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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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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More nostalgia reads

I read Marion Chesney’s Seven Sister Regency novels as a teen. I devoured them, along with the backlists of Jean Plaidy, Phyllis Whitney, and Victoria Holt. My recent Bridgerton disappointment made me wonder if any of the Regency or historical fiction/romance books I remember fondly would stand up to a re-read by a much different JMC than teen-JMC. The answer, mostly, is that the Chesney books do not. Sadly. I’m not sure if I want to try any of the others. Some books are better left as fond, faded memories.

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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 😛

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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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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Bouncing among books

I picked up Color of Law again because it seems timely. Put down Lafayette in the Somewhat United States: Vowell’s style just doesn’t work for me. Enjoyed Bujold’s novella, The Physicians of Vilnoc, a Penric and Desdemona story that suits today in some ways; I can’t decide if the resolution works because it is so simple and pat within the story itself or if it just frustrates me given that is not a realistic expectation for our current parallel. I pulled Zinn’s History off the shelf, but I’m not going to re-read it until I’ve finished CoL. At some point I want to resume reading Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton – I set it down a few years ago about 1/3 in and haven’t gone back; after listening to the Hamilton soundtrack last week and noticing all of the liberties taken relative to that 1/3, I’m curious about the rest. And I kinda of wonder if fans of the musical realize *how* AU it is.

The Maryland primary election was held on 6/2, but the results for many of the Baltimore races – where the primary is effectively the general – weren’t finalized until 6/9 due to logistical issues involved in the mailing. [Which was NOTHING nearly as bad as Georgia’s election mess from this past week.] Anyway, the new mayor-to-be was trailing significantly before the mailed votes were finalized, and the then-leader was the former mayor who had resigned in 2010 and was charged with theft/corruption and perjury. I…really don’t understand that on a fundamental level.

Work has been as usual for the most part. The conference/training we were planning for August has been canceled and we’ll try to reschedule for next fiscal year; I just don’t think anyone will be willing or able to travel in August or even September. We have not been told anything about plans for after 7/15, when in theory we would go back to the office. But I don’t think it will happen. People have been asking about reimbursement for computer equipment at home since March and have been told no consistently, but that changed this week. Now a small amount is reimbursable as income, which makes me think they are preparing to tell us we should expect to be working from home for a while longer and people will need to improve their work at home setups.

Random thought brought to you by nice weather and my open windows: why do motorcyclists bother with radios? It’s been really noticeable lately, motorcyclists blasting music loud enough for the rider(s) to hear it, meaning loud enough to drown out the engine and to be heard for blocks around. That volume seems like it cannot possibly be healthy for the riders themselves long term.

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Talk less, smile more

Listening to the Hamilton soundtrack on my walk this evening, I was struck again by Burr’s advice to talk less and smile more. It reminds me of advice given to me, mostly by men: show a pleasant face and keep your thoughts to yourself, go along to get along. It looks like there’s a fair amount of analysis of this line online, based on a simple word search. It’s mostly from a leadership perspective, but I’d be interested in reading a feminist analysis of the lyrics. Frankly, I know a lot of women who are absolutely finished with being told to smile more.

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Stepdad had surgery over the weekend and seems to be recovering. Because of coronavirus concerns, he was not discharged to a nursing home or assisted living facility, which is what normally would happen, and is instead at home with visiting PT and health aids. It’s not ideal, he’s still very weak.

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I want a vacation. I don’t even need to go anywhere. I just want to not be responsible for answering peoples’ questions for a few days. The whole working from home thing is not ideal for me. A lot of my colleagues are angling already for expanded telework in the future, but I very much miss the separation between work and home life. One colleague mentioned a tentative plan to drive to FL to stay with a friend and telework from there because she doesn’t want to spend a winter quarantined here. That’s…further into the future than I’m willing to plan on teleworking at this point.

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Something has stuck!

Colleague mentioned reading Hillbilly Elegy, which reminded me I bought a copy a long time ago.  Dug out my copy and am now into Chapter 3.  It’s not fun reading, but it is very engaging.

Watched the first episode of Nadiya’s Time to Eat on Netflix.  Nadiya is one of my very favorite bakers from GBBO, and I’m kind of interested in both the types of meals she cooks and how she works on a much more produced show.  The egg tortilla wraps looked delicious and like something I can (and will) make.

I’m procrastinating.  We put off doing performance reviews while shifting from fiscal year to calendar year reviews, and then did all the paperwork, followed by a glitch in the HR system tracking it all.  Re-did everything, then quarantine.  We delayed the face to face part thinking we’d be back at the office shortly.  But it’s May now, so we have to do it by phone or video, so.  Anyway, I need to prep for my reviews next week.  One person asked for help with a problem (of his own making), and I need to ask another to be more transparent about his workload and bandwidth.  Instead I just watched the replay of the 2010 men’s hockey gold medal game.  Crosby looks like an infant…then I remember this game was pre-concussion(s), pre-broken/rebuilt jaw.  o_o

Random:  The (armed) protests of the stay at home orders feel like they are revealing another subset of people who are Too Stupid and Selfish to Live.  On a personal level, I get it, they want life to be normal again.  But do they really need that non-essential thing more than the people who do that work need their health and well-being?  I mean, my roots are very visible, my self-pedicure is poor, I miss eating out, and I hate wearing a mask when I leave my home.  I’ll be happy to patronize the usual local businesses, operated and/or staffed mostly by women, often women of color, when (if?) they reopen.  But waving self-serving, exaggerated signs because some turnip-brain equates stay at home with prison is a crock.

ETA:  I looked at the HGTV Smart Home special online.  I’m kind of perplexed by some of the design.  A lot of the art is…not to my taste to put it mildly.  Which, whatever, it’s not like it’s my house.  And if it suddenly became my house, the bulk of the art would have to go.  Beyond that, I’m perplexed by some of the space/usage choices.  It doesn’t look like there is a bathroom or any running water in the lower level, which is where the family room and an outside space are, which seems like poor planning.  And there is no space that would be useful (as currently furnished or configured) as a home office space.  The study has two chaise lounges and no desk.  The game room has no desk space.  The master has no desk space.   I love the kitchen, dining room, and master bath (all minus art) though.

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