TNR: Feather

This is the story of a calico. The calico has shown up a few times on our overnight camera, in April, August, and twice in September. She began to show up during the day not long before Christmas, and seemed to figure out that we keep cat food in our yard throughout the day for the ferals. As far as I could ascertain, the calico was an unfixed stray and not someone’s indoor/outdoor baby. She brought with her an entourage, including King – a giant part-maine-coon tomcat who also happened to be Shai and Hulud’s father – and a rare male calico (pic below) who also showed up on our overnight camera a few times back in the spring. And while I would love to trap and fix all of these stray cats, the calico was the most important. The boys were following her around, and there were clear cries of cat-in-heat going on in the wee morning hours. NO ONE NEEDS MORE KITTENS TO RESCUE. Especially not us.

Project Calico began the week between Christmas and New Years. It started with trap-training, which is when you leave the trap tied open with food progressively further inside. The trap can’t go off because you have it tied back, and the cats getting the food begin to believe the trap is not a trap.

[Side dilemma: We did not want Lord Grey to use the trap at all. He’s only just starting to get a bit more trusting, and so we kept watch as much as possible. Whenever LG appeared, one of us would hurry outside to bring him his own personal food bowl. Like any cat, he prefers to eat outside the cage, so as long as we catered to him and brought his bowl back inside as soon as he left, we were able to deter him from using the cage. Phew.]

Once the calico was happy to eat all the way in the cage, completely oblivious to our sneakiness, and once we had a tentative date for the vet, we set the trap out with all the stinky sardines and watched constantly. The thing about trapping cats is that once they’re inside the closed cage, you need to cover them ASAP or they can hurt themselves in their panic. So I spent all of Jan 2nd either staring out my window or watching the live feed from the camera on my phone. No calico. She never appeared once. A squirrel set the trap off, though, and later, Jason had to chase a possum away. Male Calico – now called Unicorn – also appeared, but showed no interest at all in food. Sometimes, that’s how TNR goes.

On the 3rd, we set the trap again, and once again, I watched. I watched as the calico appeared and set off straight for the food. I watched as she crept into the trap. I watched as she leaned forward, ate the sardines, and backed out of the trap, all without setting the stupid thing off. That’s right. A squirrel set off the damn trap, but not the calico. Little girl walked off licking her lips. Calico: 1, Amanda: 0.

But we weren’t giving up. Jason re-baited the trap, this time with tuna so that our little girl couldn’t just stretch her neck out and pull full fishies towards her. She’d have to take an extra step onto the pressure plate. We hoped. Unfortunately, the next cat that appeared wasn’t the calico, or King, or Unicorn. It was Mustache. I don’t know Mustache’s real name, but he’s someone’s fixed indoor-outdoor pet who is super greedy for food. Mustache didn’t need tuna, but he certainly wanted tuna. So after marking the insulated home we made for Lord Grey with his own scent (thanks, Mustache!), he sauntered into the cage and got himself trapped. Calico: 1, Amanda: 0, Mustache, -1.

Jason let him out. Hopefully Mustache has learned his lesson and won’t enter traps again any time soon. And honestly, we thought that was the end for the day, only then guess who appeared? The calico!!!

Oh you should have seen me at the window, trying to stay hidden out of sight, cheering for her to get in that stupid trap. She is an extremely skittish little girl, terrified of everything, so the smell of the tuna – just slightly different from the sardines – and the smell of Mustache made her extra cautious. It took her a quarter hour before she finally ventured into the trap, down to the tuna, and WOOHOO we got her! Calico: 2, Amanda: 1, Mustache, -10 for the stink. (The calico didn’t understand why I’ve awarded her an extra point here, but she was about to enter the good (spayed) life, and just didn’t know it yet.)

(first trapped, then freed!)

From there, things became very standard and not very story-like. We named the little girl Feather, since even a squirrel set off the trap but she didn’t. Feather went into the vet on Thursday for her appointment, and got both spayed and vaccinated. She came home that evening, woozy on anesthesia, and after an overnight stint to let all that wear off, Feather had her Freedom Run on Friday morning. She was, btw, desperate to make that run, even hurling herself at the cage opening as we were trying to open it. This is why it’s important to keep those cages covered – the kitties start trying to find a way out by bashing themselves against ceilings and walls if they aren’t! In any case, Feather is now free and will live baby-free for the rest of her life. Hopefully she forgives us and returns for food, because we’re happy to loosely adopt another feral into our daily outdoor food schedule. So far, no sightings, but at least we know that wherever she’s getting her meals now, she’s at least going to live a less dangerous, baby-free life!

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A Rip Through Time, by Kelley Armstrong

From Goodreads: May 20, 2019: Homicide detective Mallory is in Edinburgh to be with her dying grandmother. While out on a jog one evening, Mallory hears a woman in distress. She’s drawn to an alley, where she is attacked and loses consciousness.

May 20, 1869: Housemaid Catriona Mitchell had been enjoying a half-day off, only to be discovered that night in a lane, where she’d been strangled and left for dead…exactly one-hundred-and-fifty years before Mallory was strangled in the same spot.

When Mallory wakes up in Catriona’s body in 1869, she must put aside her shock and adjust quickly to the reality: life as a housemaid to an undertaker in Victorian Scotland. She soon discovers that her boss, Dr. Gray, also moonlights as a medical examiner and has just taken on an intriguing case, the strangulation of a young man, similar to the attack on herself. Her only hope is that catching the murderer can lead her back to her modern life…before it’s too late.

This review will be slightly tainted by my experience of reading it. This is a book that, at least for me, needs to be read in a slow, deliberate way. It’s a genre-bending mix of mystery, historical fiction, and time travel, with the primary genres focused on the first two. Historical fiction is rarely my favorite, and I need to read it slow to fully appreciate it. Unfortunately, I had a very strict deadline. I couldn’t renew my library hold with others waiting for the book, and had less than a week to read it unless I wanted to get back in line (which I didn’t). So rather than take a week or more to read, I took three days. This made me feel slightly sick while reading – too much input in too little a time frame. Therefore, it’s possible that I view the book less favorably than I should.

That’s not to say I didn’t like it, because I really did. It was thoroughly enjoyable, well-crafted, and intriguing. But I would have enjoyed it more if 1) I’d read it slower, and 2) if the speculative portions had played more of a roll, rather than the emphasis on the historical parts. It’s not as if the speculative parts are unimportant. Mallory has to live in 1869 Scotland with the mindset, knowledge, and cultural context of the 21st century. However, the time travel seems more to provide contrast to the historical parts, rather than being a focus itself. Any cross-genre novel is going to lean more heavily on one or two genres than the rest, and this one just leaned toward the side I least enjoy.

This is the first book in a series, though the mystery part reads as a standalone. The description for Book 2 is a brand new mystery, and I have no idea if the time travel part will get any more attention or resolution, or if Mallory is just stuck in historical Scotland for awhile. Hopefully, it’s not just a historical fiction mystery with a slightly speculative twist. Either way, I’m tentatively looking forward to it (and to reading it slower this time!).

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Sunday Coffee – And he’s gone again

Just over three weeks since Laurence arrived home for winter break, he’s once again back in Canada for his spring semester. This is potentially the last time we’ll see him in person until next winter, because he’s talking with someone about getting an apartment together over the next year, including summer, in order to keep working at his job and on some of his theatre production things. So we’ll see.

Anyway, it’s been lovely having him home. Laurence loves board/card games, so we played a lot over of them. Anomia, 5 Second Rule, Cat Lady, Scattegories, Trivial Pursuit, Scene It, Apples to Apples, and more that I can’t think of immediately. We all played Wii Sports and Wii Games (very old school!), watched tons of movies (mostly Jason and Laurence), saw a lot of football, and visited many of the restaurants and stores that L missed. There were practical things too, like replacing his shoes and repairing a ripped portion of his coat. Mostly, though, it was just quiet time at home mixed with some outings, which is very US of us.

Laurence’s first flight was super early yesterday morning – as in, get up at 4am kind of early – and he had several extended layovers, so that he didn’t arrive until past midnight in his time zone. Poor kid. Of course, he didn’t actually text Jason or me to tell us he’d arrived, and I’m sure he’s still asleep atm, so we won’t find out until later today that he’s made it back to his dorm after staying the night with a friend. But we know he boarded the last plane, so hopefully it all went well after that and his friend picked him up without a hitch.

Now empty-nesting resumes, and I think my heart is a little more at peace with it than it was back in Aug/Sept.

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Nine Liars, by Maureen Johnson (audio)

Stevie is struggling with her second year at Ellingham. Now that she’s solved her Big Case (and a few others), she’s not sure what to do next with her life. Most of her friends are applying to college, but Stevie is too paralyzed to even begin the process. To make things worse, her boyfriend is studying abroad in London, and she feels lost in the long distance. So when David invites her and her classmates to a short study abroad trip in London, Stevie jumps at the chance. To no one’s surprise, she ends up embroiled in a decades-old murder mystery almost the moment she arrives.

This is the fifth book in a loose series that includes an initial trilogy about the Ellingham murders, a bridge book in the summer between Stevie’s junior and senior year of high school, and now this, which is the start of something new. Unlike the former books, the mystery portion of the story is fully disclosed and wrapped up, but there are cliffhangers left in the catastrophe Stevie’s decisions make of her life near the end of the book. I can’t say more without spoilers, but it’s definitely a heavy tease for the next volume.

[A short note on the cold case: Nine friends – the best of friends – went out to a country estate to spend a week together before they all graduated from Cambridge and moved on to the next phase of their lives. While there, two of nine are murdered. That’s all I’m going to say about that.]

As usual in these books, the story is split between the interpersonal relationships among all the main characters, the past timeline/mystery, and the current solving of the past timeline/mystery. Because the murders in this case happened in 1995, the surviving players are all still alive. I honestly enjoyed both aspects of the book equally, but I also think that’s because this is the fifth book I’ve read in the series. If I wasn’t already attached to Stevie, Nate, Vi, Janelle, and David, I would likely have been quite annoyed by all the uncertainty and prevaricating that happens in the non-mystery bits of the book. This is why I don’t read a lot of YA anymore – I’m well past that age range, and I just raised three kids through it. I need a break from the vagaries of young transitional life. Knowing the characters, though, it was like visiting old friends, which was perfect for my first-of-the-year read!

I also really enjoyed the 90s timeline plot, though. The Nine (as they called themselves) were interesting characters, both as recent Cambridge graduates and in their present-day selves. They kept me guessing, provided an excellent parallel story of tight friendship groups to Stevie’s circle, and despite being general reprobates in college, have generally all become kind and caring people with nuanced lives. I really appreciated that, because they could have all too easily become a little two-dimensional, and they weren’t.

Definitely looking forward to the next volume!

Performance: Kate Rudd narrates this book as she has the former ones. In the beginning, I wasn’t really a fan of her reading, and only listened to Truly Devious on audio because the hold list was so long for the print book. Later, I continued to listen on audio because I was left with a pleasing longterm impression about the performance, despite not liking it initially. With each subsequent book, I had to adjust. Until this one. In this one, I liked it from the beginning, full circle from a few years ago. I thought Rudd was the perfect narrator and she did a phenomenal job with the many, many characters introduced here. Even though this was the first time I was meeting the Nine, it only took me a chapter or two before I always knew who was speaking by narration alone, and that’s impressive.

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Day 1 – 2023

Start how you mean to go on, right?

January 1st, 2023:

– I had everything prepared the night before, so that I could get a little extra sleep before I woke up to get ready for my hike. The group for this hike included three longtime friends, so it was nice to spend some time with both them and some folks I’d never met before. The hike itself was a four mile out-and-back that I’m pretty familiar with. It’s not strenuous, mostly level, which is why I chose it. I literally haven’t done more than four miles in a month, much less a day, since April last year. In good news, my back didn’t act up and I was able to complete the hike without an issue! In not-as-good news, I’m definitely feeling it this morning, especially in my feet and calves, heh.

– Post-hike (and post-hike shower, eating, etc), the first thing I did was download the audio and ebook files for the newest Brandon Sanderson book, Tress of the Emerald Sea. This book is part of the Year of Sanderson from the kickstarter last March. The physical copy should show up later this month (or perhaps a bit later than that, re: manufacturing and shipping delays) but obviously my media of choice for Sanderson is audio! It won’t be my first book of the year, but it will definitely be sometime this month!

– Most of the rest of the afternoon was spent editing the photos I took at my grandparents’ memorial on the 31st. I took a lot of care over these, because I not only wanted to capture those moments, but to capture the feel of the memorial – both the grief and the companionship. Some of the photos came out really, really well, and I’m so happy that I could spend part of the first day of the year working on a photo project.

– Halfway through the afternoon, I took a break to visit a friend with Jason. The visit was brief and the reasons were not particularly noteworthy (we were picking up some items she wanted out of her garage that we could use), but while the guys were loading up the stuff, I got to chat with my friend about her planned summer wedding, and it was a nice break to have mid-day!

– I began my first audiobook of the year in the afternoon, which was Nine Liars by Maureen Johnson. It’s an 11-hour audio, and I ended up listening to almost 7 hours of it, first while editing photos, then hanging out with my current foster kitten, Petunia. Jason and Laurence spent the evening out seeing a movie (Babylon – they both loved it, but I was not at all interested in that one!), so I had a quiet night in with my cats and my audiobook. It was perfect.

So yes, I spent my first day exactly as I hope the year goes on: active and social balanced by work on my art / passion, with some quiet time to spend with books and cats.

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2023 Goals

Over the last few years, I’ve let things sort of stack up on top of me. It’s been easy to say, f– this, who cares if this gets done, I’ll do it later; and then just read or watch TV or scroll Tiktok or take naps. Every month in my bullet journal, I have a list of tasks or goals that I want to get done that month. Many of them were originally created months earlier, sometimes years earlier. I’m not doing a good job at evaluating priorities, and the more things pile up, the more I procrastinate. I find it really easy to deal with pileups by just deciding that none of the things matter anymore – like culling a bunch of unread books if my TBR gets too high – and now I’m in a situation where almost everything on my list is either something I can’t or don’t want to cull.

Now that my life is moving in a new direction, I want to actively work to move forward, and part of that work is to whittle down the amount of baggage I’m carrying. So these goals will be focused in two areas: an area where I’m growing and want to continue to grow, and getting all the rest of the Stuff off my plate.

Photography

This is obviously the place where I’m growing. Over the next year, I would like to continue to improve and carve out a steady place for this in my life. These goals are designed to help.

• Continue to hold monthly group practice photo shoots as long as I have the volunteers and availability to do this.

• Drop my daily photo record-keeping, and focus instead on intentional weekly projects. For the last three years, I’ve kept up a daily photo journal, and I’ve found this can be both wonderful and frustrating. It’s too easy to just snap a phone pic of whatever happens to be around in order to get a daily pic, you know? So I want to be more deliberate in 2023. Each week, I want to take a prompt or subject to focus on. I have a few different sources to pull from, including 52 Frames weekly prompts and some photo prompt cards a friend gave me for Christmas in 2021. (Hey! It’s kinda like a Get Off My Plate goal, only better!)

• And because no part of my life hasn’t suffered from procrastination syndrome, I also want to focus on these specific types of shots that were originally listed under last year’s goals:

  • sunrise but not from home – on location, either urban or wild
  • movement photo with central focal point (example: focus on feet while on a swing, so the background moves but the feet remain in focus)
  • astrophotography, particularly of stars, taken with long exposure
  • urban night photography with long exposure to capture light-streaks from cars
  • focus on stationary object while background moves

Get Off My Plate

Not everything on the following list is unpleasant or a chore. They’re just things that were meant to happen long before now, and I haven’t made the time or room for them. (Or, like when it comes to our 20th anniversary vacation that was originally meant to be in May 2020, circumstances caused many, many delays.) My one-word for 2023 is RELEASE, and this is the part of goal-making that surrounds it: to release the baggage and lighten the load, to better enable walking forward.

• Watch or cull the following movies, some of which have been on my list for well over a year:

  • Luca
  • Encanto
  • The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
  • Jurassic World

• See these specific doctors that I’m long overdue for:

  • ob/gyn
  • dermatologist
  • dentist

• Read/cull all of my 2023 book priorities (34) **Note: This is much higher than normal for me, but I don’t mind because only 13 are already published. The remaining 21 are 2023 releases.

• Finally take our Alaskan cruise to celebrate our 20th anniversary (Dec 2019) – scheduled for May 2023

• Try 10 new-to-me products, companies, or events
Note: This may not seem like a “get off my plate” goal but I have a long-running list of locations, products, etc that I’ve wanted to try for ages. The caveat of this goal is that only hanging items are allowed to count toward it, unless none remain.

• Finish getting off Facebook

• Print a monthly photo book

• Fully clean out the garage (including items to sell)

• Finish my 2022 backlog of yoga videos, without any pressure to continue on with 2023 new releases (4)

• Use up the rest of my wax melts (21)

Optional

The following are more “get off my plate” goals, but either depend on circumstance or other folks or the right finances to complete, so they’re optional.

• Paint portions of the house: living room, entryway, hallway, my room

• Finish front and back yards

• Complete 5+ goals from my 50×50 list – or perhaps cull the goal list altogether, if need be

• Catch up and then cull my current massage membership

*****
You may notice that I haven’t included any major health or fitness goals this year. I don’t have plans to try to eat more produce, walk a certain number of miles, add more strength training, lose a certain amount of weight, etc. My work with my doctors on managing my conditions and medications will continue, and I’m going to let that unfold as organically as possible. I don’t want to add further weight to the gigantic amount of baggage I’m already carrying. This is the year of unpacking the boxes and doing the stuff that already needed to be done, not a year for planning new stuff to do.

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Closing the Door on 2022

This year could really be broken into three sections for me. The first would be from Jan 1 to April 1, a time when I was both dealing with personal/family-related trauma while also trying to find a good medicine fit for my new autoimmune diagnoses. It was my most active time of the year, but not necessarily the happiest time of the year. Then there was the Period of Cats, starting late on April 1st when suddenly Jason and I had two bottle baby kittens to raise. This kicked off an extended summer through the end of August where 99% of my focus was on my feline fosters. This period was littered with political anger, more family trauma, a huge downturn in health, and the first hints of what would come in the third part of the year, September onwards. This became my empty-nesting period, where I began adjusting to a new way of life. Simultaneously, I finally made some real strides in my health during this period, leading to more mobility, less pain, and improved social life.

Cats
Obviously, cats were a huge influence on my 2022. Jason and I TNRed four neighborhood cats in addition to rescuing an entire litter of five. Shai and Hulud were bottle babies from their second day of life, and their siblings – Tipsy, Penny, and Tillie – were caught, vetted, socialized, and put up for adoption once they were old enough to be weaned. All five babies found new homes, and with their mother now spayed, we can count on no more babies from that quarter! The whole experience taught us so much, gave us a friend in the neighbor we worked with, and set up my fostering journey through a local rescue.

((most of) the 2022 fosters!)

There were obviously some negative foster experiences and some things I had to learn throughout the year, but altogether, it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. I fostered a total of 17 18** cats and kittens. Every single one of them** grew into healthy babies – a big feat for some of them, who were super sick when they came to us! – and found forever homes! And yeah, sometimes fostering is really hard: not knowing if a sick kitten will live through the night, saying goodbye to a kitten who has entirely stolen your heart, having so many scratches on your legs that people think you’re self-harming…ha! Still, it’s worth it. 100%. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I can’t wait to continue in 2023!

**Petunia became our 18th foster on December 27th, so the photo isn’t updated and of course she hasn’t gone on to be spayed and adopted yet.

Health
At the end of 2021, I honestly thought things were looking up in terms of health. I finally had a diagnosis, after all! It’s never so simple, though. Diagnoses change. Medicines fail. Bodies rebel. For a short time in that first section of 2022, I regained a certain amount of mobility, but lost it again over the summer. The summer also saw another spurt of weight gain, roughly 10 lbs, before my doctor put me on Mounjaro at the end of August. This is the first year in ages where I’m ending the year at a lower weight than I began it. The Mounjaro really flipped a switch in my body, and not only has it allowed some weight loss, it has taken away several of the other symptoms that I’ve been seeing specialists for for years. Consequently, I’ve had far fewer medical appointments in the latter half of the year, around 75 for the whole of 2022 (compared to over 120 in 2021!). Mounjaro also helped me to start regaining mobility. I’m not back to where I was pre-system-crash (Nov 2021), but I’m slowly adding more fitness and movement into my days. It’s funny, though, to look back on a few years ago, when I was exercising 200-250 days a year. (This year? 82 days. And 20 of those were in January…) Still, I have high hopes for where things are going as we move into the new year.

Photography
Obviously this is a big one. I don’t have much to say except that I learned so much, both in technique and by finally entering the photo-editing-software-RAW-files world. I’m still learning tons and excited about the process, and I’ve had my first official clients this year. To wrap up this bit, I’m going to collage out my favorite of the favorites this year, the very best photos (or technically, the photos that bring me the most joy):

Family
I’m not going to recap the negative parts of this section, particularly the ongoing schism in my family. I’ve said too much about them and given too much mental energy to the situation in 2022 already. Sadly, two members of my family passed away this year, my last remaining grandparent and my aunt/godmother. Other than these bits of sadness, my family has done really well. Laurence left for college in Canada this fall and has been settling into his new life. Ambrose joined the Air Force, got married to their best friend in September, and was stationed in Korea after tech school. Morrigan and his fiancé adopted two kittens in May, and managed to coax back to health the one who started fading pretty early on. Jason and I have been adjusting to this new just-us life, and it’s going pretty well. Honestly, I wish that this could have all been spread out over a few years rather than packing most of it into a few months over the summer, but that’s what happens sometimes! In any case, we’ve done what we can to help our children succeed, and hopefully continue to succeed going into the new year.

The Best Parts of 2022
This year, I’m not going to make a true “top ten” list, because many of this year’s best moments were ephemeral, repeating, or difficult to pin down to a specific “moment.” So these are really the best-of-the-best in highlights, I suppose. In no particular order:

  • various at-home gatherings with friends, including a vision board party, birthday parties, TV/movie watch parties, nerdy board game nights, pool parties, and holiday parties
  • so many cat things: newborn hisses, Hulud sucking on her paw, bottle babies suckling on my fingers, nighttime cuddles with kittens sleeping under my chin, a sweet little Gremlin boy who always looked like he was going to murder someone (probably you) very soon, Lord Grey slowly learning to trust me, the thrill of seeing an adoption halo show up on your former foster’s photo, bringing several kittens back from the brink of death, experiencing wobbly kittens for the first time, newborn kittens with their eyes just starting to crack open in funny ways, reuniting lost cats with their families, escape-artist kittens who just want to see the whole world (aka the rest of the house), watching Angus befriend every foster he can (except Hulud, who he hated for some bizarre reason), saving several community cats from the birthing cycle
  • hiking with friends outside of the official group setting – especially special trips to Ink’s Lake, Guadalupe State Park, and McKinney Falls
  • my nocturnal zoo: raccoons, skunks, foxes, armadillos, possums, and then baby-versions of all these guys!
  • everything about Halloween, from handing out extra Ding Dongs to the six-foot-tall nerdy teen carrying his loot in a pillow case, to the older kid who wanted the box of sardines on the tray instead of candy, to the community cat who befriended us as we sat outside that evening
  • Brandon Sanderson’s “Year of Sanderson” announcement in March (plus I can’t wait to start experiencing this with the first box in January!)
  • Muslim Culture Fest in Austin with friends – getting henna applied, buying from small businesses and artists, the most delicious food, even the car rides back and forth with Alia and Sisa
  • all the photo things: meeting the woman at the craft fair who became my first client, the Ghourlies and Witchuals photoshoots with friends, the first time I discovered the power of RAW files, upgrading some of my equipment, getting some incredible photos of my favorite butterfly (queen!), finding so many great photographers on TT to follow, Morrigan asking if I’ll take his wedding photos
  • all the Christmas stuff: having Laurence home on winter break, doing all the normal Gignacery Christmas rituals, Morrigan and Katy visiting for a few days, seeing Ambrose via video-chat, and the extended run of events that played out over the following week rather than stuffed into two days

I’m going to end this post with something I don’t think I’ve done before, which is write out a few of my hopes for the new year. In 2023, I hope to close the door on so many of the things that have weighed me down for the last few years. I want to continuing expanding my knowledge and experience in photography, as well as continue to rescue and foster cats/kittens. I have great hope for improved health and a return to fitness schedule that I’m more comfortable with. Unlike 2022, which felt like a year where I was drowning but grabbing onto every bouy I could see, angry and determined to make lemonade out of a hundred thousand lemons if that’s what it effing took, I want to thrive in 2023. I want to pull myself out of the muck that’s held me immobile since late 2020, and spend some time dancing among the rainbows.

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December 2022 in Review

So I have this weird thing about not posting the former year’s stuff in the new year. Something about leaving it behind. I don’t know. In any case, this can get tricky, because technically you can’t review a month (or a year) until said month/year is over. It’s only a few days off, though, so I’m going to go ahead and post this, and simply update it with my daily photo collage and any new highlights, news, etc as necessary.

In general, I’ve quite enjoyed December. I got to see a lot of friends and family, including having Laurence back from college and having Morrigan and Katy come in for a few days around Christmas. I took it easy for the month, spending my time mostly on events and gatherings that I enjoyed, without stressing too much about to-do lists. Of course, I also spent a lot of time procrastinating before December, so there were a few days where I had to rush to manage all my Christmas stuff way later than normal, heh. But because I tried to do that all in a few days, I certainly did feel productive!

Christmas itself was delightful. Like I said, two of our kids (plus our amazing future daughter-in-law) were at home with us, and we video-conferenced with our third in Korea. We met Morrigan’s two kittens and had a very laid back year for us because normal events ended up spread out over a longer period of time. That polar vortex caused a bit of anxiety, but our power and water stayed on this year, plus it meant that we got a cold Christmas! (Some years we have an 85-degree Christmas, so this is def better!) We kept plenty of food and an insulated shelter (that sadly went unused) out for the feral cats, and both Lord Grey and the little calico we’ve been trying to trap made it through the cold weather. I was very worried about them out in those temps! Jason went all out on Christmas gifts this year, and I’m so very excited about so many of the things I received. (Honestly, I think he wanted to make up for the fact that there’s been a rift in my family, which is really sweet of him.) I’m especially excited for the cat stroller that I hope to get my babies used to!

Reading and Watching
I read four books this month, despite my original plan to read a whole heck of a lot. That’s just not me in December. The books will keep to the new year! I didn’t watch much this month either, other than our annual rewatch of traditional Gignacery Christmas movies (Rudolph, and Pee Wee’s Christmas Special, heh). I did work on a puzzle while Jason and Laurence watched Die Hard. I didn’t actually want to see that movie, so I listened to it in the same room, ha! I mean, it’s Alan Rickman. I can listen to Alan Rickman pretty much anywhere under any circumstance.

(fave: Kiss Her Once for Me)

Goals
I made my 2023 goals this month, rather than focusing on the dying embers of 2022.

The Ferals
I didn’t think I would have much to say about cats this month. I was wrong. During December, the last of our former fosters got adopted out. Lord Grey, our little feral, began to mew at us and trust us a lot more. A calico that I’d caught on overnight camera a few times began to come to the yard daily the week before Christmas, and as best as I can confirm through FB and Next Door, she’s an unfixed stray. We began trap-training her (or attempting to!) after Christmas, and hopefully soon she’ll never have babies again! King – the giant tomcat who was Shai and Hulud’s father – has been sniffing around and following the calico in and out of the yard, so I know he’s on the prowl. I really wish we could TNR him but we need a bigger trap! Lastly, even though I said I wouldn’t have any more fosters in 2022, I broke. It had been a month since we’d had any kittens in the house, and a little singleton came up who just needed to spend a couple weeks gaining weight! Her name is Petunia and she’s the sweetest, cuddliest, bestest kitty ever. And honestly, I’m kinda glad that I’m going to start the new year with a foster!!

House
Oy. It was not a fun one in house issues. First, our kitchen lights – which were apparently connected to each other so that if one failed, they’d all fail – failed. We had to pull them out (they were old tube florescents) and temporarily replace them with LED fixtures. Eventually, we have to figure out a solution that doesn’t involved super-recessed lights. Then Jason tried to fix a leak in the main bathtub, which was a disaster that involved an entire old pipe bursting all over the bathroom and water gushing everywhere. We had to call out plumbers to rip the whole thing out. Then when they did that, they found signs of old termite activity behind the walls, and we had to call someone out to verify that there was no active infestation. Thankfully, there wasn’t, so the plumbers were able to finish their job, and now we need to get parts of the bathroom re-drywalled (also by a professional!). That last part is still being scheduled, so likely won’t be until January.

Health/Fitness
Here’s a crazy thing: the medication that I’m on is currently on backorder in several different doses with a nationwide shortage. I was meant to move up to the next dose in mid-December, but instead had to move backwards to the entry dose just to stay on the medicine at all! Beyond that, I’ve mostly been trying to slowly recover after having covid at the end of November, doing a little yoga here and there but otherwise not pushing myself too hard. Jason and I took a long walk on our anniversary and saw the Big Tree (including the fire damage), and it reminded me just how unused to walking my feet have become, ha! Maybe if I start walking my cats around the block in their new stroller, I’ll get my feet back to normal, ha!

Favorite Photos
There is a possibility that I’ll redo this section once December is over, if new favorites appear over the next couple days. Why is that different than just waiting to post? I couldn’t tell you. It just is. **ETA: The second photo is indeed updated, as I added two new photos from my grandparents’ memorial on the 31st.

Top, left to right: side-eye under the tree; a Queen; my Jason
Bottom, left to right: on the deck; in bloom; dove by morning

Top, left to right: a homemade plaque left at the Big Tree (not ours, btw – we’re Leave No Trace people); Phoenix (Morrigan and Katy’s kitten) up high; the little grey fox-kitten
Bottom, left to right: portrait of my cousin Joc; in memoriam; Angus in the Christmas sunbeams

Highlights of December
Like I said, it’s been a good month!

  • my new puzzle advent calendar
  • Lord Grey hanging out on the deck! and then getting more comfortable with us more generally!
  • Dexter and Deedee both got adopted in early December; doesn’t look like together, sadly, but at least they both got adopted quickly // Also, Panini (mother of our bistro babies) finally showed up on the list and got adopted within days!
  • hired for my second photoshoot!
  • much improved bloodwork after 14 weeks of Mounjaro!
  • cookie party at a friend’s house
  • new laptop to replace the one that’s almost five years old, and OH MY it makes photo editing so much better and faster!!!
  • dinner out with friends
  • Laurence is home!!!
  • finished my 2023 vision board! (first pic in the blog post)
  • a friend of mine got engaged!
  • holiday gift exchange party with my hiker friends
  • the ridiculousness that is playing Anomia with Laurence
  • making and decorating sugar cookies for Christmas
  • visiting the Big Tree and discovering that someone has left a large painted rock in front of it to say, “Respect the Domain of Father Oak” (pictured above)
  • seeing Morrigan for the first time since Jan 2021 and getting to spend a few days with him, Katy, and their two kittens who are sooooo cute! –>
  • getting to talk (and see via facetime) to Ambrose on Christmas Eve (their Christmas morning)
  • uncontrollable laughter as the family read out the Christmas stories written by the kids over the years, including stories from when they were as young as four years old, and then more uncontrollable laughter as we recounted these stories to my dad, stepmom, and half-sister the next day
  • a new foster kitten – yes, I know, I know…
  • the absolute best chicken-potato curry puff pastry handpies, mmmm
  • finding an interesting Beaujolais Nouveau on sale at HEB, and discovering that it presents bright red almost like raspberry juice, and very distinctly tastes of vanilla – then discovering that this year’s batch of BN is considered one of the best and very limited due to weather conditions; then getting a few more clearance bottles off the rack to enjoy in the future! (ours is pictured center at that link)
  • a lovely memorial service for my grandparents
  • beautiful photos of different members of my family
  • game night with friends for New Year’s

Coming up in January
A new year, hopefully a wonderful new year!

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2022 in Books

As things have been since the pandemic began, I’ve been really lackadaisical when it comes to reading all year. Honestly, I’m not sure when this trend will end, but it is what it is. I read 50 books in 2022, including 3 rereads and a further 3 books that I abandoned past the halfway point. Here are a few further bookish stats from the year:

Book Type: 44 fiction – 6 nonfiction
Fiction Type: 25 speculative – 19 realistic
Media: 27 text – 22 audio – 1 visual
Audience: 40 adult – 9 YA – 1 children’s
Authors: 38 women – 7 men – 1 nonbinary – 4 combo/multiple

New to me authors: 19
Most read authors: Brandon Sanderson (6 including the 3 he co-wrote with Janci Patterson) – Note that this total also includes two rereads, but even if I exclude those, Sanderson still has the most with 4 this year.

Shortest book: Community Cats (127 pgs)
Longest book: Any Way the Wind Blows (574 pgs)
Shortest audio: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning (2:37)
Longest audio: The Ink Black Heart (32:42)

A few bookish things: 

  • 1 translation (Swedish)
  • 4 chunksters
  • 1 collection
  • 3 books that I wish I’d abandoned
  • 5 books out of my comfort zone
  • total pages read: 8,988
  • total audio listened to: 262 hours and 38 mins
  • most and least popular on Goodreads (excluding rereads) are The Paris Apartment (~250k) and Community Cats (23) **as of 12/27
  • highest and lowest rated on GR are Tiny But Mighty (4.75) and Horror Hotel (3.36) **as of 12/27

Best bookish experience: Brandon Sanderson’s announcement and accompanying kickstarter for his four secret novels and a year of Sanderson material and swag coming in 2023!

Best book-related discovery: I do not want to go mountaineering (ha!). I know that sounds silly, but as an avid hiker, I’ve discovered through books that mountaineering is just a step (or five) too far for me.

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Best of the Year

So I have two things to say about this. First, even books that were stand-out to me while reading ended up fading to nothing by the time I’m writing this, just because of the way my brain is processing books these days. I’ve had to kind of look back and guess what my favorites would have been had my brain been fully into reading. Second, the book that stands out the most, the one that I really ended up loving far more than expected, is one that I wish wasn’t in my best-of-the-year. That book is The Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith, aka JK Rowling, aka one of the biggest slimeballs in modern fiction. It has been really hard to separate the author from the work, and I’ve only attempted it because I was several books into the series (one I really loved) before discovering the slimeball nature of the author. In setting aside my loathing of the author, the book itself was really, really good, and not at all what people (who haven’t read it) have been reporting it to be (in plot, theme, or message). It has stayed with me for months, and I’ve had to concede that it’s probably my favorite of the year. Other favorites include:

  • The Second Blind Son: gorgeous writing, brilliant story, such a comfort to return to this world
  • The Change: I don’t think I’ve ever read a book as bad-ass as this one!
  • Runner up: A Stitch in Time: genre-bending in the best way
  • Runner up: The Book of Cold Cases: there are parts of this book that I still can’t stop thinking about!

Abandoned Books

I abandoned three books this year. The first was Cackle, which I wrote about toward the beginning of the year. The second was a book called Hotel Magnifique, which had this weird promise of being like both Caraval and The Night Circus. Having read both of those books, I don’t feel like they have anything in common except a general (VERY general) setting, and in the end, HM ended up far more like Caraval, which I hated. The main character (of HM) does nothing but get people in trouble and has the oddest luck, both good and bad. There’s also a lot of “let’s use the main character’s ignorance as a way to world-build.” The whole book was frustrating and I eventually gave it up. The last abandoned book was a short nonfic called Haunted History of Old San Antonio, which I also write about separately.

Most Fun to Read

  • Love & Other Disasters: sapphic romance by way of GBBO? Yes, please!
  • Curfew: This almost made my best-of runner-ups, another bad-ass book about a society that actually protects its women
  • The Change: menopause = development of magic powers that allow women to protect other women? This is another yes, please!
  • A Stitch in Time: I have never been so excited to find a new author as I was reading this delightful time traveling mystery-romance!

Most Beautiful Writing

  • The Hacienda: At first I struggled to catch the rhythm of the writing, but once I did, I was immersed in the most beautiful poetic lilt.
  • The Locked Room: Rather than the writing itself being beautiful, it’s the incredibly evocative way that Griffiths brought the early days of the pandemic flooding back to your senses that landed this book under this category!

Most Disappointing and/or Distasteful

  • The House Across the Lake: Can we say “distasteful use of indigenous tropes to flood in a horror element to the book”? Gag.
  • Any Way the Wind Blows: I literally thought my copy was missing the last few pages, it was so incomplete.
  • You’re Invited: I thought I was getting a look into Sri Lankan culture, but instead ended up with played out stereotypes and shock-writing and an extremely predictable story.

Best Settings, Vividness, and/or Visceral Moments

  • The Book of Cold Cases: There’s this moment with the narrator has her first paranormal experience, and in the days that follow, her brain doesn’t just accept it. Instead, she’s constantly whipping around, expecting objects to be moving behind her or to see something impossible. It was the most realistic description of a reaction to the paranormal that I’ve ever read.
  • Remote Control: When Fatima becomes Sankofa, and her experience of the village post transformation – I can’t say more without spoilers, but this was an extremely visceral bit of description
  • Breathless: I felt like I was on that mountain, with little air, with the cold and the fear and the next-to-dying nature of above-8k-meters mountaineering – I could definitely tell the author had lived through the visceral experience of climbing a mountain
  • The Locked Room: I discussed above, but Griffiths really managed to bring in that chaotic, confusing, and claustrophobic feel of the early days of Covid.

Best Relationships

  • the mountaineers and the Sherpas, Breathless: I don’t know if this is always true in real life, but the narrator of this book and several of the other mountaineers were so respectful of the Sherpas helping them (aka keeping them alive), and I loved that, especially in a world where “the help” is often treated invisibly at best, like garbage at worst.
  • the three female friends, The Change: We all deserve to have a circle of friends this supportive and loyal!
  • Harbinder and her roommate, Bleeding Heart Yard: Oh, she is so, so clueless that her roommate (and crush) wants to be more than friends…

Books that Changed Me

  • How to Take Awesome Photos of Cats: Taught me a series of photo-editing tricks that I was later able to expand on, greatly improving my photography skills in general.
  • Tiny But Mighty: I learned so much from this book, which helped me keep several kittens alive when I had zero experience in caring for ones that young!

(oh the irony of these authors being married to each other…)

Physical Books I Bought / Kept From My 2022 Reads

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Once again, let’s hope that next year will be a better one in books. Though honestly, if I continue to read around 50 books a year with just a few that stand out over time, I’m okay with that. Better than the years of 200 a year and very little sticking around longterm…

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Sunday Coffee – Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, hope and peace to you! Whatever you celebrate (or don’t celebrate), I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend in your part of the world!

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