Wellness Wednesday – All About Coffee

Let’s talk coffee, allergies, inflammation, and weight. I tried to find my posts from last year that discussed this already, but after finding all these different pieces in multiple posts, I decided to compile this in one place. So for a quick recap:

  • Prior to late 2013, I didn’t drink coffee at all. I began drinking coffee drinks at Starbucks maybe 1-2 times per month in autumn 2013 while I was going through a really rough emotional time.
  • For Christmas 2013, Jason got me a Keurig. I began drinking coffee more often in early 2014, becoming a once-a-day habit by about March, and I began drinking it twice a day in May 2014.
  • May 2014 is when I began gaining weight after maintaining with no problem for almost 1.5 years. I didn’t connect it with the coffee because there were other factors involved – my stupid attempt at doing Whole30, a lot of family issues, and an upcoming cross-country move (aka lots of stress).
  • From May 2014 to early this July, I had at least one cup of coffee every single day. My weight gain went from May 2014 to March 2016 in a bit of a roller coaster, then leveled off at 75-80 lbs of regain from March 2016 to October 2020. (I’ll get to October and beyond later.)

Now, I began suspecting that coffee might be an issue in the spring of 2017. I started a personal 100-day experiment with the intent to cut out alcohol altogether and see if it affected my ability to lose weight. I also cut coffee down to once a day by chance. The experiment only lasted a few weeks because my family entered our Summer of Nightmares, and when you’re living under that much trauma and stress, personal experiments kinda lose priority. But I did lose a small amount of weight in that time, which I attributed to the alcohol abstinence.

Only by spring 2018, I’d mostly given up alcohol, and I hit a stride for about two months where I actually managed to lose about 7.5 lbs (equal to what My Fitness Pal predicted per my tracking). I tried to compare this 65-day period to the one I’d kept track of in later 2017, during which I lost nothing even though MFP thought I should lose 5-6 lbs. There were a lot of potential factors, but one I didn’t mention on that post was that in 2017, I drank 2-3 cups of coffee per day, and in spring 2018, I only had one daily. That’s when things really got suspicious in my mind.

Yet, it still took me until 2020 before I was willing to publicly call out coffee as a possible suspect in my health problems, and to design some coffee experiments to determine if the coffee itself, or caffeine, or some other factor related to coffee was the problem. I had a lot of realizations in 2020: I could have potentially given myself a metabolic disorder via coffee; I craved coffee to soothe anxiety over being hungry; coffee was clearly bad for my body as it caused severe hypoglycemia attacks. None of that was enough to overcome my addiction, which grew worse the longer I thought about giving it up. Honestly, I’m not sure if I ever would have managed to quit if I hadn’t landed in the hospital on July 10th. I saw the opportunity, and caffeine-headaches be damned, I ran with it.

Now, to change the subject slightly, I want to go back to the October 2020 to July 2021 weight story. Because in October 2020, my many-years of maintaining suddenly disappeared. I wasn’t eating or exercising any differently, but I started gaining about 3 lbs per month. At first, I blamed this on the new medication my doctor had put me on, but even after I got off it, I continued to gain. (Likely, this medication was the cause, because it’s literally designed to affect your metabolism, and I didn’t actually fit the criteria for taking it – didn’t have diabetes or PCOS – so it affected me badly.) I’ve fought like hell for the last nine months, and nothing I’ve done has made a difference. I just kept gaining. By the time I went into the hospital on July 10th, I was up a total of 26.5 lbs. (And yes, I was gaining even during the three weeks where I couldn’t keep down any food – I was gaining faster, in fact.)

When I got out of the hospital, I didn’t weigh in for a few days. Normally, I get on the scale most days, but I knew that with the amount of water they’d pumped into me – I had the fattest, most swollen hands ever – I didn’t want to see a number affected by water weight. When I did weigh in on the 16th, my weight was down about 1.5 lbs from before I went into the hospital. And over the rest of July – as my digestive system stabilized and I was able to keep food down – I lost a further 3 lbs. Y’all, I was no paragon of good health. I hardly exercised because I was recovering from sepsis. I could only eat very simple, processed foods because anything too complex would cause stomach issues. There was a lot of ice cream, cereal, and bread-and-butter eaten in the second half of July!

Now, it is too early to say 100% that things have turned around for me. The weight loss may simply have had to do with the giant influx of antibiotics changing around my gut flora. Maybe I’ll get another 2-3 months down the road and find out that cutting coffee has changed nothing at all. However, I suspect (and hope!) that this is, indeed, the answer. Whether an allergy or an interference with my metabolic system or something else entirely, hopefully cutting coffee will be the key that unlocks the door I’ve been searching for these last seven years.

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July 2021 in Review

So. July. It was an interesting month in the Gignacery. 1) Four birthdays, including one in my direct household. 2) We added three car accidents on top of the one from June, and had to replace both our cars. 3) I spent four days in the hospital for colitis with sepsis, and after I got home, I re-broke my toe (it is still not healed). 4) I canceled my small intestine biopsy because it’s not good to have surgery on the digestive system a week after finishing an antibiotic course for a massive digestive system infection. 5) Laurence began driver’s ed, but can’t actually start the driving portion until after he gets his permit, and the earliest appointment available was the end of September. 6) Covid began resurging in SATX, though thankfully this has yet to directly affect my family. 7) We got the one kitten with FeLV to Austin, but the other three are still living in Jason’s bedroom, and new guidelines mean that the vets won’t spay/neuter for 5-6 months for anyone other than a shelter, which we are not. Every shelter is full, so we’re stuck with the kittens for now, and we can’t rescue the new litter as planned. They’ll have to be TNR babies, and this makes me sad.

Can August be boring, please?

Reading and Watching
I finished four books this month, three of them on audio. It was the first time I’d really wanted to listen to audio in awhile now, and I had some much-anticipated books come in. In order, I read Down to Earth, The Box in the Woods, The Night Hawks, and Bridge of Souls. Definitely the best of these was The Night Hawks. I loved the return to north Norfolk, and to Ruth Galloway’s world.

Now, in the second half of the month, I hardly read a thing, because Olympics! There were so many good moments: Ashleigh Johnson’s amazing work as the women’s waterpolo goalie; Ahmed Hafnaoui from Tunisia blasting ahead to win the men’s 400m freestyle (especially since 1) he’s an actual Tunisian, not an American with a Tunisian grandfather, and 2) he didn’t expect it and his reaction was beyond priceless!); the reaction of Tatjana Schoenmaker of South African when she realized she not only won gold in the 200 breastroke, she’d broken the world record too; all the new mixed relay events (medley relay in swimming, triathlon, etc); and Simone Biles showing the world that mental health is every bit as important as physical health.

It was a watch-heavy money, as beyond the Olympics, I watched Sophie: Murder in West Cork, Home Before Dark (season 1 and all of 2 that’s out so far), and Raya and the Last Dragon. I guess TV kinda becomes critical when you’re literally on bedrest for weeks.

I’ve basically given up on goals this year, but in July, I just happened to complete one really big one: I gave up coffee. At first, it wasn’t voluntary. They won’t even give you ice chips in the ER until they’ve done all their tests and made sure you don’t need emergency surgery! Not that I wanted coffee while under those circumstances (though I really wanted water, or at least ice chips!). It wasn’t until the next day that got the caffeine withdrawal headache, and not until the day after that that I actually began craving coffee specifically. On my second day in the hospital, I was offered coffee, but I declined. I knew this was my chance. I was on painkillers (which helped slightly with the headache) and they were giving me unsweetened iced tea with lemon, which also took the edge off. I stayed strong when, on the morning of the third day, they brought coffee with my breakfast. And I stayed strong when I came home to several jugs of iced coffee in my fridge. For a few days, I drank that iced-tea-with-lemon to help with the headaches, but eventually I stopped that too, mostly because I don’t like tea. In any case, today is Day 24 since I quit. I did have an iced coffee on Thursday evening this week, because I was really craving the taste, but that’s it since July 9th!

Um, as I landed myself in the hospital for four days with colitis and sepsis, came home and re-broke my toe, and generally was unable to exercise or do anything for most of the month, my health is not great. I did just start trying to do a little bit of walking/hiking again, though I’ve been told to take it REALLY easy for a few months as my body recovers from sepsis. It’s very easy to relapse, and I definitely don’t want to do that.

Favorite photos
I realized this month just how little variety there is in my photos when I’m stuck inside all the time. It’s cats, kittens, and various creatures living in my garden. Other than the trip to the hospital, I didn’t leave my house until the 27th. Each time, I found so many fun things to photograph, even if I didn’t actually get to take that many photos. So I really have tons and tons of the same photo this month, which made picking favorites very difficult! As always, these photos were taken by me and aren’t always good photography, just my favorite pics of the month.

Clockwise from top left: pipevine swallowtail on zinnias; I was trying to take a photo of our house, when Laurence walked out with the recycling and made this face at me; Gherkin got all puffy with her little stubby tail, ha!; liriope blooming

Clockwise from top left: a photo of two of my favorite words: prestidigitation and crépuscule; Ambrose in his monocle on his birthday; vitex blooms at the library; perfect Gavroche yawn timing (ha!)

Highlights of July
It was a dark month. Hospital, injury, multiple car accidents. Oy. So it was hard to track the good moments. There were lots of little things with the kittens as they made more progress into becoming fully domesticated babies. And of course, Olympic moments because I love the Olympics. Beyond that:

  • hummingbirds and butterflies and grasshoppers and dragonflies and all the beautiful things flocking to our garden!
  • Reaper and Ghost both making biscuits!
  • flowers from my hiking gals in the hospital
  • the last of my Way of Kings kickstarter swag arrived!
  • getting our first electric car
  • my friend Melanie got married! Sadly due to the medical issues, I couldn’t be there, but it was lovely to see the photos and to see her so happy!
  • saw my cousin Byron and his family, spending an afternoon with them on the Riverwalk
  • Ambrose turned 19, and got both a cane and a monocle for his birthday, ha!
  • while I’d rather not have had to buy a new car, it’s awesome to own a pretty car with a cool color for the first time ever!
  • J got a work bonus for some extra stuff he’s done recently, which has been really helpful with all the extra car/vet/medical bills this summer

Coming up in August
More Olympics, though without the frantic pace of the first week when most of the events I watch are crammed in together. Hopefully a slow return to weekly hikes – I’ve signed up for a few – and other than that, please let the month be as boring and uneventful as possible! I’d love to find homes for these kittens, too!!!

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Quarantine Diaries – July 2021

So San Antonio just finished its 72nd week of the pandemic on Thursday, and the weeks since I last wrote (week 67) have been a doozy. To be honest, I would have liked to be able to keep this as a subset of my monthly wrap-up post. There was a bit too much for that in July, though, mostly because a giant chunk of the US population continues to refuse vaccines, and that combined with the delta variant, and we’re having another new surge. Sigh.

The Way the Numbers have Grown
So let me start with a general picture of where things left off in June. At the end of June, we had a total of ~226,500 cases with 3,550 deaths, an amazingly low positivity rate of 1.3%, an average daily case number of ~100, and only 135-140 folks in the hospital. Things had continued to improve or stay steady for the whole month of June.

Because the city stopped twice-weekly briefings toward the end of June, it wasn’t until mid-July that I started to hear rumblings about things going wrong. Let me start with some quick stats, as of Thursday, July 29 (end of Week 72):

  • Cases: ~239,000 (up 12,500)
  • Deaths: ~3650 (up 100)
  • Positivity rate through the month: 1.3% at the end of June, to 3.8%, to 5.8%, to 11.2%, to 13.5%, to 17% now
  • Daily case average through the month: ending at 724/day, with the weeks leading up going from 106, to 265, to 363, to 589, to 724
  • Hospital trends: steady increase through the month with sharp jumps toward the end, ending the month with 695 in the hospital (up ~550+) with ~200 in ICU – Note: Many hospital patients are adolescent/pediatric, far more than before, some requiring oxygen or ventilator, many without underlying conditions

As you can see, everything is much worse than a month ago. There are some mitigating factors, though. First, there was a huge drop in testing (by about 61% in mid-July), so the high positivity rate can be partially explained by this. An example: When our positivity rate was 11% in January, there were 6000 folks who tested positive in a single week. In mid-July, when our positivity rate was 11%, there were 8673 folks tested, and 971 testing positive. So that’s a bit of perspective. However, the increase in daily case numbers and hospitalizations show that there is indeed a surge happening here in SA, and toward the end of the month, we started getting reports that testing centers had multi-hour waits and urgent care facilities were at capacity. So testing is definitely going back up again, too.

The causes of this new surge are easily identifiable. 1) Everything is open, and masking is on the honor system. Very few unvaccinated folks are wearing masks like they’re supposed to, because they were the loudest decriers of masks in the first place. (AKA the honor system doesn’t work) 2) The delta variant has surged into our community, at 20% at the beginning of July. I can’t find current data for SA, but a week back, the data for TX as a whole was around 60%. 3) Vaccination rates have stagnated at only 65% of our eligible population fully vaccinated, which is nowhere near high enough to keep the virus contained. [Good note, though: new reports on 7/31 said that first-dose vaccine appointments had a sudden surge after it was reported that Delta is as contagious as chickenpox and spreads as easily through vaccinated folks, so I guess people who just hadn’t done it before are starting to go in!!]

Honestly, I don’t understand the vaccine hesitance at this point. The numbers are in. Over the last six months, 99.5% of covid deaths were from unvaccinated folks. Over 95% of current hospitalizations from covid are from the unvaccinated. As of 7/23, only 12% of current infections were breakthrough, and that number makes up less than 1% of the total vaccinated population in San Antonio. Clearly, the vaccine works! Frankly, I’m starting to feel like in addition to people believing conspiracies and misinformation, were dealing with a lot of folks who are afraid of needles and will come up with any excuse to avoid them. If only I could convince the giant chunk of my family to get vaccinated…

Around the City
So back in June, San Antonio was at a “low” risk level. By mid-July, that was “mild” with a “worsening” trend, and by the end of the month, we’d moved into moderate. There have been a few impromptu briefings over the last couple weeks to discuss numbers and hospital stress, etc. There’s now talk about city and county workers potentially required to get the vaccine the way they are in some more liberal states around the country. (So far, this is one thing not outright banned from by the state government. My guess is it’ll be contested if it goes through.)

Unfortunately, there’s been a big outbreak here in an assisted-living facility, where nearly everyone was vaccinated. (This might actually be the reason that 12% of current infections are breakthrough.) A bit over 40 people got covid, and one man (last I heard) was in critical condition. However, the others are recovering well, which is a VAST difference to the outbreaks in nursing homes we had last year when no one was vaccinated. Most of our early deaths were from those outbreaks, and as far as I’m aware, not a single person from this outbreak died. AGAIN, VACCINES WORK!!!

(Siclovia 2015)

Two fun little facts: First, the zoo received animal versions of the covid vaccine to distribute, to keep covid from spreading via animals. I didn’t even know they were working on an animal version. Love it! Second, Siclovia has announced a new date for fall! Siclovia is a street festival in SA that happens only twice a year, and it hasn’t happened since autumn 2019. I love Siclovia and I’m so happy to see it back on the books, though I wonder if the current surge is going to get it shut down again.

Around the State and Country
Texas, in general, tends to do worse than San Antonio because the majority of people here are anti-masking covid-is-a-conspiracy idiots, and the governor panders to them. Only about 51% of the population is vaccinated (much lower than SA), and the state positivity rate has risen to 11.5%. Texas is having one of the worst surges in the US, along with Florida and Missouri. Those three states apparently make up 40% of the new cases among the US. Sigh. The country is having such a huge surge that the CDC reversed its guidelines this month and now recommends masking for all again.

(an actual clip of the email from our school district)

And of course, Abbott is making things harder for everyone except the covidiots. He’s banned any form of vaccine passport in the state so that those who choose not to get a vaccine can’t be “discriminated” against. *rolls eyes so hard* Then there’s the limitations he’s put on the public school system. Schools can’t require masks or vaccines, they can’t have funding to offer virtual classes, and now (the newest blow), they are no longer legally allowed to quarantine students or staff after a covid exposure. Covid is supposed to be treated “like the flu or strep throat” from here on out. WTF??? (Note: Our school district said they wouldn’t send out the daily letters about covid cases at individual schools this year, but parents protested, so those letters will return. Good.) Abbott also removed his own rules for rolling back occupancy limits if covid cases in hospitals exceed 15% for seven days in a row. His words: “Texans have mastered the safe practices that help to prevent and avoid the spread of COVID-19.” Me, looking at the above numbers: O RLY?

Headline: Bexar County is a covid-19 hotspot, CDC map shows

On the Homefront
It has been really nice, at least for a short time, to not worry so much about masks. There were a few times when we’ve been out and needed to stop for a second, didn’t have masks, and were still able to stop. We got to eat in a few restaurants. We saw a movie in theatre. It was nice!

However, that’s all gone now. Masks are back on. I was already being super careful about my mask as I’m at risk for secondary infection post-sepsis, but a lot of my friends are starting to get serious about masks again as well. It’s just what we’ve got to do. Of course, it’s really jarring to see things diverging so far. In late July, I went to my chiropractor’s office, to find that I was one of only three people wearing a mask, including one other patient and one receptionist. None of the chiropractors – not even the one who had an active sinus infection – were masked, and they definitely aren’t vaccinated. They all kept masks on after the governor’s permission to remove them in March, but then took them off after the CDC recommended putting them back on. Ugh, I really need to find a new chiropractor’s office! Then I walked into Dunkin the other day, and they actually had their seating area open – only now that things are surging again. Wut? Similarly, despite USAA’s initial decision that all employees would work from home until 2022, Jason’s team had to start going in one day a week this month. And when J arrived the first time, he was the only employee wearing a mask. I guess it’s no mystery why we’re surging.

I know everyone’s just tired of this. Believe me, I know. For the I-don’t-know-how-many-eth time, Jason and I canceled the cruise we had planned for September. The CDC has been keeping an eye on cruise companies/ships, and rating them based on their safety protocols and how many outbreaks they’ve had onboard. Royal Caribbean is one of the worst, and the ship we were on had an Orange rating. With numbers surging, this is not the time. So again, vacation is canceled, though we do still plan to go somewhere during the week J took off work. Not sure where yet, but somewhere we can get to outdoors and hopefully have an active, away-from-people kind of vacation!

Moving forward
Honestly, I’m not sure if I plan to do a monthly update in August, or to do one halfway through, or what. I was really hoping not to have to return to this…

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Bridge of Souls, by Victoria Schwab

Cassidy is being hunted, she doesn’t know by what. But being in New Orleans – her parents’ latest stop on their paranormal TV show – isn’t making the situation better. With overlapping layers of history, Cass must call on her new friend Lara to help her navigate, and with Lara’s help, they find a paranormal society who might have information they can use.

That’s a terrible description but I’m trying to avoid spoilers for the first two books.

I’ve been looking forward to this book for the last two years, through multiple delays re: covid. It’s a cute, creepy series, middle-grade level, and I really enjoyed the first two books. Unfortunately, this one took me ages to get through. It shouldn’t have. I loved the story, loved revisiting the characters, and thought so much about the book was good. But OMG setting is such an important part of a book, and y’all? I despise New Orleans.

Back in 1996, I went to Nola for the first time to visit a college, the only one my family could afford to take me to visit. It was sweltering, hot and humid, sticky, stinky, and horrible. I immediately decided I would not be going to school in Nola. Then in 2009, my family went there for vacation. I personally thought that my hatred of Nola was entirely due to it being summer when I was there, so we went in December, between Christmas and New Years. At first, I thought I enjoyed it – when I was in my hotel in the suburbs of Metairie, no where near downtown. The second we approached Jackson Square, though, gag gag gag. Reading this book, I realized just why I detest Nola so much. It’s the embodiment of chaos. There is no order to the place, and that’s what people love about it. It explodes with music (often jazz, which I also hate), noise, and disorder. People embrace that, and add to the chaos. Chaos is anathema to me. I’m constantly overstimulated, stressed out, anxious, and overwhelmed in Nola. I can’t wait to get out of the city as fast as possible.

So, reading a book set there, where the setting is an extremely important and interwoven part of the story, was tough. I kept putting the book away after five minutes of reading because I would be overwhelmed with mere idea of Nola. Eventually, the story moved a bit further away from the setting, and I was able to get through the last half of the book more quickly, but MAN this was a tough one to read. I’m still looking forward to the next installment – which won’t be in Nola – and reading this really taught me just how strongly an impact setting can have on a reader!

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Sunday Coffee – Olympics

Y’all! I love the Olympics. Especially the summer Olympics. And despite everything re: covid and safety issues and questionable scheduling, I’m so very happy to be watching the Olympics right now. I have so many memories from over the years, and the Games just make me happy.

I remember being a young teen and hoping that I could swim well enough to make the 2000 Olympics despite the fact that I only started swimming competitively when I was 12ish. Then, long after I gave up that dream, I wondered if one day I’d see any of my fellow swimmer teammates go on to the Olympics. (I didn’t, though ironically, when Jason and I got our will updated in 2009, our lawyer turned out to be one of those teammates!)

I remember back in the mid-90s when Dominique Dawes did those incredible floor routines where she soared so high I couldn’t believe it was possible. It was the start of non-white gymnasts on the US team, and the transition from super-young, super-thin gymnasts to powerful, muscular ones. It was also around the time when gymnasts were transitioning from all classical music dance routines to a whole variety of music. My mother hated it. I loved it.

Does anyone else remember when trampoline gymnastics were added to the games? Synchronized trampoline? Synchronized diving?

Speaking of synchronized diving, the 2004 men’s competition was awesome in an unconventional way, with the pair from Greece winning in Athens because all the divers ahead of them screwed up majorly. They weren’t expecting to win, and got so excited, running around with their flag, celebrating the unexpected. I wish I had that recorded – it’s one of my favorite moments ever in Olympic history.

The underdogs are always my favorites. I wish I saw more of them, tbh, but I know there’s a lot to cover. One of my recent favorites is Tongan athlete Pita Taufatofua, who participated in both summer and winter Olympics, the latter in skiing despite never getting onto snow until 12 weeks before the Games. These athletes are just so incredible and awe-inspiring!!!

I love watching the swimming, even the super long races that other people find boring. For years I loved watching folks try to swim the 1500-meter with Janet Evan’s world-record line nearly a lap ahead of the fastest swimmer. She held onto that record for an insane amount of time, from 1988 to 2007. She also held the 800 free for 19 years, and the 400 free for 18. That woman was a beast! And then there’s Dara Torres, who in 2008 competed in the Olympics at 41 years old! That’s incredible.

Much like Oksana Chusovitina, the 46-year-old gymnast who has competed in every single Olympics since 1992, and has qualified to compete this year as well. I saw her vaulting in 2016 and she’s just unbelievable.

Speaking of the 2016 Olympics, does anyone else remember the four chip varieties that Lays put out that summer? One of them was a Tikka Masala kettle chip, and omg that became my favorite chip of all time. I was really stressed during that Olympics, because our house was under construction and we were packing to move to Wisconsin. I have these photos of packing piles in the living room, Olympics on in the background, crochet projects on my lap. And often, though it’s not pictured, I’d have those kettle chips with my lunch. They were soooooo good and if I’d known they were being discontinued immediately after the Olympics, I would have bought up every bag I could get my hands on.

The winter 2018 Olympics got me through the grief of my grandmother’s death. The 2012 Olympics helped me to soldier through a stress-fracture and 12-week exercise ban. In our early years in Wisconsin (2001-2005), we usually didn’t have TV service, but you better believe I insisted we pay the money for two months of service for the 2004 Olympics. Then there is the way my family has bonded over the Olympics. Two of my FB posts from the 2016 Games involve my kids:

“Hosszu and her husband are the most awesome and entertaining part of the Olympics this year. And just a minute ago, J and the boys were all standing and smacking their chests with him.” Ha!

“Morrigan: Ryan Lochte’s old. He has grey hair.
Jason: He’s not old. He just dyed his hair gold for the Olympics.
Ambrose: It looks more like silver. Which is probably the medal he’ll get.” Burn! 😀

I’m not really a sports person, most of the time. I watch football with my youngest son because he loves it, and I enjoy participating in 5Ks, but I’ve never been a sports fanatic. Except for the Olympics. Last year’s delay, while understandable and necessary, was gut-wrenching. So yes, I’ll guiltily enjoy every moment of the next two weeks.

What are your favorite Olympics memories?

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The Night Hawks, by Elly Griffiths (audio)

In this 13th installment of the Ruth Galloway mysteries, a new Bronze Age burial site has been discovered by the Night Hawks, a group of metal detectorists in search of treasure. Unfortunately, a fresh body is found nearby, entangling the police and archaeologists once more. Add on another four bodies, a giant black dog with red eyes, and an illegal medical research lab, and you have one hell of a mystery going on!

Back in September 2019, I discovered this series and read through all 11 of the then-published volumes back to back. Last summer, I read the 12th, and I only discovered a month ago that number 13 was coming out. And man oh man I can’t tell you how lovely it was to return to the world of Ruth Galloway and her Norfolk seaside setting. The last book was a bit of an anomaly, as Galloway is temporarily living in London, so it was extra nice to return to a full cast of folks I’ve come to know and love so well. I won’t talk about the story of the mystery, because that gets into potential for spoilers of previous volumes, but this is one of my all-time favorite series and I hope others will love it too. This particular book is one of my favorites so far, and I’m already aching for the next one, so badly that it actually entered my dreams for a few nights. ❤

Performance: The audio read by Jane McDowell, who is my preferred of the two narrator who read these. I quite enjoyed it as usual!

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It’s Raining, It’s Pouring…

Let’s talk cars.

First, there’s this. On June 25, Jason drove my car across town to meet some friends to play D&D. He took my car because he was returning a ladder to one of those friends, and the ladder didn’t fit in his car. When he was almost there, he was hit from behind at a stoplight. No one was hurt. Other than the fact that this broke our car, this ended up being quite the funny story. The guy who hit Jason got out of his car swearing up a storm, yelling that he was so f**king sorry, it was that f**king Ramen place. Because apparently, he saw this Ramen shop that he really hated, and it distracted him so much that he rear-ended Jason. Yes. And then, ironically, the hit made it so that Jason couldn’t open the car to get the ladder out!

Anyway, we took the car to the appropriate service station per the other guy’s insurance, Allstate. And let me just say, Allstate is the worst insurance we have ever had to deal with. It took two days for the service station to add up the repairs (about $5k). Our car is worth about $15-16k. It took ten days for Allstate to decide that the car was a total loss, then another 10 days to send us the money, all after sending multiple emails asking Jason to log into his account (he doesn’t have one) and being unable to even tell us what forms we needed to sign. It was a whole mess of paperwork and stupidity. We finally got paid on July 16, over three weeks after the accident. Notably, 1) Jason’s friend had to come to the service station to get the ladder, and 2) Allstate would only pay for a rental car until two days after the car was declared totaled, even though they didn’t pay us the money for another 10 days. Allstate is HORRIFIC.

But we’re glad to finally get the money, because:

Second, Thursday, July 15: Jason took Reaper up to Austin to go to her foster home. When he was almost there, he noticed some movement out of the corner of his eye, and saw that Reaper had managed to open the zippers of her carrier almost enough for her to get her head out. He was going to lean down to close it, except then one of those maniac cars going 130 mph down the highway started darting in and out of cars like they were in a video game. (This is very common on this particular stretch of road.) So J was keeping his eye on this car, and trying to reach his hand down to stop Reaper from escaping…but no, she darted out and went straight up the floor air vents and into the dashboard. Sigh.

Jason was almost to APA at that point, and could hear her crying, so he called ahead to make sure they had tools to take apart the dashboard. The above photo is only the beginning of the process. Eventually, they had to take off every single piece of plastic from the front of the car, and on taking off the last one, Reaper darted out and ran under the back seat. Jason grabbed her, where she immediately started purring and snuggling with him, the little princess. So, good news is that Reaper made it out unscathed and the entire crew at Austin Pets Alive knows her personality now, which bodes well for adoption write-ups. The bad news is that they had to get that dashboard off fast, with the engine running, so that Reaper didn’t overheat in the 100-degree day. And after that, the car wouldn’t start. It had to get towed to a Nissan dealership (since it was an electrical problem), and Jason had to stay overnight in Austin. We then paid $600 to get it fixed the next day so that Jason could drive home. Which leads to:

Third, the day after Jason got home, he went to pick Laurence up from a friend’s house. While approaching a stop sign, his brakes went out entirely. He was pumping them and terrified, because imagine you’re suddenly in a large moving vehicle with no way to stop. Thankfully, this didn’t happen on the highway on the way home from Austin, and it only happened in a neighborhood road going less than 30 mph! But he smashed into the car in front of him full force, causing his airbag to go off, and crumpling the front half of his car. Thankfully, again, no one was hurt beyond the scrapes and bruises that Jason got from the airbag. But I’ve gotta tell you, this one pisses me off. That dealership claimed to have replaced all the dashboard parts and re-hooked-up all the electricals, including the power brakes, which is likely what cut out. We did tell all this to the insurance company, but I doubt they’re going to do anything about it. We could sue the dealership, but it’s not really worth the time/effort. We just paid them $600 to potentially kill Jason, and I’m angry.

Anyway, that left us down to zero cars. And we hadn’t been grocery shopping in two weeks because of the hospital ordeal during the previous weekend. And we’re told by our insurance company that we can get a rental car from a specific location, only sorry, that location won’t be open until Monday (two days later). So we’re just stranded, and we suddenly need to replace two cars.

A lot happened very quickly after that. There are 2-3 dealerships in town that we trust, and we began looking at both of them for available cars. Because Jason does mostly in-town driving, we decided to get him an older model electric car. With an hour left til closing time, Jason got a Lyft to the dealership for one we liked, got pre-approved for a good rate, used some of the settlement from my car to have a down payment on this one, and drove the new 2016 Nissan Leaf home. (Above) Then we got a 2016 Nissan Versa Note from Carvana for me, which is set to arrive this coming Saturday. It’s also blue, though more turquoise, so we’re naming them the Blues Sisters, Eloise and Jo (ha!).

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the saga. Fourth! And this is ongoing because it literally happened this morning. Jason was driving into the office for the first time since March 2020 when one of his tires blew. Thankfully he didn’t hit anyone/thing, and no one was hurt, but as you can see from the pic, the tire is shredded. We’ve literally had this car for four days and have driven maybe 20 miles on it so far. We’re just thankful that it wasn’t when the kids were in the car! Anyway, there was no spare tire (WTF?) so J had to wait for roadside assistance, which got him to a Discount Tire. All four tires needed to be replaces, plus part of the wheel area of the car. We called the dealership – Gunn Chevrolet – and they denied all responsibility, UGH. Clearly they’ve gone downhill in the past three years since we last dealt with them. We’re still in the process of getting this fixed and getting a rental car if needed. It’s a nightmare and it definitely feels like a curse.

More later, because I can probably safely assume the sage will continue…

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The Box in the Woods, by Maureen Johnson (audio)

Stevie’s first year at Ellingham is done, and she’s home for the summer. Her fame has died down and she’s working a horribly boring job when the owner of a summer camp contacts her. This summer camp was the site of four unsolved murders in 1978, now rebranded to separate itself from those decades-old horrors. But the new owner wants to make a podcast about the murders, and he wants Stevie’s help to try to solve the cold case. When she’s allowed to bring her friends to camp with her, Stevie decides that the call of true crime overpowers her distaste for the outdoors, and off she goes to “Murder Camp.”

This was a great dip back into the Truly Devious world after the trilogy finalized. Got to see all my favorite characters again and see where they are after the school year ended. Stevie has to contend with a lot of ethical issues here. This isn’t a cold case like the Ellingham murders, so old that no one is left alive to remember the pain of the survivors. This town is full of survivors, friends and family of the murdered teenagers, and the new camp owner is a bit oblivious to the emotional impacts of his podcast. Stevie is left to navigate the balance between tact and getting answers, all while doing a made up job for the camp as her excuse for being there.

An entirely standalone novel, you don’t have to read the first three to enjoy this one, and the story is full self-contained. Interestingly, one of the things that bothered me about the first books – the dump of exposition at the end – didn’t bother me as much this time. It’s very much in the style of Agatha Christie, often giving crucial information in that exposition that makes the mystery impossible to solve otherwise. This isn’t like modern-day mystery novels where all the clues are buried along the way. There is literally missing information until the very end. That in itself makes the book a different kind of experience, and I think that since I went into it knowing that this might be the case, I was able to enjoy that particular kind of experience more. It makes me want to go back and reread the original trilogy.

Performance: Like the originals, the audiobook is read by Kate Rudd. Unlike the originals, I’ve actually started to enjoy Rudd’s narration. It drove me crazy at first, but then I got used to it, and now it seems to fit. An acquired taste, maybe.

Posted in 2021, Prose, Young Adult | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Sunday Coffee – Feral Colony, Part 4

Note: I predrafted this before going into the ER/hospital last week. I’ve added an update at the bottom of the extra missed week of updates.

I should start calling these posts “Sunday Kitten Time” ha! A lot has happened since my post two weeks back (I didn’t have time to write last weekend). I did say in my June Review post that we’d had some trouble with the neighbors we were working with. Long story short, they’ve taken over the TNR process, and we’re now in active communication again, because quite a bit has happened.

First: Mama cat had her kittens on June 29th, because no one managed to trap her in time. We don’t know where the kittens are, but suspect they’re in the backyard of the hoarding house. Because we haven’t seen them, we don’t know how many there are either. Mama is still coming to the neighbors for food, as well as our kittens’ mama (they’re a bonded pair), and the little grey one that Jason and I have called Bert for the longest time. The neighbors sent us this picture:

They trust their feeders fairly well and the two Siamese will allow short head pets. The traps have been set up fully open so they can all get used to them, and hopefully the trapping can start soon. Also: Watch this space in ~6-7 weeks when we’ll likely have another litter of feral foster kittens to socialize…

Second: Big Papa, as we’re calling him, does not appear to trust the feeders. He sometimes sits on their porch, but won’t let them near. He also looks extremely well fed, with no mats in his long coat, and has been seen over quite a bit of the neighborhood. Personally, I suspect that he’s someone’s pet, an outdoor cat who hasn’t been neutered (grr). Either way, he really does look like he’s the father of our kittens. He’s got the exact same markings on the forehead. (Tabbies all have similar markings, but these are identical.) He’s also got the same tail-pattern with the black tip as all our babies.

Third: You know how we were feeding what we thought was a pregnant Siamese kitty in our yard last month? Well, the reason that the neighbors sent us the above photo of the two mamas on their porch was because the Siamese kept coming back into our yard. We thought perhaps now that she’d had her babies, she needed more food. Except I took a photo, and Jason said, “Wait, that’s not either of the two over in the colony,” and we sent the photo to the neighbors, and…yeah. There are at least three Siamese cats. And we have no idea if this one was/is pregnant, or even if it’s a girl, or where it has been finding food if it hasn’t been feeding at the initial colony. Oddly, it actually stopped showing up at our yard for about a month, but this week it showed up multiple times a day, going straight to where we used to have the food. She (?) doesn’t look pregnant anymore. There are, perhaps, three litters of Siamese-tabby kittens out there. Or maybe this is also someone’s indoor/outdoor cat and just very well-fed.

Fourth: The kittens went to the vet for vaccines this week (~10-11 weeks old). Angus, Gherkin, and Ghost are all up to 3 lbs, while Reaper is up to 2 lbs (she’s definitely the runt). They all seemed healthy. They got their vaccines, and because Austin Pets Alive (who has an FeLV program we’re working with) requested individual tests instead of assuming they’re all positive based on Reaper’s, we got those tests too. And all three came back negative. !!! Those four play, fight, groom each other, and eat/drink from the same bowls. It seemed impossible that we had three negatives and one positive, so they retested Reaper…and it came back positive again. The vet says it’s probable they were all exposed as babies and the other three just had more robust immune systems that fought it off…

Fifth: The day after their vaccines, Reaper’s lymph nodes on either side of her neck swelled up. This is not a normal response to a vaccine, so we had to bring her back into the vet, where they eliminated a bunch of things (no fever, infections, mouth issues, other swollen lymph glands, parasites, or fluid in the abdomen). Highest probability is that this is a secondary progressive stage of the FeLV, essentially her immune system in overdrive post-vaccine as the FeLV virus tries to attack her lymph nodes and bone marrow. Poor girl. She’s really the sweetest baby and I hate seeing this happen to her. Just the night before the vet, she was the first of these kittens to make biscuits. ❤

So that’s our week in cat-land. The vet bills are stacking up and we don’t even have the kittens scheduled for their surgeries yet. Jason and I are thinking about starting a GoFundMe to help finance this, because it’s already been nearly $1000 and the surgeries will be another $600 or so, plus further vaccines etc. It feels weird to ask for help on something like this, but it might be something we need to do, especially with another batch of kittens (or two) likely to end up at home. With foster programs – through official foster channels – the shelter pays for food, medical care, etc, but with just doing it on our own…well, let’s just say my goal of cutting down debt this year is going to take a bit of a credit card hit this summer!

So all of that is one week delayed. Over this last week, I only have one major update: Reaper has a new foster home! Austin Pets Alive found a home for her to go to where she can get safe treatment for FeLV and also not be exposing her siblings (or potentially our cats) to the disease. Jason drove her up** to Austin on Thursday. It was bittersweet for me, as my meds make me too motion-sick to go on a long drive like that, so I had to say goodbye to my little girl at home. I really will miss my little Miss Carolina Reaper, my princess, my little Reap-Reap. But I hope she will find a loving home that will care for her through what will likely be a short life, given her condition (her lymph nodes were still swollen by the time we dropped her off, so she may even have fully developed lymphoma by now, the poor baby). Hopefully soon, we will find a shelter to take in these other babies, who can find them wonderful new forever homes, too. ❤

**This was An Ordeal. Just see my Instagram post for the adventure, and the story behind how the Gignacery suddenly found itself down to zero cars…

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Four Days in the Hospital

A few years back, I had a severe pain in my back that turned out to be a kidney stone that had gotten stuck and was causing my kidney to swell. At first, I went to Urgent Care, where they diagnosed it either as “menstrual pain” because I was bleeding, except I knew this was more than just cramps, or “muscle strain.” Like WTF dude, I know what a muscle strain feels like and this ain’t it! This particular Urgent Care had botched more than one thing with us, so after I walked out those doors, Jason drove me immediately to a nearby freestanding ER instead. They took wonderful care of me, and so when I decided to go to the ER on Saturday morning, that’s where Jason took me.

Notes from the ER:

  • It took three tries to get an IV to work because despite all my attempts to stay hydrated, I was so dehydrated that my veins had shrunk and my blood was clotting as they drew it for tests.
  • The ER doctor suspected a parasite that can be passed to humans from animals who have been exposed to contaminated soil or feces, and since the ferals lived in a yard full of garbage and feces, that seemed a likely suspect. Didn’t turn out to be that, but yikes.
  • I had a CT scan with contrast, and what came back on the scan was massive inflammation and infection throughout my entire large intestine. I was diagnosed with colitis, and a stool sample would go off for culture testing.
  • My white blood cell count came back twice as high as the normal range, and my lactate level was sky high. This latter is a sepsis indicator, though no one said the word sepsis to me until I was checked into the hospital.
  • They had to give me a covid swab before I could go to the hospital, and GAH I hate those up-into-your-brain swabs! (Negative.)
  • I was transferred to the hospital in a van-ambulance-thing. The back of ambulance transport is very rocky and bumpy and feels very unsafe. I also had to keep my eyes closed the whole time so that I wouldn’t get motion sick.

I arrived at the hospital around 1pm and was put in a single room, which given the nature of the infection and symptoms, I was supremely grateful for. (Later, due to a maintenance issue with the first room, I had to be moved to a double, but the second bed was blocked off and I was categorized as “in isolation,” so I had no roommates besides Jason.) Observations from the hospital:

  • The younger nurses, lower-ranking nurses, and overnight nurses were all much better than the older, senior, daytime nurses. The former seem to focus on patient care, the latter on cursory medical care. Thankfully, I had mostly good nurses.
  • It sucks to wake up multiple times a night not just for checks on vitals and blood draws, but because housekeeping comes in to change the trash at 4am.
  • Especially because the hospital beds/pillows are UNCOMFORTABLE so I hardly slept anyway.
  • One nurse, the worst of the lot, refused to use the word “diarrhea” but instead used “poopies” like I was five years old.
  • It’s really scary, after discovering you’ve also been diagnosed with sepsis, to hear multiple overhead medical alerts (for other people, not me) saying, “Sepsis alert, Emergency room X.”

The first afternoon in the ER, I had a lot of extra care because of my sky high blood numbers, as well as some screwy vitals: blood pressure extremely low, pulse super fast at around 130 bpm. I had tons of saline pumped through me. Something like six bags the first afternoon, and even with all that, my bladder was empty. Unfortunately, because of the three-tries-to-get-an-IV-in, the placement was in a weird little vein curve, and I couldn’t bend my right arm at all or it would get kinked and stop flowing. My right arm and dominant hand were rendered practically useless for the next few days, especially as the hand grew so swollen from fluid after a few hours that I couldn’t make a fist or touch my pinky to thumb. My left hand is naturally clumsy, and still recovering from wrist surgery, so it doesn’t bend all the way yet. Let’s just say that that made cleaning up from bathroom trips very difficult and humiliating, and my husband is an absolute angel. It doesn’t help that on top of everything else, I started my period on Saturday, so I was dealing with additional blood and cramps, too. Go, me!

The first two days in the hospital, I was dizzy and disoriented, and too weak to even hold my phone, so Jason was updating family and friends. I am SO GLAD that covid restrictions have eased up in hospitals, because not only was Jason able to stay with me during the day, he stayed overnights, too. I needed so much help. I couldn’t do anything on my own, not even get out of bed, and most of the time, the staff was spread so thin that it would take ages for them to respond to requests for help. Other than Jason, I didn’t want visitors while I felt so crappy, but my hiking gals sent me a wonderful living plant to brighten my room. It made me cry. I mean, I was a mess, so tears were easy, but it was such a thoughtful and sweet gift, and the fact that they chose a living plant so that I could add it to my garden when I got home was just so thoughtful and amazing of these women.

On my second day (Sunday), my cultures came back to show the E. Coli and campylobacter infections. IV fluids and antibiotics continued. I was moved from clear liquids to “light food as tolerated” (I managed to eat two sandwiches that day, that’s about it). In the afternoon, I had my last dose of pain/fever meds. Finally, I was allowed to shower, which was good, because I’d sweat so much during the fevers of the sepsis that my own smell was making me nauseous, ha! In the evening, due to a leaking pipe, I had to move to that new room.

Day 3 (Monday): As my lactose and other blood work had all gone back to normal, I was taken off IV fluids and switched over to pill forms of my two antibiotics, to see if I could stomach them without nausea (a common side effect of both). I had a real breakfast. (You know you live in the southwest when you get a deconstructed breakfast taco in the hospital.) I started feeling well enough to sit up a little and hold my phone for very short periods of time (still too weak for long, and I’d get dizzy if I scrolled at all). I noticed in the morning that my overnight nurse had accidentally written that my preferred name was Barbara on my board, because that had been my day nurse and was written right under my name on the previous room’s board. Ha!

Day 4 (Tuesday): My bloodwork all came back normal, and my vitals were back to normal ranges as well. I tolerated the oral antibiotics fine and was able to eat normal food all the previous day (if at a slow rate), so YAY I was discharged around noon. I looked a right mess – I joked with my siblings that I had Bride of Boogedy hair – but hey, I had healthy color in my skin and I wasn’t waxy and deathly pale anymore! The nurses wheeled me out of the hospital via wheelchair, which made me extremely motion sick (!!!), and so I kept my eyes closed on the way home. (Turns out that dizziness and visual distortion are a common side effect of one of my meds. That explains why I can’t scroll for long on my phone, too. Essentially, I have horizontal vertigo. It’s like I’m wearing glasses with a slightly off prescription, so my eyes are constantly trying to adjust. So no driving for me for the next 10 days.)

Now I’m home, I’m like 90% back to normal, feeling healthier than I’ve felt in weeks, so that’s great. Also: bonus of going into the hospital and being on clear liquids for 36 hours is that you don’t get any coffee, which means that I finally got the kick in the pants I needed to give the stuff up. Yeah, I had a caffeine withdrawal headache on top of every other thing, but I stayed strong and stuck with unsweetened iced tea with lemon to ease the headache. (I’m still not a fan of tea, but iced tea with lemon is actually better than I expected. I wouldn’t want to drink it forever, but it’ll do for now.) I’m now six days coffee-free! Hurrah! And now I just need to finish the ten days of antibiotics, get follow-up care from my doctor, be mindful of secondary issues (like intestinal abscesses or post-sepsis syndrome), and rebuild my gut flora without probiotics since I’m allergic to one of them (heh).

Y’all. I’m happy to be alive. I’m happy to feel better. I’m happy to be home in a better bed with a real shower and real clothes. I’m happy my boys were old enough to look after themselves and the house and the cats for four days and three nights. I look forward to getting my body moving again as soon as the vertigo goes away, and to improving my health in many different ways. All this sucked, but life is better now. I made it through to the other side.

Posted in Wellness | Tagged | 3 Comments