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Boston Harbor Islands

There is a "National Recreation Area" (which is not quite the same as a national park) much directly in Boston: the "Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area" that also includes the Boston Harbor Islands State Park. I've never been there before, but they set up a really nice booth close to the Aquarium that I kept running into and now that advdiaboli is visiting, it seemed like the right point, especially since the weather forecast for Sunday was too warm for doing anything in the city.

We got food and books, paid for the ferry and were on our way:

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And then I shocked poor advdiaboli with the chaos that is the inner city Chipotle (to be honest, the one at Kendall Square is a lot better and a lot less confusing!) and we went home, in my case with a light sunburn.

night sky on my toenails

I envy people who get CSA shares. Not only because they get all the amazing veggies and fruit, but also because they don't spend hours trying to decide what to cook next. If you have eggplants, you know you have to use them. While I am standing there in the supermarket trying to decide whether an eggplant salad, corn on the cob, a zucchini curry or something entirely different is the thing I want to eat three days later. Seriously, making this kind of decisions is such a pain e-v-e-r-y time.

I finally, finally found the word for the kind of writing I love: tight prose. It does not necessarily mean that it is short, although I know only a few authors who manage this kind of writing over more than 300 pages. It means that every word is there for a reason. That no word can be cut without losing something. That there is no other way to write a scene than the way it was written. Words that are just noise make me recoil from a book.

I really, really like my toenails: gold glitter over dark green. Reminds me of the night sky or the Nebra sky disk with the additional benefit of looking good even on day 14:

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It also reminds me of this article in NYT I read a while ago: The Price of Nice Nails and Perfect Nails, Poisoned Workers. And the follow up here: Benefits, and Some Resistance, as New York Cracks Down on Nail Salon Abuses.

I was almost considering getting a manicure this spring, just to get it once. I decided against it after reading the articles. I can do my nails myself just as well.

And because I feel bad linking to English and therefore mostly US-centric articles but at the same time am hesitant to link to German-only links, here is a seldom article from a German newspaper that I found interesting and that exists in both English and German variants: Verschwörungstheorien:Der ganz eigene Wahnsinn / Conspiracy Theories: There’s something behind that. I'm somewhat
"hmmmm ..." about the summary, but there is this thought that I like a lot:

But the rejection of scientific results has another basis. It is the fear of losing control — not only over the world, but also over one's own life.

It also confirms my own observations when it comes to differences/similarities between Germany and the USA. And neither side comes out of this comparison especially positive.

throw back saturday: that short story

(Russian original, shitty English translation by me.)

Валентина Осеева / Valentina Oseeva
Печенье / Biscuits

Мама высыпала на тарелку печенье. Бабушка весело зазвенела чашками. Все уселись за стол. Вова придвинул тарелку к себе.
— Дели по одному, — строго сказал Миша.
Мальчики высыпали все печенье на стол и разложили его на две кучки.
— Ровно? — спросил Вова.
Миша смерил глазами кучки:
— Ровно... Бабушка, налей нам чаю!
Бабушка подала обоим чай. За столом было тихо. Кучки печенья быстро уменьшались.
— Рассыпчатые! Сладкие! — говорил Миша.
— Угу! — отзывался с набитым ртом Вова.
Мама и бабушка молчали. Когда все печенье было съедено, Вова глубоко вздохнул, похлопал себя по животу и вылез из-за стола. Миша доел последний кусочек и посмотрел на маму — она мешала ложечкой неначатый чай. Он посмотрел на бабушку — она жевала корочку черного хлеба...


Mother emptied the biscuits on a plate. The cups in Granny's hands ringed cheerfully. Everybody took place at the table. Vova pulled the plate to himself.
‘Divide them one by one’, Misha said sternly.
The boys emptied the biscuits on the table and divided them in two piles.
‘Fair?’ asked Vova.
Misha squinted at the piles.
‘Fair ... Granny, make us some tea!’
Granny poured the two of them tea. It was quiet at the table. The piles of biscuit quickly dwindled.
‘Crispy and sweet!,’ said Misha.
‘Uhu ...’ responded Vova with a full mouth.
Mother and Granny were quiet. When all the biscuits were eaten up, Vova drew a deep breath, patted his tummy and left the table. Misha finished eating the last bit and looked at Mother - she stirred the unstarted tea with a teaspoon. He looked at Granny - she was chewing on a crust of dark bread.

[Previously here.]

written by women book recs: 13-24/[24]

Marge Piercy
Marge Piercy is one of the reasons why I tell people "If I have trust in the author, I will also read things that would usually not interest me". I read and loved two of her science fiction classics, "Woman on the Edge of Time" and "He, She, and It" (both back in German, in the Ariadne social fantasies edition). So when I came around the (English!) "The Longings of Women ", a book about the lives of three women that fall apart, meet in the unexpected way, and turn something different. Piercy has written more, across genres, from science fiction to contemporary, from historical fiction to poetry. I have not read all of it, but I do intend to, because I trust her ...

Mary Roach
The only non-fiction writer here. Partly because I am really, really picky about non-fiction; not to mention the fact that I read the ton of it anyway, either in the shape of actual papers of the daily newspaper and magazine intake.
The book I read - and recommended to people who highly enjoyed it - is "Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex ", a book mainly about Sex research. Informative, hilarious, scientifically sound, wonderful. I've heard Roach's other books are the same. I very much intend to read them.

Charlotte Roche
This is what I wrote over on goodreads about her book Wetlands (Feuchtgebiete):

    I liked it. I also did not find it gross - I mean, sure, not something you'd read about in every book. But honestly: how many men have written about sex in such an open way and how long ago have we stopped screaming that it's all pornography and accepted it as literature? Read "Quiet Days in Clichy". Read whatever else. (Read fanfiction, but that's a different matter.) Why can't a woman?
    Sure it's meant to shock in its openness. But I can imagine things far more shocking (every second romance novel contains, if one really thinks about it, things more shocking) than a woman openly -- as far as an 18-year-old can -- embracing her sexuality. That does not happen to conform to the norms. So what?
    What it is in the end, is a funny, sad, and highly readable book. It works. And yeah, I know many will disagree. I stand by my opinion.
Her second book, "Wrecked" ("Schoßgebete") was rather pointless - such a disappointment. Still, I am glad I read "Wetlands".

Dina Rubina
I know that Rubina is mainly well known for her novels, however I've mainly read her short stories. Not last, because I made the mistake to buy her novels in an edition where four of them are packed into one giant hardcover - something that will happen rather often with books in Russian. But Russian books aren't easy ti get, so I grabbed what I could get.
She mixes the Russian tradition of the short story - the one that, for me, Chekhov defines - with what I regard as a very definition of a Jewish (or perhaps Eastern Jewish) outlook on life: trying to make jokes even in the saddest moments, making the other smile to make the life a little more bearable.
Her stories are - like the stories of the younger voices, Gorelik and Grjasnowa - often stories of immigration; born in 1953, Rubina left for Israel in 1990, but continues to write in Russian, drawing wonderful characters in tight prose.
Not that much of her work has been translated (here is the official list of translations on her site). A pity. Especially since she *is* actually well known and popular writer. On the other hand, if you speak Russian and don't mind reading on a monitor, a few of her stories are actually on her website. (I mind reading on the monitor, so I can't say whether those are the good ones; and I don't have my library here to check whether any of the stories I enjoyed in the books are online.)

Joanna Russ
So here is a writer I myself haven't read enough by, just two books, one too long ago (but oh, it left an impression!) the other one of her earliest works - so I will not recommend a certain book, but I will recommend to look her up. This is one of the women who defined what science fiction could be - and also a relentless critic and thinker. The book of hers that I really, really need to read (but am almost afraid to pick up) is "How to Suppress Women's Writing". A very relevant one, atm ...

Kathrin Schmidt
Another author of whom I've read exactly one book (her short story collection is on my wishlist) - but one that impressed me immensely, "Du stirbst nicht" (not translated, sorry ...). A woman(?) wakes up after a cerebral hemorrhage , missing memories, words (although sometimes she remembers the English ones instead of the German) and the control over her(?) own body. We follow the recovery, written (amazingly written) in the very language of the main character, the language that misses integral parts to be finally confronted with the question how much of the person who lived the last five years is there and how to define identity if pars of it are wiped out.
For once, I am really not good at summarizing the book - not wanting to give a away too much but at the same time to afraid not to mention something important, that would have made you read it. So ... Let me rather point me towards this review in "Die Zeit" that made *me* read the book in the first place. Perhaps it will convince you, too.

Barbara Slawig
Another German author whom I got to know via the Ariadne social fantasies - her book was, in spite of the awful name, "Flugverbot: Die lebenden Steine von Jargus " inventive hard science fiction, the science here being biology, with great characters and oh so much potential, a lot of it realized. I really wish more of German science fiction was like this; I would go back to reading it (I say that now - but oh, I read the book some 15 years ago? But then again, the other books I read and loved from this edition then and re-read now, I still loved.). She published another book, not a science fiction this time. I still ordered it; it should arrive in a few weeks. ("Flugverbot" seems to be available in a new editions in the Golkonda Verlag, who are also publishing Samuel R. Delany and the full collections of the brothers Strugatsky in German ...)

James Tiptree, Jr.
Her real name was Alice Sheldon - a woman who managed, for years, to fool the whole science fiction establishment; there were people praising her knowledge of the military that only a man could have. Well, she happened to have been a major in the army (and women could not achieve a higher rank at this time), then worked for a CIA, to finally get a PhD in psychology. But this does not tell you much about her books, does it? They are amazing. They are also hard to find - the best is to look out for "Her Smoke Rose Up Forever", a collection of amazing short fiction. And while I try to respect the fact that science fiction is just not everybody's cup of tea, Tiptree is one of those people you really should try even if you don't usually read sf, especially if you are interested in feminist literature. She is one of those authors who are much less well known than they should be because of the genre label.

Lyudmila Ulitskaya
Back in 2008, when I read her "Funeral Party", the book touched me so much that I had to dedicate a whole entry to a review. here. I will leave you with it, because I don't think I can say it better.
(The only thing I have to add is that her short stories are just as amazing. Her long novels are wonderful, but if you want to start - go for novellas, like the above, or the short stories. They will draw you in and never let you go; you can - and will want to - read the novels later.)

Kate Wilhelm
Why are her books so hard to find? Every second hand bookshop has a ton of Silverberg's and Dick's and all the other science fiction authors from the 60ies and 70ies and 80ies. Oh yes, she was a woman. I almost forgot.
Her most well-known work is "Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang ", that won the Hugo and the Locus and was nominated for the Nebula ... An amazing book that I heard described as anthropological science fiction. How does society work, if ...? It's amazing. And if you are even a little bit into science fiction or post apocalyptic fiction or YA (because this, this is what every YA dystopica writer should know and acknowledge as their roots, their wonderful, world-changing roots), take a look at it. There is, unsurprisingly, no current edition available (grmpf!), but it's available for kinds and you can get it used for cheap.
(I also wrote a review of her short story collection, "The Downstairs Room", which was really good. But it's "Birds ..." that I recommend most).

Christa Wolf
I have a Christa Wolf tag, what else can I tell you? (Most entries in the tag are in German, but here is an English one - Medea.)

Banana Yoshimoto
Yoshimoto's books are pure comfort reading - to be perfectly honest, I don't think any of her books ever got five points with me and yet ... Every time I finish a book of hers I go out and buy another one. I just need them in those moments where I need a book that will caress me in this slightly melancholic, real, and yet utterly foreign way of a society that is very far away from my own and an outlook on life that is so utterly different from mine, yet incredibly soothing and rather wonderfully written. Perfect books for summer melancholy.

written by women book recs: 1-12/[24]

Writers whose whole body of work (as far as I have read it) I recommend:

Rose Ausländer
I guess you need to read her in German - amazing, very distinct poetry. One of my very few poetry entries was about her work, here.

Myra Çakan
I wish I had my library here ... She wrote (in German, untranslated) two standalone science fiction novels ("Downtown Blues" and "When the music is over") that I remember to be very good. I also remember thinking about how much potential she still seemed to have as a writer; alas, the imprint she published at, Ariadne social fantasies, never had a real chance on the German market. I am still incredibly sad about it - they introduced me to some of my favorite authors, including Marge Piercy, Joanna Russ, and Maureen McHugh at a time when I read in German and their work would not have been available to me in any other way. They also tried for better translations of mistreated classics, such as Le Guin's "The Dispossessed", and to give a place for German science fiction voices outside of the pulp and space opera scene ... But yeah, Myra Çakan. If you like science fiction and stumble over one of her books, give them a try.

Agatha Christie
Well, duh. The classic. Also still an amazing comfort read. I read far more of her books - I guess 90% of crime fiction are read are not on there because it has just been too long. That said, there are a ton of her books I plan to re-read at some point; the few that I read in the last years I enjoyed immensely. Still so clever!

Manna Francis
"Mind Fuck" is a really good sf thriller. With a ton of sex, yes. But it is also just a surprisingly good book.

Anne Frank
That one took me a while to come around to - a certain hesitation? I don't know. I guess I was around 20 at that point. So yeah, still amazing, no matter at what age. Give it a chance. Both as a unique historic document and as the first work of an amazing voice that got silenced. (And get the uncensored version.)

Lena Gorelik
There will be a few authors on the list whose individual books don't get five out of five, but whom I still recommend: while there still is potential for more, they are also enjoyable reads as they are.
Gorelik work is not translated (duh), still, I have German readers, don't I? Gorelik has this fun voice, perfect for comfort reads with a side of social relevance. "Lieber Mischa (...der du fast Schlomo Adolf Grinblum geheissen hättest, es tut mir so leid, dass ich dir das nicht ersparen konnte: Du bist ein Jude)" is a wonderful, sometimes slightly polemic monologue, addressed at her newborn son, about what it's like being a (non-religious) Jew in Germany. "Meine weißen Nächte" is, I guess, in a way chick-lit, with a side of immigrant experience and a good dose of humor.

Olga Grjasnowa
Another immigrant author and one I just recommended. My German review for her "All Russians Love Birch Trees" ("Der Russe ist einer, der Birken liebt") is here. I just finished her second book, which was somewhat less strong but we are talking here about the different between and A+ and an A. She heavily draws on immigrant experience, too, but where Lena Gorelik is lighthearted and entertaining, Grjasnowa is much more heavy on the literary side. Mind me, it does not mean her books are not extremely readable; I finished "All Russians ..." within 24 hours and her other book in a few days during a high stress period at work.

Ursula K. Le Guin
Aren't you tired of me preaching that everyone needs to have read "The Dispossessed"? Yes? Well, then let me mention that she has written a ton of other amazing works. There is "The Left Hand of Darkness", a books that asks questions about gender and war, and is a tale of deep friendship and love. There is the "Earthsea" cycle; the first three books were among the foundations of my reading experience. And then came the later ones and oh, oh ... I've never seen your assumptions about a world shattered so wonderfully (so bitterly, too, I do understand why some people dislike them, but how wonderfully ...!). There are her short stories, that are amazing. There is just so much!
Wait ... Wait! And if you are really not into speculative fiction of any kind, there is "Sea Roads" and a few other books of hers that are decisively real. Well, as real as a book can be.

Elfriede Jelinek
Yes, I really liked her books. Yes, I am not saying that just to appear oh so intelligent because she won the Nobel Prize. (I am kind of annoyed that people will not believe that I like Jelinek - or Theodor Fontane; I do. Because I really enjoy their books.) "Piano Teacher" ("Die Klavierspielerin") is the most well known of her books and the one that I am going to recommend here. I have also read "Lust" that was very good. More books of her are on my wishlist, but she is definitely not an easy read, neither in the way she writes nor in the topics she addresses. But very much worth the effort.

Mascha Kaléko
The second poet on that list - a very different voice and another tragic life story that produced amazing poems ...

Brit Mandelo
I only read a short novella (long short story?) by her, The Finite Canvas (available on tor.com) - I so, so hope that she is going to publish much more

Maureen F. McHugh
McHugh is generally one of those voices in sf we do not hear enough one - she publishes sparingly and does not write series. But what she publishes, is amazing.
Her best known book - and one that has aged amazingly well - is "ABC Zhang" (Tiptree award winner, Hugo and Nebula nominee; one needs to mention that for an author as relatively unknown as her). You could say it's a story of a gay man in a future where communist China has become the dominant power - but that's just the very first layer and there are so many more. It's amazingly written, heart-crushing, hopeful. Also an amazing example for a book that is not plot-driven: the only plot is Zhang's life and even that one we will often leave it (is also a story of people he happens to meet by change; a girl whose parents can't pay to make her beautiful; colonists trying to survive; kite flyers) to take a peak into other stories. And once the book is over, you want more. You want to spend another 10 years with these people, to see what happens to them, where they go, where this world goes. And by now, the future of this book has become an ever so slightly alternative present. This is the kind of story that could be happening now or in five years.
Another recommendation is McHugh's short story collection, "After the Apocalypse" - McHugh has an amazing gift for voices, easily changing from a young girl to a mid-aged convict and her Apocalypses have an amazing range from very private ones to nuclear.

[13-24 forthcoming]

Aug. 6th, 2015

Sexism in publishing: 'My novel wasn’t the problem, it was me, Catherine'

I don't know why I feel so shocked. I know the numbers from academia (Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students). I do.

That said: any book recommendations by female writers?

What I like to read is postmodern, classics, contemporary with a side of social relevance and intertextuality, science fiction, sometimes good fantasy, anything that incorporates or re-interprets myths/fairy tales. I'm not much into historic novels especially of the doorstopper kind - the writer will need to convince me in some other context first. Shorter novels generally preferred to 500 page giants. Short stories, novellas, and plays are more than welcome.

I have a lot of English books on my wishlists (mainly science fiction, as strange as it sounds, but I've been into feminist sf almost as long as I knew the word feminist existed - although there definitely are names I may still have missed!), so I would especially appreciate books written in any other language. But if you have strong feelings about an English book, go ahead. Books that make people feel strongly about them is something I am always looking for. Just ... think about the other languages and countries, too, please. This does also include German books; more awesome German female writers!
Availability in English, German, or Russian translation is in general kind of necessary for me to be able to read the book (my Latin is definitely not good enough anymore if it ever was :P), but I can take care of searching for a translation myself. Out of print does not stop me, but e-book only may be a problem (still, recommend away!).

[I may write an extra entry with my own recs. But I need to find the time for this.]


Is Tuesday night too late to talk about the weekend? Especially one where nothing happens? Oh, but I am too late to everything anyway, so:

  • I've seen the newest Mission impossible. And while I am decisively meh about the movie (why does it get all the good reviews?), I am very happy about Ilsa Faust. (She could SO stand for a character of mine. Actually for two. Only red hair in both cases, longer in one, shorter in the other. Just the right mixture between kick-ass heroine with actual muscles and 40ies/50ies Hollywood star. I have no idea what suddenly happened that I see people who would actually fit my characters ... Two within what, a few months?!)
  • We also got caught up in conversation afterwards and since we did not actually want drinks, we somehow ended with espressos. Mind you, good espressos, I haven't had a good espresso for ages. Just ... Half past midnight is not a good time for an espresso. It took a while to get asleep and given how this was not quite my usual crowd, I also spent too much of that extra awake time being anxious especially given how the conversation went great but serious places and I spent too much time gripping for right words. Writing is so much easier than talking in a foreign language!
  • I spent the rest of the weekend mainly reading - finished Margaret Atwood's "The Blind Assassin". Atwood and I, we are not going to become friends, I am afraid. No matter how much I want to. It just rubs me the wrong way when a writer trust my intelligence as a reader so little. And makes science fiction references, but does not go all the way (the "left hand" discussion? And she very definitely knows of LeGuin's work there and it is relevant to more than one topic in the novel).
  • Which also reminded me that the neighbors downstairs are moving out - and the landlord's mother moves in. More anxiety D: I don't think he is going to throw us out; I mean, he seems a fair guy and he warned the folks downstairs several months in advance. But ugh ... I really got to love the location and the very idea of the possibility of a move (because it *is* his mother I will be living directly above) makes me all kinds of anxious. It's enough that one of my roommates will move out at some point this fall since his wife is finishing her PhD and moving to Boston from somewhere in Connecticut. I mean, he is not a perfect roommate (he kind of manages to like it summerly warm in winter and winterly cold in summer?), but we get along without conflicts and his wife makes me try her home-made Indian dishes when she comes visiting.
  • I knew that the limit on one of the credit cards was going to get up. And then they wrote me this e-mail of "we've looked at your payments and your score and give you double the credit line you were supposed to get". Mind you, double the credit line, not double the increase. It will never stop feeling strange to have more than two monthly salaries in form of credit in my pocket. I now consider whether I shall call them and try to convince them to waive the fee - or to transfer me to another card, one without fee. On the other hand: who knows whether I will keep the card for longer than another year at all?
  • I made chicken hearts! It was supposed to be three portions, two of them for weekday lunches. Well, I ate two of them. So good! I really need to remember more of the good old unfancy foodstuff.
  • Have I recommended Olga Grjasnowa's "All Russian Love Birch Trees"? ("Der Russe ist einer, der Birken liebt, German review here). No? Yes? Anyway: it's a great book, kind of relevant to the last post, in terms of what it's like to be someone with a "migration background" in German society today. I'm reading her other book at the moment and highly enjoying it.
  • I also have this pair of earring that have some sentimental value, but are absolutely not my style: filigree red gold - very Russian. I may have finally found a way to wear them that is not totally off. I hate having dead weight things, but there are some that are small and have that the sentimental value ... (Another is a red gold Magen David pendant that I got as a present.)
So there was this fact-sharing meme going around (comment, be given a number between 1 and 50, share this number of facts) and tralfamadore was so nice to give me a nine. And I spent a few days thinking of which facts to tell. And then I remembered being asked about my refugee experiences (I know by whom, but I also know that this person has a lot of other things on their plate right now, so ... this is past and your life is present, so let me be there for you and not the other way around <3). And yeah ... Why not 9 of those? Well, because this is not something that is easy to talk about. And some things (a lot of things) will not make it to this blog. This time (never). Yet - it's a game, right? It's easier when it's a game. It's not really 9 facts. Nine stories. Moments. Thoughts. Memories. Whatever. NOT in the right chronological order, to prevent confusion, although there is a certain time arrow.

1. Does anybody realize the irony that it is Nuremberg? The Nuremberg of the Nuremberg trials. And before that of the Nuremberg rallies. But the reception camp for the newcomers is in Nuremberg. So yes, you've been to the Nazi party rally grounds. On like your second or third day in Germany. The first being spent trying to get from Frankfurt airport to Nuremberg by cheap trains with flimsy giant bags that contained mainly beddings, comforters and pillows and a few dictionaries. You would lie if you say that you remember much of the rally grounds.

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9. You teach yourself German more than you are taught German. Mainly reading. Writing letters (that will be your first love). Unsurprisingly, when you go to Gymnasium a year later (one of the very few children in your class who made it; and even you have to step back a year from where you were before you changed countries - the systems wants it, it's not like you are lacking the knowledge - and spend the next two years being endlessly bored in math and half of the other subjects) your German teacher tells you that your German is not good enough. It's your worst subject. She also quietly recommends you a private tutor. Your parents hire you another one (he says two hours a week would be better, but you can't afford it; you still have no bed and no desk). The marks don't change (you did not hire the tutor she recommended you), but he teaches you how to pronounce German properly. You get a nice Bavarian-Swabian accent, not enough to fool the native of the area, but enough that someone from Berlin will place you in Bavaria, not in Eastern Europe (at least you would like to believe that). The teacher exchanges mid-year. Your mark suddenly goes from a 6 or a 5 to a 2. Huh. (They will also reap your sweater this year; one of the only three you had. You are an easy victim. And oh, you are Jewish and there are people in your class who remind you of this. It will take another two years before you will change schools again.)

[Comments unscreened for the moment. I may change my opinion and screen them by default and only unscreen once I read them. My replies may also be very selective; this is likely me, not you, there is just a certain amount of spoons I can spend on this.]


I am so not looking forward to the week. It's hot, it's humid and it will get only worse. I fully expect to end up functioning on three hours of mostly interrupted sleep. Or I'll shlep the window A/C unit upstairs and build it in. Not that it will help much with the quality of sleep: it's old and loud and it takes away one third of my anyway tiny window or in other words my chance to actually wake up (I need sunlight to wake up).

That said, I used the fact that yesterday was actually cool to cook for the week: I finally got beets (they were old sold out the last two weekends except for some tiny and some giant ones) and cooked&diced them for a beet and feta salad. Pan-fried salmon for a salad with salmon. And cooked eggs for a kefir-based version of okroshka (cold Russian soup). That shall bring me through the week given how there will be 3 different work lunches.

Speaking of kefir: there is a Whole Foods tax, I kid you not. Of course plain kefir was sold out in Market Basket. The very same one - same company even! - costs one and a half times that much in the WholeFoods. Grah!

Summer generally requires a rather annoying amount of planning: I need clothes that I will not get cooked inside in while walking to work (or changing buildings, or going to lunch ...) but at the same time will not freeze to death in my office (the A/C is ... interesting and the temperature distributions can be described as rather spiky, in both directions). I don't use the dryer and the only place to air dry my clothes is in my room (140 square feet or 13 square meters, btw.). Given how I'll suffocate if there is additional humidity in my room on the got and humid day, I need a stretch of at least two, preferably three cool days to do my laundry. Or some travelling.

We have so many new people from the other project in my building now. All the technicians! I know they mean well, but if I'm making my morning tea, the last thing I want is to strike a conversation with someone who first thinks me a student and then asks me about my future without having a faintest idea of how academic job markets work. I just want my tea because I got out of bed ever so slightly too late and then procrastinated so that I ended up walking here when it was already too hot and now I'm dehydrated and grumpy.


  • A very British colleague is visiting and I am distracted by the fact that part of the conversation I tend to overhear happens in my favorite accent that I usually never ever get to hear. I really, really wish I were speaking British English.
  • I've seen the new Terminator movie on Friday. We went in mainly for the laughs (and the tacos before and the company after) and with zero expectations but it was less bad than expected. Also: [Spoiler (click to open)]Dr. Who is Skynet. Whoever made this particular casting choice is pure genius. I want a whole story of Skynet's adventures of inter-dimensional traveling.
  • I get reminded that I am a really quick walker. N. was complaining the last time she's been visiting that I am literally running to work. I am not. But since then I am very aware of how often I will overtake people on the streets, even when loaded with a backpack and two totes full of food and drinks for the week.
  • I now own three pairs of pearl earrings. I just wanted one but they had this set on sale. Very ... bieder is the German word that I can't find the right German equivalent to. Oh well, or just all grown up and right for interviews. Anyway, I think, I rock them.
  • I went down the memory lane and re-read "Республика ШКИД" for the first time since more than 20 years. Still loved it dearly. Of course, it's not translated into English, but you can hunt down the German translation, "Republik der Strolche" easily. And seriously: do so.
  • Also this fic is currently an absolute obsession: Simmer and Boil. One of the sort that I would totally read as a book (and it would need only minor editing; says the person in whose opinion a lot of books need major editing). It's pretty much an AU of an AU and readable without any knowledge of canon. The perfect book, I tell you; a genius use of strictly limited POV and one of the truest portrayal of feelings I've encountered lately in both fanfic and books, wrapped in the story of a fling slowly turning more with a good dose of understandable emotional angst. Like seriously: if you want a good comfort read, this one is for you.
  • Also, this is an old list (and as all such lists it has a lot of problems, i.e., it's English-centrism, and some plus-point, i.e., the additional of a number of classic sf books) but here it is in a nice useable format: Guardian's 1000 novels everyone must read. My score is 81/1000, but as said, English-language-centrism and I openly admit that I've read much more German and Russian classics than the English ones. Anyway, clicking my way through it gave me the inspiration to finally tackling some books that have been on my shelf for a while.

somerville cooking II

I really like having people over for food - I may freak out before and spend too much time thinking whether they will actually like it (I am aware that my own taste is often rather eclectic and will not usually serve people my favorite beet salad, because not many people actually love beets). Yet: the conversation during the meal. The process of cooking several dishes, often some that I will not take the time to cook otherwise. The idea of a multi-course meal. People asking for recipes or just enjoying what I made for them. I love it all.

Why this as an intro to this post? Because while I did not have much chance to cook for friends lately, I did so once, resulting in this meal:

The photos, except for the galette, weren't taken on the same days - but the items are the same. My everyday food is more modest, though:

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Fourth of July weekend

Lazy morning. Giant breakfast with bagels. "National Museum of the American Indian" esp. the Inca road exhibition.Read more...Collapse )Three books (Zuni Coyote Tales; American Indian Trickster Tales; The Inca Empire - A Multidisciplinary Approach). Peruvian street food & a pisco sour for dinner. Passion fruit ice cream for dessert. Shopping for the rest of the weekend - olives in "small", "medium", "large", "extra large" and "super colossal" (and people make fun because we named it "extremely large telescope").Read more...Collapse )Reading. John Wick (the movie). John Oliver show.

Making and eating a giant stack of crepes (an almost tradition for when I visit here).Read more...Collapse )Hardware store to get fold-able chairs. More cooking. Picnicking at the lake, eating the pasta salad I made. Read more...Collapse )Watermelon and cherries for dessert. Beavers! And finally getting a good shot at one of them.Read more...Collapse )Fireworks one city over.Read more...Collapse )and finally fireworks over the lake with a ton of kids being very excited all around us.Read more...Collapse )(No color filters used. Photos as taken, only resized.). Apple ginger cider. Good cheese. Laughing over stupid videos.

Brunch. A walk along one of the creeks. Deer.Read more...Collapse )The game/fun kitchen stuff store. Reading. Goodbyes. Skype with ♥. Work. Playing iota with my host.Read more...Collapse )(Note the creative use of M&Ms to mark where no card can be played. Also the difference in the shape of the game once we realized that there is a trick to get more points.) An e-mail saying that I got a talk in August. So did a good friend. A Soko Stuttgart episode (German crime procedural).

Monday - that one will be work.


  • Did you know that Aristotle used "democracy" to denote something negative? Democracy to policy as what tyranny is to kingship. Don't tell me that the meaning of words change, I know. I just found this amusing.
  • So, ladies. Rompers and jumpsuits. To be honest, I can totally see how some are even rather pretty. OK, very pretty. And remember the times when we all though that shorts over tights are awful and I sill love the look. But how do you pee when wearing a jumpsuit? I mean, come one ...? Wearing them the whole day?
  • I've not been reading transformers comics for ages. On one hand I keep hearing good stuff about the storylines. On the other there are interpretations of characters that I feel rather meh about, at least reading about them. But. But. They have [Spoiler (click to open)]Elita One now. They have Elita One in the IDW universe. Maybe I have to pick the comics up again.
  • On the other hand: Midnighter has an ongoing comic. Midnighter! And I am zero interested in reading it because they split Midnighter and Apollo up. I know, don't judge stuff before you read it, etc. But the whole stuff about them (I know, spoilers - but seriously, for a comics from the 90ies?) was that they started out as a couple and their status as a couple was never seriously put in question, not even when Midnighter went onto his epic "I have to leave the team and my family less we destroy the world" nor through the turbulences in "Human on the Inside". I mean sure, trouble. But they never split. Ahem ... Anyway, but if you want a comic recommendation: old Authority comics. Next to an amazing (gay) long-term relationship, ot also features awesome female characters.
  • Also Hellblazer. Hellblazer is amazing. (And reminds me of the first volumes of Lucifer - of course it's wrong in sense that it's Lucifer that should remind me of Hellblazer because I'm reading the first volumes, the ones from late eighties that prominently feature Margaret Thatcher's speeches as an instrument of torture and that have been published good 10 years before Lucifer ...)

Well, giving how we started with politics and ended with politics this may be a good moment to wrap it up ...


echomyst mentioned the buzzword "STEM" (MINT for the Germans among you) and while thinking about an answer to her post I realized that it is actually worth an entry of its own. Because it's important and because my thoughts on it went further than the context it was originally mentioned in. And because this whole thing grew far out of the confines of a comment.

Also warning for generalizations, some speculations, lack of proper referencing etc. You could find quite some studies on the points I mention (a lot of my own background knowledge that is implicit in writing this post comes from the outreach projects I've been part of; for the Germans among you I can only recommend to take a look at studienkompass - who are by far not only doing STEM - and perhaps decide to support them ...), but I have a limited time and less limited trust in you folks. Anyway:

So isn't STEM education just a part of a normal, well-rounded education? Why the buzzword? Why the extra?

It should be part of well-rounded education. Is it? No, I don't think so. Not to many people. Two examples, from two different cultural contexts [although I do mix the contexts in parts, sorry], that frustrate me to no end.

  • Admitting one's STEM ignorance is a well-loved small-talk topic, at least in Germany. "Oh, I was never good in physics". "Maths was my worst subject." "I need a tax accountant, I almost had to repeat the 7th grade because of maths."

    Read more...Collapse )
  • Something I found out from the inclusive astronomy conference twitter stream, not being familiar with the American high school system myself: a lot of high schools, especially among those visited by a lot of minority students, will not offer physics at all. [I wish I had the link to the article, alas ...]

    It's mind boggling to me. For a variety of reasons, not only because I am a physicist. (I am sure the same applies to chemistry and other subjects, it's just that given the topic of the conference the focus was of course on physics):

    Read more...Collapse )

So yeah, this is why STEM education for me ...

Also, because somewhat - perhaps even a lot - relevant for the context of my personal relationship to STEM and non-STEM subjects here is an old entry on my rambling on science == art, art == science.

binge-watching daredevil

So well ... I guess this was a first. The first time I binge-watched a show. And a really good show. I started on Saturday, with 3 episodes. Naively thought that it was a total of 10, realized at around 11 PM Sunday, half-way into episode 10 that this could not be the end. And had to finish it. In parts because I could not imagine watching it home on the tiny 11 inch monitor - I needed the whole 85 inch beauty in 4k.

The thing is, I don't feel fannish about in, now in the way I feel about the universes that leave a ton of holes in its fabric to fill out by the reader/watcher. It's the other kind, the (better?) kind where I want the canon as it stands, this shiny thing that I can admire and love and recommend to other people who like action-packed superhero stories of the more violent kind.

There are plotholes - [Spoiler (click to open)]I don't quite understand how Fisk got where he is; Wesley's fatal mistake was a stupid one; we could have done without the old heartless but perhaps not so heartless mentor (although I suppose that this is the part where people familiar with the comics may strongly disagree); also where is the Avengers/stark tower in the NY skyline? - but honestly? This is a squee post. Let me squee.

Let me also start with my wishes for the next season: all the things Vanessa. In excruciating detail. Also, more half-naked beaten up Matt - no, I did not get enough of it! How could I?

Things I love, in a random order and spoilery - and most likely by far incomplete:

a ton of squeeCollapse )

Or to sum it up: YAY! Also: Don't underestimate a 85 inch TV that can do 4k. I was sitting on the couch some 1.5 meters in front of it and the image was so clear that my glasses actually made a difference.

[Mainly written on train from Methuen to Boston today morning. I kind of have the feeling that it has too many typos, but am too brain dead to hunt for all of them. See the fact that I got into bed at half past three and had to get up at 7 to be at work on time to take care of my student and actually do work.]

a bag of mixed vegetables

I have to resign myself to the fact that I am going to feel like shit about my work until I publish at least one more first-author paper, aka, for quite some time. Amazing stuff like the conferences in the last two weeks or meeting my collaborators or planning stuff with people is just a short-term reprieve. Well ... I suppose I should be writing then, right?!

I have also a ton of swirly thoughts on identity (ethnic and cultural identity, mainly) and social constructs and cultural narratives and all kinds of fancy words that don't come together to anything coherent (except of a coherent feeling; but a feeling is not a text) and can be summed up to "I am a perpetual foreigner". The scary thing (and another thing that I have to resign myself to) is that while I feel very uncomfortable here in the USA in that regard (for various reasons, "The Dispossessed" comes to mind but so does a number of less prominent sf that deals with building societies) - and not the kind of uncomfortable that one should lean in, rather the kind that you need to run away from to keep any semblance of mental stability - I also know that I will return (if I return) irrevocably changed, that I will be upset about much more things back in Germany/Europe than I was upset about before (and those weren't exactly few things to start with). There is no place that is home.

Speaking of homes: my plan for the weekend it to house-sit for a colleague. So I yesterday night I had some cooking extravaganza, making lunches and dinners for four days - today, the weekend and Monday, since I will be getting directly to work from there (it's about an hour by train from Boston, so getting home in between is just time loss):

3xvegan foodstuffCollapse )

I kind of also just realized that all three dishes are vegan. That wasn't necessarily on purpose, but I just like veggies (and legumes and potatoes). I also made some tuna salad/dip for dinner today, but that was made today morning, not yesterday night.

My plans for the weekend include science (for that paper I hope to be my next), reading while sitting on the porch overlooking a giant garden (I have two books with me and there are a ton of comics waiting for me; also my bikini), and maybe watching Daredevil on a giant TV in the newest-whatever-high-res-technology (I have my cross-stitching with me; been a while since I felt an urge to cross-stitch *not* in winter - actually I passed on it this winter, oh well ...).

And then today morning I managed to stain a shirt (white blouse, little blue stars) that I just re-discovered as a favorite yesterday after not wearing it for two years with the color from a skirt (red) that should *not* be bleeding anymore. So yeah, it's now a white blouse with little blue stars and a blush pink pattern in the background. I even bought bleach and tried to save it. No way. Duh. Embrace blush pink, I guess.)

first grocery shopping

OK, not quite the first since I got myself some baby bok choy, mushrooms, cabbage and pickled radish from the Korean market and a giant watermelon, milk (for coffee), and cottage cheese from Whole Foods around the corner to survive the weekend. But the first real one. And one where I rather went overboard with the fresh produce - even I did put some stuff I would have liked to have, like the green asparagus, back, given how I simply would not have been able to eat that much veggies before they turned bad. I definitely badly missed fresh fruit and veggies while traveling (and thus also gained a few pounds to be honest).

Anyway: Siggi's yoghurts are my favorite breakfast since they are very close to the tart taste of German yoghurt and have an amazing consistency. Cherries and blueberries are for snacking. The nectarines are a good fruit to take to work and so are the apples (Granny Smith are my usual favorites). Do you see the kohlrabi?! I could hardly believe when I saw it in the Market Basket. They never have it! And here it was, for a reasonable prize! The corn is a nice quick dinner that needs 15 min in the oven and nothing else. The cucumbers will be eaten with some tuna salad - I think the original recipe called it "tuna salad cucumber bites" but I don't arrange them nicely. Carrots, snows peas, and bell peppers are meant as veggies for munching at work, but some of them may become a veggie stir fry that will also need the onion (I gave a big bag of rice as well as the usual spices and thai curry in my pantry; there is also still some garlic in my fridge - which reminds me that I don't have frozen corn anymore, unto the grocery list with it!). Some carrots may be turned into a carrot, apple & walnut salad. And my balsamic vinegar was almost out, so I bought it even though I may not need it this week, but I'll forget otherwise and end up buying the expensive one in Whole Foods because I don't feel like going all the way to Market Basket because of just one or two things.


thinking on trains

Today I ask myself "why?". Why can't I be happy with a normal job, somewhere where I can wake up next to ♥, go for long walks, meet with friends over the weekend, build relationships that do not rely on my non-existent e-mail skills and one-week-visits to Germany where I never ever manage to see all the people, always leaving someone out, always leaving someone I love offended?

It should get easier with time, instead it gets only harder.

This is ... scary. This is not SAD. There is sun, so much sun. I've not been on facebook for days, on purpose. And yet, and yet ... Getting out of bed is a fight. Looking forward, taking steps is a fight. Whatever we have to do, can't we do it tomorrow, please? I just want to sleep and to read. I am back to here (the names and ideas change, but not the concept).

But how does not recognize the difference between impostor syndrome and the realization that one is not good enough?

When does the balance tilt into the other direction? I am only doing this job as long as the fun overweighs, as long as there are more happy days than sad ones. When does this stop being the case? The human brain skews the memories. Should I keep a diary of good and bad days? But doesn't keeping the diary change the whole process itself?

Tomorrow will be better. I will talk about my paper plans. I will write the talk for the conference next week. I will get my hair cut. I will meet with my students. I will go out with co-workers (some of them friends) - I made a reservation for 18 people yesterday.

Tomorrow I will know and feel why. [Please don't tell me, this is not what it is about, I am not fishing for compliment, I can only repeat this. I know I said it already somewhere.]

But today I am sitting in the train. Leaving ♥ behind. An e-mail in my postbox about a tenure-track professorship position that I know I am not good enough to apply for (because I haven't been as productive as I should have been the last 1.5 years). Not knowing when I will come to Germany again (it has to be this year, but who knows when ...?) because of visa and work contract issues (small issues that everyone has, but my brain does not care about everyone).

I've read the expression "talking about X as political activism". There is a lot of trouble with it and yet ... See this entry as one. If you ever meet someone who changed countries, for whatever reason, even the privileged "expats". Be gentle to them. It hurts; they fight a long painful battle. If you meet people fighting their way through academia, be gentle to them, too. They are on an amazing adventure to understand more of this world. And they will end up bloodied and broken and most of them will not win ... [We all are fighting our own battles, I know. But these are mine. I can tell you about them.]


Oh gosh, these must have been the best invested euros of my life (and I know for sure that advdiaboli whom I went on this adventure with agrees with me) - or in other words: if you are ever in Nuremberg or even roughly in the area, go to Essigbrätlein, aka a tiny (20 seats or so) 2-star-Michelin place that simply blew my mind. Their focus is on local, seasonal vegetables, paired with amazing spices and fresh herbs. Both the fish and the meat were perfect, but the veggies were the stars (you can also order a vegetarian or a vegan version). They are also, it seems to me, master's of understatement. One of the courses simply reads "asparagus" - what you get is an amazing composition of three different asparagus dishes, each special, each perfect. But anyway, take a look:

11 picsCollapse )

We started with a house aperitif - there was something with quince and champagne and it set just the right tone. The wine pairing was superb (I am so happy we decided to go for it, even though I had to miss on the last two). We had a very amusing conversation with our neighbors, a couple celebrating their 50ies wedding anniversary there. The service made us feel as if we belonged, although we clearly do not. I am pretty sure we used some wrong silverware along the way? Ooops? They told us about the wine (in understandable terms since we admitted to know nothing) and the food and seemed genuinely pleased when we asked whether the dessert referencing back to the first courses was on purpose.

cherry picking

One of the few eating rules I (loosely) follow is the 5 portions of fruit and veggies the day one. The other two are not to buy fat-reduced and no-sugar products and try to avoid additives. They still do not stop Siggi's 0%-fruit yoghurt from being my favorite one - although this is partly due to the fact that European-tasting yoghurt is really hard to find - or from enjoying jelly beans, Tostidos salsa, and the occasional thing from the Asian supermarket where I cannot even read the ingredients. Well those three rules and a general approach of trying to keep my calorie count lower, at least the part of it that is not based in the five fruit&veggie portions that often turn into something like seven. But then again, I usually eat out several times a week, often in some relationship with work, and nobody will stop me from eating up my fries or ordering a dessert if I really want it (but I may pause and ask myself whether I really want it). So take any rule with a big grain of salt (or with sugar and full fat milk, the way I drink my coffee), except that I tend to really feel uncomfortable if I skip on fresh fruit and veggies for too long, as happens when I am traveling.

Anyway ... I know this is a loaded topic and what works for me will not work for you and your body. This is not what I want to get to. What I want to get to is below - although it may take a while to get there. Be patient, it's me, I'm rambling here ("noodling" I've read a while back somewhere, this word may fit, but I haven't seen if often enough yet to fully understand its meaning and thus use it).

Anyway ... My average grocery bill? Not exactly low. And about 70%-80% of it will be fresh fruit and vegetables. Especially if you don't count "coffee" as food. And then there are cherries. And blueberries. And figs, And blackberries. Oh god, blackberries,. But especially cherries - blackberries and blueberries are there all year round, but the cherries are not.

The first time they had really good looking cherries this year I walked buy. I made my round through the supermarket. I came back. I bought them. I ate them and loved them. (I used to eat/steal cherries and sour cherries from trees as a kid. They were the first earrings I wore.) And eating them thought that I should talk about this. Talk about how these cherries (more than the bowl I should eat in one sitting, but not too much more) did cost about a fifth of what our (our, not mine) weekly household budget was back when we moved together for the first time. I on social welfare (this is what happens when your parents are refugees; I know that we prefer to look at the winners, but there are far more losers, the ones who never again manage to stand up after being pushed into the ground over and over again) and ♥ on a student's stipend (he did the German equivalent of high school - for the ones familiar with the German system here: officially, high school is seen as equivalent to Realschule, not Gymnasium -, went for professional training, and then went back to school to get a higher high school degree that would enable him to go to university; the German system is rather complicated, but I am glad to explain ...).

Anyway ... Back to the cherries, I digress again. Perhaps because I don't quite 100% know what I want to say. Except this: those cherries were hella expensive (and our weekly budget was hella low). I wonder how someone who has not been on the other end of the income scale sees them. Although no: I do actually not. I know (I have experience it on my own skin, growing up) and it makes me sad. What I am more wondering about is why is it that a pound apples here costs more than a kilogram of apples in Germany. Apples and carrots would save me back when I could not afford the cherries. But I could get ten times the amount of calories (if not more) buying cookies for the same price as the apples. So yeah, if it were just about the getting the calories, getting enough energy to keep your body going, without the 5 fruits or veggies a day rule ... Because after the five apples you still need you calories. Your meat or your pasta. And you can't eat half a kilogram of carrots every day; well, at least I can't. And pasta is cheaper and more filling than veggies.

And then there are food deserts (oh yes, those can exist in big cities). There are food banks - I have extensive experience with the German ones, although clearly not in the last 10 years, and I can tell you, that you will not get fresh produce from there, at least not fresh produce that is going to last. There are ... ah, so many things.

Anyway ... Cherries vs. monthly budgets. We got over it (even though scientists are still badly underpaid and I can't afford even a studio in this city; but I admit that this is a different kind of underpaid than social welfare, even in Germany, I've been there). My parents (no matter how often the city honors my father for his community service) never will, their income will never be higher than whatever social welfare levels are. And they are by far not the only ones.

(Interpret the title as you will.)


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