Hannah and the CoalBear: So Many Hats

Hi. I’m Hannah.

The Mother of Cats has been making hats all week.
CoalBear: She spends more time with the hats than with me. I need more toys!!!

The Mother of Cats went off and left us all weekend long and let me tell you, I had a really hard time controlling the kitten while she was gone. He left his toys all over the house. He ate all of the kitten food. He pulled one of the quilts off of the wall. I was pretty exhausted by the time the Mother of Cats came back, and after all of that the kitten and I refused to let her out of our sight. We made her feed us as soon as she got home and we loaded up on some cookies, too. The kitten made her carry him around for some time, but I’m a big girl now and I didn’t do that. We did make her play with us with the laser light: seriously, that’s the least she could do for us, right?! It was a long weekend!

Then we hung out on the bookshelf in the bedroom keeping watch the whole time she was unpacking her bags…
And then we settled in up there to keep an eye on her while she slept. All night.

We’re still keeping our eye on her but mostly this week she has been good and stayed with us to knit more hats.

The kitten has been especially helpful while she has been working on the hats. He is a lot of work, but he has a good heart and is lots of fun.

He’s my best friend.

Bye.

I need to go have a talk with that kitten. Again.

>^..^<

Note from the Mother of Cats:

Behold, the downed quilt and probable culprit…

Is he laughing at me?

The Scleroderma Chronicles: The BLZ gets a CPET

The BLZ had some anxiety going into this test…

Last month I had a right heart catherization that showed an unexpected problem with my heart… there is a cardiac shunt that is allowing blood from the left side (you know, the one that is always colored red because that blood is rich with oxygen) to shoot over into the other side of the heart where it disrupts blood flow and adds pressure to the (blue) right side of the heart; that is a little tough on the right side because it isn’t built to handle the extra pressure. Houston, we have an explanation for all that blue panting that is going on.

Cool. Finally we were getting some answers and my doctors were taking my symptoms more seriously. My cardiologist ordered up some more tests to collect data and clarify the issue.

The test that I have been the most concerned about was the cardiopulmonary exercise test that was scheduled for last Monday. I hunted for some cool links to explain the test to use in this post and came up with a bunch of technical articles for physicians and specialists. Okay. Let’s not go there. I’ll try to explain what this test was all about. I was hooked up to a bunch of monitoring equipment that tracked my breathing and heart while I was riding a bike. As part of the test my lung function was tested, my heart monitored (like in an EKG), my blood pressure was tracked, my respiration rate, and the actual amount of oxygen I was using and the carbon dioxide that I was expelling for each mL of blood pumped. It was a lot!!

I was a little concerned because of my bad boy hip, but that wasn’t really a problem at all.

I shared my catnip with the Mother of Cats so that she wouldn’t have any trouble with the test.

The test went great for about 7 minutes: then there was an emergency stop. My blood pressure had suddenly zoomed up into the stratosphere at about 6 minutes into the test, and then 30 seconds later I began panting like crazy and the technician pulled the plug. Remember that cardiac shunt they found in the cath lab? When I exercise the direction of blood flow in that shunt reverses and blood from the right side is shooting into the left side where it interferes with the pumping of oxygenated blood to my body. No wonder I turn blue and pant.

The BLZ is both happy and sad at the same time.

The specialist who did my CPET was great at explaining the data to me; when he sent the report to my doctors he also included me in the email group. For the last week I have been reading the back and forth discussion by my doctors about the test and what the next steps for me will be. I am really pleased to be included in this process and feel that this option should be available to everyone; it is also kind of scary as I get a glimpse of what is coming down the road for me later in the testing department.

The gear and set-up for the CPET was pretty impressive. I joked with the specialist about it and he told me that there was an even more extreme version of testing that included a right heart catherization at the same time as the exercise test. Yep. You guessed it. That’s what my docs are considering to do next. It is clear that I have a cardiac shunt but they haven’t located it yet. The BLZ is pretty bummed. The word “profound” was used to describe my symptoms. There has also been some speculation about neuroendocrine tumors… The good news here is that no one is even considering sleep apnea or me needing antidepressants because, you know, I complain too much…

The BLZ is both happy and sad at the same time.

I keep my eye on the Mother of Cats while she reads her email.

So, it was a kind of tough week. I pulled myself together on Tuesday and went to a new yarn store for a little pick-me-up and was so distracted I missed my turn twice and had to detour through Starbucks before I actually pulled up in front of the store. I almost didn’t go in I was so worn out by then, but I did a little mental slapping to put myself into motion, pulled out my cane, and went in…

…to discover a woman dragging out three big bags of yarn that kind of screamed “community knitting” because they weren’t the yarn being sold in the store. “Hey! I want to community knit! Please, can I come play with you guys?” I immediately said.

That is how I ended up in a new local yarn store this morning knitting with the most wonderful group of ladies in the world. They are all current or former employees of the Kaiser medical system that I go to for my care, and they are producing hats for all of the Kaiser clinics that have infusion centers; I know those centers because they are the same ones that rheumatology patients go to. These ladies are all vaccinated and they all wore masks because they knew I was taking a risk to come. They had donuts! I have found a new knitting home when I needed it like no other. I actually cried a little with joy and relief as I drove away at the end of the meeting.

If I hadn’t made all those bad turns and the Starbucks stop this wouldn’t have happened.

My yarn stash is full of yarn that wants to turn into hats. Hats with happy colors and a dash of cashmere. I am on fire with purpose to produce as many hats as I can for other people who are facing down serious medical situations. I want to make them arm warmers and fingerless mitts. I have tapped into the best, most perfect group to produce useful gifts for other people like myself just when I needed to be grounded, inspired, and calmed by the peace of knitting.

The BLZ is happy.

The Saturday Update: Week 41, 2021

Last week brought us some rain and cold weather. Seriously, it got so cold that I had to bring the potted plants into the garage to protect them from a overnight hard freeze. Most of the leaves on the maple tree are already down, but the tree finally got with the program and produced some bright red leaves.

Now, this is what I’ve been looking forward to!

Sadly, it is now too cold and windy for me to sit outside to admire that color in the yard, but every glance out a window makes me happy.

Knitting

The second Snark-O-Meter is finally off the needles. I still haven’t woven in the ends or blocked it, but look at all the great color interactions and stitch patterns in the shawl!

The patterns in the shawl really show off my yarns. I’m so glad that I jumped in and knit a second shawl. Sharon, Sharon, I want a little gold star for this!! (Who’s Sharon? That would be Sharon from Security, Casapinka’s snarky employee who developed this pattern. I’m pretty sure she won’t give me a gold star for finishing my shawl unless I send her some quality sushi first…)

Garden

I’m moving outdoor plants into the house to rebuild the indoor garden for the winter. I really kind of like doing this, but the cats are really happy to see plants come indoors. Mateo is absolutely torturing the large palm plant that was on my porch all summer; wait until he sees the geraniums!! I’m letting the geraniums get a little more outdoor sunshine but some others like the jade plants and the bougainvillea needed to come in now.

The cats are admiring the jade plants from afar…
and that goes double for the bougainvillea that is handing high over their heads in the kitchen!

I may have to rethink the bougainvillea as all of those blooms will be dropping off at some point and landing in my sink, but they make me happy so I’m going to see how it goes. Several of the year-round indoor plants are looking really nice right now so I’ve moved them into the kitchen to join the cheerful color of that bougainvillea. The best of the bunch is my oldest African violet.

Isn’t it looking nice?

Next week I will be focusing on getting most of the potted perennials into the ground outside and moving in more of the ones that can over-winter in the house like the geraniums. I suspect that there may be some leaf raking going on, too.

Books

Since I was spending so much time with plants this week I jumped into this book that I got from the library last month.

Years ago I went to a dinner at my boss’ house in Denver in an older part of town. Okay, this was a pretty swanky house compared to my own. There were back staircases for the servants, a library, breakfast and dining rooms, and a kitchen that was almost as big a my whole apartment at the time. Since this was a summer evening they held the affair outside in their gardens.

Gardens. Right. There were four different yards/gardens on this property. Rather than a large plot of grass with some nice trees and maybe a sad attempt at a veggie garden or a gold fish pond, this property was divided into discrete garden rooms with brick walls dividing them. Each area was planted differently to serve a different purpose and held tables and benches for people in each one. Okay, one actually had a pergola in it. It was cool.

That gardening concept is what this book was about. An old formal house with a series of unique connected gardens that are being restored to their original plantings by a talented gardening specialist. The books entwines the stories of three different generations of women with significant involvement in the history of the house and gardens with some clever parallel events to make it all hang together. It was a quick read, I learned a lot of new things about gardening, and I liked it.

That’s it. Have a great week everyone!

Read a little, knit a little, and garden like your heart can’t live without it.

The Saturday Update: Weeks 39 and 40, 2021

The days are still warm, dry and sunny, but the nights are finally getting a little cooler. I spend my afternoons in the swinging garden chair on the deck, reading and knitting in the strange silence that has now descended on the garden: no more crickets, cicadas, migrating geese, or even the pit bull next door. All are now gone, and the only sounds I hear are the squirrels racing through the trees and the occasional drifting fall of leaves. The maple tree out back, usually a blaze of red color by now, is slowly turning a golden brown with a few flashes of red. Seriously? This is how you are going to finish up the year? Figures.

This is as good as it is going to get this year I guess.

The ground is covered with dead leaves as these sorry examples of autumn glory drift off the tree. We never had a freeze, and I think that these brown leaves coming down are the result.

The baby bunny of the summer has found a mate.

Over the last weekend I noticed lots of digging in the yard from the bunny, and then one night the flood lights revealed that there were two bunnies in my yard! My little guy was not all alone any more! Now my bunny, all grown up, is gone.

Next week we will finally get colder weather and perhaps some rain. There will be snow in our mountains and all of my leaves will be gone off the tree.

Summer, truly, is finally over.

Knitting

I finished the second Rock It Tee this week!

Can you see how I blended the three skeins of yarn from light to dark as I alternated them through the sweater? The lightest is at the top.

I am now down to only one knitting project left, the second Snark-O-Meter that I am rapidly finishing off with lots of cat help.

I finished up clue 4 last night and will start clue 5 today. This baby should be done in just a few more days of knitting.

Yesterday I cleaned out my little project bags, sorted yarn in the stash, and organized myself for a prolonged sweater knitting campaign. I’m tempted to start the Stephen West MKAL (Shawlography), but as I sorted I realized that I had the yarn to make several sweaters all stocked up and waiting to go. It isn’t all that cold yet, but eventually sweater weather will get here and it is time for me to switch over to sweaters and to start working my way through the stash again.

I also, through great serendipity, located a community knitting group last week that makes hats for patients going through chemo at the infusion center where I used to go to my (old, kicked to the curb) rheumatologist’s office. I know that center, located between oncology and rheumatology, as I used to sit in that waiting room every rheumatologist appointment. Why is the infusion center next to rheumatology? Because, little known fact, many rheumatology patients (along with other people struggling with autoimmune disease), receive chemo and infusions of biologic drugs. I know, only too well, what a struggle it is to control Reynaud’s Phenomenon while hooked up to an IV in air conditioning. I’m joining the knitting group and will be knitting as many little fingerless mitts and arm warmers as I can for drop off to the center along with the chemo hats.

There. Knitting plans for the rest of the year all worked out. 🙂

Garden

This is ridiculous, but all of my mental energy is focused on planting all the potted plants into the gardens (Where should I put them? This is a big decision.) and making an indoor home for the jade plants that have been outdoors all summer.

This plant tripled in size over the summer. I moved it to this large pot, but now it is… large.

I recently discovered that jade plants are poisonous for cats. Oh, no. I have had jade plants in the house for years with my cats, and never had an issue, but now that I know I’m worried about a cat/plant interaction. I have an indoor garden shelf system established to keep the plants indoors over the winter, but this pot won’t fit now. I’ve decided to use chicken wire to keep the cats away from the shelf with the smaller jades, but this one plant is going to be challenging. Ugh. I can move shelves to create more space, or I can build a cage to put over the plant, or… these are the days when I miss the greenhouse I had in my biology classroom.

Books

This is an amazing book!!

I loved, loved, loved All the Light We Cannot See, so when I saw this book was coming out I preordered it right away. When it dropped into my Kindle library I forced myself to take a break from The Murderbot Diaries to read this. Holy, Moly! Best decision ever. Cloud Cuckoo Land is a book to read and savor.

So you probably have already guessed that I am really enjoying this book. It is the tale of a ridiculous comedy written by an ancient Greek author that is preserved over time and that connects people separated by centuries who are caught up in the jaws of history. Sounds improbable when I write it down, but this works and it is really good! I don’t want to give out any spoilers, but the story moves right along at a perfect pace, going back and forth between the characters and the Greek tale in a way that links them together and brings meaning to their lives and the Greek comedy in an unforeseen manner that eerily connects to my life also. Owls are a recurring element of the stories in the book: as I read in the night it is to the sound of booming “who-who’s” from the Great Horned owls in my neighborhood. (Bunnies: make good choices tonight!!) I read on in this book that is essentially about the power and of legacy of books as I consider which of my books to leave in one of the community Little Free Libraries next week. The power of books, the legacy of lives, the preservation of who we are: a big message contained in a book that immerses you in a powerful story.

Have a good week, everyone.

Read a little, knit a little, and garden like your heart can’t live without it.

Mateo the CoalBear: and hug a cat!

Hannah and the CoalBear: The Snark-O-Meter is done!

Hi. I’m Hannah.

Do you see how big my kitten has gotten? He’s hard to share a platform on the cat tree with now because of that… tail! His tail is absolutely out of control.

The kitten and I have been helping the Mother of Cats knit her latest shawl for weeks now. It has been lots of hard work, especially since the kitten forgets to behave himself and starts carrying off the balls of yarn. I have talked to him about this, but he is just too crazy wild to really settle down. The proper etiquette is to sit on top of the knitting, purr like crazy, and to snag any moving yarn in your claws when you can… If the Mother of Cats accidently leaves the knitting downstairs you can drag it up the stairs to return to her, but not the balls of yarn. Especially if you forget what you are doing and leave the yarn balls in some strange place. Sigh. It is so hard to raise a kitten.

Umm… that’s because I’m a little CoalBear.

Anyway, the shawl is called the Snark-O-Meter and it is designed by another cat!!! This cat, Sharon from Security, is the employee of Casapinka and seems to be a little tiny bit hard to work with. She is always complaining and dealing with the misbehavior of her fellow employees and never has enough sushi. Also she keeps losing her squad car… and her subordinate Finn (who has a shady background and multiple passports) is also gone. You wouldn’t believe how she talks to the knitters, too! Talk about snark!!

Oh. I guess that is why it is called the Snark-O-Meter.

The Mother of Cats finished the Snark-O-Meter this week and left me alone with the kitten to go buy some blocking mats and more pins to use. Oh, my goodness, the blocking mats are the most fun ever!! The kitten and I were so excited to see them. The kitten chewed as many corners as he could get his little chompers onto while I rolled around and did a little cat yoga.

Aren’t these the best cat yoga mats ever?

Then the Mother of Cats and we got serious and worked on blocking the shawl. She had made a little test sample to make sure the colors wouldn’t run when wet and tried to lay it out on the mat.

Tried. Yep. The minute the kitten saw the loose strings of that sample he began swapping at them. Then I grabbed the sample to groom it a little… did I mention that I just love wet yarn? Besides, it needs to get smoothed down and dried a little… The Mother of Cats tried to pin it and the kitten pulled out the pins to drag off and play with. The Mother of Cats decided that the yarns weren’t going to run (this is true… I never saw them move at all) and put the sample away in a cupboard. That was okay, because then she started putting the shawl out on the cat yoga mats.

Helping with the shawl. I’m such a good girl!! I only groomed the shawl a little bit while the Mother of Cats was laying it out.

The Mother of Cats didn’t like how saggy the yarns in the sample were when wet so she decided to spray the shawl really well with water and then lightly steam it. This was not funny!!! She put in some pins, sprayed water everywhere, and then put in even more pins all around the shawl. Then she hovered the steam iron all around the shawl to make the lace look nice.

I moved to a safe place and the kitten played with his toys on the floor while all this was going on!
Doesn’t it look nice now?

Then the Mother of Cats layered towels on top of the wet shawl and sprinkled some yoga mats on top of that so we wouldn’t sleep on top of the shawl. I slept on top of everything anyway. Did I mention that I love the smell of wet wool?

The next day the Mother of Cats took all the mats and towels off the shawl and the kitten and I helped her take all of the pins off and the mats apart. You would not believe how fast the kitten can pull out the pins to take away as toys. Sigh. I’m going to have a little talk with him again. I do have to say that the little corners of the mats are fun to chew on, though. The kitten is a lot of work, but he is fun too and sometimes has some really good ideas.

Last night the Mother of Cats took the shawl over to her son’s for a visit and the kitten and I got to chase each other around like crazy all night. The shawl looked really nice as she packed it up to take to the car. Of course. This was a cat written and cat produced knitted item of beauty.

My work here is done. Except for the kitten. He’s still work…

Note from the Mother of Cats:

The kitten Mateo is growing at an alarming clip and is now filling out and growing a longer coat than I expected. He is a really good natured little guy and makes little chirping noises as he runs around the house, and of course he is a great playmate for Hannah. He is now 6 months old and will certainly be a bigger cat than Hannah.

Don’t you think he looks a little like a bear?

Here is the finished shawl modeled by one of my son’s cats.

Jonesy and the Snark-O-Meter.

I have another one of these shawls to finish up. The cats can’t wait for me to pull it out and get going again because blocking the last one was so much fun!!!

The Saturday Update: Weeks 37 and 38, 2021

Finally, finally the leaves are starting to turn in earnest and there is a rustling sound when they move in the breeze. The sky is now a gentle blue in the afternoon and there is a subtle change in the quality of sunlight as the sun edges further to the south each day; thunderstorms are a distant memory as the clouds adopt more benign shapes. I’ve taken to sitting outside in evenings to work on the computer listening to crickets while the cats romp in the house. The potted plants continue to show off late blooms but there isn’t much new growth appearing in the gardens. The baby bunny of the summer now looks all grown up, and there are low-flying flocks of geese passing over my house daily.

Fall has finally arrived!

Cats love fall! These two are rolling in personality these days.

Knitting

I’ve been knitting like crazy lately. Sharon from Security (Casapinka) took a week off from the Snark-O-Meter and I was left at loose ends: I cast on a new Rock It Tee and started knitting on that. I was really making great headway until… somewhere halfway down the body… I got bored. All that stockinette. Ugh. I began to day dream about other things that I could knit and somehow I decided that I needed to knit another little kitty to keep my knitted MacKenzie doppelganger company. You remember, my MacKnitzie that was created to look just like my personality (ahem… attitude) loaded cat that died just as Covid-19 appeared on the horizon. I still miss MacKenzie, and while I was waiting for the next clues of the Snark-O-Meter to drop, I couldn’t help looking at MacKnitzie on my shelf and wanting to make him a little friend.

Doesn’t MacKnitzie look like he is smiling?

I knitted up an Itty Bitty Kitty to sit with MacKnitzie on the shelf in my bedroom. I was thinking that the project would only take a day or two, but I had forgotten how fiddly the work could be if you wanted the final knitted cat to look realistic. I also was struggling with my old friend fatigue all last week so only a little got done at a time, but I’m really happy with the final product.

This little kitty is so fun when completed. It is designed to stand up balanced on the tail and two hind feet.

Now that I am done with the kitty for MacKnitzie I’ve gone back to knitting on the Snark-O-Meter shawl and I’m really anxious to get it done. Look at how well those classic colors go with the cats! (snark, people!!) Seriously, the cats are all over me while I’m knitting these days. Maybe they think that I should be making them cat toys or little itty bitty versions of them? Hmm… maybe I should be making little itty versions of Hannah and Mateo… or maybe a knitted mouse.

I’m now in clue 5, and since clue 6 dropped this morning I should be finishing up in just a few days. I can’t wait to show this finished project off as it just keeps getting better and better as I knit along.

Books

I am seriously reading lots of science fiction these days.

Through the fatigue of the last week I have just holed up and read lots of space opera. Today, while watering the lawns, I started to reflect on why I’m so immersed in space opera of all things.

I was in a book group that read lots of books that were suspenseful, gothic creations about women trapped in situations that were not of their own making, menaced by outside forces and individuals, and abandoned or betrayed by the individuals and/or agencies that should have protected them. Sometimes the women manage to escape their menacing entrapment, but just as often they come to a bad end. It’s a whole genre, and these books can be really popular, but I suddenly had an epiphany; these are not good books for a person struggling with a chronic, progressive disease. Okay, I’m not sure that these books are good for anyone, but they certainly weren’t good for me as I was struggling to get a diagnosis and help with my whole blue-lipped, panting for air, trying to not faint deal that I had going on. Doctors just kept reassuring me that I was fine; I was being dismissed, subjected to gaslighting, and unable to control my own situation just like some of the women in these books.

Oops. Time for a change in reading matter, I decided. I quit the reading group.

This month I am somewhere in the process of having my heart issues defined and a plan of action created. Things aren’t clear: I definitely have a pretty significant cardiac shunt, but they haven’t found it yet. They have a really good understanding of the direction of disruptive blood flow while I’m at rest, but they are trying to determine exactly what is happening while I’m up and active. I did a walk test last week (um… not sure I passed that with flying colors…) and will need to do a exercise/stress/echocardiogram test next week. This is all big stakes for me as it will determine my treatment plan going down the road…

Which brings me back to space opera. These books are all about desperate times and a scrappy group of individuals led by a strong and determined woman who is going to figure out what is happening and will eventually put things right!! The crews deal with every single emergency with creative, reality-based responses (well, using science fiction reality, that is) and refuse to ever, ever give up. They lose space ships, battles, body parts, and sometimes the future that they had envisioned, but they always, always make it through to the end with grit, determination, the support of their team, and the innovative use of technology. They are action-oriented and fearless. What ever is coming their way, they face it down, make decisions, and get to work with what they have. They are pretty much my heroes these days.

Be like Murderbot, I tell myself. If it gets bad, don’t forget to bring your blaster to the appointment. In this case, my blaster is a good understanding of my past test results and the diagnosis that they are considering, but you get the idea.

Space opera. I highly recommend it to anyone seeking resiliency in the face of an oncoming challenge of epic proportion.

Have a good week, everyone.

Read a little, knit a little, and garden like your heart can’t live without it.

The Saturday Update: Weeks 35 and 36, 2021

The heat is hanging on and the cats and I are totally over it at this point. Yesterday we set a new heat record in my state: 99 degrees Fahrenheit. The sun is a sullen red ball in the sky and the sky is slate white with smoke from the west. The heat is unrelenting, there has been almost no rain, and fire season is still going on, and on, and on… Should summer be ending soon?

“Not yet!”, say the plants and wildlife in the yard. The cats have been busy chasing late season houseflies and the trees are abuzz with pulsing cicada sounds. There seems to be wildlife everywhere all of a sudden as the lawn and garden recover from the intense sun (but not the heat) of July and August. I even had to chase a little garter snake out of my garage yesterday! Summer is being especially tenacious, but I am seeing some hints of fall as flocks of geese fly over my house and the first leaves on the trees are turning.

The baby bunny is now hanging out in the front yard entertaining the cats as they watch from the front door. Do you see all of that debris on the sidewalk and street in the picture of the bunny? That is the mess being left by the squirrels as they harvest the Russian olives off of my neighbor’s tree. There is a really cute squirrel with an exceptionally fluffy tail digging holes under my trees to stash food for later… not nice, little squirrel!! Speaking of fluffy tails, look at what is happening to Mateo’s tail!! This kitten is getting a lot fluffier than I thought he would…

Garden

Everything that is pink is just flourishing at the moment.

My Autumn Joy Stonecrop is just covered with bees and other plants in containers on the deck have decided that they want to bloom too. Even the roses by my driveway have decided to get a last bloom in. For some crazy reason it is all of the pink plants… even the hydrangea is putting out some new blooms with pink edges. It makes me happy to see all that color coming back even if it will be drowned out by all the fall colors in the trees and shrubs in a week or two.

Knitting

I had several quiet days following my right heart catherization procedure last week (okay, I also slept a couple of days afterwards) and I ripped right through the next clue on the Snark-O-Meter. If you haven’t been keeping up with all of the snark, the Snark-O-Meter is the latest MKAL shawl by Sharon from Security (Casapinka) and I am having a blast this time.

It is getting too big to show off the fun stitches in this project in one picture so I settled for shots of each clue. The top left is clues 1 and 2, the bottom left shows clue 3, and the picture on the right is clue 4. Look at all of those great and interesting stitches and use of color!! I’m going to get a ton of use out of this shawl.

Since I finished the shawl in just a couple of days after the clue was released, and because Sharon is taking a week off to let people catch up on their knitting, and since I was admiring all things pink in the garden, I pulled out my new Rock It Tee that is being knit in a pinky/rusty colorway called Cinnasizzle. The actual yarn isn’t quite as hot pink as it appears in the pictures, but it is full of clay, pink, and rust colors that are just too fun to ignore. I’ve been binge watching Billions on Amazon Prime and knitting like crazy this last week with a nebulous thought that if I really apply myself I can get this sweater done before Sharon releases the next Snark-O-Meter clue in another week. Ha! This is clearly impossible, but that never stopped me before! To try is all. I’m below the armholes now and it is just knitting in the round for the next 15 inches or so…

Mateo is now 5 and a half months old. Isn’t he getting handsome?

I’m still waiting for my cardiologist to contact me with the next steps in the ongoing Blue-Lipped Zebra project. Things are really slammed right now in the health field as there are lots of Covid-19 patients and Covid long-haulers who need help, and my cardiologist is pretty overwhelmed with the case load at the moment. (How do I know? My pulmonologist, who is also slammed, told me. I feel so bad for them.) It is a little hard to be patient and to wait my turn, especially since some of those people who are bumping me back in the health-care line are the unvaccinated.

Last week I was mocked in public by someone for wearing a mask. Umm… retired high school teacher here. I called him out on it and he immediately stopped.

But still, it’s a little shocking that it even happened.

This is the 20th anniversary of 9/11. What a sad, horrible day that led to unpredictable outcomes that were far beyond my imagination at that time. How sad it is to reflect on all that has happened, and continues to happen, in America.

I plan to knit my way though the reflection, waiting, and sadness this week. You all be safe out there!

Have a great week everyone.

Read a little, knit a little, and garden like your heart can’t live without it.

The Scleroderma Chronicles: A Trip to the Cath Lab

The BLZ has been waiting a long time for this…

Five years ago I came down with the flu and ended up in Urgent Care struggling to breathe. I scored some antibiotics, steroids, and cough medicine. To fight the virus I was told to go off my immunosuppressant drugs for a few weeks until I got better, stay in bed, and load up on chicken soup: it took a couple of months but eventually I got back on my meds. Except… things weren’t quite right. I panted for air every time I came up the stairs and I noticed that my lips were turning blue. My blood pressure was too low and I had to stop taking my hypertension medicine. I felt dizzy and light headed sometimes.

I was a newly diagnosed systemic sclerosis patient and my doctors began running tests to see if my disease was impacting my lungs. Nope. Not my lungs. Tests were run to see if scleroderma was attacking my heart. Nope: my heart seemed to be normal. There were some anomalies, but my doctors decided to just monitor me through routine testing and see if things changed down the road. My red blood cell counts were way too high, and I had nocturnal hypoxia, so I was started on overnight oxygen. I was tested for various conditions that could account for the weird test results, but I always had a normal result.

I struggled on, battling for more testing, as my doctors kept reassuring me that I was okay. Hey, I had a blue face and panted for air when I climbed stairs; vacuuming could put me on the floor. How could this be “normal”? Ugh. Welcome to scleroderma, I thought.

I began to think of myself as the Blue-Lipped Zebra (BLZ). If I didn’t have a rare disease confusing the issue I would be getting better health care, it seemed. If doctors didn’t tend to apply most-common-cause thinking to my condition they might get to the bottom of things faster. It was, in my mind, a huge complicated mess as my doctors applied best practice (and rigid) diagnostic parameters to my symptoms or zeroed in on specific complications of my scleroderma and ignored other possible (and to be fair, rare) causes for my symptoms. I worried that my doctors had just parked me in a holding pattern as I slowly got worse; it is hard to advocate for yourself when you are sick and dependent on your doctors for help, even if you think that they are dismissive and borderline disparaging.

I struggled on as my face became more blue, my red blood cell count higher, my panting for air more common, and the occasional near-fainting event left me collapsed on the floor. I began to ask for a right heart catherization procedure to directly measure the pressure in the right side of my heart. “Oh. You don’t want that,” I was told. “That is really invasive testing.” Umm… I think I do, I would reply. Nope. Nope, nope, nope!! “Not even on the table,” one pulmonologist said.

During lockdown last year I got much worse; ironically lockdown also gave me the opportunity to reboot, fire my old doctors and acquire new ones. My new team of doctors this spring ordered up testing that showed definite issues with my heart and lungs. I am now a heart failure patient (the wall of my left ventricle are too stiff and scarred to beat well) and there were concerning findings that suggested that I had developed pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH): there are areas of cell death in my lungs and my pulmonary artery is too big. There is too much fluid around my heart, a suggestion of ongoing inflammation. I have a hole in my heart between the atriums (a cardiac shunt) that is impacting blood flow. I was gently prepared for the PAH diagnosis, assured that there were great drugs that could help me, and a right heart catherization was ordered by my new cardiologist.

Yay!! About time!!!

Finally, after 5 years of struggle, I was yesterday wheeled into a procedure room to a waiting team of specialists who hooked me up to equipment and took me though testing to get a better look at my heart: I learned in recovery that this team calls themselves “the pit crew”, and that is exactly what it was like. Within 5 minutes I had completed a breathing test, was on oxygen, wired up to a heart monitor, hooked up to an IV, medicated, prepared with surgical drapes, and swathed in warm blankets with a heater by my feet. There was music playing and the crew was cracking jokes as they darted in and out from the table getting me ready. I was knocked out for the echocardiogram imaging of the back of my heart that was done using a probe in my esophagus, but they woke me up for the main event: the right heart catherization. My cardiologist inserted a probe into the carotid vein in my neck and threaded it into my heart by way of the superior vena cava (blue side of the heart diagram above). People, this was the most amazing experience ever! There was a huge screen showing the progress of the probe and I could watch and ask questions as the line snaked through my heart; there was absolutely no pain. “Well, this is interesting,” said my cardiologist at one point, and there were more measurements happening and a flurry of new activity from the team. The BLZ felt a surge of elation: they had found something, and it was NOT what they expected.

Back in recovery my cardiologist caught up with me again. I had done great, he said, and he just beamed as he told me that I absolutely did not have PAH. This is great news, he assured me, great news!! There is another circulation problem in the lower part of my heart, between the ventricles. There is blood coming in from the left side of my heart and mixing with the blood on the right, disrupting the flow through the heart and robbing me of oxygen to my body. I have a second, more serious, cardiac shunt, and now it is a question of locating that pesky little guy and doing something to fix the problem.

It has been FIVE YEARS, people. If I hadn’t had my trip into the cath lab yesterday my doctors would still be nagging me to get more exercise (the BLZ just barks in laughter), offering me antidepressants, or insisting that I must have sleep apnea. I feel so validated!

My cardiologist is now going over my previous imaging to find the hole now that he knows what to look for. I was told that I may need to go through more testing to definitively characterize the opening, but this is huge forward progress. I suspect that I am facing open heart surgery down the road, but I am elated that the progressive and eventually fatal diagnosis of PAH is now off the table. Things are looking up since my heart failure will now be much easier to treat.

I am reminded of Elizabeth Zimmerman’s admonishment: “Knit on with confidence and hope, through all crisis.” Also, when the going gets tough, get a kitten!

Today I am waiting to hear back from my cardiologist who is going to email me with follow up instructions after he has finished going through the data and past test results. I’m on oxygen, knitting, and feeling pretty calm about all the new developments.

Almost exactly 7 years ago (August 28th was the anniversary day) I was diagnosed with Limited Systemic Sclerosis and Sjogren’s Disease. I have learned a lot along the way, but the best, most important lessons have been about self-advocacy, facing down the worst case scenarios, communicating with your doctors, and maintaining a good attitude.

Yesterday this all paid off for me big time.

Note: The fabulous BLZ graphic was made for me by my exceptionally knitworthy niece Melissa and her beautiful and talented daughter Eleanor.

The Saturday Update: Weeks 33 and 34, 2021

The end of August, and things are still hot here. The lawn struggles in the heat and the cats go to ground in the coolest parts of the house during the day. The smoke is gone, however, and I’ve been going out in the evenings to water and do some yard work almost every day. Someday, soon, autumn will come, but so far it doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry…

The kitten is 5 months old today!! He and Hannah are pretty inseparable now.
Except in the worst heat of the day. Then it is every cat for themselves around here.

Covid-19 has exploded in the US over the last few weeks, mostly the Delta strain of the virus. I have always been careful since there was some concern that the vaccine wouldn’t give me good protection because of one of the drugs that I take to control my systemic sclerosis; now I rarely leave the house and when I do walk into a store I am double masked. Since I am hanging out at home I’ve been on a “one little thing” cleaning campaign that is really rewarding in small ways. Each day I target one little project: wash the upstairs windows, clean out a drawer, weed out a flower bed, or sort and dispose of old stuff in the garage. I still have bins of teaching materials from my days in the classroom stored away… well, I used to. It was hard, but most of that is now gone. Every week my trash cans are stuffed full and things are nicer in the house. The Covid situation is bad outside my little home, but I am soothed by the gradual improvements that are happening in all of my drawers and rooms as the clutter and dirt disappears.

Every cloud has a silver lining, people!

Garden

My baby bunny is gone. Here he is in his last picture before he moved on the the larger world outside my back yard eating a dandelion leaf.

When the new fence was installed I was pretty sure that the bunny would find his way out of the yard as there were a couple of new gaps under the gates. I can see a new bunny-shaped gap under the new boards that sure looks like there has been some squeeze under the fence action; happy days little guy. The cats will miss you but it is good to move on to greener pastures (and not eating my lawn!!) as you grow up.

Knitting

I am deep in the world of the Sharon from Security (Casapinka) MKAL Snark-O-Meter. I knitted like crazy for several days to get my shawl through the first two clues.

I am through the first two clues (clue number 3 arrived this morning) and I am really happy with how things are going. My problem is that once I finished the clues I had some free time on my hands, so…

I cast on and started another shawl. I messed up the color sequence on this second one, so it has some major Sharon Snax going, but I love it anyway. Now my dilemma is whether to continue with shawl number 2 until I have caught up with the first one, or to charge ahead on the black and red version so I can see what the colors will look like. There is a change in needle size involved so I may keep going on #2 until I get to the lace section at the top that I can switch the needles between the two shawls.

I also feel like I need to knit a little cat, too. I’m cleaning a lot of shelves and I want some more knitted critters to fill in the gaps. 🙂

Quilting

It has been a long time coming, but now that I’m cleaning things up I decided to finish up a small quilting project that has been ignored for years. This quilt has been on the wall by my indoor garden but I was lazy and didn’t hand quilt the lettering in the blocks.

I hate hand quilting, but these little sections of lettering will look so much better when I am done!

There are several blocks on this quilt with different gardening themed images; each has a cute phrase that needs to be quilted to make it stand out right. Then maybe I will add some more quilting to the outer panels of the quilt. Ugh. I am doing a little bit every day as an extension of the “one little thing” campaign. Hopefully it will be done and back up on the wall before the cold weather arrives and I bring in the plants from outside for their winter indoors.

Have a great week everyone.

Read a little, knit a little, and garden like your heart can’t live without it.

The Saturday Update: Weeks 31 and 32, 2021

Life has been rushed. I created a lot of internal deadlines for myself and I have been rushing along every day trying to meet them. After weeks of waiting I finally got the installation date for my new fences; that meant that I needed to do some major yardwork to prepare for all that construction and hauling away of stuff. Whew. I handled it. My flower beds are cleaned up, plants are pruned, and my new fence and gate look great!

The bunny survived the invasion of fence-related chaos and is back to entertaining the cats every evening and morning.

Sharon from Security (Casapinka’s very snarky cat) released her latest pattern last Saturday. I decided that I need to get my current knitting project finished before the first clue dropped.

I started a new series of books that I needed to finish up quickly so that I could get other books, checked out electronically from my library and getting ready to vanish into the ether in two weeks, read on time.

I’m doing major cleaning and dragging bags of stuff out to the trash every week. That trash pick-up day is another deadline every week as I clean out drawers and closets and let old belongings, not used in at least a decade, head off to a new home or the land fill…

Whew. Busy times!

Garden

The gardens are kind of bare of blooms right now, but the potted flowers are flourishing.
My bougainvillea is blooming like crazy!! By the way, can you see the pretty new fence in the background?

I am putting my energies now into moving and installing some new bricks and then planting several of the potted shrubs (like the mini-roses and my hydrangea) into the ground before winter. Next year they can bloom in the cleared garden in the background!

Knitting

It was quite the drive, but I did get my new sweater finished with a few hours to spare before the Snark-O-Meter from Sharon from Security (Casapinka) dropped.

This is my second little layering piece that is knit loose enough for summer wear (well, cooler summer wear) and then will serve as layering pieces in the fall and winter. This loose little V-neck top, The Rock It is just perfect!!

Well, let’s talk about Snark-O-Meter. I have been dreaming about colors and digging in the stash for weeks. I would decide on a combo, but then the next morning I would remember a different skein of yarn in the stash and the amended quartet of yarn would suddenly become my new favorite. I finally settled on a color combo that I know will go with almost everything that I wear.

I know, I know… it is conservative, but very wearable. Can you see that there are little flecks of black in the red yarn? The gray has a slight sheen from silk which makes the drape really nice and shines around the other colors. Snark-O-Meter is a mystery knit-along (MKAL) and the other knitters are already showing off their beautiful color combinations on Facebook. People are worried about being too slow, and others are asking for help from other knitters. Encouragement is everywhere, Sharon is shoveling out the snark while hunting for her stolen squad car (again?! Sharon, you need to take better care of your things…) and threatening to busticate knitters who don’t read the directions. I love this group!!!

I still have those other sets of yarn waiting to become something. I may cast on a second shawl in some crazy colors that I will also be able to wear. Also, they are colors that I just simply love!!

The last couple of years have been hard, to say the least. Some of the knitters in the Sharon Show group on Facebook have been giving away their extra sets of yarn to other knitters who are struggling right now. I look at my unused sets and wonder how many I can put together for the next MKAL. I’m going to bag the yarn and as soon as Sharon/Casapinka put together their next project I think that I should offer them up. Seriously, who better deserves my extra yarn then these supportive, cheerful, cat loving knitters. I wish I had thought of it sooner. I’m trying to clean out a lot of stuff… this is one way to do it.

Quilts

I really focused and worked steadily on a quilt that has been languishing for the last several months.

It is done! There was some help from the cats…

It is a huge relief to finally have this done. I cleaned up the sewing room and put everything away this weekend, and noticed that I have a really cute quilt kit just waiting for me to start it in the cupboard…

By the way, this quilt is an art quilt by Pine Needles called “Calling Me Home“. I used about half of the blocks in the entire quilt to make my wall hanging.

Books

I just raced through this series. The setting is hundreds of years in the future in England. There has been a terrible war, all the life has mutated dramatically in a race for survival and all the world is dangerous. People survive in small enclaves, their history and old skills lost, and the remaining technology is like magic to them. Because contact between surviving groups of people is restricted by the extreme hostile environment mankind is slowly fading away.

Koli is a young man who breaks the rules and gets banned from his small village. He begins a long journey with a thought of saving humanity; his companions are few, and not all of them are still alive. They face danger, fight battles, make choices, and in the end, reach their goals. It’s hard to convey, but the voices of the characters, their insight into the human condition, made this series extremely engaging. These people are primitive, but they are not unsophisticated. I love the books and raced right through them. 🙂

Have a great week everyone.

Read a little, knit a little, and garden like your heart can’t live without it.