Sunday Coffee – District-wide Book Sale!

Every year in April, the boys’ school district hosts a district-wide used book sale. Thousands of books are donated and sold for under a dollar each over the course of three days. I’ve been most years when I’ve lived in San Antonio, and even though my current to-acquire list is quite low, I decided to head out yesterday to see if I found anything that caught my eye.

As it turns out, I did find a few things! Firstly, I found two books for Jason – an early book by James Joyce called Stephen Hero, and a nonfiction volume called Sources of Japanese Tradition. Morrigan might like that latter one as well, since he’s heading to Japan later this year.

For me, I found five books. One is a childhood favorite: From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. This is the exact same edition I had as a kid, with the same illustrations! Then there’s The Shadow Cabinet, the third book in a series by Maureen Johnson that I really like. I still need to get my hands on the second book, and of course the fourth when it comes out, but I was glad to find this one! The third is The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, which I read a few years ago and still think about quite often. Then there are two books I don’t actually know: The Invention of Curried Sausage by Uwe Timm, which I’ve been told is a modern German classic, and a random book called City of Masks by Mary Hoffman. The cover and description of this one looked interesting, and for fifty cents, I figured I could afford to risk it!

There’s a possibility my family might go back today for the last day of the sale, the “bag day” where you get a large bag and fill it as much as you can for $15, only $10 for further bags. I didn’t have much of a chance to look at the children’s books for some favorites from elementary and middle school that I’ve been trying to get my hands on. Who knows? I was told that the district got TONS of books this year and that they’re still putting out new ones on the floor as it empties. So maybe we’ll find some good ones today?

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Tess of the Road, by Rachel Hartman (audio)

Tess has always been the “bad” twin, in her angelic sister’s shadow, tormented by her mother and younger brothers. Her family is completely miserable: parents estranged and impoverished, half-sister who is also a half-dragon, and Tess herself, “ruined” at the age of thirteen. Tess sees no way out, and after almost ruining her sister’s wedding and her family’s attempt to escape destitution, she sets off to wander the world on her own.

For those who have read Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina series, this is set in the same world. Tess is Seraphina’s half-sister, a minor character in the original two books. Some of the characters from the first series are players in this one, but it’s mostly a separate story in the same world. That, of course, means more world-building, and in this case it’s particularly about the quigutl species (a lizardish species that isn’t human or dragon) and their mythology/theology. Beyond that, this is the story of a traveler coming to terms with various traumas of her childhood and adolescence, learning about herself and the world, and coming to find a name for herself that isn’t thrust on her by others.

This is the second book in a row that has been a mixed read for me. On the plus side, I enjoyed learning about the quigutl. I said recently that my favorite thing about fantasy is the ability to play with real-world themes in a different-world setting. The quigutl hop genders multiple times in their lives, so that for instance a mother might be male but always a mother to her own hatchlings. I liked the exploration of gender-fluidity. Also, the quigutl have a very non-human way of seeing the world, particularly evident in their language, which include things like a contradictory case for modifying nouns and non-gendered pronouns. Outside the quigutl, I also enjoyed watching Tess’s progress over the road as she learned to overcome her past and embrace her true self.

On the negative side, I felt like the book was not much more than a series of adventures, with less of a narrative arc than I would have liked. It never felt as if the book reached a climax, but instead stayed in a solid, steady line all the way through. I also didn’t particularly like Tess as a character. That last one is entirely personal. Tess is the sort of person I wouldn’t like in the real world either – we’d probably get on each other’s last nerves! And of course, that made the book more difficult to engage with.

I kept reading despite being less engaged because I have enjoyed Hartman’s world in the past, and because the quigutl were so interesting, and because the audio narrator (Katherine McEwan) did an excellent job keeping me going. I plan to read the next book in the series as well, whenever it arrives, but honestly I’m not sure if any of these books will ever quite live up to the pleasure that was the original Seraphina.

Trigger warning: This book discusses sexual assault in multiple situations and goes into the complexities involved in the psychology around said assault.

Posted in 2018, Prose, Young Adult | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wellness Wednesday – New Motivation

So I mentioned this briefly in my March wrap-up, but I just had to write more about it because I’m so excited!!! In September, Jason and I are going on a cruise!!!!

(pre-hike in Roatan, Honduras – 2012)

The longer story: Jason and I got married back in December 1999. I got pregnant the following month and had Morrigan in October. Ambrose and Laurence followed in 2002 and 2004, and so since the very early days of our marriage, we’ve almost never had a chance to have a couples’ vacation. That includes a honeymoon, as we were poor college kids when we married.

(ziplining in the rainforest of Costa Rica – 2012)

Fast forward to 2011. I made a goal that year to lose 50 lbs. At first, I told no one about my goal, or about the reward I promised myself if I made it: a Caribbean cruise honeymoon in 2012, only twelve years after our wedding ceremony (ha!). Long story short, I lost 54 lbs in 2011, and Jason and I booked passage on an 11-night trip that docked in several places in central and South America, as well as one of the Caribbean islands. I chose a cruise purely as a way to visit so many new-to-me countries, and ended up falling in love with the cruise experience itself. I fell so hard that the next year, Jason got wind of a drastically reduced price for a week-long cruise through several Caribbean islands plus Bermuda, and jumped on the chance to take me for a spontaneous vacation.

Those two cruises make up half of the four couple-only vacations we’ve ever had, excluding the occasional night alone when the kids visit their grandparents. We haven’t had some time off alone since we were in Portland in 2014, and even then it was hardly a together-vacation, since Jason was there for a developer conference and we only had evenings to spend with each other. The last few years of moving have made vacations just about impossible, and so beyond my few trips back to SA to visit family when we were away, it’s been a long home-bound time.

Which is why this sudden surprise trip Jason booked for September has me SO EXCITED! It’s a short trip, about a week long, starting in Seattle and hitting Astoria (Oregon), San Francisco, and Victoria (Canada) before ending in Vancouver. Other than the trip I just mentioned to Portland, I’ve never been further west than El Paso before, and I’ve never seen the Pacific Ocean, so this has me just giddy!

(sunny selfie in San Juan – 2013)

It also has me very motivated to keep the ball rolling on my weight loss! On my previous two cruises, I weighed 40 and 70 lbs less than I do at this moment. I know I won’t be able to get back to either of those sizes in the next 5.5 months, but I’d love to lose a good chunk so I don’t feel quite as self-conscious when I get on the boat. I’d also like to not have to worry about the weight limits on shore excursions and stuff like that. So I’m going to be pushing myself very hard and doing everything I can for the next few months. I know motivation is a thing that doesn’t last, but I also know that I can be very determined, and once I really get things rolling, I don’t give up easily. So cheer for me, my friends! I need to do this!!

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Easter Shenanigans

It’s funny that Easter was on April Fool’s this year, because it feels a bit like the universe decided to play a little switcheroo trick on the Gignac family!

To start with, we went out to my grandparents’ ranch in Quihi for Easter (which is normal for us). My grandparents own a 50-acre ranch where they keep cattle and there’s a lot of scrub. When it’s time for hiding the eggs, one or two of the adults herd the kids a quarter-mile down the driveway to be out of sight while everyone else does the hiding. The youngest of the cousins is now 11, so there’s really no belief in the Easter bunny, but some of the plastic eggs have money in them, which means there’s got to be a good hunt. (You’d think teens wouldn’t care about pennies and nickels, but they’re always so excited to add up the 46 cents they got, haha!) That was the plan: go to the ranch, hide eggs, hunt for eggs, have lunch, head home. But fate interfered.

Meet Atticus. Not long after we arrived at the ranch, this tiny cat joined the family. No one had ever seen him before, and Morrigan stopped my grandma’s two dogs from killing him. The dogs were locked away, and the cat ended up spending the rest of the day with us. He followed the kids and me when we walked down the driveway, then back up again. He let everyone hold him and pet him. He ate off our food plates and gobbled down anything we could give him. Clearly, he’d been a housecat at some point, because he recognized the sound of bags opening (food!) and responded to vocal clicks to come and jump in your lap. He purred and headbutted and generally acted like the sweetest cat you’ll ever meet. We didn’t know if he was lost or had been abandoned, but we knew that he’d been attacked and bitten up. We also knew that if we just left him there, he would be eaten by dogs or coyotes. He wasn’t a barn cat, ready to defend himself outside. He needed a home.

I guess I’m a sucker. It didn’t take long to know that he was coming home with us. Helps that the boys all fell in love with him immediately. This cat, y’all…this cat is precious. Calm. Extremely well-behaved and trained. He sat on the car floor by Jason’s feet for the entire 1.5-hr drive back to our house. He waited patiently in Jason’s lap in the automotive center at Walmart while they repaired our flat tire (as we’d run over a screw – thank goodness we didn’t have to drive the entire way home on a spare!). He didn’t complain or attack even as Jason felt his neck, belly, and toes for problems, and he was vocal but not violent as he got two baths for flea treatment that evening. –>

Yesterday, we took him in to our vet. We knew it was possible that Atticus was already microchipped and we’d be able to contact his family, if he was lost instead of dumped. However, he has no microchip, so that possibility is out. We also had him tested for feline aids and leukemia, which were both thankfully negative. He has no worms, no parasites, no ear mites – he couldn’t have been wandering around for too long. The vet estimates he’s about 1-2 years old, despite his tiny size (just under 6 lbs), and Jason guesses that someone dumped him in the country because he was no longer a cute kitten and they no longer wanted a cat. I hope that isn’t the case, but whatever the case, no one had bothered to neuter, microchip, or vaccinate this little baby, so we’re doing all that, and he’s ours.

So just when we were taking Jojo back to the cat cafe to let him find a better home for him, another kitty sauntered into our lives. It really does feel like a kind of April Fool’s prank. But honestly, I’m not really sorry. I think Atticus is going to help us heal from having to give up the last baby, and I think he’ll be wonderful in our family. He’s already integrating better than Jojo ever managed, and I think it’ll be mere days before all four cats are fast friends.

And just because I can’t let an Easter post pass without at least one picture of the kids, here are the six cousins who hunted despite all being aged 11-17, ha!

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March in Review

March was one crazy month! Good points and bad points, but overall it was a good one. To wrap it up:

The big goal I completed this month was that color-block afghan. I’m very happy for that to be done! Otherwise, I’ve been focused mostly on my health goals, which I’ll go into next.

This was always going to be a difficult one for March. Birthday-month means lots of celebration food, and it’s very hard for me to get out to exercise during spring break. Landscaping the front yard didn’t help since it threw off routines and often interfered with getting nutritious food on the table. To cap it all off, the pollen counts were so high this month – due to a rainy winter – that I came down with bronchitis twice. I did my best, however, and I made some real progress for the first time in ages. Yay! Highlights:

  • exercised on 23 days, for a total of 1420 minutes (23 hr 40 mins)
  • 21 yoga sessions
  • 42 miles walked (about half outdoors)
  • averaged 9600 steps per day
  • tracked calories almost every day this month, and kept my macronutrient ratios steady and my sugar levels mostly low
  • only drank alcohol once, early in the month (alcohol makes me hold on to weight, and it increases my appetite, so I decided to spend some time without it)
  • increased my produce intake and the variety of produce I was eating

All this progress means that I finally saw some results in my weight! I’m down 3.6 lbs this month, with inches lost on many of my measurements, and my Happy Scale tracker is showing a slow, steady downward trend for the first time in ages! The biggest non-scale victory I saw involved a dress I wore both at Laurence’s birthday party on 3/10 and to an online murder mystery birthday party on 3/31. While the measuring tape claims that my bustline hasn’t changed in inches, the dress was difficult to zip up on the 10th and had plenty of room to zip on the 31st. Jason was zipping it and he noticed the huge difference too – this is real progress, my friends! Now to just keep it up!

It was a mixed bag for books in March. I read seven, including three that I loved, three that were middle-of-the-road books, and one I really disliked. It was the first month in quite some time that I finished a book I wasn’t liking, and I wish I hadn’t. Ah well. At least the three books I loved were all just excellent. I had a hard time narrowing down a favorite, but I think that honor has to go to Children of Blood and Bone.

Highlights of March
Illness made the month rough in some ways, but generally this was a very good month:

(me and Nat)

• My friend Natalie – one of my oldest friends in the world – came to spend some time with me over spring break!
• I met Robert Jackson Bennett at the SAPL Pop Con!
• Multiple birthdays, of course, including my own
• Morrigan took his first SAT test and got a score of 1570 (out of 1600)!!
• Laurence auditioned and earned a part in the spring play at his school. He’s playing Mr. Darling in Peter Pan.

(my mystery character – Genoa Jackson)

• Morrigan applied, interviewed, and was selected to be part of a team of six San Antonio students to visit Kumomoto, our sister city in Japan, for a short study abroad program this summer!
• Jason surprised me by booking passage on a cruise in September! It’ll be the first just-us vacation we’ve had since 2014!
• We finally finished repairing and repainting the leak damage in our kitchen.\
• Major progress made on landscaping the front yard
• Murder mystery birthday dinner for my brother-in-law’s girlfriend in Wisconsin (via computer for those of us who couldn’t attend in person)

General first-quarter recap
There have been a lot of hiccups in the last three months: illnesses, a death in the family, the sudden leak in the roof that created a lot of sudden construction and monetary needs on the house…but really, despite all that, I feel very positive about 2018 so far. I’ve been working really hard on my 2018 word – Cultivate – to create a life that I love. My boys are making progress, my house is coming along, my health is finally getting in alignment, Jason is enjoying his job, I have a new cat to care for (in more ways than one – see tomorrow’s post!), our finances have improved drastically, and I have the tiniest hope that I might start writing again soon. It feels like the start of something wonderful, like the seeds I’ve been planting are finally starting to blossom just a little.

Up next in April!
Easter (more on this tomorrow), driver’s ed for Morrigan, college visits, Readathon, a possible new cat…lots of fun stuff happening, which will hopefully counterpoint my normal April depression. Our weather always turns definitively toward the six months of summer in April and that affects my mood as I get used to it. I’m crossing my fingers that it won’t be too bad this year.

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Sunday Coffee – Happy Easter!

I’m off early to my grandparents’ ranch out in Quihi, TX, so that my kids who are way too old to do egg hunts can still do egg hunts (ha!). In lieu of a real Sunday Coffee post, I’ll just say happy Easter to those who celebrate – we’re not religious, but we celebrate family traditions! – and happy last day of March and here’s a great picture from 2008 when my boys were still tiny.

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Reign the Earth, by AC Gaughen

Check out the Goodreads description here.

I had mixed feelings about this book. Something about it grated on me the entire time I was reading, and at the same time, I was unable to put the book down. Part of me wants to read on to the next book, another part of me wants someone else to read it and tell me the spoilers. I’m honestly not sure how to put into words my discontent or my enjoyment – hence this mini-review. I guess the best way I can put it is this: I read a preview of the book online (maybe five pages or so) and I couldn’t tell from those five pages if I wanted to read on (I usually can). My plan was to get the book, read on a bit further, and see how I felt…and that continued all through the book. I could never make a decision, and eventually I’d read the whole thing by default. Something made me keep reading, even as something else in me wanted to set the book aside. Perhaps it’s just one of those middle-of-the-road books for me. Ah well.

Posted in 2018, Prose, Young Adult | Tagged , | 7 Comments