A lot to catch up on

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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


Laying out the blocks.


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


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

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

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

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

Party Prep Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting creative with waste

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being realistic

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Wisdom is overrated anyway

A week or so ago, I had a toothache.  On a Friday afternoon, of course, because things like toothaches never happen on a day when it’s easy to get a dentist’s appointment.  But I somehow managed to at least get in to see my normal dentist’s assistant.  Who, after a bit of poking and prodding, told me that not only did I have a cavity, as I expected, but that it was in one of my wisdom teeth, and therefore wasn’t going to be a quick filling-and-you’re-done sort of job.  And that there wasn’t really anything he could do on the spot (other than give me a prescription for antibiotics I can get filled if it starts hurting enough that I think it might be infected) but that I’d need to see the real dentist* to discuss what to do about it.

Luckily, the pain eased off again (it’s definitely still there, but it’s just a dull ache that I can pretty much ignore most of the time, and so far have only had to take pain killers for once – did I ever mention my high pain tolerance?), because it was a week before I could get an appointment for the consultation with the proper dentist, and, because I’m going to be away at a conference, I won’t be able to get the actual work done until the end of the month.

And yes, the bad news is I have to get that wisdom tooth out.  And he strongly advised I get the other two** out at the same time.

The good news is, it isn’t going to be quite as expensive as I’d been dreading (it’s always scary when the first thing a dentist asks is “Do you have insurance?”***).  Thankfully, the whole thing, including a couple of minor fillings that hadn’t been bothering me, but which I decided he might as well take care of at the same time, should come in under $1000.  So not cheap, but it could be a lot worse.

And the other good news is that, unlike the last tooth I had out, which was just under local anaesthetic, I’ll be properly sedated this time round.  So hopefully that means I won’t even notice the horrible graunching noises of tooth against bone which are almost worst than the actual pain part.

Still not looking forward to it, though.

*Not that the assistant isn’t a real dentist – according to his card, he has a BDS, and he must be a proper dentist if he can issue prescriptions – but the other dentist, who I think runs the practice, is the one who does all the complicated stuff.

**I had one out many years ago when I lived in London.  The others hadn’t come up yet at that time, so I didn’t bother getting them out at the same time.  In hindsight, I really should have while I was covered by the NHS!

***To explain for the foreigners, although we have free(ish) public health care in New Zealand, that doesn’t apply to dental work.  Some people do opt to take out health insurance (mainly because it allows them to skip the waiting lists in the public system), but in theory you shouldn’t have to… until you get a huge dental bill and then start regretting your choices.


And now, to counteract thoughts of pain, three happy things:

  1. Lytteltonwitch and I have booked our flights to Paris for next year’s Bookcrossing Convention!  It’s suddenly all very exciting and real.  We haven’t booked much else yet (just accommodation in Paris and Bordeaux – we’re still working out the rest of the itinerary), but I’m spending way too much time poring over maps of France (and northern Spain), and practising my very rusty French (and only slightly less rusty Spanish), when I should be doing other things. Who cares, though – nous allons en France!
  2. New World were doing their “Little Gardens” promotion again last month, and I finally got round to starting off the three plants I got (I seemed to have bought very few groceries while the promotion was on, probably because I was away quite a bit). We had a bit of a heat wave last week, so they all burst into enthusiastic life very quickly, but have slowed down a bit now that the weather has returned to normal Christchurch spring-ness. I’m not convinced about the feasibility of growing either cucumbers or watermelons in a pot, especially not in this climate, but it’ll be fun seeing how far they get. And the thyme should at least grow ok, once the weather warms up again.
  3. The rapid approach of Christmas has given me the perfect excuse to break out a new project. Or technically, many smaller projects. I, as usual, have got way too ambitious with my plans for “quick” wee presents, but I’m having lots of fun making them (it may also have been a good excuse to buy a couple of Christmas-y charm packs that were on special at one of my favourite fabric shops…).And so, the production line begins:


    (and experimenting with all the possible colour combinations…)

    I did actually finish one of them off completely, because I wanted to include one in the parcel I send off for the Bookcrossing Ornament Exchange, and I’m running out of time to send it. I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out – I was playing some more with contrasting quilting textures, and using the patterns of the pieces to guide the quilting. I don’t think I’ll do the rounded corners on the rest of them though – they were way too fiddly to do the binding on.

    The quilting looks really good on the back, too (and for once, I actually remembered *before* I did the binding to add a label, and some little loops in case the recipient wants to hang it up instead of use it as a mat).

Still modelling…

Actually, I thought I’d finally finished my modelling a few days ago, but I met with my supervisors today, and they’ve recommended I run a few more, so it’s back to sitting waiting for models to run.  In the meantime, I’ve started writing up what I’ve done so far, and I’m making ok progress – 7,000 words down, 18,000 to go… (of course, the 7,000 words I’ve written are the easy ones – they get harder from here on in).

But at least in a couple of days the Christmas break starts, and then I’m on leave until the end of January.  Not that I’ll be using the time for a holiday – I’ll be working full time on my thesis (well, apart from Christmas day itself – Dad and Stepmother are coming up to visit Stepsister, and I’ve been invited to her place to spend the day with them, so I’ll have an enforced break :-) ).  But after nearly a year of working full time, plus working on my thesis part time, just having one thing to concentrate on for the next month will feel totally relaxing in comparison!  (Except for the whole looming deadline thing, of course…)


I did have a bit of a break from working the other weekend.  I was feeling like I hadn’t done anything creative for such a long time that I was going to explode from lack of creativity, so I took a few hours to make some wee Christmas presents for friends and colleagues.

As you can see, it took a few goes before I figured the design out properly (I was working from memory of something I’d seen on a YouTube video, and couldn’t find the video again to check exactly what they’d done – which is also why I’m not crediting the designer here, because I still can’t find the video).  I was pretty pleased with how they turned out though (even the first few “failures” look quite nice, it’s just the final version look even better :-) ) – especially the 3D effect of the folded triangles (I think this pattern is called a pineapple log cabin – it definitely has a certain pineappleyness about it, anyway).


Anyway, hope you all have a good Christmas (or whatever else you are celebrating), and a happy and safe New Year, and hopefully next time you hear from me I’ll have written those remaining 18,000 words and be ready to submit…

See you on the other side!

Gin, alpacas and flying lessons – so how was your Christmas?

I’m down in Alexandra for a few days visiting Mum, but we decided to postpone Christmas celebrations until Brother and family get back from SIL’s parents in Middlemarch.  So today was pretty much an ordinary day.  Except that we decided to go over to Lauder to visit my uncle, which rapidly turned it into a very un-ordinary day.

Lauder is a very small town (if you can call a couple of houses and a pub a town) a very long way from anywhere, and if you go even further into the middle of nowhere from there, you get to where Uncle lives in a tiny stone cottage in the middle of farmland at the end of a long dirt road.  It’s a very isolated but beautiful and peaceful spot, and suits him perfectly – living in a town would be way too conventional for him.

First order of business when we got out there was to admire his still, where he’s been distilling gin (it’s ok, distilling spirits is legal in NZ, as long as you don’t sell the product).  It’s a really interesting process – the still actually produces almost pure alcohol (90%!!!), which gets filtered and “polished”, then watered back down with distilled water until it’s at an alcohol level that won’t actually kill you, then finally flavours are added to turn it into gin.  The crazy thing is he isn’t actually much of a drinker himself, he just enjoys the science of distilling.  So most of his end product is given away to friends and family.  He experiments with other types of spirits as well (we tasted the frangelico and the cherry brandy, but I’m not really a drinker either, so a very small sip of each was enough for me).

Then we went out into the garden to visit the menagerie.  Last time I was out there he had a flock of chickens to keep him company, which have since been joined by a duck (it was two ducks, but unfortunately a feral cat killed one recently) and two alpacas:

After the alpacas had been fed a few apples, Uncle asked me if I’d like to try flying one of his model planes.  I expected a little toy plane, but it turned out to have a 2m wingspan!  We walked up the hill above his cottage, where he’d mown a landing strip in the neighbouring farm’s paddock, and after a *very* brief lesson on how the controls work, he sent the plane up to a reasonable altitude, then handed control over to me.  Not quite as dangerous as it sounds, because he had two remote control box things (technical term), which were connected by wireless so he could instantly turn off my controller and take over on his if anything went wrong.  Which it did many many times – it was a lot harder than it looked, so most of my attempts ended up with the plane either in a stall or nosediving towards the ground.  But eventually I did manage to achieve a few seconds of reasonably level flight, which I was quite proud of :-)

I decided to leave the flying to the expert though, and swapped the controller for my camera to attempt to take photos as it flew overhead:

Not such a great photo of the plane, but I included this one because you can kind of see Uncle’s cottage, nestled down among those trees at the bottom of the hill (and just because it shows off the gorgeous landscape around his place):

I did get to spend a bit of time with Niece and Nephew #2 yesterday, before they left for Middlemarch (Nephew #1 was already down there, working on the farm).  They came up to Queenstown with Dad to meet me off the plane, so we got some icecreams, then stopped off in Cromwell to play on the flying fox at the playground.

Nephew even convinced me to have a go on the flying fox – I’m afraid my attempt wasn’t quite as elegant as Niece’s, but it did provide much entertainment, especially at the sight of me trying to figure out how to get off it again once I got to the bottom!

When we got to Alexandra, Niece and Nephew came with me to Mum’s place while they waited for Brother and SIL to finish packing. For some reason, we ended up playing a game of charades, which was quite challenging given that, being only 6, Niece’s reading and watching tastes don’t exactly overlap with Mum’s or mine, so thinking up clues that she’d recognise was pretty difficult (plus she was working entirely under her own set of rules…).  But we had a lot of fun anyway, and it kept the kids well entertained until it was time to go :-)

So that was my Christmas Eve and Christmas – not exactly the traditional way to spend it, but definitely not boring!  Hope you’re all having/had an equally entertaining and enjoyable day.

Party party party

Down to the last few days of work before the Christmas break, and I’m seriously feeling in need of a holiday. What with boss still being away on parental leave, and several big deadlines falling in December, work hasn’t had the usual end-of-year wind-down this year – we’ve just been in full-on busy mode trying to get everything done. Oh well, only three more days until the university shuts down for Christmas, and then I get a couple of weeks off.

And at least there’s been plenty of distraction in the form of many many Christmas parties (one of the perils of working in a large organisation, especially when you’re connected with multiple departments), including two I hosted myself this weekend. First was the CEISMIC team party on Friday night (which grew a bit larger than expected, because we decided to invite a few students and volunteers who are working in our office over the summer – it was a bit of a squeeze fitting everyone into my little lounge, but luckily students are happy to sit on the floor :-)), then on Saturday night what was technically the Bookcrossing Christmas Party, although in reality it has evolved over the years into mostly just I invite a few friends round, whether bookcrossers or not (though I still also open the invitation up to bookcrossing meetup regulars).

Both parties went very well, despite nearly running out of cutlery on Friday night (note for next year: actually count up how many people have been invited before agreeing when someone says, “We really should invite X too”), and failing to provide vegetarian food for the Harvestbirds on Saturday (dinner was pot luck, and in a bid not to over-cater as I usually end up doing, I decided I’d only make nibbles and a dessert, and trust to luck for the mains – which worked to the extent that we ended up with the right *amount* of food, it was just that it was all meat-based. Oops – probably should have been a bit more organised and actually told people what to bring. Of course, they were very gracious about it though, and just filled up on the bread and dips).

Definitely the least stressful party organising I’ve done in ages – I’ve been so busy I didn’t have time to go over the top in preparation, so it was just a matter of making sure the house was clean and doing the minimum possible food preparation (ok, so I did make bread both days, but that’s easy – most of it is just sitting around waiting for the yeast to do its magic), then deciding that anything that wasn’t done obviously wasn’t important :-) Having the two parties back to back like that helped too, because most of the preparation I’d done for the first party carried over to the next night – all I needed to do was a quick vacuuming of crumbs from the lounge and whip up another batch of bread, and I was ready to go. I even managed to recycle some of the leftover food :-)

Which meant that I had time on Saturday to go to the Art Gallery opening! The Christchurch Art Gallery has been closed since February 2011 – at first because they were using it as the Civil Defence headquarters while they were still doing search and rescue after the earthquakes, and then because they discovered damage to the building that needed to be brought back up to code before any other galleries or museums would lend them any exhibitions. So it’s been a long time since we’ve had an art gallery, but they finally re-opened to the public on Saturday morning. Harvestbird and I managed to get there in time to be in the queue to be first through the doors, and it was a very exciting moment. There were no speeches or anything, just lots of happy staff with huge smiles to finally be able to welcome visitors back into their gallery, and lots of happy people pleased to be back.

Like so many things in post-earthquake Christchurch, it’s hard to describe just how amazing it felt to go back into the Art Gallery after all this time. It’s like another little piece of normality being restored to our still-broken city, and oh so exciting. From the looks on the faces around us, everyone was feeling the same way. So many smiling faces (and the odd tear), so many people rushing up to an old favourite exclaiming, “Oh, I remember this one!” We spent so long just drinking in the first couple of rooms that we weren’t able to get around the whole gallery (the guides giving tours were having the same problem – we joined a tour, and about half way round the guide suddenly realised she’d been so enthusiastically telling us everything about everything that she was way behind schedule, so had to race us round the rest of the tour). I had to keep telling myself that this wasn’t my only chance to see the gallery, that I would be able to go back many times and see the rest – they’re not going to suddenly close it down again! I think we’re a little *too* used to impermanence in this city now…

After all that socialising, I had a nice quiet day yesterday, and managed to finish binding all my Christmas quilt projects:

I feel quite productive looking at the finished pile!

(lumpy) White (almost) Christmas

December weather is notoriously changeable in Christchurch, but it’s been outdoing itself this year – the temperature has been going from high 20s to just above freezing and back again in the space of a few days, and yesterday we had two huge storms, with thunder and hail and all sorts of drama.

The first storm was incredibly loud – there was a clap of thunder right over the house that was one of the loudest I’ve ever heard (and which terrified poor Parsnips, who dashed into the tiny space behind my desk and refused to come out for an hour), followed by huge hailstones (well, marble-sized, anyway), which were falling at an angle, so made the most incredible racket hitting the corrugated iron fence that runs along my driveway. With the size of them, I didn’t want to go out and take photos while they were falling, and they melted pretty fast, so I didn’t get any decent photos, but I did capture a small drift developing against the fence (ignore the unmown grass…)

The second storm, an hour or two later, wasn’t as impressive, but it still dumped quite a lot of hail (and re-terrorised poor Parsnips, who was just starting to cautiously emerge from her hiding spot).

The storms must have been moving pretty fast, too, because I got an email from Mum at about half past 10 saying they’d just had thunder and hail in Alexandra, and it hit Christchurch less than three hours later. It’s roughly 320 km as the crow flies from Alexandra to Christchurch, so assuming it was the same storm, that means the front must have been travelling at around 100 km/h. Pretty impressive!


Somewhere over the last couple of weeks I did get around to putting up my Christmas tree, but I forgot to take photos at the time. So, to rectify that:

We’ve put our Christmas “tree” up at work, too – or at least decorated our door. There’s photos on our blog.

On Friday evening, Lytteltonwitch and I went out to Shands Road to see the lights. The Press had been making a big deal of the lights, saying they were completely redesigned from last year, but it turned out there were only a few small changes here and there. I was glad I hadn’t bothered to take my camera this time, because the photos would have all looked the same as last year’s. It was still interesting though, because we went out a little earlier this year, so got there while it was still light enough to see the structures holding up the lights, so it was cool to see how it was all done (and had the bonus that it was still early enough to get a park quite near the lights – last year we had to walk for miles!). Plus it was worth the entry fee just to see Lytteltonwitch, who claims to love spiders, be scared out of her skin by a mechanical spider that jumped out at her from one of the displays (for some unknown reason they always have a Halloween-themed display in amongst the Christmas lights, even though it doesn’t open until December, well after Halloween), while I was completely unfazed by it – though her scream did make me jump! I don’t think we’ll bother going back again next year though.


Christmas-present spoilers again – all that bad weather at the weekend meant I made good progress through my production line of mini-quilts.

Finished binding these two:

And quilted the other stars (though didn’t quite finish putting the binding on):

I’m pretty pleased with how the quilting went on this one – I found a new Christmassy design to try, and, after a bit of practice, managed to get it flowing reasonably well. Here’s a close-up of the back so you can see the quilting a bit better:

While I was googling Christmassy FMQ designs, I was distracted by another project I spotted on this blog – some very clever trees made from half-square triangles. So of course I had to give it a go. And then make a second one, just to perfect the technique (and also because I still needed a couple of presents for work team members). They’re less fiddly to make than they look, so I managed to get them both sewn and quilted on Sunday, so I just need to finish off the binding, and they’ll be done too.

Production line

(Warning to family-type people who read this blog: there are Christmas-present spoilers below.  If you don’t want the surprise ruined, stop reading now.  Alternatively, if anything really catches your eye, let me know and I’ll make sure that one’s your present :-) )

January and the start of my masters is looming large, so I’m trying to fit as much as I can into the rest of this year, before I have to be head down over the books again.  Of course, my list of things to do (urgent) is much longer than the time remaining, but I’m making pretty good progress.  Last weekend I decided Saturday needed to be a “buy all the things” day, so I planned out an over-ambitious route to various corners of the city to tick off some of the retail-based to dos on my list. And ended up walking most of it.

That wasn’t the original plan – I was going to walk as far as Hands, then catch a bus from there into town, walk from there over to a place on Fitzgerald Ave, then catch a bus to Riccarton, and finally bus home.  But I spent too long in Hands (a common problem), so just missed the bus into town.  And it turns out they’ve changed the timetable so that bus only runs once an hour at weekends now.  So I decided I might as well walk into town (probably a stupid decision, given how hot a day it was, but the alternative was sitting at the bus stop for an hour (or going back to Hands… but that could have got expensive!)).  And from there I still had to walk over to Fitzgerald Ave of course (which is only a few blocks more, but walking through the dusty wasteland of the central city it feels much longer), and then I discovered the shop didn’t have what I wanted anyway, so I had to go to another place on Memorial Ave (another several blocks across the wasteland in the other direction), then back to the bus exchange – I’d love to have had one of those step trackers on to find out just how far I walked in total  (Actually, I just looked on Google maps – it adds up to a bit over 11 km!!!  No wonder I was feeling tired!)

I didn’t quite get all the shopping done I’d planned (clothes shopping got struck off the list due to feeling too hot and dusty to try anything on… or possibly just because clothes shopping is my least favourite variety of shopping, so it’s easy to find an excuse to put it off – I’m sure the clothes I bought years ago will do me for another season, won’t they?), but I did manage all the important stuff at least.

Which left Sunday free to spend working my way through the pile of sewing projects I’ve got on the go (most of which will end up as Christmas presents, so look away now, Mum (yeah, I know you won’t…)).  I had quite a quilting production line going: I managed to get most of the patchwork bits done, quilted all but one of them, and even did the binding on one (the rest might be sitting in front of the TV in the evening jobs).

My “failed” first attempt at a star. Now that it’s all quilted and bound, I’m much happier with it – the wonkiness and missing points are much less noticeable (though I still know they’re there). I was really pleased with my free-motion quilting – I felt like I was finally getting a feel for the right speed to use, so it flowed quite nicely, and the tangled Christmas lights effect I was going for came out really well.

I did the same FMQ design on my better stars – a wee bit trickier on this bigger size, but I think it looks really good. The centre star looks like it’s missing a set of points, but that’s just because the fabric is a bit too similar in shade to the background, so it got a bit lost when I quilted it. I actually quite like the effect though. Obviously, this one is still in the “needs binding” pile.

Another one that needs binding. This is the reject bird that I’d planned to put on the back of my ‘Birds in Flight’ quilt (which is also in the to do pile, but will probably sit there quite a bit longer – it’s so huge that I’m totally intimidated by the idea of quilting it. I probably should just give in and pay someone to do it), but that I got the colour progression back to front on. It was sitting there looking sad and unloved, so I decided to turn it into something. I’m really pleased with how the FMQ came out on this – I wanted it to have the feel of air currents swirling around the flying bird, and I think I achieved that. I probably should have done something different on the bird itself, and just had the currents around it, but it’s such an intricate shape that sounded to complicated, so I just went with the all-over swirliness. Let’s just pretend that it’s a depiction of air as a three-dimensional space, so some of the air is between us and the bird… yeah, that works :-)

And more stars. I’m not obsessed with this pattern, honestly, it’s just that I keep getting it almost but not quite right, so I have to have another go to see if I can do it better. I haven’t got as far as quilting this one, but it’s basted (that’s what all the safety pins are for), so all ready to go as soon as I decide whether to go for the tangled lights design again or to try something different.

The other projects I wanted to get done before the end of the year are all still in the rough-sketch-in-a-notebook stage (or the even earlier vague-idea-in-the-back-of-my-mind stage), so whether I get them done is pretty doubtful. So many ideas, so little time…