Busy Weekend

This weekend was the last of my totally-booked-out weekends of November, and it was the busiest of all (well, apart from the convention weekend, of course).  First, on Saturday, after a quick attempt to clean the house, I went into town to meet up with Harvestbird and family for the Climate March.  There was a really good turnout (helped I’m sure by the lovely weather), and people of all sorts and ages – from families with small children to the very frail and elderly woman who asked for my help getting to Victoria Square from the bus exchange, because she didn’t know her way around town.  She told me she hadn’t been planning on going to the march, but decided it was important, so she made the effort to get herself into town.

A few random photos from the speeches bit before the march started:

Apart from a bit of mini-Harvestbird grumpiness at such a long walk (which I made even worse by offering to give her a piggy-back: I got her up onto my shoulders and she immediately panicked about how high up it was – the first time in my life I’ve ever been told I was too tall!!! 🙂 ), it was a great march – there was live music along the way, everyone was cheerful and enjoying themselves (despite the serious message being conveyed), and generally fun.  And rounded off nicely by a stop in New Regent Street for Mrs Higgins cookies on our way home 🙂

When I got home, I just had time to whip up a batch of brownies to take as a plate, then it was time to head out again, to a games evening with the Gwilks.  For a change, all the games were ones I’d played before (didn’t mean I was any better at them, but at least I didn’t feel completely lost…)  As always, a fun evening, but a late one.

Then yesterday was devoted to a CEISMIC sewing bee.  Boss and his wife had their second baby a month or so ago, and the team and I were keen to make them another quilt to commemorate the occasion, this time one that we all contributed to making.  But we’ve all been so busy that this weekend was the first time we all had a day free at the same time – and as it was, Rosalee had to leave at lunchtime, because she had something come up, so Lucy-Jane and I had to finish off the sewing on our own.

Although Rosalee and Lucy-Jane are both experienced at sewing clothes, neither had done any patchwork or quilting before, so there was a bit of a learning curve, so some of the first squares they pieced weren’t quite as accurate as the later ones, and you can clearly see the differences between our tastes in the fabric choices for our respective squares, but I think for a cooperative project the end result is reasonably coherent 🙂

Lucy-Jane had a cutesy fabric panel in her stash that worked nicely as a backing, so I quilted and bound it last night (even hand-stitched the binding – the boss better appreciate the sacrifice involved!), and voilà, one baby quilt, finished in record time.

I got mail

Signs are abounding that Christmas is on its way. I already have six different Christmas/end-of-year parties in my calendar (sounds like I have a really impressive social life, but the majority are work-related), and plans are being made in our corridor at work for the annual door-decorating competition (which, of course, our office won last year, so the pressure is on to keep up the standard for this year!). But the real sign of Christmas is that I got home tonight to find a mysterious parcel in my letterbox, all the way from Germany – TexasWren’s (though actually Herschelle organised it this year, because TW is too busy) annual BC Ornament Exchange in action.

It’s always so exciting opening an ornament exchange parcel – you never know what you’re going to find inside.

Top layer, a note from the sender, chawoso, and a card…

…that turned out to be a mini advent calendar, which folds out to stand up (with what I later worked out is space for a tea-light candle inside, which will shine through the windows as they’re opened).

Beneath that, so many goodies! (Once again, I’m feeling like what I sent to my swap partner is totally inadequate…)

A couple of Christmassy books, The Night Before Cat-mas, and Joy to the World,

some reindeer serviettes,

and, of course, ornaments:

Yes, that is a cinnamon stick tied to the second ornament – I’m amazed that made it through customs without the biosecurity dogs picking it up! My favourite is definitely the beaded tree, though – in fact, I think it’s possibly my favourite ornament of all the exchanges I’ve taken part in.

Rounding off the parcel were a few chocolate coins, and a tea-light candle (which was how I figured out how the advent calendar was supposed to work).

Must mean it’s nearly time to put up the Christmas tree!*

(*well, “nearly” as in “definitely not until it’s actually December”, but that’s only a week away 🙂 )

Stencil all the things

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

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

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

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

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

Slightly better after a second coat:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practice makes …better

For the last few months, when I was way too busy to do anything crafty, I indulged my need for creativity by watching YouTube videos on quilting, and looking forward to having the chance to put some of what I learnt into practice (oh, and by buying fabric.  Lots of fabric. (See, this is why I should never be let loose on a new hobby – I do have a *slight* tendency to the obsessive…))  So there’s about a million patterns clamouring for attention in my “must try this one out someday” file.  I’ve especially been looking forward to trying some more traditional quilt blocks, to expand my skills a wee bit from the paper piecing which I’ve mostly concentrated on.  So I decided to try a wee Christmas project, based on this pattern.

This kind of patchwork involves a lot more careful measuring and pre-cutting than I’m used to with paper piecing (where, despite appearances, the only part you have to be really precise with is the actual sewing), but I thought things were going quite well at first:

But then, when I tried sewing the four blocks together to get a star, it was all a bit wonky:

I could either get the inside angles between the legs of the star to line up, or the edges, not both. I went with the angles, because they’d be most noticeable, but that means I’ll have to trim the block down to get it square, and I’m pretty much guaranteed to chop off some of the points of the star in the process 🙁  Plus of course, it’s really obviously out of alignment in the centre.

However, I figured out what I’d done wrong – ironically, it wasn’t my measuring or cutting, it was that the quarter-inch mark on my sewing machine isn’t accurate, so it was my sewing that was off!  This has never been an issue with paper piecing, because there you’re always sewing along a line on the paper, but with this kind of patchwork you need to keep your seams totally consistent, which mine weren’t, because the mark which I’d assumed was a quarter-inch seam is actually slightly more than that, which was throwing everything out.  Luckily, that’s a problem easily solved with a ruler and a sharpie, so I now have an accurate quarter-inch seam line marked on the sewing machine.

Armed with a new appreciation for accuracy, I tried again, and this time I was *much* happier with the result:

There’s still room for improvement (plus, did you spot the deliberate mistake?), but I feel like I’ve learnt a lot today.  I’m all inspired to try another one, but I really should spend the rest of the afternoon baking a cake to take to tomorrow’s presentation (we’re putting on afternoon tea for the Vanuatu community after our talks), and running through my presentation a few more times for good measure.

In other news, when I got home last night I found a mysterious envelope in the letterbox, from a New York publishing company.  I couldn’t think why they’d be writing to me, and was even more mystified when I opened it and all that was inside was a square of paper with a signature.

Then I looked again at the signature: J Lawson.  As in The Bloggess.  And memory clicked into place.  Ages ago, when she announced her new book, Furiously Happy (which of course I immediately raced off to pre-order), she said that she’d sign bookplates for anyone who couldn’t get to one of her signings, and her publishers would post them out.  I assumed it would only apply to US residents, but there was nothing on the publisher’s website to explicitly say so, so I thought it was worth a shot, and put my name down.  I got the book ages ago, but had completely forgotten about the bookplate, because I’d just assumed they’d never send one to NZ.  But they did!

(It’s a very good book, by the way.  You should read it.)

Sometimes I really love living in Christchurch. Other times, not so much. Yesterday was one of those times. I went to the supermarket on the way home, planning to catch the bus home from there. But when I got to the bus stop (carrying several very heavy bags of groceries), I discovered they were doing road works on that street, and the bus stop was surrounded on both sides by road cones (though the bus stop itself didn’t have any cones). I wasn’t sure if the stop was operating, so I checked the sign, and there was nothing to say it wasn’t (normally they put a little bag thing over the sign to hide it, and put up a temporary stop further along the street).  So I assumed the bus must still be stopping there, so I waited for the bus.

Which, when it turned up, went straight past.  The driver definitely saw me, but he just shook his head and gestured to the cones, and kept driving.  I was a wee bit annoyed, because it’s half an hour between buses (plus, did I mention heavy bags?), but I picked up my bags and walked along the street to see if there was a temporary stop.  There wasn’t (even though there were plenty of stretches of road where they could have safely put one).  I got to the next proper bus stop, which was also surrounded by road cones (and this time obviously wasn’t in use, because the road workers had parked their equipment on it – there was still nothing on the bus stop itself to say it was closed, though).  So I had to keep walking.  Still no temporary stop, but I did eventually get past the road works, and found a third proper bus stop, by which time my arms were almost falling off!

At least the bus did stop for me at that stop, but I was very annoyed that there hadn’t been signs at the other two stops to say they were closed, and that there were no temporary stops.  Needless to say I sent a very snotty email to ECan when I got home – I know there’s a lot of road works going on across the city, but ECan get plenty of notice about them, so you’d think they could at least put signs up if they’re going to close a bus stop.  Grrrr.

But it’s November!

This happens every year in Christchurch, but for some reason it always surprises us. We have a few nice warm days in October, we all decide it’s summer, and then are horribly shocked when the weather reverts back to cold and wet again.  This morning’s frost was a bit of a shock, though – according to Stuff (that well-known bastion of excellence in reporting… not) it’s the coldest November morning for 60 years.  But still, cold spells in November (or even December – the weather doesn’t really settle down for summer until after Christmas) are pretty normal for Christchurch. Spring isn’t so much a period of mild weather as a time of wildly alternating temperatures, where one day you’re sweltering in a nor’wester, and the next the southerly blows back in and you’re huddled up in coats and scarves again.  About the only thing you can be sure of is that Show Day will always be hot, with a strong nor’wester blowing the dust up.  Luckily, I’ll be in Auckland 🙂

Falafels and an oops

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, so that’s what a weekend is

Hmmm, according to my calendar, the last time I actually took a full weekend off was in August. No wonder I was feeling tired! But I have rectified that by actually having a break this weekend – I didn’t even attempt to work on my presentation for next weekend.  Just took a proper break and had a couple of fun and restful days.  And discovered that one advantage of not having proper weekends for so long is that having two whole days off feels like such a luxury – it’s almost like having a holiday! 🙂

Yesterday was Halloween, so we had a bookcrossing meetup (only three of us turned up 🙁 ), followed by creating a themed book tree in Jellie Park.  I didn’t have many suitable books to contribute – scraping the bottom of my boxes of books turned up a few Stephen King and Harry Potter books, which I decided qualified on horror and magic grounds, so, not having had time to trawl second-hand bookshops for anything better, they went on the tree.  But between the three of us we had enough books to make the tree look quite respectably adorned, and as we were leaving it was already being inspected by a couple of people.

Afterwards Lytteltonwitch stopped off at my place for dinner (after a quick dash to the supermarket so that I could actually provide dinner!), theoretically on her way to a Halloween party.  But in the end my couch was too comfortable to move from, so she gave up on the party in favour of staying to chat for a couple more hours.

I’d bought some lollies at the supermarket, in case of trick or treaters, but only one set turned up.  They were really impressive though – a group of teenagers who’d actually made an effort (instead of the usual half-hearted attempts we get around here, where most of the kids just wear a plastic mask or don’t even bother to dress up at all, they just demand lollies).  They were all in costume and elaborate face-paint, with a sort of Tim Burton-esque theme.  One of them was even playing a guitar (very tunefully, too).  Very impressive (and very polite – they all said thank you when I gave them the lollies!).  I wish I’d thought to take a photo.

I spent today indulging my need for creativity, sewing a second version of the Wren pattern, this time with the colours running in the right direction:

I could tell I’d been away from the sewing machine for a long time – so many mistakes! But I think I managed to fix or hide them all sufficiently, so I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out in the end. Now I’ve just got to figure out exactly how I want to combine the three birds together…