Building blocks

I still haven’t got round to buying more of the blue thread I’m using for the Birds in Flight quilt, so in the meantime I’ve been working on the Lego quilt.  This time I’m quilting it much more loosely (to keep the quilt nice and soft, seeing as it’s intended for a baby), so it’s been going much faster.  There’s only a bit of the border area left to go:

I’ve been using a monofilament thread to quilt it, which has been… challenging (especially because I only just noticed the bit on that page where they recommend not using it in the bobbin… which I have been… oh well, it seemed to work ok anyway).  It sews great once you get going, but the thread is so fine and almost invisible (which is the whole point) that anything that requires cutting the thread and restarting (which means having to tie off the loose threads and threading them into a hand-sewing needle to bury them inside the quilt so they won’t work loose) is very hard work – just seeing the thread well enough to be able to tie a knot in it is hard enough, but threading a needle was almost impossible!  I did a lot of back-tracking over previously sewn lines to get to new areas of the quilt just so I could avoid ever breaking the thread!

The invisible quilting does look nice though, especially on a quilt like this where whatever thread colour I’d chosen would have stood out too much.  But I don’t think I’ll be using it on a regular basis – it’s just too difficult.

As you can probably see in the wee sample in the photo above, I used the different “bricks” of the Lego to experiment with different quilting patterns (inspired by Angela Walters’s Shape by Shape book, which is a seriously useful resource – although I don’t think I actually ended up using any of her patterns exactly as she has them in the book, they’re a great leaping-off point).  I’d originally planned to just pick a single design and use it in all the blocks, but I couldn’t find one I liked enough to repeat that many times, so I decided to use a few different ones.  In the end I think I managed to have no two exactly alike across the entire quilt (though some of the variations are pretty minor).  There’s a few bricks that didn’t turn out quite as well as I’d like, and one or two places I might have been tempted to unpick and redo if that wouldn’t have been so hard with the monofilament.  I suppose that’s one way to learn not to be such a perfectionist – make it too hard to unpick mistakes!  Hopefully none of the mistakes are too obvious – I keep telling myself that nobody knows what pattern I was aiming for, so they won’t know that I got it wrong :-)

The Littlest Cucumbers

Some may have doubted my ability to grow cucumbers in a small pot, but I have proof it is possible.  Granted, they are very small cucumbers, and they show no sign of increasing in size, but they are definitely cucumbers:

Yeah, I’ll never be a gardener, will I?

For Discoverylover (or anyone else who likes really good hot chocolate)

Great news, Discoverylover – I found the recipe!  (For the benefit of everyone else, a bit of backstory: last time I was up in Wellington, Discoverylover introduced me to an Italian restaurant where the food is good, but the real attraction is their hot chocolates, which are thick and rich and just like the ones I had in Venice.  And recently I stumbled upon a recipe for hot chocolate that, when I tried it out, turned out to be almost exactly like the ones they make at that restaurant.  So sharing it here for Discoverylover, but everyone else should try it too, because it is seriously good hot chocolate!)

For 2-3 servings (seriously, you’ll look at the quantities and think this will only be enough for one person, but you want to serve this in very small cups – it’s incredibly rich!):

250ml milk
65g Whittaker’s Dark Ghana (or other very high cocoa content dark chocolate), broken into small pieces
1 Tbsp soft brown sugar

Heat milk gently in a saucepan, but don’t let it get to a boil.
Once it’s warm, remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate until it is all melted.
Return to the heat, and simmer (on a very low heat – it should be only just simmering) for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.  It should end up quite thick – not quite to custard consistency, but getting close.
Add brown sugar and stir in until dissolved.
Serve in tiny cups :-)

It does take a bit of effort to make, but it is worth it!  And if you’re just making it for yourself, you can still make the full recipe – just refrigerate what you don’t drink, and rewarm it the next day – it’s just as good :-)

PS. I can’t remember where I found this recipe (it was on one of those websites you get to when you randomly follow a link which leads you to another link which leads you to another link, and then you find an interesting-sounding recipe and scribble it down roughly on a bit of paper, and then months later find the bit of paper again and decide to try it out and it turns out to be magic but you don’t know where it came from), and I haven’t really changed anything (other than converting the measurements to metric, probably), so technically I’ve plagiarised it by posting it here.  Apologies to the original chef for stealing your recipe – if I could remember who you are, I’d give you credit, and link rather than repost – sorry!

Slow progress

Four spools of thread gone on the Birds in Flight quilt (and they’re 500m spools, so that means there’s 2 km of quilting in this quilt already!), and still a few areas haven’t been quilted.  I thought four spools would be total overkill, but I ended up quilting pretty densely, which uses up a lot of thread (and takes forever – next quilt I’m doing with a really loose quilting design!).  So I’ve run out of thread, and finishing off the quilting on it will have to wait until I can go and buy some more of that colour thread.

Hopefully it’ll be worth it once it’s finished though. It’s hard to get a real idea of what it’s going to be like when it’s all piled up on the machine and you can’t see the full effect, but I think it’s going to look really cool.

Talking of four, there was a wee earthquake last night in the small hours – only a 4.0, but it’s a sign of how long it’s been since we’ve had any decent aftershocks that it actually woke me up fully enough that it took me a while to get back to sleep.  I remember the days when I wouldn’t wake up for anything less than a 5.0 (and no thank you, I really don’t want those days to be back again!!)

Cicada season has begun, which means that (a) sitting out in the garden can get quite deafening, and (b) Parsnips keeps catching them and bringing them inside.  Being woken by a cicada loudly protesting at being pestered by a cat is almost as disturbing as being woken by an earthquake.  They also have a tendency to escape from her and end up in hard to reach places like behind the fridge.  I can report that fridges have absolutely no muffling effect on the sound of a cicada.

So far

Things I like about my new phone

  1. I can talk to it!  And it knows what I’m saying (mostly – there’s a few NZ vowel sounds it struggles with still (setting an alarm for 10 pm is something I’m yet to achieve – that lovely NZE [e] vowel in ten just confuses the poor thing…)) and does things when I tell it to.  There’s something so satisfying about waking up and saying “Hey Google, what’s the forecast” to find out what the weather’s like (yeah, I know I could just look out the window, but where’s the fun in that?).
  2. Google maps knows when my next bus is going to arrive.  And even better, it can tell where my nearest bus stop is, and tell me which buses will arrive there next, so I don’t have to try and find the bus stop number.   So I don’t have to do the “The timetable says a bus should have passed here 3 minutes ago, but they’re often late, so there’s a chance it could still turn up, so maybe I should wait, but if it’s already passed then the next one won’t be for half an hour, so it might be quicker to walk” calculation I’m constantly doing at stops that don’t have an arrivals indicator (which is most of them).
  3. I can download e-books from the library!  And audiobooks! (I could do that already, but I was limited to the ones that were in the correct format to play on my little mp3 player, so this opens up the range of audiobooks I can borrow enormously! Technically I could also download e-books before, but (because Amazon’s complicated licencing agreements) I couldn’t read them on my Kindle, so my only option was to read them on my computer, and you can’t cosy up in a comfy chair with a computer.)
  4. I had lunch with Jacq yesterday and they showed me a magic trick: you can write a text by swiping across the keyboard instead of typing each character individually.  I have no idea how it manages to figure out which word I meant from my vague swipey motions in roughly the direction of the right letters, but it does (mostly – it gets a bit confused if you like to make up words like swipey).
  5. My search for a protective cover (it took me about a day of carrying it around to realise the chances of me dropping it/banging it into something/crushing it by having too many books in my bag were very high, and that this would make me anxious if I didn’t do something about it) led me to the discovery that there are very many very cool phone cases out there.  I settled on this one for now (well I had to – it’s a cat wearing glasses and drinking hot chocolate (yeah, it’s probably supposed to be coffee, but I don’t like coffee), and as a bonus, the cat looks like Parsnips!), but I suspect my phone will end up having several outfits it can change into according to mood.  Who knew a phone would have so many options to decorate it?
  6. I can take photos (like important photos of my phone case to put in my blog) even when I don’t have my camera with me.  Which is a good thing, because my big camera is big.  And heavy.  So I only carry it when I’m going somewhere I think I’ll want to take photos.  Which means when spontaneous photo opportunities happen, I’ll actually be able to take photos of them (and yes, I know everyone who has a smart phone has been telling me this for ever, but it wasn’t a big enough reason to buy a smart phone.  But now that I have one, it’s a nice bonus.)  The photos aren’t as good as I could take on my real camera, of course (I would hope not, given how much I paid for it!), but they’re good enough for quick snapshots.  My big camera will still be accompanying me on my travels and to places I know I’ll want to take real photos, though!

Things I don’t like about my new phone

  1. It’s very distracting.  Because it can do so many things, the temptation is to be constantly using it – I can understand now why teenagers are constantly on their phones.  I’m hoping the novelty will wear off soon though and I’ll stop finding excuses to play with it.
  2. My pockets aren’t big enough.  I could carry my old phone (which was tiny) around in my pocket if I needed to, but this one won’t fit (or, it will, but it hangs out of the top and I’m scared it’ll fall out).  So if I want to take it with me, I have to either carry it in my hand, or in my bag, which means I always have to carry my bag (which I generally do anyway, because my bag is where I carry books, and being stuck somewhere without a book to read is my worst nightmare).
  3. It doesn’t understand the difference between ten and tin in a NZ accent (see above, although honestly, I’m impressed it can understand a NZ accent at all – voice recognition has come a long way!)
  4. Having an actual app to read library e-books and audiobooks means I have to return them on time.  I’m so used to uploading a few at a time to my mp3 player (which isn’t sophisticated enough to have DRM, so keeps playing them even after they expire), and only removing them once they’re finished, instead of at the end of the loan period.  I’m sure I’ll cope, though.
  5. If I have it too close to my bus card, it starts beeping at me (presumably it’s trying to read the RFID in the card?).  So I can’t use the card slots in the nice new case I bought for it as intended (because if I keep my bus card separate to my other cards, I’m sure to forget to bring it with me, and I never have the right change to pay cash on the bus).

Yeah, pretty minor complaints, really.  So on balance, I think the phone was a good purchase.  (All of you who’ve spent the last several years telling me to get a proper phone may now say “I told you so”)

But isn’t my new phone case cool? :-)

So this is what the twenty-first century looks like

Even though (or perhaps because) I work in a digital lab, I have a touch of the Luddite about me.  I like technology, but in its place – I’m not a fan of technology for the sake of it.  I like to use the tool that does the job best for me, which is not necessarily the newest and shiniest toy.  Which is not to say I’ll always avoid the new and shiny (far from it – I can think of several new and shiny things I’d love to have and that only the exorbitant cost is keeping me from), but that I’ve got to convince myself it’d make life better than what I’m currently using.  Which is why I write with a fountain pen, why I love my antique wooden ironing board, and why I’ve resisted buying a smart phone… up until now.

Because yes, I finally gave in, and upgraded my ancient Nokia dumb phone to something that can do more than just phone and text.  Finally the number of times I’ve been in situations where I’ve thought “It would be really useful to be able to [check map/bus arrival times/look up details of a business/check whether x has emailed me/other smart phoney type things]” has reached a tipping point where not having a smart phone went from “I don’t really have a use for one so why bother” to “Ok, now I’m just being stubborn about it”.  So I spent way too long comparing service providers and plans, and then even longer looking at the different phones, and then spent an hour or so in the mall this morning asking many many questions of the very patient shop assistant in the Vodafone shop, and finally walked out with a shiny new phone.  Which I have spent the rest of the day manually transferring numbers onto from my old phone (patient Vodafone guy looked very relieved when I said I didn’t expect him to be able to magically find a way to connect very old Nokia with shiny new phone to transfer the contacts across – some tech is just too old to be compatible with doing things automatically).

So here it is.  Very much a mid-range, just does the things I want it to sort of phone, and I’m sure those with i-whatevers or the latest $1000+ models will look down their noses at it, but I’m happy (or at least, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that Google will now know even more about me than they already did, but I think that was a lost cause anyway).

I feel like it needs a name…

Mercy killing

Meet Parsnips’ latest victim:

A very tiny (the ruler is in inches), and thanks to Parsnips, very dead, baby sparrow .

Actually, technically I was the murderer, as I had to break the poor wee thing’s neck. Parsnips brought it in a few minutes ago, and was happily tossing it around the study. It was very obviously alive, but not able to fly (I don’t know if it was ever able to fly – it looks like it’s barely a fledgling), and also obviously injured enough that rescuing it wasn’t going to be an option.  I felt horribly cruel killing it (with my bare hands, no less), but Parsnips is much too well fed to finish it off herself, so letting her keep playing with it was going to be the much crueller option.

Parsnips was very unimpressed with my act of mercy, and has stalked off back outside (I suspect to see if she can find any more baby birds to play with…)

My finger is famous

Damp day again – I think January swapped its weather with December, so instead of the heatwave we’d normally be getting now, we’re getting rain and general “are you sure it’s summer?” weather. Oh well, at least it’s damped down the fire risk (literally), and I’m sure the farmers are happy.  It would be nice if we could find a happy medium between “stinking hot” and “cold and miserable” though…

Went back to work on Monday, and had hardly finished clearing my emails when a colleague dropped into the office to tell me that a TV news crew would be visiting the university to look at the Canterbury Roll (because we’ve got a scientific team visiting from the UK to do image analysis on it), and they might want to interview me about the digital edition.  Which meant I had to quickly dash home and get changed, because every day is casual Friday in the Lab over the summer, when we don’t have any students in, so I was wearing my usual jeans and a t-shirt, and thought I should probably try and be a bit more professional looking if I was going to be representing the Lab on TV.

I made it back to campus just in time to meet the UK team and help set up the room they’ve been working in so that it would look suitably “sciencey” for the cameras (and ever so subtly make sure that the banners advertising the various departments involved would be seen in the background :-) ).  When the reporter and camera operator arrived, we were all introduced, and it was pretty obvious that the reporter was only interested in the Game of Thrones angle that most of the newspapers have picked up on (the connection is pretty tenuous – the Roll was written during the War of the Roses, and Game of Thrones is loosely based on the War of the Roses – but of course the media love talking about it.  The Daily Mail even somehow twisted it into meaning that our Roll directly inspired Game of Thrones (and that’s not the biggest thing they got wrong in that article…)), and had absolutely no interest in the digital edition.  But I still had to hang around just in case, so I spent the next couple of hours standing around and occasionally being an extra body the camera person could instruct to point at things on the Roll while he was filming.  It meant I did end up in the background of a lot of the shots they used in the news item (not on purpose, I swear – it just seemed like wherever in the room I stood, the camera would end up pointed in my direction!) and my finger featured prominently in the teaser they used for the segment, but I didn’t get to actually talk about the important part of the story from the Lab’s point of view, how the digital edition is opening up a previously hidden document to the entire world, and using technology that’s never before been applied to historical documents.

Oh well, it was interesting watching the camera operator work, anyway – as well as the normal big news camera, he was using a little Go-Pro for some of the shots, especially the panning shots along the length of the Roll.  And it was really interesting chatting to the scientists about what they’re doing, and seeing some of their preliminary results – they’re basically photographing the Roll using different wavelengths of light (from UV to infrared), and using the colour profiles that gives them to identify what materials the pigments were made from.  Some of the colours also turn out to be transparent at certain wavelengths, so they can see what’s underneath (which is really important for our Roll, where there are all sorts of erasures and additions by later scribes, depending on whether they supported the Lancastrians or the Yorkists).

Then yesterday I got an even better chance to find out what the scientists are doing, because we had a day-long symposium to discuss the next phase of the Canterbury Roll project, so all the different teams that have been working on it presented the work they’ve done so far.  And this time the Lab’s work was well represented, because I talked about how the digital edition works, one of our directors explained its theoretical importance, and a couple of students who’ve been working with me on the next phase of the mark-up explained what they’ve been doing.  Presenting to a small academic audience isn’t quite as good exposure as being on the news, of course, but it’s more important that our academic colleagues know what we’re doing anyway.

Otherwise, this week has just been settling back into work.  I haven’t managed to finish the quilting on the Birds in Flight quilt yet, but seeing as the weather is so horrible, I might settle down with a podcast and get some sewing done this afternoon….

It’s a bit damp out there

Compared to how much my throat was hurting on Tuesday, I feel almost back to normal – antibiotics are truly magical things. My throat’s still a wee bit scratchy, but at least it doesn’t feel swollen any more, and it isn’t agony to swallow.  I haven’t even felt the need for any medicinal icecream today, which has got to be a good sign.

Actually, the not feeling like icecream thing might have more to do with the weather – it’s been bucketing down with rain all day, and generally pretty miserable.  Parsnips has not been impressed.  She keeps standing by the cat flap and crying whenever I walk past – I’ve never managed to convince her that I don’t actually have any control over the weather…

The view from the window. As always, the drain across the street has blocked and flooded half the road.  I’m really glad I didn’t have to catch a bus anywhere today!

Not having any great incentive to leave the house, I spent most of the day working on my quilt, and made a lot of progress.  It’s always hard to judge exactly how far there is to go while it’s still on the machine, but I reckon I’m about three quarters of the way.  If this weather keeps up, I may well get the quilting finished by the end of the weekend!

Slowly falling apart… with childhood illnesses?

Because bodies are evil, and know when you’re on holiday, mine has decided to get sick this week, with strep throat of all things.  I’ve never had it before, but was under the impression it’s something that only kids get.  But no, apparently adults can get it too, and I have it.

Luckily it’s not too bad – very sore, and I feel like I’ve got a lump stuck in my throat, but otherwise I’m not feeling unwell other than a little tired (which I’d just attributed to too many late nights recently).  I went and saw the doctor today, and she prescribed me some painkillers and antibiotics, and told me the best treatment was to rest and eat icecream (I reckon that’s the best advice I’ve ever had from a doctor!  Hmm, I wonder if I should keep eating the icecream even after the infection is gone, just as a preventative measure? I think that sounds like a good idea :-) )

Other than getting a sore throat, I’ve been having a very lazy couple of days, slowly working my way through quilting all those birds (I think I’m about a quarter of the way through it), and sitting in the garden with a book, trying not to forget to move into the shade so I don’t get even more sunburnt.  I did have a few visitors yesterday – Stepmother is in town visiting her daughter, so they came round in the morning to drop off a couple of tubs of cherries.  Stepsister also invited me to go and visit a friend of hers in the evening, who is selling off most of her fabric stash in an attempt to declutter.  In the end we didn’t go, because Stepsister wasn’t feeling well enough, but that was probably a good thing – I really don’t need any more fabric, do I?  (Trick question, of course I do!  But having the temptation removed was probably a good idea.)

Then in the afternoon, Ade popped round to steal some lemons off my tree.  It was good to catch up with her, because they’re moving up to Auckland in a few weeks, so I won’t see much more of her.

Right, I’m off to follow the doctor’s orders and have some icecream :-)