Bob the Builder

10 weeks ago I had a plan, a slate roof tile off the Christchurch Cathedral and four lengths of manky 4×2.

I was standing in this dusty shabby room with six other newbies while a couple of “experts”, looking highly competent and able, industriously worked on wine racks and drawer units.

Somehow today I brought home this. A coffee table featuring my slate tile as an inset centrepiece.


The roof tile was a gift to Andrew and me about five years ago. The Cathedral Chapter had to re-roof the cathedral and decided to sell the tiles to recover some of the costs. Post earthquake the ruined Cathedral crumbles away in the square. I found the slate tile when sorting out a cupboard. It needed to be used somewhat significantly.

The timber has been recycled from someone’s house. Someone’s home. Destroyed by the earthquake. Demolished by Cera. I don’t know where it came from but I am pleased to give it another life.

When I first cut it to length and fed it through the thickness planer I loved how the mankiness was stripped away to reveal the hidden beauty of rimu and kauri. I used the rimu laminated together for the table top. The sturdy kauri became the four legs.

I feel quite confident myself using a variety of powertools, though the skill saws still scare me slightly. But the planers, the router and the sanding machines, even the biscuit joiner – no worries, mate.

Yes, there were cock ups along the way. But they are how only visible to my own critical eye. And actually I think they add to the rustic charm.

I still need to glue the slate down in the recess. The legs need to be unscrewed and then glued and using longer screws re-attached to the table top. Finally I need to seal and finish it so we can use it as it was designed to be used. A coffee table. Not evidence that Bob (what my boys call me) is having a mid-life crisis.

My course ended tonight. I said good bye to Bruce the tutor. Some people will have to return next term to finish their projects. But my father is really looking forward to helping me finish mine. He has made a couple of pieces of furniture in our lounge. I can’t wait to add my own creation to the collection.

I am feeling pretty chuffed. And so relieved it sits flat and solid on the floor!


Simple Pleasures

This is about the fourth attempt I have made to “blog” recently. But all the previous efforts have been discarded. I really had nothing to say. My husband would probably agree this is true most of the time but I carry on yacking away.

My title of the blog is 50 things which make me go Wow. And this morning is a wow morning. For the sheer simple pleasure of sunshine. And falling leaves. And taking the time to sit.

It is late Saturday morning. I had been doing inside jobs and it was cold. Our house is definitely colder and damper than it used to be and it was never known for its ambient temperature. I was cold. But when I came outside to hang out the washing, which began steaming as the sun hit it, I was surprised how mild it was.

I brought a cushion and my knitting and set myself up on the garden bench right beside our front door.

I still wore my beanie though, partly to keep my head warm (I am a reptile) and partly to measure againstq as I knit another beanie the same for a young friend.

The air was still. Sounds of the city filled the air, traffic going about its business, kids playing on the school playground, the neighbour’s toddler complaining.

Then there was a clatter, a lot like the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof in Clement Clarke Moore’s famous poem.

I looked up, and one of our oak trees was just shedding its leaves. Rustle, rustle, rustle. They fluttered and flew across the blue sky, discs of gold and green, zig zagging their way to the ground.

Adidas pounced and killed a few. But most managed to land on the lawn. Where they will lie until they annoy me too much and I will rake them away.

It is even warmer now. I can take off my hat. A sunny day in May. A simple pleasure. A wow to hold and recall when winter really sets in.

“If you were born without wings, do nothing to prevent them from growing.” ― Coco Chanel

In every little girl’s life there comes a time when she realises, as much as she willed it not to happen, it has. She has turned into her mother.

I think my time has come.

I am taller than Mum ever was. And leaner. I have the brown-green eyes of my father, not her soft grey ones. My hair has her thickness and her curls, but not as much. She was also much greyer, or maybe she gave up dyeing her hair at an earlier age! I have certainly inherited her slightly olive skin, a throwback to some spaniard who washed ashore in Ireland many years ago.

I guess I must resemble her because sometimes when my father introduces me as his daughter to old friends, they tell me I look like my mother did.

But it’s the other things. I have similar priorities as she did. A good book and or a spot in the sun should never be wasted, especially on mundane tasks like housework. Many the time I remember trudging home from school to find my mother sitting in the sun, cup of coffee at hand, and either a book or knitting on the go. She always had both.

She was a very creative woman. She knitted and sewed many great pieces for her family, and when we preferred shop brought, she made clothes for the needier people in our community. She was also an accomplished artist, and in her last years enjoyed painting watercolours. I am pretty adept at stick figures.

Mum and I share the knack for the written word. Mum published numerous short stories. One of her best was called “The Empty Nest”. Totally autobiographical it was about a mother’s desire for her fledgings to learn to fly and leave the nest. With some artistic licence and the Irish gift of the gab, some of her children’s exploits were exaggerated, but we could all see ourselves in her writing.

I am gently encouraging my eldest bird to take her adult wings, her cat, her dancing boards, her dirty undies off the bathroom floor, and make her own nest. By gently encouraging, I mean I tell her “it is time for you to move out now. Good bye!” Juliet is off to London in 15 days for a five week trip. Three girls, a few dancing competitions, catching up with old school friends and university mates who are on exchanges. They will have so much fun. Maybe coming home will be too boring afterwards and her wings will feel decidedly clipped.

I started to flap my own wings at 17, going flatting with two girls I worked with. It was a damp, cheap, grey summerhill stone brick flat, on Lincoln Road overlooking a bikie gang. I have no idea what my parents really thought of my stamping my independent foot.

My Jonny turns 18 on Thursday. He also shows no desire to move on. He is working in an office, learning the skills associated with that and also the importance of personal hygiene and how to iron a shirt. There are mutterings of going to South America at Christmas.

South America??? I was thinking he would leave first for a uni hostel in Dunedin or take a camping to Kaikoura. Not South America! There are drugs and drug lords and pirates in South America! Murderers! Violence! Coups! Wars! Jonny doesn’t even know where he left his, or his father’s, eftpos cards. How will he cope in another continent.

After six months of flatting, when I was just 18, I flew to London with a girlfriend. Stayed away a year. Nannied the kids of the privileged and idle. Did the whole Britrail youth hostel month in the UK and bus/camping trip around Europe. Again I don’t know what my parents thought of this adventure.

The youngest, only 15, is still at school. He is a little concerned because I keep talking about if/when we rebuild post earthquake, we might replace our four bedroom family home with a nice two bedroom retirement unit. Not implying Andrew and I are ready to retire, but more a comment on how slow the process is. Robbie is most indignant that “Juliet and Jonny get to mooch off you for ages and as soon as I leave school you are forcing me out?!” I don’t see the problem.

Children come into the world so cute and helpless, loving you with all their might because they need you so much. Then they grow up and want to do things on their own. It is cute when an indignant toddler states, “me do.” Later they even push you away. Hopefully, eventually after a period of teenage angst/rebellion/self-absorption the frustrated gangly ugly ducklings return as beautiful adult birds.

A good parent has to let them grow. I want them to go. Life is outside in the world. Even if it can all be accessed by tapping on an ipad screen, I am proud that my kids feel confident enough to go and explore it in reality. Of course, they have had such sheltered middle class lives and are completely naive, but Mum, Dad and the credit card are on the other end of the virtual apron string.

So Mum, I wonder what you would make of your grandchildren now. It has been more than 10 years since you saw them. The little children you knew have evolved into adults or almost adults. .
I wonder if you would find sweet justice in what goes around, coming around. I wonder how many of my exploits contributed to your grey hair.

I look forward to the day in the future when I can watch my children struggle with their children stretching their wings. Or not.

Wows on a Wednesday

What do a wooden chopping board, popping a red balloon and running in the rain all have to do with each other?

They all made me stop and say Wow!

Yesterday morning and this morning I have been attending a summer school workshop, Woodwork for Women. We were tasked with making either a wooden tray or a laminated chopping board. I have lots of trays but needed a new chopping board. On Monday I went shopping at the local hardware store and played the dumb card. Worse I was wearing running gear, pink running gear. I walked out with 10 pieces of pine cut to approximately the right length.

Yesterday I glued the pine together with strips of rimu for contrast. While the block of glued wood dried in the sash clamps (I learned the lingo) I used the band saw to make a couple of wooden spatulas out of scrap rimu. Then a big belt sander to smooth the spatula surfaces, round the edges and sharpen the point of one.

Today I scrapped the excess glue off the now dry block, and then ran it through a ginormous plane until it was all the same height and then through the table saw to make it rectangular – the rimu had been different sizes. Then remembering some basic geometry skills and using a compass I drew rounded corners. Back to the band saw.

It was looking good.

I sanded the edges with a block and sandpaper, and then ran the board round a router to give it a rounded edge, and also some little end handles.

Finally an orbital sander until it was smooth along the flat surfaces. A wee touch up with the sandpaper. And she was done.

At home I oiled everything a couple of times, just using ordinary olive oil. OMG. The board looks beautiful. I just want to show it off to everyone.

Of course my kids think it is weird. But then everything old people do is weird. I think it worthy of a Wow. Wow for woodwork!! And DIY!!

After lunch I went to the optometrist. Ka-ching! They see me coming and know they are going to get a big sale. I dread the bill. It is always horrendous and I always need new glasses at totally the wrong time financially. I was due for new ones before Christmas but was hoping to hang out another six weeks or so. But I am so tough on my specs. I am always surprised when I last two years without standing on them, losing them, or driving over them. Last week I stuffed them in my backpack and ran to a course. By the time I arrived my keys had abraded the right lens. Bugger!

So I did the whole eye test thing. One test I never need to stress about because you don’t ever “fail” or get a question wrong. I need progressive lenses. Ka-ching! Had I thought about upgrading to the tougher quality ones? Ka-ching ka-ching! But before I chose my frames I got to pick a ballon and pop it for a surprise gift. I was surprised. Really pleasantly surprised. My balloon was holding a voucher for $200. Oh wow! This makes the difference between ordinary frames and really nice frames. Yeah. Wow number two.

Wednesday is running night. Drills with the running club. Though in an effort to recruit more members we were trying a new initiative, bombing window screens at a recent 5k series advertising six sessions of Running 101 – learn how to run, and how to run better, more efficiently and avoid injury. My co-captain and I were leading it. Weeks had gone into the planning. We had practiced the sessions, written handouts, learned how to video and critique running styles with a fancy ap.

We had no idea who, if anyone would turn up.

The session was due to start at 7pm.

At 6pm it started to rain. Pour. Teem.


But lo and behold three hardy souls turned up, from our flyers. We took them through their paces, literally. They seemed to enjoy it, and learn something new. And hopefully next week it will be summer again, and more will turn up. It was a great start. Another Wow.

So three cheers for three wows!

I am tired after my big exciting day.

Nailing education!

When I left school I had had enough of education. I was sick of filling my folders with information which once or twice a year I would have to cement in my brain, only to regurgitate it all during a three hour exam.

The thought of going to university for three or four more years was not appealing. It did not help that I had no real idea of what I wanted to “do”. Well, I did, actually but I didn’t need a formal qualification for that, though some may argue it would be a good thing. I wanted to be a mum. Not straight away. I had a backpack of wild oats to sow first.

Mid-year exams loomed in my seventh-form year at school. I realised that whilst everyone around me was lugging around those big black folders filled with notes, one for each subject, I was blithely ambling to all my classes with just one small folder for all five subjects. I loved school. But I was sick of the constant pressure.

I left. Got a couple of mindless jobs. Learned to live. Scattered my oats across Australia, Canada, the UK, Europe and Israel. Came home. Became a mum.

In the intervening years I have returned to formal study and I have a collection of certificates proving that I can learn stuff and do stuff.

And I love learning now. Because it is on my terms. I have learned to run an effective marathon. I had a swimming lesson earlier in the week to improve my efficiency in the water. I annually have to attend courses related to my work to keep my certification current. I talk to other people and through them learn about the world, different cultures, politics, current issues.

Life is all about learning and growing. It is not all about folders of notes and exams to prove it sunk in. It is a process. A dance with some forward steps, some sideways steps, a few dips here and there. Listen to the music. Enjoy. It can be more fun with someone else, but I am happy to dance or learn alone.

Today I signed up for a woodwork class. I have a project and in the process of reaching the end goal I need to master a few basic techniques. Introductory Woodwork for Women. Perfect.

But looking down the list of other classes I see so many which tempt me – conversational Spanish, Te reo, websites, sail a keel yacht, sign language. If only I didn’t have to work! I would love to be a full-time student of life.

A Stitch in Time – and other words of wisdom.

Yesterday I stitched the last little cross in a piece I was making for my daughter’s 21st birthday.

It had been three years in the making, most of that stored in a bag in the lounge. The project seemed too daunting to start. But I was determined I would get it done. A few false starts in spring saw a little progress. But by October I realised I needed a plan.

One hour a day, at least five days a week, I would sit on my bed and stitch. I had to sit on my bed as I could use the bedside lamp to shine directly onto the fabric. One of the reasons I had been finding it so hard to do was I could no longer sit downstairs in the lounge at night and stitch whilst watching TV. My eyes are too old! I also was trying to do it secretly, without juliet knowing. Though I am sure she does – she is her mother’s daughter and incredibly nosey!

And slowly I made relentless forward progress. Mmmm, that sounds familar. Yet another facet of my life which is directly related to marathon running. I had a plan (one hour a day) and a training programme (the pattern for my project) but it was up to me to make it happen.

Like a lot of things in life, mistakes were made. Some required unpicking. Some were put in the “don’t sweat the small stuff”. Afterall the piece I was stitching is headed “Words of Wisdom from your Mom”. What better advice to my daughter could I give than that.

With Christmas and summer holidays looming, it was going to be touch and go if I would finish it in time. I worked on the more complicated portions aiming to get them all done before Christmas, leaving just the top and bottom phrases to complete while away.

Our first week of holidays was at Lake Rotoiti. New Zealand was stuck under multiple winter weather systems. The upside of this was I could happily stitch away all day, as Juliet had chosen to stay home in Christchurch. Actually when asked if she would like to come away she said, “Let me consider that. A week in a small house with old people and two smelly boys, or a week in an empty house with two cats and just me?”

Yesterday I completed it. All it needs now is to be washed, pressed and framed.

And yes, laying it out flat on the floor was definitely a Wow moment. I felt accomplished. Pride. Pleased.

The weirdest thing about cross-stitch is it really is an unlikely thing for me to do. But I love the feeling of creating something out of nothing, of watching a blank canvas fill with my work. It probably is a bit like a puzzle, all the counting squares and matching dots and squiggles.

But it definitely fulfills my need to be creative. The past decade or so this need had been supressed. By life, circumstances and desire. And it showed. But already I have a few other projects in mind ….

Cover photo: Juliet and her mum, Paris 2012 – a rare mother and daughter photo.

Pattern for “Love from Mom” by Sue Hillis
Relentless Forward Progress – A Guide to Running Ultra-Marathons by Bryon Powell