Space Cake and other adventures

Great, I had my first asthma attack of the winter this morning, and winter doesn’t even start until tomorrow. Ironically, the asthma was brought on by the antihistamine I took to try and prevent an asthma attack – allergies are one of my main asthma triggers, but usually if I take an antihistamine as soon as I feel the first signs of an allergic reaction then it doesn’t develop into asthma. The trouble is, the pill went down the wrong way this morning, and the choking-on-a-pill coughing set off a bout of asthma coughing. Luckily, my asthma attacks are always mild, so not at all life-threatening, but they’re still annoying, because they leave me feeling light-headed for the rest of the day.

I never did get to sit on a jury last week. However, I did get called in virtually every day, and had to go through the whole rigmarole of sitting around in the jury assembly room waiting to see if my name got drawn. Oh well, at least it meant I got a lot of reading done ā€“ unfortunately, most of it was background reading for my linguistics paper, which Iā€™d got way behind on, so lots of dry research papers rather than tackling Mount TBR.

Of course, not knowing from day to day whether I’d be at work or not (and spending most mornings sitting at the court waiting to find out) meant a very disrupted work week, so I’ve been flat out this week trying to catch up. And it’s just coming into one of our busy periods. Which, combined with the end of semester study panic (test on Monday, assignment due next Friday, exam in a couple of weeks), kind of explains why I’ve been a bit slack lately about updating my diary (or reading anyone else’s – at last count there were 75 notifications from friends’ diaries in my inbox that I haven’t had time to read).

I have had time for some fun stuff though. It was Nephew#1’s 6th birthday on Sunday, so to celebrate they all came down to Christchurch for an “adventures with Auntie” weekend. They arrived late Friday night, and after the obligatory game of Lego Star Wars on the playstation we managed to get the kids to bed, and then we adults had a very late night catching up on all our respective news (Brother and SIL have just bought a house in Alexandra in preparation for their move down there to take over Dad’s business at the end of the year, so it was exciting to hear all their plans).

The late night was a bad idea, because the kids were wide awake well before first light and raring to get started on their adventures. But MrPloppy and I had a bookcrossing meetup to go to first (breakfast at Trattorie, organised when we thought Brother & co. would be driving down on Saturday morning so wouldn’t arrive until lunchtime), so we organised breakfast for everyone, got the kids and Brother installed on the playstation again, and SIL went off to visit some friends while we were out at breakfast. (More on the meetup later)

We were home from the meetup by 10.30, so we still had most of the day left for adventures. Brother’s car can’t fit us all when the kids are in their car seats so we made a virtue out of a necessity and made the first adventure a ride in the bus šŸ™‚ The kids got to choose where we went first, and Nephew#1’s pick was the museum. He’s just started to get the hang of how maps work, so we picked up a floor plan from the information desk, and he chose our path through the museum, which took us through an interesting mix of galleries šŸ™‚ The highlight for the kids was definitely the geology hall, where we saw a dinosaur, a meteorite (“just like the asteroids they fly through in Star Wars, except those are bigger”), and fluorescing minerals.

After a totally uninspiring lunch in the museum cafe (we did discuss going over to the food stalls at the Arts Centre, but thought the cafe would be quicker), the next adventure was a ride on the tram (horribly expensive, but the kids thought it was fun). We got off the tram at the Square for our next adventure: the aquarium. The kids had been reading a book about fish, so we had lots of fun identifying as many as we could (and making up names for the ones we couldn’t :-)), playing with the anemones in the touch tank, and watching the antics of the octopus.

We spent a couple of hours at the aquarium, by which time the kids were getting tired (especially Nephew#2, who was almost asleep on his feet), so we caught the bus back home, and SIL and I went out to buy supplies for dinner while the kids… guess what? yep, playstation again! (sometimes I think that’s the only reason they get so excited about visiting us – I’ve told my brother he’s never allowed to buy them their own copy of Lego Star Wars, or we’d never see them :-))

Dinner was pizza, which Nephew#1 helped me make (he sprinkled on the toppings that I chopped up), and after dinner when it was dark outside we had our next adventure. While the kids had been occupied with the playstation earlier Brother had snuck outside and set up a treasure hunt in the back yard. It was a Star Wars themed hunt, and he’d set up little dioramas all over the place using our old Star Wars figures (toys from when Brother and I were kids, that I’ve hung on to), then made a video starring Admiral Ackbar (the plastic toy standing in front of a “star field” which was actually a picture in a book – it looked pretty convincing on the video, though), with my brother doing a creaky voiced voiceover. The video told the two “brave rebel pilots” that the imperials were planning an attack, so they had to seek out Luke Skywalker to ask for his help. They had a “star map” (a sketch map Brother had drawn of our back yard) marking his location and torches, and headed off to find Luke (his x-wing had crashed in our apple tree, apparently :-)). Once they found each character, there was another video message from Admiral Ackbar telling them where to find the next ally they needed – the droids being held captive by jawas in the “junk fields” (an old lawnmower rusting behind the garage), the ewoks in their “forest home” (a bush), the smugglers in their secret base in the “ancient ruins” (a pile of bricks), and so on. Once they’d gathered all their allies, they were given the location of the attacking imperial army, and a huge battle commenced. The rebels won (of course!), and we all went inside to celebrate our victory.

The celebrations consisted of the birthday cake I’d made – a Space Cake. It was chocolate cake iced with black icing, with little silver balls to represent stars, and planets and a comet made out of balls of marzipan painted with food colouring (I did take a photo, but it’s on my camera at home, so I’ll have to post it later). The kids were very impressed!

The rest of the evening was spent playing with all the old Star Wars figures, which are in suprisingly good condition, considering their age. They obviously used better quality plastic in those days.

The next morning we gave Nephew#1 his birthday presents, and then after one last game of Lego Star Wars it was time for them to hit the road back to Blenheim. A great weekend, and wonderful to spend a decent amount of time with them for a change, instead of just a quick visit as they pass through Christchurch on their way to somewhere else. I was SOOOO tired after they left though! I was intending to just sit down with a book for a few minutes then get on with all the things I should have been doing that weekend, and ended up falling asleep for most of the afternoon. Kids are exhausting!

The meetup was a great success. I’ve been making a point of PMing new members to welcome them to bookcrossing, and as a result we had three new people show up: Enchante, angela7715, and keenreda. Awhina and family also showed up, so it was quite a large meetup! We discussed plans for 2009 (of course!), and I picked up Catching the Current by Jenny Patrick, and passed on Samurai Williams by Giles Milton and All the Nice Girls by Barbara Anderson (which may have ended up in the OBCZ, because it was still on the table when MrPloppy and I left).

Currently reading: One Hundred and One Ways by Mako Yoshikawa
Currently listening to: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov (which strangely enough, shows absolutely no resemblance to the film)

Jury Duty

The dreaded jury duty this week… actually, I wasn’t really dreading it, although it’s one of those things you’re supposed to moan about. I was kind of looking forward to it, actually. The whole process of how justice works interests me, and I’d love to see the jury process from the inside, but this is only the second time I’ve been called, and last time I wasn’t selected. So far I haven’t been selected this time either, but there’s another trial starting tomorrow, so there’s still hope.

Just showing up at the court on Monday was interesting, anyway. I don’t remember if they had the whole mega-security thing going last time I was called, but they certainly do now. A beeping archway like at the airport, and a huge x-ray machine for bags to go through, presided over by an unlikely number of security people – I’m sure there were at least six of them just looking after the machine, plus another couple directing people through the archway. The resemblance to an airport ends at the metal detector though, because while an airport is full of helpful signs directing you to where you need to be, Christchurch’s District Court is a maze of corridors with signs that might be useful to people who already know their way round the building, but are meaningless to anyone else. I eventually found my way to the lifts by following two women who were looking equally lost and clutching jury summons letters, and upstairs we found the discreetly labelled door to the jury assembly room.

In the assembly room there’s the usual hush of any waiting room, compounded by the intimidation of being in a court building. A few people have started murmured conversations, but most are reading magazines or newspapers, or staring at the walls attempting not to make eye contact with anyone. It gets even quieter when an official comes in, but all he does is unlock the cabinets for the TVs, cracks a weak joke about the government paying us to watch TV, and leaves again. More potential jurors come in, and as the room fills up the empty seats between people are filled and a hum of conversation starts up, only to be silenced again by the return of the official.

This time he actually turns on the TVs, and we watch a video of that guy from Fair Go telling us what a wonderful thing we’re doing being jurors, and explaining how the jury system works. Once the video finishes, the official tells us exactly the same information the Fair Go guy just did, and then reads the roll. Some people have a LOT of middle names! Our names are on little cards, which he puts in a spinny thing (sorry, my comand of English seems to have disappeared – one of those things they put lottery balls in), and then draws out about 40 names of those of us who are to go into one courtroom, while the remaining people go into the other.

In the courtroom, we sit in the public seats at the back and another official explains the process yet again, and reminds us that if we get challenged by one of the lawyers it’s nothing personal. Then she tells us the accused’s name and reads off a list of witnesses, and asks us to declare if we know any of the people involved. Someone stands up and has a whispered conversation with her and leaves. Then the accused is brought in and stands in the dock. You sense 40 people trying not to stare at him while they wonder what he did. The lawyers are setting up (one has the most enormous briefcase I’ve ever seen – it’s normal briefcase size other than its thickness, which is more like a suitcase), and various officials rush in and out. A final scurry of activity, and then someone says “All rise” (yes, they really do say that!) and the judge comes in.

Another official type (I think he was called the Registrar?) read out the long list of charges, and about half way through the list I realised that the case was one that my employer is indirectly involved in. I wasn’t sure what I should do – we’d been told that if we realised further into the process that we had a connection to the case we should tell an official, but they were all up the other end of the room, so I’d just have to wait and see if I got selected.

Our names were all back in another spinny thing, and as each name was drawn out the person had to walk the long way round the room to the jury box, while the lawyers consulted their lists and called out “challenge” every so often for no discernible reason, at which the poor rejected person had to come back to the back of the room. My worries were sort of alleviated when it turned out another juror worked for one of the companies involved (it was a fraud case, with several large companies having been defrauded). When his name was drawn out he whispered to the official as he walked past her, and she directed him to talk to the judge, after which he was dismissed. Great, so all I’d have to do was go and talk to the scary judge! I think I held my breath until all 12 seats were filled, and the lawyers challenged a *lot* of people – I was starting to wonder what would happen if they ran out of names in the spinny thing.

Luck was on my side, and my name wasn’t drawn, so I didn’t have to talk to the judge – a huge sigh of relief! The selected jurors were told to go off and choose their foreman (non-sexist language hasn’t reached the courtrooms of NZ, it seems), and the rest of us had to wait (I’m not sure exactly why – in case they all hated each other and refused to pick someone, I suppose) until they came back and were officially sworn in. Then we were told we could leave, but that we had to ring the court each evening this week to check whether we had to come back the next day.

So that was the end of my first day of jury service. Monday night’s phone message said we weren’t needed today, but tonight when I rang the message said we were to report to the jury assembly room again tomorrow morning, to go through the whole process again.

I kind of hope I get selected this time. Just as long as I don’t have to go and talk to the judge! šŸ˜‰

In praise of MrPloppy

Have I mentioned lately just how wonderful MrPloppy is? I’ve been struggling all week to write an assignment for my linguistics course that’s due tomorrow, and I just couldn’t get my head round it. By this afternoon I was in total panic mode – the more I stared at it the less sense it was making, and the more aware I became of how little time I had left to finish it. I was seriously considering just packing in the whole course it had got me so stressed.

So I rang MrPloppy to tell him my woes, and he was a wonderful voice of sanity. He reminded me that the assignment is only worth 10% of my final mark, so even if I completely stuffed it up it wasn’t the end of the world, just a slightly lower grade, and then he suggested that when I got home we could look at it together.

Now you may not realise what a huge sacrifice that is. MrPloppy has no interest in linguistics at all, and finds studying tedious. However, he’s a great catalyst – somehow, in the process of explaining something to him, I get it straight in my own mind, and it all starts making sense.

So when I got home tonight, we sat down together and I explained where I was having problems. And as I started to explain, and as he asked the right sort of questions, things started to click. I started coming up with a few ideas, and within an hour had a clear picture of what I needed to do. And now, less than four hours after I sat down with him, I’ve completely finished writing my assignment. It’s not fantastic (no assignment left until the day before the deadline ever is!), but it’s a million times better than what I had four hours ago, which wasn’t much more than a blank piece of paper.

MrPloppy really is the best friend I could ever have.

…Now if only they’d let me take him into exams šŸ™‚

Catching Up

I’ve been terribly slack at keeping up with writing here lately. I think it’s all part of my general feeling that I can’t keep up with my life. Yes, I know I said I was going to try and ease off on things, but sometimes that’s just not possible – I’ve got a sociolinguistics assignment due on Friday that I’ve hardly even looked at, work is in crisis mode again (when isn’t it lately?), pre-planning for 2009 is taking up more time than I’d anticipated (a product of having a larger planning committee than for previous conventions – while more people does mean the workload is spread further, it also means every decision has to be discussed and debated for so much longer, and while we’re working really well as a team in terms of listening to and respecting each others’ opinions, we do seem to already have a few quite fundamental differences in our visions for this convention which we need to resolve before we can move on much further in the planning. And of course, being spread across the country (four of the seven members are outside Christchurch), we can’t just get round a table and nut these differences out until we reach agreement, and email just isn’t as satisfactory (by the way, as I know all the team members read my diary ;-), I’d better say none of this is intended as a criticism of any of you – I stand by my original statement that you’re all great people to work with, and do I think the planning is going really well so far – I just sometimes wish we were all in the same place so we could get together and talk properly instead of via technology!)), I’ve got piles of books waiting to be registered, I haven’t even started looking at resources for my next lesson with my ESOL student, I promised MrPloppy ages ago that I’d help him with the design for his new website and haven’t done anything about it yet… – basically, I’m back in that state where whenever I start doing anything, I feel guilty about all the other things I *should* be doing, so I end up getting nothing done.

Anyway, enough moaning, onto the catching up.

First, a Ming report. As far as we can tell he’s completely back to normal after yesterday’s seizure, with no after-effects. Thanks everyone who left me nice comments – I have passed all the hugs on to Ming šŸ™‚ I did a bit of internet research about seizures in cats, and found out that while strokes are pretty rare in cats, they can happen (but when they do, recovery is generally fast). There’s other kinds of seizure it could have been, but the general advice seems to be that a one-off seizure in an elderly cat is nothing to worry about too much, it’s only if they’re frequent or prolonged that you need to see a vet. There was also a lot of information about possible causes (and, of course, because most of the sites I was looking at belonged to vets, the many expensive tests and treatments that are absolutely essential), but most of them seemed to come down to old age in one form or another.

Warning: what I’m about to say may seem callous to some people: Even if Ming does have another seizure, MrPloppy and I are firmly decided that he will not be getting any of those tests or treatments, even though they could potentially add a year or two to his life. Ming’s about 14, which is a good age for a cat, and (like most animals) he hates going to the vet. As long as his quality of life is still ok (which it seems to be – the seizure didn’t appear to really distress him), we’d rather the rest of his life be short and happy with the minimum of unpleasantness, than that we extend his life a few more years but submit him to regular vet visits and having medicine forced down him every day. And if his quality of life does start seriously deteriorating, then we’ll have him put to sleep before things get too bad. Part of this is just the pragmatics of cost (we don’t have a lot of spare money lying around to throw at looking after a sick animal), but it’s also about not making the rest of his life more miserable than it has to be. (Of course, this doesn’t apply if he gets sick with something easily treatable over the short term, like Saffy with her flea allergy last year – I’m only talking about the kind of illnesses that require ongoing treatment.)

Enough about cats, and on to Cats šŸ™‚ On Friday Lytteltonwitch and I went to see the new production that’s touring NZ. I know it’s not cool to say so, but I’ve always liked the big West End-style musicals, and I’ve always had a special affection for Cats (wonder why? ;-)). I saw a touring production in Auckland sometime in the late 80s, and saw it a couple of times while I was in London (late-90s), so I was a bit worried about the whole “brand new production” thing, but they didn’t destroy it too badly šŸ˜‰ Actually, it was really good. There were a few changes to the actual music (the Battle of the Pekes and Pollicles was gone, and some of the other set pieces lengthened), but the main change was in the costumes – the terribly 80s fluffy legwarmers were gone, and the costumes were much less literal in their interpretations of catness than in the previous productions I’d seen, and were more like exagerated “street” style that (other than the fact they all had tails) just hinted at the idea of cat. Still loads of fun, even from our cheap seats way way up in the gods.

Bookcrossing meetup/gathering/thing last night. None of the new members I’ve been PMing managed to make it (though I had nice PMs from quite a few putting in their apologies, so at least they’re aware of the meetups now), so for a while it was just me, MrPloppy, and lytteltonwitch. We had a useful chat about the convention, though, and later Alithia turned up – and had brought her laptop so she could see the 2009 presentation as promised. Of course, I hadn’t actually remembered to bring the disk, had I??? I remembered I had an earlier version on the flash drive on my keyring, but it didn’t have the video or music added, or half the photos, so it didn’t really give her the full effect. I’ve promised to remember to bring the full version to the next meetup. (And that reminds me, I haven’t posted the copies of the presentation to otakuu and Sherlockfan yet to start off the “not-a-bookring”s. I am getting so disorganised lately! šŸ™ ) I managed to resist the temptation to take any of the books on the table (another side-effect of how crowded my life has been feeling lately is a distinct down-turn in my reading rate, so Mt TBR hasn’t been diminishing as fast as I would like), and gave lytteltonwitch The Problem with Murmur Lee by Connie May Fowler, so for a change a meetup actually *reduced* the total number of books I have in the house (this is one of the great mathematical mysteries of the universe: how is it possible that at most meetups everyone goes home with more books than they arrived with?)

Currently reading: When the Devil Holds the Candle by Karin Fossum
Currently listening to: Hissy Fit by Mary Kay Andrews

That was scary

Sorry, this is going to be another entry about cats, but something scary just happened: Ming had some sort of seizure.

He was just sitting there watching me, as he does, and I noticed he had one of his front paws up by his head like he was scratching his ear, but he wasn’t scratching – he seemed to have it stuck, and looked like he was trying to force it down but it wouldn’t move. My first thought was that he’d got his claw caught somehow, but then I realised that he had nothing to get it caught on – he’s a shorthair, and he doesn’t wear a collar.

As I got up to try and help him, he stood up and took a few steps away, still with his front paw in the air, then collapsed. And not in his usual “I’m so tired I’ll just flop right here” way – this was a proper collapse, like his legs just slid out from under him. His front paw was still up by his head, and now the back leg on the same side was also curled up weirdly.

He didn’t seem to be in any distress or anything – I bent down to scratch his head and he started purring (I know that cats sometimes purr when they’re in pain, but Ming’s usual response to pain is a continual low growl), but he obviously couldn’t stand up – he lifted his head to my hand, but the rest of his body refused to follow.

About that time I yelled for MrPloppy, and by the time he came through Ming had regained the use of his front legs and half-hoisted himself up, and a few seconds later his back legs started working again too, and after a few wobbly steps he seemed totally back to normal.

He seems ok now – he’s walking normally, and just ate his breakfast, leapt up on the bed, and had his usual morning spat with Saffy about who gets which bit of it to sleep on – so we’ve decided we won’t take him to the vet unless he seizures again or seems to be in distress. I’m guessing it was some sort of mini-stroke – he’s certainly of an age that if he was a human a stroke wouldn’t be unusual.

But that was a scary way to start the day!

Cat shenanigans

Winter is approaching fast, so we’ve started using the fire again. The fire (a wood-burner) has a huge heat output, actually rated slightly too high for the room it’s in, so when we have it on we open all the doors to the rest of the house to let the heat circulate. It’s great – we don’t need to use any other heating, so we keep our electricity bills nice and low.

Now, as I may have mentioned once or twice before ;-), we’ve got three cats. And they really really like to sleep on the bed. Unfortunately, two cats (there’s never three at once, because that would breach the complex peace treaty between George and the other two) and two humans don’t really fit in one bed, so if we let them sleep there MrPloppy and I tend to wake up bent into weird back-pain-inducing positions, and generally with a few claw marks where Ming has expressed his displeasure at any attempt to nudge him into a less central part of the bed.

So usual rule is that the cats are banned from the bedroom at night. In summer, that’s easy enough – we just shut the door. But in winter, there’s all that lovely heat coming off the fire, which we’d miss out on if we shut the door. So our solution has always been to shut the cats in the kitchen at night, where they’ve got access to their food and the catflap to go outside, and we can leave our bedroom door open.

But we’re both big softies when it comes to the cats. And it’s so cold in the kitchen when the door’s shut. And the cats really don’t like being moved from their nice warm spots in front of the fire, and complain vociferously about it (especially Ming, who usually backs up his message with claws and teeth – he REALLY doesn’t want to spend the night in the kitchen!) And Ming and Saffy are getting so old that it’s feeling like a real cruelty to make them sleep in a cold room. So we’ve been trying to find an alternative.

And a few nights ago we thought we’d found it. I discovered that the cutting mat I use for crafts is just wider than the doorway, and just tall enough that we thought Ming and Saffy wouldn’t be able to jump over it (they’re both getting a bit stiff in their joints in their old age, so don’t like jumping up on things as much as they used to). So we tried a little experiment. We covered the bottom part of the doorway with the mat, using packing tape to hold it in place at the top, and a couple of door-stops at the bottom. Which left the top half of the doorway open to let the heat through, and was still low enough (just) that we could both step over it (ok, so it let MrPloppy step over it easily, and let me just step over it if I stood on tip-toes). We left the cats in front of the fire and went to bed.

George quickly discovered that he could leap over it, so we had a companion for a while, but that was ok, because he’s not a bed-hogger – he just settled down at the foot of the bed and went to sleep. We heard Ming scrabbling at the mat for a while, trying to move it (he knows how to open cupboards by catching the bottom edge of the door with his claws, so he tries the same technique on anything else that gets in his way), but after a while he got bored and gave up. So night one was a success.

Night two, and Ming had another go at shifting the mat. He did manage to move one of the doorstops a bit, but not enough to get past the mat, so eventually gave up. Or so we thought – a few minutes later there was a scrabble and a thud, and Ming appeared on the bed. Obviously the temptation of the bed overcame the difficulty of jumping such a high barrier.

Ming on his own isn’t too bad a bed companion either (it’s only Ming and Saffy in combination that have the power to bend a spine through 720 degrees, as they take position on either side of you and slowly edge forwards in opposite directions), and he and George keep a respectful distance from each other, so if one is on the bed the other will stay off, nicely avoiding the “two cats, two humans, one bed” problem. So we were still counting the experiment as a success.

Until last night. At around 3.30 an almighty crash woke me from a deep sleep. My first thought was that another car had hit the house. Then I thought maybe the glass front on the fire had exploded. When I got up to check everything was ok, I discovered the culprit – the mat had fallen down, knocking over one of the very heavy metal doorstops. The combination of the two hitting the floor at once (the mat is quite heavy on its own) had produced the incredible bang.

From the fact that Ming and George were sitting in the hall looking bemused but not particularly worried, and that Saffy was nowhere to be seen, we worked out what must have happened. Saffy, who has trouble jumping up onto a chair, had obviously tried to jump over the mat, and couldn’t make it so grabbed hold of the top edge. And she’s not a small cat. In fact she’s seriously overweight. So her hanging from the edge of the mat would easily have pulled the whole thing down on top of her.

So, our plan to keep the cats from annoying us all night wasn’t exactly a success – I think it took me about an hour to get my heart rate back to normal after that rude awakening! Time to develop a Plan C, I think…

Ok, so this whole entry is going to be about the cats. Sorry, but I just have to report George’s latest trick. He’s obviously an intelligent cat, and has no trouble communicating. If their water bowl is empty he makes sure you know about it, sitting patiently beside the bowl until someone comes into the kitchen, then meows to get your attention and looks pointedly at the bowl. The other day he did this when I came into the kitchen, but I was in the middle of doing something else, so I said “I’ll be back in a minute George” and walked out again. A few minutes later I went back into the kitchen, and he meowed again. He was still sitting beside the water bowl, but the bowl had moved – he’d dragged it from the corner where it normally sits to the middle of the kitchen floor, where I couldn’t miss seeing it. The look he gave me I’m sure would translate into human as something like “Are you blind or just stupid? Look, my bowl’s empty!!!” šŸ™‚