American Portrait, by Multiple Authors

Subtitled: The Story of Us, Told by Us

This is a collection put out by PBS about people’s lives (mostly**) through the first year of the pandemic. There were various prompts posted online (“The tradition I carry on is…” or “A day’s work is…” or “Now is the time…” etc), and people could submit their answers as well as photos if they chose. The book is divided into sections that loosely group answers into categories: family, opportunity, equality, etc. Some of the stories were specifically related to the pandemic; others were more general. In short, this was a cross-section of lives throughout America, from all different ages, races, backgrounds, beliefs, circumstances, and more.

To be honest, there’s not much I can say about this book. It’s well put together and well thought out. PBS and the editors who cultivated the photos, stories, and themes did a good job of organizing the book, as well as showcasing the hodgepodge culture we have in the US. The stories themselves hit on so many different topics that probably everyone will find some that are interesting and some that are less so. Some people may find some of the stories triggering, because they can hit on hard topics at time (from sexual assault to religion to family member loss to politics). But there were also completely innocuous stories, or stories of ancestry, or photos of silliness and play. My favorite was one of these silly stories, and I took a photo of it to include here. –>

**The project originally began pre-pandemic, with the question of “what does it really mean to be an American today?” Some of the entries – like the one pictured – come from earlier than the pandemic. Most, however, are from 2020 and 2021, after the project grew into something more as a global crisis hit.

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Sunday Coffee – Winter Garden

Even in south TX, the winter garden is going to look different than the summer version. Most of our plants have gone dormant, or need to be cut back, though a few – copper canyon daisy, a few mums, a dianthus or two – are still blooming. We’ve had a few hard freezes in January, which is becoming more of a norm than it used to be. (We used to get maybe a single hard freeze per season in my part of the world.) Those freezes are certainly affecting the garden, and honestly, Jason and I are just letting the plants do their own thing for the most part. If they die, they die. We’ll plant new stuff. We cover what we can for hard freezes – especially the succulent garden – and we brought the hibiscus** inside. Otherwise, we’re letting the garden decide. We want a garden that can sustain itself, with native plants that save water and propagate themselves.

(includes checkered skippers, orange sulfurs, variegated fritillaries, sleepy oranges, and others)

As our yard is still in early, baby stages, it looks pretty ugly at the moment. Without a lot of blooms, it doesn’t attract the variety of butterflies that it did over the summer and early fall (though we still get quite a number crowding around the occasional dandelion that pops up!). However, I’ve found that we get quite a number of winter visitors.

The cardinals are here year-round, but they seem to enjoy the winter months even more. Our neighbors have a cute bird-feeder that attracts them, as well as mourning doves and black-crested titmice. The cardinals also spent a lot of time on the back fence, and in the trees right behind our house, where they seem to fight for resources with a flock of bluejays that come back every December for a few months. And with the squirrels, of course. We have one particular squirrel that seems to reign over our area. I’ve seen him/her 1) on the bird-feeder stealing food, 2) dropping acorn shells all over our deck, 3) scavenging from the pumpkins we put out in the yard, 4) stealing nectarines from our tree, and 5) happily chomping down on some kind of bun or bagel (s)he stole.

(Clockwise from top left: cardinal (f), cardinal (m), black-crested titmouse, Carolina wren, mourning doves, bluejay)

Then there are the birds that hang out in the yard itself. The cardinals and titmice come down from time to time, but mostly we get a bunch of Carolina wren. The cats LOVE to stare at these little guys hopping around – especially as the birdies enjoy the area right outside my bedroom window, so they’re CLOSE – and ekekekekekek at them. They’re less of a winter fixture and more of a year-round part of the garden. Still fun to watch them, though.

A year ago, there were only two cardinals, two blue jays, no titmice that I saw, and the normal wrens. Plus, there were three doves up in a big tree behind the house. I don’t know how much of it is natural change, and how much is garden improvements, but we have a ton more birds of all those kinds now, including over a dozen doves that perch up on the big tree! And since there aren’t usually butterflies to photograph these days – also only a few flowers – it’s been fun to try to capture good photos of the birds. They tend to stay further from the house, though, so it’s tough. But in this post are a good sampling of photos I’ve gotten this January! ( –> This is a good example of how our garden is currently wintering, with some growth still toward the bottom, and some random blooms that will likely die off soon.)

**The hibiscus. Sigh. We originally got this tree because we wanted it for inside and it wasn’t poisonous for cats. Then we had to keep it outside for a time until we could get the inside setup ready. By that time, we had kittens, and they kept trying to pee in the dirt. So we left it outside, and then it got very cold. Hibiscus trees are tropical. They like sun and warmth and water. So after a few freezes with the tree covered, and it was still getting shriveled, we brought it inside. The kittens keep digging in the dirt, even though we keep a towel over that part. It keeps trying to grow new leaves, and then the kittens bite those leaves off and eat them…sigh. We don’t know if this thing is going to live. In March, it’ll likely go back outside for nine months of warmth, if it lives until then!

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Quarantine Updates – 1/21/22

Things continue to be interesting and awful and so yeah I’m doing the bullet thing again. My overall thoughts, though? I think Texas is telling Texas to hold its beer…

  • Here are some examples of numbers seen in SA this week: Monday, a holiday, sees a new pandemic county record of 8982 cases! Tuesday, the seven day average went up to 6140! Also Tuesday, our positivity rate skyrocketed again, this time to 39%! Thankfully, we haven’t been up to 9K again, but our average remains around 6k/day, and 18 of the first 20 days of 2022 were higher than the highest number we saw in 2021.
  • The feds are giving out home covid testing kits. Only four per household, regardless of the number of people in said household, and it’ll take weeks to ship, much less arrive. But hey, we ordered our allotted four. It’s better than the nothing available in stores.
  • Supply chains are clearly screwed up again. My bed frame has been breaking for the last year and has gotten to the point where it’s a bit dangerous for me to sleep in, and yet I have to, because literally all bed frames are out of stock everywhere I go. Office chairs, too. My office chair is now so broken that I have to make sure I don’t fall off every time I turn my head. Sigh. Then there’s the rows and rows of missing…cat food. All over the country. WTF?
  • (On the last point, remember how Repub-idiots thought that opening all the stores up without masks or vaccines was the best way to energize the economy, and now literally everything is crashing and no one can keep up and businesses are having to temporarily close because all their workers are sick? Who could have foreseen that??)
  • Newest covidiot conspiracy theory: covid can be prevented with female hormone therapy replacement. !!! Honestly? I feel like these guys are being trolled, but they seem stupid enough to fall for it.
  • Meanwhile, 22 deaths were reported over the last three days, and hospital rates are starting to skyrocket again. Omicron is only “mild” in comparison to the original virus, y’all!
  • I feel like I’m listening to a clock ticking down, waiting for my turn with omicron. Almost everyone I know has it, and Ambrose is still working (at a fast food place!), and Laurence is still going to school (where he has to take his mask off during theatre practice), and we’ve dodged the bullet for almost two years now…
  • Speaking of school, we’re getting daily health report letters home now. The news on them is getting more and more vague. We have no idea if they’re telling us about people in Laurence’s classes, or people he knows specifically, or…?
  • Also, the school district preemptively shut down yesterday, supposedly due to weather. It was supposed to get down to freezing and stay slightly above freezing all day, with some potential for wintry mix in the afternoon. The school has NEVER shut down for weather the night before, except during the Snowpocalypse last year. This is definitely staffing issues due to covid, and they’ve seized the opportunity to close due to “weather” so they can still get paid by the state, which won’t give funds if they close for covid. (There ended up being no wintry precipitation, so they couldn’t shut down today, too.)
  • One school district in town – not ours, but another big one – has temporarily put a mask requirement back into effect, despite that being illegal per our state court system (ugh).
  • I had a dream Wednesday night that Ambrose called me to his room because he felt sick, and I walked in and immediately knew he had covid, but I couldn’t get the thermometer to work, and I didn’t have a mask or gloves or anything. Clearly, my brain knows that it’s going to be all of us very, very soon…

So yeah, that’s where life is here these days. I’m to a point where a part of me has given up. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I felt so much weight from the trauma of this whole situation, and despair at people’s failure to try to help, and frustration at how during the good times (when the numbers are low) I’m still playing it safe and limiting my interactions etc and now I can’t even leave the house without fear given how rampant things are. Ugh. So Wednesday night, Jason and I took some time out of the house, not to anywhere dangerous, just to a local nursery (outdoors, almost no one there) and a few other un-crowded places. The photos in this post come from the nursery and later the sunset. It helped, but I’m so tired of this cycle and wish people would just do what we need to do. Even with 9k cases per day and a 40% positivity rate, a full half of folks at the grocery store are going around without masks, and all I can see are walking germ-bags, like upright cockroaches. It’s disgusting.

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Wellness Wednesday – Medical Updates, Part 1

Over the last few months of 2021, I had a TON of medical tests and appointments pending, many slipping over through January this year. Rather than try to cram all of them into one post, I thought I’d discuss the first round of them today, and the next round next week.

Food allergy tests: Every single one came back negative, including peanuts, which I know I’m allergic to. In speaking with my GI doc, she said those tests are really good for ruling things in, but not ruling things out. So if I’ve had allergic reactions to peanuts, I should continue to avoid peanuts. Of course, that means that the coffee allergy test – which also came back negative – doesn’t really tell me much, either. Oh well.

SIBO test: This was a fasting breath test for bacteria overgrowth, which I doubted was my issue, and it also came back negative. So at least that is ruled out.

Fibroscan/MRE of liver: This one is part of a long chain of tests going all the way back to last spring. I mentioned to my primary care doctor that I have swelling and pain under my ribs, and that this goes back to a medication reaction I had all the way back in 2007. We did an ultrasound – which was so painful that I actually went into shock and had to be stabilized afterwards (!!!) – and when that didn’t find anything, we did a ct scan of the abdomen. Still nothing regarding the swollen lumps, which I now suspect is just inflamed portions of my liver, but they noticed some fatty deposits on my liver on the scan. My liver enzymes are all in normal range, so my PCP wanted my GI doctor to do further testing. That led to the fibroscan in the fall, which came back inconclusive, and the special MRI with elastography (MRE) to determine any stiffening of the liver (which would indicate fibrosis/scarring). That came back negative as well. So there are fatty deposits, but they’re minimal, and we just need to keep them from getting worse. (Aka: try to lose weight, reduce inflammation, avoid alcohol, etc)

Celiac blood panel: When I had my colonoscopy/endoscopy in November, they took a biopsy to test for celiac disease (negative). However, my rheumatology panels tested high on the celiac portions. If I hadn’t had the biopsy, our assumption would be that I had celiac disease. As it is, discussion with my rheumatologist and GI doctor concluded that while I may not have celiac disease, bloodwork indicates a gluten sensitivity. This could be solely because of the inflammation caused by RA, or it might be something I’ve developed over time. I have a complicated history with gluten that began in 2013 and is WAY too long for this post. Long story highly condensed: I’ve suspected a sensitivity for many years, and periodically try to cut gluten from my diet, but it makes family meal planning that much harder, so I haven’t been gf since May 2020. Now, my GI doc wants me to go low-gluten to gluten free for the next few months to see if it helps with some of my symptoms.

Enbrel injection: This is only a partial update, since I only had my first injection on Saturday. I’ve had no real results yet, though I’ve noticed a couple small things: a slightly reduced appetite, periods of increased swelling/throbbing of joints (especially in my feet, hands, fingers, and toes), less restful sleep combined with hyper-obsessive dreams, some stabbing jolts of pain in joints during exercise that I’ve never had before. I’ll update this more next week, if there’s more to add.

PS – A note about the Enbrel injection: The particular method they gave me (sure-click, shown in pic) costs over $3k for four weekly doses. Yeah I can’t afford that. Thankfully, I could apply for the Enbrel coupon card, and they paid that $3k balance. Good news, right? Well, the coupon card only covers up to $30k, after which point, benefits are maxed out. So I have less than a year’s worth of medicine that I can take. However, that $3k medication, despite being paid for by Enbrel, counts toward our family deductible, which means that we’ve already met deductible on the 13th of January this year, and now only have to pay 10% for dr visits etc. Great news! On the other hand, we don’t know if prescriptions drop down to the 10% like visits and procedures, so we’ll find out next month if I only have 10 months’ worth of medication, or if I have a tiny bit longer as we stretch out our health insurance as far as we can… Or, to make it more complicated, if it doesn’t drop down to the 10%, I believe after another month or two of the Enbrel payments, we’ll have reached our annual out of pocket max for the year, at which point everything is covered at 100%. Still don’t know if that includes prescriptions, though? This is stupid. Necessary medication should be affordable! (PS. I hate the US’s version of “health care,” if that isn’t obvious…)

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A Trio of Cytonic Novellas

Over the fall of 2021, three novellas in the Cytoverse were released, co-authored by Brandon Sanderson and Janci Patterson. The stories mostly happen between the second book in the main series, Starsight, and the third book, Cytonic, which also released this fall. Rather than being told from Spensa’s point of view like the main series, the novellas explore three different viewpoints, and give us some background information on happenings that Spensa isn’t privy to. Each novella is read by Suzy Jackson, who also reads the primary series. Below are my thoughts on each novella, which I read after finishing Cytonic. Note: It’s not necessary to read these novellas to get the gist of their content for Cytonic – this is the best kind of novella, filling in gaps that enrich the story for those who want more, while not being strictly necessary to follow the main story!

Sunreach
I’ll be honest. I didn’t remember the narrator of this volume at all. Her name is Freya (callsign FM), and at first, I thought she was a new-to-me character. I also didn’t remember the engineer, Rig, who was a fairly important character. Both of these characters – as well as the rest of Skyward Flight, Spensa’s original flight team – were important in the first book, which I read in 2018. If they were in the second book, it would have been minimal, and they definitely weren’t in the third other than perhaps by brief mention. It annoyed me, not the novella itself, but me not remembering these characters. Made me itch to go back and revisit the first few books in the series! I pressed through, though, and eventually made a few vague memory connections. The story didn’t need me to remember much, anyway.

As for the story itself, I enjoyed it. I particularly liked FM’s relationship with the Taynix (special alien slugs), and the way she went about trying to advocate for them as creatures rather than tools. That kind of care for animals holds a special place in my heart. The rest of the story was interesting, and other than trying to figure out another character I didn’t remember (or mis-remembered, so that I expected her to be a traitor the entire time), it was easy to follow. The only thing that felt weird was the extra emphasis on silly romance tropes. Sanderson has romance in his books, but it tends to sit outside the norm of silly YA cliches. This one didn’t, and I imagine that was more Patterson’s influence. I could definitely tell the book was not purely Sanderson’s!

ReDawn
I began this book almost immediately after Sunreach, so I didn’t have nearly so much trouble with remembering happenings or figuring out which characters were who. That made this book a much more enjoyable experience, which says a lot, given that I already enjoyed the first one. The big difference for me was the absence of typical romance tropes. That was much appreciated! I also loved seeing just how much of an animal-rights activist FM is becoming, even more than in the last volume. And bonus: the world-building was phenomenal and wildly imaginative. I need to seek out some fan art of ReDawn (the planet)! One negative note: This ended on a major cliffhanger, so I’m glad I waited until all three novellas were released before beginning them. Definitely going to dive right into Evershore!

Evershore
Again, I really liked this one! There was a lot of emphasis on grief, stress, trauma – the things that affected characters after the sudden end of the previous volume. Jorgen is the narrator this time, and technically this book is not between Starsight and Cytonic, but sort of simultaneous with Cytonic. (Actually, there’s a part of Cytonic at the end that I want to go back and revisit because I think it’ll make more sense to me now, with this novella read.) The humans have intercepted a broadcast from the Kitsen, a species of fox-gerbil-like creatures who have had many interactions with Spensa in the main trilogy. I love the Kitsen so much. Ironically, given that Spensa and her violent boasting personality bothered me so much in the beginning of this series, I love the violent boasting personalities of so many of the Kitsen. They remind me a lot of Spensa, and while she has yet to meet a particular Kitsen, Goru (no idea how to actually spell it as it’s not available in print yet!), I think they’ll get along splendidly. Either that, or they’ll butt heads badly. Ha!

The only thing that bothered me about this novella was that it devolved into a very long battle scene for the last quarter of the book. I was enjoying the break from battle scenes in this installment, learning about Kitsen culture and Jorgen’s connection to cytonics. Quiet things. Less frenzy. I’m in the minority on that, though – most people really like the more fast-paced starship-fighter-battle stuff a lot. I guess I just felt a little exhausted through that part, and missed the more quiet bits. Still, it was well-written, and I enjoyed Evershore as a whole. Perhaps I wouldn’t have felt quite like this had I not read all three novellas back to back?

My thoughts on the trio in general: Other than the romance bits of the first novella, I hardly noticed this was a collaboration. Sanderson and Patterson worked well together, and these novellas all had that same sense of humor, timing, and empathy that I see through most of Sanderson’s work. I also thought the trio brought a lot of the world of the main series to life in a way that couldn’t happen just under Spensa’s point of view. This was a really good way to enrich the world-building. I loved reading them back to back (despite my fatigue at the end of Evershore), and happy to continue to have Suzy Jackson’s narration, as she does such an excellent job of voicing all these different kinds of characters!

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Sunday Coffee – Kinda

It was a bit of a hodgepodge week for me. Monday, I had to prep for a fasting SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) test, which meant I wasn’t allowed to eat any dairy or fiber. The office wasn’t very specific on what qualified as having fiber (was I allowed to eat fruit? Cereal with a gram or two of fiber? Did I need to stick with horrible white bread?), so it was a junk food kind of day, which didn’t help with the hormone-based headache I had that day.

Tuesday was the fasting SIBO test, which turned out to be three hours long. I hadn’t expected that, so the only thing I’d had to “eat” since 7pm the previous night was a six-ounce orange glucose drink at 8am, and I was finally set to go home at 11. Not expecting the extra-long fast, I didn’t pack a snack or anything, and about halfway through my trip home, my blood sugar crashed. Suddenly, I had no distance perception, and I basically did the second half of the drive in a state of half-consciousness. It was like being drunk without drinking a thing, and I’m just thankful that 1) the drive was a short one, so this was only like five mins, and 2) it was a route I drive all the time so it was like muscle memory took over. I got home and essentially fell down on the couch while Jason rushed to get some quick energy (sugar) and long-energy (real food) into me. I was basically sick for the rest of the day. It’s been a very, very long time since I had a hypoglycemia attack that sudden and that severe!

On Wednesday, I took that very painful hike I wrote about the other day, and Ambrose began experiencing dizziness and nausea that prevented him from driving or going to work until yesterday. Thursday involved getting him to an Urgent Care appointment so we could get him tested for covid (negative), and Friday it was off for a CT scan of my head and brain! My first Enbrel injections arrived from the specialty pharmacy as well, though I saved the actual injection til yesterday, so that if I had any side effects or reactions, Jason wouldn’t miss work because of it.

Then yesterday, it was Jason’s birthday! Jason doesn’t like a big to-do for his birthday, and the boys were off all day at work and drama rehearsal, so we kept things quiet. You know, old people stuff, like napping. Ha! There was a big windstorm yesterday, so we mostly stayed inside, until the late afternoon, when we hiked up to the top of our local park for some sunset photos. And hey, I don’t know if my body was just in a better place or if the injection mid-day yesterday already helped (probably the former, as it’s WAY too early for the med to kick in), but the hike didn’t cause my back to seize up this time! We watched the sun disappear behind the horizon along with a group of other folks who were clearly there for the same purpose, and then had to rush back down to the car to pick up Laurence from rehearsal. We got Indian food for dinner and sang Happy Birthday to Jason. Cake will be today as it didn’t get finished until too late last night (that’s what being lazy all day will do to you, ha!).

Anyway, I don’t really have much to talk about this week, it was just a busy week of lots of little things (including lots of cat-snuggles, so I had to include one photo above!). I hope y’all are having a good weekend!

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Quarantine Updates – 1/14/22

So yeah, I’m not resuming my Quarantine Diaries series, but a lot is happening right now, so I thought I’d bullet-point my way through this mess.

  • My sister and one nephew officially have covid, thankfully mild, and thankfully my BIL is pretty much better already; we don’t know yet about my other nephews but in any case, everyone’s cases have been mild either way
  • San Antonio had an insane one-day case total on Wednesday of 7,704 new cases, which is over twice as high as any day from 2021, and the highest by far of the pandemic so far
  • Additionally, our positivity rate is up to over 31% this week, and our 7-day average is just shy of 5K (4,841)
  • CDC is recommending that severely immunocompromised folks get a fourth dose of the vaccine five months after their third dose. The rules around “severely immunocompromised” are a bit unclear, but one states that treatment with drugs that suppress the immune system – the one I’m starting for RA does that – counts. If I qualify, then, I’ll be eligible in March. I wouldn’t mind getting a Moderna booster to help my system!
  • School districts are so short-staffed that they’re asking for parent volunteers to act as substitute teachers, even though subs are normally vetted and approved beforehand, so these parents will essentially act as babysitters. One local district had to close this week due to shortages
  • We’ve received several notes home from the school about students with covid for the first time since September. Supposedly Laurence has been in contact with two kids who tested positive, but it’s probably much higher than that. Considering that one of the theatre directors was sick with covid in December and they didn’t notify us of that despite the guy directing the musical practice daily, I don’t trust their contact tracing…
  • Ambrose got sick on Wednesday and went to urgent care Thursday for a covid test because he couldn’t get an actual test appointment anywhere; he tested negative but we’ll keep an eye on it because sometimes it takes days for omicron to show on a test (his symptoms aren’t really covid-y, though; his work just required a negative test before he could go back in)
  • We officially hit 5,000 deaths in our county this week
  • All the Hamilton shows scheduled here in SA were canceled this week. I have friends that were supposed to go and they’re all very, very sad.
  • The MLK March this upcoming Monday was also canceled
  • The Supreme Court blocked the vaccine mandate, ugh
  • Apparently the current conspiracy theory is that people should drink their own urine to prevent covid infection…okay, guys, go ahead…have fun with that one!

I think those are the main things I want to remember from this week. Our current graph is insane, still rising and not near the peak yet, and yet twice as high as any former spike. Omicron is nuts, y’all.

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Wellness Wednesday – The Final Hike

That title sounds ominous, yeah? Heh.

Today’s post is publishing late because I had something in particular that I wanted to finish before I drafted this. Back in February last year, I created my Hiking Bingo, a spread of 25 different hiking challenges to complete. They ranged from really easy (hike with a friend, lead a hike) to ridiculously hard (hike in another state, take an overnight hiking trip). I had no particular timeline of when I wanted to finish the Bingo – in fact, in the original post, I said that I thought maybe I could finish by the end of 2022 if travel resumed. Ha! Here I am, finishing it before the year anniversary comes around!

This morning, I took my last hike of the Bingo, a picnic hike. This one ought to have been completed ages ago. I signed up for or organized half a dozen picnic hikes over 2021, and each time something went wrong – cancellations, rain, timing issues, etc. Even though I didn’t have a timeline for the Bingo, it annoyed me that I could complete the harder travel-based ones but not this stupid picnic hike, so I decided that I would rectify that this week. That happened to be this morning!

(taken on one of my many stops)

My RA is still in a major flare and I’ve lost a good chunk of mobility over the last six weeks or so. Daily yoga has been helping, but it often hurts to even walk on flat ground for 5-10 mins. I knew I would have to take this hike slow, but the park is familiar and not too difficult. Ha. Ha. Ha. My left hip seized up within the first tenth of a mile, and I had to stop half a dozen times to stretch it on the way up the hill. Imagine me at picnic benches, sunk into a yogi squat to stretch out the muscles and tendons around my sciatic nerves. To make it worse, I was wearing my camera on a harness and my purse, and I was carrying both water and a bag with my food in it. I looked ridiculous.

It took me 45 mins to make it up the hill, including stops. The hike was also a photo hike, with the goal to try to get some good photos of the San Antonio artwork up top while there was still some good cloud cover. Of course, by the time I got to the top, the clouds had burned off and the light was way too harsh for decent photos. Sigh. Oh well.

(the light was just too harsh!)

I took a few photos that ended up deleted, and sat down to my picnic: chicken and summer squash kebabs with lemon, hummus, naan. I took my time eating to give my left hip a chance to relax and un-seize. And at first, the trip back down the hill (which is mostly downhill, with very few, very slight uphill sections), was definitely better. Within five minutes, though, my left hip was screaming at me again. While I didn’t have to keep stopping on the way down – my few stops for photos were enough – it still took me ages to return to the trailhead.

I really ought to have turned around at the beginning rather than pushing it, but I was so angry at my body and equally determined to get my picnic-hike done. Yes, my body makes me angry these days. In early November, I hiked nearly six miles at Lost Maples, and yeah, my feet hurt at the end, but I didn’t feel like I was about to snap a nerve in my spine and hips. Very little has changed between then and now, and yet my body has become, for lack of a better term, disabled. It’s frustrating, because just a few months ago I was climbing mountains on vacation, and now I struggle to stand long enough to take a shower. I know it’s out of my control; I know it’s RA and inflammation and a really bad flare; I know I’m doing everything I can to improve the situation. But it also just sucks, and I can’t wait until I can get on the new medicine and it has a chance to kick in!!

(I envy the runners – I used to run on this trail…)

However, setting that frustration aside, I did it. I finished my last hike for my Hiking Bingo, and got myself a full blackout set in under a year! Woohoo! The Bingo encompassed 17 different parks, with only three park-repeats (including the park I went to today, which actually shows up seven times on this challenge, including my entry for “easy hike,” yeah…). It includes snow-hiking, mountain-climbing, journal-hiking, state and national parks, themed hikes, new to me places, and all kinds of travel. All in all, despite the crappy last hike, this is a spread of wonderful hiking memories and experiences!

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Fierce as the Wind, by Tara Wilson Redd

Imagine discovering that your boyfriend of two years has been cheating on you for the entire time, and is now leaving you for the other woman. Even worse, imagine discovering that you are the other woman. This is where Miho begins this story. Her boyfriend – renamed Scumbucket by Miho’s friends – has broken off his affair with her to marry his longtime girlfriend who’s now pregnant. Miho doesn’t know how to cope. She wrapped so much of her life into that relationship – not giving herself over to him, but integrating him into her interests and loves and friendships. Now, all the things that make her her feel stolen away, right on the eve of adulthood, right when life is uncertain to begin with. Miho doesn’t want her life to be about the Scumbucket who treated both women in such horrible fashion. She wants to break all ties with him – mentally and emotionally, in addition to the physical break. So she begins something new. On the first night of her grief, she wrapped herself up in a banner on the beach without paying much attention to what it said. It was an advertisement for Ironman Hawai`i, and though Miho has never been particularly interested in sports, she throws herself into triathlon training, with the help of all her closest friends.

I know that’s a long intro, but this book deserved all of that. This was a fascinating book that could have read surface level: breakup woes, girl trains for triathlon to overcome heartbreak, rise from the ashes and become the best she’s ever been, etc. It wasn’t like that at all. This isn’t a commonplace heartbreak. Not only is this a longer relationship than most in adolescence, Miho has to reconcile so many things: how much she integrated Scumbucket into her life; how she failed to realize she wasn’t the only one; the fact that she was in fact the potential cause for the breakup of a longer relationship; how to manage her relationship with the other woman and whether or not to make her existence and the affair known; etc. There was also a whole myriad of themes along social, ethnic, racial, class, and cultural lines. I have good things to say on all of those, but my favorite was in the depiction of poverty. Redd doesn’t idealize poverty, and she also doesn’t portray it as entirely hopeless. It’s realistic and messy and nuanced. That’s a balance I very rarely see authors attempt, much less pull off.

There’s a certain amount of hope throughout Fierce as the Wind, but it’s not just a story of overcoming obstacles to get to a glorious end. Not all obstacles can be overcome, and ends are usually a good mixture of many things. Again, Redd isn’t afraid to take us to a more-nuanced kind of conclusion. That’s what makes the book so good. Miho is looking to find her way, with a wonderful support crew around her to help, but muddling through life is kind of what we do, even if we get glimpses of the road before the next twist surprises us. By the end of the book, it feels like she’s beginning to learn just that, which in itself is a kind of victory. Just don’t expect this one to be like the Ironman version of The Mighty Ducks (yes, I’m showing my age). It’s far better than that kind of story.

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Sunday Coffee – Why I Don’t Buy Books (Sigh)

I’ve discussed this off and on, but the short version goes like this: I don’t buy books that I haven’t already read except under very narrow and specific circumstances. Like, for instance, when Brandon Sanderson releases a new Stormlight Archive book. There is almost no circumstance in which I’ll regret buying a Stormlight Archive book. But 99.9% of the time, I don’t buy unread books, especially not new.

This didn’t used to be the case. Before late 2010/early 2011, I bought books all the time that I wanted to read. My culling project during that time period taught me just how much money I was wasting by pre-buying. I already used the library a ton, but I shifted to full-time library use for physical copies of books, and now, I only buy books that I’ve read and want to keep on my shelves. This latter bit narrowed even further in 2015 when I KonMari-ed my bookshelves and cut them down to around 100 books. I don’t know how many I own these days, but I periodically go through and cull out anything I no longer care to keep, for selling back to Half Price Books. The system works well for me.

Until I run into things like the Barnes & Nobles 50% off sale.

If you hadn’t heard, BN held a sale in the last week of December that was 50% off all hardcovers. There were a few books on my list that I hadn’t gotten over Christmas – actually, I didn’t get any books for Christmas this year, boo! – so I looked up if any were available at my local store. One of them – The Postscript Murders – was there, so even though I knew it was dangerous to go, I tiptoed into the book-opium den.

I got The Postscript Murders. I also grabbed a book I’d seen and thought would be useful, a mostly-cookbook focused on fueling for workouts. It was a book I was reasonably sure I could use, even if I hadn’t checked it out from the library beforehand. By then, though, I was enthralled.

You see, I love buying books. In spite of my strictures, a wall of possibilities is a thrill. I created those strictures because of how easy it is for me to spend money on the promise of a book I’ll enjoy, a promise made by a shiny cover and new book smell. And that last week in December, I succumbed.

I bought two more hardcovers. One – Where the Truth Lies by Anna Bailey – was a complete unknown and a random choice from the Wall O’ Books. The second was Cackle by Rachel Harrison, a book already on my radar, already in my library hold queue to investigate. Did I need this book? Absolutely not. I would have gotten it within a few weeks from the library. Did I want it? Yes. Very much yes. The premise was exciting, and the cover is to die for.

Tbh, I thought about taking some time to read the first five pages of these two books, just to make sure the writing didn’t drive me crazy before I spent money on them. But BN was too crowded, and they were 50% off, and I decided to just go for it. You see, this is why I don’t normally buy books. I make bad decisions when I impulse-buy. I decide “what the hell?” and then I blithely bring books home that I may regret. Like Cackle. Because despite the pretty cover and interesting premise, the writing and characterization drove me crazy. Everyone was a caricature of a person, the dialog and interactions were so unrealistic, and the story didn’t even end up being interesting! I would have easily known within five pages – perhaps even one page – that this wasn’t the right fit for me. But noooooo, I didn’t bother to preview the book. I just spent money on it, and then because I spent money on it, I kept reading long past when I would have stopped normally. I only stopped around the halfway point because I realized I was wasting my time on something I didn’t enjoy, in penance for wasting the money.

And so, I have my first abandoned book of 2022. Already. Abandoned January 3rd.

This. This is why I don’t buy books I haven’t already read.

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