Dragons in the Avon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cucumber sandwiches and a chicken in a tree

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

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

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

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

A very pleasant way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon.

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

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

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

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

Definitely not holding my breath for actual fruit though.

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

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

Strange cat.

And in other news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12-16 April – spend a few days exploring Paris

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

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

18 April – drive to Bordeaux

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

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

20-22 April Bookcrossing Convention

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

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

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

1 May – train to Barcelona

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

5 May – train back to Paris

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

Are you jealous yet? :-)

Super social

Most important thing:  I finished the Lego quilt last weekend, and Lytteltonwitch delivered it to her friend, who apparently loved it.  I was pretty pleased with the finished product too:

The invisible thread, even though it was a bit of a pain to work with, worked out really well, giving texture to the blocks without standing out too much, which is what I wanted. And I really liked how the quilting in the border turned out.

It’s backed with some amazing Buzzy Bee fabric that Lytteltonwitch found, which goes really well with the colours and theme of the quilt. And I gave it a scrappy binding made from the left-overs of the block fabrics.

So, my first commissioned quilt successfully accomplished. Apparently my payment is going to be in the form of dinner at the Noodle Markets tomorrow night – seems like a fair trade to me :-)

I meant to post the pictures of the finished quilt sooner, but I’ve been incredibly busy – mostly at work, where we’re very close to launching another big project (I can tell you about it next week :-) ), which we’ve been working on for the last year or so, and which has been taking up the majority of my time for the last month (to the extent that I ended up working on Waitangi Day, just to meet a critical deadline).  I’ve been busy socially, too:  I’ve already been out three nights this week, plus I’m out tonight and tomorrow night as well – this must be some sort of record for me!

Tuesday night was Toastmasters, and I decided that would be my last meeting.  The club president had said something in his closing remarks a couple of weeks ago encouraging us to reflect on our aims for the year, and I realised I don’t actually have any Toastmasters-related aims.  I joined the club with the aims of improving my confidence, and to not be so nervous when I had to give presentations at work, and I have definitely achieved both of those things – I’ve spoken at conferences, and run meetings, and all sorts of things I couldn’t have imagined doing a few years ago.  And I’m not really interested in the competitive side of Toastmasters, or in learning to become a motivational speaker or anything like that – I’m good enough at public speaking for the kinds of public speaking I need to do, so I don’t feel greatly inspired to learn more.  Which means the only reason I was still going along to Toastmasters is for the social side, and I haven’t even been getting as much of that out of the club lately – a few of the people I used to get on with really well have left, and while new people have come along to replace them, it hasn’t really been the same (plus, as in any club, there’s one or two people who are annoying, and without the buffer of lots of people I do like, it’s harder to tolerate them).  Anyway, as this week is proving, I’m not exactly short of social activities!  So, as Tuesday was scheduled to be a short meeting followed by drinks, I decided to make that my last meeting, so I could go out with everyone for a drink afterwards and say goodbye.

Wednesday was a much more fun outing.  Jacq invited me to go to a recording of a podcast (The Nerd Degree) which their partner is sometimes in the cast for (though not for this episode).  It’s a brilliantly funny podcast, and even better in person (it was fun putting faces to the voices I’d been listening to online, plus you get to see all the facial expressions and other visual stuff that doesn’t translate to audio).  It’s recorded in a small studio in Ferrymead that’s just big enough to have a small audience (I think there were maybe 20 people there), so we were encouraged to make as much noise as possible with our applause so that it would seem like a bigger audience.  There was no problem with not making enough noise when it came to laughing – everyone was killing themselves with laughter!  They’ve got a small bar at the venue, plus you can order pizza to be delivered from Winne Bagoes, so we shared a couple of pizzas for dinner during the interval.  A great night all round (though very hard to wake up in time for work the next morning!)

Then last night I went round to Dana’s place to watch anime with her and her friends.  We’ve been watching a series called Inuyasha, and I can never remember the names of the characters, so I started calling them things like “Dog boy” (a lot of the characters are demons, so they look half human and half animal), “High school girl”, “Little fox boy” and so on.  Dana picked up on this, and now she sends me messages asking if I want to come round and watch Dog Boy with them :-)  It’s technically a children’s series, but it’s very entertaining, especially because we’re watching it in Japanese (with subtitles, of course!), so you get all those over-the-top anime voices.

I was actually double-booked for tonight, socially, because I’d invited Dan and his partner round for dinner, and then the Gwilks invited me over for a games evening.  But it turned out that Dan had to cancel, so it all worked out nicely, and now I’m going round to the Gwilks’ this evening (actually, I should really go and get myself some dinner, or I’ll be late – might have to finish this post off in another post tomorrow…)

Slowly falling apart… with childhood illnesses?

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

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

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

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

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

Saki and fireworks

And now, after all those lists, an actual post:

After a couple of days of hiding away from the world, I was feeling ready for human contact again, so a couple of invitations yesterday came just at the right moment.  First was to join Harvestbird for cake and afternoon tea in civilisation, before she heads off into the (relative) wilderness for a week with her family.    We successfully found cake at Church Corner, and spent an enjoyable afternoon dissecting popular culture (and, in particular, the new Star Wars film, which I’ve also been debating the merits of with Nephew #1 via email, so I now really need to go and see it again, so I can properly work out which of whose arguments I agree with :-) ).

Next, Dana invited me to join her and some friends for dinner at Bao Bar in Riccarton.  I’d never been there before, but was happily surprised by how good the food was.  It’s one of those places that occupies the nebulous space between fast food and a proper restaurant – they have a liquor licence and offer table service if you’re sitting upstairs (there are buttons on the tables to summon a waiter), but also do takeaways downstairs.  We shared some tasting plates (which included one of the few tofu dishes I’ve ever actually enjoyed) and dumplings, then tried a variety of “baogers” (bao buns stuffed with different meats), washed down with Champagne-style fizzy saki (which was very sweet, and very drinkable, though I could feel it going to my head pretty fast!).

After dinner we all went back to Dana’s place and played a rather chaotic board game involving a train robbery, complete with jumping from carriage to carriage, and the robbers all attempting to shoot and punch each other while stealing the loot and avoiding the sheriff.  I think I ended up coming last, but it was still a lot of fun.

A couple of the guests left after the game, as they had to go home to relieve their babysitter.  I considered leaving then too, as I had no particular desire to stay up to see the New Year in, but then someone suggested we could all walk down to Hagley Park to watch the fireworks at midnight, so I was talked into staying.  It was only about 11 pm by then, so in the meantime, Dana’s partner suggested setting up their virtual reality gear for a game.

As everyone else had had a go on it before, they gave me the first go (which actually turned out to be the only go, because by the time everything was set up, we didn’t have all that much time before we had to leave to get to the park on time).  I was a bit doubtful at first, because my previous experiences with VR a couple of years ago weren’t that impressive, but the technology has advanced very quickly – it was so much better than I’d expected.  It really did feel totally immersive (apart from occasionally feeling the cable wrap around my feet if I turned round too many times), and definitely felt like being in a physical space.  Even better, the controllers had amazing haptic feedback.  Dana’s partner set me up on an archery game, where I had to shoot barbarians storming a castle, and it really did feel like I was knocking an arrow into the bow and shooting.  I think I could have happily played that game for a very long time if we hadn’t had to go!

Just before 12 we walked down to the park, and got there just in time to hear the countdown and watch the fireworks.  We didn’t go into the official party area, but just sat by the duck pond behind the stage area, which was where they were letting the fireworks off from, so we got a fantastic view (there were quite a few people there already with cameras and tripods set up – wish I’d thought to bring my camera along!).  We sang Auld Lang Syne along with the crowd (and Mum, you’ll be glad to hear I even sang a verse of The Green Oak Tree (very quietly!) as we walked back through the park).

I’d been telling the others about New Years when I was a child, and how we used to go first footing, and Dana was fascinated by it all, so I suggested I could first foot her when we got back to her house.  It wasn’t a proper first footing, of course – I had to substitute a stick I picked up in the park for the piece of coal, and a couple of lollies I found in the bottom of my bag for the shortbread and whisky – but it’s the thought that counts, right? :-)   In return, Dana gave me a traditional Romanian blessing with a leafy branch, so a successful cultural exchange of good wishes for the coming year :-)

So it turned out to be a fun night, although a very late one – I was totally shattered by the time I got home!  Talking of which, I think an early night tonight would be a good idea.  So Happy New Year, everyone – I hope 2018 brings you joy.

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?

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:

Possibly not for the faint of heart

The conference went really well – our talk seemed to be well-received (my boss was in the audience, along with at least three other people I know as experts in digital archiving, and all were nodding at the right places, so I don’t think I said anything too stupid :-) ), and (once the stress of having to present was over with, so I could actually just relax and enjoy the rest of the conference) I met all sorts of interesting people, and learnt all sorts of interesting things.

Here’s our presentation, if you’re interested:

[Ok, so apparently I can’t embed a YouTube video here (weird, I thought I’d done it before, but maybe not) – oh well, you’ll just have to cope with a link instead (Later: I finally figured it out, so I can actually embed the video)]

I was seriously exhausted (and totally peopled-out) by the time I got back to Christchurch though. Three days of conference is way too much pretending to be an extrovert for me!

I was also exhausted because my sore tooth, although never seriously painful, had been low-level achy for long enough that I was getting pretty run down (which is mostly why I haven’t been posting much – I haven’t had a lot of mental energy for anything for the last couple of weeks).  I’ve never been looking forward to a dentist appointment as much as I was by Wednesday!

I don’t remember much about the surgery itself, because they gave me intravenous sedation, so I spent the whole time in an only semi-awake state.  Every so often something would be particularly sore, or the noise would get particularly gruesome, and I’d half wake up, groan a bit, feel them stick some more local into my jaw, and I’d drift off again.  Having sedation definitely makes the time go faster, but on the down side, I reckon they’re not as gentle with you when you’re not fully concious, because I was feeling very bruised and battered the next day!

Harvestbird came to pick me up after the surgery was finished, and (after an entertaining walk to her car, with lots of staggering around on my part because I couldn’t walk in a straight line) took me home.  She settled me onto the couch, where (after dribbling blood all over myself when I attempted to take a sip of water with a numb mouth…) I promptly fell asleep for the rest of the afternoon.  Harvestbird told me later that she’d had a very productive afternoon getting a load of work done on her laptop while I slept, which made me feel a lot less guilty about her having to take the afternoon off to babysit me (because of the sedation, she was under instructions from the dentist not to leave me alone for at least 4 hours until the effects wore off).

Along with the usual envelope full of dressings, and prescription for antibiotics and painkillers, the dentist handed over another envelope as we left, which on later inspection turned out to contain my wisdom teeth.  I have absolutely no idea why he would give me them – I would have assumed they’d just go straight into medical waste.  I wonder if he asked me, in my drugged state, if I wanted them, to which I’m sure my inner 10 year old would have enthusiastically responded “Cool, yes please!”.

My outer not-10 year old is equal parts fascinated and repulsed by them (warning, seriously gross picture ahead (although, by the time you’ve scrolled down to read this bit, you’ve probably already seen what’s coming… sorry!))

To refresh your mental palates after that, here’s a pretty picture of the flowers Harvestbird bought me to cheer me in my recovery:

Not enough? Look, more pretty!

With three large holes in the back of my mouth, I’m still in a bit of pain, but it’s definitely improving. And after I get the stitches out next week (and the really painful bit, paying the bill!), hopefully that will be the end of my dental adventures (and being in pain) for a while!

In other news, my little cucumber and watermelon plants are still struggling along. I repotted them into real pots (which I’m sure are nowhere near big enough, but they’ll just have to cope, because it’s all I’ve got), and they’re sitting outside on the front step now, along with the mint jungle, and last year’s fennel and spring onion which somehow came back to life this year. I almost feel like a real gardener (nah, not really – those 5 little pots are pretty much the limit of my patience for gardening!).

Talking of not gardening, it is a gorgeous sunny day today (according to the met service it’s already 29°), so I think it’s time to abandon the computer and go and find a nice cool spot under a tree somewhere to read a book.

Checking in from Wellington

Yep, I’m back in Wellington again, for another conference. A bit different than the last one though – this time it’s the National Digital Forum, a conference/gathering for people on the technical side of the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) sector. Somehow I don’t think we’ll be decorating our name tags with glitter and rainbow stickers this time…
I’m going to be presenting at this conference – well, co-presenting – one of the developers who’s been working with us to migrate our archive to a new system and I are going to be talking about the migration. I’ve got the easy half – I just have to talk about the background to CEISMIC (which I’ve done so many times I could do it in my sleep, I reckon!) and why we made the decision to migrate. My co-presenter gets to talk about all the (potentially boring, depending on the audience) technical stuff about how it was actually done.
The conference doesn’t start until tomorrow (Monday), but I came up on Saturday so I could have a weekend in Wellington. The original plan was to catch up with Discoverylover again, but she was away for the weekend (although we’re going to try and meet up for dinner tonight), so instead I’ve had a nice lazy weekend wandering around the city.
My first few hours in Wellington I spent shopping – yeah, it’s not my normal choice for a holiday activity, but the change in season has meant I’ve dug all my summer clothes out of my wardrobe and realised how old and worn out everything is looking, so I really need some new stuff. So, rather than face the horror of the malls in Christchurch, I decided to take advantage of being in a “proper” city that actually has shops in its CBD, and try and find something up here. I wasn’t overly successful – every shop seemed to be full of the same boring pastel palette of pale pink, pale grey, and pale blue, none of which colours greatly appeal to me. I ended up buying a pale blue shirt just so I’d have at least one tidy thing to wear to the conference, and I did manage to find a couple of pairs of jeans, but otherwise completely failed in my mission. Oh well, looks like I’ll either have to make my old clothes last out another season (and hope for a drastic change in the fashion next year), or bite the bullet and succumb to the pastel tide.
Eventually, having seen more pale pastels in one morning than anyone needs to see in a lifetime, I gave up on the shopping concept, and went and sat in a café to read a book – much more my scene!
I spotted a poster for a production of Venus in Furs at the Circa. As I’d missed it when it was at the Court, I decided to see if I could get a ticket. Luckily they had seats left for that evening, so after a quick dinner I went to the theatre. I knew very little about the play, other than it was loosely adapted from Sacher-Masoch’s novel, but I’d heard good things about it. It was definitely worth seeing – it’s emotionally fraught, as you’d expect, but lightened up by just enough comedy to keep it away from melodrama. The actor playing Thomas/Severin (who’d also directed the play, in a nice parallel with the plot…) was a bit disappointing – it was hard to tell sometimes if he wasn’t that great an actor, or if he was just playing a bad actor, but given that he seemed to stumble over his lines a couple of times when he wasn’t in character (there’s a play within the play, so the two actors play both themselves and their characters in the play), I think it was the former. The actor playing Wanda was great though – she transformed herself amazingly between the three characters.
There was a production of Peter Pan on in the Circa’s other stage, so it was a bit disconcerting to emerge from the highly charged ending of the play (which ends with one of the characters tied to a post, humiliated and emotionally destroyed) into a foyer filled with small children waiting for the actors from that show to emerge from the stage door and sign autographs!
(Later that night – just got back from dinner with Discoverylover – great to catch up with her, although we realised it’s only just over a month since we last saw each other, in Stewart Island, so there wasn’t actually all that much catching up to do. We had a good chat, anyway (and ran into my co-presenter, who happened to be having dinner in the same restaurant!))
This morning I decided to try walking up to the top of Mt Victoria (not as impressive a feat as it sound – Mt Victoria is more of a large hill than a real mountain). It wasn’t as long a walk as I’d expected (though it is very steep – I suspect my legs are going to be complaining tomorrow!) – it only took me about half an hour to reach the lookout at the top. There’s great views up there, across the city, the harbour, and out to the airport. It really makes you appreciate what a tiny strip of land the airport sits on when you see it from that angle! It’s quite a busy spot, too, although most people had driven up instead of walked (although I did pass quite a few people on the walking track).
After I left the lookout, I walked further along the track to a former pa site (Maori fortification) – there wasn’t much to see there, other than an information board, but you could see why it would have made a great defensive position. In theory I could have kept following the track all the way out to the south coast, but I didn’t want to end up on the airport side of the hill and have a really long way to get back, so I found a track heading down the Wellington side of the hill and took that instead. It ended up taking me down to Wellington College, where I got a bit lost trying to figure out how to get back to the road without trespassing (there was a rather ambiguous “no unauthorised entry” sign), but a groundskeeper doing some overtime work pointed me in the right direction in the end.
The rest of the day I spent quite lazily – what was meant to be a quick stop back at the hostel turned into falling asleep for an hour, when I made the mistake of sitting down in the patch of sunshine that was lying across my bed… When I eventually roused myself to go out, it was only to find a café where I could sit and read the afternoon away – I am on holiday, after all! :-)
(Apologies for the lack of photos, by the way – I had to choose between the carry-on bag that fits my camera, or the one that fits my laptop, and as I’m up here to go to a digital forum, the laptop had to take priority. So no photos of the amazing view from the lookout this morning, sorry.)

To go back in time a bit, I spent Friday afternoon (which was Show Day, so a public holiday in Christchurch) at a “Showsgiving” dinner, which is a combined American and Canadian Thanksgiving dinner held on Show Day (I’m sure that was obvious from the name, though, wasn’t it?) It’s the invention of a few of the North American postgrads from the Linguistics department, who were missing their respective traditional holidays, so decided to put on a combined dinner, but picked Show Day (instead of either of the actual Thanksgiving dates) because it’s a holiday. Over the last couple of years it has grown to include most of the Ling postgrads (of many different nationalities), various friends and friends-of-friends from outside Linguistics, so there’s now 20-odd people who attend.
They held it at a community centre in Richmond (right on the edge of the residential red zone – I arrived a bit early, so went for a bit of a walk, and it’s so surreal out there – just crumbling streets and emptiness, with lines of bushes and trees still delineating where property boundaries would have been), which is in a lovely old heritage building that had at various times been a school and a youth hostel.
It was a really fun afternoon, with lots of good food (it was pot luck, so given the variety of nationalities involved, there were many interesting dishes, plus a gigantic turkey!), and it was great to feel like I was part of the Linguistics department again for an afternoon (makes me reconsider my decision not to do a PhD just yet…)
Anyway, have to get up early tomorrow to check out of the hostel and transfer to the hotel the university is putting me up in for the conference (I wasn’t going to pay hotel prices for the extra nights I’m here – the YHA is fine!), before I need to be at Te Papa for the first workshop.