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!


Taking on the world!

During my time on earth I have come to appreciate hard work. Not just in my chosen sport of running, but in all* sports. And arts. And all areas in which humans aspire to be the best.

This morning I wandered down the drive, negotiating mud and puddles to retrieve my newspaper. Unwrapping the plastic I saw a vaguely familiar face on the front page. It was my nephew, Oliver. My husband’s brother’s son. (My nephews have all taken to bushy facial hair and consequently look all the same, and a lot like their uncles on their mother’s side whom I knew as teenagers, and through whom I met my husband! Long convoluted story, a little incestuous, and more proof that I live in a village.)

I met Ollie 25 years ago next month, as a squawling newborn, the youngest of three boys. When I saw him being dragged around the house by his older brother who had him by the ankles I learned that babies survive, a lot! I babysat his two older brothers while Ollie went to his cello lessons. All three boys, and their parents are accomplished musicians. I took fish off hooks and re-baited them when Ollie came on holiday with us, aged 11. I steered clear of him while he was learning to drive. Ollie was a “gentleman” of the Christchurch Cathedral choir whilst our son, Jonny, was a treble.

I witnessed both boys, Jonny and Ollie, leave family functions or arrive late to fulfil their choir obligations. Singing hard and often all year but especially in the advent season leading up to Christmas. A recital on Christmas Eve. Midnight service. 10am Christmas Day service. Although the boys had evensong off, the gentleman returned for a fourth service in 24 hours. Jonny did as he was told. Ollie had to decide for himself. And as a teenager and university student, he chose to work hard.

He must have sacrificed a lot of what is considered normal for his peer group.

I admire that. It takes guts to say to your friends, “no, I cannot do (insert crazy plan, drinking, smoking, drugs, holidays, etc) because I have a bigger plan.” It reminds me of one of my favourite quotes, “

Discipline is just choosing between what you want now and what you want most.”

And now that dedication and hard work (and a good helping of natural talent) has paid off. Ollie is off to study in New York. Wow, Ollie. I am impressed. But what impresses me more, is that two weeks ago when you were home from Wellington and the extended family got together for Nanna’s birthday (my mother in law), was when you walked in the back door. I was in the dining room. You said, “Hi, Robyn” with such warmth in your voice. That makes me smile still today. You’re a nice kid. With a great future. And a stunning voice. Go and wow them on the world opera stage!

Oliver Sewell

Cover photo

* Allow me to modify this to mainstream sports. Some “sports”, and even other activities which we start to see on our tv screens at night really do warrant a great big wtf. I am not talking about synchronised swimming, for example, because even that demands huge control and discipline, but some of the ones listed in this list of weird sports and games.

Wow for a Working Girl!

One question which people often ask is what would be your dream job? I had my dream job. I worked as a trainer in an inclusive gym which was set up to assist people with physical disabilities achieve their health and fitness goals. It was also open to the community, and so people of all shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities (or lack of) worked out together. I loved it. It was rewarding in all aspects. And the future looked bright.

Until one night I had a phone call to say the building had been deemed unsafe and was red-stickered immediately – which meant no access at all, except to retrieve important personal belongings. This was a bolt out of the blue as we had been using the facility through all the earthquake period, for more than 18 months.

I was immediately out of work. That was May 2012. Since then I have worked as a part-time casual relief trainer for a city council facility. It seemed impossible for me to get permanent hours as I stated all along I was not willing to work weekends. I would happily cover occasionally, but I did not want a permanent weekend shift.

It was disheartening. Plus I have to admit the pay was ludicrous. Both my children were being paid much more than me.

My goal for this year was to find work. A friend suggested I formalise my computer skills with a free course which would give me the necessary qualification to prove my ability. It is a self based learning programme and I am racing through the papers, loving it all. Computer geek alert!! She also said to treat the application process like a bit of a game, a challenge. I used two online job seeker sites, searching for both administration work and positions in the health and fitness industry.

I created a spreadsheet to keep track of them all. Each morning I would receive email notifications of possible positions. I would shortlist those I was interested in and on Friday afternoon I would sit down with the PC and the iPad and apply to them all. Twelve applications so far. Three flat out nos. Two interviews. Five still haven’t “closed”. One job offer today.

Both my interviews were absolutely perfect and I am sure that I would have been offered the other position today. The clincher in the interview for this position is the husband and wife team for who I will be working with are Totaranui people. I knew then I was in!

I am thrilled. For so many reasons. But mainly some job security. The ability to plan ahead knowing what my income projection will be, knowing what hours I will be working. Plus wearing colour, and what I want, not a uniform of black tee shirt and black shorts or trackpants.

I am also thrilled that my admin skill base was still relevant enough to compete with applicants with more current experience. I have not worked in an office since 1997, a brief stint between Jonny and Robbie.

So big wow. A wonderful start to the weekend. Looking forward to Monday 4 March for my first day. Also looking forward to maybe buying some real clothes!!

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.