Solving Sophronia – Jennifer Moore

Look at that, it’s time for another NetGalley. I asked for this one solely on the fact that the cover was pretty and the title intriguing, and I’m very happy I did!

Solving Sophronia introduces the Blue Orchid Society – a group of high society ambitious women in end-of-19th-century London, who decide one fateful ball night to take their destinies into their own hands.

Lady Sophronia “Sophie” Bremerton, subject of this first book in the series, is a society columnist, but her ambition is to become an investigative reporter.

And it so happens that she runs into the scene of a crime, and that her deep knowledge of woman fashion leads to some very astute remarks. Jonathan Graham, the detective in charge of the investigation, doesn’t believe that civilians should be involved in police investigations, but he quickly sees the values of Sophie’s insights and connections.

I knew I had made the right call on that book from the dedication line, which was “For Margot, the Crabtree to my Higgins” – as a Murdoch Mysteries fan myself, this was a very good sign indeed. And Solving Sophronia definitely has a Murdoch mood to it – part of it is the era and context, obviously, but it runs deeper – to my delight.

The mystery and its investigation were interesting; the characters were lovable. The rhythm of the ending felt a bit off – and possibly a bit rushed. It didn’t impact much my enjoyment of the book. I particularly liked that Sophie’s strengths handled as “look what I can bring that is different” more than “look how I can do the same things as you”. But most of all, I loved the idea and the introduction of the Blue Orchid Society. I’m looking forward to the adventures of its other members!

52Frames – 2020-21 – Symmetry

The theme for 52Frames this week was Symmetry.

I was initially considering taking pictures of two halves of that eggplant; at the last moment I recruited Pierre to hold the knife while I was taking pictures, using the knife to emphasize an axis of symmetry… which is not perfect, but I think pretty interesting still (you can play “spot the differences” 🙂 ). I did take pictures of the two halves, but they were far less satisfying.

This one is not perfect (I would have had liked to have a better alignment of my camera vertically on the knife, which would also probably have helped with the imbalance of the eggplant halves); I still somehow don’t hate it. And my eggplant was cut anyway, so there’s that.

My initial picture was without the purple border; I started adding a border to get a square image in Instagram, wondered if my usual “white” was best, ran into the purple, and ended up liking it more that way. It also re-emphasizes the symmetry and the centering, in my opinion.

52Frames – 2020-20 – Not What You See

This week, the theme for 52Frames was “Not What You See”, with an extra-credit for “Levitation” (which I claimed).

I had learnt a little while ago how to do that sort of things, and it’s fairly straightforward, assuming you have a tripod and manage to take pictures with similar-enough light – take two pictures, one with your subject, one without, and play with GIMP layers and masks to remove all the supporting elements (here I’m sitting on a chair and my feet are on a stool in front of me because I’m not flexible enough to handle doing that with a single chair :P).

It does feel like degree 0 (okay, 0.5) of creativity – which is the mood I was in today, I’ll admit; however, I did submit, I did not break my streak, and I did post 2020-20!

Thunderstorm

The day before yesterday there was a bit of distant thunderstorm – distant enough that there was no rain (and essentially no sound). So I got the camera out and I started playing around with it. I had never tried my hand at that, and the thunderstorm was fairly quiet (for a thunderstorm), which means I got a meager 4 reasonable pictures out of 106 exposures 😛

I enjoyed editing them and trying to get well-defined bolts on these skies. I particularly like the last one – there’s no bolt, but I really like the light and the clouds 🙂

52Frames – 2020-19 – One Roll of Film

For the 52Frames theme this week, the challenge was to submit a picture with a maximum of 24 takes (or 12, or… 1 🙂 ). In all fairness, this is not necessarily much of a challenge for me, since… there’s probably more pictures than not where I take less than 24 takes.

That kind of theme/constraint doesn’t really steer my creativity – I still went through 24 shots of a slice of agate, playing with a pair of lumecubes to illuminate it in different ways. This one was my favorite – I particularly liked the golden reflection on the border on top.

And just for fun, the full roll of 24 photos in Darktable:

The State of the Balise in times of The Virus™

This is going to be a very personal post – and I’m not sure it’s going to be of much interest to people essentially going through the same things as I am or, most probably, worse – on the other hand, this is the kind of things I’d like to read from the people I care about, so… let’s work with that assumption.

I was tempted to go for a “what’s good, what’s bad, what’s super bad” (or the other way around) structure, but instead I’ll talk around themes – seems easier to organize my thoughts this way.

The situation around here

In Switzerland, we do not have a strict lock-down: it’s strongly advised to stay home as much as possible, but nothing is legally enforced there. Restaurants, non-essential shops and leisure facilities (sports and culture) are closed (some shops are starting to reopen); gatherings of more than 5 people are forbidden. Working from home is encouraged if at all possible. Standard recommendations about keeping your distances and washing your hands are obviously repeated at every occasion. The Swiss Federal Council holds a press conference once to twice a week, they talk about the evolution of the situation and the measures in place.

We’ve been following the recommendations pretty strictly: we’re both working from home, and we stay home. We’re going out once a week for grocery shopping; we wear (homemade) masks when we do. Pierre has been to the dentist this week, but other than that… we have basically only seen each other for the past month and a half.

Work

Work is mostly good. We’re lucky that a/ we can both work from home without large hassle b/ we have enough space in our apartment that we’re able to have two separate home office spaces. This is one of the things I’m most grateful for, because it allows me to keep some sense of normality… and sanity.

I normally work 60%; I started tracking my time because I had a feeling I was working way more than that, and even with tracking, I… do work more than that. Granted, it’s a period of the cycle at work where we’d all tend to work more, so it’s hard to tell if I’m working more because of that or because of working from home and not being constrained by “shit, I need to leave now if I want to catch my train”. In any case, I think it helps with feeling useful and with having something to do that doesn’t leave much space for significant worry. It’s sometimes a source of stress too, but it’s “normal stress” (as opposed to “Virus™-related stress”).

We have daily calls with a few colleagues – some status report, and one explicitly “social” call where we try to re-create the mood of our office kitchen during coffee breaks. This helps a lot in not feeling isolated, and keeping in touch with lighter topics.

Still, it starts to weigh on me. I miss seeing my colleagues. The other day I got all teary-eyed at hearing the laugh of a colleague during the weekly status meeting – good thing I didn’t actually have to talk during that meeting… From a professional standpoint, I also miss being able to clear misunderstanding quickly, and to be able to call out to someone as they’re passing when I have a question or something they can help me with. We make do, but it’s definitely less comfortable (and it typically takes more time too).

Keeping busy on my own

I’m lucky there as well: I’m definitely on the “introvert” end of the spectrum, and my usual ways of keeping busy haven’t been impacted much by the current situation. I read, I play video games, I watch TV, I code, I practice calligraphy… all these are definitely on. I miss going out with my camera, but I’ve still been able to make a few images around the apartment. I’ve been keeping up with 52Frames, and there’s a Scavenger Hunt running – so I have some creative prompts to get stuff done.

I had started going on walks around Zürich at the end of winter – I miss doing that. I have a strong inkling that one of the first places I’ll go back to when I feel comfortable doing that is the lake – go see “my” tree, probably sit on a bench nearby with a book. I’m probably going to miss the full flower season of Seleger Moor – they MIGHT be able to re-open earlier than expected, but I don’t expect to be able to go there by then, because it’s pretty far away by bus.

I continue playing Slay the Spire and World of Warcraft, as well as Wizards Unite (who did a kick-ass job at making things work without going out); I started playing Deponia, Cook Serve Delicious 3, Islanders. I’m resisting the urge of re-joining EVE Online. And I reaaaally want a Switch to play Animal Crossing, but that’s probably not coming back in stock anytime soon.

The issue there may be general apathy: I do have a ton of things I can do, but there is a distinct lack of energy and motivation to do everything I could do. I’m not exactly bored, more… numb, I guess. This is not pleasant, but it’s not exactly unpleasant either. I’m sometimes annoyed by it, but it doesn’t last long – it is what it is.

Being social

See what I was saying in the previous point about being an introvert? Weeeell, turns out, I may be less of an introvert than I thought I was. Because fuck, I miss everyone – I miss everyone so much it hurts. I do manage to stay in touch with some people – but not nearly as much as I’d like to. And at the same time, I’m actually “socially tired” at the end of the week, and I do realize that I need to pace myself, and I hate that.

I miss game night, I miss casual gathering with friends around a meal and/or a drink, I miss… people. I miss hugs. And I feel terrible for the fact that my keeping in touch with people sucks as much as it always did – a mix of “not having enough energy” and “being afraid to be a bother” and “being afraid of being clingy”. I’m even hesitant to say here “if you feel like reaching out, please do” – because I don’t want to put that kind of expectation/pressure on anyone either. Constant second-guessing of social interactions is exhausting.

Fitness

Anyone who knows me may be very surprised to see that title in this blog post 😉 One of the first things I ordered when we started staying at home was a pair of 2 kg dumbbells. I felt terrible ordering them, because it felt like the epitome of superficial non-essential buys.

I am, in short, SUPER HAPPY I bought these weights. Before all this, I’ve been going back to Jazzercise at least semi-regularly; and right now, I’m relying heavily on the Zoom classes from my studio and on Jazzercise-on-Demand. I intend to write a longer post about that – stay tuned.

Generally speaking: it’s been a life line. Since I’m not even walking outside, I actually get an itch to move – so I do that. It helps. I might end up doing more exercise now than I used to. In parallel, sticking to “regular food plan” with little to no extra (no “oooh, this cake looks delicious” in the office kitchen 😉 )…. well, I seem to be one of these people who actually lose weight during these times. Well, I’m definitely not complaining about that.

Mood

Now… this whole blog post was much more upbeat than I am feeling. I am profoundly grateful that I’ve seen a therapist for a while now, because it would be so much worse otherwise, but it’s still tough.

On a day-to-day basis, I am much closer to tears, all the time, than I usually am. Which says something, because I already tend to cry more than many people (I… think.) Anything has the potential of setting me off, which is exhausting (because… emotions are exhausting).

There’s also far more full meltdowns. I haven’t kept count, but there’s been more than a few in the past 6 weeks, which would have been the norm at some points in the past, but hadn’t been the norm lately. It’s a bit disheartening to find myself sobbing uncontrollably again – but then, well… I guess emotions have to get out somehow, and right now… there’s a lot of emotions going on.

I was concerned about anxiety, but that one has been surprisingly quiet. It’s not absent, but it’s mostly okay. It does spike from time to time. The major circumstances where it spikes is when going out. Grocery shopping is hit and miss, and generally a large source of stress – panic triggering either because of “I fucked up the social distancing and I’m a terrible person” or because of “I’m in the way and I shouldn’t be where I am and I’m a terrible person”. Fun times. I’ve had more than a few very shitty nights because of anxiety, and it IS keeping me awake around 4AM way more than I’d like. Still, I was expecting it to be much worse than it is, so… not great, but could be much worse.

Worry is another beast though. I always felt like I had a strong disconnect between worry (the things that are crawling ’round my brain) and anxiety (the thing that make my stomach and gut twist and wring). In “regular” times I tended to have strong anxiety, but low worry; these days I have low-to-moderate anxiety, but high worry. I worry both about the situation and how “going back to a less isolated situation” is going to look like. At the very beginning, there was definitely a worry of “collapse of the civilization” and “we do not have enough food in the apartment to last for any extended stay”. These worries did subside, thankfully – the food one comes back again from time to time, but more on a “global” basis. Other than that, I worry for myself (“getting sick”, “getting sick to the point of needing ICU care”, “dying”) and for my loved ones (same worries). I worry about seeing friends again and not knowing how to interact with them again. I worry about not being able to set boundaries that match what I’m comfortable with. I worry about not knowing what I’m comfortable with. I worry about going back to work by train and the logistics involved (handling of masks in particular). I worry for the scary economical situation in which some people currently are. I worry for the scary economical situation in which some people may end up. I worry about how long it’s going to take before things feel normal again – whatever “normal” may mean by then. I worry about the fact that things may never feel “normal” again. I worry for my mental health, too. I worry about the numbness and the tears – and I worry that when things feel “normal” again for most people, it won’t for me – or that my new “normal” may be significantly worse than my pre-Virus™ normal. I worry for other people’s mental health – I worry that this whole situation is going to end up literally traumatic for a large number of people.

So, yeah, I have enough worries to fuel some high-quality brain-churning here 😛 I am, however, grateful that there’s a number of things that I’m not worried about – including my own economical safety (as long as not EVERYTHING goes to shit, but then…) and the fact that the number of people that I know are in higher-risk groups is actually fairly small.

Meditation helps. I had been lacking some consistency in my practice lately, but I found myself going back on the cushion way more regularly – maybe not every day, but close. And again – I’m grateful that I had started working on that way before things started – I don’t think it would be nearly as useful if I didn’t have a somewhat significant number of hours of practice already.

People help too, but it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. I have a lot of people I can count on – and I don’t think I thank them nearly enough for supporting me. Things are a bit bittersweet sometimes, because I absolutely miss seeing them in person, and sometimes it’s too much – but I’d much rather have them in my life, even by videoconference, than not. As I mentioned earlier, I do have a significant amount of guilt about “not reaching out to some friends enough”, combined with “not daring to do so and feeling clingy”. That one is annoying, and it’s probable that I’m erring too much on the “being afraid of being clingy” side of things, at the cost of my guilt… and possibly hurting people by not reaching out. And even with the people with whom I am more or less constantly in contact, I’m scared of complaining too much, of needing too much support, of being needy. Social anxiety in times of isolation, check.

Apart from all that, the “background” mood is pretty numb and apathetic. Motivation and energy levels are occasionally there, but definitely less often than not. I often lose hope, not necessarily in the fact that it’s going to be okay eventually, but in the fact that it’s going to be okay within a time frame that I can grasp.

But – to end this on a slightly positive note, still… I’m mostly okay with not being okay, and that’s HUGE progress compared to the situation where all this would happen, and on top of that I’d hate myself for feeling that way. And while I’m kind of lacking hope about the current situation, I do have hope that hope will be back. So… let’s wait until hope is back 🙂

52Frames – 2020-18 – Low-key

The theme for 52Frames this week was “low-key”. I kind of wanted to take a low-key portrait of myself – it would have been a nice complement to last week’s high-key portrait; but my regular black curtain currently has a desk in front of it (so that makes it more awkward to work with), and….. I got lazy.

Thankfully, my husband is NOT lazy, and he made some delicious peanut butter chocolates today. And is there anything better than dark chocolate for a low-key theme? I don’t think so. So, there: chocolate.