How to understand this blog

Monday, March 28, 2011


My dad went on a trip to Auckland last week, and left me his car. Suddenly, on Thursday at about 10.30am, I realised that (a) I had to return the car on Friday; (b) this was my last chance to get out of town; and (c) the weather was going to be beautiful in Arthur's Pass that day. I shook myself out of my morning stupor, got dressed, and went and knocked on my flatmate A.'s door. "I'm sorry to do this to you, but do you want to go to Arthur's Pass today, and if so can you be ready to leave in half an hour?!"

It took us a bit longer! But by midday we were on our way out of town, down the Old West Coast Road, heading for the mountains. Arthur's Pass is one of the main routes through the mountains. It's about one hour and forty minutes from Christchurch by car, and it's a national park. It's also a place for which I have a particular affection, as I have spent many, many family holidays there. My grandfather, a steam train driver, had a tiny cottage there in the old days. My father and all his brothers went to visit the area periodically, building their own skis in the winter and scaling the peaks in the summer. My family has continued the tradition, and now my siblings have begun taking their own children there.

A. and I arrived at about 1.40, hungry, but not so hungry that we weren't willing to wait for the perfect picnic spot. We found it:

It took us a little while, but we found it. We wanted grass, we wanted solitude, we wanted to be near water (you can't see, but we're overlooking a river). If you want to find our perfect picnic spot, just turn off onto the road where the police sign is - it's right near the start of the Mt Bealey Track.

Then we wandered around by the river near our picnic spot. Sounds non-eventful but it was charming. After we tired of it, we decided to go and climb up to the Punchbowl Falls (otherwise known as the Devil's Punchbowl). It's a climb of about half an hour. I remembered it being very steep but philosophised that I was only about eleven last time I did it and was probably just whining.

It is very steep. This is my impression near the beginning:

We hauled ourselves up the hill, feeling very, very pathetic and unfit. But eventually the climbing part ended and then we could just enjoy the really beautiful forest on a really beautiful day:

Then finally we reached the falls and all our hard work was worth it. They really are rather special. The water just drops down this sheer cliff and hits a pool before dropping from that pool into another and another and another... Here we are on the viewing platform about one third of the way down the waterfall:

It's okay standing on a viewing platform, but it's better getting closer, so we climbed underneath the platform and then just sat on rocks in the sun and the spray from the falls, watching water moving:


I could have stayed there for much longer, but it was time to leave. So we went back down the track (it's much quicker on the way back, of course), got in the car, took a quick trip to look at the view down the Viaduct, and then drove home - via the Bealey Hotel where we stopped for a drink. And nearly got eaten alive by sandflies.

Edit: So yeah, on Thursday I hadn't managed to get back into my study-hard routine yet. :) But now I am!

Friday, March 25, 2011

cookbook challenge #5

[About the New Years' resolution behind this]

I had some friends over on my cooking night, Wednesday - and using Vegie Food, I made pumpkin and feta pie. I've had my eye on this recipe for a while now and it didn't disappoint! Five down, twelve to go.

You will need:
700g / 1 lb, 9 oz butternut pumpkin (squash), cut into 2cm / 3/4 inch pieces
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 small red onions, halved and sliced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon soft brown sugar
100g / 3 and a half oz feta cheese
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 large sheet shortcrust pastry (savoury)

Preheat the oven to 200*C / 400*F. Put the pumpkin and garlic cloves on a baking tray and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove the garlic cloves, and leave the pumpkin to cool.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a pan, add the onion and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add the vinegar and sugar and cook for 15 minutes or until the onion is caramelized. Remove from the heat and add to the pumpkin. Cool completely.

Add the feta and rosemary to the pumpkin mixture once cooled. Squeeze out the garlic flesh and mix it through the vegetables. Season.

Roll out the pastry between two sheets of baking paper to a 35 cm / 14 inch circle. Remove the top sheet of paper and arrange the pastry on a tray. Put the pumpkin mixture on top, leaving a border of about 4 cm / 1 and a half inch. Fold over the edges, pleating as you fold:

Bake for 30 minutes, or until crisp and golden.

Unfortunately I didn't get the more attractive photo of the pie as it looks when it is cooked, but trust me regardless - this is a really gorgeous meal! I loved the way the sweetness of the pumpkin worked with the balsamic vinegar and the feta... mmmm.... I served it with a green salad, and it served five. I also got lots of compliments because people seem to think anything involving pastry is difficult, but it's actually a very simple recipe. Yum yum! A big thumbs-up from me!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

allie is very happy and very grateful

I am a happy camper, because my thesis stuff has been restored to me! This morning I assembled with a few other postgrads and staff from the History building at the Civil Defence HQ on campus, and we got to enter our offices and grab what we could in 5 minutes. As you will see from the photo below, I was VERY ENTHUSIASTIC about this.

Here, I have just signed in at NZi3 centre on Creyke Road, and I am "authorised to be on campus". Woot!

We are given hard hats and hi-visibility vests, while our footwear is checked. Fabulous. Most of us are carrying several bags - I carried one large overnight bag with my backpack and three shopping bags inside it. Then we walked across campus, under supervision of the wonderful people in red boiler suits and matching hard hats who spend their days helping postgrads and staff retrieve their most necessary belongings from their buildings within the cordon.

Here we are outside the history building, exactly one month after we ran out of it in the 6.3 shake of 22 February, listening to a safety briefing. We enter the building with one civil defence volunteer to two of us, and are given five minutes to pack up all our essential belongings.

Once in, I gather all my papers and ringbinders, stuffing them randomly into bags. I race down the hallway to the break room, where we were eating lunch when the quake hit, and retrieve my favourite coffee mug - it is of sentimental value, made for me personally when I was a baby! I race back to my office, and start shovelling ALL my books - personal and library ones - into the shopping bags. They probably total fifty or sixty all together. I stagger out of the room, a very happy MA student:

Thank goodness they had a van waiting outside to carry our things back to the NZi3 centre, where my father's car was parked. I don't know how far I would have made it alone!! Them books are heavy.

It's hard to convey how happy I feel. Up until now, I have been living in a state of complete indecision. It has been really hard to do ANY work without all my stuff, and I had no idea when it would be possible to get my stuff. It is a really strange thing, living one day at a time. I've had it remarkably easy in comparison with people whose homes fell down or have no job to go to, so I don't want to exaggerate - but I am really, really looking forward to having no excuse not to work. I am looking forward to finishing my thesis! I am looking forward to setting up a routine again! Yeah, some things will be different, but now I can look into the future again, and it feels good. Very, very good.

So - THANK YOU, Civil Defence personnel. You are wonderful, lovely people. I will be baking you a very large chocolate cake and bringing it in tomorrow.

Monday, March 21, 2011

memories in Christchurch

After the earthquake, so many of the places I have built my memories around are changed forever. I thought I would do a blog post in memory of some of my favourite haunts. Some may be rebuilt, but the majority have become (or soon will become) an empty slate for the future.

ChristChurch Cathedral is the giant of this list for most Cantabrians. It was the distinctive icon of our city. Located literally in the centre of Christchurch, with the town built around it, all roads pointing in towards it, it seemed impregnable. When someone told me, after the quake, that they couldn't see the spire of the cathedral from their office as usual, I simply couldn't believe it and told them it must have been the misty conditions.
This photo was taken at dawn on Anzac Day - April 25, 2010 - when we remembered our fallen soldiers outside the cathedral.
This is the cathedral now.

The Canterbury Provincial Chambers were the former seat of local government. I wandered round them maybe once a year, took photos, enjoyed the stained glass and thought how lucky I was to live somewhere with buildings like this. The photos I took I often used for Halfway Down the Stairs; in fact the profile picture for our facebook page currently uses a photo from the Provincial Chambers.

Here is a picture of my friend K. before our graduation in 2008. For University of Canterbury graduations, all graduands march from here, the Arts Centre (the former site of the university), to the town hall - about seven minutes walk - where the ceremony begins. K. is standing in front of the Court Theatre, one of Christchurch's best theatres, which like almost all of them has undergone such extensive damage it is unclear whether it will ever open again. I think the UC graduation processions will be a long time coming, too. I would love to be able to graduate with my MA properly. It would be even more meaningful after the experiences of this year. But... I'm trying not to get my hopes up.

This is my favourite secondhand bookstore. (Photo from Google Maps streetview - 9 Riccarton Road.) It was run by a church, nonprofit for a charity, and every book was $2 or $3 TOPS.
It's a rather more shocking view now - and, sadly, someone died in its rubble.

The band rotunda in Hagley Park, where I sometimes take my nieces to dance and sing. (I'm not sure why, but it seems like a good place to dance around singing songs from Mary Poppins.) I haven't seen any photos, but I understand it's badly damaged now.

The Dux de Lux - pictured here featuring my friends in the outdoor area. This was my favourite restaurant/bar. I had my birthday dinner there five months ago and I've popped in for coffee or a beer at least four times since then. One of the pleasantest, most vibrant places in town for a drink, on the edge of the Arts Centre. It was the Student Union building when my dad was at university.
I walked past it on Friday - it's at the edge of the cordon, which my flatmate and I wandered around after the memorial service at Hagley Park. Doesn't look particularly good, but it does look salvageable. I hope it comes back fighting, as strong as ever.

St John's Latimer Square, an evangelical Anglican church, where my sister was married in 2004 (above), and where a bunch of my friends go. This was one of the buildings that sustained most damage in the September earthquakes, and I could only find a photo of it as it was in September. I understand it is all but destroyed now.
Heritage churches in general have not come out of the earthquakes well.

The Catholic Basilica towered over the Christchurch School of Music, where I spent every Saturday morning and many Tuesday evenings during my childhood and teen years. A beautiful building inside and out, I also entered it to perform in concerts. I will always remember performing Allegri's 'Miserere Mei, Deus' in my recorder ensemble from an upper gallery - the acoustics so perfect that the music we made sounded like the most angelic thing I had ever heard. I took this photo about nine years ago while I waited for my parents to pick me up.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

cookbook challenge #4

[About the New Years' resolution behind this]

Welcome to the first proper cooked meal, from a recipe book I haven't used, since the quake. I thought half-heartedly about sticking to my resolution, but really just wanted familiar comfort food whenever I had to cook a meal over the last few weeks. I feel more human now, and (more importantly!) want to get back into some kind of routine, so here I am again.

From Donna Hay's Pasta, Rice and Noodles, I made chunky pesto pasta. It's not a particularly unusual recipe to see around the place, but I couldn't resist the thought of those beautiful flavours, and went down to the supermarket hungry for the scent of basil. (Hmm. That last phrase sounds like it could be plucked straight out of Mills and Boon, if only the herb in question had a capital letter.)

You will need:
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
1 and a half cups basil leaves
400g / 14 oz penne pasta
sea salt and cracked black pepper
1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 180*C/350*F. Place the pine nuts on a baking tray and roast for 3 minutes or until golden. Allow to cool. Place the pine nuts, garlic and oil in a food processor and process in short bursts until roughly chopped. Add the basil and process until just combined. Set the pesto aside.

Cook the pasta in a saucepan of salted boiling water for 10-12 minutes or until al dente. Drain and place in a large bowl. Stir through the pesto, salt, pepper and parmesan.


It serves four. I served it with cherry tomatoes because they look pretty and they taste fantastic with it. (Do you like our classy-as flat crockery???) You may notice the pasta looks slightly weird. That is because we didn't have quite enough penne and so I bulked it up with lasagna pieces.

There are many things I like about this recipe.

- It's easy. Very, very quick. And yet the results do not correlate to the amount of effort put in.

- It's very tasty. Both flavoursome and fresh.

- It's deceptive. I don't know about you but I would normally look at a pasta dish with such a tiny amount of apparent colour or sauce, and I would think 'boring'. I would assume it would be very bland. However, the flavours seem to explode. It's like a secret weapon. This excites me!

On the other hand, it's EXPENSIVE.

I don't know about you, but paying $5 or $6 for a tiny bag of nuts does not seem normal to me. They are amazing superfood nuts, of course, and the result is beautiful, but that seems more pricey than petrol or printer toner (my default idea of expensive things). Then, you buy fresh basil, parmesan cheese and olive oil as well. Ouch. Still... for a once-in-a-long-while meal, it's worth it.

Friday, March 11, 2011

oh, Japan

The amount of empathy that has come out of Japan for New Zealand over the last two weeks has been astounding. They've sent dedicated and hardworking rescue teams, money, love and prayers, and they've lost citizens to the earthquake here in Christchurch too. Now I am thinking of the disaster hitting their shores with much sadness. An earthquake somewhere between 8.4 and 8.9 on the Richter scale, and a tsunami to follow. For those of us here, who have experienced, at the very most, a 7.1, this is mindblowing and very, very sad. If anyone from Japan or the affected areas in Japan should happen to read this, please know that we are watching the news with much concern and love for you. We are praying. Please let me know if there's anything else I can to do to help.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

allie's emergency survival kit!

So - disaster strikes. You have no power, no water, no sewerage (or you HAVE water but it's unsafe). There are holes in your roof/floor/insert other crucial structure here. You may have no access to your workplace. What will you need?

Based on my experience, and the experience of people around me, of the last two weeks, here is:
Allie's Guide To Surviving Natural Disasters. With Particular Reference to Earthquakes.
A Guide to the things you really should start thinking about putting aside NOW. Because you never know when you may need them.

(Number One) [and I write it out fully because it is that important] Clean Water.
Even in Christchurch, where the emergency services are brilliantly organised, you want to have enough water to survive for a few days. If you don't particularly trust your government to get things sorted quickly, put aside enough water for a week or two. If you can afford to buy big plastic containers in which to store large amounts of water, great. If you can't, do what I did and simply clean out juice bottles when you've drunk all the juice, and start putting them aside with clean water in them. If you're really careful, put them in two different places, in case one secret cache gets buried under rubble.

(2) A source of light. With extra batteries. Obvious, but necessary. Candles are okay, but not particularly safe or easy to use.

(3) Hygiene items. These are very, very important, but most people do not think to put these things aside. Trust me, if you're living in a disaster zone, you really are not going to be able to just pop down to the shops for some tampons. Buy some now, put them aside!!

Hand sanitizer is also crucial. Unless you want to get gastroenteritis or similar nasties, that is.

Finally, if like me you really hate not washing your hair for several days in a row, I would really recommend buying a dry shampoo of any kind and putting it aside. It will make you feel MUCH better when there is no water available. Things are always much darker, much more depressing, when you have greasy hair.

(4) If you have any crucial medications, KEEP SPARES somewhere. I know a bunch of people who, as the quake hit, ran straight out of their offices, leaving incredibly important prescription drugs behind. It was the sensible thing to do, really, but no one would let them back in afterwards to retrieve them. If you're lucky, you'll be able to get to a pharmacy, but if you're not, you're in trouble.

(5) If you have babies or small toddlers: Nappies. Formula. Baby wipes (which, in an emergency, have the double use of cleaning baby and cleaning You).

(6) A tarpaulin and rope. This will cover holes left in your roof by falling chimneys, for example, and so will keep rain out. Or, it will provide shelter or ground cover when you have to sleep outside. (I'm serious. I know of people whose million dollar homes are rubble and they are now sleeping under a tarp in the back yard.) Or, it will provide a modest little screen to hide the hole in the ground you had to dig for unmentionable reasons. On that note, also make sure you have a spade.
For ideas, view this awesome website which chronicles Cantabrians' alternative loo arrangements over the last two weeks :)

(7) Food. I suppose this is rather obvious, and it looks like it should be higher up the list. We found, however, that we could survive fairly well on what we had in the shelves for a few days, at least. At some point, however, you are going to run out of these things, and so if you happen to be trapped at home without access to supermarkets or aid all of a sudden, canned or non-perishable food is a must.

(8) Cash. For fairly obvious reasons. Although if you have all of the above, you will be able to cope for a while without it.

On a less necessary but helpful note
You will be able to cope without these things, but they will also make life a lot easier:

(9) Camping gear like a small gas stove with refills, a chemical toilet, a solar shower and a tent. These four things will make you very happy in a disaster zone. Especially the chemical toilet. And even if your house is liveable and you don't need the tent, chances are one of your neighbours will.

(10) Things to do. Especially if you have kids. Colouring books and pencils, or books, or activities. It may seem silly, but you will feel SO MUCH BETTER if you have access to your iPod or something like that which can be used without having to plug it in.

You may feel slightly silly taking all these precautions. People may even mock you. Just do it anyway, and imagine the satisfaction when all your careful preparations come in handy! For example, I had the satisfaction in the first quake (September last year) in knowing that the very night before the quake, my flatmate had mocked me for putting aside clean water for emergencies. Suddenly, when the water was unsafe to drink and we had no electricity to boil it, she didn't think I was so crazy after all!

One more small note.

The first quake to hit Christchurch was not so serious, partially because it was at night, but the nocturnal aspect brought with it a few issues:

(1) Earthquakes tend to break things. For this reason, you should find shoes or slippers as quickly as possible. When you go stumbling about your house trying to assess the damage in the pitch black because the power is off, you really don't want to step on all the broken glass in bare feet.

(2) If you decide to run out of your house, try to remember - in the split second you are actually thinking - whether you have any clothes on. I know someone who dashed out of her house stark naked and only realised when she was already outside, along with all the neighbours. (I also heard about someone who was having a bikini wax when the February quake struck. Hmm. Apparently the beautician wouldn't let her run outside until she'd found her underwear.)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

things that are good

I've been feeling a bit bad lately that I've been loading all this dark earthquake stuff on you guys. And now that I'm back in Christchurch I'm feeling a lot more ... normal. So here is my list of things that are good in the midst of all the crappiness.

1. Having a home. As the facebook page says, you know you're in Christchurch when you are lucky to have a roof over your head, even when you're a millionaire. Also, being home.

2. Recent newsflash - the 22 bodies they expected to find under the rubble of the Cathedral were simply not there! A nice change to the rising-bodycount-stories.

3. This is not Haiti. This is not Libya.

4. There are plenty of ways to help out. The Student Volunteer Army is one of the more famous ways. There's also the 'Farmy Army' which rolled into town with its farm equipment and, with the SVA, got rid of a few hundred thousand tons of silt. There is also the Christchurch Baking Army and Comfort for Christchurch, to whom I dropped off sixty muffins (see below) and a bunch of other things today. You can volunteer for the Red Cross, or at a shelter for displaced people, or you can just drive over to the affected areas and start door-knocking and handing out supplies on your own initiative.

5. In the middle of all of this, people have a sense of humour. See the photo below. Also see Rocky, an uninvited guest to a Redcliffs home.

6. All these things are coming to the surface so visibly in a really moving way: Love, community spirit, humility, friendship, unity, inclusiveness.

7. I have family and friends who are alive and well.

8. I think my eyes have perhaps been opened a little. I will not scoff light-heartedly at material possessions again. They are useful, and the people whose possessions have vanished in the blink of an eye are living hard lives right now. At the same time, I have to recognise how little we have that is permanent, and how unnecessary many things are that I wanted before.

9. I am learning to appreciate people I didn't really value before, or look at them in new ways. Businesses and commerce are important. Many of them have been very kind in the wake of the earthquake. Engineers, the natural enemy of the University of Canterbury arts student, are important and hard-working. Strong muscles are useful, as shown by the video below:

10. Because the cordon around the city is still in place, we are unable to return some DVDs we got out from a central video store. :) Much more time to watch period dramas (Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Rebecca, and Sense and Sensibility) and classic movies (The Great Dictator, The Great Gatsby, and Love in the Afternoon)!

11. I know this is not particularly relevant to quaking, but there is a new issue of Halfway Down the Stairs out, and I really like it. That in itself makes me happier.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

thoughts of Christchurch

It's been an exhausting week. For me, probably not half so exhausting as many of the people who are still in Christchurch. I've been looking after my two nieces, both of whom were away from their parents for the first time ever - let alone having been through a major disaster. They've been little heroines, but it's definitely taken it out of me. I think it's more than that, though. There's an emotional exhaustion. I ingest as much of the news from Christchurch as I possibly can. I would sit with my ears glued to the radio all day, every day, if I could. This doesn't make me feel any better. But I need to feel involved. I'm finding it really hard to bear being away. I'm hoping to go back on Monday but I feel like I need to keep in check with reality a bit and remember why I'm here. If my sister and her husband need me to be here, I can't just go skipping back to Christchurch. But I wish I could. I know how fortunate I am to be able to shower etc but I feel like I need to experience what everyone else in Christchurch is experiencing.

Below is a photo someone took from the hills as the buildings of the city fell on Tuesday the 22nd of February:

It blows my mind. With the last earthquake, we all rolled our eyes a bit at the way the media was portraying the CBD. Of course, it was bad - we weren't denying that the buildings that had been affected were very bad - but it was just like the media to show only those buildings and not the ones still standing. This time, the few people who are allowed into the CBD are saying that the media have almost not reflected accurately enough just how bad it really is. A friend of mine burst into tears as she was escorted in to collect her car, because she could never have imagined her city so devastated. It's reported that the public won't even be allowed back into the CBD until Christmas. Christchurch is a broken city. It's very depressing to imagine, and to hear reports of the hardship in the suburbs. Thousands of people are suddenly homeless. They've lost everything.

As sympathetic as people in Dunedin are, it's just not the same as being with people who love Christchurch because it's their home. On the cover of the Otago Daily Times today, there was an article about how, although the earthquake is really horrible, it may bring growth to the Otago region through all the people who will inevitably leave Christchurch and bring their careers/businesses/skills here. It felt like a slap in the face. (That's not the attitude of most people, thank goodness. They're desperate to help, so sympathetic that I feel like a fraud because personally I've lost very few possessions. We've had three different people drop off meals at my sister's house simply because she was housing Christchurch refugees.)

Part of the difficulty of being away is that you can't help out practically, like the thousands of people digging up silt or distributing baking or taking supplies to stranded families by mountain bike. I'm not saying doing this is easy. But it is very depressing to watch from a distance, invested in it so heavily because it's your home, the city you grew up in, yet unable to experience the overwhelming community spirit of the people of Christchurch or the determination that does exist to survive this. Below is a photo a friend posted on facebook:

Sandcastles made from the silt currently covering large areas of the city... we can rebuild. Such an encouraging message, and exactly what I needed to hear, and it could only come from residents of Christchurch.

Voices from Christchurch: on video.