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…)

Progress, and not so much progress

My plan to use spare half hours to sew failed the moment the really cold weather set in, because I’d forgotten just how cold the study can get in winter (for some reason to do with the way the hallway bends just before the door to the study, the warmth from the fire, which happily heats the rest of the house, never quite reaches the study).  So dragging myself away from my comfy chair in front of the fire into the inadequately heated by a small fan heater study was a struggle – one which the warm and comfy chair usually won.

I also haven’t been feeling all that creative anyway – we’re still attempting to recruit new staff at work (I won’t go into the details of why the process is dragging on so long, because it reflects badly on the professionalism of people in certain parts of the organisation, but let’s just say there have been some unnecessary delays), so I’m still trying to juggle the work of three people on my own – thankfully everyone else involved in the projects I’m working on has been very understanding that I can’t do everything at once (and in some cases have just had to put projects on hold for a while), but it’s still pretty stressful and exhausting keeping everything going, so I’ve been pretty much feeling like crashing when I get home (not helped by being out being social three nights out of four last week!).  I am so looking forward to getting some new staff!!!

Anyway, as a result I haven’t got very far on sewing all those nine-patches together (also, sewing them together is a very slow process, because there are SO MANY seams to match!  I really didn’t think about that when I was designing the quilt!).  But I’ve got a few rows sewn together at least:

And I have made good use of sitting in front of the fire time to put the binding on the jelly roll race quilt. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out:

My quilting is still a long way from perfect, but it’s definitely improving, and basting it on the kitchen table definitely worked, because there’s no stray tucks or pleats in the fabric on the back.

The being super-social last week was probably a bad idea, considering how tired I was, but it was fun.  On Tuesday night I was the Toastmaster (ie Chair) for our Toastmasters meeting, which not only involves a lot of work during the meeting introducing speakers and keeping the meeting running to time, but also meant I spent most of the weekend emailing back and forth with people making sure that all the speaking roles were filled, and finding replacements for last minute apologies.  The meeting went really well though, and finished almost exactly on time, so I was happy with my efforts.

Then on Wednesday night there was a quiz night for the College.  Seeing as we didn’t have enough staff to put together a team from the Lab, I joined my former colleagues from English, and despite a not great start (and the fact that the quiz was one of those franchised ones that are never as good as when the organisers just put the questions together themselves – very heavily skewed towards rugby and pop culture, and of course never any science questions, which incites me to rant about the state of society and why are people so scared of science…) we somehow ended up winning.  Despite my reservations about the quiz format, it was a lot of fun. It definitely helped that nobody was taking the quiz too seriously (first prize was a “gold” cup from the $2 shop, and some coffee vouchers for one of the campus cafes, so it wasn’t exactly high stakes :-) ), so there was much silliness going on, and attempts to bribe the judges, and much friendly rivalry going on between our table and the History department table next to us (they came second in the end).

Then on Thursday night I went to the crafting meetup group, which I probably should have skipped seeing as it was the third night in a row I was out late, but I hadn’t been able to make it for a few weeks so thought I really should go along.  It was over in Linwood, which is always a pain to get to (especially as they’d had some sort of power outage or something at the bus exchange, so the real time arrivals system was down and you just had to guess when your bus would show up and at what end of the bus exchange), but I made it over there eventually, and did actually have a nice evening.  Luckily someone offered me a lift home, so at least I didn’t have to battle the bus exchange chaos again getting home, but I think I might skip the meetups on that side of town for a while, at least until the evenings get lighter again so that I can just catch a bus that takes me in vaguely the right direction and then walk, rather than having to find the combination of buses that will take me close enough to not have to walk too far in the dark.

Anyway, talking of walking, it is actually a nice day today, so I think I will abandon my computer now and go for a nice walk and enjoy the sunshine for a while.  The way the weather had been lately, it could be weeks before I see the sun again!

Cat on a cold tin roof

Amazingly, the sun actually came out over the weekend, and the forecast for Thursday and Friday is now just “drizzle at time”, rather than rain.  Drizzle at times I can handle.  Drizzle at times means just ducking under the shelter of the marquee for a few minutes until the sun comes out again.  Drizzle at times won’t rain out my party.

I spotted the neighbour’s cat making the most of the sunshine on the roof of my garage yesterday morning.  I’m not sure how he got up there, but given that I know he can leap to the top of the fence easily enough, the extra leap to the roof probably isn’t that tricky.

I had an incredibly busy weekend (and this week is going to be even busier!). On Saturday morning I met up with Lytteltonwitch and we went to the Food Show. Like last year, I got sent free tickets from a PR company (so I probably should have got round to posting something about it before the show was over, so that you’d have the chance to go if liked my pretty pictures, but like I said, too busy…). I don’t know if it was just because it was the second year I’ve been, or because I’ve got a million other things on my mind at the moment, but I wasn’t as impressed by it this year as I was last year – there seemed to be fewer exhibitors (or maybe just fewer exhibitors with products I was interested in), and the celebrity chefs on offer didn’t inspire me greatly (although that’s a matter of personal choice – I know lots of people were raving over Annabel Langbein being there, but she doesn’t really do much for me). However, there was still quite a lot to see: creatively presented exhibits, “health” foods made out of every ingredient you could imagine (my favourite was the raspberry and artichoke (and possibly garlic – it wasn’t entirely clear from their signage) dip), inventive products you never knew you needed, and people in silly hats. And of course, many many free samples. Definitely didn’t need lunch after doing the rounds of the exhibits!

I even bought something – some beeswax-infused cloths that you can use to wrap food instead of using gladwrap or plastic bags. I seem to go through a vast amount of gladwrap taking lunch to work, so we’ll see if these work out better. Or whether I just get lazy about the extra effort of cleaning the cloth each time I use it, and go back to quick and easy plastic…

After we left the Food Show, I dashed up to Northlands to buy some almost last minute bits and pieces for my party, then back home to get ready to go out again. Dana, one of our volunteers, had invited me to her birthday party, at a karaoke bar. I was a bit doubtful about the karaoke, having only experienced it (or rather, avoided it) in the “getting up to sing in front of a bar full of drunken idiots” NZ version, but this turned out to be the more traditional version. Our party (only 8 people) had a private room, which made the idea of singing much less intimidating (especially as none of Dana’s other friends knew me, so I didn’t mind making a fool of myself in front of them :-)). Dana spent a few years living in Japan, and speaks Japanese fluently, so the party was a mix of about half Japanese (or Japanese-speaking) people, and the other half Pakeha NZers, and the music choices reflected that – we were going from anime theme tunes to Disney musicals, and pop songs from half a dozen countries. It turned out to be a lot more fun than I expected, and the three hours we had the room booked for flew past very quickly!

On Sunday, Harvestbird came round for a graduation hair rehearsal. She’s been learning to do all sorts of fancy hair braiding (one of the perils of having two daughters, apparently), so offered to do something clever with my hair for graduation. So while the girls were occupied making decorations for the party, she experimented with various styles, and managed to come up with something that should look good under a trencher, without being too “girly” (the main two instructions I gave her :-)). Photos will of course follow at a later date.

Then I had to get dressed up to go out again, this time for dinner with Pieta, a friend from work. She’s away for Easter, and was most disappointed she wouldn’t be able to make it to my party, so suggested we go out for dinner to celebrate instead. We went to Strawberry Fare, which I haven’t been to for years – it’s expensive, but the food (ok, the desserts – nobody goes to Strawberry Far for the mains, they’re just what you order so you can pretend you’re a responsible adult) is really good. And the service has definitely improved from what it was like before the earthquakes – you actually get the kind of service you’d expect for the prices, now.

Pieta has been learning to weave, and gave me a lovely bouquet of flax flowers she’d spent the day weaving:

So yeah, a very full weekend. Tonight I’m going to a sciency/mathsy stand-up show, then tomorrow I’ve got a full-day workshop at work, and in the evening there’s a Toastmasters meeting, and a farewell for one of our members, then on Wednesday I’ve got to pick up my graduation regalia, and organise some more last-minute stuff, then family are arriving in the evening, then Thursday is graduation, then Fuzzle arrives that night, and Friday is my party, and on Saturday I’m taking the kids to the Crate Escape for their joint belated/early birthday present… and I’m already feeling exhausted just thinking about it! Good thing Easter and ANZAC Day fall so close together this year, so I can take the few days off in between and have a nice long break – I’m going to need it!

Scrappy bits

So much for my good intentions of regularly posting to my blog – that seems to have fallen by the wayside a bit!  Partly because I’ve been busy (last week I went to Toastmasters on Tuesday night, my craft group on Thursday night, and a union Rainbow Te Kahukura function on Friday night.  And this week there’s Toastmasters on Tuesday (which I’m meant to be giving a speech at – I’d better do some practising!), then a Women’s March Aotearoa kōrero on Wednesday, and I’m going to a movie with Lytteltonwitch on Friday (theoretically I should also be going to the craft group on Thursday, but four nights out in a row seems a bit excessive!).  I really need to slow down a bit, don’t I? :-) ), but mostly it’s because I wanted to report progress on my Flower Garden quilt, but it’s too hard to take a decent photo of it, so I’ve been putting it off until it’s finished, which means I’ve also been putting off blogging.

So instead, here’s a not decent photo of the quilt, all folded up and waiting for me to have a quiet evening or three to hand-stitch the binding down.

Which means yes, the quilting is finally finished! It took way longer than I expected – I’d underestimated just how much area a full size quilt has, and it’s not the sort of project you can work on for 10 minutes at a time – you really need to spend an hour or so (or I do, anyway) to get properly into the rhythm of the quilting. Which means you have to have lots of hour or so long chunks of time free, and see above for how that hasn’t really been happening. But anyway, I finished the quilting last weekend, then made the binding yesterday, so now I just have to do the hand-stitching bit (I could machine sew the binding down, but I struggle to keep it looking neat even on a small quilt, so I thought it’s probably safest to hand sew this one, rather than trying to struggle with sewing a super-accurate tiny hem on such a huge heavy quilt!)

While I was making the binding, I started playing with the little scraps I was cutting off the fabric, which led to more playing with the collection of tiny bits in my scrap basket (and adding in a few stray blocks I’d made while experimenting with some other ideas), which evolved into the beginnings of an idea I’ve had in the back of my mind for ages – a truly scrappy quilt, with no pattern, just randomly throwing together whatever scraps I had to hand, whether they go together or not.  A bit like what I did when I made my hot water bottle cover, but on a bigger scale, and with a bit of inspiration drawn from Deb Robertson’s exhibition of scrappy quilts (which I didn’t make time to go and see in person, and really wish I had!), and from this quilt (though mine is made up of *much* smaller pieces!).  By the end of the day yesterday I had several decent-sized blocks:

They’re all different sizes, and I haven’t squared them up properly, but the idea is that I’ll build them up until they’re the same height at least, then I can sew them together into a row, and continue the process until I’ve got a quilt.  It’s going to be ugly and scrappy, and completely uncoordinated, with hardly a straight line in sight, but hopefully the overall effect will be something cool (and if not, who cares – the only fabric it’s costing me is bits I would have thrown out otherwise, and it’ll still do its job of keeping someone warm).  And in the meantime, I’m having fun, and learning a lot.


Today was the sixth anniversary of the 22 February earthquake.  The big event for the day was the unveiling of the new memorial wall, much discussed and debated over the last few years.  We needed a blog post for CEISMIC, so I offered to go to the ceremony and write up my impressions.  I won’t repeat what I wrote there, but, just because it’s pretty, here’s another photo from the ceremony that didn’t make it into the official blog:

And a sign I was amused by when I stopped to get lunch on my way back to work (do you think maybe someone was feeling a bit frustrated by the endless roadworks?):

I was quite glad to have the excuse to sit under a tree and just listen to speeches and music for a large chunk of today, because last night was my Toastmasters club’s speech competition, and somehow (for “somehow”, read “because I’m useless at saying no to people”) I got roped into being the contest chair.  Which was kind of stressful, because apparently our last competition (which I’d missed) was a complete shambles, so there was a lot of pressure to get everything right this time (especially as we had guests from other clubs present!).  Luckily, there’s a script to follow for a lot of the chairing (because things like how you introduce the contestants and explain the rules are all tightly regulated), but there was still a shaky moment when I almost forgot to allow the judges time between contestants to fill out their score cards (ok, I actually did forget, but luckily someone sitting in the front row realised what I was about to do, and managed to signal me in time).

Anyway, it all went pretty well in the end, but it was a long night, and I was feeling exhausted when I got home.  So it was nice to have a relatively quiet day today!

I’ve made a bit of progress on the flower garden quilt. It’s slow going though, having to stop so often to shift the heavy quilt around. It’s made me realise I need a more ergonomic setup for my sewing machine, because after a few hours of working on it at the weekend I was hurting in all sorts of places. I might have to look at getting a proper sewing table that’s at the right height, instead of just using the desk.

I haven’t taken a proper photo of progress so far, because that would involve moving furniture again so I could spread it out properly, but here’s a sneak peak of the folded-up version. I’ve pretty much just got the border area to quilt (you normally start in the centre and work gradually outwards when you’re quilting), which doesn’t seem much, but is actually a lot of surface area.

I’m getting impatient to get it finished, because I there’s so many other projects I want to start.  Not that having one project on the go has ever prevented me from starting another, but I’ve got the sewing machine set up to do free-motion quilting at the moment, so I don’t want to have to keep switching it back and forth between that and normal sewing (hmm, the solution here is obviously to have multiple sewing machines, each set up for a different function ;-))

In the meantime, as an outlet for my “I want to start something new!” frustration, I made another dishcloth, so that I’ll have a spare for when the first one needs washing.  I didn’t have enough of the multi-coloured wool to make a whole cloth, and I haven’t figured out yet how to change wools when crocheting, so I decided to knit it rather than crochet this time.

Knitting is definitely one of those skills that falls under the category of “technically I know how to do it, but I’m pretty rubbish at it in reality”, so it’s a bit all over the place in terms of tension (and definitely in terms of casting on, which I kind of forgot how to do so just made it up as I went along), but again, it’s a dishcloth. It’s going in the sink, so perfection is definitely not required.  So despite its many flaws, I’m counting it as a success :-)


Back to work today (yesterday was Waitangi Day), to hundreds of emails, and struggling to get back up to speed with all the projects we’ve got on the go, but I’m sure by the end of the week it’ll feel like I was never away.  It did feel very good to be able to shut down my computer and go home at 5 pm, and know I didn’t have to squeeze in an hour or two of study in the evening!

To continue the theme of returning to normality, I went to my first Toastmasters meeting in forever this evening.  I even had a role, so I couldn’t ease back in to it gradually.  I was the Table Topics Master, which meant I had to come up with the topics for the impromptu speeches part of the evening.  I picked a nice easy theme (well, easy for me, anyway :-) ) – I printed out a whole load of random words on slips of paper, and the speakers had to pull three out of a hat (actually, it was a bag, but you get the idea) and use them to tell a story.  It worked really well, and everyone had lots of fun with it, so a good choice.

Coming second best is close to ideal

Actually, it is totally ideal when winning means you have to go on to the next heats in the competition, and you only entered on a whim and don’t have time (or inclination) to compete seriously.  In that situation, second place is the perfect result. So I’m very pleased with the second place certificate I got last night at my Toastmaster’s club competitions, especially as I hadn’t even realised it was competition night – I haven’t been along for a few weeks, so thought I’d better go to a meeting, and when I got there, discovered it was a competition, and was suddenly having my arm twisted to enter the Table Topics (impromptu speaking) competition, because they didn’t have enough competitors.

Not knowing about the competition in advance meant that I didn’t have time to get nervous, at least, especially because when they did the draw I got to speak first (which meant I didn’t have to go and sit in another room waiting my turn (because everyone gets the same topic in a competition, they sequester the contestants so that you can’t get ideas from the previous speakers), so no time to get nervous waiting either).  So I was up and speaking before I had time to think about it, and was really relaxed as a result.  I was pretty pleased with how I’d spoken (the topic was “If you could be an Olympian, which sport would you choose and why?” – so I talked about learning archery at high school, and how Neroli Fairhall (a NZer who was the first paraplegic to compete in the able-bodied Olympics) had been my hero.), and thought I had a pretty good chance of getting third (because I went first, I got to watch everyone else’s speeches, and knew that one speaker had done way better than me (to my relief – I wasn’t joking above about second place being ideal – I really didn’t want to win and have to go on to compete against other clubs!), and another had done, I thought, slightly better.  So I was very pleased at the end of the evening to discover that the judges had actually put me in second place.

(Oh, and the title is a line from a song – I can’t remember what the song is actually called (and am too lazy to Google it), but I do know it’s by Catatonia.  Just in case you thought it was some random phrase I pulled out of thin air.)

I don’t think I mentioned in my last post that I had a nice surprise last week – a phone call from the refugee woman I used to tutor.  For various reasons we hadn’t been able to continue our regular lessons, and she’d moved house so we lost touch a few years ago.  But she’d been cleaning out a cupboard and had come across one of her old workbooks, with my phone number written in it, so gave me a call.  We arranged to meet up, so she came round to visit on Saturday, and had a great chat (even if we probably each only understood about three quarters of what the other was trying to convey – her English is still pretty limited, although she’s picked up a lot more in the intervening years, and is still just as confident as ever about diving in and using the words and phrases she does know, even if she hasn’t always got the syntax to string them together properly).  She brought me presents, too – she and her husband went to Mecca last year for the Hajj, and had also been back to Afghanistan briefly to see family, so she brought me back scarves and jewellery from Medina and Kabul.  I was totally stunned by the gifts, but she said she thought of me as her NZ sister, and had been thinking of me all this time, and was so sorry to have lost touch for so long.

It’s great to be back in touch with her – I’ll have to make sure I make space in my schedule to meet up with her regularly so that we don’t loose touch again.

Stencil all the things

While I was in the midst of studying, every time I got invited to do anything my response would be “I’ll be free in November” – with the result that my social calendar is full to overflowing this month.  Last weekend was the Auckland Uncon, of course (which I promise to write a proper blog post about sometime, but I haven’t had time to go through all my photos yet), and then this weekend I went to a “French chic” furniture-painting class with a Toastmasters friend.

I had very little idea of what the class would involve (or even whether anything described as “French chic” would at all suit my own personal taste), but I found an old table on trademe that I thought I might be able to turn into something useable, but was cheap enough that I didn’t care if I ruined it, and Mum sent me up an old wooden tray/box thing that she was tired of, so armed with those two potential projects (and my camera, of course), I headed off to Leeston.

I forgot to take proper ‘before’ shots, but here’s the side table just before I started to paint,

and the tray after sanding and wood-filler, part-way through its first coat:

And here’s the table after its first coat of paint. Not looking too impressive yet.

Slightly better after a second coat:

The tray still only has its interior painted, because I was still waiting for the filler to dry properly. Because my two projects were so small, I had a lot more waiting for paint to dry than most of the others in the class, who were doing big pieces of furniture so by the time they’d done a coat on one piece, the other would have dried. So the tutor gave me another project – a wooden bowl she’d picked up at a garage sale for a couple of dollars. Again, I didn’t take a before photo, but you can see it sitting on the ground in the above picture, after a couple of coats of blue paint.

The tutor suggested I ‘distress’ the edges a bit (in other words sand back the paint slightly), then try one of her collection of stencils on it.  My choices were pretty limited, because it had to be able to fit inside the bowl, and most of her stencils were on huge sheets, but we eventually found a small enough one:

It wasn’t the design I would have picked myself, but the end result turned out not bad (the shading effect was completely accidental, due to the paint tray I was using having some old black paint on it that bled into the white I was using, but I liked the effect, so left it as it was):

Now that I was such an expert stenciller (well, as long as you don’t look *too* closely at the edges…) I decided to have a go on the tray as well. Again, my choices were limited by size, and because the tray had a lip around the bottom that the stiff stencils couldn’t bend past, so I could only choose designs that were right on the edge of the sheets.

I would have liked to have tried out a few other things on the tray, but I was running short of time by now, and I really wanted to back to finishing off my table, so I decided to leave it at that. I do still need to wax it though (which is what seals the water-based paint) – I’ll do that sometime over the next few weekends, whenever I find one of those mythical spare moments everyone keeps talking about…

With the table I had a totally flat surface, so I could finally use one of the stencils that were more to my taste. It took me forever to get it exactly centred though! The tutor gave me some gold “rub and buff” to highlight the edges before I waxed the table, and I reckon it turned out pretty well:

And here it is in situ. I didn’t actually plan for it to match my armchair (in fact, I’d intended to put it in the sunroom, not the lounge), but it does perfectly!

And a few more photos to show you what everyone else in the class was working on:

After I got home from the furniture painting, I had time for a quick shower to scrub the paint off myself, then I was back out again, for dinner with Harvestbird.  She’s taken on a new high-level role at work that’s been keeping her incredibly busy, so between the packed schedules of the two of us we haven’t been able to manage our regular lunches lately.  So dinner, followed by a nice long wander around town in search of late-night cake, was a welcome chance to catch up, and a lot of fun.

However, by Sunday I was totally socialled-out for the weekend, so I passed on going to the bookcrossing meetup (a pity, because Lytteltonwitch emailed me later to say that it was a really good one, with lots of people turning up), and instead spent the day cleaning the house (which it seriously needed, having not been home last weekend to do it), and playing around with my Christmas stars project a bit more:

I’m not 100% happy with my fabric choices on the star furthest from the camera (I used up the fabric I’d wanted to use on my first attempt that went wonky), but the overall effect is not too bad. If it looks ok once I quilt it, it might even make a good Christmas present for someone. Assuming I find some of that mythical free time between now and Christmas… I already have five Christmas party invitations in my diary, and it’s not even December yet.

Falafels and an oops

Quarter to seven, and I’m still at work.  Don’t worry, I’m not actually working though – I’m not high enough up the food chain to be willing to do unpaid overtime!  I was putting the final touches on my presentation on Bislama that we’re giving to the local Vanuatu community on Sunday, then I remembered that my favourite souvlaki food truck (I lived off his product after the earthquakes, when all the campus cafes were closed – well, I’d get lunch from him once a week, anyway – often enough that he’d recognise me and give me extra hummus :-) ) is on campus during the evenings over the exam period, catering to students who are spending long hours in the library and want food after the cafes have closed.  So I decided that rather than go home and heat up some leftovers for dinner I’d stop off at his truck.  It’s still just as good as I remembered (he makes the best falafels I’ve eaten outside the Middle East), and he even remembered me, so yep, I got extra hummus!  Anyway, rather than spill it all over myself attempting to eat it while walking, or sitting outside in the cold, I brought it back up to my office where I could eat in comfort.  So I’m just browsing the internet while I eat.

Had a bit of an oops moment last night. Now that all the study panic is over, I’ve started going back to Toastmasters again.  The meetings are held in the church across the street from me, and last night just as I was about to leave the house, I looked out the window and noticed everyone was standing out on the steps of the church in the rain, which meant the person with the keys was running late.  So I did a quick check that the house was tidy enough to invite everyone back to my place to shelter while we waited, walked across the street… and realised I’d just locked myself out.  I’d been so busy thinking about whether the house was presentable I completely forgot to pick my keys up off the table where I’d just put them down!

So instead of being a hero providing a warm dry space for everyone to wait, I instead had to sheepishly ask for help breaking into my house… (I could have rung Harvestbird, who’s my emergency spare key keeper, but I didn’t really want to drag her out half way across town on a cold wet night, so I kept that as my back-up plan if the breaking in didn’t work).  Luckily, one of the guys turned out to be very skilled at getting into locked houses (I’d be worried at how good he is at it, if I didn’t know him so well – I did joke to him though that if I ever get burgled, I’ll know who to send the police round to visit! :-) ), so we managed to get in and I could retrieve my keys.  By that time the person with the church keys had arrived, so I wasn’t any help with keeping everyone dry, but at least I provided them with something to talk about while they waited…

It’s only the second time I’ve managed to lock myself out of the house (and the other was because I’d given my keys to mum when she was visiting, thinking she’d be home before me, but I got home first, so doesn’t really count), so it was pretty embarrassing to do it so publicly in front of my entire Toastmaster club.  But I’m also kind of glad I did, because I had so many willing helpers.  Don’t think I’ll live it down for quite some time, though…

Right, finished my dinner now, so I’m off home.  I need to read my presentation to the cat a few dozen times before Sunday so I’m confident pronouncing all those Bislama words!