Friday 5: Games People Play

A young white boy in a red shirt is about to pull out a Jenga piece from a tower.

How good are you at word games, and what’s a word game you really enjoy?

I’d like to think that I’m pretty good at these, but I haven’t played any except Scrabble, and every time I’ve played Scrabble I’ve come somewhere in the middle because someone aggressively outmaneuvered me to get to, or to block, the bonus tiles.

How good are you at trivia games, and what’s your strongest category?

It depends on the game. Like, a copy of Trivial Pursuit from thirty years ago (and I suspect that might be how old my parents’ copy of Trivial Pursuit is!) is not going to be my strong suit. Of course, there is something of a horseshoe effect with these things: there was a burger joint/diner near my college that included a handful of Trivial Pursuit: Boomer Edition cards at each table and out of my peers, I tended to clean up when it came to the arts and entertainment category, at least, just because of my movie and music taste.

But Best Chemist Friend and I were a two-woman trivia team for a while and consistently did well enough to win prizes, if not actual first place, until we got other people to join us, so I think that says it all. I don’t know what my best category would be, but without a doubt my weakest category is sports.

How good are you at spot-the-difference or what’s-wrong-with-this-picture games?

Considering that the only ones I’ve played are the super obvious ones in Highlights for Children, I don’t think I can really judge my ability based on my past experience.

How good are you at memory games, and have you ever played Simon?

Of course I’ve played Simon! But what does it mean to be good at Simon? I don’t have enough data to really say.

Otherwise I play a lot of memory with my students. Confession: in the interest of making the activity maximally educational, I deliberately throw the game whenever we play.

What’s your favorite party game of all time?

I have a couple!

Since I have an astonishing memory for song lyrics, I always really liked playing Encore!(My copy is still at my parents’ house, now that I stop to think about it. The things that slip your memory when you’re packing to move out!) I’m also preternaturally good at Tri-Bond, though I guess it’s up in the air whether that counts as a party game? The same could be said for the aggressive and competitive Munchkin series.

I’ve talked before about how much I love Dixitso that should come as no surprise. Apples to Apples is always a good time and I confess to getting a kick out of Cards Against Humanity, though when I’ve played with others there has always been the house rule that you’re allowed to discard anything you feel is beyond the realm of good taste, no questions asked.

A new favorite I’ve encountered in Sweden is Orangino, which is maybe the most Swedish party game ever developed. The whole point of the game is to determine how well others know you, and how well you can gauge other people’s perception of you. The game consists of cards with different personality traits and descriptions; you rate yourself (from 1 to 4) in secret, while everyone else does too, and people get points for matching your rating. There’s no English version as far as I can tell, which is a shame because as dorky and feel-goody as it sounds, it’s also a lot of fun! (Maybe a future translation project?)

Book Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

One of my younger charges is a fan of the Swedish translation of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. His birthday is coming up, and I think he’s at the point where he can appreciate the English original. Of course I couldn’t resist the temptation to sit down and read his birthday present before I wrap it up and give it to him.

Cover of Jeff Kinney's "Diary of a Wimpy Kid."

Author: Jeff Kinney

My GoodReads rating: 2 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 3.97

Language scaling: B1+

Summary: Middle schooler Greg Heffley’s life and times.

Recommended audience: Elementary and middle school students

In-depth thoughts: Some children’s literature continues to hold up, even when you’re an adult. Other children’s literature seems to have a narrow appreciation window. Diary of a Wimpy Kid falls firmly in the latter camp for me. I imagine there’s some appeal to watching the snarky and frankly sociopathic Greg come up with plans and then fail horrendously at them when you’re still 10 or 11 years old—it’s a lot of the same kind of hijinks that make certain grating YouTube celebrities so popular with young fans—but as an adult there’s not much to enjoy.

The art is cute, at least, and you have to credit Kinney with inspiring a bunch of copycats. There’s also a few scenes of Greg’s dad being surprisingly (or not so surprisingly) adamant about Greg not having “girl toys” that Kinney could have done something with but just…didn’t. I’m not expecting a treatise on gender in a book for elementary school kids, and I’m glad he brought it up at all, but there was more that could have been done with it.

In the end, though, Greg is too unlikable for my taste, especially in how he treats his “best friend.” I think some parents might want to sit down with their young readers and talk about, for example, what kind of “friend” Greg really is and the difference between what’s funny in a book and what’s acceptable in real life.

Take This MOOC: Literature and Mental Health

Literature and Mental Health is actually a course I stumbled on thanks to Learning How to Learn (which I’ve previously reviewed here) and their weekly email newsletters. I was too late to sign up for it initially, but opened again in January and finished up the first week in March. (Don’t worry: these courses often repeat! Sign up now if you’re interested in taking the course in the future.)

Literature and Mental Health is another offering from FutureLearn, like Inside IELTS (see my review here, including some comments on FutureLearn). It’s presented by Jonathan Bate, Paula Byrne, and was developed by the Warwick Business School at the University of Warwick. As the name would suggest, Literature and Mental Health looks at how literature, particularly poetry, might be beneficial in treating mental illness. The course focuses on six particular issues related to mental well-being:

  • Stress
  • Heartbreak
  • Bereavement
  • Trauma
  • Depression and Bipolar
  • Aging and Dementia

Literature and Mental Health, like Inside IELTS, is presented only in English. The literature in question is English, and the course draws particularly from the British literary traditions. Nonetheless, the course seems to have been enjoyed by learners all over the world, judging by the comments in the course discussion.. There are transcripts of every video, which EFL students will no doubt find helpful. (There is the occasional hiccup in the transcripts, but for the most part they’re quite good.)

As I mentioned earlier, the course focuses almost exclusively on poetry. I am notoriously indifferent about poetry, and so I would have appreciated equal attention paid to prose throughout the course. Nonetheless, I appreciate that Literature and Mental Health drew from a broad scope of English literature, from the 1600s until today. The poems selected represent a lovely cross-section of the English language and how it’s developed over the last 350 years. EFL students might find some of those older poems intimidating, but you might be surprised at how how much you can take away from a poem, especially if you read contemporary discussion and analysis alongside of it.

There are no quizzes or other recall assignments involved. Instead, there are periodic, optional “activities” connected to literature-adjacent research: can reading poetry improve mood? what makes poetry easy or difficult to memorize? Students who find themselves stressed over MOOCs because of assessments or grades would do well to start with this one, as it’s incredibly low stakes.

Finally, the course draws inspiration from a wide variety of sources. Every unit includes interviews with other writers, poets, or British cultural luminaries. Additionally, a medical professional always anchors the initial discussion on the week’s focus, so that the discussion of the literature is always grounded in what the medical world knows about that particular condition. Even if you don’t get anything out of the poetry, you might learn something new about mental health!

Friday 5: Korea Guidance

I see your pun, Friday 5. Well played.

What would be a better name for the color of goldenrod-colored paper?

What’s wrong with “goldenrod”?

Where did you get your silverware?

Either IKEA or the grocery store downstairs.

It is a weird tradition in America (and possibly elsewhere) for parents to have their children’s baby shoes bronzed. What artifact from this past week would you have bronzed as a keepsake and heirloom?

Last week was pretty unremarkable. If I had to pick anything, it might be the toy dinosaur that lives with Chuck, one of my snake plants.

I have no sentimental attachment to the dinosaur or anything. (I bought as part of a Jurassic Park costume a few years ago.) I just think it would be funny to have it bronzed. Maybe I’ll just spray paint instead?

What was the most recent ceremony you attended?

The wedding I went to in August.

What east Asian cuisine is good for your Seoul?

I lived and taught in South Korea for over two years, as I’ve probably mentioned before, and one of the (many) things I miss big time is the food. The Korean diaspora means that Korean barbecue is familiar to most non-Koreans who live in any metropolitan area that approaches international; it seems that bibimbap is also gaining traction thanks to the recent health food obsession with “Buddha bowls.”

But that is only the tip of the iceberg, my friend.

Korean street food is the best, hands down. (Apologies to all of the gatuköks and Philly pretzel carts out there, but it’s true.) My favorite in this genre is tteokbokki: dense rice cakes in a sweet and spicy sauce. It wasn’t uncommon for teachers at my first school to spring for a whole tray of these for a “snack party” after a particular class finished a level test, since they were cheap, tasty, and filling. It helped that we had a little snack shack in the first floor of our building.

A step up from street food are the ubiquitous gimbap restaurants. I don’t know enough about Korean food history to know whether or not these restaurants predate the appearance of American-style fast food chains in the peninsula, but I would guess that they did. These places specialize in cheap, easy-to-make meals and are popular with broke students and people with criminally short lunch breaks. (This is also the kind of restaurant built into Korean spas.) The backbone dish of these restaurants is gimbap (rice, veggies, and sometimes meat rolled in a sheet of dried black seaweed) and all of its varieties, but the menus always include a wide assortment of variations on jjigaes, larger portions of popular street food, and a few odds and ends. Anything off the menu here will be fantastic, though my personal favorites are dolsot bibimbap, rabokki (a combination of the aforementioned tteokbokki and ramen), and cheesy ramen. I actually don’t care that much for gimbap, ironically enough, because I’m not a huge fan of black seaweed.

When it comes to “real” restaurants, places start to narrow down their menus to a handful of specialty dishes (or a handful of variations on one particular dish). Now you have your Korean barbecue restaurants, with various cuts of pork or beef to grill at your table. I preferred the chicken stir-fry equivalent, the marinated version known as  dak galbi; sometimes my coworkers and I even went out for duck. You have seafood restaurants, with raw fish, squid, and octopus. You have, borrowed from Japan, shabu-shabu. On a slightly lesser tier, you have chicken-and-beer joints. You have what are theoretically restaurants but are really bars with obligatory anju (bar snacks, or bar more-than-a-snack-less-than-a-meal), like stir-fried rice or seafood or kimchi pancake-fritters. (These bars are usually famous for the quality of their anju, though, so having to order to be allowed to drink isn’t a problem at all.)

But for me, the crown jewel of Korean cuisine is something else entirely. The city where I lived, Uijeongbu, is famous for budae jjigae, a relatively modern invention that takes a traditional jjigae and incorporates the kind of meat found in American military MREs: sausages, hot dogs and (of course) SPAM. Unlike other jjigaes, it’s usually served with ramen and glass noodles right in the dish.

A bowl of budae jjigae.
By LWY at flickr –, CC BY 2.0,

As far as I can tell, Korean entrepreneurs haven’t brought budae jjigae abroad yet. I guess the immediate connection with scraps and cast-offs from American military bases doesn’t really jibe with the image Korea wants to present to the rest of the world? But that’s a tragedy, because budae jjigae is so damn good. I’ve learned to make a lot of Korean food myself, to scratch my Koreastalgia itch, but the one thing that you can never just make yourself is budae jjigae. It’s a dish best cooked in huge heaping batches, tended by a watchful restaurant employee, and enjoyed in the company of others. Like, if I were fabulously, obscenely wealthy, I would open a budae jjigae restaurant in Stockholm. That is how much I love this dish. One day…!

Book Review: The Power

I first heard of The Power thanks to the half-dozen book bloggers I follow. A while ago, I started using GoodReads’ “to-read” function as a storehouse for all of the books I heard about that sounded really cool but that I would otherwise forget after a couple days. Then the universe aligned: I received a free copy of The Power from a New Year’s book club exchange buddy, and then my feminist science fiction club decided on it for February’s book.

The UK edition of "The Power" by Naomi Alderman, featuring a geometric Art Deco design in black red, and white.

Author: Naomi Alderman

My GoodReads rating: 3 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 3.93

Language scaling: B2+

Summary: One day, women around the world develop the power to produce electricity out of nowhere. Everything changes.

Content warning: There are some gruesome scenes of violence and sexual assault throughout.

Recommended audience: Science fiction fans

In-depth thoughts: The Power posits that if you gave women the ability to produce electricity out of nowhere thereby making them all walking weapons, within less than a decade you’ll see an entire global culture shift. That’s really the point that the book turns on, and how much you enjoy the book is probably based on how much you buy into Alderman’s thesis. Less central to the story is that it’s pure power (hah, hah) that drives sexual objectification and sexual entitlement. Still, if you disagree with Alderman’s implied stance on this, there will be moments of characterization that fall flat for you.

Speaking of characterization, this is another book with an ensemble cast, a total of five major perspective characters (plus asides here and there). I’m not entirely convinced that all of those characters were entirely necessary to the story. And while Alderman included a graceful nod to the complexities of biological sex with how inconsistently the physiological source of the power manifests (i.e. some men have semi-developed skeins, and some women don’t have skeins as developed as other women), the absence of any trans characters or an examination of what this development would mean for them is notable.

Despite these issues, The Power is a quick and snappy read with a lot to say about women, sex, and power (hah, hah) in society. Grounded as it is in real life (as opposed to distant post-apocalyptic futures or even more distant space-faring ones with dozens of new alien races and languages), The Power is a solid choice for EFL students who are also sci-fi fans.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Day 17, Part II: Wedding at Old Orchard Beach

“Wouldn’t it be funny if we saw Walter and Seth?” L asked as we tooled around, looking for a parking spot. I don’t know if he said that because he’d already seen the two lanky figures, one blonde and one brunette, ahead of us or if he was just idly wondering, but there they were.

“That’s totally them,” I said, and waved my arms as we drove past. Maybe L honked? Somehow we caught their attention and they wave back. L found a place to park and we spilled out to say hello. Bucky with her family (baby Luca, husband Joe) and Becca with her boyfriend were also wandering around, so we stood and caught up in the middle of the sidewalk.

The last time I was in Old Orchard Beach was in 2008, at the very beginning of June, or maybe the end of May. Tourist season hadn’t started yet and everything was largely abandoned. It felt like we had the whole town to ourselves. I couldn’t imagine it being any kind of major travel destination.

In the short drive around with L, I could see there are a lot more people than the last time I was here. Parking along the street was pretty crowded (maybe it was wedding guests?) and a steady trickle of cars passed us by as we talked on the sidewalk. We didn’t see anything of the bride (Shufang) beforehand, but we caught the groom, Aaron, and the groomsmen (and groomswoman) to say hello and introduce ourselves.


The ceremony was brief and bilingual, with Aaron’s dad reading some bits in Chinese and Shufang’s father reading some bits in English, and mercifully free of tepid Bible verses. (“If I have to hear ‘love is patient, love is kind…’ at one more wedding,” L had grumbled on the way up. Saved!) They exchanged the rings and everything and, for the third time, they were married (they’d already had two weddings in China: one more or less ceremonial and one legal). In my head I made a joke about how does this mean they need to get divorced three times if they want it to stick, but I thought better of it and didn’t say anything. Everyone left the venue to the tune of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” as rendered by a dude with a guitar, and we had a few minutes to kill before the lunchtime reception at Joseph’s By the Sea. L wanted to head to the beach, and I did too, so after we stopped for some coffee with Becca and her boyfriend, we wandered towards the shore.

I hadn’t been to a beach in ages, so it felt really good to take off my shoes and get some sand between my toes. L and I both went right down to the water and got our feet wet. He was wearing long dress pants, so it didn’t quite work out for him like it did for me in my knee-length dress.

We walked back to the reception, L soaked almost all the way up to his knees.

“Do you want a towel?” Becca asked. “We have one in our room.”

“Nah, I’m fine. It’s just water. It’ll evaporate.”

The reception wass at a mixed indoor-outdoor space, a restaurant that had a porch and then patio leading down to a lawn overlooking the beach. (Hence “Joseph’s by the Sea,” I guess.) L and I milled around and ate at a table on the lawn, accidentally separating ourselves from the rest of the Hamilton crew and spending the lunch with the bride and some of her friends instead, chatting about public health and economics.

Then it was time for wedding party photos. They took some photos of the bridal party on the little wooden porch, and during the photos of just Shufang and Aaron, a parasailer drifted by, in a huge skull-and-crossbones parachute. I immediately remembered Aaron as he was in college, plaid pants and a Misfits t-shirt; there couldn’t have been anything more appropriate to suddenly fly over his wedding. I’m sure the photographer tried to keep that out of the shot, though, which is too bad.

We joined everyone else back on the patio after the toasts, and the cake was cut and the dancing began. There were a few short family dances to Aselin Debison’s version of “Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World” and then everything really kicked off with “Ballroom Blitz.” No one danced at first, except Aaron and Shufang. I was a few drinks in by now and fidgeting in my seat. After maybe thirty seconds I couldn’t stand it anymore and rushed the dance floor to keep Aaron company. He grinned.

“I always want them to play this at wedding receptions and they never do,” he said-shouted over the music. “I told the DJ I wanted this song at least. I don’t care about anything else.”

The rest of the playlist was equally danceable and we danced our collective asses off. L even got a chance to use his contradance powers to save the day when no one could remember how to do the electric slide. I always assumed it was like a collective racial memory; that a large enough group of people will just know how to do the electric slide, but nope.

All the Hamilton people drifted out to the lawn for a breather. The photographer wanted to get some photos (“Great, when everyone’s all sweaty from dancing?” I complained mostly to myself) and so we crammed into assorted group shots in between conversations. All that taken care of, L decided it was time to drive back to Albany soon (eight hours in a car for four hours at a wedding? I guess…) and so he and Walter and I ducked out so I could drop my bag in Walter’s car to make sure it didn’t end up back in Albany.


When Walter and I got back to the restaurant, it was clear that the rest of the reception was beginning to wind down. The restaurant needed to start getting ready for dinner, so by 4 p.m. things had more or less wrapped up. We returned to the motel and I hopped into a closet to change out of my dress and into a tank top and bike shorts. My thighs were on FIRE.

I wanted to know what we were doing next so I could give Typhani a heads up, and eventually we decided on dinner. Things took a little negotiating and research, since both Becky and Becca have Celiac’s and thus restaurants need to be reliably gluten-free. After all of the appropriate preparations are made–changing clothes, setting up baby playpens, using the bathroom–we left. We had a little trouble finding the restaurant. It was peak tourist hour along the boardwalk, and we were swamped with swarms of people and families, loud music, signs announcing beer specials, and kiosks hawking typical beach tourist gear. I had sudden flashbacks to the boardwalk shops at Rehoboth Beach, where my family vacationed every summer for years.


After some finangling and Google maps and asking a traffic crossing guard, we managed to figure out where we were and how to get to the beach shack/diner-y place Becca we had settled on.  Typhani had a heck of a time trying to find parking, but she managed to squeak in right after we order. The food was filling, though not particularly memorable, and we talked and joked away for a couple of hours.

There were plans to go to some bar or other after dinner and hang out with Aaron and his friends. But first I had to go back to the motel and get my bag into Typhani’s car. Becky was there before us, getting Luca settled and still coming down off whatever fight she’d had with her husband before dinner. I gave her a good, solid hug and then Typhani and I were off to the afterparty.

Oh good Lord, it was TOO MUCH. Now my long day was starting to hit me, also paired with Typhani and what I knew about her own sensibilities. The loud sports/dance bar with fog machine and lasers? Not her scene. And it wasn’t feeling like much of mine, either. But I said hello to  Aaron and introduced him to Typhani and congratulated him, and he let us know that there was a breakfast tomorrow morning for everyone courtesy one of his aunts. We hugged goodnight, and Typhani and I were officially on our way to the camp in Pittsfield. It wasn’t as long a round-trip drive to make as the drive from Albany to Old Orchard Beach, but it wasn’t a short one.


“The camp” is really a prefab little cabin, but it’s surprisingly well-designed and roomy-feeling (and solid-feeling) for being what it is. The property belonged to Typhani’s grandmother and used to house what she described as a crazy, rambling shotgun shack that kept having additions added to it, with light switches outside of rooms and wobbly stairs that went up too high and then had to descend down again. But it had burned down a while back and Typhani’s mother used the insurance money to get the cabin. I dumped my bag in one of the two bedrooms and fished out my gifts: some Söderte and my copy of Journal of a Solitude.

“I think you’ll really like it,” I explained as I handed it over. “It’s about a woman who just spends a year living out in the country, just writing.”

Typhani is big into the homesteading and farming movement, and by her own admission she was on the verge of getting the farm she had set up with her ex to finally turn a profit when he dumped her. The plan now is set her nose to the grindstone and get her own homestead and community farm up and running herself, but these things take time, especially considering her invisible health struggles. In the meanwhile, I thought May Sarton could keep her company.

Typhani also has a gift for me: a little clay owl magnet that she made:

We stood around and chatted for a bit. It was close to midnight by now and I was feeling a little delirious from exhaustion and dancing. It felt like I’d been up for days. Exhaustion and dancing also meant I was sweaty and gross, so I hopped in the shower and heat blasted all of the grime right off of me. Nothing like hygiene to make you feel human again.

“How many bucks do I feel like?” I announced when I come out of the bathroom. “A million.”

With that, I bid my hostess good night and collapse onto the brand-new bed.

Friday 5: Dog

Happy year of the dog!

What doglike traits do you possess?

I’d like to think that I’m an unflaggingly loyal ride-or-die friend. I’m also usually pretty optimistic (or as optimistic as being a realist gets you) and bounce out of bad moods easily, though I wouldn’t call myself full-on “cheerful.”

What’s your favorite dog movie?

I’m going to go ahead and count Babe in this one. It’s about a pig who acts like a dog and does a dog’s job in a dog’s world, so I say it’s close enough.

When did you last have a hot dog?

Probably when I had a tunnbrödsrulle from a random gatukök (literally “street kitchen”) back in the fall. For the uninitiated:

Two tunnbrödsrullar sitting next to each other on a wooden cutting board, one wrapped up and one open to display the contents (two grilled hotdogs, mayo, and salad).
Image from

I don’t really like hot dogs at all, but in the interest of Drunk Swedish Tradition opted to try one. The standard recipe calls for two but I could have sworn that mine only had one. It’s some of the heaviest drinking food I’ve ever had; it’s not a snack, it’s a full-on meal. (These days I opt for the sit-down kebab places and go for a plate. No less filling, but more manageable. And no hotdogs.)

Who is (or was) a good celebrity dog?

I always felt sorry for the chihuahuas that got toted along in celebrity purses. Has that stopped being a thing? I hope so.

What are you doing for chow this weekend?

Friday nights are pizza nights. Saturdays I usually have tea or coffee and some sweets at my morning tutoring appointment, then a small lunch at home,  then either dinner with one of my tutoring families (usually homemade pizza or a Persian dish of some variety) or at home. Sunday will be a morning tea and snack with another tutoring appointment, and then either food at home (sandwiches, pyttipanna) or take-out at a friend’s.

Book Review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

This was another selection from one of my three book clubs, this one based on Discord and more generally YA focused. The earlier book I read with them was Roar.


The cover of "The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue" by Mackenzi Lee

Author: Mackenzi Lee

My GoodReads rating: 2 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 4.17

Language scaling: B2+

Summary: On the eve of his entry into adulthood, Henry Montague is going on a tour of Europe with his sister and his best friend and love interest, Percy. What starts out as a sedate tour of arts and culture ends up being a cross-continental treasure hunt.

Recommended audience: 19th century adventure novel fans; those interested in GLBTQ+ literature

In-depth thoughts: This was a book that I was really excited about. I watch a couple of Booktubers now and again, and The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue had come up in a lot of their videos. The concept sounded interesting and these were people whose tastes I trusted, so when my Discord book club chose this book for February I was glad that, for once, I was going to read the new release I was interested in fairly close to release. (This doesn’t happen often! Too many books!)

Once, as a kid, I took a sip from a cup without looking and expected apple juice. It actually had milk. The moment of confusion where my brain tried to sort out expectations versus reality meant the drink didn’t really taste like anything, at least anything I was familiar with. It was just uncomfortable and disconcerting.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is that moment in book form. I think I was expecting a subtle, more character-driven slow burn romance; when it turned out to be a Return the MacGuffin adventure story I was disappointed and slightly uncomfortable for the remainder of the story.

Additionally, Henry (or “Monty,” as he’s known for most of the book) takes a breezy, ironic tone that feels anachronistic, too modern for a book taking place in pre-Revolutionary France. Confession: I love 19th century adventure novels, as racist and sexist and issue-laden as they are. And The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue doesn’t read like one of those at all. This wouldn’t be a problem except I think Lee wants this book to be a more inclusive version of exactly those books.

To her credit, Lee gives a very thorough accounting of all of her research and inspiration for a number of aspects of the books (the Grand Tour, European politics, queer history, race relations) at the end. When it comes to Henry, she cites the journals of James Boswell as inspiration. This has made me rather keen to read them. His diaries about his own Grand Tour are a little hard to come by, but his account of traveling to the Hebrides is available for free on Kindle.

While my expectations may have soured the book for me overall (apple juice and milk), it’s still a good book that, thanks to the narrator’s unusually modern voice, can be a great choice for EFL students.

Thoughts on Using Simbi to Find Tutors or Editors

Around Christmas last year, I stumbled on the website Simbi. The idea is simple: connecting people around the world to trade and exchange via bartering instead of money. Users list the services they can provide and the help that they need, and the rest is self-explanatory.

Lucky for the student of English (or, indeed, a lot of other languages), Skype sessions with native and fluent speakers are one of the most popular options available. If you feel that you need a tutor’s input to take your language study to the next level and haven’t had any luck with any other language exchange site, you can find someone on Simbi. Likewise, since the vast majority of Simbi’s user base is anglophone, this is a golden opportunity for native speakers of languages besides English to provide an in-demand service in their native language, whether it’s video lessons, writing correction, or translation. In this case, I’d recommend joining the group Language Learners to find other language students to exchange with right away.

Less the case in Sweden (where I might be the only member?!), Simbi also actively encourages members to meet and exchange goods and items in real life, fostering local communities and bringing neighbors back in touch with each other. (These events are called “Simbi Swaps.”) Students, visitors, and new arrivals to English-speaking countries might find it helpful in meeting new people who self-select to be open, sociable, and curious.

(And, of course, Simbi has a “currency” called the simbi, so if you can’t barter directly with another user, you can still pay them for their time and effort!)

The downside is that to get much use out of Simbi for studying English, you’ll need to be at an A2/B1 level of English already; there isn’t a native version of the site in any other language. And since Simbi is a general service- and goods-exchanging platform and not strictly an educational platform, caveat emptor. Check someone’s profile to get a feel for how professional and knowledgeable they seem, including any outgoing links they provide.

Writers will also get a lot out of Simbi. If you want editing or proofreading for your manuscript but don’t have much of a budget, critique and editing is another one of the most popular services available. Again, joining a group like Writer’s Club will make it easier to find like-minded members who are more likely to be able to help you out.

I hope you’ll join me on Simbi! Perhaps I can entice you with one of the services I offer: turning your notes into a custom Anki deck or providing short story feedback.

Friday 5: Rockit

What’s your favorite instrumental hit song?

You can never go wrong with Booker T and the MG’s!

What’s a good movie with rockets in in it?

October Sky? Apollo 13? I assume they’re good; I haven’t seen either in a long time.

The cover of the Voyager record.

In 1977, Voyager I took off on its very long journey, loaded with two golden records containing sounds meant “to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth, and are intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form, or for future humans, who may find them,” according to Wikipedia. The contents were chosen by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan, but if Dr. Sagan called you today (you know, from beyond) and said there was room for ten more minutes of music and he was letting you choose it, what would you fill the ten minutes with?

Oh man, what a toughie! The original list is actually quite diverse (NASA has the playlist posted here) so the obvious answer would be musical genres that didn’t really peak until after 1977. Rap and hip-hop are, then, obvious contenders. Lauryn Hill’s “Everything is Everything” has long been one of my favorites and incorporates the best elements of the genre.

And then for peak silly (because what are humans if not silly?), “Gangnam Style.” Of course, aliens won’t be able to understand what’s so silly about the song if they just listen to it divorced from the music video, but maybe they’ll still like the beat.

And much as I love Bach (the Brandenburg concertos are part of my work playlist), I would suggest maybe taking a couple of those of in favor of something else.

What’s something you know about constellations?

That for a star nerd, I’m really bad about actually being able to point them out. I can find Orion and Cassiopeia, and that’s about it. Finding the north star? Forget it.

When did you last spend time in a rocking chair?

So long that I can’t remember.