How to understand this blog

Thursday, December 30, 2010


I finally went to see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader the other day. My expectations were low, having seen the trailer and dreading what they were going to do to the book, and they were basically fulfilled. I wasn't disappointed but my expectations were not exceeded by much.

They didn't hack the plot to pieces quite as much as I thought they would. Except they just couldn't resist Hollwoodifying the story. It apparently needed a more compelling overarching storyline than a simple quest. So they invented an evil green mist. Very cinematic. And apparently Every Single Character needed a personal journey, or some personal demon to overcome. Painful! Not to mention cheesy. And waaaaay too busy. The movie just did not flow well, what with all these subplots.

Almost everyone knows the partially allegorical nature of the Narnia Chronicles - and I was surprised to see they had left some things in that were almost explicit in their allegorical sense. But these things often betrayed the signs of fiddling, of the fiddling of people who don't understand religion but think they can speak for the religious. I was particularly annoyed by the conversation between Lucy and an entirely superfluous character, a little girl whose mother has been taken by the green mist: [paraphrase approaching]
"How do I know I will ever see my mother again?"
"You just need to have faith."
"But Aslan didn't stop her being taken."
"Just have faith. I promise we'll find her."
Again, painful! Faith in what, precisely? That life on earth is fair? That Aslan prevents anything difficult ever happening? Argh! It's such a distortion of the concept of faith!! But it's a nice cliché that Hollywood likes and at the sound of which C. S. Lewis would have torn out his hair in frustration.

I did think, however, that it wasn't entirely bad. Fiddling with the plot produced some fairly okay results in some areas - for instance, extending the appearance of the dragon was fun. I think that Ben Barnes is very pleasant to look at. Some of the cinematography was pretty cool. And I also think that the kid who plays Eustace Scrubb is very promising. My hopes for The Silver Chair have not been left shattered.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

the Christmas story

This is cute, so for your viewing interest:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

DIY Christmas

Greetings! This year, I am doing Christmas presents cheaply. Hence, the appearance of Christmas crafts in my life. This is how to make the little bags into which I am going to put yummy things, and which I am going to give to my relatives as presents. They're very easy, very cheap, and actually pretty quick too!

I even have visual aids, because it's very simple to do but complicated to explain. Away we go!

You will need 2 rectangles of different coloured felt. Cut each corner to round it out, like so:

Then each piece needs a 14-cm slit along the middle. Do this by folding in half and cutting 7cm:

And now, follow the instructions pictured below:

Once you have folded your bag, there is nothing you need to do to it to make it stay together - one of the things I love about this little bag!

Finally, make some little straps for it out of pieces of ribbon about 7cm long. I like to sew them on with cotton that matches the colour of the felt, but the guide I used last time said to glue them on. I think this probably wouldn't last very long so I recommend sewing! But whatever works for you.

{Later addition: I decided to sew up the open edges just a little bit so the bags can hold more. It depends what you want to use them for.}

Here are some of the other bags I made, all in the space of a few hours. Quick and easy!
Last time I made these, I stuck little paper snowflakes on as gift tags, and filled the bags with wrapped sweets. I may mix it up a little this time ... who knows? I've got about five days to decide!

I LOVE THE ONSET OF CHRISTMAS. Am in a happy glow right now.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

thank you, russian fudge

I had a meeting with one of my supervisors yesterday, during which I had a lightning bolt of knowledge, as it were. A thunderclap. It said:

I am really, really sick of this.

I went downstairs to my office space, and sat staring blindly at my computer screen while rebellious thoughts of dropping out of university ran through my head. Dropping out, and going to live on a Fijian beach, gathering shells for a living. Or starting my own ashram in the Indian hills. Or something like that.

Then I suddenly remembered that I was going to two different dessert parties that evening and still hadn't got anything to take with me. Oh joy!! I rushed out, went home, and procrastibaked.

Russian fudge recipe

3 cups sugar
Half cup milk
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
125 grams butter (about 4oz I think)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon golden syrup (= corn syrup)

Before you start, get a tin to pour the fudge into, and line it with baking paper. Later you will need to put the saucepan in a sink of cold water, to beat the fudge, so get the sink ready, with about a 3 or 4 cm water level. I find it works best, as well, if I have all the ingredients ready to go, measured out and with spoons ready, so that you can get them into the saucepan quickly.

Place the sugar and milk in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
Add the condensed milk, butter, salt and golden syrup. Boil, stirring often. Once the mixture starts to go a little darker, stick in a thermometer,* and keep stirring.
When the fudge has reached the correct temperature, remove from the heat and place in the sink of cold water. Beat for about 3 minutes with a wooden spoon. It's really important to beat quite vigorously until the fudge really starts resisting!! Then pour into the tin.
When cool, mark into squares. When completely set, break the squares apart.

* If you have a thermometer: I usually heat until the "soft ball" stage, which is about 116*C/240*F.
If you don't have a thermometer: Test the fudge by dropping a small amount into a quarter cup of cold water. If it forms a soft ball when pressed between your fingers, the fudge is ready. (I find this a pretty confusing way to figure it out, and so I would really recommend getting a thermometer!)


Now, I feel not exactly wonderful about the amount of work I still have to do on my thesis. I do feel resigned to my fate, however, and at least a tiny bit determined to finish. At the very least, I still have a small supply of sugary fudgey goodness. Thank you, procrastibaking, for restoring equilibrium and sanity!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

listening to our parents

When I started university, determined to do a BA in English and History, I think my parents were a little frightened for me. It's not like this was a great surprise - after all, I had rejected the sciences early on, and been forced kicking and screaming into taking Calculus in my last year at school. My mother sat me down and made me list the sensible careers a BA could bring me. I rolled my eyes but played along, listing the obvious choices - Teacher, Journalist, etc. - none of which I wanted to be but which I knew would pass the Parent Test. That was enough for my mother. She was suspicious, but I think she was relieved that at least I wasn't waltzing off to teach English in China or whatever it was I had decided would be a great idea if I didn't go to uni.

Six years later, I am soon to finish my MA in History. I still don't have a clue what I want to be, but I know that I made the right decision when I was 18. It would be a heck of a lot more comfortable to come out of uni knowing exactly what career my degree would bring me - life in a law firm, an engineering company, a business - but it would be a heck of a lot more boring for someone like me and, more importantly, it would be a perversion of who I am and the talents I have. I completely understand that for many people a career is just something that supports their family, etc. I don't want to make that seem negative. And I don't think it's all about personal fulfilment. However, I do think that if you've been given a talent/skill/gift, and can develop it, you should. (Obviously, to a point.) It will make you better at the "sensible" jobs, it will show you that you can actually do anything that you really want to do. (Obviously, within reason.)

My dad is wonderful, and very supportive, even though I'm sure he disapproves of the lack of clear direction for me right now. He's always interested in what I'm doing, and he recognises the need for the study of history, and he's very proud of me whenever I succeed in some way, etc. etc. He's been very good about my choices in study, even if he's always been a fan of the Sensible, Professional Career Path. I'm pretty sure, though, that he wishes it was someone else's daughter doing it. Not in a bad way. But doesn't every parent want security and safety for their children?

Parents can give great advice. But it will usually be conservative. They don't actually "just want us to be happy", they want us to be happy as a doctor, lawyer, engineer or teacher. And I have to say that I am actually quite glad I didn't listen to my parents when I was 18, even though the future ahead of me is so open right now. It's a little scary. But I can't wait to see what is coming.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Last year, around this time, I wrote a blog post about the wonderful year I had just had. And 2009, for me, was wonderful. This year... not so much. I thought for a moment about writing all the things that annoyed me about 2010, and then decided that would be very painful for you to read. So here is my list of good things about 2010 that I decided it would do me good to remember. The funny thing is ... there turned out to be more of them than I thought. Huh. That taught me a lesson.

1. I started the year with a lovely, although brief, time with the family. All of my siblings were in Christchurch at some point over the summer, and there was even one day when we were all in town at the same time. This is rare, and precious!

2. I have good friends, and I have made new ones this year. Some of them got married, or engaged. One of my best friends returned last week after fifteen months abroad. The last time I saw her was in Poland. It's really good to have her back.

3. Finally, after several years of wanting to do this, I ran a singalong Sound of Music! I put a ridiculous amount of work into it because I was so ridiculously excited, and it was worth every hour spent painting recognisable scenes from the movie. A bunch of people came who were as ridiculously excited as we were, and a good time was had by all.

4. Slowly, I've been coming to terms with my thesis. I have felt, at times during this year, painfully stupid. I've felt like I've been losing control of it, that I'll never get it figured out, let alone finished. It's not finished yet. But that's getting closer. And I'm figuring it out. I have much more of a handle on the things I am arguing and writing about.
Perhaps, pain has been gain. Perhaps I can do anything?

5. Four issues of Halfway Down the Stairs in 2010, marking five years of publication. I wasn't sure if we were going to make it on the last two without our web design expert, who had to leave our editing team - but I think we have made it! I'm loving the way the 'zine is going. I'm very proud of it.

6. 2010 was the year of Tuesdays-with-my-nieces, R. and M. I had to have part-time work this year, and I was so lucky to (a) devote one solid, single day to it instead of having to break up several days of the week, like most students, and (b) "work" a job that involved spending time with two of my favourite people. I've enjoyed Tuesdays so much. It's involved a kind of creativity that is so different to thesis-writing but has rejuvenated me for the days spent in the office thinking and reading and writing.

7. I have a new nephew, who is two weeks old. He is healthy and charming and calm, and he is a beautiful addition to the family. I can't wait to see some more of him post-Christmas!

8. I moved into a new flat this year, a flat which is lovely and which is owned by lovely landlords. That in itself was a huge improvement on 2009.

9. Said flat has not always been the warmest place to live, especially for people who can't afford much heating, which has given me a new appreciation of heat! Therefore, the onset of summer is more enjoyable than it has ever been before!

10. 2010 has been a year of beaching it up. My flatmates and I discovered at the beginning of the year that we all love swimming at the beach, love it so much that we discover our inner children. Then, later this year, I discovered the joys of bonfires on the beach and fire juggling. Below is a photo of me! Me! Spinning things around in my hands that have fire on the end of them!

11. I'm a social person, in some ways, but I can be quite shy and I freak out a little (or sometimes a lot) about certain types of social things. I don't like the thought of big parties, I don't like the thought of things where I may be expected to dance in front of people! It usually means I make excuses and get out of going to things. This year I have made much more of an effort to go to things. It means I've had more moments of anxiety than usual. It also means that I've usually ended up having more fun, getting to know people better, trying things and finding out they're not that bad.
I've hardly cured my tendency to stress out. But I've become more determined to do things despite it.
12. I got to visit the three other major cities of New Zealand - one entirely paid for by other people, one on air points, and the other for very very cheap. I had a great time in each one, and one in particular (Wellington) completely exceeded my expectations.
13. I also went away briefly, to Duvauchelles with some friends for a nice weekend, and on the Tranzalpine train across the Southern Alps. Rather beautiful and relaxing.

14. Figuring out the concept of assertion. Ask and you will be given, seek and you will find, etc. I asked some publishing companies and they have given me free books to review. Hooray! This has been part of how I started my new blog.

15. I went to the U2 concert on November 25! It was unbelievably cool.

16. So many things to be thankful for, and still this year has been a hard one. The West Coast mining tragedy and the Christchurch earthquake were the big, obvious things. The earthquakes are still coming every day. It's not that pleasant. Surely I should have got used to them? Instead I'm just getting worse.

In a less dramatic way, this year has been slightly difficult for me when it comes to worry. I don't know what I'm going to do when I finish my thesis, I haven't had much money and I have absolutely no savings, we've had to find flatmates suddenly with very little notice and are still at this moment hoping to find a flatmate within the next couple of weeks, and there have been a few personal things that have just been so very unsettling.

In a peculiar way, though, I'm glad this year has been tough. I have had to lean on God so much more. He has provided for me in completely unexpected ways and I have had to learn to trust him in a way that I never had to when everything was settled and safe. It would be nice if I could just learn a lesson and stop worrying. I know that's not going to happen. But I'm very grateful to him that the lesson has begun.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Friday in Auckland

On my last day in Auckland we drove out to Mission Bay. (We = me + sister + her husband & 2 girls + brother-in-law + his elder son. Younger son was four days old - and extremely cute - and at home with mum.)

Mission Bay is an idyllic little slice of beachiness, with a dominant view of the peak of Rangitoto Island, one of the distinctive sights of Auckland. It has become, typically, one of the most expensive places in Auckland to live, but luckily it seems that this hasn't stopped anyone coming out to the beach from other areas. Pohutukawa trees line the beach, and they're just starting to bloom with the beautiful red flowers that have earned them the name 'New Zealand's Christmas tree'.

Some paddling, a picnic lunch, some shell-collecting, some ice creams later, and we headed off. It was a lovely morning-and-early-afternoon, but it really only awakened my appetite for the northern beaches of New Zealand. A little hint of the more tropical side of my country, which I haven't really experienced before.

And then it was back to Christchurch!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

it isn't up and isn't down

Silence - the December issue of Halfway Down the Stairs - has arrived!

Check it out. There's some beautiful writing as always. Some really wonderful poetry, like Isi Unikowski's '5am' and Gail Wawrzyniak's 'Still Life Discussions' - and actually I'm going to stop there because I like so much of it this time around that it seems silly to basically list the whole poetry section. I also love the nonfiction piece 'Cold, Black, Leaves, Cloud, Lightning' by one of our editors, Carrie Bachler.

Something new that we did this time around is a kind of 'Staff Favourites' page, in which a few of us who have been around for a while picked out our absolute favourites from the five years in which Halfway Down the Stairs has been published. Check this out also. Money back guarantee if you don't like them!

'Halfway Down the Stairs', by A. A. Milne, was also one of my favourite childhood poems. You can read it here. I remember thinking it was one of the most profound things I'd ever read (although of course I did not know the word 'profound' at that stage in my life!).


So I will try to be brief. Ish.

Unfortunately that means this blog post will probably be full of adjectives like AMAZING! INCREDIBLE! AWESOME! instead of an attempt to explain why the things in question were AMAZING! INCREDIBLE! AWESOME! That's okay. Bear with me.

I went to the U2 concert on November 25 in Auckland, and was completely blown away.

Blown away, because I went to the concert almost exactly four years before in the same place, and thought I knew exactly what I was getting. I didn't.

Blown away, because I had thought I was getting over my silly adolescent U2 phase, although I still enjoyed their music. I didn't spend the weeks leading up to the concert psyching myself up or obsessing over what songs they may or may not play. I hardly got excited until the very evening of the concert. And then when the first chords played, this excitement came throbbing back into my veins all of a sudden, and I realised - I really love their music. I jumped up and down, I cheered and whistled, I was as happy clappy as the best of them.

The concert didn't necessarily start out so well. By the time you actually get there, after a tortuous public transport trip (I do not know how Auckland is going to cope when the rugby world cup hits them next year), you hear Jay Z, the support artist, playing ridiculously loudly and groan a little. Then you find out the stands your seats are in are temporary stands, and basically look like a bunch of scaffolding. Whenever people walk particularly loudly, they shake. Whenever people start stomping their feet during a Mexican wave, you have a minor panic attack as the stands tremble. "From Christchurch?" someone next to you sympathetically asks. "Yup," you reply. "I can't look at any type of building anymore without assessing them mentally for earthquake safety."

But once U2 starts playing... this all fades.

The show was incredible. The stage, lights, video, everything... mind-blowing.

The day before the concert, there was another explosion in the Pike River mine. The country was sorrowfully told that there was no chance the 29 miners trapped inside could still be alive. New Zealand is really feeling this one. We're a small country, this kind of stuff doesn't happen that often. We think we're in the first world, that we're invincible, that we can control everything - and then this happens.

Bono spoke. What he said was heartfelt, helpful and understanding. And then U2 played "One Tree Hill", which was written for their Kiwi friend Greg Carroll who died in Auckland, and now was dedicated to the 29 fallen. It was absolutely beautiful, and uplifting, and a fitting tribute to the dead. You can see some of it on this video.

The rest of the concert was amazing too. One of the things I really appreciated about not having been too excited beforehand is that I didn't try and figure out everything that would happen. So when songs came, they were a complete surprise, and I felt like I could really genuinely enjoy the onslaught of songs like Where The Streets Have No Name, part of the excitement of which is the sudden realisation that they are about to play it. It started with a verse of Amazing Grace before the opening chords, which have always been the most electrifying opening to a song that I've ever heard.

Here is my video of the beginning. Unfortunately I missed the verse of Amazing Grace:

The setlist as a whole to the concert can be found here, but I think those two songs were possibly my favourites, although I really did love everything they did. With Or Without You, a song which I have only just begun to appreciate, was a close runner-up to the other two songs, although being a single person I began to feel a little insecure at the number of couples cuddling up around me!

The concert finished with Moment of Surrender from their latest album, and with the crowd holding up their cellphones as candles. Pretttty.

And then we finished on an absolute high and left the stadium, to fight with maybe 60,000 other people to catch the trains out of Penrose Station. (Seriously, Auckland public transport people. How are you going to cope with a world cup if you think it's efficient to try and get that many people across a tiny railway bridge that fits maybe three-abreast? People will be crushed!) Oh well. That unpleasant experience is over now, but the memory of the concert remains!