I’m on holiday!

Another long day of meetings, but it’s over now, so that means I’m officially on holiday! I’ve got tomorrow off to sort out all those last minute bits and pieces of packing, then on Friday afternoon I’m off to the USA!!!!

I seem to keep adding new things to my “things to do before I leave” list, but it is going down slowly. All the important stuff is done, I’m just down to the things like downloading my contributions to the car’s audiobook collection, and searching out a flag.

I’m still having moments where the anxiety* outweighs the excitement, but excitement is definitely winning overall. And the closer it gets, the more the balance shifts to excitement. This is going to be so much fun!!!!

*Not about any of the big stuff – I never worry about things like planes crashing (if that happens, I’ll be dead, so it won’t be my problem), or getting mugged (that’s what insurance is for). No, my worries are all the dumb things like whether I’ll ever figure out how to calculate a tip, and having to get myself to the airport in DC… Yeah, I never said I was logical…

More bookmarks

Mum posted up the bookmarks I’d left behind at her place (because they hadn’t properly dried yet) when we were down there:

I call them my crazy cat ladies with bling (except you can’t really see the bling in the scan – they’ve got glittery and jewelled accessories).

She’d also included a few she’d made herself – a couple more cat ladies, and a very clever grandfather clock:

I think that’s about 30 bookmarks for DC now!

Only 9 more sleeps until I leave for San Francisco and the start of our big adventure. It’s starting to get exciting!

I’ve done a little bit of packing (well, the books, anyway – they’re the most important bit, aren’t they?), and I went to the bank yesterday to get some US dollars (and discovered that the #$%@ earthquake has obviously had an effect on the economy already, because the exchange rate was a lot worse than when I’d looked it up a month ago :-() so I’m nearly all ready to go.


Life continues to be strange. The horrifying pictures from Japan make our earthquake seem so minor, which in a way is reassuring – it could have been so much worse – but also kind of scary – it could have been so much worse!

Just as after September, now that the initial drama has died down, what’s left is mostly tiredness and depression. Life is just hard work – everything seems to take twice as long as it did before the earthquake, and is much more complicated. Even something as simple as going shopping is complicated – for a start you have to allow twice as much time as normal to get there, because the buses aren’t really running to a regular timetable yet, so you pretty much have to guess when one will arrive and just go to the bus stop and hope for the best (so far the longest I’ve had to wait is about half an hour – good thing I had a book!) At least the buses are free at the moment, which makes the waiting much more bearable 🙂

Travelling by car isn’t much better, because the traffic is still pretty awful (people aren’t exactly heeding the constant calls to limit car use or at least carpool), so it takes forever to get anywhere. And in large parts of the city the roads are in really bad condition, which slows the traffic down even more. I went over to Hillsborough (which is deep in the heart of portaloo country) the other day with a colleague for a meeting, and it took us about an hour to get there from Ilam, partly because of the traffic, but also because the roads are all warped and cracked, so we had to keep slowing down to avoid potholes and negotiate the bumps.

That sort of thing is getting on everyone’s nerves, and everyone’s getting a bit scratchy and irritable (I saw two cars driving side by side down Riccarton Road the other day with the drivers having a shouting match through their open windows). But then you look at what’s happening in Japan, and our little problems and inconveniences seem so trivial in comparison… which of course then makes you feel guilty for not coping better, which makes you feel even worse…

Ok, this is turning into some sort of pity fest, which isn’t at all what I set out to write! It’s really not all bad – there’s still all the good stuff like people banding together as communities and looking after each other, and all sorts of incredible acts of generosity.

I’ve been back at work this week – well, sort of. Our building still hasn’t been cleared by the engineers, so we’ve been allocated a single office (for our whole department!) in one of the few campus buildings that has been certified safe. Our new office has only got three desks and one working computer, so we’re practising what the managers are calling “hotdesking” (i.e. what normal people would call “sharing”) and doing a lot of working from home. I’ve been going in for a few hours a day (mainly to deal with student enquiries), and otherwise trying to get as much work as I can done from home (the wonders of the internet age – I can log in remotely to the university’s servers from anywhere and access all my files and things), which has its advantages and disadvantages (and many distractions!).

Our luxuriously appointed new office, with hotdesking colleagues.

We were allowed to go back into our building briefly today to grab any essential records and teaching materials. Because the building is possibly unsafe (it looks ok, but some of the other buildings they’ve inspected turned out to have hidden structural damage, so they’re not taking any chances), we were only allowed to go in a few people at a time, escorted by a search and rescue team. And we had to wear hard hats and hi-vis vests – never thought I’d be wearing those to work!!! We were only allowed about 5 minutes in our offices to grab as much as we could carry (we’d all sensibly come equipped with suitcases and backpacks :-)), then we were taken back outside. My office wasn’t in as bad a state as I thought it might be – a lot of stuff on the floor, and I think my potplants are done for, but at least all of the furniture stayed upright this time. The cracks in the internal (non structural) walls that still hadn’t been repaired from September look even more impressive now – one was the whole width of the room! (No photos, sorry – I didn’t have time, being too busy trying to grab everything I could think of that we might need over the next few weeks).

Some people were feeling really anxious about going back into the building, but I wasn’t too worried – or at least, I thought I wasn’t, but it obviously had more of an effect than I thought, because I realised a few hours later that I was feeling utterly exhausted.

We’ve got no idea when (or if!) we’ll be allowed to go back in – it depends on what the engineers find when they start looking closely at the supporting beams and stuff. I’m hoping that by the time I get back from America it will be all sorted out and we’ll be allowed to move back in. In the meantime, we’ll just have to cope with camping out in our tiny office (at least we’re not literally camping out like some departments, which are having to work out of tents!)

It does feel good to be back at work at last, though. It feels like life is at least slowly starting to get back to normal – or what the VC keeps calling “a new kind of normal”.

Another baking day

I decided to have another big baking day, this time for “Comfort For Christchurch”, a group who are delivering food parcels to the worst-affected suburbs. So I made:

Lemon & Coconut Slice (which didn’t work as well as I hoped, because the filling didn’t quite set. MrPloppy reckons they still taste good though, and happily ate all the edge bits I’d cut off.)

Lemon & Fruit Loaf (the weird white patches are because it’s got a sugar glaze on it – it looks a lot better in person than in the photo!)

Lemon Sugared Biscuits

Lemon & Ginger Teabread

Lemon Cake (yeah, the icing wasn’t supposed to be that colour, but the drop of food colouring dropped a bit too enthusiastically)

Lemon Muffins

Not bad for a day’s work! I’ll drop them round to the collection point in Fendalton tomorrow (I’ve just got to figure out which buses are running so I can get there…)

You may have noticed a slight theme to today’s baking. That’s because I trimmed our lemon tree the other day, and in the process harvested a few lemons:

Even after all that baking (and after taking a bag full round to my ESOL student), the fruit bowl is still overflowing.

Twiddling my fingers

Still no word on when we can go back to work. I should be making the most of this unexpected holiday, but it’s hard to settle to it not knowing how long it will go on. And it’s a bit frustrating – the further we get into March, I’m very aware of how quickly my American trip is approaching (yay!), and how little time I’ll have to get my office sorted out (especially as there’s a good chance we’ll be in temporary offices for the first month or two) before I’m away for 3 weeks. So I’d kind of like to get back to work and start getting organised.

Oh well, at least it’s a good chance to catch up on some reading, and some embroidery:

That’s the cross-stitch part done, now there’s just a huge amount of back-stitch to do. Oh yeah, and then all the little charms to hang off it.

Busy baking

I’ve had a busy wee day today. I made:

Apricot muffins

Apricot and orange loaf

Walnut biscuits (which don’t actually contain walnuts – it’s an old family recipe that once upon a time called for walnuts, but as none of us liked them, we always substituted sultanas. The name has stuck, though.)


Fruit loaf

Chocolate and apple loaf (which left its bottom behind in the tin so it doesn’t look great, but it still tastes good, and I managed to cut it up in a way that disguised the damage :-))

All (except for a few deformed biscuits and edge bits we kept back for ourselves) cut and wrapped into individual portions, ready to be taken down to the campus tomorrow morning for the Student Volunteer Army, the student group who are out on the streets of Christchurch cleaning silt and generally helping out. Hopefully having a wee treat with their lunches will help them keep going.

I realised while I was baking that it’s been a long time since I’ve just done ordinary boring fill-the-tins type baking. Nowadays I tend to only bake for special occasions, so I tend to go for the more impressive things like cakes and fancy slices. It was fun to go back to some of the old recipes again (and a couple of new ones – the apricot muffins and apricot and orange loaf were experiments in adapting recipes, both of which turned out well).

Some recipes:

Apricot Muffins

(I was looking for an apricot muffin recipe because there were a few over-ripe ones in the box we got in Cromwell, but I couldn’t find one that I had all the ingredients for. So I adapted a basic blueberry muffin recipe, changing the spices and adding a topping.)

2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1-2 cups diced fresh apricots
100g butter, melted
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten

Sift dry ingredients together, and toss apricots through. In a separate bowl, mix together remaining ingredients, then add to the dry ingredients. Mix until only just combined. Spoon into greased muffin tins and sprinkle over topping. Bake at 220C for about 15 minutes.

1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Apricot and Orange Loaf

(There were still a few apricots left over after the muffins, and again I couldn’t find a recipe I liked, so I combined a few together to come up with this one.)

1/2 cup sugar
15g butter
1 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp golden syrup
1-2 cups diced fresh apricots (you could probably substitute dried – just add a bit more water)
Rind of one orange, grated (plus a squeeze of the juice – maybe a couple of tablespoons full? I forgot to measure that bit :-))
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

Put all except flour and baking powder into a pot and heat gently until the butter has melted and sugar dissolved (don’t let it come to the boil, or heat it for too long, or you’ll end up with apricot jam!). Remove from heat, and add sifted flour and baking powder. Mix well, and pour into greased loaf tin. Bake at 180C for 45 minutes.

‘Walnut’ Biscuits

(This is not quite the recipe mum used to make – I’ve spiced it up a wee bit to make the taste more grown up.)

110g butter
110g sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp milk
1 Tbsp golden syrup
1 tsp mixed spice
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup mixed dried fruit & peel
225g flour

Put all except fruit and flour into a pot and heat gently until melted together. Remove from heat and mix through fruit and flour. Roll teaspoonfuls into balls and put on a greased baking tray. Press down lightly with a fork, and bake at 180C for 15 minutes.

(The other recipes came from an Alison Holst book, so I won’t breach her copyright by posting them here.)

Random things

First, proof that my trip down to Alexandra was constructive as well as being restful – I spent a very enjoyable day playing in Mum’s craft room again:

I kind of cheated with these ones, because I relied on stickers a lot, but they’re still fun, I reckon.

There’s another batch as well, but they hadn’t dried properly when I left, so Mum’s going to post them up to me before I leave for DC (which is less than a month away now!!!).

Speaking of post – we have postal services again!!! We got our first delivery yesterday, a week after the earthquake. And it was worth waiting for – a parcel of books from Lytteltonwitch: Room by Emma Donoghue, Well-Versed Cats by Lance Percival, A Cup of Tea by Amy Ephron, and Longitude by Dava Sobel.

We also had a visitor yesterday – someone from Search and Rescue knocked on the door (don’t worry, I checked his ID!) asking if we needed any help. They said on the news the other day that they’d be going round houses checking everyone was ok, but I assumed they only meant in the badly affected suburbs. But no, they’re doing the entire city!

I did promise a description of the earthquake, didn’t I? Seeing as it’s now 8 days later, I suppose I should do that now, before I forget the details (not that I think I will – I’m sure that day will stay with me for a long time!).

The morning was a pretty ordinary one. The students had only started back the day before, so I’d spent most of it answering questions and directing lost first-years. Normally on a day like that I would have escaped at lunchtime to make sure I got a proper break, but it was drizzling, so I decided to eat lunch at my desk and put up with the interruptions.

I hadn’t quite finished eating when the shaking started – I’d seen a couple of students in the corridor coming towards my office, so I’d turned away from my lunch to see what they needed. As soon as the earthquake started, I knew it was going to be a big one. Normally when there’s an aftershock you don’t react for a few seconds as you wait to see if it’s going to get big or not, but with this one it was big right from the start. It felt different than the September one – more of an up and down movement, whereas September was side to side. The best way I’ve been able to describe it is as being like when you were a kid and you’d sit on a trampoline while someone else was bouncing, and you’d be thrown around uncontrollably.

I immediately tried to get under my desk, but I was being thrown around so much it was difficult. I kept bumping my head on the bottom of the desk as I bounced up and down, and must have hit my arm as well (though I didn’t notice it at the time), because I ended up with a huge bruise. The noise was unbelievable – as well as the low-frequency rumble from the ground, there were all sorts of creaks and moans from the building, and the sound of things falling down everywhere. I could see things flying off the shelves opposite me, and I worried about the two students, because where they’d been standing out in the reception area there was nothing to shelter under.

I’ve got no idea how long the shaking lasted (it always feels much longer than it actually is!), but when it stopped I crawled back out from under the desk and saw the students huddled together beside the reception area’s couch, arms covering their heads and thankfully unharmed. The building was still standing, but it was a mess though – all the ceiling tiles had come down in the corridor again, and the hanging sign outside my office had broken and was hanging by only one chain. I didn’t have much time to look around though, because it was obvious we’d have to evacuate.

A few people have said that the September earthquake actually turned out to be a good thing, and it’s true, because our experiences then taught us so much. One thing the university learnt is that our evacuation procedures, designed for fire, wouldn’t work in an earthquake, because all the evacuation points were too close to buildings, so anyone standing there would be endangered by falling glass (or even buildings). Over the summer the Health and Safety team had been redesigning the procedures, and only a couple of weeks ago I’d been to a training session where they told us our new evacuation points (in the centre of large carparks or playing fields well away from any buildings), and what the procedures would be once we got there. During the training, someone asked how we’d know if we needed to evacuate after an aftershock, and the trainer basically said “if it happens, you’ll know”.

She was right – we all knew there was no way we were staying in the building, so we headed for the stairs. I remembered to grab my bag as I left (otherwise I’d have been without such essentials as my phone and my wallet), and glanced around my desk wondering if there was anything else I needed to take. I must have been in shock, because instead of picking up something sensible like my keys, my diary (otherwise known as my lifeline – it contains absolutely everything I need to know), my water bottle, or even the book I was reading, the one thing I picked up was my mp3 player. Yeah, really essential survival equipment there FutureCat!

As we left, we were knocking on office doors to make sure nobody was trapped inside. One person was trapped – his books had fallen off the bookshelves (which are secured to the wall) and landed in front of his door so he couldn’t pull it open. But my boss and one of the postgrads put their shoulders to it and managed to force it open to let him out.

There’s supposed to be emergency lighting in the buildings that comes on when the power goes out, but for some reason it wasn’t working, so the stairwell was very dark. We got to the bottom ok though, and started directing the confused looking students who were milling around to the new evacuation point. I’d been doubtful when we were told about the evacuation plans, whether it really would be possible to get 12,000 students and staff to safety. But from what I saw of our area of campus it worked really well (and I later heard that there were no serious injuries anywhere on campus) – those of us who remembered the new procedures directed those who didn’t, and we basically herded everyone out to the carpark, picking up strays as we went along.

The only part of the plan that failed was that our carpark didn’t have a warden. They’d been asking for volunteers the week before, and ours was the last evacuation point that still hadn’t had someone appointed. So we all milled around for a while waiting for someone official to tell us what to do next. Everyone had their cell phones out, of course, desperately trying to contact family, but the network was obviously overloaded, because no calls were getting through. At first we didn’t realise how bad it had been, and were joking about how come the aftershock couldn’t have waited for a nicer day (it was still drizzling), but then texts started to get through and word started to spread about how bad it was in town. H texted me pretty quickly to let me know he was ok, which was a huge relief. A lot of people had left their phones in their offices, so those of us who did have them were sharing them around.

The first big aftershock to the aftershock hit while we were standing in the carpark – a 5.7, which is bigger than any of the aftershocks to the original earthquake. It was a huge jolt, and all of us grabbed hold of the nearest person (whether we knew them or not :-)). I ended up in a group hug with a few of the women from the college office. The cars in the carpark were bouncing around madly, totally lifting off the ground – really scary!

Eventually someone from security arrived, and told us they were shutting down the campus, and that we should all go home. There were a few people upset that they couldn’t go back into the buildings and retrieve their belongings first (especially people who’d left their car keys behind!), but security weren’t taking any chances on another aftershock hitting, so turned them away.

I contemplated walking home, but I was still feeling pretty shaky, and wasn’t too keen on being on my own for the 40-odd minutes it would take to walk. So when I heard Phil offering Jenny a lift home, I asked if he’d mind dropping me off too. They were both concerned about their partners, Phil’s wife being at home in Lyttelton, and Jenny’s husband on his way from Sumner by bike, without a phone. I gave Phil my phone to keep trying his wife as we drove, but there was nothing I could do to help Jenny other than try and reassure her.

The traffic was horrendous, with everyone trying to get home or to their children’s schools, so it took nearly an hour to reach my place. It would have been faster for me to walk! Everyone was being very good though – there was no road rage, and nobody was trying to overtake or block cars joining the road, but just patiently crawling along, happy just to be moving at all.

When we got home H was watching the news on TV (amazingly, we didn’t lose power at all this time) – it was such a shock to see what was happening in town, when this side of the city looked completely normal. I gave Phil H’s phone (as parents etc who’d be wanting to check on us would be more likely to call mine) so he could keep trying his wife, and found a jersey for Jenny (who was going into shock and shivering uncontrollably), and made sure they had water, then they headed out again to try and reach Lyttelton or Sumner.

(I heard from Jenny a couple of days later that Sumner was completely cut off, but they’d managed to get over Dyer’s Pass to Lyttelton, then Jenny borrowed a pair of gym shoes off Phil’s wife and walked over the hill to Sumner (note for non-Christchurch people, this is a serious hike, that takes a few hours on a good day). A couple of people were killed by falling rocks trying to do the same thing, so she was incredibly lucky to make it.)

The rest of the afternoon we were glued to the TV. Outside, the traffic jam in our street (which is a major route out of town) continued until well into the evening, and there was a constant sound of sirens in the distance and helicopters overhead. There were a few big aftershocks through the afternoon, but nothing too scary, and amazingly we once again escaped any damage – I think the only casualty this time was one wine glass.

So, that was February 22nd, a date that will I think be engraved in every Cantabrian’s mind for ever.

Cancel that

We’re not getting that refugee after all. My boss had called me a few days ago to say they’d found a lost kitten, and needed a home for it, so I’d said if they hadn’t found the owners by the time we got back we’d take it. He was supposed to be dropping it round this morning, but he just rang to say they’ve just managed to find the owner.

So we’re not getting a kitten, but I’m so glad it’s been reunited with its owner, two little girls who were missing their pet very much (apparently it had wandered a couple of kilometres from home – not bad for a tiny kitten!).

Of course, now that I had myself all psyched up for another cat, I’m wondering if the SPCA has any more needing rehomed…

Back home

We’re back in Christchurch, and feeling much refreshed and ready to face whatever this city throws at us. Dad drove us up yesterday, with a car load of food, water, and camping gear – some for us, some for friends in need.

George didn’t enjoy the trip at all – for the first half hour or so he was fine, and much less nervous than he was on the way down (he was sitting on my knee with his paws up on the windowsill watching out the window like a dog!), but then we went over a bumpy bit and he got a fright and hid under the seat for a while. Then we noticed the smell… he’d obviously pooed, and then sat in it, because there was a serious whiff around his nether quarters (once we got home and were able to give him a good wash, we discovered there was a big lump of poo stuck in his fur – that’s the trouble with long dark fur, it can hide all sorts of nastiness within). The poor thing was miserable the rest of the way (wouldn’t you be?) and spent most of it cowering under the seat, even when we offered him food and water when we stopped for breaks.

We got as far as Hornby without (non-smell related) incident, but then hit the traffic. What would normally be a 10 minute drive from Hornby to our place took well over half an hour there was so much traffic on the by-pass, all crawling along. At our place we let George out and quickly unloaded our share of the food etc, then headed over to Ferrymead to meet Jenny (who lives in Sumner, so has been without power or water for a week, and unlikely to get either back soon). We’d originally been going to drive right out to Sumner, but she rang us to say they’d just closed the Sumner road because they’re worried more of Redcliffs might collapse, so the only route out was over the Summit Road, and they’re restricting that to residents. So we arranged to meet in Ferrymead, and told her we’d be there in half an hour or so. Yeah, we didn’t take the traffic into account. It was actually more like an hour and a quarter – lucky she was sensible enough to bring a book to read while she waited for us!

It was weird travelling out that way – there was no visible damage at all until we reached the corner of Brougham and Antigua streets, and then we started to see the odd crumbled wall or chimney. Then we started to see the silt from the liquefaction. We were travelling on major roads, which had already been cleared, but there were huge piles of silt along the sides of the road, and the smell was awful (nearly as bad as George!) – obviously there was sewerage mixed in with the sand and mud. Everything is covered in grey dust now that the silt is starting to dry out and blow around (they’re advising that people with respiratory conditions wear masks – I reckon everyone should, given what’s in that dust!). All the streets leading off Brougham towards the city centre were cordoned off, with soldiers standing guard, and when you looked down the streets towards the city all you could see were huge clouds of dust, obviously being stirred up by the rescue/recovery efforts, and rubble lying across the roads. A sobering sight. As we got further east, the roads got worse. As it’s a major route they’ve filled in the major potholes with gravel, but the road surface was still all buckled, with weird humps and dips all along it. Really strange looking.

At Ferrymead we met Jenny, hugs were exchanged, and supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables and camping gear gratefully received (I’d rung her to get a shopping list while we were in Alexandra). She was looking pretty stressed, as they’re just living day to day waiting to hear if they’ll be the next street to be evacuated (I of course offered her our place as a refuge if that happens, or if they just can’t stand the strain of waiting any longer).

Next stop was in Bromley, where Dad’s friend G (the one who gave me a lift home from Alexandra at Christmas) works. He owns a construction firm, so we met him in their yard. Outside was an enormous pile of silt cleared from their yard (about the size of the piles of gravel you see when they’re constructing a road), and he showed us the corners of the yard where they still haven’t cleared all the silt – it was nearly half a metre deep. We had more fruit for him (we’d stopped at an orchard in Cromwell on the way up), and some equipment he needed.

As we were standing in the yard talking, an aftershock struck. It was only a tiny one, just a single jolt, but incredibly strong. It felt like the ground dropped away beneath us. I leapt about a mile in the air, and grabbed onto the nearest solid object (Dad’s arm :-)). Later when I checked GeoNet I found out that it had been small, only 3.3, but it was only 2 km deep, and centred just about directly under where we were standing – no wonder it felt so scary!

Back at home (after another long slow crawl through the traffic) we had a quick dinner then Dad attempted to fix our bathroom tap (not earthquake damage – it just had seized up over Christmas – I’d been planning to get a plumber in last week, before the earthquake hit, but they’re impossible to get hold of for anything less than an emergency now, of course) but discovered (like everything in this house) that the fitting isn’t standard so the parts he’d brought up wouldn’t fit. So we’ll be without hot water in that basin for another few weeks until he can get back up here with the right parts (that’s not a major difficulty, because there’s not a lot of point in washing your hands in contaminated water, so we’ve been using hand sanitiser instead anyway).

A few minor aftershocks last night, but nothing dramatic, so it’s feeling surreally back to normal here now. But I just have to think back to what we saw yesterday (and remember that was only the very edge of the damage) to bring back to mind just how bad things really are. I’ve been trying to think of things I can do to help out – we’ve put our name down to billet a student if needed, and I think I’ll probably do some baking later and take it to one of the aid centres.

And we’ve got another refugee arriving in a couple of hours – more on that shortly…