Wednesday, March 26, 2008

things that I think are beautiful

Since I got my new camera I haven't had a lot of chances to use it. But here are some photos I've taken over the last couple of months which might not necessarily be that great composition-wise but which I love to look at because I think they're beautiful, for various reasons.

Sun shining through water onto pebbles below.
Rice crackers in neat little piles.
One of my best friends.
Bark on a tree that looks like a cross.
A little guest in our home.
A bee in our garden.
Cows grazing the big mound of dirt that was left by builders down the road from my home.

Ordinary. Everyday. But I still think they're beautiful.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


In the words of Freddie Mercury, I think I'm going slightly mad. Suddenly I've started noticing myself whispering to imaginary persons all the time. I imagine people I know or made-up people in conversation with me and come up with all these incredibly interesting answers. So I have been at home alone for a week, but most of my time is spent at university where I see other honours students even if no other human life crosses my path and I sit inside shrivelling into a little pile of Vitamin D-deprived caffeine-overloaded skin. Okay, moving on from that disgusting choice of self-description. The point is, it's not like I don't see people.

Besides this, I am happier than I've been in a while, being back at uni. Despite feeling completely overwhelmed. I'm excited and busy and I'm learning so much, besides finally being able to walk properly again. I get on so well with the rest of the honours class. I have my own desk with line of textbooks, map of Russia, Cyrillic alphabet chart, and family photos, and let's not forget the swivelly chair. A home away from home! (And that's nothing compared to the guy across from me who has a fruit bowl and a guitar!) Even my part-time job is so much fun right now, and I've just had a pay rise. Church is a blast and tomorrow it's Good Friday. I have to work at uni over Easter weekend (taking Sunday off) but we're all going to bring Easter eggs and hot cross buns so it really won't be that bad. My favourite tea is in good supply and I have a 6-pack of V in the fridge (my favourite energy drink). My sister sent me an incredibly cute photo by cellphone of my niece Ruby playing the piano today. I have learnt how to play the coolest Tchaikovsky piece ever on the piano. My siblings and I are organising a REALLY, wickedly awesome birthday present for my father's birthday which I know he'll love and about which I'm very excited.

So why have I started talking to myself?!?!

Friday, March 14, 2008


I am applying for a history scholarship that would pay this year's fees if I won it. I don't have high hopes but I guess it's not a completely ridiculous idea either. Anyway, I have to collect two references from past lecturers to attach to my application. One reference - no problem. My current supervisor, who has been my lecturer for almost every class I've been in for the last couple of years, is very happy to write one. For the second, though: I had another lecturer over summer school, but that lasted only six weeks, I doubt she'd remember me, and I'm not even sure she works at my uni anymore. My current NZ history lecturer has just had a minor heart attack - so no way am I going to ask him to do anything for me.

So - I move on to my past English lecturers and eventually ask the one I think will be most likely to remember me. He does, luckily, and he's written a fantastic reference for me and sent it to me today. My supervisor will be able to write me quite a detailed one so the application is all sorted now. Great. But it got me thinking:

I really hate how we have to do this, to exist in society, to succeed, to get a job. This particular situation is hardly a big deal, but I still find it incredibly embarrassing to ask people to write down all the good things about me, and even more so to actually read them myself. What would have been worse - having to write my own letter explaining why I deserve to win. I just can't handle that! Same as job interviews. It just seems wholly wrong to explain why I'm fantastic and how I have so much to offer when actually to be honest there are probably way more people more capable than me. Which is part of the reason I've been put off applying for Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade graduate positions at the end of the month - strenuous selection process and about four to five hundred applicants for about 25 jobs.

Is this wrong? Am I not ambitious or competitive enough? Actually, I know I'm competitive; it's just that the competition had better be based on my actual abilities and not just what I say about them. I am constitutionally unable to exaggerate my own qualities or even to do them justice. I feel vulgar, a fraud, if I even try, and I go all red and start stuttering. If someone even pays me a compliment, I accept it in a very offhand way as if it doesn't matter that much, even though it'll keep a secret smile on my face for the next six months, and I say something bad about myself to balance it out - because it's embarrassing to agree that there's anything good about me.

So, who has some advice for me? Or some sympathy because it's exactly the same for you?

Otherwise, uni is going great. I am still feeling thoroughly overwhelmed but now it's in an excited way. I have finally sorted out my research topic and this is it: Visitors to Stalin's Russia, and why they came away disillusioned or with illusions intact. I'm not sure if that announcement will create worldwide excitement but I am so motivated now! Classes are fun, and I'm getting on so well with all the other honours students. Postgrad is so much better than undergrad.

Also - EXCITING NEWS!!! - the Singalong Sound of Music is coming back to Christchurch!!! I am so thrilled. This time I have to dress up as something really fun and organise a big group of us.

Monday, March 10, 2008

can you feel the love tonight

This photo is supposed to make you go awwww and feel all warm inside, because:

I am copying Stacy. Her blog post a little while ago about what she likes about her readers and the people whose blogs she reads made me go awwww and feel all warm inside, and I wanted to let you guys know I feel the exact same way as her. Here's my tribute, such as it is, to each of you:

Beck of Frog and Toad Are Still Friends and Beck’s Recipes
Besides being a great writer, Beck has to be one of the most creative people in existence. I had to babysit while on crutches two nephews aged nine and seven for a week in January – my first stop was Beck’s blog to get ideas from all the cool (indoor, in this case) stuff she does with her kids. And she shares the most incredible recipes, and blogs about the most interesting things. Her three kids are very lucky.

E. from Mirable Dictu
This blogger is an honourary New Zealander although she lives in Utah and is about to spend a year in Italy and Wales. No, I’m not jealous. She is the most incredible blogger and can make anything into poetry. Everything that happens to her seems somehow magical, the way she writes about it, even if it’s the most “ordinary” of events. On top of this, she’s arty and eclectic and cool and writes really nice comments.

Heidi of Heidikins
Shall we just say that before I started reading Heidi’s blog I never knew the pursuit of stilettos could be so interesting? She has awakened an interest in me that I never knew I had. Heidi has also single-handedly re-instilled in me a belief in romance and an appreciation of being girly, as well as captivating me with her fun and exuberant writing. Which is not to say that her blog goes only skin deep. Oh no. This blogger knows exactly how to strike the right balance between the profound and the absurd, the thoughtful and the joyful.

Jenkneebee of Or Something Like That
Besides her great taste in music and books, Jenkneebee does very funny, interesting or active things and then shares them in photographic form. She’s all about audience participation, and she overhears incredibly funny conversations. She leaves lovely and funny comments. What’s not to love?

Lynette of Tourette’s Mom
Lynette is actually incredible. Over the year or so I’ve been reading her blog, she’s gone through stuff no one should go through and yet found the time and love to be unbelievably caring and encouraging to me on this blog and also on my God blog. I guess I never thought that God could help you out through the internet but in getting Lynette to comment on my blogs and to write her own amazing stuff he has outdone himself. I’m sure everyone else agrees!

Patty was one of my first regular readers and commenters. She’s an amazing photographer and gave me so much good advice and encouragement. Now she’s moved over from Blogger to her own webpage which is a very styly and beautiful collection of her photography, regularly updated. Go visit her and tell her I sent you ‘cos I’m her biggest fan!

Pilgrimchick of Spark of Madness
This blogger is one of the first who commented on my blog and whose blog I actually deigned to read. And I haven’t stopped, because her blogging is incredibly clever and interesting. And there’s not that many other people I know who have had jobs pretending to be pilgrims.

Sara of Putting the Sara in Sarakastic
I mostly read the above blog but Sara has a multitude of hilarious blogs that contribute, oh, maybe 45% of the joy in my life? She also only dates ninjas and is obsessed with cool things like tiaras and Gilmore Girls, and leaves always funny or kind (or both!) comments on other people’s blogs.

By most standards, Stacy could be termed an old online friend of mine by now. When I first “met” her I was probably fifteen or sixteen, although I can’t remember exactly, so a reasonable period of time has passed since then, obviously, and I can’t believe I’ve never actually met or talked to her because she’s just been a part of my life for so long now, whether as The Dictator (semi-private joke) or critic or blog commenter or, I would say, a friend. Her blog posts and her writing both cracks me up and makes me think, she is thoughtful and incredibly intelligent and unique, and I can’t wait to tell everyone I know her when she gets famous.

Stanbul of Linglay’s Thoughts, otherwise known as Bonsai when she comments on my blog.
This utterly cool blogger was a friend of mine at school – just to demonstrate how cool she is, when we finished high school she got the award “Most Eccentric”. :) Once you start her singing you cannot stop the flow. While the rest of us did boring stuff like go to uni straight out of school, she went and spent a year in Minnesota and now she’s studying zoology and great sounding words like that. Her blog is a mixture of hyperactive stream of consciousness, thoughtfulness and a lot of quoting of songs.

Trish of Trish’s Dishes
I think I started reading Trish’s blog through Stacy and was immediately hooked. Trish is a funny and intelligent writer whose book I cannot wait to read, and she is also obviously a truly caring friend. She somehow comes across the funniest, weirdest or greatest stuff that’s available on the internet and shares it. She’s going to be famous and still somehow finds time to comment on obscure Kiwi blogs. She’s cool.

I haven’t read Tusk’s blog for long but I’m a convert. Tusk forms my entire male constituency, he’s from Britain, and he also contributes to a God blog called Number One Reason. Sometimes I have no idea what he’s talking about – two words: British Sports – but overall he’s great to read :)

Virginia of The Virginia Monologues
I haven’t been reading Virginia’s blog for very long either but I love it! At the ripe old age of 21 she makes me look forward to being 30 :) She has cool friends like Bill Clinton and Dixie Carter and routinely makes me laugh out loud with her blog posts.

Also on my reading list at the moment is Tavis Xavier of Canadian Abroad, but this is a very very recent addition – I will only say that this blog is GOOD. And if I have missed anyone I heartily apologise. Leave me a comment, I will come visit you, and then I can add bits on to the bottom of this!

Response to a few comments on my last blog post: No, I'm not going to say anything else about Inappropriate Mystery Man. Please believe me when I say that I really shouldn't dwell on it and don't want to encourage myself because he literally is inappropriate in five different ways. I'm sorry for dangling that carrot but I was very tired and annoyed with myself and it was good to vent a little and now all I need to do is stop thinking about it! So, that was a no. :)

Thursday, March 06, 2008


Rules to this tag/meme/thing:

1. You link back to the person who tagged you. Sara of Putting the Sara in Sarakastic. Sara, I have an important question for you. Do you pronounce your name Sah-ra or Sarah?
2. Post these rules on your blog.
3. Share six unimportant things about yourself.
4. Tag six random people at the end of your entry.
5. Let the tagged people know by leaving a comment on their blogs.

This picture was labelled "Random-Apophysis_PitcherPlant.jpg" which is a mystery to me, but I found it by entering "random" into Google Images. And it's pretty.


1. Today I went on a field trip with the other honours students and the Head of Department to the city archives in the public library and the museum. Not much use to me because my honours thesis is nothing to do with New Zealand or Antarctic history, but I love field trips, and old books are cool!

2. Speaking of honours theses... I am going to be researching and writing about non-Russians who went to Stalin's Russia (ie North Americans or Europeans who moved there voluntarily, unfortunate people from Eastern Europe who were plucked from their homes and sent to the gulag, POWs of WWII, possibly Jews, etc) and their impressions. But I haven't got any further than that in identifying where I'm going with it.

3. I would like to pick up the clarinet again this year, or possibly the saxophone, or alternatively continue learning German. But it's not going to happen. Sigh.

4. I have not told anyone this but I have a stupid, stupid crush on a totally inappropriate person. And by inappropriate I mean in about five separate ways. Pshsbcakcbhduwi!!! (That was me making an incomprehensible groaning/snorting sound.) Sometimes I frustrate myself very much indeed.

5. I am 21 years old and already three of my friends are married, two more are engaged, and two friends have bought houses. At least no one is pregnant yet. This state of affairs seems strange to me but perhaps it is not unusual? Please, older and wiser people, tell me how things were back in the day when you were a sprightly 21 year old.

6. I am in love with drinking tea. I have sort of gone off coffee because of it, at least, very strong or milky coffee. Tea is much more subtle. My favourite is Dilmah's Ceylon Supreme, but I also like Earl Gray or English Breakfast or Peppermint tea. This is so weird because I never thought I would be a tea drinker. The best thing about our honours room is the kettle - I am saving so much money on drinks. And the best thing about tea is that I can drink it before I go to bed without staying up half the night.

I am not going to tag anyone. Because I am exhausted and lazy and I just want to go to bed, and I can't be bothered informing people I have tagged them. But please! don't let my bad attitude put you off doing this yourself.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


If you have not yet been initiated into the world of classical music, prepare to be! I am going to be one of those annoying people who shoves a huge book in your face and insists you read it. In this case the book is really, really good and your life will change forever if you only give it a fair go.

These photos are just some of my favourite composers. Who wouldn't want to listen to music written by someone as cool-looking as top-left, Edvard Grieg? Clockwise from Grieg, there's Ludwig van Beethoven, Dmitri Shostakovich, Felix Mendelssohn, Béla Bartók, and Antonín Dvořák. Yes, they're all men. But don't hold it against them.

I was thinking about how best to do this, and I've decided to make you a series of playlists. I may repeat songs across different playlists, and it's probably very uncivilised to even think of suggesting playlists rather than insisting you listen to entire symphonies before you go to bed every night. But I don't care. This is the music I love and what it makes me think of:

For beginners. This playlist is not easy-peasy and boring. But it's not music that is too subtle or too extreme for people who have never listened to classical music before, and I think it's enjoyable to listen to in many different ways.
- Clarinet Concerto in A, K622, by Mozart - great cooking music!
- Chorus of the Jewish Slaves, from Nabucco, by Verdi - for an introduction to opera
- In the Hall of the Mountain King, from Peer Gynt, by Grieg - you've gotta love this one, and you'll recognise it
- Prelude in Db (also called the Raindrop Prelude), by Chopin - one of my favourite piano pieces to play
- Clair de Lune, by Debussy - gorgeous, and trust me, you will know this one if you liked Ocean's 11
- Carnival of the Animals, by Saint-Saëns
- Nimrod, by Elgar - be prepared with tissues
- Prelude in C# Minor (also called The Bells of Moscow), by Rachmaninov - this piece will blow your mind. It's another favourite piece of mine to play.

Descriptive - for those who like to hear some music and imagine something... Sit back and let your mind relax...
- Evening in the Mountains, by Grieg - this is almost my favourite piece of music... ever.
- Rustle of Spring, by Sinding
- Hear My Prayer, by Mendelssohn
- The people who walked in darkness, from Messiah, by Handel
- Prelude in C# Minor (The Bells of Moscow), by Rachmaninov
- Silent Woods, from the American Suite, by Dvořák - mmmm....
- The Adieu, by Mendelssohn
- At Your Feet, by Grieg - the most beautiful love song
- Clair de Lune, by Debussy
- He trusted in God, from Messiah, by Handel
- Moonlight Sonata, by Beethoven - the first real piece of classical music I ever played and a turning point in my life
- To Spring, by Grieg

Masterclass - this music is a display of pieces I think show skill displayed with either incredible restraint or impressive finger-moving skills.
- Andante from Sonata Op. 14, No. 2, by Beethoven - this piece is basically Beethoven showing off at how cool he can make a rather ordinary tune sound.
- Humoresque in Gb major, by Dvořák
- Piano Concerto No 1, by Tchaikovsky - phwoar. This is It. Who needs rock music.
- Romance, by Shostakovich
- Prelude in E Minor, by Chopin
- Hallelujah Chorus, from Messiah, by Handel - this piece has everything in it. I know it's almost a cliché now but give it a chance!
- Barcarolle, from The Tales of Hoffman, by Offenbach - you'll know this if you've seen Life is Beautiful
- Nimrod, by Elgar

For piano - because I'm a pianist so am slightly biased.
- Piano Concerto in A Minor, by Grieg
- Étude in A Minor, by Chopin
- Praeludium in E Minor, by Mendelssohn
- Wanderer-Fantasie, by Schubert - another phwoar. This is like the Holy Grail of piano music for me.
- Homeward, by Grieg - one of my favourites to play
- Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, by Rachmaninov
- Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum, by Debussy - another favourite to play
- Nocturne in F Minor, Op. 55, No. 1, by Chopin
- Duetto (from Songs Without Words), by Mendelssohn
- Gangar (Norwegian March), by Grieg

No BS - shall we just say that this classical music is not nerdy. In fact, you could also call this showing-off music.
- Montagues and Capulets, by Prokofiev
- Piano Concerto No. 1, by Tchaikovsky
- In the Hall of the Mountain King, from Peer Gynt, by Grieg
- Wanderer-Fantasie, by Schubert
- Praeludium in E Minor, by Mendelssohn
- Symphony No. 5, Beethoven
- Piano Concerto in A Minor, by Grieg
- 1812 Overture, by Tchaikovsky

Allie's Favourites - this is my miscellaneous list of the music I love the most.
- Silent Woods, from the American Suite, by Dvořák
- Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum, by Debussy
- Romance, by Shostakovich
- In the Hall of the Mountain King, by Grieg
- Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, by Rachmaninov - my sister walked up the aisle to this
- Prelude in Db (the Raindrop Prelude), by Chopin
- Finlandia, by Sibelius
- At Your Feet, by Grieg
- Rondo, by Purcell - Elizabeth and Darcy dance to this in the latest Pride and Prejudice movie. Only good part of the movie.
- Rumanian Folk Songs, by Bartók
- Danse Macabre, by Saint-Saëns
- Presto from the Italian Concerto, by Bach - fiddled with by the Jacques Loussier Trio.
- Miserere Mei, Deus, by Allegri - this was a secret song that could only be sung once a year at the Vatican. Mozart went along, listened, went home and wrote it down. Oh, bless...
- Prelude in E Minor, by Chopin
- Humoresque in Gb Major, by Dvořák
- Hear My Prayer, by Mendelssohn
- Evening in the Mountains, by Grieg

Playlists are over, but here's the rest of the music I love that I think you should hear:
- Grieg's Lyric Pieces. Some are mentioned here but they're all just so great. Also:
- Grieg's Peer Gynt - the music he wrote for Ibsen's play. Some mentioned here but the whole thing is incredible.
- O Mio Babbino Caro, by Puccini. Also heard sung by Kiri te Kanawa at the beginning of A Room With a View.
- Agnus Dei, by Barber
- Flocks May Graze Secure, by Bach.
- Art of the Fugue, No. 1, by Bach
- All of Chopin's nocturnes and preludes and études
- Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words
- Rachmaninov's piano concertos
- Polka from The Age of Gold, by Shostakovich
- Handel's Messiah

My personal aim for this year is to go to more concerts and hopefully at least one opera, and widen my scope of classical music. I've realised that I mostly listen to piano music and need to expand my horizons!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Dream & Memory

That's right - the March issue of Halfway Down the Stairs is out! I don't know about the people who read it, but every time we release an issue I think we get better and better. This time it looks great, thanks to Francesca Leung, our resident computer whiz, and we have more material published than ever before, with lots of guest writers.

For those of you who haven't heard of HDtS before, "Dream and Memory" is the latest issue of our writing e-zine. "Our" includes me, Stacy, and several other writers who get together to publish and edit it biannually. We accept outside submissions - September's theme is "Bon Appétit" - so if you are a promising writer, send us something! We're very nice.

This time around I've written a short story for it, called "Rain", born of the nine looooooooong and sleepless hours I spent in Singapore in Changi Airport last year between flights. I am glad that something creative could come out of that experience!

Stacy has interviewed John Elder Robison for the issue, as I assume she will tell you on her blog, and the other writers on the staff have written both poetry and short fiction. We also have ten guest poets, five guest short story writers, and four guest nonfiction writers. So, there has to be something you will enjoy!