Friday, January 20, 2017

more smol beans

From the Pony Tumblr World: Tiny Bean Army
(From the idea that the baby ponies are "jellybeans," because of their shape).
Yeah. I love the "smol beans" (which yes, in internet slang means something different from how I'm using it here, but I don't care). I have lots of the G1 baby ponies now.

.....and another one on its way to me (Is the USPS now like the stork?)

I don't know if this is a pre-fluster for all the work I will be doing in the coming weeks, or a reward for having worked well enough up to this point to be asked to do things like be a Special Judge and write a paper for a proceedings, but....Baby North Star (which was one I'd wanted for a while after seeing her somewhere) is now going to be on her way to me. (Pink with purple hair. Pink is my second-favorite pony color after yellow).

Yeah, I know - but these things are like $15 or less and that seems pretty cheap for happiness to me. Less than ordering a couple pizzas.

So my tiny jellybean army grows.

 (When Baby North Star gets here, maybe I should put all my "tiny jellybeans" together for a "class photo")

(And I have a draft of the Introduction of the paper written. And I have verified that indeed I am a Special Judge; the person in charge of this seems really thrilled I'm willing to help out, but to me it seems utterly logical, seeing as it's my area of expertise and I will ALREADY be there for other judging - might as well do two bits of service with one trip seeing as the Science Fair can't afford to reimburse mileage any more).

And I found out that yes indeedy, I am teaching Environmental Policy and Law this fall. Eeeeep. Especially eeeeeep given it's a new Administration that is probably going to tinker with tons of things (or at least try to), so I will have to keep up with current events.....

BUT: this further cements the HEY YOU GUYS IN THE HIGHER ECHELONS YOU REALLY NEED ME BECAUSE I WOULD BE SUPER HARD TO REPLACE idea - I know my own department knows my value but I worry about the layers above it. So I'm taking on extra stuff to keep on proving it.

Maybe looking up?

I think it is generally agreed by many people that 2016 was a terrible year. And yeah, geopolitically, there are probably questions about 2017. (And yes, I know. But I have friends and family on all sides of the political spectrum so I have decided to work without much comment. Besides, my MO is much more work quietly behind the scenes to try to improve individual people's lives rather that some other things)

Locally, hopefully, things may be looking up for me. I posted yesterday about feeling more content with teaching again - I think part of that is having only one section of each class (so no coordinating multiple sections), part of that is that a couple difficult folks have moved on.

But a couple other good things:

- the good thing that I alluded to in re: the congregation I am part of seems to be progressing as I am hoping it will. If it works out, it may turn out to be an extremely good thing.

- my landline is working again; the guy called mid morning on my cell phone and verified there would be no barriers to enter my backyard and that he had my permission (yes on both counts). I came home, dial tone again, I can call out. No static. (I am wondering if water got into the junction box)

- the biggest thing, though? Yesterday afternoon my graduate advisor e-mailed me - hey, any way you could write a paper for the proceedings of the meetings you presented a paper at? Turns out he received very few papers and at least one is going to have to be rejected, so he needs more to fill it out. I waffled at first....will I have time? But then I looked at the poster again and decided if I could have a month I might be able to do it - if I can motivate myself (I think I can), I will start this Saturday. (Really, it won't be that difficult; much of the analysis is already done and it's really just writing it and maybe finding a few more background resources, but I'm good at that. (And yes, he e-mailed back and I could have a month or maybe even a little more, so I'm going to try to do this)

I was just thinking last week about how no one ever "begged" me to do anything that benefited me....that came about when I was out and about and saw one of those party stores with a sign up saying "Woo your valentine!" and I felt slightly sad to think no one had ever tried to "woo" me (at least, not so I'd recognize it, and sometimes I'm a little blind to things - there have been a few times where after a conversation or something, an hour after it ended, I kind of mentally smacked my forehead and said "Idiot! He might have been trying to flirt with you and you weren't reciprocating!")

But that also applies with other things - with friends and stuff, all too often I fear I am the slightly ubiquitous friend who maybe becomes a little tiresome. And with work, I rarely feel like I'm "impressive" enough for people to want to ask me to do things that will gain me anything like prestige. (Identify a weird bug, yes. Even try to identify a mineral (I THINK it was pyrite, but referred the guy to the campus geologist to be sure) someone picked up in Alaska).

So yes, part of the reason I want to do this is that it is slightly flattering to be asked. But also, it probably won't be that difficult or long to do - and potentially (provided it's good enough), it's another publication, which is always good.

Also, I have a little time - my research student did a lot of work towards helping set up Run 2 of the current research. I'm going to work on that some later today.

I'm really hoping this is maybe a start of a successful cycle for me, where I get stuff done.

- And I just got a letter today confirming I will be a Special Judge at the state science fair (for a botany award). Maybe it doesn't carry much prestige, but I can put it on my CV and also it does help out the group - and this is the group that gave me money for research, so I have an interest in "paying back" a little.

Also, all of these things make it more obvious that I'm not being lazy, which in the current higher-ed climate, is increasingly important.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

However it lasts

Right now, I've dropped back into a nice groove with teaching - I'm happy, I'm enjoying it, I like my students, I'm excited about the different subjects I'm covering.

Last fall, it wasn't so much. It got to be a grind and a drag and I was getting so sick of it I was wondering if I was burning out. (I guess not).

My thought is MMMMMAYBE it was those two almost back-to-back sections of the intro class, which were both pretty full, and which had the added stress for me (because things like this do stress me out) of "I need to keep them exactly on the same schedule; what do I do if I run out of time in Class 2 before I've covered all that I covered that day in Class 1."

I also have more labs in the spring - 3 rather than 1 - and even though it's more hours in class, labs are more relaxed.

Also, teaching new first-years in the fall is stressful and sometimes frustrating because the students don't quite know how to "college" yet, and while yes, it is part of my job to inculcate that knowledge, it's also frustrating when you've told someone multiple times about the "you need to notify me if you're going to be absent for an exam" and have someone not do that and then claim they didn't know. By spring, almost everyone, even the "new" people, has been here at least a semester and has a little bit more confidence and more of an idea as to what's going on.

Also, I just find I get more mature students in the spring. In some cases it's that they're grad students fixing a "deficiency" or rising seniors doing a last-minute major/minor change, or they're someone who just needs credit hours to graduate, or something, and there's less fear there.

And my classes are smaller. That's bad but also good. Bad because it's a bad trend (we've lost a few people each year and I could see us spiralling down to a point where it becomes non-viable) but good in the short term because I *like* small classes. You don't have that wall of eyes staring at you. And while public speaking really doesn't make me nervous, it does feel more comfortable and happy in a class of 16 (like my intro class right now) than 40 (what it was at the start of the fall).

Also, possibly I'm happier because it's not blazing hot outside, my allergies have abated as much as they ever do (despite cedar fever, which seems to be less for me than the grass allergies of the fall)

It's also just possible the change to my workout schedule (being able to sleep 'til 6 am if I need it and then working out AFTER school) helps. I know my stomach is happier and I wonder if some of the gastritis of last year was working out on an empty stomach, causing weird peristalsis or something and making my stomach try to "eat itself."

I don't know. I'll take it, whatever it is, for as long as it lasts for me right now.

Thursday morning random

* Got drawn into reading a bit about "ultramafic" soils (in the US, these are most commonly "serpentine" soils). Ultramafic has to do with a type of igneous rock (mafic rocks), which are typically low in silicates and potassium but high in magnesium.

For ecology this is meaningful as many of these minerals weather into soils that are high in nickel, chromium, and other of the so-called heavy metals (though the author I was reading argued that term is so broad as to be somewhat useless, and of course people in and around Gen X age associate "heavy metal" with something rather different). Serpentine soil additionally has a "weird" nutrient balance compared to other soils, so it's kind of a living lab of evolution - some plant species have populations adapted to grow on it, there are some species unique to it, and you just generally see different plant communities.

I...don't know. I don't need another research interest and also there seem to be no ultramafic soils within easy driving distance to be a field site, but it does seem in parts of the US this is not a well-studied phenomenon. (Then again: some polluted soils near smelters and the like have a similar profile of heavy-metal contamination and similar evolutionary patterns in plants on them)

I also wound up reading another paper on worldwide ultramafic soils and ran across some new mineral names.

There is a mineral called Lizardite.

No, it doesn't have anything to do with lizard people from under the earth, and it's not because it's green (but it is, and it's also rather pretty in its crystalline form). It's named for The Lizard, a feature in Cornwall. (Often minerals and also soils are named for the locality they were first identified.)

I kind of wish I knew more about minerals. I took Environmental Geology one summer as a cognate class for my degree but I learned more about things like mercury spills and Itai-Itai disease than rocks and minerals. (And perhaps those things were more useful to my actual degree, but minerals are kind of cool, too)

* Yet another case semi-locally of someone embezzling. This time it was the director of a charitable group. This kind of thing makes me nuts - I guess sometimes money just really is too attractive, and people think "Oh, I won't get caught, they'll never find out"? Or that they can repay it before it's found out? (I was in a university department once where a departmental employee was caught having embezzled funds. It was a sadder story than many of the recent ones - the person in question had a family member with a serious disease and not-good health insurance, and the money was used to help pay for the person's treatments. The department in question, mercifully and wisely, I thought, told the embezzler they would not bring charges against them provided (a) they resigned and (b) they worked out - with a lawyer - a repayment plan to return the money over time). This one, though, it sounds more like simple greed.

And yeah, it does make me nuts. I'm one of those people who is terrified by even the appearance of something unseemly in what I'm doing, and I can't imagine feeling "entitled" to that money or figuring other people won't be smart enough to figure out money is missing.

Also, it makes me nuts because in a lot of cases these are groups that either do good (this was a crisis center - not our local one, thank goodness, but one near us) or that are small school districts or towns where there's not an abundance of funds to begin with. (And of course, also - the crisis center's money was largely donations from generous people, and the towns and school districts' money comes from the taxpayers). I'm sure this kind of thing hurts people's willingness to donate to what might otherwise be good causes; I know there are one or two groups I won't give to because of evidence in the past that the money wasn't well-spent.

I don't know. With the exception of the situation above (the sick family member, and even then, I'd try my best to find some other, legal, way to get help for them), I can't think of anything I'd want money for that I'd be willing to risk compromising my reputation and my good feeling about my being honest over - not a vacation, not a car, nothing. But I guess there are people that aren't.

* I finally took the poinsettia tablecloth off my table and put on a "spring" one - this is the newest vintage one I bought; it is grey/pink/peach and features daffodils. (White cloth, broad grey stripe with the daffodils within the stripe). I really like it; for one thing it's just pretty (and I like daffodils), for another, grey and pink are such a quintessentially 1950s color combination, and my house would have been just a few years old when that color combination came in.

There is something that pleases me about having decorative touches in my house that fit its vintage. (Best I can tell from the abstract, it was built in 1946 or 47.)

* I got up to the "increase every other row" simple part of La Grass Matinée last night so now I have a good invigilating project to work on.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

New pony day!

Today my latest Etsy order came.

I had sort of been wanting a Twinkle-Eye pony (one of the G1 variants; I kind of want at least one example of the different G1 variants and I already have many of them - the three pony "races," baby ponies, glitter ponies, first-tooth babies....)

Twinkle-Eyes are a little tough because sometimes the eyes go dull and look bad. But Ponies in the Sun had a Masquerade (one of the well-loved ones, from what I tell by reading the pony blogs) for a decent price and in good condition.

I've spoken before about how the yellow ponies are my favorite ones. Part of it is Because Fluttershy, but part of it is it's such a cheerful color (and it's one that holds well; some of the lilacs, for example, fade).

And I like the blue/green hair on her.

Here's a close up of her eyes:

I think the G1 designers were actually pretty good at figuring out stuff that would appeal to little girls. Glitter! and Ballerinas! and jewels in the eyes, like here.

(The backstory, at least from the UK magazine, isn't quite so happy - these were ponies kept by goblins (IIRC) in a mine, they went blind (!) from being in the dark. After being rescued - by the G1 iteration of Applejack (again, IIRC), they were healed and their eyes were sparkly).

Masquerade's cutie mark is carnival masks:

Yeah, I think she was a good choice for a Twinkle-Eye for my herd.

I also ordered a G3 - apparently Ponies in the Sun has started carrying a few G3s. I don't intend to start collecting these, but she had one that was just too pretty for me not to order (and again: the price was good)

Royal Rose:

This hits a lot of things that makes my inner little girl happy: purple, pink, pink hair, tinsel hair, rosy pattern, sweet smile, Pegasus.

The plastic on these is a little different- it has almost a pearlized quality and the wings almost have what looks like a blush on them.

Apparently G3s had a heart painted on their leg - a precursor of the thing today's ponies have (in G4 it is actually a QR code you can use for online content. I guess. I don't have anything that will read the QR code).

According to the Wikia on these things, she came out in 2006. Which amazes me. I was already a tenured professor when she was made....unlike the G1s, most of which were made when I was in high school. I REALLY wasn't paying attention to toys that much, I don't even remember this line coming out and I thought G3 was a lot earlier but I guess they were not.

Standard comment: it always amazes me how happy these silly things make me. But they do! I guess you can't explain happiness and it is idiosyncratic to every person. (And I think it really is, for me, a remembering of what I was like when I was a little girl - Ponies weren't around yet but I think I would have liked them if they had been. I loved all kinds of animal toys and had dozens of stuffed toy animals and a whole giant box full of those tiny plastic zoo animals that you could buy at the five and time. I was really interested in animals, both in toy form and in real form - and I guess my niece is like me in that regard, she's really interested in animals)





For future reference

For me as much for you.

To make four, 9x13 pans of spaghetti (one meat free, three with meat), you will want:

4 lbs spaghetti or perhaps a bit less
6, 28 ounce cans of tomatoes and maybe a bit more (threw a spare can of veggie pizza sauce on the veggie pan).
3 lbs ground beef - 1 lb. per meaty pan
probably would do better with three cans of tomato paste rather than just one, or even four cans
maybe add a little water to the sauce
three packs of shredded cheese for the tops

More sauce than I expected was needed, less spaghetti.

Also I need a new stockpot, this one is pants. It's too thin on the bottom and some of the spaghetti stuck and burned. Luckily I had too much anyway.

With beef the sauce goes further - I used 1/3 of the sauce on the veggie pan and didn't feel like I had enough, when I mixed the remaining 2/3 of the sauce with the cooked beef it stretched to fill three pans.

And yeah. I'm tired and my kitchen looks like a crime scene. Nothing went wrong, I am just a REALLY messy cook (which is why I prefer to do all the prep here, where I can clean at my leisure, rather than down at church where I'd have to clean everything to church-lady standards right away)

Now I have to go buy the salad.

Random mealtime thoughts

I got into a discussion with a Twitter friend about "second breakfast." And it reminded me of something that excited me to learn over break:

In Bavaria (and also Austria), people often eat second breakfast. It is apparently called "zweites Frühstück"(And I know what that means, and yes, it is literally "second breakfast.") The idea being you ate something really small early on - then went out and did farm chores - then sat down to a bigger meal around 10 am. (In Austria, it's apparently called "Gabelfrühstück"  (which means "fork breakfast, and it also delights me that I can do the literal translation on that now: knowledge is fun)

(A little more information is here)

This is actually not a surprising concept to me. Back when my maternal grandma was alive she still did something slightly like this (probably memories of her farm upbringing), only the second breakfast was more of a coffee-time - people would come to visit around then and she'd have coffee and sometimes tea for them, and whatever baked goods were around, and maybe toast and maybe light sandwiches. Or at least that was how it worked when my family was up visiting.

And you know? I would like a meal schedule more like that - light early breakfast (because I'm often not hungry when I first get up, and some days my stomach is actively a little unhappy - stupid remnants of IBS, but I must eat something because taking meds on an empty stomach makes it worse), then a nice big meal around 10 or 11 am, no real lunch, but then "high tea" early on in the late afternoon or early evening.

(And yes, I suppose you might say I'm mixing German and British concepts but shut up, both are my heritage, so I can)

High tea is something confusing to Americans who don't know British teatimes. High tea SOUNDS fancy, sounds like where you put on your RP accent and stick your pinky out* - but it isn't. It's the workingman's tea, more like a meal. The "high" comes from the elevation of the table. "Low tea" is people sitting in a drawing room or somewhere, with something like a coffee table for the tea service and maybe a few light cakes. "High tea" is eaten sitting at the kitchen table or another actual dining table, and it has sandwiches and sometimes rarebit - more protein, more heavy food. And I guess for some it took the place of the evening meal. I am guessing, as I've read it was more of a workingman's meal, it was something people wanted when they got home from work, hungry, and needed more food then, not just a few silly little cakes while they waited on 9 pm (or whatever it was) supper.

(*you're really NOT supposed to do that)

I like the idea of high tea because a lot of the typical foods are things I like (and some of the foods I don't commonly get or haven't tried sound like things I'd like). And I like the idea of eating earlier - I am a lark so I prefer to be in bed early, and I can't eat within a couple hours of bed or it bothers my stomach.

I suspect "second breakfast" was a fairly widespread thing in farming communities, it's just that German or Austrian German has a fun name for it. (And I'm guessing Tolkien saw it in some farming group somewhere and adopted it for his hobbits).

Actually, I wish I could eat more like a hobbit. But alas, I'm a human woman with health concerns who feels compelled to stuff down some requisite number of servings of vegetables and reduce sugar intake and not eat too much of things like cheese. But I can dream about "zweites Frühstück"  and the interesting sausages served at it and cheese toast at tea and not having to eat sauteed spinach or mass quantities of cauliflower, and only eating the things I particularly like. (If I didn't have to worry about my health, I would eat far fewer vegetables, more meat, more sausages, more cheese, more bread and bread-like things, and probably more sweets. And I'd drink more tea if caffeine didn't affect me so adversely....)

ongoing phone frustration

Yeah, I started La Grasse Matinée last night. I found my #2 circular (24 inch) and also a circular #3 that will work for the body. I would like to get to the point of "just increasing" by Thursday so I can carry it along to the assessment tests I have to give.

(Assessment is one of those mini-banes of professors' existence these days. I don't remember ever having to do this kind of testing as a student, but then again my alma mater was somewhat different from where I teach, and also, times have changed, and we are supposed to "prove" everything we do. I know the students dislike the testing, but whatever. I figure that in some senses the "prove you are worth keeping on" stuff like this is something we partly brought on ourselves. I would prefer that we "proved" we were doing an okay job based on surveys of alumnae and data from job acceptances/professional school acceptances, but you don't always get what you want)

I also called A T and T. Got the "we are experiencing a high call volume" bit. (I don't know but both times I've had to call them I've got that, maybe it's actually a "We don't hire enough employees" bit). Typed in all my details on the cell phone. (It is kind of annoying to do. I have an ollllllld flipphone and I'd have to take it away from my ear to punch buttons). They said they had a ticket open for me.

My house line is mostly trashed - the phone won't ring, I can't get a dial tone BUT calls will come through; then they show up as a missed call. So I can check the missed calls and call voicemail from my cellphone. Got a call a couple hours later from A T and T - automated voice claiming they'd "checked" the line remotely and it was fine.

it's not fine. So I don't know whether to try calling back (maybe from my office phone, but when?) and trying to get a real human and explaining to them my line is still messed up and I honestly think it is either the junction box or whatever you call those pillar things because the last time a dude was out it was left open for a while and I looked in and it looked like a spaghetti of really old messed up wires, or else there's something up with the underground line (which, it would be bad to have to have my yard or the alleyway dug up, but whatever). Or whether to just sit tight because the recorded message said to call if everything was fine.

I dunno. I can't do the online thing because you are supposed to have a registration online and, get this, to get one you either have to have a working landline phone they can call, or you have to wait for them to postal mail it. I understand the security reasons for that but it makes it difficult if you never registered with their system before you had a problem. And because I am in some ways a relic of the pre-Internet era, I don't think of doing things like that "registration."

(Update: there is a way to examine your "trouble ticket" online, and I finally got in to it. Gonna add some information)

I know this is a minor problem as "home services" go, but it's annoying, given what I pay A T and T every month for the privilege of having a landline. (I wonder - if I went over to Vyve for home-phone or Chickasaw, would they maintain the lines, or does it still fall to A T and T, which would give them even less incentive to do it?)

My other thought is this: maybe this (if they can't get the line working again quickly) is what drives me to go get a smartphone (but ugh, which one? I don't know what choices US Cellular supports) and upgrade that, and just cancel the landline and figure the higher cost of a smartphone plus a data plan is cancelled out by the fact that I'm not sending a check to A T and T each month.

As I said: I like having a landline because often our cell phone coverage here is kind of staticky but if I'm going to have to harass A T and T every time we get heavy rain now (and go a couple days with a non-working land line, for which I am paying), it's not worth the hassle to keep it.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Monday midday things

* On ITFF (a group for academics on Ravelry), we got an idea rolling for a "fake" music festival, based on the band names that different people proposed "that would be a good band name." It's essentially a series of in-jokes, and I am so seldom "in" on "in jokes" that it pleases me to be in on this.

What pleases me even more? One of the bands I proposed (Rändöm Ümläuts - a Spinal Tap tribute band) got a plurality of votes and is therefore a "headliner."

One person who does a little graphic design made a logo/band list and Redbubble is doing t-shirts and bags. I ordered a bag (hee. maybe I need to take it to the natural-foods store to see if anyone points to a band name and goes, "Oh, I saw them back in 2013!" or something) and also a sticker to put on my laptop.

* My landline is messed up again. Best guess: water in the lines, again, because we had v. heavy rain last night. I'm going to give it a day (also on the grounds that some workers will be off for the holiday) and see. I found out because my mom called me, her number came up, and I picked up and got nothing but static.

Of course I was slightly concerned. Called her back on my cell phone (mein Handy, and yes, I still love the German name for it). Turns out she wanted to remind me to put foil over the pans of spaghetti before they go in the oven so they won't dry out.

Facepalm. (And I already knew that)

*Maybe it's time to drop the landline, especially if they're not maintaining the cables/lines like they should. I know a lot of these companies just want people to go to mobile phones (I'll spare you the long story of my brother and sister in law trying to get a landline from Verizon some years back) but if I drop the landline, A T and T will get zero dollars from me, because US Cellular is my cell phone carrier and I have been sufficiently happy with them to not want to switch.

I LIKE having a landline for various reasons but it would also be nice to have the cost of the monthly bill back and also not have to go through this mess every time we get heavy rain.

* The sleeve for Hagrid is growing slowly, but it feels less slowly than the first one grew, partly because I know precisely how many rows I need to knit on this one.

Still debating "next sweater project" -Harvest? Or maybe the Grasse Matinée I was talking about earlier? Or something totally different? Probably I need to dig out all the "sweater yarn" I've bought down through the years and pair it with the pattern I intended it for and choose that way. (I also have an old Knit Picks kit - a cardigan made of laceweight held double. As I remember, knit in the round and then steeked. I need to learn how to steek some time anyway....)

* Another minor resolution: wear lipstick more regularly. Because I'm pale, y'all. And lipstick seems to help. I bought a new one at the Target the other day - Burt's Bees, the color is called Ruby Ripple - a darkish true red. (For years, I struggled with lipstick colors, I would buy ones that are too orange. Now I've learned "go with blue undertones and you're probably good")

I wore it to church on Sunday and several of the older women (my biggest fans seem to be women in the 60s-70s year old range) commented on how "beautiful" I looked that day so I assume it had to be the lipstick as that's the only thing I have done differently (other than the change-up in how I wear my hair from bangs to swoop).

Also lipstick makes me feel ever so slightly more grown-up on days when I am questioning myself.

Lipstick, I think, is kind of like nail polish - or I could MAKE it kind of like toenail polish for me. It's a little indulgence - you can find it for a not terrible price (though there is some v. expensive lipstick out there, the Burt's Bees kind is like $10). And it's pretty. And when you put it on it does kind of remind you "I haven't given up yet." That it's just a tiny bit of extra effort, a tiny push towards brightness or prettiness in a world that might not be that bright or pretty some days.

(I'm not going to go so far as to say "maybe make the effort to be pretty in an ugly world," because I think prettiness is very superficial and the "ugliness" I deplore in the world isn't cosmetic or aesthetic ugliness as it is something deeper, and something I try to combat by being kind and honest and a "light" or perhaps rather a "mirror" that tries to reflect the Light)

For years my mom wouldn't leave the house without at least lipstick on. She wore very little other makeup - no eye stuff, no nail polish - and I guess I kind of internalized "lipstick equals grown up woman" and maybe that was part of my resistance to wearing it when younger, but, my thinking is changing now.

Oh, I'll probably forget it a lot of mornings, especially when I'm mired in midsemester doldrums and worries, but at least having it sitting on the vanity might remind me to put it on at least once in a while.

(I did also buy a new nail polish at the natural-foods store: Pacifica in a deep dark red called "Red Red Wine." And yes, I sung the song in my head all the way going home so I don't feel so very bad if I've earwormed you now. I think it's next up after I change out what I have on there now; maybe do it for Valentine's day)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

emotional teeter totter

This happens to me some times. Part of it is being alone on weekends so things seem *amplified* to me because I only have my own brain to bounce stuff off of. But I had some emotional whipsawing today:

The good: I can't really give details (privacy reasons and I don't want to risk jinxing things) but something happened today that if it works out like I hope (expect?) it will, will be very good for the future continuation of the congregation I am a part of. This congregation is like my family so it is very important to me it manages to keep on keepin' on in some way or other. (Yes, I could find another if we folded, and I'd probably wind up going where the bulk of the people I really care about migrated to - likely the Methodist congregation - but I'd rather the congregation I'm in right now keep going).

The temporarily bad: I called my mom mid-afternoon to share the news and I couldn't reach her. And, of course, it's just short of a year from my dad's trip to the ER. And my mom is still hurting a little bit from the fall, and still isn't doing 100% of the things she did before it. And I looked up the weather online and weather.gov said there was freezing rain and I was like "uh-uh, she wouldn't go to the grocery in this." (My dad generally does not get to the phone in time - uses a walker, bad knees, slow to get up out of a chair). I also thought, as he had remarked the last time I talked to them, that their neighbor did some shopping for them, but now I guess it was just bare minimums.

So I worried a bit.

I tried calling again, nothing. I tried telling myself, "Maybe they're on the phone" but I kind of remembered that it would then default to the phone company's voicemail announcement and not their "local" answering machine greeting - which was what I was getting.

So I worried. Took to twitter and asked for people to "virtually sit with me" (a couple of my followers were on, and did, and it is appreciated).

I looked up my little list of emergency contacts and was considering whether to call the across the street or the next-door neighbors, when my mom called back.

She had been out at the stupid Jewel. Because there was a stupid coupon in the stupid paper that gave some money off and was set to expire today and she said they were low on meat and so she wanted to get out. And I flailed a little and said, "But isn't it freezing rain?" and she was like, "Oh, yeah, that's supposed to happen later. It was raining when I went out but hadn't started to ice yet."

So, facepalm. And yes, I know: 90% of the stuff I worry about never comes to pass but it's that 10% that I feel like I have to be emotionally and logistically prepared for (for serious, I was wondering how fast I could get up there if I had to, if there was a flight out of Dallas and if someone from church would drive me to the airport)

I had started the dvd workout but gave up about 10 minutes in because I was worrying too hard and didn't give it good effort, so I went back and re-started it (did it again from the beginning). So now I need to wash my hair and eat dinner (fortunately part of the Good Thing I alluded to involved a going out to lunch so I had a bigger lunch, and I have some of the closest-we-will-get-in-this-part-of-the-US to skyr (Icelandic yogurt) to try out, so I'll have that and some fruit). And I also have to think about a simple new project (or maybe I work on trying to finish the scarf I've been doing) because I have an assessment test to invigilate next week. (I am leaning towards starting the La Grasse Matinée sweater. I have two yarns for two versions of this - a nice tweedy brown yarn by Regia or someone, and some purple stripey Deborah Norville "Serenity" yarn. I think I'm actually going to do the purple first; it was a closeout and was super reasonable, so I can work out any kinks with fitting or working the pattern on the less-expensive yarn first.

I also am working away on the second sleeve for Hagrid so perhaps that should be this evening's project.

I have the day off tomorrow but plan to go in for a couple hours - soil to sieve and also some reading to do, and I probably should post the second chapter of Soils.

2017, still weird

So apparently Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Baily is shutting down its circuses.

There are a couple of one-liners I can get out of this:

1. I don't think a bunch of unemployed clowns is going to be a good thing

2. I guess I can't threaten to run away and join the circus any more.

(And another thought: could this a symptom of the "great middle" being lost, where we are left with the few, small, kind-of-downmarket traveling circuses on one side, and the pricey and somewhat arty Cirque du Soleils on the other? My family went to RBBandB a couple times when I was a kid, and while I remember it as "not as great as I thought it would be" [nosebleed seats in the Richfield Coliseum], still...another thing of my childhood gone)

But I will say: these kinds of things DO make me feel old. There was an article in the paper up where my parents live around the turn of the new year about how Generation X is beginning to consider its mortality given that so many of its "icons" (from Florence Henderson to David Bowie) died last year.

(Though I admit at the time - when I was still worrying about my mom even though she was on the mend by then - I thought "forget the entertainment 'icons,' what worries THIS Gen-Xer is the thought of losing all the people in her actual life that she cares about")

But yes. I stand by a throwaway line I said in a discussion of "A Christmas Story" a year or more ago: my childhood has more in common with Ralphie Parker's than my niece's will with mine. And in some ways, that makes me sad - there are a lot of things I remember enjoying that aren't around any more, or that have changed a lot. And as much as I love the Internet for many things, I think it would have been very bad for it to have been around when I was a kid (can we say, "Cyberbullying"?)

I mean, I think I get why the circus was in decline: concerns about animal welfare made it uncomfortable for many (and they did stop using elephants). And probably people are less-willing to go "out" for that kind of entertainment when there's so much screen-based entertainment you can have in your home (And, I suppose, in the age of ISIS and the "ISIS inspired," a circus is a pretty soft target).

I confess, I feel a little sad about the death of malls, too. I do a lot of online shopping but that is partly because I live in a remote rural area. I would use Amazon far less if there were a nice bookstore in town - I love being able to go into a bookstore to browse and I love the serendipity of finding a book I never knew existed but realize I want to read based on the comments of people in the store or reading its blurb. And I wonder if we're going to see some kind of change in the grocery store model, where stores, especially in rural areas, find it more "profitable" to expect people to order things online and come pick them up (I read recently that wal-mart is wanting to increase its "online to store" model, where people do just that, but with things like appliances). I don't know. I'm an introvert who hates noise and chaos but I'm also an introvert who gets sad and weird when she's alone too much, and the thought of just e-mailing a shopping list and having a drone deliver my food would be bad for me.

Also, I do think the tendency of people to stay in their own living rooms leads to more anti-social behavior out in public. I've talked about how people seem to think they are in a "bubble of their own living rooms" and are loud or crude or do stuff like dink on their phone while walking and don't look out for other people. And I do think there's some feedback of this in and around the death of malls....one of the news stories over the holidays was how several malls became scenes of large fights among groups of teenagers, and while that was probably more a parenting issue (or rather, a non-parenting issue) than anything else, I can see it hastening the death of those "third places" but also being a symptom of people not knowing "how to behave" in public.

And I fear that that will soon start to spill over into the workplace (if it hasn't already; I am unusual in that most of my colleagues are very quiet people who tend to value positive interpersonal interactions) or in how kids behave in school or at college.

I dunno. I often feel that the world is changing faster than I can understand.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

my little fluster

I did take a quick run to Target. (And to the bookstore, and to JoAnn's....JoAnn's had Valentine's party lights, but they wanted $30 (!) for a string of ten, and while there are coupons, I object to the model of "let's jack up prices but then give coupons to take the price down to a normal price, to make people think they're getting a deal." So I don't have any Valentine's Day decorations but that is okay).

I heard a lot of people hacking and coughing. I tried to stay away from them. I don't know if it's the flu (I did get the vaccine this year, but there are strains not in it) or "cedar fever," or something else.

Anyway. At the Target I did find some Pony stuff. I have a small number of "sticker valentines" (and this year it is more of a comic-book style than the same old "vectors" that have been used since 2011, so). Standard operating procedure: if you want one and are pretty sure I don't have your address, drop me an e-mail and I'll send you one between now and Valentine's Day. (The envelope may have a Charlie Brown Christmas stamp on it though because I bought a bunch of those and didn't use them all on Christmas cards)

Annnnnnnd.....reboot toys are here! For those of you not as immersed in Pony as I am, they've redesigned the current generation to give littler, more tip-tilted nose (toy designer Margaret Hutchings called them "twee" noses) and rounder heads and different poses. Some are speculating we'll see redesigns of the animation in the movie. I don't know but some of the reboot figures are pretty cute (Or so I think; some people don't like them but whatever).

I particularly like the Reboot Rarity because she comes with her little reading glasses, and none of the other Rarities I've seen do. So I figured this is my "fluster" for being an adult and completing my ptr packet in good time and without any public melt-downs.





Reboot Rarity says "hello, darlings"

They are about the same size as the other brushables but a little skinnier and there's this weird "thigh gap" thing going on with the back legs (on one of the other pony collector blogs she mentioned that) so it's like they don't have normal haunches. That's my one objection to the figures - the weird back legs.

I kind of love her pose, that raised front leg. It looks like someone has just given her a present and she's surprised and happy and getting ready to thank them. Or like she's standing at the podium at some Pony awards show, and is about to burst into tears while saying "You like me! You really really like me!"


Rarity is my favorite of the reboot figures but I decided to get Pinkie, too, so she had a friend from the same "wave" of toys. Pinkie is fun too:

One thing I will say about the G4 toys - the hair is not nearly as nice as on the old ponies. I think it's a different process (Saran vs. nylon, or something like that). The older ponies I've collected usually have pretty silky feeling hair, and even the one I got with messed-up hair, washing it and putting a little conditioner in it made it go back to a silky state. The G4s have coarser feeling hair and it's often tangled coming out of the package. (I've tried, on a few, the conditioner trick, but it doesn't work nearly as well as it does on the older ponies).

Also Pinkie's hair is flatter than it really should be, and Rarity's isn't in the ringlet curls like in her drawings (they use two shades of purple, I think to simulate the two-tone effect on the drawn ringlets). I mean, yeah, to the little girls that are going to brush the heck out of the hair it doesn't matter as much, but it would be nice to have a few collector figurines with "set" hair or with the nicer grade of pony hair.

It makes me wonder a bit what the re-re-boot of Ponies (Gen 5, if you will) will be like. I know some of the pony-collector bloggers have made some rather "salty" comments (about how small the figures will be, and how limited the poses). But it does make me wonder - I've opined before that maybe they'll do a "Cutie Mark Crusaders grown to adulthood" thing. Or maybe they'll just go back to G3 and use some of the ponies from that, but with a different art style and different writing. (I think at one point they did a "fairy tales but with ponies playing the roles" once, and I could see something like that). I dunno. I'd still at least try watching it, even if it wasn't the ponies that originally sucked me in to the Pony world. (I will say though: "Not CGI. Please not CGI.")





Into the weather

Apparently OKC isn't getting it as bad as they were supposed to, which is good.

Here, we just have cold rain. Cold rain is kind of miserable but at least it's warm enough I don't have to worry about ice on the roads. Because I need to go out.

This week, I am feeding the college youth group again. I've decided to make baked spaghetti, figuring that will be slightly cheaper than the chicken I did most recently.

Also, I can fix the sauce Monday (No classes: Martin Luther King, Jr. day) and then compile the spaghetti early Tuesday afternoon and bake it over at church.

I have been told there are 15-18 people who come. So I'm thinking three 9 x 13 pans with meat sauce, one with just tomato sauce (I asked: there are two vegetarians in the group. I am presuming lacto-ovo, that the leader would have said "vegan" if they were vegans, so I think I can go ahead and put cheese on top of that one). I hope that's enough. Some people on ITFF were saying "three pans is barely enough" so I scaled up.

(What do I know? The last few times I was around my parents' house when my mom made baked spaghetti, we got at least 9 servings out of the pan, but then we're all older. If there are leftovers, the church has to-go boxes and they can send it home with the students).

It's funny looking at different recipes; what I call "baked spaghetti" is essentially spaghetti (either marinara or bolognese, depending), just compiled into a glass dish and baked to bind the sauce and noodles, and usually topped with mozzarella cheese. A lot of the recipes I found have some kind of hybrid thing that calls for cream of mushroom soup or is almost more like what we call "chicken spaghetti" here (which is like a simpler version of tetrazzini). It's also funny looking at the amounts: some say a 9 x 13 pan will serve 8, some say it will serve 12. But my friends on ITFF say to count on it serving six, so I don't know. (Probably best to err on the side of too much food; as I said, leftovers can be sent home with the students).

This is a little work and a little expense but I tend to feel like it generates goodwill, and also, you never know - I've read about "food insecurity" in college students, and how some have a hard time feeding themselves adequately because of money concerns. (Which is also why I have no problem with there being leftovers and them being sent home with someone).

I also plan to go to Target and just look around at fun stuff, but also I need more of certain cleaning supplies. And I want to get to the natural-foods store. (and mmmmmaybe the Five Below, I don't know. Maybe they have some kind of cute and fun "valentine's day" decorating thing? I'm thinking something like heart-shaped fairy lights)

***

Also, this is making the rounds:



Or, more commonly, the version with music (a snippet of an anime theme song as played by the Japanese coast guard band) dubbed over it:



(I like the second one better because the music is a little sillier given the context, but I feel the need to post the original - I think the song is Bon Jovi's "It's My Life"? - for accuracy).

I confess, I love this video more than I probably should and have watched it many times. It just brings me joy. Partly because it's so unexpected: you don't think of a middle-aged-looking* guy in a dress band uniform doing those kinds of dance moves

(*I could be wrong on that assessment and he could just be a slightly chunky younger guy with a shaved head, but my brain goes "someone close to me in age or maybe even older" when I see him)

Partly because I'm NOT a good dancer, and I think part of it is I tend to center my weight over my heels rather than the balls of my feet (which may have to do with my whole wonky biomechanics - weird knees, weird hips). I once had someone tell me I "walked like a carthorse" (which, in the pre-MLP-fandom days I took as more of an insult than I might now) because I put my heels down first. (And yet: I have people accusing me of "sneaking up on them" because I "walk too quietly" so I don't know how that jives with "carthorse")

And part of it is, it just does seem like an expression of spontaneous joy (Oh, I am sure it was carefully choreographed, and practiced many times). As I commented on Twitter - I wish I could be as uninhibited as this guy. (And I also said something about "When you fear Putin will try to invade your country but you still have mad dance moves").

Someone - Maybe it was either Lewis or Chesterton - once commented that angels could fly precisely because they took themselves lightly. Would that I could learn to be a bit more that way.

Friday, January 13, 2017

funny-named hat

Gentle readers, a warning: a few uses of one "swear" word (an anatomical term that also could designate a donkey). I can't quite reveal what makes this funny to me without using it.

(Then again: the word does seem to be in current use on Network tv, so maybe it's not as "bad" as it once was? When I was a kid, even "crap" and "butt" were seen as tantamount to swearing, so....)

But anyway. Some time back String Theory Colorworks (one of my FAVORITE sources for striping yarn) had a colorway called Uranus.

The idea amused me. Because I'm 12 inside, right? And Uranus is the planet name that makes every 12 year old giggle, because "Your anus" (or, in the misguided attempt to cut down on giggling, "Urine-us")

And then I thought: wait, wait, I don't want to make Uranus socks. I want a Uranus HAT.

Because: Uranus hat --> Your Anus Hat ---> Ass-hat (a common term of insult, at least on the internet, for a contemptible person. Presumably it comes about because the person has their head so far up their fundament that they are wearing it as a hat).

And granted, I strive very, very hard not to be one of those. But the idea and the name still tickled my inner 12-year-old. So I bought the yarn, and over break I knitted the hat (in just about a day and a half, and I was literally racing time to get it done before I had to leave on the 4th - I think I pulled the tail end through the last six stitches about 15 minutes before I had to leave for the train station).

And voila! Uranus-hat!

uranus hat

It's pretty bright. That teal is even more neon than it looks in the photo. But it's still sort of pretty.

uranus hat ii

(You can see a little bit of my "reformed Starlight Glimmer hair swoop" sticking out from under my right-hand - your left - side of the hat)

The pattern is a super simple one - Jane Tanner's Scraptastic Hat (Ravelry link). It's a nice pattern, and is good for making little beanie type hats out of sockyarn. (It's also designed so you can use miniskeins or leftover bits if you want). 

it's finally in

I completed the packet this morning, stuck in the page dividers (I got ones with colorful tabs instead of plain tabs because I am me).

I WAS feeling really good about it - it was done, it was ready to go, I have no individual rank below "commendable" anywhere (and my overall ranks are generally "outstanding").

But then, the secretary said, "Here, let me make you an adhesive label with your name" and when I was trying to stick it on, the packet hit the floor, the ring-binders opened, stuff fell out.

I tend to take things as omens that shouldn't be so that stressed me out slightly. Also now a few pages are slightly rumpled but then again I tend to be slightly rumpled so maybe it's fitting that my ptr packet is.

(I am telling myself: this is NOT a bad omen of any kind, rather, it is on the order of "when the dress rehearsal is a mess, the opening night is good" type superstition)

At least it's done and I won't have to think about it again until I get the evaluation/development letter in a month or more. (My big fears about this center around: what if I have had a total blind spot about something I should be doing but am not, and I need to change how I do EVERYTHING. The good evaluations were from my chair alone but other members of my department will be seeing this packet and the feeling of opening up my life for others to judge and criticize bothers me)

And it's Friday

* I am alllllllmost done with the ptr packet. One thing to pick up from my chair today, and I went out early this morning to the Mart of Wal and bought page-dividers for the notebook (one thing I didn't have).

Also, while there, I picked up some peanut butter - one of the "service projects" this year to memorialize MLK, Jr. is to supply a local food bank with peanut butter. The e-mail sent around said they 'rarely' get it, which surprises me slightly - I think of peanut butter as a "cheap easy protein source" and if I'm buying to just do a general donation I usually get either peanut butter, tunafish, or canned chicken, figuring lots of people will go the canned-soup or canned-vegetable route.

Then again: peanut butter is pretty handy. It can be eaten on a lot of things (bread, crackers, celery sticks, even just off a spoon as I often do). Kids like it (as long as there are no allergy issues). It doesn't require refrigeration (I refrigerate mine after opening but that's mostly because my mom always did and it's what I'm used to). You don't have to heat it up and it's fairly portable. And it's a concentrated source of calories. (I know there are some humanitarian groups that use a modified form of peanut butter in disaster or famine relief, to try to build kids who are too thin back up to something approaching health).

Maybe everyone thinks "oh, everyone buys it so I don't need to." I don't know.

I also did take a run through the toy aisles, on the grounds of "maybe you deserve a 'fluster' after completing your packet" but there was nothing. They had ONE Guardians of Harmony figure (Celestia in fighting pose) but I could see there was a factory flaw on the neck or something. They did also have the Library playset from the Halloween episode, and I looked at it but left it on the shelf - no room for something that big, even if it does come with Zecora in her Nightmare Night costume.

I may look tomorrow when I run to Sherman, provided the weather is OK.

* Another finished thing. These are the VERY bright pink (it is one of the limited-edition "Stroll Brights" from KnitPicks, back when neon yarn enjoyed a very brief fad).

They are knit from Knitty's Spring Forward pattern by Linda Welch.

However, I am calling them "pronk socks."

Because they are bright pink - brighter even than Pinkie Pie's mane - and because, well:



Pronking is a real thing. It is that sort of bounce-and-spring locomotion that some antelopes use (I suppose it's fast and probably biomechanically efficient) and also how young sheep and goats play.

pronk socks

These are hard to photograph. Without flash, they're kind of dark, but with flash, the brightness of the pink just takes over:

pronk socks 2

You can sort of see the lace pattern there. It's a zig-zag lace; one of those patterns that does a frameshift every dozen rows (shifts a half-repeat over). That's what causes the zig-zag; I suspect if you didn't do the frameshift you'd wind up with a spiraling pattern (which I'm now slightly tempted to try - just keep doing rows 1-11 of the pattern which leads to it shifting itself around the leg and I do think it would spiral because of the increases and decreases being slightly offset. And now I really want to try that....hm, maybe I just start another pair of socks; I already have started a pair of "Hermione's Everyday Socks," but I could pull out some unaffiliated sockyarn and give it a try.)

* I'm wearing one of my pairs of new shoes today. I wanted to replace my Klogs but sadly, they don't make (or the store I was in doesn't carry) the mary-jane style I loved so much any more.

(Okay, Zappos has one, but only in black, blue, or red, and I would want brown)

I did buy a pair, though - true clogs (though with a back to them; I find backless shoes don't stay on well). They have VERY thick wedgie soles - not quite 2" thick. At first I hesitated; a podorthist once told me not to wear heels more than about 1 1/2" because I'd hurt my ankles because I pronate. The guy at the shoe place - it's a special, "foot friendly" store and while the clerks aren't podorthists, they are close - reassured me it was probably okay.

So far it has been fine. And I confess, I kind of like feeling taller. I once said that I didn't wear heels because I was "tall enough already," but really, that extra height is kind of nice. (It does give a bit more confidence, which may be why some men wear lifts in their shoes, and perhaps why cowboy boots are worn in some circles).

The shoes are Naples, in the tooled brown leather. (And apparently I could order directly from them? Hm. I may have to consider that seeing as I more or less know what size I need and I really like the mary-jane style shoes, and this brand is sort of hard to find). And these are the most comfortable shoes I've owned - I really loved the pair of mary-jane style ones I have but they've got a bit worn (the toe cap especially) as I've worn them hard for almost two years.

Also, I found out my right foot is "officially" a size 8 (just barely) and my left is a 7 1/2. I guess that's not all that uncommon? I do have to buy 8s though, then, and just deal with them being a little loose on the left. (I'm wondering if damage to my left ankle during my growing-up years may have stunted that foot's growth a little)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Stuff gets real

I printed out my CV and cover letter, and found an old (repurposable) three-ring binder. I am assembling my post-tenure review packet.

(It's a good thing I had an old binder on hand- no need to run to a place with office-supplies and also far less likelihood of me having a late-in-the-game breakdown and buying one with Ponies or something on it. The one I am using is grey)

I have to deal with my annual reviews next. I have two of the three (not sure which ones), the third one wasn't findable so I will have to put it together from the stored documents in my computer's memory.

And I'm having major Impostor Syndrome issues with this. I have had two separate people tell me I should not (my Best Frolleague Forever told me to "stop stressing about it, go home, play the piano and have a glass of wine" - that last didn't happen because of Board Meeting and also because I don't like wine (and it's contraindicated with some of my meds). ) The secretary kind of gave me a puzzled look like "why would that be a problem for you" so I am interpreting that as a "you shouldn't feel inadequate"

But I do.

I know the reasons for making us do this and they are all non-nefarious - it is to check some box the Regents or Legislature have established; it's to be sure there are not faculty receiving full-time pay but going "I would prefer not to" when faced with every normal responsibility of their job, to allow a chance to tell people who are falling down badly on their requirements that they need to pull their socks up. And I have never been told I need to pull my socks up. So why do I feel so bad about this?

It's one of the fundamental unfairnesses of existence, I think: the whole Dunning-Kruger effect thing where someone who is TOTALLY ineffectual and clumsy at what they do can say "Dang, I'm GOOD!" and someone who, really, viewed in the hard cold light of day is mostly OK at their work is going "oh crud oh crud oh crud why did I not take that chance for professional development back a couple years ago? I was only KIND OF sick at the time" or "I've devoted too much time to things that matter to me but that are unquantifiable, and now I'm gonna pay for it" or more, the dread of "what are they gonna tell me I'm not doing enough of in the letter?"

And yeah, if I were prone to conspiracy theory, I could read a nefarious reason into requiring this: for one thing, it's more work and more time away from our actual, contracted work. But for another, for the obsessive self-doubting people, it makes them even less secure and more looking over their shoulder expecting to see the Grim Reaper, Employment Version coming for their job. And I know that's all of my anxiety and low-level ocd speaking, but it's also a hard feeling to shake.

Ugh. I just need this to be done. I've set a deadline of tomorrow morning, and am promising myself if I do it:

a. If it's not raining buckets, I will go to Sherman and get groceries at the natural-foods store (I am out of a couple things only they carry) and

b. I will relax on Saturday and do some knitting and maybe re-watch one of my "comfort movies" if there's nothing good on TCM.

And I get to do this again in three years! Yay. Not. (We still have to do annual "development plans" and "summaries of the development plan we had for last year - so this really is additional work)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

And today's done

One of the other Elders, herself an educator, remarked on how long this week has felt so far (and it's only Wednesday). So it's not just me.

I did manage to do all the "adulting" I had to do; got the workout in, found a devotional to lead off Elder's meeting, went to that, sat through the whole Board meeting (towards the end, I was keeping myself "entertained" by drawing small tick marks on the agenda, and with each tick mark thinking a word: "I want to go home." "Can this be over now?" "I am so tired"

I don't know about hygge. I am thinking about it more. Maybe there's an introvert version? Where you don't have to have a bunch of people around drinking beer and singing and stuff? Maybe I can have hygge by just getting into my pajamas and getting into bed with my stuffed Ponies and reading a book?

But yeah. I think a lot of people are trying to seek things that make them happy - partly because it's January and it's dark out and the weather is bad most places in the Northern Hemisphere and also because of just what-all is going on in the world and also the fact that the Internet is full of rude and unpleasant people. And yeah, yeah: looking for something outside yourself as a source of happiness is not a good idea and is kind of doomed to fail, but sometimes comfort can help lead to happiness.

I do have a couple things to look forward to (I think that is the thing that gives me the most happiness and the most ability to keep on going even when there's difficult stuff happening). First, I ordered my first-ever "Twinkle Eye Pony" - Masquerade, which I guess is a pretty common one but who is pretty well-loved among certain Pony collectors (I dunno. I kind of want an example of at least one of each different "form" - so I have the first-tooth ponies, and the glitter ponies, and so on). I got the shipping notification today (she is coming from my favorite old shop, Ponies in the Sun, so she only has to get here from Arizona).

I also ordered a costume-jewelry ring. A few days back, Super Cute Kawaii had glitter rings featured, from an Etsy maker. I couldn't resist; I ordered one with blue and purple sparkles in it. It is coming to me all the way from Greece, which I find kind of amazing. (That one will take 2-3 weeks to get to me).

And yeah. I think for some reason I've become a lot girlier in the past few years - or I've always been girly deep down, and felt the need to hide it before so people would take me seriously, and now I'm beginning to give a bit less of a darn what other people think - or I feel like I've already shown my co-workers what I can do, and I can do that just as well wearing a glitter ring as not wearing one, so anyone who doesn't like me wearing a glitter ring can just go pound sand.  (And anyway - perhaps it's because in recent years I've seen more "girly smart" characters out there - after all, Abby Sciuto would wear the goth version of a sparkle ring, and I'm sure Penny Garcia would wear many of them. And I think even some of the Ponies qualify as girly-but-smart. Twilight is maybe a LITTLE more androgynous in her outlook, but Rarity is smart (good businesswoman) but also pretty seriously girly. And Pinkie Pie - well, she's got that sort of Gracie Allen Logic thing going on, but sometimes Gracie Allen Logic actually works.

And yes, I suppose it's peculiar that I've realized it's OK for me to let my "girly smart" flag fly because of a huggy forensic scientist or a computer expert whose hair color changes every few months, but there you are. Other people - trans people, gay people - talk about the "power of representation in media" so it probably works in other ways as well.)

***

I ran across this on Metafilter and it made me smile for a couple reasons - for one, I like the idea of a "dog that flunked out of the TSA" as a pet (it would be fun to be able to tell people, "Yeah, the TSA rejected my dog because he was too nice"). But the title: "They're simple dogs, Brent" (which is a reference to We Rate Dogs gentle and clever takedown of a troll ("They're good dogs, Brent")

First, I was thinking: "I'm a simple dog, Brent" could be my new "I'm a bear of very little brain" (which I've used on occasion when it was either a complex situation I didn't understand, or didn't feel like exerting the effort to learn about at that point in time). But then - given my earlier maunderings today - maybe I need to make a little sign that says "I'm a good dog, Brent" and put it up somewhere in my office to encourage myself.

(And yes, I am all too aware of the bad old habit some people had of referring to unattractive women as "dogs" but I am not using it that way here - rather, I tend to think of dogs as, in a way, rather noble creatures - there is a t-shirt out there I've always liked that said,"God, help me to be the person my dog thinks I am" and while I don't have a LOT of experience with dogs, that seems to be true: dogs often act like you are more good and worthy than you actually ARE. So saying "I'm a good dog, Brent" simply means, "You may think I don't have value, but I do.")

And of course, this:

And of course this:


"She's a good pony, Brent."

Few random things

* I have to go home and do a workout (and I have Board Meeting tonight.) I am getting close to saying "Forget it, I'll just DEAL with GI issues and get up early to work out" because it is kind of a drag to try to make a half-hour or 40 minutes to do it at the end of the day. It really shouldn't be that way but it is. (I should feel more secure leaving a little early seeing as I come in at 7 am).

* Suddenly, it seems the concept of hygge is everywhere - this is a Danish thing, perhaps a bit like the German Gemutlichkeit  or English "coziness" but not quite. It's this undefinable concept of comfort and warmth and being at home and having people around that you care about. And much is made of how happy the Danes are. And I admit, I feel a little "outside looking in" on the hygge thing - I bought a little book on it and apparently other people are a necessary feature of it, and for someone who (a) lives far from family, (b) doesn't have a lot of close-by friends and (c) tends not to be that comfortable letting people into her house, it doesn't look really possible for me.

I don't know. I guess we're all searching for something that will make us happy. I was also thinking about the Marie Kondo stuff again today - and how really, that kind of minimalist, uncluttered mentality is a product of extreme privilege, in the sense that many of us cannot just divest ourselves of stuff we "might need someday" and then rebuy it when we need it. (The jar of nails and screws in the garage, the old t-shirts that could come in handy if I have to paint something). And I think of someone who lived in the dorm when I lived there (note that I did not refer to her as a friend). When winter came, she threw out all her fall clothes - "I don't want to drag them back to Colorado with me at the end of the school year, I can just buy new ones." A friend (my next-door dorm neighbor) and I pulled a late-night raid on the trashcan (thankfully nothing dirty had been thrown in there on top of them) and took them to a local thrift shop to drop off - because while neither of us wanted them, it seemed to us wasteful in the extreme to just throw out barely-worn clothes.

And actually, there's another dimension there - the effort in decluttering, sometimes. I had a colleague once comment to me "You know, you could have recycled that" one day when I threw a piece of paper in the trash.  But recycling here is a challenge - for one thing, paper must be shredded, and for another, larger volumes must be *taken* somewhere. And this was a bad day in a string of bad days and I admit I was hard pressed not to say "You know, YOU could go soak your head" in response. Because it was one of those "you haven't walked a mile in my shoes"

SO yeah, maybe it was dumb of that rich girl to throw her clothes in the trash, I don't know, but I will also say I have a stack of stuff at home I don't wear but haven't got to the Goodwill because of the effort of getting it down there.

But I guess we are all searching. And I find the idea of seeking hygge more appealing than the idea of sorting through every single possession I own and scanning my soul to see if it sparks joy in me, and pitching it if it does not.

* Ongoing follies in getting what I need for lab. The place that supplies the stuff dropped the ball in late December (after I had left). I called them again to re-get a quote. It took quite a while. Then they sent one - no item number and a cost of $0.00.

Now, I know it wasn't that I was going to get the chemicals I needed for free. But I thought, "Crud, does that mean they can't get them?" So I called to check. Turns out someone had a brain-cramp but still - that was the third time I had to call, and I think my secretary has called them twice. This is one of the real hidden costs of having a reduced support staff like we do - everyone else takes on extra jobs, and instead of there being one person who is good at this, and whose job it is to keep calling the suppliers and reminding them (and who maybe is good at being forceful and doesn't hate the phone), you get someone like me who's doing three or four different things having to remember to call too, and it takes a lot of emotional energy for me because I hate the phone and hate feeling like a "bother" even though it was the company's mess-up.

I just want this sorted.

* I also have to finish my post-tenure review packet. It needs to be in by Monday so I better do it all tomorrow and Friday. It's hard for me because it is very much "selling yourself" and I realized that I have a very hard time playing up things I feel like "everyone should be doing" (when actually not everyone does, at least not everyone in other departments) and I also feel very much like this is making Dorodango (or, there's a much coarser metaphor about polishing something....) because nothing I've really done is that great or exciting or outstanding. I mean, I haven't OBSTRUCTED progress but I'm also not a superstar, and it's hard in the way the world works now for me to feel like I'm worth keeping on when I'm not a superstar. I have done what needed to be done, taught all my classes, covered all the material, published a few papers - and yet, it just feels like I could have done MORE, somehow.

(*He is also up for post-tenure review. And yes, this is supposed to be a low-stress process and I am probably making it out to be worse than it is, but I'm still running a little scared after seeing that one colleague be let go last year. I have trust issues; I cannot quite trust that tenure will protect me or that what I've done in the past is good enough, I have a fear I have some Permanent Record somewhere where I am on double secret probation and I am one refusal to do some recruiting event or one mistake in class away from being out on my ear....not because of my department, I trust them, but some nebulous higher-up who controls the purse strings)

Doesn't help that the model packet I have is from a colleague who IS kind of a superstar, and so I look at it and go "Well, crud. I haven't done 10% of this. Why am I still even employed?" Another colleague talked me in a bit from the ledge when I confessed to him the other day* that I felt very inadequate compared to FishMan. And my colleague said, "You are aware, aren't you, that he's a freak of nature?" meaning he does far more than is expected and more than the rest of us.

But still. I'm dragging my feet worse on this than on anything because I do feel inadequate. I always see what I could have done but did not.

Tomorrow. I have to put this all together tomorrow. I have my old evaluation packets (well, two of the three - the third I can probably cobble back up from my computer's memory), and my letter, and my vita, and that's all I need, and I just need to hole-punch it and put it in a binder. Once it's done I'll feel better.

Though yeah. I wish I had someone who would cheerlead me a little and tell me I'm really okay and I need to not worry about this.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Inside and outside

Some photos!

First of all - I removed to old glitter polish from my toes. I use the little felt pads impregnated with nail-polish remover for this. (The acetone kind works a lot faster on glitter polish than the non-acetone kind).

And I replaced it. I had been thinking of going with bright red - in advance of Valentine's Day (I have an essie color called "Head Mistress," I understand the full name is something like "Head Mistress of the Seraglio" (ick).

But then I spotted this one and realized I bought it a while back, and never used it, and it works for wintertime.

Behold: "Angora cardi":

"Angora cardi"

It's a deep mauvey rose. I never depart too far from the pink/red/pinkish purple continuum. Part of that is I'm older and a bit of a traditionalist, part of it is one of my students (who worked as an orderly in an ER) talked about he could never get used to blue nail polish because....well, because of MORGUE reasons.

So that's the "inside" (It's been cool enough I've mostly worn closed-toed shoes of late, and sometimes even opaque tights - which, if I make it out this weekend, I want to look for another pair or two of, based on the fact that I've read this is going to be a colder winter than normal)

And here's one of the "outsides" I finished over break:

Aurora socks

The yarn is Aurora, which is (I guess) a Norwegian brand - this is one I bought on my birthday trip to Quixotic Fibers last year. It's a little thicker than typical sockyarn, close to a dk weight, so I sought out a 60-stitch pattern and started with bigger (3 mm) needles than I normally use - but then switched to 1.5 mm for the heel and foot, partly because I was afraid they'd come out too large otherwise (based on the gauge I was getting)  and also, tight gauge is good on socks because it lasts longer.

The pattern I used is the Madder Ribbed Sock pattern from Nancy Bush's "Knitting Vintage Socks" (one of the simple-ribbing patterns from the beginning of the book).

close up of Aurora sock

I'm pretty happy with them,  though I did have to perform minor surgery on the ball of yarn while making the second sock. I strove to start at the same point so they'd match, and then.....there was a join in the yarn. So I had to cut that out and then wind down to where the pattern took back up again. Luckily, I had plenty of yarn. I guess that happens a lot with these yarns? That's at least the second time I've got a striping yarn with a messed-up repeat due to a join. You'd think.....a regularly-repeating pattern being a feature - so your socks will be striped - would make the companies be a bit more careful about quality control, but whatever. (I always imagine Bob and Dave, or perhaps Cheech and Chong, working the line that day, and deciding, "hey, man, just cut it off, no one will ever notice" but of course I'm uptight enough to notice, so.....)

It's Sluzzle Tag!

I referred to the episode of "The Amazing World of Gumball" about Sluzzle Tag earlier?

If the show wiki is correct, TODAY is Sluzzle Tag.

(Also, another fun fact - I knew this but had forgot - Sir Derek Jacobi provided the rhyming narration for the episode, which just made it all the more wonderful for me).

Entertaining line from the episode: When Anais talks about how things with "fun" in the name are never all that fun - "Fun sized, fun-run, Fun-gus...."

That said, I don't think I'll be making Sluzzlewurst for dinner - too much salt, and I also have a package of grass-fed ground beef to do something with. Maybe chili is close enough to Sluzzlewurst to be allowable? Or a meatloaf with tons of tomato stuff on the top?

Tuesday morning random

* Still adjusting to a different schedule. (Doing workouts in the afternoon to try to reduce the chances of GI tract issues brought on by working out on a totally empty stomach - I think it was causing something like acid reflux). I need to get more project photos taken and up - two pairs of socks, a hat, a headband, two other small toys - but that will require coordinating having time and having decent light.

* This does seem to be the darkest time of year. It's still dark when I leave the house just before 7 am and it's getting dark shortly after I get home. I get that Solstice happened and we should see a bit of daylight lengthening, but it just seems dark. I suppose part of it is it's January.

(There was a v. funny episode of The Amazing World of Gumball - called "The Lie" - where the kids decided January was too depressing, so they invented, out of whole cloth, a holiday, called Sluzzle Tag, that was somewhat of an imitation of Christmas. Except, you decorated your toilet (this is a show aimed at under-12s, after all) and the gift-bringer was Sluzzle Dude, who was like a heavy-metal version of Santa, and the food was "the worst junk food you could imagine." The funny thing was, the residents of the town totally bought the idea, and suddenly Anais and Gumball realized they would actually have to arrange, somehow, for there to be presents from "Sluzzle Dude." So they went out and repurposed all the thrown-away bad presents from Christmas.....)

It's supposed to be crummy this weekend (heavy rain here, ice to the north of me) but I'm somehow hoping Saturday won't be too bad because I want to get out to the natural-foods store and maybe the Target (to look for some kind of early-spring or Valentine's decorations to put up; I feel like I need it right now)

* First soils lecture of the new year this year. Smaller class and it seems a critical mass of more-serious people, so hopefully won't be a repeat of my annoying giggler class of a couple years ago.

And this is a relevant quote, perhaps, that came across my Twitter feed (from Simpsons QOTD; said by Moe Szyzlak:)

""I'm better than dirt. Well most kinds of dirt. Not that fancy store bought dirt, that stuff's loaded with nutrients.""

If I were redoing my little blogger header yet again, I might replace the "I'm not a hipster" line with "I'm better than dirt." Except it's not dirt, it's soil, and maybe I'm not better than soil, because I can't grow food.

* I started the second sleeve for Hagrid. I'm still just on the ribbing but at least the sleeve is STARTED. I think once this (and maybe Raven, too) is finished, I'm going to start Harvest, which is a worsted-weight sweater. I am so far serious about the "work the stash down" plan; haven't even looked at yarn online. 

* I gave the lesson at CWF last night. Topic was "Joy gives you strength" (specifically, God's joy, of course - we are using a book for this, I think the Women of Faith series?). Interesting idea, though - I likened it to resilience, that being a joyful person gives you that fund of resilience that allows you to bounce back after a setback, or to keep digging in the manure-filled room believing that there must be a pony in there (I didn't say that one).

I did reference "When Books went to War" because I think laughing in difficult situations is part of it, and apparently one of the draws of many of the ASEs were that they were humorous books (e.g., Chicken Every Sunday).

I DIDN'T reference Pinkie Pie, however, though I was thinking of her - that her joy gives her a certain resilience and it really does take a great deal to steal that from her (but when it is - when her mane goes flat - look out).

I don't know. Another thing someone brought up was the idea of looking for little joys or little sources of happiness in life and I think I need to get better at that again - one of the things I let happen to me in 2016 was to let my entire outlook be colored by things like the bad budget numbers and in the past I was much better at thinking "Well, today was a crummy day....but oh look, I just found a quarter in the parking lot!" and being able to pivot my mood that way.

And I wonder if some of my growing distress over (more than) the past year is that I'm somehow losing that, that ability to, as a friend of mine says, "look for the ice cream." Maybe a person can get that back by working on it. Maybe I need to work on that.

Though I will say, I can't even remember what it was now - probably some dumb old family in-joke - but something happened that made me laugh a lot when I was up at my parents, even in the middle of my mom's back issues, and it felt really good just to be able to laugh for a few minutes over something.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Reading over break.

(I may insert some quotations later - the book I might want to quote is at home and I am at work).

I finished two ongoing books, and read two more over break.

First up: The Santa Klaus Murders by Mavis Hay. Yes, that's a weird spelling of Santa Claus, at least to an American - but this is a British novel, apparently written at a time when Father Christmas was much more the norm and Santa Claus was largely unrecognized.

Anyway. It's one of those "unreliable narrator" plots and also you're given information slightly out of order - first up, you get the "accounts" of several family members who were present in the house (this is one of those manor-house mysteries) at the time of the murder. Then you get the accounts of the detective investigating it, and the young man who is a family friend of the detective but who also was present at the house at the time.

It involves the Melbury family: the paterfamilias, his four children (Three of whom are married, two of which have children. Wait, one of them is a widow with a grown daughter so I guess she's not married, technically), his unmarried sister, and a hot number who is his "secretary," the various household servants, and two suitors of the youngest daughter who has not yet married.

You can probably guess who dies here, especially when I tell you it's hinted he changed his will.

It's a fairly cleverly plotted story though I found it *slightly* unsatisfying in regards as to who the murderer turned out to be. But still - it's one of the better of these minor Golden Age mysteries I've read, and probably a good entertainment for you if you (a) like these between-the-wars British manor-house mysteries and (b) are either traveling or are stuck somewhere around Christmas and need the slight cynicism a murder mystery set at the Festive Season can breed.

I dunno. I admit the little black-and-twisted part of my psyche enjoys these kind of books. Maybe it's like liking sour pickles along with all the sweets at a maple-sugaring: it helps to cut the treacle a little.

The second book I finished was nonfiction: John M. Barry's The Great Influenza. This is about the so-called Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918. You do have to wade through a lot to get to the account of the flu pandemic - first, a thumbnail of the History of Medicine going back to the Four Humors (though later on, it turns out that was done in service of the fact that when times got really desperate, doctors started throwing everything they could at the flu, even including bloodletting). Then you get an account of the various individuals - Oswald Avery included, which was interesting to me, as I knew him from the various experiments helping lead up to the discovery of DNA.

One of the striking things: a lot of these doctors were unmarried people, and many of them seemed to have no life outside the lab. I don't know if that is a stereotype coming in to play, or if it's actually true that to make advances in science, you have to give up any pretense of a personal life. Part of me is always relieved to read about people who had fairly good lives without a spouse, but I also twitch as I realize I will never do 1/100 of what any of these people did with my own life. (Also, I wonder: just as there's the image of the artist as someone with various spiritual or emotional tortures they must endure, it seems many of those early scientists were perhaps what we might call "non-neurotypical" today - or even "somewhere on the Asperger's continuum." And while "curing" those various conditions might lead to happier lives for the individuals involved.....well, it's because I have a lot of outside interests that pull at me, in part, that I'm never going to do anything groundbreaking in research. It's the old "the needs of the one vs. the needs of the many," in a way - if you could give some random scientist who lives locked in her lab a medication that would make her more sociable, more comfortable out in the world, and maybe make her a happier person than she is, but would prevent her from discovering a cure to a disease (because she's out having a life), which is the better path. (Ah. A new version of the infamous Trolley Problem, perhaps?)

Though some of the scientists seemed perfectly happy in their own little worlds. (Others did not - Paul Lewis, apparently).

The other thing I learned from the book is how chilling things can become in the name of "morale" - probably more people died of flu because newspapers were not permitted to (or felt pressure not to) report on the severity of the epidemic, and lots of people talked about how it was "just flu, nothing but flu." And also a lot of the stuff that happened during the (brief) time we were involved in WWI. (The extreme coercion to get people to buy war bonds, for example - suggesting you were unpatriotic and very possibly a German-lover if you did not. Never mind that perhaps some didn't have it in the budget to.)

I will say I found the book tedious at points and often it felt like Barry was throwing in stuff to show how much he knew and how hard he had researched. (Though that's a common problem; I have to pressure my students to prune the literature-review sections of their papers to include only the material strictly relevant to their research question, and I have to do that myself in my own writing).

The third book finished was another mystery, this time a Miss Silver mystery: The Case of William Smith. This seemed less to be a mystery, though, than a bit of a fantasy tale: there are some considerably-unbelievable coincidences in it (though perhaps one meeting is not so very coincidental). And yet, for all the unbelievability, there's something comforting about the story, because it does more or less turn out to be a "wrong is made right" story.

I can't give too much detail because it would spoil things, but William Smith turns out not to actually be William Smith. He was in the military in WWII and was shot down (? I think) over Germany, wound up in a POW camp and later hospital, totally lost his memory, and emerged with an identity token naming him as Smith. (He is, as it turns out, actually a William, just not a William Smith). A young woman comes to the toyshop where he has taken work and he falls in love with her, and....there's a lot more to the story but he does recover his memory and the people who should fall in love and marry do, and the people who do wrong are punished in the end (well, they wind up punishing themselves...) and everything is nicely wrapped up. And yes, I find these kinds of stories deeply reassuring; I tend to hunger for stories where things are all made right, there are redemptions, and decent people wind up happy in the end. I suppose that's because I look at the world and I don't see that kind of thing happening very much here, and while I trust on the other side of the Veil things are made right and people are forgiven and there are happy reunions and all that - on this side, it doesn't always work that way, and I need stories that do.

The last book I am *almost* done with - it is Molly Guptill Manning's When Books Went to War. This is a REALLY interesting account to me, as it's one of those "gosh, I never knew that before!" things, one of those hidden-histories. It's the story of the Armed Services Editions - very small pocket books that were produced by a coalition of publishers and distributed by the Armed Forces to American military men (and yes, it was pretty much only the men who got them; the women in the voluntary services managed with magazines and with donated hardcovers, on the grounds that stationary libraries worked fine for them, but not for men in the foxholes).

One point Manning makes is that this was seen as part of the "war of ideas" - early on in her account, she refers to the book burnings in Nazi Germany (in which some of the universities were complicit, which should be shocking to us). And how concerns about "censorship" was raised (apparently some books were edited because of potentially anti-Democracy viewpoints, and also, some books were not allowable some places) because obviously - we were fighting AGAINST the mindset that said "only one way of thinking should be allowed." (Towards the end of the war, Overseas Editions - mostly American-viewpoint or pro-American books - were produced and sent to Germany and Italy, and also some books were sent to Britain, which had its publishing industry mostly destroyed in the Blitz).

I find that....interesting. Just, in light of things that have been happening today, and how some people seem to be asking to have others "protect" them from ideas that might be scary or dangerous. I dunno, I feel like I can decide for myself if I need the contents of a particular book, movie, or whatever in my head or not, and I don't want someone else making that choice for me. And the idea of burning the books of certain authors because they are "degenerate" in some way (obviously, in 1930s Germany, the books of Jewish authors were burnt, but there were other groups that were targeted too). The thing is - some people would deplore that but then turn around and call for the banning of that which they dislike, and not really see how the two are pretty much the same. I like Voltaire's test of free speech: that you may hate the particular thing being said, but you defend the right of the person to say it. (Or, my father's variant: "Free speech is great because the [jerks] self-identify." In other words: you know precisely that someone might be dangerous, or might be someone you would prefer avoiding, because he or she can say what he or she wants, and isn't having to couch it in euphemisms or "official speak" or something). So the idea that free speech and free press was important and valuable was one thing behind the books.

But there was another, more personal thing:

One of the really striking things that makes sense to me but that I never thought of: just how important HAVING access to reading material was to the men. There are accounts of how they stood in mess lines, or waited for their transport, or even sat in slit-trenches between barrages - and read. And the fact that books were vitally important to morale because they allowed an escape, and an escape that was different from sports or movies or even shooting the bull with your buddies - an escape where you could get away from being with other people. Even if you're lying in your rack on a battleship with 20 other men around you, you can still escape in your head.

And while I've never experienced 1/100 of the horrors of what many of those soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines did, I can see that. During some of the worst times this past year, during times when knitting was not even a comfort to me (because I *think* when I knit), being able to open up a book was. I re-read a lot of the Golden Era mysteries this past year simply for the comfort factor - to be able to escape into a world where there were calm and logical people, and things got made right in the end.


One of the interesting things about the book is they have lists in the back of what books were chosen for the ASE - oh, there were thousands of them. Many I had not heard of, but also some classics like David Copperfield and Plato's Republic. And it's a VERY broad cross-section of literature, non-fiction, and technical books - one corporal (I think it was?) wrote that he had been concerned it would be just "books about sports and Tarzan novels" with little that required a higher degree of concentration to read, but he was pleasantly surprised at the choices. (And yes, there were books about sports and Tarzan novels and books of humorous short stories too - they tried to figure out things that would appeal to different men).

Interestingly, two of the favorite books, the ones the men responded most positively to? A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (I have never read it but have seen the movie) and Chicken Every Sunday (apparently a story about a woman growing up in Arizona, whose family took in boarders - mostly a humorous story of the things that happened). I wouldn't have guessed that from the titles or subject matter, but upon reflection, I understand why: both are nostalgic stories of growing-up times. The first being set in an urban setting, the second, more rural. And I can see when you're in some hell-hole far from home, trying not to get killed but do the job you got sent for, being able to read about things that remind you about good times in the past would be very important in order to keep going.

Interesting: I talk about how I like books that take me to a time or place different from my own (though then again: I tend to prefer idealized places; I am quite sure the Edwardian period in England was not as nice, ESPECIALLY if you were not upper-middle or upper class, as the books make it sound) because my own life is somewhat routine and at times unexciting. But these men, in far more "excitement" than many of them would want (and yet: about 75% of military life, even in wartime, seemed to be hanging around waiting for something) would want books about things that were familiar to them.

On the opposite side: two other extremely popular books were Forever Amber (which I've heard of, but never wanted to read: it's fairly notorious for its sex scenes) and Strange Fruit (which is a story of racial discrimination, but which also apparently has a couple pretty erotic passages, and that's why it was popular). For obvious reasons, and for the same reason that dogeared copies of Flowers in the Attic and the like were passed around my 7th grade class.

But the ones that seemed to really move the men  the most were the more "wholesome" books - lots of men wrote to Betty Smith, the author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to thank her for her writing, and to tell her how it gave them something to keep going on while they were going through the rigors of war. Apparently several men found they had the capacity to "still feel" while reading the book - they had feared that that finer part of their nature had been burned out of them by what they experienced, but the fact that they were still able to laugh at the funny parts and cry at the sad parts reassured them that they were still men, and not machines.

(Makes me want to find a copy and read it now).

I highly recommend When Books Went to War - both for its thoughts on the power of literature, but also for its account of something that (as I said) I had never really known about.