimile, which will really open it up for people to study.

And because it’s digital, we were able to add all sorts of other features – like you can click on any part of the Roll and you’ll see a transcription of the Latin text, plus a translation into English, plus you can see which of the four (or possibly five – there’s a bit of academic debate there) scribes who contributed to the Roll wrote which bit, and turn on notes which show you where the scribes made errors.  The interface that does all this was built by the Lab, and I think we did a pretty good job :-)

Plus it’s just been a really fun (and interesting!) project to work on, and taught me so much.  On the technical side I had to learn a new programming language, but as well as that I picked up quite a bit of Latin and medieval history along the way, just by osmosis from being so immersed in it all the time :-)

Once we finally managed to leave the Lab on Thursday night, we all (plus the Directors and a few other staff who’d been involved with the Lab over the year) went over to the Staff Club for a few drinks.  There was an end of year barbecue going on, so lots of staff had their families there, and it was a lovely evening so we all sat out on the lawn and enjoyed being able to relax for a bit, and watch Santa presiding over a lolly scramble for the kids.

It was Antoine’s last day (he’d hoped to be able to stay on longer (and we’d hoped he’d be able to too!), but the budget didn’t stretch to offering him full time work for next year, which he needed to extend his visa past March, so he decided to spend his last few months in the country travelling around instead), so as a farewell present we gave him a book about New Zealand’s great walks, some of which he’s planning on doing before he leaves.  He’s definitely going to be missed, and not just for his programming skills – in the 6 months or so that he and Samuel having been working for the Lab, the three of us have formed a really good team, and it’s going to be tough to have to build that again with a new person.

I was glad to have Friday off (we always get Christmas Eve, or the Friday before if it falls on a weekend, as a University Holiday), so that I could run around madly doing all the last minute jobs I hadn’t had time to get done earlier in the week – cleaning the house, stocking up on groceries, and buying extra plates so I’d have enough for Saturday’s party (I’d invited I think 14 people, so if everyone turned up, the plate situation was going to get tight).

As it turned out, a few people pulled out at the last minute (one of the hazards of having so many extreme introverts in my friends group – running out of metaphorical spoons is reasonably common, especially in the super-social pre-Christmas season) so it wasn’t too excessively large a group that turned up on Saturday.

I’d split the party into two parts, and decreed the afternoon kid-friendly, and the evening for adults only.  That way I could invite the mini-Harvestbirds, so they wouldn’t feel left out, but also have time for proper board games, uninterrupted by children, later in the evening.  It all worked out fantastically well – Lytteltonwitch and the Harvestbirds came for the afternoon, and we played Pictionary and nibbled on snacks until about 6, when the mini-Harvestbirds helped me to make pizzas (I’d made a few batches of pizza dough in the morning (during which I managed to burn out the motor in my food processor, producing big clouds of black smoke, so the food processor and the first batch of dough ended up in the bin, and I kneaded the rest by hand), and asked everyone to bring along some pizza toppings to go on them).  The elder mini-Harvestbird got bored with helping pretty quickly, but the younger one enthusiastically assisted me right to the end, and we got quite a good production line going, with me rolling out the bases and spreading the sauce, and her putting the rest of the toppings and cheese on – we had it nicely timed so that as soon as one pizza came out of the oven the next was ready to go in, and there was a steady stream of pizzas going through to the lounge (the rest of the guests had arrived while we were cooking, so there were plenty of willing recipients for each new pizza).  The pizzas were declared a great success, and I even managed to get a couple of slices myself from the last one out of the oven (I think we cooked 10 pizzas in total – pretty good going for a kitchen staff of two, one of which was a 5 year old!!)

After dinner, the Harvestbirds went home, and the rest of us played board games until the small hours of the morning.  A great party all round, although I was totally exhausted by the end!

The next day (Christmas Eve) I’d planned to have a restful day, with the exception of making a cake to take to Dana’s place on Christmas Day (she’d invited me to have lunch with her, her partner, and her mother).  I wanted to get some fresh fruit to go on it, so my plan was to go to the supermarket nice and early, before it got too busy, and (as motivation to get an early start) have a nice breakfast at a cafe on the way.  The plan was slightly foiled when I slept in (something about the very late night the night before), but I set out for my favourite cafe, which is half-way to the supermarket, only to find it boarded up, and a notice saying the cafe was closed until the broken windows could be repaired (it looked like a car had driven into it – probably someone overshooting from the angle-parking carparks in front).  All was not lost though, as there’s another cafe (not quite as good) just along the road from the supermarket.  Except that one was also closed – no damage this time, they’d just closed for the holidays.  I ended up walking all the way to Church Corner before I found somewhere to have breakfast, by which time it was more like morning tea time, and by the time I actually got to the supermarket, it was totally crowded.  So much for my relaxing start to the day…

I got home, and was just sitting down for a few minutes before starting the cake, when I got a phone call from my former ESOL student, asking if she could come and visit.  I haven’t seen her in about a year, so it was lovely to catch up with her (and meet her granddaughter, who is starting school in the new year!  Time has definitely flown – I thought it was just a couple of years since I finished tutoring her, but I went to her son’s wedding that year, and now he has a nearly 5 year old!).  It was quite a long visit though, as we each caught up with the other’s news, so by the time she left I had to rush to get the cake made.

It turned out pretty well though, especially once I added the fruit in the morning:

I had a nice lazy start on Christmas morning, then caught a bus over to Dana’s place.  Dana was, as always, spectacularly dressed in a totally Christmassy outfit – here she is doing her best impersonation of a Christmas tree:

We had a lovely lunch of mici (little Romanian sausages – very tasty!), devilled eggs, and German salad (Dana is Romanian, and her partner is German, so it was quite an international meal, especially when you add in the French Chocolate Cake I’d brought!) – it looks like quite a small meal when you look at it on the table, but we were all totally full by the end!

After lunch we opened presents. I’d managed somehow to find enough time over the last couple of weeks to finish off a Christmas mini-quilt for Dana, which she loved:

(Obligatory photo of the back, to show off the quilting. I was experimenting with using different colours of thread in the different areas of the quilt, which I think turned out quite well.)

Dana had actually given me a gift at the party on Saturday, so gave me a Christmas card so I didn’t feel left out on Christmas Day, which was very sweet of her :-) The gift she’d given me was very cool – two new ornaments for my tree; a gold leopard and a unicorn sloth hugging a rainbow. I never knew I needed a rainbow unicorn sloth in my life, but he is such a perfect addition to my tree!

After stuffing ourselves some more with dessert, we tried out a game Mum had sent me, which involved taking turns playing tunes on a kazoo and then everyone attempting to guess what the tune was. It was hilariously funny (especially because Dana’s mother never quite got the hang of actually getting her kazoo to do anything other than make raspberry noises), and quickly descended into giggly chaos, as we abandoned all pretence of keeping score or following the rules and just played silly tunes.

Afterwards, we played a more sedate game of Ticket to Ride, while snacking on yet more chocolate, so it was about 7 pm by the time I left. It was a lovely evening (after a stinking hot day), so I decided to walk home – it took about an hour, but was a really nice walk after all that food. I met a lot of other people out walking along the way – I think everyone had the same idea to take advantage of the slightly cooler evening!

My original plan for Boxing Day was to go into total hibernation, having been way too social over the preceding few days, but seeing as I needed to replace my dead food processor, I decided to brave the Boxing Day sales, and went to Riccarton Mall. I managed to find a decent one for 50% off, so it was a successful expedition, but struggling through the crowds in the mall (especially carrying the large and heavy food processor box!) was not fun. By the time I got home I never wanted to see another person, so I’m afraid I wasn’t in the most social mood when Lytteltonwitch dropped round that afternoon. She’d come bearing fabric though, for a quilt she’s asked me to make for a friend of hers who’s having a baby (does this count as my first commission?), so I forgave her for interrupting my solitude :-) (and after all, I was the one who’d emailed her with a list of fabric requirements that morning, just in case she wanted to take advantage of Spotlight’s sale, so I couldn’t really complain when she did exactly what I’d suggested).

With a new quilt to work on, I of course immediately abandoned all the half-finished quilts piled up on my desk, and spent yesterday and today happily sewing. It’s quite a simple design, so by this afternoon I had a finished quilt top.

Most of the pieces cut out (I told you it was a simple design).

Laying out the blocks.

A couple of slightly more complicated blocks to add as a finishing touch.

The finished quilt top. Can you tell what it is yet? :-)

Lytteltonwitch’s friend is seriously into Lego, so she asked me to design something with a Lego theme.  I’m really pleased with how it turned out – I think it’s really effective for such a simple design.

I don’t want the quilting to detract from the solid colours of the blocks, so I’m planning to quilt it with invisible thread, which means the quilting part will have to wait until that arrives from the shop in the North Island I’ve ordered it from. The baby isn’t due until February, though, so I’ve got a bit of time.

So, that’s how I’ve spent the last week or so.  How was your Christmas?

Prospective cucumber?

Despite the mostly warm weather (it’s been back to typical December drizzle this week), my little cucumber and watermelon plants haven’t grown all that much in their pots – a couple of extra leaves each, but that’s all.  So I assumed my usual anti-gardening skill was at work as usual, and they’d come to nothing. But this morning as I was leaving the house, I spotted a surprise on one of the cucumber plants – a tiny flower!

You never know, I might end up with a cucumber after all!  (Although, are cucumbers the sort of plant where you need more than one plant to be flowering before they develop fruit?  I might be out of luck in which case.  But it’s still cool that it’s flowered at all.)

Also, I have no idea what size cucumber flowers are supposed to be.  Is this actually a tiny flower, or is it normal size for a cucumber?  I think I may be basing my expectations on vague memories of what pumpkin flowers look like.  And if it is a tiny flower, will it produce a tiny cucumber?  (I suspect that’s not how biology works, but I can’t imagine a normal-sized cucumber growing off such a small plant – it would be taller than the plant!)

Party Prep Part 1

Tonight is the first of two Christmas parties I’m hosting this year, this one for my team at work.  It’s pot luck, so not a lot of prep needed (except I am my mother’s child, so of course I’ve spent the day cleaning parts of the house that visitors will never see anyway…)

Food-wise, my contribution is a couple of dishes that definitely fall into my favourite party food category – things that look impressive, but take very little work.

First, a red onion and capsicum tart (bought pre-rolled pastry, sauté the vegetables, mix with eggs and cheese, bake, and done):

And then, for pudding, trifle (with bought sponge cake, tinned fruit, and a tub of pre-made custard (thanks Mum for teaching me about the existence of that ultimate convenience food!) – I did whip the cream myself though…):

It’s years since I made trifle (probably since Granny was alive, and I used to help her make the trifle for New Years Day – mine contains a LOT less sherry than Granny used to slosh into hers, though!), but seeing as one of my colleagues is Belgian, and it’s his first Christmas in NZ, I thought it would be cool to do something traditional (as much as anything is traditional about a NZ Christmas).

So, prep done, and now I can sit down and relax for an hour or two until everyone arrives.


Ok, so it’s been another really hot day.  So that explains why Parsnips has chosen to sleep in the open window, in the little bit of breeze that’s blowing in now that the sun is going down.

What it doesn’t explain is why she feels the need to sleep with her head jammed against the window frame.  It does not look comfortable.

Getting creative with waste

I spent a lovely day today with Pieta at a Christmas craft workshop run by Rekindle.  Rekindle were set up after the earthquakes to try and make use of some of the huge amount of waste from demolished buildings.  They’ve expanded now to find ways of making use of all sorts of what they call “undervalued resources” – things that would normally end up in landfill.

The first thing we learnt in the workshop was how to turn kouka (cabbage tree – for the foreigners, think a flax bush on stilts) leaves into string and rope.  Cabbage tree leaves are definitely something most gardeners consider waste – the trees drop the long stringy leaves all year round, and they’re notorious for getting wrapped around the blades of lawnmowers, and being incredibly tough (so they can’t even be composted).  So perfect for making rope out of – you just twist up a couple of leaves (or thin strips of leaves for string), then twist them around each other in the other direction, and the opposing tensions of the two twists hold the fibres together really strongly – it’s the way rope has been made for centuries (and still is, but now there’s big machines for doing the twisting).

Once we all had long lengths of string made, and even longer lengths of rope, we moved on to making wrapping paper – or rather, decorating offcuts of brown paper that had come from industrial waste.  Armed with a selection of paints, and wooden shapes to use as stamps, we got creative, painting and stamping our sheets of paper (and card, to use for gift cards) in all sorts of festive ways.

While the paint was drying (which actually only took a few minutes in the continuing heat wave), we made wreaths – weaving a base from basket willow, and then wrapping it in the kouka rope we’d made earlier. More wooden shapes (which Rekindle produce in great quantities from timber offcuts, and mostly sell as Christmas decorations) were distributed to decorate the wreaths, but I chose to use the ones I’d been using to stamp with, because I liked the way the leftover paint on the stamp side looked.

Even though we were all using the same basic techniques to create our wreaths, they all ended up looking very different – as well as them varying in size and thickness, some people went for super tidy and tightly wound, and others went for a wild and natural look, leaving all the stray ends of the leaves poking out. Mine was somewhere in the middle – definitely not totally neat and tidy, but I did trim some of the wilder loose ends down a bit. (As you see, it’s already hanging in pride of place on my door, replacing the cheap plastic wreath from the Warehouse that used to sit there.)

After a break for lunch, our next craft was turning some of our wrapping paper into Christmas crackers. We’d been told to bring along any little gifts we wanted to put inside the crackers (and some toilet roll inners, if we could, to form the inside part of the cracker, although they had plenty there for anyone who didn’t bring their own). We used the kouka string we’d made earlier to tie the ends of the crackers, so the only part of them that wasn’t recycled or handmade was the cracker pulls (the bit that makes them go bang when you pull them) – the instructor said she’d had to buy them, because she’s never figured out a way to make them (although in theory it wouldn’t be that hard – hmm, now who do I know who sells gunpowder? :-) ). I was really pleased with how mine turned out:

That was, in theory, the end of the workshop, but because we still had some time the instructor showed us how to do a little bonus craft, making stars from basket willow, tied together with yet more strands of cabbage tree leaves. I wasn’t as successful at making the stars – it was really hard to get the tension right tying them off, and I kept either snapping the cabbage tree strands because I’d pulled them too tight, or having the entire thing unravel on me, so I gave up after making a couple of them. Plus it was getting really hot in the workshop space we were in, and I was starting to feel a bit crafted out – I think if I’d tried making them at the start of the day I would have had more patience with them.

So that was my day of non-consumerist creativity.  Despite being long, hot and a bit tiring, it was definitely worth doing – loads of fun (and the nice thing about making things out of “junk” is that nobody expects it to turn out perfect :-) ).

Being realistic

Remember those Christmassy mini-quilts I was making?  That I was going to give to pretty much everyone I know?  Yeah, they’re still sitting in a pile next to my sewing machine, half-quilted.  And there is no way I’m going to get them finished by Christmas.  As usual, I totally under-estimated how long each would take, and also, didn’t take into account things like being away in Wellington for a week, and perpetual toothache (and then surgery recovery) tiring me out so I wasn’t feeling inspired to sit down at the sewing machine in the evenings, and, of course, the heat, which definitely hasn’t been conducive to spending time in my hot and stuffy little sewing room.

Maybe, if I spent every spare minute between now and Christmas working on them, I could get most of them finished, but I’m already in panic mode at work with a couple of major project deadlines, so being in panic mode at home too probably isn’t the best idea.  So I’ve decided to finish off the one that I was planning on using for a Secret Santa gift (but not stress if I can’t, because I can always run down to Church Corner in my lunch-break and buy something from the $2 shop if necessary), and otherwise just finish them off at leisure, and put them away for next Christmas.

So sorry if you were anticipating getting one – you’ll just have to be patient :-)

Not having to devote my afternoon to frantically quilting meant that I actually had time to put up the Christmas tree this afternoon (though really, it was almost too hot to do that – it got up to 31° earlier today, so the tree-decorating was interrupted many times for cold drink breaks).  I also had incentive in the form of a new Christmas ornament – Lytteltonwitch and I had dinner at the food trucks in the Square last night, and there was a stall there selling crafts and stuff to support the Cathedral, so I bought a really lovely (and remarkably cheap, given the work that looked like it had gone into it) wooden copy of the old cathedral’s Rose Window (which was destroyed in the earthquakes).

The “glass” in the window is actually an acetate print of part of the original stained glass from the Rose Window (though it’s a bit hard to tell in that photo, with the Christmas tree lights behind it).

I’d also bought a couple of ornaments from the Trade Aid shop in Wellington while I was up there (Trade Aid always has the most interesting selection of ornaments):

And when I pulled out the rest of the Christmas ornaments from under my bed, I realised I had another new ornament, that I’d completely forgotten about, because I didn’t put up a tree last year. It’s one I bought in Venice, from a bookbinding shop we visited, where I was seriously tempted by, but couldn’t afford, their gorgeous hand-bound journals, so bought one of the little paper angels they had on display as a (much cheaper) consolation prize. I’d put it away in the box of Christmas decorations when I got home, and then completely forgot about it, so it was a cool surprise to discover the still-wrapped package tucked in the top of the box when I opened it.

As usual, the tree as a whole is over-crowded, completely uncoordinated, and slightly chaotic, but I reckon it still looks good:


Ok, now it’s officially summer.  Not because it was Brother’s birthday (and therefore the first day of summer) on Friday.  Not because it’s been stinking hot the last two days.  But because I went to the supermarket this morning, and guess what they had?

Raspberries!!! Yay!!!! They were stupidly expensive, but who cares, the first fresh raspberries of the summer. #worthit, as the cool kids say.

I can put up with the heat, and the nor’westers, and the dust, and the allergies, as long as summer means fresh raspberries (just hope they get a bit cheaper as the season progresses!).

Possibly not for the faint of heart

The conference went really well – our talk seemed to be well-received (my boss was in the audience, along with at least three other people I know as experts in digital archiving, and all were nodding at the right places, so I don’t think I said anything too stupid :-) ), and (once the stress of having to present was over with, so I could actually just relax and enjoy the rest of the conference) I met all sorts of interesting people, and learnt all sorts of interesting things.

Here’s our presentation, if you’re interested:

[Ok, so apparently I can’t embed a YouTube video here (weird, I thought I’d done it before, but maybe not) – oh well, you’ll just have to cope with a link instead (Later: I finally figured it out, so I can actually embed the video)]

I was seriously exhausted (and totally peopled-out) by the time I got back to Christchurch though. Three days of conference is way too much pretending to be an extrovert for me!

I was also exhausted because my sore tooth, although never seriously painful, had been low-level achy for long enough that I was getting pretty run down (which is mostly why I haven’t been posting much – I haven’t had a lot of mental energy for anything for the last couple of weeks).  I’ve never been looking forward to a dentist appointment as much as I was by Wednesday!

I don’t remember much about the surgery itself, because they gave me intravenous sedation, so I spent the whole time in an only semi-awake state.  Every so often something would be particularly sore, or the noise would get particularly gruesome, and I’d half wake up, groan a bit, feel them stick some more local into my jaw, and I’d drift off again.  Having sedation definitely makes the time go faster, but on the down side, I reckon they’re not as gentle with you when you’re not fully concious, because I was feeling very bruised and battered the next day!

Harvestbird came to pick me up after the surgery was finished, and (after an entertaining walk to her car, with lots of staggering around on my part because I couldn’t walk in a straight line) took me home.  She settled me onto the couch, where (after dribbling blood all over myself when I attempted to take a sip of water with a numb mouth…) I promptly fell asleep for the rest of the afternoon.  Harvestbird told me later that she’d had a very productive afternoon getting a load of work done on her laptop while I slept, which made me feel a lot less guilty about her having to take the afternoon off to babysit me (because of the sedation, she was under instructions from the dentist not to leave me alone for at least 4 hours until the effects wore off).

Along with the usual envelope full of dressings, and prescription for antibiotics and painkillers, the dentist handed over another envelope as we left, which on later inspection turned out to contain my wisdom teeth.  I have absolutely no idea why he would give me them – I would have assumed they’d just go straight into medical waste.  I wonder if he asked me, in my drugged state, if I wanted them, to which I’m sure my inner 10 year old would have enthusiastically responded “Cool, yes please!”.

My outer not-10 year old is equal parts fascinated and repulsed by them (warning, seriously gross picture ahead (although, by the time you’ve scrolled down to read this bit, you’ve probably already seen what’s coming… sorry!))

To refresh your mental palates after that, here’s a pretty picture of the flowers Harvestbird bought me to cheer me in my recovery:

Not enough? Look, more pretty!

With three large holes in the back of my mouth, I’m still in a bit of pain, but it’s definitely improving. And after I get the stitches out next week (and the really painful bit, paying the bill!), hopefully that will be the end of my dental adventures (and being in pain) for a while!

In other news, my little cucumber and watermelon plants are still struggling along. I repotted them into real pots (which I’m sure are nowhere near big enough, but they’ll just have to cope, because it’s all I’ve got), and they’re sitting outside on the front step now, along with the mint jungle, and last year’s fennel and spring onion which somehow came back to life this year. I almost feel like a real gardener (nah, not really – those 5 little pots are pretty much the limit of my patience for gardening!).

Talking of not gardening, it is a gorgeous sunny day today (according to the met service it’s already 29°), so I think it’s time to abandon the computer and go and find a nice cool spot under a tree somewhere to read a book.