Quarantine Diaries – Weeks 41 to 43

First, I want to apologize for the length of this. I’ve been keeping my quarantine diaries weekly while numbers are skyrocketing here, but the last two Fridays have been holidays. I didn’t exactly want to put up covid news on Christmas or New Year’s! So I decided to just put all three of the last weeks together, and let this post be a bit longer than usual.

Second, I have a lot of thoughts on the insanity in DC this week. I’m organizing them and trying to make my feelings a bit more coherent. That will come, but not in this post. I have no plans to just pretend this sh*t didn’t happen.

Week 41 – Dec 18 to 24
106,793 cases, 1629 deaths, 1208 seven-day rolling average, 14.4% positivity rate (up again). [Note: case, death, and rolling average numbers are from 12/23 because of the holiday on 12/24.] Hospitals are almost where they were this July, and this week, we hit the level of 15.1% of all hospital beds taken for covid patients (12/22). Per the state, if we stay at 15%+ for seven days straight, occupancy limits in restaurants etc will decrease from 75% to 50%. That, more than anything, shows just how inadequate the government measures have been. The whole state is seeing record numbers of cases – here in SA, we had 1717 cases on 12/22, a record high over our previous of 1688 on 7/22 – and yet we’re still allowing all businesses of every kind to be open at 75% capacity or more!! It’s madness. (Especially the church services, which have no limitations or rules of any kind and are statistically the largest spreaders besides bars!)

(emergency alert 12/22)

We also hit the grim milestone this week (12/18) of over 100k total cases in the last nine months, with that number quickly growing. (So far – as of before Christmas – 30% of all our cases have been in December. The month shaping up to be a repeat – if not worse – of July.) Thankfully, school is out. Our local high school only had one day of school in this date range (12/18), and reported 3 more sick students that day. I can only imagine what the daily letters home would be saying if we weren’t now on winter break.

(TX cases)

Meanwhile, vaccine distribution continues with EMS and fire first-responders. Several more of my friends who work in heath care got theirs this week. The TX governor also got his vaccine, just like all the politicians in Washington. It’s frustrating when politicians who have either refused to act or have actively called covid a hoax then turn around and get vaccines before people on the front lines. But Jason pointed out that at least in Abbott’s case, he’s made some minimal attempts to slow the spread, including a (very late) mask order for the state this summer. His base is made largely of covid-deniers who refuse the vaccine, so perhaps him getting it early and so visibly will help some change their minds. Of course, the fact that Abbott then plans to reopen the capitol building on 1/4 as if we’re not in the middle of a giant wave is utterly preposterous, so there’s that…

But speaking of the vaccines, the next tier has been decided for distribution: people over the age of 65 or people over 16 who have certain medical conditions that are associated with higher rates of death from covid. And actually – I didn’t expect this – I actually fit into one of those categories, so I might be able to get my vaccine earlier than expected. Huh. I guess we’ll see. It’ll be some time before the first-tier folks all get theirs!

Week 42 – Dec 25 to 31
115,685 cases, 1,538 deaths, 1,121 seven-day rolling average, 19.2% positivity rate (huge increase!). This week’s numbers – except positivity rate – mean just about nothing as 4-5 of the 7 days were holidays where many clinics and city-run testing sites were closed. Plus there were a lot of backlogged cases added and some problems with state reporting. And, as expected from the announcement last week, we hit the 7-days-at-15% covid capacity in the hospital system, so now there are new lower occupancy limits in place where applicable. The city has moved from “moderate/worsening” to “severe” in terms of danger level. They say that the UK mutated strain of covid is in the US, and while they haven’t found it here specifically yet, they would guess it has arrived.

In local news, I’m happy to say that the Spurs decided not to have in-person attendance in January after all. Smart decision, especially after the horrendous aftermath of the boxing match that allowed a “small” percentage of in-person attendance, resulting in a crowd of over 11k people all ignoring social distancing and mask procedures. But the big news this week is all about the vaccines. The state gave the go-ahead for Phase 1b vaccinations to go ahead. Most providers are continuing to give only to Phase 1a folks (health care providers, first line workers) as we still only have about 30% of them vaccinated as of 12/30. But one hospital system has opened up the Moderna vaccine to Phase 1b folks as of 1/4. That’s the category that I fit into, and I’ve signed up to get my first dose on January 11th! Woohoo! Best thing to happen on the eve of the new year!

Week 43 – Jan 1 to 7
128,067 cases, 1,587 deaths, 1,534 seven-day rolling average, 23.2% positivity rate (another major increase all around). Some of that data is still skewed re: holiday closures, but closer than it has been the last two weeks. Remember how we only hit 100k cases on 12/18, and now we’re at 128k? And remember those record-high numbers of 1717 cases on 12/22? This week we had two days of over 2000 cases each. Sigh.

One number that can’t get skewed by holidays/backlogs is hospital numbers, which as of early this week, surpassed our highest levels from July. Personnel is being brought in from outside the city to expand capacity as we’re reaching our breaking point, over 1000 folks so far. Elective surgeries are mostly suspended. On Tuesday night, there were only 42 ICU beds left…in a city of 2.2 million people. Also on Tuesday – and how is this for irony? – some patients were shipped out to El Paso for treatment, the way we took their patients in a few months back. Non-covid patients are being transferred over to military hospitals to make room for covid patients as well.

Then there are the schools, which blithely went back to in-person learning after the two week break this week, despite the dire numbers in our community. Our local high school reported that 11 students and 3 teachers tested positive over the break, and a further 12 students and 3 staff tested positive by Thursday evening this first week back. That’s ONE high school of ~85 in San Antonio, not to mention the middle and elementary schools underneath those. I can’t even find an estimate of total schools in our city. Hundreds, if not thousands…now multiply one high school’s numbers outwards…

Moving on. As I mentioned above, one hospital system here opened up vaccination slots on the 31st for those who qualify under tier 1b. News reports conflict as to whether there were 11k or 17k slots opened, but either way, they were all filled in under 5 hours. Actual vaccinations began this week on the 4th. I’m so excited to be getting mine next week! I know of several friends who are either over 65 or have qualifying chronic conditions (or both) who managed to get slots as well, though far too few. Of course, as the city points out, ~60% of San Antonio falls under the categories laid out under tier 1b. That’s about 1.3 million people…

Now to bring things back to the home level. Every year, my mom’s side of the family gets together on NYE at my grandparents’ ranch. They have a giant bonfire, a chili potluck, and fireworks. Notably, I always leave before the fireworks because that’s a disaster waiting to happen, but otherwise the bonfire is enjoyable. This year, of course, my immediate family opted out. Because yes, despite everything, the bonfire was still on. It got moved to the 1st due to pouring rain on the 31st, but it did happen. There were a dozen or more family members there, not a single one of them wearing masks, all sitting/standing together and serving themselves from the same utensils. This is the same side of the family who have all said they refuse to get vaccinated no matter what (even if it means having to shut down the school that several of them run), and who are quick to point fingers to “antifa” as being behind violent political rallies that are, in reality, verifiably pro-Trump folks. It makes me really sad, because I haven’t seen my grandparents since last year’s bonfire, and I haven’t seen many of my other family members since my cousin’s wedding last February. But they’re all vulnerable, and I can’t take the risk of visiting, not until things are much better or at least most of us can be vaccinated. Sigh.

Moving forward
My vaccine is next Monday. We’ll keep wearing masks and washing our hands. What else can we do?

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Wellness Wednesday – True Changes in Body Image

Last spring, I took a five-day body image course through Girls Gone Strong. It was an adaptation of a 28-Day Love Your Body Challenge that Molly Galbraith, one of the founders of GGS, originally hosted in 2014. I participated in that first challenge, and it really did change the way I viewed my body in a permanent way. I wasn’t sure I’d get anything more out of the five-day course, and yet, I did. There was one big change that I needed to make.

The course suggested that I cleanse my environment of images that made me feel bad rather than inspired. I cleaned out the “inspiration” folder I used for my desktop images, which was full of photos of a younger, thinner me, and replaced them with a variety of photos. Friends, family, achievements, body-positive images, people of different shapes/sizes/colors, athletes of all sizes and abilities, photos of happiness. This change had an immediate effect on me, reminding me of my accomplishments (completely disconnected from my body-size) and making me smile as different photos popped up on the rotating background.

So this is good and all, but the true test of something is how it changes a person over time. And I just had my eyes opened in December.

I’ve been watching a lot of Murdoch Mysteries on Hulu. They’re a fun way to pass the time and I enjoy the story. The drawback is the ads – I despise commercials, and always have. The ones that have been showing lately are really awful: perfume ads, matchmaking apps –> , and others that feature “perfect” women with “ideal” bodies and “flawless” looks to sell their products. And one day, when three of these came up in a row, my stomach actually turned. I didn’t feel longing or determination or despair. I felt disgust.

Now, let me start by making it very clear that the disgust wasn’t for these women themselves. It was instead for the way they were being sold to us. I realized that I no longer saw those media-distorted versions of them as perfect, ideal, or flawless. These women were made to generic, each one the same as the next, like dolls – which of course is exactly the intent: the “perfect” image of womanhood held up for all of us to absorb, so that we will know deep inside that if we, too, can be extra-thin, young, and good-looking, we too can be happy (find love, enjoy our jobs, have adventures…). And y’all? I’m sick of this.

Give me interesting faces, and women of all ages, and all different body types. Show me different ethnicities, and hairstyles, and physical abilities, and clothing. Feature women who are strong and kind and smart and happy and accomplished. Let us all see the giant range of unique people in this world, rather than trying to narrow our world down to a single ideal.

Because it really does make a difference. The small act of changing what I see on my computer screen day in and day out has completed shifted my view of “normal,” in addition to my views of “perfect,” “ideal,” and “flawless.” And maybe if we can shift our ideas of normal, broaden the horizon of what we view as “womanhood,” and come to accept a wider array of bodies, we can eventually divorce ourselves from the idea of body-image being attached to beauty or looks, as this wonderful Ted Talk discusses.

Do I know that this is a tall order that media is unlikely to embrace? Of course. It does them well to have us desperate for an unattainable body. But I also know that each of us is capable of shifting our own mindset, and detaching from the snare of cultural trappings. This is a mission for us all individually. I’m not going to claim that it’s easy, or quick, or that I myself am cured of body image issues. Hell no. This is pervasive, insidious stuff we’re dealing with! However, the more of us who fight back and change our individual perspectives, the stronger we become – individually, and as a whole. Women deserve more than the roles of “thin” or “beautiful” given to us. We deserve more, and we ARE more. To me, that’s a mission worth undertaking, and a goal worth fighting for.

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2021 Book Priorities

Each year, I make a list of books that I want to prioritize in my reading. A big chunk of these are books that have ended up in my Audible queue, or are sitting on the “to investigate” list of my TBR. Another chunk are books that will be published throughout the year – assuming publication dates don’t change. I’m not a fan of having a massive backlog of books waiting for me – it stresses me out! So every since I culled my TBR down from 400+ to under 10 books in 2011, I’ve kept up a yearly list of books that have somehow built up in queue for too long. This way, I never have (published) books on my TBR pile for more than a year or so!

This year, I have 27 books on the list, which is on the higher end for me (there is never more than 30 – that’s my breaking point!). I may not read them all. This list is for reading or culling if I decide they aren’t right for me. I’ve starred books that are guaranteed reads. Sadly, I don’t have as many of those this year as in years past!

  1. The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho
  2. Dark One Volume 1 by Brandon Sanderson
  3. As the Shadow Rises by Katy Rose Pool
  4. Gideon the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir
  5. The Original – Brandon Sanderson and Mary Robinette Kowal
  6. The Scapegoat – Daphne du Maurier
  7. The Fortune Teller – Gwendolyn Womack
  8. Compete to Create – Michael Gervais and Pete Carroll
  9. Devil’s Night – Todd Ritter
  10. The Haunting of Brynn Wilder – Wendy Webb
  11. Grandma Gatewood’s Walk – Ben Montgomery
  12. Half Light – Tayari Jones
  13. Off Menu – Nell McShane Wulfhart
  14. Unhallowed Graves – Nuzo Onoh
  15. The Reluctant Dead – Nuzo Onoh
  16. The Regrets – Amy Bonnaffons
  17. Elatsoe – Darcie Little Badger
  18. The Postscript Murders – Elly Griffiths (March)*
  19. Rule of Wolves – Leigh Bardugo (March)
  20. Bridge of Souls – Victoria Schwab (March)*
  21. Wilde Child – Eloisa James (March)*
  22. Mister Impossible – Maggie Stiefvater (May)*
  23. One Great Lie – Deb Caletti (June)
  24. Any Way the Wind Blows – Rainbow Rowell (July)*
  25. Survive the Night – Riley Sager (July)
  26. The Heart Principle – Helen Hoang (August)
  27. Nowhere – Brandon Sanderson (2021)*

I’m currently reading the first of these, Elatsoe, and I’m unsure as of yet if it’s one I’ll continue. It might not be right for me. I’m trying to be pickier this year about not continuing with books that are okay-but-not-great-for-me. I’ve had too high a percentage of my books for the last few years falling into the “wish I’d abandoned” category (upwards of 20%), and they almost exclusively come from the “just okay for me” books. I want to get more out of what I’m reading.

I also feel a transition coming on. Most of this last year, I’ve been reading tons of mysteries and paranormal fiction, and my brain is turning from that to something new. I’m not sure what the New is yet, but it feels slower, calmer, deeper; the way it has felt when I go through a period of reading classics or nonfiction. Guess I’ll see what ends up appealing, yeah?

In any case, this is the list I’ll return to throughout 2021, to read or choose-not-to-read as the situation dictates.

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Sunday Coffee – 2021 Goals

I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating the shape of my 2021 goals. Initially, I just made myself a traditional list, the way I do most years. Then I started to think about what I’d really like to accomplish – not just accomplish, but work toward. I started to think about the theme of that work, and hit on a One-Word for 2021 that feels 100% right:

I realized that I don’t just want a list of tasks this year. I want a journey. I want a path to travel, even if I don’t make it to any specific end-goal. I want to look back on 2021 and see what I’ve accomplished in action, even if action doesn’t necessarily end in progress. There have been too many years when, no matter how hard I try, I don’t reach my number-oriented end-goals. This year, I want to do something different. So I’m building these goals around the concept of Momentum, with the hope to build a Better Me through 2021.

Note: I designed these goals prior to discovering (on 12/26) the probable root of my inflammation/illnesses/health issues (what shall be known from now on as the Devil-Bed). Going into 2021, I don’t know if removing the source of these problems will allow my body to regain its health (and normality!), or if the past 5+ years have caused permanent damage. It’s possible that I’ll be able to reach specific end-goals in 2021. It’s also possible that I need time to heal, or adapt to this being a permanent “normal” for me. So I’m not changing my original ideas, and will continue to focus on actions rather than results.

Goals

Medical: I need to catch up on the many, many backlogged medical tests/exams/visits that I’ve put off either due to covid or distrust (with good reason) of doctors. (A mammogram, an orthopedic surgeon, a urogynecologist, a sleep specialist, an endocrinologist, and a rheumatologist.) I also have a combo functional medicine and PCP physician covered by my insurance that I plan to change over to if my current new doctor ends up being hyper-focused on symptoms rather than the whole situation. Note: If my body goes back to being normal after removing the Devil-Bed from my life, some of these visits won’t matter anymore.

Fitness: Generally, I’m pretty good in this category, so I’m aiming for some stretch goals here. I want to train for a half-marathon (can be walked or walk/run) throughout the year to build endurance with a tangible finish line. Along the way, I’d like to walk/run/hike 500+ miles and explore some new-to-me areas. Bonus points if I can improve my current mile and 5K PR!

Nutrition: This is an area that will require a lot of tweaking. Everything I’ve done – for the last five years – in terms of nutrition (food sensitivities, carb-balance, etc) has been influenced by the Devil-Bed, so I need to rediscover the best nutrition for my body. I’ll need to retest for food sensitivities, improve hydration-balance, and test carb-balance. Furthermore, I plan to cut coffee altogether (the earlier, the better) and generally move toward eating more real food again, with higher numbers of fruits and veggies (always a challenge for me!). This category may be a bit fluid depending on how my body changes post Devil-Bed.

Sleep: Insomnia remains my #1 health issue, ongoing for over nine years now. I’ve just replaced my Devil-Bed, which I hope will improve the situation. Furthermore, I plan to cut coffee altogether, get my nutrition right for my body, take regular magnesium citrate supplements, see another sleep specialist if necessary, and turn off all screens and blue-light early in the evening. (Yes, some of these goals are overlapping other categories. Health is interrelated!)

Injury Prevention: Part of moving forward is making sure I’m not forced to a grinding halt, yeah? So I need to be consistent with stretching, yoga, foam rolling, and strength training (even when I dislike the latter two!).

Home Environment: As we continue to shelter at home during this pandemic, I need to make my home environment more comfortable and less chaotic. Some of this is tangible, like finishing the house-construction bits that we can do ourselves (front yard; back siding; internal walls from siding construction; replace the boys’ toilet; rewire the garage). Some is monetary: paying down debt and not adding to it (especially with further house issues if at all possible!). The last bit is personal: begin mornings with some gentle yoga; improve and follow my routines even with everyone home (this is far hard!) especially on weekends; do more to keep the house uncluttered.

Mental Health: Considering what 2020 has taken away, my mental health has been remarkably stable over the last year. To keep it that way, and improve it further, I need to return to regular yoga practice, continue hiking socially, get together with old friends when that’s allowed again, take a vacation if at all possible (our last one was Sept 2018!), get out of my comfort zone to explore new things/places, and potentially look into Sondermind to find a better therapist than I’ve been able to get in town.

Contribution: My family has been very fortunate throughout this pandemic, and it’s made us more conscious of the ways in which we can give back. Jason and I together decided that we want to avoid using Amazon and other big businesses as much as possible in 2021. Instead, we’ll focus our purchases on small or local businesses, especially women-owned, women-oriented, non-white-owned, and/or LGBTQIA-owned. Additionally, if at all possible re: covid, I’d like to volunteer at my local library this year.

Career/Identity: In 2020, I decided against the career I had in mind, because I realized that I absolutely do not want to go back to the traditional academic route. I’ve spent months thinking about careers I’ve considered over the last decade. One has stood out over the rest. I’m not ready to discuss the details publicly, but in 2021, I’d like to read, study, and explore this direction to see if it ends up a viable, feasible path for me. “Career” has never been a dream of mine, and I’ve never had more than a vague thought about what I wanted to do beyond raising and taking care of my family. So when I do choose a path, I want it to be more than “a job.” I want to do something that I can put my passion into. This goal is about discovering if my initial passion and interest is one I can mold into something more. (And yes, I 100% recognize that this is an incredibly privileged place to be in, and am grateful for the opportunity to explore.)

This is my vision board for 2021 – focused on Momentum and the actions that I want to take. I look forward to seeing where this vision takes me!

Results

Yes, there are results I’d like to get out of my 2021 goals. I’ve built these goals around forward progress rather than end-results, because end-results aren’t always within my control. These markers aren’t aims to reach for, but hopeful outcomes. Some of these are already mentioned above:

  • Find/fix any secondary cause(s) of my inflammation/illnesses
  • Improve VO2 Max
  • Improve resting heart rate
  • Improve one-mile and 5K PR times
  • Decide on a future career path
  • Walk/run/hike 500+ miles
  • Complete 30+ pushups
  • Decrease overall family debt
  • Lose weight (yes, I have a specific number in mind, but more importantly, I’d like to get my weight generally trending in the right direction)
  • Find doctors I can trust and that will help me

Reward

In the past, I’ve rewarded myself for end-results rather than actions taken. This year will be different. At the end of 2021, I’d like to take a critical look back over how I achieved my goal of Momentum. (As illustrated by the Judgement tarot card.) If I’ve done well – regardless of results – I’ll give myself a big reward. I have one in mind: a larger, more expensive tattoo that I haven’t been able to justify in the past. This feels like a good thing to work toward without also becoming a hinderance in the form of “but I’ll never make it.” And if I don’t do well, if I fail to make progress, Judgement is a good time to look back, reevaluate what did and didn’t work for me, and make new plans going forward. Even that, in a way, is a good step forward.

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The Insanity that was 2020

No one expected this past year to go the way it did, I don’t think. Except perhaps my boys, who kept saying – for an entire year before 2020 began – that there’s always a plague in the 20s and we should be prepared for it. Ha! They were joking, but hey, guess they were right. Anyway, here’s a closer look at how the year went, followed by some individual category wrap-ups and my top moments of the year. Because in spite of everything, there was a lot of good in my 2020, and it was the first in many years that I’ve felt real joy.

Note: This post will not be short. You should know that by now. When do I ever do short?

January: I began my 2020 run journey this month. Morrigan left for his first semester at college. Ash unfortunately got very sick.

February: We sold our old house (whew!). There was a lot of running and hiking and happiness, a 5K PR, and my cousin’s beach wedding.

March: Birthday month, with seven in our family (!!!). Covid came to town, Morrigan returned home from school to finish the semester virtually, and quarantine began. Lots of Zoom and Marco Polo and online hangouts. I began binging the Real Life Ghost Stories Podcast.

April: Lots of covid-related anxiety and agoraphobia. Jason had a covid scare that turned out negative. That’s pretty much it.

May: The boys finished school and Ambrose graduated without any ceremony. I finished Couch to 5K and began to xeriscape the front yard as a way to deal with my anxiety. A tornado almost hit our house.

June: Returning to hikes after three months without them, only to cancel again two weeks later as covid spiked in San Antonio. Lots of social upheaval throughout the country.

July: My two younger boys and I lived in Wisconsin for most of July. Not much happened, but I did get to meet my sister-in-law for the first time, and I ran a full 5K!

August: Heat, heat, and more heat. Applying for school, getting Morrigan up to Kansas for school, the other boys starting virtual school… (PS – I hate August.)

September: Giving up on school for me. Nope, nope. Never again. Construction insanity. Beginning the medication that caused many problems going forward.

October: My body underwent a sudden, dire change in health that caused a myriad of problems that as of yet no doctor has figured out. It was a month of poor health and much physical pain. Plus Halloween.

November: Continued health problems, plus the election, another covid spike, and lots of Stormlight reading. And Thanksgiving of course.

December: Morrigan got sick. All plans canceled/rearranged to bring him home and quarantine our family for most of the month. There were 2020-style celebrations for Christmas, way too much construction, and the discovery and replacement of the Devil-Bed.

*****

Goals
Not going to say too much about these as I’ve been doing monthly check-ins, plus covid basically canceled most of what I wanted to accomplish this year. I did discover a few things about myself and my future plans, though. My career plans need to change, because I don’t want to return to school. I no longer enjoy writing the way I used to, though I hope one day that love will return again. My body is capable of so much more than I thought, even if it was (once again) incapable of weight loss (heh). (Pic: After running a full 5K!)

Health
For most of the year, my health remained pretty much the same as it’s been for years now. I don’t know why it started going crazy in October, but in my mind, that’s just further evidence that my body is fighting something that neither I nor my doctors have been able to identify. (My money is now on the Devil-Bed, but that discovery only came Dec 26th, and I don’t know yet if it’s the full answer.) In any case, beyond that weirdness, I feel quite accomplished in terms of nutrition and fitness this year. I exercised on 231 days, for a total yearlong length of 193 hours. That includes 101 yoga sessions and 417 miles walked, run, or hiked – not quite the 500 mile total I decided I wanted in June (heh), but far more than I expected, especially given the body-situation from October to December! I’m unfortunately ending the year up about five pounds from where I started, but I also have hope that I can make real improvements going forward, which is more than I can say for the past few years!

Home and Family
We just celebrated our first year anniversary in this house last month, and of course, it was an expensive year filled with all sorts of surprises. We’ve replaced the carpets/floors, the a/c system (both inside and out), one of the two toilets, the back door, the deck, the back wall siding, part of the front yard, the water heater, our freezer, the dishwasher, some kitchen drawer facings, and several windows (more than once). Our plans to improve our debt situation were not helped by these developments, most of which were unexpected. The good news is, I feel at home in this house in a way that I haven’t in any house since the one we lived in prior to our move to Boston in 2014. If I suddenly had the opportunity to move back into that old house, I don’t think I would take it now. I love this place. It feels like home. And that’s something I haven’t really felt in years.

The family is adjusting to life in our new reality. Laurence is schooling from home. Morrigan was living up in Kansas on a more full time basis (before we had to bring home home re: covid), and plans to stay up there over the summer. Ambrose did his first semester of college virtually, and will continue that way in the spring. Jason is working from home, and has been told that his team will be WFH for the entirety of 2021, minimum. My cousin got married in Feb, I met another cousin’s son for the first time this year, and too many family members have suffered through covid. As far as it goes, though, things have been relatively well. We at least have had a steady income with all the uncertainty going on, and we’ve adapted as well as can be expected to current life-during-a-pandemic.

*****

Biggest influences of 2020
As one might imagine, the year had some pretty big moments and events. I have a top ten of individual moments below, but these are some of the larger currents that swept through the year and affected its shape.

–Covid: Of course. This affected all of us in one way or another. For my immediate family, this included 1) everyone working/schooling from home for a big portion of the year, 2) some of us spending a month living in Wisconsin while the numbers spiked in San Antonio, 3) total chaos to daily rhythms and routines, 4) multiple family members and friends contracting the disease, 5) several health scares, 6) the cancelation of both Jason’s and my 20th anniversary cruise (May) and our 21st anniversary remote hiking trip (Dec), and 7) total family quarantine/lockdown for a big chunk of December.

–My hiking group: I’m sure I would have gone insane without my hiking group this year. I only discovered them in December 2019, and they have been a godsend. They’ve helped me overcome the mental health challenges that the pandemic threatened, kept me connected with other people in a time of isolation, and bolstered my self-confidence back to pre-trauma levels. It’s because of this group that I’ve felt so much happiness and joy in 2020. Even though we couldn’t host hikes for six months of this year – and I couldn’t attend for most of another due to my family’s covid situation – I still managed to go on 38 hikes with them, a total of 115 miles, and visiting 8 new-to-me locations (a wonder, given my agoraphobia!). All that in less than six months! I’ve made wonderful friends and have begun hosting hikes myself, becoming one of the group leaders.

(click to enlarge)

–Politics and social upheaval: We have so much work to do as a country. It was a year of fighting, and I hope people will continue to fight for the end of racism, police brutality, wage gaps, fat-phobia, gender and LGBTQIA discrimination, and so much more. It’s also been a year of reflection, from rooting out ingrained biases to recognizing what more we can be doing for the community. Maybe that’s just buying coffee from a local cafe instead of Starbucks, or buying from small businesses instead of Amazon. Maybe that’s going out into a protest despite the pandemic danger, or standing hours in line to vote, or seeking out Black-owned businesses to buy from.

–Running: I began the year wanting to learn to run again, and I did so. I accomplished more than I thought possible. Running has shaped my year, from exercise schedules to the nonfiction I’ve read to the posts and groups I hang out with online. I’ve struggled a lot with it the last few months as my health has gone nuts, but I also found joy in each run, in just knowing that despite all odds, I can do this.

–Ash: Our oldest kitty got sick in January, and the entire year has revolved in some way around his health. He has his own room, quarantined off from the other cats as some of them will attack him now that he’s ill and weak. He’s been subjected to all sorts of tests and medications, the poor guy, and he’s probably eaten more treats this year than the other than years of his life combined! We still don’t know how much longer he’ll make it, but he’s holding steady, and has even seen a bit of improvement in his energy in December! We’ll continue to make him as comfortable as possible, and hope that this current upswing isn’t a temporary bump.

–The Real Life Ghost Stories Podcast: I started listening to this podcast right around when the pandemic began, and it has been a major influence on my year. Not only have I been listening, following the creators, and participating in the online group of podcast fans (this means many spooky silly memes, and is an utter delight when everything else is so serious!), but other parts of my life have been affected. I’ve hardly read anything this year that isn’t a mystery or paranormal novel of some kind, for instance. It’s like living in RIP-mode year-round! My sister started listening as well, and the two of us started remembering stories of our own Ouija and paranormal experiences as kids. I feel like another part of me that was lost back during the trauma of 2014 has been returned, and I feel more whole for it. (Art credit: Real Life Ghost Stories)

*****

Top Ten Moments of 2020
I had to really think about these, but unlike past years, I didn’t struggle to come up with ten – I struggled to cut down to only ten! All things considered, it really was a wonderful year. Despite everything. I know. In no particular order:

  1. Birthday, or my Year of Adventure: It didn’t exactly turn out to be as adventurous of a year as we had planned, but Jason made this whole day absolutely amazing.
  2. Lost Maples: Discovering that history had been made right as my group reached the top, with all the cheering and celebrations that followed (all throughout the park)
  3. Running: Two moments go into this – the first time I ran 20 minutes straight, something I didn’t think I was capable of, and then later running a full 5K without stopping!
  4. Jen’s wedding: It was a lovely beach wedding, and it was incredible to be able to go up in front of the family and do a special reading as part of the ceremony!
  5. Triumph: May not seem like much to most folks, but I triumphed over my agoraphobia to call into a Zoom get-together with the hosts and fans of Real Life Ghost Stories.
  6. Chocoholic Frolic 5K: Jason and I did this 5K together – actually a leftover birthday gift from the previous year, a 5K run together! We walked/ran it, and I made a current personal best 5K time!
  7. Awespren: Every once in a while, an author impresses me so much that it leaves a great mark on my soul.
  8. Moment of Silence: In October, my hiking group leadership team went out to Hill Country State Natural Area, about two hours from San Antonio. At one point during our hike, we stopped and let full silence descend. No people, no sounds of birds, everything muted by fog, until the silence was louder than noise. It was incredible, like seeing a night sky outside the city for the first time.
  9. Compliment: There is a woman that I know online, barely an acquaintance but someone I admire greatly. I honestly had no idea that she took any notice of me until mid-year, when suddenly she started telling people that I was a badass and that she admired me for my running and boxing-in-a-dress. !!!
  10. Sleep: The discovery of the Devil-Bed may have been extremely rage-inducing, but the nights following – on an air mattress, with the Devil-Bed removed from my life completely – were amazing: 10+ hours of restful sleep without sleeping meds, so that I felt more refreshed than I had in years.

*****

Favorite Photos of 2020
Last up for my year in review, I’ve chosen my favorite photos from throughout the year. This was the first year that I actually managed to take at least one photo per day – in the past, I tended to stall out in the fall whenever I tried this kind of project. I adore photos, even if I’m not a great photographer. I love the memories they capture. Each month this year, I’ve picked out 12 favorites. Reducing that to only a dozen for the entire year was impossible, and would be entirely arbitrary, to be honest. But here’s what I’ve got instead – my top, um, 17 photos of the year, excluding hiking photos, which I included in the massive collage above:

Top, left to right: Esperanza blooming; self-portrait of anxiety-induced isolation; cairn by the giant tree off Salado Creek Greenway. Bottom, L to R: “hipster soup;” Jojo in attack-mode; the most Texan Christmas ornament ever…

Clockwise from top left: Vinca in the front yard; sunset over Woodlawn lake; Gavroche in attack-mode; embracing my body in every way; one of Ambrose’s senior portraits

Top, L to R: Jason and me in our matching Chocoholic Frolic hoodies; my boys posing (with reflections) on the beach; lizard! Bottom, L to R: Ash hanging out in the dining room; tiny bee on a beautiful flower; shadow over the new patch of garden.

As always, these photos are taken by me and unedited.

*****

So there you go. A very wordy, very in-depth look at a year that was wildly unpredictable, insanely long, and honestly the best I’ve had in many, many years. I won’t pretend it was perfect or that it didn’t have its negative moments, but I can look back at 2020 and feel a bit fond of all that I experienced under these bizarre parameters.

Happy New Year, and cheers to a hopefully-less-insane 2021!

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December 2020 in Review

December was 100% different than we expected, starting with Morrigan’s call on the 2nd to tell us he was positive for Covid. Our anniversary vacation was subsequently canceled, Jason traveled to KS to pick Morrigan up because the school wouldn’t let him stay while infected, our family was in isolation for two weeks, multiple house-issues cropped up unexpectedly (see below), and then there was Jason’s and my 21st anniversary followed by Christmas and New Years, 2020-style. It was an incredibly surreal month, to say the least.

Books
Not much this month. Some mysteries and thrillers, plus a really good nonfiction book about Mysterious Illnesses – which actually played a big role in the discovery of the Devil-Bed, so I really appreciate this one! No surprise that The Lady’s Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness tops my list of the month.

Goals
Yeah, nothing happened on these this month. I’ve already done all covid will allow me to do this year. Time to begin something new.

Health
My health continued on the weird insanity that began in October. I’ve had bloodwork with weird results, burning inflamed skin on my upper arms, massive dehydration issues, unexplained weight gain, etc. Honestly, I’m putting a lot of that down to the Devil-Bed combined with medications that treat diseases I don’t actually have. So I’m starting from scratch(ish) going into 2021.

House
Did you know that oven sensors can just suddenly and inexplicably go bad? After making a brisket in our oven, we needed to use the self-cleaning function, and afterwards, the oven wouldn’t register that it was unlocked. We couldn’t turn the oven on at all, and it couldn’t be fixed. (Well, fixing it required ordering a part that cost more than a new oven, in any case.) We knew that the old oven, which came with this house, needed to be replaced. But seriously, can we have even ONE appliance that we can replace on our own terms? Anyway. So a few days before Christmas, we spent an entire day scouring stores for an in-stock oven, because of course covid means manufacturing delays everywhere. Oy. Thank goodness for IKEA, which not only had one in stock, but had it on sale for under $200!!! Woohoo!

And then there was the next part of the siding saga. Let me just say, as many have said before me: KB Homes builds terrible houses. And long story short, because they build the worst houses ever, replacing our siding meant replacing the dining room and master bedroom windows. Which happened to be custom-sized, so the order for them was delayed multiple times and was unlikely to come any time soon. Soooo…we had to install new windows of new/different sizes, including building new frames, cutting out old walls, moving electrical wires, etc. Ironically, we had to do half the work (with a large hole open to our house) on a weirdly hot 80-degree day, and the other half (with a new large hole open to our house) on a weirdly cold 30-degree day. Fun! But, the new windows are in, and we’re working to get the rest of the siding on/painted, and to redo the interior walls so we don’t have open framing and insulation hanging out for the cats to get into. But hey, the one positive thing about all this is that instead of having one small sliding window in my room, I now have two tall windows! More light, woohoo!

(before and after-ish)

Unfortunately…this morning I woke up to find water dripping all over from the new windows. It was pouring outside and my first thought was that there was a leak, but as it turns out, these particular windows are very badly built, and all the water is from massive condensation! We’re in the process of either finding new windows to install and/or devising another plan, because the amount of condensation would destroy wall/trim within a couple weeks. Far worse than my old crappy window. However, that’ll be a project for January/2021. I’m glad we at least hadn’t installed the trim and new wall-coverings yet!

Favorite Photos of December
Because I have plenty of general 2020 wrap-ups going on, I’m going to include my favorite photos of the month here in this post rather than a separate one. To be honest, I don’t have a dozen. I spent the first three weeks of the month inside my house and anxious/depressed, so very few photos were taken at all. So I’m going with my top six instead. Even that was tough! All photos taken by me and unfiltered.

Left to right: Jason walking down the hall with a gift bag on his head – I love this one because it’s the first in a series of three that I took which remind me of a scene from The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson; the moon over the scrub at Hardberger Park; my unexpected Hoid sticker (also Sanderson-related!)

Left to right: Atticus in the Christmas sweater he hates (ha!); new blooms in the garden; Jason’s and my 21st anniversary photo from our hike that morning

Highlights of December
The most obvious highlights of December were the covid recoveries (Chelsea, Morrigan), the negative covid tests (Jason, several other friends across the country), and the anniversary/Christmas celebrations. The rest:

  • Natalie’s covid care package
  • receiving an unexpected Hoid sticker along with my Bridge 4 face mask!
  • all the birds that were hanging out by my back window
  • this –> text conversation on our family chat, which still makes me laugh every time I see it (btw, Jason’s response was, “True. But I have the door shut so you don’t have to see me. I still have to hear you.” Ha! I love my family.)
  • all the Christmas cards, and especially the one that came from my friend Sarah in South Carolina (we’ve known each other since we were single-digit ages), because she included a tatted butterfly inside!
  • RLGS Podcast hosted a 12-days-of-Christmas listeners stories event (now if only I could catch up…I’m so behind!)
  • discovering that my favorite park put up new artistic planters and benches up at the lookout!
  • a Zoom Secret Santa meetup with my hiking group
  • hiking the newly-opened land bridge at Hardberger Park –>
  • going up in the newly-opened tower at Eisenhower Park
  • Christmas sugar cookies!
  • the discovery of a new morning drink to replace coffee
  • Ash has been hanging out in the main house a lot this month, definitely an improvement over the last year
  • several nights of AMAZING sleep after getting rid of the Devil-Bed
  • Jason’s incredible ability to do house construction himself!

Coming Up
I’m moving my monthly summaries to a quarterly format in 2021. Hopefully by the time I check back in, things will look much brighter in the covid-world than they do right now, and I’ll have lots of fun stuff to share!

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WW – What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You

This weekend, I discovered something that had me crawling-out-of-my-skin livid, and simultaneously felt like a giant ah-ha moment. Actually, it felt more like a blazing, blinking light going off that I’d somehow ignored for too many years now, ignorantly blind to its rays. All this time, I’ve been searching and experimenting and confused and helpless while the answer was right under my nose. Literally.

Let’s back it up a bit, to September 3rd, 2015. My family had just moved back to Texas from our horrible year in Boston. I was personally not in a great place. From April 2014 until July/August 2015, I’d been under a constant stream of trauma and stress. The source of that trauma had only just stopped being a continuous threat. So I was not in a good place, but I was at the very beginning of the route toward healing. A normal course of things, post-trauma, involves mental and physical healing. But for me, as I mentally healed, my body grew sicker with a dozen new illnesses that made no sense, leading me to the physical mess that I am today. As I said above, I’ve spent those years fighting and searching and experimenting, with no results.

(pre-trauma 2014 vs near the end of our time in Boston, 2015: about 20 lbs separates these)

I’ve written about it before: When something is wrong inside me, my body responds with a very specific array of complex and seemingly-unrelated symptoms. Now, the first year of all the crap my body went through in 2014/2015? Yeah – trauma, two cross-country moves, binge-eating, drinking too much wine, major insomnia, medications that cause weight gain, severe agoraphobia-anxiety-depression, self-harm via food, no in-person support system beyond a lone therapist, and so much more. Those symptoms were not random – they were directly related to the trauma. Afterwards, though, I just got sicker and have never understood why. Until now.

(Right before the bed, 2015, vs one year of bed use and an increase of 50 lbs, 2016)

Again, let’s go back to September 3rd, 2015. Stores were having their Labor Day sales, and Jason and I decided to replace our old, very cheap mattress. We went down to Mattress Firm to try out some beds. We explained our needs to the saleslady: a firmer mattress, on the cheaper side, and the most importantly, it couldn’t have any memory foam. I’m allergic to memory foam, I explained. (Though since then, I’ve learned that it may not be the foam itself, but the gasses it produces and the chemicals used on it, that I’m allergic to. Still. Same difference.) The lady we worked with was helpful, and Jason and I found a bed we both liked. I double-checked that the bed had no memory foam, and the saleslady assured us that it was memory-foam-free.

You can see where this is going, yeah?

(How excited we were for this to come home!)

I’ve been complaining about how awful this mattress is for years now. It’s only 5.5 years old, but I figured that two cross-country moves must have battered it up quite a bit because it’s uncomfortable and sagging in places despite its “zoned” coils. But mattresses are expensive, and these days, many beds are part of the Foam Revolution. So I’ve put off buying a new one.

On our anniversary, Jason told me that since we couldn’t do the vacation we’d planned, he wanted to instead buy me a new mattress. It was really sweet of him, but I told him that I didn’t feel comfortable going into a mattress store while covid was surging, and I’d had a hard time finding any online manufacturer that sold non-foam beds. He dove into research (see how well-matched we are?) and found some good options. In the end, we ordered a sustainable, all-natural latex, wool, and cotton bed that the manufacturer claimed was in stock and would ship after a few days. Yay! What a great way to end Christmas, as we ordered the evening of the 25th!

(stock photo from Awara’s website)

But here’s the thing: Jason sent me his research, and something in all those pages of notes made my alarm bells go off. The morning after we ordered the new mattress, I pulled the sheets off my bed to look at the exact model of the old one. It’s a Sealy Posturepedic Plus Deveraux Cushion Firm, which has a thick layer of memory foam on top of its coils.

Rage. Yes, my friends, for 5.5 years, I’ve been sleeping on a bed that I’m allergic to, breathing in gasses I’m allergic to, getting sicker and sicker and at my wit’s end to figure out WHY. F–king hell.

I cannot even begin to describe the depths of my anger here. All this time, the answer was literally right under me. All. This. Time. No wonder I always felt better and had more energy when I vacationed away from home for several weeks. No wonder my brief periods on steroid medications made me feel like I was alive again. No wonder so many of my symptoms involve a hyper-vigilant immune system: eczema, hives, chronic fatigue, inflammation, new food allergies, anosmia, headaches, joint pain, autoimmune antibodies that don’t match any known patterns, IgE markers that can’t be matched to any of the tested allergens, swollen glands, skin issues especially on the parts of my body that come into more contact with the mattress…

Now imagine all this, and imagine you have to keep sleeping on the damn thing until the new mattress arrives, knowing that you’re essentially breathing in poisonous-to-you gas and that your bed is trying to slowly kill you. It is not fun. I, um, didn’t make it a single night before I went out to get a new air mattress. I’d rather sleep on air for a few weeks – or longer, if necessary – than to keep sleeping on what shall now be known as the Devil-Bed. And you know what? The first night on the air mattress, I slept 10.5 hours straight through without any sleeping meds. Second night? Another 10 hours. Third night? Eight hours and would’ve been more if my alarm hadn’t woken me for a hike.

Now, my insomnia pre-dates the Devil-Bed by four years, so I know it won’t just disappear, but I’ll take the reprieve as long as I can! And hopefully, when my new bed arrives (shipping says TOMORROW!!!), I’ll have comfort, sleep, a far-less-inflamed body, and the true beginnings of physical healing. There’s also relief in finally understanding WHY I’ve been so sick, to have found the root of the problem at last. No, I don’t know if this will fix All The Things – it’s hard to tell what kind of permanent damage that 5+ years of poisoning yourself night after night will do – but already I feel so much better. I’ll take it!

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2020 in Books

It was a weird, weird, WEIRD year for books and reading. Just like with everything else. I had months where I read just about nothing, and months where I couldn’t find enough books to suit me. Most of my books revolved around ghost stories or mysteries or the paranormal – that was just where my interests were this year! Altogether, I read 53 books and abandoned (after the halfway point) a further 3 (see list below for titles/why I abandoned). A good chunk of my reads – 10 – were rereads, because comfort-reading of old favorites was definitely in the cards in 2020! Here are a few reading stats from the year, followed by a personal best-of wrap-up.

Book Type: 50 fiction – 3 nonfiction
Fiction Type: 20 speculative – 24 realistic – 6 mixed
Media: 28.5 text – 24.5 audio – 0 visual
Audience: 42 adult – 10 YA – 1 children’s
Authors: 39 women – 14 men

New to me authors: 20
Most read authors: Elly Griffiths takes this for the second year in a row, with five total reads. Riley Sager/Todd Ritter came in second with four. This stat doesn’t include rereads, or else Brandon Sanderson would be tied for first with five also.

Classics: 0 (ouch)
Translations: 1 (Spanish) (ouch)
Books I wish I’d abandoned: 8 (OUCH)

Shortest Book: Dawnshard (208 pgs)
Shortest Audio: Caffeine (2 hrs 2 mins)
Longest Book and Audio: Rhythm of War (1220 pgs; 57 hrs 26 mins)

Best bookish experience: the awespren that I attracted after realizing just how ingenious is Brandon Sanderson’s writing-style-to-match-primary-narrator

Best book-related discovery: Do podcasts count? Because discovering the Real Life Ghost Stories Podcast was definitely the best discovery this year, and absolutely influenced my book choices!

***************

Best of the Year

  • Rhythm of War: This was always going to be a favorite. Even if it wasn’t my favorite in the series – and at first pass, I wasn’t even sure I liked it – it ended up being a real pleasure and one I can see myself reading many, many times in the future.
  • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue: This book reminded me of the joy in the writing process, as well as being an intricate and well-woven story with beautiful writing and amazing characters.
  • Runner up: The First Girl Child: Slow, mythology-based fantasy with focus on real relationships (of all kinds, not just romantic) and the role of land, faith, and familial bonds on communities.
  • Runner up: The Lantern Men: As my second-most anticipated book of 2020, and the 12th book in a series I’ve loved, this was also always going to be on the list. It’s only a runner up because I read it in a time when my brain wasn’t processing books as well, so I hardly remember it. Definitely due for reread. My vague impressions are of loving it!

Abandoned Books

  • Defending Jacob: After a particularly terrible bit of writing, I did more research on the book and discovered it was about to take a turn toward a trope I really dislike anyway.
  • Depression Hates a Moving Target: Memoir about running and mental health – normally something I’d really enjoy! I did, at first. But after awhile, the book seemed to be on a loop, just repeating the same things over and over, and I gave up on it.
  • The Space Between Worlds: Science fiction with a fascinating premise that I loved right up until the midpoint, when it suddenly became an arms-race sort of book that I lost interest in quickly.

Most Fun to Read

  • Home Before Dark: I love ghost stories and semi-paranormal mysteries so much!
  • The Sun Down Motel: Ditto! This was a real chill-inducer.
  • Dawnshard: How could I not smile all the way through a book where The Lopen gets to narrate his own sections??

Most Beautiful Writing

  • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue: No surprise that this one is on here as the writing is one of the biggest factors in it being a favorite.
  • The First Girl Child: Same as Addie. The writing was just so careful and beautiful and lovely, haunting and delicate like music all the way through.
  • What’s Left of Me is Yours: While I’m not even sure I enjoyed this book as a whole, the writing is definitely some of the best I’ve read this year. And that’s coming from someone who doesn’t normally like the poetic, floral language it used!

 Most Disappointing and/or Distasteful

  • Little Eyes: This book had so much potential but in the end just disgusted me in so many ways. Unfortunately, too many distasteful scenes are some of the most memorable bits I’ve read the entire year. Sigh.
  • Troubled Blood: No surprise, given the transphobic narrative and extraneous baggage-writing in this one.
  • A Witch in Time: I really wanted to love this reincarnation book, but it fell short of my expectations by a lot.
  • The Hand on the Wall: Third-most anticipated book of 2020, and while I can say I mostly enjoyed it, the Scooby-Doo-esque ending was disappointing.
  • The Family Upstairs: Could have been good, but instead grew voyeuristic, exploitative, and lazy.

Best Settings, Vividness, and/or Visceral Moments

  • Home Before Dark: One of the most memorable scenes I read this year came from this book. I won’t give away spoilers, but oh god the coffee… *shudder*
  • Mexican Gothic: My brother’s ex-girlfriend had a mushroom phobia years before this book has probably given other people mushroom phobias. Ha! Extremely unique use of non-clichéd horror.
  • The Searcher: As expected, Tana French writes rural Irish setting so evocatively!
  • Voices in the Snow: Darcy Coates writes incredibly visceral creature-characters, and they were particularly striking (and creepy!) in this book.

Best Relationships

  • Raboniel and Navani, Rhythm of War: enemy scholars collaborating
  • Adolin and Maya, Rhythm of War: a man and his semi-sentient, deadeye spren
  • Dagmar and Ghost, The First Girl Child: deep love that goes for years without any acknowledgement or act
  • Ruth, Harry, Kate, and Cathbad, The Lantern Men: a jumbled chosen (somewhat-dysfunctional) family
  • Cal and Trey, The Searcher: substitute parent/child
  • Addie and Luc, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue: power struggle of the cursed and the one who gave the curse

Physical Books I Bought / Kept From My 2020 Reads

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There you go. My 2020 in books! All in all, it wasn’t a bad year, even if it was a slow year. Fingers crossed 2021 will bring many more awesome reading experiences!

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Two Last-Minute Mini-Reviews

So the year is almost over, and I’m pretty much done with anything I might read in 2020. Tomorrow, my end-of-year book post will go up, and I wanted to have everything reviewed beforehand. Thankfully, the last two books I read this year don’t need larger reviews!

The Vanishing Box by Elly Griffiths (audio)

(Book 4 of the series) Life goes on for the Magic Men and their circle of friends and family. In this book, someone is killing people and staging their bodies to look like scenes from history, just as a controversial tableau act (semi-nude women also staged to enact historical scenes) comes to town. There’s a lot of exploration of relationships both old and new, and their evolution over time. It was quite a fun mystery, though honestly less intriguing than the third book in the series, which is my favorite so far.

Note: I was originally going to combine reviews for this book and the fifth in the series (last, as of right now at least), but the fifth book takes place then years later. Everyone’s lives are completely changed, in many ways not for the better, and I promptly lost interest not far in. Maybe I’ll come back to it one day, but I never did find this series as compelling as Griffith’s other books, so maybe not.

The Girl in the Mirror by Rose Carlyle

Identical-twin thriller. That says pretty much all you need to know. Spoilers from here on out, though, if you want to know a bit more.

A petty rich man with too many ex-wives and children becomes obsessed with the idea of leaving his legacy to a single heir, thus embroiling a family in a race toward pregnancy-for-money. Summer and Iris are twins, the oldest of the multitudes of children, and thus first in line for legitimate marriage and babies per the terms of their masochistic father’s will. The two end up sailing their father’s yacht together across the Indian ocean, and Summer goes overboard. When Iris finally meets land, she falls into Summer’s life: wealthy wife, doting stepmother, and newly pregnant with the heir to the fortune. Except Iris isn’t pregnant, of course, but that won’t stop her from doing her best to rectify the situation. You can guess what follows: Iris stumbling around impersonating her twin sister, obvious hints that Iris is clearly clueless about what’s really happening, several “twists” that are visible from the beginning of the book…etc. It was a relatively fun book to read for the first 2/3rds, until Iris’ personality changed completely and everything became really contrived. But honestly, it was about what I expected. Meh.

*****
So there you go. The last of my books of 2020. Feels kinda sad to leave on a negative note like that, but I don’t want to try to shove another book in last minute to change that. Oh well. My Year in Books to follow tomorrow!

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Sunday Coffee – Anniversary and Christmas

On Tuesday, Jason and I celebrated our 21st anniversary. Originally, we had planned to spend a weekend early in December in a remote location near a state park, where we could hike and such during the days. That all go canceled of course when Morrigan suddenly needed to come home, and we’ve had a lot of house-crazy since then (seriously – we’ve had to rip out several windows due to the incompetence of the original house builders, KB Homes, in addition to having our oven break down completely a few days before Christmas). It was destined to be a quiet anniversary.

Jason took the whole week off of work for our anniversary and Christmas, and subsequently for house projects (sigh). So on Tuesday morning, we had a lazy morning for a bit, then went out for a walk/hike at a nearby park. After that, I got to work on some house-chores while Jason got to work on house-building. We had a break in the middle for a Red Robin lunch delivered via my in-laws. The afternoon returned to various House Stuff, until it got dark and we decided to spend the last part of our anniversary together. Jason made chocolate chip waffles with orange mascarpone cream for dinner, and we ate that while listening to Christmas music and opening up our first package from the Blair Witch mystery box game. So it was a very low-key anniversary, and I’m sure we’ll plan for our quiet weekend getaway sometime later when covid isn’t surging everywhere and it’s a bit safer to go out.

Then there was Christmas. What a normal Christmas looks like for us: Lots of traditions (movies, cookies, ornament books, etc) leading up to the 24th; a Christmas Eve Day at my aunt and uncle’s house with my dad’s side of the family; an evening home celebration where we each get a single gift; Christmas morning at home; followed by Christmas morning at my mom’s house; followed by Christmas afternoon at my dad’s house; possibly followed by a day-after-Christmas gathering at my maternal grandparents’ house (though this is often reserved for NYE, where we have a big bonfire and chili potluck). It’s busy and full of family and absolutely wonderful.

This year, of course, looked nothing like it. Instead, our spread-out-covid-times Christmas looked like this:

Dec 23rd: Morrigan’s longtime girlfriend, Katy, came over in the evening, where we all sat out on the back porch with masks to do our little family Secret Santa gift swap. Then, after Katy left, we went back inside and logged on to a virtual Sibling Swap opening/reveal with Jason’s side of the family. Both gatherings were short, but nice.

(Katy and Morrigan)

Christmas Eve: Most of this day was taken up by house construction again. I went out for a festive hike in the morning with one of my hiking buddies (and her doggos), then spent the day reading while wrapped in a blanket. The house construction meant cutting a 6×5 foot hole in one wall, so it was COLD in the house! But all that gone done in time for the day’s main plans. My sister, brother-in-law, and half-sister came over for a masked, distanced fireside chat in the evening. It was quite lovely despite the cold. After they left, we went inside and played this awesome Blockbuster Video game that Jason got us for Christmas shenanigans. Then we each opened our one Christmas Eve present, and got everything ready for “Santa.” (This year’s letter to Santa from Laurence – it’s always Laurence – involved a bunch of conspiracy theories based on The Santa Claus movie. Jason Santa’s response began with “We hungered” and ended with “so now we ho and ho and ho and ho and h–“)

Christmas Day: On Christmas morning, I woke to find Nutcracker sentinels outside my door, preventing me from leaving my room. Ha! I made sure all the Santa stuff was in place, and logged into a Zoom gathering with my other sister, whose three young boys had been up since 5:30. Got to see her whole family plus my brother, who lives in the DC area, via this Zoom for a short while before my own boys were scrambling to get to their own stockings and gifts. Normally at this point, we would travel to my mom’s house. Instead, we FaceTimed my sister (the one who was here the previous night). She and her husband (pictured above) were at my mom’s house, so we got to do a bit of gift-opening virtually. Later in the day, there was yet another virtual gathering for yet another sibling swap, this time with my siblings. (Oddly, I was far more exhausted after a day of short virtual meetups than I ever was on one of those traveling-around-to-multiple-houses Christmases!) It was nice, though, as nice as we could expect for a covid-Christmas. Here are a few pictures from throughout the day –>

Dec 26th: Two socially-distanced gatherings today rounded off the Christmas celebrations. My mom and stepdad came over to exchange gifts on our back porch in the early afternoon. Afterwards, we went over to my dad and stepmom’s house for some drinks and cupcakes and talk in their back yard. It was perfect weather for outdoor gatherings, mid-60s and sunny and breezy. Just lovely. I didn’t get any pictures from these gatherings, because I was too busy enjoying the non-virtual meetups. Let me just say that I really hope that next year, we can have a real Christmas!!

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