Friday, September 30, 2016

Friday 5: Impromptu

What’s something you’ve created while improvising in the kitchen?

Image courtesy Rolfe Kolbe

Nothing, really. I'm pretty free-wheeling about what I put in a smoothie, but I don't think that really counts. I also use make liberal use of gochujang in completely unrelated cuisine.

In your work, how good are you at winging it?

Teachers wing it all day, every day. That's not to say we don't plan. But whenever you try out a new lesson or activity, you really have no idea how long it'll take or how quickly students will finish something. (Humblebrag: when I was getting my CELTA, one of my instructors called me out on not planning my lessons more thoroughly. "You're good at improvising, but you shouldn't rely on that.")

When you travel, how much of your trip do you make up as you go?

Maybe about 50%? I tend to have a firm grasp on where I'll be and (if applicable) who I'll be seeing, but I keep things pretty open-ended when it comes to activities. I'm going to be in NYC next weekend, for example, and the only activities I'm pretty set on are going to a Korean spa (Groupon!) because I need to relax, and watching the second round of presidential debates because I am a glutton for punishment.

How structured are your plans for this weekend?

Pretty structured: work in the mornings, a NaNoWriMo meetup, and Swedish homework.

What’s something you’ve discovered while wandering around in your neighborhood?

Neo-Nazi propaganda. :C

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What I Read: Queen Bees and Wannabes (Updated Third Edition)

The seminal work on teenage girlhood that inspired everyone's favorite Lindsay Lohan pre-breakdown movie (obviously I'm talking about The Parent Trap!) is out in a third, updated edition, and is available on NetGalley and Blogging for Books*. I read the Kindle ebook edition.

I'm not a parent. After I finished the book, I was really glad about that. (More than I normally am.) Not because I hate babies or kids or teenagers—I actually work with human larvae and pupae on a regular basis, and I enjoy the work that I do—but because my growing up was so different from the Girl World that Wiseman describes.

I didn't belong to any social group. I was a member of a few different activities—band, orchestra, debate club, trivia team, Reading Olympics—and was friendly with most of my fellow activity members, but as far as a single cohesive group goes, that wasn't my lived reality. My groups were more long distance and disparate:

1. A jazz band camp I attended for one week out of the year (until I aged out). These were also kids from all over the state and surrounding area, so it's not like we were going home to neighboring school districts. This group dissolved almost entirely for me by the time I graduated high school and I don't keep in touch with anyone from it today.

2. Internet friends I met through Internet Boyfriend #1 (who I met on a dorky fantasy RPG board). They were their own real-life peer group and I was just sucked into it, like a weird little appendage or antenna. After Internet Boyfriend #1 dumped me, I kind of drifted away, but I'm still friendly with everyone, enough to hang out with them when I was in the neighborhood last year.

3. Internet friends I encountered thanks to a shared interest in a TV show that has not aged well at all (or was just always of questionable quality). This is the group that has persisted the longest: through high school and college, and even today. Now we're adults, however, so we don't have that same intense teenage need to find people who "get it."

Many of the dynamics Wiseman outlines don't really work over those time and distance shifts, or at least work in very different ways. The "Girl World" Wiseman describes ended up feeling very foreign to me not only because I'm 30 and not 13, but also because my own version of Girl World was much, much different. Not silly surface things like no Facebook and no smartphones, but much deeper things: I never went boy crazy**, I went to maybe a handful of parties (and literally had no idea where to get booze/drugs/whatever), and I certainly never had a group like Wiseman describes.

But if this is the reality that most kids are facing, then it means that I would be ill-equipped to really understand how significant this all is. And that's why I would be a terrible parent: I would be even more clueless than your typical parent usually is.

What struck me, actually, was how, in describing "Boy World," Wiseman mentions that there's always a few kids who operate on the fringe of, or even totally beyond, what the expectations for Boy World are: she describes them as outer perimeter (or "OP" in the book, which has a totally different meaning for me, being as I am a ~~digital native who's spent too much time on 4chan).

She doesn't seem to acknowledge that there are OP girls, too. Not in the OMG SO HETERONORMATIVE!! sense—in this edition at least, Wiseman addresses sexual orientation and gender presentation, though only in brief and there are huge chunks of the book where queer and/or trans girls aren't mentioned at all—but just in the breakdown of roles. There are "floaters/champions," but she doesn't spend a lot of time addressing what happens when you're a girl in that role, what girls think of the girls who fall into that role, or even acknowledging that it happens. Judging by how popular Daria was, and is, with people my age, I think there are far more OP girls than Wiseman is aware of. Maybe it's because they tend to have enough self confidence, self awareness, and maturity to avoid the majority of the problems that plague Girl World citizens, so Wiseman never really has to work with them.

All of this is to say that I don't think this is the definitive book on adolescent female experience. I don't think it's even a definitive one, to be honest, despite the hype and the movie buzz. But I appreciate that Wiseman (generally) treats her young charges with maturity and respect, and encourages parents to cultivate and promote critical thinking in themselves as well as their children. (Which makes it all the weirder when she sometimes seems arbitrarily harsh: PARTIES ARE ALWAYS SCARY DRUG ORGIES! NO BOYS IN BEDROOMS EVER! but everyone has their blind spots I suppose.)

Working as I do with young people, I think books like this (including the many, many resources Wiseman shares at the end of the book) are important. Not as important as just listening and paying attention, but still essential. The protips might even be useful for parents—it's impossible for me to judge those, for obvious reasons. But if you're not a parent or a teacher, or interested in spending a lot of time reflecting on your adolescent years, you're not really going to miss much. Just pop on Freaky Friday again.

*And that's where I got this free copy. But that didn't influence my opinions in any way.

**I mean, I definitely had a few crushes here and there, and I know I was painfully obvious in most of them. But I was never clipping out images from Tiger Beat to hang up in my locker, either.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Newly Listed: Black and Red Newtonian Constant of Gravitation Bracelet

I love thrift shops. I always have. I don't know about where you went to school, but it seemed like where I did everyone shopped at Goodwill or Salvation Army. And not, like, ironically, either. Or maybe semi-ironically. Or maybe totally ironically and I was the only one missing out on the joke. I don't think so, though.

Of course, in Sweden it's a lot harder for me to thrift outfits because, hey, I'm fat! If I'm going to keep it 100, I've been avoiding the thrift stores here for that reason, the same reason I choose the stores I shop at and even kinds of items I look at with a precision one could call "surgical". But a couple of days ago I had the time and the energy so on the way back from picking up a book for school, I swung by Myrorna and was rewarded not only with new (new-to-me but also, it looked and felt like, nearly out-of-the-box new) sneakers to fit my fat feet, but a doozy of a bead find as well: a multistrand necklace of different black wooden beads for a song!

There are a lot of upcoming pieces from this find, but I want to share just the second one with you right now. (The first one found a home almost as soon as I put it up on Facebook. See you soon, Jenny!)

Physics science jewelry sciart black red bracelet
Newtonian Constant of Gravitation bracelet by Kokoba
My bead box has been short on understated neutrals for a while, so my first thought was to put these black beads to work as the meat and potatoes of some pieces (rather than accent beads). As a result, I think they make for a surprisingly unisex/gender-neutral look.

Physics science jewelry sciart black red bracelet
Newtonian Constant of Gravitation bracelet by Kokoba

I also like the snake-y, accordion look of rondelles rather than the usual round beads. It's something different, you know? That's why I love rondelles: they're incredibly versatile but at the same time a little more visually interesting than just plain round beads. 

Physics science jewelry sciart black red bracelet
Newtonian Constant of Gravitation bracelet by Kokoba

Lately I've been working on more chainmaille than anything else, though it's a lot of thought and experimentation and not a whole lot of finished product to show for it. Sometimes I get in a mood where I just want to finish something quick so I can see the end results and get it out into the world, though. Of course now is a really bad time for me to be throwing myself into new ideas and new products, but I guess that's how the procrastinate-y brain works, doesn't it? Anything to keep myself from doing what I actually need to be doing. Oh, well. That just means more goodies to share with you!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Skeptical Saturday: Trump's Bogus Murder Rate Statistics Your Aunt Has Probably Also Shared on Facebook

Watching The Daily Show alerted me to this one. Donald Trump retweeted this bullshit infographic a billion years ago (not sure why we're talking about it now but whatever):

And while I'm not thrilled that a presidential candidate does not seem to give two shits about fact-checking, I'm glad he brought this to national attention for other fact checkers and journalists to debunk because I have definitely seen people I know—who would even deny being racist and are just as terrified of a Trump presidency as I am—share this. In earnest.

And to make the point clear, these numbers are completely fabricated.

I guess I could have Googled "Crime Statistics Bureau San Francisco" but you know what? I don't get paid to fact check everything everyone posts on Facebook. The easier thing to do is just to follow Snopes so you get the most egregious stories fact checked before they get to your clueless aunt.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Friday 5: All Over

First of all, a musical interlude: "Glad All Over," by the Dave Clark 5.


What would you like right now to be coated with?

This is a very bizarre question. I'm pretty good with my skin, thanks. Maybe some kind of magical, always-a-comfortable-temperature air barrier? I don't know.

What’s something you recently slathered on something else?


JV makes a really tasty hummus and he always uses a lot of spices and garlic. Well, we've found out that garlic is not so good for his digestion and so someone had to finish off a fresh batch of extra garlic-y hummus by herself.

I regret nothing.

What’s something you purchased recently whose purpose is to cover something?

The pants I bought from Kobieta Clothing Company cover my butt! And my naughty bits. And my legs.

What do your current bed linens look like?

Sad. Old. Mismatched. We have a queen-sized bed but two IKEA mattress things. My mattress has a blue bed sheet, JV's has a white one, he usually sleeps under a maroon/red duvet and I use a rainbow afghan Lawyer Mom crocheted for me before I went to college.

Under what circumstances did you last wear some kind of gloves?

Cleaning the bathroom, I think.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Friday Find: Kobieta Clothing Company

I have always been a little bit of a tree hugger. Not because I claim any spiritual connection to nature; it just seems to me that the most pragmatic thing to do is to minimize our impact on the planet so we can get as much use out of it as possible. Little me didn't really understand how anyone could not be concerned about making the resources we have last as long as possible.

Ah, the naivete of childhood.

As an adult, it's complicated. I recycle, converted JV to glass straws, and try to be mindful of my water usage, but one of my favorite hobbies (jewelry making) has a really crappy history when it comes to ethics and the environment. Clothing, too: it's very easy to want to buy clothing that is ethically and sustainably sourced. (Especially after watching a documentary like The True Cost. Important to see, but you'll never look at your closet the same way again.) It's another thing altogether to be able to make those choices when you're fat.

After being disappointed with the brands featured in The True Cost (almost none of them offered things over a size 12 or 14), I went digging on Etsy and binge-hearted a bunch of indie organic designers that catered to fat people. And after that long wind-up, here's the pitch: one of them was The Kobieta Clothing Company.

A few months later, I finally came in the way of some extra cash and decided to treat myself (remember my promise to myself earlier in the year to treat myself, and to invest more money in indie biz owners?). Enter The Kobieta Palazzo Wide Leg Pants. They arrived a couple of weeks ago and I AM IN LOVE. 

The Kobieta Palazzo Wide Leg Pants by The Kobieta Clothing Company

First of all, Nikki (the seamstress behind it all) takes custom orders, which is great for someone fat who has short, stumpy legs. Someone like me.

We represent the Lollipop Guild... // Image courtesy MGM Studios.

So to put on a pair of pants and they fit! They don't drag on the floor; I don't look like a little kid playing dress up. Worth it.

I was also pleasantly surprised at the weight of the material, as I have certain expectations about jersey knit. These were heavier—not by much, but by enough that it was clear that 1) they were going to be way more durable than my previous palazzo trousers and 2) they would be warm enough for fall and, with leggings or under armor or the like, even winter wear.

Speaking of the material, this is your reminder that Kobieta clothing is made exclusively from sustainable fabric: bamboo, organic cotton, beech tree modal, hemp, and organic linen. All of it. By default. 

And finally, these pants are unbelievably comfortable. I have to make an effort not to wear these all day, every day (when I'm not doing yoga or going for runs in my LineageWear leggings, speaking of treat yo' self). I don't think I've ever called a pair of pants cozy before, but there's no other word that really fits. They are cozy, in the way that going into your cave and finding your power animal is cozy.

The next time you need to replace a wardrobe staple, I would recommend saving up a little bit of scratch and splurging on an item from Kobieta. It's worth it, for you and for the planet.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

What I'm Reading: The Great Suppression

This is another freebie from NetGalley, which has been my greatest source of non-fiction recently. So much good stuff coming out!

The Great Suppression is depressing as hell and while I think every American should care about the state of democracy in their own country, I get that lots of people are just not interested in politics, whether because they're largely unaffected by politics, or whether they've given up on a system that doesn't seem to care about them. But calling things "just politics" is I think a misnomer. Nothing is just politics; policy decisions that are made to appeal to certain groups of voters have real life consequences for actual people. Chances are pretty good that one day one of those policy decisions will apply to you. "First they came for the Communists...." and so on.

I think this is an excellent companion to Democracy in Black and that if you read one you should really read the other. In particular, I think The Great Suppression acts as a reply to Glaude's vision of a "what if we just stopped voting" protest. When you see to the extent to which certain groups are taking things just to keep direct democracy out of the American political process (usually to the benefit of an elite group of large corporation owners), it becomes clear how naive a "blank out" would be as a protest measure. At the same time, it's important to understand just how much of the suppression and disenfranchisement Roth describes is explicitly based on race, whether today or two hundred years ago.

The one complaint I have about the book is that it is maybe too dense. This could be a problem of reading it on ebook (or maybe I'm just not that smart!), but I had to go back and re-read certain passages to understand what, exactly, had just happened. It's definitely not beach reading, that's for sure.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Friday 5: Pees

What’s something that recently required perseverance?

Learning to like running. I'm not all the way there yet, but I'm learning to enjoy myself.

What’s something that’s been unpleasantly persistent?

Can I just say everything? If it's not one thing, it's another.

When has practice not proven to make perfect?

Honestly, I feel like no matter how many classes I take or how much I try to practice, my Swedish is just at a plateau f-o-r-e-v-e-r.

Where were you last required to exercise patience?

I forgot just how often a class can be an exercise in patience. More so as a student than as a teacher, it feels like.

How do you feel about peas?

I'll eat them, but they're not my favorite.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Very Special Trek Thursday: Happy Birthday!

Image courtesy Ryan Hutton

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first air date of Star Trek. It's hard to find words for it, though mostly because I am hella busy and not because I'm emotionally choked up. Otherwise there would have definitely been a marathon of my top 5 TOS episodes today.

Confession: I first got into Star Trek after the J. J. Abrams reboot. I won't say because of the reboot—it had been on my "to watch" list for years by that point, since I had missed it on TV in syndication but was geeky enough to know that it was a thing and to know that I would probably like it—but seeing the movie reminded me that I really did want to see the TV show, so I can't say there's no connection, either. (I hear your cries of "ZOMG FAKE GEEK GIRL" "NOT A TRUE FAN!" and idgaf.) I went back and watched TOS in all of its mid-century campy glory and loved it; I rewatched the J. J. Abrams reboot and actually kind of hated it.

For all of the cool whiz-bang tech, for all of the cowboy heroism, for all of the green-skinned space babes, what makes TOS really special for me is the philosophy of it and the willingness of the writers to sit and stew over moral dilemmas. (To an extent. You can't do much stewing in under an hour and still have cowboy fights and green-skinned space babes. But you can do some.) I studied philosophy in college because I liked to think and because I wanted to get at the heart of things; science fiction does much of the same. And not just in the hackneyed "philosophy and pop culture" sense (though considering they've subtitled that one "The Wrath of Kant" I can't even be mad), either. The genre, at its best, tackles real metaphysical (How do we know what exists? How can we objectively measure things like space and time?), epistemological (How can we be sure that we even know anything? What limits are there to what is knowable?), ethical (Are there any truly universal moral imperatives?), and aesthetic (What does art look like in the face of technology? Is there anything like a universal standard of beauty or perfection?) questions. It's kind of why I prefer the older term speculative fiction instead of science fiction. It denotes a little more reflection; boundaries that are a little looser.

Did TOS always live up to that promise? Not always. At its heart, it's an action show, and arguably the whiz-bang of J. J. Abrams is actually a completely appropriate and updated version of the franchise. But TOS certainly held much more space for those questions than the new movies do, and that's why it holds a special place in my nerdy heart.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

What I Read: The Sparrow

Image courtesy Villard
I got The Sparrow in a care package from a friend. I put it away for a while (I had other books to read) and finally picked it up last week when I didn't feel like going to the library. After reading the back and also getting some way into it, I realized that one of the book blogs I followed had recently reviewed it. But I didn't remember which blog, or much of the review (except that it was mostly pretty positive) so it was the best of both worlds: I had heard good things but nothing was spoiled for me! (So if you've reviewed it, send me the link in the comments!)

In a nutshell, The Sparrow is a first contact SF story: in the near future, SETI finally yields fruit and, sponsored by the Jesuit order, off our characters go to harvest it. Things do not go as anticipated.

Thoughts without spoilers:

 I think Russell did a pretty good job in terms of alien world building and race creation. She walked the fine line between overly vague descriptions of the alien races and overly detailed very well, and overall the writing was fluid and free of embarrassing clunky bits. Like, I love John Scalzi as much as the rest of you do, but if you go back and re-read Redshirts, his need to use dialogue tags in EVERY. LINE. OF DIALOGUE. will kind of ruin the book for you. I don't know how Wil Wheaton managed with the audiobook version; just listening to JV read it out loud was jarring. Even today we periodically tack on a "Dahl said" on the end of a sentence as a sort of inside joke. No such clunkiness here. If there were issues with the execution (and there were, for me), the writing was at least enjoyable. The flashback/present day jumps are, in the beginning, a little obnoxious (and the flashbacks could have had some of the fat trimmed, I think) but as things pick up the shifts become quite seamless and build up some amount of dramatic tension.

Russell also had a pretty good sense of what sort of tech we would have in 2019. I got the impression this was a fairly recent release (since I had only heard of it last year or so), but no: this came out back in 1996! I don't know if we'll be mining asteroids by 2019, but SpaceX is definitely picking up the slack when it comes to space travel (even if I think governments should be investing in it, sigh); it doesn't really feel preposterously far-fetched. Meanwhile, in 2016, tablets are already ubiquitous. Good call, Russell!

The only writing-related thing I couldn't get over was 1) her tendency to explicitly mark cultural references as references (in one scene someone quotes Young Frankenstein and someone else replies "I love Young Frankenstein!"; in another there's something like: " ' "We're looking for a few good men," ' Anne said, quoting the old recruitment slogan for the Marines.") and 2) her use of said references, all dating to the 1970s and 1980s, in the scenes set in 2060. Young Frankenstein is a national treasure, yes (RIP Gene Wilder), but whether people will be quoting it 90 years later is maybe not the kind of suspension-of-disbelief-breaker you want in your Jesuits In Space novel. Ninety years is a long-ass time. It takes a special kind of nerd to be under 30 and go and reference the Marx Brothers these days—knowingly, anyway.

Speaking of the Marx Brothers, let's take a moment for some levity:

Beyond writing style, Russell also gave pretty serious thought to the linguistic paradigms of multiple alien races. The world-building overall I think was solid, and I'm very picky about world-building in SF/F—praise from Caesar is praise indeed.

I gave it 3 stars over on the ol' GoodReads (which is a pretty good rating from me). If you stumble across it, and you like SF with a heavy dose of humanities/liberal arts insights (linguistics, anthropology), you'll like this. I do want to talk out the things that downgraded my 4-star rating to a 3-star, and since that all is REALLY SPOILERY (and also touches on some really heavy content), it's after a jump.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Cultivar or Racehorse?: Pears

That potential blog segment is now an actual blog segment!

First of all, "cultivar"? What's a cultivar?

A cultivar is a kind of plant bred specifically by humans for certain traits, kind of like dog breeds. Those apple names you see in the grocery store? Those are cultivars, initially bred from the species Malus pumila. So you have Malus pumila 'Red Delicious,' Malus pumila 'Granny Smith,' Malus pumila 'Gala,' and so on. You can also have interspecific cultivars—a cultivar that is a cross between two different species. Generally speaking, a species is a plant that evolved on its own, and a cultivar is the result of deliberate human breeding.

I have a lot of great cultivars waiting in the wings; today I'll start the challenge with a few pears.

1. Bartlett

Pear cultivar...

...or racehorse?





It's a pear!

2. American Pharaoh

Pear cultivar...

...or racehorse?




It's a racehorse!

3. Black Caviar
Pear cultivar...

...or racehorse?




It's a racehorse!

4. Stinking Bishop

Pear cultivar...
...or racehorse?




It's a pear!

5. Warden

Pear cultivar...

...or racehorse?




It's a pear!

6. Hambletonian 10

Pear cultivar...

...or racehorse?




It's a racehorse!

7. Le Conte

Pear cultivar...
...or racehorse?




It's a pear!

So, how'd you do on this first round of "Cultivar or Racehorse"? Comment or tweet at me!

Photo credits:
  • Pears: JasonGillman, pippalou, gleangenie, hotblack, MichelleBulgaria, hotblack, and jdurham at
  • Horses: jade, seriousfun, jade, GaborFromHungary, Limp182, frequenceturf, and ainslieGP at

Friday, September 2, 2016

Friday 5: Stop, Hey, What's That Sound?

Everybody look what's going down...

What’s a sound you like falling asleep to?

I like to have JV read to me. Lovecraft puts me right to sleep. Nerd love.

What sounds do you hear right now?

JV is making me some tea.

What actor or actress has a speaking voice you especially like?

Oh, man. This is a tough one: voice is the number one best trait a man can have, as far as I'm concerned. But I don't really keep track of actors' voices, and I don't really have a celebrity voice crush.

Wait, I know! Brian Blessed!

What musical instrument has a sound you find unpleasant?

Soprano saxophones are the work of the devil and Kenny G is a literal demon.

What are some great songs about listening or hearing?

"I Can Hear You" by They Might be Giants, which is cool because they recorded it with Edison's original wax cylinder recorder.

"Just Listen" by Brother

"Heard it Through the Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye but I really kind of prefer Creedence Clearwater Revival's ridiculous, self-indulgent 11-minute version.

"I Can Hear Music" by The Ronettes

"I'm Listening" by Morning Show, welcome to the indie hipster portion of the blog post.

"Listen Up" by Oasis