Devil’s Night, by Todd Ritter

It’s the night before Halloween, and Perry Hollow’s history museum goes up in flames. It’s a tragedy, but becomes more so when a woman’s body is discovered in the wreckage – not burned, but bludgeoned to death with a cryptic message left on her arm: This is just the first. Kat Campbell is overwhelmed and dismayed at the prospect of another serial murderer in her small town…and things get weirder when the police discover a spray-painted pentagram left on the ruins of the museum.

This is the third and final book in the Kat Campbell series. I read the first two last year, and enjoyed them for the most part. I was really looking forward to getting back into this series during RIP. And at first, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed seeing Kat and so many other characters again. Some of the pithy little turns of phrases cracked me up, too. (Like, regarding an Italian businessman, “He lives for publicity, good or bad. He’s like the Donald Trump of Italy.” Ha! Even better given this book was published in 2013, well before Trump began his bid for presidency. He was a fool back then, too.)

But honestly, that’s about where my positives ended. There were too many attempts at elevating the writing to a pretentious level far above where a mystery/crime level generally falls. (Who just walks around talking about leitmotifs, honestly?) There was an attempt at a love triangle that came out of nowhere and was cut short by some major deus ex machina. The Big Reveal involved a huge stretch of believability. Then there was the following conversation, that made me stop and reread and want to bang my head against the wall, and beg that it was the character and not the author who was this ignorant:

“I figured it might help, it being close to Samhain.”
Kat was getting a headache. “Wait. Sam what?”

Y’all. Really? This is a character who is super pretentious about being a witch and a Wiccan, who goes on and on about various protection herbs and freedom of religion in America and how Halloween is co-opted from paganism etc, and then he goes on to say Sam-Hain instead of pronouncing it correctly? I mean, that could be the case. I’ve definitely met That Guy before. But if so, Kat is well old enough to have heard the very common mispronounced Sam-Hain before, and wouldn’t be confused by it. And it didn’t need to be like this, because that guy was pretentious enough to definitely say it correctly (on purpose, to cause confusion, as well as to show his superiority, like he does at every second in his conversations). Kat could have said, “Wait. Sow what?” instead, and that would be perfect. So while there’s a possibility it’s the character, I honestly have to think it’s actually the author.

I mean, the author also made it so this Super Pretentious Witch Guy didn’t know who Severus Snape was circa 2012, which is a pretty big stretch. Then he (the author) went on to spend an entire paragraph explaining, in minute detail, the shape of a pentagram, with analogies like, “the [stars] children draw in their first bursts of artistic creativity.” It’s a pentagram! We all know what a pentagram looks like! Just. Say. Pentagram. It reminds me of when Paul Auster described “bugs” (germs) as “that odd little word we all fall back on to describe the invisible contagions that float through the city and worm their way into people’s bloodstreams and inner organs” (Oracle Night). Or when Beth Fehlbaum explained what Chuck E Cheese is, and went into detail describing the structure of a knock-knock joke (Hope in Patience). These are not obscure things. Bugs, Chuck E Cheese, knock knock jokes, pentagrams…we know them, okay? Cut out the overly explanatory bits of the prose, and move on. Don’t treat readers like they were born yesterday.

Anyway. Story-wise, it was fun, and I liked the setup being a by-the-hour framing. But I think the book needed a lot of editing and revision, and for a third and final book in a good series, it was rather disappointing.

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Sunday Coffee – More Kitten Updates

Yes, another kitty update. And if anyone is annoyed by that…well, there might be quite a few of these going forward, because after these kittens are off to their forever homes, I plan to volunteer as a foster for one of the local no-kill shelters. So there will be lots of kittens in my future! I’ve found this whole situation both exhausting/fretful and rewarding, and much of the negatives of that have been related to doing this solo. Jason and I have spent nearly $1500 on vet care alone, and trying to find home placements for these babies is hard when you don’t have a way to advertise them, so to speak. However, I do have good news on that front!

So I said last time that Gherkin is supposed to go to her home in mid-September. We’re getting the exact dates for that at the moment. Angus and Ghost are set to get neutered on the 20th, and then in the last week of the month, they’re going to their new home together! An employee at Jason’s company has been wanting to get cats for a few years now and she just lit up when she saw them, so we’re coordinating with her. Hopefully all works out well – I’m so excited that the boys will get to stay together!

(Angus in the back, Ghost in front)

As for the feral colony, the neighbors have tried trapping our kittens’ mother, but she’s sooooo smart and the little grey Bert kitty is so stupid (he’s set off the traps at least half a dozen times, but he’s already neutered, so all it does it scare mama away!). Jason and I have seen the babies now. From a distance, we can’t tell if they are brown tabby or grey tabby, but they look identical to our kittens (they’re all brown tabby except Ghost, who is grey tabby). The neighbors plan to bring the two new babies into their house after they’re old enough to be trapped and fixed. We just really hope they can get the moms before they get pregnant again!!

(wish I had a better pic, but it was dusk and they were far away and I only had my phone camera on me!)

That’s all for now. I’ll update again after everyone is off to their new homes!

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Quarantine Diaries – Week 77

Honestly, I don’t have the bandwidth for all the crap this week. So let me just start with the numbers, and then bullet-point my way through the mess this week. Screw trying to condense and make this more readable. Whatever. We’re 77 f-ing weeks into this crap now and nearly half the people in this country still won’t take it seriously, Delta+ is starting to enter our community, and I’m just not feeling it this week.

  • Cases: 287,411 (+9,635)
  • Deaths: 3,936 (+119 !!!)
  • Seven-day rolling average: 1,278 (+152/day)
  • Positivity rate: 10.6% (-3%)
  • Cases per 100k: 61 (-8)
  • Hospitalizations: 1,268 patients including 361 in ICU – admissions remain around 200 per day
  • Vaccinations: 1,435,702 first dose (85.8% of eligible population, 71.7% total pop); 1,162,982 fully vaxxed (69.5% of eligible pop, 58% total pop)
  • Our school: unknown, but at least two students

Okay. So news for this week:

1) The DOE launched investigation into some states that ban mask mandates. Texas is not included because the TEA has said the mandate won’t be enforced, even though school districts are complying or saying they can’t enforce a mandate (like ours!).

2) Our school district is now saying that masks are “strongly recommended” but that means nothing at all. They also say they won’t be sending out covid numbers from the school like they have for the last year, and we’ll only receive a notice if there’s a positive case in our kids’ class. I’m not sure how that works in a high school setting where you have multiple classes with multiple kids, not to mention crowded hallways. And then we got two letters this week anyway, each saying a kid tested positive, and we’re not sure if this means these kids were in one of Laurence’s classes or not. Not that any of it matters, because I met a teacher from our district this week and she said those notices are BS because they’re only counting the barest minimum of what they can get away with, and the actual numbers are much, much higher.

3) Our school district now has so many kids out that they’ve opened their own covid testing center to help families avoid the huge waiting lists to get a test.

(for fun, bc the rest of the photos that follow are WHYYYYYY???)

4) Not to mention about 3000 kids in our district alone just didn’t come to school at all this year. People would rather remove their kids from school altogether than risk covid because our state and are district refuse to be reasonable about a simple little thing like face coverings.

5) Two nearby school districts (Medina and Leakey) closed schools down for a week or two re: covid, and another (Floresville) is extending the Labor Day holiday weekend from 3 to 5 days. Another nearby district (Hondo) is canceling football games. If you know anything about Texas (think Friday Night Lights), football is practically a religion here, and high school football is the highest form of church. Hondo is a small town, so this is REALLY big news.

6) Speaking of church, the Catholic archdiocese here in SA refuses to give out religious exemption paperwork for Catholics, saying that there’s nothing about the covid vaccine that is morally wrong and that people should get the damn shot.

7) Instead, people continue to argue that horse dewormer is the answer. I mean, I can’t figure out the logic behind using a parasite medication for a viral treatment, but hey, just go ahead and die on this hill. Though I wish we could just say that if people take horse dewormer, they get denied a hospital bed because all the rest of us that are sane ought to have that priority. I’m beyond sympathy at this point.

(a real comment on TikTok)

8) Like for this guy, Caleb Wallace, from San Angelo. This man actively fought against masks, vaccines, and any other covid protections. Then he got covid, refused to get tested, took vitamins and horse dewormer (which, surprise surprise, didn’t work!), ended up in the ER, spent a month unconscious, taking a hospital bed from someone else who needed it to get treated for a disease he claimed was a hoax, and then he died, leaving his wife, three kids, and a fourth unborn baby on the way. Way to go, Caleb. I feel sorry for his family, but I won’t contribute to their gofundme, which is supposed to help pay for Caleb’s medical and funeral bills that should never have been necessary in the first place. This is the type of BS that I refuse to deal with. Why should ANYONE fund those medical bills? Caleb should’ve worn a mask and gotten a shot and hey guess what he wouldn’t be dead. Idiot.

9) He’s not the first, nor will he be the last. Recent polls show 45% of the population say they won’t take the vaccine no matter what. UUUUUGH.

(HOW IS THIS REAL?????)

10) People aged 30-49 are being hospitalized at nearly double the rate as in January (29% in TX, up from 15%). Because Delta.

11) Abbott, ever the idiot, tweeted out about the “improvements” Texas has made. His tweet, below, came out on Sunday, a day when numbers are always down because of reporting delays over the weekend. “Lowest level since Aug 22” aka “lowest level in a week!” “More than 56% are vaccinated” aka “nearly half the population refuses to get vaccinated and vaccine doses are expiring and going to waste.” This was the most pathetic attempt to sound positive that I’ve ever heard. Not to mention, the true statistics say that last week, there were nearly 14k hospitalizations across the state, barely under the peak of the January surge. I’m seriously having 1984-Orwell flashbacks.

12) San Antonio has canceled jury duty again. Jason was called up for some time in September, and it just got canceled. They aren’t even doing online versions right now.

13) One of my friends in town asked where we got our otc covid test last week for Laurence. She has two kids, one old enough to be vaccinated, and one only a year or two under the age line. Unfortunately, that kid took the covid test and has come back positive. The whole family went into quarantine protocols and got pcr-tested, and while the daughter remains negative for now, my friend has been feeling sicker and sicker, and her pcr test came back positive yesterday. Ugh! It makes me all the more angry at the people who refuse to help by wearing a mask and getting vaccinated!!

14) The Witte Museum, recognizing that covid will be a big part of the city’s history, has begun collecting testimonies and artifacts related to the pandemic from our community.

15) And to cap off the week, let’s go with the most ridiculous story I’ve heard. This one takes the cake. Last year, when covid was spreading like wildfire and there were so little options in what to do, San Antonio partnered with some local hotels. They set aside several hundred rooms where people who tested positive could go to quarantine if they didn’t have a place where they could quarantine safely at home. This was mostly used for homeless folks, people who lived with severely immunocompromised folks, etc. It was a really kind thing that allowed people a safe space for no cost. In the year-plus since, things have grown so politicized that this week, rumors began to spread. Actual quote from the woman who started this on social media: “Anybody else have a friend or family member, forced, quarantined at a quarantine detention center in SA after being tested for covid? This is not a joke, I couldn’t believe it myself. How is this legal?” That’s right, folks. This free, optional service provided by the city is now rumored to be a forced, mandatory “quarantine detention center.” And people have run with the rumor, because it fulfills everything they believe about the Scary Government Covid Conspiracy. UGH.

And so I sign off for the week. I’m so done, readers. I’m so done.

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August 2021 in Review

It’s been a month. With a capital M. Man oh man am I glad to have August behind me!

Reading and Watching
August was a slumpy kind of book month, with me sending back to the library several books that I know I want to read. But in the end, I still finished six (thanks RIP!), and I actually enjoyed half of them. Half really is low for me. I tend to DNF books that aren’t really working for me. Not sure why I didn’t on several occasions. Favorite of the month is probably All Our Hidden Gifts.

Goals
Time to make new ones, I think. I have a personal challenge for myself designed for the next 100 days. Mostly as a way to elevate my mental health a bit as I go into the part of the year I love the most. I’ll talk about that in its own post at some point in the future.

Health
A lot of this month has been consumed by depression and lethargy. I haven’t done as well with keeping coffee out of my diet, which I will rectify going forward. I also had another Urgent Care and ER visit earlier in the month with a suspected blood clot in my leg. Thankfully, that ended up being nothing (though the area that was swollen, red, hard, and painful is still painful and hard to the touch – there’s clearly damage there, though it’s likely fascia damage). I’ve also been doing regular physical therapy for my feet and hips, which so far isn’t really helping (sigh), plus I had a “fun” follow-up visit with my GI doc, which I’ll dedicate to its own post because GRRRRRR.

(at least my feet always look fun after therapy!)

House
No actual construction/work this month (we’re trying NOT to do any of this right now!), but I did rearrange my bedroom as a way to help get my headspace into a different place, and I enjoy the new arrangement.

Favorite photos
Same caveats as usual – all photos taken by me, not necessarily great photography, just the photos I ended up liking the most. Full photos available in a dedicated story on my Instagram.

Top, left to right: spider after molting (I got her dropping the shell off her web on video, too!); Angus being held in my arms like a baby (his favorite position); checkered skipper butterfly. Bottom, left to right: the neighbors’ new birdhouse; pipevine swallowtail resting in our wildflower garden

Left to right: Ghost staring out the window (his gorgeous amber eyes!!); an orange in the rain – a fluke shot that I ended up loving because it felt so nostalgic and as-the-summer-dies-away; cicada shell in the front garden (I had to laugh because it was posed just like this, as if expecting a photo!)

Highlights of August
Here are the good and fun bits for my month:

  • birthday dinner out for our hiking group founder, Mari
  • discovering that a story created by the Weekly World News in the 80s is now being discussed online as “fact” and “government cover-up” ha!
  • Angus wanting to be held like a baby on his back
  • seeing tons of deer right behind my yard
  • kitten zoomies throughout the whole house after we had enough interaction between the two sets of cats that they could be trusted around each other
  • passing along the Gordo tradition to my little sister as she leaves for college (long story, slightly touched on in this old post)
  • my hiking group got featured in the local “around and about SA” newspaper
  • the “careful, I scream” paper towel dispenser video
  • the kittens all trying to sleep in my lap at one time
  • Jason brought me a little “sound machine” toy and every sound is a different Halloween/spooky sound
  • dying my hair purple!
  • rearranging my space
  • my friend Kristina liked one of my butterfly photos so much that she printed it out and used it as a template to paint!
  • getting my Journey Before Destination bumper sticker on my car
  • new green anoles in the garden, including a little female on the deck with a split tail just like Neko had!
  • the absolute cutest blep ever –>
  • One of my old high school friends visited the old pool we swam at, and our old record in the 800-yr freestyle relay from 1995 still hasn’t been surpassed. Our names are still on the wall. Which is nuts, because our time was TERRIBLE, ha! But our school never had a big swim team, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that there hasn’t been four swimmers able to compete for that particular relay in the last 25 years.

Coming up in September
I’m begging Texas for a cold front sometime soon. This heat and humidity is killer. Last Sunday, I was so excited to look at the weather and see that it was only 71 degrees out. Then I saw that it was also 97% humidity. It felt like 80+ degrees already. Sigh. So…yes. Cold fronts, please, and spooky books that go better than 2/3rds of what I’ve started for RIP, and hopefully better news on the school/covid front, and less depression, and more energy, and a solid beginning to my new personal challenge. Fingers crossed!

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All Our Hidden Gifts, by Caroline O’Donoghue

Maeve is a bit of an outcast at school, trying desperately to fit in by any means necessary, even if that means cutting out older, un-cool friends like Lily. Her most recent stunt comes when she discovers a contraband pack of tarot cards and starts giving out readings. A clash between Maeve and Lily occur over a tarot reading, and a few days later, Lily disappears. Now everyone thinks Maeve is a witch, and Maeve is terrified that she somehow wished her former friend out of existence, and a new gang of fundamentalist Christians have begun to terrorize all the people and places that Maeve loves.

You guys!! This book was soooo much fun. The cover looks so cheesy and the writing feels younger than I initially expected, so I didn’t think it would be a book that would work for me. But omg it was so fun. Plus it has just about everything you could wish for – tarot, magic, creepy Christian cult leaders, an exploration of genderqueer identity and community, big sprawling Irish families, and a semi-senile old ex-nun, all set on a background of modern-day Ireland trying to cope with the political and religious changes from the last thirty years. It was the perfect start to the RIP reading challenge (ignoring the fact that 1) I finished a week before the challenge actually started, and 2) I technically pre-started with Survive the Night, boo).

The writing was pretty great, once I got used to Maeve’s voice. Like I said, it sounded younger than I expected. (I think Maeve is around 16, but she sounded more like 14 to me, but then again, it’s an entirely different country/culture so I can’t judge on the standards I grew up with in Texas/US.) But also very pithy. Every once in awhile, she’d pop out with something so on-point that I literally laughed aloud. Like, for example: “Maybe she’s on Facebook. If she was seventeen in 1990, how old is she now? Forty-seven? Definitely on Facebook, then.” Ha! She’s not wrong.

In some ways, the book was a lot like reading a modern-day version of The Craft – a little silly and a lot of fun. In others, there were some very deep thematic elements surrounding religion, divorce, abortion, the LGBTQIA+ community, family (and found family), racism, class divides, and hate crimes. There was some indication throughout that the fundamentalist Christian cult group would end up being minimized through certain actions of the main characters (trying to avoid spoilers here), which would have lessened the book. But instead, the Cult continued on its horrid way, spreading evil in the guise of Christianity, Catholicism, and Irish purity. It was realistic, and incredibly relevant since much of the world is experiencing a fundamentalist backlash these days.

I didn’t realize until the end of the book that there should be a sequel coming out next year. The book is a full story, with a teaser that will lead to something new, and I am here for it! I can’t wait. I think I’ll get the next one via audio, because I’ve listened to a sample of the reader now and love her voice, plus there’s a bunch of Irish words/names sprinkled throughout that I absolutely don’t know how to pronounce. (I only know that Niamh is pronounced Neeve because of another book I read for RIP back in 2014, and I know there are others I’m reading incorrectly.) I imagine this would have made an amazing spooky audiobook to listen to. I might just go back to it via audio one day, maybe to revisit the story before reading the sequel, depending on when the sequel actually releases!

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Sunday Coffee – RIP XVI

It’s here! My favorite reading time of the year, spooky season, the season when things are supposed to start getting cool and crisp (even if that doesn’t happen until late October in south TX, if then!). Time for all the spooky fun creepy books! As usual, I started early and won’t count those books toward my RIP totals. But honestly, I nearly always get in at least a dozen books under the categories that RIP generally entails: mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasygothichorror, and supernatural. Here’s my starting list for the year:

  • Gideon the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir
  • The Scapegoat – Daphne du Maurier
  • Devil’s Night – Todd Ritter
  • Unhallowed Graves – Nuzo Onoh
  • The Reluctant Dead – Nuzo Onoh
  • The Postscript Murders – Elly Griffiths
  • Mister Impossible – Maggie Stiefvater
  • Ghosts of the Tsunami – Richard Lloyd Parry
  • Testimony – Mark Chadbourn
  • The Drowning Kind – Jennifer McMahon
  • Snowflakes – Ruth Ware
  • Graveminder – Melissa Marr
  • Dark One – Brandon Sanderson
  • The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina – Zoraida Córdova
  • Mr Flood’s Last Resort – Jess Kidd
  • Murder at Melrose Court – Karen Baugh Menuhin
  • The Woods Are Always Watching – Stephanie Perkins
  • Not a Happy Family – Shari Lapeña

I definitely won’t get to all of those! Some, I’m not even sure will actually qualify as RIP books once I start reading them. And I’m sure there will be more I haven’t heard or thought of yet as well. (Also, I already started reading RIP books by mid-August, so there are two that were originally on my list – Survive the Night and All Our Hidden Gifts – that don’t officially count, but certainly count in my head, heh.)

Now here’s a particularly fun thing. The hosts of RIP are including a bingo card this year! I know it’s unlikely I’ll get a full-on blackout card, but I hope to get at least one line of Bingo during my RIP season! Additionally, there’s a new photo challenge (September = Cozy, October = Atmosphere, both = Tradition) and a new tier, Peril of the Listen (music, audiobooks, podcasts). Yes! Sign me up please!!

As always, thank you to the hosts for all the things you do in this spooky season!

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Quarantine Diaries – Week 76

It’s been a really, really tough week. On Monday, I picked Laurence up after school and he immediately said, “Ugh, I feel like sh!t.” A shudder of “oh no” went through me. The kid wore his mask the entire first week of school, but only about 50% of the kids did, and the masks are more effective at not-spreading a virus you have, rather than not picking one up. He said that he thought it was just allergies combined with lack of sleep the last two nights – headache, stuffy nose, sore throat. No fever, no cough, no other symptoms. Except then by evening, he had a cough, and by morning, he had a fever.

Obviously, he didn’t go back to school on Tuesday. I called it in, making sure the school knew he had covid symptoms and his absences would be excused, because it takes days to get results back from a PCR test, and that’s all that’s available right now. Jason scheduled a PCR test for him around noon that same day. He also ran to the grocery store to pick up any sick-items (gatorade, easy-prep foods, etc), as well as an over the counter covid test. I was surprised any were available, but I guess keeping them behind the pharmacy counter helps? Anyway, we got a two-test kit and did the first one Tuesday morning. It came back negative (whew!). The second one also came back negative, but we still had to wait for the PCR results. They finally came in late last night, and were also negative, woohoo!

Generally, it feels like things are starting to plateau a bit in number here, though depending on the school/mask situation, that may change. Here are this week’s numbers, including a few new ones:

  • Cases: 277,776 (+8,806)
  • Deaths: 3,817 (+107)
  • Seven-day rolling average: 1,126 (-471/day)
  • Positivity rate: 13.6% (-3.3%)
  • Cases per 100k: 69 (+33)**
  • Hospitalizations: 1,365 patients including 394 in ICU
  • Vaccinations: 1,391,530 first dose (83.2% of eligible population); 1,121,458 fully vaxxed (67.1% of eligible population)
  • Our school: 1 student and 6 employees positive for covid (first letter home came Monday on the 2nd week of school)

**As the positivity rate continues to decrease due to increased precautionary testing (particularly of students and school employees), this second number is one that’s being tracked carefully. It nearly doubled this week. I haven’t been keeping track of this one over time, so I don’t know how it was during our best days, but the city uses this as an indicator of how prevalent the virus is in our community.

Interesting (and alarming) fact from this week: the average age of hospitalized covid patients here is ten years younger than during previous spikes, and people in their 20s make up the largest number of active covid cases. Delta is definitely a whole new thing. I have a friend up in Dallas with three kids under the vaccination age, and her eldest is positive. Every time my sister, who also has three kids too young, writes to us, I’m worried that she’ll say one of her boys has covid. I’ve read numerous articles that say not to expect a vaccine for under-12s until late 2021 or early 2022, rather than the original autumn that they predicted. I mean, we have good vaccine news coming out this week, with the FDA fully approving the Pfizer vaccine for 16+ (and the 12-15 still approved under the emergency auth), but this news about the younger kids makes me really anxious! Especially with the whole school situation. Speaking of which:

Things have not been quite as popcorn-worthy this week in terms of the pending litigations and mask mandates in schools. But there have been a few big developments. First, one I missed from last week: The Biden administration is looking to to stop states that are blocking mask mandates in school under the Department of Education’s civil rights enforcement authority. Disabled students – including those who are immunocompromised – should have equal access to public education, and thus the state can’t force schools not to protect them. I don’t know how long this particular bit of legislation might take to enact, though, so in the meantime, the states/counties continue to battle it out. Which is where:

Second, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) made a hard swerve this week and announced that the governor’s mask ban will not be enforced in any schools across Texas until all litigation is through the court system and resolved. Which may not be for months. They say further guidance will be issued after all legal action is complete. It’s another blow for Abbott, who was counting on them to enforce his ban.

Third, the Texas Supreme Court has backed off a little. Last week, they blocked our temporary restraining order, as well as Dallas’, but this week they refused to block several others, instead telling the state that they need to apply to the lower appeals court first and let it go up the court system. (This is what they should have done with the first few cases!) However, on the 23rd, the governor went back to them again to ask them to overrule our current restraining order, and San Antonio received notice that they needed to reply to the governor’s filing by noon on the 25th. Yesterday, the TXSC once again gave a temporary stay on our temporary injunction, but hasn’t ruled to permanently go one way or another. We continue to wait.

Meanwhile, closer to home: At the end of last week, our school district held an emergency meeting to decide what they should do about masks. The meeting lasted six hours. The president of the school board missed it due to being positive for covid, but the rest was there. Most of the parents who showed up to speak were maskless and anti-mask, and several had to be removed by cops for refusing to follow the meeting rules. Ironically, about 2/3rds of district parents support a mask mandate…but they emailed in their thoughts (about 900 emails total) because they knew people would be maskless and didn’t want to possibly bring the virus home by attending the meeting! At the end of six hours of debate, the board voted 5-1 in favor of a six-week mask mandate in our school district. Hallelujah. The mandate went into effect on Monday. One of their biggest reasons for voting for instead of against is that in the first three days of school, there were already 268 positive student cases, 148 at the elementary school level. That is more than their highest full week of cases last year. Of course, now that the Supreme Court nullified our mandate, the district is in a weird position and sent out an email that says the mask mandate is still in effect but they can’t enforce it. So…huh?

There’s been other litigation this week, too. Due to the FDA fully approval Pfizer, Abbott made another ban – this time banning local governments, publicly-funded businesses, and private businesses that work with the government from vaccine mandates. He also put vaccine mandates on the agenda for a special session, likely because he actually had to erase several statutes of the current health code in order to put through his ban. The one school district here that already put a vaccine mandate in place just gave him the finger and said they’re doing it anyway, and everyone expects another round of lawsuits on the vaccine issue, just like the mask one.

I’m starting to hear a lot more about vaccine mandates. My sister works for Southwest Airlines, and while they have yet to make a full decision, she thinks they’re going the route that Delta Airlines has gone – not mandating vaccines, but demanding 1) a weekly covid test and 2) an extra $200 health insurance premium monthly for unvaccinated employees. Other airlines, like United and Hawaiian, require vaccines. Lots of hospitals and health care businesses are doing it, too, which honestly seems like common sense but given the state of our country, nothing would surprise me. Now I’m seeing all these nurses crying about losing their jobs because they refuse the vaccine, and I’m over here like f–k yeah, please lose your job, I don’t want a crazy like you being my nurse!!

In all seriousness, though, I sometimes feel like I’m caught up in the Twilight Zone. Common sense isn’t a thing anymore. Politicians are debating whether or not personal freedom is worth more than people’s health and lives. A (very small) percentage of health care workers are arguing that even though they’ve had to have all the other vaccines (including the year flu shot, and earlier potential pandemic shots like H1N1), they should have a choice with no consequences. And the general public, who were injecting themselves with bleach last year, have fastened onto the idea of taking horse and cow dewormer to prevent or cure covid. Seriously. Texas has seen a 550% spike in poison control calls related to these dewormers. Why?? How do you even come to the idea (much less the conclusion) that a dewormer is going to kill/prevent a virus?? I keep thinking this can’t be real, and then I see something like I saw this week.

I watched a dead-serious video of a woman discussing the horse dewormer. She was reading the side of the package to explain why this was safe. It said, according to her, “Not for use in horses. Intended for human consumption.” (Like, what? Why would a horse dewormer say it’s not intended for use in horses??) The package does say this, though. Except without a period. The sentence is actually, “Not for use in horses intended for human consumption.” Because, you know, horse meat is a thing in parts of the world, and this product shouldn’t be used in horses headed that direction. The very next line is a warning that humans shouldn’t take it. But this woman skipped that line, and instead continued on about how she called poison control to check, and poison control told her that yeah, the medicine was perfectly safe! In fact, it was originally created for humans, but then they found that it worked in horses. As long as you take the right dose – for your weight, and not a horse’s weight – you’re perfectly fine. (I’m absolutely sure this entire conversation was made up.) Lastly, this woman went on to say that she’d already taken a small dose (for 100 lbs) to see how her body would react, and in a few days, she would take a larger dose intended for her body weight.

This. This is what the US is doing right now. This is why I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone. This is why my youngest son plans to go to college in Canada and eventually immigrate there altogether. We are drowning in ignorance, conspiracy theories, unkindness, selfishness, and mental illness. Sometimes, I get very, very tired.

Other bits of random news from the week:

  • our local jail is having another covid surge due to overcrowding, because the state prison system isn’t taking the folks that are supposed to go there
  • NaNoWriMo has announced that due to surges in covid, all events this November will be virtual
  • the local community college network here is forgiving overdue expenses for over 4,300 students using federal covid relief funds
  • 45 of the 107 deaths this week were reported in the last two days, 100% from unvaccinated individuals
  • one high school (not ours) is so overcrowded that there are 40+ students in one room, some sitting on the floor because there aren’t enough desks, so no chance of social distancing

All right. I don’t have the energy to add pictures and stuff to this post. Sorry for the long walls of text. I’m just really tired. Remember how I wanted August to be boring?

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Survive the Night, by Riley Sager

Charlie’s roommate and best friend, Maddy, was killed two months back by a serial killer. Charlie saw the killer, but she can’t remember anything about him. She lives with that guilt, and after those months, she can’t take it anymore. She can’t keep living in the same room she shared with Maddy, steeping in her own guilt for what she did and didn’t do that night. She agrees to a ride-share with a fellow student named Josh, a stranger who happened to be going the same way. Only after they’re driving away into the dark wilderness, some of what Josh says isn’t adding up, and Charlie is more and more convinced that she’s in a car with a killer.

So let me start with the good things about this book. It immediately hooks you. The writing is effortless, the story is good, and the pace is perfect. There’s also an immediate dip into 90s nostalgia, as this book takes place in ’91. Nirvana on cassette in an old Grand Am, passing mentions of Radioshack and other 90s staples. I was never big on 80s nostalgia because I dislike pretty much everything about the 80s, but I can dig the 90s version. I’ll be happy if a lot more books start coming out with that vibe!

Apart from that, though, the best thing about this book is Charlie’s mindset. While the word “schizophrenia” is never used, it’s clear from the very beginning that she has some sort of schizoaffective disorder. Ever since a traumatic loss in her adolescence, she’s experienced what she calls “movies” in her mind, where reality disappears for a few minutes and a more cinematic version plays out for her instead. It happens most when she’s upset or stressed. After Maddy’s death, it gets worse, and she’s prescribed medication…which she stops taking not long before this ride-share. And when you stop taking medication that’s supposed to help with hallucinations? Well, let’s just say your mind becomes very untrustworthy for a time as it adjusts. (Google Risperidone, for instance. It can help control hallucinations and dissociative symptoms, but if you stop taking it suddenly, it can cause a person to develop schizophrenia. !!!)

I loved the idea of a book using an unreliable narrator who doesn’t fully realize she’s unreliable. I loved the exploration of a person aware that their mind isn’t trustworthy, and is warring their instincts. From the beginning, you know that the driver 1) might turn out to be a killer, or 2) might be a harmless guy accidentally caught in the beam of another person’s psychiatric withdrawal symptoms. And I was just eating this up.

Until page 126.

After this paragraph, there will be spoilers, because I do want a place to discuss my feelings about the book. In a general sense, I was disappointed by a lot of things – the 90s nostalgia vibe disappears completely, so it becomes a “takes place before cell phones because that makes it easier” book; the so-obvious-you-can’t-believe-they’re-real “twists;” the extremely far-fetched plot devices to keep the story alive. I kept reading, but…meh. Anyway, spoilers ahead:

Continue reading

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Wellness Wednesday – A Coffee Update

Back in July, I gave up coffee. For several weeks, I refrained completely. There was one night near the end of July where I was really craving the taste, so I allowed myself to get an iced coffee from Dunkin. At that point, I decided that if I had a coffee every once in awhile, it would be okay. I’d grab one from the Dunkin across the street from my Airrosti therapist after a session. Or if I was craving the taste, I’d make myself a Japanese-style flash cold brew. It added up to once or twice a week, more once than twice, and I felt pretty balanced. I could keep off the addiction and still maybe have some periodically when I was out with friends or just really wanted some. The main thing I made sure of was to never have it more than once in a day, or two days in a row.

Last Monday (the 16th), Laurence started school. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: August is one of my not-so-mentally-healthy months. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a lot of disconnect-depression, with some severe anxiety spikes and PTSD triggers. The extra stress of him going back to school – in a pandemic, with no mask mandate – inflamed my already high anxiety levels. Even though I’d made myself a cold brew on Sunday, I stopped by Dunkin after my Airrosti appointment that Monday. Iced coffee, two days in a row, despite my former insistence on not doing this.

No, it didn’t immediately lead to a relapse in addiction or anything like that. Instead, I woke up at 1am that night with pain all over my body. At first, I thought it was from the airrosti treatment, because we’d moved on to treating my right hip and a lot of the pain was coming from my hips. Then I realized that ALL my joints were hurting – from ankles to shoulders to wrists. They were all throbbing as if I’d done some heavy workouts with poor form and my whole body was suffering. I finally got back to sleep, restlessly, and woke up a further few times that night. The next morning, I told Jason that it felt like I had a hangover. The truth is, I’ve never actually had a true hangover because I drink so much water, so even when I’ve been at my most drunk, I’ve never had more than a yuck-mouth the next day. Which made that morning’s “hangover” particularly weird.

So that was Tuesday morning, and I hurt all day that day. Wednesday was a tiny bit better (at least I slept!). The pain felt like a combination of severe inflammation and dehydration. As I said in my last coffee post, I think I’m allergic to coffee. I didn’t have any of the pain symptoms after the few times I had a single serving of iced coffee over the last six weeks – they only arrived after I had coffee two days in a row for the first time. Coincidence? I don’t know. I also don’t know if this pain is an allergy symptom, or if my body reacts to coffee by becoming severely inflamed, or if it’s something else. All I know is that it’s definitely related to coffee. Not just because of this incident.

Late last week, after abstaining from coffee since Monday, I had a severe PTSD anxiety attack. I was devolving into full-blown panic attack, and had to make a decision. I still haven’t found a new anxiety coping mechanism, which means I fall back on either iced coffee, or an older coping mechanism of wine. Lesser of two evils, yeah? Maybe wine would have been better, but I instead I got a bottle of Stok from the grocery store. I filled up my giant thermos, and I drank, and slowly my anxiety ebbed away. The amount I drank was probably the equivalent of 2.5 of my normal mugs of iced coffee. And GAH I was in so much pain that night, waking up every half hour, aching all over, my bones and joints on fire. The next day, despite the pain, my anxiety was still BAD, and I had the rest of the bottle.

The pain finally disappeared three days later.

Because I’m me, I felt a third experiment was needed to confirm that this wasn’t all a coincidence. The day that the pain disappeared, I had a cup of iced coffee, with the intention to have it two days in a row again. Except because I had it so close to the last incident, one cup was enough, and again, that night I was in excruciating pain. Reaction = confirmed.

Again, I don’t know if this is an allergic reaction, or an inflammatory response, or something else I’m not educated enough to understand. But clearly, coffee is bad for me even on an occasional basis, if I’m not careful. And that probably means that even if I don’t experience pain, coffee is probably bad for me, even occasionally, period.

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The Heart Principle, by Helen Hoang

Anna is struggling. Her music career is on hold due to anxiety, and her longterm boyfriend has decided to “open their relationship” before committing. Anna decides to try out a dating app in a kind of revenge, and meets Quan. Quan is also struggling, through his trials involve a changed body post cancer treatments. The two of them both want only a one-night-stand…except things don’t really work out, not the first time, nor the second, nor the third… Then things get even more complicated when Anna’s family suffers a blow and she’s forced to return home to help.

I’ve read two of Hoang’s books before now and I was dying to get my hands on this one. Book of the Month to the rescue! I got this a few weeks before the actual publication date, and sped right through it. It was exactly what I needed. I loved revisiting old characters (Quan, Michael, Stella), and seeing Anna’s journey. Anna is only just discovering that she is on the autism spectrum, which is poorly studied in girls and women. Her journey – through anxiety, through self-discovery, through romance, through family hardships – feels very personal and well-drawn. It’s a romance book, yes, but with a much deeper undercurrent. And I loved that. It was exactly what I was looking for.

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