Quarantine Diaries – Week 21

I’m happy to report an extremely light news week with low numbers and very little happening. Yay! I hope this is a good sign as we transition from July to August!

As always: If your mental health is at a point where you cannot bear to hear more about quarantine stuff, skip to the bottom of this post for a list of positives and highlights and Nice Things. We all need some of that right now!

This week in numbers
We began the week with 40,253 cases, a weekly case average of 803 new daily cases, and a total of 347 deaths. There were some sharp drops this week, and I’m a bit wary…

  • Friday, July 31st: 40,803 (+550), 349 deaths
  • Saturday, August 1st: 41,177 (+374), 352 deaths
  • Sunday, August 2nd: 41,082 (+524), 368 deaths**
  • Monday, August 3rd: 41,138 (+56), 370 deaths
  • Tuesday, August 4th: 41,274 (+136), 380 deaths**
  • Wednesday, August 5th: 41,614 (+340), 394 deaths
  • Thursday, August 6th: 41,939 (+325), 406 deaths

**The numbers were a mess this week. The city transitioned to a different system for compatibility with the state’s reporting, so there were duplication errors leading to a drop in overall total, and a certain amount of backlog. Supposedly, any backlog due to transition should be gone now. Plus, we’ve found out that a bunch of deaths haven’t been reported in a timely manner, and deaths on the two stared dates go back through late April.

But in any case, doing the best I can with the data I have this week, we had a total of 2,305 new cases reported this week (329 daily average – less than half last week’s average), and 59 deaths (not all from this week).

Weekly stats, which are updated each Monday, continue to show a positive trend: positivity rate down to 14.8%, and doubling rate is up to 21 days. Just like last week, pediatric cases (under age 18) continues to increase, this week up to 15%.

Totals for July: First, let me give a bit of perspective. From March 13th to May 31st, we had a total of 2,830 cases and 74 deaths. In June, we had an additional 9,235 cases and 36 deaths, putting us at a total of 12,065 cases and 110 deaths. June saw 77% of all our total cases at that point. Then we moved into July. Following the exponential rise we saw in June, July saw an additional 28,738 cases and 239 deaths! That’s 70% of our total 40,803 cases and 68% of our 349 deaths in a single month. It’s an average of 927 cases per day – more than the 795 we had on June 27th that prompted the emergency alert sent to all the phones in San Antonio and sent the boys and me up to Wisconsin a day earlier than planned – and 8 daily deaths. It’s more than 10x the total number of cases we had in the first 2.5 months of this pandemic. That’s effin’ insane, to put it mildly. Please let August be better than this!! [Note: These numbers are likely skewed slightly due to the updates in reporting from Aug 2nd onwards.]

This week in San Antonio
The biggest news article again this week is the war-against-schools. The governor released a statement on 7/31 saying that local health authorities can’t mandate that schools be virtual in anticipation of covid-19 outbreaks. Only school districts can do that, but if they do so, they can only receive funding for the first eight weeks of classes, at which point they’ll have to go through the TEA for a special waiver and approval to continue virtual learning funds. Local health authorities, however, can close down a specific school if there is an outbreak there. Just no pre-emptive authority. Which of course is a bunch of crap. Our local government and lawyers have stated that they disagree with the governor’s interpretation of the law and could sue, but rather than going this route, they’re going to just hope the school districts are smart about things and follow the local health authorities’ recommendations.

We know that our local school district will be virtual-only for three weeks, and it looks like they’ll be providing virtual options afterwards (which we’ll take). But it also looks like this is going to be a continual battle all year, with the poor kids caught in the middle.

Other news from the week:

  • multiple teachers resigning, or making wills in advance of the school year, or in some cases, passing away from covid already this summer 😦
  • siclovia officially canceled this fall
  • 100+ HEB employees tested positive in July

This week at home
Honestly, there is very little to report from home. My dad, stepmom, and half-sister came to visit this weekend, dropping off a belated present for Ambrose’s birthday. We all sat outside in the 100-degree heat, more than six feet apart and in masks besides, since three of us are still under quarantine. I’ll be so glad when this isn’t a thing anymore! Masks in the heat = no fun. In fact, one evening, Jason and I spent half an hour trying to rescue four siamese-mix kittens from running in the road near our house, in masks because we had to approach houses to try to find out where they belonged.

Otherwise, Morrigan set his schedule for the next semester. His classes are all half-online, half-in-person, except one fully-online course. So at least that should minimize some of the danger. He’ll be living on campus, though; I guess we’ll see how that goes. Ambrose’s college still hasn’t let him choose classes, so we have no idea what will happen with that. They haven’t even put his financial aid package up yet, and school starts in 2.5 weeks.

Positives and Highlights and Nice Things
It was a relatively good week, quiet and calm with very little news and lots of fun little things happening:

  • Instant Donut, our local hole-in-the-wall donut and kolache shop, re-opened after closing back in May re: covid – yay!
  • Dunkin Donuts has indoor service again, so I can go order inside even if I won’t stay to drink my iced coffee there (won’t do that until after I’m out of quarantine though!)
  • ordered a couple items (like a running watch!) that I’ve wanted for a long time, excited to get them
  • new Ninja blender that makes fast and easy recovery protein shakes post-strength training
  • a secondary birthday party for Ambrose
  • a new one-mile PR of 15:01!
  • 30 Days of Terror from Real Life Ghost Stories Podcast began this week

How was your week?

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Run to the Finish, by Amanda Brooks (audio)

Subtitled: The Everyday Runner’s Guide to Avoiding Injury, Ignoring the Clock, and Loving the Run

This is a nonfiction book about being a “middle of the pack” runner: how to enjoy being an average runner while avoiding injury, burnout, and running stress. Of course, Brooks’ idea of “average” means someone who runs at an average pace while running and training for half-marathons and marathons – she calls those who run 5Ks “sprinters” – so it’s not exactly the “average” runner. Still, even though my “long runs” are 5Ks and my “average pace” is a walking pace for most, I found this book to be quite useful and interesting. In fact, I think this would be a good guidebook even for walkers and people who enjoy exercise – or want to enjoy exercise. A lot of the advice on avoiding injury/burnout and on getting the most out of your workouts is universal.

The thing I didn’t enjoy about this book: I listened to this on audio. Now, the audio narration – performed by Dana Dae – was quite good. I enjoyed it and found it pleasant to listen to especially while out on my walks/runs. But there are parts of this book that involve lists of exercises, equipment, schedules, etc that are difficult to process in audio format. They are very useful lists…thus I ordered a physical copy of this book as soon as I finished listening to it. I doubt I’ll reread the entire physical book, but I will definitely refer back to a lot of the information.

I learned a LOT that I didn’t know previously from this book. Examples: how sunglasses can help you to not tire while running, and why regular (aka: cheap) sunglasses make me feel nauseous; why a hydration belt or vest is worth the investment because the handheld water bottle like I have can mess with your hip alignment and lead to injury; the importance of a dynamic warmup before a run (ha! fun that I just learned that a week before reading it here). Lots more than this; these are just the first few things that came to mind.

Like I said before, I think a lot of this book could be universal even though it’s technically about running. Brooks’ writing is down to earth, a bit funny and silly at times, and casual enough that it feels like conversing with a friend even as you discuss lists of strengthening exercises. I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but I’m glad I gave this one a try!

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July 2020 in Review

It was a rather peculiar month. All but the last few days of July were spent up north at my in-laws’ house with my two younger kids, while Jason and my oldest son stayed in San Antonio. I admit, I didn’t fare well mentally with my family separated that way. I spent a lot of time in my guest room, reading or exercising or simply doing meaningless tasks to keep me occupied and out of a spiral downwards. It felt very surreal, like a constant time slip – the same day over and over, no time passing at all. Part of that was being away from home, part was pandemic-living. Then about three weeks into the month, I had a peculiar day filled with pointless anxiety, and it pushed me over the edge into “I need to go home right now.” We left later that week and arrived home a month to the day after we’d left San Antonio.

(doggos keeping me company in WI)

Because of the long stay up north, I didn’t do very much in July. Most of my exercise was focused on yoga and strength training – stuff I could do in my room. I hardly went out of the house except to run a few errands. My agoraphobia started taking over again – another reason I needed to come home where I could expand my comfort zone wider. So once again, I’m glad we went, but I’m also glad to be home.

Speaking of home, there were two ridiculous house issues this month. I already discussed the water heater issue last week, but on the last day of July, we discovered another problem. As we made a grocery list for the week, Ambrose found that our chest freezer, which is in our garage, was completely defrosted. Apparently the GFCI had popped at some point recently, and all the food inside thawed out. Laurence had been out in the garage the day before and said that the front panel of the freezer was burning hot, which tells us that it had obviously had a short or some other issue. It was old and cheap to begin with, and had been through multiple cross-country moves. We were looking to replace it with an upright freezer anyway. Now we have to. Would have been nice to choose to, and not lose all the food inside, but at least Jason spent the month we were in WI using up stuff out of deep freeze, so we didn’t lose too much! Unfortunately, due to all the grocery-hoarding going on, there isn’t a freezer of any kind in town available, and online orders give arrival dates of October to December. !!! But I’m happy to say that yesterday, Jason snatched up a newly-arrived freezer that showed up on Best Buy’s website, and it should be delivered to us later this week. Whew!

Reading and Watching
After months of hardly reading anything (since about mid-February), July was an amazing reading month. I don’t know if it was the change in environment, the availability of holds coming in, or just getting my reading mojo back. Either way, I read six books this month, five of them fantastic. It is really difficult to choose my favorite of the month because three of these involved going back to revisit long-loved characters and worlds! I think I’m going to have to call it a tie between Empire of Dreams and The Lantern Men. And in a complete reversal of the last six-ish months, I read tons and watched almost nothing TV-wise – just the new Unsolved Mysteries series on Netflix, which was fun (though I miss the multi-story episodes and (of course) Robert Stack!), and a few episodes of the Murdoch Mysteries toward the end of the month.

Not much progress this month. Much of what I have left on my 2020 Goals is either on hold re: covid or plain old stuck (like my body refusing to lose any weight at all this year!). But there are two places where my goals continued to go well. First, Jason and I finished his car refinance, which takes off a huge chunk of unnecessary interest that we were paying and puts us in a better financial place. We’ll continue to work to make this even better. Second, my goal this year was to become a runner, and I made another great stride forward by running my first full 5K in years! That wasn’t even on my goal list because I didn’t think it would be possible yet, but I did it!

This month, I began the Girls Gone Strong personal training program that I joined at the end of June. So far, what we’ve done in terms of nutrition and mindset has been entry-level for me. Not much new to learn. But I’ve been working hard at starting the beginning stages of strength training, because I know that muscle-building is a critical factor in longterm health. My means were limited for most of the month (mostly bodyweight and stretch-band modifications for anything that used dumbbells), but I still worked hard. I learned that I can control DOMS with yoga as my dynamic warm-up, which has also helped me with running. Woohoo! And with little to do while I was up in WI, I got quite a huge chunk of exercise done, the most of any month in 2020 so far.

On the reverse side of things, thanks to two cross-country trips, my sciatica has been really bad. I’m really looking forward to seeing my chiropractor on the 12th to get it sorted out! The one I saw in WI was awful! I also haven’t seen any loss on the scale – in fact, I’m exactly the same as I was before I left, both in weight and measurements. (So it’s not just building muscle or something. I wouldn’t expect that, but people tend to point this out as a possibility.) At least I didn’t gain while up north, right? Honestly, I do feel like I’m getting stronger generally, beyond just these last four weeks. I saw an old facebook memory this month from 2011, about an hour of kayaking being a real workout that wore me out completely. By contrast, even 30 lbs heavier now, I kayaked for three hours a few weeks ago and was barely sore the next day – probably wouldn’t have been sore at all except for the twenty minutes I spent wrestling a submerged kayak underwater against a current!! So even though I weigh more now, I’m definitely stronger than I was nine years ago!

Highlights of July
It was a weird month, y’all, with a lot of mental health troubles due to being apart from my family for most of the month. But a lot of good things happened, too:

  • masks finally mandatory in TX
  • Wally the kitty keeping me company in WI
  • Zooming with my Australian friend, Oisin, for the first time after 14 years of email-friendship
  • running a full 5K for the first time since 2013, and first time ever at this weight (before was always 70-80 lbs lighter!)
  • some really great, highly-anticipated books
  • meeting my sis-in-law Emmy in person for the first time
  • kayaking down the river with my extended family
  • my second-most anticipated book of the year finally released and was a great read!
  • an awesome haircut
  • pre-release chapters of Rhythm of War began to post!
  • backing Brandon Sanderson’s kickstarter and scheduled to get a future set of fun stuff, including a new novella in my favorite series –> (pic courtesy of the kickstarter, design not final)
  • Ambrose turned 18! I have two adult children now!
  • arriving home and seeing family/kitties again, plus visiting my sister on the way down
  • when I went to review the school calendar for the year, I saw that instead of a holiday for Columbus Day that they usually have, they have one for Indigenous People’s Day – woo-hoo!
  • discovering that our local donut/kolache shop, Instant Donuts, is going to reopen after going out of business back in May

Coming up in August
Morrigan leaves for Kansas on the 21st, and Ambrose is supposed to start college on the 24th if all that comes together (lots of last-minute stuff with the community college plans). And somehow – guidelines have been unclear and contradictory – school is supposed to start for Laurence again on the 17th… And I’m torn about what I’m going to do, as I’m also supposed to start school this fall but have yet to apply (they have rolling admissions) because of all this pandemic stuff…

I also have a few goals for August. That shoe above is a color-by-mile challenge that I discovered in mid-June. I was already behind where I should be, and haven’t managed to catch up yet. My goal for August is to walk, hike, and/or run at least 60 miles to get a little closer to where I’m supposed to be to hit 500 miles this year. That’s going to be HARD in this heat! I’m also planning to further cut down my coffee consumption. One good thing about being in WI was that I had limited access to coffee, and so cut it down from three tumblers to two most days. I’m going to work on getting that to only one on most days. There are also only a few weeks left of my Summer Break Quarantine Goals, and have seven left to finish. Some won’t get done due to being in WI for a month, but I think I have a reasonable chance to accomplish most of them!

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Sunday Coffee – Favorite Photos of July

My photos for July are going to look quite different since I spent most of the month in Wisconsin! But here they are – and as always, these are taken by me with no filters on them. I’m not a good photographer and I don’t claim these are all great photos, but I love each of them for one reason or another!

Left to right: I clicked to take a photo of Lexie, who was lying calmly on my shoulder, when she stealth-licked me on the mouth and this was what the camera caught (ha!!); my in-laws’ front porch that I love so much; a celebratory breakfast of stuffed french toast with fruit

Left to right: Ash looking far healthier than he did when we left; Laurence’s haircut with Ambrose photobombing behind him; homemade cherry pie

Left to right: Wally enjoying the sidewalk; a beautiful purple flower with tiny bee in the center; my new awesome haircut

Left to right: fun flowers in my MIL’s garden; out on the trails now that I’m home; the one time I “hiked” in WI, photo of the canopy above us

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Quarantine Diaries – Week 20

I’m home!!!!!!!

There was really only one major news item in SA this week, so I’ve flipped back to my secondary formatting for this post. I really hope that the news cycle will remain low-key, and that things will slowly get better on a more permanent basis.

As always: If your mental health is at a point where you cannot bear to hear more about quarantine stuff, skip to the bottom of this post for a list of positives and highlights and Nice Things. We all need some of that right now!

This week in numbers
We began the week with 34,633 cases, a weekly case average of 1,084 new daily cases, and a total of 298 deaths. Thankfully, there was some slight improvement this week!

  • Friday, July 24th: 34,932 (+299), 313 deaths
  • Saturday, July 25th: 35,690 (+758), 322 deaths
  • Sunday, July 26th: 36,083 (+393), 323 deaths
  • Monday, July 27th: 36,438 (+355), 323 deaths
  • Tuesday, July 28th: 37,984 (+1,546), 335 deaths
  • Wednesday, July 29th: 38,930 (946), 342 deaths
  • Thursday, July 30th: 40,253 (+1,323), 347 deaths

Total cases for the week: 5,620 new cases, 49 deaths. Both of those numbers are down quite a bit from last week, though I admit, it can get very difficult to tell how things are truly going when one day there are fewer than 300 cases reported and another, there’s over 1500! So the weekly average is becoming important – and this week we had a daily average of 803 new cases. That’s down almost 300 cases a day on average from last week! Our hospital trend is very slowly going down as well – we actually had under 1000 cases in the hospital yesterday for the first time since June 30th! This is a graphic of hospital and ICU daily numbers from late March until this past Wednesday:

Weekly stats, updated every Monday, are also mostly good: positivity rate is down quite a bit to 17.7%; doubling rate is up slightly to 18 days. Sadly, pediatric cases now make up 12% of all our total numbers here (up 1% from last week), and another child under 18 has died. That makes three children dead from covid in SA. And yet, read on for the insanity that is the school battle below!

This week in San Antonio
The big news this week is the ridiculous battle over whether or not schools need to open in person. Recently, the TEA put out guidelines that said schools will still receive funding if they are closed (open virtually) due to local health directives. Our local area formed a team to deal with this, and after some discussions, they mandated that schools must remain virtual until September 7th. But this made people go crazy. School districts in neighboring counties objected to having their 1-2 schools in our county virtual. One of the mega-churches decided to file a lawsuit, claiming they should be exempt due to religion or some such nonsense.

(school supplies, 2020-style, grr…)

Then the idiot attorney general got involved, again, and wrote some blustering letter about how local officials had no authority to mandate anything for schools, despite the TEA’s guidelines. The TEA responded by reversing said guidelines, now telling schools that they can’t get funding if they are virtual solely for covid-prevention. Now there are new lawsuits from other school districts here saying that they should be able to get funds while doing virtual learning, and our mayor has written the governor, asking him to intervene against the attorney general. OMG it’s insane. School is supposed to start on the 17th for us, and our district still says that the first three weeks will be virtual. I suspect there will be a lot more battling and wrangling over the next few weeks!

Other notable happenings in the SA area:

  • Wurstfest this fall is officially cancelled
  • major covid outbreak at the local children’s shelter, which probably accounts for some of the increase in pediatric numbers
  • a hurricane blew through the coast, and SA had to prepare for evacuees while their normal evacuee shelter is currently being used as covid patient overflow; thankfully, no evacuation was needed (this time at least!) // pic is of our windshield while parked to wait out some major rain caused by hurricane bands – it was like being in a carwash!
  • library increased its book-quarantine from three to four days after they’ve been turned in – not sure what prompted this, but I hope no one has gotten sick from returned items!
  • another SA congressman came out to say covid is a hoax – these people are unbelievable!!!!!

This week at home
Up in Wisconsin, the covid numbers in my in-laws’ county are starting to skyrocket. When we arrived in late June, there were 31 cases in the county (population 45,000). As of a week ago, there were 96. Yesterday, there were 207. And yet, still no one is paying attention. On my last walk there, I saw dozens of high school students and teachers practicing for some kind of ceremony, all grouped in a large mass, no masks or distancing. This reinforced my resolve to head back to TX, a trip which we started on the 26th (after a fun birthday party for Ambrose on our last night there!). We split the trip into three days, stopping on the second day in Dallas to visit my sister and brother-in-law (wearing masks the whole time!!). It was great to see them, and then it was great to finally arrive HOME!!!!!

Of course, it was still a mess of few-people-wearing-masks every place we stopped on the way down. I don’t understand why people are acting so cavalier about all this. At least some places, like Buc-ee’s, was better on this trip than on the leg up (since Abbott finally made masks mandatory in TX not long after we left). In any case, because of the risk, we’re gently quarantining for the next two weeks. This means that we’re not really staying apart from Jason and Morrigan, since we all live in the same house, but I’m not going to go see my chiropractor, for instance, until I’ve had 14 clear days, even if my sciatica is begging for it!

But generally, covid aside, I’m so happy to be home again, enjoying my parks for hiking and running, upgrading my strength workouts with weights, having Jason-hugs for the first time in a month, petting my kitties. It was a good decision to go up north when things were crazy and Morrigan was still working, but it was also a good time to come home.

Positives and Highlights and Nice Things
It was one of those weeks that blurred by due to travel, but there was a lot of good too:

  • Ambrose’s birthday celebrations
  • seeing my sister and brother-in-law on the way home, plus meeting all her kitties in person and her new foster kitten (poor baby has ringworm, hence the gloves)
  • My boys got hooked on my favorite series (the Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson) via audio of The Way of Kings on the trip southward!
  • We are home!! Hugging Jason, seeing Morrigan and the house and all the kitties…so many good things!
  • an absolutely amazing ST workout with dumbbells and a phenomenal recovery shake afterwards (adding fresh lemon = !!!!!!!)

I really hope this next week continues to bring lowered numbers and less news – and hopefully some sanity in terms of schools! What are they doing in y’all’s areas? Let me know how you’re all doing!

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The Shadows, by Alex North

Paul hasn’t been back to his hometown since he left for college 25 years ago. It was too difficult after the murder – a murder he was initially accused of committing – and the disappearance of another boy, Charlie. Charlie had once been Paul’s friend, but he was domineering, malicious, and power-hungry; obsessed with lucid dreams, shared dreams, and a fantasy dream-world led by a monster with a black shadow for a face and blood red hands. Now, there have been copycat murders, people hoping to “follow in Charlie’s footsteps,” but Paul knows nothing about this. He only knows that his mother is in hospice care and he must return home, bad memories or no. But the past can’t stay buried, and this tangled past of dreams and fantasies and murder is ready to sweep Paul under the moment he arrives.

This is my July Book of the Month selection. It’s funny, because I’ve kept an eye on BotM for the last few years, and have never really had an interest in their monthly selections. I signed up in June purely to get my hands on Home Before Dark, and figured I wouldn’t want to continue afterwards. Then July’s selections came, and several of them sounded really interesting. Considering that right now, I’m extremely book-oriented toward mystery, crime, and the (at least vaguely) supernatural, this sounded perfect for me. And it really was!

The description I saw prior to reading the book stated nothing about lucid dreaming or shared dreams. Honestly, if I’d known that this was a major thematic element of the book, I would have been even more excited. I’ve been fascinated by dreams, REM sleep, and all kinds of paranormal dream stuff since I was a preteen. When I was 15, I thought I’d base my career on studying the science of sleep, which even 25 years later is still highly understudied. Maybe my young self anticipated my future self’s troubles with severe insomnia disorders, eh? But beyond the science, I was interested in lucid dreaming, dream projections, shared dreams, etc. Not as a science, just as an interest. I used to play games with friends where we would try to “send each other dreams.” It was similar to playing on a Ouija board (something my sister and I did as well). And while I can’t say I believe in any of that stuff as an adult – or at least, not that it’s paranormal, because I think the subconscious can influence a lot of what a person dreams about and also remembers from their dreams – I still love reading stories about it. In other words, this book was right up my alley!

Mystery, with a touch of thriller, and a touch of the supernatural. Atmospheric. Dual narratives from the past and the present, and dual narrators of Paul and a detective who happens to share my name! It was a fascinating look into how a strong personality can pull others their orbit, the way a cult leader can gather a following. Charlie’s twisted personality went well beyond interest in the paranormal aspects of dreaming. He was a master manipulator, and remained so for a quarter century after disappearing. I think we’ve all come across a nasty personality like that, been tainted by it in a way that allows that person to haunt us well into adulthood, long after they’ve disappeared from our lives and have probably long forgotten us as well. This is a story of the things that make deep impressions on us in a formative time of our lives, and the way those impressions steer us onto the paths we take.

So there was a lot to think about, while also just being a really good creepy mystery. I will admit, I was blindsided at one point in this book so completely that I had to stop and go back and reread a bunch of things. It’s very rare for me to be blindsided like that in a book, and I imagine some readers would see everything clearly in a way I didn’t. It was quite cleverly done, and a treat for me!

I will definitely be going back to read The Whisper Man by North. The detective, Amanda, is featured there as well, and the case in that book is hinted at mildly in this story. Unrelated, but same setting, some of the same characters. It’ll make a perfect RIP book, as would this one if I’d waited to read it in Sept/Oct. I highly recommend it going on to some of y’all’s RIP lists! It’s a doozy.

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The Lantern Men, by Elly Griffiths (audio)

I’m not going to leave a specific description of this book. It’s the 12th in the Ruth Galloway series, and I worry that anything I say will give spoilers for previous books. I would hate to do that, because this is one of those series that is absolutely lovely to devour. They’re mysteries, but the mysteries are kinda beside the point. The point is what happens to Ruth, and Kate, and Nelson, and Cathbad, and all the many other recurring characters who have been living through a decade of their lives since The Crossing Places (book 1). This is why I can’t give a synopsis. Each mystery is self-contained and wouldn’t spoil previous mysteries, but the circumstances under which each occur will give away spoilers for the characters!

What I can say is this: The Lantern Men was one of my top two most-anticipated books of 2020. I thought it was coming out in February, and then that turned out to be the release date in the UK only. The US had a June release date. Then that got pushed back to July re: covid. I’ve been going mental waiting for this book! I downloaded it from Audible the moment my pre-order was ready, and listened to the book twice through in a few days. It was everything I’d hoped it would be, and I’m already craving Book #13 (which doesn’t even exist yet on GoodReads!). I’ve not enjoyed every book in the series with equal fervor, but this one was particularly good, both mystery and the character-drama. Plus, I got my MIL addicted to the series since I’ve been up in Wisconsin, so now I have someone to discuss these with! Woohoo!

Performance: The audiobook was read by Jane McDowell. Like others from the series that I’ve discussed in the past, there were some sound effect manipulations (like phone calls sounding distant, to make it as if you’re hearing through a phone in reality) that aren’t my favorite. The reading itself is sound, though, even if it wouldn’t be my first choice of format.

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Sunday Coffee – Chaos and Celebrations

The last week and a half have been a bit nuts. Some good things, some less good, but lots of stuff happening both here and at home in SA. I needed a little catch-up post (one which has absolutely nothing to do with the Virus).

Family Reunion
Last weekend, my extended in-law family got together. Guests who were able to come included Jeremy (Jason’s older brother), Emmy (Jeremy’s wife, who I met in person for the first time), Tenille (Jason’s older sister), and Xarissa (Tenille’s daughter, my niece). Plus three additional doggos. There were walks, board games, lots of food, and general fun, but the big event was the kayaking. This part of WI is filled with lakes and rivers (hence the high humidity), and kayaking is a big thing. I last kayaked in 2012 because somehow I never did in the 2016-2017 year that we lived here. The boys last kayaked in 2016. Everyone was pretty experienced at this, even if our experience was a few years old. The river we went on was pretty shallow and had a low, lazy current. There was no reason for our trip to go chaotic, and yet…

(photo credit: Emmy)

Somehow, at least four of us got flipped over at one point or another. One kayak got caught in a tree. Two sets of keys were lost and found. One phone was lost and found. One wallet was lost but never found. What is normally an hour-long trip turned into three hours under full sun in 90-degree weather. Despite sunscreen and hats, quite a number of us got burns (though thankfully mild). Some of us (like me!) weren’t smart enough to wear swimsuits, and thus ended up soaked in all sorts of river water in normal clothes. Others of us (not me!) forgot that river rocks hurt and river shoes are a good thing. Despite all of that, it was quite a fun outing minus the few parts that involved escaping kayaks and lost items and cuts/bruises. We’ve never had quite so many Incidents. Perhaps we were just cursed that day!

After months and months of not really reading, I suddenly read a huge spurt of books in July. It helps that a bunch of them involved revisiting some of my favorite worlds, including:

  • Empire of Dreams (from the Girl of Fire and Thorns series)
  • Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (from the Hunger Games series)
  • Lantern Men (from the Ruth Galloway series)

I also managed to stumble onto quite a few holds that actually caught my attention, so I didn’t immediately cull them and return them to the library. Perhaps my six-month long reading slump is over!

Water Heater
Back at home in San Antonio, the water heater went out on July 11th. It was the original that came with the house 23 years ago, and it rusted through. Jason ordered a new one, but it wasn’t available to pick up, and Jason’s car is pretty small, so he set it for delivery. It was supposed to take 2-3 days, but at that point, he got a call saying it would arrive by August 21st. !!! So he opted to rent a truck and pick the thing up himself, now that it was in stock. He was able to do so on the 18th, so one week after he and Morrigan lost all hot water.

(photo credit: Jason)

That day, he drained our old water heater first, to remove it. (Meanwhile, Atticus escaped the house and trotted back five mins later with a newly-dead bird in his jaws. He was quite upset, with a lot of hissing, when Jason took the bird away from him!) When Jason tried to remove the old, empty water heater, a pipe that had connected it to the a/c unit above disintegrated. So he had to call out a plumber/HVAC specialist. The guy arrived and fixed up the pipe so that they could at least have water in the house, if not hot water yet. The next day he returned to install the actual heater. Only 1) it turns out that while the hardware store sells this style of water heater (the squat kind for a lower cabinet, which is now against code but our house is grandfathered in), it doesn’t sell drip pans wide enough for it. That’s a specialty item that must be ordered. And 2) the closet was built around the water heater, so in order to get it out and put the new one in, they had to remove part of the wall. UGH. Pan was acquired and water heater installed on Monday, leaving just the wall to rebuild and the cabinet door to put back on. Jason finished this on Tuesday. In the pic, you can see where there will need to be wall-patches and paint. Sigh.

We figured this would be best to do in Wisconsin, in a county that’s had fewer than 100 cases (as of then, anyway), than to wait to do this in San Antonio again! My FIL recommended Fantastic Sams in Rice Lake, where they do an excellent job with safety: no bags/purses, max three customers, wait outside until called in, masks for everyone, etc. Ambrose cut off 5-6 inches, to get the deader ends off and make care easier while staying long. Laurence got his trimmed slightly and thinned out so there’s less poof. I decided to go a little extreme. I went back to my favorite haircut ever – an undercut with an inverted bob that I had in the summer of 2016 – only I also got bangs.

It’s shorter than I expected (I’d wanted chin-length dry, not wet) but I really like it! I’m super happy that my curls/spirals are back. They went away in 2014/2015 due to protein structure changes when I began drinking alcohol, but I cut alcohol from my diet over a year ago and everything left after this cut is new growth. To give a comparison – here is my haircut from 2016 vs now. (Since I don’t have a direct side comparison, I’ve shown two pics from 2016 – partial side and back.) I haven’t straightened or curled my hair in either photo – just washed it and put mousse in and let it air dry as I always do. Both pictures were taken day-of cut after first wash. The difference is insane.

Car Refinance
In June, Jason and I began the process of refinancing his car, because it had a ridiculously high interest rate (nearly 8%!!). Our loan officer was not the best communicator, and his lack of communication caused a lot of delays in the process. Nearly six weeks after we began, the refinance finally went through on the 13th. The check was cut and sent to the previous bank. By the time our automated car payment went through on the 15th, the old loan hadn’t been paid off yet. We figured it was going to take a few days. So we checked the accounts on the 19th…and it turned out that somehow a BIG mistake was made. The payoff got applied to my car instead of Jason’s. They had about the same amount of loan on them, so maybe that’s how the mixup happened? Either way, suddenly we had no loans on my car, and two loans on Jason’s, including one with an exorbitant interest rate. Thankfully, Jason called the bank Monday and they immediately said they’d fix the problem, and it should show up correctly within 7-10 business days.

Yesterday, Ambrose turned 18. Two of my three boys are “officially” adults now. It was a very low-key celebration day. We had a birthday breakfast of sausage-egg-and-potato burritos. Ambrose discovered that in this household, the tradition is to find money in your breakfast. He got $1.80 in various change for his 18th birthday. He loved this and was laughing the whole time, and then opened up his gift from his grandparents: a shirt with a picture of a peanut on it, with the words, “Whoa! Stay back! I’ve got a people allergy.” Just last week he was talking about having a hard time making a birthday list, because he only wants “weird things like a shirt with peanuts on it.” It’s classic Ambrose, and he was delighted with the gift. And with the wrapping, which he turned into a “hat/mask.”

In the evening, we made shrimp alfredo, Caesar salad, green and yellow beans from the garden, and lemonade. There was an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen as well, and a few more gifts. Ambrose was in fine form all evening, doing all the Ambrose-things. It was a nice way to spend our last night in Wisconsin!

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Quarantine Diaries – Week 19

My mental health is poorly right now. Even though some quite nice things happened this week, I’ve been overwhelmed with anxiety, agoraphobia, depression, and general malaise. I finally hit my personal limit: It’s time to go home. I really appreciate that my in-laws have let us live up here with them for the last month, for our safety. I really do. But at some point, the need to be home – with Jason and Morrigan and my kitties and in my own home – starts to outweigh the need to be away from the pandemic spike in SA. I need to go home.

For those who feel a bit like me right now: If your mental health is at a point where you cannot bear to hear more about quarantine stuff, skip to the bottom of this post for a list of positives and highlights and Nice Things. We all need some of that right now!

-Friday, July 17th:
Local count: 27,525 (+478), 240 deaths. Texas had a jump of 15K cases, by far their highest daily increase. Official local health order put out today saying all schools need to be online-only at least through September 7th, with the possibility of being extended longer. Here in Wisconsin, my brother-in-law and his wife arrived for a weekend that involved a full extended-family gathering. Not exactly the thing you’re supposed to do during a pandemic, so I admit to being really worried about this, but it’s not my house, so there’s also nothing really I can do about it. At least it’s nice to see people again, and I know everyone is being super safe!

-Saturday, July 18th:
Local count: 28,633 (+1,108), 251 deaths. There actually isn’t much news to report today other than the gigantic total of new cases for the day. I have no idea when if ever this is going to get under control. We’re now two weeks out from the 4th of July, so we’ll see soon if people were careful or not. Up here, the whole family was together, kayaking and hanging out and generally having fun. And I have some good news: Natalie was feeling well enough to video-chat with me today, which is big improvement! Everyone seems to be getting better at her house, thank goodness!

(photo credit: Emmy)

-Sunday, July 19th:
Local count: 30,835 (+2,202), 257 deaths. That is not a backlogged number. That’s over 2k positive tests in the last 24 hours. It took us until May 17th, over two months, to reach that as our TOTAL cases, and now this. Our mayor’s facebook page tonight said, “With a sharp spike in identified cases over the last few days, it’s clear that our community didn’t take the Fourth of July weekend as seriously as we’d hoped.” This is what I’ve been dreading. Especially as this is only the beginning.

-Monday, July 20th:
Local count: 31,316 (+481), 262 deaths. New weekly indicator numbers are out: 22.9% positivity rate (slightly down), 16 days doubling rate (no change), and ~35% hospital admissions are covid-related (about the same). Children and teenagers now make up 1 in 7 cases (up from about 1 in 10).

-Tuesday, July 21st:
Local count: 31,867 (+551), 274 deaths. The numbers came out regarding children’s cases, showing that we’ve had 211 cases among infants under one year old. Oy. Additionally, the SA Symphony announced that it will cancel all its fall concerts and furlough all musicians and staff. It’s a decision that makes sense – they already did this for the spring concerts – but my stepmom is one of those furloughed musicians, so this hits home. // It was a tough day for me personally. I was jolted awake from dreams by a song (playing in my head, not aloud) from my teen years. With it came a severe presentiment that something was wrong with someone – not sure who – in my family. I’ve had a few presentiments like this in my life and they’re never good. The last time I was woken by a song interrupting my dreams was in 2014, the night my aunt passed away. Needless to say, I was quite scattered, anxious, and unproductive today. Too much coffee was consumed. (As far as I could find out, everyone was okay, though it took until evening to get that information.)

-Wednesday, July 22nd:
Local count: 33,555 (+1,688), 283 deaths. Bexar County Medical Society has come out and said they’re against in-person reopening of schools until the positivity rate is under 5% and there has been a persistent decline in cases for at least two weeks. Not sure they have any authority or say-so, but it’s nice to have another sane group advocating. As for us, we made the decision to leave this weekend or Monday to go back to Texas. Wish things had gotten safer instead of worse, but we need our family back together again.

-Thursday, July 23rd:
Local count: 34,633 (+1,078), 298 deaths. The county jail is current becoming overcrowded as the state STILL isn’t taking prisoners into the state system like they’re supposed to. This is creating an extra 300+ necessary beds at present and covid cases are picking up again due to the overcrowding there. Another new statistic came out as well today – 1 in 4 cases of people admitted to ICU for covid later pass away from it, as well as more than 40% of those on ventilators. Aaaand to make things even more fun, there’s a hurricane on the way to San Antonio!

We ended last week’s horrific numbers at 27,047 cases and 229 deaths. It was another big week, with a total of 7,586 new cases (daily average 1,084) and 69 more deaths. As you can see from the graph, this is fewer cases than reported last week. However, last week included about 5,000 backlogged cases. If those are removed, this is still trending upwards, with daily average higher than the last two weeks, and our weekly death number is our highest yet. Not nearly out of the woods.

Positives and Highlights and Nice Things
As I said in the beginning of this post, I’m struggling to keep my head in a good space right now. Here are the highlights that I tried to focus on this week.

  • meeting my sis-in-law Emmy for the first time in person (she of the red hair in the photo near the top of this post)
  • an afternoon kayaking adventure
  • getting my second-best 5K time
  • Natalie feeling well enough to video-chat with me!
  • an actual cold front up here, beautiful temps like the 50s and 60s that I never experience in San Antonio July
  • the most amazing homemade sour cherry pie (which I did not make, only enjoyed)
  • an awesome new haircut
  • Culver’s picnic with the boys and their grandparents
  • watching my sister’s foster kitties untie her shoes !!!
  • The read-along chapters for Rhythm of War (Nov release) have arrived! Every week will be another 1-2 chapters to read up until the book is released. This is my most-anticipated book of the year and I loved the read-along experience with the previous book – super excited that this has started!

I really hope y’all are faring better than me right now. By the time I see y’all in next week’s quarantine diaries, my family will be together again, hopefully without picking up covid along the way home.

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Wellness Wednesday – Personal Ah-ha! Moments

Last week, on my third day of severe insomnia and a bit delirious from having been awake since 4:15am, I had four major ah-ha! moments throughout the day. Probably due to the delirium, I could only remember three of these moments the next day (sigh). I’m not sure what made this particular day so productive in terms of mental clicking, but hey! I’ll take it!

Revelation the First: Strength Training

As a competitive swimmer through adolescence, cross-training was a big deal. We did all kinds of exercises ranging from simple cardio workouts to basic weight-lifting. There was a weight room by the pool where we used stations consisting of hydraulic machines, weighted cable machines, and bodyweight equipment (like pull-up bars). We did not do free weights – there was probably an insurance reason for this – and perhaps because of this reason, I have never been enamored of barbells and such. I follow a great many women who lift weights, and I see them getting super excited by squatting heavier barbells and deadlifting more weight etc. And I have no desire whatsoever to do these things, the same way I can be happy running 5Ks without ever being tempted to train for a marathon. So for years, I’ve kinda just thought of ST as supplemental to my workouts. A thing I have to do, the same way I have to eat those veggies I don’t particularly like in order to get in the right nutrition.


The ah-ha moment: Actually, I DO have particular strength-related desires and goals. No, I don’t care about deadlifts or squats or that bizarre Turkish get-up thing. You know what I care about? Pull-ups. I remember being an 11-year-old kid in sixth grade, looking up at the record board in the gym. Pull-up records were recorded as such: Boys – 18 (6th grade), 21 (7th), 18 (8th). Girls – 1 (6th), 0 (7th), 1 (8th). F— that! I decided right then and there that I would not only break the girls’ records, but I’d get up to that 21 pull-ups that was the highest record. And I did. In 8th grade, I did 21 pull-ups nonstop. (Notably, the coach didn’t care or count it, despite watching me do it. That record board, last I saw, remains 1-0-1 for the girls, grr.) In 10th grade, I again did 21 pull-ups nonstop, after two sets of 10 pull-ups during a cross-training session. Y’all: I LOVE pull-ups. When I began losing weight a decade ago, my goal was to be able to do at least five of them again, and I was up to four before my major abdominal surgery in Jan 2014. This goal – plus others like being able to do skater/pistol squats, and crow pose, and headstands – is my focus in strength. Maybe I don’t like free-weights, but I DO love being strong and achieving big things in ST!

Revelation the Second: Modification

After five years of yoga practice, I know what my body can/can’t do. My shoulders, for example, are not very flexible. There’s this practice that involves a forward fold with your hands clasped behind your back. They’re supposed to raise toward the ceiling when you lean forward. I can barely raise mine an inch above my back, and it’s awkward and painful. It’s just one of those things my body can’t handle, or so I’ve thought for years. Then on this particular insomnia-fueled day, I was talking to my friend Stephanie, and as part of our conversation, I happened to look up photos of this pose. In one of them, there was a modification included. Y’all – I thought I knew all the various modifications in yoga by now, but clearly not. Immediately, I tried it out. Lo and behold, my arms went way up toward the ceiling the way they’re supposed to! I’ve been skipping this exercise for years, and now I don’t have to anymore!

Revelation the Third: Coffee

I’ve been talking about trying to quit drinking coffee for months now, and I’ve been thinking about it for years. For a long time, I’ve suspected that the coffee is deep at the root of why I suddenly started gaining weight rapidly in 2014, and why I haven’t been able to lose weight in all the years since. Particularly as the times when I’ve cut back to a single cup per day, I have been able to lose. And yet, for all my talk, I haven’t quit. I’ve barely cut back. I keep putting it off, trying other things, blaming circumstances and addiction and who knows what else. I thought admitting this was an addition problem was honest and brave. It wasn’t. Because the true reason finally came through to me on the evening of this insomnia-driven day.


I have not – cannot – give up coffee because I’m terrified of what will happen when I do. This is my last and best hope for my body. If I give up coffee and that proves to be unrelated to my inability to lose weight, I have nothing left. No hope, no answers, nothing to try. This is my last grasp at some control. I’ve experienced total lack of control when it comes to my weight. During my 11-year illness from 1998 to 2009, my body paid no heed to the things I ate or the exercise I sweated through. That is a completely demoralizing and terrifying mental place to be in. After ten years of it, I gave up, and spent the last year of my illness not trying at all. It wasn’t good for my mind or my body, and I cannot bear to get back to that place of hopelessness again. So I cling to my coffee, because while I do, I still have hope that there may be an answer out there, and I’m not just out of luck.

This is a major mental breakthrough, y’all. Just knowing the root of my mental blocks is a huge step toward overcoming them. I still have to work through that fear, but now at least I know what I’m working with.

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