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Ordering from Nordic Nest

Nordic Nest is an (on-line only?) store in Sweden. You can get all sorts of stuff from Sweden on it. The site seemed very legitimate, so one day, I thought, what the heck, and placed an order.

As soon as I press ‘pay’, however, I got a notice from my credit card — they wanted me to enter an extra security code. I did that, not too alarmed — I figured they have to check extra if it’s an international purchase.

Well, I don’t remember what led me that way, but a while later found me on all these sites in which Nordic Nest was proclaimed as — not quite a scam — just not entirely trustworthy. Whatever that means! And then I found all these complaint sites where entry after entry claimed to have made orders from Nordic Nest that never arrived — or arrived after 3 months or something. I thought, oh dear, let me not depend on this stuff reaching its destination.

Lucky me, though — it all arrived perfectly, on time, and with no problems. Let me explain exactly how it worked, at least for me:

(Note: I am of course in the USA. A lot of the complaints were from British people. So this experience might be location-specific.)

First, I placed the order on March 12. A confirmation email from Nordic Nest arrived just a few minutes afterward. I bought five items. When I was picking them out, the wool blanket had a warning attached to it: not currently in stock, expect a 3-4 week delay. The idea was that the blanket by itself would ship separately and later. So I was prepared for that delay, but instead, a mere week later, I got a second email from Nordic Nest, saying that all five items had been shipped! So I guess they had the blanket in stock after all.

Nordic Nest has a page where they describe how long it takes to ship things. They talk about their ‘warehouse’, and that you can expect deliver about 7-14 days after items have been dispatched. I therefore assumed the warehouse was in the USA, maybe New York or something. But that’s not the case. The warehouse is in Germany. I know that now because the second email from Nordic Nest came with a DHL tracking number. The DHL site reveals the items originate in Hamburg, Germany, and after a few days, they end up in Frankfurt (Frankfurt is where Heidi — the character in the book — spends the winter! Frankfurt is also where Anne Frank was born.)

Based on that last entry from March 23, I assumed that my package must have made its way hopefully onto a cargo ship bound for the US. However, I soon had doubts again, because I searched for ‘IPZ Frankfurt’, trying to figure out what IPZ stands for. Again, I stumbled on all sorts of complaint sites that claimed IPZ Frankfurt is a giant delivery center. There’s no monitoring, no tracking, and packages get swallowed into a black hole. One person specifically claimed that a bunch of the packages get stolen out the back door. Another said that upon delivering packages to IPZ Frankfurt, German Post no longer claims responsibility for it; in their eyes, they have already passed the package on to the US Postal Service, even though the package is still in Germany.

So again I thought, I guess I’ll just never see this package. But maybe I assumed that too soon — the complained about the German Post — but I don’t think German Post handles Nordic Nest packages. I think it is DHL all the way.

Well, I spent a few days refreshing the Tracking Page, hoping something new would show up, but it seemed a futile, and I left it alone for a while. I was expecting, maybe in two months something will budge? Instead, though, it was a mere seven or eight days.

So it came less than a month after I ordered on March 12. The package told me ‘Welcome Home’.

Yes, you are very welcome home, darlings. This is after I had tossed things out and aside, but it was immaculate on the inside — everything arranged perfectly. Those Sealed Air bags with the green text I believe can be recycled in the bins for plastic bag recycling outside most grocery stores.

And the bubble wrap was for this delight…

This is now my new favorite cup. Nordic Nest has other cups and mugs with Astrid Lindgren characters. Actually, there’s only like two more — so sad! If only there were more. I am going to hopefully collect the others. To find them, just go to the site and search for ‘Astrid Lindgren’.

And this was the wool blanket that wasn’t going to be in stock for another three or four weeks:

I haven’t taken it out of its bag yet, but it seems perfectly fine. For a wool blanket, it actually feels very light. You can see the full blanket here — isn’t it beautiful? Oh, and you’ll notice on the site that the ‘3-4 week delay’ warning is no longer there — now they can ship it from their warehouse within 2-5 days.

Finally, I got some kitchen towels:

These surprised me a bit — I think of kitchen towels as the furry, terrycloth variety. These kind of feel like silk. You can see the individual threads, so they look like tapestries, not like towels.

For example, if you look at the small picture of the summer flowers towel on the site, then you can’t see any threads — though if you click to zoom in, then you do.

So any case, everything came just as it was supposed to.

The only other thing to say is that on the DHL tracking page, it told me the weight was 1.814. That was it, no units given. I knew enough to assume this at least was 1.814 kilograms, not pounds. But 1.814 kilograms didn’t sound heavy enough for the five things I’d bought — I’d assumed the wool blanket by itself was at 10 pounds. I hoped this was a mistake — or maybe that Germany has its own measuring system where 1.8 actually means 18, or something. My fear was that after all, Nordic Nest was a scam and they were shipping miniature items, sized right for dolls.

But no, the package arrived and the weight is listed right on the address label — 1.8 kg. I just looked it up, and 1.8 kg is about 4 pounds. Well, the package seems like more than 4 pounds to me, but whatever, it has not affected the contents I had ordered.

So that’s it for the Nordic Nest experience. Worth it just to get something that’s got words like this printed on it:

Don’t order from Amazon

Amazon seems too icky of a company, and therefore using it makes us all caught up in the ickiness.

And beyond that, I’m not even sure what the point is. I bought this nice sushi-making kit for someone’s present. It’s a very nice kit. It comes with all the cooking utensils you need, plus all the ingredients — the rice, the sauces, etc, etc. The only thing it doesn’t have is the fish, cause obviously that would spoil if you shipped it in a box. All the other sushi-making kits had just the cooking utensils and maybe one or two of the food necessities, so what’s the fun in that? When you receive it, you still have to shop more.

Plus, the company had free shipping; the package arrived within like three days even though this was in two weeks before Christmas amidst the shipping frenzy; and as far as I can tell, it’s a locally-owned business. It cost $45 (and it seems to be discounted to $40 now).

Now, I also found this product on Amazon … here’s the link … and yes, it’s like double the price! In fact, I found it on Amazon first. I thought, this is perfect … but I don’t want to buy it from them. Not just that, I think Amazon’s site even said that it couldn’t be delivered until after Christmas or something like (with two weeks to go!) So I just searched for the company website and lo and behold … they could ship it on time, and for half the price.

So what’s the POINT of Amazon??

I bought pillowcases the other day. Similar thing … they were on Amazon, but I searched for the company website, and found the same pillowcases there. And the pillowcases are $10, and you know Amazon won’t give you free shipping for $10. But the company did.

One more thing you might be tempted to buy from Amazon. I really like Kinder chocolate bars. And you can’t usually find them in regular grocery stores. You might see Amazon as your only recourse. But no … you can get them at your Arabic food grocery store — you can get a whole box of 20 bars! — and I’ll bet you can get them at Chinese, and Korean, and Malaysian stores — well, I’m not totally sure cause I haven’t really been, but I’m guessing you can find Kinder bars at many of those foreign flavor groceries.

All my stationary for letter-writing

I used to write letters to people on plain notebook paper. Plain notebook paper is fine and all, but suddenly, when you are thinking about your recipient opening it from the envelope — and seeing the dirty-white color that tints to pea-green in certain lights, and the clash of the blue lines with the red vertical stripe — it always turned my stomach somewhat. A letter is like a gift — and you’ve already put so much time into writing it, and it is such a thoughtful gesture, it seems such a shame to spoil it with ugly paper. So I now have quite the stationary collection, and this is how I use them:

Number 1: Wishful thinking

This is my regular workhorse. This is pretty; but also mass-produced and somewhat commonplace. So I can send it both to friends, or just acquaintances, or anyone. Also, it came with 60 pages! So it’s always there to lend a hand when I need it. I’ve had it for 4 years, I believe, and I only have like 8 pages left. It’s just been my go-to. If I ever needed to write a letter to anyone, then this was usually the first sheet to grab. By the way, the green sheet gets separated from the pink Wish List. I got this for maybe $5 from Student Stores in Chapel Hill — back when it was still independently owned 😦 But I have seen this particular set in several stationary and office supply stores since.

Number 2: Botanicals

Now that my previous workhorse is near its end, I got a new one! I’m talking about the lined sheets on the right of this image. Again, very pretty, but still quite sensible and practical and straight-forward. There’s like 100 of those sheets, but I can fit less words on them. So this is now my new go-to. I got this for 75% off — maybe $2 or $3 — from the already low price at Half-Price Books in Rice Village in Houston (on the sad occasion of the closing of the store).

Number 3: Poinsettias

I do have one more go-to, though, but only during a specific season. If I’m going to write someone a long letter during the holidays, say between mid-Nov and New Year’s (as opposed to sending them a holiday card), then I’ll use this. I got this from a little printing store. It was 25 sheets for maybe $10 or so. I still have a lot of these left.

Number 4: Wedding flowers

I never like to send the same stationary paper to the same person twice. So, after I’ve sent someone a letter using the “Wishful thinking” paper, often I would use this. This paper also fits an awful lot of words on it, so it’s good for writing nice, long letters. The only issue is, it’s so sort of romantic, that I can’t send it to just everyone without it seeming odd. But mostly it was fine. I got this for around $1 in Amman, Jordan, a few years ago, and it came with 20 or 25 sheets. It was a little tumble-down shop under a bridge in the heart of the city. The paper is, however, actually printed in China. So even in Jordan, their things are made in China. Alas, I only have like a single sheet left!

Number 5: Blue paisley

The fates truly favored me, because after a few years of stationary-hunting, I became friends with someone who paints and prints stationary herself! She made this set above, which I really think is the most delicate and pretty stationary I ever saw. Honestly, the picture here doesn’t do it justice. All the strokes are so soft and fine, the colors are so dreamy, the design and dots tiptoe like lovely flower-shadows across the page. So, after I’ve written to someone with the Wishful Thinking and Botanicals and Wedding flowers, then I use this. Because if I’m writing them my third or fourth letter, then it’s obviously a very special friend, so I try to save that for this. The exception is, that this paper is so pretty, it can also be used as a “thank you” note — even if it’s more of a formal acquaintance. Also, I know from who I can buy new packets, so I can replenish!

Number 6: Hogwarts parchment

I got this also a few years ago from the Scribbulus shop in Harry Potter World. It was an exciting find — but I also hesitated to buy it, because I wondered how well ink would show up when you’re trying to write on something that’s already so dark. And indeed, my hesitations proved correct — I do often have to really smash the pen against the surface to make it dark enough to see. I always worried, are my friends going to strain their eyes reading this? I stopped, for example, using this to write letters to old people, I just felt it wasn’t fair. Also, although I was a Harry Potter fan, this stationary is just not that pretty! I even fell into a situation where I bemoaned that it contained a whopping 25 sheets of parchment — would I ever be through with them? I remember after having used it a few times, thinking perhaps I was over halfway done, I decided to count what was left, and I counted 17 more sheets. 17 more sheets that had to be written on! When I bought this, I still hadn’t bought “Wishful thinking” or “Blue paisley” or many of the other stationaries that you see here. I think the only one I had was the wedding flowers one, and that one is just too “I love you”-ish to be sending out all the time. So I bought this somewhat out of desperation — it was so hard, in those early days of stationary hunting, to find any stationary at all in the stores. However, today, there has been progress and I only have like 5 sheets of this left. I wrote on it to many of my friends my own age, especially those who I knew also liked Harry Potter. It was $13 when I bought it (I’m sure there’s been inflation since) but I wouldn’t repeat the purchase due to the aforementioned reasons and because JK Rowling seems to have gone off her rocker.

Number 7: Florentine

This is another stationary with a delicate design that is so pretty — and it comes with a matching envelop as you can see. It only came, though, with 10 sheets! So this is certainly not a “workhorse”, rather, this is a fleeting-moment-in-time sort of paper that I use for people who have already received 4 or 5 letters from me. I’ve already used 6 of the sheets. This was $13 from Payn’s Stationary Store in Berkeley.

Number 8: Too pink

This one is too pink, indeed; but it was priced at 49 cents at a dusty second-hand store, and I thought, who else is going to buy it? At least I know I’ll make use of it. And it did indeed come in handy, because like I said, I don’t like sending someone the same stationary twice; and some people I’ve sent like 7 letters to, or more. So in a pinch, if I’m rummaging through my drawer and have used all the other varieties, then I can use this. I only got it last year, and I’ve already used 7 of the 10 sheets it came with. It has matching too-pink envelopes. And even though I got it from a second-hand story, it was actually still wrapped in the original plastic wrapping (at least I think). So really it was new.

Number 9: Minnie Mouse

This I didn’t pay for at all, but found in a box of someone’s old stuff. It’s 30 or 35 years old, haha. And there’s still plenty of paper in this pad. I have used it to write to some kids; and for people who have reached the end of the tether of my stationary paper — and who are close friends — ok, and probably not any men — I will use this, too.

Number 10: Sweetest beginnings

This comes from a little shop called “Sweetest Beginnings” nearby. These are small pages, just a bit smaller than my hand, so you can’t write a whole lot without using several of the pages. This is good for writing short quicker letters. It was $5.50 for 25 sheets, and I have used 40% of them.

Number 11: too hard to write on

Someone gave this to me. It’s very pretty, but unfortunately, the paper is bad quality and it doesn’t really soak up ink or something. It’s hard to write on. So I use it like this: if I’ve written a letter on the stationaries above, and I just need to write one or two more paragraphs and I don’t want to use a whole new sheet, I just finish the thoughts on this.

Number 12: Rose garden

I don’t need to tell you how pretty this is! This is not strictly sheets of stationary, it’s more like cards, both where it concerns the shape and size, and the firmness of the material. I can use it as a thank you card. And, if it’s someone I’ve sent lots of letters to, and just want to send them a quick hello, I can use this. This was $14 for 10 cards and matching envelops from the same place where I bought the Florentine above. I still have a lot of these, mostly because I couldn’t resist and bought two packs!

Number 13: Rose semi-colon

My same friend who made the Blue Paisley made this. She had some spare sheets and gave them to me. The rose semi-colon is very pretty. Since I only have 5 or 6 of these, they are very special, I haven’t used any of them yet, and they’ll go to people who are on their 10th letter or something.

Number 14: The blue goose

I got this when I was seven years old, before I had any interest in writing letters. Also, I thought the blue goose was ugly and rather looked askance at the whole conception. It was only in later years that I thought it so cute and sweet and quaint. I didn’t pick it out myself (obviously, since I didn’t even like it), my parents did, and I think they picked it out because according to the price tag that’s still there, it cost 92 cents. Also, even though it was “for me”, by the time I rediscovered it years after the purchase, there were only like 15 sheets (out of 36) left. I maybe used it once in my childhood, so I don’t know what happened to the rest — especially since I think it physically reside among my possessions the whole time. Well, I came across it again in the early days when I’d started writing letters to people, so I thought its appearance providential and used it — until sentimental promptings took greater sway and I could no longer bear to part with it except for very special circumstances. You would probably have to be dying at this point for me to send you this 😦

Number 15: laser cut prettiness

When I was at UNC, I decided I wanted to learn all the cool stuff in the Makerspace, so I got pretty pieces of firmer paper — not quite cardstock, but still stiff and firm — so that I could practice with the laser cutter on them. But you see here that some of these paper sheets have lovely blank gaps in the middle where you can write; so I have used these as letter paper, too. It’s fun. You can’t write a whole lot; but sometimes the letter is less about what you have to say, than about sending something that is really pretty and dreamy and maybe a bit odd or whimsical. The problem with these is that I have never found envelopes that are big enough to fit them without needing to fold the cards — unless you get giant ugly envelopes. No, I take that back. There’s a stationary store in Rice Village in Houston where I found the right size. But after spending about 10 seconds in the store, it was obvious the family that owns it, and all their workers, are nasty disgusting revolting racists, so I didn’t want to give them my money. And although I have scoured stationary stores without obvious racists since then — and before then — I still cannot find the right envelop size.

Crossnore

One day I was riding around in the mountains, and we passed a sign for “Crossnore, 5 miles.” I sat and thought, Crossnore, Crossnore … where have I heard that before?

The only thing I could think of was reading the book “The Suitcases” in middle school, which I had really, really loved, and re-read many times. But I don’t think I’ve re-read it now for many years. It’s the story of three girls who are half-orphans. Then their father abandons them in the middle of the Great Depression, and they have to make their own way after that.

I loved that book so much that I wanted to have three dolls, or three girls, or three something, that I could also name Betty, Anne, and Caroline.

Any case, in the book, the girl Anne ends up going to a boarding school for orphans. Except I couldn’t exactly remember if this was truly the case, because I remembered for sure that the three girls finally end up with a good and protective foster mother … and if that was the case, why would Anne have left and gone off to a boarding school? Plus, I was getting confused because there’s another book I’ve read, long ago — also re-read many times — which also involves some sort of neglected girl and she ends up at a college in Kentucky — I’m pretty sure it’s Berea College. And OMG — I can’t even remember what the name of this book is at the moment! Any case, I was certain that Berea College had figured in stories about neglected girls — so was there room for another at Crossnore?

We ended up driving through Crossnore and what gave it away was the big sign saying “school and children’s home.” I also later looked it up and yes, indeed — Crossnore was where Anne went to boarding school. I couldn’t believe it. It was a book I’d loved so much, and here I was seeing the place where Anne spent a few years of her girlhood (Anne is a real person).

And I saw not just the school …

but also the church …

and this beautiful set of statues of children:

It’s a really cute village. They have art installations, apparently, and a bookstore and coffee shop and a second-hand store, and I would have gone into them all but for COVID.

There is one intersection in the town, and then the school is set up the hills behind. In the middle of the intersection is a stone fountain and a bench. Isn’t it sweet?

All the books Lucy Maud Montgomery mentions reading in her journals

When I read the journals of Lucy Maud Montgomery, she kept on mentioning all the books she was reading. She was writing between about 1886 and 1940. So it’s books from that era or earlier. Eventually, I got interested and wanted to read them myself, and started keeping a list of them. Here are all the ones I caught.

I, by the way, had access to Davis Library at UNC Chapel Hill when I started reading these books, and that library system has like 8 million books. They had most of these, even though a lot of them are now unknown or not the thing that you’ll find in a regular town library. But even after moving on from Chapel Hill, I have found quite of few of these in our small town library. And I don’t usually read books online, but since a lot of these are no longer in copyright, you can find them on Project Gutenberg and places like that.

Can I just say one thing? Having written all of the below out, and seeing all the books put together like this, I am realizing that practically all the titles or authors that are unknown today are not that good. So why am I reading them? Fine, not all. There have been some gems among the rust.

The count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas, 1844 — I read this before I knew that Lucy Maud Montgomery had read it. I read it a long, long time ago. But I think I liked it. Oh, except I do remember every woman in the book (and there’s a lot) is described as a perfection of beauty. Whenever I thought back to the book, it seemed like the standards for womanhood were very appearance-centered and very impossible to attain. Of course, the book was written by a man.

Midshipman Easy, Frederick Marryat, 1836 — this book was terrible. It’s an adventure story of a boy in the English navy, early 1800s. It’s an ugly, violent, misogynist book, and the hero himself, and all the “good characters”, are celebrated by the author for being nasty and brutish. And the “heroics” and “valor” of the hero are not so great, mostly it’s all coincidence and it gets so tiring and annoying.

Froude’s Elizabeth

Trilby, George du Maurier, 1894 – this was a best-seller from 1895. This book made me realize why though a book may be popular at its time, 100 years later no one has heard of it. It has some good points and some good passages. Otherwise, the very over-blown section describing Trilby’s angelic singing was not inspiring, but annoying. Trilby is depicted as a perfect saint and a perfect beauty, and as such, the ideal woman. It was all very ridiculous. Plus, the book says very nasty things about Jews. They don’t tell you in school that books like this were published in the decades preceding the Holocaust, became best-sellers, and showered anti-Semitism over everyone. Explains a lot.

Sorrows of Satan, Marie Corelli, 1895 — A best-seller from 1896. It was really, really good at the beginning. But later it bogged down. In part because the character Mavis Clare is so ridiculous – she’s very perfect, and the fact that she spends all her time telling people how perfect she is, apparently doesn’t take away from her perfection. I liked Sybil a lot more. I don’t think she deserved the end she got. What’s even more ridiculous is that Mavis Claire is supposed to be the author herself. Talk about vanity.

Kate Carnegie, Ian McLaren, 1896

A book that Tennyson’s son wrote about him, by Hallam Tennyson

The flower patch among the hills, Flora Klickmann, 1916

Tommy and Grizel, John Barrie — This is by the man who wrote Peter Pan. It had some of the funniest passages I’ve ever read: Tommy and his “broken” leg, Grizel’s handkerchief, Tommy’s conversations with the rich, stuck-up lady. But in other places, the book kind of dragged. And I don’t know what the point was in it ending the way it did.

Hypatia, Charles Kingsley — I have not read this. But I did check it out once, with every intention of reading it. It’s about a female mathematician in ancient Egypt, and it’s written as a fiction. So I’m going to try to actually read it one day. But the time I had it in my possession, the first page looked overwhelmingly boring. So I didn’t even start.

The end of the House of Alard, Sheila Kaye-Smith

The mill on the Floss, George Eliot — Lucy Maud Montgomery mentions reading this in her journals multiple times. It was my second George Eliot book – I first read Adam Bede, also on the promptings of Lucy Maud Montgomery. The first 300 pages and change are good – just a little bit plodding. You keep saying, okay, okay, and now … ? The next 200 pages and change are riveting, and will make you sit up and pay attention with a vengeance! I was very engrossed. Then there were about 50 pages left, and I was very interested to see how all the confusion was going to be wrapped up. Well! It was awful!!! Just awful. That was the worst ending to any book – it pretty much seemed like she’d gotten tired of writing (wouldn’t you?) and she just polished it off in the quickest way possible. And it’s not just me that thinks that, because I then read the introductory notes and other people have felt the same, and George Eliot in fact agreed!

Roughing it in the Bush, Mrs. Moodie

Waverley

Ardath, Marie Corelli, 1889

Undine, Friedrich Foque, 1811

Penrod, Booth Tarkington, 1914

Wooden ships and iron men, Frederick William Wallace, 1925

Our sentimental garden, Agnes Egerton Castle, 1915

The heart of the ancient wood, Charles Roberts, 1900

Tish (1911) and Tish plays the field (1926), Mary Roberts Rinehart — This is a series about a main character called Tish. The one I found in the library was: Tish: the chronicle of her escapades and excursions (1916). From how Lucy Maud Montgomery described it in her journal, I was all ready for a book about a saucy and spunky 20-year-old back in the early 1900s. Well, it turned out that Tish is 50. Yet in books today, rarely will you see a spunky and saucy 50-year-old that can match Tish. Tish knows how to change a tire on a car, and lots of other things, that I don’t know how to do. The words ‘feminism’ or ‘girl power’ are never mentioned in the book, but they don’t need to be mentioned. As I read Tish, I started realizing how many books I have read whose authors lived in the 1800s and early 1900s, and how independent and capable the female characters they created were — even though we’re kind of conditioned to think of women back then as submissive and docile. The problems with this book were 1) some of the chapters were a little boring and repetitive, and sometimes the writing wasn’t clear enough to figure out what was going on and 2) the use of racial slurs and nasty comments towards immigrants. There’s a whole chapter about a young man who’s immigrated from Syria. The author tries to make him seem foolish and worthy of contempt; but it was a poor attempt, because the contempt in the author’s words were actually unable to disguise that this young immigrant was simply a person trying very hard to make a new life for himself.

Roughing it, Mark Twain, 1872

Flaming Youth, Samuel Hopkins Adams, 1923 — I haven’t read this, but Lucy Maud Montgomery hated it and shredded it into her fireplace

Guadalla’s Palmerston

The woman in White, Wilkie Collins, 1859

Zanoni, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1842 – I was in love with this book. This book was a favorite of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s when she was a child, and I could see why. It was beautiful, mysterious, idealistic, romantic. It took me to all these places, and all these scenes, I’ve never gone before. I was all ready to tell everyone to drop everything and read Zanoni. But three-fourths of the way into the book, one of the characters does something very stupid and honestly, something very out-of-character for that character. The action made no sense. But I was going to forgive that, because the last fourth was exciting and swept me and my doubts away again — until the the last 3 paragraphs. They were just very stupid. But you should still probably read this book.

Beside the bonnie brier bush, Ian McLaren, 1894

The days of auld lang syne, Ian McLaren, 1895

Doctor Thorne, Anthony Trollope, 1858

Framley Parsonage, Anthony Trollope, 1861

Life of Lady Byron, Ethel Mayne, 1929

The wind in the willows, Kenneth Grahame, 1908 — I started reading this; it was very slow and boring. Mostly I got impatient with the slow descriptions of nature. But then I remembered: when I was little, I would have pitied someone who got impatient with descriptions of nature as slightly indecent. So I kept reading and it was after all a very lovely story.

The story of an African farm, Olive Schreiner, 1883

Elizabeth and her German garden, Elizabeth von Arnim, 1898 – At first, I liked it: it was kind of amazing how you could write a whole book with pretty much no action, and just talking about this lady’s garden. This was a best-seller (100 years ago). But then, towards the end of the book, the husband says the stupidest things about women, and the two women present, Elizabeth and her feisty friend whose name I can’t remember, don’t make him shut up. So it’s like the husband won. These were super offensive comments about the intelligence and capabilities of women. So I started thinking that the author must have been very stupid, but then I read about her on Wikipedia. She didn’t sound like someone who believed women are silly and nothing else. Did she make the husband say outrageous things, with no surefire pummeling in return, because the comments were outrageous enough that even 100 years ago people would have been angry, without the author needing to point it out? I don’t know. And she also made a whole awful lot of mean, unjust implications and comments about people not as rich as her.

Herodotus’s history

Little Katey and Jolly Jim, Julia Matthews, 1865 — This book was published in 1865. Lucy Maud Montgomery mentions it a lot in her journals as a favorite childhood book, and I thought from the title that it must be a very jolly, fun read. Well, it was not. In fact, it was 1/3 very sweet, and 2/3 ridiculous. Like super ridiculous. This is a book that just doles out fanciful, evangelical prescriptions to poverty. It’s in fact really annoying.

Books by the Bronte sisters, c. 1847 — these are all great books.

Life of Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell, 1857 — this was a beautiful book. It’s a biography of my favorite author, and it’s full of her letters, which are just as beautifully written as all her books. Plus, I learned all about the old English moors from back in the day. I was just in despair because right afterwards, I found like 10 huge books with the originals of all of Charlotte Bronte’s letters, and I just won’t ever have time to read them all.

Fraulein Schmidt and Mr. Anstruther, Elizabeth von Arnim, 1907

Sam Pepys’ Diary, 1660-1669

Elizabeth and Essex, Lytton Strachey, 1928

The Black Douglas, Crockett, 1899

Elsie books, Martha Finley (there’s a ton of these books), 1867-1905

The cross, Sigrid Undset, 1920-1922 — This is the third part of a trilogy. The books all together are just named after the main character, Kristen Lavransdatter. When I looked it up, I was pretty excited to read it, and I stayed excited for the first 130-ish pages. And then it was all downhill. And it’s a long downhill, because the book is 1128 pages long. It’s the most boring long book I’ve ever read. There are multiple 300-page lumps of pure boredom that you have to get through, to be rewarded with about 50 pages of some interest, before things are boring again. Because it’s basically 1000 pages of Kristen being “white-faced” and all the color draining out of her face, and not being able to breathe, but still able to speak calmly in the middle of her distress! On the inside-flap of the book, some prestigious reviewer had compared the book to The Brothers Karamozav. Are you kidding??? The Brothers K, where every sentence and every scene made you stop and breathe at either the beauty of the language, or the situation, or the thoughts being presented. No, there is no comparison between that and this Norwegian clunker. This was 1100 pages of blah blah blah. There is more profound feeling and thought in Taylor Swift’s new album Folklore. Seriously. Oh, and one more thing. The author kept confusing herself (and me) by saying things like: It was absolutely silent in the night; one heard the sound of the river and the sound of the wind in the trees and the sound of cowbells echoing around the mountain and the sound of the horses stamping their feet … are you confused? Or she’d say things like: it was a still, windless night, with great gusts of wind battering everything. I mean …

The last of the Mohicans, James Fenimore Cooper, 1757

The house of seven gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1851 — This was kind of bad. When Charlotte Bronte goes on and on and on, I don’t mind because it is all beautifully written. This book was not. It could have been summed up in 20 pages. Wow, the dragging out of details was just painful. And the 15 pages devoted to unveiling that a man was dead, who we already knew was dead – well, it was a bit too much.

Adam Bede, George Eliot, 1859 — my first George Eliot book and also the first book she wrote. It’s really quite good. I didn’t like it as much as Charlotte Bronte’s Villete and Jane Eyre. It kind of dragged in some places. And the insights are not as insightful as with Charlotte. I did like the mom a lot. Hettie is silly and annoying, and the lady preacher is good and sweet. But can’t we use a little of both in life? Was Hettie supposed to be punished so harshly, or was the author criticizing the societal notion that scandal and silliness must lead to such a terrible downfall?

Farthest North, Fridtjof Nansen, 1897 — This book was a bestseller way back in 1897! It’s about a polar expedition that made it “farthest north” to the North Pole than anyone had ever been before. Nansen was the head of the expedition, and when they got back, he wrote this book. He’s Norwegian, therefore I am obligated to dislike the book. However, you could read it for sure. It takes you along through the moonlit Polar night!

Vanity Fair, Thackeray, 1848 — I know this is a classic, but it is an awful book. The only thing clear from the book is the great opinion Thackeray had of himself – he apparently thought he was the only moral person on the planet, the only one who really knew how to live an upright life. Meanwhile, he wrote before the Civil War and he thought slavery was the best thing ever. When I finally finished and picked up “Farthest North”, I felt like my soul was being washed from all the pollution and grime of Thackeray.

The Alhambra, Washington Irving, 1832 – The story of when the author took a trip to Spain, and swung by the city of Granada, and spent several weeks hanging out at the old Moorish Castle, the Alhambra. It was nice to get to walk in his shoes, see the sights with him, and read the magical and somewhat wild legends of long ago.

Rupert of Hentzau, Anthony Hope, 1898

Rice University — is a private school worth it?

I worked at Rice for just over a year. But funnily enough, by a coincidence of circumstances, of which coronavirus contributed just 2 months, I was only in Houston for about 7 months during my whole time working there, haha.

I came to Rice (a filthy rich private school) as a committed Tar Heel, and for the most part my only reference point for comparison was my long experience at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (a public state school).

SAMSUNG
Fall colors in Chapel Hill

Rice University
February in Rice University, Houston

So how did things compare? Well, I was very under-impressed with Rice when I first got there. Partly because I was robbed as soon as I got to Houston. I was therefore very disposed to being angry at everything to do with Houston and with Rice. This is what I found out at first:

  1. Their library, which everyone seems to be so proud of, and which they all lovingly short-hand refer to as Fondren, is a complete mess. It’s completely disorganized. Oh, for the beauty and peerless symmetry and regularity of UNC’s Davis Library — the tall, austere shelves, all in order, the confirmed pathways through the books, the simple roadmap of getting from point A to B. An order reliably, simply, and flawlessly repeated over 8 stories, so no matter where you are in Davis, you at least KNOW where you are. Forget all that at Rice’s library. That one is only 4 stories; but it is a big bumbling collection of books splayed out lazily and frumpily — you never know where you are, and there’s never anyone around to ask questions — and if you do ask questions, the staff — almost all of which is grumpy men and women — is sure to yell at you. The numbering of the books are out of order. Forget nice straight paths — these books are collected in a series of caves, with no roadmap of how you get from cave A to cave B, so good luck if you need to get from cave A to cave Z. Oh, wait, did I say no roadmap? The library is apparently aware of their mess, so they actually do have roadmaps everywhere to help you figure out which cave of shelves you’re currently traipsing through — and even with those roadmaps, I couldn’t figure things out. I’ve never seen a library organized so badly.
  2. Not just that, but Fondren Library at Rice only has 2 million books, and they can’t manage any order for them. While UNC libraries have like 8 million books. There is no place at Fondren where you get that lovely faraway silent smell of miles of old books all around you — you can get that at almost any corner of Davis. I don’t even know if Fondren should be called a library, it’s such a fraud.
  3. My first impression, furthermore, when I was in the middle of having to do all the new employee paperwork, was that no one knows what’s going on. No one had a clue what’s going on. The benefits enrollment office sent me an email as follows:

“The Rice University benefits portal can be accessed through any computer, tablet, or smart phone by visiting benefits.rice.edu, selecting the “Enroll in Benefits” hyperlink and using your Net ID to access the enrollment platform.”

Did that work? Of course not. You have to call the number provided, and they send you to an entirely different website.

4. They have this pdf about the benefits and what you’d pay for the medical options. When you actually go to enroll, none of those payment numbers are accurate. Everything is more expensive, and not just that, but you pay “twice monthly”. They give you a low-looking number, and unless you’re careful, you don’t even realize that you’re paying this number twice a month. You’d think with all their riches they could update their benefits booklet, but no. I know this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it was a big deal when I’d just arrived in Houston; I’d left everything of comfort behind; I’d just been robbed; and here I was with the expenses not being what Rice had promised. They should have accurate numbers on their material for employees.

5. When you’re at Chapel Hill, whether as a student or grad student or for a special program or as a worker, there is no end to the number of t-shirts, water bottles, umbrellas, and other fine swag that you receive. For my welcome at Rice, I was given absolutely nothing. It made me feel like, so do you actually want me? I didn’t even get a welcome pen. Seriously not even a welcome pen.

6. Chapel Hill’s school-grounds are beautiful. Rice is really fake-looking. Like someone was trying too hard when they designed (and if you look in the school history, this is exactly the case!)

7. I was trying to get my work email set up. They told me I’d get an “email” about setting it up (was the email supposed to get to the work email I still had no access to?) I don’t remember how I finally got access, but it didn’t happen the way they said it would happen.

Looking back now, a lot of my complaints seem silly (except for the part about the library and the swag, that is unacceptable, and the pretty campus, too). But the other points were a really big deal and a big stressor when I was new at Rice. And my conclusion is, filthy rich private universities brag all the time about how they have all the money to do everything, so why can’t they even do these simple things?

UNC Chapel Hill, on the other hand, I always found to be very organized. Things like moving into dorms; or paperwork that you fill out for employment; there were always clear instructions and simple forms.

Two more bad things about the city of Houston, and then I’ll say some nice things about Rice.

8. A big selling point of Houston, apparently, is that the rents are cheap. They are not.

9. Also, apparently there’s a campaign out of Houston to try to convince people the air quality isn’t that bad. Hahahahahahaha. I’m pretty sure the air quality sensors in Houston have been perched on the top of the tallest skyscrapers, where they can’t pick up on the exhaust from all the cars and the other mess spewing poison out into the air.

10. Houston is kind of a fun city, anyways, though.

Now for some nice things about Rice.

11. They have some cool classes. Here’s three of them (at the least the subjects and experiences were cool, even if the professors were not the most nurturing).

12. They have a cool place called the Print Palace where they make fabric, or they make pretty prints on paper. Well, in theory it’s a cool place. I went there once to watch them. It was all old people who got super-bent out of shape because someone with black hair had walked in. It was all those artistic, profound types who act like they’re super good, but it doesn’t take much scratching under the surface for all the greedy, nasty sludge to come out.

13. The President of Rice — I liked him. And the administration in general. They are not so tied behind their backs as all the leadership at UNC is. So when terrible, racist things are done in this country, that makes immigrants miserable, for example, the administration at Rice was much quicker to send an email out saying that Rice stood against that sort of thing. I know this might sound like not much — just an email. But “just an email” is sometimes more than what UNC can compass, and if they do send an email, it’s a very weak statement that’s more about not saying something that would offend a Nazi. Rice would issue pretty strong statements, and it does make a difference for them to say something — it makes you feel that it’s not just your own misery, but someone else is recognizing your misery.

14. In Fondren Library — yes, the stupid one — they have these puzzles out by the circulation desk, and you can sit and do them. Big puzzles that have 1000 pieces. That was what I did my first two months at work when I was stressed and sad about being at Rice. But just so you know, the libraries at UNC have puzzles like that, too!

15. The President of Rice invited all the Muslims on campus to his palatial residence for dinner once.  And they had quite a fancy spread! And I think he does that with all the minority groups on campus. And he gave us a nice speech telling us we were valued. You know, when you never hear that, it kind of makes you tear up when someone does say it. I don’t remember any chancellor at UNC ever do that. Not even after the Chapel Hill shooting of three defenseless Muslim students (that the local police department tried to dress up to imply the Muslim students were the evil ones and deserved to be shot.) And for the record, the statement that the UNC leadership put out in the wake of that statement are among those I remember being weak and stupid, with a main goal of not offending Nazis).

16. Rice gives a lot of financial support to students from poverty-stricken backgrounds, as in full rides. But UNC does the same (the Covenant) and I think UNC started the Covenant before Rice started their program. But Rice is now taking it a step further, such that even if you come from a middle-class background, apparently everything will be free for them, too. Well, it is a really rich school.

17. The free food game is quite strong. It’s strong at UNC, but I had no complaints at Rice, either.

18. Rice did something that was very nice — every Friday they had something called a Diversity Dialogue. This was an initiative run out of the top leadership offices. Everyone was invited, but mostly it was only minority students who would actually come, and everyone would get to vent about their problems stemming from lack of money, or immigrant background, or racial problems. They were really amazing conversations. I remember UNC trying to do the same thing, but I never found those conversations to be that great. I think it might have been because UNC is a much bigger school, so you can’t fit everyone in a room. At Rice, it would be about 30-50 people who would gather. Everyone would get lunch. And then they’d talk. Anyone could talk, and anyone could stay silent. It was a very homey and supportive atmosphere.

19. The media office at Rice is very nice. I went to interview them so I could get some tips about how to do my job. They were so nice! Like 4 different people took an hour off from their jobs to talk to pitiful me, and they looked at my work and both gave me feedback and told me all this nice stuff.

Film-making class at Rice University

I took a film-making class while I worked at Rice University. I did not really “take” it, though, I more audited it. But I did a lot of work for it, until I quit with a month left. Here’s why.

First, Rice has some pretty cool creative classes. There’s a class where every student is supposed to write 100 pages for their own fiction book. The class is taught by a cocky (I met him) millionaire author. There’s super high demand for the class. He teaches it every spring semester, and takes about 12 students each time. Cocky or no, I would have really liked to take a class like that.

Second, there’s a class where you make comics. You go to class twice a week, for 3 hours each time! And you draw and learn how to make comics. The professor is kind of stern, though. But seems very committed, and showed us his impressive collection of pens and ink.

And the class I actually took was the film-making class. It was taught by Tish, an American, and Brian, a British guy who kept saying weird racist things all semester long that everyone just ignored. The class is nice because you get access to all this sophisticated camera and sound and lighting equipment — you get to “play” with it. I didn’t actually end up using any of it when I was making my own film, though — it’s all so bulky and heavy. You can’t walk around with that stuff when really, cell phone footage is good enough! But it was still fun to experiment with it.

We got to talk about movie techniques, and we got to learn and practicing using Adobe Premiere.

I didn’t really want to make a fiction film; I wanted to make a sort of documentary film of research in the Earth Sciences department. It was part of my job description to let the public know what sort of research went on. I was able to apply the skills learned in the film class directly to my work. I found a graduate student who was doing some cool experiments, spent a few days recording him; even recorded his advisor. His advisor was female, so I thought it was nice to show a woman professor in a science field. I even recorded the cool thing where you show someone walking into a building, going through the door from the back, and then also recording them from the other side of the door as they walk in. I felt so fancy! I had tons of footage, and I put it all together.

Then coronavirus happened and we all went home. We had the class on Zoom once a week, and on one of these Zoom classes, we all got to watch each other’s films (all the different groups), all the edits people had made since the last time we’d seen each other’s work.

Well, it got to be my turn, and for the next 30 minutes, I felt almost like I was at a firing squad execution (my own). First, Brian and Tish took turns eviscerating my film in front of all the other 12 or 13 students in class … and then, as if that wasn’t enough, each student then had to critique my work. And they, in line with the two professors, finished the work, as if I wasn’t already wounded enough — in case I wasn’t yet dead. I had to sit through each and everyone. Thirty minutes later, when they’d finally run out of bullets, I managed to say, “thanks for the feedback.” And then I waited until they’d pressed play on the next movie. Stealthily, while everyone was distracted by the movie screen, I closed Zoom first, and then flipped my laptop shut with shaking hands. And just never dialed back into that class.

Come to think of it, I never again got any emails from that class, so I must have been removed from the mailing list right away.

I think, by the way, that quitting on the spot like that was the best choice. You don’t always have to stick with things. Seeing as I was dead, I probably wasn’t going to get any more benefit from that class. And the hit to my sense of self was too deep, so that wounded needed to be tended to, rather than demanding myself to continue learning film-making. I have also already “not quit” challenging things often enough, so I didn’t need to prove to myself that I can stick with things if they’re important.

So that’s my story of the Rice film-making class.

 

The most gentle job rejection I ever got

I had applied for a post-doc — the only one I ever applied to — at the University of Pennsylvania, in their center where they study the science of science communication. Yeah, that probably sounds really boring. But I thought it might be kind of cool!

Any case, I got such a nice rejection note from them. They made it sound like: if only some of their pesky current postdocs who kept hanging around would move on, why then, you, my dear, would be our first next choice!

Because the program is moving into a second year of work on a multi-wave panel on communication about vaccination, and we did not know until recently which of our current postdoctoral fellows would be carrying over for the coming year, the process of matching the aptitudes of our applicants with our changing needs has been complicated by the fluidity of our situation.

Although the fit between our needs and your aptitudes and interests was not sufficiently exact to offer you a postdoctoral appointment, we are grateful for the opportunity to read your work and look forward to applauding your future successes in the field.

 

 

“Yes, we’ll keep your resume on file”

I’m curious, was there ever a time during which the promise to keep the resume of the rejected job applicant ‘on file’ was actually honored, and something came of it?

It never did for me. I soon learned to see this ploy for the base basket of false hopes that it was. When I read it in those curt rejection emails, I always could it hear said in a simpering tone.

I got an email like that from Descartes Lab — that was bogus. I got another email like that from a place called EAT Forum in Stockholm — another lie. And I’m sure there’s been others, I just can’t remember them right now.

Job racism in Sweden and Europe

1. I applied for a job as a “Data scientist and GIS specialist” in Sweden. The job was located in a “peace and development” department. So the job title, and the job focus, were pretty much the summary of my PhD, which I had just finished. I sent my application in to SIPRI (Swedish International Peace Research Institute) and … never heard back. At all, ever. About six months after that, I discovered something interesting. In Sweden, you can email the person you sent your application to, and you can demand that they tell you the prior experience and education level of the person they did pick for the job. Interestingly, the reason for this avenue of information is to clamp down on job discrimination based on race, religion, gender, or how un-Swedish your name is. Well, buddies, nice try, but it ain’t working. Like, if I knew that the job applicants I reject can ask for that information, I would make sure to treat all the applications equally. SIPRI did not. I sent them an email demanding the information. And this is what I found out. That among their top 4 applicants (these were the ones who landed an in-person interview) was someone with two years of experience and a master’s degree. To reiterate, in my application, I had 10 years of experience and a PhD. But they chose this other person for the interview, who I imagine was little miss blondie, all eager to do good in the world, and they thought she was all super cute and everything, and that she would fit in really well. So they interviewed her, in-person, and they had three other applicants they also interviewed in-person, none of whom had as much experience as me. The person they chose for the job had a PhD and 8 years of experience. Again, I had 10. And what made me even more mad was that they pulled those 4 people for in-person interviews out of a larger group of 11 candidates. Those 11 candidates all had Skype interviews. So if little miss blondie with the masters degree and two puny years of experience made it all the way to the in-person interview, I just want to know (I didn’t get this information) what were the worthless qualifications of all 11 candidates who got a Skype interview? Upon finding all this out, that was the last time I ever applied to a job in Sweden. And I’m the one who wrote this, and made this video, and this video, and wished desperately for this. And do you know what hurts even more? There’s this old man who was friends with my childhood hero, Kofi Annan, who is the head of SIPRI. Or he is somewhere in the top leadership. I think this is a situation of the buck stops at the top, so I had this experience at the hands of someone I’ve looked up to for almost two decades. By the way, no Swedish language skills were wanted for the job, they just wanted someone with superior English skills. I don’t care how good the Swedes think they are at English, I’m still better than them.

2. Now, what I described above might just be one situation, but now look at this study which involved 200 000 applications. The professor running the study would send out two fake resumes to employers. The resumes were very similar, but one was fronted by a “White” name, the other with a name that indicated a non-White immigrant, or a Black person. Then, despite the resumes being similar, was the employer still more likely to contact the “White” candidate? Well, of course. But what’s even sadder is they did this experiment in 9 countries, and Sweden was one of the two worst in terms of throwing out non-White applicants automatically. I had seen studies like this before, but I always tried to turn a blind eye to them … and I was always making excuses for Sweden … and I always thought when it came to Sweden, there must be a good explanation. And then it happened to me.

3. I applied to an internship — yes, an internship — in the summer after I graduated with my PhD. Yes, it’s a crazy world. You’d think that by the time you have a PhD you’d be beyond internships, but no. It was an internship in Sweden (here we go again!) and actually, I applied right at the time I was applying to SIPRI (first bullet above). This second application was to a place called EAT Forum which does research on environmental impacts of growing food. The internship I applied to was in science communication. I got an interview — so that was good — except they knew I was in the US, and totally ignored the time zones, and set the Skype interview at a time that was comfortable for them, but where I had to get up at 4 am in order to get ready. And I didn’t want to say anything to them about rescheduling, because, you know, I didn’t want to seem difficult. Even though, after the pre-sunrise interview, due to my disrupted sleep, I was neither awake nor asleep — neither dead nor alive — for the rest of the day. I couldn’t do a thing, so I just lay in bed all afternoon and stared at the ceiling, with a headache, unable to get up, and unable to fall asleep. On top of all that, of course I didn’t get the internship — which in my crazy stupidity was all I wanted, yes, please, an internship to go with my PhD degree, just as long as it gets me to Sweden. Now, I am not accusing anyone of discrimination here — I didn’t do that great during the interview (since I was half ASLEEP) and I do believe that another candidate had the better set of skills specific to what they wanted. But what does make me mad is stepping back and looking at the bigger picture. I know a girl who’s half Swedish, half American — and all nice and blonde, and she has the right name and everything — and she got an internship with one of these science organizations in Stockholm upon graduating … with her undergraduate degree. Yeah, that was all it took for her. An undergraduate degree. But I had a PhD, and I didn’t get anything.

5. Now let’s look at clues from the general environment of things. There’s an organization in Sweden called FORSKOM, that’s short for Forskning and Kommunication, or something like that — that means research and communication. In short, it’s like a professional group of science communicators, all supporting each other. Just you look at the names of the group leadership … as if someone like me, with my name, and with my experiences of being pushed away from Sweden, would ever, ever see my name fit in with the ones there. They’ve made room, as is typical, for the one British guy to give a regal touch, and that’s it. I’ve met some of the people of this group at conferences. They’re all super unreliable.

6. Now let’s look at some other organizations in the rest of Europe, for example, a place called EJR-Quartz. I applied for a job here, and I still don’t know what the EJR is supposed to stand for. But this organization works closely with the European Space Agency, satellites and all that my PhD research dealt with. My job application process with EJR-Quartz was totally fine — I didn’t end up getting the job, but it was probably my fault, and I did at least advance to an interview. This was a few years ago now and I have no complaints when I remember back. But what did give me a little pause was when I went to investigate their Twitter account to prepare for my interview. It was all White people, top to bottom, back then (and it still is today!) Please, how much would they really want me around? And when I do and think and say things a little differently from what they’re used to, what would they say? I especially remember, that main Twitter account led me to some Twitter accounts of the people working there, so I clicked around here and there. And I found a photo — from a work event, mind you, like at some sort of satellite conference — of an old man — the head of the organization, or something — standing with a young female employee right in front of him. She was tiny, her face only coming up to his collar, and they both had huge smiles on their faces, and his arm was stretched forward and embracing her from behind, going right across her chest. It was a weird photo from the gender perspective, for sure — but you know, maybe they’re both fine with it, so whatever. But I saw that and thought — yeah, there’s no way all that hugging and smiling and camaraderie would extend to me if I got the job and ended up working there. Like, you get to a point where you have too many experiences, and you know at a glance where you’ll be the odd one out.

7. At the very beginning of this year — pre-COVID, so ancient times — I saw a message that a European Union project called Food Unfolded was “looking to expand its editorial and contributor team”. I thought, sure, I could use some extra money and write about science stuff for them, why not. And it was about food waste, so there’s lots of environmental themes. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time preparing my material, but I did put together a portfolio and CV and sent it to them. But the thing was, by that time, I’d already had so many mysterious silences when sending job applications to Europe, I already knew to expect my material to be thrown out at the first glance. And I was right — I never heard back. I suppose the sight of my name had them clutching their pearls.