How to understand this blog

Sunday, October 31, 2010

two birthdays

I went to my niece's fourth birthday party yesterday, super-excited about the present I had been working all week on for her. It is a fairy kit, for all her fairy needs:

It includes:
- a fairy playlist CD
- edible fairy toadstools
- cornflower seeds and a little pot to plant them in, to attract the cornflower fairy
- a book: "Flower Fairies of the Garden", so she can learn more about the types of fairies that will visit
- a wand. Of course.
- colouring in pages and stickers
- pink fairy dust, a miniature fairy bell, and fairy bubbles, to attract fairies
- a fairy tea set with which to welcome the fairies (in the tiny little white and pink box)
- a fairy purse.
- and finally a little book, a guide to this fairy kit.

I did go a little overboard, I have to admit. But I had so much fun. I also remembered to get a few fairy accessories for Niece-Aged-2 who understandably does not cope well with her big sister getting all the presents.

Anyway, the party was fun and included a princess bouncy castle. Niece-Now-Aged-4 loved the fairy kit but it was possibly upstaged by a Cinderella Disney Princess Barbie! The children ran around with that look of utter happiness which characterises small children's birthday parties. It was lovely.

It happened to be my birthday yesterday too. So I went straight from the four-year-old birthday party to a twenty-four-year-old birthday dinner at the Dux de Lux. It was really great and I was especially happy because a bunch of people from different areas of my life came along - old friends, university friends, church friends, etc. After dinner some of us traipsed back to our flat and I was surprised to find our living room full of 100 balloons!

Needless to say, the twenty-four-year-old birthday party soon became extremely similar to the four-year-old party. Looks of seraphic happiness, balloons flying through the air and eventually rubbed on hair and stuck to the ceiling. What is it about balloons that is so inducive of childish happiness?!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

summer is acumen in

I love this time of year.

I discovered a pretty garden on my way home from uni. It's across the road near the Staff Club and it's full of beautiful flowers. Bluebell carpets and glorious rhododendrons and the like.

It makes me happy and the stress melts away!

Monday, October 25, 2010

the final stretch

I am determined to finish my thesis by Christmas.

This is going to take quite some work.

I have a meeting with my supervisors on Wednesday in which we are going to figure out the direction my work needs to go in. This is what one of them wrote in an email about reading the last few chapters I've written: ...the existence of some problems, along with the basic quality of the research and the promise of the project. We need a long and deep discussion, as some restructuring may be needed.

It was nice of him to remember to say something kind - but I could already tell, as I read through what I've written now, that it's far from perfect and that the structure doesn't really work. I wasn't going to say anything about it because I hoped maybe I was wrong, but it looks like I'm in for a hard slog, uphill.

At the moment, I just want it to be over. I think once I've had the meeting and we've brainstormed a bit and I'm full of ideas, I'll be rearing to go. For now, I read it over and over, I jot down problems, and I rely on:

- caffeine. Procrastibaking. Cake.

- repeating to myself in all moments of utter panic my sister's PhD motto, taken from Finding Nemo's Dorie: "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming..."

- laughing at my situation and reminding myself that every single other thesis student goes through this and at least it's not a PhD: see Lord of the Rings allegory here...

- taking moments to do things like fix my bibliography or my footnotes, write my acknowledgments, etc. Nice practical tasks that remind me that I will finish. One sweet day.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

the way she sees the world

My niece has been doing some photography on Aunty Allie Tuesdays. I have an extremely childproof point-and-shoot camera (waterproof and therefore ideal for three-year-old usage), and I've found that photography is a great way to get the kids outside and running around, looking for things to photograph.

I think children's photography is incredibly interesting - a glimpse of their point of view of the world, which was ours once upon a time and which we've forgotten. How they see the world and what they think is important. So here are some 3-year-old-Niece's shots, for your viewing pleasure.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

unnatural women

There is a widespread idea that models have only just become unnaturally sized and dangerous to emulate. Not a myth? These clips from 1930s newspapers would suggest otherwise!

Monday, October 18, 2010

pie ... and cider

I'm going through a cider phase at the moment. I LOVE IT. And the other night when I decided to make a rhubarb pie, and discovered I was missing one ingredient - an orange - I decided to use cider instead!

Okay, so it's not the most thrilling recipe adaptation ever made. It's exciting for me, though, because I normally keep to the recipe as if I'm rewiring a circuit and one false move will zap me. This also happens to be the dessert that I always requested when I was a child, and which my mother always made for my birthday, etc. So it's pretty remarkable that I would allow anything to change about it.

So this is the recipe for my rhubarb and cider pie, which is MOSTLY someone else's recipe, from a long time ago, but partly mine!

I cheat and buy sweet shortcrust pastry, and use it to line the pie tin. Keep some aside for the lattice top.

For the filling you will need about 500g rhubarb stems (without the poisonous leaves) chopped up into small slices, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon jelly (jell-o?) crystals, 1/4 cup flour, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and enough cider to make the whole lot of this moist but not too runny.

Put all this into the lined pie tin.

To make a lattice top:
1 - roll the pastry out into a circle measuring the same as the top of the pie.
2 - cut it into 1cm strips.
3 - Drape half the strips across the pie in one direction.
4 - Fold every second one back.
5 - Lie a strip crosswise, near the centre, and then unfold the folded strips.
6 - Fold the previously unfolded strips back over the crosswise strip.
7 - Continue following this method, until you have used all the strips and formed a lattice design.
Press all of these against the edges.

Bake at 220*C / 430*F for 20 minutes until golden brown, then at 180*C / 350*C until the rhubarb is tender.

This is SERIOUSLY YUMMY. Be careful. It disappears fast.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

something cool

I came across this music video by a Kiwi singer I've never even heard of before - filmed in stop motion photography from Bluff to Cape Reinga, the deep south of New Zealand to the northernmost point. It gave me itchy feet and it's pretty awesome, so - here is the link:

Jonny Love, 'Weight of Tomorrow'

[ I would embed it on here, but it's too wide for my blog width! ]

Friday, October 8, 2010


I'm not that great at accepting criticism.

Over the years I've gotten used to having my creative writing critiqued by the small writing group of which I am a part. Partly because they are really helpful, really good at it, and say things in a very nice way. But also partly because I know my writing's nowhere near perfect and I really need the help! The few times I've written something that I've really loved, I've known for sure that I will get a positive response because I am a reasonable judge of my own (creative) writing.

It's different with my historical writing. It took me ages - ages - to get to the point where I could hand something to my supervisor that I knew was imperfect without wanting to die. It took me even longer to hear them telling me that something I thought was okay is actually bad without bursting into tears as soon as I'm out of earshot. It's really hard to cope with when you are hitherto unaware of these faults.

I'm better at accepting criticism than I was. My two supervisors are very kind men, and one in particular is very good at making it clear that he knows I am good at history, and that that opinion is not going to change, whatever he may say about this particular piece of writing or this particular opinion of mine. It's easier now to accept criticism from them without feeling like they're going to say something like this:

This chapter contains errors, poorly laid out arguments, and bad prose. It was a waste of my valuable time. You are unworthy of Masterhood, and the university asks you to leave and never come back.

So things have improved. I am becoming less insecure.

All the same, though, sometimes I feel like I've gone straight back to square one. At this precise moment, I've had weeks of thinking that I really want to do a PhD, that the world needs a doctoral thesis written by me, and that I may be able to get a good scholarship in universities all over the world to enable me to do this. Then, I get one tiny piece of negative feedback, and suddenly I am questioning my own presumption, my own arrogance in thinking that I have anything of value to contribute. Insecurity = returned.

It's worrying, because if a PhD does anything it separates the wheat from the chaff, the emotionally stable from the emotionally instable. Slowly I've been coming to the conclusion that the people I've always thought were really really clever simply have stickability. They don't give up. They persevere beyond insecurity. (They also love what they're doing. Which, at least, is something I've got.) So will I be able to cope with a PhD, in a foreign country with people who have more sophisticated accents and more postmodern interests, without my family, without the supervisors I've come to trust and rely on? Is my inability to trust myself more defining than my ability to do history?

[NB: I am currently trying to finish my thesis, hence the slightly frazzled nerves.]