Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Psst...over here

I'll be posting for the month of June - the entire month, as in every day - at a new address. Join me at from June 1st!

I will keep updating that blogspot and not here, but don't worry, I remain

Randomly Yours,

Monday, May 23, 2011

French Elegance

Author: Muriel Barbery
Book: The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Language: Translated from French
Publisher: Gallic Books, 2008

A writer friend of mine urged me to read this book, so when I saw it in the airport bookshop I decided it would keep me company for the flight home from Barcelona. My copy has a beautiful cover, with dreamy-coloured French houses in twilight, a stained-glass window effect and (appropriately) elegant text. Humour and levity balance the profound thoughts of life,  culture and the delicacy of human interactions.

The hedgehog of the title is the book's main character, Renee. More cultured and observant than any concierge ought to be, Renee is a clever but understated woman who conceals her inner elegance. She is known as Madame Michel to the residents of the prestigious Paris apartment on the Left Bank. The novel is propelled by two narratives, one from Renee and the other twelve-year-old Paloma, who lives in the apartment where Renee is the concierge. Paloma is not your typical preteen. She is determined to escape what she believes is a 'predictably bourgeoise future' (Gallic, back cover copy) and is intent on writing 'profound thoughts' in her journal prior to committing suicide on her thirteenth birthday. She is one of three people who sees glimpses of the intelligence Renee tries to hide.

The characters' speech is nuanced just so, and the travails of everyday life are expressed in sure, deliberate prose. Barbery's supporting characters could easily have been empty caricatures, but each contributes to the atmosphere of Renee's Paris. The book is charming and accessible, and French down to the spine.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Wedding, as Tweeted by Me

I never would have thought I'd be on Twitter, much less tweeting about the royal wedding of Wills and Kate - but it was nice, given that I was at home with Jody on our couch, to feel like we weren't the only two people watching. I made tea, cucumber sandwiches, and curried egg sandwiches, and we toasted the couple.


Nearly missed the first glimpse of  in her dress b/c Jody chose tonight to rip apart TV and other cables 

In reply to my friend KF, who tweeted: Advanced Hair Pro William. Speak to Warney after,  Better a balding husband than one with big ears. 

John Rutter has composed a song with lyrics from Psalms for the Westminster choir - what a lovely wedding gift

It's ok to transform your partner, but don't try to reform them - wise words. This address is very nice. # royalwedding

In reply to my friend KF, who tweeted: YEE. I heard the word YEE. And now doth. THIS WEDDING IS THE BEST. Thou! Oh man. THEE.Don't forget TROTH

What is up with Princess Beatrice's hat? 

Now that's what I call a carriage  

Waiting for the balcony kiss. It better not be on the cheek,

Two little kisses, and now the flypast.  

 couple interviewed by ch 7 - he flubbed his words, "It's a once in a moment lifetime."  

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bait & Switch

Dear readers,

I'm not sure how many of you there are these days - I know I have some lurkers - but if you have a minute, could you comment below or send me a message? I have changes in mind for my wallflower of a blog and I'd like some input.

At the recommendation of a few friends in my MLIS program, I checked out WordPress, and a username that matches my new Twitter account was available. I've registered with WP but am trying to decide whether to:

abandon Blogger altogether
mirror content on both blog sites
start a new WP blog and continue on Blogger

Is WordPress the way to go? Maybe...I might still decide to stay with Blogger but get a new location (and let juliapoet.blogspot expire) that suits me more. Stories? Yes. Essays? Yes. Poetry? Haven't written any in a long time, unless you count song lyrics.

I don't really want to start a second blog if my first isn't even being read but in part, I write for myself, so if I feel there's enough content for two I may do so. I guess I'm asking what content my readers do and don't want to see - what would be enough to tempt them to follow my ramblings here, or on WordPress.

Are my posts too long? Too personal? Not enough pictures? Too boring or uninteresting? I've been trying to update four times a month so the content here on Randomly Yours isn't stale, but, as the name suggests, I'm not a stickler for what type of personal updates I post.

The WP blog, then, will likely have stricter guidelines for its content. As part of launching my career as a (specialty to be decided later) librarian, I intend to build up my online presence, in particular my professional and library-related profile. Sure I love to cook and take photos of my gastronomical successes, but that doesn't have a place on a library-related blog. *Edit: I intend to get web hosting.

Do you have any tips for me, or ideas for how to shape the content and format of a new blog? Do you have experience in creating your own professional/career-related online presence? Would you be sad if I let Randomly Yours go? What would it take for you to follow me over to WordPress or a new Blogger home? Let me know.

Randomly Yours,

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Power is one of those English words that I wish had a wider vocabulary, like 'love' in Greek. Dictionary definitions run the gamut from political authority to energy or exerted force to strength and ability. For a word to be used in so many contexts is frustrating to new English speakers and bothersome for writers (and librarians). If you take a moment, I'm sure you'll think of a variety of ways we use the word power. Here's some I came up with:
  • Political - "in power"
  • Rights movements - "empowered"
  • Car ads - "powerful engine"
  • Sports - "power play"
  • Faith - "power of the Holy Spirit"
  • Business - "power words, power suits"

It struck me that many of these uses are worthless unless there is belief behind the power. Stay with me, I do have a point - or at least some thoughts. See, if politicians can't gather people to believe in his/her ability to lead, they won't come into power. And if you believe a cause isn't worthy of a fight, how is it empowering to stand up for your rights?

Admittedly, "powerful engine" is a marketing term, hopefully anchored in some engineering tests, and has little to do with belief. And "power play" is when one team has the advantage over the other, like when a hockey team is a man down and the opposing team makes the most of the imbalance of power.

What would my faith in the Holy Spirit's power be if I didn't first believe in the trinity and God's constant presence in my life? And isn't a power suit just something in your wardrobe that you believe makes you look your most authoritative?

My poor neglected novella will definitely contain some power struggles. You've got your werewolves, you've got your vampires, you've got your humans - oh, don't look at me like that. It's not Bella and Edward all over again, I promise. There's even some reflections on Thoreau.

Secondly, but more importantly, Canada is headed into a federal election. Our last three have ended with a minority government, the last two with the Conservatives leading and Stephen Harper as our Prime Minister. (This is one of those times I know I made the right choice by pursuing librarianship instead of journalism as a career - I just can't keep up; at least with a library at my fingertips I'll know where to find the information, but I won't have to create the news articles.)

We spoke in my management class about what makes a leader...I would argue that a leader needs power in his/her corner - clout, if you will. And I don't mean the klout that you earn on Twitter; I'm talking about influence. It's preferable that this power and influence will be the kind that makes people want to stand behind you, follow you, believe in you.

My point is this: words don't make something powerful, people do. Sure, words can convey power, but first, there has to be a belief. Believe in your leaders. Believe in your fellow Canadians, your faith, your sports team, your coworkers. Belief is a powerful thing.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cinema boredom

Can I just say, blech.
It's nearly Easter holidays and the weather is drizzly, so I thought of what I might see at the movies. The choices at my local cinema find me somewhere between bored and disgusted. Let me run it down for you:

Fast and the Furious 5
Vin Diesel and Dwayne The Rock Johnson. And cars. Take 5.

I do love Simon Pegg, but I'd rather just watch Hot Fuzz again. Tell me if you see it and there was more to know than what they've shown in the trailers. I hate when they reveal the whole plot in the trailers.

Mars Needs Moms
What is this? Nevermind.

Justin Bieber Never Say Never (2D and 3D)
I have no interest in the Biebs.

Rio (2D and 3D)
A bird who can't fly...I momentarily thought of Happy Feet and a penguin who had no heart song. But they got great voices, and it looks fun! I'll skip the 3D.

This looks great! Who cares about James Marsden, but the animation looks good, and they got Russell Brand to voice EB. Have I mentioned how much I love Despicable Me?

Monday, April 04, 2011

Down the wire

I've been reading and thinking about communication lately. I had an assignment to speak to an information professional, for instance, and I learned that intuition and communication were prized tools in management. It got me thinking about how I will apply what I'm learning in a corporate or academic environment, and what I can do to improve my own communication skills. For starters, I'm trying to keep up this blog with an average of 4 posts a month. That's the goal, anyway. Secondly, I joined Twitter, but to keep my freakout quotient down, so far I'm just following uni cohorts and library-related accounts.

I still get excited when there's a new e-mail in my box, like I used to when I got snail mail addressed to me. If you know anyone who's deployed, or is constantly relocated, correspondence is gold. I kept shoeboxes of letters sent from my penpals for years while my family was overseas. Now I just re-read my e-mails when I'm lonely or feeling out of touch, and it's not quite the same thing as seeing your friend's handwriting.

I rarely get anything in the mailbox now but bills, real estate ads and pizza coupons*, but I use my cell/mobile phone throughout the day. I'm sure I use it more for text messages, social media, and e-mail than actual phone calls. Sometimes I'm even surprised when it rings!

How about you? How do you like to communicate? Over a cup of tea, on the phone, with Skype? Do you think our communication skills have suffered under the influence of social media?

Should we be worried, or is this just a natural progression, and our skills are simply becoming more diverse? Is the immediacy of digital communication a bonus or just another way of tying us to our devices?

On a more contentious note - are your family members part of your online experience, or do you try to keep family and friends in separate spheres? How about the older generations in your family? Some of mine have e-mail and nothing else - I'm quite proud of them for learning that, but I still send paper cards for special occasions because an e-card just doesn't seem to cut it. Others don't even have a computer, and I admit I could be better at sending them letters to keep them in the loop.

Today on facebook I came across a survey that asked which 3 out of 100 websites I visited daily, and mine were facebook, Twitter and Gmail. It struck me that all three are related to communication... I suppose that shows I value keeping up with people. But how personal is personal communication when it's mostly text and intangible attachments?

*Edit - My family and close friends keep in touch via e-mail, Skype and facebook for the most part, but they also send me birthday and holiday cards and the occasional care package - often with chocolate.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Genuine compliments

Sometimes, you have a grumpy day. It's drizzling outside, you feel ugly, or you despair that you'll never find a fulfilling job. Whatever the reason, we all have these days - sometimes stretching across a whole week (or more). On those days, I sometimes have to remind myself that I am pretty, or smart, or fun to be around. But as I'm often my own worst critic, it helps to store up genuine compliments from the people who know and love me best.

So thanks, friends - family - you know who you are. Here are a few of your compliments that make me feel good, even when I'm grumpy. You might have said it in a moment, but it's stayed with me.

Your homemade soup is so good, you could sell it on the street on Friday nights and make tons of money.

You're one of those women who looks even more beautiful with time.

You're the best hugger in the whole world!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Excuses, excuses

I know, I know... it's been a whole month. I'm sorry. I've been very busy, I promise. And with what's happening in Japan and Libya lately, it seemed almost superficial to just post another book review or recipe, but I couldn't really think of what to say that hasn't already been said by someone with a greater depth of understanding than me.

-And then another week passed while I went on vacation-

Four weeks ago I began a thrilling, terrifying adventure - grad school. Yes, I have re-entered higher education, and am on my way to becoming a librarian! Not the bun-wearing, shushing kind either - but aside from that I don't know what kind of librarian I would like to be. As technology creates more formats to hold information, librarians' jobs change and their roles expand. I don't think libraries will die out anytime soon, they'll just be different from how they're portrayed in movies like The Music Man.

"What do you want to take out?"
"The librarian."

God, I love that line. Robert Preston is gold. And Shirley Jones...I can never pick whether I love her as Marian, Laurey, or Julie best.

Expect to see more library, book and DRM (digital rights management) related posts in the future. It will take me approximately 18 months of full-time study to earn my MLIS (Masters in Library and Information Science), and that's as a follow-up to my English B.A. There's far more to library studies than shelving, cataloguing and microfiche!

Librarian 2.0 - Twitter account, red glasses, nose stud, Kindle and all.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Forgotten Books are Dangerous

Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Book: The Shadow of the Wind
Language: Translated from Spanish
Publisher: Penguin, 2005

My family is full of readers, and this past Christmas, my mother-in-law insisted I read a book she'd brought on her trip from Canada to Australia, which had been given to her by her sister in America. So this is a well-travelled book, with two satisfied readers already - and it's been on the New York Times bestseller list.

If you like gothic romance, Barcelona, dark family secrets, power struggles, bookshops and books about books, this is for you. It is overpowering and at times over the top, but its whole is masterful.

Even through the translation, Zafon's words are gorgeous. A poor translation - or a poor synopsis - would have made this novel read like a Dan Brown thriller, but instead the story builds in suspense and is full to bursting of gothic-novel-worthy settings, plot twists, violence and heartache. Above all, though, this is a "love letter to literature" (Entertainment Weekly) and to the booksellers and readers who seek out precious volumes and keep them on their shelves and in their hearts.

The novel follows Daniel Sempere, an antiquarian book dealer's son, from childhood to tortured adulthood. His father entrusts him with a great secret - the location of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books - and charges him to choose a single volume and keep it safe for the remainder of his life.

"This place was already ancient when my father brought me here for the first time, many years ago. Perhaps as old as the city itself. Nobody knows for certain how long it has existed, or who created it. I will tell you what my father told me, though. When a library disappears, or a bookshop closes down, when a book is consigned to oblivion, those of us who know this place, its guardians, make sure that it gets here. In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day they will reach a new reader's hands." p. 6

When Daniel discovers that his copy of The Shadow of the Wind is the last in existence, he is mystified, and devotes his life to finding out more about its author and its publication history. But it is no accident that the author's entire canon has been destroyed, and soon Daniel is too close to the truth...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Alexia Tarabotti Novels

Author : Gail Carriger
Series : The Parasol Protectorate
Publisher : Orbit, 2009-2010

The steampunk-esque cover for Soulless had been taunting me from the shelf for weeks, but it had the potential to be one of those books that couldn't live up to its cover blurb. So I hesitated. When one of Sydney's best sci-fi/fantasy bookstores gave it a very favourable review, I couldn't resist anymore.

Gail Carriger packs a lot into the first novel of the Parasol Protectorate. Vampires, werewolves, the concept of "Soulless" - I won't give that away - and high tea. The series continues to build on Alexia Tarabotti's forays into the unforgiving social world of Victorian England, tempered by Carriger's stylish and humorous writing.

I had concerns that steampunk + supernatural + Victorian comedy of manners = too much goodness, and it does - but in the best possible way. Carriger's impetus for this peculiar bundle is a character-driven plot, in which England could not have maintained its autonomy without the help of supernatural forces. Vampires, you see, are masters of society and its manners. Werewolves are master tacticians. Together, the two are an unbeatable combination, and the royal family has wisely used this combination to build an indomitable England.

The books might be laden with new ideas but they are by no means heavy, and they made me laugh out loud on several occasions. Aside from Alexia, our witty but soulless heroine, there is a string of memorable and engaging characters. From werewolves in waistcoats and flamboyantly gay vampires, to a woman who is far too fond of ridiculous headgear, Alexia's acquaintances populate the pages with quirky charm. Changeless and Blameless are excellent as well, and the story speeds along with dashes of fiery romance, mischievous deeds, secret labs and dirigible flights.

This is worldbuilding at its best, and I can't wait until July 2011 for book four, Heartless.

A word of warning : don't read blurbs for books 2-5 on Gail Carriger's official website until you've read the novel previous. As River Song would say, "Spoilers!"

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Top 5 Books of 2010

There were so many good reads in 2010, I had to cheat and include an entire series as one entry in my Top 5 list. This list is not based on bookstore bestsellers or new releases, but what I read and enjoyed most last year. Have you read any of these? What did you think?

1. Soulless; Changeless; Blameless; Gail Carriger (Orbit/Hachette, 2009-2010)
2. The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Penguin, 2005, translated from Spanish)
3. The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbary (Gallic Books, 2008, translated from French)
4. Sarah's Key, Tatiana de Rosnay (John Murray, 2008)
5. The Heir, Grace Burrowes (Amazon Kindle, 2010)

Reviews coming later...

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

How Sporty I Am...Not

I feel very unAustralian tonight. "20 to 1" is on, and tonight it's sports anthems. Immediately I thought of two songs - Chariots of Fire, and We are the Champions. Imagine my shock when Queen came in at number 20! Poor Freddie Mercury. And the slo-mo anthem of the century didn't even break the top 10.

Do you know who ranked at #6? Ricky Martin. Yes. The gyrating god of music himself, with The Cup of Life. Apparently it's a soccer anthem. I suppose I'm the wrong kind of sports fan - the dance sport kind. I know Ricky Martin and I know Arrow's Hot Hot Hot - another top 20 that was quite far down the list, 15 or so - because I know them with choreographed Latin line dances.

We're up to the top 3, and Jody's betting on Eye of the Tiger from Rocky. We shall see! Naturally, since we're down under, Down Under, Men At Work comes in at #3.

Something I thought was just a chant is #2 - Alan Morris and Allan Johnston came up with a jingle that reached no. 1 on the charts in 1978 - C'mon Aussie C'mon. I swear there are verses to go with it.

And, yes! In the blue corner... dah-dah-daaaaaah, dah-dah-dahhhhhh.... it's Rocky! Not Eye of the Tiger, though, that's from Rocky 3. It's the theme from the first Rocky, which is apparently titled Gonna Fly Now.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Getting some Zzzzzz's

I haven't felt like I've gotten quality sleep lately. It's not that I'm staying up reading Stieg Larsson - that at least it a plausible excuse for sleeplessness - I'm just waking up tired, even if I've been in bed close to 8 hours. So the question is, am I imagining the poor sleep, or is it really happening?

Browsing the apps available on Android (I got a swish new smartphone because my little cell phone just wasn't working anymore), I found something intriguing : Sleep as an Droid. I decided I'd use its two-week trial period to see if I could uncover something about my sleeping habits.

The app tracks your sleep patterns, keeps track of your sleep deficit, enables sharing (though why I'd post daily updates to facebook I don't know) and the paid version adds nature sounds to the alarm options. Plus, it has a cute logo - don't you think?

The principle is this : use the sensors in your smartphone (in my case, a Samsung Galaxy S) to determine how much you move around during the night, thus guessing what type of sleep you are in and for how long. The trick of course is that you have to put the phone on the mattress when you go to sleep, so this won't work for "burrowers" or "flailers" who may knock the phone to the floor as they doze.

The official webpage does a much better job at explaining the aim of the app:

So far, my first night's sleep looks similar to the sample graph, and I slept well last night - likely because I didn't eat too late, and we had the air conditioner on and a blanket so I felt like it was time for sleep. Napping on the couch without blankets? No problems. In fact I managed to fall asleep midway through a TV movie a few nights ago, gunshots and explosions notwithstanding.

Oh - and this isn't a single incident. See this blog for two more sleep aid apps.

On top of mapping my sleep patterns, Sleep as an Droid has a few features I'll be trying out :
  • Gentle wake - begins to wake you with a pre-alarm, from 30 minutes to an hour before your set alarm, but only if it senses you are not in deep sleep
  • Lullaby mode - quiets text and message alerts
  • Music volume turns down as you fall asleep

I'll let you know if this is bunk or it actually works... Even if it doesn't, it might be worth it for the gentle alarm, according to other reviewers.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Taking On Water

This seems as good a time as any to start blogging again.

If you've been watching the news, my newly adopted state of Queensland, Australia is experiencing its worst flooding in more than a century. Originally compared to the serious floods of 1974, the water has risen above those levels, and the area affected is larger than France and Germany combined. Scarcely a week ago I was writing to worried family to assure them of my safety; last week's worst flooding was in Rockhampton, a good seven hours' drive north of Brisbane. By Monday, though, it became clear that Brisbane would not be spared.

Before I go further, let me assure you that my home is on a hill, and my area is not subject to flooding. Our drinking water is not contaminated, we have plenty of food (though very little fresh vegetables, and no bread - time for baking!) and flashlights and candles in case our power is cut.

I took a walk on Monday to the river and hopped on a ferry for the 3-minute ride to the university campus on the opposite riverbank. Even then, the Brisbane River was lapping at the sidewalk, debris cluttering my route - an hour after I took these photos, the walkway was closed.

Yesterday, by the time a break in the rain came and I ventured to the nearest grocery store (20 minutes' walk, downhill) the shelves were bare of bread (barring a few packets of wraps), bottled water, and longlife milk (except soy!) but I gathered some meat for the BBQ, soup and pasta, canned fruit, vegetables and tuna.

The Wivenhoe dam is at 190% and it may release the equivalent of 6000 Olympic pools per second. (Channel 10) Fortunately the rain forecast for today didn't come and the expected peak has been revised to a lower level, but the damage has already been done. Thousands are out of their homes, having lost everything. If you're going to worry or pray, please do so for those in low-lying areas. Many have already been evacuated, but the disaster relief centres are filling fast. Those with family or friends on higher ground have been asked to shelter there instead.

The death toll stands at 12, and dozens of people are missing. The media coverage is constant and people are harnessing social media to send out messages - some assuring friends they are safe, others pleading for rescue workers to aid people they've seen stranded on a roof. One now-homeless girl tweeted, with typical Aussie pluck, "We're ok. Send Sham-wows."

Just past noon today (Wednesday 12th January) I visited my favourite coffee shop - the proprietors are okay, just running low on milk and ginger beer - and continued down the main road of my neighbouring suburb, camera in hand. Helicopters flew by on their way to a rescue, warning sirens whooped, and a single policeman stood ankle-deep, directing traffic away from the intersection.

The supermarket I had visited just yesterday was shut, and water had started to roll in from downtown. Businesses had sandbagged their doors, taped plastic sheeting over the windows and put misspelled signs up, advising customers they had closed due to flood warnings. The West End's most popular cafe was closed and already gathering water in the front courtyard:

Today has been hot and sunny but now, at 8:45pm, it is raining. The next two days will bring the worst.  If, like me, you are safely on high ground, do not travel unless necessary.  If you can help, please send donations or volunteer through the Red Cross or Salvation Army, or your local church.


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