The Year Alone: Reflections on Wonder, Luck and Hope

There is a storm on the way. These things look a little unbelievable on the weather forecaster’s computer display, but there seems to be a massive low pressure area cut off from the jet stream sliding relentlessly towards a part of the United States that will set up a big weather event. Snow. Lots of snow. Maybe feet of snow. I’m pretty stocked up but I needed a few items for my weekend cooking, so I headed to the grocery store late in the day to grab them. Oh, oh. The store was packed and the shelves were already emptying out. Shoppers radiated urgency as they raced down aisles disregarding the one-way Covid-19 traffic patterns. New shoppers were pouring in the door as I checked out and there was a whiff of panic as they passed me. This is crazy! How much snow is really coming, I wondered as I loaded my bags into the car and escaped the chaotic parking lot. I hadn’t seen anything like this since the early days of Covid-19 as the lockdown approached…

The lockdown. This week is the anniversary of the first Covid-19 death in my state, Colorado, and in just a few more days it will be the anniversary of the lockdown that started my year at home in isolation. So many people have been sick, and way too many have died. So much has been lost by so many people; this is the greatest tragedy of my lifetime. For me, however, in strict isolation, the year has rolled by with me in my own little world mostly disconnected from the greater world outside; my story is a lockdown story, not a Covid-19 story. I have been disappointed by people who kept me trapped in my home by refusing to wear masks or to comply with public health recommendations, and brought to tears by the kindness of strangers. A year is a long time; looking back now it seems like it passed in a flash even though I had some real struggles along the way.

Last night one of the local news programs had people post the last picture on their phone before the lockdown happened. Here’s mine.

My son’s kitten Jonesy in a tube attached to the cat pillar. He’s a 6 months old kitten in this shot.
Jonesy today as a handsome young adult at 18 months old.

This year of isolation has been 2/3’s of Jonesy’s life and the entirety of Hannah’s life as she was born within the first few days of lockdown in the middle of March. Looking at Hannah and Jonesy it is so obvious how long this year has been. Looking at Hannah and Jonesy it doesn’t seem all that bad, but of course this has been an extraordinarily tough year.

I sewed some cloth masks early on and wore them on the few occasions I had to leave the house: a science geek who had read way too many books about epidemiology, I suspected airborne transmission based on anecdotal reports from the New York City outbreak. That mask picture is the 2nd one on my phone after the start of the lockdown. As the debate about mask efficacy raged in online forums I wore mine anyway and ignored people who made negative comments. Almost a year later I was wearing two masks, one a highly regarded Vogmask, as I got that first dose of Pfizer vaccine.

“Do you trust the vaccine?” asked my neighbor yesterday. “Absolutely,” I replied.

I feel very, very lucky to get this Pfizer vaccine. Through chance I have a degree in molecular biology and worked for years in an immunology research lab. The molecular trickery used in this vaccine to harness my immune system to protect me from Covid-19 is the best thing that happened all year in my opinion.

I’ve been assigning lots of labels to this year spent mostly alone with my little tuxedo kitten, my books, and my bottomless pit of a yarn stash. This has been the year of astonishment. The year of disappointment. The year of living dangerously. The year of setting priorities. The year of realigning values. The year of healing. The year of decluttering. The year of absolute outrage. The year of lies and fake news. The year of masks. The year of Zoom. Finally, today, it is the year of luck and wonder.

I do want to apologize for my use of the words luck and wonder. There is no real luck in a pandemic at all. I absolutely know how awful and devastating this has been for so many people: how profoundly unlucky so many of us are that this happened to us right now in our lifetimes. The mutation and jump to humans of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 was an event that has been anticipated and feared for a long time. It’s like waiting for an earthquake in California (The Big One) that will be massively destructive. You know it is coming, but you don’t know when or exactly where it will strike, and how devastating the damage will be. You prepare for it and hope that you are ready. How ironic, after growing up in California waiting for The Big One to hit, the crushing event of my lifetime came from a virus. In spite of the basic awfulness of all of this, I am learning to value the little crumbs of luck that came my way during my time in strict isolation while other people recovered so much of their lives and I was left behind.

I am so grateful for the luck, the random chance events, the technology, the human kindness, and the science that helped me get through this year.

My wonderful pandemic kitten was a failed adoption returned to the shelter and rejected by everyone else before I arrived to find her alone standing in a little cat tunnel. The last kitten left in the kitten room; her 6 litter mates had all found forever homes days before. Returned, rejected, all alone: the one thing that I needed. How lucky is that?

That’s little abandoned kitten Hannah on the left, 6 month old Hannah in the middle, and Hannah tonight hanging out with me while I type. Hannah was the one thing that I needed to pull me out of growing sorrow and a sense of abandonment when I realized that the the pandemic was raging unchecked in the USA as the result of a deliberate policy set by my government.

I was diagnosed with nocturnal hypoxia and received the oxygen equipment 5 days before lockdown. How lucky is that? Because of the oxygen I have been steadily improving for months.

I can order anything that I need online and have it delivered to the house in just a few minutes, hours, or days. Seriously, almost anything. A hamburger? It’s on the way!! A case of paper towels? My Instacart shopper is on it! A pair of new sheepskin slippers? Amazon makes it happen! More yarn… yes!! A plethora of indy yarn dyers will ship me my heart’s content. What would have happened if this pandemic hit in the 1990’s? How lucky that the technological infrastructure that allows all of these supportive services to exist is there for me and everyone else who needs them.

Every time I stream a movie on Netflix I feel lucky.

I was raised in the 50’s and 60’s: I can home cook from scratch and have returned to the meals of my childhood. Comfort food in a modern crockpot. How lucky is that?

I have a SMART PHONE that does everything that I can imagine doing. It banks for me. It remotely checks me into my doctor’s appointments. It tells me the route to drive to come home after a long day in a medical center. It connects me to so many other people in Facebook forums. It answers all of my questions: a couple of YouTube tutorials can handle any crisis. I can text all of my friends and family no matter what is happening outside. I feel lucky, people!!

I met with my primary care doctor via Zoom. I feel grateful for Zoom, people, even though most people in America hate its guts by now.

Knitting and reading groups have sprung up online that have connected me to wonderful, supportive, and positive friends from all over the world as we share our books, knitting, and cats. Then there is this blog. I tell you, I feel so lucky that this is all possible.

The Sharon Show, a MKAL run by Sharon from Security, a snarky cat who loves whiskey a little too much…

I can get unlimited ebooks and audibooks (well, as much as my bank account will allow…) instantly delivered to my Kindle tablet. I feel lucky.

In my year of isolation, oxygen, and limited adventures out of the house my painful joints have settled down, my kidney function has improved, and my red blood cell count has fallen into normal ranges for the first time in years. I am doing much better in many ways. Okay, I’m looking at a lot of medical testing to identify the cause of persistent chest pain, and there is still the problem of the severely damaged hip joint, but I’m in much better shape at the moment to tackle this then I was a year ago. I feel lucky.

Winter will end and the garden outside will come back to life soon. I feel lucky!!

I spend too much time wondering about things. Left alone, I have a lot of time for my imagination to run wild as I wonder about everything. I wonder if my roses all survived the dry winter. I wonder if the vet will yell at me for not getting Hannah in for her shots this year. I wonder what would have happened if this pandemic happened 20 years ago. I wonder what if it hadn’t happened at all. I wonder if I should throw away so many of my belongings as I declutter. I wonder why do I have a rare disease (systemic sclerosis) that appears to share some characteristics with Covid-19; what were the chances of that? I wonder when the Big One will come. I wonder if I should write a book. I wonder how I should combine colors of yarn in my next knitting project. I wonder what is happening with the Covid-19 long haulers. I wonder why some Covid-19 long haulers have improved after getting their Covid-19 vaccinations.

I wonder why, one week after my vaccination, I feel significantly better then I did two weeks ago.

I am actually looking forward to shoveling some snow this weekend.

In the greatest of tragedies there are still little crumbs of luck and rays of hope.

May our bad times end soon and we all have days of wonder, luck, and hope.

The Saturday Update: Week 43

Oh, boy. What a week it has been. Election related news is heating up as we come into the homestretch for our presidential election. Covid-19 case numbers are climbing steeply in the state. The fires in our mountains continue and towards the end of the week a couple of new fires erupted and, in high wind conditions that kept aerial firefighting operations on the ground, literally exploded into a monster within hours. People scrambled to get to safety as the newest fire, the East Troublesome fire (really, that is the name…), grew 100,000 acres in one day, crossed the Continental Divide, and now threatens to merge with another fire, the Cameron Peak fire, which is currently the largest wildfire in Colorado’s history. The smoke plume from these fires is amazing as it fills the sky to our north. Both fires are burning in Rocky Mountain National Park and threatening the surrounding communities. It seems like just yesterday that I took this picture in RMNP…

Rocky Mountain National Park
This is the view south from the Visitor’s Center. I don’t know if this forest is still there. If you look closely you can see areas with dead trees in the pictures. One of the problems that we are having here is beetle kill in the forests caused by climate change.

Because of the extreme drought right now the forest is really dry and vulnerable to fire. This is the worst fire season in my memory; the wind has been blowing so strongly the burning embers are starting new fires downwind from the main conflagrations. As I said, it is a mess. Today, however, things took a turn for the better.

It’s really cold outside and snowing! We expect almost a foot down here by my house, and more in the mountains. This won’t be enough to stop the fires, but it certainly is a welcome break for the firefighters as this will certainly slow down the fire activity for them. Yay!!

Still inside avoiding the smoke I have been consumed with crafting and cleaning. I shredded piles of old financial records, sewed more face masks, washed all of the linens and cleaned out cupboards, and… well… I played with yarn and did a little online yarn shopping. Just a little. I needed a little more yarn. Blue yarn.

Seriously, there is a post growing in my mind about all of the blue in my life at the moment. Yarn. Books. Curtains. Toys for the kitten. Oh, yeah. There is also a post incubating about all the convoluted yarn decisions I’ve been making and the angst about color matches. I’ve decided to ignore these growing posts and all my little yarn issues for the moment and jump right into sock yarn.

I have been visiting Hue Loco online and checking out all of the new colors for the fall. I had already bought that blue speckled yarn on the left at my LYS, and it really, really needed some new friends. I ended up buying a skein of each of the new colors at Hue Loco with the thought that I would make socks from each skein and then, once I had a feel for the colors in the skeins, go on to combine them in a larger project like a sweater. Okay, I just wanted to have the yarn.
I started the first pair of socks this week. This color is called Elixir, which is the second skein from the left in the picture above. This is not how I thought this yarn would look, but I am loving it!

If you don’t know Hue Loco already, it is a local Colorado dye studio and I really like the colors. (It is also located right in the smoke plume of those wildfires right now, so I am really happy to support the studio.) New colors appear each two weeks which is a little bit of a problem for me as I discover with each new issue of yarn that it would be absolutely perfect for project that I’m working on. As I make project decisions I also discover that I need a couple more skeins of some yarn (usually blue) to make everything work. Okay, I have a lot of knitting that is getting lined up. So much yarn, so little time…

I need to clear away some projects to open up the slots for my new sweaters-in-waiting. I have a sweater, a shawl, some gloves, and a whole slew of socks that are WIPs, so I’m motivated to knit at the moment. I’ve been working on my new Far Away Dreams (Joji Locatelli) shawl steadily this week, but it isn’t all that nice to show off at the moment as it is basically a big blog of squishy blueness slowly getting some lace added on the edges. See what I mean?

Yep. One big blue blog of squishy yarn. I’ve just gotten started on the lace portion of the edging so there isn’t all that much to show off. Maybe by next week there will be lace worth showing off. I’m making kind of slow progress because…
I’m getting so much help from Hannah!

Since I don’t have really nice knitting photos to show off I thought I should throw in one of the finished Secret Handshake cowl.

Isn’t that the cutest cowl ever? I’m wearing it tonight to stay warm as it is about 5 degrees outside and that is definitely cowl weather!!

I’ve written about the Secret Handshake MKAL in the last couple of posts, so I won’t go over all the fun shenanigans online as a member of this knitting group, but I have to mention that the cutest, most perfect retro camping trailer has arrived in Casapinka’s backyard and Sharon is freaking out today as she finally has to come clean about secretly buying it online using the boss’ PayPal account. Did I mention that the next MKAL designed by Sharon is a glamping blanket to use in the camper?

Hannah: Way to go, Sharon!! Could you please send me a PM about how that PayPal thing works?

So that kind of takes care of the knitting of the week. I’ve also been reading away at a new science fiction series and a couple of murder mysteries, but haven’t finished any of them. Think of them as book WIPs. 🙂 My poor garden is buried under the snow at the moment except for three miniature roses that I dragged inside (to Hannah’s joy), but they are a not worth showing off at the moment as they were beat up in a sleet storm a couple of nights ago. I’m debating building them a shelf along the south facing sliding glass door instead of putting them under grow lights this year because…

Hannah has decided that torturing playing with plants is one of the best things ever and I’m a little concerned about having more electricity and glass lights near the plants that she is drawn to.

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 38 & 39

Ugh. The last two weeks have been a blur. I’ve been rolling with the punches and trying to make the best of things as I dealt with all the good, bad, and ugly of the last 14 days. My son is better and is out of the hospital. I fractured a rib on the opposite side from my bad hip, and walking with a cane became utter torture for a week. My outdoor roses are blooming their hearts out. I had bloodwork done and I’m happy to report that I am recovering some lost ground with my scleroderma-induced organ damage. Ruth Bader Ginsberg died. The smoke rolled back in from the western wildfires, my symptoms flared, and the weather turned nasty hot again. Inhaled steroids brought my symptoms back under control in just a couple of days! My neighbor repaired the fence between our yards: this is great news because… pit pull in her yard. The Covid-19 death toll passed 200,000 in the US. I bought some wicked cute new clothes. Miss Pitty-Pat, the cutest hamster ever, died. I went crazy and bought new yarn, and I finished knitting my fabulous The Sharon Show.

It is done.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this entire MKAL experience. It was so much fun; the rapidly changing knitted elements in the shawl made it engaging and interesting, and the support and camaraderie of the Facebook group was just amazing. Did I mention that there is cat snark and policing going on, not to mention the multi-state chase of a stolen squad car with a platter of sushi in the glove box? In fact, the whole thing has been so positive that the adventure continues with another MKAL being run by Sharon that is a cowl called The Secret Handshake and the  Facebook group is all atwitter with excited knitters showing off their yarn, the first knitted efforts with Clue 1, their drinks (yes, these clues come with beverage recipes…), and the kittens that they just adopted. If you don’t want to own a cat, this is a dangerous group for you as kitten adoption seems to be contagious right now…

Speaking of kittens, Hannah and I had our birthdays last week and we made cookies to celebrate.  As chance would have it, my birthday and Hannah’s 6 month birthday were the same day.

This is Hannah on the day I brought her home…

And on our birthday last week. Boy, has she grown.

I had planned a post all about Hannah, but it kind of flamed out in the general chaos of the last two weeks. She is growing fast and has really started to develop a personality all her own. Especially when I’m working in the kitchen!

Which brings me back to the cookies. 50 years ago I copied this cookie recipe out of my mom’s loose leaf collection of favorites. It was originally a gumdrop recipe that has been adapted to become my family’s favorite chocolate chip recipe. Here it is for you, as a birthday present from me. 🙂

These cookies are coming to you straight out of the 50’s. Enjoy!

Cream together:

    • 1 cup softened butter
    • 1 cup brown sugar
    • 1 cup white sugar

Add and mix well:

    • 2 large (or extra large) eggs

Add to the bowl and mix well:

    • 2 cups white flour (I never bother to sift)
    • 2 cups fast cooking (minute) oatmeal
    • 1 tsp. baking soda
    • 1 tsp. baking powder
    • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
    • (1 tsp. salt – I never add this as I am living the salt free life and if there was salt in the butter you may not want it. Suit your own taste.)

Add in 12 ounces of chocolate chips (or about 2 cups) and mix well. If the mixture is too crumply for your liking you can add a little milk.

Spoon cookie amounts of the dough onto the cookie sheet, flatten a little if you like with a little pat, and bake about 10-12 minutes at 350°F. The cookies should be lightly brown on top and will spread as they bake; they puff up while baking and then flatted when they are done. Let them cool before you start eating them!! These cookies freeze well and have survived shipment in care packages many times over the years.

My mom would put all kinds of things into the dough… raisins, chopped dates, nuts, gummi bears, shredded coconut, you name it. It’s your cookie, make it your own!! The total amount of additives should be around two cups. I’ve also used old fashioned rolled oats, but I didn’t enjoy them as much as the instant oats.

Happy cookie crunching, everyone!

I think that I may now go online and buy a little more yarn while crunching my own cookies…

The Saturday Update: Week 32

It is International Cat Day! Hannah is besides herself and has been celebrating all day with the new toys that arrived from Chewy yesterday.

Hannah: it should be International Kitten Day!!

Hannah is wondering if her feet are getting kind of big… yeah, a little bit… I am laying in more kitten food! Anyway, it was a pretty good week for Hannah and I as we knitted, read books, cooked meals for the next week, and basically took it easy. Well, I took it easy; Hannah is getting more athletic and demanding and expects me to play with her and… wait for it… feed her KITTY COOKIES!!! That’s right. She has decided that she likes those kitty cookies after all. Why do I do this to myself. Under no circumstances will I let her drink out of the faucet!

Knitting

I spent a lot of the week knitting and knitting on my Far Away Dreams shawl. I want to be honest here; I started this because I wanted no stress endless garter stitch as I was stressed out and fighting a flare. Now I’m less stressed out,  the flare has receded somewhat to the usual background level of symptoms, and the garter stitch is still going on, and on, and on… There are 231 ridges of garter stitch and I am now close to 200 ridges, which is 400 rows. The end is in sight. Lace is right around the corner. I’m going to get this shawl down in the next week or two…

Then I opened up Ravelry.

Caitlin Hunter published another pattern!!! I love this sweater! I need to start on it right away!!

Look at this! Photo is swiped from Caitlin Hunter’s Misurina page on Ravelry and under her copyright.

Hannah and I headed right up to shop the yarn stash for the yarn. This is what I found:

Won’t this look great?! The gray will be the body of the sweater and the multi (which is the Rocky Mountain Colorado colorway!) is the detail.

I was so excited to start. I planned to wind the yarn almost immediately. I made a fatal error. I succumbed to curiosity (curiosity killed the cat, you know… it can also be damaging to knitting progress…) and clicked on the icon for The Sharon Show by Casapinka. If you don’t know about this already, The Sharon Show is a MKAL (Mystery Knit Along) that is being run by Casapinka’s entitled, snarky, highly opinionated, snax demanding year-old cat. I don’t do MKAL’s at all, as I prefer to know exactly what I’m knitting before I invest all of that yarn. But this is pandemic time and I am sooo isolated right now. I just looked at all of my yarn and I know what I have up there. How can I walk away from interacting with a cat like this?

Sharon is in charge of security at Casapinka. Sharon is bossy and dripping in attitude. Sharon is not above writing up a citation if you violate knitting suggestions. The snark is strong with this one. I bought the pattern.

The pattern came with some info on color choices and a schematic coloring sheet to help you plan the order of your colors. And strong admonishments from Sharon about abiding with guidelines. There might have been some threats about citations…

I got going on playing with the color order and when the first clue dropped yesterday I cast right on and got started. The pattern is so cat snarky and fun!! I am so glad that I am doing this. My first picture of the knitting can be found on my Ravelry project page; I don’t feel that I should post it here because…MYSTERY Knit Along.

I have a lot of knitting going on now. I am going to finish my clue each week as fast as I can and then really concentrate on the shawl so that I can open up the needles I need for that sweater. It’s a plan. I’ll let you know next week how I did.

Garden

The butterfly bush is blooming!!

And a beautiful Japanese Beetle has arrived to snack on the plant.

I hurried that beetle on his way and gave the plant a good spray with soapy plant insecticide. Things are picking up in the garden. I’m looking forward to some butterflies coming by for a visit and snack. Hannah will like that!!

Books

I was a prolific reader as a kid, and very early on I was sucked into science fiction books. Heinlein was a popular author with me and I read Starship Troopers many times over the years. The last two weeks I have been reading a series of military science fiction books that are reminiscent of the books that I grew up with by the author Marko Kloos.

Space going military, giant alien invaders, hot-shot maneuvers, and desperate battles. The plot moves right along and the dialogue is snappy. Perfect.

This actually is the 6th book in the series which I suspect is coming to an end with this volume. I have to be honest; I started the first book because it was included in my Kindle Unlimited package and it included a free audiobook, but once I got into it I was a happy knitter/quilter/flare-fighting invalid and kept getting the next volume in the series as soon as I finished a book.

Have a great week, everyone!!

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