The Last Remains, by Elly Griffiths (audio)

In the fall of 2019, I discovered the Ruth Galloway series and quickly binged my way through the first 11 of them. Each year since, a new book has published, and The Last Remains is the 15th and final volume of the series. It was my most anticipated book of 2023, and also one of the saddest books to look forward to, because I have adored this series more than I can say. I’ll definitely have a full 15-book reread at some point, slower, to allow especially those first 11 books come through to me with more detail and depth.

Weird thing: When I was about 25% through this audiobook, I happened to see and read the publisher’s description of the book on GR/SG. It was completely wrong, with hardly a thing in common with the book I’d been reading. So I went to a different edition, which had a completely different description, this one accurate. With the last Galloway book I read, a similar thing happened, with at least three different descriptions floating around and details wrong in all three (down to character names or event years, etc). Now, when I go look at the descriptions of the previous book, they all match and are all correct, but at the time, they weren’t. The same seems to have happened here – in fact, the description almost seems like a cobbled together version of this book and the last! It makes me think that the publishers are getting a pre-drafted description of what the book was going to be about, but then the writing happens, and writing always changes what you think is going to happen. I’m sure soon enough, all the descriptions will be changed into correctness, but for now, don’t trust them!

Thankfully, I didn’t really remember the description of the book before I started listening to it, so I wasn’t really thrown by wrong info. Instead, I just enjoyed every word from beginning to end. The mystery was a bit simple compared to earlier volumes, but that left more room for focus on the characters. In a book that has to wrap up more than a decade’s worth of relationships, careers, and personal growth, character should always be the priority, and Griffiths handled it all very well. I’m quite satisfied with where the story ended, and while I’ll miss Ruth and the gang, I feel enough closure to stave off any disappointment.

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Sunday Coffee – Gossamer Studios

I don’t have much to say today, only that I finally published my photography website! It needs plenty of expansion and work and all the rest, but Gossamer Studios is now live. Hurrah!

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Meet & Greet

It was a very, very busy weekend last weekend. In addition to the Murderbot party and the trip to Nowhere on Saturday, I had an event to attend on Sunday afternoon, too. My hiking group was hosting a large meet & greet to help people get to know each other. They’d rented a pavilion at Walker Ranch Heritage Park and we all brought food potluck-style. There was a short presentation, but mostly the afternoon was food and games and chatting.

I brought my camera with me, so I got to take a lot of nice portraits of folks. Several of my favorite photos from April came from those portraits. But it also meant that I could take a really nice group photo with the entire gathering, including me (running from my camera to the tree for this photo was the most running I’ve done in awhile, but a timer only lasts so long, ha! Shoulda brought my remote!).

I haven’t done much hiking over the last 18 months. I’ve struggled with mobility, and the longer I stay away, the more I get stuck in my own head. When I look at the available hikes, I wonder if I can do them. When I see the women signed up, I think that they must all know each other, but they’re not folks I know, and I feel like I’ll be an odd-person-out. This meet & greet helped to remind me just how friendly and welcoming and safe my hiking group feels. It was definitely something I needed, and I hope I’ll be able to get back out on the trails again soon.

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Murderbot Party

Last weekend, J and I hosted a little Murderbot party. We had a few friends over to open some FunDelivered packages, using our little Roomba to determine who got to choose which packages. Normally, our Roomba is named J Edgar Hoover, because of course, but he had an alter-identity for this party and became a very balloon-lethal Murderbot.

Y’all may have seen something like this on Tiktok or Reels before. You set up a contained area, gadget up your Roomba with sharp objects, throw out balloons to represent the folks at the party, and see who the Roomba takes out first. Ha! It took us a few tries to get the right configuration of sharps to make this work – ended up being sewing-machine needles up on a block – but eventually, our Murderbot began popping their way through the balloons, and all our packages were distributed.

It was a cut little party. There weren’t a whole lot of great packages, though we did get one very large Shein haul, a Hello Kitty crossbody purse, some epic sunglasses, silicone tart pans, and a few other things. A lot of junk too, though, but it’s not about what you get. It’s about the experience, and we all had quite a lot of fun.

After the party ended, J, L, and I went down to Nowhere Bookshop to celebrate Independent Bookstore Day. It was quite busy, so I’m glad it was well attended for the event. As usual, we spent way too much money. Not going to complain at all about that!

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April 2023 in Review

Well. April was not as bad as I was expecting, to be honest. It wasn’t a great month, but considering how bad April and May tend to feel for me, I’m happy that things have been as even keel as they have! Fingers crossed that this continues!

April was also an eventful month, with five foster kittens, an unexpected surgery for Jojo, Elle getting home from college, neighborhood-wide garage sales, setting up multiple portfolio photoshoots, our young tabbies turning two years old, the garden exploding with life, early voting for city-wide elections, and a bunch of smaller house projects. The only downside to this is that it all occurred within a very narrow list of places, all within my smallest comfort zone. I need to actively widen that circle going forward, or I’ll become far too homebound for my mental health needs!

Reading and Watching
It was a good month for books! I read six this month, half print half audio. I also tried and culled another nine books from my list. (My extra-long TBR pile was starting to get to me, so I ordered a bunch from the library to sort through!) Favorite: The London Séance Society.

I finished watching Love is Blind this month, of course, and had a fun watch party with my friends for the finale and reunion. Our host went so far as to get us our own gold goblets for the party! I also finally watched Wednesday, only six months late. Still haven’t watched any of the movies on my list, some of which have been waiting for 18 months now…

One of the goals that Jason and I set this year – separate from any personal goals that I have – was to pay off a significant amount of our debt. This includes all debt, from credit cards to mortgage, and the goal was to pay off 10% of the total we started with on January 1st. We knew this was doable, because we were set to get a tax credit bonus for installing solar panels last year, and that entire refund was going straight into the loan for the panels, paying off 25% of that loan. That was part of our initial loan paperwork. However, that alone accounted for under 5% of the total debts, so we would need to make up the rest, which we couldn’t do on minimum payments alone. With the rest of our tax refund and Jason’s work bonus, we were able to do some aggressive payments in March, and in the first weekend of April, we surpassed that 10% mark. Now, that can change if we build up consumer/credit debt, or have to replace a car, etc. The goal is to end the year at least 10% down, and so far, we’re doing well!

We finished the bits in the backyard that we started in March, including a raised bed that we planted some dewberry bushes in. Hopefully they grow! I love dewberries and would be so happy to have some growing in our yard, but we’ll see. We still had money left from our yard fund after this was done, so we finally replaced the hideous light fixture in our dining room, and installed a rain shower in the master bathroom (yay!!!). We still had money left, but we had to stop with the house projects. Jojo suddenly needed surgery, which we hadn’t planned on yet, so we took the last of our banked funds to pay for that. It felt nice to have that cushion saved up already, though! We haven’t had that privilege since our previous house collapsed in the summer of 2018!

The Ferals
Miss Sassypants aka Sassafras is still with us. After her first week with us, she’d dropped a tiny bit of weight, so she still wasn’t up to the right size for surgery. The shelter gave us some meds, which she absolutely hated, and which may not do anything at all. The girl is just a dainty eater. The meds are dewormers, but she has no poop-issues, so I’m not sure if they’ll do anything or just make her mad to swallow. Either way, we take her back in again on the 9th, so hopefully she’ll be above her 2 lb goal by then. She’s grown super sweet, though still very timid and jumpy, and hopefully all these good experiences (minus the meds) with humans will help her to transition into a new home well!

Mentally, I’m about 50/50 for this April. On the one hand, it’s been cooler than usual for this time of year, so the heat hasn’t been as oppressive, and it wasn’t until late in the month that my brain started to slip into zombie mode. On the other hand, I did eventually slip into zombie mode, and I’ve additionally found myself very homebound this month. This tends to increase my agoraphobia issues. When I finally realized this was happening, I started trying to get out more. Hopefully between that realization, my child coming home from college, and an upcoming vacation in May, I can get beyond the hardest months of the year!

Fitness-wise, and physical-health-wise, this month was awful. I hardly exercised, though I did finally finish up my yoga backlog from 2022. Since there were literally only four videos on that backlog, it’s not a huge win, but I’m still going to give myself a gold star for it! My body has struggled a lot, and I want to be more mobile. I need to work more on that in May. Fingers crossed.

Favorite Photos
I spent a lot more time on the business side of photography this month, so I have far fewer photos to choose favorites from. Outside of portrait sessions, these are my favorites for April.

Top row, left to right: portrait of Alex; iris in bloom; sweet little Bean
Bottom, left to right: spiral upwards; baby Okra; portrait of Spring

Highlights of April
I haven’t been very good at recording my happy moments this month, but here’s what I remembered to write down.

  • met our insurance deductible very early in the month, to our surprise
  • surpassed our debt-payoff goals for the year by April 1st, woohoo! This, and the accompanying bump to our paycheck because we’ve paid off our 401k loan, finally gives us the clean slate we’ve needed since our finances collapsed in 2018.
  • getting my art wall started – it’s sparse, but I can see where it’ll be one day, and I have time to curate the art I choose to hang there
  • bookworm princess photoshoot with my friend’s daughter, Ashley
  • the first time Sassafras purred
  • one of our irises bloomed – the first time any of them have since we planted them in 2020!
  • scheduling a collaborative shoot with a costume-designer from Austin
  • finally replacing the godawful “chandelier” that came in our dining room with some decent lighting
  • a new rain shower head in my bathroom
  • LIB watch party complete with golden goblets
  • the Veggie Tails kittens all got adopted within two days of going onto the adoption floor, yay!
  • Elle getting home safely for the summer (with pink hair for bonus fun!)
  • Murderbot party (ha!)
  • a lovely meet-and-greet with my hiking group, meeting so many new folks and seeing many old friends

Coming up in May
PLANNIVERSARY!!!!!! That’s right – assuming nothing goes amiss in the short time left, Jason and I will finally go on our 20th anniversary vacation, only 3.5 years after our 20th anniversary and only 3 years after Covid got our original plans delayed a half-dozen times… (We were meant to sail out of Seattle in May 2020.) There’s also a possibility that Morrigan and Katy will be traveling to SA toward the end of the month, overlapping a little with our vacation, but hopefully we’ll be able to see them briefly before they return to Kansas!

Note: It’s unlikely I will be blogging super regularly in May, potentially through August, as is often my pattern. That will all depend on reading mood and writing slumps and all the typical things. So if I get sporadic or even disappear for a bit, I’ll be back like always.

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Sunday Coffee – Universal Yums

Years ago, I put a subscription to Universal Yums on my Christmas wish list. I didn’t figure anyone would ever gift it to me, but the idea of a food-based subscription box was intriguing and I wanted to remember to get it at some point. Then this past Christmas, Jason bought me a year’s subscription – ironically now that the kids are gone, and we’ll be going through each months’ snacks alone!

Every month, Universal Yums features snacks from different countries around the world. I’ve now gone through four boxes/countries (with a fifth that just arrived), so I thought I should take time to do a little review. Jason chose the medium-sized box from the three available, which costs ~$25/mo and includes about a dozen snacks. He got to chose the country for the first box, and after that, it’s a mystery until it arrives. That first month, he chose India, and since then we’ve received boxes featuring Austria, Brazil, the Netherlands, and Belgium. (The box from Belgium is our most recent arrival, so won’t be included in this review, though see a note about it at the end of this post.)


First: I’m a little annoyed by how much Europe has been featured so far. I really hope that further boxes will go further afield, and let us try more variety. Many of the European boxes have been really similar in terms of content.

Second: The boxes consist of about 75% sweets, 25% salty snacks. India was the one exception so far, featuring about 50/50 ratio. I’m sure that’s what sells better, but I do hope we get a few more salty/savory snacks in future boxes!

Third: There is a really good variety of chocolate and non-chocolate sweet items. It makes for a decent mix that both Jason and I enjoy. There has rarely been an item that neither of us enjoy, or that neither of us can eat due to allergies (etc).

Fourth: So far, my favorite box has been the one from Austria, my favorite item has come from the Brazil box, and the box I could eat the least from was India. (I’m not a big fan of Indian sweets. As for the savory items, I loved the flavors – especially the Tikka Masala chips – but I’m allergic to peppers, so I could only eat a tiny bit of anything that used dried peppers before my mouth was ripped to shreds. Boo.)

Fifth: From each month, my favorite items have been:

  • India (excluding the aforementioned chips since I could only eat a couple): Frooti apricot hard candies, which had a delightful little zing and fizz
  • Austria: Hauswirth chocolates with apricot filling (like an apricot jelly coated in chocolate)
  • Brazil: Pit Stop provolone crackers – These tasted almost exactly like the old Nabisco bacon crackers that were discontinued ages ago, and I’ve been craving them ever since! Definitely my very favorite item so far.
  • Netherlands: Max & Alex stroopwafel, which I softened over coffee. I’ve had a stroopwafel before but it was awful, crunchy and overly sweet, so it must have been American. This one was so much better!! Not too sweet, and I could taste the richness of the spices and caramel. I dunked it in my coffee bite by bite!

I’m looking forward to seeing what further boxes we get! Hopefully soon, we can travel to wider variety of cultures and snack choices.

Note on Belgium: I’m not sure what was up with this box, but several of the items came melted into a giant mush, and others smell and taste long past expiration. We haven’t tried everything, but there have been multiple items that have been flat-out inedible, and we’ve contacted customer service to see what’s up with this.

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Nightbirds, by Kate Armstrong (audio)

Magic is forbidden by the church, but it lives on deep inside certain women, kept hidden by rich families to do their bidding with a kiss. On the surface, this is the story of three teenage girls forced into a gilded cage that they all view differently, hunted by zealots who want to destroy them. On a deeper level, this is the tale of men willing to do anything to strip power from women and keep it for themselves.

I should probably be able to say more than that about Nightbirds, but honestly, I struggled to get my brain to engage with this one. The story started slow, and I got two of the main characters confused for a long time. When I finally figured things out, I became invested in the story, but there was a point where I thought I might abandon the book early on. I’m glad I kept going and I look forward to reading the next volume, whenever it released, but I have a feeling that I’m going to need to revisit this one first. April/May is often the time when my brain tends to disengage with books, and I often find myself in situations like this, finishing several chapters without taking in a word (in print or audio). Probably why I tend to take a break from books altogether around this time – I just haven’t wanted to do that this year. So my main takeaway from Nightbirds was that 1) it was a good book, even though I didn’t quite connect with it, and 2) hopefully upon reread, I will more fully appreciate the deeper notes of the story.

Performance: The audiobook was read by Saskia Maarleveld, and I had no problems with her reading. When I was confused between the two characters, I wondered why she was voicing them so differently, since I thought they were the same person. But that’s on me. Heh.

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Wellness Wednesday – Doctors Who Don’t Listen

I haven’t done one of these Wellness Wednesday posts in awhile, mostly because I haven’t really had a lot to talk about, health-wise. But something big has happened this month, and I need to get it off my chest. (Warning: long post.)

Until recently, there was only one option for rheumatology in San Antonio. Back in 2021, my doctor referred me to a particular specialist at that clinic, and there was a 6-7 month wait list, so I didn’t get in until November that year. The following month, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and in January 2022, started on a medication called Enbrel that was meant to lower inflammation numbers and improve my overall condition. The specialist saw me for those two visits in Nov and Dec 2021, but since then, I mostly see her PA, and I’ve seen the specialist again only once back in August 2022. For the most part, I’m okay with seeing the PAs of specialists – they tend to listen more and have more time and empathy for the patient. My primary care doctor, in fact, is a PA. Unfortunately, my rheumatologist’s PA is horrible.

Continue reading

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The London Séance Society, by Sarah Penner

Lenna is a scientist at heart, but after her sister’s murder, she travels to Paris to meet with a renown spiritualist, Vaudeline. Vaudeline has fled London due to the danger posed by unscrupulous fraudsters there. With Lenna at her side, Vaudeline is brought back to Britain to investigate not only the death of Lenna’s sister, but the murder of the head of the London Séance Society.

I tried to keep my synopsis as bare-bones as possible, because the less you know going into this one, the better it will be. This book is a historical paranormal fantasy, gentle sapphic romance, and murder mystery all wrapped up into one, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with it. I enjoyed Penner’s debut, The Lost Apothecary, when I read it two years ago, but this one? I loved this one. It had everything I could have wanted in a book. The pacing was perfect. The characters were well-drawn and three-dimensional. The relationships were realistic and subtle. The mystery was uncovered slowly, the reader figuring things out along with the characters. I loved the back and forth narration between Lenna’s chapters and those of Mr. Morley, one of the heads of department at the London Séance Society. They provided two very different tones and helped to add dimension to the book. Honestly, it was just everything I could have wished for!

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Sunday Coffee – Random Tidbits

It’s April, and my brain is all over the place, so here are a few of the random thoughts and weird happenings going on right now.

I got an ad from a lingerie company the other day that said I should treat my mom for Mother’s Day from their company. Do folks really buy lingerie for their mothers? Because that seems wildly bizarre to me. I mean, more power to anyone who has this kind of relationship with their mother, but no thank you.

Not a month after Atticus underwent dental surgery, Jojo needs dental surgery too. I won’t include a photo of what they found inside his mouth, because it is really gross. I noticed he had a giant lump that felt like a swollen lymph node on the side of his neck, so we took him in. Jojo is of course one of our spiciest cat-kids, so he had to be sedated to even get a look inside his mouth. A giant mass had grown up and around his back molars. They gave him antibiotics and steroids, and after those have enough time to fight off any potential infection, he goes back in to have a bunch of teeth pulled and the mass biopsied to make sure it’s benign. As he’s only five years old, they don’t think it’s cancer, but best to be sure. If anyone wants to know what it looks like, do an image search for cats with FORL. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

They always say people get diagnosed with ADHD too easily, but this is absolutely not the case. Jason has ADHD. He was diagnosed with it as an adolescent, his father has it, and at least one of his siblings has it. Additionally, at least two of our children have it, though so far neither of them can get a doctor to treat them for it. Apparently the current state of ADHD diagnosis is to try treating with antidepressants first, which seems utterly ridiculous to me. Anyway, Jason has been trying to get diagnosed and properly medicated for this for about 18 months now. He’s been to multiple psychiatrists, and they all refuse to treat him with anything other than antidepressants. They also keep shunting him off sideways to new doctors. Like for instance, his most recent psychiatrist saw him three times. For both the second and third visits, he waited in the lobby for two hours past his appointment time and saw the doctor for short visits, but she claims he waits so long because she spends that entire waiting time scouring his charts, and then charges over $300 for the visit. Total scam. This last time, she made him wait two hours, told him she was looking over his charts, then told him she didn’t think she was a good fit and suggested he see someone else. W. T. F.

I have a new rain shower head. Jason installed it yesterday afternoon, so I haven’t used it yet, but I’m looking forward to it. I’ve wanted a rain shower for a very long time, so I hope it lives up to everything I’ve been hoping for!

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