Quarantine Diaries – Weeks 61-63

Not much has changed. We keep marching on, trying to survive under a government that is trying to kill us.

Things are holding steady here. We reached a couple major milestones in number over the last few weeks. First, we passed the one-million mark of folks getting their first vaccine dose – 1,034,482 at the end of week 63. That represents 62.3% of the eligible population. A full 48.4% of eligible population, 804,762 folks, are fully vaccinated. Yay! Second, our hospitalizations have been continuously dropping and we’re ending Week 63 with only 135 folks hospitalized. The last time it was this low was in early June last year, as we started building up toward the big spike in July. Woohoo! Weekly numbers:

  • Week 61 (5/7 – 5/13): 220,517 cases, 3,404 deaths, 202 seven-day average, 1.7% positivity rate
  • Week 62 (5/14 – 5/20): 221,603 cases, 3,439 deaths, 138 (!!!) seven-day average, 2.3% positivity rate
  • Week 63 (5/21 – 5/27): 222,760 cases, 3,457 deaths, 126 seven-day average, 1.3% positivity rate

The 2020-2021 school year ends today, so in addition to compiling the numbers from the last three weeks, I’ve compiled all the numbers for the entire year at our local high school. Keep in mind that this is one school in a city with over 500 public schools serving over 333k students. Even with a giant chunk of our school’s student body staying home full time this year, we had a lot of cases. Over the last three weeks, there were a further 10 student cases, and no staff cases reported. That makes a total of 160 student cases, including one death, and 30 staff cases reported to us between late September (~4 weeks after school started since no one was in person at that point and no reports were going out) and yesterday evening. I’ll update those numbers if we get another report tonight, on our last day of school.

Local news
I feel like the title of this section could be “horrible things the TX governor did over the last three weeks.” Gov Abbott is a first class a-hole. Seriously. Since my last post, he:

  1. made the claim that TX’s improvement in the state’s covid numbers is not because we’ve been rapidly vaccinating as many people as possible, but because he opened up all the businesses and removed the mask mandate. Yes, he’s taking credit for what the vaccine is doing. Seriously.
  2. decided to opt TX out of federal pandemic unemployment benefits, despite them costing the state nothing. So all those people out of work due to covid can no longer get federal unemployment benefits because Gov Abbott says they’re just too lazy and need to start working. Literally, he said that.
  3. banned masked mandates in public schools and any government-led facilities (like courtrooms, city fitness centers, libraries, etc). If any school or local government requires masks, they’ll be fined $1000 per incident. This is the same man who, last year, said that no one could be fined for not wearing a mask, because that was none of the government’s business. So…hypocrisy much?

So yes, Gov A-Hole is clearly pumping up for his reelection campaign in 2022, trying to energize his nutty conspiracy theory Trumper base now that it’s semi-safe to do so. He got a lot of criticism last year when he put in a statewide mask mandate in July, so he’s been trying to backpedal as much as possible. ‘Murica! UGH.

He, and other folks, are driving me crazy. The CDC changed its guidelines to say that vaccinated people** no longer need to wear masks, period. It’s become a bit of a joke on social media. Everything is on the honor system, which means that folks who refuse to get vaccinated or wear masks will simply lie and not wear them now, spreading their germs everywhere, while fully vaccinated folks are continuing to wear masks because 1) they don’t want to get mistaken for the first category, and 2) they still want to protect the unvaccinated population, especially since we only just got vaccine approval for the 12-15 age group, and nothing for the under-12s yet. That’s my cut-off point. I will continue to wear a mask in public settings until everyone has a chance to be vaccinated. And I’ll probably wear it in places like the grocery store over flu season, because really that just makes good sense. We should have been doing that for years. Japan is WAY ahead of the US on that!

(stock photo)

Back in mid-April, the libraries opened. There were all sorts of rules about it – capacity limits, temperature checks and questionnaires, masks required, etc. After a month, thanks Gov A-Hole, all that went away. I’ve been to the library a few times since then, and mostly everyone is still masking. I do wonder what they’re going to do with all their fancy new equipment that became obsolete after a month. I’m also not sure what’s going on with city pools, which were just starting to open with specific restrictions, and now I’m not sure they’re allowed to have those restrictions. Fiesta – the big party that happens in SA every April but was canceled in 2020 and postponed til June this year – is still going ahead, again with that whole honor system thing, which means my family is giving is a hard pass this year. I mean, we’d do that anyway, because no festival should take place in the day in June in San Antonio, but I hope we don’t end up having trouble because of anti-masking anti-vaxxers.

(library seating is open again!)

Other noteworthy news from the last three weeks:

  • hospitals, specifically labor & delivery units, began letting in more visitors than before
  • one of the metro health employees, Dr Woo, has been wearing her mask even during the evening health report since the beginning, but actually had it off this last week, which was kinda awesome – she followed the strictest of safety measures and only took it off after the CDC said vaccinated people were safe to do so, and that makes me so happy!

**One of J’s coworkers is an antivaxxer health nut (an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one), and he claims this new CDC guideline – which isn’t a law or directive, just a statement of what is/isn’t safe – is discrimination against people who don’t believe in masks or vaccines. My eyes are rolling out of my head so hard right now. These people just want to be oppressed so badly.

On the home-front
Far less news here, but a few fun firsts. My family ate in a restaurant on Mother’s Day. It wasn’t my first time back inside a restaurant, but it was everyone else’s first time in 14 months. I had my first in-person 5K in 14+ months. Ambrose traveled up to cat/house-sit for my sister in Dallas, and we didn’t even worry about the plane because he was vaccinated. Morrigan got his first vaccine up in KS. We had our first D&D session at home with Ambrose’s friend Tyler where no one had to wear masks because everyone was vaccinated. I stayed in a hotel without worrying about the people around me. We actually started planning to have some of Jason’s coworkers over for dinner because everyone in that particular group is also fully vaxxed. Seriously. Get vaccinated, people, and we can ALL start hanging out again!!

Moving forward
My sister’s graduation ceremony is this weekend, and even though technically they can’t require masks now, she’s asked us all to please wear them because she’s not comfortable with the situation otherwise. Happy to oblige, Julia! My portion of the family would’ve done that anyway – graduation ceremonies are crowded, and they’re not longer allowed to limit attendance, either. Again, we will keep wearing masks until kids can be vaccinated. It’s just selfish not to. But other than that, we’re starting to spend time with other people again, moving toward normal life finally, and it’s lovely.

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Callback: What Alice Forgot

I first read What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty in 2019, and my original review is at that link. It’s a full review, spoiler-free, so if you’re looking for that, head back there. In 2019, I read and reread What Alice Forgot all through the month of May. It really helped me with my May PTSD triggers and flashbacks. Last year, I revisited the book once in May, and this year, it’s been a number of times, because I’m not as healthy mentally as I was in 2020. (Ironic, yeah?) There’s a line from the book in particular that has struck me this year:

One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot is how I would feel if I lost ten years of my memory, and what things would surprise me, or please me, or upset me about how my life had turned out.

This is a big part of the book – what would it be like to mentally step back 10 years in time, with no memory of the intervening years? How would your life look to your 10-years-younger self? What would surprise or horrify you, and what would fill you with joy? I didn’t ponder this question much the last two years, because 2009- and 2010-me weren’t exactly in good places. 2009-me hadn’t even found out what was causing all the illnesses yet. But 2011-me was actually in quite a good place.

This is May 2011 Manda. The picture was taken in Baltimore. Jason had a conference in Baltimore for a few days, and I decided to tag along as a kind of personal vacation where all I had to pay for was my plane ticket and food. Win! In Baltimore, I met up with fellow book blogger Heather one day, spent another day hanging out in DC, spent mornings jogging along the harbor or in the hotel gym, and spent evenings going out for dinner with Jason.

It was a really good time in my life. The previous December, I’d made a deal with myself. I was going to lose 50 lbs in 2011, or I was going to begin the process of having bariatric surgery. In January, my efforts were haphazard and scattered, but with the discovery of Sparkpeople in late February, things snapped into place. I began counting calories. I made friends with other Spark folks in town, forming a support group around me. The weight began to come off consistently for the first time in my life. In that photo from Baltimore, I’d lost 25 lbs in 2011, the halfway point. Those pants fit me for the first time in years. I was so happy, and so confident in my ability to keep going. Even silly little things like taking photos of the snack labels on the plane (to track later) made me happy, because it was all working toward an end.

In the ten years since then:

  • I continued to lose weight, hitting my end-goal in early 2013, then maintained the loss for almost two years before suddenly regaining tons very quickly with no explanation that doctors can find. I am currently heavier than I began 2011 and almost up to my highest weight ever from 2009, and I think my 2011 self would be unable to believe either the thin years or the regain.
  • my family sold our beloved house –> , moved to Boston, then moved across the country a further three times, making it four times in three years, and now are saddled with far more debt. My 2011 self would be appalled that we sold the house. We chose that house as our forever house, and she’d grieve for it. I loved that house. Still do, honestly. I miss the very small mortgage, too.
  • my kids of course have gotten older, two now being adults and one only a year off from that. My oldest, in particular, has had a lot of struggles in the last ten years, which likely began before our move to Boston, but which really exploded because of that, and my 2011-self would be screaming at me, of course that’s what did it you idiot, this is why you said you’d never move your kids across the country once they were in school, you know how much you hated that yourself and you swore you’d never do that to them! Plus my 2011-self would mourn all the memories lost in that missing decade. One of those kids isn’t even living at home anymore!
  • I began drinking coffee and alcohol. My 2011-self didn’t drink either. It would be interesting to see how that played out, especially with the coffee addiction. Maybe it would be easier to break that habit if I lost that memory, heh.
  • I underwent abdominal surgery in 2014 to repair muscle and skin damage from my third pregnancy (yes, ten years later – it was considered “cosmetic” despite my abdominal muscles being five inches separated!). My 2011-self would have been THRILLED about her stomach. She might have thought it looked a bit weird, but she would have been stoked about the repair.
  • my marriage went through an extremely rocky 2014/2015 and nearly ended in divorce, and while things are much better, they still aren’t – and never will be – what they were before then. I think this would be the thing that caused young-me the most pain and confusion.
  • several family members have died, one sister has gotten married and had three kids, another sister has gotten divorced and later remarried, and so many other changes from my cousins and extended family. That would be another mourning-lost-memories moments. There would be a lot of grief, I think.
  • I got a lot of cats. In 2011, there was only one. Now there are five, and the one that was around in 2011 is very sick and won’t make it much longer. My 2011-me didn’t particularly like or want pets. I mean, I liked Ash, but I wasn’t particularly attached to animals. I would be extremely bewildered how I got to the place I’m at today.

Those are the big ones. It’s a lot to take in, a decade of lost time. And it makes me wonder what changes such a memory loss – even a temporary one – might result in. Maybe improvement in my marriage, with the less-complicated feelings of before. Maybe I’d be able to quit drinking coffee. Maybe I’d be less exhausted and jaded by trying to lose weight, without ten extra years of baggage. Or maybe I’d just be horrified that I’m still going through the same struggles ten years later. Who knows?

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Night Theatre, by Vikram Paralkar

A surgeon is about to close up his dilapidated clinic in an Indian village when three dead strangers appear. They beg to have their wounds healed up before dawn, at which point, they’ll have a new chance at life if all goes well.

Um. What? It was an interesting premise. The book description goes on to say that after helping the dead, the surgeon’s life gets all tangled up with theirs and some other stuff that actually has nothing to do with the story at all. Ninety percent of the book is the night in question, with details about how the surgeon tries to tend the lifeless wounds with near-worthless equipment in this run down clinic, mixed with the surgeon’s bitterness about his life and the dead folks’ stories about the afterlife and the bargain that brought them back.

This should have been interesting.

Y’all. I was both bored out of my head, and continuously confused. Like, I couldn’t even figure out what genre this was supposed to be. Just plain fiction? Allegory? Fantasy? Magical realism? I also kept trying to figure out what the author was trying to say with this book, and…well, I’ve got nothing. Maybe it went over my head. Or maybe the book missed the mark. I don’t know. Mostly I just regret the time I spent reading it. Once again, I told myself multiple times to abandon, and didn’t listen to myself, so I got what I deserve.

But don’t take it from me. Looking through reviews online, people love this book. I found it weird and pointless and boring, but everyone else seems to find it profound and inspirational.

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Sunday Coffee – Hospitality

The day before Mother’s Day, I hit a personal breaking point. I’m a stay at home mom. My job is 24/7. There are no breaks from it. In the past, I have coped with this by a precarious balancing act. During the school year, I have approximately six hours to myself each weekday when there are no early releases or school holidays. Four times a year – Thanksgiving week, Christmas break, spring break, and summer break – my job becomes full time nonstop anywhere from one to ten weeks. It’s tough, but survivable, especially as my kids have gotten older (2007 was the worst year for me). But then there was that whole covid thing, and in early March 2020, my kids came home for a week of spring break and never went back to school. Now, we’re all home full time, and while I’ve had maybe a half-dozen times left alone in the house for an hour or so, I haven’t had a break in WAY TOO LONG. And this makes me very, very cranky.

So like I said, I hit my breaking point, and the day before Mother’s Day, I announced that I needed a personal vacation. I didn’t really want to GO anywhere. I just wanted some time ALONE. With SILENCE. What I really wanted was to fly off to somewhere I’ve never been but don’t really need to explore (my first thought was Albuquerque – they have nice weather!) for a few weeks in an AirBnB, so I could just be alone. But we’re not rich and this is not something we could really afford. Instead, Jason and I decided to put me up in this longterm hotel here in San Antonio, just for a few days/nights, as a kind of mini-break. Something to ease my going-insane-brain.

That was this week. I checked in Monday afternoon, came home Friday morning.

We chose this particular hotel (which I won’t name) because of our past experience here. When we relocated here in 2017, we had a few weeks before closing on our house, and had to stay in a hotel. Since Jason’s employer was paying for all the relocation expenses, this was fine. Originally, we chose a different hotel because it was in an area we knew to be nice, only to discover that the hotel was…not nice. So not nice that we canceled our reservation after the first night and moved to a different one. And we enjoyed our time at this new hotel. They had social/dinner nights M-Th, and breakfast every day. The place was clean, the employees were nice, the other guests were nice, our suite (for five people) was spacious, the furniture was good quality, they allowed pets, and our experience was generally positive. Positive enough that when our house exploded in 2018, we packed up the family and temporarily moved back into the hotel (above).

Here’s the thing. Hospitality is one of those industries hit hard by the pandemic. I can’t blame the overworked, understaffed, underpaid employees. When my room was…not as clean as I would have liked, I didn’t complain. It wasn’t their fault, either, that my mattress was so old that the springs gave giant metallic bangs when you sat on it and was a rock to sleep on. Breakfast was a sad affair, all pre-packaged, cheap stuff, but hey, it’s a pandemic and you can’t exactly have the waffle maker out for people to use. Social night had been reduced to T/W only, and as I discovered, consisted now of a miniature snack and a plastic cup of cheap wine/beer if you wanted. An all-around lackluster experience.

Even better? The ice maker broke on my floor. I called it in. Half a day later, I went to get ice, but the machine was open with a ladder next to it, no employees in sight. I headed to the elevators to go to a different floor and met an employee who was also waiting for the elevator. She saw me, screamed “Sh!t I forgot the ice machine,” and ran off. When I got downstairs, I discovered puddles of blood all over the elevator lobby (looked like someone dumped raw meat in the garbage and it leaked everywhere – I took this photo several hours later when it still wasn’t cleaned up). I got my ice, went back upstairs, and the ice maker there was chugging away very loudly, closed with no ladder by it now. Halfway between the machine and my room, there was a giant bang from the machine, which then clunked to a stop. (I didn’t use that machine again…)

I feel bad for them. I really do. I’m sure the CEO of the company who owns this hotel chain hasn’t seen his profits cut or diminished. All the loss of profit has been hoisted onto the understaffed, underpaid, overworked employees, which is why I’m not complaining. (I wish more people understood this and stopped attacking the poor bottom-end employees!) But it makes me a little sad to be taking my “vacation” in this sort of situation.

My plans had been to do yoga every day, to read, to blog, to get caught up on shows I wanted to watch, to listen to podcasts, maybe to go for walks, etc. Yeah, no. Not doing yoga on a floor I know is not clean. Haven’t really felt like blogging. It was raining or 90 degrees each day. Mostly just scrolled mindlessly through tiktok instead of watching shows. I have been reading, though. I got this giant pile of hold books in from the library right before I went to the hotel, and I’ve read (or tried-to-read-and-culled) quite a few. Books read: Night Theatre, The Haunting of Alma Fielding (audio). Books culled: Rule of Wolves, The Mountain Between Us, Into the Wild. Started: Strong Women Life Each Other Up. I also started watching Britain’s Best Home Cook, rather than watching Shadow and Bone like originally intended. I drank wine and way too much iced coffee and was generally a bum for the week.

Now I’m home again, and I’m not sure if the week helped or was just a waste of money, because what I think I really want is to be able to be home alone in silence again, rather than just in silence. Oh well. I’m not ungrateful, I promise. I’m just tired of living in a pandemic, like everyone else. Plus it’s May, and y’all, I’ve said this before but I’ve just got to say it again…May is so tough for me! 😦

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The Haunting of Alma Fielding, by Kate Summerscale (audio)

Subtitled: A True Ghost Story

This is the tale of Nandor Fodor, a paranormal investigator in 1930s Britain, and Alma Fielding, a housewife under poltergeist attack. As tensions mount throughout Europe on the cusp of WWII, ghosts and paranormal occurrences provide an otherworldly outlet for the chaos and lack of control that people feel. Fodor has debunked too many mediums and spiritualists, and is desperate to have a “true” case to work with, to show that he is a proper investigator. Fielding’s case appears genuine, and if faked, is highly elaborate and carefully orchestrated. As Fodor investigates and comes to know Fielding better, he begins to suspect that her case – whether truly paranormal or entirely under her control – is rooted in personal trauma. Summerscale weaves together wartime tension, spiritualism, and early psychology in the story of these two people whose lives were closely intertwined.

I’m in two minds about this book. On the one hand, I found the subject fascinating. Poltergeist hauntings are one of the most bizarre forms of ghost-phenomena, because they are so incredibly complex to pull off if faked. (Let me state up front that I don’t necessarily believe that any poltergeist activity is “real.” But the things that happen in poltergeist cases are so beyond my understanding that I can’t comprehend how they’re being pulled off. I feel the same way about really good magic shows as well, though.) I recently listened to the BBC multi-part podcast on the Battersea Poltergeist, and again just found it fascinating and inexplicable. Alma Fielding’s poltergeist – at least at the beginning – was much the same. Even later, when Fodor had subjected her to so much scrutiny and figured out 90% of how she was creating the phenomena around her, there were still things he couldn’t explain.

At that point, there’s a huge turn toward the psychological. Psychology was in its infancy back then, heavily influenced by Freud’s thoughts and ideas. However, despite this, there was some really interesting work being done on early childhood trauma, particularly sexual trauma, and how that affected the personality. Many of the ideas that certain psychologists put forth at the time – laying the groundwork for things we accept today, like Dissociative Identity Disorder and repressed memories – were laughed at and dismissed. Poltergeist activity is often associated with psychological distress – early traumas, lack of power/control, a manifested voice of a person (often adolescent) who has no other way of expressing their out-of-control feelings. Fodor came to believe that this repression and silencing of a person’s feelings combined with a lack of power or control could give birth to psychic phenomena via poltergeist – or, if not psychic phenomena, perhaps “faked” phenomena as the subconscious attempt to express what the conscious was not allowed to say.

All that was fascinating. I loved it. The part I didn’t love…that’s more complicated. Honestly, I can’t tell if the book was really, really dry, turning what should have been a great subject into one that kept putting me a sleep, or if the audiobook was doing that. The audio is read by David Morrissey. I’ve never listened to him as a narrator before, and I was not impressed. He has a quiet, whispery kind of voice that tended to make me feel very sleepy. He might have been fine to read a different kind of book – actually, I think his voice would have been great for certain kinds of dark fairy tales – but this one didn’t work for me. I couldn’t tell if I had to keep stopping the book to listen to other things because of him making me sleepy/bored, or if the book itself just droned on in places. The thing is, I listened to another book by Summerscale a few years ago, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, and that one was great! She did much the same thing there – weaving together two stories set on a cultural background that played a big part in those stories – and it was exactly the kind of nonfiction that I love. That makes me lean toward the “I just didn’t like the audio version” side of things. A narrator can make or break a book, and I have a feeling this one kinda broke things for me. Still a good book, but…maybe not as good as it could have been.

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Race Report: Gabriella’s Cupcake 5K 2021

Woohoo! It’s my first in-person 5K since the pandemic began! A special new milestone!

Last year, I signed up for the Gabriella’s Cupcake 5K because a hiking friend of mine told me about it. There was a group of us who were going to walk it together. Then covid pushed the race back twice, until eventually it went fully-virtual in July. I walked/ran this one up in Wisconsin, getting my second-best 5K time since I re-started running in 2017, only a few days after running a full 5K with no walk breaks. I was really happy about the achievements, especially without any of the in-person excitement to spur me on like during in-person 5Ks. Now, a year later, a group of us decided to walk this 5K together again – and in person this time!

(my crew)

So let’s just talk a sec about the excitement of in-person 5Ks. This was a small 5K – the in-person was capped at 250 people – which is my favorite kind. I like the 250-500 person range for 5Ks: not too crowded, but not so small there’s no excitement. As we lined up, I was itching to run. I knew I shouldn’t. 1) I have this injured foot, and I’d literally stopped exercising on it as of May 2nd. 2) I’d hardly done any running since the previous fall, including only four times since the beginning of 2021, never more than a minute or two at a time. 3) I hadn’t stretched or warmed up or any of the things you should do before you run. 4) I was wearing my purse with my hydroflask hanging off of it – not the best physical situation for running!

But here’s the thing, y’all. Remember how I recently said that I had to cancel my camping trip because if I’d gone up there, even with the intention to just camp, I would have hiked? This is who I am. I am a person who does stupid things to her body when caught up in the moment. I am a person who must take extra precautions to keep herself from doing these things. Example: In 2013, I was scheduled for a 5K, and I had bronchitis when it came around. In order to keep myself from running, I wore jeans, a baggy cotton t-shirt, non-running shoes, a regular bra, and my purse. I only have one picture –> from the event and it doesn’t really show my incredibly stupid-looking 5K outfit. And even with all that, I was really, really temped to run. When the gun goes off and everyone starts to run across that starting line, I just want to run with them. I ended up walking that 5K in 2013 in an absolutely ridiculous time of 43:34, a 14:03/mi pace, by far the fastest walking pace I’ve ever done. (No, I didn’t run once. Yes, that is faster than my current best running 5K pace.)

Anyway – back to last Saturday. Normally, if I’m with a group of people walking a 5K, I can get past the start line without breaking into a run. I expected that to be the case here, so I didn’t take any special precautions. Only then we crossed the start line, and Mari said, “Let’s run!” to Yoli, and the two began to run, and then I was running with them, and…yeah. So I only ran about a minute or two of the 5K, probably a total of a tenth of a mile, but it was stupid stupid stupid. The excitement had passed, and I stopped running, and I spent the next two miles with my calves all tight and achy, walking with zombie-legs, really needing a stretch. Finally, with less than a mile to go, they started to loosen up again, and I began to feel normal. I began to feel the way I should have felt the entire 5K. Heh.

Mari (left in this photo) did a lot more running than the rest of us, and came in with an awesome time! The rest of us walked together through the end. We picked up cupcakes (mmm) and took pictures and grabbed lots of swag. All the results were posted online to help with social distancing. I was really confused by my time, because I’d used my Garmin to be exact, and I stopped my watch at 56:50 about 10-15 seconds after going past the finish, and my “official” time (not gun time) was 57:07. I forgot that I’d stopped my Garmin for half a min to wait for the rest of my group after my little run-bit, ha! So with my “official” time, I came in 213 of 243 folks, 149 of 168 women, and 22 of 25 in my age group (40-44). Not the best times in the world, but hey, I don’t care a bit. My pace – going by my Garmin – was 18:20/mi, and my best pace was 7:49/mi. I thought my Garmin was being stupid with that last one, til I realized that that pace was when Yoli and I sprinted the last 10 feet across the finish line for photos. 😀

(finisher medals)

It was a fun morning. I didn’t stretch properly before or after, so by the time I got home, my left calf had badly cramped, and I spent most of the day aching from the waist down. (Dudes. What happened to the Manda who knew how to properly handle a pre- and post-5K routine? Clearly she forgot way too much during the pandemic…) Likely my foot will take longer to heal than originally anticipated as well, though I’ll admit, it never did hurt after that 5K or in the time since. And hey, it was my first 5K post-pandemic, and I’m very happy to experience all the hoopla again! Plus, I have to admit: It was kinda awesome to experience a little of the old-me popping out there in the early excitement of the 5K. I don’t see pre-2014 Manda very often anymore, and those rare moments always make me smile.

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Cuckoo Song, by Frances Hardinge

Triss knows that something is wrong. She doesn’t remember falling into the river. She only remembers waking up, soaking wet, and being cared for by her overly-concerned parents. Her sister seems to hate and fear her, Triss’s stomach is screaming for food no matter how much she eats, her hair is rustling like dead leaves in her ears, and she’s suddenly terrified of scissors. Her parents speak in whispers about a mysterious man, a bargain, and letters that come from nowhere. Something is wrong, deep secrets, and Triss’s curiosity leads her down paths she’d rather have left alone.

Oh. My. This book was delightful, all atmospheric and creepy and dark. Hardinge has the most incredible imagination, and she takes fantasy and horror to new and interesting places. Amidst all the dreamlike imagery and unexpected turns in this story, Hardinge also works in themes of family, grief, and post-WWI culture shock across Britain, as well as what it means to be “real.”

I’m so incredibly grateful to have seen my book-friend April post about this one on Instagram, because honestly, I’d kinda given up on Hardinge. I adored A Face Like Glass in 2017. It remains one of my favorite books of the last decade. But since then, I read The Lie Tree (just okay) and abandoned two others, A Skinful of Shadows and Deeplight. I thought maybe Hardinge was just a one-hit author for me. Now, I believes she writes in many different atmospheric tones, and so some appeal to me while others don’t. This one is definitely in the “love” category, and is by far my favorite book of 2021 so far.

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Sunday Coffee – Spring Forward Recap

So spring’s goals mostly felt like an exercise in frustration. So many of them were attempted but failed for circumstances out of my control! You can see the lack of colored-in very clearly in that pic, heh. Here’s how things went:

Attempt C25K: I actually began this one on 3/4, before these spring goals technically started. But C25K is an eight-week program and I knew I wouldn’t finish it by May 15th even if I started early! Unfortunately, right after I started, I was told to stop running as we figured out this potentially-broken-foot thing. And then I was told I had to stop running altogether re: arthritis in my heel bone. Boo.

Listen to the Murdoch Mysteries podcast: I was really excited about this one, and then really frustrated as it seemed this podcast was literally just recap of specific episodes told in the form of diary entries, complete with audio clips from the show. Boooooring!

Listen to the Unsolved Mysteries podcast: Unlike the Murdoch one, this podcast was awesome! It’s like an audio version of the original show, except shorter as each one only discusses one case. There are interviews and news clips and sound effects. The first one (on the Ball Cemetery) freaked me out completely, in the most delicious way. I’ve continued to listen every week as soon as the new episodes release. I’m glad they have them listed on their website, too, so I can (hopefully) check for any potential updates – which (yay!) they also update on their instagram!

Buy a denim sundress: I got a $15 reward from Torrid for my birthday in March, and spent that (plus a little more of course) on a denim sundress. Ish. I’m not a fan of the current fashion of having buttons all the way down the front, but that’s what was available. Plus size shopping is very limited. Unfortunately, when it arrived, it was like a muumuu made of very thin not-really-denim material. I had to return it. When I did, they refused to refund my birthday reward! Terrible customer service! Ugh. I’ve looked and looked every other store I know but can’t find a single one selling this fashion of dress. I even caved and tried to look on Amazon, but there was nothing! I’ll keep looking but ugh. This doesn’t seem like such a hard ask…

(Why is this so hard?? Photo: 1998)

Make something with macrame: Well. I got several books on macrame from the library, including ones to teach you how to do it, and I was so overwhelmed by them that I sent them back! I thought maybe I’d wait until I could take a craft class or something, but then Stephanie gave me a macrame kit for my birthday. So I started over looking for a better source of instruction. No luck yet, but perhaps one day.

Buy new pajamas: Why is this such an impossible task? My needs are fairly simple: tank top sleeves, at least long enough to cover my belly but not below the knees (too hot!), with shorts long enough that my thighs aren’t sticking together in the middle of the night. But no, the top options are either too short or too long, and the only shorts sold in pjs these days are booty shorts. I tried Walmart first because that’s where I used to get pjs, before they changed brands a few years ago and started putting out thinner, see-through tops and booty shorts. No luck. I tried Lane Bryant and managed one top that was right, though I had to buy it in a set with some pants that are absolutely not going to get worn during a TX summer. I tried Torrid, nothing. I tried Kohl’s, nothing. Old Navy Plus, Davy Piper, Target, nothing. Nothing nothing nothing. WTF? I’ve literally been wearing the same two sets of pjs since 2017 because that was the last time I was able to find a simple long tank top and shorts!

Finally, Jason spotted a Fiesta-themed sundress at HEB. It was at a good length, made of a soft light material that pjs are often made from, and with a good internal lining to keep it from being see-through. I sized up to make it loose and flowing, and it worked perfect. So I finally had two new pjs tops as of the end of April. In May, I found some pj shorts the right length through a third-party via Walmart online, and they arrived on the 7th. They’re crappy material and slightly too big, but whatever. At least I have new pj sets now.

Meet up with an old friend: In mid-April, I attended a hike where I got to see a fellow hiker that I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic! (photo of us is Dec 2019 pre-pandemic)

Reach 175 miles for the year: I was actually on track to finish this easily, but then as May started, I had to quit walking altogether for 6-8 weeks, so I finished this at only 167 miles.

Buy a new alarm clock: I really tried finding one in stores because I’m avoiding Amazon, but I couldn’t find any that had red numbers, so eventually I caved and ordered from Bezos.

I didn’t even attempt the following:

Try out one of my bellydancing workout videos: These videos are all on DVD, and right now, the only DVD player we have is the boys’ XBox, and I can’t make the stupid thing work. I keep saying that I would like to get a real player, but we keep not doing it, so right now, I just don’t use DVDs or BluRay at all.

Listen to the Hamilton soundtrack: I’ve not been in the mood to listen to music at all, and I don’t want to potentially dislike this purely because I’m in the wrong mood. So this is back-burnered.

Finish my YWA backlog: I was super lazy about yoga this spring and need to be much better about it, so this might eventually be done…

I’m not sure I’m going to do a summer-goals-drawing-thingy this year. I’ve done them for the last four seasons, and the winter/spring ones were kinda meh. If I do, the dates will go from 5/31 to 8/15 (summer break here).

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Wellness Wednesday – Hikes of 2021, #30-35

Since I’m currently on a walking-hiking-running-anything-to-do-with-my-foot break, this post is a bit shorter in number than usual. I might be off for a few months, though, so I didn’t want to just hold it in my drafts. I’ll be back with these at some point in the future…

30. After two days of a MAJOR heat wave (temps near 100), it was lovely to wake up to a hike in the 60s and breezy! Wish there hadn’t been so many worms (oak leaf rollers and cankerworms), but it was fun to see the ladybugs out, and we even saw a (non-poisonous) ribbon snake! I’ve been hiking at this park hundreds of times over the years, and this is only the second or third time I’ve seen a snake there. Heh. Top left photo is me making my “cranky” face with Eva, who refused to get into other pictures, ha! We tease each other back and forth on the picture situation every time we’re on a hike together. [Hike 19/52 for my 52 Hike Challenge.]

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Wild, by Cheryl Strayed

Subtitled: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Four years after Strayed’s mother dies and her life falls into chaos, addiction, and loneliness, she sets off – without any true preparation – to hike a big chunk of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

If ever there was a book that I should have abandoned, this is it.

So in my recent review of Leave Only Footprints, I talked about being wary of the author’s memoir portions, as he did this project as a recovery from heartbreak, and that can all-too-easily turn into whining, bitter naval-gazing. It didn’t, and I was happy for that. Wild…is the opposite. About 60-70% of this book is all about Strayed’s crappy childhood and traumatic adulthood and addiction issues. There were these long tangents that had nothing to do with hiking the PCT where I just wanted to speed ahead and get back to the actual hiking portion of it, because honestly, I just got tired of hearing the same thing over and over and over again. This is why I rarely read memoirs. I have no interest in reading about most people’s personal lives and the intricacies of their emotional turmoils. Maybe that makes me callous, but frankly, I have enough on my plate without wading through someone else’s crap, you know? Which is why I avoid memoirs. I only read this one because I wanted to read about the hike! I’d hoped it would be like Becoming Odyssa – which was also a lost-to-found type of story, but which focused on the hike primarily – a sort of PCT alternate to the AT. It was not. Here were some of my thoughts as I read:

  • Wait. The heroin bits are sus. No detox?? That’s not how that works…
  • Why, why, why, why, why would anyone ever EAT THEIR MOTHER’S CREMATED ASHES????? WITH CHUNKS OF BONE IN THEM?????
  • WTF did she do to that poor horse?
  • How many times can she repeat the same phrase over and over? This book really needs an editor.
  • There is a lot of casual racism and stereotyping here.
  • How did this lady not die? (ad nauseum)
  • How irresponsible can you be to not only start this unprepared, but keep going that way, endangering rescue workers and anyone who looks to this hike as inspiration?

I should have known better than to keep reading. I’d been warned away from this book from people who know about my drug phobias. There’s a lot of heroin-talk in this book. (Also, trigger warnings for others – there is drug addiction, child abuse, domestic abuse, animal cruelty, rapey-vibe scenes, and the like in this book.) That alone should have turned me away, but nope, I kept on going. I tried so hard to like this one, and just couldn’t. Even though I read through the memoir portions as fast as I possibly could, I also kept getting irritated with the hiking/camping portions. I think the author and I just have polar opposite personalities. Her chaotic, uninformed, wing-it approach the the world is not only the furthest thing from something I’d ever do, but it stressed me out just reading about it. Then, as the book went on, the hiking portions got smaller and smaller, skipping right through most of the actual hiking to the overnights-at-way-stops whenever Strayed wasn’t recounting her past.

For a book that was meant to be about hiking the PCT, there was very little about hiking the PCT.

By the time I finished, all I wanted was to find a different book about hiking the PCT. Whereas Becoming Odyssa made me want to do a long-distance hike for the first time in my life, Wild made me feel like I would never, ever, EVER want to go backpacking or distance hiking, which actually makes me really sad! Clearly, I’m the wrong audience. It’s a bit like how The Omnivore’s Dilemma turned me off of processed food, whereas Salt Sugar Fat – which was attempting to do the same – actually made me crave it more.

I did learn a few things from this book, though:

  • What not to do if I ever go backpacking (which frankly, as an avid day-hiker, I could have said without reading this book, but this made it even more abundantly clear)
  • Maybe REI would swap out my hiking boots, which I’ve only worn twice because they’re too small and make my feet go numb after a few miles.
  • I need to find a more recent book about the PCT, to see if the trail conditions have improved in the last 25 years.
  • I would really like a trail partner or two, because I would not want to do any backpacking trip alone. (I have many day-hiking friends and an entire hiking group I belong to, but we haven’t tried backpacking at this point.)
  • Just like I said in my review of Becoming Odyssa, I really, really wish I had a trail name. Maybe one day.

That’s all. I wish I could be more positive, but this was clearly not the book for me. If you like memoirs, it might be really great for you. But if you were looking to read this one for the hiking portions, I’d suggest finding another book as this one spends very little time on that, plus Strayed’s hike took place many years ago (so might not be as relevant today, as trail conditions definitely change over time).

Note: After reading the book and writing this review, I couldn’t stop thinking about how off everything felt in this book (especially the “walked away from heroin with no issues” bit). I was also having a lot of trouble understanding why everyone else seemed to love it. Looking down through the ratings/reviews of my GoodReads friends, it was all glowing praise and four- to five-star entries…until I got to my friend Karen’s rating. She’d given it one star, and I reached out to her to say I’m glad I’m not alone in my feelings. She, too, expressed how off she felt about this book, and linked me out to an entire blog that debunks Strayed’s entire trip. I’m always inclined to believe nonfiction, perhaps because I don’t read as much of it, but this blog helped me put together why things felt so off. I’ve had experiences with folks who embellish and invent 90% of their stories in the past, and after realizing just how much of this book was verifiably false, I finally understood the instincts that were kicking in as I read.

The blog is hilariously cutting – it’s called “I Hate Cheryl Strayed” after all – so perhaps don’t read it if you like Strayed or her memoir. Personally, I spent an entire afternoon reading all 40ish posts that debunk, fact-check, and rip apart Wild. And hey, now that I’ve done that, I dislike the author even more and don’t feel nearly as bad as I did about the PCT. Excellent trade-off!

Posted in 2021, Adult, Prose | Tagged , , | 4 Comments