The Kiss Quotient, by Helen Hoang

Stella’s world is all about math, economics, and her work. She doesn’t have a lot of dating experience, and her mother is pressuring her. So she decides to go about dating and sex the way she approaches everything: logically and practically. She hires an escort, Michael, who is running away from his past and insecurity, to teach her how to be with a man properly. Things don’t go exactly as either of them planned.

Hey! Guess what? I read a book! A real-life actual book! It’s been quite awhile, eh? And this was definitely the book I needed right now. Lighthearted but not fluff, romantic and sexy and sweet, feel-good ending and all. I loved it.

I’m not sure why I don’t read more romance novels. Probably because there are so many cringe-worthy ones out there. I don’t like personality-less characters, or books with nothing to the story except the getting-together, or writing that veers off into awkward dirty talk for the sex parts completely incongruous with the rest of the story. I like romances that have a full story in addition to the getting-together parts, and sex scenes written fluidly into the story so they don’t pull me out of the book and make me want to roll my eyes, and strong characters with whole personalities. I’m very, very ignorant about authors in this particular genre, and while I’ve found a small few that I like, I just don’t know where to begin looking. Grabbing books randomly off library shelves tends to get me no where. But hey, if there’s anyone out there who’s a newbie in this genre like me, this one is a good one.

(Note that there will be mild spoilers in the following paragraph. They shouldn’t affect the reading experience, but please skip ahead if you really dislike spoilers.)

This is also a very interesting book because Stella is high-functioning autistic. I admit, at first I worried that this was going to fall into an unrealistic trope of “man saves autistic woman and changes/heals her,” so I skipped back to the author’s note. Hoang herself is high-functioning autistic, and she wrote from her own perspective in creating Stella and her world. She also noted that of course Stella’s experience is not the only way people with autism experience the world. With all that in mind, I was able to continue reading reassured, and I loved that throughout the book, Stella isn’t “healed.” She learns a lot about self-acceptance and self-confidence, particularly after things go wrong and she’s forced to depend on herself again. That part made the book really phenomenal for me. The very moment Stella decides that she doesn’t need to be fixed, especially not because of a man, made me cheer aloud.

(end spoilers)

Hoang has another book coming out next year that focuses on another autistic character who is mentioned but barely seen in this one. I’m really looking forward to it. In her author’s note, she says that before this book, she’d been mimicking other author’s styles, but with this one, she became absolutely herself. I’ve never read her other books, but the latter part really comes through. Stella is a great character to read, particularly for someone like me who has had very little experience with people who have autism (high-functioning or otherwise). And as always, I have to make note of it when an author really gets me interested in a subject that I pursue after finishing the novel. I have Aspergirls – a book she specifically mentions as discussing the differences in the ways men and women exhibit autistic traits – on hold from the library already. That is always a sign of an excellent story in my book. This may be a lighthearted romance novel, but as I said above, it wasn’t fluff. It was a full-bodied experience, and I loved every second of it.

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Wellness Wednesday – Making sense of discrepancies

Last week, I began listening to a Great Courses lecture series regarding body composition. The lecturer made a statement that I’ve heard a lot – that if you’re eating well and moving well, body composition will change, and that if body composition isn’t changing, then you’re doing something wrong. Oh my god I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to hear this stuff because it’s not nearly that easy. My frustration led to several days worth of math, research, statistics, and data comparison from the last year. I wanted to know what was so different about this spring, when I seemed to be doing everything the same but actually started losing weight. Math and data calm me, and I went through a rollercoaster of ah-ha moments followed by wait-never-mind moments before I finally reached a state of clarity.

I won’t bore everyone with the math. Let me just give you the basic things I looked at. I took the 64 days in a row that I tracked my calories last spring and started adding things up, using all four of the trackers pictured above (My Fitness Pal, Sparkpeople, Fitbit, and Lose It). Note that this was back when I had my Fitbit One, which was far more accurate calorie-wise than my later Fitbit. Then I took the 65 days in a row that I tracked my calories a year ago, to compare the two sets of very similar data. Here was the really frustrating thing: In spring 2018, Fitbit, Spark, and MFP* all predicted that I would lose 7.3-7.5 lbs. My loss in that time was 7.4 lbs. Spot on, right? (Notably, Lose It was way off at 11.1 lbs.) But in the fall of 2017, Fitbit, Spark, and MFP* all predicted I would lose 5-6 lbs, and I had no change in weight at all. Numerically, these two time periods were nearly identical. The average amount I ate and exercised daily were only different between the two periods by about 35 calories. Mathematically, this tells me that calories-in-vs-calories-out means alone nothing for my body**. Other factors must be involved.

Because I’m tenacious – and because the discrepancy irritated me to no end – I decided to look at every other factor that I could think of (and measure) to compare these two time periods. Something must have been different between them! Here’s what I came up with (feel free to skip to the summary at the end). Note that when I say “2017” and “2018” I’m talking about the specific tracking period and not the entire year. Continue reading

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Back to the Classics 2019

It’s been ages since I participated in any kind of reading challenge. It’s also been ages since I was reading classics regularly. This latter fact, I want to rectify, and it seems like Karen’s Back to the Classics challenge would be a good way to help me along.

There are a couple works that I know I want to read for the challenge. Earth by Emil Zola is one. It has been sitting on my shelves for too long, and I love both the author and the translator! Another is Rosmersholm by Henrik Ibsen. I love Ibsen, and this particular play came to my attention when it prefaced each chapter in Lethal White. I also have a few classics that I haven’t read in ages that I’d like to revisit. I’m not sure if rereads count for the challenge, but possibilities include:

  • Return of the Native – Thomas Hardy (last read in 2010)
  • White Fang – Jack London (last read when I was around 12 years old, and an abridged copy at that)
  • Phantom of the Opera – Gaston Leroux (last read in 2008)
  • Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier (last read in 2009)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee (last read sometime in the 90s and I don’t remember it at all)
  • A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole (read in college but don’t remember it at all)

Other possibilities: perhaps I’ll read something by Anthony Trollope finally, or one of Hardy’s novels that I haven’t yet read, or In Cold Blood by Capote, or something by Baldwin finally, or more by Zora Neale Hurston. I’m not sure. Karen has all sorts of possible categories on the sign-up page for the classics challenge (link above). I’m sure I’ll find something. One of the reasons I’ve stayed away from classics for so long is that for more than a decade they were just about the only thing I read, and I read hundreds of them, exhausting my TBR classics list! I have to hunt out new ones to read, find some less-famous works. So we’ll see. I’m excited to see what comes of all this.

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Sunday Coffee – Well ebay sucks now…

It’s been maybe 5-6 years since I’ve used ebay, and even then, I’d hardly used it since the mid-2000s. I decided to dig up my account, though, to sell off some stuff. I had about 40 items to sell and I figured ebay would be the easiest way to do it. Um, no.

First off, let me just say that I’m glad they limited me to ten items to sell this month, otherwise I would’ve been REALLY screwed. I had to get used to their new format, which was far more tedious and time-consuming than the old format, but I managed. I posted my ten items, six of which sold. Now here’s where I learned about how ebay really changed.

1) Ebay chose my postage amounts for me and wouldn’t let me change to other shipping methods, and I ended up paying twice as much shipping as I received on four out of six auctions.

2) Ebay automatically relisted my four auctions that didn’t sell despite me telling them I didn’t want them to, and charged me a relisting fee for each.

3) Ebay has changed the way they charge fees. Instead of charging a small percentage of the final auction cost – something that would have been 2-3% at the tiny amounts I was selling for – they now charge 10% of the entire total INCLUDING SHIPPING!

These three things, minus paypal fees and insertion fees for all ten auctions, mean that I’m taking home LESS THAN 50% OF WHAT MY ITEMS SOLD FOR. In one instance, a low-selling item that was listed way too low for shipping, I actually paid several dollars MORE than I was paid to give that person the item. Yes, I paid someone to take one of my items. Frankly I would have preferred to keep it than to pay to give it away. I could have at least donated it for free. UGH. Altogether, I was sent $107 including shipping, got about $100 of it after paypal fees, and then after paying for shipping and ebay fees, took home about $45. That’s outrageous.

This is why I’m glad ebay limited me to ten auctions. I still have another 35-ish items to sell, and I’ll find another venue for it. Sheesh. I’d thought the ebay revival stuff in commercials and online meant that it was actually reviving, but no. It’s just stealing most of your money. Lesson learned.

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Review: Empty Faces

Back in October, Jason and I saw an ad for Empty Faces, a paranormal serial story package. The basic premise goes like this: Each month for the duration of the story, you get a box that contains clues that you work out to solve the mystery. Empty Faces was put out by the same company that released a serial mystery thriller, Hunt a Killer, but this one sounded more like what Jason and I enjoy. We decided to pre-purchase the first five-month episode, The Woods. We’ve received two installments now, and I thought I’d do a quick review-so-far.

November – Month 1
In this package, we received an introductory letter from a fictional character asking for help. I won’t go into details about this, no spoilers! The rest of the package contained several diary entries, a medical letter, a couple pages of different codes, a pendant necklace, a notebook for taking notes on the case, and a bundle of sage (some items pictured below). What we were expecting: to work out a whole hell of a lot of codes and clues to try to solve the mystery that we were asking to help with. What we actually got: Sure, codes and clues to work out, but instead of beginning to solve the mystery, they were pretty much an introduction to the story.

Mostly, our reaction to the first package was, “Wait – is that all??” One of the codes was easy to work out as long as you knew what you were looking at. (It was a real-world code, and we thought it was easy to recognize, but looking spoilers up after we did our solving, it turns out this is harder for most people because the code is impossible to solve unless you recognize it.) The second code had a short primer to get you started, and then it became pretty easy to convert. Reminded me of middle school trips to fairs where you got to solve simple codes and tangrams. There was also a URL for a blog that made for interesting reading, including some password-protected posts. We were only able to work out one of the passwords, but we have a feeling that’s all we were supposed to work out in the first package.

All in all, it was an interesting concept, though we definitely expected to work harder and have more clues on which to build theories. We kept the package and hoped that installment two would build on it and potentially give us a bit more puzzle to work out.

December – Month 2
Our second package came with another letter, more diary entries, another medical letter, more codes (some same, some different), a creepy photograph, a book excerpt, a heavy prism, and lots of loose feathers. (Some items pictured below.) Our expectations were a bit lower this time, and we picked up the box a few days ago, thinking we’d solve it in under an hour again. Um…no.

Turns out, that first box was just a taster. Not only did this second box have non-code puzzles to work out, but it had codes that had no primer or seed that we had to decipher from scratch, and codes that required us to hunt for a seed. When we finally got a password for one of the protected blog posts, it lead to another, which had even further difficult codes to work through. There were a lot of things we hadn’t heard of and had to seek out, and in doing so, made new connections that might be significant later in the story. We spent hours on this package over several days, and we’re still not sure if we’ve found everything we were meant to find. There were also a lot of very creepy moments while puzzling everything out, including two that both gave me instantaneous goosebumps.

This has been a lot of fun. I was apprehensive after the first box arrived, but the second box more than made up for any ease of the first. I’m really looking forward to future episodes, and maybe if we can wrangle it into our budget, we’ll try another series from Empty Faces when we’ve finished with The Woods.

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Wellness Wednesday – Garmin Vivosport

Guys – I’m excited! I mentioned on Monday that I pulled out my old Garmin Forerunner 310XT that I hadn’t used since 2013. Honestly, I didn’t use it for very long. I’d used a Polar heart rate monitor to track calories for my workouts since early 2011, and then later got the Garmin when I started doing a lot more run-training, since it had a GPS. But there was something about the Garmin that I’d forgotten since I last used it. Chest-strap heart monitors suck, and the one for my Garmin was built in a way that caused it to chafe against my ribs to the point of blisters. The latter would be manageable if I wrapped the connector in cloth, but really, I hate wetting chest-straps and trying to get them all set up before I go out exercising.

I started looking into something new. My Fitbit is okay – though I highly preferred the One before it went bad – but it doesn’t do any of the GPS or pace tracking for my walks. That’s Garmin’s specialty, so I looked into what they had available. I came across the Vivosport, which seemed to be exactly what I needed. Unfortunately, it cost $170 and I just couldn’t afford that! Only then I found a refurbished model for $80, guaranteed to work, and decided that was worth it (especially because then Jason could have my fitbit, which he really wanted).

The Vivosport showed up on Saturday. I was immediately impressed by the fit, which is about a thousand times better than my Fitbit, and didn’t irritate my skin. Then I did a cross-comparison of the Fitbit vs Garmin in terms of steps, elevation, calorie estimation, etc.

Steps and Elevation
The Garmin seems to be fairly identical to the Fitbit in terms of steps. It’s a bit less sensitive on the wrist, so it doesn’t measure steps when I’m just turning my wrist or waving my hand, but it also doesn’t pick up every step I take. The two seem to balance out to roughly the same amount. Elevation works differently, though. The Garmin doesn’t convert hill elevation to floors climbed. It only counts flights of stairs, and it doesn’t seem to be as accurate in this regard (I get one flight for about every two I do). This is a less important measure to me, though. I have yet to test the Garmin while, say, pushing a grocery cart (when steps don’t register on a Fitbit), but I imagine as any wrist-pedometer, they won’t count.

This is a mixed bag. Fitbit seems to be better at measuring when I’m actually asleep, and it certainly gives more data. The Garmin doesn’t record a resting heart rate for sleep only, but instead works on a rolling resting heart rate including those times that you’re sitting during the day. (Therefore it changes throughout the day and makes it hard to get an accurate idea.) On the plus side, I can put the Garmin in Do Not Disturb mode, so it doesn’t flash light in my eyes coming on every time I move my arm in the night, and this is a HUGE advantage.

Fitbit doesn’t have a GPS function, so it estimates the distance I’ve walked based on the number of steps I’ve taken. The Garmin of course does better than this. As long as I turn on the GPS function before my walks, I get fairly accurate distance and pace information. The GPS isn’t quite as good as the phone GPS – it seems to measure just slightly more or slightly less distance than I actually walked (by a small amount, about .05 miles per mile). [Example photo is of four laps around an outer lane of the track, but the GPS recorded it as inner lane and even further in sometimes.] The GPS is very close, though, and I can see my changes in pace over distance (and over hills), and the data I can overlay (elevation, heart rate, pace) helps me to get a fuller picture of my workouts. In non-GPS workouts, the Garmin seems to be the same as the Fitbit in recognizing when I’m exercising or just being generally active. It also calculates distance during indoor walks without the GPS, based on your GPS cadence/stride estimate.

Calorie estimation
Like the Fitbit (when worn on the wrist), the Garmin calculates your daily calorie expenditure based on heart rate and activity. Also like the Fitbit, the calculations seem extremely high! I have a hard time believing that I burn an average of 2900 calories every day. If I did, my daily calorie deficit would be a LOT larger than I think, and you’d think I’d actually lose weight! In general, I think the Garmin overestimates the same as the Fitbit, so I won’t take its estimates very seriously. I’ve actually decided to try something a bit different in terms of calorie-tracking, but that’s a subject for a different post.

Altogether, I’m really happy with the Vivosport. There are a couple things the Fitbit does that are better, but I don’t mind the tradeoff, and I think I’ll get far more from the Garmin in the long run.

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November in Review

It’s been quite an eventful month, though I haven’t been on the blog as often as usual. I’m winding down to the end of the year, but before I get there, let me review November!

So…in goals this month, I mostly focused on shaping up my 2019 ideas. More on this at a later date, of course. Otherwise, I reached some milestones in my longer-term 2018 goals. I hit over 150 yoga workouts for the year, and over 300 miles. Other than finishing some fitness-related goals in December, I’m pretty much wrapped up on the year, with about a 75% completion rate – as good as I can expect given how many unexpected catastrophes happened this year! I will say that we’re making good progress reversing the damage from all those catastrophes, especially in the yard region.

We’ve now entered the time of year when I never really do well in terms of weight loss. Even in the years I was really losing, the last quarter of each year were my mostly-stay-the-same quarters. Partly this is holiday/food related, especially given that my family has several birthdays in here as well as Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Partly it’s just being exhausted this time of year. Nevertheless, I work really hard to stay healthy during this time, and did manage to maintain my weight this month. My family had two Thanksgivings this year, and I kept my eating healthy and in moderation at both. I exercised 20 days in November, for almost 20 total hours, and included 16 yoga workouts and 36 miles walked. I actually dusted off my Garmin – which I hadn’t used since Sept 2013 – and got it working again. Yay!

Unfortunately, I discovered late in the month that the substitute doctor I saw in October – the one who said he would order a brain MRI because of my anosmia issue – didn’t know what he was doing. He got all the information together but never sent the order in, so it’s all just been sitting there untouched on a computer. UGH. I had a follow-up appointment a few days ago and my normal doctor is getting it fixed up now. Additionally, I finally gave in regarding sleep meds. My insomnia has grown absolutely unmanageable, to the point where Jason has started sleeping on the couch for fear of waking me up every time he turns over. After seven years of chronic insomnia with every doctor, treatment, and test turning up negative for any possibilities or results, I gave in and asked for a prescription sleep aid. At least that should be better than living off Benedryl and Unisom, which make me depressed and groggy respectively the next day. I’m trying out the first right now, and will see my doctor again in early January. Wish me luck!

For the first half of the month, I revisited Oathbringer (an audiobook that’s over 50 hours long). It was just as anguishing to read this time around, and my experience of relief and euphoria on reaching one specific section of the book was identical to my initial experience (at above link). After those few weeks of reread, I moved on to something new, but then found myself unable to settle to anything else. So it was only two for the month, and of course Oathbringer is still the favorite despite it being a reread (and an anguishing book).

Highlights of November:
Despite having a bit of depression this month – mostly due to worsening insomnia – I actually had a pretty good month. There were a lot of good moments to remember.

  • receiving our first Empty Faces mystery package!
  • having brunch with my cousins (including some who live out of town)
  • having a movie theatre to myself to see The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
  • re-xeriscaping the part of our yard that got ripped up back in September
  • discovering and playing Jackbox with my family
  • getting my glow-in-the-dark-with-stormlight Kaladin and Syl shirt from Brandon Sanderson’s store, complete with Doomslug sticker for my computer!
  • early Thanksgiving with my mom’s family, and (while there) finally getting the professional photos from my grandparents’ 65th anniversary party this summer
  • playing Just Dance with the boys over Thanksgiving break
  • seeing the new Fantastic Beasts movie with Morrigan
  • watching the Macy’s parade with the boys
  • Thanksgiving with my dad’s side of the family, including playing pool with Jason, the boys, and my cousin Warren (who is between Morrigan and Ambrose in age)
  • getting ready for Christmas! We always do the decorations right after Thanksgiving.
  • Morrigan deciding to apply to the Air Force on a deferred admittance, to go right after college, and do ROTC throughout college
  • Jojo making it to his one-year birthday when he was on death’s door last February when we adopted him.
  • I’m going to be an aunt again!

Coming up in December:
Christmas, of course, along with the ten-thousand-million family traditions that pop along throughout the month (yay!!!). It’ll also be my 19th wedding anniversary on the 22nd. December is always so busy. Conversely, this is the time of my year when I tend to get really quiet. Lots of stuff happens, but I personally sit back in a quiet enjoyment of all that stuff. I tend to post less on the blog, at least until end-of-year reviews come out, and post more often on social media. I read little, and spend most of my time offline. So if I don’t see y’all much this month, I hope you enjoy your holidays! I certainly will!

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