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Bike log, June 2017: 205 miles

Trips this month included a couple jaunts down to the Three Rivers Arts Festival downtown, a few trips to Iron City Circus Arts's new location on the South Side, a Weekend Hill ride, and a Flock party ride, where some members of the ride successfully harassed an aggressive bus driver.

I also survived my first (I think) instance of being "hit" (physically touched while in motion) by a car; fortunately it was a very light brush at low speeds and not only was nothing hurt, I didn't even fall over. I called 911 to report it after I got into work. Oddly (and annoyingly), talking to the officer was more emotionally wracking than the actual incident was, probably because missing the adrenaline rush.

No bike changes; it's a lazy month.
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I've recently decided that I like listening to stuff when I'm walking/biking/driving. And since a) I don't pay to subscribe to any music streaming services (nor is my private collection very impressive), and b) the speakers in my car are so crappy that playing almost any kind of music on it is an insult to the music, I've been listening to podcasts.

I had gone without listening to things for so long that I had a couple years of backlog of Wait Wait Don't Tell Me to catch up on, which kept me golden for a while, but then I ran out, and started seeking more. I feel like I've struck out way more than I've hit gold, so this post is mostly here to ask for suggestions.

What I like: humor, storytelling, brevity, segments I can start and finish in a typical day's commute (~20-25 minutes one way), nothing too deep as my attention isn't 100% on it at any point and my listening is the first things to go if my brain is preoccupied.

What I don't like: People having a lengthy, unedited conversation. Too much pop culture references that doesn't include me. The wrong kind of humor.

What I've tried:

Wait Wait Don't Tell Me
My favorite podcast that I've listened to for many many years and compare all others to. I like the personalities, I like the humor, I like that it is strictly edited and consistently timed, I like that no single segment in it is very long (even Not My Job is rarely more than 10-15 minutes).

The Moth
My next favorite. The stories are captivating and interesting and emotional and not too long. Just right for a small listening break in my day. The character list is ever changing, but they are basically all people who are picked for being good at storytelling, which is important. If I needed to I could probably just go back into the archives and listen to all of them.

This American Life
Pretty good show by those hipster know-it-alls who talk about how fascinating ordinary people are. I like when humans are shown in detail and made to be complex and sympathetic and Ira Glass does a good job at that. I remember listening to it years ago in the car when I'd flip to NPR and it would be on by chance, and generally enjoyed it then, so I looked it up now. Not much has changed, but it's all new.

Hello Internet
This one breaks all my rules for what I think I should like and yet I kinda do. My older son introduced me to it as something he enjoyed, and we got through a couple episodes on a college commute trip. It is, basically, just two dudes chatting, which I would expect to be bored by, and yet somehow I'm not. I suspect it has to do with the fact that hosts CGP Gray and Brady Haran are both successful YouTubers, and know the art of editing. But I also appreciate that the two of them, even though they seem to have very different personalities with occasionally wildly opposing opinions, obviously get along very well, and their comfort with each other somehow comes across in their shows.

The Ezra Klein Show
I started this because I've read a lot of Ezra Klein interviews and articles that I've liked. I admire his brain and his interviews tend to be with people who are passionate and articulate in ways I want to hear more of. But the interviews are on the long side, and I always find my brain wandering a little. I would probably appreciate these interviews a lot more by spending 10 minutes reading them than an hour listening to them.

Welcome to Night Vale
The premise sounded really good to me, a lot of my friends are in love with it, and I enjoyed it some. I listened to the first 10 episodes to really try to get into it, and while it has some nifty bits, it's just not as appealing to me as I'd hoped. It's non-contiguous enough that while I realize I don't -have- to listen to them all in order, it throws in a few ongoing storylines here and there so that skipping around doesn't seem to make sense. On the upside, each episode is fairly short, so I may go back and try more eventually.

No Dumb Questions
Downloaded because I like Destin Sandlin's work on Smarter Every Day. Unfortunately the one ep I listened to was basically a really long conversation between three people, probably only about 25% of which I found particularly interesting. On the upside, I discovered Emily Graslie and The Brain Scoop, which is vaguely interesting, but I don't think the rest is worthwhile to do it again.

Dear Hank and John
I like the Vlog brothers's personalities and most of their videos that I've seen. And I liked Paper Towns. Unfortunately, like John's books, this show is really aimed towards a much younger audience than me, and although I gave it a few episodes, I found their focus on answering internet questions to be pretty irrelevant to me.

The Daily Show Podcast Without John Stewart
I love the Daily Show, I like the correspondents, I like the editing. This was fun. But there were only 20 episodes, and then it stopped.

Stuff You Should Know
I downloaded this one because it was rated highly and is hosted by writers at HowStuffWorks, which sounded interesting. But it's basically another hour of two people having a conversation and usually not about things that I cared about (or agreed with).

2 Dope Queens
I like both Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson and yet their conversations and joking around just didn't amuse me.

My Brother, My Brother, and Me
Answering inane questions from random listeners or Yahoo (bzzt). An hour of conversation between people I don't know and don't particularly find funny (bzzt). Not going back here.


So, dear Readers. Given these descriptions (or not), what podcasts do you like and you would recommend to me? Heck, I'm even interested in some that feature music, as my headphones are pretty decent.
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First ripe raspberry of the year was today, June 18, one day later than last year.

May flowers were purple and pink. The last week of May and the first week of June I have almost no flowers. Then starting in June I have orange and yellow from the daylilies and coreopsis. There's been a ton of rain lately which the gardens have loved. The weeds have also loved it, too. Yesterday I weeded some places that had gotten a little out of hand, including the painted sidewalk. I'd thought that the paver base and sand was supposed to keep stuff from growing there, but I guess some weeds don't need much.

I planted some chard plants late and just transplanted some teeny squash plants from the compost. They've gotten a late start but are still alive. I'll see if they're still around next month.

Orange lilies half blooming.
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A challenge that I never thought I would have is to get teenaged boys to eat food. And yet someone I ended up with kids who don't always eat enough, although not because they are picky eaters. In conversations about how to making putting nutrition in their bodies on a regular basis, particularly when in an environment where they have to be responsible for their own caloric intake, one of us suggested Soylent as an occasional meal supplement. And since I am a person who likes to gather data (even though I actually like food and intend to continue eating it), I suggested we all try out various forms and flavors.

It is unfortunately difficult to acquire a Soylent tasting pack, as the site only sells the liquid version by the 12x (and powder by a week's worth of meals). I mean, it's possible, in that several entrepreneurs offer such a thing, 1x bottle of each of the 4 different flavors, but it is approximately the same cost as a single case. I decided that a) it would be a fun thing to share with other people, and b) we could probably finish up a case of each flavor eventually, as it doesn't go bad. So I ordered that. I also ordered samples of Schmilk, a food-replacement mix that is meant to be mixed with milk, gets decent reviews, comes in small sample packs, and the guy who runs it is responsible and friendly.

Thus I had a *lent tasting party, with about ~10 people, plastic shotglasses, 7 flavors of food-replacement drinks, and some real food to get the taste of non-food out of your mouth if needed. We wrote down comments, and the results were amusing and fun, so I figured I'd share them more publicly.


Reviewed flavors:
Soylent Ready-To-Drink bottles
1) Original,
2) Cacao,
3) Nectar,
4) Coffiest;
SuperBodyFuel Schmilk powder mixed with 2% milk
5) Original,
6) Chocolate,
7) Cinnamon.

reviews )

Basically almost everybody there agreed that Soylent Nectar was The Worst (which is a minor problem in that I still have 8 bottles left that nobody really wants to drink), and Schmilk Cinnamon was close to the best by itself. Soylent Original and Schmilk Original were popular for their simplicity (and not tasting TOO good). Soylent Coffiest was possibly the most controversial.
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I've been going to lyra/trapeze classes for two and half months now and tonight was the first week of classes in their new South Side building. Since they are expanding and will be increasing their class offerings, my instructor said that she thought I was ready for level 2. So tonight was also my first time in a non-beginner class.

Since it was my first, and I have so little experience, and I didn't know the other students there tonight (but they were way more experienced), and it was technically a 2/3 combined class, AND the studio is still in an interim phase before real sessions start, I have no idea exactly what level the stuff we did tonight would be considered (elsewhere, or even here later). All I know is that it was, shall we say, humbling. I was spoiled in the beginner class where I could do all the moves fairly easily and just needed to develop balance and grace. This class was the first time where I simply failed at nearly everything we tried.

The updown warmups were all fine, and at least my mounts are much smoother. Gazelle rollup - failed several times and acquired nice inner leg bruises. Back balance - couldn't even get one hand off and stable, but made myself lightheaded from hanging upside down trying. Moving to lyra: dragonfly into wine glass was really awkward but not awful, and a forward spin as part of dismount was the one new things that went well. Spinning kneehang situps - cannot do. Trapeze ankle hang (with legs wrapped around ropes) - held my legs wrong and abraded two spots on my feet something good. Had to bail face first onto the mat. Conditioning knee lifts - not bad, but can't quite bring them to the bar. Spinning - even the slightest bit gets me headachey dizzy. On my way to the car I cried from frustration.

I have a week to heal up so I can try it all again. Practice makes better.

Here's a pic from a practice a few weeks ago where I was doing things right and looking pretty.
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Bike log, May 2017: 195 miles

The biggest thing this month to affect my mileage is that I moved offices at work a few blocks down the street, taking my commute from a range of 2.6-3.7 miles to 2.9-4.0 miles. Although I can do the route into work in about the same time since now I can take the last third of it down Forbes which includes a big hill.

The vaguely-bike-related upgrade I did this month was to get a new phone, which is current enough that it doesn't randomly crash on me nearly as much, and has a much more accurate GPS. So I've been able to track my riding a bit more often, which uploads to the National Bike Challenge. Which, no surprise, still stucks. Well at least I'm not putting effort into it.

I did a few longer rides: one leisurely ride around the river trails, once to Open Streets, and one Weekend Hills ride.

Butt is still kinda sore during rides > an hour or so. Thinking maybe my saddle isn't the right one for me, despite it being a pretty color of blue. Wheels lights also annoyingly go out randomly sometime after I turn them on. Could possibly be low battery but more likely bad wire connection but I haven't figured out where. I will try one more time to debug, then I'm just going to order new ones (since they are super cheap).
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Bike log, Apr 2017: 190 miles

Apr 1 started off with a trip to the bike shop for a spring cleaning, where I got a new chain and cassette, with about normal wear and tear on it. Nothing else new, although the saddle I installed last month is definitely taking some getting used to. It's comfortable for my daily rides now, although more painful on longer rides, but I think the difference is actually how hard I'm riding (i.e., if my weight is more on my butt or on my legs/arms) and not how far I'm riding. Definitely involves less chafing than the previous one, though.

Bike things! Beer Week happened this month, so I biked from to Hough's twice, one of which involved me trying out the runnel on the Alexis St stairs. While it was an interesting experience, I'm not actually sure that it was significantly less effort than just riding up Greenfield. I guess it used different muscles? It was definitely hard work, although less hard than straight up carrying the bike that same route. Xuth and I also biked to the Science March in Oakland, which happened over Carnival weekend, which made it super convenient to get to alumni events, a BBQ, and back home again. Last week we biked downtown for dinner and Disenchanted with some friends, which was entertaining, although not awesome or even terribly memorable. Then on Saturday I helped bike marshall for the second time for the East End Brewery Keg Ride, which went well and the weather even mostly cooperated and didn't start the downpour until after we finished the ride.

I went ahead and joined the National Bike Challenge, since it uses Strava and I sometimes use Strava (only sometimes because the app crashes or otherwise just fails to record an annoyingly high percentage of the time), although I'm not very enthusiastic about it because the interface is really non-obvious. I can't even figure out how to join a team.

I'm very happy it's nice enough weather that I can just bike around to various things I want to do.
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Today was a weekend day with no big plans and dry weather, which we haven't had in over a week, which means it was past time to mow the lawn.

I had a nice relaxing morning tea, then when the first of my neighbors started their power tools, I decided it was time. Changed into work clothes, slapped on some sunscreen, went outside. Here's about how it went:

If I'm going to mow the lawn, I might as well get some weeding done first. I touch on the herb and veg gardens (where nothing is growing yet except some potatoes and green onion from last year), then wander around to the side and front and get some other random weeds, including a couple large bunches of garlic mustard.

I note that there's a mulberry sapling that is aggressively growing into the peonies, and it needs to get taken out, but it's been there a long time and it's far too big to pull. So I get the loppers and cut it down. While I'm there, the dogwood really needs to get its dead branches hacked out, so I clear a bunch of that and also clean up some of the head-level branches. Then as long as I have the loppers, I also clean up some of the maple tree sapling weeds that are invading the hedges, and take out an apple branch that's hanging too low for my taste and also some roots that are poking up and being annoying.

Take a break for a bit of food and drink and more sunscreen, and I note that the bush next to our back porch is way too bushy for my taste. So next step is the hedge trimmers to aggressively cut back that one, then hack at the forsythia which is trying to invade the trampoline. Pause to clean up a bunch of the weeded and cut stuff into piles for the yard waste bags or for the chipper, then take the trimmers to the front hedge while Jim mulches up some of the branches.

The hedge clippings get put into a second bag with more weeds and the fresh mulch gets spread into the side hedges. I note that there are a lot of spaces where dead hedges have been cleared out, so I grab a shovel and dig up a few pieces of extraneous front hedge and transplant them into the spaces. Then on a whim I grab the weedwacker and refresh the edge on the sidewalks.

Finally it's time to mow the lawn! Whew.

I'm exhausted but not done until everything is cleaned up, so I pack up the last of the yard waste bag, put the last of the wood through the chipper, and sweep up all the various detritus and tree schmutz from the sidewalk and driveway. Then come inside, clean up, discover a strip of sunburn where my shirt didn't quite cover my waist when I leaned over, and collapse with a beer.

And that's how I spent 6 hours mowing the lawn.

Here are some pictures of the progress (afters only).

Front yard. Visible flowers, clockwise from lower right are: white azaleas, purple azaleas, columbine, a faint bit of pink phlox, more columbine (bluish) and a lone purple iris. Not visible, some spanish bluebells which appeared for the first time this year (I vaguely remember planting some mystery bulbs last year...) and red azaleas on the other side of the porch steps. The hedge is vaguely neat and the tree stump is half gone.

Back yard. No flowers currently back here, but the chives and the row of irises are about to bloom, and the raspberry bushes are preparing to fruit. This bush next to the porch bench is the one I trimmed back.

Side yard. Also no flowers currently here, but the lower left is the giant peony bush which has buds, a row of happy hostas, and the dogwood which I trimmed which will eventually get removed. Also a patch of spare irises and a bunch of weeds.
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SOTY Apr 2017

OK Not actually on fire, but it definitely seems like everything is happening all at once around here. Spring jump-started in February (first crocuses in my yard, Feb 24!), then went back and hibernated for another month. Daffodils have been going at it for a while (and there are still some left!); hyacinth bloomed briefly (but poorly; these bulbs aren't happen) and I planted some more pink ones; muscari and phlox and apple blossoms were in full force last weekend; tulips are now blooming for the first time in years (previous years they get chomped by deer); pink azaleas just opened their first blossoms, and columbine looks to be nearly ready to open. Whew.

- First lawn (chive) mowing was Apr 9, and it needs it again already.
- Garden rosemary looks to have not survived last winter (surprising), so I took winter potted rosemary and put it into the ground in several sections, with one stalk going back into the pot for next winter.
- Dandelions and bittercress weed sections have been halfheartedly swiped at. Wasn't so bad this year. Totally ignoring the goutweed in the strawberries again.
- With the help of a friend and his chainsaw, Jim cut down the front apple tree, the one that's given us nothing but rotten apples the whole time I've lived here. Tree guy said it would not last another 5 years, so we decided to take it out now and hopefully give the other one a better chance. Maybe I'll actually try to grow some grass there now.
- Finished cutting down the shed maple which Jim did part of last year, and another corner sapling which was growing in a really bad spot. Then the three of us processed all the wood into manageable chunks or chips. This week I'm working on clearing all that stuff out of here.



Here's the front view of the house sans tree. There are also pink smudges of phlox, purple smudges of muscari (grape hyacinth), a few purple azalea flowers, and white apple blossom petals all over the ground.
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Bike log, March 2017: 165 miles

March was a lower mileage month than February, which was pretty completely unsurprising, given that February was basically half springtime and March turned back to winter for half of it. I rode downtown with Xuth for a Brain Candy show, and around town with other women in International Women's Day, but then I went on vacation and it got cold and wet and stayed that way for a while. Finally near the end of the month we got a few nice days and I did an full Friday evening of easy trail riding.

Last month I installed the Oi and was pretty unimpressed. It only fits by moving my shifters and brakes up and out of the way, is hard to ding properly, isn't very loud, and becomes useless if anything is touching it, like my Barmitts, which I had on for the middle half of the month. I was just about ready to take it off on the next bike maint day I got, when I went for a trail ride and actually used it and it actually worked. Like, people heard it and moved out of the way. So I decided to keep it for a while longer, at least until I find another bell that I like more.

The tape holding the vinyl on my bike saddle together held up for a few weeks but was really irritating my thighs by the end. I ended up deciding on a slightly older model of the fi'z:k Vesta saddle that I found at a good price and most importantly, in a grey and blue color scheme that matches the rest of the blue on my bike. Yea, color coordination. It's MUCH firmer of a saddle than anything I've had for the past 6 years, so much so that I had to raise up my seat post by an inch to account for the lack of padding. The first couple days were slightly uncomfortable, but I think it's something I will acclimate for. I haven't done any longer rides with it so I'll reserve full judgement until then.

Ended the month by riding down to ProBikes to get some basic spring maintenance done.
blk: (lyra)
OK, not actually running away to join the circus. But I might visit occasionally.

A friend brought her lyra hoop to an event recently and I got to play around on it, and realized yet again that a) this is fun, and b) I know how to do approximately nothing on it. So finally I decided to do something about it, and I signed up for a beginner lyra class from Fullbody Fitness, a local aerial fitness studio.

It was fun! I arrived a little early and there was a silks class and also a pole class in progress, so I watched them for a bit. I was pleased to see that there was a variety of body shapes and ages attending. My class had five people in it, and the other four had been doing this for a while. I was definitely the least skilled and also the least flexible, but also the strongest (or at least highest strength-to-weight), and that plus my experience in climbing other things let me jump right in to their level. We went through quite a few moves and got to practice as much as desired. The other participants all set up their phones to record themselves which is probably a good idea that I might do in the future.

By the end of the class I was definitely feeling tired and bruised, although not muscle-sore. I suspect the unevenness of what gets worn out will balance out with time and practice. I chatted with the instructor for a bit after and got some tips on how to stretch out my hips more as well as talked up some of my bostonish friends' aerial experiences and skillz. I mentioned that I thought the class was pretty fast-paced for being beginner and she said that was only because she felt all of us were really strong for beginners and experienced enough in other things that enabled her to push us a lot more. She also mentioned that the studio was planning a move to the South Side neighborhood soon, which would be lovely as it would cut my commute in half (and make it feasible to bike there).

Sooooo I think I'm going to go back. Maybe see if I can get some local friends to go with me, heh.
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Bike log, Feb 2017: 220 miles

This is my second highest month mileage yet (beaten by 5 miles last August), and probably the most I'll ever get in a typical February. Well, but we might be out of typical Februaries.

But as luck had it, three of the four weekends had at least one really nice spring weather day, so I ended up getting out of a lot of longer rides. First was the 4th Annual Frigid Bitch, which I'm gonna say is the first bike race I've ever done (I did another alley cat previously but time wasn't a factor there). It was really fun! For a variety of reasons (there weren't too many optimal path options; a lot of people riding; and groups are better at riding in traffic), people ended up riding in clumps, and a couple friends an a couple new friends and I solidified into a group of 5 after the 2nd checkpoint. I am NOT a bike racer, and it felt like I was barely keeping up with them for much of the ride, but I managed it, and our group arrived back and tied for 14th place! So I got some cool swag out of it, too, because the swag tables were literally overflowing with stuff. My legs were in soooooo much pain afterwards but it was worth it. Imma doing it again next year. That was 26+ miles of race (in about 2:15), with 12+ miles of traveling to/from.

The next weekend was also amazing, so there was an impromptu Weekend Hills ride, which was a lot hillier than the race but also a lot more leisurely. Saw a lovely fixer-upper house for sale out in Sheraden, ate cookies and donuts and a fabulous pasty, and had got a light sunburn. wtf, Feb. Last weekend brought a beautiful summer day on Friday, so I meandered around the South Side a bit, rode downtown to march for trans rights then rode around trails with some friends, failed to get into a club, and settled for dinner and beers.

Bike changes: I finally installed the OI bike bell that I received last month, and I'm... unimpressed. First off, the only place it actually fits on my handlebars is right next to my grips, which meant moving my shifters a half inch left, which means they don't work quite as smoothly. Also, I ordered this thing like 6 months ago, paid a lot more than current costs, and didn't get it until it was available to the public. And finally, it's pretty and sounds nice, but it's not that loud. It also occasionally resonates quietly while I'm riding. I'm not sure what to do about it. I could replace it with the larger version and put it closer in to my stem, but that would make it a lot harder to thumb on demand. I'm going to ride like this for a while and see if I keep disliking it.

My super-cheap-but-functional bike seat is wearing out to the point that the vinyl (?) covering is cracking and irritates my thighs. I intend to get a new saddle, but I have decision paralysis on what I actually need. On one hand, I'm lusting after the Terry Butterly Galactic, as I know I like Terry and that one's preeeeeetty. On the other hand, I'm fairly certain I would be perfectly content with something basic that's 1/5 of that price, as long as it's a women's fit saddle. There are plenty of other nice saddles that get great reviews that I can find for sale prices online, but I'm leery of getting something that doesn't work for the type of riding I do. (I ride middling-upright on a hybrid, not "racing," commute 150+ miles a month (but (so far) not more than 50 in a day (and that's rare)), and it will have to sit outside in whatever weather on a regular basis). I suppose I should probably visit a LBS but then I anticipate feeling obligated to buy one of theirs. For now I'm putting off the decision, so instead I just put some duck tape over the cracks in my current seat to smooth it out, and will keep thinking about it.
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One of my favorite charities these days is DonorsChoose, which enables directed donations to teachers in grade school classrooms throughout the US. One of the perks of a directed donation site is that it lets you pick out a specific project to give to, so you know exactly what and who you are helping to fund.

One of the fun parts of a donation site with specific, small sub-goals is the fun of seeing a project finished. In fact, that was my preferred method for a while: on my periodic giving visits, I would search for projects that only needed a little bit more money, and finish as many as I could within my budget.

Unfortunately, this website is sub-optimal in its search capabilities. Instead of allowing a donor to search by an arbitrary needed dollar range, it only has a few preset categories: $50, $100, $250, $500, and $1000. I noticed a while ago that if a project manages to get to under $100 needed, it pretty much always completes, and as such, in the "$100 and under" category, at the moment of this post, the project with the fewest days left still has 6 days before it expires, while the next category ($250 and under) has 12 unfinished projects that will expire at midnight tonight (all projects expire at midnight).

So last month I tested a new strategy. Instead of finishing only small projects that were several days out, or using my budget on completing a small number of more urgent, but more expensive projects, I picked out projects that were about to expire, then donated just enough to bring their needed amount down to less than $100. A few hours later, I checked back, and all of those projects had completed! I still got to see several projects complete without going way over my budget. Win!
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Bike log, Jan 2017: 140 miles

I started off the new year by finally making the Icycle Bicycle ride with the Western PA Wheelmen group on Jan 1, as it was nice and sunny and not snowy. About 100 cyclists showed, all in tights and neon, mostly people I didn't know. It was a fairly fast-paced ride, but it was also only about a 15 mile ride, and on mostly flats, so I didn't have too much trouble keeping in a group (although I'd dropped to a later group by the end).

Then the rest of the month was just basic commuting, with a week off to drive up to Boston for a convention. There was a lot of cold and wet riding, which was not terribly pleasant for either me or the bike, although at least I have the gear to make it only mildly annoying instead of really dreadful. One ride home left enough snow packed up in my fenders that getting into work the next morning was particularly difficult. I made good use of the large exhaust pipe near the bike racks for drying it off that day.

I ended the month at a women's winter bike workshop, where I learned that I was not lubing my chain anywhere near as often or as thoroughly as I should be doing for the weather I'm riding in. Lucky for me, I was the only one who rode my bike to the workshop, so I got to have my bike used as the demo bike, and got a freshly lubed chain out of the night. More than worth the cost of admission.
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Food log, Jan 2016

I'm not listing everything I made this month because that would be boring, not to mention I don't remember it all. But here are some highlights.

After doing some traveling earlier in the month, the house ended up with a couple bags with a greater-than-usual quantity of crushed, sugary, cereal dust. The kind of sugary dust that nobody wants to eat as actual cereal, but I wondered what I could do.

Experiment 1 was crushed frosted flake chicken. It came out decent, but a little too sweet for everybody else in the house. I bet it would have been good paired with a nice mustard, but I'll probably not try again, and anyways I ran out of that cereal.

Experiment 2 was my basic goto banana muffins, with crushed frosted shredded wheat in place of the oats, and no extra sugar added. Success! I will probably use up the rest of that cereal this way, and possibly any future cereals.

Last weekend I threw my annual Soup Swap party, where people make soups, everybody samples everything, and we swap frozen quarts around. This year I decided to try out a super easy chicken taco recipe I borrowed from [personal profile] katybeth which is basically 1 can each of black beans, kidney beans, bbq beans, corn, and tomatoes (lg), mixed with 1# chicken and taco seasoning. I tried it a couple times and decided the taco seasoning was the most (only?) important part, and using our homemade seasoning and adding some liquid made it just right. Party folks liked it well enough, too, and 7qts of it got swapped away.

The party was a great success, with 40(!) people (10 under 18) and 15 soups. Nearly everything got finished up or taken away. Everything was pretty tasty, although there was nothing this year I ended up really loving. The day afterward I decided I had been craving a good cream soup, so after a surprise trip with friends to Restaurant Depot where I got a huuuuuge amount of 'shrooms, I tossed together a basic cream of mushroom soup that hit the spot.

Today Xuth and I are sniffly and sick and blah, so leftover soups (and some emergency canned soups) are just the right thing.
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Continuing with our holiday tradition, last month just after xmas, Xuth and I went to Parker Dam State Park for a few days to cabin and hike and read books. We chose this park specifically because the cabins have fireplaces (and also electricity and heat) and we like fire.

Day 1 (Mon, Dec 26)
The drive up was fairly uneventful, albeit damp. After unloading the car we browsed the nearby woods for some wood for the fireplace, which Xuth sawed up and split and I stacked near the heater to dry a little. It's dark early there, which leaves a lot of evening down time for dinner, fire, tea, and reading books.

Day 2 (Tue, Dec 27)
It was a lovely, sunshiney, cold day. We managed to break past hiking trends and actually got out of the cabin on the early side for us, a little after 10am. We traveled around several local trails, up to Tyler Road at the north end of the park which was completely iced over, and came in the north entrance of the park to pass the CCC cabin and tornado display, which gave an interesting summary and a few pictures of the great tornado outbreak of May 31, 1985. One of the F4 tornadoes swept a swath 1-2 miles wide for almost 70 miles through Moshannon State Forest, including through Parker Dam State Park, destroying large swaths of forest. A lot of our hiking took us through that area, where we could see what had grown up naturally in the last 30 years.

We finished our day with a hike up to a promised Scenic Overlook point, which, was a nice 300 ft climb in about 1/2 mile. Sure enough, there was a fairly scenic view of Parker Lake at the top. Coming back to the cabin was a nice round 10 miles, where I lay down and dozed for a much-needed nap before dinner.

Day 3 (Wed, Dec 28)
Wed seemed to be about similar temps as Tue, but I decided to put on an extra layer because it also looked to be overcast. This ended up being mostly but not quite enough, as I was almost comfortable, but still slightly on the chilly side for much of the day. We started off with a quick tour around Parker Lake, then over to the east side of the park where we took the first and last bit of the Quehanna Trail, with local trail between the points.

This was (as we found out later) a newer trail, and less well-maintained, with blazings often not within sight distance (and a very un-obvious, leaf-covered trail). About halfway between landmarks we managed to lose the blue blazings and ended up wandering around lost in the forest for a while. That sounds much more exciting than it was - we both had GPS devices, knew the approximate direction and distance we needed to walk in to find another landmark trail, and as a last resort could always have retraced our steps back the way we came. Eventually we re-found the route and continued.

Being slightly chilly for several hours is incredibly exhausting, so even though it only ended up being a ~8 mile day, we decided to call it quits after we got back to the main part of the park, and spent the rest of the day with naps and books.

Day 4 (Thu, Dec 29)

This was check-out day, but also snow! Not a lot, but enough to change the landscape in fun ways. We meandered around the lake then headed to the park office to check out and also because that was when the attendant had told us there would be a ranger available to let us check out the CCC musuem (PDF). This was the best collected information, pictures, flotsam, etc about CCC I've seen yet and it was all pretty interesting. It was also the first information I'd read about black people in the CCC (PDF), which stood out to me. Camps were kept segregated, and only 10% of the camps were black, despite having the community represent over 25% of the applicants in need.

Then it was home time, catching on all the previous few days of events of the world and coming back to regular life.

Link to full album of pics, in case you didn't click on the above pics.
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This year at Arisia I prioritized dancing, costuming, and seeing the guest of honor, to great success.

Dancing

Last year at Arisia I re-realized that dancing is awesome, so I decided to try to do a lot of that this year, even bringing along pharmaceutical assistance (in the form of dimenhydrinate) to help with the less good side effects that I mostly blame for why I've kept away from it for long. I made it to most of the swing dance, the fusion dance lesson, all three late night dances, and even did one contra song. I missed the waltz (sad!) because it overlapped a GOH panel, and most of the contra because spinning1 messes up my head.

Mostly it was all excellent2 and re-reminded me that dancing is hella fun and I want to do more of it. My follow skills for partner dances felt super rusty and sloppy, but I think there was some improvement just over the course of the weekend, and I'm positive with actual lessons I could do a whole lot more pretty quickly. The club dancing was good at energy burn and flow, and there's something nice about being in a roomful of other geeks that makes me a little less self-conscious about all the possible ways I can look stupid whilst flailing around the dance floor. Also having a hotel room available just a few floors away that I could floomp into when I started fading.

So now I'm looking around locally for dancing I can make time for. Primarily partner dancing, although getting out to a club every now and again would be fun too. I could do CMUBDC, but I wonder if I'll feel old there. Swing city looks to be still operating, and is convenient. I see a lot of conflicting information about various regular ballroom classes/dances, so that will take some more research. [profile] marmal8, I may be stalking you for events for a bit.

1 Yes, I know that it's possible to contra without swinging super fast, but it's really not possible to contra without swinging at all, because every dance has like 2 or 3 of them, plus other spins, AND the dances are usually around ~10 minutes long instead of 3-4 mins for regular partner dances AND contra really isn't much my style anyways. I really like having to be precise and exact and well-matched with a partner.

2 Except for a brief moment where I had a teeny little private meltdown in the bathroom from an internal struggle with really wanting to participate in the last contra of the night/weekend vs needing to sit out because head was a little spinny. But that passed and I went on to dance other things.



Costuming

Cosplay is fun! I found out about Carrie Fisher's death on the way home from cabining with [profile] xuth, and a couple days later decided that I wanted to be her once again. Not the Princess Leia that I was last year, but the older, more mature, General Leia. The one who had lived through a rebellious teen, a rocky marriage, and had thrown herself back into her work, fighting for good. Best Leia.

Unfortunately, this left me less than two weeks to get my costume together. And I knew that there would be guaranteed several other Leias at the con because of current events, so mine had to be Right. I managed to find beige clothing that worked well, but no vests I was happy with, when Xuth suggested I make my own. A simple vest shouldn't be that hard, right? Of course not, and it shouldn't take long, assured Xuth, who is very capable and comfortable with power tools and knows his way around the sewing machine much better than I do. Well, after a great deal of trial and error sewing and ripping and sewing and ripping and maybe a tantrum or two, I finally managed to create a decent looking dark purple vest, with liner and pockets and a belt from plastic, aluminum tape and elastic, all about a day before leaving.



The costume turned out as something I was pretty happy with. I also figured out, after quite a few failed attempts, how to pile my hair on my head to effectively mimic her twists, at least from the front, which none of the other General Leias at the con (I saw at least three) had done. At one point, Xuth commented on how much hairstyle figures into my cosplay, and I was like, duh, have you met met?

I got a lot of compliments and had fun schmoozing with the various other Leias who were also there and the rest of the people who made it to the Star Wars photoshoot. I wore this one Friday and Saturday, but noticed that although there were General Leias and New Hope Leias and Endor Leias, there were no Hoth Leias, so I changed into that (costume from previous year) for Sunday.



My final costume was a simple Star Trek Uhura outfit, one copied from Into Darkness (new old) and thrown together for Halloween. Initially I'd acquired a cheap package costume, then found a much better quality real outfit on eBay. Then there were the boots. I thought that after running for years, outgrowing pants and socks, and having trouble fitting into anything "skinny" anymore, that my calves could finally qualify as being "normal-sized" calves. But noooooo, apparently 15" is still so wide they swim. I found a slightly smaller calved boot from Keen that works reasonable well, but argh. I guess I still have stupid skilly legs.

The fun of cosplay has motivated me to start learning sewing for real, and I took my first ever sewing class just before the con. We sewed a cute little pillowcase, which was fairly straightforward, but OMG, it turned out perfectly without any tears! Or any tearing out stiches over and over! Which further indicates that heeeey maybe I should try to learn these skills incrementally instead of in gigantic crash sessions. I'm looking forward to more lessons.


GOHing

I finally figured out the last couple years that Arisia's taste in Writer GOHs is pretty good, and I should pay attention to them. 2015 had N.K. Jemisin, who I didn't sadly attend panels of but ended up loving her books later that year. 2016 had Scalzi, and while I don't love his books quite as thoroughly, I do like his writing a lot and enjoyed the panels he was on. And 2017 was [profile] ursulav who I haven't read much of yet, but I know she has a really lovely way with words.3 Her sessions were quite enjoyable. The panel which was basically "ursulav answers audience questions" was funny, and prompted me to go look up gems such as Hellhound Rescue, The Hidden Almanac, and her Alarming New Skill. So now I am motivated to read much more of her work, and possibly gift a certain set of niblings with some of her children's work.

3 If you haven't read anything by Ursula Vernon, I recommend a short fiction: Jackalope Wives to get a taste for her style of writing. Then consider that a lot of her work is in the form of graphic novels and retold fairy tales.

The only really negative part of the weekend is somewhere about 6 hours out of Boston I realized I hadn't packed up the two copies of the Halcyon Fairy Book that I'd purchased and gotten autographed while standing around trying not to fangirl too hard at the author, and Xuth didn't remember packing them either, and when he called the hotel, they didn't report having found them. I'm reeeeeeeally bummed about that. They were last seen in the hotel room on the desk, so I guess I just keep hoping that we get a call back soon. :(


Other

The other big interesting thing about this year's con is that for the first time, I brought along the jboys. Justin was on winter break from RIT and David decided he wanted to tag along as well. So we put them up in The Boy's hotel room a few blocks away, and lo and behold, they managed to survive the weekend. I'm not sure either of them spent more than an hour outside the video game room, but hey, it's a thing, and they had fun.

I also got a chance to visit with some lovely local people, many of whom I basically see once a year around this time, although not nearly as many or with as much quality time as I wish I could have. I think that specific socializing needs to be more formally planned next year.

For the drive back, we went home by way of Rochester, because as it turns out, Boston to Rochester to Pittsburgh is only about 100 miles more than Boston to Pittsburgh is, and we could drop off Justin at his dorm. The final three of us finally got home Tuesday.

Whew. Excellent weekend. Let's do it again next year.
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2016 Book Log

I enjoyed doing this last year, and decided to continue. Keeping a log helps me to make sure reading stays near the top of my personal priority list. I've included a brief summary with each book/series with my reaction. I tried to keep it short and also not include any spoilers.

My totals for the year: 45 books, 26 authors, 14 women authors. Thinking about my "top picks" for the year, I think women outnumber men almost 2 to 1. Maybe I should be prioritizing them more.

Now taking applications/recommendations for 2017!

2015 Book Log: http://blk.livejournal.com/302910.html

Science fiction
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1. The Three-Body Problem - Cixin Liu

Read because it won the 2015 Hugo for Best Novel.

I went into this one not knowing anything about it, which I think is the best way, because the main story plot does not become clear until fully halfway through, and going through the "wtf is going on" process with the main characters is fully appreciated. The writing was amazingly well done and smooth, with footnotes to help with some parts readers might not be familiar with. The science is lovely and philosophical, almost to the point where I wanted to spend more time on that rather than the actual story line as it ended up being.

I also went into this without realizing this was going to be first of a connected trilogy. It was both not an easy read for me and neither did it have any real conclusion, which made it less satisfying overall. I intended to continue it but somehow the second book never seemed appealing when I was picking what to read next. Maybe next year.

2. The Sparrow - Mary Doria Russell

Eric, the store owner from Amazing Books in Squirrel Hill, highly recommended this one to me.

The story is about a mission - both scientific and spiritual - to an alien planet that went badly. That general premise is known from the start, and the rest of the book is learning what horrible things happened and how the main characters were affected. There is a lot more spiritual philosophizing than science in here, which was wonderful and interesting if you're into that thing, but the emotional agony of the characters eventually felt overly drawn out. The ending, while good at concluding this part of the tale, wasn't particularly rewarding to me, and didn't leave me with a desire to continue the story. I contented myself with reading the plot summary of the sequel and calling it a day.

3. Grass - Sheri S. Tepper

I picked this on the recommendation of Scalzi after Tepper's death this year.

In a lot of ways, this made me think of The Sparrow while I was reading it. The world-building is fantastic and both the alien world and the societal structures are well written and intriguing. There is a good amount of spiritual philosophizing in ways that don't give pat answers to things. What disappointed me is the lack of character depth. One main character was interesting to me; the others were varying shades of boring to annoying, and I found that I didn't really care what happened to most of them, despite the book's POV jumping around between them. I guess I've really been spoiled by other authors' characters. Good for what it did, though.

4. Carnival - Elizabeth Bear

Recommended by Jonathon

There were a lot of things to satisfy me in this book - good solid characters, interesting social and political intrigue, a look at a non-patriarchal society with interesting, complicated women, non-heterosexual main characters, and a good story. I did find myself going back and re-reading bits to recall exactly who this character was, or to try to make sense of yet another scheme within a scheme, or to find a thread I dropped of how characters ended up in certain situations, but I don't know if that was because it tried to be a little too complex or because of my own wandering attention. Good read.

5. Lock In - John Scalzi

Read because Scalzi was GOH at Arisia last year and I wanted to read more of his work.

This is a pretty typical Scalzi book, perhaps on the better side of what I've read so far. He's got an interesting future world, pretty good solid characters, and the wealth of sarcastic dialog that he's known for. It's a fun read, nothing deep or profound.

6. Tomorrow and Tomorrow - Thomas Sweterlitsch

Recommended by magentametrix

The delight of this book is that it is Pittsburgh based, and by Pittsburgh based I mean not only does much of the important storyline take place in Pittsburgh, the places are described in so much exquisite detail that it was like taking a tour. Someone rides a bus through the tunnels; they visit similar stores in Shadyside that I've seen; there's a mystery involving 9 Mile Run and distinctive real places; etc. It was all so achingly familiar that I kept wanting to go for a walk and find the landmarks mentioned.

The down side of the book is that it is a dystopia, which in this case means it involves not just Pittsburgh getting annihilated, but characters who are abused and killed in really violent, ugly ways. It reminded me of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, except minus the kick-ass primary female protagonist, which takes away a lot of the satisfaction of seeing good win. Definitely read it for the Pittsburgh, but brace yourself for the ugly parts.

Fantasy fiction (non-series)
----
7. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street - Natasha Pulley

I first saw this mentioned by Emily. Also other sources.

Part steampunk beauty, part historical fantasy, this book introduces and meanders around the mystery of a fascinating person. The writing is beautiful and subtle, leaving me to flip back to previous chapters where I could see the hints being dropped far in advance, but also just vague enough to offer multiple possibilities of what is really going on. I really loved this right up until the very last two pages, when the ending made clear that none of that vagueness I was really interested in was going to get resolved, and the fascinating person who I craving knowing more of was going to remain a confusing mystery.

8. Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman

Read because Gaiman and mentioned by most of my friends, but possibly first by larksdream. Finally got around to listening to the audiobook on a drive to Rochester with Justin.

I don't know what to say about this one except that it's a Gaiman story, and a wonderful one at that. It's told from the POV of a 7yo boy (as a flashback) and it does an amazing job of putting the reader into his shoes and experiencing his trauma from that perspective. It's powerful and wistful and magical and beautiful.

9. The Goblin Emperor - Katherine Addison

Another larksdream mention, as well as a 2015 Hugo nominee.

This book pleased me in totally unexpected ways, considering that basically nothing happens in the book, with the exception of about one half chapter of action. It is a really strong character story with a lot of thoughts and feelings about complicated social tension and power struggles and how one nobody person suddenly thrust into power does his best to do the right thing. There is almost no fantasy in this at all except as minor details - the goblins and elves and steampunk airships work as an excellently-distanced version of our own race and culture - but the main ideas are entirely universal. Highly recommended for people who like people books as much as I do.

10. Uprooted - Naomi Novik

Read because it was a 2016 Hugo Nominee.

This started off with the fairy tale premise of a small village "sacrificing" a young girl to a "dragon" in order to keep peace... and then it tosses that out the window (kindly) and goes off on its own incredible, magical journey. There is action and adventure, magic and energy flow, interesting characters and non-obvious directions in the plot. Interestingly, the relationships pictured in here are stilted and unsatisfying, but then I looked at with an eye towards how we as individuals relate to things in general - people, societies, environments, dark forces of the universe - and suddenly the way the characters -don't- relate well to each other actually feels a little more meaningful.


Fantasy fiction (series)
----
Fairyland - Catherine Valente
11. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

I added this to my list because of Vryce, but having read this author before, it was an easy add. Cat Valente's writing style is absurdly beautiful, complex, and probably appeals to a very specific audience. I love it, although the sheer density of her imagination makes it not light reading for me, even the YA story which is a bit more of a straightforward story than the other things I've hers that I've read. magical. Valente's universes are chock full of weird magic that makes perfect sense in their context. This one has several more books that eventually I will probably read more of.

Magic Ex Libris - Jim C. Hines
12. Libriomancer

I read this one because I was at the library with David paying off his fees and he wanted a book. I didn't have my list with me, but Katy had recently mentioned it to me, so I recommended it. Then I read it when he was done. How can you not love the idea of someone who gets magic from books? Hines's writing reminds me a little of a cross between Scalzi and Sanderson, although I'm not sure I could tell you why. This one was fun, interesting and a fairly light read. Also, the main character's sidekick is a fire spider, which is just awesome.

The Adventures of Arabella Ashby - David Levine
13. Arabella of Mars

I picked up this one after hearing about it from Katy and seeing the Hamilton filk that the author did to promote it. Gotta give him props for that.

This book had a lot of good elements. A strong female protagonist who I liked, was level-headed, made good decisions, and had a good head on her shoulders. A lot of major steampunk components, many of which got described in great detail without it being tedious. Quite a few wild adventures. A satisfying conclusion that clearly opens the world up to many more future books in the series. Ones I don't really think I have interest in reading, though. Not sure if the story just didn't do it for me or if I just caught this one in my "not ANOTHER story set in a heavily misogynistic culture and society" phase.

Sandman Slim series - Richard Kadrey
14. Sandman Slim
15. Kill the Dead

Recommended by jet last year. These books are irreverent, crude, violent, cynical, and way more fun than I expected giving that description. It digs deep into the angel/demon/magic mythos, with an antihero protagonist who is sarcastic, immature, likes killing things, and is hella likeable.

I keep wavering back and forth on whether I liked it enough to continue. On one hand, fairly easy reading. On the other, the series is up to 12 books and probably still counting. It's not you, baby, it's me.

Song of the Lioness - Tamora Pierce
16. Alanna: The First Adventure
17. In the Hand of the Goddess
18. The Woman Who Rides Like a Man
19. Lioness Rampant

This was apparently a favorite fantasy series for many of my female friends decades ago, when they were teens. I can see how the strong independent female main character was probably a rare thing in its day and super appealing to younger girls, but I'm so tired of fantasy books that want to jump back to medieval time and thus also include medieval gender roles and the female protagonist has to be stronger and better and braver and faster and smarter than all of the men before they accept her as an equal. I finished the series, though.

Queen of the Tearling - Erika Johansen
20. Queen of the Tearling
21. Invasion of the Tearling

I don't remember where I heard about these books, but they sounded interesting. There was a lot of good to them. The characters, in general, are really good. The magic and the setting are interesting, and there's a good story going. But there are frustrating things too. It's definitely a single story in three parts, so some of the major plot points are still left hanging or unclear. I intend to read the final third soon, and that will probably determine my overall assessment.

Mistborn (Cosmere) - Brandon Sanderson
22. Shadows of Self
23. Bands of Mourning

I started the Mistborn series several years ago based off my son's suggestion, and liked them. Sanderson is a pretty comfortable writer for me. He has some weak areas, but overall I like his stories. His worldbuilding is amazing, and his characters are usually pretty good. There's always a big fight/battle scene or two that goes on too long for me, but the rest of it makes up for it.

Shadows of Self and Bands of Mourning continue with the Wax and Wayne Mistborn set, and I have to say that, particularly in BoM, I am liking this one better than the original trilogy, almost exclusively due to one character in particular (helped by a few supporting characters). If there was ever anything else written featuring Wayne I would read it in a heartbeat.

Novellas from Arcanum Unbounded (more Cosmere)
24. Mistborn Secret History
25. The Emperor's Soul
(Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell)

Two of these I'll consider long enough to count as novellas/books, the third is more of a short story. Justin and I listened to these on a trip to Rochester.

Secret History was fun for tying things together and revisiting the old stories from a different perspective, and it hints at a lot more possibilities to learn about. The Emperor's Soul is a great, short standalone that was just slightly too long for our trip, but it was Justin's copy, so after I dropped him off I had to scour the 'net for a copy so I could finish it. The collection is on my hold list so hopefully soon I'll acquire it and read the rest of what's in it.

The Reckoners - Brandon Sanderson
26. Steelheart
27. Firefight
28. Calamity
(Mitosis)

Recommended by David. Decent Sanderson material. Entertaining for the author's challenge of coming up with new, interesting, feasible superhumans without stomping all over any the other existing superhero tropes, stories, inventions, storylines, etc. The teen male protagonist is a little eye-rolly for me, and there's more ka-blooey fights than I care for, but the world-building is solid, and it was enjoyable and easy enough to finish it.

The Lunar Chronicles - Marissa Meyer
29. Cinder
30. Scarlet
31. Cress
32. Fairest
33. Winter
34. Stars Above

Recommended by mh75. Previously I have been leery of retold fairy tales, because the base stories themselves are so problematic and annoying. But when Cinderella becomes a snarky, brave, cyborg mechanic who doesn't play victim, and all the other tropey characters actually are pretty well fleshed out people (or androids/aliens), I ended up liking this way more than I thought I would. There's still an I guess necessary dose of romantic mooning, but it doesn't go too far overboard.

The Broken Earth - N.K. Jemisin
35. The Fifth Season
36. The Obelisk Gate

The Fifth Season was last year's Hugo Award winner for Best Novel, and given how much I enjoyed some of its company, as well as liking her Inheritance trilogy last year, I decided this series couldn't be a bad decision. Well, I was wrong. It was an awful decision, because this one, unlike her others, is a single story in three books, and only two of them have been published yet. The first book is heartwrenching, beautiful, dark, artful, and tense. It was difficult to read in parts because of what the characters have suffered through and how much that shows through in her skillful writing.

I immediately wanted to continue the next, which does not let down. However, now I have to wait another 6 months for the third. Not fair! This is going to be my highest recommendation for a while, but do yourself a favor and hold off another year.

Inheritance - N.K. Jemisin
37. The Awakened Kingdom

While searching around for more Jemisin to get my fix, I discovered there was an addition to the Inheritance trilogy and immediately jumped on it. This novella was a delightful read, well-written in so many ways, had an adorable main character, and ended on a lovely note. Good to read the others first, as the background characters are not explained in this book at all, but is still a standalone story.

Dreamblood - N.K. Jemisin
38. The Killing Moon
39. The Shadowed Sun

Yeah, I got on a Jemisin kick this year. At this rate, I may find myself getting into Mass Effect sometime next year. Weird. But it's clear that this author has my number. 90% into the first book, I swore it was going to be a single story in two books, but then the first one wrapped up suddenly and efficiently. Not completely, making it clear that there were many more stories to be told in this universe, but enough that one could stop with one without feeling like you're leaving something major lost. The second book had some overlap, and needed the background of the first for best appreciation, but was still a single story in its own right.

I could go on at length about the small things I liked about this, but I'll save that gushing for other conversations and just say that this is my recommendation of the year for something to read right now.


Fiction
----
40. Paper Towns - John Green

I traded book recommendations with Rebecca to get this one. I know of and like the Green brother's vlogs, and was kind of aware that one was a YA author as well, and this is the first one I've read. It was good! Interesting concept that explored teenage years well and ended well without giving a happily-ever-after pat fairytale ending.

41. My Brilliant Friend - Elena Ferrante

Sometime early last year I was going through random online Books Highly Recommended Lists by Other People, and this one came up. It sounded like my kind of book, and I think maybe it almost was. It's very much about the characters, about growing up - with and without enough, and about friendship and kinship, placed in Naples in the 50s. It meanders and it is thoughtful. I doesn't have overarching victories or grand sweeping conclusions.

And maybe that's the problem. I read through it getting to know these women and their society, but not really being attached to most of them, and their unfortunate circumstances and choices just keep me feeling depressed. Then when I finished and felt really unfulfilled, I found that it is part of a 4 book series that promises more of the same. Not continuing.

42. The Girl in the Spider's Web - David Lagercrantz

This is an addition to the Millennium series (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) by Stieg Larsson. It was not made with Larsson's notes (or his partner's permission). As a result, the characters are a little different, didn't come across nearly as powerful, and overall just didn't really sit quite right in my head. On the other hand, it's also missing some of the trope issues that I had with Larsson's original writing. It was enjoyable as a standard detective story that makes use of a familiar setting.

43. Go Set a Watchman - Harper Lee

This book has a lot of really good things it, but I wouldn't call it a great book. Mostly in part because it was never meant to be. This is basically an early rough draft of the book that To Kill a Mockingbird was an extended excerpt/flashback from, and in that context, it makes a lot more sense. Also given the context of TKAM, I can appreciate the actual character growth a lot more. There is a lot of substance in it, though, and some of the roughness serves well to provoke more thought, if the reader is willing to do a little work.

44. Sunday Philosophy Club - Alexander McCall Smith

Recommended by mh75. This was a fun, simple mystery with a lot of thought and not a lot of action. Unfortunately, I didn't particularly care for the main character, and the story didn't really have much impact on me either way.

Non-Fiction
----
45. Between the World and Me - Ta-Nehisi Coates

Recommended by jadia. This was a hard read, I think because I'm not practiced in reading non-fiction, and mentally I try to look for rising action, character development, etc, and this was mostly an epistle. It is thoughtful, angry, hopeful, passionate, and informative.

Other
----
I read a variety of other things, but of note, I went through as much as possible of Ann Leckie's short fiction: http://www.annleckie.com/bibliography/ and also as much as possible of N.K. Jemisin's short fiction: http://nkjemisin.com/bibliography/
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