Back to the Classics 2019

It’s been ages since I participated in any kind of reading challenge. It’s also been ages since I was reading classics regularly. This latter fact, I want to rectify, and it seems like Karen’s Back to the Classics challenge would be a good way to help me along.

There are a couple works that I know I want to read for the challenge. Earth by Emil Zola is one. It has been sitting on my shelves for too long, and I love both the author and the translator! Another is Rosmersholm by Henrik Ibsen. I love Ibsen, and this particular play came to my attention when it prefaced each chapter in Lethal White. I also have a few classics that I haven’t read in ages that I’d like to revisit. I’m not sure if rereads count for the challenge, but possibilities include:

  • Return of the Native – Thomas Hardy (last read in 2010)
  • White Fang – Jack London (last read when I was around 12 years old, and an abridged copy at that)
  • Phantom of the Opera – Gaston Leroux (last read in 2008)
  • Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier (last read in 2009)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee (last read sometime in the 90s and I don’t remember it at all)
  • A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole (read in college but don’t remember it at all)

Other possibilities: perhaps I’ll read something by Anthony Trollope finally, or one of Hardy’s novels that I haven’t yet read, or In Cold Blood by Capote, or something by Baldwin finally, or more by Zora Neale Hurston. I’m not sure. Karen has all sorts of possible categories on the sign-up page for the classics challenge (link above). I’m sure I’ll find something. One of the reasons I’ve stayed away from classics for so long is that for more than a decade they were just about the only thing I read, and I read hundreds of them, exhausting my TBR classics list! I have to hunt out new ones to read, find some less-famous works. So we’ll see. I’m excited to see what comes of all this.

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Sunday Coffee – Well ebay sucks now…

It’s been maybe 5-6 years since I’ve used ebay, and even then, I’d hardly used it since the mid-2000s. I decided to dig up my account, though, to sell off some stuff. I had about 40 items to sell and I figured ebay would be the easiest way to do it. Um, no.

First off, let me just say that I’m glad they limited me to ten items to sell this month, otherwise I would’ve been REALLY screwed. I had to get used to their new format, which was far more tedious and time-consuming than the old format, but I managed. I posted my ten items, six of which sold. Now here’s where I learned about how ebay really changed.

1) Ebay chose my postage amounts for me and wouldn’t let me change to other shipping methods, and I ended up paying twice as much shipping as I received on four out of six auctions.

2) Ebay automatically relisted my four auctions that didn’t sell despite me telling them I didn’t want them to, and charged me a relisting fee for each.

3) Ebay has changed the way they charge fees. Instead of charging a small percentage of the final auction cost – something that would have been 2-3% at the tiny amounts I was selling for – they now charge 10% of the entire total INCLUDING SHIPPING!

These three things, minus paypal fees and insertion fees for all ten auctions, mean that I’m taking home LESS THAN 50% OF WHAT MY ITEMS SOLD FOR. In one instance, a low-selling item that was listed way too low for shipping, I actually paid several dollars MORE than I was paid to give that person the item. Yes, I paid someone to take one of my items. Frankly I would have preferred to keep it than to pay to give it away. I could have at least donated it for free. UGH. Altogether, I was sent $107 including shipping, got about $100 of it after paypal fees, and then after paying for shipping and ebay fees, took home about $45. That’s outrageous.

This is why I’m glad ebay limited me to ten auctions. I still have another 35-ish items to sell, and I’ll find another venue for it. Sheesh. I’d thought the ebay revival stuff in commercials and online meant that it was actually reviving, but no. It’s just stealing most of your money. Lesson learned.

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Review: Empty Faces

Back in October, Jason and I saw an ad for Empty Faces, a paranormal serial story package. The basic premise goes like this: Each month for the duration of the story, you get a box that contains clues that you work out to solve the mystery. Empty Faces was put out by the same company that released a serial mystery thriller, Hunt a Killer, but this one sounded more like what Jason and I enjoy. We decided to pre-purchase the first five-month episode, The Woods. We’ve received two installments now, and I thought I’d do a quick review-so-far.

November – Month 1
In this package, we received an introductory letter from a fictional character asking for help. I won’t go into details about this, no spoilers! The rest of the package contained several diary entries, a medical letter, a couple pages of different codes, a pendant necklace, a notebook for taking notes on the case, and a bundle of sage (some items pictured below). What we were expecting: to work out a whole hell of a lot of codes and clues to try to solve the mystery that we were asking to help with. What we actually got: Sure, codes and clues to work out, but instead of beginning to solve the mystery, they were pretty much an introduction to the story.

Mostly, our reaction to the first package was, “Wait – is that all??” One of the codes was easy to work out as long as you knew what you were looking at. (It was a real-world code, and we thought it was easy to recognize, but looking spoilers up after we did our solving, it turns out this is harder for most people because the code is impossible to solve unless you recognize it.) The second code had a short primer to get you started, and then it became pretty easy to convert. Reminded me of middle school trips to fairs where you got to solve simple codes and tangrams. There was also a URL for a blog that made for interesting reading, including some password-protected posts. We were only able to work out one of the passwords, but we have a feeling that’s all we were supposed to work out in the first package.

All in all, it was an interesting concept, though we definitely expected to work harder and have more clues on which to build theories. We kept the package and hoped that installment two would build on it and potentially give us a bit more puzzle to work out.

December – Month 2
Our second package came with another letter, more diary entries, another medical letter, more codes (some same, some different), a creepy photograph, a book excerpt, a heavy prism, and lots of loose feathers. (Some items pictured below.) Our expectations were a bit lower this time, and we picked up the box a few days ago, thinking we’d solve it in under an hour again. Um…no.

Turns out, that first box was just a taster. Not only did this second box have non-code puzzles to work out, but it had codes that had no primer or seed that we had to decipher from scratch, and codes that required us to hunt for a seed. When we finally got a password for one of the protected blog posts, it lead to another, which had even further difficult codes to work through. There were a lot of things we hadn’t heard of and had to seek out, and in doing so, made new connections that might be significant later in the story. We spent hours on this package over several days, and we’re still not sure if we’ve found everything we were meant to find. There were also a lot of very creepy moments while puzzling everything out, including two that both gave me instantaneous goosebumps.

Overall
This has been a lot of fun. I was apprehensive after the first box arrived, but the second box more than made up for any ease of the first. I’m really looking forward to future episodes, and maybe if we can wrangle it into our budget, we’ll try another series from Empty Faces when we’ve finished with The Woods.

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Wellness Wednesday – Garmin Vivosport

Guys – I’m excited! I mentioned on Monday that I pulled out my old Garmin Forerunner 310XT that I hadn’t used since 2013. Honestly, I didn’t use it for very long. I’d used a Polar heart rate monitor to track calories for my workouts since early 2011, and then later got the Garmin when I started doing a lot more run-training, since it had a GPS. But there was something about the Garmin that I’d forgotten since I last used it. Chest-strap heart monitors suck, and the one for my Garmin was built in a way that caused it to chafe against my ribs to the point of blisters. The latter would be manageable if I wrapped the connector in cloth, but really, I hate wetting chest-straps and trying to get them all set up before I go out exercising.

I started looking into something new. My Fitbit is okay – though I highly preferred the One before it went bad – but it doesn’t do any of the GPS or pace tracking for my walks. That’s Garmin’s specialty, so I looked into what they had available. I came across the Vivosport, which seemed to be exactly what I needed. Unfortunately, it cost $170 and I just couldn’t afford that! Only then I found a refurbished model for $80, guaranteed to work, and decided that was worth it (especially because then Jason could have my fitbit, which he really wanted).

The Vivosport showed up on Saturday. I was immediately impressed by the fit, which is about a thousand times better than my Fitbit, and didn’t irritate my skin. Then I did a cross-comparison of the Fitbit vs Garmin in terms of steps, elevation, calorie estimation, etc.

Steps and Elevation
The Garmin seems to be fairly identical to the Fitbit in terms of steps. It’s a bit less sensitive on the wrist, so it doesn’t measure steps when I’m just turning my wrist or waving my hand, but it also doesn’t pick up every step I take. The two seem to balance out to roughly the same amount. Elevation works differently, though. The Garmin doesn’t convert hill elevation to floors climbed. It only counts flights of stairs, and it doesn’t seem to be as accurate in this regard (I get one flight for about every two I do). This is a less important measure to me, though. I have yet to test the Garmin while, say, pushing a grocery cart (when steps don’t register on a Fitbit), but I imagine as any wrist-pedometer, they won’t count.

Sleep
This is a mixed bag. Fitbit seems to be better at measuring when I’m actually asleep, and it certainly gives more data. The Garmin doesn’t record a resting heart rate for sleep only, but instead works on a rolling resting heart rate including those times that you’re sitting during the day. (Therefore it changes throughout the day and makes it hard to get an accurate idea.) On the plus side, I can put the Garmin in Do Not Disturb mode, so it doesn’t flash light in my eyes coming on every time I move my arm in the night, and this is a HUGE advantage.

GPS
Fitbit doesn’t have a GPS function, so it estimates the distance I’ve walked based on the number of steps I’ve taken. The Garmin of course does better than this. As long as I turn on the GPS function before my walks, I get fairly accurate distance and pace information. The GPS isn’t quite as good as the phone GPS – it seems to measure just slightly more or slightly less distance than I actually walked (by a small amount, about .05 miles per mile). [Example photo is of four laps around an outer lane of the track, but the GPS recorded it as inner lane and even further in sometimes.] The GPS is very close, though, and I can see my changes in pace over distance (and over hills), and the data I can overlay (elevation, heart rate, pace) helps me to get a fuller picture of my workouts. In non-GPS workouts, the Garmin seems to be the same as the Fitbit in recognizing when I’m exercising or just being generally active. It also calculates distance during indoor walks without the GPS, based on your GPS cadence/stride estimate.

Calorie estimation
Like the Fitbit (when worn on the wrist), the Garmin calculates your daily calorie expenditure based on heart rate and activity. Also like the Fitbit, the calculations seem extremely high! I have a hard time believing that I burn an average of 2900 calories every day. If I did, my daily calorie deficit would be a LOT larger than I think, and you’d think I’d actually lose weight! In general, I think the Garmin overestimates the same as the Fitbit, so I won’t take its estimates very seriously. I’ve actually decided to try something a bit different in terms of calorie-tracking, but that’s a subject for a different post.

Overall
Altogether, I’m really happy with the Vivosport. There are a couple things the Fitbit does that are better, but I don’t mind the tradeoff, and I think I’ll get far more from the Garmin in the long run.

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November in Review

It’s been quite an eventful month, though I haven’t been on the blog as often as usual. I’m winding down to the end of the year, but before I get there, let me review November!

Goals:
So…in goals this month, I mostly focused on shaping up my 2019 ideas. More on this at a later date, of course. Otherwise, I reached some milestones in my longer-term 2018 goals. I hit over 150 yoga workouts for the year, and over 300 miles. Other than finishing some fitness-related goals in December, I’m pretty much wrapped up on the year, with about a 75% completion rate – as good as I can expect given how many unexpected catastrophes happened this year! I will say that we’re making good progress reversing the damage from all those catastrophes, especially in the yard region.

Health:
We’ve now entered the time of year when I never really do well in terms of weight loss. Even in the years I was really losing, the last quarter of each year were my mostly-stay-the-same quarters. Partly this is holiday/food related, especially given that my family has several birthdays in here as well as Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Partly it’s just being exhausted this time of year. Nevertheless, I work really hard to stay healthy during this time, and did manage to maintain my weight this month. My family had two Thanksgivings this year, and I kept my eating healthy and in moderation at both. I exercised 20 days in November, for almost 20 total hours, and included 16 yoga workouts and 36 miles walked. I actually dusted off my Garmin – which I hadn’t used since Sept 2013 – and got it working again. Yay!

Unfortunately, I discovered late in the month that the substitute doctor I saw in October – the one who said he would order a brain MRI because of my anosmia issue – didn’t know what he was doing. He got all the information together but never sent the order in, so it’s all just been sitting there untouched on a computer. UGH. I had a follow-up appointment a few days ago and my normal doctor is getting it fixed up now. Additionally, I finally gave in regarding sleep meds. My insomnia has grown absolutely unmanageable, to the point where Jason has started sleeping on the couch for fear of waking me up every time he turns over. After seven years of chronic insomnia with every doctor, treatment, and test turning up negative for any possibilities or results, I gave in and asked for a prescription sleep aid. At least that should be better than living off Benedryl and Unisom, which make me depressed and groggy respectively the next day. I’m trying out the first right now, and will see my doctor again in early January. Wish me luck!

Books:
For the first half of the month, I revisited Oathbringer (an audiobook that’s over 50 hours long). It was just as anguishing to read this time around, and my experience of relief and euphoria on reaching one specific section of the book was identical to my initial experience (at above link). After those few weeks of reread, I moved on to something new, but then found myself unable to settle to anything else. So it was only two for the month, and of course Oathbringer is still the favorite despite it being a reread (and an anguishing book).

Highlights of November:
Despite having a bit of depression this month – mostly due to worsening insomnia – I actually had a pretty good month. There were a lot of good moments to remember.

  • receiving our first Empty Faces mystery package!
  • having brunch with my cousins (including some who live out of town)
  • having a movie theatre to myself to see The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
  • re-xeriscaping the part of our yard that got ripped up back in September
  • discovering and playing Jackbox with my family
  • getting my glow-in-the-dark-with-stormlight Kaladin and Syl shirt from Brandon Sanderson’s store, complete with Doomslug sticker for my computer!
  • early Thanksgiving with my mom’s family, and (while there) finally getting the professional photos from my grandparents’ 65th anniversary party this summer
  • playing Just Dance with the boys over Thanksgiving break
  • seeing the new Fantastic Beasts movie with Morrigan
  • watching the Macy’s parade with the boys
  • Thanksgiving with my dad’s side of the family, including playing pool with Jason, the boys, and my cousin Warren (who is between Morrigan and Ambrose in age)
  • getting ready for Christmas! We always do the decorations right after Thanksgiving.
  • Morrigan deciding to apply to the Air Force on a deferred admittance, to go right after college, and do ROTC throughout college
  • Jojo making it to his one-year birthday when he was on death’s door last February when we adopted him.
  • I’m going to be an aunt again!

Coming up in December:
Christmas, of course, along with the ten-thousand-million family traditions that pop along throughout the month (yay!!!). It’ll also be my 19th wedding anniversary on the 22nd. December is always so busy. Conversely, this is the time of my year when I tend to get really quiet. Lots of stuff happens, but I personally sit back in a quiet enjoyment of all that stuff. I tend to post less on the blog, at least until end-of-year reviews come out, and post more often on social media. I read little, and spend most of my time offline. So if I don’t see y’all much this month, I hope you enjoy your holidays! I certainly will!

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Sunday Coffee – Let the Christmas season begin!

I love Christmas. It’s probably my favorite time of year, edging out Halloween just slightly. Christmas begins for us the day after Thanksgiving, and continues full-steam through the end of the year. We have our gifts planned and mostly bought, and our Christmas decor and lights are up. (Sadly, the lights around our door got kinked on the second day and no longer work. Boo!) The boys cracked me up when we put up our tree. We have a series of nutcrackers and they put them all in one clump together at the back of the tree. And Laurence and Ambrose both decided that all the old homemade (or school-made) decorations that included their photos were going in a small section at the back so that they wouldn’t be seen. They kept trying to get us to get rid of them. Ha! As if we ever throw away any ornaments unless they break! I still have one ornament my mom made out of a raisin box and wrapping paper when I was a toddler.

We have so many Christmas traditions that will take place over the next few weeks: sugar cookie decoration, Pee-Wee’s Christmas Special and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, reading the boys’ “stories” they wrote in little books as toddlers, putting out shoes for St Nick’s day, advent calendars (already ongoing – we have eight), etc. And that’s all before our 5+ Christmas celebrations with different parts of the family.

We’ve also been working hard to keep the cats away from the tree. This is Atticus’ and Jojo’s first time with a Christmas tree, and while so far it’s not as bad as it could be, they do think the ornaments are fun things to pull down and bat around the living room. I’m sure they’ll get better with time.

How has your holiday season started?

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Wellness Wednesday – Nine Years

November 27, 2009 – Several things came together to start my original weight loss journey. I’d joined an exercise challenge in early October, but hadn’t done well because my body weight was the highest it had ever been and exercise with any impact was HARD. So on that day, I got rid of my treadmill and bought an elliptical instead. Later that day, I went out with three friends, one of whom had been learning about intuitive eating. Between the exercise challenge to push me, the elliptical to help me exercise, and the advice on eating intuitively, I began to lose weight. The first fifteen months were very slow, until I discovered new things about health and nutrition, and after that, it was all downhill (in a good way!).

In 2010, on my first weight loss anniversary, I was down 15 lbs. In 2011, I was down a total of 66 lbs. 2012: -95 lbs. 2013: -105 lbs. 2014: -99 lbs. That’s about when I started struggling with stress and binge-eating and regain. The numbers got worse. 2015: -50 lbs. 2016: -35 lbs. 2017: -29 lbs. Never fully up to that highest weight again, but far closer than I ever wanted to be! And now it’s 2018, year nine, nearly a decade after I began. I truly wanted to have some major improvement between last year and now, especially since I wouldn’t be moving across the country halfway through the year again. Alas, my 2018 total clocks in at -29 lbs, exactly the same as last year.

2009, 2014, 2018

There is no possibility that I’ll be back at goal weight by next year’s 10th anniversary, which is what I was hoping the last time I really posted about this anniversary a few years ago. It’s just not possible with my body. But once again, I’m going to try really hard to make SOME improvement. I want good news to report. I want to be closer to my eventual goals:

  • to be healthy, mentally and physically; to eat fruits and vegetables routinely, to make better food choices as a matter of habit, and to have my weight be in a healthy range
  • to be strong, both in my heart and in physical strength, to be able to do things like pull-ups and headstands and crow pose and running
  • to be athletic, whether that’s in running or dancing or yoga or a number of other possibilities, and to be seen as such when I enter gyms, sports stores, etc
  • to fit into my smaller-sized wardrobe again, including my wedding ring, favorite pair of jeans, favorite t-shirt, and Harry Potter jacket; and to be able to shop in regular stores and at thrift stores again
  • to match my outside to my inside so that I feel comfortable in my own skin again, and no longer feel the need to hide, and to no longer be self-conscious in public or around friends and family
  • to be uncomfortable going long periods of time just sitting/lying around again, because my body will be used to activity and movement even when I’m not exercising
  • to be unafraid to try new things, especially physical things or things that will put me under scrutiny
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