This Day On Twitter Update

In August of 2023 I was trying to decide what to do with my old Twitter posts and decided to start posting them in the format of “this day on twitter”. It’s been interesting to go through and see little snapshots of my life throughout the years. However, the Twitter updates are overwhelming the rest of this blog. As a result, I’ve decided to move all the Twitter posts off my home page. Instead, you can get to them by clicking the This Day on Twitter menu link.

I haven’t tested yet but I believe, based on how I made the code changes, that the RSS feed will still contain the Twitter updates.

Update: I’ve confirmed the RSS feed does still contain the Twitter updates. They’re only hidden from the home page.

Reading Holiday Recap

As I mentioned in the Reading in 2023 post, I decided to take a reading vacation just a few days after getting back from our winter vacation.

What I Read

What Went Well

  • I got really lucky and enjoyed all the books I read. My favorite was probably Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date followed by Loki’s Ring.
  • I really liked having a goal of reading a different genre each day.
  • On the first day I got a massage in the early afternoon. This was a great way to emphasize the vacation was suppose to be relaxing and fun. The early afternoon time was also good because it gave me plenty of time to do some reading in the morning and drop by the library to pick up even more books before going to the appointment.
  • It was really nice to schedule this when the kids didn’t have school so I could just sleep in as long as I wanted.
  • It was fantastic having supper options made ahead of time. I basically didn’t have to spend any time on supper at all, just grabbed things from the freezer and heated them up.
  • During the day I read in the purple chair in the sunroom. Jaeger got this chair off Craigslist when he first moved to San Francisco and it is the perfect reading chair. You can lean back and put your legs up on an ottoman or lounge sideways equally well. In one of our moves it lost a rear leg but we propped it up on a short plastic stool and it works fine.
  • I ordered a winter tea sample pack from Friday Afternoon and started each reading session with a pot of tea. The whole setup was very cozy.

Lessons Learned

  • I think having one of the genres being Science Fiction or Fantasy was a mistake, at least with the goal of only reading new authors. It was a little stressful to try to find a new author that I was fairly certain I would enjoy. Instead, it might have been nice to set aside the last day of the reading vacation for a re-read of something comforting.
  • I tried to do too many things on Saturday. In addition to reading a book, I also tried to play a long board game with the family and then go out to dinner with Jaeger. Next time I should probably try to do no more than one non-reading thing a day.
  • Because I knew Saturday would be full, I stared Saturday’s book on Friday. That was necessary to finish the book by Saturday evening but I didn’t find it as satisfying.
  • I was planning to do a little bit of exercise first thing in the morning, before reading, and then going on a short afternoon walk. I felt it would be good for my body to get at least some movement each day. I did well the first two days but less well once I hit the weekend. Though, I didn’t get any weird aches from sitting too long each day so maybe it turned out ok regardless.
  • I do not know why but I kept wanting to snack. This was not something I had anticipated. Next time, I think I should spend a bit more time thinking about reasonable but fun snack options.
  • I didn’t have a plan for what to do when I was done with my book of the day. I purposely picked relatively short books but that meant I was done reading them in 4-6 hours. Because I allowed myself such leisurely mornings this was a pretty good length to finish before supper. However, I usually read in the evening too and wasn’t sure if I should start a new book or do something else.

Other Ideas

  • One of my initial thoughts was to also watch TV/Movie book adaptations. I was thinking things like Jane Austen movies, Agatha Christie episodes, maybe some Shakespeare adaptations. However, we don’t have a great setup for that right now. We have one TV in the living room, which I didn’t feel like monopolizing, and I find it hard to lounge when watching on an iPad or computer. I still like the idea but don’t really know how to make it work.

Ideas for Next Time
Overall, this was an ideal vacation for me and something I would like to repeat. I really liked the one-genre-a-day format. However, some other things I might consider for the future (or not):

  • Book with movie pairings
  • Books I keep meaning to read but haven’t — slightly worried this might make it less fun but maybe not
  • One long book
  • Reading books around a theme, perhaps in different genres.
  • Potentially schedule around an author event
  • Just read books I’ve read before
  • Just read classics

Reading in 2023

Since 2016 I’ve made three interstate moves, have worked at three different jobs, had some extremely fraught years in my marriage, and lived through a pandemic. Now I’m objectively in a good place but emotionally I’m still pretty fragile and I think that’s reflected in my reading this past year.

In 2023 I read more books than in 2022 but fewer pages. About 15% of my reading this year was rereading old favorites and the new books I read were often relatively short. While I don’t keep track of my Did Not Finish stats, I know there were many books this year that I started but did not finish. In most cases, this was not a reflection of the quality of the book but rather it wasn’t the right book for me when I was trying to read it.

If you’re curious, you can see my StoryGraph stats for 2023 here.

This blog post got a little out of hand so a quick table of contents to the sections below:
My Favorite Books in 2023
Hugo Award Nominees
Reading Holiday
Interior Design Books

My Favorite Books in 2023

Below are not necessarily the “best” books I read in 2023 but they are the ones I enjoyed the most. (I linked to the author’s website if they have a good landing page for the book, otherwise it’s a StoryGraph link.)

  • A Mirror Mended by Alix E. Harrow (read A Spindle Splintered first) – Another Sleeping Beauty retelling. Both books in the series are novellas and are nice quick reads.
  • The Bald Mermaid: A Memoir by Sheila Bridges – I continue my obsession with reading interior design books. While look for new books, I stumbled across this memoir by interior designer Sheila Bridges.
  • Bloodmarked by Tracy Deonn (this is the second in the series, Legendborn is the first) – Legendborn is one of those books where I immediately bought it after reading it from the library. It’s a King Arthur reborn story and I loved how it centers the story around a Black woman. Bloodmarked took me a little longer to get into but once I did it was also fantastic.
  • Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher – I think working for a university made me appreciate this book more than I would have otherwise. However, it’s a fun book regardless if you like cranky people trying to do the right thing in spite of themselves.
  • Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl – I’m fairly certain I found this via Modern Mrs. Darcy but I can’t remember what made me pick it up. Regardless, I found this memoir both interesting and delightful. It’s the story of a food critic going undercover in order to provide real reviews.
  • Good Neighbors: The Full Collection by Stephanie Burgis – This is a delightful fantasy romance. The heroine is technically savvy and very suspicious of people. It’s a quick fun read.
  • The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison (it would be best to read The Witness for the Dead first)
  • How to Keep House While Drowning by KC Davis – I wrote a whole blog post about this book but I think I managed to miss the essence of why I like it. This book gives you permission to not be perfect. It’s ok to try for “good enough” and if that bar is still too high, to just concentrate on staying alive.
  • Love Poems for People with Children by John Kenney (re-read) – This is a short collection of snarky poetry. As I recall, I didn’t mean to re-read it but had wanted to refer to one of the poems in it and the next thing I knew I had read the whole thing. Love Poems for Married People is also fun. The New Yorker has a couple of the poems here.
  • The Menopause Manifesto: Own Your Health with Facts and Feminism by Jen Gunter – I haven’t reached menopause yet but it’s probably only a couple of years away at this point so I decided to get a head start on reading about it. This was a good book and one I expect I’ll read again in a couple of years.
  • The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray – This was a delightful murder mystery. I’m impressed by how Claudia Gray brought together so many of Jane Austen’s main characters under one roof. However, I particularly liked her descriptions of the two young people who work together to solve the mystery.
  • One Year to an Organized Life: From Your Closets to Your Finances, the Week-by-Week Guide to Getting Completely Organized for Good by Regina Leeds – Still one of my favorite organizing books. Mind you, I haven’t followed any of her suggestions, I just like imagining a perfectly organized life. That said, I’m thinking about trying a light version of her approach this next year. We’ll see.
  • Red Team Blues by Cory Doctorow – Most of Doctorow’s books are not for me. However, Jaeger notified me about a kickstarter he was doing for his newest book at the time, Red Team Blues. I took a look and the premise sounded interesting. In addition, I am very anti-DRM (I want to own my books, not lease them, and be able to use them on all of my devices) so it seemed like a good fit. I got the audio version, which is how I usually listen to mysteries, but Jaeger bought the hardcover. It’s a quick fun story and I’ll probably listen to it again.
  • Rest You Merry by Charlotte MacLeod – This was a recent holiday listen and I really enjoyed the dour and moderately cranky professor. After years of being harassed for not decorating his house for Christmas the professor snaps and commissions an excessively gaudy display to be installed and then leaves for the weekend. When he returns, he finds a dead body in his house. Everyone wants to believe it’s just an accident but the professor thinks something else is going on and starts investigating.
  • Several People are Typing by Calvin Kasulke – Slack is my work’s primary communication method so a story about someone somehow getting uploaded to an internal Slack channel was quite fun.
  • The Splinter in the Sky by Kemi Ashing-Giwa – This is the type of Science Fiction novel I particularly enjoy. One person starts out with a hopeless situation and manages to both survive and win in the end (at least for some definitions of “win”).
  • System Collapse by Martha Wells (if you have never read a Murderbot book, start with All Systems Red) – Murderbot is loved by many and I’m no exception. I love Murderbot’s annoyance with having to deal with people.
  • The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman – As I get older I appreciate books with older protagonists. I love the idea of a group of retired people getting together and solving crimes. Plus, they all have their own backstories that we start learning.
  • Translation State by Ann Leckie – Another book in the Ancillary Justice universe. It would be best to read that series first. I’m always impressed by how Leckie can write very different perspectives.
  • Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto – Another older woman who decides to solve a murder. This was such a nice cozy book.
  • The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna – This was a really fun story. I love the idea of a real witch pretending to be a fake witch on social media.
  • Where Peace is Lost by Valerie Valdes – This was probably my favorite space opera of the year. It’s an interesting story and the ending gets delightfully operatic.

Hugo Award Nominees

I did not set a reading goal for last year but reading the Hugo Award nominees is often an unofficial goal and I did fairly well this year. I read:

  • Best Novel – all 6 nominees
  • Best Novella – I also read all 6
  • Best Novelette – 5 of the nominees. There’s one author I have given myself permission to not even try because, while objectively a good writer, they never work for me
  • Short Stories – all six short stories though a couple I had to read via computer translation
  • Series – This is always a hard one for me. Usually I try to read at least one book in each series. This year I had read books in 5 of the series but have never read any in this year’s winner, the Children of Time Series
  • Best Graphic Novel or Comic – none
  • Best Related Work – none, though Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road still intrigues me
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form – I watched two of these: Everything Everywhere All at Once, which won, and Turning Red which I also liked
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form – none
  • Best Editor, Short Form – probably none – short stories are hard for me
  • Best Editor, Long Form – I did reasonably well, for me, in this category and ended up reading works edited by three of the nominees. That’s only 50% of the nominees but it’s 75% of the nominees with English works (as far as I could tell, two nominees only edited works available in Chinese).
  • Best Professional Artist – none
  • Best Semiprozine – none
  • Best Fanzine – only one
  • Best Fancast – I’ve listened to episodes from four of the six nominees
  • Best Fan Writer – I think this is where I may have inadvertently read some of the nominees’ works but I didn’t vote in this category
  • Best Fan Artist – none
  • Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book – I read four of these nominees and started a fifth which I was unable to finish (but may try again later)
  • Astounding Award for Best New Writer – I read works from three of the six

Reading Holiday

I’m once again reluctant to make a reading goal for next year. However, I have decided to start the year with a reading holiday. I’m taking three days of vacation from work, around a weekend for a total of five days. This is before the kids go back to school so I don’t have to worry about waking up early or making school lunches for them (they’re perfectly capable of getting their own breakfasts/lunches at home). In addition, this gives me extra time to relax and recover from the chaos around Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays. I’ve been mulling this idea for about a month and it took a while but I have a general idea of what I want the reading vacation to look like.

I’ve decided to try to read one book a day during the reading holiday. I’m not entirely sure if I can realistically do this or not. I’ve definitely read entire books in one day but I don’t know that I’ve ever done it multiple days in a row before. Each day will be a different genre and I’m going to try to stick to authors I haven’t read before. I’ve identified both a first choice and backup book (in case I start the first book and hate it, or I can’t get it in time). Most of these books look like they should be quick reads.

Thursday – Young Adult or Juvenile

Blood Debts by Terry J. Benton-Walker

Backup: Damned If You Do by Alex Brown

2nd Backup: The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

Friday – Romance

Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date by Ashley Herring Blake

Backup: Ana María and the Fox by Liana De la Rosa

Saturday – Mystery

The House Keepers by Alex Hay

Backup: The Penguin Book of Murder Mysteries edited by Michael Sims

2nd Backup: Death on the Down Beat: An Orchestral Fantasy of Detection by Sebastian Farr

Sunday – Memoir or Non-fiction

Kiss Me in the Coral Lounge: Intimate Confessions from a Happy Marriage by Helen Ellis

Backup: Now What?: How to Move Forward When We’re Divided About Basically Everything by Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers

Monday – Science Fiction or Fantasy

This one I’m a bit stumped. I was originally planning to read Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin but belatedly realized it wasn’t SFF (I’m not sure why I thought it was).

My backup is The Salvation Gambit by Emily Skrutskie. I’ll probably make that one my primary and come up with another backup. On the other hand, I have quite a few SFF books checked out so maybe I’ll just grab one from my existing TBR stack.

Interior Design Books

I’m still reading a lot of interior design books. It’s slightly obsessive and there’s something going on there but I’m not exactly sure what. It’s probably related to moving so much the past couple of years and being determined to take root this time. In any case, this is a bit tricky because while the library generally will buy books I request, they have been reluctant to buy more interior design books. After my most recent request was denied I asked and was told that it was due to shelf space and that they don’t circulate well enough to justify the cost. Clearly, I could straight-up buy more interior design books but we spend a lot of money on books already and I’m reluctant to buy interior design books because I rarely reread them. If I don’t think I’m going to reread a book, I usually weed it which seems overall like a waste. After some thought, I’ve decided to try buying used copies. I don’t love this approach because, unlike the library or buying directly, the author doesn’t get any cut of my purchase. However, if I end up really loving the book I can always repurchase it new.

Thoughts on Cleaning

I find it very soothing to read organizing and housekeeping related books. I’ve read many over the years. One of my favorites is Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson. I suspect I like it for the same reason Constance Grady relates in Why a manual by a control freak is the best thing to read when the world is out of control. My main regret is there isn’t an audio version available. Though, at 896 pages long, I can’t even guess how many hours that would take. As a result, the book I currently listen to the most is One Year to an Organized Life by Regina Leeds.

I particularly like listening to these type of books while I’m cleaning house. One day while browsing the library audiobooks I stumbled across How to Keep House While Drowning by KC Davis. This book is radically different from the ones I usually read. The book gives permission to do the bare minimum you need in order to have a house that is safe and comfortable for your needs. While it is very different from how I usually think about cleaning, the concepts discussed really caught my attention. I bought both the audiobook and ebook versions so I could listen and review again as often as I wanted1.

I am definitely happiest when everything in my house is perfectly clean and everything is in its place. This will probably come as a shock to Jaeger as early on in our marriage we had to have a discussion of what “clean” means. To me, clean means there is no dirt but for Jaeger it means there isn’t stuff laying around. So he would be upset about how dirty the house was and I would be very confused because the toilets had been bleached, the mirrors sprayed, and the furniture dusted even while our stuff lay around the house. However, when I pickup things, everything has to be picked up2. I lean towards an all or nothing approach when it comes to clutter.

While few things make me happier than sitting down to read in the evening in a perfectly clean and organized house, it’s not something I realistically have the time for if I want or need to do anything else. In my ideal world, I’d have a three day weekend that consists of:

  1. A rest day
  2. A house project day (paying bills, installing shades, organizing cupboards, etc) and
  3. A cleaning day

Sadly, I do not regularly get three day weekends. I almost never get three day weekends where I don’t have to account for how the rest of the family is occupying themselves.

These days even though it feels like I should have enough time to fully clean our house on Sunday, I don’t. At least, I don’t for the way I’d prefer to clean the house (in strict top to bottom order starting with the master bathroom and ending in the kitchen). This is true even though Calvin is responsible for the kids’ bathroom, our half bathroom, and the family room and Jaeger is responsible for all the floors3.

So, back to How to Keep House While Drowning. Since first listening to it, I’ve started tinkering more with my house cleaning routine. When I have a limited amount of time to clean, I try to focus more on what will have the most impact rather than going sequentially through my checklist. This is a hard shift for me but I’m slowly getting better at it. When I enter the bathroom I now ask myself what will make me happiest to have clean. While theoretically I would like to cobweb dust the ceiling every time, unless I actually see cobwebs, it’s usually not worth my time. On the other hand, the toilet and shower are two areas I want to clean every time4. My priorities in the bathroom are pretty consistent but I tend to have less consistency in the kitchen. One week I might really want to clean all the finger prints off the stainless steel appliances whereas another weekend I might choose to deep clean the sink5. The living room . . . well, it hasn’t been dusted in a while.

I feel this is a more balanced way to approach cleaning and, while it’s not prefect, I think it’s a reasonable approach for now. My Sundays still feel too full but when I sit down in the evening I feel better about the overall results.

  1. In completionist mode, I also want the physical book but I haven’t decided yet if I’m actually going to buy it
  2. This mirrors how I cleaned as a kid also. My room would gradually get extremely messy and every so often I’d stay up all night cleaning and it would be absolutely prefect for a couple of hours.
  3. An alternative option, which I have used sometimes in the past, is to hire house cleaners. However, I find managing everything that goes with hiring house cleaners to be even more stressful than cleaning myself. As Davis notes, another favorite suggestion people have is to clean while you go or to clean a little bit every day. This doesn’t work at all for me so I found the part where she talked about how it also doesn’t work for her to be very validating.
  4. Normally the shower wouldn’t be so high on my list except for some reason this shower starts growing mildew at an astonishing rate. Also, for the record, I really, really hate clear glass shower doors.
  5. Another hate I’ve developed is for built-in Corian sinks. Yes, there’s no annoying caulk lines to clean around and I do like that. However, our current off-white sink stains at an unbelievable rate. The only way I’ve found to deal with it is to take baking soda and hydrogen peroxide and leave it to soak for hours and even then it doesn’t always work.

Isolating

5/30/2023 Update:
Jaeger and Calvin and now both testing positive for COVID. So, we gave isolation a shot but clearly didn’t do it quick enough. I guess that goes under lessons learned.

Original:
Of the houses we’ve owned, our current one is one of my favorites (probably a toss-up with our Gunbarrel house). However, there’s one feature that has always baffled us. On the ground floor of our house there is a 4th bedroom with an en suite bathroom1. For some reason, this en suite bathroom has an exterior door that takes you to the side of the house. It’s not near the garage or laundry room and isn’t particularly near to where one would put a hot tub. Till this weekend, we could never figure out what you’d use the door for.

Partital view of the bathroom from the bedroom. There is an exterior glass door in the bothroom with a shade covering the window.

Unfortunately, this weekend Julian and I contracted COVID for the first time since the pandemic started. Jaeger and Calvin were both testing negative so we decided that Julian and I should try to isolate. After some thought, we concluded the ground floor bedroom was our best option. It’s primarily Jaeger’s office but doubles as our exercise and guest bedroom. We have a sleeper sofa and the room is big enough we could bring in Julian’s mattress.

Current bedroom setup. The bed part of the sofa has been setup. To the left, on the floor, is Julian's mattress which he is sitting on with his back to the camera. At the foot of the sofa bed is an office desk with two  monitors.  On the opposite bed from the camera is a white dresser with plants sitting on top.

We moved one of our air purifiers right next to the interior door 2 and are keeping the interior door closed. Julian and I enter and exit the room exclusively via the exterior door. I am still going into the main part of the house, primarily the kitchen, but for limited amounts of time and fully masked. We’re taking all our meals outside. The sky has been pretty gray but surprisingly warm.

Outside patio.  There is a square outdoor dining table with two chairs. Julian is in one with his back to us.  Several feet away is a green card table with another two chairs. Jaeger is sitting at this table with his back to us reading his phone. Julian is eating pizza and on that table is also a mug, a book, and a Kleenex box. Underneath the table is a trashcan. On the green card table is another mug.

One of the things this experience is emphasizing to me is how much we underutilized our outdoor spaces. I like interior design so I’ve thought a lot about how various spaces in the house are used and what we can do to optimize their utility. However, I still haven’t figured out how to encourage use of our outdoor spaces. I think if I came up with a plan I could keep an eye out on Craigslist for good furniture. I just haven’t come up with a plan yet.

Overall, we have a pretty nice setup and Julian is loving getting unlimited screen time. Rio seems to be the most unhappy about the whole situation. We discovered when my parents came over that she doesn’t like strangers at all. She mostly stayed upstairs for the brief time they were here and even when she did venture downstairs, she’d run away the instant she saw either of them. After they left, she had one normal night and then Julian and I moved downstairs. She clearly did not approve and spent a significant amount of the night meowing at our door. While the rest of us eat outside, Rio sits by the sliding glass door and mournfully watches us.

Rio, our black cat, sitting on top of a white bookcase filled with cookbooks and surrounded by plants.

I had a really bad cold about a month ago, probably brought home by Julian, which caused me to miss almost a week of work so I’m tired of being sick. However, so far I’m doing pretty well. I’m on Paxlovid and have the weird metallic taste side effect but none of the others3. Yesterday I wasn’t feeling great but still had enough energy to read a couple of books. Today my physical energy is a bit lower than normal, and I have a fair amount of coughing and runny nose, but I think my brain is back to functioning. At the moment, I think I’ll be working tomorrow.

One of the advantages of remote work is, as long as I’m feeling ok, I can work while sick without infecting anyone else. Today Jaeger and I swapped our office setup, with the exception of the monitors and desks, so we’re ready for tomorrow. I have four meetings tomorrow, which isn’t ideal with a kid in the same room, but I expect Minecraft will keep Julian suitably entertained. I’ll also have a great view.

Small three-tiered water fountain in front of a hedge surronded by outdoor plants including a very young persimmon tree and some California poppies.

A little to my surprise, our precautions appear to have paid off, at least so far4. Neither Jaeger nor Calvin have any COVID symptoms and Jaeger just tested negative again today.

  1. According to the permits, this bed/bath is one year newer than the rest of the house.
  2. We own four Winix 5300-2 Air Purifier purchased back in 2019 for wildfire season and I have never regretted their purchase. Normally, we have them running in auto mode but right now all of them are running at full blast in addition to having windows open during the warmer parts of the day.
  3. It turns out a piece of dark chocolate helps mask it.
  4. As a typical teenager, Calvin mainly lives in his room so probably had the least amount of exposure. However, Jaeger slept right next to me the night before I tested positive.

Hot Chocolate Tasting

My favorite winter activity is to sit in front of the fire with a book and a cup of hot chocolate. Which hot chocolate I choose depends a bit on my mood. However, several weeks ago I decided I should taste all the hot chocolate I had in the house and take notes about which I liked best. Calvin enthusiastically signed up to this idea and Julian seemed uncertain but intrigued. Jaeger clearly couldn’t figure out the big fuss but started the tasting with us.

I printed up little cards where everyone could take notes about how many stars they gave each hot chocolate and any comments. We ended up with eight different kinds of hot chocolate which, in retrospect, was too many. Each tasting was about 1/4 cup. Jaeger gave up after four but the rest of us persevered through the full eight.

Our results (out of 5 stars)1:

Hot Chocolate Kiesa Calvis Julian Average
Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix 4.00 4.75 5.00 4.58
Hershey’s Hot Chocolate Recipe 4.50 4.50 2.50 3.83
Nestle Chocolatey Memories Hot Cocoa Mix 4.00 3.25 3.50 3.48
Abuelta Authentic Mexican Chocolate Drink Mix 4.00 3.75 2.00 3.25
Evil Recipe Hot Chocolate 4.50 5.00 0.00 3.17
Starbucks Hot Cocoa Double Chocolate 4.50 4.00 0.00 2.83
LaMonarca Bakery Chocolate Mexicano 3.50 2.50 1.50 2.50
Guittard Grand Cacao Sweet Ground Chocolate 5.00 3.50 -1.00 2.50

Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix
This is a very safe hot chocolate that everyone enjoyed. Up until our tasting, I thought it was my favorite. However, I usually drink it with a cinnamon stick and for the tasting I had it plain. When it’s completely plain I found it a little boring.

Hershey’s Recipe Hot Chocolate
This is a recipe in the 1984 Hershey’s Chocolate Treasury cookbook. It’s made with 1 oz of unsweetened chocolate, 2 tbs hot water, 1/4 cup sugar, dash of salt, 2 cups warm milk, and 1/4 tsp vanilla.

Nestle Chocolatey Memories Hot Cocoa Mix
These are individual hot chocolate packets that I got for camping several years ago. I was a bit surprised how well it ended up rated. It’s probably the cheapest hot chocolate on the list.

Abuelta Authentic Mexican Chocolate Drink Mix
This is the hot chocolate I usually serve for breakfast. Many years ago my high school Spanish teacher brought in hot chocolate as a special treat. The teacher was bemused by how much our class loved it. This hot chocolate kind of reminds me of that, though it’s not quite as good as my memories. (I’m pretty sure my teacher made hers from scratch.)

Evil Recipe Hot Chocolate
This is Calvin’s favorite hot chocolate. To make it, you take a liquid measuring cup and pour in chocolate chips to the 1/4-1/3 cup marker. Then, add milk to the 1 cup line. Microwave for about 1:30 and then stir till it’s all mixed together. It’s extremely rich.

Starbucks Hot Cocoa Double Chocolate
This one also comes in individual packets. However, it doesn’t work as well for camping as it really requires milk to make it taste good. That said, with milk, it’s a decent, fairly dark, hot chocolate.

La Monarca Bakery Chocolate Mexicano
I bought this hot chocolate when I was looking for an upscale version of the Abuelta brand. We all agreed the flavor was great. However, it was very gritty. My hypothesis is it has a great flavor because of the cinnamon, which perhaps is not as finely ground as we prefer.

Guittard Grand Cacao Sweet Ground Chocolate
When by itself, this was my favorite hot chocolate. However, Julian’s -1 rating pulled this all the way down to the bottom of our list. It looks like I can safely hoard it for myself without anyone else complaining.


Sample comment cards:
Evil Recipe Hot Chocolate. 5 stars filled in. Reviewer: Calvis the Bold Comments: -rich -thick-excellent -evil (amazingly so)

Guirardelli Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix. 5 stars filled in. Reviewer: Julian Comments: 5 for taste 5 for coldness. Written on the left side in pencil it says 'best'.

Guittard Grand Cacao Sweet Ground Chocolate. 5 stars filled in. Reviewer: Gem Comments: Dark Good Fairly Rich

  1. Jaeger left comments but no ratings.

Thoughts on Remote Work

I have a long history of working from home in various ways. At my first library I worked from home for seven years. My next two libraries weren’t as work from home friendly but I was usually able to do it once a week1. I’ve been in my current fully remote position for two years.

I have been disgruntled for years over how few employers consider fully remote workers to be a viable option. There are clearly some positions that are more compatible with fully remote work than others. There are also some people who prefer being fully remote more than others. One of the few silver linings of COVID was that many employers had to figure out how to make remote work feasible and their employees managed to do good work even with all the complications that the pandemic brought2. I am very annoyed with companies who are now trying to bring their people back to work in-person when it’s not for actual work purposes. In my view, neither “strengthening our community and sense of connection” nor compensating for managers who can’t manage remotely, are sufficient reasons to require in-person work. These issues can be dealt with in other ways.

Now that I think about it, many of the benefits of remote work compensate for a society setup to make having kids hard for two working parents3. This is a problem that I feel many top executives do not have either because they have a spouse that stays home or they have an army of support workers for their home.

Once we had kids, having both Jaeger and I work was never the easiest option for our family. However, I desperately need to work. If I don’t have interesting problems to solve, my mental health rapidly deteriorates. I assume Jaeger is similar. At the very least, he does not want to stay home full time with the kids either. Remote work helps bridge the capacity gap between working outside the house and being a parent.

In San Francisco I was working 40 hours a week and commuting down to Mountain View Monday-Thursday. On my commuting days I had no free time. I’d wake up and leave the house by 6:30am and would return around 6:00pm. I’d feed the kids, get them ready for bed, and then immediately go to bed completely exhausted. I had a shorter commute in Seattle, and it was better, but I still didn’t have much buffer if something went wrong at work or home.

Many daycare hours are limited and are barely open long enough to both pickup and drop off kids within an eight hour work day. They also require driving, rather than taking mass transit when it’s available, because available daycare slots and job locations never seem to match. Several of our preschools had a large number of holidays when care wasn’t available. In San Francisco, we dealt with this by having an au pair, who is limited to 45 hours of work a week, and supplementing with preschool. Due to cost, and other factors, this is not an option available to many people. Even with the support of an au pair, I had a panic attack in the Millbrae BART station one day when I was reviewing the preschool calendar and realized they were going to be closed the entire month of July4.

Working remotely allows for much more flexibility around childcare options. When working remotely the only commute time I need to factor in is the time to get to the daycare/preschool. Holidays aren’t as big of a deal because even with tiny kids I could usually get in a significant amount of work5. When the kids get sick, I don’t have a mad scramble to find alternative care or take the day off and, it turns out, kids get sick a lot. So far this school year we’ve had one or both of the kids home sick for a total of 11 school days (no COVID, just regular colds). Some of this was probably delayed exposure due to everyone being more careful during the early COVID years. However, I distinctly remember Julian being regularly sick when he started preschool.

Schools are another institution that work best when there is a stay at home parent. One of the reasons Calvin went to private school in Colorado, even when I was only working 20 hours a week, was because our public school’s kindergarten hours were incompatible with complimentary childcare options. Even once you hit first grade, the school day usually ends between 2-3pm. Some schools offer after school programs and some don’t. Those that do rarely guarantee you get a spot when you enroll in the school. It’s very hard to find care for kids to fill the gap between the end of the school day and the end of the work day.

Working remotely allows me to pickup the kids from school and then continue working for the rest of the day. Depending on the age of the kid, you may still need extra care but it opens up a lot more options.

Speaking of more options, having two fully remote parents is amazing. For the first time since we’ve had kids I feel we’re actually close to a 50/50 split in kid/house work. Most days I drop the kids off at school and Jaeger picks them up. I no longer have to make the choice of starting early, skipping lunch, and/or working late to fit both my child and work obligations in the same day6. I just work a normal work day and it’s amazing.

I was so disappointed when Apple and other tech companies started walking back their remote work options. Yes, in many ways tech workers are incredibly privileged. However, I strongly believe that having more permanent remote workers would increase the overall diversity of tech companies. In addition, it might provide more relief for the partners of those tech workers. I really appreciated the Thoughts on Office-Bound Work some Apple employees put together.

So far I’ve focused on the benefits I get from remote work as a mother. I mentioned them first because they are by far the most important for me. However, remote work also offers other perks which include:

  • I like people but I also find them exhausting. After a day of interacting with people I need several hours, or more, to recover.
  • I have more control over the temperature at home. While working at Mountain View the thermastat in my work area was broken for several months. It was regularly in the lower 60s (17C) in summer. I had a space heater, wore a down coat, and had fingerless gloves. During my 15 minute breaks I’d go outside and try to warm up.
  • Open floor plans are the norm these days but I would not work well in them. Due to some incidents in middle school, I do best when I have my back to the wall. (This is not just true at work, in restaurants I also try to pick the chair that doesn’t allow people to sneak up behind me.) The typical advice when needing to concentrate in an open floor plan is to wear noise canceling headphones but that would mean I would have even less ability to hear people coming up behind me.
  • Related to above, my job involves many Zoom meetings (often 4-5 a day) with people all over the state. This would not be fun for a desk/cube neighbor.
  • More flexibility for everything. When I worked at Mountain View I had to leave at a specific time either to catch my train or to avoid traffic (if I drove). I couldn’t keep working even if I was in the middle of an interesting/important problem. This last week I was in the middle of something and kept working on it, off and on between dinner and other stuff, till around 9pm. Mind you, I rarely work that late under normal circumstances, but I appreciate how easy it is when I want/need to.

Since having kids, my quality of life has been drastically better in the jobs where I am a fully remote worker. Remote work isn’t the best option for everyone but I believe it should be an option for those that can do their jobs without going into the office.

  1. My third library did move almost everyone to fully remote work when COVID arrived and stayed that way until I left but it was clear that administration was not comfortable with this.
  2. Working fully remote from home during a pandemic is nothing like it normally is. Until COVID, anytime I worked from home my kid(s) were either in daycare/school or being watched by an au pair. I did not interact with them at all during my normally scheduled paid work time. I’m still astonished that anyone with little kids managed to accomplish anything during the pandemic.
  3. Note, my viewpoint is that of a mother with kids and a very good family income. However, the benefits of remote work are not limited to issues that affect mothers/families. See Remote Work Boosts Employees With Disabilities, Research Shows for another perspective.
  4. It looks like the subject of my email to Jaeger after that was “Morning Unhappiness” where I list possible alternatives including “change jobs”. This, ironically, is what I ended up doing. At the time, I did not consciously factor the July childcare break when accepting the Seattle job but the stress of figuring out childcare in San Francisco was regularly overwhelming.
  5. Yes, this usually involved giving the kids lots of screen time but a few days a month aren’t going to kill them.
  6. True, when we had au pairs they did the pickup/dropoff of the kids but you don’t magically get all that time back. Having an au pair (or nanny) means you have the overhead associated with that to deal with instead.

Reading in 2022

This year I read 97 books which is slightly more than last year. My reading still ended up on the fluffy end of things. However, I did manage to read most of the Hugo nominees this year and I even have a head start on books to nominate for next year.

I continue to read a mix of physical, ebook, and audiobooks. However, I read fewer ebooks this year than last. Last year, I thought that I wasn’t able to find physical books I wanted to read because of the library’s smaller size, relative to the other systems I’ve borrowed from. However, they might have been buying less than usual due to pandemic reasons. I’ve had a lot more success in 2022 requesting books I want to read from the library. I’ve also been more proactive about requesting they buy specific books I want to read and the library has, for the most part, bought the books I request1. I have also been spending a lot of money at Bookshop Santa Cruz. Enough, apparently, that when I went to pick up one of my recent purchases and told the staff member my name she said, “Oh, you’re the one that orders a lot of books.2.”

This year, only 32% of the books I read were in audio format. I’ve slowly started listening to podcasts again, including Marketplace, which is taking up some of my potential audiobook time.

I read a lot of books and most of them were good. However, these were my favorites:

Next year I’m not going to aim for more than 97 books. However, I think I’m going to try a reading goal, though I haven’t decided on the specifics yet. Whatever I decide, I’ll probably look for a relatively short goal of 5-10 books. I want something that can gently push me to try new books without stalling my reading.

  1. I think they’ve declined to buy my suggestion only once and in that case I wasn’t able to find a traditional review to point them to.
  2. I’ve been preordering more than usual this year which is why they’re coming in as orders rather than me just picking them off the shelf.

Houses and Mortgages

Within the last 18 years I have owned 5 houses in three different states1. Watching mortgage rates increase so dramatically got me to thinking about our past mortgages.

We bought our first house because I couldn’t find an apartment I liked. At the time, we lived in Louisville in a 2-bedroom apartment that had an efficient layout and was an easy distance from almost everything except my new job which was an hour away in good traffic. We looked at a map and determined that Longmont would be a better base location, still relatively close to Boulder but also 20 minutes closer to my library. However, all the apartments I looked at wasted a lot of the square footage on hallways instead of living space.

Somewhat on a whim, I started looking to see if we could buy a house instead of rent. This being 2004, before the housing crash, the answer was yes even though I had been working for less than a year, Jaeger’s company was financially shaky2, and we had no down payment. We were also considerably more naive than now. I don’t remember if we were “pre-qualified” or “pre-approved”, probably the former, but in any case, we started looking at houses. It took a while to find a house we liked and the buyer agreed to our offer. This was back in the dark ages when only some of the houses had online photos and those you had to get through a broker’s special website. However, eventually we found a very nice 3-bedroom house that had a tiny yard but backed up to a green area that kept our house from immediately backing up to the house behind us. We didn’t realize it at the time, but the house also required the least amount of maintenance of any house since. Fortunately for us given we had no extra cash to spare.

We found the house but had no down payment so needed to figure out how to buy it. I remember sitting in the mortgage broker’s office, the first and last time I ever did that in person, and him trying to convince me we should get a 3-year ARM. I do not like uncertainty and didn’t want an ARM but I don’t recall being given the option of a fixed rate mortgage. I countered with a 7-year ARM, which is what I thought we had agreed on. However, this was back in the day before home buyers automatically saw documents prior to signing. When we got to the signing, which in Colorado involves the buyers and sellers being together in the same room, the escrow officer asked if we had seen our loan docs ahead of time and we said no. She looked at us in moderate consternation and proceeded to quickly summarize everything. It was at this point I learned that we didn’t have a 7-year ARM, we had a 5-year ARM. It turned out that we also applied for a home equity line of credit which took care of our 20% down payment3. I was a bit perturbed but the signing felt like it was too late to back out so we signed4.

In any case, we did buy the house and it was really exceptional to have our own home that allowed me to make changes whenever I wanted. We got our first house bills and the main mortgage amount seemed right but the second mortgage payment seemed way too small for the amount of money we had borrowed. I got out our loan docs and read through them carefully. With dawning horror I finally realized that our home equity line of credit was a 10-year, interest-only loan, that never paid down the principal amount and the interest rate adjusted monthly. Fortunately, I’m good at math. I created an amortization chart to estimate how much extra we’d need to pay each month to pay the loan off in 10 years. Almost every month the interest rate on the second mortgage increased. It started at an introductory rate of 4.00% and after 6 months jumped to 7.00% and after a year was about 8.50%. At about the one-year mark I finally investigated other options and we refinanced it into a 5-year home equity loan at 8.299% which we paid off several years early. We eventually refinanced our original ARM, with a five-year rate of 6.125%, to a 15-year fixed rate mortgage with a rate of 4.25% (though we did pay points for it).

After Calvin was born my boss agreed to let me work from home instead of commuting to Greeley every day. When Calvin was about three, Jaeger convinced me that we should move closer to his job, since I no longer had any commute. I didn’t really want to leave our first house, it met all my needs and was feasible to pay off within a relatively short amount of time. However, I had to admit that the commute wasn’t fair. Thus, we listed our house for sale and started looking closer to Jaeger’s work.

However, this was in 2012 and the housing bubble had definitely burst. While housing had recovered a bit, I knew our house wouldn’t be easy to sell. While we had a realtor helping us, I also read several excellent books about selling houses: Seven Steps to Sold, How to Sell a House Fast in a Slow Real Estate Market, and Home Staging that Works5. The home staging book, in particular, made a significant impression on me. We didn’t hire a professional stager but I did follow the staging recommendations scrupulously. While showing our house to potential buyers, we were also looking at houses in the Boulder area.

Eventually, we found a house we liked and put an offer in on it, even though we didn’t have a seller for our old house yet. Fortunately, a couple did put in an offer on our house that we chose to accept. We sold the house for about 7% less than what we had bought it for. However, the low housing prices probably benefited us in the long run as Boulder houses were also cheaper to buy. We had a slightly better idea what we were doing with our second house. Among other things, we had a down payment from paying down the principal on our first house, and we saw the loan docs ahead of time. This time we got a 5-year ARM with an interest rate of 2.75%. I still didn’t love having an ARM but at that time the fixed interest rates were significantly higher and running the various amortization charts it was obvious that the ARM was a better option.

The Boulder house turned out to be one of my favorite houses. However, when Jaeger got laid off and then offered a job at Google in San Francisco, we sold our house and moved again. With our second house we got really lucky and sold it for 42% more than we had bought it. This is the only reason we were able to buy a house in San Francisco. Yes, Jaeger’s stock helped but we still wouldn’t have had the down payment without the sale from our Boulder house6. We rented in San Francisco for almost a year before deciding to buy.

In many ways, house hunting in San Francisco was more fun than anywhere else because of how ubiquitous the open houses were. I spent many fun weekends walking from house to house without having to go to the trouble of making an appointment ahead of time. Also, San Francisco has some truly weird houses. I still remember the basement that obviously had been an illegal apartment and they made it legal by pulling out the walls but leaving the floor footprint so you could see how the rooms use to be laid out. Eventually, we found a house that met both our needs and our budget. That house we bought with a 7-year ARM with an interest rate of 3.5%. We weren’t sure how long we planned to stay in San Francisco which is why we went with the ARM option again.

San Francisco wasn’t working for me, for various reasons, and I got offered a great job up in Seattle so we moved up there. We owned our San Francisco house less than 2 years so I wasn’t entirely sure we would break even. However, we lucked out and sold it for 16% more than we bought it for. In retrospect, I think the buyer might have overpaid because we’ve been keeping an eye on the house and it didn’t appreciate much when it was sold 3 years later.

In Seattle, we lived in a temporary rental for several months which, in retrospect, I think was a mistake because there was too much pressure to buy a house quickly. Though, there weren’t a lot of longer term rentals that would fit our family’s needs. Jaeger and I also had trouble agreeing on a house but we eventually found a house that was good enough. We got another 7-year ARM, at 4.125%, because we felt there was a decent chance we’d leave Seattle in 5 years. This was the first house we owned that required major repairs. The roof started leaking even before we moved in7. However, this was the house where I really learned that I like quirky better than shiny. Even with it’s flaws, I liked it better than our San Francisco house. Also, the house came with an insane number of roses in the front which, at first, overwhelmed me but I now miss.

Seattle wasn’t working for Jaeger, for various reasons, so we decided to move back down to California. We made this decision about a month prior to the pandemic starting but I wanted to stick around till I had worked a full two years at that library. By the time we were ready to sell, it was the summer of 2020. Not the best time to sell, even though I believe the market picked up later. This was another house we sold for loss, about 8% less than we bought it. However, we lost more money because the new roof was a significant expense and we had also spent money on the master bath8.

Exactly where to move to in California was a matter of debate. I didn’t want to deal with the stress of living in a large city on top of my disappointment in leaving my Seattle job. Jaeger found a rental in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was glorious and provided exactly the life I wanted for my kids. However, it was a bit too remote for Jaeger. So, when we started looking to buy again, we ended up gravitating towards a house closer to Santa Cruz.

At this point we were still in the middle of the pandemic except housing had picked up significantly, even in most cities. This was the oddest house buying experience I’ve had. Competition was probably fiercer than what we had previously experienced in Seattle and San Francisco. Twice we found houses which were no longer available by the weekend. Once we went on a house tour where the buyer’s agent insisted on joining us due to COVID reasons, I guess to keep our germs from touching the owner’s property, and spent the whole tour with a drooping mask crowding us in a clearly unsafe manner. Fortunately, that house didn’t speak to us so we didn’t have to deal with that agent again.

One weekend I needed to get out of the house so I drove down to check out a City of Santa Cruz park with redwoods. It was a lovely trail and reminded me a lot of wandering around the woods when I was growing up, though with significantly fewer blackberry brambles to get scratched by. The park happened to be relatively near a house for sale so I left my car at the park and walked up the hill to the house, just to see the outside. The outside didn’t offend me and I really liked the idea of being close enough to walk to real trees9. The inside pictures looked decent so we scheduled time to see the house.

The house was large and quirky, so it met many of our requirements. We put in an offer but were outbid. I was disappointed but really didn’t want to pay more than I felt the house was worth and so moved on. That is, until our realtor contacted us about a week later asking if we were still interested. It turns out the other buyers were getting cold feet and/or were asking for more concessions than the seller wanted to give so we got the house after all. This was when interest rates were still at historic lows and so we bought this house with a 30-year fixed mortgage and an interest rate of 3.25%. I really like this house and hope we are finally done moving and can stay here for a long time, especially given our low fixed interest rate.

Looking back, we’ve been extraordinarily lucky when it comes to buying houses. Our first house buying experience could have ended very badly if we hadn’t understood the terms of the loans or if we were just unlucky and lost our jobs early on before we’d built up any significant savings. However, it didn’t end badly and is one of the reasons we can buy nice houses in California. For our most recent house, if we bought now, we’d probably be paying an additional 40% a month in housing costs, mainly due to the interest rate increase10.

Again, we’re really lucky.

  1. If we include rentals, I have lived in 9 homes in 18 years.
  2. This was in the era where Jaeger was occasionally given paychecks that he was asked not to cash till several days in the future.
  3. On the upside, this also kept us from paying mortgage insurance. Though, I’ve wondered since how our broker managed that. It doesn’t make sense to me that you can get out of mortgage insurance just by adding more debt.
  4. These days I would have definitely backed out but these days I would have insisted on seeing the docs ahead of time anyway.
  5. Note, I love these books but they are quite old at this point and some of the information is dated.
  6. This is one reason I feel really bad for tech people who started in California. Yes, they have good salaries but it’s still really hard to save enough for the insane housing prices we have out here.
  7. Don’t buy a flat roof in the northwest even if the view is great. I knew better but I was so desperate to agree on a house at that point that I compromised where I shouldn’t have. Also, the inspector had pointed out potential roof problems, we just didn’t realize it was actively leaking as we bought in summer.
  8. Though, much of that labor was provided by Jaeger.
  9. A tree is not real unless it’s thick enough you can’t put your arms around it.
  10. This is assuming a 30-year jumbo mortgage with a rate of 5.625%, which is probably on the low side, and looking at Zillow’s Zestimate range and choosing the lowest number given we are in a cooling housing market.

Using Mastodon

I first heard about Mastodon in 2017. Yanthor was also intrigued and he got me to take the next step and actually join octodon.social, a Mastodon instance. I stayed on Octodon for a bit but wandering.shop had more people talking about books so I eventually migrated to that instance because I found the local timeline more interesting. I don’t post a lot, particularly compared to others, but I’ve been a regular user since November 2017 and I have seen many people come and go over the years.

As I mentioned on Twitter, I’m slowly edging away from my account there. However, I don’t use my wandering.shop account in the same way I used my Twitter account. I do post life updates on wandering.shop but what I really love to talk about in that space is books, usually science fiction or fantasy. After some thinking, I’ve decided to use my old Octodon account as a general Twitter replacement.

If you are interested, there are a couple of different ways you can see what I’m posting on my Octodon account:

  1. The easiest option is to just go to my public timeline whenever you think about it. This is probably the easiest approach.
  2. If you want to get slightly fancier, you can also get an RSS feed of my local timeline. This is probably not a good option unless you already use an RSS reader for other things.
  3. If you want to be extra special fancy, you can get your own Mastodon account.

Mastodon options for posting toots.

General Mastodon
If you’ve never been on a Mastodon instance before, I imagine there’s a lot of terms in my prior paragraphs that doesn’t make sense. A Brief Mastodon Guide for Social Media Worriers is a good introduction for beginners. However, below is a summary of some of the details I think are pertinent.

Unlike Twitter, there is no one Mastodon. Instead, there are lots of Instances which know how to talk to each other. Many people explain this as being similar to email. Gmail users can email Yahoo users who can email Outlook users. However, unlike email, the community and culture of specific Mastodon instance can vary widely and is often based on specific shared interest. For example, code4lib.social tends to be a place for techie librarians/information professionals while mastodon.art people post a lot of art. Most of these instances have some sort of rules they require accounts to follow, for example here are mastodon.art’s rules.

If you use a Mastodon instance similar to how you use Twitter, your instance doesn’t matter as much as long as you stick to your instance’s rules. However, one fun thing Mastodon has is local timelines. Timeline icon.This is where you can go and see what everyone else is publicly talking about on your instance. This is also why it’s particularly fun to find an instance centered around topics you find interesting. However, it’s pretty easy to move instances so it’s fine to start with a larger one like mastodon.social until you find a more interesting one1. It’s much easier to move instances than it is to change email addresses.

Content Warnings
Mastodon etiquette will vary from instance to instance. However, it’s generally considered good manners to use content warnings when you suspect someone may be bothered or annoyed by a topic. Common topics to content warn include things like politics, traumatic events, graphic pictures, mental health, etc. However, the specifics do depend a little bit on your instance and the other people you follow. For example, food is often content warned on my instance and often they’ll explicitly content warn if it’s non-veg. If you go look at your local timeline, you can often get a feel for what people content warn and what they don’t.
Content warning icon.
You can also use content warnings to discuss spoilers which allows people to enjoy book/movie discussions without accidentally learning major plot points ahead of time.

Post privacy options: Public, Unlisted, Followers only, Mentioned people only.
I also use content warnings when I’m talking about things that don’t really fall into the general interests of my instance (such as parenting or kids). However, I just realized that’s probably not the right way to do it. I probably should have also been using the “unlisted” feature where my followers can see what I’m talking about but it doesn’t appear in the local timeline. I’ve been using Mastodon for five years and am still learning new things.

While I use content warnings heavily at wandering.shop, I’m planning to use them much less frequently with my Octodon account. Instead, I’m going to try keeping my posts primarily unlisted so they don’t ambush people in the local timeline. My thought is that keeping things without content warnings will probably be easier for the family member who just wants to see updates without a lot of clicking. This is an experiment so we’ll see how it goes.

Alt Text
The other thing that is strongly encouraged is to provide alt text for any images you post. There are a fair number of users that use screen readers and they really appreciate alt text being added. Here’s a good guide on entering helpful alt text.

Mastodon App
When using a desktop, it’s really easy to load and use Mastodon in a browser window. Personally, I suggest enabling the “advanced web interface” view. However, there are various apps available for use on mobile devices. Since my transition back to Android, I’ve been using the “official” Mastodon app. Which, it turns out has quite a few limitations. I just started using Tusky which lets me post unlisted and also allows me to easily see the local timeline.

Hashtags
Mastodon doesn’t allow searching on your posts unless you hashtag them. If you want to be found by people with common interests, hashtag your posts. If you don’t want to be found, don’t hashtag topics. When Elon Musk first threatened to buy Twitter we had a lot of new users. I did an introduction post and listed my general interests. All of a sudden, my timeline got much busier than I wanted. This time, I’m keeping quiet and not hashtagging anything. I’ll probably start hashtagging more once things get quieter again.

Support
If you end up sticking around, and can afford it, make a small contribution to help support your instance. Most instances have a way to give money, such as a Patreon account.

Mastodon is made up of flawed humans
Some people come to Mastodon expecting utopia. However, Mastodon is far from perfect and it has many of the same problems that Twitter does. Unfortunately, people get harassed on Mastodon instances just like they do at Twitter. However, your instance has more control over what it allows through and so moderation is sometimes better on Mastodon (and sometimes worse). Like Twitter, you will also have very well meaning people who just don’t think before they say something hurtful. Or, a mob of users may gang up on someone because of a innocently meant remark.

That said, I generally find Mastodon to be a more pleasant experience than Twitter. If I’m tired of hearing about election news, I can easily scroll past it because people are content warning it. If I don’t have the energy to handle someone else’s bad day, I don’t click into their content warned post. If I need something good in my life, I go search for #catsofmastodon or #florespondence2. It’s not a perfect place but I still enjoy using it.

Additional Reading

  1. Because of the Twitter drama a lot of the smaller Mastodon instances are currently overwhelmed. As a result, quite a few of them have chosen to stop allowing new users or have switched to only allowing new users to join if they have an invite from a current user. However, they often open back up once things calm down again.
  2. If nothing appears when you click, it’s possible the server is currently overloaded. Again, this will even out when most people go back to Twitter.