Books. Tea. Cats. Scribbling.

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Living Under Physical Distancing

It’s been about a month since my last post. Not a whole lot has changed about our situation since then. We’re still at home, and it looks like we’ll be staying that way for the conceivable future.

Our saving grace right now is that I work for a company considered an essential service and that my job allows me to work from home. Job stability is a good thing! Plus, due to years of living with family and careful budgeting, I have a good emergency fund set up. Finally, since we don’t have any kids, we haven’t dealt with the burnout and mental gymnastics involved in trying to homeschool anyone. So I recognize that compared to many other people out there, we are incredibly lucky.

But still, holy hell, I am getting bored. I work, I cook, I clean. I’ve tried joining the sourdough bandwagon, with mixed results. (I poured my extremely sluggish starter down the sink yesterday.) I’m baking. I’m playing an awful lot of Animal Crossing.

On the plus side, my herb garden is experiencing some success! The lemon balm failed, but the parsley, basil and mint all sprouted. Now I’m trying to grow some thyme in the places where I originally planted lemon balm.

Left to right: Mint sprouts, basil sprouts, parsley sprouts, and the lemon balm pots that betrayed me. Yesterday I planted thyme seeds there instead.

I’m looking into planters for the balcony so I can grow some tomatoes and some pollinator plants. I have no idea how long we’ll be in lockdown, but I’m going to need some green, living things in my life to keep me going.

What I’m Doing Right Now: COVID-19 Edition

I had vacation days left over from work last year, so I decided in January that I was going to use them up over March Break. I had grand plans of doing my taxes, attending medical appointments, and even seeing Hamilton now that it’s touring in Toronto.

Surprise! Almost none of that is happening. Instead, I’m staying home right now because of COVID-19, and will keep on working from home once my vacation is over. I’m not sick (yet, at least) but since the prudent thing to do is minimize contact with other people, here’s what I’ve been doing to keep myself busy.

TV & Movies

Mr. BooksandTea and I have finally buckled down and started watching Deep Space Nine. We’re not even halfway through the first season yet, but we’re already quite enamored with Quark, Odo, and Garak.

Oh, and a content warning for those considering doing the same: the very fourth episode of the show involves a virus infecting the crew, quarantines, and a race against time to find a cure. Not exactly the kind of escapism I was looking for.

What surprises me the most about DS9 so far is how uninteresting I think Jadzia Dax is. One of my friends is running a Star Trek RPG and I created a Trill character to play, so I was hoping that the show would give me some ideas. But so far, all she’s done is look pretty, fend off unwanted sexual advances, and be vaguely competent at everything. Hell, even in the episode “Dax”, which is all about her character, she mostly remains silent while the other crew members try to save her; we learn more about her predecessor Curzon than we ever do about her. I hope that changes in future episodes.

Other than that, I’m also making my way though old episodes of The Great British Baking Show. We just finished watching season 4 on Monday and started season 5 yesterday. Whether this will translate to me suddenly becoming a Bread Goddess remains to be seen.

Books

I’ve been finishing books at an even slower pace than last year. I’m currently working my way through a Discworld book, a non-fiction book about cognitive fallacies, a book about baking, and a book about gardening. If I end up finishing those, I might continue my way through the Vorkosigan series, or through Squirrel Girl. One of the ironies of being at home indefinitely is that I could read anything I want, but there’s so much available that making a choice is overwhelming.

Other Stuff

I had hopes this year of starting up a small, contained garden on the balcony, and doing some shopping at nurseries. Those plans are on hold, but I did have some seeds I bought last year that I can sprout. Behold the beginnings of my herb garden!

12 small pots of peat and soil. Columns of pots from left to right: mint, basil, parsley, and lemon balm.

The lemon balm pots (right-most) are in the fridge because I need to cold condition them first before they’ll sprout. But I have high hopes for the other three.

And, of course, since I’m off work with nowhere to go, and I’m ridiculously anxious and feeling like I need to do something, I’ve been cleaning. Pro tip: your ceiling fan is probably filthy and you need to do something about it.

The cover of "The Winged Histories", showing a dark-skinned woman riding a large bird.

My Favourite Reads of 2019

2019 wasn’t the best year for me in terms of sheer number of books read. But that doesn’t mean that it sucked, reading-wise. I read stand-alones, books in a series, and even finished an entire series of door-stoppers. Among them all, here are the ones I look back on most fondly now.

The Dagger and the Coin series by Daniel Abraham

One day, when I have the energy, I will write a full post about this series and its point of view about power, war, and the dangers of fascism. For now, I’ll just sell it to you like this: Imagine a series as complex as A Song of Ice and Fire, with books of a similar length. Now, imagine that:

  • The author actually finishes the damn thing, to the tune of one huge brick-sized book per year for 5 years, and
  • There are multiple female POV characters, and yet they face absolutely no threat of sexual violence being done towards them.

Plus, in the end, what saves the world is the development of an international banking system. Oh, and it turns out that dragons are a thing, and they’ve also mastered genetic engineering. If none of this turns your crank, I just don’t know what to tell you.

The Outskirter’s Secret and The Lost Steersman by Rosemary Kirstein

The Steerswoman books by Rosemary Kirstein have quickly become a favourite of mine. Kirstein herself has stated that she’s almost ready to release the fifth book, and that she’s currently writing the sixth. In the meantime, these two, the second and third in the series respectively, draw upon and enhance the worldbuilding of The Steerswoman, the first volume.

What really strikes me is how both books deal with incredibly different aspects of what it means to “worldbuild” in a speculative context. In The Outskirter’s Secret, Rowan and Bel leave the Inner Lands to spend time in the Outskirts among Bel’s people. While they never encounter the clan of Bel’s childhood, they fall in with another clan, this time with Rowan being the newcomer into a strange society, rather than Bel. Rowan’s time with Kameron’s clan leads her to learn more about Outskirter customs and culture, so the book takes on a social/anthropological lens. In this case, the book investigates the idea of world-as-social-construct.

In contrast, in The Lost Steersman, Rowan’s travels lead her into a completely new frontier filled with strange forms of life. This is where astute readers deepen their understanding that while this series contains the trappings of fantasy books, this is really a work of science fiction. She calls men who deal with strange devices in the sky “wizards”, but we’d think of them as scientists. Who knows what she’d think of the word “terraforming” (the act of altering a foreign planet so that it can sustain human life) if she ever encountered it, but it’s a concept that we as readers understand – especially because Rowan is an unwitting participant in a terraforming project herself.

If the second book deals with the idea of the world as a social construct, and the third book with the idea of the world as a physical one, who knows what further territory the remaining books could cover?

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Augh, this book. When I read it last summer, I was dealing with mental burnout from work and from moving into our new home. I hadn’t finished a book all the way through in about 2 months. All of the text I was encountering in my daily life was work-related, but I just didn’t have the energy to invest in anything else despite wanting something different. Time War helped me break the slump – short, evocative, stunningly poetic, and super queer. It was the perfect antidote to my reading malaise.

The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar

This was the only book I manged to devote an entire single review to last year. I still think about the final pages, where Siski and Dasya reunite under terrible changed circumstances. It’s a slow burn like A Stranger in Olondria, but worth the effort.

My tea collection in January 2020.

State of the Tea Cabinet (and My Life) 2020

What the Hell Happened in 2019?

Hey, happy 2020! Things have been pretty quiet around here. I had plans for reading and writing and blogging in 2019, but they fell off a cliff. For a good reason, though! In fact, for possibly one of the most exciting reasons imaginable — Mr. BooksandTea and I bought our first home last year, after living with my mother for the past decade and slowly saving money for a down payment!

Our New Home

We closed on a condo in the GTA in June, and have been living there for the past 6 months. It turns out moving was a big cognitive drain on me; while I was reading books in 2019, I read fewer than I planned to and just couldn’t muster the energy to write about them. On top of that, my day job was truly hectic last year, especially when we were moving. Hell, unpacking stuff in our new place and washing old dishes was actually how I relaxed over the summer. Moving stuff around meant I could turn my brain off!

On the plus side, the cats we adopted in 2018, Ash and Sabrina, like our new digs very much:

Ash and Sabrina, lazily enjoying the sunshine on the couch. It’s their couch, we just sit on it.

Books I Read in 2019, and Blogging Plans

My goal was to read 40 books in 2019. I ended up reading 33. My most significant reading project was finishing the entire The Dagger and the Coin series by Daniel Abraham. I’m pretty proud of this, as I normally take a much longer time to plow through a series of books – finishing one in a span of less than 5 months is quite the feat. (Dear Vorkosigan Saga, I haven’t forgotten about you, don’t worry!)

Plus, the Dagger and Coin books are thick. I even read the final 2 books back-to-back. That’s a testament to how fluid they are, I guess. I respect Abraham’s work ethic in putting out huge tomes like these like clockwork every year, and also his decision to not insert any hint of sexual violence towards his female point-of-view characters. GRRM could learn a lot from him, I think!

I also read The Outskirter’s Secret and The Lost Steersman by Rosemary Kirstein, both of which are sequels to The Steerswoman. I hope to read The Language of Power later this year, at which point I will have caught up on the series. Kirstein has indicated that the fifth volume should be out later this year, and that she’s also made significant progress on book 6. I look forward to reading both whenever they come out, as they will be worth the wait.

I don’t know if I’ll go for longer-form book reviews this year like the ones I wrote in years past. One author whose blogging style I really like is Carrie Vaughn; she writes lots of posts, but they’re short and somewhat impressionistic. I’m hoping to adopt a similar posting schedule to hers —frequent updates, short but in-depth thoughts about what I’m reading/watching, and occasional digressions into non-book aspects of life.

Tea Shelf Shenanigans

Things are significantly more under control in my tea cabinet now than they were 2 years ago. My lucky break was that, soon after my last tea post, my workplace moved into a brand-new open-space office. I restocked the empty kitchen cabinets with teas that I no longer wanted. I also gave teas I no longer wanted to friends, and tossed a few that I didn’t think were worth keeping around any longer.

Tea I Currently Have

So what’s the damage? Right now, my tea cabinet looks like this:

Top shelf: Pots, cups, pitchers, and other accessories. Second shelf: Green and white tea. Third shelf: Black, herbal, and rooibos tea. Bottom shelf: Gaiwans, pu’erh, and thermoses.

Total number of teas in my cabinet: 68 (This is down from 166 teas in 2018 and 156 in 2016)

Total weight of all teas: 2297.3 grams (and 129 individual bags). That’s just over 5 pounds — still a staggering amount, but I had more than twice as much in 2018!

Here’s a more detailed breakdown:

Tea TypeNo. of VarietiesWeight in Grams
Herbal11340.2 (plus 45 bags)
White599.8
Green — Unflavoured6358.3
Green — Flavoured10588
Black — Unflavoured372.4
Black — Flavoured561.9
Pu’erh23582.3
Rooibos4119.4
Yerba Mate175

How My Tea Habits Have Changed

The big difference between my tea cabinet now versus how it was in 2018 or 2016 is that I’ve cut down on black tea. I’ve also cut out oolongs altogether. As good as they taste, I don’t want to risk my digestive health, since both of those types can be triggers for my IBS.

In other words, I’ve gone back to my basic-ass-bitch ways from when I first started on my tea journey, and am sticking mostly with fruity greens. They’re tasty, abundant, and don’t mess my stomach up.

My goal in 2020 is to cut my collection down to 50 teas total, either through finishing off what I’ve got or giving it away to others. In particular, I need to get more diligent about drinking down my pu’erh: I bought a huuuuuge amount of it back in late 2015, and I’ve been slowly picking away at it ever since.

Aurora Awards 2019 Eligibility Post

Nominations are now open for this year’s Aurora Awards, and this is a quick post to let readers know that Books and Tea is eligible for the Best Fan Writing and Publication category.

In 2018, I ran a short series of interviews with Canadian spec-fic authors about their recently published works — many of which were debuts. For Aurora voters who are new to the site, here’s a rundown of relevant posts I published in 2018, in chronological order:

I hope you like what you read and that you’ll consider nominating Books and Tea for Best Fan Writing.

The nomination period for the Aurora Awards closes May 18. Canadian citizens and permanent residents can submit eligible works, submit nominations, and vote for the Auroras by purchasing a membership with the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association. Visit the CSFFA site to learn more about becoming a member.

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