Wellness Wednesday – Fitbit Charge Review

Last week, I mentioned that I had to replace my Fitbit One tracker with a Fitbit Charge. This was not something I wanted to do. I wanted a hip-clip pedometer that tracks steps, miles, and elevation, which is exactly what the One did. The Charge tracks those three things, in addition to your heart rate, which is supposed to make the daily calories-burned number more accurate. (Oh, and they both track sleep, but I never really used that feature on the One and didn’t really care about it for the Charge.) So now, after using the Charge since the beginning of April, I have a review: it’s awful.

The Charge is a wrist-tracker, which means several things. First, it’s frickin’ hot to wear in Texas. Second, it’s big and bulky and obviously screams, “I’M A FITBIT!” Third, it has metal contacts in order to track your heart rate, and after only two weeks of wearing it, I started getting a rash in that area. (Not uncommon for me – I’ve had this kind of metal contact allergy before.) It’s hard to see in the picture, but the top half of that indentation is red and raw and shiny, starting to shred. And that indentation? That’s after wearing the band loosely.

This is a four-part thing:

  1. The so-called heart rate monitor is completely inaccurate, and it’s even worse when you’re doing any kind of exercise with your upper body. For example, when I’m using a pickaxe and shovel, my heart rate soars, but you could never tell from the wrist monitor because it slides around no matter how tight you wear it (because of the sweat from it being frickin’ hot to wear), so it never gets a real measure of what your heart rate is doing.
  2. As for steps, it seems to count them accurately only if you’re actually just walking around. If I go to the grocery store and push around a cart for an hour, I might get 100 steps out of that hour. If I’m carrying something in my hand so that my arm doesn’t swing as I walk, I might as well not be walking at all. Seriously, Fitbit, if your wrist-trackers can’t track your steps when your arm is up/immobile, it isn’t accurate!
  3. As for the sleep tracker and calorie tracker, I have no idea how accurate those are. I don’t really care about the sleep bit, and the calorie tracker seems to be extraordinarily high. Example: I took a two-mile walk on hills at an easy 20-min-mile pace. My Fitness Pal says that’s worth about 233 calories. I imagine that’s low, because it doesn’t take into account the hills. But the Charge tells me I’ve burned almost double that, at 455 calories. Um…that’s just TOO high. My daily calories burned have shot to an average of over 3000. Even my no-exercise, low-step days are around 2700. That’s a huge difference from what the One gave me (2300-2700), and the One seemed to be pretty spot on in terms of daily calorie tracking.
  4. The elevation tracker doesn’t work very well either. I actually got the Charge instead of one of the smaller, cheaper Fitbits because it tracks elevation. However, I can go up five flights of stairs and have it only count the elevation as two flights. My One usually told me that a walk around my neighborhood – with lots of big hills – was about 25 flights of stairs in elevation. The Charge calls it under 15, sometimes as low as 10, and it varies from walk to walk even if I use the same route. Highly inaccurate.

There aren’t a lot of positives in this situation, but I will highlight the few perks I enjoyed in my couple weeks wearing this thing. Every hour, if you haven’t walked 250 steps, you get a little buzz to remind you. Similarly, the thing vibrates and celebrates when you hit your step goal. Lastly, it vibrates when you have a phone call or text and it shows the caller or message on its display. Those are lovely features, but they certainly don’t outweigh the rest of this mess.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what I can do if I want to continue having a step counter. Most companies have gone the wrist direction, no matter how many people complaining about it online (and there are a LOT of complaints). In the meantime, I’ve rebooted my old One and will see if I can keep it limping along until I find a better solution. If all else fails, I suppose I’ll have to get a Fitbit Zip, which is a hip-clip that tracks steps only. Not what I want, but what else can I do? Does anyone else know of any solid, accurate hip-clip trackers similar to the One?

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Ten(ish) Most-Read Authors

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie! Since I’ve been blogging now for a bit over ten years, I figured I should take a look back at my top ten most-read authors since I began the blog! Of course, when I counted everything up, I discovered that I have to put eleven authors on the list, as there’s a three-way tie for the 10th spot. In order of book numbers:

11. David Levithan (8) – I figure that books written with other authors count, and so if I count both joint-writes and his own books, Levithan squeaks into my most-read count!

10. Marissa Meyer (8) – Every single book I’ve read by Meyer has been part of the same series/world/spin-off, and every single one of those books loved.

9. Suzanne Collins (8) – Did y’all know she wrote a five-book middle-grade series as well as the Hunger Games series?

8. Neil Gaiman (9) – I was surprised to see I’d read so many by Gaiman (including joint-writes, like with Levithan), because I was initially so turned off by his writing when I first read him. But I’ve enjoyed quite a bit by Gaiman, and he’s one of the very first authors I discovered because of other book bloggers.

7. Maggie Stiefvater (9) – This number is only going to go up as she has many books I have yet to get to.

6. Maureen Johnson (10) – Johnson is another author I only discovered due to blogging, and I’ve loved almost every single one of her books over the years.

5. William Somerset Maugham (10) – This one makes me laugh. Maugham is the author that helped me rediscover my love of reading back in 2001, and showed me that not all classics were the kinds they forced you to read in high school. I’ve read far more than ten of his books – 16 to be precise, not to mention all 91 of his short stories – but he was a prolific man and I’m sure this number will also continue to increase over time.

4. Diana Wynne Jones (13) – I only began reading Jones’ books in 2012 and they’ve been hit or miss with me, though one of my favorite books ever certainly comes from her!

3. JK Rowling (14) – This is no surprise, eh? I had a hard time deciding how to add up the number of books I’ve read by Rowling. The Harry Potter series, yes, but do I count reading the British version of the first book? How about the French versions of the entire series? In the end, I counted the HP books only one apiece, and the other seven books come from her other works, including her Cormoran Strike series and her joint efforts with other authors on The Cursed Child.

2. Scott Westerfeld (15) – I discovered Westerfeld early in the days of blogging and quickly read through just about everything he had on offer. He hasn’t put out a lot over the last few years, so it’s been awhile since I’ve read something by him, but he’s one of few authors who I pretty much trust to almost always deliver.

1. Brandon Sanderson (22) – Aaaaand we get to the number one slot, an author I’d never even heard of until 2011 and didn’t begin reading until 2012. Sanderson is now my very favorite author and I’ve read everything I can get my hands on. I’m now at that point where I either have to revisit books or just wait for the next one to arrive. Sanderson is one of very few authors whose books I’ll buy outright before ever reading them, because they are always, always worth reading and having on my shelf.

There you have it! My top most read authors since I began blogging! It’s quite a diverse group – adult, YA, classics, fantasy, literary, mysteries, authors that write alone or with others, authors who work in both print and graphic novel format…and to think, only three of these eleven authors are ones I found either before blogging or from a non-blog source! Just another way that book blogging has totally changed the way I read over the last ten years. Hurrah!!


Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

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Sunday Coffee – Cat Drama

(my new “Freudian Sips” mug, ha!)

A good chunk of my readers probably saw what happened this week if they know me on Facebook. For the rest of the group, it has been cat-drama-central here in April!

So remember back when I said Jojo needed to go back to the Cat Cafe because he was really aggressive toward our cats? Well, that same day, we decided to give him another week’s trial. With no improvement, we took him back to the Cafe on April 2nd, the day after Atticus came home with us. I saw him again on the 3rd when I went to do Yoga With Cats. He was cuddly but eventually bit my wrist to tell me he was done with me, and went to play with the other kitties for the rest of the night. That’s the devil I’d come to know and love, heh. I thought he was adjusting well, and despite still feeling guilty and heartbroken about our decision, I was okay. Until a week later.

Last Tuesday, I suddenly received a bunch of cancellation notices for former yoga classes at the Cafe. Then my friend Stephanie, who goes to yoga with me, said that all classes were off the calendar until July. She wrote them on Facebook to see what was up, but didn’t get an answer that day. I started doing research around lunchtime that day, and saw that oddly, there were a bunch of negative reviews up on their FB page all of a sudden. They were all from former employees, making allegations about the Cafe. Some of the allegations I know to be true, others appeared to be exaggerations and didn’t tally with what I had experienced firsthand, and still others hinted at a possible Animal Care Services investigation with seizure of the cats.

(Jojo and Atticus)

This sent me into a panic. Jojo had only been back at the Cafe for a week, and I worried that we’d sent him back into an unsuitable environment, plus if he went to ACS he could very well be euthanized if not adopted in 30 days. Extremely distressing! Jason felt equally distressed, and he suggested we go pick him up from the Cafe and take him home again, just to get him away from all the mess, no matter how true or untrue everything was. He wrote to the owner and asked if we could pick him up, and she readily agreed. I went right then and there, spoke with the owner a bit (who told me her side of the story, allegations against former employees that had some truth and some exaggeration, as one might expect from both sides of a problem), and brought Jojo home.

The Cat Cafe is currently closed for the next month, and they have that time to get themselves in order. They’re under investigation and have several citations for code and health violations, plus they need to thin out their cat population and get the cats healthy before they can open their doors again. Frankly, I’m not sure I’m going to go there anymore, even if they can get themselves in order. Jojo came home with an upper respiratory infection and having lost over half a pound in the week he was there. We’re having to nurse him back to health all over again. As much as I loved the idea of the Cafe and grew to love the kitties there, I think I need to pull my support over to a different no-kill shelter that has better resources, management, and ability to care for rescue-cats.

In the meantime, Jojo is back home again, at least temporarily. We don’t know how it will work out long term, and we might be looking for a different home for him. We’re taking it one day at a time, focusing right now on getting him healthy again. Sigh.

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A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

Steffi suffers from a lot of mental health disorders, including severe anxiety, panic disorder, and selective mutism. She cannot talk except in rare circumstances or in the few locations/with the few people she’s most comfortable. Rhys is new at school, introduced to Steffi by their head of year because Rhys is deaf and Steffi knows a little sign language. For the first time, Steffi can communicate with someone without her voice, and between that and beginning a new medication for anxiety, she starts to improve.

Let me start by saying this isn’t a magic story where people with disabilities (physical or mental) suddenly get 100% better. There are no magic cures. One of the things that Steffi deals with all through the book and what frustrates her the most is that even when she’s happy and things are going well, anxiety or panic still strikes whenever it feels like it. Her voice will still disappear, even in moments when she most needs it. There is no “Super Steffi” waiting to pop out in the middle of a crisis. Barnard does a really good job portraying Steffi’s disorders realistically. That was my favorite part of this book.

The romance part – because of course you’re going to have a romance in a contemporary YA novel with that kind of book cover, no? – was also pretty cute. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, and there were a lot of barriers that kept erecting themselves between Steffi and Rhys. Again, that was a good, realistic portrayal, even if at times I felt like there was just too much here, like Steffi should remember that she has a life outside of her newfound boyfriend. Not unrealistic in first-love stories, but still, a bit too much for me.

Unfortunately, I have two negatives to go along with my two positives, making this the fourth book in a row that I have mixed feelings about. (I need something to break the streak soon!) The first has to do with the lack of breadth in the novel. I get it – Steffi’s world is small. There are perhaps half a dozen people she can actually speak to. However, she attends school, works at an animal shelter, and has two family sets (divorced and remarried parents) that she interacts with regularly. Other than Steffi, Rhys, and Steffi’s best friend, Tem, all other characters are few and far between. Even people like Steffi’s family only have short cameos, and I think there were only three or four student names ever mentioned. I didn’t feel like the world was entirely fleshed out, and that made the novel feel a bit tunnel-like. Again, I get it, Steffi’s world probably feels tunnel-like! But even if she stays as invisible as possible, others still exist for longer than a few sentences. It almost seemed as if the book could have been Steffi-and-Rhys, all other characters removed, to tell the story, and I would have liked to see her in a more populated world.

The second thing that bothered me was Steffi’s relationship with Tem, or really, with anyone other than Rhys. Many books don’t pass the Bechdel test, but this one was extreme about it. Steffi literally could not have a conversation with any other female character that wasn’t about boys. I know that romance is a big part of many adolescents’ thoughts, but this girl has far bigger things to think about than boys, and those concerns rarely cropped up in conversation beyond a quick mention. That was a huge downside for me. I loved that this was a story about living with a disability in a world that often ignores disabilities, and I would have liked to see more of that beyond the romance. Yes, there’s a lot about it when Steffi is just narrating, alone, but I would have liked to hear more when she was with others. Plus, I would have liked her to talk with others about things that were not just her disability and/or romance. I’m sure she had more in her life beyond those two things!

I do think the positives outweigh the negatives, however. It’s just so rare to have books that deal with disabilities in a down-to-earth manner, and I think it’s important to have stories like this one out there.

Posted in 2018, Prose, Young Adult | Tagged | 2 Comments

Wellness Wednesday – Fitbit (and more)

My Fitbit One broke. Boooooo! I only got it for my birthday last year, though I’ve been using a One on and off for the last five years. I love that thing. It’s the most accurate pedometer I’ve ever come across and it tracked elevation as well! But sadly, the One seems to have been discontinued, so my replacement is a Fitbit Charge. It’s a wrist strap, which means that 1) it’s very sweaty here in hot Texas, 2) it doesn’t track your steps properly if you aren’t swinging your arm (like when you push a grocery cart), and 3) it has a built-in heart rate monitor that seems to be semi-accurate (not sure yet if this will be helpful or harmful!). I’m sure I’ll get use to it, but I’m taking a few seconds to mourn my One.

I’ve been learning (again) about my body’s exercise coping techniques. Most of my exercise involves yoga, walking (either outdoor hills/trails or indoor flat easy walks), and an occasional dance or elliptical session. My body is not quite back to the level of running, and I learned a long time ago that strength training with heavy weights does me more harm than good. This last weekend, though, I spent several hours helping with the front yard landscaping job. This meant a lot of shoveling rocky soil and hauling heavy rocks and breaking up tough ground with a pickaxe.

This may not be heavy weights, but essentially it ended up doing the same thing to my body. At the end of the day, I was somewhat sore and tired, and I was also S-T-A-R-V-I-N-G. That’s not an exaggeration. I ate nearly 1500 calories for dinner alone after that workout. I’d eaten well the rest of the day, so I still managed to squeak in with a small deficit, but y’all? Eating 1500 calories at a meal is so not good! And here’s the thing: When I compare what I burned on that day on my Fitbit Charge to the day before when my exercise consisted of a two-mile walk and 45 mins of yoga, I burned identical calories through the day, and the walk + yoga didn’t make me eat everything in sight! Lesson learned. The yard is coming along nicely, though!

I’m seeing numbers on my scale that I haven’t seen since July. When we moved back to Texas, circumstances were crazy enough for the month before and after our move that I bumped up to the higher end of the range I’d been maintaining for a year at that point. My scale has flirted with the bottom edge of my Texas weigh-ins for months now, but this week I finally broke through some invisible barrier. There’s obviously not a huge difference between one number and the next, but the mental boost of finally reaching that short-term goal is tremendous! Now on to the next goal!!

In lesser news, I had blood tests for the first time in six months. While some numbers were good, especially when it came to my blood sugar, my cholesterol is way up because my LDL is way up. Triglycerides are down a lot, but I’ve got to get the LDL under control. So I’ve got to change up the way I’m eating just a bit to get that fixed. Ironically, six months ago my LDL was the lowest it had ever been and my cholesterol was doing great. Sigh. At least my insulin issues seem to be controlled!

Back before we moved to Boston in 2014, there was a certain two-mile walk I liked to take on summer evenings once the sun had started to go down and the humidity was very low. The walk took me out of my neighborhood and around the middle and elementary schools, and a big chunk of the walk took place on what our family called the “wiggly sidewalk.” The boys, when they were little, used to run up and down the curves yelling, “Wiggly! Wiggly! Wiggly!” It’s an old family memory. I took this photo of said wiggly sidewalk back on a walk in 2012:

Ever since moving back to San Antonio last summer, I’ve wanted to walk from my new neighborhood down to this area and back, a 3.5-mile round-trip route. This week, I finally did it! Monday morning was cool and cloudy and perfect. This is a relatively flat walk (other than curving up and down the wiggles, and some very small inclines along the main road), so I just took it easy and enjoyed being back around my old neighborhood. We’re not very far from our old house – about two miles – and it was a pleasure to get back down to the area again. It won’t be a route I walk often as it’s all on major roads and involves a lot of stopping and waiting at intersections, but I’m so glad I finally took the time to do something I’d wanted to do for eight months now!

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The One, by John Marrs

If a DNA test could match you to the one person in the world you are biologically compatible with, would you take the test? How would your results influence your actions? Can terms like “love” and “soulmate” really be quantified through pheromones and neural reactions? That’s the idea behind The One: a gene has been identified that can match you up with your perfect biological soulmate, and millions of people have scrambled to enter their DNA into the database. Five narrators tell the stories of their lives and the way Match Your DNA influences and changes their fate.

For the third book in a row now, I had mixed feelings about this book. So again, I’ll just cut this into plus and minus:

Plus: This was a fast read that was very engaging and kept me on tenderhooks for all 400+ pages. It would be a great Readathon selection. The characters were all very diverse in personality and situation, and most of them (not just narrators but supporting characters also) were fleshed out quite well. The writing is precise, and each narrator sounds different from the others, which is hard to pull off. Each story has its own twists and turns, and while none of the stories really intersected with the others, I never felt like I was reading multiple books (also hard to pull off). This was a thriller that didn’t rely on shocks or unbelievable twists to move the plot ahead, and I really appreciated that.

Minus: As with most books that I speed through, I felt a little sick on finishing the book simply because I’d read it all too fast. I never felt like I had a chance to breathe the entire time I read. There were very few down moments. Additionally, some of the science and a lot of the psychology was WAY off, which irked me. (This is particularly apparent in any discussions of sociopathy/psychopathy throughout the book.) There was also little merit given to the non-biological aspects of romance, which Michelle discusses in her very excellent review. Several of the stories ended without wrapping up all the details, and while I don’t usually mind ambivalence in books, I prefer to have all the answers in a thriller like this one. Lastly, there was a note of “obviously this is a bad thing; we shouldn’t mess with science this way” that might be entirely accidental, simply because a lot of complicated stories are explored. I would have liked to see some contradictory evidence, though, because the whole premise of the book is that millions of couples have found each other and lived happily ever after due to Match Your DNA.

Despite my minus paragraph being nearly twice the size of my plus-paragraph, I actually swing closer to the positive side of this book. It was engaging and a good read, and some of my negatives are due to personal quirks (like disliking when I read a book too quickly). If you like thrillers, and don’t mind a tiny bit of quasi-science-fiction flavor, I highly recommend you pick this one up.

Posted in 2018, Adult, Prose | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Sunday Coffee – District-wide Book Sale!

Every year in April, the boys’ school district hosts a district-wide used book sale. Thousands of books are donated and sold for under a dollar each over the course of three days. I’ve been most years when I’ve lived in San Antonio, and even though my current to-acquire list is quite low, I decided to head out yesterday to see if I found anything that caught my eye.

As it turns out, I did find a few things! Firstly, I found two books for Jason – an early book by James Joyce called Stephen Hero, and a nonfiction volume called Sources of Japanese Tradition. Morrigan might like that latter one as well, since he’s heading to Japan later this year.

For me, I found five books. One is a childhood favorite: From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. This is the exact same edition I had as a kid, with the same illustrations! Then there’s The Shadow Cabinet, the third book in a series by Maureen Johnson that I really like. I still need to get my hands on the second book, and of course the fourth when it comes out, but I was glad to find this one! The third is The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, which I read a few years ago and still think about quite often. Then there are two books I don’t actually know: The Invention of Curried Sausage by Uwe Timm, which I’ve been told is a modern German classic, and a random book called City of Masks by Mary Hoffman. The cover and description of this one looked interesting, and for fifty cents, I figured I could afford to risk it!

There’s a possibility my family might go back today for the last day of the sale, the “bag day” where you get a large bag and fill it as much as you can for $15, only $10 for further bags. I didn’t have much of a chance to look at the children’s books for some favorites from elementary and middle school that I’ve been trying to get my hands on. Who knows? I was told that the district got TONS of books this year and that they’re still putting out new ones on the floor as it empties. So maybe we’ll find some good ones today?

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