Voiceless

I really shouldn’t be surprised that I’m sick – given how madly I’ve been running about both at work and socially for the last year or two, a crash was pretty much inevitable.  And, as usual, it’s the pressure coming off a bit (with QuakeStudies 2.0 finally finished, so that, although my to-do list at work is still impossibly long, at least it doesn’t feel quite as urgent) that was the final straw.  My body has come to the conclusion that if I have time to breathe then I’ve got time to be sick, so gone on strike.

Actually, it’s a bit self-inflicted, too.  If I’d actually slowed down properly when I started getting sick, I’d probably be over it by now, but of course I didn’t.  I took last Monday off, but then all my sensibleness went out the window – I decided I couldn’t possibly take Tuesday off because I had a student coming in that afternoon (and plus I wanted to go to the Bookcrossing meetup in the evening, which I’d feel guilty going to if I’d been off work sick), and then I had some work I really needed to get done on Wednesday, and meetings I couldn’t skip on Thursday, and… (yes Mum, I can hear you from here saying “They’d have to cope without you if you were run over by a bus, so they can cope without you when you’re sick”, but unfortunately you instilled too much of a work ethic in me, so guilt always wins out over sickness).  And then, just to add to the not-resting-ness, after work on Friday I dashed out to the airport so I could see Dana off (she’s moving to Japan), and then had to race home because I had tickets to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and Comedians (the sequel to the show I went to with the Gwilks last month, and just as good as that one) and there was no way I was missing that, so yeah… by Saturday my slight cold had developed into full-on feeling rotten, and I’d completely lost my voice (like, I could barely emit a whisper).

I at least spent this weekend mostly resting, other than a little essential housework and grocery shopping, and my voice has partly come back, but of course I’m back at work today (I’m caught in that “I don’t feel sick enough to stay home, but once I’ve made the effort to get to work I feel awful” trap), so I’m probably undoing all the good effort of the weekend.  Just as long as I’m recovered before we leave for France!

 

You’re not going to believe this…

…but I’ve actually finished the Birds in Flight quilt!  I made the binding for it last weekend, and then took advantage of the fact that I have a cold and it was raining yesterday to spend the day doing as little as possible other than sitting watching videos while hand-stitching the binding down (yes, I’m a glutton for punishment, but it looks so much better when it’s hand sewn compared to just top-stitching it).

And here’s the result (with bonus Parsnips in the background – I didn’t notice her there while I was taking the photos):

Other than the fact that I really should have added an extra strip of background fabric around the edges so that the birds aren’t so close to the binding, I’m really happy with how it turned out. I had a few doubts about my choice to use a scrappy binding while I was sewing it on, but now that I see it as a whole I like it again. And I’m really pleased with how the quilting looks, especially the contrast between the background and the birds.


(The duck is definitely my favourite bird on the quilt – I’m not normally a fan of orange, but something about the way the different fabrics combined just works here)

I love the way the quilting around the birds makes them show up on the back, too:

And talking of the back, here’s the full effect of the rainbow stripe (which, yes, is a bit askew. It wasn’t supposed to be, and I thought I’d lined everything up correctly when I basted the quilt, but obviously not…)

Other than the slight slant, the back turned out exactly as I’d hoped. In fact, I think I almost like it more than the front.

Just as I was finishing taking the photos, the sun finally came out, so here’s a couple of shots to show off how bright those colours look:

Not bad for three year’s and two month’s work (I checked, and I started it in January 2015).

And finally, just for the pretty, an artistic-type shot of the back:

Dragons in the Avon

Last weekend was the Lantern Festival, so on Sunday night I met up with Lytteltonwitch and (after a detour to watch Loving Vincent (which was… interesting?  I liked the concept, and it was very pretty, but I thought the sound was badly done – it sounded too much like a radio play, and didn’t connect properly with the pictures (by which I don’t mean it wasn’t in sync, it’s just that it somehow didn’t sound like it was coming from inside the scenes – I’m sure there’s a technical term for that…) which kept pulling me out of the story) at Alice’s (and is this the worst example of nested brackets totally messing up the parsability of a sentence ever?  Sorry!)), we wandered through the Square and along the river to see the lanterns all lit up.

I’ve heard a few complaints about how crowded it was, but I don’t think it was that bad. Some of the queues for the food and activity stalls were quite long, but you just had to be patient (or pick one of the stalls with shorter queues). And there were a few bottlenecks where construction areas are still cordoned off, but again, just a matter of patience. I just thought it was wonderful that finally we have enough of the city back that we can have the Lantern Festival in the CBD again and not hidden away in a corner of Hagley Park as it has been for the last few years. And it’s still enough of a novelty to have actual crowds in the city centre I can’t help enjoying it when it happens.


On Saturday Gwilk finally managed to get everyone back together for another attempt at our long-neglected Dungeons and Dragons game.  It was a lot of fun (Thokk (my character) spent most of the evening being nasty to Mrs Gwilk’s character, after she inadvertently insulted Thokk’s parents.  I *think* Mrs Gwilk got that it was all just role playing…), so hopefully it won’t be another year before we manage another game.

Hmm, I seem to be telling the story of my recent adventures backwards again.  So, to continue the theme, let’s skip back a few more days.

Last Thursday I went to a really interesting panel discussion put on by UC’s FemSoc club, on the topic of the #MeToo movement.  The panel included victims, educators, and politicians, and had some really thoughtful things to say about how society and the justice system is failing victims of sexual abuse, and the difficult question of how to fix the problem.  There was a surprisingly respectful audience discussion afterwards, and it sounded like the evening might have some good outcomes in terms of the university looking more closely at its policies around harassment and abuse.

And I was out on Wednesday as well, at another recording of the Nerd Degree with Jacq and their partner.  It was, as always, incredibly funny, although I thought it took longer than last time to properly warm up.  Darcy, another former LING student (and who helped me with the graphs for my thesis, so will forever be my hero for her R-ninjaness) came along too, so it was nice to see her again.

So quite a social week last week! Plus we’re in the middle of interviewing for a couple of new positions for the Lab, and I’m on the interview panel for both of them, so it’s been busy at work as well.  Thankfully this week has been a bit quieter on the social side at least – there’s been a lot of just coming home and crashing in the evenings.


I haven’t forgotten about my Block of the Whenever quilt (and I definitely haven’t run out of ideas – I’ve got a long list of blocks I want to try next), but I decided I needed to get on with the quilting on the Birds in Flight quilt before I lost track of what I was doing.  And the exciting news is, I finished all the quilting!!!  No photos yet, because I still need to put the binding on, but it’s getting much closer to a finished quilt.  Not bad for three and a bit years’ work…

When the government forces you to lie

Thanks, StatsNZ!

Actually, I heard from a reliable source that the internal recommendation from Statistics NZ was to include an “other” category, but it was rejected by higher powers (read: the Minister) because it would cost too much, and there’s not that many trans*/gender diverse people in NZ anyway (except of course the question has never been asked in the census, so nobody knows what the true proportion is), plus what about all those people who’d write in a silly answer and mess up the statistics? (to which the only response is what about all the people who now can’t answer that question accurately, so have to give an untrue/incomplete answer, and mess up the statistics?)

I know a lot of trans*/gender diverse people are protesting by requesting a paper form and writing in their gender, but I wasn’t organised enough to do that in time, and anyway, I do actually like the idea in principle of an on-line census (as long as it’s backed up by paper forms for those who don’t have a computer/internet access, of course). So I just had to tell a lie to the government.

And then there’s the whole NZ European/Pākehā issue…

Cucumber sandwiches and a chicken in a tree

I spent this afternoon with Harvestbird and the mini-Harvestbirds at a garden party hosted by Dorothy’s pop-up tearooms (i.e. my friend Jan, who catered my graduation party).  After cold and wet weather earlier in the week, it was a lovely afternoon sitting under the trees eating scones and cucumber sandwiches and an array of incredible cakes.  I taught the mini-Harvestbirds (plus an additional small child from a neighbouring picnic blanket) how to play petanque, but was called away from the grand championship game by Jan, to tell me I’d won a prize in the raffle: a seriously cool pair of teapot and measuring tape earrings (quilts and tea – it’s like they were made for me. Just add some cats and books, and they’d be perfect :-) )

I think the highlight for the mini-Harvestbirds was the chicken they spotted perched high in a tree (the venue was out in the semi-countryside on the edge of town). Much excited shouting of “there’s a chicken in the tree” later, they had quite a crowd of adults gathered to see the phenomenon (mutter, mutter, city people, mutter, mutter…)

The elder mini-Harvestbird was moved to compose a song about the chicken, which younger mini-Harvestbird accompanied with interpretive dance.

Hmm, I really should have videoed it, shouldn’t I?  But as you can probably tell, it was a very impassioned performance.

A very pleasant way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon.


Talking of cucumbers, my little cucumber plants are struggling on, despite the cooler weather.  The leaves seem to be starting to die off, but despite that the plants keep valiantly producing flowers, and the actual cucumbers have more than doubled in size.  This would be more impressive if they hadn’t started out microscopic – the largest is now about 2 cm long.

Any bets on the chances of it reaching edible size before winter? Nah, thought not.

Even more incredibly, the watermelon has suddenly taken off. I realised yesterday that suddenly it wasn’t just the couple of leaves it’s been all summer – it’s grown a longish vine which is using the neighbouring mint plants for support. A vine with little buds on the end of it:

And when I got home this afternoon, those little buds had turned into watermelon flowers!

Definitely not holding my breath for actual fruit though.


As I was taking the photo of the watermelon, Parsnips really really wanted me to pay attention to her. This mostly took the form of meowing loudly and flopping dramatically on the step in front of me. Except she totally misjudged how close she was to the wall, so only her front half managed to flop, and the back was left slightly propped against the wall:

Most cats would have moved to a more comfortable position, but once Parsnips commits to a flop, she really commits.  She stayed in that position for as long as I was out there, twisting her head into maximum “aren’t I cute, now pay attention!” position while her back legs stayed standing on the lower step

Strange cat.

Block of the Whenever #4

Another very traditional block, the Ohio Star.  But unlike the other blocks I’ve made so far, which have just used two fabrics (plus the background), this time I’m adding a third fabric:


Technically you can make an Ohio Star with just two colours (or even one, if you kept the central square the same as the points), but I think it looks much better with three.

What you’ll need:

Print: one 3 1/2 inch square

Solid 1: one 4 1/4 inch square

Solid 2: two 4 1/4 inch squares

Background: four 3 1/2 inch squares and one 4 1/4 inch square

Pair one green* square with the pink* square, and the other with the large background square.

(*Obviously, you don’t have to use green and pink – I just can’t be bothered writing “solid 1” and “solid 2” every time.  If the fact that your colours are different than mine is too confusing for you, possibly quilting is not the craft for you…)

This is another way of making half-square triangles.  It only makes two at a time, which actually works out nicely for this block, and also doesn’t end up with bias edges on your block like the four-at-a-time method.

Draw a diagonal line across each pair (the line doesn’t show up very well in the photo, but I could see it pretty clearly in person), and stitch quarter of an inch either side of the line.

Cut along the drawn line and iron open, to get two half-square triangles of each colour combination.

Now take each green/pink HST, and pair with a green/background HST, with the diagonals running the same direction, and the green on opposite sides.

Draw a diagonal line in the opposite direction, and sew quarter of an inch on either side of the line.

Cut along the lines and iron open, and you’ll have four quarter-square triangles.

The quarter-square triangles should end up 3 1/2 inches square.  Trim off the dog ears, and lay out the block.

Sew together as a nine-patch, and you’ve got your Ohio Star.

A couple of my points didn’t line up perfectly (there’s a lot of fabric coming together in those corners), so I did consider unpicking that last seam and trying again, but it won’t really be noticeable once it’s part of a big quilt, so I decided to follow the most important quilting rule of all: “Finished is better than perfect”

The fridge magnet was a free gift thrown in with my last order from the Missouri Star** Quilt Company, and lives on the filing cabinet next to my cutting mat – it’s a useful reminder sometimes, when I feel the obsessive perfectionism gene I inherited from Granny trying to come out – luckily it’s nicely balanced by my inherent laziness :-)

(**There seems to be a star block named after every state in the USA (now there’s an idea for an overly-ambitious sampler quilt for someone!).  I’m sure a few more will end up in this quilt, though maybe not the Missouri Star – I think it might be a bit too complex to work well at this scale.  Maybe if I run out of simpler blocks…)

Block of the Whenever #3

Racing along here!  The third block is called a Dutch Pinwheel.  It has a lot of parts, but they’re all the same: half-square triangles. So the instructions are pretty short.

Now that I’m feeling a little more confident in my ability to sew a proper quarter-inch seam, I decided it was safe to start using some of my favourite fabrics from the layer cake.

I used the same four-at-a-time technique to make the half-square triangles as last time (mainly because the measurements fitted nicely into a 10-inch square). I think if I made this block again, I’d use a different method, because making them the four-at-a-time way means you end up with lots of bias edges, which makes it harder to sew all the parts together without anything stretching out of shape. These measurements are for that method, so if you use them, be warned it’s not the best approach.

You will need:

Print: four 4 1/2 inch squares

Solid: one 4 1/2 inch square

Background: three 4 1/2 inch squares

I won’t repeat the instructions on how to make the half-square triangles, seeing as I already did that yesterday, but you should end up with 16 of them, 12 with the background fabric on one side, and 4 with the solid.

Again, thanks to the edge being the hypotenuse of a isosceles right-angled triangle (sorry, the mathematician in me always comes out when I’m playing with shapes like this), there’s a fun √2 in the calculations, so the half-square triangles turn out a few millimetres bigger than needed. Trim them down to 2 3/4 inch squares, and lay out the block.

Sew each corner unit as a four patch, then sew those together into one big four-patch to get the finished block.

(Look! 9 1/2 inches again! It worked!!!)

And in other news

Half-square triangles and flying geese aside, it’s been a very busy couple of weeks, both socially and with the final push to get QuakeStudies 2.0 finished in time for the launch. We’ve been working on the upgrade (which is actually a totally new build, and then migrating all 148,000 items across from the old system to the new one) for over a year, but even so, as there always is for any big project, there was a last-minute panic to get it all done. We had a “soft launch” a week ago (which is why I ended up working on Waitangi Day, doing all the last-minute checks to make sure that none of the sensitive material would be accidentally made visible to the public), making the website live but not really telling anyone about it.  Then, after a week to make sure everything was still working properly, and to do some last-minute uploading of new material, we had the official launch on Thursday night.

We’d invited all sorts of VIPs to the launch event, but hadn’t realised when we sent the invites out that it clashed with the opening of a new building on campus, which the Prime Minister was attending, so of course nearly everyone wanted to go to that instead (Jacindamania is still alive and well).  We did get a few city councillors though, plus representatives of the city library and museum, and some of our content providers, as well as a handful of university people, so at least the room wasn’t embarrassingly empty.

In a fit of confidence I’d volunteered to MC the event, so I had that stress added to all the work of getting everything ready for the launch, but I actually (once I got over the initial nerves) kind of enjoyed it.  I managed to remember all the speaker’s names when I introduced them, and had fun coming up with little linking comments after each speech to segue into the next speaker (all that Toastmasters training came in handy). And, before the official speeches part started, I did all the greeting of people as they arrived to the event, and introducing them to other interesting people so they’d have someone to talk to, and other hosty stuff like that!  I was quite proud of my efforts!

Of course, all that pretending to be an extrovert was absolutely exhausting – by the time I got home that night I was completely shattered.  I was very glad I was owed time in lieu for working Waitangi Day, because I only managed a couple of hours at work yesterday afternoon (I’d taken the morning off anyway because I had to be home for the fibre installers) before coming to the conclusion that I was still so tired that I wasn’t really contributing anything useful by being at work, and decided to just give up and go home early.


I was intending to have a quiet night last night (and turned down an invitation to Dana’s to watch more “Dog boy”), but then I got a text from the Gwilks, saying they had a spare ticket to Dungeons & Dragons & Comedians, so did I want to go with them.  I’d tried to get tickets for it when it was first advertised, but they sold out instantly, so of course I said yes!

It turned out to be a fantastic night.  The show was amazingly funny – it was basically just a short D&D campaign played in front of an audience, but all of the adventurers were comedians, and almost all were new to playing D&D, so didn’t really know what they were doing (so, for example, the woman playing a warlock character decided that meant she was Harry Potter… sorry, “Parry Hotter” – completely different :-) and kept forgetting she could use spells).  The dungeon master, who did know how to play, let them stretch the rules quite a bit just for the sake of story (and it being funny), and there was a lot of “Yes, and” improv-type stuff going on, which ended, most memorably, with an underground aquarium full of whales, and the big boss being defeated by being down-trowed with a magically-extending 10-foot pole.  Yeah, you really had to be there.  Trust me, it was incredibly funny at the time.

So a lot later night than I intended, but totally worth it!


Going back to last weekend (yeah, this blog post is not at all in chronological order, but neither is my brain at the moment), I went round to the Gwilks’ on Saturday night to play board games.  They had a new game, which I don’t remember the name of, which was sort of a cross between Battleships, Minesweeper, and Centipede, except it was also a team game.  Each team of four people was on a submarine, and had to seek out and destroy the enemy submarine while avoiding being sunk themselves.  Everyone on the team had a role to play: I was the engineer, which mostly involved deciding which critical piece of equipment was going to break down each turn); the captain decided where we moved to (making sure we didn’t cross over our own path, hence the Centipede bit); the Radio Operator listened to the opposing team’s moves and tried to work out from that where they must be on the map; and the First Mate made sure the torpedoes were ready to fire at the crucial moment.  It was a pretty intense game, and needed a lot of cooperation and communication between team members (while not giving too much away to the other team) to keep everything running smoothly.   It was a fun challenge, though.


On Sunday afternoon Lyttletonwitch came round, and we Skyped with MeganH and a few of the other Australian bookcrossers, making plans for our post-convention boat trip (which I don’t think I’ve mentioned here yet – after the Bordeaux convention, a few of us are hiring a canal barge and spending a week cruising down the French canals!  It’s a tough life… :-) ).  After much excited planning with the Australians, Lytteltonwitch and I headed into Hagley Park, where the Noodle Markets are on again.  This time they’re on for a couple of weeks, so nowhere near as crowded as last year (plus it helped that it had been raining all day, and was still drizzling lightly, which had put most people off).  It was great – even at the most popular stalls the queue was never more than a couple of people deep (compared to about a half hour wait at some stalls last year!).

Lytteltonwitch paid for all the food, as a thank-you for me having made the Lego quilt for her friend. I don’t think I bankrupted her, but we definitely ate a lot (including, of course, the famous mango drinks served in hollowed-out pineapples which were just as good as last years’).


Talking about Bordeaux, we’ve pretty much finalised the itinerary:

11 April – leave Christchurch, fly via Shanghai to Paris (arrive on the 12th)

12-16 April – spend a few days exploring Paris

16 April – meet up with Skyring and a few other bookcrossers and drive to Bayeux (probably via a few other interesting places)

17 April – drive to St Malo (ditto on the interesting places along the way)

18 April – drive to Bordeaux

19 April – pre-convention trip to Dune de Pilat and Saint Emilion (with obligatory wine tasting, of course – it would be impossible to visit Bordeaux without visiting at least one vinyard!)

20 April – pre-convention tours of the Palais Rohan and Bordeaux’s underground spaces

20-22 April Bookcrossing Convention

22 April – train to either Castelnaudry or Trebes, where we pick up our barge (we’ll find out closer to the time which it will be – it depends on what trips it has been hired for previously)

22-29 April – cruising along the canal either from Castelnaudry to Trebes, or vice versa.  They’re not a long distance apart, so there’ll be plenty of time for stops along the way to explore the towns and countryside we pass through.  The barge even comes with a couple of bicycles in case anyone wants to explore further afield.

29 April – depending on where we end up, either taxi or train to Carcassone, where Lytteltonwitch and I are booked into a youth hostel in the medieval walled city for two nights.

1 May – train to Barcelona

1-5 May – spend a few days exploring Barcelona (we were originally going to head straight to the Spanish border from Bordeaux, and spend a couple of weeks hopping back and forth across the border and exploring the Pyrenees, but then a couple of people dropped out of MeganH’s barge trip, and she offered the places to us, so we decided that sounded like too much fun to turn down, and shortened the Spanish leg of our trip to just a few days in Barcelona).

5 May – train back to Paris

6 May – fly home, via Hong Kong (arriving back in Christchurch 8 May, because of the date line)

Are you jealous yet? :-)

Block of the Whenever #2

The second Block of the Whenever is a nice simple Churn Dash.  Nice and simple, but another block I’ve never tried before (possibly because of the whole “leap into the deep end before you try out the paddling pool” thing I’m so prone to…)

Because this block has a plain centre square, I picked out one of the fabrics with strong individual motifs so I could “fussy cut” one of the flowers to go in the centre.

For this block you’ll need:

Print: one 3 1/2 inch square
Solid: one 5 1/2 inch square, and four 2 inch by 3 1/2 inch rectangles
Background: one 5 1/2 inch square, and four 2 inch by 3 1/2 inch rectangles

The first step is to make half-square triangles. Everyone seems to have their own favourite method for doing this, each with its particular pros and cons. I haven’t settled on a favourite yet, so I think I’ll probably test out a few different methods over the course of this quilt, depending on how many I need to make.

The method I used for this one is another one of those slightly magic techniques that doesn’t quite make sense until you try it. First, place the two large squares right sides together, and sew all the way round, 1/4 inch from the edges.

Next, cut along each diagonal.

Iron the pieces open, and you’ll have four half-square triangles!

They come out just a millimetre or two larger than 3 1/2 inches square (because square roots), so you’ll need to trim them down to the correct size (and cut off the dog ears while you’re at it).

Next, the dash part of the Churn Dash. Pair the solid and background rectangles together, and sew along the long edge. When opened out, they should also measure 3 1/2 inches square.

And that’s all the components made. Again, there’s two possible ways to lay the block out:

Probably if I was just making this as a single block, I’d have chosen the second option, but I want to keep the background fabric actually as the background consistently across all the blocks (well, for now, anyway – I might change my mind once I’ve got more of them done and can see the overall effect).

Sew the pieces together as a nine-patch, and block two is complete:

And I can proudly say that this one turned out 9 1/2 inches square on my first try!  There’s something to be said for this whole being slow and accurate thing…

Let’s try that again

Not to keep you in suspense any longer, I made that block again, this time being a lot more careful about my quarter inch seams.  And it worked!

It’s still a tiny bit smaller than it should be (I actually think my sewing machine is slightly out of alignment, because the needle doesn’t come down exactly central in the foot, but I’m not sure how to adjust it), but it’s close enough to 9 1/2 inches to be usable.

The difference between the two blocks doesn’t look like much, but it’ll make a huge difference to the final quilt.

An important lesson in accuracy!