Vote! 2020 Election

Early voting started in Bexar County yesterday. Apparently we had a turnout of just over 33k folks on Day 1, down slightly from the totals we had in 2016 and 2018 (likely due to pandemic, mail in ballots, etc, since we also have the highest number of registered eligible voters here ever). Unfortunately, because of the pandemic – limiting indoor spaces, six feet of distance between people – the voting lines are insane…and outdoors. In Texas, in October, which means HOT.

(representing about 1/5th of the line, including the part that wraps around)

But you gotta do what you gotta do, right? So this morning, Jason dropped me off at the library, where I walked to the back of the line (nearly a quarter mile down the street and around a corner), and slowly moved up over the course of the next two hours. Around the two hour mark, I made it into the building, and fifteen minutes later, I had finished the voting process.

I wore my F*uck Trump lipstick, as promised, underneath my mask. And I was also quite irritated with some of the things I saw out there while I was waiting: campaign volunteers not wearing masks properly; one of the poll workers – the one in charge of handicapped voters, no less! – refusing to wear a mask at all, even as he leaned into people’s cars; people discarding their plastic gloves (we each had to wear one) all over the place so that they were blowing around the park and trails attached to the library grr. People can be so awful! But whatever. The voting is done. I’ve done my part, and I hope this election isn’t a total farce like in 2016.

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Voices in the Snow, by Darcy Coates

Clare is in an accident during a major snowstorm, and wakes up in a stranger’s house in the middle of the woods. Dorran seems kind, but something about the house is forbidding, and something lurks out in the unnatural weather beyond.

1) I think I’ve gotten a bit more of a measure of this author now – she tends to write creature-paranormal, not ghost- or psychic-paranormal. The stories are very imaginative and the creatures are horrifying.

2) Though this book only came out in January, there are three sequels already published! Notably, the story of this volume mostly wraps up, but leaves plenty of things to uncover in future volumes.

3) This is a post-apocalyptic novel, with very little discovered about what’s going on beyond the house-in-the-woods where Clare winds up. We see all the crazy weather, and experience all the crazy creatures, but as for the rest, much of it is still up for discovery. Makes me anxious to read the next books, but so far my library doesn’t have any of them. Boo!

4) Somehow, I managed not to see the face on the front cover. I saw the eye, of course, but didn’t notice the contouring of doll face under the snow. Not until I was heading to bed, with the spine of this book facing me, and suddenly there was a smaller version of the face staring at me in the dark. Needless to say, I turned the book around when it was on my nightstand! No need to wake up to that in the morning!

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Sunday Coffee – A Day of Sorrow and Hope

It’s been awhile since I posted about Ash’s situation. As a recap:

In December, we moved into our current house. About a week later, Ash stopped eating, and began to lose weight. In the past, he’s often done this after a move, and we spend some time giving him special/extra food in an area where he’s by himself (no competition from the other cats), until he recovers. This time, he didn’t recover.

January saw a flurry of vet visits in which we learned that Ash was extremely jaundiced and dehydrated. Our vet said the unexpected words “complete liver failure” and “discuss quality of life.” We had an ultrasound that revealed abnormal nodes on his liver and in his digestive system, and at the emergency vet where we had the ultrasound, they wanted me to decide right then and there if we were going to sedate him and get a biopsy. It was overwhelming and terrible, but in the end, his blood numbers weren’t healthy enough for sedation anyway, so we brought him home. Our vet called and said that the treatment was the same regardless of what the biopsy found (in other words, no need to do the biopsy), and we started a round of steroids.

There was a brief improvement on the steroids, but Ash quickly went back to his lethargy. He had IV fluids and several rounds of subcutaneous fluids, and we switched him to all wet food with extra water for the dehydration. The jaundice cleared up, and Ash began to eat and drink a little again. It wasn’t enough, though, and he was mostly eating gravy and cat treats, refusing to eat any regular dry food or even the meaty chunks in wet food. We went through every brand we could find, but pretty much the only thing we could get him to eat regularly was treats. Even then, he’d sometimes ignore them.

His weight stabilized somewhere in the 10-11 lb range (he’s supposed to be around 12 lbs), but we knew something was still very wrong. The hair they shaved for the IV and ultrasound in January wouldn’t grow back, and the eye infection that we’d been treating for two years still wouldn’t go away. More vet visits, new eye meds, and the process of quarantining our baby continued. Oddly, he did have a random period of improvement, with his eye healing briefly, and his energy and weight suddenly going up in June. He grew the hair back during that month as well. Then just as suddenly, the improvements quit, his energy dropped, his weight dropped, and he started to get the eye infection and jaundice again. Furthermore, he began vomiting more often (something he was already prone to, since he was about three years old).

Things didn’t improve over the last few months. He was skin and bones. He wouldn’t try to jump if it meant going more than about a foot of distance. He walked gingerly and sometimes winced if you touched him wrong. He had liver spots on his face even though he’s only 11 years old. Whatever food he managed to lap up went straight through him. While he used to leave his quarantined room sometimes, he no longer did, and spent much of his time hiding in the back corner under the bed.

Cats don’t really show outward signs of illness unless things are really bad, and after ten months of worsening conditions, we knew it was time to have hard conversations with the vet. He went in this Monday afternoon, and Jason and I braced ourselves to say goodbye. Then oddly, the vet said 1) Ash shows no sign of jaundice, 2) his muscle condition hasn’t deteriorated, and 3) he weighs more now than he did in January. She gave us some new meds to help with joint pain and stomach issues, and we’re giving them a few weeks’ trial. It might just be delaying the inevitable, but it’s a ray of hope. Maybe our baby will get a little bit of his life back. We’re really love him to be able to. But we also know that we’re ready to give him peace if that’s what it comes down to, no matter how much grief that gives us. He’s been with us since he was four months old, and whether he’s with us another three weeks or another few years, we’re going to spend as much time doting on him as we can.

*****
In the days since, a couple of things have happened, all of which feel hopeful. The pain meds seem to help, and he’s not wincing and walking gingerly anymore. We went down to the pet store and bought half a dozen different specialty brands of food (new store, new brands), and there was one brand that Ash actually ate the entire can of! Not just the liquid! He hasn’t eaten any solid food except treats in months. It’s not just the medicine, either, as he ate the first can before receiving any of the new meds. All of the other specialty cans we got, he ignored, but this one brand (Tiki Cats), he’s eaten every single variety we’ve opened for him. He also hasn’t once thrown up since he began eating it, and for a cat that was throwing up daily, that’s major improvement! We’ve actually gotten him to play with toys again, wrestling around with catnip balls and such, which is such a 180 change in his behavior that it’s nearly unbelievable. We just hope this isn’t a temporary boost from the meds and that he can continue to sustain the energy and improvement over time!

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Bad Moon, by Todd Ritter

On the night of the moon landing in 1969, ten-year-old Charlie Olmstead disappeared. The official report said that he’d been in an accident – slipped into the creek on his bike and washed over the falls – but his mother never believed it. Now, forty years later, her dying wish is for her second son, Eric, to find his brother. Eric was only an infant when Charlie disappeared, but lived his entire life in the shadow of his missing brother. He calls in Nick Donnelly, now no longer a cop but a private investigator of cold cases, and Nick brings in the town’s police chief, Kat, whose father investigated the initial disappearance.

This is a follow up to Death Notice – the next Perry Hollow story involving the recurring characters of Kat, her son James, Nick, and many other folks in the small Pennsylvania town. The cold case brings them through unexpected twists to five other unsolved cases of missing boys between 1969 and 1972. To note: this isn’t a true sequel but more of a separate, standalone story that involves the same characters. It could be easily read without first reading Death Notice.

The good: I was worried that this book wouldn’t live up to the first, mainly because cold cases aren’t my favorite topic, and they can be plodding and unfocused. It also seemed from the description like the story mostly involved a forty-year-old history, rather than the present-day characters. Neither of these turned out to be true. This was an engaging story, with lots of fun new routes discovered while in pursuit. I learned a lot about subjects I’d never heard of before, like the Centralia mine fire. There were interesting new characters, too, ones that I hope will reappear in the final volume of the series.

The bad: There were a lot of loose ends and weird assumptions. I can’t talk about the rest of this without spoilers, so skip the next paragraph to avoid those.

Spoilers: Eric talks about leaving a note for his mother (Maggie) when he left home, but his mother told Kat that no note was left. It was a big enough discrepancy that I expected it to come back into the story as more of Maggie’s illness was revealed. Instead, it just seemed to be a plot hole or unanswered question. Maggie’s illness was also a bit weird – like the assumption that if she had postpartum depression with Eric, it made no sense that she didn’t have it with Charlie – as if all women must experience each birth the same way? That’s just weird. (And wrong.) There was also the oddity of one character being able to resist the strength of the current right before the falls – more than once, and once when elderly – but others having no control when stuck in it. There’s also no answer to whether those around the killer suspected him, or why the murders stopped after 1972, or what the perpetrator’s psychology was like in the years since – all of which seemed rather important to the story. The whole cold case and current psychology hinged on a lot of coincidences that just felt a bit farfetched. End spoilers.

Anyway, while that’s a long paragraph of “bad,” I enjoyed most of the book. The bad bits were relatively small in comparison to the rest of the story, and I sped through this novel a lot faster than I expected. I’m definitely looking forward to the next installment, and I’m sad that there are only three books in the series.

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Race Report: Gourdy’s Pumpkin Run (Virtual) 5K

It doesn’t appear that Covid is going to allow any in-person races any time soon, so even though I’m not the hugest fan of the virtual thing, I decided to run a few this fall. First up on my list was the Gourdy’s Pumpkin Run. This used to be called something like the Great Pumpkin Run, and the swag I saw out of 2019 was frickin’ awesome. I was less enamored with the medal this year, but the shirt swayed me. Heh. And I figured this would work well as an “autumn” event for my Running Bingo, since the event evokes images of pumpkin patches and turning leaves and apple cider.

The problem with virtual 5Ks is that you can do them whenever, and there’s no festivity or cheerleaders to sweep you up into that excitement of a true race. There’s also no one to map out a specific course for you, or hand you water/snacks throughout. Really, there’s no difference between a virtual 5K and just going out for a practice run. So that’s essentially what I did. I decided on a date (9/30), mapped a route (8x around my running park is 3.12 miles), and set out.

The weather started quite chilly at 52 degrees – hence why I chose that date! – but I wore a tank top anyway, knowing it would be almost 70 degrees by the time I finished. It took a full half-5K for the weather to warm up. The second half was much warmer, with lots of direct sun in places. I was glad I chose the tank top! I was less glad that I chose my newer shoes instead of my older Hokas. The Saucony pair was only 12 miles old, and while it didn’t cause problems due to newness (I’ve used Saucony for ages), these shoes seem better suited to walking. Even when I tie them loosely, my feet swell when I run, and then there’s too much pressure on the tops. It caused a lot of leg strain for most of the 5K, a strain that I don’t feel in the Hokas. Lesson learned.

I stuck to general 60:30 run:walk intervals for this event. Honestly, I think I prefer longer intervals for longer distances (and a 5k, for my slow-runner self, is a longer distance!). Still, I didn’t do too bad for time, considering that I only managed about a dozen runs since finishing C25K in May, and have only run seven times in the last ten weeks. (Thank goodness for cooling temps and potentially getting out there more regularly again!) I finished the Gourdy’s 5K in 50:12 – just shy of the under-50 mark that I strive for – with a mile average of 16:05. Not my best time ever, but I’m really okay with that. Especially, as I said, with how little I’ve been running, not to mention the leg strain re: my shoes.

My swag package (above) with my shirt, medal, etc finally arrived on 10/24 – almost a full month after running the 5K! Sheesh. I do really love the shirt, especially the unexpected little zipper pocket on the left side seam. The medal is excruciatingly heavy, though – it probably could have been smaller, but I guess they wanted runners to feel like they were getting their money’s worth, heh.

And lastly, here is my updated Running Bingo card:

The Gourdy’s Pumpkin 5k completes my 5th square of the Bingo – that orange one off to the right – with more to come soon! This is the first of at least three virtual 5Ks I’ll be doing through the rest of 2020.

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The Whisper Man, by Alex North

Twenty years ago, a serial predator known as the Whisper Man terrorized the town of Featherbank. Eventually caught and jailed, the community felt safe again…but now another boy has gone missing, and the details are too similar to those of the Whisper Man’s crimes for comfort.

So. I read North’s book The Shadows this summer and quite enjoyed it. It was fast and twisty and really caught me off-guard. The Whisper Man is referenced and some of the characters are shared between the two books, despite the books being unrelated. So I held on to this book until RIP, and (very slowly) read it a couple chapters at a time for all of September.

My two experiences of these books couldn’t be more different. This book is slow and meandering, and felt like a mishmash of crime and literary. Neither felt fully fleshed out. The literary sections (Tom and his son Jake dealing with the loss of wife/mother, Pete’s problems with alcoholism) were often plodding and repetitive, and none of the characters were developed deeply enough to feel entirely literary. There are chapters told from the perpetrator’s point of view, and you learn who he is in relation to the original Whisper Man, but there’s no way for a reader to learn his current-day identity before it’s revealed, as he’s a character that never shows up prior to then except in his own narration. So the crime/mystery element was also lacking. Furthermore, some of the plot points were well beyond suspension of disbelief – the perpetrator, for instance, expects a certain victim not to recognize him despite the two of them having interacted daily. WTF?

A couple of times, I nearly gave up on The Whisper Man, especially in the beginning during Tom and Pete and Jake’s soooooo-slow chapters. But then I’d get to a moment when something spooky or intriguing would happen, and I’d keep going. I flipped through to the end to figure out the mysteries, and learned many things in advance. Eventually, by the halfway point, things started to pick up a little, but until the last few chapters, I never fully engaged. Still, it felt like an okay book, if a little messy and scattered, until the last chapter. I can’t talk about details without spoilers, but the things that happen in the last chapter are abhorrent and stretch belief to breaking. It left a really nasty taste in my mouth, and makes me wish I’d given the book up during my early boredom.

Oh well. I guess you can’t like them all, right? I still wouldn’t mind reading other books by North, because The Shadows was quite awesome. I’ll be a little more cautious going into them now, though.

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Sunday Coffee – Favorite Photos of September

Back again to share my favorite photos in September. As always, these photos are taken by me and unfiltered. They aren’t necessarily great photography, just photos that I love for one reason or another.

Left to right: pumpkins! I really love the color in these; Atticus looking all cute as he drapes himself over the edge of the piano; a false daylily popped up through the tines of a cactus – and every single person on that particular hike stopped to take a picture of it!

Top left: tough hikers! I love these ladies so much. Bottom left: some of my favorite Halloween decorations, including 2019’s yoga skeletons, a very old Halloween snow-globe, and some LED “candles” that Nat gave me since I can’t have real candles with the cats. Right: shadow after my most recent 5K.

Left to right: my new F**k Trump lipstick!; sunset over Comanche Lookout Park; Atticus curling up on the crocheted hats in the basket on top of my dresser (cats do love yarn art!)

Left to right: Gavroche enjoying the new carpet; a stack of mushrooms along a rock border in the front yard; brown boots! (which as of now, have yet to be worn because it’s still not cool enough during the day!)

See y’all next month. Hopefully there will be lots of fun fall pics to share!

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Quarantine Diaries – Weeks 26-29

It’s been fairly quiet in terms of the pandemic here for the past month. September 13th saw the six-month mark pass since our first case of Covid. Things are holding steady, and we’re all trying to figure out a good balance between keeping as much open as possible while also keeping safe.

TBH, I’m kinda sick of people whining. Suck it up, a$$holes. It usually takes two years for a vaccine to come out and things won’t be safe again until then. So until a safe and effective vaccine comes out, let’s all stay home as much as possible, wear our masks, keep our bubbles small, etc, and try to adapt to things like curbside pickup and occupancy limits and online shopping. It sucks to miss a year of vacation – trust me, I know; Jason and I had our 20th anniversary vacation canceled! – and to have events canceled and to not be able to hug friends and family when we have socially-distanced gatherings. I know. It sucks for everyone. But what sucks worse is letting businesses keep failing because we have to keep locking them down, and even worse than that is when people keep getting sick and dying because people can’t deal with first-world problems like missing a haircut or going down to the bar. Six months into this thing, and I’m 1000% over being sympathetic at all for selfish, whiny jerks. Sorry not sorry.

Numbers
I’ll be honest: The city has changed how they calculate their numbers. Nearly every week, there’s one day when a backlog of thousands of cases is added to our totals, as well as the backlog in confirmed deaths. Some of these backlogs go back months, some are more recent. It’s impossible to give accurate numbers under these conditions. I’ve read that the entire state is using an antiquated system that has had trouble coping with the influx of data. (September 21st and 22nd, for instance, saw over 20k cases reported to the state’s numbers from a backlog in Houston.) Apparently this has contributed to a lot of false information over time, including a statewide positivity rate back in the spring that was far underestimating true cases/rates, which led to the early reopening plan, which led to the June spike…sigh.

Anyway. In grand totals with the information I have, San Antonio is ending these four weeks (Week 29, ending 10/1) at 57,936 cases and 1,136 deaths. I obviously can’t give accurate monthly numbers, either, so I have no idea how September compared to previous months. I will say that most of these backlogs have been attributed to July, which means that our numbers were even more insane that month than we realized! The above graph represents daily case numbers in Bexar County by event date (rather than reported date) since this pandemic began.

Daily moving average: My last Quarantine Diaries ended on Week 25 of this plague, on 9/3, with a daily average of around 180 cases – a slight uptick from previous weeks that had an average of 138 daily. Over the last four weeks, our daily moving average has been:

  • Week 26 (9/10): 127
  • Week 27 (9/17): 128
  • Week 28 (9/24): 153
  • Week 29 (10/1): 167

Note that these numbers don’t include any backlogged cases, but just the week’s worth as the city gives them. Thankfully, they’re reporting the 7-day moving average during every new brief now (they happen each weeknight). Week 28 is when we began to see numbers come in from the Labor Day weekend holiday and the minimal return to in-person school around the city. The uptick was expected, but far less than feared. Let’s hope it doesn’t continue to go up!

Weekly trackers:

  • Positivity rate: down to 6.7% (wk26), to 6% (wk27), to 6.4% (wk28), to 5.9% (wk 29)
  • Doubling rate: This increased from 65 days to 90+ days during this period.
  • Pediatric rate: These numbers were finally updated in Week 27 after weeks with no data, and remained just shy of 16%. It hasn’t been updated since, so this looked like they’re switching the number to a monthly progression, which seems a bit silly tbh.
  • Hospital trends: Trends continued to drop in the hospitals, until about a week after Labor Day and in-person school starting, at which point it started to tick up. It is currently stabilizing, and will hopefully start dropping again soon. Pic is the graph from weeks 26-28. Blue line is hospitalizations, yellow is ICU, white is folks on ventilators.

Local news
Let me start with a discussion of schools. In-person school began in most districts on September 8th, after the Labor Day holiday. I can’t say what each of the districts are doing for their phasing in process, but I imagine many of them look similar to our district (which is one of the three largest in SA). Our district allowed only five students per classroom with no transitioning between classes in older grades. Just recently, due to the continued improvement in trends (but before the Labor Day data came in – they just didn’t wait long enough…), that changed to ten students per classroom, and starting next week, fifteen per (sigh). The next phase, when it comes, will involve kids actually transitioning between classes, which means exposure to different students at each class period, and potentially more exposure. Last week, the TEA reported the number of cases among students and staff across the state. As of 9/24, there were 86 cases of covid in SA schools – 21 from students and 65 from staff. Our school district specifically had 11 cases from students, 14 from staff, on that day. I haven’t been able to get any information since, despite the TEA saying the numbers would come out weekly.

With the limited number in classrooms, many parents are on waiting lists to get their kids back into in-person school. This is especially difficult in areas with young kids, two working parents, and very little resources (including internet access and enough food). So the city is setting up eight virtual learning hubs in disadvantaged areas to open next week. Each hub will allowed students in during the weekdays and will provide wifi, free lunch, and access to teachers for help, all while keeping the kids spaced apart and safe. It seems like a good compromise and I’m glad the city is using some of its little remaining resources to help in areas that are being disproportionally affected by the virus! Other folks have come forward too – a group of philanthropists have founded a private lab to do pre-emptive covid screening for schools (beginning, I believe, with the poorest school district here). This lab will have a 24-hour turnaround on tests and are meant to help stop asymptomatic spread.

Statewide, the governor has increased capacity at many businesses (restaurants, gyms, offices, museums, libraries, manufacturing, and retail), while thankfully NOT opening bars again yet. He also thankfully didn’t remove the mask mandate. (Speaking of masks, I had to laugh over the Labor Day weekend when our mayor got all cheeky on social media with messages that said nothing but, “The mask goes over your nose.” Ha!) San Antonio is following suit the governor’s lead – likely because we dropped into the “safe” zone on 9/8 and have managed to stay there since then. Playgrounds and park facilities have reopened, there’s no longer a ten-person maximum on gatherings in city parks, and Fitness in the Park classes are supposed to resume by the end of October. Announcement about the libraries is supposed to come soon.

Other noteworthy local news:

  • the local MLK march for 2021 has already announced it’ll be virtual this January
  • we’ve had several days over the last month with no new deaths to report, yay!!
  • a local pediatric nurse practitioner recovered from covid after 56 days in a coma
  • not quite local, but the republican chair in TX is suing the governor to take away the extra week of early voting he granted us, grr…

On the home-front
It has been nice to feel a bit safer around here. We’re still taking precautions of course, but we’ve also been trying to get a few things taken care of that have been put off for a time. Dental appointments (can’t do that with a mask!). My annual women’s exam that was supposed to be in April, then July. Group hikes (limited to six people, requiring masks and physical distancing). Things aren’t normal, but they’re getting as close as they can be until a vaccine is here. Hey, Ambrose even got to spend the weekend with his friend Tyler for Tyler’s birthday – the first time they’ve seen each other in person since early March. (We see Tyler every weekend via Skype for the boys’ Dungeons and Dragons game.)

Of course, it’s not all normal. Have you watched the football games with no crowds and piped-in crowd noises? It’s weird. But still nice to watch at all – I hope they get to keep playing, because it provides a little semblance of normal in with all the weird. Like: My nephew Rory’s 3rd birthday party was done via Zoom because my sister and her husband both work in schools and there have been too many potential Covid exposures in her area. (In fact, Rory has spent the last two weeks at home because of exposure at daycare, and my sister has been working with no assistant – she’s an athletic trainer at a high school – because of the assistant’s potential exposure.) Then there’s my mom, who is back working at my aunt’s preschool/daycare, with young kids full of runny noses and coughs (“it’s just allergies,” the parents claim), and a coworker whose daughter tested positive for the regular flu. Sigh. Doesn’t help that my aunt is mask-refuser so the teachers aren’t even wearing them at this school, and my mom refuses to get a flu shot. (Yes, she’s also said she won’t get a covid vaccine either. Oh, my family…)

So far, my immediate family has remained fairly unscathed despite the increase in our potential exposure (including a dozen different workmen-and-women inside our house, some of whom kept their masks under their noses!). I’m really glad Laurence is staying virtual for school, because we got notice recently that there were two students at his specific high school that tested positive. !!! Even Morrigan, up on campus in Kansas, is doing better than expected – we accidentally FaceTimed him when he was out walking, and he had his mask on! I’ve watched his roommate put on a mask just to leave their room to get his laundry. And at the dining hall where Morrigan works, a covid exposure on a different floor led to the entire building and food services department shutting down for a full two weeks, so the campus seems to be taking the situation very seriously. Whew! Now let’s hope we can all continue to stay vigilant and safe in what I’m going to call the “temporary normal” rather than the “new normal.”

Moving forward
Just more vigilance, and hopefully not a third wave in TX as is currently predicted…

And I just heard that the Prumpster has now contracted covid, and I admit that I’m terrified of what that’s going to do to the next month of this already nightmarish political climate…

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September 2020 in Review

September was far more eventful than I was expecting. Choosing to leave school and begin on another path. The death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg and the ensuing political nastiness. Atticus escaping the house for a day. LOTS of construction, some of which was done incorrectly and required negotiations and hiring new contractors. Decorating for Halloween. Group hikes. Football season! I’m just not used to this month being so volatile!

Books
Most of my reading was RIP-related this month: 6 of 7 books. The rest of my reading was related to the Stormlight Archive – either rereads of books/novellas already out in the series, or the weekly pre-release chapters leading up to the Rhythm of War publication in November. I cannot accurately express just how excited I am for this upcoming release. My best description would be this: When I first read Words of Radiance (book 2) back in early 2016, I fell in love with the series so hard that I listened to the 48-hour audiobook roughly ten times in a row. When RoW releases in November, I will be at the store to get a physical copy of the book the moment the doors unlock, then I will spend the rest of the day and however many days beyond that binge-reading to the end. Then I’ll put on the audiobook – which I preordered months ago as soon as that was an option – and listen again from the beginning. At least once, but maybe more. I’m more excited for these series releases than I’ve ever been about any other book release ever. So…yeah. But since I can’t call the pre-release chapters my “favorite” read for the month (though they definitely ARE), and simultaneously I don’t want to use any of my rereads as favorites for the month, I’ll have to give this title to The Haunting of Ashburn House.

Goals
A big chunk of my goals had to shift this month, as I decided to leave school and pursue a different direction for my future. We also had a bit of backsliding on our financial goal due to necessary house repairs. We had to take out a loan, and due to some miscommunications, ended up with a regular loan instead of a home equity loan, which would have been a lower interest rate. But at least most of the repairs will be paid for with this, and we can go easy (fingers crossed!) for the next few years. It’s hard to tell, with a previously-rented home. And beyond that, nearly all the rest of my 2020 goals are either completed, or on hold re: covid…

Health
More transitions in this category. My mental health was suffering at the beginning of the month for multiple reasons. After getting past those hurdles, I’ve been having to claw my way back out of the holds of agoraphobia (still in progress). Some days were more successful than others – in fact, I even drove myself to a new-to-me location for a group hike mid-month. I also got in two long-overdue health appointments (put off multiple times re: covid), and have several more labs and specialist visits to make. There may be surgery in my near future, sigh. One of my doctors put me on a new medication that might possibly help with PCOS symptoms, but we’ll see. I’m wary of these kinds of medications, as they haven’t worked in the past. However, since I began taking it, I seem to sleep better. This medication changes hormone levels by increasing insulin sensitivity and slowing down the digestion process, and so that could be related. Either way, most nights for the last two weeks, I’ve been able to sleep through the night without any sleeping medications, which is a HUGE deal as I’ve been reliant on them since my insomnia began nine years ago!

Beyond that, September was not the greatest month for me in terms of fitness or general healthy habits. I had screens on past 9pm most days, hardly exercised for the first third of the month, drank way too much coffee, etc. As with my mental health, things began to improve as I entered the second half of the month and worked my way toward getting back into my good habits. I also had a moment of clarity on realizing just unfit I’ve become – ironically on a hike that came a day after I posted about body limitations, especially on major hikes. (pic shows four sections of the climb I was doing when I had this realization) I had to cancel my participation on a recent hike at Enchanted Rock because I knew my body wouldn’t handle the 450-foot climb at 30+ grade right now. That was both discouraging, and motivating, as I now have a specific goal to reach for. It’s ironic to know that it’s easier for me to run a 5K than to hike at that grade – and it’s time for that to change.

September’s sad totals: 19 days of exercise, for 983 minutes (16:23). 8 ST, 5 yoga, 3 runs (gah), 35.2 total miles walked, run, or hiked. 91 freggies (average 3 daily).

House
Hopefully, this will be the last month of major internal house repairs/construction. We replaced all non-tiled floors in the house, with either new carpet or wood. We installed a new dishwasher. Jason built new kitchen drawers to replace the ones whose drawer-facings broke off. The entire a/c system, inside and out, was replaced. Jason finished getting the new trim up outside the back doors, and he’s in the process of doing the inside walls in the same area. After that, everything should be done inside the house (I hope!). Outdoors is another matter…

Back in JULY, we hired some folks to dig and lay new deck posts so we could put together a new deck, with the instruction to make these foundational posts strong enough (and to city code) for an eventual three-season porch. They said they would begin in mid-August, but then didn’t actually get started until weeks later. Then it took them the entire month to finish. Most days, if they came at all, it was just one guy digging holes periodically while playing on his phone the rest of the time. They left their cement bags out in the rain – we asked them if they wanted to store them in our garage but they declined – so they turned into giant rocks. When they finally came to pour the cement, they used these cement-rocks as part of what they poured (see pic below). The posts wobbled so badly afterwards that we had to call these guys back out – clearly not even a regular deck would be supported – and they “fixed” one post by pouring more partly-mixed cement on top of it. Then they charged us more than their quote – nearly $2k – for this clusterf**k of a project. (I would have refused. Jason is much nicer than me.)

Which meant that we had to hire an inspector to come out and prove that these posts aren’t up to code (because they wouldn’t listen to us, of course). We then hired someone else to come redo all this properly (for about a third of the price, UGH!), while arguing about at least partial refunds from the original contractor (yeah right). The original guys were recommended to us specifically by someone they’d worked with in the past, so we were really disappointed by how poorly this went. (We also didn’t know until far too late that they aren’t licensed/bonded contractors, nor did they ever have Jason sign a contract back in July. I didn’t know any of this until after we’d paid, sigh.) We definitely won’t be hiring these guys when it comes time to do the covered roof and three-season porch bit! At least we found a decent contractor we can (hopefully) trust the second time around…

Highlights of September
Even though there were a lot of down moments and crazy happenings in September, there was actually quite a lot of good as well. Lots of highlights this month!

  • I finally found good brown boots!!
  • got to talk to one of the local library employees for the first time since March – he was my dad’s student when we were both in high school so I’ve known him a long time
  • Zooming with family for my nephew Rory’s 4th birthday, even if we couldn’t be there in person
  • my F**k Trump lipstick arrived
  • in-person hikes!
  • an extremely unusual cold front that lasted a couple days – I know this is an indication of climate change and weather disruption, but after so many weeks of 100+ temps, the few days that felt like San Antonio November were highly welcome!
  • our new carpet is so beautiful and soft!!
  • the opportunity to rearrange several rooms into configurations we like better, including a giant photo wall
  • the new a/c system
  • new season of the Great British Baking Show!!
  • decorating for Halloween
  • watching the Seahawks on prime time – especially on a game that was so nail-bitingly tense like the one against the NE Patriots! Go Hawks! (Really, what am I saying? The Seahawks always make these games intense. It was no different a week later against the Cowboys!)
  • a moment of hysterical laughter with Jason when an ad came across my social media feeds featuring a bra with corset lacing across each cup, and the ensuing discussion of other ways we could use the same principle: a zipper for each leg on jeans, laces across each toe of shoes… I can’t remember the last time I was so helpless with laughter.
  • standing eggs on the fall equinox
  • making ghosties!
  • even after two months taken off running outdoors, I can still run a mile nonstop – yay!
  • medicine ball slam – my new favorite strengthening exercise! Plus seeing that my calves are hella muscular despite my size – woot!
  • making our ghost circle outside!
  • seeing some friends I hadn’t seen since June

Coming up in October
October is a fairly manic month for me, where I try to stuff in so many autumn-themed events and activities that eventually I crash. Heh. I’ve tried to spread them out a little more, some in September this year. But of course, it’s Halloween, and Morrigan’s birthday, and Ambrose starts his accelerated classes, and it’s potentially Readathon, and early voting, and plenty more. I’m not wary, though. October always makes me so happy!

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Troubled Blood, by Robert Galbraith (audio)

Strike and Robin try to solve a 40-year-old cold case on top of their modern-day cases and various personal life issues. Book 5 in the series.

So let me start by addressing the elephant in the book: the cross-dressing serial killer that, as I said in my discussion of JK Rowling, seemed to be an element added in poor taste. The facts about said serial killer (Creed):

  • Creed is a sociopath and narcissist who perpetrated violence against many women.
  • He is not gay or transgender.
  • He sometimes wore a pink coat he stole from his landlady, and/or a wig and lipstick, as a way to get women to think he was gay and thus not a threat.
  • He did not cross-dress for every victim he lured, nor did he cross-dress at any time other than when targeting a victim.
  • He never tried to pass as female, but played off gay stereotypes of the early 70s, when he was prowling for victims.
  • Creed is hardly in this book at all, and for most of it, serves only as a macguffin. The initial investigator of the cold case, from 1974, was obsessed with finding this serial killer, whom he believed was responsible for this disappearance as well. There is never any evidence that ties the serial killer to the cold case.

So yes, Rowling treats Creed with the same logic as she uses for why we should deny rights to transgender people. (In other words, we can’t trust that men won’t pretend to be transgender in order to appear safe to women.) This is absolutely repugnant and distasteful, not to mention clearly flawed logic. Have men dressed as women to perpetrate violence? Yes, the same way that men have posed as women or younger men/teens to lure underage boys/girls out to meet them. Predators are predators, and there will always be predators, and they will always find ways to take unfair advantages over their victims. But once again: this has absolutely nothing to do with transgender folks or the rights they should have.

Furthermore, Creed’s presence in the novel is entirely superfluous. Had Rowling taken him out completely, the book wouldn’t have suffered. (In fact, it may have been better, as I’ll discuss below, for reasons entirely unrelated to cross-dressing.) Had Rowling included him, but excluded the detail about the pink coat and/or wig/lipstick, the book wouldn’t have been any different at all than it currently stands. Had Rowling included both him and that detail, and then used that detail to make a stand against this wrong way of thinking, it would have been a better book. (And she would be a very different person who would be viewed in a far more positive light, frankly.)

There are two things that really bothered me about Troubled Blood. The first was of course the issue with Creed. The second was just how sloppy, unstructured, and unfocused the book was written. On the whole, I can say that I enjoyed about 75% of the book, which focused on the personal lives of the characters rather than the cold case. This is only because I’m five books in, though, and already care about the characters. If this had been my first experience with them, I would have given up rather early on. Novels in general are supposed to build to a climax and then taper off. This was more like running on level ground with a few hurdles to hop over from time to time. There isn’t a narrative thread that tied everything together, but instead, the story was all over the place, as if Rowling was trying to stuff five books into one. It’s not that it didn’t make sense or fit together; more like it read as a series of mini-stories that sometimes intertwined but didn’t make up a full narrative.

So. Much. Stuff. Rowling brought up violence against women, the absurdity of “men’s rights” movements, prostitution, men who believe it’s acceptable to send out a certain kind of anatomical picture, people (men and women both) who treat female bosses as if they aren’t truly in charge, stresses of divorce, emotional violence, the contrast of male and female serial killers, modern day mafia, various kinds of sexual predilections, and on and on and on. Not to mention every kind of occult detail you can think of, from astrology to tarot to blood magic. To a degree, I can appreciate the book’s style as a reflection of the difficulty of piecing together a 40-year-old case…but honestly, I don’t think she was going for that on purpose. It didn’t seem deliberate enough, and these books aren’t exactly the literary thematic masterworks that do this sort of thing.

In short, the book could have done with several hundred pages worth of pruning.

Which brings me back to Creed. As a plot device, he was superfluous. His cross-dressing element had no point whatsoever in the book, which made it a detail left in for Rowling to make a point, rather than to help the story move forward. As I said above, the book would have been exactly the same with or without that element. One of an author’s most important jobs is to evaluate the story and remove the bits that don’t enhance the book in some way. There was a lot of non-enhancements in Troubled Blood, and frankly, it felt like Rowling got rather tangled up and lost in a book that was too big for her. The fact that she left that bit in about Creed, the bit that added nothing and only served as a f—k you to transgender folks, speaks volumes.

I will likely continue to read the series, because I quite like Strike and Robin and the secondary cast of characters. Plus, as I said in my Rowling discussion, I don’t usually boycott authors based on their personal views. I also rather love the audio production, with Robert Glenister as a fantastic narrator. But it’s unlikely I’ll revisit this particular book, which kinda made me feel skeezy and sick the entire time I listened to it. Which is unfortunate, because the actual conclusions to that 40-year-mystery were masterfully done, and Troubled Blood could have been brilliant, had Rowling shown the slightest modicum of humility in the writing/editing/research process.

Posted in 2020, Adult, Prose | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments