Family portraits

Going home today, but in the meantime I managed to fit a lot into the last few days of my holiday. (Note to vegetarians, vegans, and those of a delicate constitution, you probably want to skip this first paragraph).  First was a hunting expedition on Saturday night. During dinner I’d mentioned to Brother that it was a pity he was so busy (being in retail doesn’t give you a lot of free time over the Christmas period), because otherwise we could have gone out hunting together.  So he suggested we go out for a night shoot (spotlighting for rabbits), and invite Mum’s visitor along too.  It doesn’t get dark until well after 9 here, so it was a very late night (we didn’t get home until about quarter past 1), but we got about a dozen rabbits (and a stoat – they’re a pest that kills native birds, so we always shoot them if we see them, though obviously we don’t keep the meat), and I was relieved to discover I’m still a decent shot even though I haven’t been shooting for years, so I didn’t embarrass myself too badly compared to the guys :-) (Actually, according to Brother, I got the shot of the night – a head shot at extreme range.  Total fluke, but I’ll accept the praise anyway :-)) We did see some deer, and thought about shooting one too, but then brother pointed out we’d have to spend another hour gutting and butchering it if we did, and anyway he’s already got a freezer full of venison, so we let them live for another day.

It’s Dad’s 70th birthday later this week, so seeing as I’m heading home, he decided to have a birthday barbecue on Sunday.  I suggested to the kids that we make him a birthday cake, and then SIL suggested we make it a golf cake, so we spent the afternoon making and decorating it. The kids each contributed to the decorations, and although we’ll never be professional decorators, we had a lot of fun, and I think it turned out looking pretty good:


(The weird squiggles on the cake board are a heart and a smiley face – Niece put herself in charge of the writing…)

And once the candles were lit, it looked even more impressive (Brother declared it to be “golfing in the fires of Hell”):

And Dad was greatly amused by it, which is the important thing :-)

Of course, as we were having a barbecue, it turned out to be the first cold and miserable day after days of intense heat, but that just meant we ate inside, and those in charge of the barbecue had to wear warm coats to cook in.


Venison burgers!

Dad wanted a photo with all the grandchildren and grand-nephews and nieces (well, at least the small selection that were there – as he comes from a family of 11, his total number of grand-nephews and nieces is probably edging close to 100 by now). He may have had a fancy family portrait in mind, but it quickly descended into chaotic laughter, as first Brother decided he qualified as one of the kids and wanted to sit on Dad’s knee, then I handed over my camera to SIL so I could get in on the action too, then one of the smallest members of the family started crying, which set off his sister, and then Brother said something along the lines of “if you can’t beat them, join them”, so he and Nephew #1 started wailing loudly, and the final portrait ended up with everyone either crying dramatically or laughing uncontrollably. Which is as a family portrait should be :-)

Proof that Brother really is one of the kids: all completely engrossed in a Walking With Dinosaurs movie

So what with cake, photo silliness, tickle battles, and other general chaos, it was a really fun night.

Then last night we finally got to see the new Star Wars movie. In preparation, the kids and I spent the afternoon watching episodes IV-VI, while Niece and I painted (there was no way she would be able to sit through three movies without something else to distract her!). Mum and I had bought some pre-printed canvases from the Warehouse, so it was more of a colouring-in exercise than serious artistic endeavour, but they turned out looking pretty cool (I didn’t manage to get a photo of the ones Niece painted, but they were… colourful :-) )

After dinner we headed to the picture theatre. Alexandra didn’t have a theatre for many years, because the town was too small to sustain it, but in the last few years a group of volunteers have been running a theatre out of the back of the museum.  It’s very small, only a few rows of seats, but they still get in most of the big movies, so it’s been doing very well.  But being run by volunteers means not everything goes according to plan – like last night, when we turned up to find the doors locked and everyone waiting outside.  It turned out the projectionist for the previous showing had locked the keys in the office, so the evening volunteers couldn’t get in, and the only spare key was held by the museum’s director, who lives in Bannockburn, half an hour’s drive away.  So we all had to wait while he drove down to Alexandra with the key.

But being small town, nobody was particularly fazed, and we all just stood around outside chatting, and the general feeling was that it wasn’t as bad as the night the projectionist forgot to turn on the projector, so the movie had sound but no pictures…  Eventually the key arrived, and (after a bit more confusion about the tickets, because Mum had bought us vouchers, but whoever sold them to her hadn’t written it down on the right page of the notebook, so the ticket seller couldn’t tick them off on her list…) the 7.30 screening became an 8.30 screening instead.

We all enjoyed the movie tremendously, and talked excitedly all the way back to Mum’s place, where we continued our analysis over hot chocolates.  I’ve already written a first impressions review, but I can say I enjoyed it even more the second time, especially hearing the surprised gasps from either side of me at the crucial moments (I’ve managed to not let slip to any of Brother’s family that I’d already seen it :-)), and doubly especially getting to talk about it with them afterwards.  Totally transported back to being a kid again :-)

Bread, peas, and sparkles

For Christmas, instead of giving Niece and Nephews more stuff, I decided to take the opportunity of being down here to give them something more intangible instead. So I made them each a certificate promising them a day doing whatever activity they wanted with me (as well as a little cash to go towards it if it was an activity that cost money). Niece’s choice was to have a shopping day (she’s 6, so still at the obsessed with pink and traditional gender roles stage, despite all my attempts to inculcate her with feminist ideas…), so yesterday we roped in Mum as a chauffeur, and headed off to what counts as really cool and exciting shops when you’re 6 and have an entire $20 note clutched in your hand: the $2 Shop, and the Warehouse (for the Americans, that’s kind of our equivalent to Walmart, but much smaller).

We spent (what felt like) many hours browsing all things pretty and sparkling in both shops (yeah, I’m not good at shopping, but I put on a brave face ;-)), with a few impromptu maths lessons on what “20% off” means, before Niece finally settled on a My Little Pony figure, and was very happy with her purchase. Then I used the excuse of wanting to go and visit a particular gift shop (well, it was partly true, because they sell really cool Christmas decorations, and I did end up buying a couple for next year’s tree) to get us out to Clyde, where there just happens to be a raspberry farm that does afternoon teas. So we had great big bowls of icecream and raspberries sitting under a tree in their garden, which I think is how all shopping expeditions should conclude :-)

Niece reported herself very happy with her shopping day, so Christmas gift #1 successfully executed. The boys have opted for going on the luge in Queenstown, so I think we’re going to go up there tomorrow. It’s a tough life being a cool aunty… :-)

On the way back from Clyde, we spotted a roadside stand selling fresh peas, so we stopped off and bought a bag for dinner, and I spent the remainder of the afternoon sitting on Mum’s porch shelling peas while Niece cooled off playing in the sprinklers. Obligatory envy-inducing photo (especially for those freezing in northern climes):

And just to add to the Instagram-esque food photos, I taught Mum to make foccacia, so we decided it was worthy of an artfully-posed photograph:

Winning all the things

I decided to take a very long weekend this weekend, because (a) all the stress and uncertainty at work has been very tiring, so a break is definitely in order, (b) my leave is again accumulating to a point that HR will soon start sending me friendly reminders that I really do need to get my balance down, (c) the start of semester is approaching fast, and I’m not at all ready to switch my brain into study mode, so another good reason for a break, and (d) and most importantly, general aversion to having to work on my birthday. As a result, I’m in the middle of four days (plus the weeknd) off – Thursday to Tuesday. So far it hasn’t been totally restful, but it has been most enjoyable.

I did end up going into work briefly on Thursday, but only because before I’d decided to take the day off I’d arranged to meet Judy for coffee at one of the campus cafes, and as I was going to be in the area anyway (because I wanted to drop some books off at the library) it didn’t seem worth rescheduling. It was actually nice to have time to talk properly without having to keep one eye on the clock to race back to work.

I carried on next to Riccarton, where I had a few wee jobs to get done. Again, nice to have the luxury of time to just wander around and look at the shops a bit, rather than racing through in a hurry because I’ve got a million other things to do. I don’t think I’ll ever really enjoy shopping for its own sake, but in small doses it can be pleasant. It also turned out to be one of those shopping expeditions where all the stars align, because literally everything I wanted to buy turned out to be on sale. And some of the stuff that I thought was on sale turned out to be doubly on sale, because it wasn’t only marked down, it was included in a two-for-one deal (like I got two tops (from a proper reasonably expensive shop, not just Farmers (which is turning into the Briscoes of frocks, in its constant sales (how many more parentheses can I nest here?))) that I thought had been marked down from $50-odd to $28 each, but I got them for $28 total!). I was starting to feel like that scene from the Gilmore Girls where Lorelai is justifying her shopping for Luke by saying that everything was a hundred thousand percent off.

Friday was a cleaning and cooking day. I’d invited a few people round for a birthday lunch on Saturday, and they included a fair proportion of vegetarians and vegans, so I decided the easiest (and most weather appropriate) solution was to make soup. Soup can almost always be converted to vegan, by just swapping out butter for olive oil, and using vegetable stock as a base. So I ended up making two vegan soups (carrot and coriander, and pumpkin and kumara), and one that was vegetarian but not vegan (because broccoli and cheese soup really does need to include the cheese). Plus of course I made a suitably decadent cake (because what’s a birthday without cake?). It worked out really well, because I was able to get everything all prepared so that on Saturday morning all I had to do was reheat the soups, and bake some bread to go with them.

The lunch was great – everyone enjoyed the soup, we had an excess of cake (because Rosalee brought along a vegan chocolate cake (which was good (and also much tastier than I’d expected) because I still haven’t figured out how to achieve cake without using eggs, so I hadn’t managed to provide cakey-goodness for the veganly inclined), and Lytteltonwitch brought a cake as well, and played many extremely geeky board games all afternoon (and long into the evening – the Gwilks and Lytteltonwitch stayed for dinner (of leftover soup) so we could have another game or two (or three…)). And best of all, Lytteltonwitch stayed and helped me clean up afterwards, so this morning was blissfully free of major cleaning operations. Life is good :-)

I’d said no presents, but Lytteltonwitch passed a bookshop on her way here, and couldn’t resist buying me a colouring book of “cool cats” she spotted in the window. They certainly were cool, and the book got passed around a lot during the course of the afternoon, identifying cats (and a few people :-) ) they recognised in the drawings. I’ll have to scan some of the pictures and post them here as I colour them in.

In other news, I won a prize in Tartankiwi’s In Flight quilt-along! She has a draw every month or so, and enters the names of everyone who’s sewn that month’s birds. And I won this months’ draw! My prize is some fabric and a few of her patterns – very exciting! She’s added three new birds to the quilt-along – too late for me to add them to my quilt top, but they look really cool, so I might make them anyway, and either put them on the back of the quilt, or on some cushions. Though of course with semester 2 looming I might not have time to get them done for the actual quilt-along – they might have to wait until the summer.

And in other other news, I have a job interview on Wednesday morning. It’s for that job I mentioned that I applied for as a backup, and which I’m not entirely sure I want. So my next few restful days might not be quite as restful as I’d hoped, because I’ll have to prepare for the interview (and worry about what I’m going to do if they actually offer it to me!). I haven’t had a job interview for years – better brush up all my answers to those stock “where do you see yourself in five years?” questions…

Finally, a couple of pretty pictures:

At the Steampunk fair in Oamaru there was someone selling pictures printed onto old book pages. I bought these two, an Alice in Wonderland and a compass printed on dictionary pages (which of course appealed to me :-) ). On Thursday I finally got round to buying frames and mounted them on coloured corrugated card. The colours don’t show up very well here, but one’s burgundy, and the other dark green. They turned out really well, so I’ve now got them hanging in my hallway by the entrance to my study.

No grout, just cake

Didn’t get round to grouting the mosaic today after all – when I read the instructions properly and saw the bit about having to clean the tiles 12 hours after you grout them, I decided to leave it until next weekend when I could actually manage that without having to get up early tomorrow morning to do it.  I don’t know if it has to be exactly 12 hours, or if it would be a bad thing to leave it more than 12 hours before cleaning them, but it seems safer to actually follow the instructions.

Anyway, I spent most of the afternoon baking, and baking and grouting probably wouldn’t have gone together particularly well :-)  The baking is for morning tea tomorrow – it’s the birthday of one of the team on Tuesday, but we’re all going to be out at a training course all day, so we decided we’d surprise her with morning tea tomorrow instead.  So I said I’d make the birthday cake: chocolate fudge cake, of course.

Bring a plate

I‘m going to two different events over the next few days to which I’ve been asked to bring a plate.  No, we’re not suffering from some sort of national crockery shortage – “Bring a plate” is a lovely little New Zealand English phrase meaning bring some food to contribute to a shared meal (usually afternoon tea or supper).  In the bad old days it was usually phrased as “Ladies a plate” (sometimes with the addition, “Gentlemen a bottle”), but nowadays the wording has become less sexist (even if the underlying assumption hasn’t – if a couple turn up to a “bring a plate” type event without one, you can bet it won’t be the man who people are looking askance at…).  It’s a phrase that catches out foreigners occasionally – even if the stories of immigrant families turning up to events with a box full of actual plates are apocryphal, I think every New Zealander has had to at some point append “…of food” to an invitation to a new arrival after getting a puzzled look.  It’s certainly a common enough misunderstanding that an explanation of the phrase was included in the pack of “Living in New Zealand” materials the Immigration Service was handing out to new residents in the late ’90s, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s still there.

Anyway, as I said, I have to bring plates to two events over the next few days, so I’ve been baking this afternoon.  I’d been trying to think of something that I could make a double batch of and that would keep for a few days, so I settled on gingerbread (of the loaf variety, not the biscuits).  Of course, do you think I could remember which recipe book the recipe I’ve used successfully in the past was in?  I went through half a dozen books and none of the recipes I found looked quite right (including the trusty Edmonds book), so in the end I just picked the one that I had all the ingredients for and hoped for the best.  It’s in the oven now, and good smells are drifting out, so hopefully it will turn out ok.

In other news, I finished sewing the last block for my randomly stripy quilt last night, so now I’ve just got to decide what order to put them together in…

Don’t worry, I won’t subject you to all the possible variations while I try and make a decision :-) (hmm, 25 blocks, each with 4 different possible orientations, that would be about 60,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 combinations… yeah, probably don’t have enough space in my Flickr account for that many photos)

Meanwhile, the sun is shining, and Parsnips as usual has the best seat in the house:

I’m free!

I know it’s not quite July yet, but I handed in my final assignment on Thursday (it wasn’t due until next week, but I didn’t want to have to work on it this weekend, so I put in a bit of extra effort during the week (luckily my boss is supportive and kindly turned a blind eye to the fact that some of it got done in work time…) and got it finished early), so I’m finished with this paper!  (Which means only two more papers to do to finish my degree, but I’m not attempting another one until next year – one a year is more than enough while working full time – I’ll need the next 6 months to recover from this one!)

Oh, and for Yetzirah, who asked ages ago: the paper was in linguistics, specifically looking at ways theoretical linguistics tries to account for variation in language (like why do we sometimes say walking and other times say walkin’?).  It’s an area that’s been mostly neglected in linguistics – most theorists try to simplify things by assuming we all speak an idealised version of our language and ignore all the inconvenient messiness of real language (so they’d say that the difference between walking and walkin’ isn’t actually important, let’s just assume everyone always says walking), while the sociolinguists are very good at describing variation (so they can tell you exactly how likely you are to say walkin’ based on your geographical region, age, gender, and social class), but aren’t usually interested in coming up with theories to say why the variation happens in the first place.  So in the course we were looking at the work of various people who’ve tried to bring theoretical linguistics and sociolinguistics together, which has been really interesting (well, interesting to a language geek like me, anyway – whenever I try and explain it to anyone else, I see their eyes starting to glaze over, as I’m sure is happening to anyone who’s still reading this paragraph!)

Anyway, finally not having any assignments hanging over my head, I was able to spend today very productively.  I spent the morning on some intensive cleaning, which the house definitely needed after me having done little more than the minimum of housework all semester.  Then I spent the afternoon baking, because I’m having a few friends round for a birthday afternoon tea tomorrow, and being me, my plan to keep things simple by doing afternoon tea instead of a meal quickly complicated itself into all sorts of elaborate baking plans which required the whole afternoon to carry out.  Or maybe it was just because I was having fun being able to just muck around in the kitchen for a few hours and experiment with recipes, instead of quickly microwaving something then getting back to my books.  Anyway, I produced a seriously impressive looking chocolate fudge cake and a batch of eclairs (well, technically I suppose they’re cream puffs, because I didn’t pipe them into the proper eclair shapes, but it’s the same recipe (which was such fun – I haven’t made choux pastry in years, and I’d forgotten just how satisfying it is)) which just need to be filled with cream in the morning, and I’ve got focaccia dough quietly rising overnight which I’ll finish off and bake in the morning (I probably would have had time to make it tomorrow, but I didn’t want to risk it being too cold in the morning to rise the dough fast enough – this way I know it will definitely have risen by the time I come to bake it).  So there definitely won’t be a shortage of afternoon tea goodies :-)

I actually took a wee break from studying last weekend too, to zip down to Dunedin, where Jane Goodall (she of the chimp research fame) was giving a talk.  She’s one of my childhood heroes, so there was no way I was passing up the chance to hear her speak, even if it did mean losing a weekend’s worth of essay-writing time.  It was so worth going down there – she’s a wonderful speaker, and had the audience enthralled (she got a standing ovation at the end), plus left us all feeling inspired about conservation efforts, not just in Africa but also here in New Zealand.  And as a bonus, I got to spend the rest of the weekend with Mum, who came down to Dunedin to join me, so we had a proper mother-daughter bonding weekend, which even involved clothes shopping! (a very rare occurrence – Mum and I were famous for our pitched battles whenever she tried to drag me into a clothes shop when I was a teenager… (of course, I’ve grown up a bit since then – now I don’t actively detest shopping, I just tolerate it as a necessary evil 😉 ))  Lots of other adventures were had too – we visited the Chinese gardens, and saw a great film festival movie about punks in Belfast (Good Vibrations), and shared churros from a street stall with a very intoxicated young man (who spent a lot of time reassuring us it was ok that he was drunk, because he was 18 – actually, I suspect he’d ingested more than alcohol…), and giggled over getting chatted up by a rather creepy truck driver from Ashburton, and generally had a lot of fun being tourists in our old home town.

And, yes, I know I still haven’t posted anything about my Australian adventures – I promise I will just as soon as I’ve downloaded the several thousand photos I took – they’re still sitting on the memory card because I haven’t had time to even look through them since I got back.  Hopefully now that I’ve got time to breathe I’ll be able to get on to them soon.

A couple of delayed entries

DD has been down again, or at least, the ability for some of us to log in properly has been, so these two entries are ones I wrote over the last couple of days but haven’t been able to post until now (so the “yesterday”s are several days ago now – I’ve added in the dates I wrote them to try and clarify a bit)

Tuesday 17 December:

Our team had our staff Christmas party last night. And I hosted it! Our original plan had been to go out to dinner somewhere, but on Friday we suddenly realised there was really only one week of work to go, and we hadn’t booked anything, and Monday was the only one night that suited everyone, and it was all looking like way too much effort to find somewhere we could get a totally last minute booking for a largish group (by the time we added in partners it was looking like at least 10 of us). So I had a brainwave and suggested we have a pot-luck dinner at my house. Which we did.

It turns out Monday is actually a very good day to host a party, because you’ve got the whole weekend to clean the house and prepare, then when you get home after work on Monday night there’s just a few last-minute things to do and everything’s ready. There was a minor last-minute crisis when I realised I wouldn’t have enough cutlery for everyone (I still keep discovering things I don’t have any more after the great property division of 2013, and a second set of cutlery is one of them), but that was easily solved by asking one of the team to bring some. Technically, I don’t have enough plates either, but who says everyone has to eat off full-sized dinner plates? A combination of big and small plates works perfectly well – the people who get the small plates can just come back for seconds!

Anyway, the evening was a great success – I managed to squeeze enough chairs into the lounge for everyone, there was tonnes of food (in fact, too much – we’re having a shared lunch today to use up the leftovers), nobody minded the mismatched crockery, there was much laughter and fun, and Alex and Jack even stayed on to help me clean up afterwards. And best of all, no stress whatsoever – I’m so enjoying being able to do things like spontaneously invite people round to the house without it needing to be a big deal or matter for negotiation. Life is good!


Last week was quite a social one too – first, on Tuesday, was the Toastmasters Christmas party. We had a table topics session (which is where you’re given a topic and have to give an impromptu speech on it for 2 minutes – which is often very difficult, but lots of fun), then a quiz (my team lost miserably, but we reckoned we were having the most fun) and supper, and finally a secret Santa swap, which was run like the wrapped book swaps I’ve seen at some bookcrossing conventions, where you’re allowed to steal other people’s presents. After a bit of swapping, I ended up with a set of plastic wine glasses, which I’ve donated to the office (after spending many Friday night drinks sessions drinking out of the weirdest collection of vessels, proper wine glasses, even if they are plastic, definitely seem like a necessary addition to our office supplies!).

Then on Wednesday we had a morning tea at work to officially re-open the building (complete with blessing of the building by the university’s chaplain – it’s one of the oddities of NZ that in academia (which, as in the rest of the world, is generally much more liberal and left-wing than the rest of society), you’re actually more likely to encounter religion in official events, because of the way that religion is tied up with M­­āori tikanga. It leads to some rather weird moments – like getting a room full of people singing a hymn, despite probably ¾ of them being atheists, because the hymn’s in M­āori and they want to show respect). Oh well, at least the scones were good!

I took the afternoon off on Thursday so I could go to the official launch of Jan’s pop-up tearoom business. It’s been a year in the making, but she’s done an amazing job with it. She has a little green caravan she can take to venues, then sets up tables under an awning with proper old-fashioned china cups and saucers, and dainty things to nibble on (at the launch it was bowls of strawberries and cream, scones, and little cakes). It sounds like her main income is going to come from catering things like hen parties and baby showers, but she’ll also be able to go to bigger events. I hope it works out well for her – it’s such a great idea, and she’s put so much energy into it.

After a most pleasant afternoon sitting in a park with tea and scones and chatting to assorted people, I decided to make the most of the rest of my time off and walked into town (the launch was at Abberley Park, in St Albans, so not too far from the city). It’s been a month or so since I’d been into the city centre, so our ever-changing cityscape had some surprises for me.

A pleasant surprise was to see the trams running again:

Doesn’t that look like such a wonderfully normal scene? Amazing to see it again after so long.

Of course, most of the city doesn’t look like that. It’s more like this:

Where those cars are parked is where the Coffee Club that used to house our OBCZ (and where we held the Sunday brunch for the 2009 convention) once stood. For a long time it was the last building standing in the block bordered by Colombo, High and Cashel Streets, but suddenly it’s gone, and there’s nothing but a vast empty space in what used to be one of the busiest shopping areas of the central city. And I suspect some of those buildings in the background will soon be gone too.

That evening, I met up with Harvestbird for a shopping expedition, as we were both desperately in need of summer clothes. It didn’t start in a very promising way, with us doing multiple laps of Farmers despairing at how ugly everything was, vainly retracing our path in the hopes that something better would have suddenly appeared on the racks. But eventually, and after a few stops at other shops, we each managed to find ourselves something both acceptable and cheap (yay for 50% off sales!), so we decided to count that as winning at shopping.

I spent the weekend very productively, finishing off a few Christmas presents (I finally finished the hand sewing on the minecraft face mats!), and baking gingerbread stars to make up wee parcels for various people at work that I need/want to give gifts to. I had fun decorating them – lots of coloured icing and little silver balls (except on the ones for the one vegan on my list – he just gets boring plain white icing made from icing sugar and water, because all the fancy stuff has gelatine in it).

So yeah, keeping busy.


Wednesday 18 December:

Brother gave the kids my Christmas present last night (I’d suggested he give it to them early, so they could make the most of it over the school holidays) – their own personal Minecraft server. Well, at least the rental of one for a year. They’d been asking me for ages to play multiplayer with them, but setting my own computer up as a server was looking way too complicated (plus would have required me having it always on), and I wasn’t comfortable playing with them on any of the public servers (which are filled with idiots and trolls), so I’d vetoed that and said they’d just have to wait until next time I came down to Alexandra to visit when we could play over LAN. But then I discovered I could rent us private server space for a very reasonable cost, which would allow me to set up a private server with a whitelist, so I could control who gets to play on it. And that sounded like a much easier and safer way of letting them play multiplayer. So (after checking Brother and SIL were ok with the idea, of course) I set it all up and sent Brother the IP address, and told him to give it to the kids whenever he thought a good time.

So last night I got a phone call from Brother telling me to log in, because he was about to give the kids the news. Apparently it was received with almost hysterical levels of joy and excitement, and I spent the rest of the night playing Minecraft with them long distance. Lots of fun! I suspect I’m going to have to seriously ration how often I’m available to play with them though – if they had their way I think I’d be logging on as soon as I get home every night. Might have to be “busy” most evenings (though that’s the nice thing about Minecraft – they can carry on playing on their own, and just show me what they’ve built when I do log on). But for the first few nights at least, while it’s still a novelty, I don’t mind wasting a few hours on them :-)

Moving, baking, and other chaos

It’s been a strange sort of week.  We knew we’d be shifting offices sometime this week, and that we would have to stay away from the office on moving day so we didn’t get in the way of the movers, so we’d talked about having some sort of team field-trip, maybe involving a site visit to one of our content providers (apparently someone in HR suggested that everyone should just take annual leave that day – I suggested that the union might be interested to hear that…)  But because our move was just a small part of a much bigger and more complicated move, involving 3 buildings and about 5 departments, we didn’t get confirmation until Monday of the official move date (Wednesday), so we didn’t have time to arrange anything.  So it was decreed that Wednesday would be a work from home day for our team (“work” being a very loose term, seeing as we rely on a lot of specialist software, and can’t access some of the servers from off-campus – it was more of a “check your email from time to time” sort of working).

So Tuesday afternoon was spent in a flurry of last minute packing (one good thing about being a digital archive – there’s not a lot of physical stuff to pack), and we left for the day thinking we’d be back on Thursday morning to unpack our boxes in the new office.  Yeah, that was the plan, anyway.  Except it turned out that some of the certification for the new building hadn’t been signed off yet by the city council, so we got an email on Wednesday afternoon telling us not to come back until Thursday lunchtime.

On Thursday morning there was another email saying that the building had been signed off and was ready for occupancy, so I went in to campus, only to discover they hadn’t even started moving our office yet – the delays with the sign-off had meant that we’d slipped to the bottom of the list, and we wouldn’t be getting moved until the afternoon sometime.  So after a quick consultation with my boss we sent a message round the team saying stay home for the rest of the day.

So yay extra free day off, but it was kind of frustrating – both because I actually had a lot of work I wanted to get on with (the Christmas break is looming fast and there’s a lot of stuff I’d like to get cleared before then), and because I find I can’t settle in to enjoying a day off when it’s messily on-again off-again like that – I spent the rest of the day feeling unsettled, like I might be called back in to work or something, so I shouldn’t get too involved in anything I was doing.

Anyway, went back in to work on Friday, and everything had been moved (well, apart from a few things that got left behind – like the big whiteboard we do all our planning on, which is kind of crucial.  Oh, and they haven’t issued us keys to the new office yet…), so after spending most of the morning setting up the office and deciding where everyone wanted their desks and admiring our lovely new crack-free walls, we were finally able to settle back in to getting some work done.  So yeah, a total of two days of productive work out of an entire week – good thing it’s summer, and nearly Christmas, and nobody really expects anyone to actually achieve much this month anyway…


Although Thursday was a bit of a wipe-out, I did manage to make good use of my free day off on Wednesday, spending a chunk of it baking:

Yeah, pretty pictures, but the baking wasn’t such a success.  The plan was to make two batches of brownies, one for my “Secret Santa” gift for the Christchurch Bloggers Christmas party (which had to be under $10, and preferably hand-crafted or baked), and the other to take as a plate* to the party.  So I’d decided I’d make burnt butter brownies for the gift, because they turned out so well last time I made them, and salted caramel brownies for the plate, because I wanted to experiment with a variation on the recipe, and wasn’t sure how it would work.

(* that’s “plate” in the Kiwi sense of “bring some food to share” – it always confuses foreigners when they’re asked to bring a plate to a party ;-))

So of course, the burnt butter brownies came out terrible (ok, maybe not terrible – they were still edible, but they certainly weren’t wonderful) and my variation on the salted caramel ones worked perfectly.

Now, the sensible thing to do at this point would have been to swap the functions of the two varieties, and use the salted caramel ones for the gift.  But because I’d had in my mind that it was the burnt butter ones that should be the gift, swapping them just never occurred to me.  So instead, I got in a panic and seriously contemplated making another batch, but didn’t have enough ingredients, and I didn’t really have time to go to the supermarket (I didn’t realise at that stage that I’d have the whole next day off as well), so I was searching the recipe books for another recipe that would use the ingredients I did have, and, and, and… in the end I just got sick of the whole baking idea and decided to just parcel up the sub-standard brownies in a pretty way and call it done.

I did at least manage the pretty packaging:

(Yes, my Secret Santa recipient’s name really is Holly!  I couldn’t resist illustrating the card appropriately, though I’m sure she’s had it done a million times before)

It wasn’t until I was about half way to the party on Thursday night that the whole should-have-swapped-the-brownies thing finally occurred to me, by which time of course it was too late to do anything about it.  All it did was add to my anxiety, because now I all I could think was that if she tried the brownies I’d brought as a plate, she’d wonder why I’d given her such boring ones when I was obviously capable of much better.

So I was already feeling pretty inferior about my gift before I got to the party.  And then when we had the actual gift exchange, I felt even worse when I realised what total over-achievers all these women are – my little box of brownies looked so pathetic compared to the amazing parcels of treasures everyone had put together.

Here’s what I received from my Secret Santa (who later admitted she’d left it till the last minute, so had just “thrown some things together”(!!!)):

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That’s a set of nesting storage tins (op-shopped, so within the $10 budget), the smallest of which was filled with chocolates, a hand-made card, crocheted Christmas ornaments and what are labelled as dish-cloths, but are much too nice to use for that, and a calendar!  And that’s a thrown together at the last minute gift!

But apart from making me feel totally inferior and intimidated by their all-round awesomeness, it was actually a lovely evening (and I should say, the feeling inferior thing was entirely self-inflicted – everyone was really nice, and there was definitely no looking-down-of-noses at my pathetic offering).  It was great to meet more of the bloggers, and put faces to names I knew from browsing the blogs.  They really are a great group, and lots of fun.  I even managed to squeeze in a little networking, so see, my day spent baking really was work-related 😉

It was a very late night though.  It shouldn’t have been – I actually left the party at about 9.30, because I knew it would take me about an hour to get home on the bus (Why is it everything I get invited to seems to be on completely the other side of town?  What happened to this great post-earthquake migration to the west that everyone keeps talking about?).  But I managed to just miss the bus (I saw it passing the stop when I was just too far away to be able to run for it), so had half an hour to wait for the next one, which turned up late, so it was well after 11 by the time I actually got home.  So yeah, probably a good thing half of yesterday was wasted to unpacking the office – I probably would have fallen asleep over my desk if it had been a normal work day!

Oh, and just to show I’m completely surrounded by over-achievers, even my work-mates have got in on the act.  Lucy-Jane brought us all in little brooches she’d spent the day making on Wednesday:

I should really have put something in the photo as a size reference to show how tiny and cute it is, but the size of the stitching probably gives you an idea – he’s only about 5 cm long from head to foot.

Smile!

What’s making me smile right now:

  • A brisk walk home under a dark and threatening sky – I made it home without getting rained on, plus I’m feeling energised from the exercise.  And now the fire is roaring away and soon the house will be nice and warm.
  • I made a start on a big project at work that I’ve been putting off because I wasn’t sure where to start.  Once I finally dived in, though, it all became clear, so I managed to make some good progress, plus I now know exactly where to go from here.
  • The final paragraph of this post.  (Don’t cheat and skip to the end – you have to read the whole thing to fully get the impact.  And don’t forget to read the hover-text on the pictures!)
  • A cup of my favourite Japanese Lime tea, brewed in the gorgeous teapot Jenny gave me for my birthday.
  • The bunch of spring flowers (jonquils?  I can never remember the name, but they’re some sort of daffodilly-thing that smells good) that Mum bought last week haven’t wilted yet, and they’re still spreading their amazing smell through the house.  Apart from the longer days, I reckon the smell of spring flowers has got to be my favourite thing about spring.
  • Talking of longer days, it’s light enough in the evenings now that I can make it home before dark.  Walking in daylight is so much nicer!
  • Parsnips was sitting in the window watching for me when I got home.  She does it every night, so it’s not a particularly special event, but it still makes me smile every night when I see her there.
  • My shiny new TV.  The programmes on TV are just as boring as when I last watched them (way back in April when they switched to digital and my old TV stopped working), but it’s wonderful to be able to watch DVDs on a widescreen.  Plus it’s of the clever new variety that can talk to my tablet, so I can watch YouTube videos on it as well (there goes my bandwidth!).
  • I made a really nice apricot dish for pudding the other night, and there’s still enough left that I can have a bit tonight.

Cobblers

Mojosmom’s suggestion of a peach cobbler sent me off to Google.  I’d only ever encountered cobblers in fiction, but Google quickly turned up a plethora of recipes, all completely different.  In the end I found one that seemed to resemble what she’d described, so (after a bit of tweaking to adapt it to metric measurements, halve the size (the original recipe served 8!!!) and replace the self-raising flour (which I hate the taste of so always use real flour plus baking powder instead)) I gave it a go.  The ingredient list is pretty similar to the muffins, actually:

2-3 cups sliced peaches
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
50g butter
3/4 cup flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup milk
cinnamon

Make up a syrup with the water and half the sugar, and boil the peaches in it for 10 minutes. Mix flour, baking powder, remaining sugar, and milk to make a thin batter. Melt butter in a baking dish, and pour the batter over the top, without mixing. Spoon fruit and syrup over the top, then sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake 180C for 25-30 minutes.

The batter rises up around the fruit, and you end up with a sweet, slightly chewy, doughy fruity mixture. Delicious, but very heavy – I had to share it with friends to be able to get through it all.


I’m having a very enjoyable long Easter weekend so far. On Friday Harvestbird and I went to see a Chilean film at Alice’s, preceded by a walk through the wide open spaces of the ex-CBD. After the movie we went for a very late lunch, sitting outside in the sun and discussing literary theory and the application of narrative to everyday life – a very pleasant afternoon, and it gave me some very helpful new ways to look at the world.

Then on Saturday night I went out for dinner with Jenny and MrJenny – another lovely meal and great conversation. They’re off on holiday to Dunedin this week, so I was sharing my (rather out of date) local knowledge of the best things to do and see (I made sure to direct them to the beach where Skyring nearly tripped over a seal, so they can have their own wildlife close encounter).

Yesterday it was bottling day. Despite my best efforts at muffins and cobblers and eating a huge amount fresh, I still had a large pile of fruit left.

So I set to work making nectarine chutney.

That only used up half the fruit though. I thought about making a second batch, but I didn’t have enough of the other ingredients left, and it being Easter Sunday, the supermarket would have been closed. So I decided to be very brave and attempt some bottling.

I used to help Mum and Dad with bottling fruit all the time when I was a kid, but generally only with the preparing the fruit part – once it got to boiling hot sugar syrup being poured around, I kept out of the way. And my memories of it being a very arcane and esoteric process meant I never tried it for myself as an adult. But here I was with a pile of fruit and plenty of jars and lids I’d already sterilised. So there was only one thing for it – consult the trusty Edmonds book, turn my big stock pot into a water bath, and dive in (metaphorically, that is – literally diving into the stock pot would have been quite painful… and a bit difficult, seeing as it’s only big enough for my head).

Not many photos this time – there was way too much sugar syrup getting spilt around the kitchen for me to want my camera anywhere near!

End result, 11 jars of chutney, and 10 of bottled peaches and nectarines (and only 3 jars that failed to seal, which I’ll have to use up first). That should keep me going for the winter!


The long weekend was rounded off quite nicely (though it’s not actually over yet for me – I’ve got tomorrow off as well) by breakfast with Dad and Stepmother, who were on their way back from Australia. They were staying at a motel just up the road, so we went to a nearby cafe for breakfast, then they dropped me off in Riccarton on their way out of town. After a quick dash into the mall to get a couple of things, I headed to Deans Bush to play with my camera in the gardens.