Darling Girl, by Liz Michalski

From Goodreads: Life is looking up for Holly Darling, granddaughter of Wendy–yes, that Wendy. She’s running a successful skincare company; her son, Jack, is happy and healthy; and the tragedy of her past is well behind her…until she gets a call that her daughter, Eden, who has been in a coma for nearly a decade, has gone missing from the estate where she’s been long tucked away. And, worst of all, Holly knows who must be responsible: Peter Pan, who is not only very real, but more dangerous than anyone could imagine.

TW: Brief sexual assault, addiction

There’s more to that Goodreads description, but it goes a bit too deep into the story and borders on spoilers, so I’m not including the rest. This is enough to get the idea across. Darling Girl is a modern visitation of Peter Pan – not a retelling, but an exploration of what it might look like if the fairy tale were true. Because fairy tales can look beautiful on paper, and are often a nightmare when you get deep into them. Peter Pan and Neverland are presented as an ideal, eternal youth, but what does eternal youth mean? From this book:

“It’s as if he’s a three-year-old, a giant toddler bashing about.”

Darling Girl explores those darker sides, but this isn’t just a book about fairy tales and nightmares. That just makes up the background for some very complicated questions on ethics. Holly is a scientist with a complicated past. She’s trying to help her children, but her methods wade into very murky areas. At what point do you cross the line from ethical medical practices into harmful ones? Particularly when the situation is more complicated than it would be if there were not ties into a magical realm? Then there are the choices and dilemmas Holly faces as a mother, entirely separate from her medical and scientific pursuits. Parental ethics are a different kind of question. At what point do you go from protecting a child to harming them by your actions (or inactions)? It was a really fascinating exploration.

“Just because you ignore something doesn’t make it disappear.”

This was a really well-written book. My only real quibble was that the climax of the book took place off-stage, making it really anticlimactic. I understand why it took place off-stage, and I’m grateful that at least the two characters who experienced it told their stories so we find out what happened, but still. After feeling like the inevitable showdown was getting closer and more dangerous all the time, it was a letdown to miss it. And that’s the thing that will keep this from being one of my favorite books of the year, because it was really that good up to that point. I do still highly recommend it, with the caveat that the conclusion might not be as satisfactory as you’d wish.

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In the Air Force now

On June 13, we dropped Ambrose off for basic training. Air Force BMT takes place at a base here in San Antonio, which was a double-edged sword. On one hand, he had to go through that training in brutal heat. On the other, we got to see Ambrose this week for town day after graduation without flying across the country.

After Morrigan’s medical discharge from the Navy in 2019, I was absolutely worried that something similar would happen to Ambrose. Particularly because he’s my least-military-esque child. However, Ambrose always surprises me, and when we finally got a letter from him, he sounded like he was in a much better place, mentally, than Morrigan did in his letters. He said he even found things to enjoy, in addition to making friends and immediately finding his niche group of like-minded folks. (Aka, the weirdos, as he puts it.)

He tells us that he accidentally (long story) read part of his report card at one point during BMT. The report commended him for enthusiasm and volunteering for uncomfortable jobs that others don’t like (like standing at the door for hours on end, just watching). It also said he didn’t have a good military bearing, which is the least surprising thing about this whole bit. Ambrose got a good laugh out of it. He said he would have called them liars if they’d said his military bearing was good. Ha!

Town day meant that we all got to hang out for about eight hours. We took him to Raising Cane’s and to Salsalitos per request, and he also asked for “lots of desserts,” which Jason took to heart, making multiple dishes the night before. The four of us spent a lot of time chatting, snacking, and playing silly Jackbox games.

Ambrose had all sorts of stories to tell us, and generally, he was smiling and laughing and amused by so much. There’s a thing about my second child – he’s always been a very young soul, with this inner light and joy that radiates from him. People would look at him and just smile. Teachers loved him without him ever asking to be loved; kids protected him from being bullied. He has the inner confidence of a young child that hasn’t been traumatized by the world, except that he’s lived through plenty of horrible things.

We always worried that something would shatter him, and he’d lose that light, or that just by growing up, he’d shed that childlike innocence. But not even eight weeks of grueling training, drill sergeants, and boot camp mentality could change that deep, essential part of him. He’s still quintessentially Ambrose, the kid who kept getting in trouble for smiling during basic military training.

Now, he’s off to Biloxi for tech school. The career path he’s been assigned to isn’t his favorite, but it’s not a bad one either, and he has the opportunity to cross train to change careers at a later date. Tech school will only be about two months, so it won’t be long before he finds out his first real assignment. It was so great to see him, even if only for that short time. Jason and I are very proud of him, and wish him so much joy in his new life.

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July 2022 in Review

Does anyone else feel like it’s still May? I don’t know if I’m stuck in that traditional caught-in-time, always-behind feeling of adulthood, or if this is worse than usual because I’ve literally avoided being outside as much as possible for months now. Well anyway, July was about as normal as July could be. There were wild moments and some bad news and new stuff and a lot of decision-making for our futures.

Reading and Watching
July continued and finished my Murdoch Mysteries rewatch. Books weren’t really a high priority, but I have a feeling they’ll become more so over the next few months. Unfortunately, I had my first (and hopefully only) one-star book of the year (You’re Invited). At least the other two were excellent!

Goals
I revamped my goals for the second half of the 2022, and actually Jason and I were already able to get the house list made up and prioritized. There are way too many items on the list – even after I made a second, pared-down version – but hopefully we can get it all done over the next few years. The sooner, the better!

House
Well, like I said, there’s a whole lot of new projects on the list. And we did get a few things crossed off: duct system cleaned out, a/c leak repaired, defunct flowerbed edging removed around the live oak, front path replaced, and some plumbago beds planted along the back fence. Mostly, though, it’s been too hot to do much of the outside work. Other than the plumbagos, we haven’t wanted to do any actual planting, just to have the plants boil alive in this weather!

(So it begins: edging around the live oak removed)

The Ferals
It was an insane month in Cats. First, there was the whole issue with our foster cat Sunflower and the upper respiratory infection she brought into the house in late June. She spread it to our other cats through Angus, who was interested in sniffing her under the door to the foster room. While our older cats only got mild symptoms, the three one-year-old siblings got extremely sick, coughing and sneezing and feverish. (And in Gherkin’s case, drooling and gunky-eyed, too.) The vet said it was just a virus, though, and we let it takes its course. They’re still coughing periodically, but are mostly better. I do wonder if their extreme reaction is because it’s their first exposure (like babies with the common cold) or if it has to do with them being exposed to feline leukemia as babies. They fought off the virus and are FelV-negative (unlike their sister Reaper, who went off to a special program for FelV cats last summer), but the exposure can cause a weakened immune system.

In any case, they’re better now, and Sunflower went off to the shelter for spay on the 10th, and was adopted on the 22nd. Yay! Adult cats often take a lot longer to be adopted, so I’m glad she went so quickly. She was so sweet and absolutely would love to be an independent family-kitty! And of course, there was the whole bit with the Wild Feral Family that I wrote about, and the mom-and-daughter fosters who came after, and who are still here with us for a few more weeks. And lastly, after almost six weeks of treatment for ringworm, Penny and Tillie finally got put up for adoption! It took less than two days for little Penny to get adopted, and while Tillie is still waiting, I’m happy to say our neighbor went to visit her, and she’s looking gorgeous (pic)! Hopefully someone adopts this sweet baby soon!

Health/Fitness
It continues to be way too hot to leave the house, and so July involved way too little movement on my part. Towards the end of the month, I’d had enough, and splurged on a new treadmill. Treadmills aren’t my favorite (are they anyone’s favorite??) but I can use one while I watch TV or listen to podcasts and audiobooks. It will help get some movement back in my day, since it’s unlikely that the temps will relent anytime before mid-October at earliest! Not to mention, I plan to be much busier with house repairs, or at least with taking over most of the house work so that Jason has more time to devote to house repairs. Hopefully this will provide a convenient, if annoying, way to get some walking in!

Quarantine Diaries
I got my second covid booster this month, finally. Because it was my first Moderna, I was worried about side effects, but they weren’t too bad. I had some really heavy fatigue, some brain fog, and a couple days where I felt generally ill and wanted nothing more than to eat tomato soup, drink gaterade, and sleep. Unfortunately, in some bad news, my mom’s side of the family (who all had Omicron back in Dec/Jan) are falling ill with covid a second time, starting with my uncle. He passed it to my elderly, frail, extremely-vulnerable grandmother, but thankfully once again, she was in the hospital – for an unrelated issue – when it was diagnosed and so was able to receive the right medications to treat it. (As opposed to the conspiracy-theory treatments, like worm-juice!) Sadly, my mom has fallen victim to even worse conspiracy theories than in January, so she believes, for example, that the government deliberately chose the treatment with the highest death rate, and that they’re paying hospitals for every covid death they can provide. I mean, wtf y’all?? My grandmother is starting to improve, though, and will hopefully leave the hospital today or at least soon. She sadly isn’t very well, generally, and I doubt she’ll be around much longer. (Pic from my grandparents’ 65th anniversary in 2018.)

Favorite Photos
It was another of those barely-used-my-camera months, so I don’t have a lot for favorites. Actually, all of these came from the last third of the month. Sheesh.

Left: Lilo (mom) and Stitch (daughter). Right, top to bottom: light-painting; urban sunset; struggling to grow

Highlights of July
A lot of this month was a hazy of monotony, but there were definitely good points:

  • nerdy board game night at Jennine’s house
  • in a letter home from boot camp, Ambrose told us that he keeps getting yelled at for smiling, and that’s the most Ambrose thing I’ve never heard; I love it!
  • helping Morrigan and his fiancé Katy (via phone calls and texts) nurse their sick kitten back to health from the brink of death
  • a new cat tree for our babies to enjoy –>
  • seeing possum mamas with babies on their backs on the overnight camera
  • also baby raccoons frolicking on camera!
  • spending time with my half-sister for the first time since Christmas
  • talking with Ambrose over the phone (first time talking with him since June 13!)
  • hanging out in my friend’s parents’ pool with her and them, sipping piña coladas and generally enjoying what summer is supposed to feel like (on a rare day it only hit 99 degrees!)
  • trying my hand at light-painting for the first time
  • finally taking my Instagram private
  • everything related to Matt Gaetz and Olivia Juliana, ha! #RapeyMcForehead
  • getting to see Tillie as she looks now (as the photo of her on the shelter website is from when she first arrived at the shelter in mid-June)

Coming up in August
If all goes well and he has town liberty, we’ll get to see Ambrose in a couple days! Thankfully, we’ll be able to watch his graduation through a livestream the day afterwards, too. Then, at the end of the month, Laurence will be off on his new adventure, to Canada (New Brunswick) for college. So by the end of August, my two younger children will both be off to their new lives, and Jason and I will officially become empty-nesters. It’s going to be extremely weird, given that we had our first child 10 months after our wedding and only about half of that were we living together without other roommates in a shared apartment. A very new experience for all of us.

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The Gifts That Bind Us, by Caroline O’Donoghue

After the traumas of spring, life is meant to go on as normal. Except now, Maeve and her friends are filled with burdening magic, stressed by separations and worries of the future, and suspicious of new activity from the extremist conservative group, Children of Brigid.

I read the first book in this series, All Our Hidden Gifts, last year and was blown away by it. This sequel was one of my most anticipated books of 2022, but for some unknown reason, I struggled to start reading it. A few times since getting it from the library, I’d picked it up only to put it back down after a chapter, or even a few paragraphs. Something wasn’t clicking. I realized that I didn’t remember the previous book despite loving it so much. Part of me considered rereading All Our Hidden Gifts. Part of me wondered if maybe I should just leave the first book as a decent standalone and not move forward. A couple days ago, I gave the book one final try – only to get immediately hooked and pulled into the new story. Maybe the early chapters were too adolescent angst for me, or maybe my brain just wasn’t ready. I don’t know. But once I got there? This was every bit as good as the first book!

Obviously, I can’t say too much without giving away spoilers for the first book, which I don’t want to do. But the general crux in this book is twofold. First, there really is a lot of angst (in real life) about the end of school, and in changes in relationships as people move into new parts of their lives. Despite all the magic stuff going on, The Gifts That Bind Us treats this source of worry, frustration, and fear in an open and real way. Those issues don’t get lost in the background. There’s a great moment when one of the characters says, “You always think that when really dangerous stuff starts happening, you’ll just start acting really heroically. But it’s never like that. The world could be burning and you would still be just…worrying about your own crap.” I feel like that does a good job of summing up the juxtaposition of real world and crazy magic happenings.

Second, there’s an air of the mystery novel, a magical who-can-you-trust as a bunch of new and potentially suspicious characters are introduced. There’s the unexpected out-of-town family visitor, the hip new guidance counselor who may also have magic in her, the trans rock star taking one of them under her wing, and the political pundit last relevant in the 80s. Not to mention the friends’ old arch-nemesis, a religious zealot, who has taken an inexplicable turn toward undoing his former wrongs. There’s another really excellent line here: “It strikes me that a witch, a minor god, and a former zealot all living together for two weeks is a reality show I would pay to watch.” Me too, Maeve. Me too.

Just like in the last book, there is a lot of emphasis on gender politics (both identity and rights), abortion, sexuality, and morality as the Children of Brigid stir up evangelical hatred. “I sit there, wondering how the whole world got so obsessed with teenage girls and who we let inside us,” Maeve says, because it really is a peculiar obsession when you get to thinking about it. A lot of what the extremists obsess over feels pointless and mean-spirited, tbh. And when you think about it, who wants to worship a god who hates people for X, Y, or Z anyway? What kind of hateful god deserves worship? Yet, conversations like the following are so common these days that they aren’t even surprising anymore:

“Oh, I see what this is,” he says finally. “You think I hate gay people.”

“You’re saying you don’t hate gay people?” I let out a dry, hollow laugh.

“No,” he says. “God does.”

That’s where I’m going to leave this: with the absolute disgust that is evangelical extremists. Once again, this book (and series) does an amazing job of blending politics, religion, magic, and individual stress. I can’t wait for the next volume!

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A True Feral

This is a hard situation to write about, and it was even harder (and more traumatizing) to live through.

In my last post, I mentioned that I would be picking up a mama cat and her three babies to foster. This cat was a friendly stray that adopted my mom and had her babies on my mom’s enclosed porch. The babies were 5 1/2 weeks old, and were meant to be in our care for 3-4 weeks. Instead, they were in our care for roughly three hours.

When we picked up this family, we were told that the mom was “a little growly.” We expected some fear and warning growls – after all, she’d gone through a lot of change in 24 hrs! Our plan was to set the family up in the foster room and then leave them alone so they had time to adjust. However, when we opened up the carrier, both mama and babies immediately expressed interest in exploring and getting to know us. Mama sniffed us and head-butted us and asked for pets. She was a bit skittish and growly, yes, but again, that was entirely expected. I pulled out a Churu treat for her and she ate out of my hand without hesitation. We handled the babies without any objection from them or Mama, and all was going well.

Now, my mom had warned us that ever since the kittens were born, Mama had shown signs of aggression against other cats. She would actively run toward the door if she saw my mom’s cats through it, trying to attack them. (I do wish she’d mentioned this before we volunteered to foster, because our cats are always interested in sniffing at the door!) We knew we were going to need to be careful about going in and out of the room because of this. After about 20 mins with the cats, Jason left the room for a few minutes and returned. I don’t know if Mama caught sight of a cat or if Jason smelled different when he came back, or if there was some other trigger, but out of nowhere, she became an entirely different cat. A wild, aggressive, territorial, extremely feral cat.

I’ve been around a lot of feral cats over the last year, but mostly they’ve been skittish and afraid, only threatening if threatened. This was different. Mama-cat began to scream and yowl the way you might hear tomcats scream when they fight. She ran at Jason, hissing and spitting and screaming. He backed off, and she chased him, then turned on me. I managed to get out of the room, and Jason followed, narrowly avoiding a bite but getting some deep scratches on his feet. Even after we left the room, Mama continued to scream. It was like nothing we’ve ever had to deal with before.**

Immediately, I contacted the shelter. This was not the situation we were expecting and clearly wasn’t going to work out. We don’t know what set Mama off, but obviously we were not the right household for this kitty-family. For an hour while we talked with the shelter, we left the cats alone in the foster room, hoping to give Mama time to adjust to the new situation. At that point, we needed to somehow wrestle her into the carrier to take her back. Oy.

Jason did this part. Honestly, I don’t think I could have gone back into that room. (As a kid, we had a semi-feral pet cat who attacked us constantly, and I developed a fear of cat attacks, so this was really triggering to me.) Jason dressed in full coverage (sweats, long sleeves, gloves, socks, etc) and got a towel to throw over Mama. The second he opened the door – an hour after we were last in the room – she attacked. He managed to get the towel over her and wrestle her into the carrier with only a few more scratches on his hands (through gloves!). Once Mama was contained, I came in to help round the babies up to go into a different carrier. Mama was screaming, and the yowls became much worse if she made eye contact with one of us. She kept attacking the bars of the carrier. We covered the carrier with several blankets, trying to calm her the way you do with feral cats caught in traps, but she wouldn’t calm. Jason had to avoid her claws through the carrier and two blankets as he took her out to the car.

Long story short, we returned the family to the shelter, and instead brought home a mother-daughter duo (Lilo and Stitch) who are the two grey kitties pictured in this post. (Yes, I have a lot more photos of Stitch. Lilo is a bit afraid of the phone so I haven’t wanted to scare her by getting too close with it.) My mom contacted the shelter and was able to get set up as a foster, and brought the family back home to her house, where Mama is perfectly happy and friendly, with no trace of that insane feral behavior she showed here. I have no idea what will happen to her after she’s separated from her babies, if the shelter will decide to TNR or adopt her out. But honestly, I hope she’s TNRed because if a cat that feral lurks inside her and can explode out of nowhere like that, I feel like adoption might not be a good fit…

It’s been a few days since this all happened, and it has really affected me. I jump every time one of my cats head-butts me or rubs their face on me, thinking they’re about to bite me even though they’re clearly not. With the new fosters, I’m extremely wary around Lilo, because her history is unknown and while she’s friendly, it’s clear she wasn’t a house-cat and has very little experience with humans. She needs some socializing despite being sweet, and it’s hard to do that when I jump every time she tries to give me love-nips on the fingers because she wants to play. On the other hand, I don’t have any fearful reaction to Stitch, probably because she’s the tiniest thing that ever existed. So after these guys are ready to go up for adoption, I’ll likely stick to fostering kittens only for awhile!

Lilo and Stitch are really the cutest little babies, though. They’re both tiny, so the shelter labeled Stitch as four weeks old when she’s clearly more like 6-7 weeks old (given her coordination, eating, teeth, and physical development). Because she’s a singleton, Lilo is her only cat-companion, and Lilo has clearly been an excellent mother. They wrestle with each other, and Lilo has taught Stitch not to bite or claw too hard when fighting. They groom each other (and us), and whenever Stitch calls out for her mom, Lilo has this little chirp to let her baby know where to find her. It’s such a sweet dynamic. I hope I can get over my fear to really spend some good quality time with both of them over the next month!

**Note on the foster room: We had the room set up with places for the Mama-cat to hide if she was scared, or to snuggle her babies into, etc. She was not acting even the slightest scared, not for herself or for the babies. Her behavior was definitely territorial, and we were not welcome in her territory.

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Sunday Coffee – Taking Some Time Off

I know I haven’t been on here very much anyway, not since April – posting less, rarely getting on my feedly to see others’ posts, etc. I’m not reading much, I’m not writing much, and I’m in a personal funk (a “it’s so damn hot outside that I’m boiling and even typing brings my body temp up too much” funk). I’m not going on a full-on blog break, but I’m not going to be around much in the next few months. About a decade ago, I decided that I wasn’t going to force myself to blog if I wasn’t feeling it, and that’s how I’ve been able to keep on with it for so long. So there may continue to be an odd book review here or there, or maybe a post about cats, or a Sunday Coffee, or whatever. But I also may not post for a week or two at a time, and I’m not going to stress about that. It is what it is. I’m too hot to care too much.

But speaking of cats (aren’t I always?), I can’t end this without mentioning my next batch of fosters, because they’re pretty great. I’ll pick them up in a few hours, and have them for the next two weeks or so. Mama is named Olive Oyl, and her three babies, born June 8, are Popeye, Bluto, and Brutus. (I’m amused that the shelter gave two of them names for the same character – at least it was the two almost-identical white kittens!) So what makes these guys particularly special? They were born on my mom’s enclosed porch. Olive was a friendly community cat that my mom coaxed inside when she saw she was pregnant, and a few days later, these three babies entered the world. She meant to sign up as a foster through the shelter, the way J and I did for Shai and Hulud, but she must’ve set up to surrender instead, and she turned them in this week. I knew they were going in sometime this week, and I was looking for them to show up on the foster-needed list due to their age. Turned out, my mom turned them in at 11 yesterday morning, and an hour later, they were on the daily email! Two minutes after that, I’d requested to be their foster mama and got approved. I’m excited to keep them in the family for a few more weeks.

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You’re Invited, by Amanda Jayatissa

Amaya hasn’t spoken to her ex-boyfriend or ex-best-friend in five years, but when she sees they’ve suddenly gotten engaged, she knows she must stop the wedding at all costs.

Book TW (contains spoilers so highlight to read): fatphobia, self-harm, BDSM, domestic violence, pedophilia (end spoilers)

This book was my Book of the Month selection for July. I rarely choose thrillers from BotM because as any longtime blog-reader can tell you, while I enjoy the process of reading thrillers, I tend to dislike about 90% of them. (Yeah, I have no idea why I enjoy reading them if I dislike them so much, it’s weird and irrational, but there you go.) It’s better to get thrillers through the library, so I’m not spending money on books I might not enjoy. But the other BotM selections this month weren’t great, and this one’s Sri Lankan setting intrigued me. Still. I should have just put this one on my to-investigate list and gotten it from the library. I really didn’t find anything redeeming about this one, and if I hadn’t bought it, I wouldn’t have read it all the way through.

Apologies in advance for a review of nothing but negatives (for me, anyway). Feel free to skip.

My main problem with the book is the primary narrator, Amaya. She has no personality. Instead, she has a few quirks – self-harm, OCD-like obsession with numbers, constantly visualizing gruesome deaths of those around her. The quirks didn’t make up a personality, though – they felt like checkmarks on a list, attached to a fictional character with no other defining features. The rest of the cast is fairly flat as well, but none as much as Amaya.

Unfortunately, the reason I chose the book – the setting – seemed equally flat and ethereal. I never got the sense of actually experiencing Sri Lanka, which was a disappointment. The last thriller I read, Breathless, took place in the Himalayans, and it was enormously evocative, using all senses to really put the reader right into that world. That’s what I was hoping for here, but instead, it felt as immersive as watching a TV show about the area, skewed for American audiences. It was over the top, with all the cliches and tropes you’d expect, when I wanted a vicarious experience of the true life and culture, from an author who grew up there.

Now add to all that the fat-shaming, the predictable plot, the weird obsession with Instagram in an age-group that generally feels like Instagram is fake (and are leaving it in droves), and the lack of any decent human beings anywhere? Like I said before, I never would have read this book to the end had I got it from the library. (Probably the whole fat-shaming ride of Amaya’s with her cousin when she gets to Sri Lanka would have been the end for me.) I always try to find something to recommend a book, and there’s no doubt that many people would probably love it and find it engaging – just not me. Take that with a grain of salt, though. I did start this review by saying that I dislike 90% of the thrillers I read…

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Updated Goals for 2022

With my current 2022 goals mostly in shambles, I’ve decided to update them for the second half of 2022.

Physical Health
Complications, side effects, and new medical conditions made former goals unachievable in the time remaining, so I’ve scrapped them entirely and replaced them with:

  • Catch up on backlogged medical appointments – dermatologist, ob/gyn, potentially a new dietition, potentially a new endocrinologist
  • do an elimination test for dairy per GI instructions
  • finish Yoga With Adriene’s Move program from January 2022, plus any new videos/backlog from 2021 and the first half of 2022
  • find a way to incorporate a strength and/or mobility program to improve joint management
  • drop coffee back to 1 cup per day, or at very least, nothing caffeinated after noon

From my 50×50 Goals
I completed 3 of 5 goals from the original 2022 list, plus one additional off the 50×50 list. I’m keeping the remaining two (shop at a farmer’s market, play badminton) on here, and adding a Paint Your Pet night for both Jojo and Atticus (hoping Jason and I can do this together).

Books
This is one goal-set that I’ve done well on and don’t need to change.

House
A few things from the original list got done, but now that we’ve changed focus to work toward an eventual out of state move, the old list is no longer valid and a new list takes priority:

  • Make a list of all the house-related jobs that must be completed before selling
  • Prioritize the above list
  • Complete the front yard
  • Plan on the backyard, and complete if possible

Note: any further tasks done off that list would be a bonus, but since it’s not made, I can’t add them to my goals specifically. The yards, on the other hand, will have to be one of the first things completed because they take time to grow and fill in, however we create them, in order to look nice by the time we sell.

Photography
This is another goal that needs no changes, but it’s been back-burnered for months, so I need to bring it to the foreground again – especially digital editing, about which I’ve learned very little.

Other
These were my miscellaneous goals, and a good number of them have either been completed or nullified. Others have changed with personal priorities. I’ve incorporated the remaining to a new list, with a few new goals that have now become relevant:

  • If possible, take a trip to Albuquerque for move-potential
  • Update the cats’ microchips
  • Organize photo books for eventual Shutterfly/Chatbooks/etc
  • Attend Hopscotch
  • Attempt to find a good therapist (again)
  • Watch the rest of my backdated movie list

Hopefully this list is more achievable in 2022 than the original list turned out to be!

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Books on My Rest-of-2022 TBR Pile

Every year, I make a list of books to read or cull throughout that year, a list of book priorities, so to speak. They consist both of books that will be published during the year that I’m really looking forward to, books that have been sitting on my TBR (virtual, physical, or audio queue) for longer than they should, or books categorized under my “to investigate” list. In 2022, I had 24 books on that list, and currently have three remaining. Of the other 21, there were 13 read, 7 culled, and 1 abandoned book – a much higher success rate than most years! In the meantime, I’ve grown a small but not overwhelming new TBR list for the second half of 2022, which is also a better positive result compared to most years (where I’ve had 40+ to go through by this time, and feel entirely overwhelmed.

Remaining on my original list are Miss Moriarty, I Presume (saving for RIP season), The Gifts That Bind Us (just released, I’m first on the hold list), and The Lost Metal (publishes in November). To add to that, I have:

Physical Owned Books

  • You’re Invited – Amanda Jayatissa: BotM book, currently reading
  • The Stardust Thief – Chelsea Abdullah: BotM book
  • Darling Girl – Liz Michalski: BotM book
  • Community Cats – Anne Beall: nonfiction, a gift from J
  • Cain’s Jawbone (?) – Torquemada: a puzzle book that may not be readable in the traditional sense, hence the ?
  • Haunted History of Old San Antonio – Swartz & Swartz: nonfiction, saving for RIP

Audible Queue

  • The Groves – JV Lyon: honestly don’t even know how this got into my queue, must’ve been free at some point?

Library Books/Holds

  • Air Plants – Zenaida Sengo: nonfiction, currently at my home
  • Ride With Me – Lucy Keating: to investigate
  • The Clackity – Lora Senf: might keep for RIP if it doesn’t come for awhile (still on order)
  • Ordinary Monsters – JM Miro: probably should keep for RIP but we’ll see
  • The It Girl – Ruth Ware: same
  • The House Across the Lake – Riley Sager: same

Other Virtual TBR/To-Investigate

  • The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning – Margareta Magnusson: nonfiction, saving for RIP
  • Suddenly Psychic – Elizabeth Hunter: to investigate
  • Teeth in the Mist – Dawn Kurtagich: to investigate, might save for RIP
  • A Turn of the Tide – Kelley Armstrong: publishes in October, pre-ordered audio
  • The Ink Black Heart – Robert Galbraith (?): I hated the last book and I despise the author and I’m very, very conflicted about this book so I don’t really know…

Altogether, that’s 21 books – 3 from the original list and 18 new. And as you can tell, a lot of these have been percolating for the RIP season, so I’ve purposely kept from reading (or even trying) them before now.

Have you read any of these? Any thoughts on good/bad/not worth it?

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Sunday Coffee – To Move or Not to Move

This is a decision that’s been weighing on my mind. The last time we moved back to Texas, I swore we would never leave again, but so much has changed and I’m struggling to determine the best course of action.

When we first moved to San Antonio in late 2005, there were a few reasons. 1) My cousins were all having kids, and I had a toddler half-sister who I wanted to be closer to. I’m very close to my family and I missed that community aspect. 2) The job market in the rural area where we lived didn’t offer a lot of opportunities. In 2005, there weren’t the same remote-work options available now, that rumors of whole departments being eliminated made us uneasy. We needed to be somewhere with better opportunities. 3) If we did move for the job situation, we wanted to do it proactively – before either of us lost our jobs, and before the kids were old enough to be in school. The plan was to save money, move, find employment, find a place to live, and lay permanent roots.

And that’s what we did, until the whole Boston fiasco and wildly bouncing around the country four times in three years between 2014 and 2017. If we’d skipped those years and stayed in the same place according to our original plans, we’d all be in a far better place these days, in health, in finances, in my potential career, in mental health, etc. But this post isn’t about the way we kicked our lives off balance in 2014. It’s an evaluation of the reasons we chose to move here, the reasons we kept choosing to move back here, whether or not those reasons still apply, and if newer factors have changed anything.

Old Factors

  • Family: All those former young kids are now grown up, and much of my family lives farther away now. Most of those who live close are part of the core group of anti-vaxxers in my family, and there’s been a large cultural schism due to the pandemic. This is no longer a factor to stay, and honestly might be a factor in favor of leaving – more distance might be better at this point.
  • Jobs: Nearly 20 years of experience and technology has made this factor virtually nonexistent.
  • Kids and School: Our last kid graduated from high school this spring. Another no-long-relevant factor.

So our reasons for moving here originally in 2005 are no longer valid. I next want to look at the reasons we kept returning, the additional factors that arose between 2005 and our last move to San Antonio in 2017.

New Factors

  • Friends and Family: I already discussed family factors above. In friends, I had writing groups, book clubs, and health-related groups. Each time we moved away, I struggled to find similar groups for one reason or another. I always wanted to come back to where my people were.
  • Familiarity: We always moved back to the same area, both because of the school situation, but also the library, my favorite hiking park, my chiropractor, Half Price Books, our specific HEB, Salsalitos, and so many other restaurants, businesses, neighborhoods, parks, etc that made up the fabric of so many of our years. This area felt like home.

But of course, things don’t always stay the same, and this is where I need to focus on both the positive and negative changes over the last five years since moving back to SA for the final time, as well as the potential risks and implications of relocating again.

Recent Factors

  • Cats: With seven cats, our options for housing will be limited to buying a house. Buying in a new area without prior firsthand knowledge is a potentially disastrous proposition. No matter how much research you do beforehand, you can never tell if you’re making the right decision. Making the wrong decision puts you in an even more financially vulnerable position, and we aren’t young anymore. We can’t make another disastrous decision like we did with Boston.
  • Hiking: More recently, I’ve made an amazing circle of friends through my hiking group, and I love being part of this. I would really miss this if I were to leave, and I don’t know if I could find something similar, or how long it would take me to do so, if I moved.
  • Pandemic/Business Changes: Covid really changed the landscape of familiarity, with shops going out of business, hours shortening, and generally making my family more homebound (including WFH for Jason a big chunk of the time).
  • Paving the Park: My favorite hiking park mentioned above has been 90% paved over, which makes it much harder for me to use. (Degraded joints don’t like concrete.) It feels like an entirely different place, and I don’t go there nearly as often as I used to.
  • Doctors/Health: I finally found a good primary care doctor here, which is something I’ve struggled with no matter where I live. I’d hate to give that up. On the flip side, San Antonio is one of the worst cities in the country in terms of health, especially with the allergens being so high that even people who aren’t allergic react to them.
  • Weather/Climate: It’s burning hot six months of the year, which makes consistent exercise difficult, and takes a toll on my mental health. With climate change, the heat is getting progressively worse each year. I would love to live in a place with a more moderate climate year round.
  • Family Changes: My kids are all moving away to different parts of the world. The pandemic has caused a rift in my extended family. My siblings all live at least five hours away. Family is no longer a factor in staying, and might be a factor in leaving.
  • Politics: Uuuugh Texas is the worst and I don’t feel even remotely safe here. This was the catalyst that kicked all this from idle wondering to actively making potential plans.
  • Finances/Cost of Moving: As I said above, we’re not young. If we move, we need to be absolutely sure this is the right decision. Moving is expensive – often upwards of $20k goes toward moving expenses, and that’s doing it all yourself – and unfortunately, San Antonio remains one of the cheapest metro areas to live in. Other metro areas around the country range from double to ten times our housing market. Even if our current mortgage was paid off and we sold our house at the height of the most recent bubble, the amount we’d earn (all toward down payment) still wouldn’t make an affordable mortgage in many places. So places we could move would be limited to higher crime cities, small towns, or deep red state areas – none of which are acceptable.

This last factor is the biggest impediment to moving. Regardless of whether or not we want to move, or should move, it’s whether we can move that has to be answered. And honestly, with the current housing market, the answer to that is no except in a few locations (and even these require some sacrifices in our criteria). Of course, housing markets and political landscape can change any second, but in the meantime, we’ve been looking at two places we could potentially afford to move to in the next 5-10 years: Albuquerque and Pittsburgh. They are vastly different areas, both with pros and cons, neither or which either of us have been to. I’ve been gathering info both from internet searches and from friends who have visited and lived in those places, and the perspectives, the better. So if you have anything to add to that, I’d love to hear your experience! (Or if you have other location ideas, I’d open to hearing them!)

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