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.

PS

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:

Summer!

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]

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.