What I did on my blog hiatus…

Hello!  I am officially six weeks behind on reading any blogs, and a month behind on writing anything here, though really, there hasn’t been much to write, as between exam and conference, I have hardly baked all month, and have only managed to get to a farmers’ market once.

It’s unnatural.

And now I’m itching to bake, but am so zonked post-conference, that I go out and buy ingredients and then have a little nap… so it might take a week or so before things get back to normal around here.  For a definition of normal that is… well, I don’t think anyone ever described me as normal

But it’s nice to be back, in any case. And thank you to everyone who wished me well for my exam.

For those who are curious the exam went fairly well, I think.  It was actually a bit bizarre and rather funny, because the exam room turned out to be very small – about the size of a largeish office or medium-sized bedroom, with a grand piano right in the middle of it, and the examiner’s desk right in front of that – so I was stuck in a tiny corner between the piano and the window with hardly room to move, and the poor examiner had to cope with having opera sung at him from a distance of less than two metres!

And of course, I’d worked out all this elaborate staging (since we are marked on presentation), which simply would not work in the space, and I found my mind wandering halfway through one aria as I considered whether Juliet’s roses would end up in the piano, and how on earth to deal with Lady Macbeth, who does have to move around a bit and who is also *extremely* loud, and whether Desdemona’s aria – which is sung sitting down – would be performed from under the piano or under the examiner’s desk (and just how much of an unwanted view down my low-cut gown the examiner was going to get in either case), at which point I nearly burst into giggles mid-note, which was not ideal.

Anyway, it was far from perfect, but the total nuttiness of the situation at least meant that I couldn’t have an attack of nerves, because it was so very obvious that between the fact that I was really not well in the first place, the fact that my water bottle had leaked all over my music, paperwork and carefully-written program notes, and of course the challenges posed by the room itself, the performance was never going to be perfect.  And it’s a lot easier to relax and sing well once you already know that perfection is out of your reach.

(The best performance I have ever given, I think, was when I sang at a friend’s wedding a few hours after breaking my ankle – I was on crutches, and in pain and high on endorphins and everything was so hilarious and I was so absolutely terrified that I was going to fall over that I forgot to worry about singing, and thus sang perfectly…)

Anyway.  If any of this sounds interesting to you, I recorded a practice run a few days beforehand and put it on Vimeo.  It is also imperfect (especially the end of Una Macchia, oh dear), but The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation, by Purcell, is, I think, rather good.

The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation from Catherine Heloise on Vimeo.

(And no, I don’t know how I went yet – the assessment process is quite long, and I may not hear back until late January, though I’m hoping they will manage to get a result to me by Christmas.)

After – and really, also before – the exam, there was the work Retreat to be organised.  This was a fairly massive event involving around 400 scientists heading off to Phillip Island for two days to talk about (mostly listen to) science.  I will spare you the details of organisation, which were really not exciting in any way to anyone, including me, and just say that the event went very well, and everyone seemed to get a lot out of it, and – astonishingly! – the speakers even kept to time.  Which was good, because the program was really back to back talks – very intense.  Though having a Chair armed with a rubber chicken and a gong certainly helped with the timekeeping.

My new sidekick and I rebelled a few weeks ago, and decided that what this conference really needed was a Halloween Party on the Thursday night, so we had a lot of fun putting together spooky movies, cauldrons full of lollies and a coffin shaped pinata full of body-part shaped sweets.  We also encouraged costumes, and had a do-it-yourself costume table, which included face paint, coloured hair spray, witchy noses, half masks, and about 100 black and white masks of the various Division Heads, along with textas and coloured paper with which to embellish them.  These were a huge hit – a lot of people went to quite a bit of trouble and made clever or gorgeous or gruesome costumes (we had a truly excellent Death who wore a simple death’s head mask and black cloak, but maintained absolute silence and just went around looming at people from juuuuust inside their personal space.  Very effective, and impressively creepy, even if you knew who was underneath the mask), but vampiric and / or demonic Division Heads were also seen en masse all over the venue, and by morning, all but two of them had been souvenired.  Clearly something to remember for future work functions!

Of course, making these masks turned out to be a project that consumed all of our telephone time and lunchtime for two weeks – every time someone came in to ask a question that didn’t require reference to a computer, we would grab a pair of scissors and cut out more lab heads as we answered them…

Best of all, the venue did not show us the door, and in fact seemed to find us fairly amusing.  Apparently, most people behaved very well, and they would be happy to host us again, which is a bit of a relief!

And that really takes us up to Friday evening, when I got off the bus from the Retreat and was immediately hit by all the exhaustion I’d been building up for weeks, so that I could barely stagger to the taxi rank!  I’ve pretty much spent this weekend sleeping and fighting off a headache and trying to get up the energy to do anything except more napping, without much success.

Back at work tomorrow, so hopefully I’ll wake up.  And at lunchtime, I plan to go out in search of a candy thermometer (again), because I’ve had this idea for coconut milk caramels percolating through my brain all weekend, but they really do require a decent thermometer to work.  So watch this space – because with a bit of luck, it will soon become worth watching again!

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12 comments for “What I did on my blog hiatus…

  1. Heath Graham
    November 3, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    Congratulations! On everything (including having a sidekick!)!

    • Catherine
      November 3, 2013 at 7:39 pm

      My sidekick is awesome!

  2. November 3, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    Well, I think your vocal performance was quite spectacular, if that counts for anything! Thanks for sharing it, and welcome back to blogging. 🙂

    • Catherine
      November 3, 2013 at 10:53 pm

      Thanks, Cindy, on both counts (I’m a dreadful perfectionist when it comes to my singing, but even I was pretty happy with the Purcell – he’s my favourite composer and writes in a way that fits my voice deliciously easily)! It’s good to be back and to ‘see’ people here again.

      I’m speed-reading my way through all the blogs, but I’m about 800 posts behind – if there is any news on your blog that I might have missed and that is important, please tell me! I see you are now on Facebook – I haven’t quite figured out how to do a Cate’s Cates Facebook page, but it’s a project for the future… (though I do link this blog to my personal page).



  3. filkferengi
    November 4, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    Love the video! I called in ze spouse to show you off, & he spontaneously opined, “Her voice is gorgeous!” [this from a heavy metal fan, whose Thing Ain’t Opera] You’ve got to love a man who’s right.


    • Catherine
      November 5, 2013 at 10:26 pm

      Thank you!

  4. November 5, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    Welcome back (or nearly back)! Well done on your exam and I am hugely impressed with your singing skill. I hope you can return to farmers markets and baking with great joy over the coming weeks 🙂

    • Catherine
      November 5, 2013 at 10:37 pm

      Thanks so much, Kari! It’s good to be back again, even if the backlog is terrifying!

  5. November 5, 2013 at 11:16 pm

    Oh, I know the 800-unread-posts feeling! The new facebook page is certainly our biggest blog news, otherwise the highlights have probably been a bit of baking, lunches delivered to work and vegan frozen yoghurt.

    I hope we might get a chance to catch up in person sometime this summer. 🙂

    • Catherine
      November 5, 2013 at 11:24 pm

      Yes, we tried to order some lunches yesterday, but were too late! Next week, I hope!

      And I, too, look forward to catching up in person soon. My newest obsession is vegan caramels, which I keep having more ideas for…

  6. November 6, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    well I just asked how it went in your next post because my blog updates always seem to miss yours and I am behind as usual in reading – sounds like interesting times but also like what happens in phillip island stays on phillip island 🙂

    • November 6, 2013 at 8:53 pm

      No worries! I’m on facebook, incidentally, as Catherine Heloise, if that makes your life easier.

      As for Phillip Island, it was a good conference, but I must admit, it’s the first time I’ve ever warn anything that in any way shows off my figure in a work context, and in retrospect, doing this on an occasion when everyone was drinking was probably not my smartest move ever!

      (I did collect a lot of very nice hugs, and there was nothing inappropriate, but I also chose to leave reasonably early in the evening, on the grounds that I like and respect my colleagues and wanted to make sure I could still do so the next day).

      Everyone is still raving about the party, and swapping photos, so we clearly got that bit right. And I still can’t believe all the talks ran to time.

      As for the singing exam, well, what can you do? At least it makes an amusing anecdote.

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