Cuckoo Song, by Frances Hardinge

Triss knows that something is wrong. She doesn’t remember falling into the river. She only remembers waking up, soaking wet, and being cared for by her overly-concerned parents. Her sister seems to hate and fear her, Triss’s stomach is screaming for food no matter how much she eats, her hair is rustling like dead leaves in her ears, and she’s suddenly terrified of scissors. Her parents speak in whispers about a mysterious man, a bargain, and letters that come from nowhere. Something is wrong, deep secrets, and Triss’s curiosity leads her down paths she’d rather have left alone.

Oh. My. This book was delightful, all atmospheric and creepy and dark. Hardinge has the most incredible imagination, and she takes fantasy and horror to new and interesting places. Amidst all the dreamlike imagery and unexpected turns in this story, Hardinge also works in themes of family, grief, and post-WWI culture shock across Britain, as well as what it means to be “real.”

I’m so incredibly grateful to have seen my book-friend April post about this one on Instagram, because honestly, I’d kinda given up on Hardinge. I adored A Face Like Glass in 2017. It remains one of my favorite books of the last decade. But since then, I read The Lie Tree (just okay) and abandoned two others, A Skinful of Shadows and Deeplight. I thought maybe Hardinge was just a one-hit author for me. Now, I believes she writes in many different atmospheric tones, and so some appeal to me while others don’t. This one is definitely in the “love” category, and is by far my favorite book of 2021 so far.

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Sunday Coffee – Spring Forward Recap

So spring’s goals mostly felt like an exercise in frustration. So many of them were attempted but failed for circumstances out of my control! You can see the lack of colored-in very clearly in that pic, heh. Here’s how things went:

Attempt C25K: I actually began this one on 3/4, before these spring goals technically started. But C25K is an eight-week program and I knew I wouldn’t finish it by May 15th even if I started early! Unfortunately, right after I started, I was told to stop running as we figured out this potentially-broken-foot thing. And then I was told I had to stop running altogether re: arthritis in my heel bone. Boo.

Listen to the Murdoch Mysteries podcast: I was really excited about this one, and then really frustrated as it seemed this podcast was literally just recap of specific episodes told in the form of diary entries, complete with audio clips from the show. Boooooring!

Listen to the Unsolved Mysteries podcast: Unlike the Murdoch one, this podcast was awesome! It’s like an audio version of the original show, except shorter as each one only discusses one case. There are interviews and news clips and sound effects. The first one (on the Ball Cemetery) freaked me out completely, in the most delicious way. I’ve continued to listen every week as soon as the new episodes release. I’m glad they have them listed on their website, too, so I can (hopefully) check for any potential updates – which (yay!) they also update on their instagram!

Buy a denim sundress: I got a $15 reward from Torrid for my birthday in March, and spent that (plus a little more of course) on a denim sundress. Ish. I’m not a fan of the current fashion of having buttons all the way down the front, but that’s what was available. Plus size shopping is very limited. Unfortunately, when it arrived, it was like a muumuu made of very thin not-really-denim material. I had to return it. When I did, they refused to refund my birthday reward! Terrible customer service! Ugh. I’ve looked and looked every other store I know but can’t find a single one selling this fashion of dress. I even caved and tried to look on Amazon, but there was nothing! I’ll keep looking but ugh. This doesn’t seem like such a hard ask…

(Why is this so hard?? Photo: 1998)

Make something with macrame: Well. I got several books on macrame from the library, including ones to teach you how to do it, and I was so overwhelmed by them that I sent them back! I thought maybe I’d wait until I could take a craft class or something, but then Stephanie gave me a macrame kit for my birthday. So I started over looking for a better source of instruction. No luck yet, but perhaps one day.

Buy new pajamas: Why is this such an impossible task? My needs are fairly simple: tank top sleeves, at least long enough to cover my belly but not below the knees (too hot!), with shorts long enough that my thighs aren’t sticking together in the middle of the night. But no, the top options are either too short or too long, and the only shorts sold in pjs these days are booty shorts. I tried Walmart first because that’s where I used to get pjs, before they changed brands a few years ago and started putting out thinner, see-through tops and booty shorts. No luck. I tried Lane Bryant and managed one top that was right, though I had to buy it in a set with some pants that are absolutely not going to get worn during a TX summer. I tried Torrid, nothing. I tried Kohl’s, nothing. Old Navy Plus, Davy Piper, Target, nothing. Nothing nothing nothing. WTF? I’ve literally been wearing the same two sets of pjs since 2017 because that was the last time I was able to find a simple long tank top and shorts!

Finally, Jason spotted a Fiesta-themed sundress at HEB. It was at a good length, made of a soft light material that pjs are often made from, and with a good internal lining to keep it from being see-through. I sized up to make it loose and flowing, and it worked perfect. So I finally had two new pjs tops as of the end of April. In May, I found some pj shorts the right length through a third-party via Walmart online, and they arrived on the 7th. They’re crappy material and slightly too big, but whatever. At least I have new pj sets now.

Meet up with an old friend: In mid-April, I attended a hike where I got to see a fellow hiker that I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic! (photo of us is Dec 2019 pre-pandemic)

Reach 175 miles for the year: I was actually on track to finish this easily, but then as May started, I had to quit walking altogether for 6-8 weeks, so I finished this at only 167 miles.

Buy a new alarm clock: I really tried finding one in stores because I’m avoiding Amazon, but I couldn’t find any that had red numbers, so eventually I caved and ordered from Bezos.

I didn’t even attempt the following:

Try out one of my bellydancing workout videos: These videos are all on DVD, and right now, the only DVD player we have is the boys’ XBox, and I can’t make the stupid thing work. I keep saying that I would like to get a real player, but we keep not doing it, so right now, I just don’t use DVDs or BluRay at all.

Listen to the Hamilton soundtrack: I’ve not been in the mood to listen to music at all, and I don’t want to potentially dislike this purely because I’m in the wrong mood. So this is back-burnered.

Finish my YWA backlog: I was super lazy about yoga this spring and need to be much better about it, so this might eventually be done…

I’m not sure I’m going to do a summer-goals-drawing-thingy this year. I’ve done them for the last four seasons, and the winter/spring ones were kinda meh. If I do, the dates will go from 5/31 to 8/15 (summer break here).

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Wellness Wednesday – Hikes of 2021, #30-35

Since I’m currently on a walking-hiking-running-anything-to-do-with-my-foot break, this post is a bit shorter in number than usual. I might be off for a few months, though, so I didn’t want to just hold it in my drafts. I’ll be back with these at some point in the future…

30. After two days of a MAJOR heat wave (temps near 100), it was lovely to wake up to a hike in the 60s and breezy! Wish there hadn’t been so many worms (oak leaf rollers and cankerworms), but it was fun to see the ladybugs out, and we even saw a (non-poisonous) ribbon snake! I’ve been hiking at this park hundreds of times over the years, and this is only the second or third time I’ve seen a snake there. Heh. Top left photo is me making my “cranky” face with Eva, who refused to get into other pictures, ha! We tease each other back and forth on the picture situation every time we’re on a hike together. [Hike 19/52 for my 52 Hike Challenge.]

Continue reading

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Wild, by Cheryl Strayed

Subtitled: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Four years after Strayed’s mother dies and her life falls into chaos, addiction, and loneliness, she sets off – without any true preparation – to hike a big chunk of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

If ever there was a book that I should have abandoned, this is it.

So in my recent review of Leave Only Footprints, I talked about being wary of the author’s memoir portions, as he did this project as a recovery from heartbreak, and that can all-too-easily turn into whining, bitter naval-gazing. It didn’t, and I was happy for that. Wild…is the opposite. About 60-70% of this book is all about Strayed’s crappy childhood and traumatic adulthood and addiction issues. There were these long tangents that had nothing to do with hiking the PCT where I just wanted to speed ahead and get back to the actual hiking portion of it, because honestly, I just got tired of hearing the same thing over and over and over again. This is why I rarely read memoirs. I have no interest in reading about most people’s personal lives and the intricacies of their emotional turmoils. Maybe that makes me callous, but frankly, I have enough on my plate without wading through someone else’s crap, you know? Which is why I avoid memoirs. I only read this one because I wanted to read about the hike! I’d hoped it would be like Becoming Odyssa – which was also a lost-to-found type of story, but which focused on the hike primarily – a sort of PCT alternate to the AT. It was not. Here were some of my thoughts as I read:

  • Wait. The heroin bits are sus. No detox?? That’s not how that works…
  • Why, why, why, why, why would anyone ever EAT THEIR MOTHER’S CREMATED ASHES????? WITH CHUNKS OF BONE IN THEM?????
  • WTF did she do to that poor horse?
  • How many times can she repeat the same phrase over and over? This book really needs an editor.
  • There is a lot of casual racism and stereotyping here.
  • How did this lady not die? (ad nauseum)
  • How irresponsible can you be to not only start this unprepared, but keep going that way, endangering rescue workers and anyone who looks to this hike as inspiration?

I should have known better than to keep reading. I’d been warned away from this book from people who know about my drug phobias. There’s a lot of heroin-talk in this book. (Also, trigger warnings for others – there is drug addiction, child abuse, domestic abuse, animal cruelty, rapey-vibe scenes, and the like in this book.) That alone should have turned me away, but nope, I kept on going. I tried so hard to like this one, and just couldn’t. Even though I read through the memoir portions as fast as I possibly could, I also kept getting irritated with the hiking/camping portions. I think the author and I just have polar opposite personalities. Her chaotic, uninformed, wing-it approach the the world is not only the furthest thing from something I’d ever do, but it stressed me out just reading about it. Then, as the book went on, the hiking portions got smaller and smaller, skipping right through most of the actual hiking to the overnights-at-way-stops whenever Strayed wasn’t recounting her past.

For a book that was meant to be about hiking the PCT, there was very little about hiking the PCT.

By the time I finished, all I wanted was to find a different book about hiking the PCT. Whereas Becoming Odyssa made me want to do a long-distance hike for the first time in my life, Wild made me feel like I would never, ever, EVER want to go backpacking or distance hiking, which actually makes me really sad! Clearly, I’m the wrong audience. It’s a bit like how The Omnivore’s Dilemma turned me off of processed food, whereas Salt Sugar Fat – which was attempting to do the same – actually made me crave it more.

I did learn a few things from this book, though:

  • What not to do if I ever go backpacking (which frankly, as an avid day-hiker, I could have said without reading this book, but this made it even more abundantly clear)
  • Maybe REI would swap out my hiking boots, which I’ve only worn twice because they’re too small and make my feet go numb after a few miles.
  • I need to find a more recent book about the PCT, to see if the trail conditions have improved in the last 25 years.
  • I would really like a trail partner or two, because I would not want to do any backpacking trip alone. (I have many day-hiking friends and an entire hiking group I belong to, but we haven’t tried backpacking at this point.)
  • Just like I said in my review of Becoming Odyssa, I really, really wish I had a trail name. Maybe one day.

That’s all. I wish I could be more positive, but this was clearly not the book for me. If you like memoirs, it might be really great for you. But if you were looking to read this one for the hiking portions, I’d suggest finding another book as this one spends very little time on that, plus Strayed’s hike took place many years ago (so might not be as relevant today, as trail conditions definitely change over time).

Note: After reading the book and writing this review, I couldn’t stop thinking about how off everything felt in this book (especially the “walked away from heroin with no issues” bit). I was also having a lot of trouble understanding why everyone else seemed to love it. Looking down through the ratings/reviews of my GoodReads friends, it was all glowing praise and four- to five-star entries…until I got to my friend Karen’s rating. She’d given it one star, and I reached out to her to say I’m glad I’m not alone in my feelings. She, too, expressed how off she felt about this book, and linked me out to an entire blog that debunks Strayed’s entire trip. I’m always inclined to believe nonfiction, perhaps because I don’t read as much of it, but this blog helped me put together why things felt so off. I’ve had experiences with folks who embellish and invent 90% of their stories in the past, and after realizing just how much of this book was verifiably false, I finally understood the instincts that were kicking in as I read.

The blog is hilariously cutting – it’s called “I Hate Cheryl Strayed” after all – so perhaps don’t read it if you like Strayed or her memoir. Personally, I spent an entire afternoon reading all 40ish posts that debunk, fact-check, and rip apart Wild. And hey, now that I’ve done that, I dislike the author even more and don’t feel nearly as bad as I did about the PCT. Excellent trade-off!

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Sunday Coffee – Camping, Except Not

I’m supposed to be at Inks Lake right now on a weekend camping trip.

I’ll be honest: I never thought I’d go camping again as an adult. My family used to camp a lot when I was a kid, not because anyone particularly enjoyed camping, but because when we traveled, we couldn’t afford hotels. Campsites were cheaper. We lived in South Carolina, so every time we went to Charleston or Myrtle Beach or to the nearby lakes or mountains, we camped. Then I got older, my family got larger, and the camping grew more infrequent as first we couldn’t afford vacation and then my parents divorced. The last time I remember sleeping in a tent was in 1999, at a trip to the Frio River with my mom’s extended family. By that point, I hated sleeping on the ground. As I went off and started my own family, I expected never to camp again.

And then here we are. I got convinced to give it a try by Becoming Odyssa and my fellow hikers. We were planning to spend the weekend at Inks Lake State Park, hiking during the day and camping at night. I bought all my supplies – tent, AIR MATTRESS, sleeping bag, cooler*, chair*, food, etc. (*Note that the cooler and lawn chair were actually things I needed outside this trip, as my previous ones went kaputt.) I was nervous and excited and actually looking forward to the trip, while simultaneously hoping that the whole sleeping-in-a-tent thing would be better on an air mattress and that I wouldn’t be miserable all weekend. Heh.

Then there was my foot. So, you know that hope I wrote about and all that jazz, just a few days ago? Well, that day, my foot started to cramp up and swell. And it just kept getting worse. I realized: the longer I put off letting this foot rest, the longer it’s going to take to heal, and the more longterm damage I was going to do. I realized: perhaps hiking all weekend may not be the best plan. I realized: As much as I wanted to ignore my foot and camp with my friends, this was a very, very bad idea.

So I am not camping right now. In fact, I have returned much of that procured equipment and supplies, because I doubt I’ll be camping any time in the next six months given 1) foot and 2) miserable summer heat. And I’ve stopped using my foot as much as possible, earlier than planned. Depending on how I feel next weekend, I might skip the 5K I’ve signed up for. Or I might just walk it slow in supportive shoes, one of only a few planned easy walks scheduled for the next six weeks. And then I’m going to rest my foot for as long as it takes to get better. Because not-listening-to-my-body certainly hasn’t helped me over the last seven months. And hey, it’s the beginning of miserable hot summer here, so if I need to take a few months off, so be it. Better now than over the winter!!

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Quarantine Diaries – Weeks 59 and 60

So much of life right now feels tentatively safe at the moment. It feels like for the last 13-14 months, I’ve been living in an underground shelter, hunkering down and waiting until things are safe again, and now we’re peeking out to see if we can reemerge. The danger is still out there, but my family is as safe as we can get, and if we take reasonable precautions, we’ll be okay. For now, at least. It makes me laugh a little, because I know a lot of folks – including family members – who are Preppers, some with actual literal bunkers, and these are the folks who have refused to stay home, to wear mask, and now to get vaccinated… Like, what was all that Prepping for? Why bother if you refuse to actually take shelter and wait for the danger to pass when it comes?

Week 59 – April 23 to 29
217,219 cases, 3,354 deaths, 235 seven-day rolling average (up 13), 1.9% positivity rate (down to an all-time low and better than any metro areas in TX). Hospitals have actually seen a few days of decreases, which shows just how well our vaccine program is affecting our community!

The J&J vaccine is back on the market now, cleared by the FDA after the clotting issue. Pfizer (and I believe Moderna too) announced that boosters will be available in the fall, to come 6-12 months after initial vaccination (and hopefully any updates for variants). HEB is doing walk-in covid vaccines now, Metro Health is setting up mobile vaccination clinics to get into various neighborhoods, and the city is opening their mass vaccine site to everyone eligible without any appointment necessary. Right now, we’ve got roughly 572k folks fully vaccinated and 840k half-vaxxed in SA. Additionally, we’re up to seven breakthrough covid cases now (cases after full vaccination). All have been mild.

Jason had his second dose this week, with some mild fever and fatigue the day after. His symptoms were less than any of the rest of us. We also had our family memorial this week, which was tough. I had to not argue when I was told things like “I’m not getting the vaccine because it doesn’t prevent spread, it just prevents you from feeling any symptoms.” Sigh. I will be relieved when May 11th comes around and we’re all as immunized as possible. J and I talked to Morrigan as well, to see if he’d managed to get his shots yet, and he said he was planning to do so after mid-May when he moves into the apartment he and his roommate have leased. I’ll feel much better after he gets his doses too!

Generally over the last year-and-a-bit, the focus of these quarantine diaries has been on personal, local, and sometimes statewide happenings related to covid. Very occasionally, I’ll mention something happening on a larger scale. If I’d tried to track the covid-happenings worldwide, I would’ve given up the project ages ago. But right now, the crisis in India is so extreme that I feel the need to mention it here. The spike in cases/deaths is the most steep I’ve seen from any country this whole pandemic, and is even worse than we can tell, as many cases/deaths aren’t being reported because infrastructure, testing, the medical system, and so many other areas/departments are overwhelmed and unable to function. People are literally dying unseen and unattended in the streets. Someone – I’m not sure who to credit – has created a list of charities and folks helping on the ground in India. If anyone has the capability to help, please do.

Week 60 – April 30 to May 6
219,008 cases, 3,379 deaths, 205 seven-day rolling average (yay!), 2.6% positivity rate. Another 2 cases at the local high school this week.

Even though TX is almost the worst state in the country for percent vaccinated (44th!), San Antonio is still doing okay. We currently have 928k folks who have received their first dose (61.6%) and 647k fully vaxxed (43%). That number should continue to improve as 1) doses are now being administered to jail inmates (you might recall we’ve had several MAJOR outbreaks at the jail) and 2) the FDA is set to approve the Pfizer vaccine for the 12-15 age group next week. Current predictions are that they’ll be approve for under-11 by fall (some reports say ages 2-11, some say 6mo-11). I hope that happens because then my nephews can get their doses! There isn’t a lot of news beyond that this week, except that it was election week here and our current mayor handily won his reelection bid. (Whew!)

As for at home, my boys hit their two-weeks-post-vax on Wednesday, so they are now as protected as currently possible. Laurence and I went to the school for the high school play last weekend, and I was surprised (and pleased) that all the actors wore masks the entire time, managing to project their voices and enunciate well even through cloth! Laurence later had to go into the school for end-of-credit testing (because it’s TX, and yeah standardized testing is the most important thing in the world, eye-roll), and he felt a lot better about that since he’d had his vaccines. Ambrose is set to house-sit for my sister in Dallas in a few weeks, and will be flying up there – another thing we wouldn’t have even considered before his shots! Then there was the morning I spent at fellow-hiker Lindsay’s house, helping to take care of her newborn (above pic) while she’s in the hospital for complications – everyone in the house was vaccinated, so none of us had to wear masks, and that’s just so…old and new at the same time.

Moving forward
Unless we start getting a lot of crazy news, I’ll be posting these Quarantine Diaries a little further apart again. It really does feel like things are holding steady in our local area, the negatives and positives in a precarious balance atm. I’m sure with the variants running around the world, we’ll see another wave at some point. But for now, things feel relatively stable(ish). I’m afraid to say it and jinx it!

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Wellness Wednesday – A New Hope

No, not a Star Wars joke. I know enough about Star Wars from my SW-obsessed child to know this is the name of a movie, and apparently, on looking it up, it’s the first movie that came out, and I’ve actually seen it, even though uuuugh not a SW fan. Anyway, I mean a REAL new hope, one for me, one related to my foot, which I lamented about in last week’s WW post.

I was talking to a friend on Instagram, and she said that though she had some arthritis in her foot, she was lucky that it had never bothered her too much. That made me think a little more critically about the various things my ortho dr said. So I have arthritis in the top nubbin of my heel bone. That really shouldn’t come as a surprise, as that bone – in the spot that used to be broken – has continually had a dull ache whenever I do too much exercise, or if my feet are a bit misused (like when I skid/slide on trails, catching myself from falling but wrenching my foot in the process). I realized – that is the arthritis. And while yes, sometimes I have to take a day or two off my foot til the ache dies down, it has never prevented me from hiking, running, walking, etc.

Then there’s the swelling. I asked the ortho why arthritis in my heel would cause the weird, localized triangle of swelling and pain on the top of my foot. He said it was possible that the cyst on/in the bone had weakened and leaked. But…um…maybe I’m misunderstanding, but all that swelling can’t be from a leaky cyst, because a cyst causing that much fluid would be visible as a bump on my foot, and it isn’t (and never has been). I’m not sure what else he might be saying, as it didn’t make much sense, and it was only his best guess anyway. He basically told me that he didn’t know and couldn’t explain it. That got me thinking about the timing of things.

  • September 30 – ran a 5K without any problems
  • October 17 – slipped while on a long, arduous hike, hurting my foot (my best guess of where this all began)
  • October 24 – first instance of major foot pain after an uneventful walk
  • October 25 – wrote in my journal that my foot was swelling on the top and felt like it had stress fractures all over the area
  • October 29 – attempted to run a 5K but my gait was off because my left foot was injured and aggravated; even walking felt weird and uncoordinated
  • (between October and March – no letting up on the foot, continuing to hike/walk regularly and run periodically)
  • March 15 – saw my primary care dr, who determined the source of the pain was in the 4th metatarsal; she suspected a fracture and referred me to ortho
  • March 18 – hiked up (steep) Enchanted Rock on ouchy foot (Bad Manda!)
  • ***After March 18, I stopped doing all harder hikes, any running, and cut back on all walking/hiking generally.
  • March 25 – initial ortho appointment; swelling down to just in the evenings so only visible in photos; MRI ordered
  • April 14 – double foot MRI; I couldn’t pinpoint the painful spot any longer like I could on March 15 and had to guess for the imaging
  • April 27 – ortho follow-up; no pain remaining in the top of the foot, swelling now happening some days but not others

If you skipped through all this, here is the point: From October when my foot began to act stupid to mid-March when I went to Enchanted Rock, I didn’t rest my foot at all. I didn’t stop running, I didn’t cut back on my miles, I didn’t refrain from harder hikes. However, after Enchanted Rock, I began to do all those things. Several times, I took long five-to-six-day stretches with no exercise at all. Between when my primary doc found the painful spot on the fourth metatarsal and my follow-up with the ortho six weeks later, I was no longer having pain and the swelling was intermittent. What does that sound like? IMPROVEMENT. Possibly HEALING.

I think it’s likely that I did have a stress fracture, and the swelling was an attempt to stabilize it, and the long-term rest has kinda helped. Maybe if I take some time off completely, it’ll heal the rest of the way. Or if it’s something else, something they didn’t find, maybe some time off would also do it some good.

So I’ve made the decision. I have several pre-planned events coming up this weekend and the next. After May 15, though, I have nothing exercise-related on the calendar until June 12. That’s four whole weeks that I can take to rest. Rest, stretch, focus on other exercise, focus on dealing with my personal issues that always crop up in May, focus on getting a grip on my iced coffee addiction (ha!), avoid the outdoor heat, etc. Stay off this foot for a month, see if it continues to swell, and then move forward with whatever results. Maybe it’ll go back to that periodic dull ache in the bone that’s the arthritis, and I can handle that. And maybe it won’t – maybe I’m just out of luck as I mentioned in last week’s post. But it’s worth a try. Staying off of it for an entire month is one thing I haven’t tried, and maybe it’s the one thing that’ll save me. Because we all know that pushing myself despite the pain has not exactly been good for me, now or in the past. You’d think I’d learn that by now, no? Heh.

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April 2021 Wrap-up

I say this every year, and 2021 is no different: April is very tough for me, and the beginning of a difficult season. In normal years, April brings in waves of heat and the beginning of summer. It’s followed by a month of PTSD flashbacks (May) and then by summer vacation for my kids and the inevitable chaos of everyone being home with no time to myself. This year, it’s more difficult, because in addition to heat and PTSD, the kids have been home full time since mid-March 2020, a 13+ month summer vacation. It’s starting to really wear on me, and I’ve started letting go of the last remnants of schedule and routine that I had left: my daily journaling, morning exercise, specific laundry days, etc. Things are becoming more random, more chaotic, and with that, I get more and more overwhelmed, letting things go, so that the cycle deepens. It’s a very hard time of year, rougher this year, and even rougher than it needed to be as a month filled constant medical appointments. Jason once asked me if there was anything I could remove from my calendar to free up more time, and my response was, “Only the things that I like.” It was that kind of month.

(at the memorial/reunion – photo credit: my cousin Robert)

It was also a month of grief. My grandfather passed away at the end of March, so a lot of that carried over into April. The full force of it hit me in the days after his memorial toward the end of the month, combining with the beginnings of PTSD and causing panic attacks. Additionally, the vet did an ultrasound on Ash and confirmed that he definitely has some kind of cancer, so we don’t know how long he has left. He turns 12 around June/July.

The month was not, of course, without its good points, but I’m going to save those for the highlights below.

Reading and Watching
I read a lot more this month than I have all year, partly due to the library finally being open for browsing again. Even though I don’t need to browse and can put things on hold, I just find a lot of reading inspiration when I get to walk around and pick things out at random! So I read/listened to five books this month, with Wilde Child being my favorite.

In shows, I was really into true crime documentaries this month for some reason. I watched 1) Murder Among the Mormons (an interesting look into the extremes people go to on both ends of the Mormon spectrum), 2) Evil Genius (this whole story was insane and convoluted, and the combination of smart, not-well-adjusted, and superiority complex in a group of friends is ugh), and 3) The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel (a story I already knew from a podcast, but really creepy in how involved the internet “sleuths” got, especially that creepy guy who was basically a stalker to coopted Lam’s story as his own, gross). I also finished watching the current season of Temptation Island (ha!).

As I’ve said before, my 2021 goals are pretty much a bust because they were just too nonspecific and meh. But I made a new goal this month, that I planned to begin as soon as I could get through all this foot injury stuff. In October, I’m going to Big Bend for a week with some of my hiking group, and toward the end of the trip, we’re going to hike the trail to Emory Peak. It’s a 10-mile out and back trail with an elevation gain of 2500 feet, so it’s WAY beyond my comfort zone! The longest hiking I’ve done with my group has been 5.7 miles at Lost Maples in November. Most are closer to 3-4 miles. The highest elevation gain has been about 550 feet. So…twice as long, and five times the elevation gain. At a much higher altitude (8000 feet vs 1500 feet). That’s going to take some major training! I have a plan picked out that incorporates hiking-specific strength training, higher-intensity cardio or intervals, longer low-intensity walking/hiking, and rest days. Unfortunately, with the news about my foot, this brand new goal might already be a wash. I’m still going to train, but if this will be too much on that arthritic portion of my foot, I’m going to have to sit it out. Boo!

Medical month central: primary care doc, dentist, chiropractor, endocrinologist, three orthopedic surgeon appointments, three x-rays, three MRIs, and metabolic testing. Still need: mammogram, CT scan of abdomen, GI specialist, rheumatologist, potentially another (better) endocrinologist. I am so, so tired of doctors at this point. It’s just too much, with very few answers and no solutions at all. Something else I’m really sick of: unsolicited advice about my health, body, and choice of doctors. My body, my business. (None of y’all – this isn’t something I’m seeing on my blog. Just out in the world in other places.) With the focus on pointless appointments this month, my health didn’t really go anywhere. I was totally unmotivated to do much, and had to take a lot of time off re: my foot from walking/hiking, and wasn’t allowed to run at all. I’m struggling with depression, motivation, all the rest. I just don’t care anymore. Nothing I do matters, so why try?

Work continued on the porch and siding. Jason took the last week of April off work, which I wrote about yesterday. We got a lot done – or rather, he got a lot done, because at this point there’s very little I can help with besides holding the fort down – but with all the rain, there’s still so much to do. One of these days, we’ll be finished with this project and all the tools will go into the garage and we will STOP doing house projects for a good, long time. I remember telling Jason that I wanted to hire people to do the work for us at this house, so that 1) it didn’t take so much of our (especially his) time/effort, and 2) so that it would be done in a timely manner. But then so much went wrong with the original folks who made the posts for us outside, that Jason just took over for the sake of costs and getting it right. He prioritizes the costs, while I prioritize the time, and this time costs won out, and we’ve literally been working on this outdoor project for 17 months now and I’m soooooo tired of construction going on… However, it’s going to be beautiful when it’s all done, and he’s doing a wonderful job.

Favorite Photos
I actually took a lot of photos that I liked this month, so it was hard narrowing it down, but here are the best of the best. As always, these are taken by me and aren’t always the best photography, just the photos I personally like the most. Full size versions (not cropped or reduced size) are available in my Instagram stories.

Top: Eva and me playing out on a hike – Eva doesn’t like to take photos, so she skipped one, so I made her take a selfie with me, so she hid and I made faces for the camera. This was such a fun moment! // Neko (yes, I named my porch-lizard) flexes for the ladies. Bottom: headless tree at Palmetto State Park; my very obvious tarot the day I asked for guidance after yoga.

Clockwise from top: One of my favorite hiking group-selfies ever, with Sarah being super-silly in the background, inside one of the shelters over the land-bridge at Hardberger Park; iced coffee on the coolest wiggly sideways tree at Walker Ranch Park; a forest tent caterpillar tries to “blend in” along a branch in our nectarine tree; our porch lady lizard plays peekaboo with me as I try to get her photo (she’s much more afraid of me than Neko).

Highlights of April
I really needed to spend extra time finding the good moments this month. These were my lifeline.

  • Ambrose came home limping, saying he’d been tapped by a car at the end of his work day at the local nursery. J and I started asking questions about the employer’s response, if the car stopped, etc, and Ambrose said he’d show us the damage. He raised his pant leg to show us this April Fool’s sign… Ha!! My kid.
  • wildflower hike at Inks Lake
  • basically walking through Jurassic Park (ha!) at Palmetto State Park (the ecosystem there was unlike anything I’ve ever seen)
  • playing “indoor” croquet with made up rules on Easter
  • we got to harvest and eat beans from our garden!
  • girl’s night out to celebrate Alia’s PhD! –> Then later watching her dissertation defense, and celebrating when she officially became a Dr!
  • seeing fellow hiker Rosalyn again after more than a year
  • Red Hong Yi’s artwork on climate change
  • hiking brunch for Lindsay before she has her baby this week (plus later: BABY!!!)
  • going back to Medina River Coffee for the first time since covid
  • my friend Melanie got engaged!
  • the most wholesome graffiti ever (“catch fish and release them!” “ride bikes” “black lives matter -the world”) at the park shelter
  • Jason and my boys got their second dose vaccines!
  • my unlikely hikers and unsolved mysteries shirts  arrived! (plus an extra unlikely hikers sticker that also says “My body took me here.” I put it on my hydroflask!)
  • Laurence got his SAT scores back and scored a 1300. He thinks that’s “low” because it’s lower than his brothers’ scores, so I had to explain that that’s still really good!
  • seeing my siblings and many other family members for the first time since pre-pandemic
  • my first Cairn subscription box arrived, which was very fun!
  • getting to know the anole on my porch, Neko, named for Nekomata because of his forked tail, ha!
  • Jason bought me a telephoto lens that my cousin-in-law (a retired photojournalist) found and recommended, so now I can take better far-off photos! Having lots of fun with that, too.
  • the tornado that passed overhead didn’t hit us – this is the second year in a row where we had to shelter in our bathroom! Tornadoes usually don’t come down this far south. More indication of climate change!! (Does this count as a highlight? The absence of something negative? It’ll have to do.)
  • finally got my digital photo frame set up
  • my book blogger peeps set up a Discord server of book bloggers from back in the 2010 era, so I’m getting to say hello to folks that I haven’t seen in years!
  • my Journey Before Destination shirt arrived, and they sent an extra Strength Before Weakness rubber bracelet as well as a sticker of Shallan! (This is all stuff from the Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson, which is my favorite series ever.)

Coming up in May

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Sunday Coffee – Another Week of “Vacation”

Y’all remember how in February, Jason took a week off work so we could try to finish up all the in-progress projects on our house? And then we didn’t get nearly as much finished as we wanted, because of new projects that cropped up re: Snowpocalypse? Well, it’s been about two months, and we’ve been trying to work on things slowly, in evenings and weekends, during that time. But the problem is that much of the work that was left is far beyond my personal capabilities. I know nothing about building porch rails and attaching soffits! So I’ve been kinda helpless while Jason has been kinda overwhelmed, and he decided to take another “vacation” week to try to get stuff done before it gets too hot. (Too late, honestly – the week he took is our first week of every day 85+ degrees, many days in the 90s, and no sign of improvement in the weeks following…)

The plans:

  • Finish building, sanding, painting, etc anything left on the porch, siding, soffits, etc
  • Clean up all the construction supplies in both yards
  • If and only if those things can be finished, a bunch of little hanging items: attaching a faceplate where we’re missing one, rewiring an outlet in the garage, reorganizing the garage, attaching a fence post that has fallen down, and a bunch of paperwork and other stuff unrelated to construction that has gotten months behind

There were a few potential complications: The first weekend of this nine-day break would be spent in family reunions, which cut us down to only seven days. Jason was getting his second vaccine dose on Tuesday, and that might leave him sick for a few days. There were also a few other obligations – doctor appointments, a meal-train lunch to prepare for a friend who just had her baby, a son struggling with pre-cal and physics, etc. Plus, the forecast kept changing, and there was rain rain rain rain rain…

Here’s how things went:

Siding/soffits: Soffits went up, got painted, and the edges where they meet the sides of the house were sealed off. Porch lights went back up and were wired to the switch inside the house. Finished (most of) the rest of the paint touchups and removed excess paint from the window frames. A few pieces of finishing trim put up and caulked. Still needs to be done: painting the finishing trim; painting the external side of the french doors; a few minor paint touchups. This is about 90% done, or 99% minus the doors. It’s supposed to be dry today, so we might actually finish everything but the doors before “vacation” ends.

(construction supplies & porch furniture in the yard makes this look more unfinished than it actually is)

Porch: I didn’t realize that Jason planned to build some bench seating onto one end of the porch, but he did this as well this week. We finished painting the outside walls and railings, caulked the nail-heads on the deck floor, and began to paint the bench area and deck floor (rain derailed these plans). Additionally, Jason attached and painted some tall posts to parts of the railings, ran wiring from the outlet to the railing, and strung up weatherproof lights for a wonderful ambiance outside! All the electricals were encased in various weatherproofing containers to make sure it’s all safe for rain. He also built hanging posts for bird-feeders, plants, etc. (Again, rain derailed any opportunity for paint!) Still needs to be done: The rest of the paint (hangers, floor, bench, stairs) and poly-ing the floor and stairs. About 80% done. Note: We won’t be painting the insides of the porch walls as those will be covered when we turn this into a three-season porch.

(Looks a mess, but getting close to done. When the string-lights are on, it’s so beautiful out here!)

Construction cleanup: Removed a bunch of misc construction debris out to the garbage but much of the wood is having to stay in place with the ongoing work that couldn’t be finished re: rain. Only about 30% done.

Miscellaneous: New outlet wired and faceplate put on behind the coffee area (it has just been an empty hole with a light switch for months). Garage storage shelving areas built. Digital photo frame set up. A bunch of the hanging paperwork (though not all). A new outlet wired into a different part of the garage so we could move our freezer (which previously blocked the light switch and electrical panel!). Fence post reattached. Attached a hose-reel to the external wall of the deck and ran plumbing from there to the spigot on the back of the house. Garage cleaned out and organized. Still to go: the rest of the garage organization, some more paperwork, a few more phone calls. About 80% done.

Extra: My plan for the week was to clean up the front yard/plants, and plant the aloe in the backyard. Rain derailed this entirely. Hopefully next week, while the ground is still soft from rain, I can at least do the planting. There was so much rain this week that we had giant puddles across big portions of the yards, especially the front yard, and a bunch of plant debris (old leaves, pollen rods, etc) is now sitting in these wet, clumped waves that I have to figure out how to clean up. Oy.

We still have the rest of today for “vacation.” But I have a hike this morning, and Jason has D&D with Ambrose and Tyler until 2pm, so it’s only a partial day. Ironic that it’s the first day the sun has come out since Monday. Heh. But maybe we’ll get a few more things done before Jason officially goes back to work tomorrow.

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In Search of Elsewhere, by Steve McCurry

Subtitled: Unseen Images

The cover of this photography book is so striking that I had to check it out from my library on the very first day I was let back inside to browse. The book is mostly made up of photos, with quotes and poems scattered throughout. The photos come from all around the world over roughly 40 years of time. I loved quite a number of the photos – my favorites listed below – and it wasn’t until after I’d finished the book that I discovered that McCurry is the photographer behind the famous Afghan Girl photo. Huh. There isn’t much more to say, and I don’t want to post any photos beyond the cover re: copyright issues, but if you see a copy of this one around, take a look through it! McCurry is a phenomenal photographer with a real eye for capturing the world around us.


  • a Vietnamese farmer riding a motorcycle laden with bags of live ducks, from 2019; pages 74-75
  • a Nepalese girl sheltering under a ragged makeshift umbrella, from 1983; page 79
  • the silhouette of a runner and his (much larger) shadow on rocks under low sun, from 2009 in Brazil; pages 148-149 (this is probably my favorite of the favorites)
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