2013 in review

Dickens had it right: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  It seems like every year lately I’ve summed up the year as being full of horrible stuff interspersed with some pretty good stuff, and expressed the hope that next year can only get better.  And yep, once again there’s been some pretty horrible stuff in this year.  But there’s also been a lot of good stuff, and most importantly, the good stuff has come from my own determination to turn my life into something wonderful.  So instead of hoping that next year is a better one, I’m going to say that I’m going to make sure that next year I continue to make my life what I want it to be, and that I’ll keep surrounding myself with what gives me joy.

Anyway, returning to 2013, here’s the first lines from each month (usual proviso: first lines that actually contained content and not just an excuse for not posting…)

January: Now that the grey and horrible weather has ended, I decided to make the most of a bit of sunshine to go for a walk with my camera this morning.

February: A mysterious gift of marmite just appeared in our hallway.

March: Still here, and still coping, though it’s very much a case of two steps forward and one back.

April: Mojosmom’s suggestion of a peach cobbler sent me off to Google.

May: I went to another class at Make Cafe last week, this time on paper piecing patchwork. 

June: It’s been a busy couple of weeks.  Fuzzle was here for most of the first week – it was great to see her, and we had loads of fun.

July: I’ve got a large wintersweet bush in the garden, and for about 10 months of the year it’s an ugly, scraggly looking thing that I’m tempted to just rip out.

August: The last couple of weeks have been very long ones, full of drama and a total emotional roller-coaster.

September: It was a gorgeous sunny day yesterday (as it is again today), so I went for a long walk with my camera, looking for spring.

October: I seem to have drastically expanded my social circles all of a sudden, joining two new groups in the space of just a couple of weeks.

November: I’ve had Goldenwattle staying for a few days, on her way round the country.

December: It’s been a strange sort of week.  We knew we’d be shifting offices sometime this week, and that we would have to stay away from the office on moving day so we didn’t get in the way of the movers, so we’d talked about having some sort of team field-trip, maybe involving a site visit to one of our content providers.

And in pictures:













Yep, looking at that lot, I reckon I’ve done a pretty good job of surrounding myself with joy this year.

They’ve got to be joking

So Sideshow Bob is now Sir Bob, apparently for services to “looking good on TV”. It certainly can’t be for services to Christchurch – he and his council did nearly as much damage to this city as the earthquakes themselves.  But of course it’s very much in the government’s interests to keep up the pretence that the disaster was handled well and recovery is racing ahead, so it makes sense that they’d want to hand our ex-mayor a knighthood for his wonderful job.  Still had me spitting when I read the news this morning though.  And even more so at the thought of how even more insufferable Jo Nicholls-Parker will be now that she can call herself “Lady Parker”.  Grrr.

The rest of the day was much more pleasant than that rude awakening.  Harvestbird and the two mini-Harvestbirds (Harvestchicks?  No, that doesn’t sound at all appropriate…) and I went on an outing to the playground in the gardens, where I happily sat and read in the sun for a while, while they were overwhelmed by the choices and the hundreds of other children, and declared it was time to go home much more quickly than we’d planned.  But all was not lost – we stopped off to pick up some lunch and some cake, and went back to Harvestbird’s to consume them in peace.  Well, mostly peace – the girls have suddenly decided I’m their new best friend, after being wary of me up until now, so I spent the afternoon reading them books (or at least, providing a running commentary as the smaller mini-Harvestbird sat on my knee and turned pages at random) and being educated in the mysteries of Blue’s Clues (well, sort of – all I managed to gather was that invisible paw prints are involved somehow, and it was very important that I had a notebook on me).  Oh, and apparently my name is now “Jenga” – close enough, I suppose.

It was a lovely afternoon though, and Harvestbird and I did manage to snatch some adult conversation in between the storytimes.

I still haven’t managed to decide on which way to sew those blocks together for the quilt.  A fat lot of help you lot were, too – so far between here, LJ, and Flickr I think opinion was pretty equally divided between four of the possibilities.  Looks like I’ll just have to bite the bullet and make a decision myself.  Maybe tomorrow…

And now, suddenly, it’s the end of the year.  I have no exciting plans for tonight (I was invited to a New Year’s party, but as it’s out at Little River it would have involved staying the night out there, and the whole concept of the typical Kiwi drunken New Year’s Eve has never appealed to me greatly as it is, and even less so when I’d be trapped with no way of leaving early).  I may not even bother staying up to see the New Year in unless my book proves particularly gripping.  Don’t I sound old and boring? 😉

So many choices!

I had a few friends around for a pot-luck dinner on Friday night.  Not everyone I’d invited could make it – some were out of town, or had other plans, or cancelled because of illness (or in one case just forgot – I got a very apologetic email the next morning), but the few of us who did gather had a very nice evening, and proved to me once again that this whole hosting parties thing is easy.  I may well have to do more of it (although given my schedule for the first half of next year, I’d better not speak too soon…)

It did end up being a very late night, though, so I spent most of yesterday in full-on blob mode.  But I managed to get a bit more work done on the quilt, and this morning I finished off sewing together all the strips into blocks.

A nice wee pile of blocks.

But now comes the difficult bit.  You’re supposed to put the blocks together like this:

And that does look seriously cool (even though I just put the blocks down in totally random order and didn’t at all look at which colours were going next to which).

But then the mathematician in me started thinking about all the other patterns that are possible to make with 16 squares bisected by diagonal lines.  Like this:

or like this:

(and even as I’ve been writing this I’ve thought of a couple more possibilities). How on earth am I supposed to commit to just one option?  (I’m starting to see why quilting becomes such an addictive hobby – after all, if I made some more quilts, I could try out all the patterns…)

Help me decide, please?

The clever bit

So, I left you with all those loops of squares,

and promised you a really clever bit. Well, the really clever bit is that you unpick one seam from each loop, to turn them back into strips, but you unpick a different seam on each one. Which means that each strip starts with a different square. Which means, when you line them all up, you get:


Ok, so maybe that doesn’t seem all that exciting to you, but I’ve been trying to figure out how it was done (other than just cutting and sewing each square individually, which takes forever, as I learnt with the Minecraft mats) for ages, and couldn’t work it out. So when I saw the tutorial it was a total head-slap moment.

Of course, as you can probably tell from the photo, my squares don’t line up quite as perfectly as they could – it seems my sewing in a straight line skills haven’t improved much since Form 2 sewing class.  But I’m hoping it won’t be as noticeable once all the blocks are sewn together into one big pattern (same with the ever-so-slightly clashing colours – the theory is that once they’re combined with all the other clashing colours, the overall effect will be “fun and colourful” rather than “why on earth would you use those fabrics next to each other?”).

I’m having fun anyway.  And as it’s likely to end up covered in baby vomit, I reckon it doesn’t matter if it’s not quite perfect 🙂

Merry Christmas!

Qk, ignore everything you’ve ever read or seen about how spending Christmas alone is a terrible thing.  It’s not – in fact, it’s been a very pleasant experience.  Of course, it probably helps that I’ve never really thought of Christmas as that big a deal anyway.  Yes, I have a lot of fun decorating the tree and wearing Christmas earrings to work every day of December, but that’s just because I love the total lack of taste of the season – all that tinsel and coloured lights.  It’s such fun to embrace the tackiness.  But the sentimental side of Christmas has never really been a thing for me (might be something to do with growing up spending most of my time hanging round in Dad’s shop – there’s nothing like retail to remove any sentimental feelings you might have about Christmas 🙂 ), so in many ways it’s just another day.  But one with presents and good food.

And I achieved both today.  The good food started with breakfast:

Crepes with cream and fresh berries (which are the absolute best thing about a southern hemisphere Christmas – you northerners can keep your snowmen and roaring fires, give me a bowl of raspberries any day!), and a ginger and mint concoction to drink. And the best bit about eating alone is that you get to read a book while you eat 🙂

I had a lovely dinner tonight, too (though I forgot to take a photo of that) – inspired by the taco I had at the Pallet Pavilion the other day I bought some decent corn tortillas and made myself tacos for dinner, filled with lots of salady bits and spicy beef.  And of course there were the De Spa chocolates to nibble on during the course of the day.

I even had presents to open.  I’d already had my present from Mum (the fabric cutter thing and ruler), and Dad sent money with instructions to buy myself something (which I might do tomorrow if any of the Boxing Day sales look promising), but I’d bought myself a few books off Amazon, and left the box unopened so I could have something to look forward to 🙂  And even better, a couple of days ago a parcel arrived from Lytteltonwitch, so I even had a present to open that I didn’t already know the contents of!

Very nice contents they were too: a book, a couple of bars of exotic-sounding chocolate, some little notebooks and a book-shaped eraser (do you see a theme here? 😉 )

Otherwise, I spent most of the day either sitting out in the garden reading (the promised rain didn’t arrive until mid-afternoon, so it was a lovely morning), or working on the quilt for my boss’s baby (yeah, I know you’re supposed to be totally lazy on Christmas Day, but I’m not very good at that). It’s been a really lovely relaxing day, and I can honestly say I haven’t felt at all lonely or that I’m somehow missing out.

The quilt’s going well so far, considering it’s my first attempt at a proper quilt and I’m trying to learn most of the techniques off the internet 🙂  The pattern is sort of based on this one by Deb Robertson (discovered when I was searching her blog for earthquake-related posts for work – did I ever mention how much I love my job, that gives me a legitimate excuse to spend a work day reading a crafty blog? 🙂 ).  She’d mentioned in a previous post what an easy pattern it was to sew (and very forgiving of mistakes, which sounded perfect for me!), so I searched out a few tutorials and discovered the very clever trick behind it.

Progress so far:

96 strips of random fabric (actually 98, because apparently I lost count somewhere when I was cutting them).

Quasi-randomly sorted into groups of six.

First set of six sewn together (yes, I know all the strips aren’t the same length – it’s easier to just cut the width of the fabric and then trim them later).

And another 15 sets of six sewn together.

Now here’s the clever bit. You take the outside strips of each set and sew them together, making a tube:

And then you cut each tube crosswise into strips:

So now instead of strips, you’ve got squares. But that’s not the really clever bit. The really clever bit is… actually, that will have to wait until tomorrow, because I haven’t done it yet, and it just won’t be the same without photos 😉

Hope you’re all having a fantastic Christmas. I certainly am!


Thanks to the generous allocation of University Holidays around this time of year, plus of course quite a few Public Holidays, and the judicious use of a couple of days’ leave, I’ve got a whole two weeks off work. And much needed it is too, after a very busy few months (that break in October seems so long ago now!).

Apart from a few social engagements, my plan for the break mostly involves a lot of sitting in the garden with a book, a bit of sewing (my boss’s wife is having a baby in February, so I’ve got a plan in mind for a gift), and probably (this being me) a bit of playing on the computer.  And so far I’ve got off to a good start: Saturday I declared a completely lazy day(which every holiday should start with), so I didn’t do much more than read and watch a few DVDs.  Then yesterday, after a quick catch-up on the housework I should have done on Saturday, I went for a long walk (about 5 km according to Google) over to Merivale, mostly in order to acquire a small box of De Spa chocolates as a Christmas present to myself.  Still feeling energetic, I decided to walk from there into town (only about another 3 km), and had a grazing sort of lunch on the way, consisting of a couple of apricots from the greengrocer on Victoria Street, a taco from a food stall at the Pallet Pavilion, and gelato from another stall in New Regent Street (kind of a gastronomic tour of the rebuild…).  By that time my feet were starting to complain, so I decided I’d definitely had a long enough walk and caught the bus home 🙂

Today’s been another mostly lazy one.  It was lovely and sunny, and the forecast for the next few days isn’t, so I made the most of the weather with a book and picnic blanket (and occasional visit from the cat) under the tree in the back yard.  Very pleasant.  I did manage to be slightly constructive though, cutting a huge number of pieces of fabric for my next wee project (I only just finished cutting them out now, so I’ll wait until daylight to take photos).

So, yep, enjoying my holidays so far!

For Yetzirah and Sherlockfan

Yetzirah and Sherlockfan asked me to explain Minecraft.  A tall order, but I’ll see what I can do.

So, Minecraft is a computer game that’s completely open-ended and what they call “sand-box” – i.e. you can play it any way you like – there’s no set aim or way of winning.  Basically, you are placed in a world that is completely randomly generated and from there you can do what you like.

The world is made up of blocks (roughly 1 metre cubed in the scale of the game), and by hitting blocks you can break them. How difficult that is to do depends on what the block is, and what you’re hitting it with – breaking a block of dirt with your fist is relatively easy, but breaking a block of stone with your fist will take you a long time.  If you’ve got an appropriate tool like a pick-axe though, it’ll be much easier.  Once you’ve broken a block you can pick it up and use it – either to make tools (the “craft” part of Minecraft), or by placing it back down in a new place as a building block.

You start off with no tools or anything, so most people’s first move in the game is to find a tree and start hitting it to get blocks of wood.  Once you have blocks of wood you can craft them into wooden tools (like a shovel, axe, pickaxe and sword).  With those wooden tools you can get stone, which lets you make stronger and more efficient stone tools.  Then you can start digging underground (yep, that’s the “mine” part :-)), and get coal and iron ore, which you can smelt to get iron, and build even better tools.  As your mine gets down deeper, you find better ores, and so on.

There’s also animals, like chickens, cows, pigs and sheep, which you can kill to get food and resources: e.g. chickens give you feathers, which you can use to make arrows, and cows give you leather, which you can use to make armour.  And there’s plants: e.g. grass gives you seeds which you can use to grow wheat, which you can turn into bread, and flowers which can be made into dyes. As you collect more resources, you can make increasingly sophisticated tools which let you build more interesting structures (there’s even tools you can use to build simple electrical circuits).

So far, so bucolic.  But there’s a catch.  When the sun goes down (a Minecraft day lasts 20 minutes – 10 minutes of daylight, 10 minutes of darkness), the monsters come out.  And they all want to kill you.  There’s zombies, who aren’t very dangerous on their own, but hunt in packs and can quickly overwhelm you; there’s creepers, who are completely silent until they get right next to you, when you hear a short hiss just before they explode, probably killing you instantly; skeletons with bows and arrows that will shoot you from a distance; witches that throw poison at you… it’s a pretty scary place after dark.  So basically, you’ve got the first 10 minutes of the game to prepare yourself to survive the onslaught (if you die, it’s not the end of the game – you just get transported back to your starting point, but it’s annoying, because you lose all the resources you’ve collected so far).

There’s two ways to survive – you either build yourself a shelter and hide until morning, or you arm yourself and go out and kill the monsters before they kill you.  Hiding seems like the best strategy, but there’s resources you can only get by killing monsters (like bones from skeletons, which you can turn into bonemeal to help your garden, or gunpowder from creepers), so at some point you really do have to go out and face them.

So it starts off as mostly a survival game – gather resources as quickly as you can to survive the nights.  But after a couple of hours of playing (not necessarily all in one go – you can save the world you’re playing in and go back to it – some people play the same world for months on end) you’re generally in a position where you’re so geared up (armour made out of diamond, and an enchanted sword that will kill almost anything with one hit…) that you don’t have to worry about the monsters all that much, and the creative side of the game becomes more prominent.  That’s when people start building elaborate structures out of the blocks they’ve collected – houses, castles, or even entire cities, complicated machinery, pretty much anything you can imagine (it’s kind of like playing with Lego).  And that’s one of the reasons multiplayer, where several players are playing in the same world, is cool, because what’s the point of spending hours building some amazing structure if you can’t show it off? 🙂

But I think the real popularity of Minecraft comes from its versatility.  Every player gets to chose what sort of game they’re playing.  For some people it’s all about building beautiful things.  Others are only interested in those first few hours when it’s a survival game, and they’ll set themselves speed challenges, to try and get to a certain point (maybe having a full suit of diamond armour, or killing one of the hardest monsters) as quickly as possible.  Others will build huge puzzles for other players to work their way through.  Or set up arenas where players can battle each other.  The possibilities are pretty much limitless, which means it can appeal to everyone from my 4-year-old niece (who mostly likes planting flowers in pretty patterns) to hardened gamers (who can play ever more difficult challenges).

Anyway, hope that gives you some idea of what it’s all about.  Showing is probably easier than telling, though, so here’s a few videos which give you an idea of the sort of things I’ve been talking about:

X’s Adventures in Minecraft – this video is a few years old, so it’s an earlier version of the game, but it gives you an idea of what the game starts like, getting through the first day and night.

Building with BdoubleO – here’s an example of someone who uses the game like Lego to build incredibly complex structures.

Lorgon111 – an example of a speed challenge.

Inferno Mines – someone working his way through a huge puzzle/challenge map created by another player.

PlayMindCrack – an arena battle among a large group of players (it all gets horribly confusing, so don’t worry if you can’t figure out what’s going on in a lot of the video – neither can I!)

A couple of delayed entries

DD has been down again, or at least, the ability for some of us to log in properly has been, so these two entries are ones I wrote over the last couple of days but haven’t been able to post until now (so the “yesterday”s are several days ago now – I’ve added in the dates I wrote them to try and clarify a bit)

Tuesday 17 December:

Our team had our staff Christmas party last night. And I hosted it! Our original plan had been to go out to dinner somewhere, but on Friday we suddenly realised there was really only one week of work to go, and we hadn’t booked anything, and Monday was the only one night that suited everyone, and it was all looking like way too much effort to find somewhere we could get a totally last minute booking for a largish group (by the time we added in partners it was looking like at least 10 of us). So I had a brainwave and suggested we have a pot-luck dinner at my house. Which we did.

It turns out Monday is actually a very good day to host a party, because you’ve got the whole weekend to clean the house and prepare, then when you get home after work on Monday night there’s just a few last-minute things to do and everything’s ready. There was a minor last-minute crisis when I realised I wouldn’t have enough cutlery for everyone (I still keep discovering things I don’t have any more after the great property division of 2013, and a second set of cutlery is one of them), but that was easily solved by asking one of the team to bring some. Technically, I don’t have enough plates either, but who says everyone has to eat off full-sized dinner plates? A combination of big and small plates works perfectly well – the people who get the small plates can just come back for seconds!

Anyway, the evening was a great success – I managed to squeeze enough chairs into the lounge for everyone, there was tonnes of food (in fact, too much – we’re having a shared lunch today to use up the leftovers), nobody minded the mismatched crockery, there was much laughter and fun, and Alex and Jack even stayed on to help me clean up afterwards. And best of all, no stress whatsoever – I’m so enjoying being able to do things like spontaneously invite people round to the house without it needing to be a big deal or matter for negotiation. Life is good!

Last week was quite a social one too – first, on Tuesday, was the Toastmasters Christmas party. We had a table topics session (which is where you’re given a topic and have to give an impromptu speech on it for 2 minutes – which is often very difficult, but lots of fun), then a quiz (my team lost miserably, but we reckoned we were having the most fun) and supper, and finally a secret Santa swap, which was run like the wrapped book swaps I’ve seen at some bookcrossing conventions, where you’re allowed to steal other people’s presents. After a bit of swapping, I ended up with a set of plastic wine glasses, which I’ve donated to the office (after spending many Friday night drinks sessions drinking out of the weirdest collection of vessels, proper wine glasses, even if they are plastic, definitely seem like a necessary addition to our office supplies!).

Then on Wednesday we had a morning tea at work to officially re-open the building (complete with blessing of the building by the university’s chaplain – it’s one of the oddities of NZ that in academia (which, as in the rest of the world, is generally much more liberal and left-wing than the rest of society), you’re actually more likely to encounter religion in official events, because of the way that religion is tied up with M­­āori tikanga. It leads to some rather weird moments – like getting a room full of people singing a hymn, despite probably ¾ of them being atheists, because the hymn’s in M­āori and they want to show respect). Oh well, at least the scones were good!

I took the afternoon off on Thursday so I could go to the official launch of Jan’s pop-up tearoom business. It’s been a year in the making, but she’s done an amazing job with it. She has a little green caravan she can take to venues, then sets up tables under an awning with proper old-fashioned china cups and saucers, and dainty things to nibble on (at the launch it was bowls of strawberries and cream, scones, and little cakes). It sounds like her main income is going to come from catering things like hen parties and baby showers, but she’ll also be able to go to bigger events. I hope it works out well for her – it’s such a great idea, and she’s put so much energy into it.

After a most pleasant afternoon sitting in a park with tea and scones and chatting to assorted people, I decided to make the most of the rest of my time off and walked into town (the launch was at Abberley Park, in St Albans, so not too far from the city). It’s been a month or so since I’d been into the city centre, so our ever-changing cityscape had some surprises for me.

A pleasant surprise was to see the trams running again:

Doesn’t that look like such a wonderfully normal scene? Amazing to see it again after so long.

Of course, most of the city doesn’t look like that. It’s more like this:

Where those cars are parked is where the Coffee Club that used to house our OBCZ (and where we held the Sunday brunch for the 2009 convention) once stood. For a long time it was the last building standing in the block bordered by Colombo, High and Cashel Streets, but suddenly it’s gone, and there’s nothing but a vast empty space in what used to be one of the busiest shopping areas of the central city. And I suspect some of those buildings in the background will soon be gone too.

That evening, I met up with Harvestbird for a shopping expedition, as we were both desperately in need of summer clothes. It didn’t start in a very promising way, with us doing multiple laps of Farmers despairing at how ugly everything was, vainly retracing our path in the hopes that something better would have suddenly appeared on the racks. But eventually, and after a few stops at other shops, we each managed to find ourselves something both acceptable and cheap (yay for 50% off sales!), so we decided to count that as winning at shopping.

I spent the weekend very productively, finishing off a few Christmas presents (I finally finished the hand sewing on the minecraft face mats!), and baking gingerbread stars to make up wee parcels for various people at work that I need/want to give gifts to. I had fun decorating them – lots of coloured icing and little silver balls (except on the ones for the one vegan on my list – he just gets boring plain white icing made from icing sugar and water, because all the fancy stuff has gelatine in it).

So yeah, keeping busy.

Wednesday 18 December:

Brother gave the kids my Christmas present last night (I’d suggested he give it to them early, so they could make the most of it over the school holidays) – their own personal Minecraft server. Well, at least the rental of one for a year. They’d been asking me for ages to play multiplayer with them, but setting my own computer up as a server was looking way too complicated (plus would have required me having it always on), and I wasn’t comfortable playing with them on any of the public servers (which are filled with idiots and trolls), so I’d vetoed that and said they’d just have to wait until next time I came down to Alexandra to visit when we could play over LAN. But then I discovered I could rent us private server space for a very reasonable cost, which would allow me to set up a private server with a whitelist, so I could control who gets to play on it. And that sounded like a much easier and safer way of letting them play multiplayer. So (after checking Brother and SIL were ok with the idea, of course) I set it all up and sent Brother the IP address, and told him to give it to the kids whenever he thought a good time.

So last night I got a phone call from Brother telling me to log in, because he was about to give the kids the news. Apparently it was received with almost hysterical levels of joy and excitement, and I spent the rest of the night playing Minecraft with them long distance. Lots of fun! I suspect I’m going to have to seriously ration how often I’m available to play with them though – if they had their way I think I’d be logging on as soon as I get home every night. Might have to be “busy” most evenings (though that’s the nice thing about Minecraft – they can carry on playing on their own, and just show me what they’ve built when I do log on). But for the first few nights at least, while it’s still a novelty, I don’t mind wasting a few hours on them 🙂

Misplaced sympathy

There is a woman at work who thinks she is my great friend.  In fact, I find her a bit of a pain, but my polite tolerance is apparently interpreted by her as close friendship.  Anyway, she’s also got it into her head that I am utterly bereft and lonely ever since the separation and in need of comfort.  So whenever she sees me she asks in a deeply sympathetic tone how I’m coping, and no matter how cheerfully I reply that I’m doing great and happier than I’ve been in years, she still reads it as me putting a brave face on things.  She also keeps inviting me to her church, saying things like “I know you’re not religious, but it’s a great way to meet people”, and telling me about the special group they have for divorced people (yeah, a Christian meat market, that’s really going to be my scene – I think I’d rather stick my head in a bucket of wasps).

I suspect the problem is that she is one of those unfortunate women whose only aim in life is to acquire a man (and of course makes her desperation so obvious that she never succeeds), and imagines that everyone else is the same, so she can’t cope with the idea that I’m perfectly happy on my own, thank you.

Today she baled me up at a College event and spent ages quizzing me on what I was doing for Christmas, and did I have family coming, or would I spend the day with friends, deeply concerned that I might, horror of horrors, be alone on Christmas!  She didn’t quite know how to respond when I said I might invite some friends round if I felt like it, but actually I kind of liked the idea of just spending the day alone with a good book.  I’m sure by now she’s twisted that round in her head into some sort of desperate cry for help – I just hope she doesn’t decide to pop round for a visit on Christmas Day to “rescue” me from my terrible loneliness…