Category Archives: miscellanea

Quarterly update, I guess?

Or not quite quarterly – a couple of weeks early – but close enough.

My reading for the quarter has been…not terrible. Mostly because I finally picked up the MurderBot Diaries. Yes, years late, but still. I’ve run through the whole series, but for the newest; I’m on the wait list at the library for it. [I cannot pay $20 for a 192 page book. Sorry, authors everywhere.]

Also on the reading front, I DNF’d the latest In Death book. Well, latest to me, not sure if it is the latest. I keep checking them out when I see them at the library, driven by nostalgia, and then want to tear them in half part way through because criminal procedure and civil rights are things that I don’t want suspended, even in fiction.

Picked up The Personal Librarian, a fictionalized account of the life of Bella Da Costa Green, the personal librarian of JP Morgan. It was an interesting book and very timely, but I found Bella as narrator to be frustrating in terms of her romantic relationships. I do want to see the exhibition on her life at the Morgan Library when it opens.

I bounced off Zen Cho’s Order of the Pure Moon Reflected Under Water, but Cho’s (Zen’s? I’m not sure of name order.) Black Water Sister has started well.

Also read Bujold’s The Assassins of Thesalon. It was fine. I enjoyed the series a lot more until a fellow reader pointed out that Penric + Des = Miles and Nikys = Ekaterin.

On the travel front (!!!) I drove out to western Pennsylvania for a few days at the beginning of the month. Enjoyed visiting Kentuck Knob, which seems like the most liveable Frank Lloyd Wright house I’ve seen so far. Loved the tour and tasting at the Wigel Whiskey Distillery in Pittsburgh, although Eau de Pickle is never going to be a flavor I favor; I like pickles as garnish, not so much in my cocktails. Pizza at Iron Born was delicious (I recommend the Forager Pie), and it looks like The Strip is doing fine. It was the first travel I’ve done in a year, and it was good but also stressful. My neighborhood businesses still request that patrons wear masks unless they are sitting at a table eating. Almost everywhere in PA that I went, it was the honor system – if you are vaccinated, no need, but please wear a mask if you haven’t been. Given the number of overlap of unvaxxed and antimask in my acquaintance, it was a little concerning. But I’m back and fine, so maybe I was too worried and cautious.

Work remains almost 2X what it was 2 years ago (with fewer staff). I’m burnt out. If we do a voluntary return to the office, I am going to volunteer, because I need some physical separation between work and home. Colleague asked me today about vacation planning – I have an embarrassing amount of use or lose leave – and all I could say was I think about it but don’t have the capacity to make decisions after work. Although…I just saw that Jaleo opened a branch/restaurant in Chicago; I’ve tried Jose Andres offerings in DC, VA, and NV. The original Jaleo in Penn Quarter remains my favorite, but maybe I need to visit Chicago and try it there…for science.

Family is mostly fine.

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Recent reads

The Other Half by Jordan Castillo Price – part of the ongoing PsyCops series. This installment absolutely does not stand alone, and the plot was sort of slow to develop. I like Victor Bayne as narrator, and his voice is what kept me reading. So it was fine, but not a good starting place for anyone new to the series.

Loving Sports When They Don’t Love You Back by Jessica Luther and Kavitha Davidson. The title pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? I read this in small chunks because some of it is pretty ugly. But it is worth reading for the Serena Williams chapter alone. Would very much recommend to any sports fan.

Alone in the Wild by Kelley Armstrong. New installment of the Rockton/Yukon series. It was kind of convoluted, plot-wise. I’m kind of done with pure/strict procedurals, even when there is no big police force and everyone involved is a dubious character to begin with.

Recipe for Persuasion by Sonali Dev. DNF. I borrowed this because it was mentioned on Twitter as a sort of modern Persuasion AU with non-White characters. I just didn’t find any of the characters particularly sympathetic or interesting, so DNF.

We Own This City by Justin Fenton. True crime narrative about Baltimore’s profoundly corrupt Gun Trace Task Force. I have a lot of tangential opinions about policing and Baltimore and qualified immunity that impact my perspective of this book. But I appreciated how Fenton laid out what was going on with the GTTF at the same time and after Freddie Gray’s death, and the epilogue from COVID times that touches on Baltimore activists’ handling of protests for Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. Also: the irony of the mention of the city’s lead prosecutor as community crime fighter back then; news broke on Friday that she and her husband (head of the city counsel) are being investigated by federal authorities related to campaign finance abuse or other financial issues.

~~~

Last week was the anniversary of a years working from home. It was not a happy anniversary. Everyone at work is stressed out, and work is only increasing. Almost everyone is stressed at home as well.

I’ve been thinking hard about where I want to be physically in the next few years. Home wise, I mean. Because my location is convenient in a lot of ways, I love my neighborhood, and it is affordable, but I’m struggling with the community that is my building. Little things, like people not cleaning up after pets or themselves in common areas, are beginning to really wear on my patience. So do I want to stay here? If I don’t, where to I want to be? And given the general success of telework, is the location as going to be as limited as it was in the past? I don’t know yet. More to come.

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Wrapping up 2020

I’ve done a summary post of the books I read, places I visited, etc., for the last couple of years. 2020 has very little to recommend for itself looking back. The early months were pretty good, but later not so much.

Travel:

  • Terceira in February (highly recommend)
  • Pittsburgh for hockey (first week of March, just pre-lockdown)
  • Antietam/western MD for a weekend in July
  • Cape Cod for an isolated and quiet trip in September

Music:

  • Online only – several Frank Turner shows, not much else.

Movies/TV:

  • Can’t remember if I saw anything in the theater early on.
  • Signed up briefly for Disney+ in order to see Hamilton and the first season of The Mandalorian.
  • A lot of Netflix, including Schitt’s Creek (meh), Derry Girls (like it), and Bridgerton (not sure I’d bother with future seasons/series).
  • Currently watching the new season of The Expanse on Amazon. I love Chrisjen Avasarala as a character.

Reading:

I finished 33 books. The highlights were Megan Whalen Turner’s The Return of the King and Ben Aaronovitch’s False Value. There are two former autobuy authors who finally tipped over the edge for me to not even being library borrows, and a lot of ~meh~ mixed in. I tried a couple of self-published works from writers I’ve found via fandom(s); sometimes the original fic works for me and sometimes not, which is perhaps a function of the canon and backstory in fandom that requires more work to establish in original fiction. I’ve been letting myself read Obama’s memoir in bits and pieces, as a comfort, so I started in 2020 but it will finish as a 2021 read. (It’ll be a highlight, I’m pretty sure.)

Books I’m looking forward to in 2021:

  • Anna K. by Jenny Lee, a YA retelling of Anna Karenina. I haven’t read Anna Karenina since high school and my memory of it is such that I’m curious to read a YA adaptation.
  • We Own This City by Justin Fenton. Non-fiction account of the Baltimore City Police Gun Trace Task Force, whose members have been federally indicted for a variety of crimes, including racketeering, drug dealing, and illegal searches and seizures.
  • The new installment in Kelley Armstrong’s Rockton Yukon series.
  • What Abigail Did That Summer, a novella in the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch.

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Mish mash of things

Today, this morning, was such a relief. I don’t remember ever feeling so emotional about an inauguration before, for better or for ill. Part of it was celebration over the first Black Asian woman to be Vice President. But part of it was specific to the political atmosphere in the US right now.

I mentioned this to my sister and hadn’t really expressed it anywhere else, but I was very concerned about violence at the inauguration today. (I’m sure a lot of people were.) Yes, law enforcement seemed to be taking security more seriously, but in theory they should have been taking security seriously on 1/6 and failed. The thing that brought home to me the degree of security concern was the cancellation of all MARC trains from Sunday through Wednesday. I’ve lived in the metro area and commuted to DC through five inaugurations now. For prior inaugurations, service ran as usual or on a holiday schedule, or in 2009 on a special schedule that required specific tickets for specific departures, which is not how they operate generally. (I’ve always wondered if the inaugural trips, or at least in 2009, were money makers for a segment of public transportation that is always under threat of budget cuts.) Cancellation of four consecutive days of service is incredibly unusual and just flagged the concern about otherwise uncontrolled or untracked movement into the District.

~~~

I’m trying to figure out how to refer to VP Kamala Harris when I speak or text about her. Kamala is a distinctive name, so is referring to her by that alone like Serena or Beyonce? A mark of respect for women who need no other identifier? Or is it disrespectful and diminishing, first-naming a powerful woman in a way that the last VP didn’t get named and the way white (male) politicians don’t get named?

~~~

Every so often I’m reminded of an old (2010?) RWA presentation by Lauren Willig about throwing readers out of stories because of what they think they know. She was talking about the use of cameras in the early 19th century. There were cameras, or the ideas behind them, just not the same way modern readers think of them. But mentioning them in a Regency novel may jar readers out of the story, so writers need to weigh their choices.

Anyway, I read a sentence in a novel that described an antebellum mansion built in Atlanta in the early 20th century. Cue the mental record screech. Yes, antebellum means pre-war. But in the US and in the South, antebellum is generally a reference to pre-Civil War. Could the author have been referring to pre-WWII? Sure. But context matters for readers, and I had to re-read the sentence and then ????? before deciding to move on and finish reading.

~~~

I used to get up at 5am to go to the gym before work. Since I’ve been teleworking and my commute is merely to my office nook or kitchen table, I’ve been going later. I’m not sure I’ll be able to go back to the 5am gym schedule if/when we return to office hours.

~~~

I pushed my Thx travel plans to March, and now am wondering if I should push them again. I’m pretty far down on the list of priorities for the vaccine, so I doubt I’ll have it by then. Which is fine – better that more vulnerable people have it first. I’m just a little stir crazy again.

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Not a great start

I went to bed last night, or rather early this morning, feeling pretty hopeful about 2021. The Georgia runoffs seemed poised to change control of the Senate. Team USA shutout Canada to win WJC gold. The election results would be squabbled over by some possibly seditious politicians but ultimately be done.

I expected protests from white supremacists in DC and threats of violence perhaps. I did not imagine an actual coup, shots fired in the Capitol, and the death of someone present.

Video clips of the police doing nothing donโ€™t surprise me any longer. But opening the barrier to let them in does. And a selfie when they are trespassing – possibly a criminal, felony trespass – is breaking my brain.

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Radio silence

You’d think that working from home and limiting travel and movement and socializing would make me more likely to blog. I’m spending time online, mostly doom-scrolling, and haven’t had the attention span to read much or to write anything other than gibberish. Or even just gibberish.

On the reading front, I managed to finish two books and one novella. One of the books was a sort of hate read, which is weird but there you go.

The Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. This reads as the wrap up of the series, and does a pretty good job of showing Eugenides as Attolis and annux, but also still the embodiment of the god of thieves when needed.

Masquerade in Lodi by Lois McMaster Bujold. Another entry in the Penric series, but this one earlier in the timeline. Enjoyable, but now that I’ve noticed how very Miles-like Penric’s adventures and personality are, it seems derivative despite the very different setting.

Shadows in Death by JD Robb. This was the hate read. Robb’s style flows well and the world building is familiar. I’m just disgusted by the disregard for civil rights and criminal procedure. Frankly, the excusing of Roarke’s criminal past seems less and less acceptable the longer the series stretches on, though not necessarily out of place with the idea of him being a billionaire. Restrains self from a written rant about how billionaires become billionaires in generally unsavory ways. Why do I keep borrowing these from the library? Also, I have Thoughts about the fictional NYPSD as successor to current day NYPD, with its terrible warts and union, but this is not the place for them. [Wow, apparently this series makes me want to say a lot about social issues and economics, which is maybe not what the author would have expected. ]

I’m currently reading Loving Sports When They Don’t Love You Back, which is very readable and speaks to me as a fan with qualms about the health effects and inequality I see in my favorite sports. Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir is waiting for me via library hold, and a copy of the first volume of Barack Obama’s memoirs is sitting on my coffee table, waiting its turn.

I haven’t managed to watch much new other than the new series of the Great British Bake Off and Trust (FX). Oh, wait, I finally watched Schitt’s Creek. I…did not love it as much as other people seem to. I never really got rid of the feeling that the Rose family felt better than the locals, who seemed to never grow past being cliches mostly. And the character of Moira Rose, with her affectations, grated on my nerves terribly. I did appreciate the growth of Alexis, and that Stevie got to try new things outside of the town. I don’t know. I could see the character arcs and themes, I just didn’t really care for the Roses getting their HEAs or their storylines wrapped up.

I’m keeping up with the Portuguese lessons on Duolingo and via the children’s language workbooks I found online. Someday I’ll be able to visit Portugal again, and I want to be slightly less useless when I do.

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dusts off blog

Not much going on in terms of reading published work lately. Read the Aaronovitch Waterstone’s short story compilation, Tales from the Folly, but not much else. I keep starting and stopping, and lack an attention span.

I’ve watched a fair amount of hockey the last few weeks. My team lost early, so I’m not invested in the teams remaining (other than my Western conference backup) and mostly cheering against teams – there are a couple of match-ups right now where I’d like for there to be some way for both teams to lose ๐Ÿ˜›

Watched The Old Guard a week or so after it came out, and have since consumed an excessive amount of AO3 material. There’s a crazy amount of analysis of the canon compared to history, as well as fiction. I haven’t picked up the source material (graphic novels) despite liking Rucka’s writing (Queen and Country!), because I really don’t care for the style of the art. Also, it feels like Rucka did not do a great deal of research or at least hasn’t written the comics to reflect it, and I’d rather not break my brain on bad/inaccurate history.

The B&N nearest me has announced that it is closing at the end of next week. I am not hugely surprised. They were *very* dependent on summer/tourist foot traffic, which is way, way down, and the space is huge and difficult to maintain. I’ll be sorry to see it go, but not really impacted. Maybe ten years ago, I visited on a weekly basis, but as it shifted more to games and novelties and gifts, and the fiction sections (other than YA) shrank and were moved around, I had less reason to visit to the point that I haven’t been since December. They almost never had anything I wanted in stock – I could order online for pickup there in a week, which sort of defeated the purpose, because if I could order it online, why wouldn’t I just have it delivered to my home?

Work has been exhausting in a way that it never has been before. I’m going to the beach in a couple of weeks, and cannot wait.

Also, since we are now teleworking until at least December, I now have magenta highlights/streaks in my hair. Because why not?

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Weekend travels

I hit the road on Friday for a couple of days Not At Home. It was pretty nice. Drove to Sharpsburg/Antietam; despite living in Maryland for the vast majority of my life, I’d never visited, not even on a field trip in grade school. Hopped off I-70 in Frederick and took the rural route. Lot of beautiful vistas, occasionally marred by political candidate signs. Just outside of town, but still on park land, there was a police cordon with a bunch of police cars: I caught a glimpse as I drove by, the statue on horseback had been graffiti’d – BLM and YOU LOST were among the things painted on it. When I drove by on my way home Sunday it had been completely draped in black and fenced off. Turns out it is a statue of Robert E. Lee…erected on private land in 2003 but now a part of the park.

The park itself is quite large with several different trails. On a less blazingly hot day, I would have spent more than 3 hours. Anyway, more walking on Saturday, but with more shade on the C&O trail out of Williamsport.

Stayed at a lovely farm/vineyard/B&B, hosted by a charming couple. The farm house, or the original part of it, is rather old and is decorated to match.

Visited Boonesboro on my wanderings around Washington County. I’ve never seen so many NR/JDR books in one place before. Their other selections were eclectic. Main street reminded me of my hometown as a teenager, maybe slightly better preserved.

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Recently read

Borrowed the new Nora Roberts novel, Hideaway, from the library. If I was a new NR reader, I probably would have found it engaging and original. But I’m not, having read most of her backlist and most of her romantic suspense. The plot and various elements felt repetitive of earlier books like The Search or Angels Fall or other books. I probably could have let that go – there’s comfort in knowing an author can deliver predictable enjoyment – but one scene early on soured the book for me. The local police (good guy! surfer dude!) violated the constitutional rights of the Bad Guy. Yes, he’s a Bad Guy. But that’s the whole point of constitutional rights: everyone is entitled to them, even when they’ve done bad shit. I get it: he’s not sympathetic, so I shouldn’t mind. No. That’s not okay. I do mind, and reading that casual disregard for rights and implicit approval of abuse by the police makes me side eye NR’s work more than I already do (see my previously expressed – either here or on other social media – about Eve Dallas’s casual disregard for criminal procedure).

Read NR Walker’s Throwing Hearts as well. It was kind of ~meh~. I liked the background romance of the older couple more than that of the narrators, whose conflict/issue felt really forced and unnecessary.

Signed up for Disney+ to get Hamilton; planning on canceling at the end of the month. It was worth the $6.99 for that plus The Mandalorian and some other material. Enjoyed it, particularly the staging, which of course was not evident from the soundtrack. Thought some of the editing choices were odd at times; focusing on single singers sometimes made sense and sometimes cut off the background activity that seemed relevant.

~~~~~

Despite promises at the gardening store that air plants are practically unkillable, I have killed an air plant. Even though I followed the care instructions faithfully. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

~~~~~

In theory, sports are returning to North America. Given the spikes due to premature reopening, this seems like a bad idea. One quote from an NHL player essentially said that they feel comfortable with the risks because the science says they’ll be okay since they are young, healthy athletes. Um, what science is he talking about? We have 6 months worth of data on recovery, and nothing about longer term impacts on health. The expectation that they won’t get sick because they are in good shape seems deluded to me. As a fan, I’d love for sports to be back, but as a human I want athletes to be able to live healthy lives today and well into the future, and I’m not sure the bubbles and protocols will be enough.

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It’s the little things

My local public library has a fairly good selection of ebooks and other electronic materials, so reading material was not exactly lacking during the shutdown of the city. But I tend to browse the stacks for books rather than borrow ebooks, unless there’s a new release or a book is unavailable in print locally. So I was thrilled when the library reopened for curbside service this week. One book I’d put on hold had arrived, so I arranged an appointment for the pick up Friday afternoon.

Bars and restaurants have opened with limited capacity, but I’m still not ready to eat out anywhere. Sticking to carry-out once a week as a treat.

Stepdad is improving, although more slowly than he would like. Mom is going back to the office next week part time; she’s pretty happy because the workspace has been reconfigured, so she’ll have a door that she can control, so people can’t come in at their convenience rather than hers. I’m worried about The Biochemist in Houston, because Texas’s cases are skyrocketing. I’m okay and my work is…fine? We will be teleworking until Labor Day at least now.

I read an article on Friday about the cost per person to return employees to big firms in NYC – as much as $18,000/person depending on remediation efforts. NYC prices are out of whack generally, but even if it is half that here, that’s a budget killer. We have singles; shared offices with two or three people; work spaces with anywhere from 6-15 people; carrels in open areas; etc. I can’t even begin to imagine how to reallocate space. Office space is already a hugely touchy issue that is mediated by the union and the collective bargaining agreement, plus GSA standards. Add in the kitchens/lunch spaces – ugh – the one in my space is among the nicest in the building, and people who work nowhere nearby congregate there for lunch and to watch sports occasionally – how does it get used now? Are people comfortable using the common area fridge? Mini fridges violate our lease (and the building manager affirmatively looks for them), so then what? What about the common area microwaves? Or the communal coffeepot and Keurig and toaster, all donated by various staff.

One colleague is buggering off to the beach, where her inlaws have a house. She’ll work part time. Another is planning on going to the Outer Banks for a couple of weeks, and working part time from there. A third is going also to the Outer Banks (a different town) and planning on NOT WORKING AT ALL. I was looking at the calendar and doing the math: I have more than 3 weeks of leave to use or lose so I need to start thinking about how to use them. Most of the places I want to go would require flying or at least two days of driving. I need to sit down with some back issues of AAA to look at day trips in the mid Atlantic.

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